Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports
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New York Giants 27 – Houston Texans 22
On paper, this matchup looked as bad as it could get. On the road against a borderline desperate 0-2 team that had high expectations heading into the season. A pass rush that has shown the ability to wreck havoc on even the best of offensive lines. A young, athletic quarterback that has been lights-out in his short career at home against a defense without their top pass rusher and a starting cornerback. NYG has put out some ugly football over the past year-plus and the 0-2 start sucked out whatever confidence existed that this team would turn things around. Well sometimes when you’re pressed up against the wall, that is when the true colors come out.
Head Coach Pat Shurmur made his first big in-season move with the benching of Ereck Flowers for Chad Wheeler. While the talent and ability difference between the two may be non-existent, it was a sign to the team that everyone’s job will be on the line of the performance isn’t there.
The Giants dominated the first half. They controlled the point of attack on both sides of the ball. HOU couldn’t get a ground game going and shot themselves in the foot with 5 penalties. NYG on the other hand brought a balanced approach, scoring 2 touchdowns. The first being a 15 yard run by rookie Saquon Barkley and the second being a pass up the seam from Eli Manning to Rhett Ellison, who was in for the injured Evan Engram. NYG entered halftime with a commanding 20-6 lead.
HOU finally woke up in the second half, as they aggressively threw the ball downfield and applied more pressure to Manning in the pocket. NYG was simply trying to hold on until the clock read 0:00 at the end of the fourth quarter. HOU brought the score to 20-15 in the fourth quarter and at the time, NYG had earned just three second-half first downs. Momentum was being shifted into the home team’s hands but 2 costly turnovers and more HOU penalties helped the Giants.
Manning hit Sterling Shepard with the dagger that put this game out of reach with just over 2 minutes left. It was 27-15 at the time and even though HOU scored one more touchdown, the game was out of reach as there was just 1 second of game time where the score read 27-22.
NYG wins their first road game since October 15, 2017.
-Eli Manning: 25/29 – 297 yards – 2 TD / 0 INT. Manning finished with a 132.3 QB rating, the 9th best of his 15 year career. After 2 weeks of almost-no breathing room in the pocket, the offensive live elevated its play just enough for Manning to go through a read or two consistently. The results speak for themselves. Manning was quick to get the ball out, was on fire throughout every tier of the passing tree, and was as intense as we’ve seen him in a long time. As I’ve said since draft-time, Eli Manning is far from done and when the offensive line can play just OK, he can lead this team to wins. Plain and simple, really.
-Saquon Barkley: 17 att – 82 yards – 1 TD – 5 rec/35 yards. In addition to the offensive line upping their game, Barkley’s presence is slowly changing the opposition’s approach more and more. It was notable how the second and third level of the Texans defense were hesitant to drop into their coverage assignments when #26 was out there. Nobody wants to meet this kid in space, thus everyone has the mindset of keeping him squeezed in the tackle box. That alone has opened up more throwing lanes and gave Manning just 1-2 extra seconds in the pocket consistently. His touchdown run was another thing of beauty, as his contact balance, vision, and strength is a trio of traits that doesn’t exist elsewhere in the NFL. His biggest play of the day may have been in the 4th quarter where he lined up out wide. Manning threw him a 21 yard pass up the sideline on 3rd and 2. A few plays later, Manning hit Sterling Shepard for a touchdown that put the game out of reach. Think about everything Barkley does out of the backfield and in arguably the most crucial point of the second half with HOU momentum gaining steam, Barkley splits out wide and hauls in an athletic, wide receiver-caliber catch. He can do it all.
-Wayne Gallman and Jonathan Stewart combined for 8 carries / 33 yards. They were on the field for 18 plays and it’s smart to not overuse Barkley. This team needs him in the fold each and every week of 2018 with little-to-no drop off. Gallman can create on his own enough to warrant not overusing Barkley early on in the year.
