Dec 082011
 
 December 8, 2011  Posted by on December 8, 2011 Game Previews and Reviews
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Green Bay Packers 38 (12-0) – New York Giants 35 (6-6)

by rnargi for BigBlueInteractive.com

Game Summary

After a humiliating defeat at the hands of the New Orleans Saints, the Giants finally regrouped and seemed to find the sense of urgency and intensity that they’ve been missing since the 49ers game of four weeks ago.  Despite the fire and enthusiasm they displayed, the Giants were simply overmatched at the end of the game by a dominant Packers offense and very shoddy officiating.  New York tied the game in its waning moments with another touchdown and 2 point conversion on a phenomenal 2 minute drive orchestrated by QB Eli Manning.   Unfortunately, a wounded, young, inexperienced and confused defense was unable to hold up for a mere 58 seconds and allowed Green Bay to erupt down the field to get into easy field goal position and put the Giants away 38-35.

Frankly New York deserved a better fate on Sunday.  As has been mentioned often over in The Corner Forum, the officiating was wretched.  The Giants lost a touchdown they probably should have been awarded and were victimized by a Green Bay touchdown that probably should have been overturned.  Several other gaffes occurred that will be mentioned later.  To make matters worse, the Giants have gotten to the point where they are now slapping duct tape on any moving part in hopes of keeping it together.  It’s starting to feel like we’ve got Scottie in the engine room trying everything he can to give it more power without blowing the whole thing up.  Seriously, it’s beyond laughable how badly this team has been, is, and continues to be hit with injuries.

Going to The Corner Forum these days is an exercise in holding your breath.  It’s been discussed how many people, including myself, generally get all their breaking news on BBI and it’s the first place they go to in order to check up on what’s going on.  This year, I dread opening The Corner Forum almost every time I go to it.  The first thing I expect to see is a “sticky” thread with the title “So and so is out for year with X.”

Sure enough, we got another one this week when reserve OT and blocking TE Stacy Andrews was taken to the hospital on Thursday night where it was found he had blood clots travel from his legs to his lungs, a life threatening situation.  We also found out that the Giants were going to be without the services of LB Mike Herzlich and C Kevin Baas.  The Giants had very recently signed street free agents Chase Blackburn and Will Blackmon (Blackburn just this week) and they both played significant time on Sunday.

So let’s look at the situation on offense:

  • Mario Manningham out, Ramses Barden in.
  • David Baas out, Kevin Boothe in at center.
  • With David Diehl continuing at left tackle, Mitch Petrus at left guard.
  • Stacy Andrews out, Jim Cordle in at blocking tight end.
  • Henry Hynoski returned at fullback.

Now on defense:

  • Michael Boley returned.
  • Osi Umenyiora out.
  • Mark Herzlich out.
  • Chase Blackburn, signed off the street earlier in the week took over early in the game for Greg Jones.
  • Aaron Ross, Prince Amukamara and Kenny Phillips were all in and out of the game leaving Will Blackmon, another player out of football for most of the year, and rookie S Tyler Sash receiving significant playing time.

The Giants have been absolutely hammered with injuries this season, and for periods of time they’ve been able to persevere but they’ve been unable to overcome them in the long run.  That’s not an excuse for the lack of intensity and resolve shown in games like against the Saints.   The Giants are asking an awful lot out of career backups and street free agents while continuing to fight for a playoff spot, and it may be asking a bit too much.

Statistically, this game was quite close.  Three things went against the Giants: First, they allowed too many long third down conversions and 7 of 12 overall.  Second, though the Giants had six scoring drives to Green Bay’s give, they allowed a defensive touchdown and twice ended up trading touchdowns for field goals.  Finally, though the teams traded touchdowns off turnovers, the Giants’ second turnover just before the half ended a drive that could have put points on the board.

Offense

The sleeping Giants offense roared to life on Sunday with a renewed potency in their rushing attack and hitting several big plays in the passing game, including a 67 yard touchdown on the first drive of the game.  As noted, the Giants scored on six drives Sunday, though one was off a very short field.  The Giants converted 3 of 4 green zone chances into touchdowns, and by many accounts probably should have had the 4th as well but TE Jake Ballard was ruled out of bounds in the end zone though it appeared he was in.

New York had their problems, but considering the upheaval along the offensive line they were relatively minor.  The Giants had just two 3 and outs on the day, but also gave up the ball after 3 plays on an interception and 4 plays on a fumble.  Three of the Giants’ touchdowns were on quick strikes of 2 plays, 3 plays and 5 plays.

