As an avowed Giants fan, I suppose I really ought to say something about the epic meltdown they suffered in the past week, ideally before today's game with the Cowboys. The trouble is, last week was so horrendous that it's hard to say anything coherent...
I ought to say something, though, so I'll collect a few random thoughts after the cut:
Collapse Item #1: People are all over Tom Coughlin about calling for the pass play that produced the first interception, and really ignited the Tennessee comeback. I don't actually hold that one against Coughlin-- yes, they'd been running the ball well to that point, and only needed two yard for a first down, but it wasn't a terrible spot to go for a long pass. Just a few plays earlier, the radio play-by-play guy, who later ripped Coughlin for calling a pass play, was talking about what a good idea it would be if they ran one long pass play for Tim Carter on the other side.
The problem with that play was the execution: it was a lousy throw by Manning, and a typical knucklehead move by Plaxico Burress who just gave up on the ball. Burress is a deeply frustrating player, who sometimes does brilliant things, but just as often does completely idiotic things. He could be a great player, if he got his head on straight.
What I do blame Coughlin for was the silly decision to go for it on fourth-and-short at the start of the fourth quarter. It would've been a long field goal (about 49 yards), but there's no reason not to try the kick. Or, if you're that worried about field position, punt the ball. If the Giants get points there, the game is over. Instead, they ran a lame and obvious play that got stuffed, and turned it over on downs.
And then there's the Kiwanuka play, in which rookie defensive end Matthias Kiwanuka had Vince Young for an apparent sack, and then just let him go to scamper for a first down. I actually understand that one perfectly-- Kiwanuka was flagged just a week or two earlier for taking down a quarterback who had thrown the ball after being grabbed, and he didn't want to give up the first down on a penalty.
Happily, a lot of commentators have correctly pinned this one on the overprotective attitude of the NFL towards quarterbacks. The officials are really quick to throw a flag on any contact on a quarterback that looks the slightest bit questionable, and it's a big penalty-- fifteen yards, automatic first down, and no chance for review. Defensive players are right to be skittish about this call.
A lot of people have also called for the NFL to take another look at the rule, or loosen up the protection of the quarterback, but it's never going to happen, for the simple reason that it leads to plays just like last week's missed sack. Kiwanuka's play was an extreme example, but there are countless plays where the quarterback runs for a big gain because defensive players are forced to be tentative for fear of drawing a flag. Instead of coming in hard and fast, they're standing up straight, and ready to pull up if the ball gets thrown away, and that makes them much easier to dodge.
In a certain sense, we have the "roughing the passer" rule to thank for Michael Vick's star status.
The NFL isn't going to change the rule, because those plays make great highlights, and the quarterbacks are the big stars. They're going to continue to insist that quarterbacks be handled with kid gloves, because hindering the defense makes for more of the big plays that are so popular in this highlight-show era.
My feeling is that the proper response from a defensive perspective is to just forget about the rule. Don't worry about whether they'll throw a flag, just bury the quarterback. Hit him hard, put him down, and if you get flagged, you get flagged. Give him the fifteen yards, and see how well he can throw with his ears ringing.
But then, I also think they ought to abolish the "excessive celebration" rule in favor of giving the other team a free shot at anybody dancing in the end zone...
As for today's game between the Giants and the Cowboys, I don't really expect the Giants to win. They Cowboys are playing well at the moment, and the Giants are, well, barely playing football. The offense has been dreadful, the defense is mostly in the hospital, and the coaches are completely off in space.
I remain unconvinced that Tony Romo is the second coming of Troy Aikman, mostly because he has yet to play a team with a good defense. Hell, the only NFL team they've played since he took over was the Colts, and their defense is nothing special. The one time he's been on the field with a quality defense was in the second half of the first Giants game, and he threw three interceptions-- I think that Chicago or San Diego would probably make him look like a total fool.
Unfortunately, the Giants are no longer the team they were in Week 7, particularly on defense, and I think they're pretty well done for the season. They're playing at home, and it's a division rivalry, so I think they ought to be able to at least keep it close, but I don't see them winning the game.
I guess we'll know in a few hours, though.
Michael Vick would be a star no matter what. Audiences love the spectacular plays running QBs can lose games with.
As for the 4th down thing, surely you've read enough Yglesias to know that going for it on 4th down in that situation is almost certainly the best move.
If you want even better analysis than Yglesias, you should check out www.footballoutsiders.com. They do a bunch of commentary on Fox Sports now (don't hold that against them) but started off as an independent group who developed their own metrics for measuring player performance and team performance. They too state that teams should go for it on 4th down FAR more often than they currently do.