Oct 102012
 
 October 10, 2012  Posted by  Game Previews and Reviews
New York Giants 41 (3-2) – Cleveland Browns 27 (0-5)

By rnargi for BigBlueInteractive.com

Game Summary:

The New York Giants and their walking wounded spotted the Browns a quick 14 points before settling in on offense and defeating the Cleveland Browns on Sunday at Met Life Stadium.  The Giants took the lead in an explosive second period and never looked back.

The turning point seemed to be when the Giants had closed the score to 17-10 and Cleveland began another possession that appeared to be the ninth straight drive going back to the Philadelphia game in which the defense would give up points.  Instead, on a third and one play from the Giants 25 yard line, the Browns went away from what was working for them, the running game.  On the critical play, the Giants got one of the few pressures they got all day on QB Brandon Weeden.  Interestingly, on the play, the Giants sent just their normal 4 down linemen.  The pressure, however, came from MLB Chase Blackburn.  Blackburn was initially in coverage in the short middle zone, but no one leaked out of the backfield so he took off between the LDE and LDT and bee-lined towards Weeden.  Weeden overthrew his receiver while trying to avoid the pressure, and S Stevie Brown, subbing for the injured Kenny Phillips, made the easy interception and returned it to the Browns 40 yard line.  The Giants took over with 3:46 to play in the half, and two plays later the Giants were in the end zone and the game was tied.

On the ensuing kickoff, S Will Hill forced a fumble and New York again took over in Browns territory, this time at the 29 yard line.  Again, the Giants scored a touchdown and then forced the Browns to punt on the ensuing possession.  Taking over with just 17 seconds left in the half, Manning’s last pass led to a pass interference penalty at the Cleveland 22 yard line.  When K Lawrence Tynes kicked a field goal to end the half, New York had turned a potential 10-14 point halftime deficit into a 10 point lead.  The Giants never looked back after those 3 minutes and 46 seconds.

There isn’t a Giants fan among us who wasn’t worried after Cleveland scored on their first three possessions.  The Giants were missing several key players and even LB Spencer Paysinger got the start over an ailing Michael Boley.  WR Hakeem Nicks missed his third straight game.  WR Ramses Barden was out with a concussion.  DT Rocky Bernard, LB Keith Rivers and S Kenny Phillips were out on defense, along with nickel back Jayron Hosley.  Several other players including RG Chris Snee, C David Baas, CB Corey Webster, CB Michael Coe and the above mentioned Michael Boley were playing banged up.  In the game, TE Martellus Bennett injured his knee but continued to play and HB/KR Andre Brown left the game with a concussion.  The Giants are starting to look like a M*A*S*H unit both on and off the field, yet they found a way to beat back the Browns after the shaky start.  In my opinion, that’s a testament to two things.  The first is the fact that the Giants have competent backups who are coached up and ready to play no matter what the circumstances.  The second is the Giants’ mantra, “finish.”  New York doesn’t give up, and despite being out played in arguably three of the first five games, they were in every one until the very end.

The Giants got a huge spark from a somewhat unexpected source, the running game.  New York rushed for 84 yards in the first half, which is very respectable and definitely a welcome turnaround from the first four weeks.  The astounding fact, however, was the 159 yards they put up in the second half, for a total of 243 net yards.  One would expect with numbers like that, the load would be shared, or at the least, one or two 60 yard runs would be found in the mix.  Not so, as most of the yardage came from HB Ahmad Bradshaw and he didn’t even have the team’s longest run.  That distinction was taken by HB David Wilson’s 40 yard touchdown run.

The Giants passing game was also on the mark most of the day, churning out 259 yards.  For the second time this season, New York topped the 500 total yard mark.

On defense, the Giants seemed to play this game close to the vest.  It could be that New York was concerned with their personnel matchups and decided to play the basic vanilla defense we saw.  It could have worked and in the end you can say it did, but New York had a tough time getting rookie RB Trent Richardson to the ground on first contact, missing tackle after tackle (particularly in the first half).  Richardson managed 67 yards in the first half but after the Giants took a 17 point lead early in the third period the Browns were forced to play catch up and Richardson only rushed for 14 yards in the entire second half.