As Antrel Rolle likes to say, even with a couple of gaffes, at the end of the day the offense got their running game untracked, were very effective with their downfield passing, and scored 35 points.  That should be enough to beat any team in the league with the possible exception of Green Bay.  It turned out that the offense had to play the perfect game, and they nearly pulled it off.

Quarterback

It’s unfortunate that most pundits will point to Eli Manning and the pick six and the fumble near the end of the half as the reasons the Giants lost.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Manning once again hauled the team onto his back and brought them within 58 seconds of overtime against the undefeated, and for the most part this season, unchallenged Packers.

On Sunday Manning completed 23 of 40 passes for 347 yards, 3 touchdowns and the fateful interception.  According to the game log, Manning was hit just 3 times.  That’s inaccurate.  Manning was under constant pressure and according to the TV analysis, was hit 15 times before the 4th quarter even began.  Manning was sacked just once, however.  Manning had 8 of his 40 passes broken up by Green Bay defenders, too.

On the year, Manning is now 4th in the league with 3,705 yards leaving him on pace to throw for 4,940 yards on the year.  Manning ranks 6th in passer rating, 5th in touchdowns, 9th in completion percentage, 1st in completions of more than 40 yards (13), tied for 3rd with completions of more than 20 yards (50) and 7th in completions for a 1st down.  Eli’s Total QBR ranking for this week was the worst of his season at 45.6, but he still ranks at 9th overall this year at 62.3.  Again, these are the numbers for the entire NFL.  If that’s not elite, then there is no such thing.  By the time this season is said and done and provided he stays healthy, Manning will set career highs in every major category, and may very well beat his yardage total by 1,000 yards.  Simply an amazing year for #10 and when you consider the tepid running game and inconsistent offensive line he’s been playing with, you can say it’s astounding.

Running Backs

The Giants welcomed the return of HB Ahmad Bradshaw on Sunday, and the impact was immediate.  On the very first play of the game Bradshaw took a swing pass from Manning and turned up field for what should have been about a 3 or 4 yard gain, but Bradshaw made a move and took on CB Charles Woodson, gaining 7 total yards.  Bradshaw was fired up, and so was the crowd.  While Bradshaw didn’t pile up huge numbers, carrying 11 times for 38 yards (3.5 ypc) and catching 2 passes for 9 yards, it was clear that his presence was a huge catalyst for the offense.  It was also clear that New York did not want to overwork Bradshaw as two bread and butter plays for him, the bubble screen, were given to HB D.J. Ware.  Neither worked, and Ware gained just 3 yards on 1 carry.  He did have an extremely important reception on the final drive for 12 yards, resulting in a 1st and goal at the 2 yard line on a 2nd and 7 play.

It seemed that HB Brandon Jacobs benefited most from Bradshaw’s return, almost like he missed his little buddy and was like a kid in a candy store.  Speculation is that part of Jacobs’ lack of production while Bradshaw was out was due to his having to run plays designed for Bradshaw’s style.  There may be a bit of truth to that, as during the New England game Jacobs was effective running down hill off direct handoffs on runs in the A gaps.  Jacobs has trouble when he begins to move laterally, and this week again he was slamming the line in the A gaps for good chunks of yardage.  On the day, Jacobs only carried 8 times for 59 yards, a 7.4 ypc average.  Jacobs did tweak a hamstring and that may have limited his carries, but the Giants were also in catch up mode for the most of the final three quarters and only ran the ball 20 times.  Jacobs continued his dominant blitz pickups and chips out of the backfield.  Some of his chips are so violent it’s not exactly a correct name for them.  He doesn’t chip, he hammers.

FB Henry Hynoski was solid in the running game, though he still tends to get blown up once in a while.  He was instrumental in opening several holes at the second level for Jacobs.

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

The Giants receiving corps once again had a dominant game.  It seems that this write up is a repeat of the previous game every week.  WR Hakeem Nicks, despite injuries to his ribs and ankle, had a terrific game finishing with 7 catches for 88 yards and 2 touchdowns.  Nicks almost had a 3rd but was stopped at the 1 yard line prior to Jacobs’ touchdown run.  Nicks made the play of the game for the Giants, hauling in a 51 yard pass from Manning that set up the Giants’ 3rd touchdown.  New York had just gone down 28-17 midway through the 3rd quarter and it looked like the Packers might run away with the rest of the game when on the 1st play of the next drive Nicks and Manning made the hookup that put them in position to get right back into the contest.

