Dec 132012
 
 December 13, 2012  Posted by  Game Previews and Reviews
New York Giants 52 (8-5) – New Orleans Saints 27 (5-8)

By rnargi for BigBlueInteractive.com

Game Overview:

The New York Giants had their backs against the wall. Many of the players say they didn’t know it, but the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys both pulled victory from the jaws of defeat just before the Giants took the field against the potent Saints.

New York has been absolutely pummeled by the Saints in recent match-ups, and another loss on Sunday would have dropped the Giants into third place in the NFC East. Instead, New York did the pummeling after a shaky start and held on to their one game lead over the Redskins and Cowboys.

It’s not often that a blowout win feels like a game that was eked out, but this one had its moments. First, the Giants came out flat and spotted the Saints a seven point lead on an Eli Manning pick six. Later, after taking a 22 point lead, New York allowed the Saints to close again and make it an eight point game with a minute and 51 seconds left in the third quarter. I admit that I was nervous.

The Giants then scored the next 17 points to seal the win and the Giants had held on to first place in the NFC East.

The game started off ominously enough. The Giants received the opening kickoff, and KR David Wilson returned the ball 58 yards to the New Orleans 44. Incredibly, the Giants offense picked up right where they left off last week as C David Baas committed a false start penalty on the first play from scrimmage. Right off the bat the Giants were in first and 15 and could not overcome it. Frankly, after the nine penalties (six on offense) committed last week it looked like no lessons were learned and stupid mistakes would again cause squandered opportunities.

The defense bailed out the offense when S Will Hill and S Stevie Brown hit WR Marques Colston after a 30-yard catch and run causing him to fumble. S Antrel Rolle recovered at the Saints 45-yard line.

Ok, so saying they bailed out the offense is not really what happened. After driving to the Saints 29-yard line, QB Eli Manning inexplicably threw behind Jerrel Jernigan and right to Saints CB Elbert Mack who returned the ball 73 yards for a touchdown. This wasn’t Manning’s first questionable throw as he threw right to CB Jabari Greer on the first drive, but fortunately for New York, Greer dropped the easy pick.

Seriously guys, with the mistakes being made by the offense on the first two drives, I didn’t give the Giants much of a chance. It just seemed like another Cincinnati game. New York had run eight plays, all in Saints territory, and were losing 7-0.

But then something amazing happened, and his name was David Wilson. Wilson took the ensuing kickoff and sprinted 97 yards behind outstanding blocking by Justin Tryon who got the initial springing block and then escorted Wilson past the punter and finally another Saint closing near the goal line. Just like that, the game was tied.

Following another Saints turnover on the next drive, the Giants drove 35 yards for the go-ahead touchdown and New York never trailed again. The Saints were held to two field goals from the green zone to pull within one point, but a stellar 69-yard drive in just 1:37 resulted in another Giants touchdown and an eight-point halftime lead.

The Saints dominated the first half statistics but two turnovers and being unable to finish drives in the green zone were their undoing. Continuing a troubling trend, the Giants gave up a lot of yardage on the ground. The Saints rushed for 101 yards in the first half to the Giants’ 13. New York was two-of-three from inside the green zone, scoring two touchdowns and missing a field goal.

The second half statistics, other than passing yards, were much more in favor of New York. First, the defense held the Saints to 2-of-6 on third down conversions. Meanwhile, the Giants improved from 1-of-5 on third down in the first half to 4-of-6 in the second. The Giants held the Saints to just 41 second-half rushing yards. In contrast, New York ran for 122 second-half yards. Time of possession was about equal, but New Orleans gave up the ball twice more on two Drew Brees’ interceptions. Manning returned the favor one more time with another mind-blowing decision to throw into coverage.

Offense:

The Giants offense continued to struggle in the first half on Sunday. New York ran just 15 plays on their first four drives (five if you include the kickoff return for their first touchdown) and scored on just one of them, a 35-yard drive that was aided by two Saints penalties. The Giants were a little better on their fifth drive, driving 29 yards on 7 plays to the Saints 17-yard line, only to miss a 36-yard field goal attempt. Finally, the Giants awoke on their last drive of the half as they executed the two minute drill to perfection and scored a touchdown off a 9-play, 69-yard drive (overcoming a holding penalty on HB Ahmad Bradshaw).

The Giants offense converted another short field into a touchdown on their first drive of the second half following a Brees’ interception. The Giants scored on five of their seven second half drives (not including the kneel down at the end of the game), punting once and turning the ball over once.

New York did not start off the game balanced, throwing 22 times and rushing only eight in the first half. The second half was much different as the Giants threw just 13 times and rushed 17 (not including two Manning kneel downs) times.

Quarterback:

QB Eli Manning had his share of the yips on Sunday but he also made some fantastic throws. As noted, Eli wasn’t sharp early. It really did look like the beginnings of what might be a long day, but Manning got hot on the final drive of the first half. Eli completed eight-of-10 passes with two being called back due to penalty for 75 yards including the five yard touchdown pass on a beautiful fade to WR Domenik Hixon (another 56 yards were wiped out with the two penalties).

