New York Giants 27 – Green Bay Packers 13
Game Review: “The Autumn Wind is a pirate, Blustering in from sea, With a rollicking song, he sweeps along, Swaggering boisterously.” NFL Films legend Steve Sabol penned the legendary (in NFL nerd circles) poem “The Autumn Wind” in 1974, and 39 years after its unveiling it rang eerily true around the league. On a blustery November day that ushered in violent atmospheric upheaval around the country, the Giants continued to sweep along, and may have finally found their swagger in time for a playoff run. Giants head coach Tom Coughlin talked about all three phases needing to play well for this team to continue its upward surge after a head scratching, coach firing, Jerry Reese mocking 0-6 start to this now more interesting 2013 season. It was by no means perfect, there were passing game hiccups, missed blitz assignments and a few too many deep balls allowed but as the Autumn Wind did its worst, the Giants were still standing, ready to face the coming cold.
Andre Brown’s first two carries netted -4 yards, Eli Manning’s 17-yard first down conversion run was negated by a Justin Pugh personal foul, and six plays into their tilt against the visiting Packers, the Giants looked like an 0-6 team again. Right on cue though, the veteran defense manned the wheel and forced a quick three-and-out against a struggling Packer offense. Jump started by Rueben Randle’s ensuing 32-yard punt return, Eli Manning moved his charges 42 yards in five plays and jumped out to a 7-0 lead courtesy of a 26-yard Manning to Randle touchdown pass. Without all world QB Aaron Rodgers, and unable to get rookie RB Eddie Lacy going, the Packers went three-and-out again and handed the ball right back to the home team. Eleven plays later, the lead grew to 10 at the end of a drive that saw Manning convert a 3rd-and-7 to Victor Cruz and a Brandon Jacobs 4th-and-1 plunge that was a portend of the physical style this Giants team is embracing to overpower their opponents.
Unable to move the ball on the ground as the second quarter unfolded, Packer QB Scott Tolzien took to the air and moved his team 70 yards on back-to-back passes to Jordy Nelson and James Jones, who got an inside track on CB Prince Amukamara to get his team to the Giant 12-yard line. Determined to help their young signal caller out, Mike McCarthy’s Pack went back to the ground game and were thumped on consecutive James Starks runs by DE Jason Pierre Paul. JPP’s back-to-back stuffs held the drive at bay, and Mason Crosby put the cheeseheads on the board with a 24-yard boot that cut the Giant lead to 10-3. Looking to extend their lead, the Giants then marched 74 yards in 11 plays, but a poor route by the little used Louis Murphy led to Manning’s 17th INT of the year and a few questions about why WR Hakeem Nicks removed himself from the game. After trading punts, the Pack moved 24 yards in 4 plays and used a 57-yard Crosby moonshot to pull within four at the half. After careful made-up analysis, our team determined that Crosby’s kick would have been good from 157 yards, which may or may not be some kind of record.
As the second half opened, Lacy struggled for two yards on three carries and Tolzien was again forced to wing it. MLB Jon Beason leapt into Tolzien’s passing lane for the interception and charged downfield for a violent 9-yard return. With the rock now at midfield, Manning quickly found Hakeem Nicks for 35 yards and four plays later Josh Brown added a 28-yarder to push the G-Men ahead 13-6. Unable to get Lacy going, the Packers went to a shorter passing game in lieu of running into the teeth of the Giant DL and moved 50 yards in eight plays, stalling out at the Giant 48. After a Louis Murphy penalty on a 4th-and-12 punt, McCarthy rolled the dice with a fake, but LB Spencer Paysinger made a stop just short of the line to gain and with 6:32 left in the third quarter, Eli and the offense began to salt the game away. A 63-yard, 10-play drive that ate up over six minutes was spurred by two big third-down conversions from Manning to Cruz and then TE Brandon Myers. Brandon Jacobs did the clean-up work, pushing over left guard for a 1-yard TD and a 20-6 lead. Tolzien, now down 14, took to the air again and hit Jordy Nelson for 18 and Jarrett Boykin for 52 and 83 yards later the Packers trimmed the lead to just a TD.
