Sep 182012
 
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New York Giants 41 (1-1) – Tampa Bay Buccaneers 34 (1-1)

By rnargi for BigBlueInteractive.com

Game Summary:

Rarely in the middle of a game do you have the feeling, “Damn, we’re killing this team!” while down 14 points on the scoreboard.  Such was the feeling of the game on Sunday in which the Giants were dominating every aspect yet were behind due to turnovers and short fields that spotted Tampa 21 points.

Think about it.  In the first half, New York had nearly double the offensive plays, more than double the yards and nearly triple the first downs than Tampa had.  They had held the Tampa running game to just 35 yards and to just one third down conversion.  Despite spotting Tampa two touchdowns on very short fields off interceptions, the Giants had trimmed the lead to four points late in the second quarter.  After holding the Bucs to a quick three and out, New York began a drive to try and either take the lead or at least cut it to one point at the half when disaster struck in the form of a Tampa interception return for a 60 yard touchdown.  Tampa had restored their 11 point lead with just :08 to play in the half.  It seemed like this would be an opportunity lost as the game appeared to be slipping away due to the unforced errors and flubs.

There’s just something about this team that you can’t put a finger on.  When is the last time the Giants dominated from start to finish?  How many times can this team give us he feeling of complete exasperation yet in the end exhilarate us to highs we hardly imagine yet have come to somewhat expect?  Last week against Dallas, the Giants were one 3rd and 10 conversion away from giving themselves an opportunity to take the game to overtime but weren’t able to do it.  This week, a furious 4th quarter barrage pulled a seemingly sure loss into a victory.  It’s truly been an amazing time to be a Giants fan over the past 7 years.

The statistics speak for themselves.  The Giants put more than 600 yards up on a good Tampa defense.  They converted first down after first down.  They passed at will despite the 1980s style football defenses are being allowed to play while the replacement refs from Division III continue to struggle with the differences in how secondary play is called in college versus the pros.  The defense made several key stops late in the game to give the offense the opportunity to continue the comeback.

Tampa really didn’t have a sustained drive all game.  Their first drive, resulting in a field goal, was there longest in terms of plays at seven.  Two others were of six.  Seven others were of three plays or less and two of those resulted in touchdowns.  On the flip side, New York had four drives of eight plays or more (with one 12 and another 13) that resulted in three field goals and one touchdown.  On the day, the Giants got into the Tampa green zone five times and settled for four field goals and one touchdown.

Amazingly, New York punted just twice, giving up the ball more often on interceptions.  It was all moot in the end when New York scored 28 points on their final 5 drives (not including the kneel down at the end).  The Giants not only overcame adversity on the field due to the turnovers and poor execution in the green zone, but overcame a string of early injuries to WR Domenik Hixon, RT David Diehl, and RB Ahmad Bradshaw.  The understudies did well as Sean Locklear moved to right tackle with Will Beatty returning to LT.  WR Ramses Barden had a key reception in the fourth quarter to keep a drive alive. Most impressive of all was the stellar play of RB Andre Brown who didn’t just fill in for Bradshaw but brought an intensity to the running game that was a welcome sight to all Giants fans.

Quarterback:

It was two distinctly different games for QB Eli Manning.  His first half was confusing.  He completed several great passes, including the beautiful pass to Hakeem Nicks for a 23 yard touchdown and several other back shoulder fades, he also threw two balls right to Tampa defenders.  The first was unquestionably his fault when he failed to see MLB Mason Foster settle into the zone under Nicks on a crossing route.  It was a very uncharacteristic read by Manning at this point in his career.  It’s my opinion that the second interception wasn’t completely on Manning.  On the play, WR Victor Cruz was held on a timing out route to the sideline.  Cruz was forced to break the route off a bit short due to the contact and the ball sailed over his head and right into the arms of the deep corner.  The third, however, was another head scratcher.  Somehow, Manning completely lost CB Eric Wright who looked to fake a blitz and settle at the line of scrimmage.  Manning was trying to throw a simple stop route for three yards to Cruz to move the chains, but Wright was in perfect position to make the pick.  Manning threw 27 times in the first half, completing 17 of them to Giants and three to Buccaneers.  It wasn’t just the interceptions that made Manning look a little off, as he missed a wide open Ahmad Bradshaw in the end zone on their second drive and instead threw to Will Beatty who has never caught an NFL pass.  Beatty had the ball clang off his hands, missing a sure touchdown.  Two plays later, Manning was also victimized when TE Martellus Bennett also dropped a well thrown ball in the end zone.

