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Eli Manning, New York Giants (August 3, 2014)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 17 – Buffalo Bills 13

REVISITING: FOUR DOWNS
During our game preview, we listed a new segment, ‘Four Downs,’ which took a look at the top four questions surrounding the Giants heading into the game. Now that the game has been played and the film reviewed, it’s time to break it down.

Eli Manning and Ben McAdoo, New York Giants (June 18, 2014)

Eli Manning and Ben McAdoo – © USA TODAY Sports Images

First Down
How does Eli Manning look in a West Coast Offense?
The short answer? Good. The long answer? It’s a work in progress. Manning created a few waves when he and others said the goal this year was to complete “70 percent” of his passes. Well, after one game, Manning is completing over 85 percent. He went 6-for-7, missing on his first throw and then hitting his next six. There will be many more check downs this year, something that early on appears to suit Manning.

Second Down
The progression of Ryan Nassib
Entering into Sunday’s game, Ryan Nassib was coming off two of his best practices of the summer. His showing in the Hall of fame game displayed that. Nassib put some zip on the ball, displayed his mobility and the ability to keep plays alive. There was accuracy shown and some arm strength. Unfortunately, he also showed the inconsistency. Both the intentional grounding and nullified interception were the ‘bad’ aspects you get with the ‘good’ of Nassib.

Third Down
The ‘Legend’ of Devon Kennard
Kennard played well in his first game in a Giants’ uniform. He was physical, wasn’t out of position much and made his usual ‘pop’ play down by the goal line. Kennard ran through a pulling offensive guard, knocked the guard back, while retaining his own balance, and tackled Anthony Dixon near the goal line.

Fourth Down
The rebuilt, re-tooled secondary
One stat says it all, Bills’ quarterback E.J. Mannuel completed 3-of-7 passes. On the few deep passes thrown against Prince Amukamara, the former first-round pick had perfect coverage. On the two passes thrown at Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (both of which were batted down), the corner had cut on the ball and was in position to make a play. The secondary looks good. Very good.

OFFENSIVE OVERVIEW - by Eric Kennedy

Six offensive players did not make the trip to Canton, including key contributors WR Odell Beckham (hamstring) and LT Will Beatty (migraine). Also missing were RB David Wilson (neck), WR Trindon Holliday (hamstring), TE Xavier Grimble (hamstring), and OG/OC Eric Herman (hip).

The Giants had nine legitimate offensive possessions, not counting the kneel down before halftime and three plays to run out the clock at the end of the game. The Giants starting offense played three of the nine possessions (1/3 of the game). They struggled on their first two drives, one three-and-out followed by sack/fumble turnover after picking up one first down. The first-team offense then easily drove down the field on a 12-play, 80-yard drive against the Bills’ second-team defense.

In the second quarter, Ryan Nassib and the second-team offense took the field. Nassib had two drives in the second quarter, the first was an 8-play, 52 yard possession that resulted in a 47-yard field goal. The second only covered 15 yards in six plays.

In the second half of the game, a mixture of second-, third-, and even some fourth-teamers participated in four more offensive possessions that traveled 29 yards (5 plays), 23 yards (5 plays), 69 yards (2 plays, including a 4-yard loss), and 36 yards (12 plays). The highlight was obviously the 73-yard scoring pass from Nassib to WR Corey Washington.

Overall, the Giants accrued 308 total net yards (121 rushing, 187 passing) and 19 first downs. The team was a respectable 6-of-13 (46 percent) on third down and won the time of possession battle 33:37 to 26:23.

Based on my comments below, I have major concerns about offensive line depth and the tight end situation. As much as Jerry Reese supposedly did this offseason, the cupboard is still too bare at these critical positions.

Eli Manning, New York Giants (August 3, 2014)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

QUARTERBACKS - by Eric Kennedy

Eli Manning’s completion percentage was impressive (6-of-7, 86 percent). But he only threw for 43 yards. It’s going to take me some time to get used to this dink-and-dunk offense. However, Eli actually looked more adept at it than I expected, particularly for the first game. His first throw was a bit off the mark (or Jerrel Jernigan was a bit off the mark on his route). But after that, Eli was a perfect 6-for-6. It’s interesting to note that five of the first eight plays (all against the Bills’ starting defense) were designed quick throws. One-two-three…throw. Two passes were intended for Jernigan, three for Jennings. On the 12-play, 80-yard drive, Eli only threw twice, once to Jernigan for 8 yards (on 3rd-and-5) and once to TE Daniel Fells for 10 yards.