Up just seven points as the fourth quarter opened, the Giants did something truly astounding, they gained 12 yards on a screen pass. The drive went just three plays and netted -4 yards but they completed a screen pass. No INT, no fumble, no disaster, actual yardage (I recommend playing the lottery this week if your last name rhymes with Milbride). Mike McCarthy’s goal of ending his second-half offensive drives in every way possible (one INT, one fake punt failure, one TD, one punt and one INT return for a TD) played right into the Giants hands. Up 20-13 and unable to move the ball, the Giants again looked to their defense and it was JPP bailing them out. With the ball at the Green Bay 30, Tolzien dropped back and wound up, JPP read the play, leapt up and snared the ball, rumbling to the end zone and putting the Giants up 27-13. The teams traded punts again and the Packers last gasp was thwarted by who else, S Antrel Rolle, who snatched the third INT of the day and notched a fourth straight win for suddenly rollicking Giants.
Inside the Game: Despite giving up 339 yards passing and five plays of over 20 yards, the Giants’ defense again was the catalyst for victory for the second week in a row. And again the LBs were at the heart of the formula. Give JPP credit for his TD, it was a thing of athletic beauty, and yes Justin Tuck, Kiwi, Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson put heat on Scott Tolzien but it was your LB corps that made this formula work again…something NO ONE would have guessed about five weeks ago. Correctly assuming that RB Eddie Lacy would be the way that Packer coach Mike McCarthy would help a struggling offense, Perry Fewell again deployed a defense with the sole intention of sealing Lacy and RB James Starks off and forcing Scott Tolzien to win the game on his own. No funny tricks, no complicated coverages, just “Let’s line up and see who hits harder.” Fewell opened the game again with a 5-2 Okie front, utilizing LB Keith Rivers as his flexed DL as S Will Hill knifed into the backfield to stop rookie RB Eddie Lacy for a 3-yard gain. Starting LBs Rivers, Jon Beason and Jacquian Williams all played with a timing and rhythm that has become the norm during the defense’s resurgence. The improved coordination between those three (and Spencer Paysinger in some sub packages) has been making a huge impact in controlling opponents’ running games. At the snap, keep your eyes on the trio – they move as one laterally as the play unfolds, only attacking upfield when the runner has picked a gap, almost completely eliminating cut-back and second-chance runs that have gashed this defense in the past two years. The trio combined for 17 stops and an interception, but most importantly, filled their run gaps with precision and stifled Eddie Lacy and the Packers running game to 55 total yards and a 2.8 yard per carry average. The second level of this defense, the one most maligned prior to Beason’s arrival, has become the glue between a talented front four and a secondary with more than enough talent to combat just about every passing game this team has faced and will face. I’ve been rough on Fewell, but with Beason’s arrival, he has this defense humming. Credit Beason’s versatility, physicality and just plain high energy for the sudden and impressive resurgence of this once lost group of LBs. All three levels of this defense have impact players now, all three are playing together and it may spell trouble for the NFC East as the wind turns colder.
Quarterbacks: “I’m coming to getcha, I’m coming to getcha, Spittin’ out lyrics, homie I’ll wetcha.” I can’t verify that Eli Manning was quoting “Jump Around” (nor can you disprove it) as he found his bearings, but in four weeks Eli has turned MetLife from a House of Pain to a house of not too shabby. A solid outing (unless you’re in Dallas or Washington and have to face this ornery bunch) for Eli who finished with 279 yards, one TD and another INT. With an improved running attack and creative blocking schemes up front, Manning had more time to get the ball downfield, completing passes of 30, 35 and 26 yards to his big WR trio. His best pass of the day was a rifle shot to Cruz on a 3rd-and-7 that went for 30 yards. No long Cruz or Nicks TDs, but after pulling in the reins for weeks, Manning pushed the envelope more than he has recently, and was able to make up for Andre Brown’s modest 66-yard day against an enormous Packer front seven. Eli did miss a wide open Bear Pascoe, but he had to have been just as shocked as anyone to see Pascoe very slowly running free down the left sideline. You won’t find it on a stat sheet, but Eli just looked more comfortable and threw with more authority than he has in weeks. Credit Kevin Gilbride, TE coach Mike Pope, running back coach Jerald Ingram and OL coach Pat Flaherty with really shoring up the OL with their series of RB and TE chips, motions and blitz pick up schemes. Manning in turn seems more comfortable in the pocket, is stepping into his throws a little more and is slowly starting to trust his move ’em out gang enough to start getting back to doing what he does best, torturing teams with Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks down the field. Slowly but surely the signal caller is returning to form, I wouldn’t be shocked to see this offense explode in the next month.
