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Eli Manning, New York Giants (September 8, 2014)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Detroit Lions 35 – New York Giants 14

REVISITING: FOUR DOWNS
During our game preview, we listed ‘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.

First Down
Can John Jerry, J.D. Walton and Weston Richburg contain Ndamukong Suh?
To answer bluntly, no. Ndamukong Suh made a mockery of both Walton, who was three yards deep in the backfield nearly every play and New York’s running game suffered as a result. Suh seldom went head-to-head with Richburg.

Second Down
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie vs Calvin Johnson
This match-up did not go as well as hoped for the Giants. While the 67-yard touchdown to start the game was more on Damontre Moore and Stevie Brown, DRC gave up several key completions to Johnson. More was hoped for and expected.

Third Down
Reggie Bush
Reggie Bush gave the Giants problems early on in the game as a receiver, particularly on the first two drives. Bush beat LB Jacquian Williams twice for 18 yards on the first touchdown drive, and then beat Stevie Brown for 24 yards on the second touchdown drive. He was held to just seven yards on three more catches after that. Bush was a non-factor in the running game, carrying the ball nine times for 15 yards (1.7 yards per carry).

Fourth Down
Walter Thurmond III vs Golden Tate
Walter Thurmond played well. Golden Tate did have six catches for 93 yards but that damage did not occur against Thurmond. Tate’s biggest play was his 44-yard reception where there was another busted coverage in the Giants zone defense with Stevie Brown likely being the guilty party.

OFFENSIVE OVERVIEW – by Connor Hughes
The New York Giants were without a few of their offensive pieces Monday night in Detroit. Not suiting up for New York were: WR Odell Beckham Jr., OT Charles Brown, OT James Brewer, and OG Adam Snyder. 

From the outside perspective, things weren’t pretty Monday night in Detroit. With just a few minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Giants had mustered 91 yards on 40 plays. When the game concluded, the offense managed two touchdowns, quarterback Eli Manning was turning the ball over and the offensive line wasn’t blocking. The receivers were dropping passes and creating little separation. The running game was ineffective.

It appeared as if everything went wrong for the Giants and that Manning had continued to regress. It seemed there was little-to-no hope for the team.

And you know what? That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Following an intensive film breakdown, the Giants offense performed much better than expected. No, it wasn’t great, and certainly wasn’t good, but it wasn’t as hopeless as originally anticipated. In fact, the best way to describe it, there is hope for the Giants offense. The players just need to make the plays. The passes were there to be caught. There were ways to extend drives. The Giants were inches away from making them. There was progress.

The nuts and bolts don’t tell the complete story: 197 total yards (144 passing, 53 rushing). Two sacks for 19 yards. 3-for-13 on third downs. Two-for-three on fourth downs. 16 total first downs accumulated (four rushing, eight passing).

QUARTERBACK – by Connor Hughes
There was a very strong and glaring realization when analyzing the game film from Monday night: Eli Manning didn’t play poorly. In fact, he was one of the offense’s bright spots. Sure, some of his passes could have been a little more accurate, but that criticism can be given to three-to-four Manning throws a game every since he entered the league a decade ago.

Knocking out the one glaring mistake early, Manning never should have thrown the ball to Victor Cruz during his second interception. The play was a dud from the beginning when Nick Fairley blew past J.D. Walton.

I get Manning’s thought process: Victor Cruz was open and behind the defense with little safety help. In fact, had the play been on the opposite side of the field, where Manning could have rolled out to his right and thrown with his body as opposed to against, it very well may have been a touchdown.

The interception was a bit of the gun-slinger in Manning coming out. He believes he can make any throw, this was one he couldn’t. With the Giants down and needing a play, Manning tried to put some life into the team. Unfortunately, it should have been a situation where the offense lived to fight another down.

The first interception Manning threw, Manning also took blame for. Although, looking at the tape, I don’t see it as his fault. Now, there is no way to know the exact play call or what Larry Donnell was thinking, but this much is true. Manning and Donnell made direct eye contact before the play and Donnell noted he saw it. Donnell could have gotten a seam route call, Manning could have seen the blitz and expected Donnell to change on the fly. That’s probable, too. Either way, it’s a miscommunication.

The facts remained, when Manning had time, he made nice throws down the field. Whether his receivers caught them was another issue. On the first third down of the game, Manning went to Jernigan, who was open and should have caught the ball for a first down. Had he not gone to Jernigan, both Rueben Randle and Victor Cruz had run double-curls on the opposite side of the field, but were a yard or two short of the first. Jernigan was there for the first.