Brandon Weeden played a solid game, completing 22 of 35 passes for 291 yards and two touchdowns.  The first a stunning 62 yard strike against a poorly designed, or at the least, executed Giants defense early in the first quarter.  His second was in garbage time.  Weeden had a lot of time in the pocket as the Giants primarily rushed four.  A lot of his success came in the form of the dink and dunk as he passed 16 times for 128 yards to his backs and tight ends.

Weeden made two critical mistakes and both resulted in interceptions.  The first was described above.  The second came in the fourth quarter.  After advancing to the Giants five yard line, Weeden threw a second forward pass after he caught his first that was knocked back to him by DE Justin Tuck.  On the ensuing third and goal from the 10 yard line, Weeden tried to throw to his tight end in the back of the end zone but the coverage by MLB Chase Blackburn was perfect and he easily intercepted the pass.  The timing was crucial because the Browns could have cut their deficit to one touchdown.

On the day, New York dominated the statistics.  The most important, third down conversion rate and turnovers fell into New York’s favor.  On third downs, the Giants converted six of 11 while holding the Browns to three of 12.  The Browns did manage to convert two fourth downs.  The Browns turned the ball over three times and the Giants twice.  Both of the Giants turnovers were somewhat fluky, as Bradshaw had the ball knocked out of his arm by G Chris Snee on the first play from scrimmage and the second was an interception that was initially caught by WR Victor Cruz despite interference by CB Sheldon Brown.  Brown then batted the ball out of Cruz’s arms and into the arms of S Usama Young.  New York turned the three Cleveland turnovers into 21 points.

Cleveland also committed a slew of penalties, 10 for 91 yards.  New York was penalized just three times for 25 yards.

New York dominated the time of possession, winning every quarter and finishing with more nearly 11 minutes more than the Browns.

Quarterback:

QB Eli Manning started off slowly, missing badly on a pass to TE Martellus Bennett on a short out route on a third and two during the Giants’ second possession which caused a three and out.  On the next drive, however, Manning hit all six of his passes (plus a pass interference penalty) to get the Giants their first score and begin the comeback.

After that, Manning managed the game well on his way to completing 25 of 37 passes (67.6% completion rate) for 259 yards and three touchdowns against his one interception.  Overall, the Giants are second in the league behind New Orleans in passing yards, and Manning is also second in the league behind Drew Brees with 1,579 yards on the young season.  Manning’s passer rating was 103.3 on Sunday while his QBR was an outstanding 95.2.

Manning’s best friend on Sunday was the running game, as he victimized the Browns for two touchdowns off play action fakes.  Manning distributed the ball almost evenly between his three wide receivers: Victor Cruz (8), Domenik Hixon (8), and Rueben Randle (9).  Only 11 of Manning’s 37 passes were thrown to backs or tight ends.

Running Backs:

Much maligned HB Ahmad Bradshaw started off the game badly by fumbling on the first play from scrimmage.  The Browns recovered at the Giants 22 yard line and two plays later, the Browns had a 7-0 lead.  That was it for the bad from Bradshaw for the rest of the day, as he shredded the Browns for 200 yards on 30…yes 30…carries and a touchdown.  Bradshaw was pressed into full time duty because HB Andre Brown was concussed on a kickoff early in the first period.

Bradshaw seemed to relish the role and ran with a purpose and power that I frankly haven’t seen from him in a very, very long time.  Bradshaw was patient, setting up his blocks, and powerful, running through and over tacklers.  It was noted on the broadcast that Bradshaw seemed focused to atone for his early mistake, and I’ll be damned if it didn’t seem to be true.  To be fair, Bradshaw benefited from the best blocking seen from the offensive line (particularly on the left side) in quite a while and also got a lot of help from the TEs and FB Henry Hynoski.

Bradshaw averaged an astounding 6.7 yards per carry.  That is unheard of when you rush thirty times.  Bradshaw’s three longest runs were for 37, 28 and 14 yards.  His 12 yard run with 17 seconds left in the first half helped to get the Giants into field goal range.  Bradshaw was also instrumental in the passing game, catching 4 of 6 passes for 29 yards, featuring another well run screen.  Bradshaw more than doubled his yardage on the year to 333 and he now has a robust 5.1 ypc average.  Bradshaw has just 65 carries on the year.

