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New York Giants 24 (7-4) – Jacksonville Jaguars 20 (6-5)

by The Hack for BigBlueInteractive.com

Game Summary: The New York Giants may have saved their season after playing an inspired second half of football to overcome a poor first half effort and overtake the Jacksonville Jaguars at New Meadowlands Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

On offense, the Giants seemed to be poised for success after their most impressive opening drive of the season nearly ended in near disaster.  After going the first 10 games of the year without scoring on the opening drive (5 turnovers, 5 punts), New York marched from their own 20 down to the Jaguars’ 5 yard line before settling for a field goal.  Luckily for the Giants, a ruled fumble by wide out Derek Hagan near the Jacksonville goal line was reversed, saving the drive.

With much of the discussion leading into this game centered around how it would be up to the Giants defense to help out an injury riddled offense by clamping down hard on the Jaguars, the opening drive by the Giants certainly seemed like a good omen.

Unfortunately, the Giants’ defense decided to take the first half off, allowing the Jaguars to run wild through them.  The Jags had the ball just three times in the entire first half:

  1. A 4 minute 22 second drive covering 9 plays and 75 resulting in a touchdown.
  2. An 8 minute 57 second drive covering 15 plays and 85 yards resulting in a field goal.
  3. A 5 minute 15 second drive covering 13 plays and 71 yard resulting in a touchdown.

Jacksonville had 16 1st half first downs, ran 36 offensive plays, rolled up 236 (145 on the ground!) total yards and held the ball for 18:34.  Jacksonville also converted 5 of 6 third down attempts.  As evidenced upon review of the First Half Game Thread in The Corner Forum, not too many Giants fans were happy, let alone hopeful, at the half.

As for the Giants’ offense, they failed to convert a single third down in the half, and more importantly, they were 0-2 in the Green Zone.  It wasn’t that they were playing poorly, they just weren’t converting opportunities.  The Giants drove the length of the field on their opening drive but couldn’t convert a 3rd and 2 from the 3 yard line and had to kick a field goal.  On their second drive, QB Eli Manning missed a wide open Mario Manningham deep behind the Jacksonville defense.  A good pass results in a touchdown in that situation.  Later, a Kevin Boss hold nullified a 9 yard touchdown pass to Manningham and the Giants had to settle for a second field goal.

The second half was a complete role reversal in every area save time of possession.  Although the Giants gave up several long drives (9, 10, and 9 plays) to the Jags in the second half, they didn’t allow them back into the end zone.  Overall, the Giants surrendered just 92 second half yards, forced 2 turnovers, and allowed just 3 points.  Quite a reversal of fortune.

As for the Giants offense, they continued to have trouble in the Green Zone.  When the Jaguars turned the ball over on their first play from scrimmage of the second half, the Giants were set up at the Jags’ 34 yard line.  After securing a 1st and goal at the Jacksonville 9 yard line, however, the drive again stalled and the Giants kicked their 3rd field goal of the game.

It may not be evident to most, but the Giants ran just 17 plays on their final 4 meaningful drives, going 3 and out twice and with both touchdown drives including more than 1 big play.  The first touchdown drive covered 88 yards on just 5 plays in less than 2 minutes.  The second touchdown drive covered 69 yards on 6 plays in 2:40.  In other words, they were very opportunistic late in this game.

The turnover and penalty issues plaguing the Giants for most of this season were nonexistent on Sunday.  The Giants did not turn the ball over while causing Jacksonville to turn it over twice and they committed just 4 penalties for 25 yards.  That is major improvement

Offense: New York’s offense was down two more starters on Sunday, as Hakeem Nicks and Shawn Andrews took seats on the bench next to injured starters Steve Smith, David Diehl, Shaun O’Hara, and Madison Hedgecock. The Giants were also without Ramses Barden and Adam Koets, both on Injured Reserve.

