When I worked for the Oakland Raiders, I often spent my time before practice in the training room, telling the trainers we were a few key injuries away from having a good team. What was the reason for this backward logic? Often, we had to play certain players who had sponsorship -- i.e. players whom major decision makers had a vested interest in -- but in reality they were not better than their backups. Sponsorship was powerful in the old days of the Raiders organization, and it frequently hindered progress. In Oakland, having depth was never a problem. Getting the best players on the field was the tougher obstacle.
The New York Giants don't have that sponsorship problem. As they proved once again in Thursday night's 36-7 shellacking of the Carolina Panthers, the Giants are an immensely talented team; not just a few good players, but a roster full of talent and depth that allows Big Blue to overcome tough obstacles. Taking the field without key cogs Hakeem Nicks, Ahmad Bradshaw and David Diehl, the Giants showcased their talented backups on a short preparation week and really made the Panthers look bad. This game essentially was over after the first quarter, as New York looked dominant on both sides of the ball. For all the pregame chatter from the Panthers -- claiming this game immediately was circled upon the schedule release -- their effort fell flat. The Giants came in as the wounded team, and left town having seriously wounded the Panthers.
Since the second half of last week's comeback win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Giants have looked like an offensive machine, running and passing. Their mental toughness is always impressive, but even more so in the past five days, overcoming a huge deficit at home to beat the Bucs and whipping Carolina on a short week on the road. These Giants are tough; their "never say die" attitude is contagious and their depth is impressive. This depth is a credit to their personnel department -- those folks constantly work hard to find useful players.
When Diehl, New York's starting right tackle, was injured early last Sunday, the Giants were forced to reconfigure their line. New York moved left tackle Sean Locklear to his natural spot on the right side and inserted Will Beatty at left tackle. And since the second half of the Bucs game, this line has played its best football of the season in both run and pass. The group has allowed Eli Manning the time to make all the throws, while also providing a push that makes Andre Brown look like a great replacement for Brandon Jacobs as the big back. The "next man up" mentality only works when the next man up has talent, and the Giants have a system in place to procure depth, as evidenced by Brown (113 yards rushing, two touchdowns) and receiver Ramses Barden (nine catches for 138 yards) against Carolina.
The G-Men get their mental toughness from head coach Tom Coughlin and their depth from general manager Jerry Reese. Reese does a great job of adding talent to the team; his department is always working the pro and college games, searching for the right players. The Giants, like a few other teams in the league, are never satisfied with their roster, constantly tinkering in an effort to improve. And once players put on a Giant uniform, they get coached well. Players in this organization are evaluated on their merit and put in the best possible position to succeed. Quality depth only happens when a team can integrate players into its system and give them opportunities to produce.
Often times, you will find teams keeping a veteran backup who can no longer play, just because he knows what to do (even though he can't actually do it). The Giants are not one of those teams. They find players who have talent, fit their scheme and can learn. This system produces results like we saw on Thursday night.
Ten thoughts around the NFL
1) The teams that play tight press man-to-man coverage on defense are benefitting most from the replacement officials, who aren't throwing many flags for defensive holding or illegal contact away from the ball. Teams have to adjust to the officiating, so everyone should play a more physical style if the refs are allowing it.
2) I love the Forbes list of the most overpaid players in the league, which includes two New York Jets, David Harris and Santonio Holmes. I'm not sure I agree with the entire list, but Harris and Miami Dolphins linebacker Karlos Dansby are Nos. 1 and 2 on the list, and deservingly so. Neither player impacts the passing game in an elite manner -- whether in coverage or pass rushing -- therefore they cannot be paid elite money. In today's pass-happy NFL, top salaries must be reserved for players who affect the aerial game, either on offense or defense.
3) Buffalo Bills defensive end Mario Williams did not make Forbes' overpaid list, but he's looked vastly overpaid in the first two games with his new organization. Williams played better in Week 2 against the Kansas City Chiefs, but his overall game is not disruptive enough to warrant the kind of money he received from the Bills. This week against Cleveland Browns rookie right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, Williams should shine.
4) Before the 2012 NFL Draft started, the Minnesota Vikings convinced the team selecting right below them, the Cleveland Browns, that they would trade their No. 3 pick away. (The Vikes claimed they weren't as dead set on USC left tackle Matt Kalil as everyone assumed and were also interested in LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne.) The Browns reacted by trading fourth-, fifth- and seventh-round picks to move up one spot. The trade made no sense at the time, because there was no way Minnesota would not have picked Kalil. And based on his play as a rookie, it makes even less sense. Kalil has all the qualities of a great player and is performing at a high level right now. While the Browns got their man (Trent Richardson), the Vikings also got their man -- and three more picks.
5) What has happened to the Atlanta Falcons running game? Michael Turner looks sluggish and can't get to the corner. Part of the reason for this is all of his runs are now inside, but this doesn't work because he's not breaking tackles like he did in the past. Back-to-back 300-carry seasons have a way of wearing you down. Backup RB Jacquizz Rodgers does not show big-play talent. His longest run is six yards and he has managed just two receptions for 13 yards -- hardly explosive numbers for a player everyone claims to be explosive.
6) Speaking of lackluster running games, what's up with the Raiders? So far this season, Oakland has called the least amount of first-half running plays. The Raiders are 71 percent pass, 29 percent run, which is strange for a team built around a dynamic running back. Darren McFadden has 26 carries for 54 yards and zero touchdowns. No wonder the Raiders are 0-2.
7) Teams attack Tim Tebow when he is the personal protector on the punt team, which is not normally the case. Usually, the personal protector is allowed free access and makes all the tackles. But because of Tebow's versatility in throwing and running, teams want to make sure he is handled from the start of the play, which eventually might hurt the Jets' coverage units.
8) Meanwhile, there are several reasons the Chargers are 2-0 -- not just the play of Philip Rivers, but also San Diego's ability to stop the run and play more physical on defense this season. The free-agent acquisition of Jarret Johnson has helped. So has the addition of rookie Melvin Ingram, who gives the Chargers more speed and playmaking ability. New coordinator John Pagano has done a great job of getting his players to play hard and fast.
9) The Indianapolis Colts have done a nice job of getting Andrew Luck to make throws down the field, as he is currently third in the NFL with 11 completions of 20-plus yards. (Denver, with Luck's predecessor at the helm, ranks last among NFL teams in this category with just two.) This is a great sign for the young quarterback -- and the Colts' offense as a whole.
10) Once in a while, we are blessed with a unique man who impacts lives through his words, his work and his smile. Steve Sabol was that kind of man to many of us. He brought out the child-like qualities in all of us. He showed us the game we love in a different way -- his way -- and made us all love it more. Steve was great to me. In fact, he was great to anyone he came in contact with. He made my life better through his kindness, his generosity and his passion for this game. Shakespeare said it best: "His life was gentle, and the elements so mixed in him that nature might stand up and say to all the world, 'This was a man!' "
We will miss you, Steve.
Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi.