Nov 032011
 
 November 3, 2011  Posted by  Game Previews and Reviews
New York Giants 20 (5-2) – Miami Dolphins 17 (0-7)

by rnargi for BigBlueInteractive.com

State of the Giants

Once again, the New York Giants spotted a supposed weaker opponent an early lead and once again the Giants rallied late to win. The Miami Dolphins came into the game desperate for their first victory of the season while the Giants were coming off their bye week looking to maintain their lead in the NFC East. When it was over, the Giants won the game 20-17 despite another up and down performance that included a poor start by the defense and another spotty rushing performance.

In the grand scheme of things, the Giants won a football game they were supposed to win. They also increased their NFC East lead to two full games over the rest of the field, all tied at 3-4. For the seventh time in eight seasons, the Giants have started their season at 5-2 or better. They’ve made the playoffs 4 times in that stretch (2005-2008). As comforting as that seems to be, this season has the feel of 2009 revisited. Injuries and the lack of a sustained rushing game combined with a shaky rushing defense makes this 5-2 record seem dubious at best. In this stretch, the Giants have beaten two good teams, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Buffalo Bills. The combined record for the teams they’ve defeated is 10-25. The combined records of the teams that have beaten the Giants is 5-9. That’s 15-34 overall. For the teams the Giants have left on their schedule, the combined record is 39 -25, with the only teams owning losing records being the 3 teams from the NFC East.

As HC Tom Coughlin says, the only important game on the schedule is the next game, and that’s going to be true from here on out as the perceived meat of the schedule is upcoming and relentless.

You can look at this start in two ways. First, the Giants have beaten, for the most part, the teams they were supposed to beat. Interestingly, the only game that the Giants seemed to dominate was the game against the Eagles. They are, after all, 5-2 which is what most prognosticators over in The Corner Forum believed they’d be at this point in the year. One can say that they survived some pretty serious injuries, working new personnel into their schemes and weathered the storm and are now ready to make the next step into the second half of the year.

The second way to look at these first 7 games is to say that they haven’t looked particularly good over this period of time and if not for the outstanding play of QB Eli Manning, could easily have a record of 2-5. Looking at it from this view, many predict that the Giants are going to suffer another collapse reminiscent of the 2009 season alluded to above.

No matter which way you look at it, this has the feeling of a stretch that will determine the fate of the GM, the head coach and his staff, and many players for next year and beyond. If the Giants can pull it together and make the playoffs then the GM’s moves, or perceived lack thereof, will be validated. If not, he and his staff will be facing harsh criticism and possibly job losses. It will be an interesting stretch of games.

Game Summary

The Giants welcomed back HB Brandon Jacobs, C David Baas and RG Chris Snee on offense and DE Justin Tuck on defense. For the first time this season, both the starting offensive and defensive lines were at full strength at the same time. That, in and of itself, may bode well for the team to start playing better running the football and defending the run once they get their feet wet playing together again.

The game opened seemingly well for the Giants, as they marched downfield from their own 15 to a first down at the Miami 34 before stalling. On fourth and 9, HC Tom Coughlin decided to go for the first down and forgo a 51 yard field goal attempt or try at pinning the Dolphins deep in their own territory. It’s been reported that his decision – though motivated purely through the thought that Tynes was capable of hitting a 51 yarder and the probability that they wouldn’t net too much yardage on the punt – fired up Miami.

That appeared to be true as Miami’s offense came out swinging and scored on their first two drives.

The game had an odd feel right from the beginning. Essentially, the Dolphins had only 1 drive in the 1st quarter (their second drive began with just 17 seconds left in the quarter) and they had just 3 possessions all half (their 4th was a 1 play kneel down before the end of the half).

Miami made the most of their first two possessions of the game, scoring touchdowns on each. Coming into the game, Miami had only scored 7 touchdowns, hadn’t scored one on their opening drive, and hadn’t scored touchdowns on consecutive possessions all year.

The Giants also moved the ball well in the first half, sustaining three long drives that resulted in only 10 points. In the second half, the Giants continued to move the ball but were again only able to convert two of their long possessions into 10 points.

Miami increased their 4 point half time lead to 7 on their first possession of the second half, but following that drive Miami gained just 26 net yards the rest of the way while the Giants mounted yet another 4th quarter comeback.

