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New York Giants 34 (3-2) – Houston Texans 10 (3-2)

by The Hack for BigBlueInteractive.com

Game Summary: Momentum in sports is a funny thing.  The New York Giants didn’t have a lot of momentum following the first three games of the season.  While there were signs pointing towards them not being a bad team, rather they were a good team playing bad football, it sure seemed like internal bickering and external pontificating could lead to this team’s unraveling.

Momentum, as in a winning streak, hadn’t been seen since October of last year for the Giants.  That’s a long, long time to go without back to back wins, but now they’ve done it and have the momentum that a winning streak brings to a team.

With one dominating first half against the Chicago Bears, momentum began to build.  It continued to build through that game and now has snowballed.  The Giants came out just a bit flat on offense on Sunday, but following a momentum saving fumble recovery of a botched punt by Chase Blackburn, the snowball became an avalanche that buried the Texans and their number 1 rushing offense.

The Giants were missing several key players again, as FB Madison Hedgecock, C Shaun O’Hara, DE Mathais Kiwanuka and LB Keith Bulluck were on the inactive list with injuries.  It didn’t matter, as both units continued to dominate the line of scrimmage and put up huge numbers.

It could be argued that the Texans tried to get cute early, as all four of their first possession plays were passes.  That was somewhat unexpected when you consider that they had the number 1 rushing team in the league coming into the game.  As for the Giants, their game plan may have been to try to establish the run, but the Texans owned the worst passing defense of the game, and the Giants did a great job of picking their secondary apart while mixing in the run enough to keep the pass rush honest.

A couple of notable stats on Sunday:

  1. The Giants won the time of possession battle in every quarter, on their way to a total of nearly 39 minutes.
  2. The Giants won the average starting field position battle for the first time, as well.
  3. The Giants put their highest point total of the year on the board.
  4. The Giants scored on three consecutive drives before the Texans finally got on the board.
  5. The Giants were 4-4 in Green Zone efficiency and 3-3 in goal to go efficiency.
  6. In a period spanning the 1st and 2nd quarters, Eli Manning completed 11 straight passes.

For all intents and purposes, this game was over at halftime despite the fact that the Giants offense didn’t come out to play in the second half until there were about 4 minutes left in the 3rd quarter.

The Giants entered the locker room leading 24-3.  New York ran 37 plays to the Houston’s 27, rolled up 254 total yards to 74 while piling up 17 first downs to 4.  Arian Foster had 9 rushing yards on 8 carries for a 1.1 ypc average.  The Giants made the Texans play directly into their hands by getting out to the big lead and forcing Houston to throw the ball.  On 7 first half possessions, Houston had drives of 1, 3, 3, 3, 4, 4, and 10 plays.  As loud as Reliant Stadium was early on, the place was a mausoleum by the time the teams walked off at intermission.

Offense: The Giants apparently decided that their best mode of attack against the Texans was through the air.  Coming into the game, Houston was dead last in the NFL at defending the pass and other than a spate of bizarre interceptions, the Giants have had very good success throwing the ball.

New York ran 15 times in the first half, just 2 less than they passed, however that trend went out the window in the second half.  The Giants ran the ball by design just 11 times, dropped back to pass 23 times, and had 3 kneel outs.  In the third quarter, with a three touchdown lead, the Giants continued to throw the ball repeatedly and it nearly cost them.

The Giants attacked the two rookie Texan cornerbacks, Kareem Jackson and Sherrick McManis, with great success all day despite the fact that both ended up with interceptions on Sunday.

Following an initial 3 and out from deep in their own territory, the offense suddenly started firing on all cylinders and the Giants scored touchdowns on 3 straight possessions that spanned the first and second quarters.  Following Hakeem Nicks’ second touchdown, the rout was seemingly on.

As noted, momentum was a big factor in this game, and the Giants offense was able to change the momentum that they themselves helped create for the Texans with two huge drives when it really counted.  The first occurred in the later part of the 2nd quarter.  Pinned back at their own 3 yard line up 21-3 with 4:11 left on the first half clock and the crowd urging their Texans defense to get a stop, the Giants engineered a clock killing drive that resulted in a 45 yard field goal that seemingly iced the game.  All the momentum was squarely back on the Giants sideline.

Then late in the third quarter after two Giants turnovers led directly to a Texans touchdown that got them within 2 scores and started to shift momentum to their side, the Giants took possession with just over 6 minutes left and methodically plundered field and clock towards another field goal that restored the 3 possession lead.  Before that drive, Manning had been just 2-9 with 2 interceptions in 3 second half possessions.  On the drive, Manning hit on 5 straight passes before they stalled and they settled for the field goal.

