New York Giants 15 – Philadelphia Eagles 7
Game Review: Determined to let Chip Kelly try his hand at the “Time of possession doesn’t matter” game, the Giants had a very clear plan in Philadelphia in seeking win number 2 of the 2013 campaign. Knowing that Kelly’s Eagles have vacillated between unstoppable and dreadful on offense, Tom Coughlin and company again went to an old formula: Run the ball, protect the football and eat the clock to keep a dangerous offense off the field. Coupled with a stifling defensive effort, the Giants’ offense was just enough to overcome Giant killers LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson…and the Giants’ own version of the failboat, aka the special teams units.
Inside the Game Plan: Seeking to neutralize McCoy, the Giants came out with a coverage scheme designed to keep #25 in green in check. Playing with their usual 4-man front, the Giants deployed Antrel Rolle and Terrell Thomas as almost OLBs, or the Big Nickel Safety, along with LBs Jon Beason and Jacquian Williams. On obvious running situations (almost always on 1st and 2nd down) wherever McCoy went, Rolle and Terrell Thomas followed, each acting as a spy depending on the side of the field McCoy lined up towards. It almost resembled a 4-4 defense at times with both Rolle and Thomas playing at LB depth and staying home until McCoy got up field. The one on the side McCoy didn’t venture to, stayed shallow, causing a lot of traffic for an Eagle passing game that loves to attack the interior of the defense with their WRs/TEs/RBs abilities’ to make yards after the catch. What you ended up with was a modified Cover-2 with S Will Hill playing the joker/rover roll and rolling up on any receiver that went free if Thomas or Rolle had to sneak up into box in run support, or dropping deep if the Eagles emptied the backfield. Credit Perry Fewell with a simple, but very effective, scheme that used Rolle, Thomas and Hill as a LB, S or CB depending on where McCoy was and who came out in pass routes. By using two of the three as boundary defenders against McCoy, no matter what happened behind them, Fewell was able to almost totally neutralize McCoy, holding the former Pitt Panther to 48 yards on 15 carries and only 18 yards on four receptions. Fewell identified, isolated and shut down the opponent’s best player and the rest fell into place defensively.
After an opening three-and-out and a punt designed to keep DeSean Jackson from flashing gang signs on his way to the end zone, the Giants’ defense came up with the first of many stops that would define this afternoon. Rolle picked off a pass as the lone deep safety with man coverage underneath that put the Giants in business at their own 21. Nine plays later, Josh Brown gave the Giants their first lead at 3-0 with a 40-yard field goal. The defense dialed up the heat again, with Antrel Rolle again keying the stop with a sack of Michael Vick to force the first of six Eagle punts on the day. The Giants, spurred by a 27-yard grab by TE Brandon Myers, embarked on a 45-yard, 7-play drive that again ended with only a FG. But the Giants were up 6-0 and slowly taking control of the game. On their next possession, the Eagles would again punt, thanks to good pressure up the gut from DT Linval Joseph and consistent edge push from DE Justin Tuck.
The Giants would take advantage again, scoring on their third straight possession, behind two clutch 3rd down passes from Eli Manning to Victor Cruz and Jerrel Jernigan, respectively. Despite only 48 yards on the drive, the Giants chewed up 5:31 en route to Josh Browns’ 33-yarder that made it a 9-0 bulge. As the 2nd quarter opened, the Giants again stifled Gang Green, limiting the Eagles to a 16-yard drive that ended in the third punt of the day for the home team. Stop me if you’ve heard this, but the Giants threw together another FG drive, their fourth in a row that pushed the lead to 12-0. After QB Mike Vick departed with a hamstring strain, QB Matt Barkley provided a bit of a spark, driving the Eagles 68 yards down to the Giants’ 2-yard line, but it was Terrell Thomas, hustling in pursuit, who came up with a strip sack of Barkley that Jacquian Williams recovered to preserve the 12-0 lead going into the half.
To call the second half boring would be doing a disservice to anything labeled as boring. After the Eagles eschewed common football rules, which Chip Kelly admittedly hates, and went for it on 4th down and failed, the teams traded two three-and-outs a piece (and piling up an impressive 18 yards on four drives) until the Giants finally broke through again after a shanked 29-yard Eagle punt. Much like my reviews, the Giants took far too long to accomplish far too little, capping off a 32-yard, 9-play drive that ate up 5:58 and put the Giants up 15-0. That lead would hold until P Steve Weatherford’s punt that never was, got recovered by the Eagles in the end zone for a TD that tainted the final score at 15-7. The Eagles had another shot to tie late in the game but one of the big three, S Will Hill, intercepted the Eagles at the Giant 38. Win number two, which was as fun as a number two, was in the books.