Rookie HB David Wilson got just two carries but he made the most of them, gaining 44 yards including the game clinching 40 yard touchdown.  Wilson was completely untouched on the play and followed his blocking to the “T.”  Wilson is apparently still not trusted by the coaching staff as Bradshaw carried nearly the entire load on Sunday.  If Brown is out on Sunday versus San Francisco, it will be interesting to see what role Wilson will play.

FB Henry Hynoski lived up to his nickname from last year (“Hank the Tank”) this past Sunday.  Hynoski plowed through the Browns front seven like he was on a mission to destroy them, leading and opening gaping holes for the running backs to exploit.  Interestingly, Hank wasn’t targeted at all in the passing game and had no rushing attempts.

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends:

Another man down, another steps up.  With Hakeem Nicks and Ramses Barden out, it was up to rookie Rueben Randle to lend a hand to the receiving corps.  He did, and in a big way.  Randle ran precise routes and caught several highly-contested balls on his way to six catches for a team- high 82 receiving yards.  Randle had a couple of mistakes, dropping a back shoulder throw that might have been a touchdown if he could have deked the defender after the catch.  Later, he wasn’t able to establish position in the end zone on a Giants field goal drive and just did save an interception by knocking the ball away.  Frankly, Randle may have gotten away with pass interference on the play.

The knock on Randle to this point has been a reported questionable work ethic.  Maybe that was cleared up after he was called by Eli Manning to a one on one film session study during the week before the game.  The half hour session increased Manning’s confidence in Randle and it showed on the field as he was targeted nine times.  Randle drew two pass interference penalties and took a big helmet to helmet shot on one of them that should have drawn another flag for hitting a defenseless receiver.

Victor Cruz is still getting a lot of looks even though he’s arguably the number one option on the team with Nicks out and Barden not playing this week.  On Sunday, Cruz got eight looks, catching five passes for 50 yards and most importantly, three touchdowns.  All three of Cruz’s touchdowns featured outstanding route running, which is becoming a stalwart of Cruz’s game.  His cuts are crisp and leave defenders with broken ankles.

Last week I mentioned that WR Domenik Hixon played a tough, physical game against the Eagles.  He did it again this week against Cleveland as he made five catches for 55 yards.  Hixon is not the most fleet of foot, not the most skillful at shaking off cornerbacks, and doesn’t break ankles with his cuts.  That said, he’s tough and strong and makes terrific catches in traffic.  He made a fantastic catch after breaking down the cornerback on an in route in which he had to lay out and grab the football with just his hands as he was being held.  There should have been a flag thrown on the play.  Hixon has proven over the past two weeks that he may not always get open, but he’s going to fight for every ball thrown his way.

There was a Jerrel Jernigan sighting on Sunday, as he caught the only ball thrown his way for a 6 yard gain.

TE Martellus Bennett was a monster in the run game on Sunday, particularly after injuring his knee on the Giants second drive.  It looked to be a serious injury that would keep him out of the rest of the game, but he returned quickly.  Obviously not at 100%, Bennett managed 3 catches for 30 yards.  Bennett’s fellow tight end, Bear Pascoe, also played extremely well in the running game as a blocker.

Offensive Line:

Following the game, the first thing Ahmad Bradshaw did in the locker room was to congratulate his offensive line.  New York’s front five put an absolute beat down on the Browns front seven on Sunday.  It was by far the best overall effort out of the Giants front line since the beginning of the 2008 season when they were running all over opponents.  Sure, there have been good games in between but this one was stellar.  QB Eli Manning was never under any real sustained pressure and was only hit one time.

Chris Snee, playing with a partially torn labrum in his hip, played arguably his best game in a year.  Snee was devastating linemen and linebackers alike, teaming with RT Sean Locklear to open up huge holes for Hynoski to lead the backs through.  Not to be outdone, David Baas seems to be at 100% full strength and was steady as a rock in the middle.  If his injured arm was bothering him or causing his hand to swell, it wasn’t noticeable as his snaps were good all game.

LT William Beatty again didn’t allow a sack and on Sunday didn’t even allow a pressure come from his side.  Beatty seems healthy and is dominating on the left side.  Frankly, I just don’t see a place for David Diehl on this line when he returns from injury, possibly this week.

LG Kevin Boothe was outstanding on the second level all day long after a tough go in Philadelphia where he whiffed on more than a couple blocks.  In pass protection he was excellent as well.