The Quarterback: Sometimes we see the best and worst of Eli Mannng in the same game, and this was one of them.  Following the ineffective first drive, Manning caught fire and at one point completed 11 straight passes.  Though Houston has a very good defensive front, for the most part Eli was kept upright and had plenty of time to survey the field to find his receivers.

Manning finished the day 27-42 for 297 yards, 3 TDs and 2 INTs.  Both interceptions were entirely Manning’s fault, as he had opportunity on both plays to just throw the ball out of bounds (he was outside the tackle boxes) but instead tried to force the ball downfield.  Luckily, the defense bailed him out the first time but wasn’t able to do so the second time.

Manning is now completing 64.4% of his passes, is ranked 7th in the NFL in passing yards, and due to all the interceptions his QBR sits at a pedestrian 83.1.  If you use that metric, Manning is ranked as the 21st QB in the NFL.

The Running Backs: The Giants running game was sort of an enigma on Sunday.  All told, the backs ran 26 times for 108 total yards but the numbers are somewhat skewed by the fact that Ahmad Bradshaw had runs of 23 and 14 yards, and Brandon Jacobs had a long of 14.  In other words, 51 of those 108 yards came on just 3 plays. On the other 20 rushes, the Giants managed just a 2.8 ypc average.  It’s possible that Houston decided to take a page from the Giants playbook and sell out to stop the Giants rushing attack and make the Giants beat them through the air, but if that was the case it failed miserably as both Jacobs and Bradshaw did enough on the day to keep the Texans defense honest.

Bradshaw finished the day with 67 yards on 16 carries for a 4.2 ypc average and caught 3 passes for 22 yards.  Bradshaw continues to amaze with his increasingly effective cut back runs and his uncanny ability to find slivers of daylight between defenders and fall forward for positive yards when there appears to be none.

Jacobs, who played with excellent pad level and ran north all day long, finished with 41 yards on 10 carries for a 4.1 ypc average.  Jacobs converted a critical 3rd down early, and also scored a touchdown on an impressive bull run into the endzone.  Jacobs also did the heavy lifting in the 4th quarter to close out the game carrying 5 times for 20 yards over the last three series.

With Madison Hedgecock out for this game, Bear Pascoe saw time at fullback as his replacement.  The Giants did not go with a traditional I formation that you’d see with Hedgecock very often, however, and Pascoe mainly motioned in to the fullback position.  Pascoe flailed at times, but he held his own and earned the praise of his head coach.

The Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: The emergence of Hakeem Nicks as a top flight WR in this league continued on Sunday, as the big receiver had an astounding 17 passes thrown his way.  Nicks, singled up most of the night as the double team was shifted towards counterpart Steve Smith, abused whomever he was facing across the field as he caught a team record tying 12 passes for a wide receiver for 130 yards and 2 touchdowns.  Hakeem also took out a safety and a corner back on Ahmad Bradshaw’s 23 yard 1st quarter run.  If Nicks could’ve gotten just a bit more of the safety, Bradshaw would’ve scored.  It was an amazing play by Nicks to even get into position to make one block, let alone two.

Amazingly, Nicks would have had a 3rd touchdown, good for 51 yards, but dropped a pass that he had to ever so slightly wait for as he ran wide open down the left sideline.  Among NFL wide receivers, Nicks is now tied for 4th in the NFL with 33 receptions, 8th in yards with 409, and leads all wide receivers with 6 touchdowns.  At one point, Nicks caught 3 straight passes from Manning.

Speaking of Steve Smith, though Manning didn’t look for him as often as he looked for Nicks, he still managed to catch 6 of 8 balls thrown his way for 89 yards including a beautiful jump ball touchdown catch to put the Texans away for good.  Smith is 13th among NFL wide receivers with 28 catches.  Tough Smith’s numbers are down from last season at this time, it’s more a reflection of the emergence of Hakeem Nicks than anything he’s doing wrong.

Mario Manningham has disappeared for the second straight game, as he was thrown to just twice but had no catches.  Ramses Barden caught a short out on the first play of the Giants’ second drive but wasn’t heard from again.

Kevin Boss had a solid night, catching 4 balls for 40 yards.  More importantly, 2 of the 4 catches were key 3rd down conversions to keep drives alive.  Travis Beckum continued to contribute as he caught a pass for 8 yards.  He was also the intended receiver on Eli’s first interception.  Beckum didn’t see a lot of time at TE due to Shawn Andrews starting and getting most of the snaps in double TE sets.

