Oct 242012
 
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New York Giants 27 (5-2) – Washington Redskins 23 (3-4)

By rnargi for BigBlueInteractive.com

Game Summary:

Coming off of a resounding whitewash of the San Francisco 49ers, the team many people believe is the best team in the NFC, New York had their first clash with ultra-rookie QB Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins. Griffin proved that he is everything he has been advertised to be and gave the Giants all they could handle on defense. In the end, however, QB Eli Manning proved once again who the current elite QB in the NFC East is. Two plays from scrimmage after Griffin delivered what appeared to be the game-winning touchdown, Manning dropped a perfect pass into the arms of Victor Cruz who did the rest on his way to a 77-yard game-winning touchdown. New York escaped, in the words of DE Osi Umenyiora, with a thrilling 27-23 win in the critical NFC East showdown.

The fact is New York won this game despite not bringing their “A” game. New York could not get their running game untracked and for most of the game could do little to slow down Washington’s. On offense, New York uncharacteristically made several unforced errors and also seemed to make some dubious play calls late in the game. Special teams did very little to assert themselves in this game as well. Still, both the offense and defense were opportunistic at certain times, giving them just enough to hold off the Redskins.

The statistics were overwhelmingly in the favor of the Redskins, who out rushed the Giants 248 – 64, gained more first downs (11 on the ground), outgained the Giants in total yards 480 – 393, and in time of possession by more than five minutes. Additionally, New York allowed six of 13 third-down conversion attempts by Washington as well as all three fourth-down conversions they attempted. The Giants were very good on third down offensively, converting eight of 12.

With stats like that, you’d think this was a Washington blow out, but there were three equalizers that pulled the Giants out of the fire. First, the Giants were able to get to Griffin and sack him three times for 26 yards lost. Second, penalties absolutely killed the Redskins, taking points off the board for them and extending Giants drives. Third, the Giants won the turnover battle, causing four in seven drives in the second half. On three of those Redskins possessions, they gave up the ball at the Giants 39, the Giants 35, and the Giants 29. In plus territory like that, it’s almost guaranteed that points were lost, potentially on all three drives.

Then there’s the dagger stat. The one we see over and over again from Eli Manning and these New York Giants. New York scored a game-tying field goal by driving from its own 20 yard line to the Redskins 21 with only 1:49 left on the clock. Then, with just 1:32 to go in the game and down by three points from his own 23 yard line, it took Eli just 14 seconds and two plays to hit Cruz for the 77 yard game winning touchdown. It’s uncanny how often and how consistently the Giants score at the end of the halves.

As mentioned, the Giants made their own share of unforced errors that kept the game close early on:

  1. On the opening drive of the game, the Giants were poised to attempt a fourth and one conversion from the Washington 36 yard line when RT Sean Locklear moved early. The penalty resulted in the Giants having to punt.
  2. On Washington’s first drive, the Redskins were looking at a potential 2nd-and-10 from the Giants 35 yard line but LB Michael Boley got called for a retaliation unnecessary roughness penalty when he slapped LT Trent Williams after he was antagonized by a finger poke inside of his face mask. That play came after Washington had a touchdown nullified by a questionable illegal shift penalty. Boley’s penalty put the Redskins at the Giants 20 yard line and Washington eventually scored a field goal.
  3. On Washington’s second drive, they allowed perennial Giants killer WR Santana Moss take a WR screen on a 3rd-and-7 play 26 yards completely untouched despite having eight players in proximity of the play. The Giants were completely fooled on the play as three Redskin offensive linemen got out in front along with RB Alfred Morris to lead the convoy.
  4. On the Giants third drive, Manning missed a wide open Victor Cruz who had beat his man like a drum at the goal line on a 3rd-and-1 play. Manning threw about three yards behind Cruz and the Giants had to settle for a field goal.
  5. During the Giants second drive of the third quarter following a Redskins fumble, the Giants faced a 2nd-and-8 from the Redskins 26 yard line. TE Martellus Bennett broke off his route early for the second time resulting in a Josh Wilson interception inside the Washington 10 yard line.
  6. After recovering another Washington fumble at the Giants 29 yard line and just 7:01 to go up by a touchdown, Eli Manning inexplicably threw the ball right to LB Rob Jackson who had settled into the flat in coverage. It appeared that Manning never saw Jackson.
  7. After holding the Redskins to a field goal, the Giants got the ball back at their own 17 yard line with 5:14 to go. Again on first down, Manning dropped back to pass and was sacked all the way back on the nine yard line. Later in the drive, the Giants attempted to throw a back shoulder fade to Hakeem Nick on a 3rd-and-1 play with only 3:15 left in the game. Had the Giants converted the first down, they would have forced Washington to use their final time out, leaving just three minutes and the two minute warning. Instead of running the ball, Manning threw just out of the reach of Nicks and Washington got the ball back with 2:59, a time out and the two minute warning.