Running Backs: Tough sledding all day for Andre Brown, who only managed 66 yards on 18 carries, but the threat he presents is forcing defenses to play a little closer to the line of scrimmage which is slowly opening up the downfield passing lanes. Brown missed two catchable passes from Manning on outlet passes, but pass blocked well and did enough to keep the defense honest. Brandon Jacobs notched his 60th career TD and only had nine yards on five carries, but two of those key 4th-and-1 conversions. Again, it’s not something visible on a stat sheet, but Jacobs presence combined with FB John Conner’s knee-buckling lead blocks has added an element of toughness to this running game and this offense that was noticeably absent prior to the arrival of the two big RBs. As has been the theme in this 4-game run, all of the Giant backs have been outstanding on blitz pickups, often staying in to pick up the extra rushers that teams are so eager to send after the turnover-prone Manning.
Wide Receivers: Victor Cruz had his best game in weeks, hauling in eight balls for 110 yards. Cruz had more room to operate than he has in weeks thanks to the shored up OL – stay tuned for a signature long TD. Still no TDs for Hakeem Nicks, but former Tar Heel pitched in with 50 yards on four grabs, including a 35-yarder on the Giants third scoring drive of the day. Rueben Randle hauled in a 26-yard crossing route for the Giants first score, and set up the drive with a 32-yard punt return that was one tackler away from a TD. Randle finished the day with 37 yards on three catches and again found the end zone as teams seek to take away Cruz and Nicks in the red zone.
Tight Ends: Brandon Myers pulled in three catches for 32 yards, including a 15-yard third-down conversion from Manning. More importantly, Myers has found his niche blocking, usually from a move TE or H-Back spot where he’s essentially a RB in to pick up blitzers as they come free. Myers’ recognition and reaction has improved weekly, and he is a big big reason that Manning is finding more time to throw and this beleaguered OL is getting by.
Offensive Line: Four sacks allowed and 78 rushing yards at 3.3 per clip is not exactly a great day, but against a 3-4 with B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly, the Giants faced 337, 340 and 325 pounds of starting DL mass. Tough enough sledding, but when the OLBs are 255lb Clay Matthews and 285lb Mike Neal, you have to expect a few issues up front. So with all of that size and talent taken into account, you have to be impressed with how this slightly smaller OL fared against easily the largest and most-talented front seven it will see all year. C Jim Cordle again had a good game, stepping into the breach on Manning’s TD pass to Randle, as the Packers overloaded RG David Diehl’s gap. Great recognition by Cordle there, which gave Manning the pocket space to step up and hit Randle for the score. LT Will Beatty had one whiff, slip miss kinda thing that led to a sack, but overall a good effort against a big nasty front.
Defensive Line: DT Cullen Jenkins blew past G Evan Dietrich-Smith on the defense’s second snap, dropping 230lb bowling ball Eddie Lacy for no gain and immediately setting the tone for the afternoon. Fellow DTs Johnathan Hankins and Mike Patterson did the dirty work inside, not allowing second-level penetration and allowing Giant LBs to flow to the run game all day long. DE Jason Pierre Paul, questionable with a shoulder injury, answered any questions about his health with a leaping interception return and TD run that effectively sealed the deal for the G-Men. DEs Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka both applied consistent pressure outside, keeping Tolzien off balance and setting the edge in defending RB Eddie Lacy. Tuck has been rounding into form – give the old boy credit, he’s fighting through his struggles and starting to make a real impact on the edge.
