New York Giants 16 – New Orleans Saints 13
“Things are different now.”
Those brilliant, Shakespearean-like words were uttered by one of the finest actresses in silver-screen history, Lea Thompson, in the all-time classic Red Dawn. And as I watched the New York Giants against the New Orleans Saints that magnificent prose from 1984 kept ringing in my ear.
The Giants have won the first two games of the season despite being held to under 21 points in both games. They oddly out-rushed the Cowboys and beat the high-powered Saints without scoring an offensive touchdown. Now one would think that turnovers were the great equalizer but the Giants defense has not yet forced a turnover this year. Worse, the Giants are actually -4 in turnover differential.
So how are the Giants winning? Defense. Hard-hitting, sure-tackling, fundamentally-sound defense. They’ve held both the Cowboys and Saints to one touchdown apiece. I’ve opined in the past that a defense that lives and dies off of turnovers will eventually whither. Because while turnovers are often the product of good defense, they are also often based on luck. This Giants defense isn’t based on luck. It is showing flashes of Giants teams of old – hit, tackle, stop the run, get after the passer, cover the offensive targets.
Just wait until they get a bit lucky and the turnovers start flowing their way.
So a Giants defense that has been cellar dwellers for the past few seasons is showing some bite. And the Giants are winning close games, even when their offense has yet to click on all cylinders. Indeed, things are different now.
Giants on Offense
This is a bottom-line business and the bottom line is the Giants offense scored nine points. The problems were obvious: an inability to run the football, dropped passes, turnovers, and 0-for-3 in the red zone. Smartly, the Saints played it safe on defense, giving up the dink-and-dunk stuff, hoping the Giants would make mistakes during longer drives – which they did. The good news? The Giants still managed to generate 22 first downs and 417 net yards of offense, were close to 50 percent on 3rd down efficiency, only committed two penalties, and dominated time-of-possession by eight minutes.
The Giants scored nine offensive points? Eli Manning must have sucked, right? Far from it. In fact, had it not been for a number of costly dropped passes, his already strong numbers would have been outstanding. As it was, Manning finished the game 32-of-41 for 368 yards, no touchdowns, and no interceptions. The biggest knock was his fumble that gave the Saints the ball at the NYG 25-yard line.
But with the game tied twice in the 4th quarter, Manning coolly led his team on two go-ahead field-goal drives. On the first, Manning was 5-of-6 for for 68 yards, including a 32-yarder on 3rd-and-8 to Sterling Shepard. On the second drive, he was 3-of-4 for 51 yards. The one miss was a bad drop by Odell Beckham. Manning threw for six yards on 3rd-and-1 and 34 yards on 3rd-and-8 on this game-winning effort.
The two-headed committee that was so successful against Dallas largely flopped against the Saints. Rashad Jennings only rushed for 27 yards on 13 carries (a measly 2.1 yards per rush) and suffered a hand injury that limited his touches in the second half (only three carries after intermission). Shane Vereen carried the ball 14 times for 42 yards (3.0 yards per rush) and fumbled the ball away at the Saints 36-yard line. Orleans Darkwa had one carry for -1 yard. The three backs did catch a cumulative six passes for 50 yards.
The three-head monster continues to evolve despite a number of costly mistakes. Sterling Shepard’s breakout game didn’t take long as the rookie caught all eight passes throwing in his direction for 118 yards, including two 32-yard receptions, both coming on 3rd down. Odell Beckham caught 8-of-11 targets for 86 yards, but might have been the goat for his late drop on the game-winning march. Beckham did draw two pass interference penalties as well. Victor Cruz saved Beckham on the very next play as he out-fought the corner for the key offensive play of the game – a 34-yard catch down to the Saints 2-yard line in the waning moments of the game. Cruz finished with four catches (in eight targets) for 91 yards, but dropped three passes that hit him in the hands. His longest reception (a 40-yarder) was ruined by his fumble.
Dwayne Harris (3 snaps) and Tavarres King (1 snap) barely saw the field.
One gets the sense that if the Giants had a consistent play-maker at tight end, this offense would really reach a new level. Larry Donnell had a key 15-yard touchdown pass against the Cowboys, but that was it. This week he caught 4-of-5 passes thrown his way, but those were for only 24 yards and the one drop came in the end zone. Will Tye caught 2-of-3 targets for 10 yards. 34 yards total from your tight ends is not terribly productive.
This performance was reminiscent of last season. The Giants had problems running the football, especially near the goal line. Eli Manning was for the most part protected. He was hit officially three times, with two of these unfortunately being sacks. Both tackles were flagged with holding penalties on the same drive. The weak spot was Marshall Newhouse, who also left the game late with a calf injury that may cost him some time. Newhouse gave up both sacks on back-to-back plays. Bobby Hart came in to replace him for a dozen snaps.
You can see the difference Solari has had with Flowers. There was no punch last year. https://t.co/UBPCYkwHg4
— OL Watchdog (@OLineScout) September 20, 2016
Giants on Defense
The Giants defense has forced no turnovers and only has two sacks in the first two games. But they are hitting, tackling, and playing fundamentally-sound football. The defense also seems much faster. As hoped, other teams are finding it extremely difficult to run against the Giants. In a football game that was tight throughout, the Saints largely eschewed the run with only 13 carries for 41 yards (3.2 yards per rush). Some other stats of note were the Giants had five tackles for a loss, six quarterback hits, and a very good seven passes defensed.
