Nov 292012
 
 November 29, 2012  Posted by  Game Previews and Reviews
New York Giants 38 (7-4) – Green Bay Packers 10 (7-4)

By rnargi for BigBlueInteractive.com

Game Overview:

The New York Giants came out of their bye week knowing that the Redskins had won two straight games including a win over the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving. If the Giants did not beat the Packers on Sunday night, the Redskins could tie the Giants for first place in the NFC East next Monday night in Washington.

Fortunately, New York was rested and ready after the bye week, and using several new wrinkles on both offense and defense, the Giants quickly took charge of the game and cruised to an easy victory over the Packers.

Interestingly, it didn’t look like it was going to be an easy game early on. First, WR Victor Cruz dropped an easy pass on a wide open crossing pattern and then Eli Manning threw wildly over the head of FB Henry Hynoski who was all alone in the flat of the end zone. The Giants still converted a touchdown on that drive, but then gave up yet another long touchdown when CB Corey Webster got caught looking into the backfield, allowing WR Jordy Nelson run right by him for a 61 yard score which tied the game.

Three things went unmistakably in the Giants’ favor on Sunday night. First, they won the turnover battle, taking the ball away twice and not giving it up. New York turned those turnovers into 10 points. Second, New York’s defensive line was on fire from the word go. The Giants had constant pressure on QB Aaron Rodgers, hitting him seven times and sacking him five times. Third, the Giants turned five green zone opportunities into touchdowns. Too often this year, the Giants have settled for field goals. Not on Sunday night. The only time they didn’t convert from inside the green zone was on their last prolonged drive of the game. By that time, the outcome was no longer in doubt and the Giants attempted to score on fourth down instead of settling for the field goal.

From a statistical standpoint, the Giants didn’t do much more than Green Bay. Both teams ran the ball pretty well. Both teams were very good at converting third downs. The passing statistics were nearly identical, and in the end New York had just two and a half minutes or so more time of possession. The biggest difference between the two teams was simply the fact that the Giants converted most of their opportunities into touchdowns and made very few mistakes. Green Bay made two critical turnovers, couldn’t keep the pressure off Rodgers, and committed seven penalties to New York’s four.

In the end, the Giants had re-established their two game lead in the NFC East and have provided themselves the opportunity to go in to Washington next Monday and put a stranglehold on the division with a win.

Offense:

The Giants definitely mixed things up on offense and it paid off. The only starter out for the Giants was WR Domenik Hixon, replaced by rookie WR Rueben Randle. The Giants did a great job of mixing the run between HBs Ahmad Bradshaw and Andre Brown early to keep the running game fresh. In fact, a wrinkle that they showed was having both Bradshaw and Brown in the backfield at the same time. The biggest wrinkle, however, was the best designed and executed screen I’ve seen since Dave Meggett was a Giant on their first drive. The Giants used play action and a pump fake to Manning’s left before coming back to Bradshaw on the right. The play was wide open with outstanding blocking from FB Henry Hynoski and others. Bradshaw was almost able to break it for a touchdown.

New York did an outstanding job converting third downs, making six of 12. Of their five touchdowns plays, New York scored three of them on third down: third-and-five, third-and-six, and third-and-13. That’s finishing, and it was the difference between 21 and 9 points.

Overall, New York had great balance on offense. The Giants rushed 31 times for 147 total yards and dropped back to pass 31 times for 249 gross yards. Balance like that is what what works best for the Giants. It will be interesting to see if they can continue that now with the loss of HB Andre Brown.

I want to make it clear that though I believe that the offense did a great job finishing on Sunday, I also felt they left a lot of points out there on the field. As good as they were, they could’ve been better. There is a risk of making too much of this game. The Giants would have been in trouble had they lost this game and it was critically important that they won. It’s tempting to say that they’re back on track. That may or may not be true, as Manning, Cruz and Bradshaw all had moments that made you scratch your head.

Quarterback:

QB Eli Manning finally ended his touchdown drought, totalling three on the night and surpassing the great Phil Simms as the all-time touchdown passing leader in Giants history. Manning’s stats were quite pedestrian as he completed just 16 of 31 attempts for 249 yards. Manning threw no interceptions but he easily could have thrown two early. The first was on the Giants’ second drive when he tried to hit WR Victor Cruz on a slant. Cruz quit on the route because he could not go through the defender and Manning threw it anyway, right to the defender. Luckily, the defender reacted poorly or was surprised at the ball being thrown. Later, Manning had WR Hakeem Nicks breaking on an inside post but woefully underthrew him. The ball came up about four yards short into the arms of two Packer defenders who were unable to make the play. Manning also missed a couple other seemingly simple throws and was victimized by several drops.