It was an odd game, filled with mistakes, turnovers, questionable play calls, and tons of excitement every time Griffin got the ball into his hands. The Redskins came into this game off a big win over a good Minnesota team. Their defense is beaten up something fierce, and they are starting two rookies, Griffin and RB Alfred Morris, at key positions. Add to the problems the fact that their best receiver, Pierre Garcon was out and then TE Fred Davis left early with an Achilles injury and you have just got to take your hats off to how well they played. I’ve watched nearly every game that each NFC East team has played and it’s the Redskins I worry most about for the future. Not this year, yet, but this team is dangerous and Griffin is going to be a superstar, provided he can stay healthy, and will be a thorn in the Giants’ side for a decade or more.

Quarterback:

When watching the game live, I came away with the conclusion that Eli Manning didn’t play a very good game. I questioned the two interceptions, the missed touchdown to Cruz, and several other throws that just seemed errant. After re-watching however, I have to amend my thoughts. TE Martellus Bennett stopped two routes, one resulting in what appeared to be on Manning as an overthrow and the other which resulted in the first interception. Manning was also victimized by a couple of drops by his receivers. The three throws I believe that Manning would like to have back were the missed TD to Cruz, his second interception, and possibly the back shoulder throw to Nicks. I’m not convinced that the throw to Nicks was all that bad. Remember, Nicks is slowed by injury and it appeared on that play that Nicks was not aware that he had more room to work with than he seemed to think he had against the sideline. Nicks had at least a foot more room but still used just his arms to reach out for the ball, never moving his feet closer to the sideline. Overall, Manning’s performance was solid after re-evaluating the game.

Manning finished 26 of 40 for 337 yards to go along with his two interceptions and the lone touchdown. Manning also had a key 5 yard scramble that kept a drive alive that resulted in a field goal.

Manning’s passer rating on the day was just 78.9, which is misleading. His Total QBR was a robust 80.2. Manning is second in the league with a 76.9 QBR. Manning also leads the NFL in passing yardage with 2,109 yards. Another thing that Manning should get credit for is his knack for not taking sacks. Manning is the least sacked QB of any starter in the league with just five, including one on Sunday. Manning was under pressure and absorbed six QB hits including three from former teammate Barry Cofield.

Manning continues to be head-shaking, mind-bogglingly, uncanny good at the end of the first half and games. Once again, Manning engineered two drives with less than two minutes remaining to score points. On the final drive of the first half, Manning completed six of nine passes to get the Giants into field goal position. On 2nd-and-10 from the Washington 48 yard line and only 31 seconds to go and one time out, Manning calmly hit Cruz for a first down at the Washington 35. He got the Giants back to the line of scrimmage and snapped the ball with 14 seconds to go and again calmly hit Cruz over the middle with room to run and Cruz took the ball to the 21 yard line. Time out Giants with 7 seconds to go, bring on the field goal team, Tynes hits the 39 yard field goal. Tie game going into the half. Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy.

If that’s all Manning did at the end of a half in a game, you’d usually be happy. But after an emotional, tense, frustrating drive led by Griffin put the Skins up by three with less than a minute and a half remaining in the game, Manning did it again. Manning had three time outs to work with and after he threw his first attempt away, Eli stood in the pocket until he had a good read on whether Victor Cruz was running the go route then let it go just before he got rocked. The ball landed in Cruz’s hands in perfect stride at the Redskins 41 yard line and Cruz did the rest. Simply amazing, truly elite.