The second half didn’t appear to be starting much better as on the second New York drive, Manning nearly threw an interception trying to dump the ball short to RB David Wilson.  Manning had stepped up away from pressure on the third down play and missed seeing a wide open Victor Cruz at the goal line near the right pylon.  Manning started off the half completing just seven of his first 15 passes until the second drive of the fourth quarter.  Eli finished by completing seven of his last nine attempts for 229 yards and two touchdowns over the final seven minutes.  That’s an amazing finish.  Two brilliant throws were the 80 yard touchdown to Cruz where he escaped pressure and appeared to go to Cruz as his second read, double pumped, and dropped a beautiful ball into Cruz’s hands in stride.  The second was the 50 yarder to Nicks that set up the final touchdown.  On the play, Manning was blitzed by Tampa rookie first round draft pick SS Mike Barron.  Barron got home but Manning lofted a perfect ball over CB Aqib Talib, who Manning torched all day.

On the day, Manning completed a total of 31 passes on 51 attempts for an astounding 510 yards with 3 touchdowns and the 3 interceptions.  Manning was not sacked despite the reshuffled offensive line though he was pressured by Tampa who blitzed often.  Manning was hit or knocked down twice according to the stats but it appeared he was hit more than that.

Running Backs:

The Giants lost RB Ahmad Bradshaw early in the game and at first it didn’t appear clear what the Giants were going to do to compensate.  Before leaving the game, Bradshaw had moderate success, averaging 3.2 ypc on 5 attempts for 16 yards.  Once again, however, the Giants had trouble running near the goal line with Bradshaw as they couldn’t get in from the two yard line on a run to the right where Diehl, Snee, and Bennett couldn’t get a push.  Diehl was injured on the play.

On the next drive, the Giants ran a draw to FB Henry Hynoski on a second and 10 play that went for three yards.  At that point one had to wonder just how much the Giants were going to rely on rookie David Wilson.  The answer soon became obvious as RB Andre Brown came in as the running back on the next drive.

Andre Brown started off a slowly as he was dropped for a 1 yard loss on his first carry.  On his second carry, however, Brown took a handoff and cut to the inside and made a couple defenders miss and then carried a safety for five of his 23 yards on the play.  Brown ran tough.  He made several hard-nosed runs (one called back due to a holding penalty) where he made significant extra yardage after first contact.  Impressively, the Giants trusted Brown on a critical third and one play that he converted after making a nice move in the backfield to find the hole.  To build on that, they also went to Brown on the two point conversion try as he blasted through center, took on the linebacker at the goal line, and powered the ball in for the game-tying points.  On the day, Brown finished with his first NFL touchdown and 71 yards on 13 carries, a tidy 5.5 ypc average.

Brown also caught both passes thrown his way for 19 yards.  Not to be lost was the fact that Brown played smart, disciplined football.  On the second Manning interception, he may have momentarily saved a touchdown by reaching out and horse collaring CB Brandon McDonald.  Tampa scored anyway, but McDonald may have scored if not for Brown’s penalty.  Later, Brown alertly scooped up Manning’s fumble and advanced it from at least a sure three yard loss into a one yard gain.  Brown was also stout in blitz pickups and also made the smart play to go down and give himself up at the two yard line when Tampa was allowing the Giants to score late in the game.  It was an eye-opening performance by the oft-injured back from North Carolina State.

Rookie RB David Wilson, despite the loss of Bradshaw, saw just three carries for six yards and a long of four.  The Giants attempted the “counter trey” type play that they apparently have in the package for Wilson and he nearly broke it but was tripped up by a foot as he was breaking through the line.  Wilson was thrown to twice but did not have a reception.