Overall, the Giants won the time of possession battle by approximately 5 minutes, forced one turnover while committing none, and also won the hidden yardage battle by starting their drives on average at their own 31 while Miami started theirs at their own 23. On the negative side of the ledger, the Giants committed 7 penalties for 46 yards. The first two on the offense came on the Giants’ 2nd drive in which they quickly drove to the Miami 12 yard line. First, FB/TE Bear Pascoe held on a Bradshaw run and then Jake Ballard and Chris Snee both moved on 1st and 20 from the 22. All of a sudden, the Giants were faced with a 1st and 25 from the 27 yard line and they were unable to overcome the situation and settled on 25 yard field goal.

On their second field goal drive, the Giants did overcome a 1st and 20 following a Will Beatty hold.

While the Giants ran 16 more offensive plays than Miami, the stat that hurt was green zone efficiency. Miami was 2-2 inside the 20 while the Giants were only 1-3.

Offense

The offense was a tale of two performances. First, the Giants running game was nearly non-existent. Why is the mystery. In the first quarter, the Giants ran 16 plays. 12 were pass plays. On the 4 runs, all by Bradshaw, they gained 0, 8, 1 and 18 yards. HC Tom Coughlin said they weren’t getting much success early. It seems, however, they didn’t even try much early and part of the reason was the Giants were essentially passing with success at will.

In the second quarter, they ran twice on their third drive, resulting in the aborted fumble by Jacobs (credited to Manning) and a 1 yard loss by Bradshaw. On their final drive of the half Bradshaw had gains of 2 and 5 yards. After the 5 yard gain, the Giants passed or attempted to pass 9 consecutive times on their way to their first touchdown.

All told, the Giants passed or dropped back 27 times and rushed 8 times in the first half. It seems that they never even tried to establish the run, which did muster 33 yards on those 8 carries for a 4.1 ypc average – and that includes the fumble by Jacobs.

The second half was essentially no different, as the Giants mustered up just 12 more carries for 28 yards (excluding Manning’s 3 kneel downs).

Thankfully, the passing game was deadly. If not for a hat full of drops (6 total, 2 by Ballard, 1 by Nicks, 1 by Jacobs, 1 by Cruz and 1 by Manningham), these numbers would’ve been astronomical.

Quarterback

Eli Manning continues to be red hot, and he’s seriously putting to rest any of the scoffing that was going on when he included himself in the ‘elite’ class of the NFL. After 7 games, he is arguably the 2nd best QB in the NFC and 3rd best in the entire NFL. On Sunday, Manning put the team on his back and led them to the victory. Of course, there is still all the talk that Manning is “Mr. October” and that he’ll come back to earth in the second half of the season. That said, there is quite frankly no indication that he will revert to previous form. Manning is simply not taking any unnecessary chances with the football. Even when he was winning early in the past 7 seasons, there were always a few throws that would be questionable. Now, there are extremely few. A case in point can be made regarding the very first drive of the game. On third and fourth down, Manning did not try to force anything and simply threw the ball away when there were no receivers open in the pattern. Ironically, the only two passes that Manning might even want back on the day came on the drive in which the Giants had an opportunity to run out the clock in the fourth quarter. A false start penalty forced the Giants into a passing situation and on and 1st and 15, he threw short to Mario Manningham ball that was knocked away by LB Kevin Burnett. That was the closest Manning came to throwing an interception. He probably wanted the next throw back as well. On 2nd and 15 Manning and wide open WR Victor Cruz were not on the same page and Manning missed him badly. Luckily the ball fell harmlessly to the carpet. Had Manning gotten the ball near Cruz, it would have been a certain reception and easy first down.

On the day, Manning finished 31 of 45 for 349 yards and 2 touchdowns against 0 interceptions. Manning’s passer rating was a robust 106.6 and his Total QBR was 75.3, good for 6th in the league this week. Manning is now third in the NFL in passer rating at 102.1 and 9th in overall Total QBR, coming in at 64.9.