Running Backs:

The Giants never really got their running game going on Sunday and Ahmad Bradshaw was none too happy about it. The Giants threw on first down on 19 of 28 plays, which seems like an inordinate amount and maybe that’s what was making Bradshaw upset. In the third quarter, Bradshaw finally broke a run outside and gained 15 yards but could have potentially scored if WR Victor Cruz had engaged his defender. Ahmad seemed to take umbrage with that situation as well. When he popped up, he slapped Cruz’s helmet, and yelled something. I don’t think it had to do with what they had for dinner the night before. The Bradshaw dust-ups got a lot of play in The Corner Forum and in several media outlets, but I think it was fine. Bradshaw has carried the load for two consecutive games and apparently wanted it to continue. I like his fire and prefer it to the alternative.

On the day, Bradshaw gained 43 yards on 12 carries (3.6 ypc) with the long of 15. Bradshaw also scored on a burrowing one-yard run that I’ve watched a half a dozen times and still have no idea how he got in. Bradshaw was targeted five times in the passing game, catching four for 22 yards. The Giants’ screen game is looking better, but one that looked like it had legs was stopped for just a short gain because it appeared Bradshaw didn’t set up his blocking very well.

Andre Brown got into the action sparingly, but he was productive. Brown scored the first Giants touchdown on a one-yard leap into the end zone. On the day, Brown carried five times for 17 yards (3.4 ypc). Brown executed a perfect screen pass that converted a 3rd-and-15 when he gained 17 yards. On that screen, Brown did a phenomenal job of setting up his blocking and then using his speed to pick up what looked like the critical first down in the game.

David Wilson didn’t see action at tailback all game.

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends:

The Giants receiving corps was active and productive, led by Victor Cruz. Cruz caught 7 balls for 131 yards, including the 77-yard touchdown to put the Giants ahead for good. Cruz was crucial on the final drive of the second half, catching the two passes that put the Giants into field goal range. Before the final touchdown catch by Cruz, Hakeem Nicks had just one less catch and one less yard than Cruz. Eli attempted to get to the ball to the tandem 21 times. Nicks ended up with 5 catches for 53 yards. He did have a drop that didn’t come back to haunt the Giants on their first touchdown drive. Nicks obviously doesn’t have his straight line speed back just yet, but he’s says that he’s feeling better. He did look rusty on the back shoulder fade attempt late in the game, as described above.

Domenik Hixon only had four targets all day but made three catches for 32 yards.

TE Martellus Bennett had an eventful day. Bennett was targeted seven times and caught five balls for 79 yards, on the face a solid game. However that’s not the entire story as he is on record saying he let Manning out to dry a couple times, one on an early overthrow that didn’t hurt the Giants because they scored later on the drive, and then on Manning’s first interception. After eleven games and countless practices, one would expect that these tendencies to stop his routes would end. It’s been an ongoing issue.

Offensive Line:

New York’s offensive line had a tough day trying to open up holes for Bradshaw on Sunday. After the last two games, I suppose there had to be some urgency from the Redskins to sell out and stop the run and they did a good job of it. Washington deployed an extra safety in the box most of the day and the Giants must have thought their chances were better to go at the Washington defense through the air.

On one note, T David Diehl appears to be the third TE as he’s the guy who’s reporting eligible on short-yardage situations. No matter how you look at it, the line is keeping Eli upright, giving up just one sack that came through the middle where Barry Cofield nailed Eli late in the fourth quarter.

Defensive Front 7:

First, before going any further, without a doubt the Giants defensive ends did an overall fantastic job of staying in their lanes and limiting the areas that Griffin could exploit. New York, early on, had a difficult time dealing with the zone blocking scheme that HC Mike Shanahan likes to employ. For years, the Redskins have suffered mightily due to their woes on the offensive line and they didn’t do a whole lot to make it any better personnel wise this offseason. The schematic design to their run blocking game combined with a mercurial QB who can run the read-option possibly better than any other QB in the league right now has done wonders for the Redskin offense.