Offensive Line: The offensive line was once again without starting C Shaun O’Hara, forcing Adam Koets to continue his role as the key anchor in front of Eli Manning.  Koets has fared pretty well in his stint as starting center, and certainly better than many over in The Corner Forum expected.  But as noted by contributor “Dorgan”, when discussing the upcoming test the interior of the Giants line will get from Detroit:

 

“The interior of our OL is going to be tested by the Lions.  They are stout in the middle.  Koets has been adequate, but he has a real bad habit of getting his feet so wide that he’s locked up and can’t move side to side and that causes him to reach with his upper body getting even further off balance.  So, I’m welcoming O’Hara back with open arms if he’s ready this week, but I’d make sure I gave Koets a hearty ‘attaboy’ while sending him back to the bench.”

Koets has a tendency to swing and miss.  Occasionally in the run game, he’ll whiff on his man and it seems that he’s actually helped by the fact that Bradshaw is a sneaky cut back runner who can make the mistakes that Koets makes moot.

Overall, the Giants offensive line played well on Sunday, as they were mostly up in pass protection.  Eli was only sacked once and hit 3 times.  David Diehl did a great job neutralizing DL Mario Williams after the very first series, but had to leave the game with cramps for a bit late in the first half, and Shawn Andrews, jack of all trades, stepped in admirably.  The scrapper got into a couple heated discussions after the play a couple times, showing that mean streak that’s always so popular on an offensive line.  Both guards, Snee and Seubert, had excellent games pulling and getting out in front of receivers (Nicks and Bradshaw on bubble screens) and also a couple other times in the running game.  Both, however, were instrumental in rushing breakdowns that resulted in losses.  As noted in preseason, when the offensive line fails, it’s usually just one person getting beat on the play and it’s nothing schematic about it.  That happened on several occasions Sunday.  That said, against a very good front 7 in a very loud stadium the line played very well.  When the Texans brought only 4, there was no chance they were getting to Eli and he picked their secondary apart.

Defense: The New York Giants walked into Reliant Stadium to take on the number one rushing team in the NFL.  When they left, Houston had fallen to the 5th best rushing team in the NFL.  As noted earlier, Texas must have expected the Giants to sell out to stop the run, much like they did to Chicago, and therefore decided to try to attack them through the air.  That proved to be a mistake, and combined with the fact that the Giants got out to a very quick 21 point lead, it was fatal.

The Texans attempted just 8 runs in the first half, all by the league’s leading rusher Arian Foster, who gained just 9 yards.  The long run of the half for Foster was just 3 yards.  The Giants continued to clamp down in the second half, when Houston ran just 6 more times for just 15 more yards.  On the day, the Giants held the mighty Texans to just 24 total yards on 15 carries for a 1.6 ypc average.

Houston didn’t throw the ball much better, as Pro Bowl QB Matt Schaub completed 16 of 34 passes for 196 yards, no touchdowns and 1 interception.  Schaub finished the game with a 53.1 QBR.  For the majority of the day, the Giants only sent their front four in on Schaub and still got outstanding pressure.   The Giants harassed Schaub for most of the game, getting 7 hits on the QB to go along with their 3 sacks.  The resurgent Osi Umenyiora got the party started early by strip sacking Schaub on the first series, and even though Houston recovered the fumble, the tone had been set.

In the first half, the Giants allowed only one drive of any consequence, and it was set up by a personal foul committed on special teams.  Set up at their own 45 yard line, the Texans took 10 plays to move just 35 yards and kick a 38 yard field goal.  On the day, that was the only drive over 6 plays for the Texans, who also scored a touchdown after a turnover set them up at 1st and 10 at the Giants’ 17 yard line.

Another astounding stat worth mentioning is that the Giants allowed the Texans to convert just 2 of 11 3rd down opportunities, which equates to 18% conversion rate.  Now, over two weeks, the Giants have allowed the opposition to convert just 2 of 24 3rd downs.  That is astounding.  That’s an 8.33% conversion rate.

Front 7: Clint Sintim got his first actual start this weekend, starting at SLB.  Though he played a little more than he had in the past, the Giants continue to employ their 3 safety look with Deon Grant at the SLB position with Goff and Boley his counterparts at linebacker.  Grant, however, did get the start at CB over Webster for reasons unknown.

The defensive line had another terrific game.  Barry Cofield and Chris Canty had outstanding days pushing the middle of the pile and making plays in the backfield.  Cofield had 4 tackles, and 2 of them were for a loss.  As for Canty, he was around the ball all day even though he was light on the stat sheet.  By my count, Canty had 3 passes defensed but he’s only credited with one on the stat sheet.  Justin Tuck had a terrific day in run support.  Tuck ended the day with 6 tackles, a sack, 2 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, 2 QB hits and a fumble recovery.  Tuck did an excellent job playing off blocks and getting down the line of scrimmage to force Foster to stay inside and get in on the play.  Frankly, it looked like he played a lot like Michael Strahan used to play against the run.