Manning’s first touchdown pass to Rueben Randle was an outstanding touch throw. That touchdown came three plays after Manning took off on a third and seven scramble in which he didn’t slide. Instead, even though he was well past the first down line, Manning put his shoulder into Packers CB Tramon Williams and gained a few extra yards. There is no way the rest of the offense didn’t get pumped up when Manning pulled that off.

Manning’s passer rating was a robust 114.4 and his total QBR for the day was 87.9, good for fifth in the league this week.

Running Backs:

The Giants had a great thing going with Ahmad Bradshaw and Andre Brown. Both backs were enjoying success and it looked like Brown was going to get the bulk of the fourth quarter carries when he broke his leg on a 16 yard gain with just over 11 minutes to go in the game. Andre Brown has arguably been New York’s best running back this season and his loss is going to be huge. Brown has been the Giants’ primary short yardage back and through Sunday night had eight rushing touchdowns, all of them coming from two yards or less. The Giants will have to find a way to substitute for that performance.

Brown rushed 13 times for 64 yards (4.9 ypc) on Sunday night including a two yard touchdown run.

HB Ahmad Bradshaw had a solid first half and got most of the second half off when the Giants were well ahead. Bradshaw looked healthy; rushing for 58 yards on 10 carries (5.8 ypc) including a beautiful 13 yard touchdown run. Additionally, Bradshaw caught two of three passes thrown his way for 61 yards. The play that sparked the offense and got the ball rolling was the 59-yard screen on the Giants’ first drive.

For better or for worse, rookie HB David Wilson is now the number two back on the defending Super Bowl Champion New York Giants. On Sunday, Wilson gained 13 yards on six carries, mostly in garbage time. Wilson also caught one ball for five yards. Let’s face it, many in The Corner Forum were clamoring for the kid to get his chance and now he will. What he does, or doesn’t do, could very well be the difference this season for the Giants.

FB Henry Hynoski was a one-man wrecking crew on Sunday night. Hank the Tank led the way on the screen to Bradshaw that started the Giants on their way and was at the second level all night. Hynoski also had a great block on Brown’s two yard touchdown run. Hynoski lost his bid for a sure touchdown when Manning air mailed the easy pass five yards over his head.

Receivers:

The Giants only completed 16 passes on Sunday night. It was obvious that Manning was trying to re-establish his rhythm and timing with WR Hakeem Nicks, who looked significantly better this week than he has in quite some time. Manning threw 13 times to Nicks, completing just five for 77 yards including one for a touchdown that was an incredible extra effort on Nicks’ part to control his body and extend the ball beyond the goal line before hitting the turf. Manning and Nicks attempted several fade patterns, including a stop fade, in the end zone that they simply weren’t able to convert. At the least, it was good to see them attempting that play again. It’s a staple when working and the Giants could use that threat in the green zone going forward.

WR Victor Cruz only saw six passes thrown his way, catching three for 36 yards and a touchdown. As mentioned, Cruz dropped an easy catch early in the game and it seemed that another rough night might be in store for the young receiver. He picked it up after that, running a great route and providing Manning a perfect window to throw into for the Giants third touchdown. Cruz was also a crucial blocker downfield on several runs as well as making the crucial seal block on Bradshaw’s long gain on the screen pass.

WR Rueben Randle had two eventful catches, one for a touchdown and another where he got spun around and looked as though he was about to make a three yard gain into a six yard loss. Despite the spinning and hitting, somehow Randle got away and ended up securing a first down on the play.

TE Martellus Bennett managed to catch all three balls thrown to him for 44 yards, good for second on the team in both completions and yardage, but his main contributions were blocking in both the running and passing games. The Black Unicorn seems to be nearing 100% and his blocking was vastly improved this week.

Offensive Line:

Speaking of blocking, the entire line had a great game on Sunday, but again it was particularly William Beatty at LT that shined. Beatty was beaten for one hold/sack (on the same play) but overall continues to be outstanding at keeping Eli from getting hit from the blind side. RT David Diehl was having a solid game before having to give way to Sean Locklear after suffering a burner injury to his shoulder. The middle of the line did well, opening good holes for the running game. Manning was sacked just the one time and had few pressures and hits (two total hits).

Defensive Front 7:

This was a total bounce back game for a unit that got absolutely nothing going against Cincinnati two weeks ago. The Giants changed their look on Sunday, playing LB/DE/DT Mathais Kiwanuka exclusively on the line where he had his best game of the year, finishing the game with two sacks and six tackles. Kiwi and company kept constant pressure on Aaron Rodgers, resulting in five total sacks (Kiwi 2, Canty 1, Umenyiora 1, and Blackburn 1) and at least seven quarterback hits. Most importantly, New York’s DEs did not allow QB Aaron Rodgers to escape the pocket and convert third downs into first downs. Rodgers scrambled just three times for 22 yards with a long of 11. Last year, Rodgers tormented the Giants by getting away from pressure and scrambling. This was the first time in three games that Rodgers was not the leading rusher for the Packers against the Giants.

