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Saturday, January 26, 2008

January 21st: After The NFC Championship Game

So I didn’t keep a running diary. Maybe I should have.

But there wasn’t a whole lot to write about during the NFC Championship game, was there? I mean, beforehand I had a nagging feeling about the game. I had this weird feeling that something was about to go horribly wrong.

During the first quarter, I was explaining to my friends what the Packers strategy should be, and then realized with a shock of horror that the Giants were doing it.

Towards the end, I didn’t even care if the Packers pulled off a magical victory. The Packers shouldn’t have even been in that position to begin with.

Instead, we’re all left wondering how things went so wrong. It was a sure thing, wasn’t it? Let’s go through a couple of points and see.

1) The penalties.

The penalties that come to mind the most are Al Harris’ illegal contact penalty that negated his interception, Nick Collins’ roughing the passer penalty, and the two (two!) offsides penalties down at the goal line.

So, how do you fix that? Well, Al Harris is an aggressive player. That’s what he’ll do. He was being roughed up by Plaxico all night, and maybe it was wrong to play him so physically, but that’s how he plays.

Nick Collins’ penalty was stupid, but I thought it was on the edge of clean. You’re applying pressure. That’s what pressure is. It could have gone either way, in my book. The refs called it that way. Whatever.

The offsides at the goal line? That was just idiotic. You have to be calm, and those guys were obviously too hyped up.

So, the first one I mentioned really can’t be helped, and the other ones were just mental errors from really young players. In other words, there isn’t a whole lot you can do to fix it. That’s the bad news.

The good news is, there isn’t a whole lot you need to do to fix it. These guys are young. For a lot of them, this was their first postseason. Now they know what needs to be done, and they’ll do it next time. Simple as that.

2) The running game never got going.

You knew that after the Packers rung up 200 yards against the Seahawks on the ground, the Giants were going to be ready for a steady dose of Ryan Grant. The strategy I mentioned to my friends was that of a prizefighter. You rough up the middle so that later on, you can take bigger shots. You can imagine how horrible I felt once I realized that the Giants had roughed up the Packers so that they could now have their way with them.

Still, the Packers’ strategy was correct in the beginning. They went to a couple of receivers outside, trying to get the Giants to back off. Their hope was that they would take a guy out of the box to cover, leaving the middle of the field more open. That didn’t happen, and Grant couldn’t find a hole. When Grant finally did get a hole, he squirted through for a decent gain, but he had trouble all night.

Now, one could argue that it’s best to stick with your running game, and eventually you’ll break one. The problem is that sometimes, you don’t break one. How many 3-and-outs did the Packers have because they started bad on first down with a run that went nowhere? Once you get those long third downs, you’re in a heap of trouble, and it just keeps piling up.

What to do? What to fix? Once again, I don’t know. The line is fine. Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher are some of the finest tackles in the league, Scott Wells is good, and the guards are so-so to above average, depending on the play. Can you get better guards? Maybe, but you’ve got some guards with good tools. They just need to learn how to use them.

Once again, the bad news is, you can’t really upgrade the position. The good news is, you can’t really upgrade the position. It’s fine. There just needs to be a little more training.

3) Plaxico Burress put on a clinic.

It didn’t matter where Burress was, upfield, downfield, left, right, running hooks, ins or outs. He just plain caught the ball. This is unusual, because normally Burress only catches stuff that’s away from him. He’s not a good “right-on-the-hands” receiver. Do you want to hear my theory about him? Sure you do.

My theory about Burress is that he’s not very good at concentrating. He reminds me of Antonio Freeman in that way. Freeman had a lot of drops, but he would make these amazing catches when the ball would fall on his back, or he would have to dive through the air to catch it. A lot of other stuff? In and out of his hands.

In this weather, Burress knew that he had to concentrate on catching the ball. He had to work harder to catch it, so he was able to. Normally he can’t, but today he could. Don’t believe me? Watch him in Phoenix. He’ll drop half of the easy passes that come to him.

How do you stop that? You can cover better, I suppose, but how? Do you move safety help over? That wouldn’t have stopped the short out patterns. Should you replace Al Harris? Not really. Burress is 6’5”. Harris is about 6’0”, like a corner should be. Some plays, Burress just plain fought better for the ball, because he’s bigger.

So, the bad news is, you can’t really improve that. The good news is, it’s already really good, and that’s why you can’t improve it.

With all of this, what can we take away from this game? A few things. We are supporting a very good team that needs a little more experience. Eli Manning reminds me of Eeyore, because nothing ever makes him happy. Brandon Jacobs should have jumped in the stands, because it would have been hilarious.

Also, this proves fairly definitively that you need to play at the end of a season to win games. The Giants fought the Patriots in Week 17, and neither team had anything to gain from winning. They still fought tooth and nail. Coughlin challenged his team to win, and they responded. That’s what happens. Hats off to them.

The Packers will find more players via the draft, but now they’re finally ready. They finally have all the pieces in place. They have the depth. They just need experience, and they’ll be ready.

In the meantime, *$%$ the Giants.