Manning only threw 13 times in the second half, completing seven and throwing an interception. On the day, Manning was 22-of-35 for 259 yards, four touchdowns and the two interceptions. Manning had a 99.6 passer rating on the day. Manning’s QBR stood at a mediocre 56.3.

Each of Manning’s four touchdown passes were outstanding throws. His third was a great read off an incredible route run by WR Victor Cruz. Manning just lofted a perfect pass that Cruz easily ran under all alone in the end zone.

Running Backs:

HB Ahmad Bradshaw injured his knee in the first half, and the Giants attempted a number of different options while he was being checked out. Even FB Henry Hynoski got a carry. Bradshaw only got five carries for 10 yards in the first half and finished with just 33 yards on 11 carries and did not catch a ball. As noted in last week’s review, Bradshaw needs to have his load lightened. He cannot carry the ball 25 times or more a game. Until the second half of this game and most likely due to Bradshaw’s knee, the Giants were not willing to let rookie David Wilson get a real chance to see what he could do.

HB/KR David Wilson was already having a career day returning kick-offs when he literally took over the game in the fourth quarter, rushing six times for 84 yards including a 52-yard touchdown that sealed the game for New York. Wilson showed good vision and tremendous speed and quickness. The kid is a weapon, but I’d caution everyone to temper their expectations. One game does not a career make. Hopefully. Additionally, the 52-yard touchdown was an incredibly blocked play by the offensive line and FB Henry Hynoski. It was run to perfection.

On the day, Wilson carried 13 times for 100 yards exactly and two touchdowns. Wilson also scored a touchdown on a kickoff return. Wilson also caught one pass but WR Ramses Barden was called for pass interference due to the fact that he was blocking downfield long before Wilson caught the ball.

Wilson also became the first person in NFL history with 200 kickoff return yards AND 100 rushing yards in the same game. Furthermore, Wilson became the franchise record holder for kickoff return yardage in a season. Currently he has 1,321 yards with three games to play.

Receivers:

New York’s wide receivers simply play better when Domenik Hixon is involved in the offense. Injuries have slowed him down, but when healthy he’s the only reliable third receiver on the team. Hixon caught three of four passes thrown to him for 30 yards and the touchdown on the fade pattern to the corner of the end zone.

WR Victor Cruz caught eight of nine passes thrown to him, gaining 121 yards and a touchdown. For the second year in a row, Cruz has eclipsed the 1,000-yard receiving mark. That’s absolutely incredible for the third year man from Massachusetts who essentially missed his rookie year.

WR Hakeem Nicks is still nowhere near 100% yet continues to go out and do everything he can to help the team. Nicks caught four passes for 67 yards and a 25-yard touchdown on a play where he blew by CB Patrick Robinson and was on the receiving end of a perfect throw from Manning.

TE Martellus Bennett continues to be heavily involved in the offense of late, catching five of eight passes for 32 yards and a touchdown. The Black Unicorn is finally being used across the middle as well as downfield.

Offensive Line:

With Sean Locklear out, David Diehl was back at right tackle for the Giants on Sunday. The offensive line had a tough time opening holes for the running game early, but they kept Eli clean all game. Manning wasn’t sacked once and according to the Game Book was only hit twice. The line came on strong in the second half, particularly in the fourth quarter, when they began to open up good holes for the running game. As mentioned, Wilson’s 52-yard touchdown came off textbook blocking.

Defense:

The Giants defense only gave up 20 points to the potent Saints offense. And the Saints offense only scored six points in the first half. Despite giving up two third-period touchdowns, allowing the the Saints back momentarily back in the game, New York did a great job stopping a very potent passing attack. The problem was that they were again hard pressed to stop the running game, giving up more than 100 yards in the first half alone. New York has got to somehow find ways to stop opposing rushing attacks or they’re going to get clobbered down the stretch by three pretty good offenses.

Big plays are also a continuing problem. Fortunately, New York was able to cause and/or capitalize on New Orleans turnovers. The issue remains, however, that you cannot count on turnovers week in and week out. Still, hats off to the defense for doing what it did to get New Orleans off the field on Sunday.

Defensive Front 7:

The Giants gave up a lot of yards on the ground once again, and that was a little troubling due to the fact that the Saints statistically have been a lower-tier running team this season. New Orleans was averaging around 8 yards on first down for much of the game which was a problem. The Giants were gashed outside by Darren Sproles and inside by Mark Ingram. The Giants may have been more concerned with the potent Saints passing game and were fooled by the amount of rushing New Orleans was doing.

The Giants defensive line got a lot more pressure on QB Drew Brees than most people think. Brees was only sacked once and not hit very often but the Giants had him on the run outside the pocket all game long. DE Osi Umenyiora had a great game, and it seems that his step off the snap is much faster than it has been. Osi is not just going wide on his man but also using a bull rush and inside technique to get pressure on the QB. Jason Pierre-Paul had his best game in a while, racking up six tackles and also getting pressure on Brees. Many people in The Corner Forum think Justin Tuck is done and that may be so, but if you didn’t see him get held at least half a dozen times on Sunday then you’re as blind as the referees were. I don’t believe in conspiracy theories but it sure seems that the Giants, and particularly Tuck and JPP, are held an awful lot. Tuck was still in on five tackles. DT Linval Joseph had a so-so game and Chris Canty was near invisible against the inside rushing of Thomas and Ingram. Joseph did make a heads-up play to scoop up a fumble and get a good return.