There was a play down the seam later in the game where Manning went to Victor Cruz. The result? Another drop. There were plays to be made, the playmakers on the Giants just didn’t make them. Can’t blame Manning for that.

There were a few “bad” throws from Manning on the night, but on many, Manning didn’t have a clean pocket. As was the case on his first “bad” throw to Donnell. Donnell was open on an out route, Manning released the ball, but was unable to step into the throw due to pressure. Had Manning had a little more time, it’s a six-yard completion.

There were many glaring take-aways from Monday’s game. The regression of Manning was not one of them. Should he have thrown that ball down the sideline across his body to Cruz? No. Was he the team’s biggest issue? No.

RUNNING BACKS – by Connor Hughes
There really isn’t anything ‘special’ about Rashad Jennings. He doesn’t have elite speed. He isn’t the toughest player in the world to bring down. He doesn’t do anything ‘great.’

What Jennings does do, is everything very, very well. There were little running lanes for Jennings to work with, much of that had to do with Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. Where Jennings made his presence felt was his ability to react to the early pressure up the middle from Suh and Co., and find the cutback lane.

On Jennings’ longest run of the night, the Lions immediately pushed the Giants offensive line into the backfield. Jennings began running to the left, then cutback and around Suh to turn what appeared to be a non-gain into a pretty nice pickup.

Jennings also truly stands out – and did again Monday – with his pass blocking. I didn’t catch a play where Jennings made the “wrong” decision on whom to pick up. He made the correct blocks and chips.

It’s been awhile since the Giants had an every-down back, but Jennings appears to be it. He’s a good runner, blocker and receiver, and the Giants used him in all areas Monday. Not many running backs in the NFL can take claim to that.

The lone other Giant to get a carry Monday was Andre Williams, who continues to be the same player the Giants thought he was in the preseason. Williams is a very good runner, but isn’t there just yet as a blocker or receiver. He’s a good change of pace back, and once he gets more comfortable in his other two roles, he should see an increase in playing time. The issue the Giants have right now is that when Williams checks into the game, opponent’s know he’s a one-trick pony at this point in his career.

WIDE RECEIVERS – by Connor Hughes
Throughout the Giants game with the Lions, the Giants played with primarily three wide receivers, with Corey Washington getting a couple snaps near the goal line. Actually… I take that back… a fifth ‘wide receiver’ actually got a snap:

One of the receivers who caught some of the most flack was Rueben Randle. The former second-round pick was targeted just three times and caught two passes for one yard. He did have a completion that was nullified by a defensive penalty.

There are a lot of questions on whether Randle was struggling to get ‘open.’ Watching the film, that wasn’t readily apparent. Instead, it looked as if the Giants just simply weren’t looking to get him the ball.

It could have been because Manning was looking to get rid of the ball quickly, and not going to his second, third, fourth reads. Either way, Manning was not looking in Randle’s direction. Period. It wasn’t as if Manning was looking to Randle, he wasn’t open, then he was taking a sack, or throwing to someone else. Manning just wasn’t going there. It was almost as if Randle wasn’t in this week’s game plan.

Jerrel Jernigan, on the other hand, was targeted and continues to leave much to be desired. It started with a case of the “alligator” arms on the first series of the game. Manning made the right read, Jernigan was open and he just short-armed it. The safety was coming up to apply a hit, and it looked like Jernigan knew that. The entire approach to the ball was awkward. The route was a bit lazy, too.

Manning didn’t take many deep shots in the game, but he did go down the field to Jernigan on one play and Jernigan had a step. Manning didn’t have a clean pocket and as a result couldn’t put it out directly in front, but Jernigan adjusted to the ball and turned around. From the film, it looked like the ball hit Jernigan’s hands and bounced out. Again, these are plays that are there to be made, and the Giants playmakers aren’t making them.

Victor Cruz made a public cry to have the ball thrown to him more. In the first half of Monday’s game, he probably should have. In the second half, he needs to catch some passes. You can’t complain about needing the ball more, but then when the ball is thrown to you…

The reason the Giants drafted Odell Beckham Jr. was to take some of the pressure off Cruz. Cruz benefits more when he has someone else on offense who demands that coverage shadow. If Cruz’s numbers drop a bit because he is the No. 1 option, that’s understandable. But drops? These are the types of plays that aren’t on Manning. If these passes are caught, Monday is a different game.

For whatever reason, early on, Cruz was simply not targeted by Manning. The Giants offense is predicated on getting the ball out of Manning’s hands fast, which may have been why Manning didn’t go through his reads as much. The ball was out of his hands before he could survey the field. Still, it was a bit puzzling why those quick reads were to Jernigan and Donnell, not Cruz and Randle.

