Aug 162011
 
 August 16, 2011  Posted by  Game Previews and Reviews
Carolina Panthers 20 (1-0) – New York Giants 10 (0-1)

by rnargi for BigBlueInteractive.com

Game Summary: The New York Football Giants took to the field for the first time in 2011 against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina last Saturday night.  It was hard to expect much from any team going into action this week after having 11 practices (7 for the signed UFAs) to work with prior to game time.  It became apparent midway through the first quarter that the Giants had no team cohesiveness.  It had appeared that the defense was ahead of the offense so far through training camp, and this game proved that out.

The Giants lost 20-10, didn’t score an offensive touchdown, had three field goal attempts fail, and gave up a whirlwind 3-play, 54-yard touchdown drive midway through the first quarter.  The Giants looked exactly like a team who held no organized team activities (OTAs), mini-camps, and that suffered from not being able to study the playbook during the offseason.

There were some individual bright spots, but really no one should be panicking or worrying about the result of this game.  The major takeaway should be that the rookies and young guys playing new positions got some much needed game-time practice to work on their instincts, work on communication, and start to understand how they fit into their particular unit and how the unit fits into the overall concept.  The other major takeaway is that there appeared to be no major injuries on the night.

One thing I’d like to mention before going any further with the review is to mention that there is always a wealth of individual analysis on The Corner Forum that you will not get from the beat writers or other news outlets.  For those of you who are new to The Forum, I urge you to seek out several posters for more information and analysis of the games and, sometimes more importantly, analysis of individual players/units.  The beauty of The Forum is that we have a number of guys that have coached or played the game who bring unique perspective to certain areas.  Look for posts/threads that are started by Joey in VA, Dorgan, Rich in L.A., Phil in LA, JonC and of course Eric from BBI just to name a few.  You will be guaranteed to learn a thing or two.   One such outstanding thread this week was started by Rich in L.A. and can be found here.

Offense:

The opening offense for 2011 was, at this point in time barring any further adjustments, likely to be the one we see on September 8th in Washington with the exception of tight end, where Jake Ballard got the start over injured TE/H-Back Travis Beckum. QB Eli Manning, HB Ahmad Bradshaw, WRs Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham also started for the Giants.  The shuffled offensive line got their first start together, and Bear Pascoe filled out the starting eleven.

The very first play of the game illustrated some of the fears that many Giants fans have.  With the receivers split wide and Pascoe in motion to Eli’s right, the Giants attempted a pass that ended up with Manning attempting to dump the ball off to Bradshaw in the right flat.  On the play, Manning was under heavy and immediate pressure from RDE Everette Brown, who went through and finally around Ballard as if he wasn’t there.  Additionally, Pascoe was steamrolled by SAM Omar Gaither, and if not for a chip by Bradshaw, would also have gotten to Manning.

Two plays later, however, both Ballard and Pascoe completely walled off the Panthers defense on a Bradshaw running play to the right side for 17 yards.  I mention these two plays because that’s what we are going to see for a bit.  A mixed bag until they get into a groove.

The Giants showed a two TE set early with Pascoe and Ballard, releasing both into the pattern on what turned out to be a 7 yard completion to Ballard.

The first team offense moved the ball fairly well on the first drive, and if not for an overthrown pass to an open Hakeem Nicks, the Giants may have gotten into a rhythm.  As it was, they never did and ended up running 5 total drives.  The longest was the first, a 6-play drive that resulted in a missed 56-yard field goal attempt.  Following that drive, the first team only gained one more first down on 15 plays and never converted a 3rd down play.

The second team offense fared little better, managing just one more first down in the half as they settled for a field goal prior to the end of the first half.

The second half saw all of the backups and newcomers on the roster get heavy action, and although they were able to make a play here and there, again no rhythm was established and the Giants either punted or settled for field goal attempts.

On a positive note and despite only having between 7 and 11 practices, the Giants did not turn over the football.

