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Jerrel Jernigan, New York Giants (December 22, 2013)

Jerrel Jernigan – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 23 – Detroit Lions 20 (Overtime)

Game Overview: I must admit that I have somewhat mixed feelings on this win. My head was telling me that it was best for the Giants to put up a good showing and get a better read on specific players heading into the offseason, but to lose the game in order to gain a higher draft pick. But once the game started, my emotions got the best of me and I was rooting very hard for the Giants to prove doubters wrong and win this game. Winning always makes me feel better and I’ll take it, especially only a few days before Christmas.

That all said, it would be very foolish and potentially dangerous for team management to read too much into this one game. It was an ugly game between two teams that, at times, looked more interested in handing the game to their opponent. A patchwork New York offensive line down to its last backups was clearly overmatched, especially in the second half when the Giants did not pick up their first 1st down of the half until there were three minutes left in the fourth quarter. The defensive score that tied the game was not a great play by the defense but a terrible play by the Detroit offense. Nevertheless, in the end, an undermanned Giants’ team with very little to play for finally showed some toughness and resiliency and came away with a gutty win in overtime.

Offensive Overview: It was a tale of two halves for the Giants. Recognizing that it would be extremely difficult for a patchwork offensive line to generate any kind of consistent yardage on the ground against a very physical and talented Lions’ defensive front, Giants came out throwing. Twenty-one of New York’s 30 first-half offensive plays were pass plays. This was the correct strategy as demonstrated by the fact that New York only had one solid rushing play in the first half: an 11-yard carry by Andre Brown. New York’s other eight carries only picked up six yards. The coaches also did a nice job with the play-calling. In last week’s game review, I mentioned how a moving pocket wasn’t really something Eli Manning was comfortable with, but it worked this week as the coaches tried to keep Detroit’s rushers off balance. There was an emphasis on three-step drops, and a throw-back screen caught the Lions off guard.

“We tried to do a bunch of rollouts,” said Manning. “We did a number of those early on to try and move the pocket and obviously so that defensive line can’t be in sprinter’s stance and rush up the field. We tried to slow them down a bit and so I thought we had a couple first downs…It worked out well for us moving the pocket early on and made some big plays.”

“We just kept it simple with quick-hitters,” said Myers.

The Giants had the ball four times in the first half, and three of those drives resulted in points. Almost as important, the Giants held the football for more than five minutes on two of those drives, not only keeping Detroit’s potentially explosive offense off of the field, but giving the defense a rest. The Giants’ first drive was 15 plays; the third drive was nine plays. By intermission, the Giants had accrued 10 first downs, were 5-of-8 (63 percent) on third down, had no turnovers, and only punted once en route to a 13-3 halftime advantage.

In the second half, that all changed as the play-calling appeared less creative and the Detroit defensive line began to wear more and more on the New York offensive line. On New York’s first five possessions of the second half, the Giants failed to pick up one first down. Worse, they gave up safety. The defense kept the Giants in the game and tied the score. Eli Manning and the Giants had a chance to win the game late in regulation, but bad Eli appeared in the form of a terrible interception at the Lions’ 25-yard line with 23 seconds left.

In overtime, after an excellent kickoff return by RB Michael Cox and a 15-yard pass to TE Brandon Myers, the Giants looked poised to score until Brown fumbled the ball away. The defense held and Manning and his receivers came up big in the end. First there was a 26-yard pass from Manning to WR Rueben Randle on 3rd-and-9. After a holding penalty put the Giants in a 2nd-and-20 situation, Manning completed passes of seven yards to Myers and six yards to Randle. On 4th-and-7 from the Detroit 42-yard line, the Manning found WR Jerrel Jernigan for 15 yards, setting up the game-winning field goal.

Quarterback: It was a mixed bag for Eli Manning, who finished the game 23-of-42 for 256 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception. Absent any ground game whatsoever and behind a shaky offensive line, the Giants had no other option but to throw the football against a defense that knew it. And Manning was forced to do some things he is normally not comfortable in doing such as throwing out of a moving pocket and he did it with decent success. Eli threw the ball 10 times on New York’s first 14 plays, completing five of those passes including key passes on 3rd-and-4, 3rd-and-10, and 3rd-and-10. But he badly overshot Randle on one deep throw and missed a wide open Hakeem Nicks on 2nd-and-8 for what should have been a 23-yard touchdown. The Giants were forced to settle for a field goal.