Corey Washington’s main rep came in the red zone with Eli Manning throwing the high fade to the 6-4 target. It was the right decision, Washington has the height advantage. The biggest question mark was if the Giants planned on using Washington in the red zone…why not try to get Manning and Washington some reps together in the preseason?

TIGHT ENDS – by Connor Hughes
Larry Donnell saw almost all of the Giants reps at tight end, with the score potentially being a reason for that. Donnell isn’t the Giants strongest blocker, but he is their best receiver, and he showed that Monday.

Donnell ran some nice routes, and his two fade routes near the goal line showed the potential he has. On his first fade, Donnell came a big toe away from getting his first touchdown. On his second, it was a touchdown.

The thing that impressed me most with Donnell on the two fades were the positioning he got.

Where Donnell struggled is the same place Donnell has always struggled: Blocking. There was one play that particularly stood out. On the Jerrel Jernigan end-around that lost two yards, Will Beatty had whiffed a bit on the block and allowed LB DeAndre Levy to run free to Jernigan. While Beatty’s block on the play was dismal, Donnell ran right past Levy, allowing him to make the play. Had Donnell even just chipped him, it’s a potentially big play.

OFFENSIVE LINE – by Connor Hughes
Collectively as a unit, it wasn’t pretty. That’s how it should be, though. If one offensive lineman has a bad day and allows pressure on the quarterback, things aren’t going to go well.

That was situation on Monday night. Were all five of the Giants offensive linemen bad? No. Were most of them bad at different points in time? Yes. Were some worse than others? Yes.

With this unit being such a deep area of concern, I tried to spend as much time as I could looking at each unit individually to grade them out and see how they performed.

Before getting to the offensive linemen, a compliment to Suh. Prior to the game, I talked extensively to Weston Richburg about what makes Suh so special. The No. 1 thing he talked about was the defensive tackle’s ability to jump the count. Emphasizing that, one play stood out to me more than anything else. With this, there simply isn’t anything you can do as a lineman. Look below where Suh is, compared to the rest of his defensive linemen.

Will Beatty
No, it really wasn’t as bad as originally anticipated. Did Beatty miss a few blocks? Yes. Was the failed cut attempt as ugly as a block attempt can be? Yes. Did Beatty stand up well against Ansah for a large portion of the night? Yes.

Overall, Beatty didn’t perform that poorly and was far from the weakest link on the offensive line. You can see when Manning had a clean pocket, Beatty had a lot to do with it:

With that being said, he whiffed on a block that had the potential to be a touchdown. On the end-around, Beatty missed the initial block on Levy who came flying in to make tackle on Jernigan for a two-yard loss. Had he made that tackle, and Donnell continued down the field, there was a lot of room to run.

My biggest question mark with Beatty came strictly on the cut block. Not the technique, or the fact the cut failed, but why? Normally, offensive linemen will go with a cut block on third- or second-and-short situations. The objective is to get the lineman quickly on the ground and their hands down so that the quarterback can throw a quick pass over their head. It’s designed to prevent bat downs.

When Beatty went with his cut-block attempt, it was third-and-nine. Watching the film, Manning didn’t look like he was trying to hit any quick pass. It was a longer developing play. I don’t understand why exactly Beatty went with a cut block. To me, it didn’t make sense in that situation.

Weston Richburg
Playing the first game of his professional career, it was impressive the way Richburg handled himself in Detroit. In fact, Richburg may have been the Giants best offensive linemen. The rookie routinely made his way to the second level, sealed on a few runs and performed well in pass protection.

J.D. Walton
Walton, and right guard John Jerry, drew the short straw and faced Suh throughout the course of the night. Neither fared well at all, but Walton performed poorly no matter who he went up against. The center was knocked back into the backfield multiple times on running plays, was blown past by Fairley on Manning’s second interception and was over-matched by most he faced. It wasn’t pretty for the Giants center.

Walton didn’t have the best preseason for the Giants, either, and the question now comes up on if he could be close to losing his starting position when Geoff Schwartz returns. If either Brandon Mosley, Adam Snyder or John Jerry prove they can perform at right guard, it would allow Weston Richburg to slide in at center.

John Jerry
It’s tough to grade out or break down John Jerry’s film because he went up against Suh the majority of the night. The biggest take away from the film was that Suh simply beat Jerry off the ball too many times and caught him off guard. Did Jerry look bad Monday night? Yes. But he was going up against arguably the best defensive tackle in the NFL. Unlike Jerry, Walton was brought in to start. Jerry was meant to “compete” for a starting position, but the Giants wanted Snee, Richburg or Mosley at that right guard position. He showed some promise on running plays, but he was overpowered by Suh on far to many occasions.