My biggest problem with Eli was his decision-making on the sack-fumble play. Both tackles gave up some heat, and the not-so-nimble-footed Eli tried to blindly spin-scramble out of trouble. Problem is by scrambling, he ran into a third defender who had gotten away from Geoff Schwartz. The loss of yardage on the sack would have been bad enough, but losing the football was worse. He can’t be that careless. This play was somewhat reminiscent of his happy feet in the pocket in 2013. Hopefully, this is not a developing trend in his game as he ages.

Ryan Nassib came into the game at the start of the second quarter and played until the beginning of the fourth quarter. He finished the night 7-of-12 for 139 yards, although 73 of those yards came on the one play to Corey Washington. Nassib had two drives in the first half, with mostly second teamers. He was 5-of-8 for 49 yards on those two drives. He showed good mobility and accuracy on a rollout pass to TE Larry Donnell and found WR Marcus Harris for a 25-yard strike over the middle on a strong throw. Pressure in his face caused an incomplete pass on 3rd-and-7 to end his first drive. After completing three short passes on his second drive, he just missed WR Julian Talley deep down the middle (the pass was a tad too high). His 3rd-and-14 incomplete throw to Harris looked on the mark, but it was tough to tell without instant replay.

With a step down in surrounding talent (more third-stringers), the third quarter was not as kind to Nassib. He had two more drives. After completing one short pass that was called back due to offensive pass interference, Nassib threw his worst pass of the night. With pressure in his face, he tried to force the ball to a well-covered Adrien Robinson, not seeing a second defender just sitting in the throwing lane and easily picking off the pass. Luckily for Nassib, a roughing-the-passer penalty erased the interception. Two plays later, however, on a naked boot to the left, the defender on that side didn’t bite on the play-action and was immediately in Nassib’s face. Again, Nassib panicked a bit, throwing the ball into the turf despite not being outside of the pocket. Intentional grounding was correctly called. On the second drive, Nassib completed a 17-yard pass to Mario Manningham, but was sacked two plays later (a penalty on the Bills erased the sack). After two runs, Nassib couldn’t connect with Marcus Harris after a blitzing linebacker got in his face. Nassib’s final throw of the night was his slightly under thrown long ball to Corey Washington for the go-ahead (and game-winning) touchdown.

Curtis Painter (3-of-3 for 26 yards) came into the game with less than 11 minutes to play. He looked respectable.

Andre Williams, New York Giants (August 3, 2014)

Andre Williams – © USA TODAY Sports Images

RUNNING BACKS - by Eric Kennedy

I liked what I saw from Rashad Jennings (7 carries for 23 yards, 3 catches for 20 yards) and Andre Williams (7 carries for 48 yards) when given an opportunity by the blocking up front. Both are bigger, more physical backs. Both seem more “Giant-like” to me. Jennings has very natural hands and I think he is going put up big reception total numbers in this offense. Eli trusts him. Nice job by Jennings to pick up 5 yards after the catch on 3rd-and-2. Williams demonstrated surprising agility and quickness for a big man, and his 3-yard goal-line touchdown was a no-nonsense effort. Both were helped on the third drive by some very good lead blocking from FB Henry Hynoski. On that drive, 10 of the 12 plays were running plays to Jennings and Williams, gaining 62 of the 80 yards on the possession. I don’t know what was going on with John Conner, but he didn’t look as focused and physical as he did last year. Hynoski out-played him in round one of the FB battle.

With David Wilson done, the drop off from #1 and #2 running back to #3 is pretty big right now. Peyton Hillis (7 carries for 36 yards) can block, catch, and run with some power, but he isn’t very quick or fast, as demonstrated by his 7-yard run on 3rd-and-12 where he made a really nice cut, but couldn’t outrace the defense to the sticks. Kendall Gaskins (5 carries for 5 yards) didn’t have much room to operate behind the third-team line, but he didn’t flash any special qualities either. He also could not sustain his block on a blitzing linebacker that led to an incomplete 3rd down pass.

I was more impressed with Michael Cox (9 carries for 3 yards) despite what the horrendous stats indicate. When given a chance, like his back-to-back 9- and 7-yard runs, he demonstrated better acceleration and quickness than Hillis and Gaskins. Cox stood out on the middle screen play where he expertly chipped a blitzer who could have blown up the entire play, made the one-handed reception, and then ran tough for the first down on 3rd-and-8.