The Quarterbacks: Eli Manning did not look particularly good on Saturday night.  Although he wasn’t sacked, he was under heavy pressure on 4 of his 9 attempts on the night.  For the game, Manning completed 4 of 9 passes for 36 yards.  He was victimized, however, when Hakeem Nicks was interfered with but did not get the call on a beautifully thrown ball 25 yards downfield. On the other hand, he missed a wide open Nicks on the first drive which would have moved the chains deep in Carolina territory.

Despite taking a ton of criticism for bird-dogging his receivers on The Corner Forum, Sage Rosenfels had a respectable night, completing 13 of 19 passes for 129 yards.  Rosenfels certainly has issues to work on, however.  On a first and 10 from the Carolina 26 with 1:46 left in the half, Carolina ran an overload blitz to Rosenfels’ right in which Sage did nothing to adjust to and took a sack.  WR Victor Cruz, the hot read to the QBs left, was wide open cutting across the middle underneath but Sage never looked his way and just swallowed the ball for an 8 yard loss, effectively killing the drive.

Longshot QB Ryan Perrilloux, who’s impressed coaches and fans at camp, completed 5 of 9 passes for 67 yards.

David Carr did not play in the game.

The Running Backs: Neither starter Ahmad Bradshaw nor Brandon Jacobs were able to get anything going on the ground with the first team offense.  Each had one big gainer, but other than that neither was able to establish any momentum or sustain a drive.  Neither player caught a pass in their limited time.

Jacobs had an opportunity to establish some validity for the offensive line on a 3rd and 1 opportunity, but Jake Ballard again lost contain and Brandon was forced outside where he tripped over a fallen Pascoe for no gain.

HB D.J. Ware had the most carries for the Giants with 7 and also caught 3 passes on the night.

Andre Brown, Charles Scott (fully recovered from his car accident in May), and Da’Rel Scott had the rest of the carries thought none distinguished themselves.

The much-awaited debut of UDFA Henry Hynoski was as could be expected.  The young man has a lot to learn despite his obvious talent.  Bear Pascoe didn’t do himself any favors at winning the starting job, however, so steady improvement can certainly work in Hynoski’s favor going forward.

The Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham are the defacto starters, but only caught 1 pass between them in their limited time.  The real battles are at the 3rd and 4th receiver spots and there is quite a battle going on between healthy Domenick Hixon, Devin Thomas, Victor Cruz and Darius Reynaud.  Rookie Jerrel Jernigan will make the team but his role as yet is undefined due to the lack of a full offseason to get into the playbook and learn the offense.

Hixon led the corps with 4 receptions on 5 balls thrown his way.  Hixon took a couple of big hits and bounced right back up, hopefully answering any questions in his own mind about the mental aspect of getting over a serious injury.

Thomas caught three passes and Cruz caught one and dropped one.  Other than TE and FB, it’s probably safe to say these four players will have the most heated battles for playing time the rest of this pre-season.

With TE Kevin Boss gone to Oakland and Ben Patrick suddenly retired, the Giants have a major hole to fill at the position.  Jake Ballard caught one pass, but he was a major disappointment at the point of attack, allowing a pressure on Eli and not being able to contain a linebacker on the unsuccessful 3rd and 1 run by Jacobs.  Bear Pascoe lined up at both FB and TE, and caught 2 passes yet was also suspect in his blocking assignments at times.  TE Daniel Coats, hoping for a fresh start after bouncing around for a while in Cincinnati and Denver, caught 3 passes on the night for short yardage.  Coats also has the flexibility to play fullback in a pinch.  In the end however, with yet having to see if oft-injured Travis Beckum can take a step forward this year, it’s safe to assume the Giants are not through looking elsewhere for their starting TE this season.

The Offensive Line: Let’s face it; this unit is a work in progress.  New C David Baas (with 7 full practices under his belt) got a rude welcome on the second Giants drive of the game when he allowed rookie Sione Fua a clean and free release on Manning on what was supposed to be a WR screen to Hakeem Nicks.  Later, Kevin Boothe moved to his right to help out RG Mitch Petrus allowing the MIKE a clean lane to record a sack on Rosenfels.  Rosenfels should have gotten rid of the ball, as he had Devin Thomas flashing underneath across his face but he never saw him and took the sack.  Still, Boothe didn’t stay home and allowed the seam in the pocket.