On New York’s third possession, Eli completed 4-of-5 passes with no support from the ground game (four rushes for two yards). This included a key 14-yard throwback screen to Brown on 3rd-and-13, a 6-yard pass to Randle on 3rd-and-5, and a 20-yard strike to Jernigan for a touchdown on 1st-and-15. The latter pass was Eli’s best of the game. My biggest problem with Eli on this drive was yet another delay-of-game penalty which wiped out a TD throw to Jernigan (thankfully the two connected on the very next snap for a TD). Manning can’t allow that to happen. The Giants got the ball one more time in the first half. Despite a 9-yard sack, Manning got the Giants into position for a successful 52-yard field goal with a 16-yard pass to Nicks and an 11-yard pass to Jernigan.

The third quarter was a disaster for New York. On 3rd-and-4, the Eli took a deep shot to Randle but Randle could only get one hand on the ball (a shorter, higher percentage throw would have been a better option in this situation). On the second series, after a 7-yard pass to Bear Pascoe and a no-gain run by Brown, there was miscommunication between Manning and Jernigan on a 3rd-and-3 throw down the field. Again, a shorter pass would have been wiser. Why did the Giants move away from the quick passing game? On the third series, the Giants lost three yards on two Brown runs. Facing 3rd-and-13, Eli was swarmed under for a safety. The Lions took a 20-13 lead on the ensuing drive after the safety.

In the fourth quarter, the offensive woes continued. After a 5-yard pass, a fumbled handoff and an illegal substitution penalty put the Giants in a 3rd-and-14 situation. A short completion to Jernigan and a punt. The Giants went three-and-out for the fifth time in five second-half possessions as Eli threw deep to a well-covered Nicks. Again, why get away from the quick hitters and moving pocket? Then came the predictable shotgun run on 2nd-and-10. On 3rd-and-8, Eli was under heavy pressure and threw wildly incomplete.

After the defensive score, the Giants’ offense finally showed some signs of life. Brown gained six yards and Eli audibled to a nifty touch pass to Myers that picked up 25 yards and the Giants’ first 1st down of the second half. Nicks dropped a well-thrown pass by Manning. A deep throw to Jernigan fell incomplete. (Deep again!) On 3rd-and-10, Manning was under heavy pressure again and threw too high in the direction of Randle. Punt.

Manning’s worst throw of the day came with 28 seconds left at the Detroit 49-yard line. Eli thought the Detroit defense had jumped and badly overthrew an open Jernigan on a play that might have put the Giants in game-winning field goal position at the end of regulation. The pass was intercepted.

But to Eli’s credit, he kept his composure in overtime even after another turnover (a fumble by Brown). On the game-winning drive, Eli’s 26-yard pass on 3rd-and-9 was huge, as was his 15-yard pass to Jernigan on 4th-and-7 despite heavy pressure. It’s important to note that Eli and his receivers overcame a 2nd-and-20 on this possession.

Wide Receivers: Jerrel Jernigan was targeted 12 times and caught six passes for 80 yards and a touchdown. Four of his catches were critical: his superb 12-yard sideline reception on 3rd-and-10 on the first field-goal drive, his 18-yard reception on 3rd-and-10 on the same drive, his 20-yard touchdown reception in heavy traffic and contact, and his sliding 15-yard reception in overtime that set up the game-winning field goal. Rueben Randle caught 4-of-9 passes in his direction for 40 yards, none bigger than his 26-yard reception on 3rd-and-9 in overtime. He also had a key 6-yard reception on 3rd-and-5 before Jernigan’s touchdown. That said, Randle wasn’t able to make a play on a well-thrown deep ball by Manning. He also didn’t look very quick or instinctive with the ball in his hands on a short WR screen that should have probably picked up more yards. Hakeem Nicks caught 4-of-7 targets for 52 yards. He had a 15-yarder to start the game on the opening field-goal drive, a 12-yarder on the touchdown drive, and a 16-yarder on the field-goal drive right before the half. He wasn’t much of a factor in the second half. Eli did miss him on what should have been a 23-yard TD early in the game, but Nicks also dropped a critical pass late in the 4th quarter that might have helped to end the game early. Louis Murphy, who was in for just five snaps, caught both 5-yard passes thrown in his direction, one being on 3rd-and-4 on the first field-goal drive.

