Dec 262009
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New York Giants 45 (8-6) – Washington Redskins 12 (4-10)

by The Hack for

Game Summary: Once again, the New York Giants had their backs squarely against the wall, and once again they responded as if their lives depended on it. In fact, their playoff lives indeed did depend on it. The Giants rolled into Fedex Field to take on the rival Redskins, who were playing their best football of the season over the last month, down two more starters on defense and a key offensive lineman. Following the wins by the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles earlier, the Giants had to keep pace or risk missing the playoffs for the first time in five years. The only thing that had gone the Giants’ way on Sunday was a last second loss by Green Bay, who still sit one game ahead of the Giants in the standings but whom the Giants hold the tiebreaker over.

The Giants made short work of the Redskins, scoring on their first four possessions while completely dominating Washington on defense. The Giants have not looked this good on both sides of the ball since week five against Oakland. All three phases of the game played above average games. Leading 24-0 at halftime, the Giants cruised to the victory with David Carr at QB for the last quarter.

New York employed a ball control offense against Washington, eschewing the deep pass for plays with a higher probability of success. As Troy Aikman likes to say, the Giants “stayed ahead of the chains,” ensuring second and third down plays were at a manageable distance which in turn kept the Washington defense off balance.

On defense, the Giants got sustained pressure on QB Jason Campbell from their front four and employed successful blitz packages all night long. The fact that they got sustained pressure from the front four made it slightly puzzling that they kept employing zone and fire blitzes, but for the most part they worked and rarely did the Giants get beat on them.

With their eight win of the season, the Giants assured themselves of their fifth straight year without a losing season. For old timers on BBI, these truly are the salad days. For the young BBI’ers, you are very lucky to enjoy this. This has not happened since 1954-1963 when the Giants put together a ten year stretch without a losing season. The Giants still have an opportunity to make the playoffs for a fifth straight season, again, something that hasn’t happened for Giants fans in many, many moons.

Tale O’ The Tape: For the third week in a row, the Giants offense completely dominated the opposition, scoring a total of 107 offensive points in that span against the NFC East. Impressive.

Against the Redskins, the Giants offense generated four scoring drives for 24 points on their first four possessions. In that span, the Giants ran 40 plays, rolled up 236 total yards, and ate nearly 23 minutes off the clock. The Giants converted their first seven third down opportunities, failing on only two for the entire half. The Giants also scored on their first two possessions of the second half, making it five touchdowns and a field goal on their first six possessions. Impressively, the Giants only punted twice and had a third possession end running out the clock at the end of the game.

Defensively, the first quarter was scintillating. New York allowed Washington to run just three plays for -3 yards, taking just 1:26 off the clock. This was absolutely what the doctor ordered, and the trend continued at a less blistering yet still overwhelming pace for the rest of the half, as Washington converted just two first downs on 21 plays.

The second half didn’t get a lot better for the Redskins as the Giants continued to dominate both sides of the ball. Washington did come out and score a touchdown on the opening drive of the second half, as for once the Giants defense didn’t get sustained pressure on QB Jason Campbell and S Aaron Rouse kept the drive alive with a holding penalty on a third and 10 play.

However, the offense responded with a touchdown of their own and then the Giants defense scored on Washington’s next drive, as Campbell threw a pick six. The Giants converted on three of four possessions inside the green zone, scoring a field goal on the fourth. They were also three for three in goal-to-go situations. The defense allowed two touchdowns on two trips inside the green zone by Washington.

The most eye popping statistic is that the Giants converted 11 of 15 third down opportunities.

Offense: The Giants offense was clicking on all cylinders Monday night. New York ran 60 plays: 30 rushes and 30 passes. They ran with power and authority, despite being down two offensive linemen following the first drive of the game. Reserve G Kevin Boothe replaced G Rich Suebert after HB Ahmad Bradshaw rolled up on his leg on his first touchdown run of the night, and T William Beatty started in place of injured T Kareem McKenzie. Even still, the Giants rushed the ball as well, if not better, than they have all year and they did it against a very good Washington front seven.

The passing game was on for most of the night as well. New York used the short passing game, targeting the tight ends and running backs on 12 out of 30 passes attempted on the evening. When the Giants did go to the wide outs, they didn’t try to go over the top but instead exploited zones underneath the safeties and seams on the hashes.