On the other side, WR Victor Cruz continues his amazing season catching 7 balls for 119 yards.  Cruz is now the 4th leading receiver in terms of receiving yardage in the entire NFL.  This from a kid who did not catch a single pass in a regular season game until week 2 of this year.  If he can keep up the yardage pace (he has had five 100+ yards performances this season, and had another for 99), he will break Amani Toomer’s single season Giants yardage record.  Not to be lost is the fact that Cruz has become a proficient blocker down field.  In case you missed it, valued Corner Forum contributor mort christenson started a thread about Cruz on Monday that’s worth a read.

WR Ramses Barden wasn’t targeted often on Sunday and only had 1 catch for 9 yards.

The tight ends accounted for 114 total yards on Sunday, as Travis Beckum caught a 67 yard touchdown pass in which he serpentined his way for the last 20 yards to the end zone giving the Giants the early lead. Beckum, the well known insurance policy, was wide open on a nice move to beat S Charles Peprah and never broke stride after the catch.  It’s something all of us have been waiting to see for quite some time.  If Eli ever finally develops a trust in Beckum, it’s certainly possible he can become the weapon many people envision he can be.  That said, he must work to become a more consistent receiving threat.

Jake Ballard had three catches on six passes thrown in his direction.  He easily could have had 5, as an apparent touchdown was not awarded following a booth review that ostensibly didn’t show enough to overturn the call on the field.  Ballard also never saw a perfectly thrown pass to the inside on a skinny post that would have resulted in a huge play.

Offensive Line

Despite the fact that Kevin Boothe  found out he would be moving to center and backup guard Mitch Petrus found out he’d be getting a start at left guard just hours before the game, the line played surprisingly well.  The run blocking was better than it’s been in several games, and other than RT Kareem McKenzie again giving up too many pressures, the pass blocking stood up relatively well.  McKenzie appears to be the text book example of staying with a player a year longer than maybe the team should have.  Recall that Kareem graded out as the top RT in the league last season.  That isn’t going to be even close to the case this season, as he’s been attacked and beaten consistently in the passing game all year long.  On the final touchdown pass to Nicks, Manning nearly didn’t get the pass off and took a wicked hit from OLB Clay Matthews.  On the play, McKenzie completely missed the block giving Matthews a free run at Eli and if it hadn’t been for the quick pass, Manning would have been sacked.  Incidentally, many people were clamoring for a run on that play in order to run clock even though it was 3rd down.  Moreover, the original play call was a run that Eli said he checked out of at the line of scrimmage.  It’s important to point this out because, as is usually the case, too much emphasis is placed on what people believe the play call from OC Kevin Gilbride is and forget that Eli has a lot of leeway to change the play at the line of scrimmage.

One other negative to point out is that C Kevin Boothe gave up on the Manning fumble at the end of the first half despite no whistle being blown.  The Giants stress ball security from the word go in training camp and it’s just not smart football to allow the ball to sit on the ground, whistle or no whistle, at any time.  Just pick the ball up and let the refs determine whose ball it is.  The Giants would have retained the ball at midfield with 26 seconds and a time out left to continue the drive had Boothe simply picked up the ball.  Incidentally, after review, it was inexcusable that the refs didn’t take at least 4 seconds off the clock, which stopped because the clock operator incorrectly assumed that Manning had thrown and incomplete pass.

Defense

It’s hard to lay a lot of blame at the feet of the defense for this loss, despite the fact that they gave up a ton of yardage and 31 points to the Packers.  Green Bay has arguably the best offense in football, and coming into this game they had won 16 straight games, most of them due to their offensive prowess.  They have the #1 QB in football, an incredible array of receivers including one of the best tight ends in the game, and they have a solid running game.

The defense did a great job of containing the running backs all day, the longest run by a back being only 8 yards.  The Packers running backs gained just 57 yards on 24 carries, a paltry 2.4 ypc average.  That’s ‘getting it done’, and the Giants haven’t done that very well all season.

The problem was that due to playing a tight man under defense for most of the game, the Giants lost contain on QB Aaron Rodgers 4 times for 32 total yards.  Three of those scrambles kept drives alive.  The first was an 11 yard scramble on 3rd and 10 from the Giants 43 yard line.  That call should have been challenged, as Rodgers began his slide short of the line to gain was awarded an extra 3 yards and the first down.  It wasn’t caught by the announcers, but it was clear as day, especially on the replay.  It would have been 4th down had the play been challenged.  The second was a 2nd and 9 scramble later in the drive that netted 13 yards and another 1st down.  These plays led to Green Bay’s second offensive touchdown.  Later, Rodgers hurt the defense again on the second Green Bay drive of the second half for 6 yards and a 1st down on a 3rd and 5 play.

