Giants are in midst of an organizational breakdown, not a QB problem
Posted: Wednesday November 17, 2004 5:03PM; Updated: Wednesday November 17, 2004 5:18PM
Giants QB Kurt Warner was sacked six times in a 17-14 loss to the Cardinals last Sunday.
The Giants have let Kurt Warner take the fall for their own shortcomings. Last week's Arizona loss, which led to his benching, wasn't a breakdown at the quarterback position, it was an organizational breakdown.
The offensive coaches got outschemed by the Cardinals defensive staff, particularly in the late going, when New York had five chances to win the game in the fourth quarter. The personnel department took a hit when it became obvious that the guys who were supposed to be the pillars of the offensive line, the tackles, just weren't good enough. A younger, quicker quarterback might have been able to save himself with his legs, but not Warner, and they knew it.
They understood what they were getting when they signed him in June. A stopgap. A guy who could hold the fort until Eli Manning was ready. A guy who, for some reason, had lost his fastball, who fumbled a lot, probably from a finger that wasn't functioning properly, and someone who, possibly, had lost his nerve, although this was a very tough rap to hang on a proud athlete.
Through most of the season, Warner did better than people expected. His passes lacked velocity; he couldn't jam the ball into small openings, as he once could with the Rams, but they didn't want him to. Don't take chances, they told him. We can run the ball and we can play defense. Avoid interceptions at all costs.
Which he did. Through nine games he had thrown only four, on pace for a lower rate than he'd had in any of his glory years with the Rams. The flip side was that his TD passes totaled six. In his first year as a starter in St. Louis, he'd thrown 41. His sack total was horrendous. He'd become Mr. Safety First, and according to the coaching staff, he'd gotten to the point where he just couldn't pull the trigger, even when he'd had receivers open.
"Not just against the Cardinals, but all season long," a member of the Giants staff told me. "We could see it in our films, the guys who were open."
Then why didn't they bench him earlier? Maybe Manning was just too green, but now it's a matter of necessity. Maybe they were hoping that Warner suddenly would change.
Stories I read mentioned that Warner would hold the ball up to six seconds, which put unbearable pressure on the blockers. Pure nonsense, written by guys who don't use stopwatches. Think of Fran Tarkenton and his water-gnat scrambles, dart right, cut left, cut right again, and you might get up to six seconds.
Normally if the ball isn't out in a little over three seconds, the protection will start crumbling. I put a watch on each of the 30 passes Warner threw against Arizona, plus the six sacks. Most of his passes were under three seconds, a few under two, especially when the Giants were running their scripted plays on the first two series and driving for a TD each time. A few were in the low-threes. The longest was 3.52, when he had to scramble to his left and re-adjust.
I timed the sacks by cutting off my watch when he gave up on the play and bailed ... scrambled for what he could get ... and all but two were in the low-to-mid-three second range. The others were in the two's. That's right, that's how quickly the blockers were whipped. No quarterback could function under that kind of pressure.
After the Giants' script ran out, the Cardinals' defense took over. The Giants, either by scheme or foul-up, were leaving rushers unblocked. Then when they'd leave a tight end or running back in for more protection, the Cards would rush three, or only four, and catch New York using six to pick up those three or four, and then swarm the receivers with coverage. On one fourth-quarter pass, Warner nearly got Amani Toomer killed on a shallow crossing pattern into the teeth of the meat grinder.
Neither offensive tackle held up, because they are the wrong people for the job. Luke Petitgout on the left side, was a terrific right tackle a few years ago, a serious power blocker. I picked him on my all-pro team three years ago. Then he got switched to the left side. He's not a left tackle. Mike Giddings, the super-scout, has a rule -- "Never switch a blue," blue meaning highest quality. Petitgout got killed by the Bears' Alex Brown, close to the best DE in football, two weeks ago, and he struggled just as much against the Cards' Bert Berry, a big-time rusher, and other Cardinals pass rushers.
David Diehl on the right side was a rookie guard on a woeful O-line last season. As the Arizona game wore on, he began struggling, making mistakes. Lineman vs. lineman is like a heavyweight fight. Who's going to tire in the late rounds? Usually it's the offensive lineman, since the defender, lighter and quicker, has been rotating in and out of the game.
Sure, Kurt Warner has had problems, but let's not hang it all on him, OK?
The last minute or so of the Jets' game-tying, field-goal drive in regulation time against the Ravens has been written about and analyzed to a fare thee well -- how they leisurely let the clock run down to the critical point, how they had to blow a timeout because Quincy Carter couldn't beat the game clock, etc. I think you have to go back to the start of the drive, when they were on their own 45 with 4:03 left and all their timeouts, plus the two-minute warning.