-Odell Beckham: 9 rec – 109 yards. Beckham caught 9 of his 10 targets. They kept on peppering the defense with slants via Beckham, and I have to give him credit for the toughness he shows over the middle. That is a dangerous place for receivers and he really shows no hesitation pursuing the ball. HOU had a few moments where momentum was shifting towards their side, but plays by Beckham brought them right back down to earth. He had 3 plays where he beat one on one coverage deep, but Manning didn’t look is way. Nothing to be alarmed about and his time will come.
-Sterling Shepard: 6 rec – 80 yards – 1 TD. You won’t see an overly impressive stat line here, but Shepard played a huge part in the win. Let’s start with the obvious: his touchdown in the 4th quarter. Shepard is such a weapon from the slot when the defense is in zone coverage. He is too smart, too quick, too strong when attacking the ball. The defense stands almost no chance in that situation. He also had 2 key blocks on big gains. If this offense turns around on a consistent basis, Shepard will be a big reason why. That said, the dumb penalties need to stop. Emotion is great, but taunting penalties can really aid a loss.
-Cody Latimer finished with 1 catch for 15 yards. Manning looked his way a few times but Latimer just couldn’t get separation no matter what route it was.
-Evan Engram went down with a knee injury on a borderline dirty hit by knee-diver Kareem Jackson. On his lone catch of the day, he burst up the sideline showing that elite tight end speed but the hit he took will keep him out 4-6 weeks. Unfortunate blow for this offense.
-Rhett Ellison stepped into a more prominent role and had one of his better games as a Giant. Three catches for 39 yards and the second NYG touchdown of the day. I’ve always said this about Ellison, he is a crafty route runner and pass catcher. There is more to his game than meets the eye and while he doesn’t scare a defense half as much as Engram does, he will make things happen. For what its worth, his blocking grade was sub-par, with 2 pressures and 1 tackle for loss allowed.
-Scott Simonson played a career-high 16 snaps and threw a couple of impressive blocks. That will be his main role in the coming weeks and he has improved since early in the year.
-Nate Solder finally saw an uptick in his performance. The highest paid left tackle in the NFL controlled Jadaveon Clowney for most of the game, minus a few hiccups. He did have a holding penalty in addition to one pressure, but Solder threw a couple of key blocks on big gains to the left side. He and Will Hernandez still have some communication issues to fix, but this game was a vast improvement.
-The day finally came. Ereck Flowers was benched, as he stood on the sideline chewing on sunflower seeds for the entire game. Chad Wheeler stepped in for him. As nice as it may have been to see someone other than #74 out there, the result was the same. He allowed 3 sacks, 1 TFL, and 2 pressures. To be honest, if that were Flowers we would be ripping him again. So yes, I’ll say Wheeler was just as bad and that RT spot continues to be a glaring weakness of this offense. However one thing I liked out of him, he consistently hustles downfield to make the extra block. He plays hard, but he was simply outclassed by JJ Watt when left alone against him. And it’s not going to get much easier this week against the Saints’ Cameron Jordan. Curious to see how he, and the blocking game plan, responds.
-Best game of the young career for Will Hernandez. As we saw a glimpse of weeks 1 and 2, Hernandez excels when things are in front of him. I think this team is trying to simply get him on an island with a man as much as possible, and he can handle it power wise. There are still struggles with linebackers and stunts, but this was a step in the right direction for the 2nd rounder. Patrick Omameh also played much better than what we’ve seen early in the year. His run blocking was the best of the group and it’s game tapes like this that will get him a job over the next few years. He really was impressive against DL and LB. Another angle to the Flowers benching is that the communication appeared better with Wheeler in the few times HOU tried to stunt and/or delay their blitzes on the right side.
-John Greco, in his first start at OC, was solid. He wasn’t left alone often, but there was talk about how much of a handle he has on blocking schemes and roles with this group. Where this group was last week with communication and assignments compared to this game is night-and-day-different. Much of that could have come from Greco calling the shots.