WIDE RECEIVERS - by Eric Kennedy

Oddly, no passes thrown in the direct of Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle. Jerrel Jernigan was the only wide receiver targeted by Eli, catching two of three passes thrown in his direction. Randle did a nice job of run blocking on Williams’ 21-yard run.

Marcus Harris flashed in the third quarter with the second team, especially on his fearless 25 catch-and-run over the middle. He finished the night with 4 catches for 49 yards. He might have had a bigger night had he been able to come down with a 3rd-and-14 throw by Nassib that looked on the mark. Good effort by him on his run blocks as well.

Mario Manningham caught one pass for 17 yards. Corey Washington stood out with his very nice leaping catch where he out-fought the Bills’ defensive back for the ball and a 73-yard score. Julian Talley was flagged for offensive pass interference.

TIGHT ENDS - by Eric Kennedy

Larry Donnell was the #1 tight end in this game. I spotted him getting stymied in the hole as a lead blocker from the fullback position on the first possession. On the second possession, as he was blocking down on DE Mario Williams, Williams squeezed inside to stuff Jennings for a 1-yard loss on 2nd-and-1. But what was weird on this play was that LG Geoff Schwartz ran past Williams to pull around Donnell, as if the running play was supposed to go behind Schwartz and not to the inside where Williams made the play. In other words, I’m not sure Donnell was at fault here.

After this, I thought Donnell did a nice job as a run blocker from the traditional down position, including on the long touchdown drive. He looked good catching a 13-yard pass on a QB rollout in the second quarter. Daniel Fells caught a 10-yard pass before he suffered a knee injury in the second quarter and was forced to leave the game. His blocking looked solid. Right now, Donnell and Fells appear to be the top two tight ends on the depth chart.

Adrien Robinson seemed to be the next guy off the bench, followed by Kellen Davis. Robinson didn’t impress me with his blocking, particularly as a move tight end. He was flailing around out there at times.

Bottom line, the Giants may have a developing player in Donnell and a somewhat serviceable journeyman in Fells, but not much else. Robinson still looks like he isn’t developing and the fact that Davis appeared to be #4 on the depth chart is not a good sign for him. Hello waiver wire come cut-down time. Not good for a Ben McAdoo offense that relies so heavily on tight ends.

OFFENSIVE LINE - by Eric Kennedy

Starting were Charles Brown (LT), Geoff Schwartz (LG), J.D. Walton (C), Brandon Mosley (RG), and Justin Pugh (RT). I was more down on this group when I originally watched the game, less so when looking at the game film a second time. Simply put, there were not enough snaps to adequately judge the starting group.

On the first two drives against the Bills’ formidable starting defensive line, five of the eight plays were very quick (and designed to be quick) throws to Jernigan and Jennings. Given the quick set up and throws, the line was easily able to keep heat off of Eli on these five plays. On the play before the sack-fumble, the offensive line had formed a perfect pocket on the 5-yard completion to Jernigan. The problems were on the other three plays: two runs and one pass. On the first run, as mentioned above, Donnell got stood up in the hole by the linebacker. On the second run, as mentioned, Mario Williams defeated an oddly-designed or executed short-yardage play, leading to a 1-yard loss. On the one passing play where Eli didn’t quickly throw the ball, both Pugh and Charles Brown gave up some pressure (Pugh also was flagged with holding on this play). Eli decided to blindly scramble away from it with a spin move. Geoff Schwartz’s man then broke free to sack Manning. Tough to judge Schwartz here as he probably was surprised by Manning’s move away from the pocket. That said, Schwartz does not look very athletic to me. He lumbers in the open field (he looked really out of place on a screen play). Interesting note is that Mark Asper played tight end on Andre Williams’ goal-line touchdown play.

On the third drive, the first-string offensive line – as one would hope – began to exert itself against the second-team defensive line of the Bills. The Giants ran the ball 10 times for 62 yards; both passes were completed for another 18 yards.