Shawn Andrews came up lame on Monday and had to be hospitalized for back pain later in the week.  Nicks is out at least the next two games as well.  The Giants now are relying on the likes of Michael Clayton, most recently of the UFL, Derek Hagan, Kevin Boothe and William Beatty to help keep the offense afloat until some of the normal deckhands can get back to duty.  When you add in the fact that Ahmad Bradshaw was benched as starter due to a chronic case of fumblitis, this offense was missing a lot of important cogs.

It’s amazing that a team can take two guys off the street and two guys who until recently were physically unable to play and make it work.  But that’s exactly what they did on Sunday.  OC Kevin Gilbride may have done his most masterful job of the season to put the Giants into plays that in which they could be successful.  New York reduced the number and types of sets that they normally run and kept it simple.

Interestingly, after having very little success and only running to the left twice against the Eagles, the Giants had tremendous success running left.

On the day, the Giants only had 10drives, and 2 of those were at the end of each half.  Of the 8 meaningful drives, New York scored on 5 of them but went 0-3 in the Green Zone.

The Quarterback: His stats were modest, he didn’t get the ball deep as the Giants receivers managed a lot of yards after the catch, and he didn’t force anything.   On a day when it was imperative that Eli keep his composure and take what was given, he did so.  On the day, Eli completed just 14 of 24 passes (58%) for 226 yards, 2 touchdowns and most importantly no interceptions and no fumbles.

On the day, Manning’s QBR was 117.7. On the season Manning’s QBR is 90.3, good for 17th in the league.  Currently he is also 7th in the league in passing yardage, 6th in the league in completion percentage, tied for 1st with 23 touchdowns and 2nd in the league in interceptions with 16.

As detailed in previous reviews, Manning is a down the field QB who targets his wide receivers the vast majority of the time.   On Sunday, Easy Eli attempted to get the ball downfield just 9 times, far and away the lowest amount of the season.  9 other passes were to the tight ends and the other 5 were to the backs.

While Manning did most everything right including getting rid of the ball out of bounds and also not forcing a throw and taking a 1 yard run deep in his own territory, Manning did severely under throw a wide open Mario Manningham on their second possession that most likely would’ve gone for a touchdown.  This is at least the third time this season that Manning has taken a shot deep to an open receiver and missed a probable touchdown.   Another play that I’m sure Manning wishes he had back is the first and goal at the Jacksonville 9 yard line on the drive following the Thomas interception.

The Giants lined up with Manning under center in a single TE set to Eli’s left, Bradshaw in a deep I, with two receivers wide and Manningham in the slot to Manning’s right.  The wideout to Manning’s right, Michael Clayton, came in motion and at the snap buried the DE while McKenzie rolled right a bit.  Manningham cleared the linebackers on a skinny post to the middle of the field, taking the safety and a frantic cornerback with him.  Bradshaw floated to his right into the flat and if Eli had seen him it was an easy pitch and with McKenzie in front of him he probably scores.  Instead, Eli tried to get the ball to Manningham but at the last second must have thought better of it and he threw the ball into the ground.  On the replay, you can see that the safety from Eli’s left cut off Manningham and probably would’ve had a pick.  The announcers thought the ball may have been tipped, but clearly on the replay it was never touched and even though a defender got a hand on Eli as he went by, it was by no means enough to influence the throw.

The Running Backs: Welcome back, Brandon Jacobs.  Anointed the ‘starter’ after Ahmad Bradshaw continued to fumble the ball last week, Jacobs came out revved up and ready to go.  The Beast had his best day of the season, carrying 14 times for 87 yards for a 6.2 ypc average.  Considering that Jacobs is probably more fresh at this point in the year than he’s been in a number of seasons and Ahmad Bradshaw has more touches after 11 games than he had in the previous 30, this switch could end up paying huge dividends by giving Bradshaw a much needed breather.