Running Backs: Andre Brown (16 carries for 40 yards) and Michael Cox (2 carries for 1 yard) didn’t have a chance behind that offensive line. Brown’s biggest play was his 14-yard reception on a throw-back screen on 3rd-and-13 on the Giants’ lone offensive touchdown drive. Brown fumbled a handoff from Manning in the third quarter, and Brown’s fumble in overtime ended a promising possession and could have cost the Giants the game. He was apparently concussed on the play – another injury for a guy who can’t seem to stay healthy.

Tight Ends: Brandon Myers’ continues to be a liability blocking. He was flagged for holding too. He did catch 4-of-7 passes thrown in his direction for 53 yards. Bear Pascoe played 24 snaps and caught 1-of-2 passes thrown in his direction for seven yards. Adrien Robinson was activated for his first game and suffered a knee sprain on the opening kickoff and did not return. Larry Donnell only played on special teams.

Offensive Line: It’s important for readers to understand that even veteran players who have not practiced together for a long time as one unit will often struggle because of the lack of chemistry and cohesion between the independent parts. An offensive line must function as one to succeed, and this is particularly obvious in run blocking, and in pass protection when the opposing defense blitzes and stunts. So it was absolutely no surprise whatsoever that Will Beatty, James Brewer, Kevin Boothe, Brandon Mosley, and Justin Pugh struggled, especially when you consider that three of these five players are green and Mosley was lost on the opening possession with a broken right hand. On top of that, the Lions have perhaps the most talented DT combination in football.

The line – as in-cohesive as it currently is – had no chance to run block against Detroit’s defensive front, and it showed. To the coaches’ credit, they didn’t try that much in the first half, calling only nine running plays. But it is extremely difficult to consistently move the ball and generate points when you are one-dimensional, and the inability to run the football finally caught up to the Giants in the second half. Andre Brown and Michael Cox only gained 41 yards on 18 carries (2.3 yards per carry).

The lack of ground game also started to impact the pass protection. The Giants were able to keep Detroit’s pass rush off balance in the first half with the play-calling but in the second half, Eli was under more and more duress. Stunts by the Lions gave the Giants fits. Eli was sacked twice and officially hit five other times, but he was often forced to scramble away from pressure, both real and anticipated/imagined.

I give the Giants up front credit for scrapping by, doing just enough to win, but Detroit did dominate the line of scrimmage. Brandon Mosley played surprisingly well on the first drive until forced to leave the game. His replacement Dallas Reynolds struggled at times both as a run and pass blocker, particularly in pass protection as the game wore on. James Brewer was pretty steady in pass protection, especially considering the level of competition.

Will Beatty continues to alternate good games with bad. Beatty, who seemed to be bull-rushed too easily on a few plays that did not result in sacks, gave up one sack late in the first half. But to be fair, media and fans blame him for the second sack that resulted in a safety completely missed the fact that the defensive end illegally hooked Beatty on a stunt, preventing him from engaging with the looping tackle. There was no way for Beatty to make that block. Beatty was flagged with a holding penalty in overtime on the game-winning drive. That could have been a killer.

Defensive Overview: Coming into this game, one would have expected the Giants to do better against the run than the pass, but the opposite actually occurred. Part of that was due to the game plan as the Giants exclusively with a three safety package (Antrel Rolle, Will Hill, and Ryan Mundy) again. Part of it had to do with some outstanding physical running by Joique Bell who carried the ball 20 times for 91 yards and one touchdown, and also caught 10 passes for 63 yards. Indeed, Bell was the best player on the field for Detroit on Sunday. The more serious perceived threat – Reggie Bush – was held to 34 yards on 12 carries.

The Giants largely shutdown the Detroit passing game, holding Matthew Stafford to 25-of-42 for just 222 yards, 0 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. Stafford’s quarterback rating was 53.9 for the game.

The Giants gave up one long drive in the first half that ended with a field goal. Detroit’s first touchdown came on a short field (drive started at NYG 30-yard line). The biggest defensive letdown came after the safety as Detroit drove 63 yards in 9 plays for the go-ahead touchdown and 2-point conversion. But the Lions’ last five drives of the fourth quarter and overtime ended with four punts and an interception that was returned four a touchdown. In the previous couple of years, I’ve complained about the inability of Perry Fewell’s defense to hold in clutch situations. His unit did that and more on Sunday with its play in the fourth quarter and overtime.