Anybody will tell you that's enough time to get as many plays as you want in there, and probably take a bathroom break, as well. But the Jets created a crisis by displaying absolutely no sense of urgency. Total brainlock. OK, you could argue that you don't want to score too quickly in that situation, to give the enemy too much time to get back at you. And the Jets certainly were moving smartly through a demoralized Ravens defense. But the important thing is to put seven on the board (they trailed by three), and make Kyle Boller drive the length of the field for a TD to beat you.
Dr. Z will answer select user questions each week in his NFL mailbag.
Seven, get it? Touchdown and extra point. Not a field goal, to send the game into OT, where anything can happen. But they blew it, and while I was screaming at my TV set, "Get out of the huddle! Move your ass!" the CBS guys, Phil Simms and Jim Nantz, seemed totally unaware that the clock was ticking the Jets' lifeblood away, discussing instead, the validity of certain play calls, etc. I remember thinking, "Am I nuts or what?"
Well, a day later Herman Edwards said he was playing for the field goal, to avoid possible screw-ups. Huh? Didn't Mike Martz get crucified for exactly that same thing in the playoffs against Carolina last year? I talked to Martz about it in the off-season, and he said it had been one of the biggest mistakes he'd ever made in coaching.
And on Tuesday I was discussing the Jets game with a personnel guy I know and he asked, "What did Herman look like in the sideline shots on TV?" I told him, "Pretty calm, why?"
"See if you can find similar footage from an exhibition game, and compare the way he looked then and now," the guy said. "I'll bet Herman looked 10 years older this Sunday. They don't sleep. They work too many hours. They're not functioning at 100 percent. Landry and Lombardi and Noll went home to dinner during the week. You think they slept in their office? They knew that you could have less stuff in there, but if it was coached well, and if you always functioned with a clear head, you were better off."
One more thing about that Jets-Ravens game. Just before halftime, the Jets, leading 14-0 and with a first down on the Ravens' 17, had halfback LamontJordan throw an option pass that was intercepted and run back, setting up a Baltimore TD. Thus a potential 17-0 or 21-0 halftime score became 14-7. This was treated, in print, as the play that sunk the Jets, "that changed the landscape of the rest of the Jets' season," one columnist wrote Tuesday, the torpedo that sunk the Maine, the iceberg that hit the Titanic.
Oh, brother. Ask an offensive coordinator how he'd like to come out for the second half of a game, in which he was an underdog, leading by seven and receiving the kickoff, and nine out of 10 would say, I'll take it. Sure, it was a setback, but it would make any team worth its salt furious, not suicidal.
NO FUN LEAGUE
From the Cleveland Browns Dept. of Anatomy, Defensive Line Division, as expressed by tackle Gerard Warren: "One rule they used to tell me ... kill the head and the body's dead." He was referring to the head and body of one of the league's prized poster boys this season, Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger, the Browns' next opponent.
Hooboy, at NFL headquarters they were arming the militia, cordoning off streets, setting up a curfew. The league, which never in the eight million years I've been covering it, has been accused of having a sense of humor, issued a dire warning that, based on this statement, any attempt to damage the head, or even the body, of said Roethlisberger by the defendant, said Warren, would result in the heaviest punishment imaginable.
Honestly, where are we heading in this world? I read in the paper not so long ago that in a first grade class, a little boy kissed a little girl on the cheek and was brought up on sexual harassment charges. To utter even the vaguest joke about security in an airport would subject the utterer to immediate reprisal. And the league, marching in idiot lockstep to the times, jumps right in with its goofy edict.
Old boxing adage, which goes back to the time of Jack Dempsey, as far as I know, and which is an argument for concentrating on body punching -- "Kill the body and the head dies." Now if the league were running the sport, there would be a thorough investigation of each body, and the head as well, after the contest.
Chuck Knox, when he was coaching Buffalo and had an upcoming game against the Chargers and Dan Fouts, told me, "We've got to bloody his nose." Memo from the league office: Dan Fouts' nose will be examined, postgame, and any evidence of blood will result in fine or suspension.
On Fox TV, Howie Long had a more or less serious comment about Warren's semi-threat. I remember once listening in on a conversation between Howie and Lyle Alzado when they were Raider teammates. They were discussing their favorite threat during a game.
Lyle's was, "I'm gonna kill you and everything you love."
I thought Howie's was better. "I'm gonna get you in the parking lot after the game and beat you up in front of your family."
Memo from the league office: The parking lot will be fully patrolled after the game, and any attempted violence will result in immediate suspension.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Paul Zimmerman covers the NFL for the magazine and SI.com. His Power Rankings, "Inside Football" column and Mailbag appear weekly on SI.com.