James Brewer, New York Giants (January 30, 2012)

James Brewer – © USA TODAY Sports Images

In the second quarter, the fourth drive started off with Brown (LT), Weston Richburg (LG), Dallas Reynolds (61), Mosley (RG), and Pugh (67). On this drive, James Brewer came in for Pugh at right tackle. Brown was a bit shaky at times throughout the game, including against the backups. During his rookie season in 2011, Brewer was tasked with carrying the team’s lucky teddy bear on road trips. The problem with Brewer – who is a huge athlete – is he plays like a teddy bear. He rarely delivers the punch – a guy that big and strong and nimble shouldn’t be getting pushed back by smaller defenders. Reynolds looked decent at times, but also blew a block on a running play that went nowhere. On the last drive in the second quarter, John Jerry came in for Mosley. He did not look good.

In the third quarter, the line started off as Brewer (LT), Richburg (LG), Reynolds (C), Jerry (RG), and Rogers Gaines (RT). Jerry and Gaines were the obvious weak links on this line. Perhaps Jerry still is fighting his way back from the offseason knee surgery that caused him to miss the OTAs. Or perhaps he simply stinks. But for a big guy, he doesn’t get any movement on his run blocks and he was getting bull-rushed on passing plays. It was his man who got in the face of Nassib on Nassib’s worst throw of the night. Gaines had problems in pass protection a number of times, and both Jerry and Gaines gave up a 3rd quarter sack. In the fourth quarter, John “the human turnstile” Sullen came in at right guard. He was dreadful.

On the last real drive of the game, the line had Brewer (LT), Jamaal Johnson-Webb (LG), Richburg (C), Sullen (RG), and Gaines (RT). Interestingly, I thought Richburg looked shakiest here at his “natural” center position. His man badly disrupted one running play. On this possession, and a few other times at left guard earlier in the game, Richburg was pushed back. He needs to get bigger and stronger. I don’t see the player yet who everyone is excited about.

My overall impression of the offensive line as a unit? The Giants desperately need Will Beatty back at left tackle. I think Schwartz-Walton-Mosley-Pugh will be serviceable, but this is not a physically-imposing line. Richburg needs to play stronger, but he does have good agility. I don’t like the depth situation at all outside Richburg and maybe Brown. Jerry doesn’t look good at all. Brewer is very versatile, but he’s a soft player. When Dallas Reynolds looks like one of the better backups, you know you are in trouble. The rest of the guys – quite frankly – don’t look very good. Sullen and Gaines were terrible. I didn’t seen enough of Johnson-Webb.

Cullen Jenkins and Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants (June 18, 2014)

Cullen Jenkins and Jason Pierre-Paul – © USA TODAY Sports Images

DEFENSIVE OVERVIEW - by Connor Hughes

The following players did not play for the Giants on defense after not making the trip to Canton: Trumaine McBride, Bennett Jackson, Travis Howard, Jon Beason, Spencer Paysinger, Robert Ayers and Mike Patterson. 

After watching the game live, I came away being very impressed with the overall play of the Giants’ starting defensive players and reserves. There was pressure on the quarterback, little room for the running backs to run and some tight, physical coverage from the cornerbacks.

The secondary made plays, the defensive line got after the quarterback and the linebackers did a phenomenal job of filling any holes the running backs attempted to escape through. Granted, the offense is not the strength of the Buffalo Bills, but it was still encouraging to see.

Being put in tough positions twice, the Giants’ defense held. Once, coming up with an interception following a blocked punt, and a second time holding the Bills to a field goal following Manning’s fumble. The Giants did allow one touchdown drive, a 15-play, 80-yard possession, that was aided by two penalties. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie committed defensive holding and Prince Amukamara illegal contact.

When all was said and done, the Giants’ defense allowed 246 yards (94 rushing, 152 passing). The Bills went 4-for-13 on third downs, 2-for-3 on fourth downs and were 1-for-3 in the red zone.

I had high expectations for the defense. They met them against a subpar Bills’ offense. This Saturday’s test against the Pittsburgh Steelers should be a good one and provide a larger challenge.

THE DEFENSIVE LINE - By Connor Hughes

Johnathan Hankins was one of the guys I was very interested in taking a look at. For the first time in his career, Hankins was the No. 1 defensive tackle from the start. He wasn’t used in only ‘certain’ packages. He was in them all. He impressed me against the Bills. Hankins shed blocks very well, wasn’t easily moved and found himself in on just about every running play. On the first series of the game, Bills’ running back Fred Jackson attempted to run one up the middle, Hankins stuffed the intended gap and made Jackson bounce it outside. On the second drive, Hankins mauled Chris Williams to make a play on the running back for no gain.

