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Scout's Eye

Giants' collapse could spell trouble for Coughlin

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Recent posts by Nolan Nawrocki

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Posted Dec. 20, 2010 @ 11:58 a.m. ET
By Nolan Nawrocki

Tom Coughlin is one of the finest coaches in the National Football League, and when he has come under the greatest criticism in New York, he has tended to respond in a big way, as he did as mighty underdogs in the Super Bowl against New England. The Giants' fourth-quarter collapse against the Eagles Sunday is the type of loss, however, that often serve as the end in the coaching profession.

Ahead 31-10 with less than eight minutes remaining, the Giants allowed the Eagles to rip off four consecutive touchdowns. Coughlin's troops were not prepared for an onside kick, foolishly kicked the ball to DeSean Jackson on the final play and then allowed the explosive game-breaker to score the game-winning TD on the game's final play. As a result, the Giants likely lost the top seed in the NFC East.

Bill Cowher could not win a Super Bowl in Pittsburgh until Ben Roethlisberger arrived, and he understands the importance of the QB position. He knows what type of edge a proven, brand-name quarterback will provide. And he is most familiar operating under a storied ownership group, very much like the Steelers, that knows it is best to stay out of the way and let the head coach do his job.

Miami and Houston have been discussed as potential landing spots for Cowher, but neither compares to the rich tradition established by the Mara family, who seriously considered making a change in New York last season after the wheels fell off the bus following the departure of defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.

The Giants are still in prime playoff contention. With contests remaining against Green Bay and Washington squads operating with backup quarterbacks, chances are very good they finish the season with 10 or 11 wins and stroll into the postseason.

The Mara family is closely monitoring Coughlin's efficiency entering the final year of his contract, and if they decide to make a change, the team's Week 15 loss could stand as the breaking point in Coughlin's tenure.

• The media did not want to give the Packers any chance in Foxborough against a Patriots squad that demoralized the Jets and Bears the previous two weeks. It was easy to understand why after Packers backup QB Matt Flynn struggled in place of Aaron Rodgers when thrust into the lineup a week ago. However, against the Patriots, Flynn showed why one NFL team attempted to trade for the backup based only on his preseason play. For a QB who has never started an NFL game, he was very poised in the pocket, up until the final minute of the game. His inexperience came through in spades running his first two-minute drill against live bullets. With a chance in the red zone to beat the Patriots in prime time, Flynn took nearly 30 seconds to run the final fourth-down play, not showing the urgency needed in a tough situation. Rookie ORT Bryan Bulaga did not help his cause in the loud stadium, allowing two sacks on the final drive, the first resulting from a blown assignment when he blocked down and gave Pats OLB Dane Fletcher a free lane; and the second coming on the game's final snap when Flynn stepped up in the pocket and Tully Banta-Cain shed Bulaga and blind-sided Flynn.

• The mark of the NFL's best-coached teams is how well backups perform when they are forced to replace starters. Considering how well rookie MLB Jamar Chaney replaced the injured Stewart Bradley in the starting lineup, leading the team in tackles with 16, the Eagles deserve credit. When Donovan McNabb was in Philadelphia, he was highly supported with an excellent offensive line, a special running back, steady tight ends and a star-studded group of receivers. It's in stark contrast from the undrafted free-agent skill talent (Keiland Williams and Anthony Armstrong) leading the way for the Redskins. The Eagles understand how to put players in position to be successful.

• Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano could be called to task for not putting his kicker in a good situation. It's easy to place Miami's 17-14 loss to Buffalo on the shoulders of PK Dan Carpenter after he missed all four of his field-goal attempts. But given that all four attempts were outside the 47-yard mark that wise special-teams coaches realize drastiscally reduces the opportunity for success, the Dolphins would have been better served either punting or attempting to convert on fourth down. Asking any kicker to consistently convert from such long ranges — the Dolphins tried from 48, 61, 53 and 48 — is likely to sap the confidence of even the most confident kicker.

• After getting out to a surprising 7-3 start, the Buccaneers have dropped three of their last four games and just barely squeaked past the Redskins in their lone victory in that span. The Bucs have managed to exceed expectations and survive with one of the lowest payrolls in the league, but they will not consistently win in one of the most competitive divisions in football until they make a greater commitment to spending. With Carolina expected to land the top pick in the draft, despite a victory over Arizona, and in position to land an elite quarterback, the division race could become even more competitive.  

• Saints TE Jimmy Graham was late to see a Drew Brees pass that hit him in the hands early in the first quarter against Baltimore, but he made up for it with a stellar TD grab to cap the drive, stabbing it with one hand. He catches the ball so effortlessly that Jeremy Shockey should expect to see his opportunities decrease. For as much as Graham stood out catching the ball, Reggie Bush stood out for the opposite reasons in pass protection, as he ducked his head and whiffed trying to handle the aggressive pressure of the Ravens' front.

• The best offensive coordinators understand tempo and how to manage their quarterbacks. Cam Cameron did a fine job of limiting what he asked Ravens QB Joe Flacco to do and not asking him to do too much, allowing Ray Rice and Willis McGahee to carry the offense. The big question evaluators had about OLT Michael Oher coming out of Mississippi was how well he would handle the fame and all the adulation that comes from having had been the subject of a best-selling book and movie. After adjusting surprisingly well as a rookie, capably manning both the left and right sides, the inconsistencies have shown up more heavily this season. He has been flagged for more false-start penalties than any other offensive lineman in the league and has left Flacco more keenly alert to backside pressure that has come more frequently this season.

• What noticeably stood out when watching the Chiefs against St. Louis was how well the Kansas City players work together and how hard they are playing. Derrick Johnson and Eric Berry are constantly around the ball and are very aggressive in their approach, bolstering the middle of the field. The offensive line steps together and is very agile working up a level. Chris Chambers and Tony Moeaki made athletic grabs in traffic in the barrel of a gun and did not flinch. When Rams WR Brandon Gibson made a catch 20 yards downfield, only Brandon Flowers was there to wrap him up, but 10 of 11 defenders were visible rushing to bring him down. The energy level is much better than it was a year ago, with unheralded contributors such as Jovan Belcher, Wallace Gilberry and Andy Studebaker leaving everything on the field

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