Speaking of the run, early on the Giants looked like they might have trouble against the Green Bay ground game, but in the end it didn’t matter because the Packers got so far behind so quickly. Green Bay tried to stay balanced, but frankly, this played into the Giants’ hands.

Linebackers Chase Blackburn and Michael Boley had solid games, particularly Blackburn. I am fully aware that many people find him to be a liability. After games like this, however, I wonder where the negative comments have gone. Blackburn nearly had two interceptions, dropping a tipped ball that ended up being completed to a Packer and breaking up a play in the end zone. Blackburn also had a sack on Rodgers off a blitz.

Secondary:

The Giants went back to their three safety look with the return of S Kenny Phillips and the tactic completely caught the Packers off guard. S Antrel Rolle moved to the nickel CB position, leaving Jayron Hosley largely on the bench.

Rolle was incredible, forcing Rodgers to look elsewhere on numerous occasions when Rolle took WR Randall Cobb or TE Jermichael Finley. Cobb, who’s been a dynamic player all year for the Packers, caught just four passes for 39 yards. Rolle also had five solo tackles.

S Kenny Phillips was playing an outstanding game, also recording five solo tackles (three of them at or near the line of scrimmage on running plays) before going out of the game after aggravating the knee injury he’s been dealing with. The Giants have really missed Phillips and his ability to take away deep threats. S Stevie Brown and S Will Hill also got playing time, Hill when the Giants used a four safety look.

Again, Giants fans did not hear the name “Prince Amukamara” very often after the initial introductions. The main reason is no one is throwing at him with Corey Webster having his worst year in quite some time. Webster isn’t bad, he’s just making poor decisions such as the one to peek into the backfield with Nelson running by him on Sunday night. Two series later, Webster went off script and came off his assignment to pick off Rodgers and set up a Giants field goal. In my opinion, Webster isn’t concentrating or he has lost confidence. His skills are still there.

Special Teams:

The Giants special teams did an outstanding job of bottling up Randall Cobb as a returner, too. He did manage one 15-yard punt return but it led to nothing.

The Giants return teams were another story. KR David Wilson is getting nothing going on kickoff returns after a strong start earlier this year. Lately, he’s been taking out balls five yards deep in his end zone and not making the 20 yard line. I’d rather he just kneel on it if that’s going to be the case. As for punt returns, Rueben Randle muffed two punts, and that has got to stop. Randle claimed it was a concentration issue. My question is, what the hell are you thinking about when the ball is kicked? If it’s NOT football, get someone else in there that is!

P Steve Weatherford continues his awesome season as does K Lawrence Tynes, who hit his only field goal attempt and made five extra points. Of his seven kickoffs, five were in the end zone.

Coaching:

Head Coach Tom Coughlin again pushed all the right buttons during the bye period, as the Giants won their fifth straight post bye matchup. Additionally, Tom Coughlin and the Giants were paid a visit by a boy from Vermont named Adam Merchant through the Make-A-Wish foundation. Merchant, just 15 years old, is currently in remission battling Burkitt’s lymphoma. Apparently, Merchant wanted to see the Giants show some grit after falling flat in Cincinnati two weeks ago. From published reports, Merchant spoke at the Friday practice and said, “I told them to go out and play like they are world champions. It just came from the heart.” When he was asked how the Giants players responded to his words, Adam said, “They freaked out.” Later, Osi Umenyiora said that the words rung true to the entire team and they needed to be heard.

Indeed.

As for the moves on both offense and defense, the Giants did a great job of changing up their tendencies. They dramtically improved their green zone performance. They also moved Kiwanuka back to the line and Rolle back to the nickel in the three-safety package.

Final Thoughts:

I mentioned in the last review that Washington could win their games leading up to this coming Monday night and be at 5-6 and that’s exactly what’s happened. The Giants are motivated, and so are the Redskins. Interestingly, New York gets to be the first team to see Robert Griffin for a second time. That will be valuable as they now know exactly what to expect. The Redskins still run a basic scheme and with tape and experience they should be able to figure out how to contain the Redskins. It’s a big game, and the Giants still have the Falcons, Saints and Ravens on their schedule. New York has used up their quota of missteps by losing to the woeful Eagles and then to the Bengals. Throw in the fact that they blew a fourth quarter lead against Pittsburgh and the Giants can’t blow another one. It’s my opinion that the Redskins are still not ready to contend, but that does not mean they aren’t ready to win this game. Washington beat the Giants twice last year without Griffin. The Giants really need to just come out swinging and take this team out early like they did to the Packers.

If the Giants can win this game and somehow the Eagles win against the Cowboys on Sunday night, the division will be all but theirs.

(Box Score – Green Bay Packers at New York Giants, November 25, 2012)
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