Overall, the Giants allowed too many 3rd down conversions, 7 of 12 (58%) and also allowed Green Bay to convert 4 touchdowns in 5 trip to the green zone.  The 5th trip resulted in the game-deciding field goal, so ultimately the Packers were 5 of 5.

One of the 3rd down conversions was a ref job, as rookie LB Jacquian Williams was called for an extremely questionable illegal contact penalty on a play in which the Giants sacked Rodgers.  (Incidentally, three Giants penalties led to 1st downs for the Packers.)  The drive stalled, but it kept the defense on the field and at the end, fatigue was an issue as the Packers ran 16 more offensive plays than the Giants and had 6 more minutes time of possession.

Another reason why it’s hard to get too upset at the Giants defense is that once again they were extremely affected by injuries.  Street free agents Chase Blackburn and Will Blackmon (who said he could not remember the last time he played cornerback) saw extended time, and the Giants were without Osi Umenyiora and lost S Kenny Phillips during the game.  In their place DE Dave Tollefson and S Tyler Sash saw significant action.  Many people hate to use the injury ‘excuse,’ but realistically it’s asking an awful lot of a defense this banged up to hang with the best offensive team in the league.

Front 7

The defensive line, minus Umenyiora, played one of their most inspired games of the season.  DT Linval Joseph nearly single handedly took the Green Bay running game out of play on Sunday.  Joseph had an astounding 9 solo tackles (1 for a loss) to lead the Giants.  Jacquian Williams, despite his ticky tack penalty that wiped out a sack, also had a solid game, making 7 tackles.  Williams had two passes defensed and one was nearly an interception, which may have been why he aggressively attacked TE Finley and went for the interception on the final and fateful drive of the game.  Had Williams simply corralled Williams and escorted him out of bounds, the 24 yard gain is limited to just 7 or 8 and the Giants wouldn’t have been on their heels.  No one likes to penalize aggressive play, but sometimes discretion is the better part of valor and in that case the play was to keep it from becoming a big gain.

DE Justin Tuck seems to be coming out of the season long injury funk he’s been in, as he had a dominant first half in which he got significant pressure on Rodgers, forcing him to get out on the edge.  Unfortunately, there was little opposite side support and Rodgers is deadly on the run.  Tuck was in on 5 tackles and registered his first sack in ages.  Tuck also had another QB hit and stuffed a run.  DTs Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard did yeomen’s work in the middle, clogging the lanes and helping to stifle the Packers running game.  Canty was also in on 6 tackles, and had 1 QB hit.

Jason Pierre-Paul continues his monster season, though his numbers weren’t great.  He knocked down 2 Rodgers’ passes at the line and hit him twice, and was chasing him down all game.  Again, there just wasn’t much contain from the opposite side when JPP got his pressures and Rodgers ran away from him.  The final member of the line, Dave Tollefson, also recorded a sack.  In all, the Giants line registered 5 of the 6 hits on Rodgers on Sunday.  It’s also of significance to note that the Giants had eight tackles for a loss on Sunday.

The Giants’ linebackers played well.  Michael Boley’s tackles were down, but he was coming off a hamstring injury and he didn’t look like he was at full strength.  Greg Jones started, but he was quickly replaced by Chase Blackburn who played like a man possessed all game.  Blackburn had 2 passes defensed and forced the only Packer turnover, an interception, that led to a Giants touchdown.  He also had 5 tackles.  Blackburn certainly impressed considering he hadn’t played a snap all season.

Secondary

The Giants had their hands full going against Green Bay’s potent array of receivers, but they got the help from their defensive line they’d sorely been missing the past few weeks.  New York didn’t play a lot of zone, and infrequently used the ‘three man rush’ widely despised over in The Corner Forum.  Interestingly, that formation worked early but they were burned on it down in the green zone after Rodgers had an eternity to find Donald Driver take the scenic route to the inside pylon for a touchdown.  New York had 6 passes defensed on Sunday, but only 1 came from a defensive back.  The secondary didn’t break up a single play other than the one in which Kenny Phillips was hurt.  They were also helped out by a bevy of Green Bay drops, but frankly at least half the drops were due to the heavy pressure on Rodgers that led to some slightly off target throws.  A few, however, were flat out drops.

Corey Webster had a decent game, and as Troy Aikman opined during the broadcast, there is no way he can stay with a receiver, in this case Donald Driver, when the QB has 8 seconds to find him.  Just like a QB, a DB has an internal clock going off in his head after a certain amount of time elapses and it’s nearly impossible to stay locked on to a receiver that long. That said, Coughlin seemed to indicate on Monday that it was Webster who blew the coverage on the Packers’ touchdown where the receiver was left wide open.

