Oct 052011
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New York Giants 31 (3-1) – Arizona Cardinals 27 (1-3)

by rnargi for BigBlueInteractive.com

Game Summary: At the scene of one of the greatest victories in New York Giants history, Big Blue once again showed their mettle with another scintillating fourth quarter comeback over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.  The win improves the Giants record to 3-1 and they are now tied for first place in the NFC East with the Washington Redskins.

The game was an up and down, back and forth affair that was finally put away by two late touchdown drives and a final stop by the defense.

On this day, however, things were more dramatic than normal.  After the Giants scored an early 4th quarter touchdown to pull within 3 points of the Cardinals, the Giants seemed poised to take over the game after intercepting QB Kevin Kolb on the next Arizona drive.  They were unable to capitalize, and Arizona marched 77 yards to once again extend the lead to 10 points with just 5:16 left in the game.  Just when it seemed out of reach, the Giants dug deep and completed a magical ending, just like they did on February 03, 2008.

Like last week, the stats went decidedly against the Giants in several critical areas, and the Giants helped the Cardinals along with several uncharacteristic penalties and errors.

From the start, this game had the feel of one of those games where the Giants were going to lose to a weaker opponent due to the mistakes.  On their very first drive, New York looked out of sorts, committing a false start on 3rd down and then fumbling the ball to the Cardinals at their own 16 yard line.  Fortunately, the Giants held the Cardinals to a field goal.

On their second drive, the Giants again went three and out and on their third, they committed 3 penalties including 2 holding penalties on the same play.  Right then, it seemed that the game might not go their way.

The defense bailed out the offense after that, forcing a fumble deep in Giants territory and later once again holding the Cardinals to a field goal after they got into a 2nd and goal situation from the Giants 8 yard line.

It seemed the game might be turning after that as the Giants scored the next 10 points, the last 3 coming on a drive that started at their own 27 with just 29 seconds left in the half.

The second half didn’t start well as the defense allowed a 78 yard touchdown drive in which they had an opportunity to recover an Arizona fumble at their 27 yard line on the first play from scrimmage.

Once again, the Giants offense made uncharacteristic mistakes on their first drive after the half as they committed 2 more holding penalties and were unable to convert a 3rd and 1 situation at their own 36 and the drive died on the vine.

Later in the 3rd quarter, the Giants seemed to seal their fate by committing another turnover deep in Giants territory.  Arizona turned that into a 5 yard touchdown drive and late in the 3rd quarter held what seemed, with the way the Giants were playing, to be an insurmountable 20-10 lead.

That’s when the fun began for Giants fans.  The Giants had 4 possessions in the late third and entire 4th quarter (not counting the kneel downs) and they scored 3 touchdowns, gaining 217 yards on 14 first downs.

The Giants had only 10 first downs and 154 yards up to that point in the game. They lost the rushing war badly, lost the time of possession battle, turned the ball over twice but also forced two turnovers, and committed 7 penalties that were accepted (10 total).  Chalk it up to a west coast trip, lethargy, whatever.  The Giants were sloppy through most of the game but came alive in the nick of time to pull this one out of the fire.

As far as stats go, turnovers and green zone efficiency on both sides of the ball usually tell the story.  As mentioned, the Giants had 2 turnovers and surrendered 10 points off of them.  The Giants also forced 2 turnovers, but were unable to convert either into points.  As for green zone efficiency, the Giants successful converting touchdowns on 3 of 4 trips into the green zone while Arizona was 3 of 6, including a turnover.

Speaking of the penalties, Arizona was also flagged 11 times in the game and frankly, it was a chippy game and there were several head shaking calls.  Corner Forum contributor Fat Man in Charlotte detailed some of the most egregious here.

