Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Fixin' (II)

For reasons unbeknownst to me, the New York Beacon has scaled back on the sports section; compelling a rather short blurb on what was a HUGE win for the New York Giants. However, for those who have a passing interest in Big Blue (passionate supporter, fantasy football player, media member), something that continues to stick out has been the team’s struggles with stopping opposing tight ends.

Against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, the defense (sans captain/MLB Antonio Pierce) held future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez in check for the first three periods. Gonzalez netted just two catches for sixteen yards in the first three quarters; but in the final frame, Matt Ryan connected with him six times for 66 yards and the game-tying touchdown in regulation.

Yeah, that’s not good.

A lot of media folks keep going to the lack of sacks from the Giants’ front seven. Sure, sacks are nice numbers – even better are the drive-killers on third down – yet, most of them come because the quarterback can’t find an open receiver and/or the defense is quicker off the snap of the ball. Sacks are the widely-known tangible metric for pressure on the quarterback, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

The tight end, as much as a good pass-catching running back, is the quarterback’s safety valve. If he has a little bit of space, no matter where he is on the field, he’ll do damage to a defense. That’s what’s happened in four of the last five games to New York. Offenses knew that there’s a glaring hole behind the linebackers that can be exploited so long as the tight end created the slightest of separation.

As discussed with a few writers, it appears that this team truly, truly misses strong safety Kenny Phillips. The second-year defender out of “The U” was on his way to having a pretty good sophomore campaign, but after his breakout game in Dallas back in Week 2 – four tackles, two passes defense, two interceptions – he had microfracture surgery and was placed on injured reserve. Losing him for the season was a complete shock, but even more surprising is how much of a hole his absence has left. He has the size (6’2”, 215 pounds), quickness and range to cover any tight end in the NFL.

Aaron Ross, one of the team’s starting corners for the past two years, had dealt with injury issues of his own for much of 2009, but manned the strong safety position in a few packages in Sunday’s game. He split time between his natural corner position and a safety position that requires a different set of tasks. Instead of invading the personal space of wide receivers at every snap, Ross has to wait for the tight end to make a move or charge towards the running back, depending on which is the ballcarrier. It’s a challenge because he’s asked to balance patience with urgency; a slight misread spells disaster for a defense.

Putting Ross there at times may be the Giants’ best hopes of adding speed to the back end of the defense. What can make this work is that he has similar physical attributes to Phillips.

This was certainly an added wrinkle during the bye week and you should expect to see more of this during the Turkey Day game in Denver against the Broncos. With a few extra days off before playing the Dallas Cowboys on December 6th, Ross will have plenty of time to become acclimated to playing strong safety.

Say What?!?!: In addition to the upcoming newness for the Norman Einsteins (continuing in the vein of Cotto/Pacquiao), I will be providing some thoughts for The Perpetual Post. Enjoy your holiday/time off.

Photo Credit to Yahoo! Sports

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