Quarterbacks: Coming into the week 8 matchup with the Eagles, Eli Manning had thrown 15 interceptions on the season, just over two per game and in that stat alone the Giants’ season to date is crystallized. After a 200-yard and zero-INT day against the Vikings, the former Rebel went without throwing an interception for the second week in a row and the result was a Giant victory. Coincidence? Not by a long shot. Manning finished with 246 yards passing and instead of forcing the ball downfield was again happy with check downs, as noted by his 3.53 yard difference between his yardage per attempt and per completion (more on that later). Manning converted some critical 3rd downs with shorter, safer passes and played smart, safe football all day, something that is becoming a necessity with an inexperienced OL (at least in terms of playing the same five weekly) and a struggling running game. The time to take deep shots simply isn’t there as often as it has been in the past. Credit Manning and Kevin Gilbride for making the adjustments to a safer passing game that is augmenting the run and converting when necessary.
TPRR: For the second week in a row, Manning’s yards per completion were under 9.9. The Giants are 2-0 when that number is less than 9.9 and 0-6 when it’s higher. Perhaps more telling if you dig a little deeper is something I have temporarily anointed TPRR (The Pass Risk Ratio). Completely unscientific, but if you subtract the yards per attempt from yards per completion, a trend appears in our mini-streak. In the previous six games, all painful losses, the Giants’ TPRR ranged from 4.74 to 7.88. While not an earth shattering range here, the games under 4.0 were both wins. These were games in which the Giants led most of the way and were not forced to take shots downfield, or perhaps that was by design given the big disparity in yards per completion. As you can see in my completely fabricated analysis below, when the TPRR is sub 4.0 we win, above and we lose. It’s not a predictor as much as a look at what happened and perhaps why. When the Giants are content with check downs, shorter passes and taking what the defense gives them, they don’t rely on so many dangerous shots downfield, the running game is augmented by the short pass and you have in theory, a more efficient, albeit much less dangerous offense. Given the way this defense has shut down the run this season, this formula will work if that continues and Eli and company continue to play sound football and embark on longer, slower more conservative drives that result in points and punts rather than turnovers.
Running Backs: Rookie RB Michael “Oh he’s cute” Cox got the starting nod for the G-Men and finished with a 19-yard, 9-carry effort and one reception for 11 yards. 30 yards isn’t a lot to get excited about, but let’s stay positive here: no fumbles, no missed blitz pickups and no damage to his apparently handsome face (more on that later). Cox’s best effort of the day was a well-executed counter that Cox made a decisive move on and cut off tackle for a solid run. HB Peyton Hillis again churned along slowly, proving that for now, the tortoise will beat the hare with this current OL. Hillis cranked out a pedestrian 3.5 yards per carry and toted 20 times for 70 yards, adding 3 grabs for 15. He again provided strong blitz pickups and positive gains on the ground that seem to have steadied this offense. FB John Conner had one catch for 12 yards and was again a load on lead plays, assisting Hillis to his modest but effective total.
Wide Receivers: WR Jerrel Jernigan is first up this week since he made the first catch of the game, a 9-yard doozy on 3rd and 10. Running the route to the stick would have helped and kept the offense on the field; it’s the little things like that keeping Jernigan from being a reliable target. The suddenly maligned Hakeem Nicks seemed to have his timing with Manning back, pulling 7 catches for 51 yards. Victor Cruz was again bottled up deep, but contributed with 86 yards on 7 receptions to pace the Giants’ WR corps. Cruz’s biggest contribution was on a perfect pass from Manning and a perfect route that converted a 3rd-and-5 on the Giants third scoring drive of the day. Rueben Randle was essentially a non-factor the whole game, dropping one crossing route at the Eagles 7-yard line that should have been caught.
Tight Ends: TE Brandon Myers had 42 yards on three grabs, the long of which put the Giants in position for their second FG drive of the day. Larry Donnell got himself open in the end zone, but ran his route too deep and his catch was well out of bounds as the Giants had to settle for a third Josh Brown field goal.
