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Sterling Shepard, New York Giants (November 20, 2016)

Sterling Shepard – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 22 – Chicago Bears 16

Overview

Before we get into the minutiae of the Giants-Bears game, sometimes it is important to take a step back and look at the overall picture. With 10 regular-season games down and six to go, the New York Giants find themselves with the third-best record in the NFC. Before the season started, most Giants fans would have gladly accepted a 7-3 record at the 10-game mark (though no one envisioned the Cowboys being 9-1 with a rookie quarterback, and the Giants clearly played the Packers and Vikings at the wrong time).

With six regular-season games left to play, the Giants already have more wins than they did in 2014 and 2015, and the same amount of wins they had in 2013. The Giants are winning the close games as seven of their victories have been by a total of 27 points. The Giants have gone from 32nd in defense to 16th (11th in in scoring defense) despite being 29th in team sacks with 18. On the other hand, the Giants offense has fallen from 8th in the NFL in 2015 to 20th in 2016 (rushing game from 18th to 31st being the biggest culprit). Perhaps the most remarkable statistic is that the Giants are 7-3 despite being 29th in the NFL in turnover differential (-7).

What this all means is there is still tremendous room for improvement. The defense has rapidly improved despite struggling to sack quarterbacks and forcing turnovers until the last few games. The offense is still capable of dramatically improving if it cuts down on turnovers and sustains drives better with a more consistent running game, the latter which is finally showing some signs of life. The Giants have yet to score more than 28 points in a single game. They can do better than that.

As for the game, the Bears had to be thrilled with the windy conditions. Jay Cutler is not a good quarterback, but he has the type of arm that can cut through the wind. Eli Manning doesn’t and the conditions helped to neutralize the strength of the Giants offense. Greater emphasis was placed on the ground game where the Bears held the advantage coming into the contest. In effect, the playing field was leveled for the Bears. This was the type of game where you are just thrilled to get out with a win and relatively healthy.

Giants on Offense

Some fans will say the Giants offense stunk in the first half because the team only scored nine points. But the Giants only had three first-half offensive possessions, and two of those resulted in scoring drives. That offensive success continued early in the 3rd quarter as the Giants scored two touchdowns. However, after the Giants gained a 6-point lead, the offense went into a shell for the rest of the game as the next five possessions resulted in only two first downs and five punts. Had New York lost this game by 1-point, the fans and the media would be calling for Ben McAdoo’s head. Good defense covers up a multitude of sins.

That all said, on a terribly windy day, the Giants played a very clean game. No turnovers. No sacks. One offensive penalty. The Giants were 3-of-3 (100 percent) in the red zone. The Giants only had one offensive play over 21 yards.

Quarterback

Statistically, it was not an awe-inspiring game for Eli Manning as the team was held to 6.3 yards per pass play. But it was an efficient game despite treacherous windy conditions. Manning finished 21-of-36 for 227 yards, 2 touchdowns, and no interceptions for a quarterback rating of 95.5. What impressed me was the way Eli calmly avoided pressure to buy more time to deliver the football. The Giants scored four times on their first five possessions (three touchdowns and a field goal). Manning was 5-of-6 on the first TD drive, including a 15-yard pass on 4th-and-2. And despite six incompletions on the second scoring drive, Manning helped to set up the 46-yard field goal with a 5-yard pass on 4th-and-2. (Manning was lucky that the ensuing 3rd-and-10 pass was not intercepted). On the third scoring drive, Manning had key passes of 12 yards to Sterling Shepard on 3rd-and-8, a 20-yard sideline shot to Odell Beckham, and then a 9-yard touchdown throw to Will Tye. On the final scoring drive, Manning rushed for four yards on 3rd-and-4, made an excellent play by scrambling out of trouble and finding Victor Cruz for a huge 48-yard gain, and then threw a 15-yard scoring strike to Shepard on 3rd-and-4. In the last five possessions, Eli was 2-of-7 for nine yards. Both of his completions came up 1-yard short of the first down marker. His dumb-ass moment of the game was his last throw when he forced a 3rd-and-10 pass to Jennings that came close to being a game-winning pick-6 for the Bears.