Offense: The Giants offense didn’t do much on their opening possessions.  New York was unable to get any consistency in the running game, gaining just 54 yards (only 17 in the second half discounting the 3 kneel downs) on 21 attempts (again discounting the 3 kneel downs).  To be fair, they stuck with it and tried to make it work.  In the first half, they had a pedestrian 3.3 ypc average but in the second (not counting Eli’s 3 kneel downs) they managed just 1.9 ypc on 9 attempts.  Overall, that equates to 2.7 ypc.  That’s not good.  Fortunately, the offense was moderately successful, converting 46% of their 3rd down opportunities (6 of 13).

Mistakes and penalties were the biggest enemy of the Giants in the first half, and a penalty also helped to thwart another 4th quarter drive after the Antrel Rolle interception.

They began to click as the game wore on and had a monster 4th quarter.

Quarterback: After 4 games, Eli Manning is the 3rd rated QB in football, holding a 105.6 QBR.  Manning trails only Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.  On Sunday, Manning once again started out rather slowly, missing on 3 of his first 4 passes (one did not count due to penalty) but finished strong.

Overall, Manning completed 27 of 40 passes for 321 yards 2 touchdowns and no interceptions.  His QBR on Sunday was 108.4.  Manning did suffer a lost fumble, but it was hardly his fault as reserve offensive lineman Kevin Boothe was in for injured David Baas and missed horribly on his block, giving Eli almost no chance to get away from the rush.

Manning led the team all the way back with 3 touchdown drives, completing 12 of 15 passes for 171 yards and 2 touchdowns (nearly 3, as TE Jake Ballard had a touchdown pass overturned).  That’s incredible.

12 times out of the 40 passes on Sunday went to backs or TEs.  Eli has been trusting his check downs and the Giants are trying to run more screens.  He’s also looking more to the middle of the field.  This is important for a couple reasons.  First, he’s still learning who to trust and when to trust them.  Second, he’s not forcing the issue.  If it’s not there, he’s checking off and going elsewhere.  Third, he’s been willing to take a sack or get rid of the ball out of harm’s way.  Eli was only sacked once, and though he fumbled the ball away the blame really shouldn’t be pinned on him.

The most important thing to note may be that he’s still not completely in sync with either Mario Manningham or Victor Cruz.  While Manningham got press for being “benched” on Sunday, early in the game Manning want deep to Cruz on a play in which Victor broke his route off to the outside.  The ball landed harmlessly 20 yards beyond Cruz, and Eli was visibly upset with him after the play.  Once that chemistry develops between Eli and his two secondary receivers, they can be deadly.

Running Backs: As noted, the Giants did not run the ball especially well, particularly in the second half on Sunday.  HB Ahmad Bradshaw carried just 12 times for 39 yards; his long was the 13 yard touchdown run in the first half.  Bradshaw also seems to be having a bit of trouble picking up the correct blitz at times.  The Giants attempted a number of screens to Bradshaw but also had minimal success.  Bradshaw caught 4 of 5 passes thrown his way but gained just 11 yards.  His first fumble of the season, which again was more of a fluke than anything he did wrong, put the Giants in an early hole.  On the play, a middle screen, Bradshaw was holding the ball high and tight but as he was going down the second defender got his helmet squarely on the ball and jarred it loose.  It was simply a good play by the defense. Bradshaw did have a 21 yard carry called back due to a questionable hold on FB Henry Hynoski.

Brandon Jacobs also had a rough game, carrying 9 times for a paltry 18 yards and catching 1 pass for just 1 yard.

Speaking of Hynoski, he caught 1 pass for 5 yards and after a solid game against the Eagles regressed a bit on Sunday.  It’s still early in the season and this is to be expected of the rookie.

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: The receiving corps was led by Hakeem Nicks, who had a fantastic game catching 10 of 14 passes for 162 yards including the game winning touchdown.  Nicks also had a 16 yarder called back due to a penalty on RG Chris Snee.