Last week, the Giants missed several opportunities to score points that could have won the game against the Eagles (NOTE: I am NOT blaming the offense for that loss, simply extolling the fact that there were more points to be had) due to turnovers and other mistakes. This week, the Giants made no glaring mistakes on offense and as such never let the Redskins gain any hope of getting back into the contest.

Of note for the statistic nuts over in The Forum, here’s couple of nuggets for you to chew on. A lot has been made about the Giants moving from a running team to a passing team this year and the statistics bear that out to an extent. Last season, the Giants averaged more than 157 yards per game on the ground, number one overall, while they averaged just over 198 yards per game through the air, good for 18th in the league.

This season, yes, the Giants have thrown for more and run for less. They’re averaging 124 yards per game on the ground, but more than 254 through the air. That’s good for 10th in the league on both sides of the ledger. That suggests good balance, and the proof in the pudding is that they’re averaging more than a point per game better than they were last year. Interestingly, the Giants are also averaging more than a minute better in time of possession per game (33:19 per game, second in the NFL) this year, as well.

This is one of the most prolific and balanced offenses fans of the New York Giants have ever seen from them.

The Quarterbacks: For the second week in a row, Eli Manning threw for three touchdowns. Manning was a surgeon on Monday night, carving up the Redskins defense underneath and short outside the numbers. Eli hit ten different receivers on the night, finishing 19 for 26 for a total of 268 yards, the three touchdowns, and no interceptions in three quarters of play. David Carr mopped up following the Giants last touchdown.

Manning’s QBR was 144.4 on the day, raising his season average to 96 (by far a career high), good for ninth in the league and fifth in the NFC. Manning has had eight games with a QBR over 100 this year, and he set a career mark with his 26th touchdown on the season.

As noted, backup QB David Carr mopped up in the fourth quarter, going 3 for 4 totaling 27 yards. Carr did endure a delay of game penalty, but he also completed the final third down of the day leading to the victory formation at the two minute warning.

The Running Backs: The best news of the night regarding the running backs is that there was no early fumble. In fact, there were no fumbles on the night. Interestingly, Danny Ware was inactive while Gartrell Johnson got the nod for third RB of the night.

The Giants came out passing as usual, but quickly reverted to the power running game, and for once alternated Jacobs and Bradshaw during a series instead of using each for an entire series.

Brandon Jacobs ran early and often, getting 12 of his 16 carries in the first half. Though the Giants continue to try to get Jacobs wide against the wishes of most of the fans in The Corner Forum, one or two were actually successful on Monday night. Unfortunately, three or four were not. Jacobs finished with only 52 yards for a 3.3 ypc average. Jacobs caught one pass for two yards, and won the undercard of the night against Albert Haynesworth on points.

HB Ahmad Bradshaw was a focal point of the Giants offense on Monday, carrying nine times for 61 yards and two touchdowns. Bradshaw also caught three passes (all three were middle screens) that went for 24 yards. He continues to somehow play solid, inspired football despite a broken foot and two sore ankles.

Gartrell Johnson mopped up on the last drive of the fourth quarter, gaining four yards on two carries.

Fullback Madison Hedgecock had his third solid game in a row. It seems that he’s more in sync with what the rest of the line and tight ends are trying to do, and the holes are now there for the running backs to exploit. The Giants are still having trouble at times getting Jacobs wide, but that’s probably more to do with the fact that the opponents know that the Giants want to do that, and therefore have figured out how to defend it better. Also, it’s simply not Jacobs’ strength to move lateral and then turn upfield. That said, it’s good to see Hedgecock getting closer and closer to his old self.

The Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: WR Steve Smith extended his season reception record to 90 catches after catching five balls for 40 yards and a touchdown. He now leads the NFC over Larry Fitzgerald by one reception. Smith still needs 251 yards in his final two games to set the franchise mark for single season reception yardage. Smith continues to trail WR Sidney Rice and now Dallas’ Miles Austin in total receiving yardage this season.

WR Hakeem Nicks was on pace for another huge day, catching two passes for 62 yards before going out of the game late in the first half with a mild hamstring strain. Nicks is currently fourth among rookies with 38 catches, but he’s first overall in yardage (685), first in average gain per catch (18 yards), and tied for first in touchdowns (6). It’s safe to say that Nicks is in the hunt for “Offensive Rookie of the Year.”

