Here at MHR, we know the answer to the question everybody is asking today. How can a team that gets hammered by the Raiders at home, go into Giants Stadium and dominate the Jets? And, more importantly, should such a team be taken seriously?
And by the way, what the hell is going on with this season? What does this whole body of work mean?
First things first, this is a team which has next to no margin for error. That's the answer which we all know. When our team makes less errors than the other team, our team wins, and we're all happy. Mike Shanahan is maybe the greatest coach in NFL history at playing with a 10-point lead. The commitment to repeated execution of the same plays and techniques really pays off when you're in that position. All you have to do is focus on what you're supposed to do, and let the clock be your ally.
This team is not built to play from behind yet. As some of our young offensive players get more experience, we'll see improved success on that front. The real reason we struggle in trailing situations is that we have an undersized defensive unit, which can get overpowered by a team which is committed to running the ball and killing the clock.
When our team can establish a lead, and not turn the ball over, our team will almost always win. So, the answer is, this team does need to be taken seriously by all opponents. It's clear that scoring isn't a problem, and I am convinced that our team can beat ANY team in the NFL, when the flow of the game goes in a favorable way.
And by the way, I've been on record a couple times this season calling the Jets a .500-caliber team, and I continue to stand by that. They'll win more than 8 games, but they're not a real contender.
As for what's the story with this season, some thoughts....
1. When I read Moneyball, the idea which I was most struck by is the thought that the only goal for the A's is to get into the playoffs every year, and give themselves a chance to win a championship. In that context, we're heading for an unquestionably successful season.
2. When assessing the defense, it's important to see the improvement that has been made since early in the season. The injuries to key players has disguised that somewhat, but the improvement is definitely there.
3. I was talking on the phone today with my brother, and he was lamenting Thomas Jones having 100 yards in the first half. Almost all of it was on 2 runs, so the number doesn't bother me that much. I'd rather give up runs of 59 and 29 yards on a couple of mistakes, and then hold the guy to 8 more carries for 15 yards, than I would to give up 10 carries of 11 yards each. This is the story of our season as a run defense. It's mostly solid, particularly up the middle, but it's been prone to a few big plays in the C-gaps and on cutbacks. Being mostly solid gives you something to improve upon for the future, and it's not like the whole thing is broken.
4. This team can pass-protect better than any other team in the NFL, and for that reason, it can carve up the defenses of a Pittsburgh or Indianapolis in the playoffs. Trust me, the Jets ordinarily get after QBs, and they barely sniffed Jay today.
5. Peyton Hillis may turn out to be best used as a tandem tailback in the future. He sure is a talented young player, and I consider him to definitely be a key part of this team's young offensive core going forward.
6. I hope the Dre Bly haters have been watching lately, because he has been playing outstanding football for about a month now. The only real blemish is the long-ball to Lelie last week, and on that play, his safety help (Roderick Rogers, we hardly knew you) didn't get there. Lavernues Coles had 2 catches for 2 yards today, while matching up almost exclusively against Dre. With the impending return of Champ Bailey, Dre will soon be seeing more throws again, but his play has been huge in winning 3 out of 4 games this quarter.
7. Josh Barrett becomes yet another rookie to play well and contribute today. He made a particularly terrific tackle on a kickoff return by Leon Washington today.
8. The emergence of Wesley Woodyard and Spencer Larsen as good NFL players has been a benefit of the injuries on defense. I think both have good futures in this League. Honestly, I greatly prefer Woodyard to Boss Bailey on the strongside, and Larsen is at least better than Webster, though I think his ultimate role is to be a top backup and special teams guy.
Finally, an imagination exercise. This will be fun... ready, begin.
You're a football team. After three-quarters of the season, the reviews by the pundits (as always, meant in a negative way) aren't very positive about your team, despite your posession of a winning record, and a likely playoff future. Your QB is young, and still pretty inconsistent. You've lost a couple of blowouts, but have been winning more close games than not. You have a long-tenured coach who has come under more fire than ever before in his career. You've had quite a few injuries, particularly at running back, linebacker, and cornerback, but guys keep stepping up. Interestingly, you win a lot of tough games on the road, which is pretty abnormal. It's almost like you play up to the level of good teams, and then lay an egg to somebody you should beat easily. Finally, the best thing going for you is that every rookie you drafted made the team, and is a contributor, which portends well for even more success in the future. People are starting to say you had the best draft in the NFL.
Does this scenario sound familiar? It should. Ladies and gentleman, your 2008 Super Bowl Champion New York Giants.