The most amazing stat of the day with regards to Eli, however, is how well he played on 3rd down. The Giants converted 8 of 16 3rd downs on the day, and Manning converted all 8 via the pass, missing on 7 (2 of those were drops, too). The final 3rd down attempt was a kneel down. Most importantly, both of Manning’s touchdown throws came on 3rd down.

Running Backs

After a solid game running the ball against Buffalo, the Giants got completely away from the run on Sunday and it’s puzzling why. HC Tom Coughlin said in his post game press conference that they weren’t having much success early, which caused them to get away from a balanced attack.

What’s interesting is that as noted above the Giants hardly attempted to get anything going on the ground, particularly in the first half, and the fact is HB Ahmad Bradshaw had a 4.7 ypc average on his 7 carries in the half. That’s not exactly poor production, even if the number is somewhat skewed by a carry that went for 18 yards.

When you take into account that Coughlin said that HB Brandon Jacobs wasn’t able to get anything going because of rust and said “Someone mentioned rust yesterday and I would say that. He needs to play and he needs to get back to work.” That seems like a contradiction in terms. How can Jacobs play and get back to work if they only call 20 running plays all day, and only 5 for Jacobs?

Bradshaw ended with a total of 50 yards on 13 carries for a 3.8 ypc average. Jacobs ran just 5 times (6 if you include a 3 yard gain called back due to an illegal formation penalty) for 10 yards and D.J. Ware carried just twice for 1 yard.

Bradshaw also contributed greatly in the passing game, catching all 5 balls thrown his way for 38 yards. Jacobs heard boos when he dropped a perfectly set up screen pass.

Bear Pascoe once again filled in at fullback and did not have a particularly good game. He did catch 1 pass for 22 yards, but he also was called for another holding penalty.

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

Considering the Giants really never tried to establish any balance on offense, the passing game was outstanding. WR Victor Cruz is quickly becoming a nightmare for opposing defenses. On the day, Cruz caught 7 of 9 passes with 1 drop for 99 yards and a touchdown. Cruz has developed an uncanny rapport with QB Eli Manning in a very short period of time. Cruz has become adept at interpreting the hot read and it’s obvious that Manning now trusts him. Early in the year, it was feared the Giants weren’t going to be able to find anyone who would be able to work the middle of the field, but Cruz has become a target on slants and in routes. The only knock on Cruz is that he seems to try to do too much after the catch when he might be better served to take what he’s already earned and live to fight another play. He holds the ball dangerously away from his body and the way he twists and turns leaves him vulnerable to blind side hits. He’s fumbled once this season already doing just that. With time, he will learn when to keep pressing, as he did on his touchdown, and when to take his winnings on the play and go down.

Both Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham were very active as well. Both had drops on the day on very catchable balls. Manningham ran a tremendous route on his 1 yard touchdown reception right before the first half.

TE Jake Ballard continues to impress, catching 4 passes for 55 yards. He also had a 19 yard reception called back due to a penalty. Unfortunately, Ballard also dropped 2 passes. The first was an outstanding seam route that he simply didn’t reel in. The ball was thrown to the open spot, and should have been caught. The other drop was a little tougher play. Under pressure, Manning got the ball out to him but a little low and Ballard wasn’t able to bring it in. At any rate, with Cruz, Manningham and Ballard working the middle of the field things have really opened up in the passing game and Giants receivers are getting open.

Offensive Line

The Giants got C David Baas and RG Chris Snee back on Sunday. Unfortunately, that did not translate to better line play. The Giants were simply unable to consistently open holes for in the running game. HC Tom Coughlin spread the blame around, citing the line, the tight ends and fullback, and even the running backs for indecisive and inconsistent play. The Giants have now played 7 games, and 11 if you include the preseason, and they have yet to become a cohesive running unit. Injuries have played a part, but there are way too many missed assignments and unsustained blocks to blame it on either injuries or lack of playing time together.

As for the pass blocking, at times on Sunday Manning could have taken a nap in the pocket due to having so much time. Manning did take more hits than he has lately.  Two of them were due to coverages being good for Miami. On the day, Manning was sacked once and hit seven times. Not to be overlooked, Manning’s pocket presence and ability to sense the pressure and get rid of the ball also helps the pass protection.