Damontre Moore, New York Giants (September 29, 2013)

Damontre Moore – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Another player I kept an eye on for the defensive line was Damontre Moore, and in particular, Damontre Moore against the run. Sure, his pass rushing skills have been well documented, but can he play the run? Moore showed on two separate occasions that he has improved himself against the run. Both times standing his blocker up, shedding him and then moving down the line in an attempt to bring down the ball carrier. While he did get fooled very badly on the read option, he learned. A series or two later, Moore was unblocked on a running play. Instead of crashing down, he held his ground, waited for the quarterback to commit to the running back, then came down and made the play.

As a pass rusher? Well, Moore was as good as advertised. I had three counts of pressure on the quarterback where he just out-played Cyrus Kouandjio. If both parts of his game come together, he’s gonna be a very, very good player.

While watching the game, I was impressed with Jay Bromley. After watching the film, I’m still impressed with Jay Bromley.  The rookie was strong against the run, got a few pressures and attacked with great leverage.

LINEBACKERS - By Connor Hughes

With all of the talk and praise the Giants’ coaches have given Jacquian Williams, I wanted to keep an extra eye on him. He didn’t flash too much, aside from the bat down, when watching live, so I figured I’d scope him out a bit on tape.

There was one play, on the third series, where the Bills again went deep in Amukamara’s direction. Williams went hard in one gap, there was nothing there, so he bounced around and found another opening. He used his speed to chase the Jeff Tuel down and got in his face, not allowing the quarterback to unload the ball. Williams on the blitz isn’t something that’s been seen a lot in the past, but may be featured more now.

One play, above anything else, stood out to me on the progress Williams has made. On a screen pass to Anthony Dixon, Williams fought through two oncoming linemen, split them both and made the play after only a two-yard gain. If Williams didn’t make it, it was looking like a big play for Dixon.

I read a few people that said Devon Kennard didn’t live up to the ‘hype’ that surrounded him coming form training camp. I disagree. Aside from making a few solid tackles, he made one ‘wow’ play during the game. Near the goal line, Kennard came in on a blitz and ran through Bills’ guard Chris Williams. Kennard knocked Williams back while never losing balance himself, then made the tackle on Anthony Dixon. It was impressive.

THE SECONDARY - By Connor Hughes

When Stevie Brown was appointed the Giants’ starting safety opposite Antrel Rolle, there was talk on how he’d be able to handle the run game. During is first year with the Giants, prior to injuring his knee, Brown essentially just played center field and waited to run wherever the ball was thrown. On the first play of the game, he showed he is a bit physical, too.

Brown started at the safety position, starting moving closer to the box before going on a dead sprint when the play was snapped. Brown shot through the heart of the offensive line and tackled C.J. Spiller for no gain. It was a very, very solid play against the run.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, New York Giants (July 22, 2014)

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie – © USA TODAY Sports Images

The secondary, by the way, is much, much more physical this year and in-your-face. In the past, the Giants liked to hold their corners 8-10 yards back from the wide receivers. Not any more. I just saw a couple plays where the corners didn’t line up directly over the receiver. Every now and then one corner would be up, one would be back. But nearly every play had at least one up in the face of an opponent’s wideout.

I was a little weary of Walter Thurmond III during the game as I saw him get beat a few times. After watching the film, he played much better than I originally expected. On his first completion, Jeff Tuel put a perfect pass to Rob Woods that few could have defended. On a second completion given up, a slant, Woods ran directly into Thurmond causing him to lose balance. That play could have been offensive pass interference. He played well, much better than I originally thought.

Tuesday, the Giants’ secondary coach Dave Merritt called rookie Nat Berhe ‘The Missile.’ After watching the film, I know why. On the first play he came in, Berhe ran full speed into a Bills’ offensive lineman, bounced off and continued to chance down the running back. On his forced fumble, Berhe saw Chris Gragg being brought down by a teammate. Instead of just trying to put Gragg on the ground, Berhe put his helmet on the ball and forced a fumble.

(Boxscore – New York Giants vs Buffalo Bills, August 3, 2014)
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Connor Hughes/BBI

Connor Hughes has been working in both the broadcasting and journalism fields for the last seven years. His work has been heard on WMCX, WBZC and Lenape District Television, while read on the pages of The Star-Ledger and The Burlington County Times. Connor can be reached via email (Connor_Hughes@bigblueinteractive.com) or on twitter (@Connor_J_Hughes)

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