Last week, the defensive line had no sacks and officially only three quarterback hits. This week, the defensive line had no sacks and officially only four quarterback hits. This just shows you that you can’t base everything on stats. The defensive line as a unit is playing well. The hits and sacks will come. The Saints hardly bothered to run against the Giants and when they did, they were not terribly successful, gaining only 41 yards with the longest run being nine yards. Indeed, unlike last year’s team that regularly gave up the big play, the longest play for the Cowboys was a 21-yard pass play. The Saints had two plays over 18 yards (both passes – one for 21 and one for 23). Why the big turnaround? Yes, coverage matters but so does the pass rush. While the Giants are not getting there yet, the quarterbacks are aware of New York’s rushers.
Despite coming into the game with injuries, Jason Pierre-Paul (1 tackle, 1 QB hit, 1 pass defense) and Olivier Vernon (1 tackle, 1 QB hit) played virtually the entire game. Neither stood out on the stat sheet. JPP was flagged for a neutral zone infraction.
The interesting item to note this week was the reduce snaps for Johnathan Hankins (45 snaps, 4 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss, 2 quarterback hits) and especially Damon Harrison (34 snaps, 4 tackles) as the Giants used more of their DE/DT “Nascar” hybrids inside. Romeo Okwara (19 snaps, 1 tackle) and Owamagbe Odighizuwa (16 snaps) were the beneficiaries of added playing time. Okwara got flagged with an offsides penalty that erased a sack by Vernon. DT Jay Bromley (7 snaps) and DE Kerry Wynn (5 snaps) did not play much. Hankins blew up a screen pass for a 3-yard loss.
— Brandon Thorn (@VeteranScout) September 19, 2016
— Brandon Thorn (@VeteranScout) September 19, 2016
Again, what is interesting is the snap distribution. You can’t make plays if you are sitting on the bench. Only four linebackers saw the field on defense. Keenan Robinson (52 snaps, 5 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss, 1 pass defense) played more than any linebacker. Jonathan Casillas (41 snaps, 6 tackles, 1 pass defense) also was on the field quite a bit. Devon Kennard (10 snaps, 2 tackles) and Kelvin Sheppard (10 snaps, 1 tackle, 1 pass defense) did not play much. Robinson and Casillas give the Giants linebacking corps a more athletic feel than in recent years as both run well and can cover. Robinson flashed, starting with a textbook tackle for a 2-yard loss on the Saints second series. Three of the pass break-ups came from the linebackers.
When you hold Drew Brews to 263 yards passing with the longest play be 23 yards, you are doing your job. Brees was spotted at times looking for his first, second, and third options without luck.
I hate to harp on snap distribution, but there were some interesting developments here too. Like last week, Landon Collins (62 snaps, 6 tackles, 1 tackles for a loss, 1 sack, 1 QB hit) was a fixture at strong safety and free safety snaps were split between Darian Thompson (45 snaps, 4 tackles) and Nat Berhe (17 snaps, 1 tackle), with Thompson receiving far more playing time this week due to his shoulder injury improving. Collins is starting to come on. He expertly stuffed a run on the first series and then sacked Drew Brees on 3rd-and-9 on the second series. The only major snafu was when WR Willie Snead split the safeties for a 17-yard touchdown reception.
What is far more interesting was Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (39 snaps, 2 tackles) was fourth in snaps at cornerback behind Janoris Jenkins (59 snaps, 8 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss, 2 pass defenses), Eli Apple (59 snaps, 7 tackles, 1 pass defense), and Leon Hall (41 snaps, 5 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss, 1 sack). Remarkably, Hall’s sack on 3rd-and-10 was the first of his long career. On back-to-back plays in the 2nd quarter, DRC expertly defended a deep pass and then Jenkins blew up a WR-screen that lost two yards. Apple made a nice tackle in run support but then gave up a 17-yard reception (on 3rd-and-9) and a 23-yard reception on the Saints only scoring drive of the first half. Jenkins did a fantastic job of sticking with his man across the field and knocking the intended pass away in the 3rd quarter. DRC did give up a 15-yard reception on 3rd-and-7. Apple had good coverage on two deep shots in the 4th quarter as did Jenkins on another.
Giants on Special Teams
Of course the play of the game was the field goal attempt that was blocked by Johnathan Hankins and returned 65 yards for a touchdown by Janoris Jenkins.
Josh Brown returned and was 3-for-4 on field goal attempts. He missed from 53 yards out while making his efforts of 48, 19, and 23 yards. Two of his four kickoffs resulted in touchbacks; the other two returns only gained 24 yards total.
Brad Wing only punted twice, averaging 58 yards per punt (44.5 yard net). The Giants gave up 21 yards on one of those returns and six on the other.
Dwayne Harris did not get a chance to return a kickoff and returned one punt for nine yards.