Running Backs

The backs were not great, but it was a respectable performance on windy day where the Giants desperately needed their running game to be respectable. Rashad Jennings was the leading runner (7 carries for 34 yards and a touchdown) and receiver (5 catches for 44 yards) for the Giants in the first half. The longest gain on the team’s first scoring drive was his 16-yard screen reception, and he finished this drive off with a 2-yard touchdown run. Jennings was responsible for 49 of the team’s 57 yards on the field goal drive, including a 12-yard reception, a 21-yard run, a 10-yard reception, and a 5-yard, tackle-breaking catch on 4th-and-2. On the second TD drive, Jennings gained four yards on 3rd-and-1. While Jennings did pick up two first downs on the last five possessions (10-yard run on 2nd-and-4 and a 12-yard run on 2nd-and-9), Jennings and the rest of the team failed to move the chains the rest of the game.

Paul Perkins only carried the ball four times for 16 yards. The niftiest run of the game was his 11-yard cutback on 2nd-and-9 on the first TD drive. He did have two catches for 16 yards. Overall, Jennings and Perkins rushed for 101 yards on 25 carries (4.0 yards per carry).

Wide Receivers

A rare game where a receiver other than Odell Beckham was the leading target for Eli Manning. Sterling Shepard was targeted 11 times, catching five passes for 50 yards. His three most noteworthy receptions were his 15-yard, juking run-after-the-catch reception on 4th-and-2 that set up the first touchdown; his 12-yard reception on 3rd-and-8 on the second TD drive; and his 15-yard touchdown on 3rd-and-4 for the team’s final score. Beckham had a quiet game with five catches for 46 yards, the most significant being his 20-yard reception on the second touchdown drive. Victor Cruz only had one catch, but it was a big one – a 48-yard gain on the final TD drive. Roger Lewis (5 snaps) caught a key 8-yard reception on 3rd-and-7 on the field goal drive. Unfortunately, Lewis was injured on this play and did not return. Overall, aside from Cruz’s big gain, the receivers were limited to 9.5 yards per reception.

Tight Ends

Larry Donnell went from being bench to being inactive. The bulk of the snaps went again to Will Tye who caught 2-of-5 passes thrown in his direction for 12 yards a touchdown. He also dropped a pass. Jerell Adams (17 snaps) was targeted once but did not have a catch. Blocking by the tight ends was decent.

Offensive Line

With Justin Pugh (knee) and Brett Jones (calf) out, Marshall Newhouse started at left guard. The Giants received a scare when he suffered a sprained knee and was replaced by Adam Gettis for five plays, but Newhouse returned and finished the game. The offensive line did not allow a sack and Eli Manning was only officially hit four times. Meanwhile, Giants running backs average 4.0 yards per carry for a total of 101 yards. Ereck Flowers was flagged with a holding penalty that wiped out a first down and sabotaged the Giants second possession and had some shaky moments in pass protection. Marshall Newhouse gave up one big hit. But overall, the line played fairly well.

Giants on Defense

It really was a tale of two halves for the Giants defense. The Bears had four possessions in the first half and scored on their first three: a 9-play, 76-yard drive that resulted in a touchdown; a 7-play, 39-yard drive that resulted in a 40-yard field goal; and an 8-play, 79-yard drive that resulted in a touchdown. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was 11-of-14 for 126 yards and a touchdown in the first half with tight end Zach Miller catching three passes for 61 yards and a 19-yard score. The Giants defense also had trouble stopping running back Jordan Howard as he rushed for 72 yards on 12 carries in the first half (the Bears as a team rushed for 88 yards in the first half).

In the second half, the Bears were shut out. Their seven possessions resulted in a missed field goal, five punts, and an interception. Chicago only gained five yards on the ground and four first downs in the second half. Overall, the defense accrued four sacks, seven tackles for losses, six QB hits, seven pass defenses, and one forced fumble.

The Bears offense did have five plays over 20 yards and two plays over 30 yards. The defense was only flagged with two penalties.