Along with Bennett, Pascoe and Hynoski this line is starting to gel.  They seem to be playing much more in sync, evidenced by Bennett saying he was able to talk to the linemen to set up plays in which he knew he’d have to compensate for his knee injury.

Seriously, where do you put Diehl on this line when he gets healthy?  Also something to note, G Mitch Petrus was in on the final drive for Snee when the game was already well in hand.

Defensive Front 7:

I’d like to say that the Giants played a very good game against the Browns, but frankly they didn’t.  They played good enough to win, but if a team like San Francisco is able to capitalize on an early mistake and then score on their first three drives, the Giants could be in real trouble.  As mentioned, things turned around after the Brown interception, but not wildly so.  Trent Richardson is the real deal and it’s hard for anyone to take him down.  He treated himself to some of the candy that DE Osi Umenyiora said he could take if he could find it out there.

Fortunately, the offensive explosion over the latter part of the first half into the third quarter put the Browns into a pass-oriented offense and they weren’t able to stick with the run, which was working well in the first half.

On the day, the defense gave up 375 yards.  That’s too much to the Browns, a middling offense that boasts a rookie QB, rookie running back, was missing a couple of receivers and has no real tight end threat.  The Giants did do a great job of limiting the Browns on third down, allowing them to convert just three of 12.  As mentioned, the defense had gone a stretch of eight straight drives giving up points.  Part of the problem is certainly that they’re missing key cogs in the middle of the field, particularly this past Sunday when Kenny Phillips, Keith Rivers, Jayron Hosley and Rocky Bernard were on the sidelines.  The Giants played linebackers in all kinds of combinations with Williams, Boley, Herzlich, Paysinger, Kiwanuka and Blackburn playing at different times.  The CBs weren’t much different, with Michael Coe, Justin Tryon, Will Hill and Stevie Brown rotating in with Rolle, Webster and Amukamara.

Again, it worked.  The Giants won the game.  The issue is will it work against a good team like San Francisco?  Time will tell, but it would be nice to have a few of these positions somewhat locked down and guys start to perform consistently.

The lack of pass rush production is now alarming.  The Giants pass rush hardly got in on Weeden.  Osi Umenyiora did get to him once and nearly caused a fumble but Weeden’s arm had just started forward when the ball was swatted out of his hand.  That was the only QB hit other than when Blackburn pressured Weeden on his first interception.  That wasn’t much of a hit, but it was credited.  Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul had underwhelming games, though both were in on a lot of tackles in the running game.  Tuck was in on six tackles, three solo, mainly on Trent Richardson.  JPP was just not himself in the pass rush.  He was neutralized all game and never got close to Weeden.

Not a single lineman (or linebacker for that matter) was involved in a single negative yardage play as Richardson broke tackle after tackle in the first half.  In the second half, in which Weeden dropped back to pass 22 times, New York’s pass rush only got close to him one time.

On the plus side, the defensive line blocked four passes, led by DT Marcus Kuhn with two.  Kuhn didn’t play badly, but he was more or less stalemated at the line.  Kuhn and Joseph were in on just five tackles, which shows how often Richardson broke to the outside.

Chase Blackburn was an enigma on Sunday.  He made two stellar plays to first cause an interception and then to make one but he missed a ton of tackles.  His forearms had to be sore as Richardson ran through his arm tackles all game.  Blackburn was in on just four tackles.  The rest of the linebackers weren’t much better other than the hobbled Michael Boley, who made six tackles and broke up one pass.  Spencer Paysinger had three tackles subbing for Boley.

What is the deal with Mathias Kiwanuka?  Why is his playing time been so limited?  Kiwi was on the field about 25% of the time.  Is there an injury that we don’t know about?

With the issues in the banged up secondary, this unit has got to step up and find a way to get more pressure on the quarterback.  It would be one thing if there were signs that the rush is coming, but that’s not the case.  There is no evidence whatsoever that the Giants are about to break the dam and get after the passer.