Will Beatty, in my opinion, wasn’t nearly as bad as what’s been written and with continued reps should become a more than serviceable LT.

The problem with the offensive line right now is continuity, familiarity, and communication.  As Eric from BBI posted on Saturday, “How fast the Oline comes together will be the key to the offense, and you can add the TEs (as blockers) to that picture.

The talent on the OL is there. But this isn’t Madden on the Playstation. Chemistry and cohesion matter and the only way you gain that – unfortunately – is time. Time in practice, time on the field. There is no other way.

 As I expected (and have written about), the cohesion isn’t there. Pat Flaherty and the guys are working as hard and as fast as they can. But the more downs there will be, the more inconsistent the offense will be. A 2nd-and-4 may become a 3rd-and-4 and then a punt.

The next two preseason games for the starting OL will be very important.”

The Defense:

The first team defense on Saturday may very well be what we see on Opening Day.  For those that didn’t see it, the Giants trotted out LE Justin Tuck, LDT Linval Joseph, RDT Chris Canty, RE Jason Pierre-Paul, SAM Mathias Kiwanuka, MLB Jonathan Goff, WLB Michael Boley, LCB Corey Webster, RCB Terrell Thomas, SS Kenny Phillips, FS Antrel Rolle.

As Corner Forum contributor Kyle said on Saturday when the starters were posted on a thread, “That D on paper makes me so god damn happy.”

It’s still possible that Osi Umenyiora will start in place of JPP and now that Deon Grant has re-signed with the Giants he will certainly play a lot at the SAM position.  At any rate, that gives the Giants plenty of interesting problems and scenarios for getting their best players on the field at any given time.

Overall, the opening team defense did not play that badly other than being burned on a quick 3-play drive that covered 54 yards.  The Giants bit and were burned on a screen, then were victimized by an inside handoff/draw, and finally were beaten down the middle of the field when safety Tyler Sash could not make a play on a ball thrown for Greg Olsen, who made somewhat of a circus catch.  Other than that, the Giants first stringers didn’t allow a first down in the other four Panthers series’ in the first half.  They also put the first points of the year on the board for the Giants, something the team didn’t do once at all in 2010, when Michael Boley intercepted a wayward Jimmy Clausen pass as Jason Pierre-Paul applied heavy pressure.

The second team and roster hopefuls also played fairly well as a unit.  On the whole, the Giants defense appears to be a force with strong depth, but it’s apparent that they are susceptible over the middle and also to the screen pass as Carolina hit the Giants with a few of each on the night.  The screens can be attributed to the fact that the Giants are hell bent on getting to the QB.  The middle of the field being open seems to be that communication between the safeties and linebackers is still a work in progress.

Front 7: The starting front seven looked very good in their limited action, especially on the line.  DTs Chris Canty and Linval Joseph were stout and made plays against the run and also had good push in the pass game.  As for the DEs, how about Jason Pierre-Paul?  He’s still raw, but his power and speed combination is something to behold.  A case could be made that both of his sacks were the result of Carolina QB Jimmy Clausen leaving the pocket and holding the ball too long, but JPP never quit on either play and got his man.  He also caused the pressure that resulted in Clausen throwing a pick six to Michael Boley.  Justin Tuck was rather quiet on the night, but with everyone else making plays, it’s sometimes hard to get into the action.

What should not be lost on the play by the defensive line is that they did it against a pretty stout offensive line that boasts two Pro Bowlers, LT Jordan Gross and C Ryan Kalil.

Most of the backup defensive linemen were so-so on the night.  Marvin Austin may one day be a player, but he didn’t get a lot of push.  Alex Hall had a sack, but that was because LB Adrian Tracy led Cam Newton into it.

