Nov 052012
 
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Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Cincinnati Bengals, November 11, 2012: The Giants are still in good shape at 6-3, but they have clearly been out of sync for the last three weeks, especially on offense. During this inconsistent stretch, the Giants are actually fortunate to be 2-1, with both victories coming against NFC East opponents.

This weekend’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals is actually more about the Giants than the Bengals. The Giants need to get their mojo back and head into the bye with a 7-3 rather than 6-4 record.

Giants on Offense: The offense is clearly struggling. The running game has been unproductive, but this was true during the 2011 regular season too. The big problem right now is that the passing game is off.

Look at these numbers:

  • Against San Francisco, the Giants rushed for 149 yards and passed for 193 yards. Manning finished with a 87.4 QBR.
  • Against Washington, the Giants rushed for 64 yards and passed for 329. However, Manning was not terribly sharp and finished the game with a 78.9 QBR.
  • Against Dallas, the Giants rushed for 103 yards and passed for 190 yards. Manning had no touchdown passes and a 58.4 QBR. The Giants did not score a touchdown in the second half.
  • Against the Steelers, the Giants rushed for 68 yards and passed for 125 yards. Manning finished with no touchdown passes and a 41.1 QBR. Again, the Giants did not score a touchdown in the second half.

In three of the last four games, Manning has not hit the 200-yard passing mark. This is after he had done so for 24 consecutive regular-season games, the second-longest streak in NFL history.

But – and this is a huge but – three of the four defenses the Giants have faced in this stretch are the best in the NFL in total defense and pass defense: Steelers #1, 49ers #2, and Cowboys #5.

So the question is – are the Giants struggles on offense more about the quality of their opponent or internal issues? Or a combination of both? It’s most likely a combination of both, but the quality of the opposition in recent weeks should not be minimized. A better indication of where the Giants are at will be this weekend when they face the 20th-ranked Bengals defense (19th against the pass, 17th against the run).

That said, Head Coach Tom Coughlin may be best advised to make a couple of lineup changes. While Sean Locklear is not an ideal starter at right tackle, it appears he is better than David Diehl. Also, Ahmad Bradshaw may not be the best player at halfback right now. As I said in last week’s preview, I would sit him down now and let him get healthy again. Andre Brown can do the job. And it’s time for David Wilson to get more snaps.

Hakeem Nicks has been fully practicing. He says he feels better each day. But that has not yet translated into production on the field since his return after being re-injured in the game against the Buccaneers. Is his lack of productivity due to the injury? If so, perhaps other receivers who proved their productivity earlier in the season should see more snaps. If not, then we will just have to be patient and wait for Nicks to return to form.

Regardless, it’s clear what teams are doing. They are doubling Nicks and Cruz, and daring the Giants to beat them with the running game or throwing the football to other targets. The only way the Giants will make other teams pay is to run the ball better and to get other players at wide receiver, tight end, and running back involved in the passing game. It’s time to get Bennett more involved, or even Travis Beckum. David Wilson’s speed as a receiver should be utilized. A decision should be made as to whether Domenik Hixon or Rueben Randle can make defenses pay, and if so, throw to either or both more.

Giants on Defense: Through nine games, the Giants are ranked 25th in defense in terms of yards allowed (26th against the pass, 19th against the run). In terms of points allowed per game, the Giants rank 10th. Also on the positive side, the Giants continue to force turnovers.

In the last four games, look at these defense trends:

  • The 49ers rushed for 80 yards and passed for 234 yards against the Giants.
  • The Redskins rushed for 248 yards and passed for 232 yards against the Giants.
  • The Cowboys rushed for 19 yards and passed for 434 yards against the Giants.
  • The Steelers rushed for 158 yards and passed for 191 yards against the Giants.

It’s been feast or famine recently for the run defense. But outside of the Cowboys’ game, the Giants actually haven’t given up a lot of passing yards. But there is a disturbing of the defense giving up scoring drives late in the second and fourth quarters. The Giants had problems stopping comeback attempts by the Redskins, Cowboys, and Steelers. In the last game, it caught up with them.

The front seven needs to play with greater consistency and toughness against the run. There is no reason for the Giants to be having this much problem in run defense. The defensive line is as healthy as you can hope. The Giants do need to get some linebackers back on the field. Hopefully, Keith Rivers (calf) returns this week against his former team and finally stays healthy. Chase Blackburn (hamstring) may be much more iffy and it sounds like Jacquian Williams (knee) may be out until after the bye. Cincinnati is not a strong rushing team so – again – this game will be a good indicator of where the Giants are.

The secondary should be receiving reinforcements from the possible return of safeties Kenny Phillips (knee) and Will Hill (suspension). The Bengals can throw the football (11th in the NFL in passing). The key guy is obviously WR A.J. Green, one of the best in the business. But TE Jermaine Gresham and WR Andrew Hawkins can do damage too.

The issue really is this – it’s hard to believe that a defense with this defensive line and secondary is ranked 25th out of 32 teams. They are better than this and they need to start playing like it.

Giants on Special Teams: The Giants experienced major breakdowns in both kickoff and punt coverage last against the Steelers. And the Giants return game has not been a factor in a few weeks. Let’s hope the Giants start winning the special teams battle once again.

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Eric Kennedy

Founder and owner of BigBlueInteractive.com, which is now entering its 20th season. Follow Eric on Twitter @BigBlueInteract.

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