Is Seattle really the best team in the NFC?
It seems they may be -- by default. Watching the Giants the last two weeks, I see the supposedly dangerous Giants' O is a mirage. In their two games against Dallas, Eli Manning & Co. produced 23 points. Today, he was held to a 29.7 passer rating. As badly as Drew Bledsoe played, Manning was worse. Eli had the benefit of a consistent lead and still did his best to hand the game back to the Cowboys, with an end zone interception when New York was poised for an early 10-0 lead and another when he held the ball way too long and let Aaron Glenn make a pick inside his own red zone.
And this came against a secondary missing Anthony Henry. Aaron Glenn, take a bow. You've gone two weeks against Denver and New York and not only lived to tell about it, but can actually do some bragging.
On the other side of the ball, the Cowboys offense has found its level, deep in the middle of Mediocreville. The difference in this game was the first play from scrimmage in the second half, when Giants DT Kendrick Clancy all but stole the handoff. He met Julius Jones at the ball, producing a fumble that Antonio Pierce walked into the end zone. When your interior line can't put a hand on the opposing team's nose tackle, nothing else matters. If you want to pile on play calls or game plans, go ahead, but that's like criticizing a toddler for not knowing how to figure skate. This offense can barely walk right now. Asking anything else is unrealistic.
If you want to heap blame on Bill Parcells, do it for this reason: in year three, after three attempts at rebuilding the right side of the offensive line, the moves have yet to take. Rob Petitti may be a good tackle in time, but not right now. It's probably not fair to him -- Erik Williams never had to play a down as a rookie -- but you're only judged on results, and today he was awful. Thus far, Ryan Young, Torrin Tucker, Jacob Rogers and Petitti have been tried at RT. So far, the Tuna is batting 0-4.
Inside, Marco Rivera inspires no confidence. The Giants feel that their interior line is the weakness of their defense and many mock drafts have New York looking for a defensive tackle early. Yet Clancy manhandled Rivera in October. He did again today. I don't know if Rivera's surgically repaired back is a cause, but New York rotated linemen against Rivera and had them bull rush him effectively. He seems to have trouble anchoring, a problem he never had before.
Center is also unsettled. Al Johnson was pulled early, showing that ten days is inadequate time to recover from arthroscopic knee surgery. Johnson missed his rookie year recovering from microfracture surgery. This second procedure makes me wonder if his body may already be damaged beyond repair? Andre Gurode plays like a good backup but nothing more. The running game got a push when he replaced Johnson. On the other hand, Clancy beat him to force the deciding fumble. When Parcells signed center Kevin Mawae from Seattle to anchor his Jets line, he said he had been "held hostage" by bad center play before and would not accept it. When he drafted Johnson two springs ago he said the same thing. It's 2005 Bill, and if you want a running game next year, it's time to assemble the ransom money.
The Cowboys have four games left, against the Chiefs, Redskins, Panthers and Rams. Any permutation is possible, but 2-2 seems like a realistic finish to me. That would leave the Cowboys at 9-7 and hoping for some help to get into the playoffs.
Regardless of the finish, the task for the '06 offseason is clear. Parcells did an amazing job of rebuilding the core of his defense in one year, adding quality and depth to the line and secondary. I think free agency will bring a free safety and one of the first two picks will bring a linebacker to complement Demarcus Ware. The rest of the picks and free agent money will go into acquiring a center. The draft will likely bring another guard and perhaps another center and a fullback for good measure.
It's time for the offense to get the overhaul.