The linebackers had trouble getting out of the wash for most of the game.  For some reason, MIKE Jonathan Goff still takes on blockers head on instead of trying to shed them way too often.  His momentum gets stuffed, and he has to get back into the play flatfooted and by then it’s too late.  SAM Mathias Kiwanuka also had good pressure on the Clausen pick, but other than that one play not much was heard from him.  That said, he didn’t look lost in coverage and it was his first game in around a year.  WILL Michael Boley had the pick six, but again other than that not much was heard from him.

The young linebackers didn’t distinguish themselves on Saturday, and those waiting to see what or if Adrian Tracy, Jacquian Williams and camp favorite Greg Jones will have to see if the game reps start translating to better instincts on Monday against the Bears.  The other BBI favorite, Mark Herzlich, had an active game.  HC Tom Coughlin seems to be pleased with his versatility and physicality, mentioning how good he looked on specials and praising him for forcing a fumble.

Defensive Backs: The starting defensive backs didn’t have a whole lot to cheer about as CB Corey Webster was burnt on the first play of the game for a long gainer, made longer by either a poor angle or a reluctance to deliver a hit by S Kenny Phillips.  CB Aaron Ross also looked lost at times on Saturday.  It’s hard to believe that in 2007 he was a dangerous corner who now looks like he’s trying to hold on to a spot after getting burned a couple of times and displaying poor tackling.

S Tyler Sash had his trials, too.  Sash lost TE Greg Olsen on Carolina’s first touchdown, but technically his coverage was pretty good and it was a well thrown ball.  With more seasoning, however, I think he makes that play.  Later, though, Sash did a good job of defending a pass in the endzone saving a touchdown.  CB Brian Witherspoon looked like a player.  He broke up several passes, one in the endzone, and was one of the lone bright spots on special teams.

Special Teams: Here we go again?  Who knows!  One thing that’s really bothered me over the past several seasons is the depths to which the special teams play has fallen.  One has to ask, why are these players seemingly so disinterested in blocking and tackling on special teams?  This was one game, and it is preseason, but it continues a downward trend that should seriously not be tolerated any longer by HC Tom Coughlin.  The offseason saw the arrival of assistant special teams coach Tom Izzo, charged to help ST Coach Tom Quinn, who has been completely unable to turn these units around.  It appears Mr. Izzo hasn’t figured anything out in his few weeks with the team since camps opened.

On Saturday night, despite the new rule that has kickoffs moved up to the 35 yard line this season, the Giants allowed an astounding 88 yards on 3 returns, an average of nearly 30 yards.  You have GOT to be kidding me!

The punt return team also embarrassed themselves, allowing a nearly 17 ypr average.  The funny thing about it is that the punting was good!  A number of times the returner Amanti Edwards, was bottled up on the sideline but loss of contain, over-pursuit, tentativeness at the point of impact, and sheer shoddy tackling allowed him to wiggle free for tons of yards.

The field goal team was another fiasco, missing on two (one was a hard-to-believe 56 yard attempt) and having a 3rd blocked. To make matters worse, K Lawrence Tynes suffered a bruised thigh that will keep him out of action for a while.

Coaching: Not much can be said about the coaching in this game as no game planning and very basic formations were played on both sides of the ball.  It remains to be seen what will happen to Quinn, however, if the specials do not turn it around next week.

Summary: Remember, folks – this was the first game of the year with a slew of rookies and young players who haven’t participated in organized football for a minimum of 9 months and for some (Austin, Kiwi, etc) it’s been a year or more.  Many people on The Corner Forum felt the Giants looked a little slow and had less urgency than the Panthers.  That may or may not be so, but this team will find their sea legs and improve.  The defense had two takeaways and the offense didn’t turn the ball over.  The Giants also committed minimal penalties, which is another mark of intensity and attention to detail.  A lot of the kids got much needed repetitions and will improve as time goes on.  The starting offensive line had only 7 total practices as a complete unit  with three players in new places.  They will get better.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Carolina Panthers, August 13, 2011)
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