Sunday, January 25, 2009

Yo, Meathead!

Okay, it’s been two weeks, so I guess I’m ready to talk about the Giants’ big failure against the Eagles two Sundays ago. Of course, it almost seems passé, now that the Eagles lost to the Cardinals—I know, can you believe it? The Cardinals!—last week.

There are a lot of people who think that the Giants’ season ended the night that Plaxico Burress shot himself in the leg. Maybe there’s something to that, but I don’t buy it completely. The Giants have plenty of talent, and they have a deep receiving corps, even though none of them has the height or the hands of Burress. I suppose it can’t be argued that Eli Manning only had one touchdown pass to a receiver after Burress was suspended for the remainder of the season. Likewise, all of the team’s offensive numbers went down starting with the first game after the shooting. But even though the G-men lost three of their last four regular season games, it seemed that they could come together when it really counted, as they did against the Panthers in Week 16, when the game was for the top seed in the NFC playoffs.

There were a few factors besides Burress’s absence that led the Giants to their embarrassing loss against Philadelphia. Two things that contributed went hand in hand: the fact that Manning was having a bad game and missing his receivers, and the terrible play-calling by Kevin Gilbride, the offensive coordinator. Yes, Eli was throwing into swirling winds at Giants Stadium in January (even though that didn’t seem to stop Donovan McNabb from having a good game). Do I think that Eli should know at this point how to deal with the winds at the Meadowlands? Absolutely. I have no excuse for him except that he was having a bad game. I will still allow him a few stinkers, even though this came at the most inopportune time. However, even if Eli was not having a rotten day, why the heck did Gilbride choose to get away from the Giants’ bread and butter, the running game? Even when the G-men did run the ball, they gave it to Derrick Ward as often as to Brandon Jacobs. What was Gilbride thinking? Jacobs is needed to steamroll and soften other teams’ defenses before Ward should be put in the game. It was New York in January, for goodness sake! Did Gilbride really think any great Giants team got to be that way by throwing the ball in the frozen tundra that is Giants Stadium? Run the darned ball! I was watching the game at home by myself, and many was the time I muttered to myself, “Run it! Run the ball!” Coach Tom Coughlin shares as much blame as Gilbride. He should have seen what was happening and ordered Gilbride to call more running plays with Jacobs.

Another factor was the defense. What happened to Steve Spagnuolo’s aggressive, attacking scheme? Why was it that the Giants’ defensive line couldn’t sack McNabb once this entire season? The Giants’ defense had been stellar this year—fifth in the league in yards allowed, I believe. Yet they allowed the Eagles to drive down the field again and again. By the way, what did that have to do with Plaxico Burress?

Finally, as small a factor as it was, John Carney’s poor kicking must have demoralized the Giants not once, but twice. The guy had missed three field goals all season, and two were blocked. But he missed the final one of the regular season, which might have given the Giants a victory over Minnesota, and it seemed that it shook his confidence enough to keep him from making more than a single field goal out of three attempts in the playoffs. The Giants did lose by more than six points, but still…

So there it is. The Giants have the potential to be good for several years to come, but there sure are some ways they could strengthen the team for the 2009 season. First, they should hope that Gilbride leaves to be head coach of the Raiders. Then they can hire a better offensive coordinator. Gilbride did a good job in 2007, when Big Blue made their Super Bowl run, but after this year, it seems as if the game has passed him by. New defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan was the linebackers coach, and my gut feeling is that he will be fine keeping continuity with Spagnuolo’s system. Second, they need to find a tall, fast number-one receiver with good hands to replace Burress. True, GM Jerry Reese said, “Never say never,” when asked if Burress could return, but frankly, if Plax manages to avoid jail, I think the Giants organization has too much class to keep him, even if it gives them a better shot to get another ring. Third, find another linebacker or two to shore up that unit. Antonio Pierce may or may not have lost a step, but he sure wasn’t playing like himself by the end of the year. This was the weakest defensive unit on the Giants, and it could use some help.

As for you naysayers who got all up in arms at the thought of Eli getting a new, stupendously large contract—who needs you? You were probably all saying Eli was the toast of the town last year when he was Super Bowl MVP. Does he still have bad games? Yup. Is he as good as his brother? Probably not. But you can’t argue with the ring—it can never be said that Eli doesn’t have what it takes to win a championship. Heck, Trent Dilfer was a Super Bowl–winning QB, and Eli Manning is a heck of a lot better than him!

I’d also like to take a jab at the fans of my two other favorite teams—the Cowboys and the Eagles. (Note the heavy sarcasm.) To Dallas fans—yeah, I bet you thought you had it made when EVERYONE and their mother picked your team to win it all this year. To that (and to Jerry Jones) I say, “Ha, ha!” (Imagine Nelson from The Simpsons laughing.) It takes more than a few predictions to make a Super Bowl team, wouldn’t you say? How many of the so-called NFL prognosticators do you think picked Arizona to go to the Big Dance this year? To Philly fans—yeah, yeah, you beat the Giants. Yeah, yeah, you beat them twice at Giants Stadium this year. Yeah, yeah, you sure acted like your team was hot stuff going into the NFC Championship Game before the Cardinals—the CARDINALS—made them look like chop suey. All I can say is this: at least the Giants won the Super Bowl last year in one of the greatest upsets of all time. At least the Giants have won three Super Bowls. How many Super Bowls have the Eagles won? (Hint: 0.)