Defense

The defense was a paradox on Sunday. The Dolphins, mired in a season long offensive slump, gashed the Giants early for three scores on their first 3 of their first 4 drives (not including the kneel down before the half), gaining 210 total yards, 143 on the ground en route to 17 points and a 4th quarter lead. Then everything changed, and the Dolphins ran just 18 plays during the last 27+ minutes of the game over their final 5 possessions, gaining a meager 26 net yards and no points. Miami converted just 2 first downs over that span, and in the second half and in fact, did not convert a 3rd down during the entire second half.

Quite the turnaround.

The difference was that the Giants finally clamped down on the run. After allowing HB Reggie Bush to have his way with them into the first drive of the 3rd quarter, including back to back runs of 28 and 13 yards, New York allowed just 16 yards on Bush’s final 7 carries.

Front 7

As mentioned, the Giants had their projected starting defensive line and the related rotation intact for the very first time this season. Unfortunately, that did not translate into early game results. Later, they dominated the passing game as Linval Joseph, Mathais Kiwanuka (who again played quite a bit at DE), Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul all got on the sack sheet totaling 5 between them. They also registered 7 total QB hits. No other position registered a QB hit, and of the 7 tackles behind the line of scrimmage the only players not a defensive lineman to get into the act were LB Michael Boley and FS Kenny Phillips. Once the Giants took the lead, the defense clamped down registering three of those five sacks on the final two Miami drives.

LB/DE Mathais Kiwanuka built upon his solid effort last week by registering 5 solo tackles, 1.5 sacks for a loss of 15 yards, and a tackle for a loss. He was all over the field on Sunday. DT Linval Joseph had a very strange unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for unnecessary roughness when he went over the top trying to stack up HB Steve Slaton from the Giants 1 yard line. It was an obvious late hit, and it was very uncharacteristic of Joseph. It’s possible he just never heard a whistle. It probably didn’t hurt the Giants as the Dolphins still would have had 2 downs to convert the touchdown but those can be killer penalties. Joseph made up for it later with his first ever sack. That sack was on a 1st down play during Miami’s 3rd drive of the game, slowing down which was up to that point a virtually unstoppable offense.

Justin Tuck played well in his first game back from injury, but wasn’t his usual disruptive self, particularly against the run.

MLB Greg Jones got his first extended playing time in quite a while, and registered 5 solo tackles. That’s somewhat misleading, however, as he had trouble with his assignments and was out of position on multiple occasions. Jones gets manhandled and pushed around rather easily against bigger opposition and is going to have to use speed, leverage and see the play better at the snap if he’s going to become a reliable player in the middle.

Michael Boley is quietly piling up a Pro Bowl caliber season. In a year where he’s manning the middle while sharing linebacker duties with two rookie linebackers and a hybrid in Kiwanuka, Boley has already racked up 46 tackles (another 6 on Sunday), 3 fumble recoveries, and 2 passes defensed.

Speaking of the front 7, they really didn’t play poorly on the first 2 Miami drives. They got pressure several times on QB Matt Moore (who is nowhere near as poor a QB as many make him out to be) but Moore was able to move up the pocket and scramble for good yardage. To compound things, LT Jake Long appeared to be moving before the snap on many passing plays and both Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora were being held often but never got a call. Moore scrambled three times on the first two Miami drives, and on two Osi Umenyiora was held and on the third he was unable to bring Moore to the ground after seemingly having a sack in his hands. On the first scramble, a 3rd and 9 play from the Giants 49 yard line, the Giants were playing a simple cover 2 with 7 men in the box. The Giants had Kiwanuka, Tuck, Pierre-Paul and Umenyiora on the line of scrimmage with a three linebacker look. The Dolphins sent 4 players into the pattern, including a late release by Reggie Bush. The two other linebackers dropped into coverage, and Boley, who was spying on Bush, released to cover him in the flat and that left the middle of the field wide open. This was one of the plays where Long left early, and he held Kiwanuka coming around the edge, too. It appeared he had Kiwi by the facemask, but it could have been his front collar. On the other side, Umenyiora was hooked off the play. Tuck, playing next to Kiwanuka, was just about tackled by the DT, leaving a huge lane for Moore to exploit. It appeared that the refs had any number of penalties they could have called on the play and instead, Moore scampered for 16 yards and a 1st down.