Nicks looked like Plaxico Burress in the 2007 NFC Championship game.  He caught balls when he was wide open, he caught them when he was blanketed.  He took a ton of punishment in this game, too.  On his touchdown, he set up the corner by faking a fade stop, creating separation and allowing him to waltz untouched into the end zone.

Victor Cruz also had a solid game, building on his coming out party in Philadelphia.  If you recall, Eric of BBI was very high on Cruz before the season started but backed off his assessment early in the year after Cruz seemed unable to learn the hot reads and other route tree assignments he needs to know.  That’s changed.  Cruz made the one mistake in this game, but after missing all last year on IR and not having an offseason to study and work with Manning, he’s really come on and is making a name for himself.  On the day, Cruz caught 6 of 9 passes for 98 yards.  On the final touchdown drive, Cruz nearly made a colossal mistake that could have cost the team a chance for the win when he released the ball after going down untouched.  Much has been made about the play over in The Corner Forum.  It could have gone either way, but luckily it went the Giants’ way on Sunday.  Interestingly, Eli Manning was seen afterwards coaching the young man, telling him, “Just hold the ball, hold the ball until you hear the whistle.”

Mario Manningham caught just 1 ball out of 5 thrown his way for 10 yards.  After the game, it was reported that he might have been benched due to mental errors.  That may or may not be so, but the fact is Manning did not look his way often.  The Giants are going to need him to pick it up as he is instrumental to the success of the offense.

The tight ends gave good and bad in this game.  Jake Ballard caught 3 passes for 33 yards, including a crucial 21 yard reception on the third Giants touchdown drive.  Later in the drive, Ballard made a sensational catch for a touchdown on a 1st and goal play from the 2 yard line.  On the play, the Giants had Hynoski, Ballard and Bear Pascoe in the pattern.  That’s got to be a first and certainly not what any Giants fan had in mind prior to the season.

The problem with the tight ends continues to be their blocking skills.  TE Travis Beckum wasn’t targeted, but he did have a very good block on Bradshaw’s touchdown run and later cleared the corner and safety on what looked like was set up to be a TE screen.  Stacey Andrews, who came in as the third TE, did a very good job blocking and had a great block on Bradshaw’s 13 yard touchdown run.

Offensive Line: Once again, the Giants had trouble opening holes for the backs on Sunday, especially when David Baas left the game in the third quarter with a stinger.  Interestingly, they did a very good job in pass protection, giving up the one sack outlined above.  On the day, Manning was hit just 3 times.

Corner Forum contributor cjac has played and coached running backs in college, and I asked him his thoughts about what he’s been seeing this year from the unit.  While he believes they are a work in progress and will get better, there are struggles that are hampering their productivity.  You can read his thoughts here.

Defense: The Giants defense was definitely an enigma on Sunday.  Again, the most important stat on the day was the fact that they were able to keep the Cardinals at bay in the green zone in the first half,  holding Arizona to six points on three trips inside the 20-yard line in the first half.  Unfortunately, they did not fare as well in the second half as the Cardinals converted on all three trips into the green zone into touchdowns.

HB Beanie Wells ran all over the Giants for 138 yards on 27 carries.  Most of those yards came in the second half.  Overall, the Cardinals gained 156 yards on the ground at a 4.9 ypc clip.  This is the second straight week that the Giants have allowed a ton of yards on the ground.  The difference is that this week it figured to be the Giants game plan to stuff the run and make the Cardinals one dimensional.

It’s hard to pinpoint the reason for the massive yardage yielded on the ground, but a good guess would be that the Giants were missing DE Justin Tuck, one of their premiere run defenders.  DE Osi Umenyiora is not known as a particularly strong defender against the run and neither is DE Dave Tollefson.

With regards to defending the pass, the Giants did a great job keeping WR Larry Fitzgerald in front of them and not getting beaten deep except on one play that really spoke more to the talents that Fitzgerald possesses rather than any bad play by the Giants.

