Paul Schwartz: 'Tis the season. We dish out so much dirt here at Double Coverage, wouldn't it be nice to hand out some much-deserved presents to those we've praised and trashed this year? So here goes. To Tom Coughlin, a paperback version of Miss Manners to keep with him on the sidelines and a muzzle to clamp on the mouths of his players. To Tiki Barber, a copy of Leonardo Da Vinci's biography so a modern Renaissance man can learn from the master. To Michael Strahan, an endless supply of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to replace the one he shoved into his mouth during his infamous verbal altercation with ESPN reporter Kelly Naqi. To Jeff Feagles, a financial stake in MapQuest, because the guy is great at directions. To Plaxico Burress, a T-shirt emblazoned with a target and huge letters reading "THROW IT HERE.'' And, last and least, to Kenny Palmer, a pair of binoculars so his Phillies can catch a glimpse of the Mets far out in front, a logo for his bland Penn State uniforms, an eternally tapped keg in his apartment (wait, I think he's already got that) and some smarter reasoning to come at me with for next season.
Ken Palmer: Not bad, Paul. Didn't think you had that wit in you. Let's start with you. How about a football team capable of playing on January 1, like all the other big boys? Actually, how about an alma mater that folks have heard of outside the state of New York and among Giants fans? Heck, Albany is known for where pro football players train, Penn State for training pro football players. Anyway, back to our Giants. To Eli Manning, a pair of blinders and earmuffs so he can more easily ignore the roller coaster that the fans and media have him on – one minute he's the greatest, the next the worst. To Antonio Pierce, a Pro Bowl in '07 – or at least enough injuries to others in order to get him in this year. Nobody in that locker room wants that nod more than AP – and this year it appeared he was finally deserving. To Grey Ruegamer, a weekly gig at a local nightclub where he can share all his ‘witty' comments. Like most comedians, Grey thinks he's a funny man but he's not. To Bob Whitfield, his own talk show. There is nobody in that locker room more entertaining and enjoyable to listen to than big number 70. And here's hoping that R.W. McQuarters finds a starting cornerback spot all his own this holiday season. No one has played consistently better in that secondary than number 25 and he should be starting over at least one (if not both) of the current starters. And finally to Jim Finn, he of the thankless job of blocking fullback…actually Finn's married to a model, Rosa Blasi, and they just had a baby, so it looks like he's got things all set just fine under his Christmas tree.
PS: Oh boy, this next one is quite a challenge. You're asking me to identify the single biggest reason why the Giants have struggled this season. That's like asking, other than the iceberg, what else was wrong with the Titanic? First, I'll narrow it down to three: Eli Manning's sluggish development, the injuries to Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora that wrecked the pass rush and the weaknesses in the defensive backfield. They're all so worthy of consideration. I'll go with the lack of the pass rush, because that directly impacts the problems in the secondary. The Giants simply put too much stock in their belief that with Strahan and Umenyiora coming from the edges and LaVar Arrington storming in up the middle, opposing quarterbacks would rarely have any time to throw. You know what, other than the Cowboys game early in the season against the statue known as Drew Bledsoe, even with Strahan and Umenyiora at full health the pass rush was not as fearsome as it was reputed to be. Whenever there's time to throw, there's almost always an open target, as the moves made in the offseason to fortify the back-end of the defense have not panned out. Last season, the Giants had 17 interceptions. This year, they had 16 with two games to go. Not much of an improvement. Now, you can't fault the Giants for the injuries to Umenyiora and Strahan that cost them so much time but you can fault the complete reliance on the pass rush that was factored into the defensive equation.
KP: Leave it to Paul to narrow it down to three reasons, none of which is actually the main culprit for New York's mediocrity this season. How about the coaching? Yes, I know, I'm usually the first one to point out that coaching on the professional level is overrated. But that's not the case when coaches are actually putting their players in position to fail more so than succeed. Even an eight-year-old could see that Tim Lewis wasn't using LaVar Arrington the correct way; nor did he have his starting LBs when healthy in the correct positions. While John Hufnagel has obviously taken too much of a beating for his play-calling, there is some proof in the pudding. The numerous decisions to get away from the run too quickly were foolish, yet the stubbornness to continue to run in obvious running situations near the goal line were even worse (see: Philadelphia game). But it all starts at the top and if I had a nickel for every time we've mentioned Tom Coughlin's two big goals when he took the job three years ago – injuries and penalties – my Double Coverage days would be behind me. While the penalties have subsided some this season, they still get called far too often in key spots. To wit: New York's five penalties against the Eagles hurt them more than Philly's 12 infractions did. And this team continues to yap and say silly things to the press. If the head coach can't stop that, who can?
PS: It's never easy to figure out the motivations of teams playing their final game, knowing there are no playoffs at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes it's loose and free, no pressure, lots of points and emotion. Sometimes it's uninspired and reckless, with no sense of urgency and no fear of accountability. It sure looks as if the Giants are going to need to win the night of December 30th in Washington and who the heck knows what the Redskins will bring to the table. It's a non-playoff season for the Skins with Joe Gibbs at the helm but Gibbs says he's coming back next year. If this were his coaching finale, I'd say the Giants would be in for a whole lot of trouble, given the emotional investment the Redskins would have for sending Gibbs out a winner. Now, not so much. Sure, it's always an intense rivalry and the Giants don't have a lot of fond memories playing down in D.C., but if the Giants can get ahead early, the Redskins might not have much fight left in them. When players have their bags packed and are anxiously awaiting the end of a losing season, they can be distracted if the game turns into a struggle. Getting all excited about playing the spoiler role doesn't cut it very much in the NFL, so I'm banking on the Redskins putting up a fight, but only for a while.
KP: Well put, my friend. There's no question the Redskins are plenty capable of knocking off this average team and spoiling their somewhat comical playoff run. It's entirely up to the Giants to take Washington out of the game early. If the Giants get the first 10-14 points on the board, the Redskins will check out and it'll be smooth sailing for Big Blue. But if, as expected, this is a one-point game at halftime, you better believe the Skins are going to dig deep and enjoy every second of playing the spoiler role. Surely you recall last Christmas Eve when the Giants were all but assured of wrapping up the NFC East title until they got down to FedEx Field and were smoked by Santana Moss and the Redskins? Yes the Redskins were on an unexpected late-season playoff run of their own then, but regardless, this is a division contest, a fierce rivalry and the Giants are going to have to win this game; Washington certainly isn't going to just roll over and hand it to them.
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