Parity in the NFL is like gravity. It is inexorable, undeniable.
The New York Giants are experiencing its pull this season.
The Giants won their second Super Bowl in a five-year stretch in 2011, but they were far from a juggernaut. They got hot at the right time and rode great performances by their top stars. The San Francisco team they upset in the NFC Championship Game was a far superior team from Nos. 2 to 53 on the roster (not counting New York’s No. 1, quarterback Eli Manning).
The Giants went 9-7 last year but missed the playoffs by only a game. They scored 35 more points and allowed 56 fewer than in the championship season the year before. So they did their best to keep their core together for one more run. But years of drafting on the low end of rounds and salary cap constraints – which come when you win Super Bowls and have to pay people – have caught up with them.
The Giants are 0-6 entering Monday night’s game against the Vikings.
The defense of coordinator Perry Fewell, the former Bills aide, ranks 32nd in points allowed, 24th in yards allowed and 32nd in sacks. Fewell hasn’t gotten stupid since containing the Patriots in the Super Bowl two seasons ago.
New York’s pass rush keyed the Super Bowl wins. It’s a shell of what it was and the team’s biggest problem. Star end Jason Pierre-Paul underwent back surgery in June. It was unrealistic to think he would play well early in the season, and he hasn’t smelled many QBs.
“I think everybody’s expectation level was so high that he would come back and be Superman,” Fewell said last week. “But obviously a player has to work himself back into shape.”
New York had to let end Osi Umenyiora go in free agency. He was a figment of his 2011 self. It was hoped Mathias Kiwanuka would thrive moving from linebacker to end. He has been terrible. Justin Tuck still defends the run but gets no rush. The linebacking corps, which the organization long has undervalued, is bad, and this is one area where general manager Jerry Reese could have gotten more help. New York thought it could get by with journeymen Dan Connor and Keith Rivers. It can’t. New York desperately needs a hell-on-wheels linebacker. The Giants haven’t drafted a linebacker in the first round since 1984 and they have invested only two second-rounders in the position in the last 30 years.
The cornerbacks aren’t good beyond Prince Amukamara. They hung onto cornerback Corey Webster one year too long.
Then there’s the faulty offensive line, which is a big reason the team leads the league in turnovers with 23. Left tackle Will Beatty, who just got $19 million in guaranteed money, is underperforming. Star guard Chris Snee is out for the year. Center David Baas has been hurt. Right tackle Justin Pugh, a first-round pick, is feeling his way as a rookie.
It’s tough to make cold-blooded personnel decisions with a roster that has won the Super Bowl. New England gets criticized (including in this space) for being ruthlessly unsentimental about booting veterans out the door. But the Pats generally do a good job of not hanging onto older guys a year too long. (This won’t prevent me from knocking them on Wes Welker down the road.)
The Giants are in need of a ruthless overhaul after this season.
RIP Bum Phillips
Pro football lost one of its all-time good guys Friday when O.A. “Bum” Phillips died at age 90. Condolences to ex-Bills head coach Wade Phillips, who didn’t fall far from the tree in terms of being a good guy and a heckuva coach.
Bum Phillips presided over what arguably is the greatest era in Houston sports, the Oilers’ run from 1975 to 1980, when the team captivated the town with two straight AFC title game appearances.
Bum was known for his folksy Texas charm. His beloved quotes include “The harder we played, the behinder we got.”
For some, that country wisdom obscured what a great tactician Phillips was. In the mid-70s, Phillips revolutionized the 3-4 defense, which had been used for decades in the college game and had been taken to the NFL by Hank Stram, Hank Bullough and Chuck Fairbanks. The traditional 3-4 is a two-gap scheme, with the three down linemen playing head-up on their opponents.
Phillips made it a one-gap defense in which the defensive linemen penetrate the gaps, not clog them, and disrupt the offense in the backfield, whether it’s a run or a pass. One or often two linebackers blitz on every play. The linebackers can be a little undersized and fast compared to the traditional 3-4 backers. It creates more uncertainty over who’s rushing and who isn’t, and it’s a little easier to find the players for the front than in the head-up 3-4.
Obviously, Phillips’ tactics play a huge role in the game today.
Phillips worked for Bear Bryant at Texas A&M in 1958. Bryant had been working on a numbering system for defensive gaps, and he gave a lot of credit for formulating the system to Phillips, who had been working on it as a high school coach before joining Bryant.
The Bills’ Kyle Williams plays the 3-technique, opposite the outside shoulder of a guard. Alan Branch plays a 5-technique, opposite the shoulder of a tackle. Marcell Dareus plays the 1-technique, opposite a shoulder of the center. That’s Phillips’ numbering system.
Put ads on jerseys
The Wall Street Journal reported this week the NFL is considering adding more Thursday night games. Currently there are 13 on the NFL Network. The report stated the league is considering some Thursday night doubleheaders, and the subject was discussed at the recent fall owners meetings. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones essentially confirmed the validity of it with comments to the paper. What a terrible idea. Players dislike Thursday games. Coaches hate Thursday games. Preparation stinks. The NFL is hypocritical about preaching player safety and increasing Thursday games, regardless of how many statistics it spews about no increase in Thursday-game injuries. Everyone outside Park Avenue admits the product suffers from an increase in Thursday games.
Yet all the MBAs in the league office insist on maximizing every possible broadcast revenue source. Fine. Maximize revenue in ways that don’t hurt the quality of the product on the field. The owners demand more advertising dollars. Put advertising logos on the front of jerseys, as the European soccer teams do. The league probably could do it with a large patch on the front or on the shoulders that would be a little less overwhelming than it is on soccer jerseys. Of course, this would cause a revenue-sharing fight. The Cowboys would get more money for the Pepsi logo on their shoulders than the Bills would get for the Buffalo Wild Wings logo on theirs. Share the money. Grab the almighty buck. But don’t keep letting the NFL’s broadcast committee run roughshod over the competition committee.
Alterraun Verner, CB, Tennessee: Verner is playing as well as any cornerback in the NFL this season. He has four interceptions and two fumble recoveries, and he’s an easy guy to like. Verner does not bring world-class tools to the field. He’s not especially big, at 5-foot-10 and 187 pounds. He has decent but not elite speed for a cornerback, with a time of 4.52 second in the 40-yard dash. Yet Verner is smart, a gamer. Verner started as a true freshman and was productive for four years for UCLA. He graduated with a degree in math. He was the 18th cornerback taken in 2010, in the fourth round. The Titans moved up in the round in a trade with Seattle to get him. Tennessee was trying to push him out of the starting lineup this summer. But Verner beat out Tommie Campbell, who is bigger (6-3, 198) and faster (4.45 in the 40). Verner may not have a world-class physique, but he’s an elite competitor with a big heart.
• The Bills play in the midst of the recruiting mother lode today. Miami’s Norland High has six players in the NFL, tops among all U.S. high schools. The most famous Norland product is Chiefs receiver Dwayne Bowe. Fort Lauderdale’s St. Thomas Aquinas started the season with five NFLers, including Bengals Geno Atkins and Giovanni Bernard and ex-Bill Sam Young. Pahokee High, near Palm Beach, has five NFL products, including San Francisco’s Anquan Boldin.
• So far 70.7 percent of games have been within seven points or fewer in the fourth quarter.
• This is only the second time since 1933 that two teams in the same division have started 6-0. Both Denver and Kansas City are 6-0. The other time was in 1934, when Chicago and Detroit both started 10-0.