FB Henry Hynoski was asked to pass block and perform blitz pickups a lot more than normal in this game, possibly due to the loss of Bradshaw and the worry that Brown and/or Wilson wouldn’t be up to the task. Hynoski carried the one time for three yards and also had a five yard reception.  It appeared Hynoski hurt his back on that catch but was soon back in the game.

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends:

Despite a nagging foot injury that was aggravated during the game, WR Hakeem Nicks was outstanding.  Nicks caught 10 of 15 balls thrown his way for 199 yards and a touchdown.  Nicks did it in every way imaginable.  He caught back shoulder throws, slants, deep balls, and balls over the middle.  Nicks delivered all kinds of looks and was successful often.  Not to be outdone, WR Victor Cruz caught 11 of 17 balls for 179 yards and an 80 yard touchdown.  Most importantly, Cruz lost his case of the dropsies as he was solid all day.

The dynamic duo was the first pair of receivers ever to each record ten receptions and 175 yards in a game.  My how things have change offensively for the “run with power” New York Giants offense!

Victor Cruz also drew two defensive holding penalties while Nicks drew a pass interference call as well.

WR Domenik Hixon was injured on his only target of the day, a 12 yard completion on which he was hit helmet-to-helmet by LB Mason Foster.  Hixon left with a concussion.  WR Ramses Barden was the recipient of Hixon’s playing time and caught one pass, but it was on the critical last drive for 24 yards.  Barden was only targeted twice on the day.

TE Martellus Bennett had an eventful day, dropping a sure touchdown but atoning for it later with a stellar 33 yard touchdown that gave the Giants a short-lived lead in the fourth quarter.  Bennett was targeted 10 times and caught 5 passes for 72 yards.  Bennett was very good giving help to the pass protection and other than the goal line play appeared to play well in the running game.  Bennett has added a much needed dimension to the Giants and it was good to see New York trying to exploit the middle of the field with their new weapon.

42 of the 51 passes attempted by the Giants went to Cruz, Nicks, and Bennett.

Offensive Line:

William Beatty said he was ready and wanted his job back during media sessions last week.  It may have been just a matter of time, but Beatty got it back a bit sooner than he thought when starting RT David Diehl was lost with an injury to his MCL.  On the very first play back at LT, Beatty reported eligible and proceeded to drop a sure touchdown pass when Manning didn’t look to Bradshaw in the corner of the end zone and instead went to Beatty.  To add insult to injury, Beatty committed a false start on the very next play.  After that, Beatty settled in and played well (though he did have another false start penalty later in the game).  When you look at the total results of game, you have to say that the entire line played well.  After moving to the RT spot, Sean Locklear played great in the pass game and adequately in the run game.  Interestingly, the Giants ran the majority of their plays off delayed handoffs, draws, or other misdirection plays between the tackles.  Rarely did they attempt to get outside.  New York still had some trouble getting good yardage on first down early in the game, but after Brown came in that changed.  Bradshaw and Wilson had six first down carries to start the game for 20 yards with a long of 12.  Brown’s first three first down carries went for 40 yards with a long of 23.  All in all, New York ran 16 times on first down for 81 yards and that includes the fumble by Manning.

Pass defense was solid, as noted Eli wasn’t sacked and very rarely heavily pressured.  The Giants used a lot of max protection with Pascoe and Hynoski and kept Brown in to block on occasion.  Manning helps his line a ton, however, by being able to slip around the pocket and buy time.

I would not be surprised to see this offensive line stay the way it’s constituted today with Diehl coming in off the bench when he’s ready to return.  The middle of the line played much better than last week.  Kevin Boothe seemed to take a step forward, step back, and step forward again in this game as he at times appeared to miss his assignment then later obliterate a linebacker on a running play.  Chris Snee and David Baas were much better as well.

Defensive Front 7:

There is growing concern on The Corner Forum about the lack of pass rush being generated by the front 4, and it may be valid.  So far this season, both Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora have been all but invisible.  Between them on Sunday, Osi and Justin made just 4 tackles and registered no QB hits or pressures.  Thankfully, Jason Pierre-Paul is having a monster season already, particularly around the line of scrimmage in run support.  He’s starting to remind me of Michael Strahan with his two way ability from the DE position.  JPP was in on 8 tackles, had his first sack of the season, and made two tackles for losses behind the line of scrimmage.  He also had one of four Giant QB hits.