On this play, the Packers were lined up with two receivers split wide and a TE to Rodgers’ right.  The back was in offset on the strong side, between the RT and TE.  Donald Driver was in the slot.  The Giants countered this look with Amukamara covering the split receiver on the weak side, Webster covering the flanker on the strong side, and Ross covering down on Driver in the slot.  The rest of the Giants defense was in a cover 2 shell with 4 linemen and 3 linebackers in the box.  Before the snap, Driver went in motion to the strong side and set in the slot, and Aaron Ross followed him.  At the snap, Webster took Nelson, who had run a quick in, and was on him like a blanket.  Rolle began to move to the inside where Finley split between Ross and Grant.  Ross was standing in the flat as if he were covering a short zone.  Driver ran right by him and posted to the end zone.  On the replay, it’s clear as day that Rodgers’ first read was Finley, and if Rolle hadn’t covered down on him it would have been an easy touchdown despite Aikman’s ascertation that Grant “didn’t need the help.”  Rodgers quickly came off Finley and found Driver all alone.  Aikman broke down the play further and suggested that the Giants were playing man coverage with safety help inside, and Ross was probably at fault.  But Coughlin said the outside corner (who was Webster) was supposed to “fall off,” so he was probably supposed to be in a deeper zone.

Prince Amukamara was burned badly on the touchdown to Jennings that many believe should not have been.  Jennings got Prince moving to the outside and then just left him in the dust with a skinny post to the inside.  To Prince’s credit, he recovered to knock the ball out of Jennings’ hands and by all angles it appeared that it should not have been a touchdown.

How do you blame Blackmon, guy who hasn’t played meaningful football in nearly a year, and can’t remember the last time he played cornerback, for allowing Jordy Nelson catch a 27 yard pass on that last drive?  Yes, he lost Jordan, and it’s puzzling why Ross wasn’t locked up on the outside instead of him.  But the fact is, Aaron Rodgers threw a great pass when he was a microsecond away from being swallowed up by three Giants defenders.  It was just one of those mindboggling throws that you simply have to tip your hat to.  It’s the fate the Giants have been dealt this year.  It’s hard to keep count of how many defensive backs missing time or out for the year.

Special Teams

The special teams play was solid, as the Giants and Packers basically matched kick for kick and field position for field position all day.  Each team’s starting field position average was their own 27 yard line.  New York averaged 25 yards per kick return while allowing an average of 25.3.  The Giants punted 4 times, allowing just 2 returns for a total of 6 yards.  In the punt return game, the Giants did nothing with 3 fair catches and 2 other Green Bay punts downed.

K Lawrence Tynes hit two field goals, one for 38 yards and the other for 50.  The Packers missed one field goal.

Coaching

It was talked about all week.  Giants teams simply do not quit on HC Tom Coughlin despite adversity and that was evident again on Sunday as the Giants played with the most emotion and intensity that they’ve shown in weeks.  It’s hard to question anything the Giants coaches attempted, but frankly these odd challenges are starting to become worrisome.  Those time outs and not having any challenges late in the game could come back to haunt the Giants when they need them most.  The Ballard challenge seemed futile from the get-go, but the still pictures seem to prove he was in bounds and it should have been a touchdown.  The challenge on the catch along the sidelines, however, didn’t have a chance to get overturned and it was obvious from the live shot, let alone the replay.

As for DC Perry Fewell, there has been some discussion that he’s coaching scared.  That could be, but it would probably be better to say he’s playing cautious and it’s probably due to not trusting the newcomers and rookies.  That has got to stop.  It would be prudent to just turn these guys loose and say “get to the ball carrier.”  It’s proven over and over in football that you cannot play tentative, you have to dictate the pace, you have to attack, and you have to play fast.  You cannot do that waiting to ‘read’ the play and then react.  Frankly, it’s time to go for broke.  Seriously, what does he have to lose?

Final Thoughts

I didn’t think the Giants had a prayer in this game.  I believed that New York could move the ball well and score against Green Bay, but I didn’t think they’d score 35.  The defense, though they performed better than my expectations, gave up too many 3rd downs and could not stop the Packers in the green zone.  The swapping of field goals for touchdowns ultimately decided the game.

That said, it was impressive to see this team fight.  Now I have hope that they will go to Dallas and kick some Cowboy ass.

(Box Score – Green Bay Packers at New York Giants, December 4, 2011)
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