Speaking of Bradshaw, he also had a very positive day rushing 9 times for 49 yards, rolling up a tidy 5.4 ypc average.  It’s the first time he’s had an average above 3.5 since before the Seattle game.  Bradshaw was targeted 4 times in the passing game an caught all 4 for 34 more yards.  Most importantly, Bradshaw didn’t fumble the ball and he looked as though he was being more conscious of how he was carrying the ball as well.  Ahmad also had a powerful run for the critical 2 point conversion that tied the game.  More on that play later.

Danny Ware got into the act and ran an excellent flair out of the backfield in which he appeared to be the first read and caught it for an easy 1st down.

The Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: The Giants, as expected, really suffered trying to get production out of this M*A*S*H unit.  On the very first play from scrimmage, Manning hit WR Derek Hagan for a quick hitch along the sideline for 15 yards and a first down.  After the promising start, however, Manning went to his wideouts just 8 more times in the game.

Mario Manningham had an eventful day, catching 3 of only 4 passes thrown his way for 61 yards and a touchdown.  Interesting because besides making a sensational shoestring basket catch on a desperation pass from Manning on the final touchdown drive, he also made a tremendous catch for a touchdown right at the pylon that was called back due to a hold and also blew right past the cornerback and turned towards the middle of the field all alone but was underthrown badly by Manning.  With just a little luck, Manningham could’ve had a 6 catch day with 3 touchdowns.

Michael Clayton was only thrown to once, and it was obvious that he wasn’t on the same page with Manning as he stopped his route and Eli threw the ball well over his head to a different spot on the field.  The Giants did bring Clayton in to the line to block off motion.

Derek Hagan seems to be rounding in to game shape.  He only caught 2 passes out of 4 thrown his way, but like Clayton, it’s going to take time for Manning to develop trust in him.

Travis Beckum had himself a football game on Sunday.  The Giants still only have him on the field for about a quarter of the snaps, but he was instrumental on two plays Sunday that helped turn the game around.  The first was a 29 yard reception that set the Giants up in the Green Zone early in the second quarter.  On the play, we saw with our eyes the nightmare he’s supposed to be against opposing linebackers and safeties.

Later, and more importantly, Beckum was lined up in the slot on the weak side with Manningham wide to his left.  With the Giants in a single TE set with Hagan wide to the right of Manning, the Giants went play action to Jacobs.  The Jaguars were in a basic set, two deep safeties and the corners playing about 5 yards off the wideouts.  Beckum had the WIL covering him up about three yards off the line.  At the snap, Beckum beat the linebacker outside as he tried to jam him, then turned his route down the middle and in a flash, he was wide open.  Both the MIKE and SAM linebackers were fooled by the play action and had to turn and run to go help in the middle of the field with Travis but it was far too late.  The safety who was supposed to take the deep third away from Manningham was forced to converge on Beckum, and by that time Manningham was all alone for the easy pitch and catch.  Manning could’ve thrown to either receiver because both were wide open and that was because Beckum completely dusted his man and forced Jacksonville into a pick your poison matchup.  That was a brilliant route by Beckum, just brilliant.

Kevin Boss also had an eventful day, and it decidedly started off pretty badly.  Boss was thrown to 8 times on the day, but only managed to catch 3 of them.  Fortunately for the Giants, they came on the tying touchdown drive and on the final touchdown drive.  The final catch was the game winner, and came on a 3rd and 10 play in which Jacksonville brought 7 defenders.   Boss recognized he was the hot read and caught what was a simple 3 yard pitch on the run Boss was able to spin to his left, shake off the safety, and stumble forward near the first down marker, which is all anyone was really asking him to do.  Boss, however, was able to regain his balance and rumble the last 20 yards untouched into the end zone for the game winning score.

Offensive Line: For the fourth straight week, the patchwork New York Giants offensive line did not allow a sack of Eli Manning and allowed him to be hit only twice.  Again, the Giants had to shuffle the line as Shawn Andrews was replaced at left tackle by William Beatty.  Beatty, who missed the first 7 games of the season with a broken foot and was nearly placed on season ending injured reserve after week 1, had practiced as if he were starting for a second consecutive week and he was ready.  Granted, the Jacksonville defensive line isn’t exactly a powerhouse, but what better way to get your first start.  Also after running left just twice against the Eagles all game last week, the Giants ran left with very good success all day behind Beatty and LG Kevin Boothe.