The interior of the line is where the Giants are making hay.  Linval Joseph is playing at a completely different level this year.  He has been outstanding versus the run and is getting excellent pressure on the QB.  On Sunday he was in on 4 tackles, one behind the line, and registered two QB hits.  His pressure led to the first interception by Corey Webster.  Not to be out done, his partner Rocky Bernard made 5 tackles.  DT Marcus Kuhn was in on one tackle while in as the rotational DT.  The worry for me is that these guys, as long as Austin is out and can’t eat up some minutes, will get worn down as the season goes on.  The hope is to have Canty back by the middle of the season and spell the unit some, but it’s on Joseph and Bernard right now.

One of the best units on the field for the Giants was the linebacking corps despite missing Keith Rivers due to injury.  MLB Chase Blackburn continues to start and he got his first sack of the year on a nice blitz.  Michael Boley, Mathias Kiwanuka and Blackburn all had tackles behind the line of scrimmage and combining with the DTs and JPP, were excellent against the run allowing just 79 yards to the Tampa backfield.  The longest run of the day was 12 yards by rookie Doug Martin.  Blackburn also made an impressive open field tackle on a screen pass that looked promising for Tampa Bay.  Michael Boley made the game sealing interception.

Secondary:

The Giants secondary is their weakness so far this season.  They are giving up way too many uncharacteristic big plays, particularly by Corey Webster.  It’s completely understandable that the Giants are trying to role coverage to the other side of the field away from Webster to try and help Michael Coe and Justin Tryon, but Webster so far is having big trouble with the opposing teams’ number one receivers.  This week, though he only caught five of 10 balls thrown his way, Vincent Jackson caught three over Webster for more than 70 yards.  Webster was also beaten deep for what would have been a touchdown but Tampa has Josh Freeman throwing the ball, not Eli Manning.  If that ball was completed, the game could have been too far out of reach.  Webster redeemed himself later when he made a crucial late third quarter interception to get the ball back to the offense so they could continue to mount the comeback.  When they called Webster’s name, I thought they had to be mistaken because Webster was just inside the left hash (right hash going back towards the Tampa goal line) all the way across the field.  I thought it had to be Rolle.  On the play, Webster had taken his man across the field and as Freeman let it go under pressure by Joseph, Webster just drifted to the ball and made the clean grab.  The ball was high, most likely intended for WR Mike Williams, and Webster was just in the right place at the right time.  It would have been nice to see him stay on his feet and get some yardage, however (grin!).

Michael Coe is a gamer, if not a starting caliber cornerback.  While he had his share of trouble and gave up the first touchdown to Vincent Jackson, later he made a critical tackle in the fourth quarter on Mike Williams on a 3rd and eight play from the Tampa 45 yard line.  Jackson caught the ball on a stop route 6 yards downfield and Coe came up, turned him inside then out and dropped him a yard short of converting the first down.  The Giants scored to tie the game on their next possession.  Unfortunately, I believe that’s the play where he aggravated his hamstring and he didn’t return.

Justin Tryon is doing just that…just tryin’.  Though he was in perfect position on the final Tampa touchdown to Williams, he never elevated and despite tipping the ball with his helmet and left hand he couldn’t break up the play.  The Giants are in trouble if they have to play significant time with Tryon at CB.

Nickel CB Jayron Hosley played well, registering five tackles, tied for third on the team.  With CB Prince Amukamara due back this week (hopefully), Hosley is entrenched as the nickel corner.

The safeties were active on Sunday, with Antrel Rolle and Kenny Phillips delivering big hits to break up passes.  There is some discussion in The Corner Forum about their effectiveness but I think people are forgetting that their trying to cover up for weaknesses outside, which is where teams are attacking New York’s secondary.  Rolle and Phillips combined to contribute 10 tackles and the two passes defensed.  Will Hill saw some playing time, but very little.  It’s been reported he was in on four defensive snaps.