If Osi Umenyiora is hurt, he’s sure as hell not playing like it.  For two weeks now, Umenyiora has been an absolute beast on the field.  Osi had 2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles (1 critical as it came right after a 48-yard passing play to WR Andre Johnson) and a pass defensed.  Possibly most notable is that Osi has his inside move back, as he is no longer just going wide on the OT and pushing up the field.  Dave Tollefson, Jason Pierre-Paul, Linval Joseph and Rocky Bernard also got into the act and made plays.  Tollefson has been a huge surprise and is playing with aggression when he’s in the game.

The linebackers were somewhat quite on Sunday, but with the defensive line playing lights out football, their support is all that’s necessary.  The stat sheet claims that Jonathan Goff only got in on one tackle, but that’s just not so.  Goff was around the ball quite a bit, and made two huge first half plays.  The first was dumping Foster for a loss on a beautiful read and react fill in which he ran to the ball carrier unimpeded and dropped him like a rock.  Goff nearly had an interception in the first quarter as well, as he dropped to cover the TE and although he got a paw on it, he was unable to reel it in.  Goff is starting to just play rather than think out there.  He’s continuing to learn and grow, and it appears he may actually be the answer at MIKE for the Giants as long as he continues to progress.  Michael Boley had a quiet game.

Defensive Backs: Antrel Rolle has been everything the Giants could have hoped for and more.  The outspoken safety played a tremendous game down in the box in run support, and was one of the keys to holding the #1 ranked rushing team to just 24 yards.  Rolle had 6 tackles and a QB hit on a well timed blitz.  The back end of the defense has become a huge strength for this team. Corey Webster had a huge early game changing interception on an exceptionally athletic play on the ball.  Uber WR Andre Johnson didn’t have his first catch until late in the first half, and other than one long completion that was a perfectly thrown ball into pretty tight triple coverage, Johnson wasn’t much of a factor on the day.  Kenny Phillips wasn’t asked to do much in the way of blitzing, and was only in on one tackle.  It was reported that he had a sprained MCL, so it’s possible that he was asked to play it safe out there and not free lance, and just play his area.  Terrell Thomas also had another solid game.

Special Teams: Last week, I declared the special teams a joke.  It was pointed out to me that San Diego was a joke, and I have to acquiesce and agree to that statement.  The Giants have been as bad as any Giants team in the past on specials that I’ve ever seen, but the truth is at there are actually teams in the NFL that are worse.

This week there were several obvious changes to special teams.  First, back up QB Sage Rosenfels took over the holding duties from P Matt Dodge, and that apparently was a good move as K Lawrence Tynes hit 2 field goals (3 if you count one that was nullified by a penalty that resulted in a first down for the Giants) and all 4 extra points without a hitch.  One snap was high, but Rosenfels had no issues getting it down and Tynes knocked it through without issue.

Another interesting change was seeing LB Michael Boley on the punt return team blocking the gunners.  Unfortunately, he got called for a holding penalty so he wasn’t much better than the rest of them.

Matt Dodge, despite hitting a couple more line drive punts, had a very successful day.  He averaged better than 49 yards a punt and netted a solid 43 yards per punt.  Dodge did get a little lucky that he got a good bounce on his first punt, which had no hang time at all.

The Giants had company on Sunday, as the Texans decided to reciprocate all the Giants’ special teams penalties on the day and let them off the hook.  The Giants had 5 penalties on specials Sunday.  4 holds and 1 personal foul.  Unbelievably, Houston had nearly as many.  A crucial one came on the Giants’ final TD drive as they jumped offsides on a field goal attempt, giving the Giants a first down.   Due to the penalties on both teams, it’s impossible to assess the return teams.

Coaching: The Giants seemed to nearly outsmart themselves in the third quarter when with a three touchdown lead they went pass heavy on three successive drives in which two ended in turnovers.  Luckily, the defense got one back and they only lost 7 points to the turnovers.  Good job by the coaches (not sure if Quinn or Coughlin made the call) to change up the holding duties and start some starters on special teams to try and get a spark.

Offensive Player of the Game: Hakeem Nicks is fast becoming an elite WR in the National Football League.  In a head to head match up with super WR Andre Johnson, Nicks was the clear winner.

Defensive Player of the Game: Though Justin Tuck had a tremendous game once again, the nod goes to Osi Umenyiora for setting the tone with an early sack.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Houston Texans, October 10, 2010)
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