Justin Pugh
Quietly, Justin Pugh had a nice game Monday night. He seldom allowed any pressure around his right side and didn’t jump out on the film for any negative reason. Of each of the offensive linemen I looked at, I struggled finding anything negative to write about in regards to Pugh. Did he overpower anyone? Not really, but he didn’t perform poorly, either. At this point, the Giants will take that day in, and day out.

DEFENSIVE OVERVIEW – by Eric Kennedy
For at least the first half of the 2014 season, we knew a defense that had received an infusion of talent in the offseason would have to carry the team while the offense sputtered. That did not happen on Monday night. The back seven, particularly the secondary, was supposed to be the strength of the defense but the Giants gave up 341 net passing yards to the Lions.  QB Matt Stafford completed 22-of-32 passes for 346 yards and two touchdowns for a QB rating of 125.3. That tremendous offensive productivity was from a team with a completely new coaching staff and offensive scheme.

Some very disturbing notes:

  • While the Giants stopped the run until the fourth quarter, they simply could not get off of the field on third down, including third-and-long. Detroit was 10-of-15 (67 percent) on third down.  Detroit was able to overcome terrible down-and-distance situations throughout the night. On the first TD drive, the touchdown came on 3rd-an-9 after Detroit had faced a 2nd-and-15. On the second TD drive, they overcame 2nd-and-18 and a 3rd-and-13. On the first FG drive, they overcame a 3rd-and-11.
  • The Giants allowed six pass plays of 20 or more yards, including passes of 67 and 44 yards.
  • The Giants got burned at least three times when Perry Fewell decided to drop 1 or 2 defensive linemen into coverage instead of having them rush the passer. These plays failed miserably. Though the numbers don’t indicate it, the Giants did apply some decent pressure on Stafford at times throughout the game. The Giants got burned on the 3rd-and-13 play that ended with a 16-yard touchdown (3 man rush, CB blitz), the 44-yard gain on 3rd-and-11 (3 man rush with Cullen Jenkins dropping), and the 22-yard gain on 3rd-and-7 on the last TD drive (2-man rush with Mathias Kiwanuka and Robert Ayers dropping. Great, now we’re dropping two defensive linemen.
  • There was also a dumbfounding (to me) call where on 3rd-and-25 from the Giants’ 38-yard line, Fewell basically called a prevent defense in a situation where the Giants had to prevent the Lions from getting into field goal range. There was hardly a Giant DB in the picture. Stafford completed a dart over the middle in traffic but he could have just as easily dumped the ball off short. There were two completely uncovered receivers with no defender within 15 yards.  Luckily, the Lions missed the field goal, but they should not have. Bad defensive call.
  • A constant theme during Perry Fewell’s tenure with the Giants has been confusion in the secondary that leads to big plays. That happened again on Monday night. Too often in zone coverage the other team’s wide receivers seem to be wide open in critical situations.  The troubling thing is that the mistakes are also being made by players who have been with Fewell for more than one offseason.
  • Damontre Moore did screw up by not keeping under control and preventing Stafford from launching his 67-yard touchdown pass. But he was basically benched after that play and the Giants could have used him. Other Giant defenders screwed up and weren’t benched. I don’t understand that move.
  • The Giants defense utterly gave up in the fourth quarter. It was embarrassing. You can say they wore down or whatever. The Lions ran 63 offensive plays…that’s not a terribly high number. A defense that wants to think of itself as a “top 5” defense doesn’t lie down like that.

Overall, a defense that was supposed to carry this team failed miserably. They surrendered two touchdowns on Detroit’s two first possessions, immediately putting the Giants in a 14-0 hole. They gave up another decent drive in the first half that thankfully ended in a missed field goal. In the second half, while the defense did a good job of limiting the Lions to a field goal after Eli Manning’s first interception, Detroit scored an additional 17 points on their next three possessions, including drives of 66 and 80 yards. There was one sack (player unblocked) and no turnovers forced.

DEFENSIVE LINE – by Eric Kennedy
The defensive line played pretty well. They were outstanding against the run – until the fourth quarter.  Johnathan Hankins (5 tackles) was a rock inside against the run and even flashed on occasion on the pass rush. Cullen Jenkins (2 tackles) was not as noticeable but he looked good a times against both the run and the pass. Jason Pierre-Paul (4 tackles), suffered a neck stinger, but he was very good against the run and the most consistent pass rusher the Giants had on the field. He came close a few times, and he also hustled on plays down the field. It was a mixed bag for Mathias Kiwanuka (1 tackle), who started off the game strongly but faded as the game wore on; hence, my objection to keeping Damontre Moore on the bench because of his early miscue. Kiwanuka’s pass rush became weaker as the night progressed and the Lions ran quite successfully at him and Mike Patterson (1 tackle) in the second half. Robert Ayers (1 tackle, 1 sack) played both end and tackle and flashed on occasion at both spots. My overall takeaway on the defensive line was this: good against the run, decent but not game-changing rushing the passer, and kind of gave up late in the game.

