Friday, September 26, 2008

Quick Look Ahead to the Giants

by: Michael Steffes

The big news broke early in the week that the Giants would likely be missing top receiving threat Plaxico Burress for the Seahawks game. This has been met with all sorts of reaction. I thought it would be worth taking a look at how this news is affecting the game outlook. I have included thoughts from both sides. To continue....

To start I went to a friend of the blog, John Woods. John is an editor for the New York Times' Fifth-Down Blog. I will be writing a game preview next week for their site, but I thought I would get his opinion on how the Burress suspension would affect the game. Here is what he said:

I don't really "cover" the team. So take this for what it's worth: I don't think the Giants miss him. Ordinarily, I would be very Doomsday about this. Burress is a huge part of the passing offense. After the first two weeks, I think Burress had accounted for close to 40 percent of the Giants' receptions. But there are two reasons why I think this is not a devastating blow. One, and with all due respect, it's only the Seahawks. I am not sure Seattle poses such an offensive threat that the Giants are going to be pushed to the limit to keep up. And defense, especially pass defense, does not appear to be Seattle's strength. Eli Manning might be able to get away with a few mistakes. And two, I will probably eat these words, but I was very Doomsday about the Giants' losing Jeremy Shockey last season, and all the Giants did was win the Super Bowl. Shockey had a quarter of Manning's career touchdown passes, but the whole offense simply adjusted away from the tight end. I think they key for them is that Eli Manning has matured enough so that, in short stretches, anyway, he can lift otherwise mediocre players up to his level. So, in short, losing Burress won't hurt the Giants because the Seahawks aren't very good and the Giants have proved they can replace major pieces of their offense without acquiring outside help.
Now readers, let's not get in a huff over his comments about the Seahawks being bad. For an outsider, it certainly looks that way right now, since the team is 1-2 and lost at home to SF. Last year around this time we would have said the Giants were bad. Instead, let's examine the logic. The pass defense for Seattle has been bad at times this year, but they brought back all the members of the top pass defense from last year, so clearly they should improve. The Giants game will let us know if SF was a lapse or a trend. I think that John is right, in that the Giants can shift the offense towards other players, but the one thing I would be worried about if I were the Giants is that Plax is a safety blanket for Manning. When things get tight, Manning can force balls to Plax because of his height. A high throw to Plax in good coverage can still be caught. Without that, we may see Manning make some bad throws, which Woods alludes to by saying "Eli Manning might be able to get away with a few mistakes." Clearly, he just believes the Hawks won't be able to capitalize on those mistakes, and that is fair. They need to prove they can.

John Morgan at Field Gulls also had some interesting thoughts on this subject. Here is what he said the other day:
Typically, I argue not to overstate the value of one player. Great teams make stars, but stars do not make great teams. Plaxico Burress is an exception. Not just because he's so much better than the Giants other receivers, but because he's perfectly matched for Eli Manning's abilities and inabilities. In 2007, Burress accounted for 139 DYAR. Manning, -70. While that could be a function of Burress' position, scouting data backs up the numbers. Manning is notorious for his overthrows and the 6'5" and exceptionally rangy Burress was the perfect foil for Manning's inaccuracy. Well, nearly. Burress receives a lot of wild passes "targeting" him, and as such has hovered around a 50% completion percentage in his three years with New York.

In the past three season, Burress has missed one game. In 2006, against the Houston Texans, Eli Manning, including sacks, attempted 30 passes for an adjusted net yards per attempt of 4.43. That season, Manning and the Texans opponents averaged 5.6 adjusted net yards per attempt. What production Manning had that day came through his tight end and running backs. The wide receivers combined for five receptions for 52 yards. The only remaining wide receiver from that group of Mike Jennings, Tim Carter and Amani Toomer is Toomer. Toomer suffered worst of all, targeted four times, for an interception, an incomplete and two receptions for 16 yards. Toomer is now 34, and tore his ACL in 2006. Toomer is also now New York's nominative number one receiver.
Morgan's research seems to back up what John Woods said. The Giants, in the past, have shifted their offense to the other positions to make up for the loss of Burress. The question is, will this approach be effective against the Hawks?

My take is this. So far the Hawks have excelled at stopping the run, which is something the Giants' offense has relied on. If the Hawks can hold the Giants running game to small gains, forcing 3rd and longs, then the soft under-zone passing game the Hawks are likely to employ (smartly in this game by the way) will be effective. I don't expect the Hawks to have great success rushing the passer. The Giants have an outstanding line, and the Hawks will be playing on the road at 10:00 AM PST. Still, playing coverage could allow the front four to create enough pressure to force some poor decisions. Rattling Eli, and hopefully bringing back memories of Eli past to the Meadowlands faithful, may be the Hawks best chance to even their record.

Now more on Burress. John Morgan makes good points about Plax and his value to Eli Manning. This is something that I think cannot be underestimated. The stats of Eli's performance without Plax are the proof. However, I am cautious of these numbers for one reason. I think that overall, the Giants have much improved depth in their WR core. So far, Steve Smith, Sinorice Moss, and Dominick Hixon have performed well. I think they are better players than Mike Jennings and Tim Carter. That said, I still believe the Seahawks corners match up well with smaller receivers like Smith and Moss. They struggle against the bigger guys like Plax. What I would caution the Hawks on the most is to not overlook these guys. Treat them as if they are NFL starters and they should be OK. The safety play this week (as always) will be key.

In the end, I think that how the Seahawks handle the Giants defense is what will really decide the game. We will get into that next week.

I also have some more info from John Woods about the Giants game last week vs the Bengals, which many are using as a ray of hope, but I will work that into a post later. No reason to mix the message. In the meantime Seahawk Addicts, feel free to debate, but it would be appreciated if you debate the message and don't insult the messenger, our friend from the Times specifically. He was kind enough to tell it to us straight, and you can't ask for more than that.