Defensive Line: The big negative for the defense of course was the 148 yards surrendered on the ground, 133 by the running backs. Ironically, the Giant struggled much more with Joique Bell than Reggie Bush. The standout up front was Mathias Kiwanuka, who led the line with 6 tackles, 2 sacks, and 5 quarterback hits. He also broke up a screen pass and forced a fumble. DE Justin Tuck made an amazing interception to halt a Lions’ threat at the end of the first half and set up the Giants’ 52-yard field goal. None of the other defensive linemen really stood out.

Kiwanuka saw most of the defensive snaps (94 percent) followed by Tuck (85 percent), DT Cullen Jenkins (76 percent), DT Linval Joseph (64 percent), DT Mike Patterson (26 percent), DT Johnathan Hankins (25 percent), and DE Damontre Moore (19 percent). Tuck deserves credit for clearly playing in a lot of discomfort with a stinger and foot injury. Many other veteran players would have tapped out in a relatively meaningless game. Patterson was flagged with an illegal hands-to-the-face penalty.

Linebackers: The Giants went with the three-safety package for the entire game, limiting the snaps of the linebacker. Jon Beason played the entire game and was credited with a team-high 11 tackles. Spencer Paysinger saw 60 percent of the snaps and finished with four tackles. Jacquian Williams got 44 snaps and was credited with 5 tackles, including one for a loss. No other linebacker, including Keith Rivers, played.

Despite the tackle numbers, this was not Beason’s best game. He got handled at the point-of-attack a few times on running plays. And Beason continues to have some issues in coverage. He missed one tackle after a short pass. On the Lions’ first TD drive, on 3rd-and-7, Beason was badly beaten by RB Joique Bell for 14 yards. He was beaten by the TE on the 2-point conversion after the second TD. In overtime, on a play where he fell down, he was very fortunate that the tight end he was supposed to cover dropped the ball on what should have been a big play.

Defensive Backs: Outstanding game by the defensive backs except for the dropped interceptions: two by CB Trumaine McBride and one by CB Prince Amukamara. All-World WR Calvin Johnson was obviously hurting, but Amukamara, for the first time in his pro career, was called upon to follow one single opponent no matter where he lined up. And Johnson was held to a harmless three catches for 43 yards by Amukamara. Detroit receivers only caught 9-of-17 passes thrown in their direction for 98 yards an no touchdowns. Jayron Hosley (3 snaps) and Terrell Thomas (1 snap) barely played.

Safeties Ryan Mundy, Will Hill, and Antrel Rolle played every defensive snap – all 85 plays. Mundy finished with 10 tackles, Hill with 9 tackles, and Rolle with 6 tackles and a fumble recovery. Hill changed the game completely around with his interception and 38-yard return for a touchdown off of a deflected pass. He also flashed with his range and open-field tackling. Mundy made a huge play stuffing the powerful Bell for no gain on 3rd-and-1 late in the fourth quarter.

Special Teams: A mixed bag. DE Damontre Moore jumped offsides on a 4th-and-1 punt, giving the Lions a first down. While the long-snapper may have moved, Moore can’t take that type of chance in such a situation. The Giants also gave up a 50-yard punt return in the third quarter that set up the Lions on the NYG 30-yard line. Eight plays later, the Lions scored their first touchdown, cutting the Giants’ lead to 13-10. Other than that play, CB Charles James stood out as a gunner, forcing fair catches.

Josh Brown had a superb game, kicking field goals of 42, 52, and 45 yards. Two of his six kickoffs went for touchbacks. Kickoff coverage was excellent, holding Detroit’s primary kickoff returner to 51 yards on three kickoffs (17 yard average) with Will Hill, Marcus Dowtin, and Antrel Rolle making tackles.

Steve Weatherford averaged 46.5 yards (38.2 net) on six punts.

RB Michael Cox’s 56-yard kickoff return to begin the overtime period did not lead to points, but it importantly flipped field position, all the more important when you consider that Andre Brown fumbled two plays later.

(Boxscore – New York Giants at Detroit Lions, December 22, 2013)
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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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