On the second Miami drive, on a 3rd and 6 from their own 47 yard line, the Giants lined up with 5 men on the line, Kiwanuka, Tuck and Tollefson on the left with no one over the nose (Boley was about 4 yards deep behind the center) and Osi and S Deon Grant on the other side of the line. On the snap, Boley stunted to his right and Osi engaged the center but didn’t appear to try to get into the backfield. He seemed to be playing gap contain. Grant was taken out of the play by HB Reggie Bush and the left side of the line was contained by Miami’s right side of the offensive line. Moore stepped into the void between Boley and Umenyiora, and both were held on the play (the Miami LT nearly ripped Boley’s jersey off) and Moore was free for another 11 yard scramble. Umenyiora was screaming at the ref after the play about not getting the call. Those plays count, and they hurt the Giants. All that’s being said is that a case could be made that if the refs called the blatant holds and false starts things may have ended quite differently.

Secondary

Speaking of pro bowl caliber seasons, Corey Webster continues to shut down the opposing number 1 receivers. This week, it was big talking Brandon Marshall who Webster blanketed all day. Marshall caught just 4 balls for 55 yards. Additionally, Webster had 4 tackles, 3 passes defensed and the game sealing interception.

Aaron Ross also played well, but his poor tackling on Bush led to Miami’s second touchdown. On the play, they Giants had Bush wrapped up after a good gain, but Ross attempted to shoulder Bush to the ground. Bush was able to spin off of it and gain another 20 yards or so and when FS Antrel Rolle caught Bush from behind he horse collared him, setting up Miami in 1st and goal at the Giants 3 yard line.

Rolle and Phillips both had solid games. Rolle played as if possessed, chasing down plays left and right from behind. Phillips was more active than normal at and behind the line of scrimmage. He showed good burst and continuing a trend, doesn’t seem to be shy of making contact any longer.

Unfortunately, the Giants lost CB Justin Tryon for the year with a broken arm. More on that later. He looked decent playing the slot and had a pass defensed. It appeared he was given the roll usually filled by S Deon Grant, sort of the Big Nickel corner. It will be interesting to see how that plays out the rest of the year now that Tryon is out.

Overall, the secondary did another good job. Once again, the Giants did not really get beaten deep. The longest completion against them all day was 24 yards.

Special Teams

Don’t look now, but the Giants special teams is playing above average. One might look at the kick return by Miami following New York’s final touchdown that was that returned 42 yards to the Miami 45 yard line and say “how could you say that specials was good”? It’s easy. On the play, there were three…count them…three blatant blocks in the back that went uncalled. Two happened at the 16 yard line and another occurred on the 23. When you take 3 of 11 players out of the play, anyone can gain 42 yards on a return.

As for the rest of the day, the Giants bottled up the Miami return game well all day, in large part due to Justin Tryon who made one tackle from behind after a short Devon Bess return that could have been huge, and then on the last punt of the day when he held on for dear life against Reggie Bush which kept Miami from getting any kind of field possession on the drive. Tryon had broken his arm in the first half, but kept playing. On the final punt return, he broke it cleanly and is now out for the year. Seeing as the Giants really haven’t had an effective gunner since Domenik Hixon used to play the position, it’s a big loss.

The Giants converted both field goal attempts.

Coaching

There really wasn’t too much to question regarding the coaching except what has been pointed out earlier, that HC Tom Coughlin’s comments about the rushing game seem inconsistent with the early stats and also with his remarks that Brandon Jacobs has to play more.

A positive is that he did not let the team get down after trailing the Dolphins for much of the game.

DC Perry Fewell must put something in the halftime water, because once again following a slow start the defense got untracked and basically clobbered Miami for nearly the entire second half.

Final Thoughts

As noted above, now the rubber really meets the road. The Eagles appear to have righted their ship and they come to the Meadowlands in three weeks. The Giants do not want to enter that game tied for first place. This week the Giants, who will most likely be shorthanded again with Bradshaw, Nicks, Baas and Umenyiora banged up, get a pissed off Patriots team that rarely loses at home and even more rarely loses after a loss. It’s a huge test following a game that most had them winning easily but was anything but.

(Box Score – Miami Dolphins at New York Giants, October 30, 2011)
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