Beatty’s best play of the game may have been on the 2 point conversion in which Bradshaw scored over left end.  On the play, the Giants were again lined up in a three receiver set with Kevin Boss lined up as the wide receiver to Eli’s left and TE/FB Bear Pascoe covering up Beatty on the left.  Bradshaw was the lone back in an I formation behind Eli who was under center.  On the snap, Kevin Boss neutralized the corner back while Pascoe engaged the outside linebacker who had lined up opposite him.  Beatty originally engaged the right end, but came off him and literally blasted the MIKE linebacker back towards the goal line while pulling guard Chris Snee re-engaged the DE and the safety long enough for Bradshaw to follow him into the end zone.  If Beatty does not come off that block and plow the MIKE linebacker, no way Bradshaw scores.

Overall the Giants have done a fabulous job of patching together this line.  Reports are saying that it’s at least another week for all three of the walking wounded, and speculation is rampant that Shawn Andrews may be through for good.  This unit will have to continue to carry the load for a while longer.

Defense: For Giants fans, it was as if two completely different defenses played on Sunday.  The first half was an unmitigated disaster as they allowed Jacksonville to sustain three long drives and convert each into points.  In the process, the Giants allowed the Jaguars to convert 5 of 6 third downs and run for 145 yards.  Going into the game they had been averaging allowing just over 80 yards per entire game rushing.

The team seemed listless and confused early, and they certainly didn’t match Jacksonville’s intensity.  The defensive tackles and the linebackers seemed to be overmatched and they weren’t able to get to the holes and stop the run early.

Not that the team had all that much better success defending the pass.  QB David Garrard completed 11 of 16 passes in the first half for 91 yards.  The real damage, however, was done by Garrard on the run.  Several times he managed to escape seemingly sure sacks and make plays.  The final two were the most deadly.  The first was a third down scramble that gained 6 yards after getting away from the rush that set up the next one, three plays later, when he again escaped containment and a sack to rumble into the end zone (again on 3rd down) to give Jacksonville a 17-6 lead at half.  Frankly, at that point and the way the Giants were playing, that lead seemed insurmountable.  But as we often see with these Giants, the unexpected is probably what should be expected.  The Giants forced a critical turnover on the very first play from scrimmage following the second half kickoff and the defense dominated for most of the half from there on out.

The Giants allowed just 92 yards in the second half, and 24 of those were on scrambles by Garrard.  The defense also forced 2 second half turnovers, 4 second half sacks.  (But still allowed the Jags to convert 5 of 10 3rd downs.)

Front 7: Early on, the Giants’ front four was making mistakes, and for the most part it was the DTs who were not staying disciplined in their gaps.  Later, Chris Canty and Barry Cofield completely locked down the middle of the line, allowing the backers to get to the hole and therefore to the ball carrier.  Cofield also blew up two screen passes by pursuing the play from behind and making the plays.

Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora played extremely well, particularly in the second half.  Tuck nearly had an interception on a well designed and disguised zone blitz where the Giants had both Osi and Tuck (playing RDT on the play) drop into coverage and sent Michael Boley and Deon Grant on an overload from the left.  On the day, Osi Umenyiora had 5 QB hits.

The Giants did not try to get to Garrard with more than four down linemen for most of the game, but as it went on and the Giants closed the gap they did send a variety of overload blitzes to try and keep the Jaguars off balance.