In his game preview, Eric from BBI warned of the dangerous Washington running attack and proffered that the Giants should focus on stopping it first:

“But the early focus for the Giants MUST be stopping an underappreciated Redskins’ running attack. Rookie HB Alfred Morris is one of the best kept secrets thus far in the season. He’s not tall, but he is a very strong, powerful, and determined runner who can be difficult to bring down. Morris seems particularly well suited to Mike Shanahan’s zone blocking scheme up front. Morris has already rushed for 538 yards on 116 carries (4.6 yards per carry average). Morris – not Griffin – is the early key. The zone blocking scheme puts a lot of pressure on defenders to maintain their gap responsibility as the back will stretch the play out and then look for the open gap on the cutback.”

Everything about Eric’s assessment was spot on, and the Giants were unable to stop Morris in the first half. Morris ran for 94 yards on 13 carries for a 7.2 ypc average. Many of Morris’ yards came after first contact. The man has unbelievable power and a low center of gravity, making it hard to bring him down with the first hit.

The offshoot of the successful running game was that Griffin was able to use the read-run option to open up the middle of the field where he hit unheralded tight ends who were wide open due to the linebackers being caught in no man’s land due to the play action. It worked repeatedly.

The Giants were able, for the most part, to limit Griffin when he had to scramble for yards, particularly because the ends played it honest on the outside. Griffin did exploit the Giants for a couple of big gainers on what appeared to be designed runs.

After gashing the Giants in the first half for a total of 146 yards, the Giants held the Redskins to 102 in the second. The numbers are slightly skewed by the fact that New York gave up runs of 30, 28, 24, 16 and 14 yards. That’s 112 yards alone on five plays.

The Giants, after going to a new look last week that saw LB Mathais Kiwanuka play a ton on the line, went back to their base look with Kiwanuka in more at linebacker and used their NASCAR Package infrequently, mainly in the fourth quarter. The plan worked as far as containment, but the middle of the line was where the Skins hit the Giants repeatedly with the run. As mentioned, the DEs had a good day. Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora all had sacks, and JPP caused a fumble in the backfield by Griffin. Tuck was in on 6 tackles, one tackle for a loss, and one sack.

In his return to the lineup and first game action of the year, DT Chris Canty was in on four stops, all solo. However, he had Morris stopped in his tracks in the backfield on one play and couldn’t get him down. Morris escaped for a four yard gain. DT Linval Joseph forced the first Redskins fumble and later recovered a fumble. DT Marcus Kuhn batted a ball down at the line of scrimmage.

Frankly, the Giants linebackers were guessing all afternoon, and their hesitation was the difference in some of the big runs and most of the catches over the middle to the tight ends. They were not consistently getting to gaps in the running game and, by the same token, they were getting caught flat footed five yards off the line of scrimmage on those quick hitters to the tight ends. As such, the Giants linebackers were in on 29 tackles on the day, mostly downfield.

Chase Blackburn forced two fumbles on the final Redskins drive, the second recovered by the Giants that effectively ended the game.

Secondary:

With the running game going well, Griffin was able to use the run-option play-fake with great success, completing 20 of 28 passes on the day. Griffin was a perfect eight for eight outside the numbers, including a couple each on CBs Corey Webster and Prince Amukamara. That’s not to say either played poorly, as the Giants were only beaten twice deep all day and neither was on the starting corners. The problems were mainly in the middle of the field where the linebackers and safeties were being torn up by back up tight ends. Between the two safeties and three cornerbacks, they made 23 solo tackles. That’s an awful lot from your secondary.

Jayron Hosley is still learning, and it appears no one told him that Santana Moss loves to play against the Giants. Hosley had the best shot at getting to Moss on the WR screen that went for a touchdown and was also burned on the go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter. It’s been reported that Griffin saw the one-on-one coverage Hosley had on Moss and when S Antrel Rolle moves slightly to his left to help with outside leverage, he took the shot. Hosley was in trail position from the word go, never getting a hand on Moss off the line, and couldn’t recover. Fortunately, Eli bailed him out and Hosley has something to look back on for how not to play it the next time.