Offensive Line: Another solid day for the OL. Manning was only dropped once and the big five up front led the way to five scoring drives and were able to sustain enough push to make the running game viable, if not dangerous. LT Will Beatty kept DE Trent Cole in check most of the day, only really surrendering an early pressure to another Eagle who gives the Giants fits. As opposed to the oddball way of using T James Brewer against Minnesota, in which Brewer lined up at LT with LT Will Beatty moving to blocking TE, Brewer was used in this game as that big TE and plugged in both sides on obvious running plays. It’s clear that when Hillis is in the game, this unit is playing with a little more attitude and starting to get a lot more push up front to keep this offense slowly moving along.
Defensive Line: Despite the fact that two of the Giants officially credited four sacks came from DBs, the font four played another strong game. By staying disciplined in their rush lanes, the Giants’ DL mates were able to prevent any big creases and cut back lanes that the Eagles have tortured the Giants with in recent years. DT Linval Joseph was a load up front, with several pressures and a sack. He was held sackless again, but DE Justin Tuck was consistently getting pressure and playing with an edge that was not there in the first six weeks.
Linebackers: A relatively quiet day for the LBs, but that was a good thing, with Rolle and Thomas essentially playing OLBs on a lot of plays. LB Jacquian Williams did an outstanding job in coverage all day, consistently shutting down whoever he ran downfield with and coming up with a huge fumble recovery to snuff out the Eagles after they had driven to the Giant 2-yard line. Williams also snuffed out an Eagle drive with a great pass breakup at the first down marker. Jon Beason again led the bunch four stops, and combined with Williams, were able to limit any real damage after the catch most of the day.
Defensive Backs: For the second week in a row, S Antrel Rolle made some noise, with an early INT and sack of Michael Vick on back-to-back drives. Rolle finished with five stops, a sack, INT and forced fumble. Fewell’s utilization of Rolle, S Will Hill and CB Terrell Thomas was simple as noted in my game summary: they boxed in LeSean McCoy on both sides, abandoning any coverage behind them when McCoy was in the game and looking to run, and the result was the Eagles HB being shut down all day long. Thomas, who pulled in the “NFC’s Defensive Player of the Week” award, finished with 11 stops, and a strip sack of QB Matt Barkley that snuffed out the Eagles’ best drive of the day. Thomas is being deployed to do what he does best: make open field tackles, limit long gains and provide a safety net between the CBs and safeties. Thomas’ comeback from his litany of injuries is a testament to his hard work, determination and very evident talent on the football field. S Will Hill sealed the game with an INT and chipped in with five tackles, again proving very strong in run support and just as adept at deep coverage.
Special Teams: Tough day for LS Zak (I keep typing Steve) DeOssie, who was flagged for an illegal snap on a FG attempt and launched a punt over P Steve Weatherford’s head for the Eagles only score of the day. Weatherford was outstanding, twice pinning the Eagles inside their 5, dropping 3 inside the 20 and negating DeSean Jackson with accurate directional punts. A long of 68 contributed to a 43.8 yard per punt average for the ex-Jet, as #5 continues to rebound from his early season hiccups. K Josh Brown did all the scoring, going 5-for-5 on FGs.
NFLW (NFL for Women): This week I am adding a possibly regular feature known as NFL for women. It’s not a guide to football watching, anything pink with a Giant logo or a suggestion that women play football. Simply put, it’s funny to watch games with my Giant-backing female family members because one of them always says something ridiculous, hilarious or both. My wife and niece watch faithfully each week, both outfitted in Giants’ gear and excited for about 15 minutes until they re-discover their shared love for all things Celebrity Gossip, E! and HGTV along with what J. Crew has that is “so cute” this season. Both were saddened by the departure last year of DJ Ware and this year’s shuttling of David Carr in favor of Curtis Painter “ew, he’s like Jude Law with a smushed head.” Luckily the Giants heard the outcry and drafted the chiseled countenance of RB Michael Cox who spawned my favorite quote of this disastrous season. After his picture was found on Giants.com, one of them said “I hope we get to see a lot more Cox today”…I won’t say who out of respect.
Cram it in your Cramhole Award: I’m giving this one to Chip Kelly for ignoring the fact that time of possession does matter in the NFL when your talent is essentially even week to week. Kelly’s desire to run such an up tempo offense wore his defense out, and his running game’s inability to get started doomed his team’s chances. Kelly’s whiz bang offense amassed a pathetic 200 yards and held the ball for only 21 minutes and 55 seconds. I’m not a guy who roots for failure, but when a college coach who is sure he’s reinvented the game gets clobbered, it’s simply more satisfying. That and it’s the Eagles, who I loathe more than words can explain.