New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) is protected by New York Giants guard Chris Snee (76) and offensive tackle Kareem McKenzie (67) as he delivers a pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the Washington Redskins on Sunday, Jan. 2, 2011, in Landover, Md. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Sunday Breakdown, Week 17

First and foremost, I would like to thank the leadership at the New York Giants for immediately announcing that Tom Coughlin would return as head coach next year, thus ending “Coughlin Watch 2010” as quickly as possible. I am sure there will still be some speculation as to what TC needs to do to keep his job beyond 2011, but the late season woes by the Giants are not, in my opinion, all on his shoulders, at least not this season.

Yesterday’s game against the Redskins was a good performance for a variety of reasons, and I think Coughlin got his team ready to play the kind of game that would either give them a boost as they head into the offseason or rebuild the fundamentals that they would have needed had they earned a spot in the playoffs. He did this by focusing his team on this game, without looking past Sunday, but also emphasizing the things that have gone wrong recently and encouraging them to correct these issues. This game, playoffs or not, had to be a game where the mistakes were minimal, and as a team they succeeded in this area for the most part.

Defense

Overall the strongest of the team’s units had a solid game against a team that has played much better in the weeks since the Giants and Redskins last met.

Lowlights

To start the game, the defense certainly looked flat. I was nervous watching, because every time this unit played without heart it led to a loss. Fortunately this was short lived and did not force the team into a come from behind situation. For next year, I hope to see this team come out of the gate ready to play. A slow start is fine against a team like the Redskins, but this unit is too good not to play to its full ability from the first snap.

Highlights

One of the things I have really liked about the defense this year is their ability to bounce back from a tough start or bad loss and play to their full potential. What’s more is that they have continued the tradition of strong defensive ends who can get to the quarterback. Lawrence Taylor changed the way the game is played, and Michael Strahan followed directly in his footsteps. Now we are fortunate enough to have two top players at this position in Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora. Osi had two sacks which resulted in forced fumbles, one of which he recovered himself.

Overall this unit has become masters of turnovers and sacks, and this, more than anything else, has given the Giants such a strong season. Their tackling has also improved greatly over the years, especially in the open field, and these are the areas in which I hope the defense will continue to thrive.

Offense

Lowlights

Eli Manning will take a lot of heat this offseason because the Giants did not make the playoffs. Until this season, he was viewed as the kind of player who could handle the pressure of any kind of game. He played the Super Bowl against a previously undefeated team as calmly as if it were a pick-up game in the park. That was not the case yesterday, and hasn’t been for several weeks. His only interception yesterday was not his fault, it was a catchable ball that bounced off the receiver, as so many have all season. He made no other mistakes throughout the game, but he made several bad decisions that could have been disastrous. On two separate occasions he avoided a sack by throwing the ball at the last second, though both throws were very dangerous. He also failed to slide feet first when he ran, and the defender clearly was looking for the strip. He was lucky to hold onto the ball, but that would have been avoided completely had he slid.

Despite some bad decisions over the past several weeks, not all of the blame should be placed on Eli. On what seems like a weekly basis, there is at least one pass that bounces off a receiver and is intercepted. When something like this happens repeatedly and is coupled with injuries to the starters, the quarterback’s mentality will be changed. In watching Eli it seemed like he was trying to carry the team on his shoulders and force things to happen. Some quarterbacks can do this because they have other athletic abilities, such as running. Eli, though a very good quarterback, is not very athletic. He does not have that natural talent that allows a player to accomplish anything on the field, and he will never be the kind of player that can single-handedly win games. I am not putting him down, I am a fan of Eli’s, but he needs to be able to rely on his receivers to do their jobs. I think a great deal of time needs to be spent on working with Eli’s confidence and decision-making, and giving him and his receivers a lot of time together to work on their communication and fine-tune play routes.

Highlights

Despite Eli’s struggles of late, he is still a very good quarterback, and he made a lot of great plays yesterday. The o-line was especially impressive once again, especially after Rich Seubert went down with that knee injury. As they have done all season, they filled in for their fallen teammates seamlessly and gave Eli plenty of time in the pocket. The running game was less than impressive, and this is something that needs to be improved in the offseason. The team has some great veteran players, but I would love to see the team bring in one or two quality players for next year, preferably in the draft. This team has a knack for finding young talent, and they can be mentored by the veterans so that they can take over as soon as they are needed.

Special Teams

This is the unit that struggled the most all season, and I felt that there was not enough done to improve their performance during the season. Losing Domenik Hixon was obviously going to hurt the return game, but the coaches and players could not come up with a satisfactory way to fill that gap. I am hoping there will be several changes to this unit.

This comes as a surprise even to myself, but I am not completely convinced Matt Dodge should be cut. It can’t hurt to keep an eye on the market and see who is available, but the strength of his leg is impressive. He lacks control, but this is something I believe can be taught. He has so much power that he should be able to kick it high and deep, so that his coverage can get downfield in time to make a play on the ball. There has certainly been improvement in his game, but he still has a long way to go before he can successfully compete at the professional level.  Overall, I wouldn’t be surprised if a different special teams coach headed this unit next season.

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