Speaking of Rolle, he was not at fault on that last touchdown regardless of what’s being bantered about on The Corner Forum. He did the right thing by taking away the outside look. There was little time left on the clock and the Redskins had one time out needing a touchdown to win. It’s the correct assumption that the Redskins would be looking either short or to the sideline on that play. The Redskins played boldly all afternoon, so maybe the Giants should have expected them to take a shot, but that’s 20 20 hindsight.

S Stevie Brown got the Giants rolling in the second half with his third interception of the year. The throw should not have been made by Griffin. Webster had perfect coverage, causing Griffin to double pump, and while under pressure, Griffin decided to let it go anyway. It seems that Brown has a knack for being in position to catch errant throws, as each of his interceptions have looked like they’ve been thrown right to him.

The Giants secondary took some knocks on BBI and the press this week, but I’m not inclined to indict this group because I believe that a lot of the problem was the way the Redskins played offense, confusing the linebackers time and again. New York was fooled by an end around, two designed runs by Griffin, countless times by the run-option pass play, and by a couple of inside misdirection runs to the fullback. It happens. The “wildcat” or whatever you want to call the version that the Redskins run is confusing as hell and I’m sure the defense was hoping that the Redskins would just stop doing it because it worked most of the day.

Special Teams:

The “Special Teams Hit of the Week” (Marvin Austin received the award last week) goes to Mark Herzlich who absolutely leveled a Redskin backup safety on the second kick on the opening kickoff after Washington was offsides on the first. The lane created enabled KR David Wilson to get out to the 30 yard line. Wilson returned four kicks on the day, averaging 26.5 yards per return.

The Giants coverage teams did an excellent job, allowing just one kick return for 17 yards. Touchbacks accounted for each of the rest of Tynes’ six kickoffs. Washington had one decent punt return of 12 yards.

Coaching:

For the fourth straight week, I’ve caught myself questioning some of the Giants coaching decisions, something on the whole I normally don’t do. Even so, I am left to wonder why the Giants didn’t try to establish the run any more than they did, but most importantly why they passed the ball on first down during the two drives late in the second half. The first, with just over seven minutes to go, cost the Giants as the ball was intercepted and set up a critical Redskins field goal that put them in position to win after scoring the late touchdown. The second occurred with just over 5 minutes to go and resulted in an eight yard sack. The Giants temporarily overcame that situation when they executed the 17-yard screen to Andre Brown, but later on the drive in a 3rd-and-1 situation they again threw the ball, incomplete, stopping the clock and preserving the Redskins’ final time out.

As has been mentioned, the Giants are a risk-reward offense, but sometimes discretion could be the better part of valor. Later, on a 2nd-and-10, trailing by three from their own 23 yard line, Eli Manning hit Cruz for the 77 yard touchdown. Again, high risk, high reward. On that play, it paid off and the Giants won. So really, what the hell do I know?

Final Thoughts:

If there ever is a “must win” game for a 4-2 team, it’s playing a divisional game when you’re already 0-2 within that division. The Giants improved their stature in the East and now travel to Giants Stadium West to face the Cowboys, who beat the Giants on opening night. A win there would go a very long way towards winning the division, which is the surest way into the playoffs. The Giants do not want to be a half game up on the Cowboys having lost to them twice.

Frankly, after watching the Redskins all season down here in the greater Washington area along with the other division opponents games, I believe the Redskins will in the end be the biggest threat to the Giants. The Cowboys will lose games they’re supposed to win because they are undisciplined and have no team make up. The Eagles are in disarray and now have canned their defensive coordinator despite the offense turning the ball over about a million times. I have a lot of friends in eastern PA that have already turned on the team and they’re actually hoping that they lose so Andy Reid will be fired. (Seems familiar…weren’t there some BBI’ers hoping the Giants would lose to Washington in the last game of 2006 so Coughlin would get fired??) I stand by my statement that the Giants are the team to beat and now they have a clear shot to the division title, but it must start this weekend at the Cowboys.

(Box Score – Washington Redskins at New York Giants, October 21, 2012)
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