The Giants had all their linebackers at their disposal on Sunday and deployed them in all kinds of fashions. Michael Boley and Chase Blackburn led the corps with 18 tackles between them. Keith Rivers seemed to lose playing time with the return of Jacquian Williams, who made five tackles. Williams was in a ton in nickel situations. He played a lot of coverage and also blitzed Brees several times but was unable to get home. Williams is still rounding back into football shape and will be a huge asset going forward if he can remain healthy. Mark Herzlich got some snaps and played better than he has of late, not getting stuck on blocks and/or caught up in the wash.

Secondary:

The Giants secondary was without S Kenny Phillips again but S Stevie Brown is making a lot of people forget about him. Brown had two more interceptions on Sunday. The first was off a tip drill, and continued Brown’s penchant for being in the right place at the right time this season. The second was a thing of beauty as he came up from his cover-two responsibility to undercut TE Jimmy Graham and make a very nice pick. Graham never saw Brown coming and most likely thought he was about to score a touchdown. Brown returned the ball 70 yards, setting up a Giants score. Unfortunately, that’s the play that CB Prince Amukamara injured his hamstring as he was trying to get into position to block for Brown.

Amukamara was having a good day up to that point with the lone exception being pulverized out of the play on the long run by HB Darren Sproles. Prince was also the victim of a 62-yard bomb to WR Josh Morgan who seemed to wait on Brees’ throw like a punt while three or four Giants, led by Amukamara, kind of danced around him. (Editor’s Note: Antrel Rolle badly misplayed Morgan on this play and appeared way out of position).

Overall, the Giants secondary gave up four plays of 20 yards or more, including two to Morgan for 106 yards.

S Antrel Rolle recovered a fumble and made six tackles on the day. S Will Hill was the third safety in the Giants’ Big Nickel package and played well, getting in several good hits including one that caused the fumble by Lance Moore on the Saints’ first drive.

CB Jayron Hosley had to sub in for Amukamara and though he didn’t give up any big plays, the kid just seems lost on the outside. Hopefully the Giants won’t have to line him up opposite Roddy White and/or Julio Jones this weekend.

Special Teams:

New York arguably won this game on special teams. The kickoff return team scored one touchdown and set the Giants up in New Orleans territory three other times. In all, the Giants had 287 kickoff return yards on just six returns (a 47.8 yards per return average). The Giants got returns of 97, 60, 58, and 52 yards. Two of those returns led to 14 points, but the Giants weren’t able to capitalize on the other two great returns.

Not to be outdone by David Wilson, Jerrel Jernigan took a pop up kickoff straight up the gut like he was shot out of a cannon for 60 yards. It was as beautiful as any of Wilson’s returns.

It appears that Domenik Hixon has replaced Rueben Randle as the primary punt returner, returning 2 punts for a 9.5 ypr average and fair catching a third.

The coverage teams were also outstanding, holding New Orleans to below average kick off returns and bottling up Darren Sproles in the punt return game.

K Lawrence Tynes missed a short field goal but hit his other attempt and had seven extra points. His kickoffs were excellent as the Giants mixed in mortar kicks with long kicks.

Coaching:

So, is Kevin Gilbride a genius this week after the Giants put up the most points they’ve scored since 1986 or did the Giants win despite his best efforts to cause them to fail? Would the Giants have scored 104 had someone else been calling the game?

That’s sarcasm, folks. The point is that when Eli is on and has three reliable receivers and a running game, Gilbride’s play-calling looks just fine. When Eli is off and injuries are taking their toll as well as an anemic rushing game, he looks like an idiot. So does every other offensive coordinator in football.

The Giants probably had an idea that this game would be a shootout and they played it as such. Fortunately after two blowouts by the Saints against the Giants, it was the Giants that had the superior firepower this time.

With the Giants at full strength at linebacker since as long as I can remember, I thought New York would have their way with the anemic New Orleans running game but that wasn’t the case. A point can be made that the Saints didn’t really try to run in the fourth quarter due to big lead New York established or the results could have been worse on the ground than they were.

Whatever the Giants did on Special Teams last week in practice needs to be bottled and only opened on Sundays.

Final Thoughts:

Unfortunately, the Giants were unable to put any distance between themselves and their NFC East rivals when both the Redskins and Cowboys pulled off late come-from-behind victories. Even so, the Giants moved a step closer to a playoff berth and still lead the division. Next up is an Atlanta team that is ripe to be beaten. They are not as good as their record indicates and they were beaten pretty soundly by a Carolina team in disarray. The Giants have some injuries to contend with as both Ahmad Bradshaw and Prince Amukamara may miss the game. That will spell trouble, especially since both positions are paper thin with them in the lineup.

(Box Score – New Orleans Saints at New York Giants, December 9, 2012)
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