Defensive Line

When evaluating each unit, one must take into account the tremendous early success the Bears offense had combined with defensive shutdown in the second half. The defensive line did not play well for the first 30 minutes, but they woke up after the break. All of the Giants four sacks came in the 4th quarter. Jason Pierre-Paul had a tremendous second half and he was credited with 5 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 tackle for a loss, 3 QB hits, 1 pass defense, and 1 fumble. With the Giants only leading by six points, JPP’s 13-yard sack on 1st-and-10 from the Giants 30-yard line at the 2-minute warning may have saved the game. JPP also drew a holding penalty earlier on this drive and could have had another sack in the 4th quarter but whiffed on Cutler. Olivier Vernon was credited with 3 tackles, 1 sack, and 2 tackles for losses (one for a 7-yard loss). But he was also flagged with a ticky-tack roughing-the-pass penalty. Johnathan Hankins had 6 tackles, 0.5 sacks, and 1 tackle for a loss. Damon Harrison had six tackles and deserves special mention for his hustle way down field to tackle the back on a screen pass. Romeo Okwara (15 snaps) had one tackle for a loss and Owamagbe Odighizuwa (12 snaps) was credited with a QB hit.

Linebackers

Like the defensive line, much, much better in the second half. Kelvin Sheppard (32 snaps) led the linebackers with six tackles, followed by Devon Kennard (41 snaps, 4 tackles), Keenan Robinson (41 snaps, 3 tackles, 1 pass defense), and Jonathan Casillas (40 snaps, 3 tackles, 1 tackle for a 2-yard loss, 1 pass defense). Pass coverage was an issue in the first half. Cutler completed 11-of-14 first-half passes for 126 yards. But six of these passes for 91 yards were to tight end Zach Miller and running back Jeremy Langford. Miller beat Kennard on for a 19-yard score early in the 1st quarter. Miller then beat Robinson for a 34-yard gain on 3rd-and-9 on the Bears FG drive. Miller got hurt near the end of the second quarter and it is probably no coincidence that the Bears offense began to really struggle after that point. The Giants also shut out Langford in the receiving department in the second half.

Defensive Backs

Despite the Bears success moving the football in the first half, Bears receivers only caught five passes for 35 yards in the first half (7.0 yards-per-catch) as the defensive backs basically shut down the wideouts for the first 30 minutes. The receivers did more damage in the second half in terms of yards-per-catch with five receptions for 104 yards (20.8 yards-per-catch). For the second game in a row, Eli Apple (62 snaps, 7 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss) replaced Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (34 snaps, 2 tackles) as the corner opposite Janoris Jenkins (64 snaps, 2 tackles, 1 pass defense). Apple nailed WR Cameron Meredith for a 2-yard loss after a quick throw late in the 1st quarter, though he missed a tackle after another short completion in the 2nd quarter. Apple gave up a 17-yard reception on 3rd-and-18, but his sure tackle forced a punt. Apple gave up a 35-yard completion on the first play of the Bears’ last desperate drive to win the game. Landon Collins’ superb year continues as he was credited with 6 tackles, 3 pass defenses, and the game-saving interception. Nat Berhe’s (24 snaps, 3 tackles) playing time increased at the expense of Andrew Adams (37 snaps, 3 tackles).

Giants on Special Teams

Really an up-and-down peformance. Robbie Gould said it was the worst conditions he has played in and it showed, as he missed two extra points. Fortunately, those did not come back to haunt the Giants. Gould did surprisingly nail a 46-yard field goal. Only one of his kickoffs resulted in a touchback and the Bears did return one kickoff 40 yards and two others for 27 yards. Brad Wing punted six times, averaging 44.5 yards per punt (42.5 yard net) with two downed inside the 20-yard line. Eddie Royal’s three returns only went for a total of 12 yards.

Dwayne Harris returned three punts for a total of 14 yards. He had an 18-yard return wiped out due to an illegal block by Orleans Darkwa. He muffed one punt that Eli Apple thankfully recovered. Harris’ 46-yard kickoff return to start the second half helped to set up the team’s second touchdown. But one of his returns only reached the 15-yard line.

(Chicago Bears at New York Giants, November 20, 2016)
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Eric Kennedy

Eric Kennedy is Editor-in-Chief of BigBlueInteractive.com, a publication of Big Blue Interactive, LLC. Follow @BigBlueInteract on Twitter.

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