Back to the running game, Corner Forum contributor futurvoid put together an awesome analysis of some of the big runs pulled off by the Cardinals in the second half of his post on this thread that’s an absolute must read if you haven’t seen it.

Front 7: The Giants were without their stalwart Justin Tuck at defensive end, but welcomed the return of Osi Umenyiora.  On the day, Osi had just 2 tackles, but also had two game altering sacks.  The first caused a fumble in the green zone that was recovered by the Giants and the second came on the final drive when it looked like Arizona might drive the field and win the game at the final gun.  The Giants also got two sacks from DE Dave Tollefson.  Jason Pierre-Paul was held off the sack list, but was in on 5 tackles and did have a QB hit.  On the day, the Giants had 4 hits on Kevin Kolb.

The DTs also had an off day by their standards, only registering 4 combined tackles.  Linval Joseph had his quietest game of the year.  Rocky Bernard was called for a very, very questionable roughing the passer penalty.

The linebackers were solid, led by Michael Boley who had 5 solo tackles.  Mathais Kiwanuka had his best day at linebacker, registering 6 solo tackles.  On the day, the Giants’ linebacker corps were in on 23 tackles Sunday.  Rookies Greg Jones (6 tackles) and Jacquian Williams (4 tackles) continue to shine and progress.

Secondary: CB Corey Webster drew the unenviable assignment to cover Larry Fitzgerald all day.  In fact, he had him on every single play on Sunday.  He did get a lot of help from both Antrel Rolle and Kenny Phillips, but for the most part he was one on one with him.  S Deon Grant also had double duty on Fitzgerald and although he had great coverage on the long completion, he was unable to break up the pass despite having his hands on the ball.  That play turned momentum for a while, as at that point Webster had kept Fitzgerald in check, though he did have his successes underneath.  The secondary was time and again put into 2nd and 3rd and short situations where the Cardinals were able to execute slants and curls for 1st downs.  The key, however, is they didn’t allow those plays to turn into big yardage plays.

Antrel Rolle made six solo tackles, supporting the run and covering deep.  His interception in front of Fitzgerald was a great read of Kolb and looked rather easy despite the amount of ground he covered to make the play.

Special Teams: The Giants got a solid game from their special teams on Sunday despite the fact that on a couple of occasions KR Devin Thomas probably should have taken a knee.  One he bobbled and since it rolled out of the end zone he had no choice but to return it.  He’s dropped a couple this season already and that needs to be remedied.

PR Aaron Ross is starting to look like a returner out there.  On the last punt of the day by Arizona, his decisive 18 yard return set the Giants up in great field position to begin the final drive.

K Lawrence Tynes made his only field goal attempt and took a whack in doing so.  In fact, he was hit twice early and only the second one was called.

The coverage teams did a very good job of keeping the speedy and shifty PR Patrick Peterson from breaking off a big return, and also did a good job keeping the Arizona kick return game in check.

Coaching: All one can really say is that although the Giants weren’t able to find the balance on offense that they wanted and had a number of issues keeping Arizona’s running game bottled up, the staff kept them in the game and kept them working to get the job done.  Both the offense and defense stepped up late for this win, and that’s a testament to the resiliency and never give in attitude that HC Tom Coughlin preaches.

Final Thoughts: As I said above, this looked like one of those games that would end in a loss and all the ifs, ands and buts would be flying in The Corner Forum.  Fortunately, the Giants woke up late in the desert and won a game they were supposed to win.  As they say, winning covers up a lot of flaws, and there were some in this game.  The team is still not 100% healthy and they’re still getting their chemistry together.  This game had the ultimate feel of a trap game, going into a weaker opponents place on the west coast after a huge win against a division opponent, and not having your best defensive player to boot.  None of it matters now, the Giants showed their resiliency and now move on to take on another lowly but dangerous team in the Seattle Seahawks at home on Sunday.  Keep the momentum going, G Men!

(Box Score – New York Giants at Arizona Cardinals, October 2, 2011)
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