Now that said, there was one issue puzzling me.  On that last touchdown to Williams, I’m unsure what the Giants were trying to do.  They had rushed four, dropped all three linebackers into coverage, and Kenny Phillips had rolled over to Webster to help on Jackson.  It was just an average four receiver route by Tampa.  Antrel Rolle was in the middle of the field with no one to cover at the 15 yard line when the ball was thrown.  Once he saw the throw, he turned and began a mad sprint to help Tryon but it was way, way too late and he never got within 20 yards of the play.  I have no idea, simply none, as to why the Giants were rolling coverage to Webster and leaving Tryon out alone with Williams, particularly when Rolle had no apparent coverage responsibilities on the play as no one tested the middle long or short.

Special Teams:

Lawrence Tynes was critical in keeping the Giants close on Sunday as New York repeatedly settled for field goals inside the green zone.  Tynes hit on all four of his attempts with a long of 37.  Tynes’ kickoffs weren’t nearly as deep as last week, but after the first one of the day on which Arellious Benn fumbled, maybe they decided to dare him to run it back.  Of eight kickoffs, there was only one touchback which is unheard of in the new NFL.

Giants coverage teams were good, but they had one significant breakdown.  On the opening kickoff of the second half, New York allowed Benn to gain 55 yards from two yards deep out to the Giants 47 yard line.  Luckily the Giants defense stiffened and held Tampa to three points.  Other than that, the coverage teams were solid in both the kickoff and punt game.  Two standouts were Adrian Tracy who forced that first fumble with a big hit on the ball and Spencer Paysinger who seemed to be everywhere.

Speaking of punting, Sean Weatherford only punted twice on the day, having one returned for 13 yards and the other for 3.

If I were a Giants coach, I’d go with exactly what they did Sunday with their return teams.  Rookie WR Rueben Randle has looked solid on punt returns while fellow rookie RB David Wilson is doing a fantastic job as kick returner.  Both almost broke huge gainers, and Randle had a beautiful return called back due to penalty.  Clean up the penalties and these units could easily contribute to the success of the offense.

Coaching:

After what appeared to be a tentative approach to fill the hole left by Bradshaw after his injury, the Giants coaching staff put all their trust in RB Andre Brown and it paid off in spades in every situation.  Hats off to the staff for staying with the hot hand and letting it play out.  I know people are clamoring for Wilson, but the Giants are always patient with their young backs and they’ll be no different with Wilson.  When they feel he is ready, he’ll have his chance.  Brown proved he belongs and deserves another shot.  I also have to commend HC Tom Coughlin for not allowing his team to quit, reminding them at halftime that they’d been in this position before.  New York never gave in, even after surrendering the big opening second half kick return.

Good, solid play calling from OC Kevin Gilbride, specifically staying with the first down runs after they were less than successful early.  Also a nice wrinkle to go tackle eligible down near the goal line but maybe you’d like to throw to someone with a bit less rust on him next time!

I have to question why Coe and Tryon were not getting deep help at times on the Tampa receivers Williams and Jackson.  Is it scheme or execution?  If it’s the former, they need to go back to the drawing board.  If it’s execution, it’s time to think about going back to big nickel if Rolle can’t play the roll coverage over the top when they’re in cover two.

Final Thoughts:

Despite the errors, the penalties, and the green zone troubles, New York deserved this game in the end.  They did dominate for the majority of the game and showed that they have the mettle to overcome the adversity and keep coming at them.  They fought hard, and to the end.

That said, there are issues to be dealt with.  The Giants need Prince Amukamara healthy and ready to play at a high level as soon as possible.  It would be good to have him back this week against a mobile, physical QB who can extend plays and find receivers downfield.  They also need to find a way to get the pass rush untracked.  Tuck and Umenyiora need to muster up and help out the DTs or they’re going to be worn out by mid-season.

On offense, New York must find an answer for the running game in the green zone, specifically close in, and find options (other than Beatty!) to get the ball into the end zone when the opportunities exist.  Long touchdown passes are nice, but don’t come every game.  New York has to execute better down inside the 20.

(Box Score – Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New York Giants, September 16, 2012)
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