Linebackers: Aside from the Governor’s return to the Walking Dead, MLB Jon Beason has been the biggest surprise of the fall. Lamented as too injured, too little and too late, Beason has been the 9-volt battery of the defense. Allow me to explain, wait there is no time, let me sum up…you never know that your 9-volts work until they don’t and your smoke detectors beep incessantly for you to change them. Mark Herzlich, Dan Connor, Chase Blackburn…beep…beep…beep and finally Jerry Reese had enough and traded for the 3-time Pro Bowler who has put out the fire on defense. Terrible and annoying analogous nonsense aside, Beason has been the glue that has this defense playing as well as it has since its two recent Super Bowl runs. Beason’s interception and angry 9-yard return of a Tolzien pass are a perfect snap shot of his impact on this team. My second favorite South Florida Bull of all time, Jacquian Williams, continued his return from an injury-plagued 2012 and notched eight stops, tying Beason for the team lead. Williams’ size is simply no longer an issue. His speed, technique and timing more than make up for the 10-15 pounds that would make him a wrecking ball. Deposed starter Spencer Paysinger had two stops, but one on a fake punt and one on a third-down run both had a big impact. I’m not Paysinger’s biggest fan as a starter (I banged the Williams drum all pre-season), but Spitty P always brings it when he gets a shot, and does his job when called upon.
Defensive Backs: S Will Hill had an almost INT on the Packers second drive, and a great stop of RB Eddie Lacy on the game’s first defensive snap. Hill’s emergence has made the loss of Stevie Brown sting a lot less (and made me wonder what Hill, Brown and Rolle could do on the field together). Hill is always around the ball, rarely late in coverage, and he and Rolle seem to be in sync, and most importantly, interchangeable, which gives Perry Fewell the flexibility to disguise coverages without sacrificing run support or deep patrol.
Special Teams: Rueben Randle’s 32-yard punt return, Spencer Paysinger’s fake punt tackle and P Steve Weatherford’s impressive bounce back from a rough week 10 performance added up to a not-so-terrible day for the special teams. That’s it, I’m already bored with this section. Someone wake me when Phil McConkey Jr. plays for the G-Men and takes WWE quality clothesline shots to the face after a 3-yard return and gets up to celebrate like a kid who got lucky on prom night. (I did not).
NFLW (NFL for Women): I did not have the NFL’s express written consent, but NinVA and her Cowboy-loving fiancé took me and Mrs. Joey to Lexington, VA this weekend. Our goal was to peruse wedding venues, taste free wine and taste not-so-free beer, and taste more beer, some Jack Daniels, some more beer, wings and possibly a cheese fry (I detected a hint of faux cheddar on my pants the next day). By game time Sunday, NinVA and Mrs. Joey decided they were too tired to watch the game together (woohoo!), so NinVA headed home, dejected at missing the game. While I did some intestinal yoga, I told NinVA and Mrs. Joey to see if Skype could create a virtual living room for us. Sure enough, Mrs. Joey pulled it off and my shock at her Kip Dynamite level of technology love was instantly bested by her knowledge of the Godfather. “You did this without my help?” I queried, “I’m smaht…not like everyone says, I can do things I’m smaht and I want respect!” Sadly I am now Fredo to the NFL if anyone of legal importance reads this pirated transmission account.
Cram it in your Cramhole Award: I have to give this to CB Tramon Williams for his second quarter high school drama club level of histrionics over a pass interference call. Williams arrived early enough on Manning’s pass to Hakeem Nicks to suggest he’s watching film with Bill Belichick and the spygate bunch. After being flagged, Williams pulled the NFL version of a flop, flapping his arms and looking just befuddled (not Jim Fassel level, but still, befuddled) that he was flagged.