Secondary:

CB Corey Webster bounced back with a solid game, albeit came against a very green and talent-barren Cleveland wide receiver corps.  Webster allowed a couple of completions and led the team in tackles with 8.  His best was coming up and rolling the Cleveland tight end short of the first down yardage after the long kickoff return had put Cleveland in business at the Giants 30 yard line.  The tackle forced Cleveland into another field goal, keeping the Giants up by 14.  Webster was responsible for the final Browns touchdown as he was in trail coverage on WR Josh Gordon and couldn’t get back to make the play.  The safety on the play, Stevie Brown, almost got there in time to swat it away.  Several of Webster’s tackles were on Richardson coming out of the backfield, no easy task.

Prince Amukamara also played well on the outside, but he too was burned for a couple big gainers.  Amukamara committed one of the penalties, an illegal use of hands to the face call.  The good thing is that Prince continues to get valuable game experience and continues to get better.

The play of Stevie Brown was solid but he did get caught trying to cheat towards the line of scrimmage, leaving Chase Blackburn alone in the slot against Josh Brown.  It was no contest as Brown and Weeden hooked up for a 62 yard touchdown pass.  Many people erroneously placed the blame on S Antrel Rolle.  Brown was not Rolle’s responsibility on the play.  Brown made the crucial game turning interception late in the first half that got the team turned around.

S Will Hill played the nickel corner for most of the day and did a pretty good job as well.  Will had three tackles, one for a loss on Richardson when he crept in from the nickel slot and dropped Richardson in the backfield.

Antrel Rolle is in a no win situation with the fans over in The Corner Forum.  Rolle was solid on Sunday, making six tackles.  Rolle did an excellent job stuffing Richardson for a one yard loss on a third and 1 play deep in Giants territory, allowing the New York to hold the Browns to a field goal and 10 point lead.  Later on the first Cleveland drive of the third period, Rolle dropped Richardson just short of the marker in the open field after taking a swing pass.  Granted, Cleveland converted the very short fourth down, but Rolle had done his job.

Special Teams:

New York’s special teams took a step backwards on Sunday, particularly on both kick off teams.  First, it appeared that the Giants read their own press clippings as both Andre Brown and David Wilson took balls out of the end zone that should have been knelt down and Cleveland got off a couple long returns of their own.  Cleveland did a great job of directional and “mortar” kicking, throwing off the return teams.

On the 74 yard return by Josh Cribbs, LB Mark Herzlich did a phenomenal job to stick with the play and chase him down at the Giants 30 yard line and save the touchdown.  S Will Hill also stayed with a return in which it appeared Cribbs was about to break free and stripped him from behind.  The resulting fumble was scooped up by Stevie Brown and returned deep into Browns territory and set up the go ahead touchdown.

P Steve Weatherford punted just twice all game.  Lawrence Tynes made both his field goal attempts.

Coaching:

After last week’s game, I honestly didn’t think there would be anything that would have to be questioned from a coaching standpoint, but I have no idea why HC Tom Coughlin accepted the second down penalty on the final Cleveland drive in the first half.  The play was a second and 16 which lost a yard, putting Cleveland in a third down and 17 situation at their own 11 yard line with 50 on the clock and the Giants holding 3 time outs in their pocket.  Instead, the Giants took the illegal block above the waist penalty making it second and 21 from the Cleveland 6 yard line.  After two plays and two timeouts later, Cleveland punted from their own 17 yard line but more importantly it took the clock down to 17 by the time the Giants got the ball with only one time out.

In that situation, I make them go for the 3rd and 16 and use just one time out if they don’t convert.  It was a head scratching call.

Other than that, the Giants had a great game plan on offense and shuffled the defense as much as they could to put the brakes on Cleveland after spotting them a 14 point lead.

Final Thoughts:

The Giants survived a tough game but sustained a couple more injuries that they can ill afford to be serious.  The Giants are now perilously thin in numerous spots, and it’s not going to help to get even thinner at more positions such as running back and tight end.

In the end, the Giants improved to 3-2 and hold a share of first place with the Eagles, who had the shoe on the other foot in Pittsburgh this weekend.  Philadelphia has yet to play a complete, consistent game.  Washington lost as well, and may have lost their rookie phenom QB Robert Griffen for a week or so with a concussion.  Dallas had the day off.

New York has a huge test in San Francisco this weekend.  If they can somehow get some of their wounded back and come out with a win, they’ll have positioned themselves nicely for a strong second half run at the division.  It’s going to be a tough test for both the offense and the defense.

(Box Score – Cleveland Browns at New York Giants, October 7, 2012)
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