Mario Manningham got out of the dog house with three catches for 44 yards and a beautiful 25 yard touchdown where he split the defense down the right sideline off a pump fake to the left before throwing to Mario who was alone between the numbers and the sideline. The Redskins had seven in coverage on the play, but Eli faked S Laron Landry and MLB London Fletcher to the center of the field, leaving a cocoon for Manningham to settle in, in between three Redskins defenders. It was one of the prettiest Giants passing plays of the entire year.

Domenik Hixon and Derek Hagan also had big catches, and Hagan’s 25-yard touchdown catch was very similar to that of Manningham’s.

TE Kevin Boss had another stellar game on Monday night, as he and the other tight ends were targeted a total of seven times. Boss turned in 57 yards receiving, and was again a huge factor in the running game making Pro Bowl caliber blocks on several big plays.

The legend of Bear Pascoe began on the very first offensive play of the game, as he caught Eli’s first pass of the night. Later in the drive, H-Back Travis Beckum caught his only pass of the night, as well. Both saw significant time, but Pascoe was in during many two TE sets and blocked fairly well for a man with his limited experience level.

The Offensive Line: The Giants began without RT Kareem McKenzie and lost LG Rich Seubert on the last play of their first drive on Monday night. Much discussion in The Corner Forum centered on how well both rookie T William Beatty and reserve G Kevin Boothe played in place of the two key veterans. Despite having two new linemen in the game at the same time, there was no loss of cohesiveness and there were no obvious communication issues. In fact, an argument could be made that the way Boothe played, especially while pulling, he may deserve consideration for more playing time even if Seubert comes back soon. Boothe was blamed for giving up a sack to NT/DT Albert Haynesworth, but a closer look at the play indicates that he actually did his job well, not getting any help from David Diehl and Manning himself, who moved into the area that Boothe was influencing Fat Albert.

Overall, the line gave up just two sacks, and two quarterback hits. That’s a significant win against a very aggressive and talented Washington front seven, and even more significant when you consider two regulars were out.

The Defense: Last week, I suggested that the defense hadn’t played nearly as badly as many people on BBI thought they had played. Clearly, they gave up way too many points and gave up too many big plays. Overall, however, they didn’t play a bad game. They played badly on a handful of plays. Going into the Redskins game, the Giants were down two more players as CBs Corey Webster and Aaron Ross were out with injuries, leaving them with four starters on the bench.

This week, the Giants did not give up the big play. Consistent and relentless pressure from the front four (augmented with plenty of blitzes) kept Washington off balance all game. Jason Campbell ended up leading the Redskins in rushing with 36 yards on two scrambles. Discounting those yards, the Giants defense once again stymied the oppositions running game, allowing just 53 yards on 15 carries.

The Redskins attempted to use quick outs, ins, rubs, and screens to gain yardage and for most of the day it didn’t work. As mentioned, the pressure led to five sacks, 12 quarterback hits, and two interceptions (a third interception was tacked on by the special teams off a fake field goal attempt by Washington), and the Redskins never got into a clear rhythm on offense.

The only criticism of the defense regarding Monday would be the decision to continue to go after Campbell with all out blitzes on the first drive of the second half by Washington. Considering how well the front four were doing, it didn’t seem to make sense to sell out and give Washington a chance to get the easy dump off for a big gainer, and that’s exactly what happened. The aggressiveness was understandable, but why Chase Blackburn was in there to blitz was a questionable as he proved once again all he can do on a blitz is engage someone.

The Front Seven: The front four, no matter the configuration, (Kiwanuka, Tuck, Umenyiora, Bernard, Canty, Robbins, Cofield and on occasion Boley and Sintim) were ferocious in their pass rush and completely shut down the Washington rushing attack. Everyone knows that the axiom the Giants live and die by is “it all starts up front,” and on Monday night, it started and ended up front as they thoroughly dominated the game.

Kiwanuka, Umenyiora, Tuck, Cofield and Robbins combined for 10 quarterback hits and four sacks. The line also had more 30% of the defensive tackles. Mathais Kiwanuka, however, was the standout on a day when the entire line was stellar. Interestingly, Chris Canty did not register a single statistic, but it appeared he did a solid job of holding point on the line, influencing the running game away from his spot most of the night.

Not to be outdone, the linebacking corps also had a very good game. Michael Boley had an excellent game on the edge, both rushing the quarterback and covering the backs and tight ends. Newly starting MIKE Jonathan Goff continues to improve, as he got in on four tackles (one was a bone jarring hit on Redskins HB Marcus Mason), had a sack, a tackle for a loss, a QB hit, and one pass defensed. He still needs to learn to read the receiver’s eyes and turn for the ball when it’s approaching.  For the second week in a row, if he had a ball hit him that he didn’t know was in the air. Those will eventually turn to interceptions, but for now it’s just nice to see a MIKE linebacker on the Giants stick with a receiver downfield.