For the upcoming Super Bowl, I will root for the Cardinals. Not that I have anything against Pittsburgh, and I won’t be upset if the Steelers win, but come on—the Cardinals haven’t won a championship in 61 years. They’ve been through three cities in that time. The only team that’s been around that long without a championship is the Cubs, and they’re going on 101 years and counting. Also, with Bruce Springsteen as the halftime show, the Super Bowl this year can’t possibly be as good as the last couple. I like the Boss’s politics, but his music? As my grandfather used to say, “Feh!”

If I don’t get a chance to write again before the game (I have to travel to New York this week on business), everyone enjoy!

And go, Cards!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Yo, Meathead!

Did everyone have a good Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year’s? Hope you were all safe out there on New Year’s Eve!

So now it’s time for the good stuff!

I know, I know, all you fans of NFL teams that didn’t get a first-round bye have already seen some of the good stuff—at least, the fans of the Eagles, Cardinals, Ravens, and Chargers have. Fans of the Vikings, Falcons, Dolphins, and Colts will have to wait another year!

A couple of things about that opening round of playoffs before I get into my favorite football subject. First, I am very surprised that the Chargers and Cardinals won. The Cardinals haven’t won squat in so long, I thought for sure that Atlanta would handle them, rookie quarterback or no. As for the Chargers, yeah, sure, they have Philip Rivers, who had the highest QB rating in the league this year. But the Colts have Peyton Manning! What the hey? Maybe spineless Norv Turner actually deserves more credit than I ever wanted to give him. Naaah. I don’t give them much of a chance against the Steelers this weekend. Likewise, I think the Panthers will hand it to Arizona with ease.

Yes, I think the games to watch this weekend, if you’re looking for excitement, will be Ravens–Titans and Eagles–Giants. Not that these games will necessarily be high-scoring, shootout types of affairs. Quite the contrary—I think they will both be big-time defensive battles that will be decided by a touchdown or less. But that, to me, is what football is all about: two power teams slugging it out in the ground game while their defenses try to make points a rare commodity. Sacks, fumbles, interceptions—and a grind-it-out running game on offense to control the clock and the tempo and keep the other guys’ defense on the field as long as possible.

I don’t know if I could call that AFC game—I guess in a pinch I’d pick Tennessee to beat Baltimore, although the Ravens’ defense once again looks almost impregnable as it did eight years ago when they won the Big Dance. Maybe it’s not quite that good, but it sure did put a hurting on Chad Pennington and the Fish last weekend.

As for the NFC game—ah, yes, NOW it’s time to talk about the Giants. True, they lost three of their last four, one loss of which was to Philadelphia, but consider: Two of those losses were division games in which Big Blue was not fully healthy. In the last loss, to Minnesota, the Giants didn’t play their starters the whole game and still ended up losing by only a point. Now the injured players have had a chance to rest at least two weeks—some of them three. The latest report has the G-men at just about full strength, which hasn’t been the case for weeks. The Giants got banged up playing one of the toughest schedules in NFL history—they had the earliest possible bye week and then four weeks later began a stretch of ten games in a row against teams with winning records, six of which made the playoffs. Yow! But when healthy, the Giants did beat the Eagles once, in addition to beating the Steelers, Ravens, and Panthers. I think this game will be close, as division games often are, but I think Big Blue will pull it off on their way to their second straight Super Bowl appearance. Time will tell.

SEASONINGS: Good for Ed’s cousin, Brewers owner Mark Attanasio, for calling out the Yankees on their obscene spending spree this offseason. Of course, Yankees flunky Randy Levine shares my last name, but he’s no relation of mine. Thank goodness, because I’d be ashamed to share genes with him after he called Attanasio’s comments sour grapes—at the news conference announcing Mark Teixeira’s new $180 million dollar contract with New York. Can’t really say much more about that—it speaks for itself, I think.

And I see Jason Giambi is back with the A’s after defecting to New York eight years ago. Gosh, A’s management keeps making it harder and harder for me to root for them. I hope “the Giambino” gets roundly booed at his first home game and every game thereafter until he gets benched for his poor play, as he inevitably will. Who’s left from Giambi’s last term with the A’s? Only Eric Chavez, who has played only 113 games the last two seasons due to injury. He and Giambi should feel right at home with one another.

Maybe I don’t know all the facts, but I think less of John Smoltz for defecting to the Red Sox for an extra $3 million. I mean, the guy played in Atlanta for 21 years! He made millions already! Isn’t there something to be said for loyalty, both by the club and the player, after that long? Yes, maybe Atlanta should have offered him more, even though he’s coming off of major arm surgery, but even so, you’d think the two would be able to come to some sort of agreement after 21 years of service! Did Smoltz really need the money that badly? Sheesh!