'Nothing to be concerned about': Coughlin's Giants look (again) like they're between adjustments
Put it this way: The Giants just played three games they easily could have lost, and they won two of them.
They're playing poorly right now, despite their 6-3 record. This isn't out of character for them: The Giants of recent vintage have been talented enough to be great when all their parts are working. What they haven’t been is particularly consistent in getting those parts working in unison. (Witness the 9-7 and 10-6 records in their championship years, in which the parts all came together at the right time.)
This has always been the paradox about Coughlin’s Giants. For a team supposedly molded in his disciplined image, they’ve been prone to prolonged stretches of having their heads up their asses. In prior years, this was often attributed to the belief that players were “tuning out” Coughlin. Two Super Bowls later, we know that this isn’t the case, and we just accept it as something that’s in this team’s DNA.
That’s not to say that Coughlin accepts this. In his postgame press conference, he called the game “as disappointing a loss as we’ve had around here in a long time.” (He has used that construction multiple times in the past several years to underscore his disgust.)
He cited what you’d expect him to cite: The out-of-synch offense, the poor tackling, the breakdowns on special teams, the brain-fart penalties.
“We’ve lost games around here where we’ve played really well, and physically battled away and just got beat. But that wasn’t one of them,” he said.
Several minutes into the press conference, he had, with visible effort, kept a lid on his sour mood. But then he seized on an opportunity to lash out: A reporter asked if the reinsertion of David Diehl into the starting lineup had anything to do with the Giants’ struggles on offense.
It seemed like a decent try at a potential story to me, but Coughlin didn’t see it that way. He chuckled to himself darkly, reflecting on the cruel joke that his lot in life was to deal with these incompetent players and idiot reporters.
Then, witheringly, lustily, cathartically, he put the reporter in his place: “That’s so far from anything to do from anything that happened on the field,” he said.
IT WASN'T A GOOD GAME FOR MARTELLUS BENNETT.
True, he caught three of the four passes thrown his way, for 40 yards. But his big catch, a 33-yarder, would have gone for bigger yardage had he not bobbled the ball. His non-catch was a throw that bounced off his hands, a result of the fact that he mistimed his jump for it. It came at a critical moment on the Giants’ last drive.
Both plays underscored a quality that limits Bennett as a receiver: His speed and size give him the label of an “athletic” player, but he’s awkward at adjusting to the ball when it’s in the air. This is why it’s simplistic to say that Bennett is so much more athletic than his predecessor at tight end, Jake Ballard, who was a much smoother receiver.
When I caught up to him at his locker, Bennett was visibly hobbled. He was also mopey, in adherence to the rule that all players in the losing locker room must act as if their dog just died. But, Bennett being Bennett, he also couldn’t help but be colorful.
Me: What’s hurting?
Bennett: Um, fucked up my toe.
Me: How did it happen? Did someone step on it?
Bennett: Yeah. Ripped through my shoes, too. Dang. Brand new. Asshole.
Still, he should be fine to play next week, he said.
“Just a little jacked up. I’ll be straight though. Nothing major.”
Over at Hakeem Nicks’ locker, reporters asked about the state of the Giants’ passing game, which looked bad for the second week in a row.
Nicks basically chalked it up to the cycle of sports: One team has success and then other teams make adjustments, placing the onus back on the first team to make counteradjustments. Right now, Nicks said, the Giants were between steps two and three.
“Nothing to be concerned about,” he said. “Once you’re excelling so much offensively, teams are scheming to try to stop what you do. We just got to, like I said, start looking at that film, start critiquing ourselves, maybe start doing some things differently.”
But what about Nicks himself? He caught just one pass for 10 yards yesterday, and hasn’t seemed himself all season long. It seems like the coaches are scheming around the fact that they’re dealing with a diminished Nicks.
Once play in particular stood out yesterday: With the Giants facing 3rd and goal from the five-yard line late in the third quarter, with a chance to go up by two touchdowns, Nicks was lined up on the wide side of the field with a cornerback playing an inside technique. It seemed like the perfect circumstances for an end-zone fade to Nicks, who excels at out-maneuvering defensive backs with the ball in the air. But the Giants threw a fade to rookie Reuben Randle on the opposite site instead. The pass was incomplete, and the Giants settled for a field goal to let the Steelers stay in the game.
I asked Nicks if he was operating at 100 percent.
“You know I’m getting there each week. Each week I’m getting there. I wouldn’t say quite 100 yet, but I’m getting there,” he said, thus echoing what Giants fans have been hearing for weeks.
If he wasn’t at 100 percent, I asked him, what percentage was he?
“Um, I can’t put no number on it,” he said.
MARK HERZLICH WAS THE STARTING MIDDLE LINEBACKER yesterday, filling in for the injured Chase Blackburn. Because he manned the position traditionally recognized as the leader of the defense, he had to answer questions about the Giants’ alarmingly poor tackling yesterday.
So poor was it that it made journeyman running back Isaac Redman look like a superstar: Redman had 147 yards on 26 carries, for an average of 5.7 yards per. He looked half like a pinball, half like a bowling ball, pinging off Giants defenders in low gear, with his thighs and his waist seemingly too thick to wrap two arms around.
“He did a great job of bouncing off the initial tackle and then finding a hole late. A lot of times I think we needed to be in our gaps longer than we were,” Herzlich told me.
“We were coming out of our gaps. We’d see him go to the left, so we’d come out of our gaps to try to help out. Then he’d bounce back and stay on his feet and get north to south quickly.”
The idea of “poor tackling” has always seemed an unsatisfactory description to me. How much of what’s termed “poor tackling” is poor execution of the tackles themselves, and how much of it is simply not being in position because of the offense’s scheme and blocking?
I asked Herzlich, whose Mohawk and Braveheart-style face paint belies a thoughtful and gentlemanly demeanor, which of the two accounted more for the defense’s struggles yesterday.
“I think a lot of times we were in position, and he bounced off, or we got chipped off, and they had that extra effort play,” he said.
And how do you remedy poor tackling?
“It’s a mindset. It’s not really something—because we’re not gonna take people to the ground during practice. It’s just something that you know since you’ve been playing every single week since you were nine years old. You gotta finish the tackles. And that’s what we gotta do better.”