Danny Clark played his usual game, following up the play and taking up space. He managed one tackle, and was replaced later in the evening by Clint Sintim. Sintim made one tackle, and also made one mental mistake, vacating his gap, allowing the Washington running back to exploit a huge hole for the Redskins’ longest running play of the night on a third and 1 situation. Sintim will also continue to improve and it’s good that he got some meaningful reps on Monday.

Bryan Kehl also got into the mix and played much of the fourth quarter, making 3 tackles. The kids, it appears, are starting to contribute and overall they’re looking pretty good.

The Secondary: So Corey Webster and Aaron Ross are out. Kevin Dockery and Terrell Thomas started at corner, with Aaron Rouse and Michael Johnson manning the middle. Bruce Johnson, DJ Johnson, and CC Brown came in on nickel and dime packages. Surely, this was a disaster waiting to happen, right? Wrong!

Kevin Dockery had his best game of the year after spending several weeks in the doghouse, recording five solo tackles (most at or near the line of scrimmage) and one pass defensed. Terrell Thomas also had a very solid game, recording four tackles and defending two passes. Thomas also showed impressive speed to track down FB Rock Cartwright who got loose for a 51-yard gain on a screen.

The Redskins threw just 15 times to the wide receivers, and completed just seven of them. That’s a shut down job. Washington threw a lot of screens to their big emerging star – TE Fred Davis – and the running backs, and though they completed a lot of them, the Giants managed to keep them in front of them for the most part, only getting burned big one time.

The safeties only got in on 5 tackles, as Washington didn’t try to exploit the middle of the field much at all. On one play, however, Michael Johnson proved yet again that he doesn’t play fundamentally sound football as he went for a high shoulder kill shot on Fred Davis near the goal line instead of lowering and driving through him. On the play, Davis had Boley beaten down the seam but was able to get enough of Davis to break up the play before Johnson came in for the hit. He dropped the ball, but through no real cause of Johnson. If he had held on, Johnson’s pitiful attempt would have resulted in a game-changing touchdown just before the half for Washington.

Clearly, the Giants played a complete game for the first time since Oakland on defense, and they were rewarded with the win.

Special Teams: Special teams were a big part of the defensive win this week, as they consistently held Washington to marginal or worse starting field position all night. There were no big returns by Washington on any of the eight kickoffs from Lawrence Tynes.

Only one kick of the eight reached the end zone, but not one was returned beyond the 26 yard line and the average start for Washington on kickoffs was their own 21-yard line. Called “hidden yardage,” this game proved just how important it is to make the opponent have to drive the majority of the field on every possession. Chase Blackburn, Domenik Hixon, D.J. Johnson and Clint Sintim made for some nice special teams tackling on Monday.

The Giants only had to punt twice, and again, good coverage led to little return yardage for Washington.

As for the return teams, the Giants got adequate punt and kick returns all night.

Coaching: Once again, Kevin Gilbride called an outstanding game, choosing to attack with short and intermediate passes augmented with a strong ground game. The screen pass was integrated into the offense more than usual, as was the use of the tight ends in the middle of the field. The Giants fooled the Redskins, never really trying to go over the top of the defense and instead using a high percentage passing game and strong running attack to eat up smaller chunks of yardage at a time, and control the clock. Staying “ahead of the chains” and keeping third downs manageable, the Giants were able to confuse the Redskins defense enough to convert 11 of 15 first downs. You don’t do that without calling a great game.

On defense, there is no doubt that the communication issues of the past couple weeks were gone. The Giants seemed ready for everything the Redskins tried to throw at them, and other than one gap loss by Sintim there didn’t seem to be any players out of position or playing the wrong coverage on many plays. Hopefully, this becomes the norm and the Giants are finally understanding their assignments.

Offensive Player of the Game: Eli Manning once again had a stellar game, but this week I’m giving the nod to HB Ahmad Bradshaw for his combined 105 yards rushing and receiving and two touchdowns.

Defensive Player of the Game: Mathias Kiwanuka wants to get paid, and he’s playing like it. He was a one-man wrecking ball swinging from a GIANT crane on that defensive line out there last week. That’s the line we thought we’d see all season.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Washington Redskins, December 21, 2009)
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