A very bright spot for the Giants on Sunday was the outstanding play of rookie DE Jason Pierre-Paul.  Paul played from a variety of spots along the line and managed 6 tackles, the first 2 sacks of his career, and two forced fumbles.  Pierre also made a great play from his RDE position when he began a downhill push into the backfield against the left tackle but diagnosed the play, slid off the LT, and stoned RB Maurice Jones-Drew at the line with a bone jarring hit.  It was a very instinctive play, and very Michael Strahan like.

Michael Boley and Jonathan Goff combined for 15 tackles and both came up huge in the second half, but the real star from the linebacker position was once again Deon Grant who had 8 solo tackles, one behind the line of scrimmage.

Defensive Backs:  The Giants defensive backfield played a solid game once the Giants took away the running game and began to pressure and hit Garrard.  Early on, the Giants were unable to get off the field on 3rd down because Garrard had all the time he required to find open receivers.

CB Terrell Thomas was outstanding on Sunday.  Thomas had 6 tackles, a sack, an interception, a forced fumble and 3 passes defensed.  He nearly had a second interception on an overthrown deep ball, but the Jacksonville receiver broke up the play by interfering with Thomas but wasn’t called for it (actually, the Jags got away with a ton of penalties on the day).   Not to be outdone, Corey Webster did a good job in coverage and was in on 6 tackles as well.  Webster also just missed an interception.

The Giants’ safeties, Antrel Rolle and Kenny Phillips also had big days.  Phillips has been all over the field in the last couple of weeks.  He had a couple nice coverages and broke up one pass play and was also in on 7 tackles.  Phillips had an outstanding stop on what appeared to be a well designed screen. As for Rolle, his pressure led to the final sack and forced fumble on Garrard.

Special Teams: Matt Dodge only punted three times.  The first one was horrid, but he got a great bounce and it turned out to be for good yardage.  Even so, he was booed off the field.  The next two, however, were not bad and actually did a good job of changing field position.  His net average on the day was a robust 48.7 and one was actually inside the 20 yard line.  Coverage teams were outstanding, limiting Jacksonville to just 3 total punt return yards.

Lawrence Tynes’ kickoffs weren’t as good as they’d been the last couple of weeks, but there was only 1 decent return of 29 yards out of 6 and the average starting field position for the Jags was their own 28.

The kick return game got a nice little boost from the return of HB Danny Ware to the role.  Rolle averaged 22.3 yards on 4 returns with a long of 35.  That one may have gone the whole way had he been able to make a better cut against the Jaguars kicker he may have scored.

Coaching: It’s hard to believe that the Giants defense came out as flat as it did on Sunday.  That’s on the coaches.  This was as close as a must win game as there is, seeing as the press would mercilessly be discussing the “second half collapse” had the Giants lost this game.  HC Tom Coughlin gets kudos for recognizing that the Giants needed to simply the offense.  Also, he deserves a nod for having the guts to bench the fumbling Ahmad Bradshaw.  Finally, Coach Coughlin should be lauded for the way he got the team fired up to come out and gut check the second half.

OC Kevin Gilbride did a great job putting the offense in positions to win plays.  With all the injuries, the only way the Giants are going to move the ball is to do the basics well and do them well all the time.  For the most part, that’s exactly what Eli and the Giants did on Sunday.  They weren’t flashy and they capitalized when they had some opportunities late.

DC Perry Fewell once again adjusted and turned this team around on defense.  After holding the elusive Vick to minimal yardage last week, it’s hard to believe that they weren’t able to execute a plan to contain Garrard, but early on they didn’t.  That changed once the Giants began to bring pressure.  It will be interesting to see if they decide to bring pressure earlier this week against the Redskins.

Offensive Player of the Game: William Beatty, having just a handful of plays under his belt, stepped in and played a monster game in pass protection and had a few key blocks in the running game to help the Giants offense do enough to get rolling and win the game.

Defensive Player of the Game: Terrell Thomas had a great game, making a whole hat full of game changing plays on the day.  His interception on the first play of the second half changed momentum and started the Giants defense on a roll.

(Box Score – Jacksonville Jaguars at New York Giants, November 28, 2010)
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