Thursday, October 29, 2009

Big Play Opps

If you ask the Giants' receivers, the Eagles have only changed slightly defensively since their new defensive coordinator Sean McDermott took the place of the late, great, beloved blitz genius Jim Johnson. They're still bringing it from all over the field.

That means there will be opportunities for big plays. And that could be good for a wide receiving corps that begun struggling after five games of mainly dominant play.

The deep shots that were being completed three weeks ago are now either falling incomplete or sailing out of bounds. Steve Smith, the NFL leader in catches after four games, has had just eight catches for 113 yards in the last two games, and hasn't scored a touchdown since the two he had in Kansas City in Week 4. After going through the first month with 34 catches, he's had just 11 the past three games.

He's seeing double coverage regularly now, and as a young talent has yet to figure out how to get loose despite it. Certainly a little one-on-one against the blitz-heavy Eagles could help him get back into the receiving groove.

"I'm being double-covered, getting more attention, which is fine," Smith said. "That opens things up for the other guys. Even just the easy routes I had success with last year and this year, now I'm being jammed by linebackers. Now I've got to be aware of that and take my game to the next level."

Mario Manningham has just 10 catches the last three. And Domenik Hixon will probably fall into the four wide receiver spot after getting a sure touchdown pass wrestled away from him last week by Dominique Rogers-Cromartie.

That leaves Hakeem Nicks as the potential go-to guy for this segment of the schedule, for good reason. He's about the only one producing. Four games, four touchdown passes, 14 catches for 297 yards. And huge big-play potential.

It's a progression offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride predicted at the beginning of the season, when he proclaimed that the individuals in the young, developing corps could change roles as the season progressed. It has happened, with the opportunities beginning with Smith, shifting to Manningham, and now, apparently, Nicks. As defenses have caught on to each, and each struggles to find the technical antidote, Eli Manning has had to find a different target. It's certainly not like the old days, when the experienced Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer recognized and worked their way through varied coverages.

This young corps has to learn. And they have to be bolstered by achievement. A couple of big plays Sunday from two or three of them wouldn't hurt, especially if they can burn experienced corners Asante Samuel and Sheldon Brown, the latter of which was all but defenseless against Burress.

"They like to press coverage and bring a guy, so it's one-on-one," Smith said. "They try to put pressure on the quarterback, put a linebacker on top of you, or roll the coverage to your side.

"The corners are good, savvy guys, but sometimes they get caught with their eyes in the backfield and you can run right by them. We're not gonna be surprised if we're wide open down the field. There's gonna be plays out there."

Here are Nicks' thoughts on the matter.

The Eagles have 21 sacks so far, and have given up 13 passes of 20 yards or more. Included among them are an 86-yard touchdown pass from Oakland's JaMarcus Russell and a 38-yard throw from Drew Brees. That's not a ton of big plays, but enough to indicate the chances will be there.



  1. Greak breakdown Ernie as always. As much as I love Smith being the sure-conversion go-to-guy, I'm eager to see things open up for Nicks and even Boss and Beckum. So far I'd say Nicks is really showing why every scout labeled him as "NFL ready". Crisp routes, decent separation (for a rookie) and so far his hands are living up to the hype (never mind the bad pass dropped in week 1).

    As good as Smith is, do you see Nicks emerging as the number 1 sometime in the future? Even if it's not until next season or beyond?

  2. Instead of these guys focusing on a big play they should be focusing on the run.

  3. thegeneralfamilyOctober 29, 2009 2:23 PM

    EP, I know someone asked about Barden yesterday, but there hasn't been an answer... Do you have anything to report on him? I figure he's still a ways away, but any sort of promise?

  4. Thegeneralfamily:

    Nothing on Barden, except that he continues to run with the scout team. Looks like it'll be a while before he's activated and sees any time at all in the offense.