LINEBACKERS – by Eric Kennedy
Improved play was expected from this group, but the early returns were more of the same. Jon Beason, as could be expected after missing all of camp and the preseason, looked rusty. While he did a good job of reading plays and helping his teammates do a stellar job against the run (again until the 4th quarter), he was only in on four tackles and actually missed a tackle. Jameel McClain was also only in on four tackles. He flashed on a couple of plays, but it wasn’t enough. And he looked terrible down on the goal line on the Lions’ last score. Jacquian Williams (7 tackles) was dreadful. While the strength of his game is pass coverage, he did not do a good job against RB Reggie Bush early in the game, including badly missing a tackle. Bush had Williams leaning the wrong way on another reception. Williams was flagged with defensive holding too. In the third quarter, Williams’ missed tackle on the tight end turned a short gain into a 26-yard pass play. But what bothered me the most was his lack of physicality against the run, particularly in the second half of the game. He just seems like a player who doesn’t like contact…and that’s kind of a bad thing for a football player. The final kicker was his indecision on Stafford’s 3rd-and-5 touchdown run. Make the play!

DEFENSIVE BACKS – by Eric Kennedy
Much more was expected from this group. I do think part of it is scheme. There is a lot talent at cornerback with this group, and Perry Fewell has to learn to trust them by playing more man coverage and less zone. That said, there were instances in the game where the players did not engender such faith. The play that sticks out to me is the 24-yard reception by WR Calvin Johnson on 3rd-and-4 in the second quarter. Dominique-Rodgers Cromartie (4 tackles, 2 pass defenses) is locked up one-on-one with Johnson in press man coverage, but DRC allows Johnson an easy release to the inside for the big play on the slant. Given the caliber of competition (Johnson), Rodgers Cromartie didn’t have a “bad” game, but much more was expected from him. He had his share of nice plays but he also gave up a few (and was lucky Prince Amukamara saved his ass on a deep post route). Speaking of Amukamara (8 tackles, 2 pass defenses), he played well both against the run and in pass coverage. He made a nice play on the TE in the end zone to save a touchdown. Walter Thurmond wasn’t noticed. That’s good in that he usually kept his man quiet, but a game-changing play by him – or one of his teammates in the secondary – would have been nice. That was the hope coming into this season by this defensive back group.

Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions (September 8, 2014)

Calvin Johnson – © USA TODAY Sports Images

The bigger problem was at safety. It’s clear that Stevie Brown (9 tackles) is a major step down from Will Hill. Brown was actually very good against the run, far more active than the linebackers. That is an area where he really has improved since 2012. But Brown was too often a liability in coverage. He really screwed up on the 67-yard touchdown pass. As the last line of defense as a free safety, and facing the NFL’s best wide receiver, Brown simply must be in better position to keep that play from turning from a decent-sized 3rd-down completion into a long touchdown. He was out of position and worse, failed to make the tackle. Brown was burned badly by Reggie Bush (and looked slow in the process) on a 24-yard gain on the next possession. A safety has to be able to cover a back better than that. Later on this drive, Brown should have been beaten for an easy score by the tight end, but the ball was underthrown. I wonder if Stevie Brown should be playing strong safety and Antrel Rolle should be playing free safety. Rolle (4 tackles) was pretty quiet except for forcing one fumble that was recovered by the Lions. More is expected from him. As a unit, the secondary only had four pass defenses on the night and no interceptions.

SPECIAL TEAMS – by Eric Kennedy
The Giants need their special teams to excel this year too while the offense struggles. And Tom Quinn’s unit once again came up short. The Giants had one punt blocked and had two others almost blocked. In the process, Steve Weatherford was hammered and suffered ligament damage to his left ankle. Weatherford punted five times for an average of 40.2 yards per punt. The Lions were held to 11 yards on three punt returns.

Josh Brown attempted no field goals and all three of his kickoffs resulted in touchbacks.

Quintin Demps returned one kickoff for 14 yards to the 16-yard line. Not good. Preston Parker made a big mistake by fielding a punt inside the 5-yard line. He did have one return that picked up 18 yards.

(Boxscore – New York Giants at Detroit Lions, September 8, 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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