One of the reasons we blog about the New York Giants is because we all aim to understand what is going on with the team a little bit better. No one has all the answers. So when Nick Olsen commented that "it didn't help that Chase Blackburn gave them our offensive and defensive playbooks," it was like the 3 hours of punishment we watched finally ended. Now we truly had the answer that really explained why a Giant team that looked bad in spots in Weeks 1 & 2 could play so much worse. In preparing this piece, I googled the final score and Chase Blackburn. And this is what I got from the Charlotte Observer. Read this and tell me that this was not why the Giants got whipped so badly.
“I had an idea of what they run and what they like to do in situations,” Blackburn said. “We had a great game plan going in. I’ve been sharing all the information all week. Guys, all of us, linebackers were out there knowing what to do; (defensive backs) knew what kind of routes they were going to get off the route combinations.
Poker tells are huge. If you read between the lines in this article, Blackburn won't say it outright, but he was tipping off his teammates run and pass on the field. Every play. Chase Blackburn was in the huddle. The Giants huddle. That kind of advantage is going to make good players like Cruz, Nicks and Manning average. And it is going to make players who are not playing well like Pugh, Snee and Beatty awful. Indeed, a preliminary look at the PFF stats for Week 3 showed exactly that. Those 3 Offensive Linemen who had the bad grades in Weeks 1 & 2 went into overdrive ugly in Week 3.
Getting a football team's reads is as old as the day is long. In the Ice Bowl of 1967 (Dallas vs Green Bay), Dallas had the terrific Wide Receiver Bob Hayes. How did Green Bay handle him? In one conversation, the CB assigned to Hayes remarked (to the Safety) that Hayes only took his hands out of his pockets when the ball was coming to him. The future Hall of Famer ended the day with 3 catches for 16 yards.
The Giants were on the receiving end of plenty of tells over the years. I interviewed Justin Tuck after the Texans game a few years back and could see from the great play of the defense that they must have had a tell. Jonathan Goff played… well! After Tuck evaded the question the first time, the second time I pressed him, he broke out into a wide smile and acknowledged the team had done its homework and picked up on a few things. Read that link to the recap ("we just got our butt kicked") and see what it looks like when one team completely undresses another. It probably means there was a tell, especially if a fairly competitive team all of a sudden gets steamrolled.
Another Giants game in recent past was somewhat amusing. The Giants figured out from the way one opponent's offensive player was lined up whether the play was going to be run or a pass. Every play! The Giants used that information to build a nice lead in the first half, and coasted to victory.
Antonio Pierce made a living in the NFL from voracious film study. As a linebacker, he earned a pro bowl and a ring off of fabulous preparation during the week to gain an understanding of what formations led to what particular plays, pass/run reads etc.. When he left the Redskins and signed with the Giants as a free agent, the play of fellow LBer LaVar Arrington went down precipitously. The following year, Arrington came over to the Giants to play with Pierce. It was never stated definitively, but I believe Arrington wanted to play with Pierce because not only did AP make everyone better, he supplied his teammates with the extra edge of knowing what was coming in presnap and pregame preparation. Just as Arrington was starting to become a beast again (vs Dallas 2006), he tore his Achilles and was never the same.
Blackburn was not the first former player to use a poker tell against the Giants. Barry Cofield left the Giants and helped his new team in his first game vs Blue. He tipped off rookie Ryan Kerrigan to a quick out pass before the play was snapped. The rookie was supposed to get baited for an outside pass rush so that the DE was not in the passing lane. Instead, Cofield told Kerrigan (well before the game) that when the signal was given, to take a few steps BACKWARD. Kerrigan jumped up, deflected the ball into his own hands and ran 10 yards into the end zone for a pick 6.
After witnessing the overdrive debacle of Sunday, it is also forcing me to reevaluate Blackburn's affect on the Giants when he wore blue. I always lamented how Blackburn was a step too slow for the NFL, and how that cost the Giants. Yet Coughlin talked about how important Blackburn was to the team on many occasions. Read between the lines… as an understudy to Antonio Pierce, Blackburn learned how to watch film and pick up some (or as many?!) tells as A.P. This made the other 10 defensive players on the field better during presnap reads. It fits then that part of the Giants 2011 resurgence at the end of the year was after Blackburn got off the couch and into the film room. Blackburn is probably two steps too slow, but if his tells made him 1 step too slow and made his TEN teammates an extra step faster, that was enough to help them on their way to XLVI. And if you think I am overstating the significance of his arrival, think about this: Blackburn came back at Week 13, allowed the Giants to become competitive vs the undefeated Packers in a 38-35 defeat, and therafter the team went 7-1 and won the title.
Back to 2013, what all of this means is that the Giants OL is not as bad as Sunday's dismantlement. But they are the same OL that has graded out very poorly in Week 1 and Week 2. Add Baas's neck injury, Snee's hip problem, a lack of depth, and the Giants still have a serious amount ot trouble ahead. This is what happens when the pipeline is not filled with enough resources at ALL positions on the field. Jerry Reese's drafts have been inadequate for OL, so all the magic in the world that Pat Flaherty can conjure up is not going to be enough to contain all of these issues. Kansas City has a strong enough defensive unit to continue to pressure the Giants weaknesses. Gilbride must respond with the adjustments that a weak OL requires: fewer 5 step drops, a lot fewer 7 step drops, a lot more 3 step drops, (unfortunately) more runs, more slants, screens, flares and small ball. In short, the plays that give your OL a chance to hold it together.