-As much as I think Kareem Martin is still a replacement-level player, he made a few things happen against the struggling HOU offensive line. Only Alec Ogletree played more snaps than Martin among front seven defenders. He had 4 pressures which led the team. It didn’t result in any sacks but he forced Watson into quick decisions a few times. He also broke up a pass.
-Lorenzo Carter finished with 2 tackles, 1 sack, and 1 pressure. His role continues to increase as Olivier Vernon remains sidelined via injury. Carter won’t turn into a savvy or powerful pass rusher this year, but that speed, burst, and pursuit will make things happen throughout the year.
-Connor Barwin has been impressive, especially considering he was signed just a few weeks ago. He added 2 pressures. While he doesn’t make a lot happen for the amount of time he is on the field, I like having him on the team as a backup. The question will be whether or not he stays in front of Carter on the depth chart once Vernon is back.
-Kerry Wynn had, what may have been, his best regular season game as a pro. Last week I called him out, saying his preseason level of play at some point needed to show up in the regular season. He responds with 5 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 pressure, a pass break up, and a forced fumble that was recovered by NYG in the 3rd quarter. He was all over the field and as I said in August, he may be the DL that benefits from this scheme the most. If this guy can play at that level all year, it can’t be said enough how important that can prove to be.
-Damon Harrison, a nose tackle, led this team with 7 tackles (2 TFL). Damon Harrison played half of the defensive snaps. The Houston Texans ran the ball (via running backs) just 14 times the entire game. Let those 3 facts sit for a minute. Harrison is such a game changer and there isn’t a nose tackle like him in the game. He isn’t a space eater. He gets off blocks and pursues down the line as fast as everyone in that front seven. Enjoy this NYG fans, it doesn’t get better than him.
-Dalvin Tomlinson’s level of play is starting to catch up. It isn’t fair to compare anyone to Harrison, but Tomlinson was just as disruptive in this one. He was in on 4 tackles (1 for loss) and made a huge stop on the HOU attempt for 2 points in the 4th quarter. His consistency still leaves a little to be desired, but no complaints about the second year pro.
-Rookie BJ Hill saw a dip in playing time thanks to the emergence of Kerry Wynn. However he recorded his first sack on a play where his bull rush put fellow rookie Martinas Rankin on his butt. Big time power and push. I wouldn’t be alarmed by a lack of playing time because remember depth is key in the defensive trenches because at some point, someone(s) will go down.
-Mario Edwards saw an uptick in playing time and also recorded his first sack with NYG. It’s too soon to tell how much of an impact he will make here, but you have to be happy with his disruptive he’s been in limited action. Again, another solid scheme fit for the multi-look front.
-Alec Ogletree turned in his best game of the young season as well. He had 5 tackles against an offense that didn’t run the ball much and when they did, they barely got by Harrison. He was stout and physical inside. He also came up with one of the biggest plays of the game, a 4th quarter interception in the end zone on an underthrown Watson pass to Lamar Miller. Much has been said about his struggles in coverage and he still had a couple of warts show up in this game, but that was a huge play from an inside linebacker that this team simply hasn’t gotten from that position in a long time.
-BJ Goodson and Ray-Ray Armstrong continued to split duties next to Ogletree. The combined for 4 tackles and a pass break up. Armstrong was flagged for a facemask penalty on a play where he sacked Watson, so that sack didn’t show up on the stat sheet. His speed to the edge is outstanding.
-Janoris Jenkins was matched up against DeAndre Hopkins for much of the game, and it didn’t go so well. I wouldn’t put a negative grade next to his name, but he got outclassed across the middle three times and was flagged for a hold on a play where Hopkins blew past him vertically. That said, Hopkins is arguably the top WR in the game.
-No Eli Apple meant a game full of snaps for BW Webb, a late-free agency pickup who has played well here. He finished with 3 tackles and a pass break up. He too struggled against some of the lateral routes HOU ran with their speedsters, but he held his own in the couple times he was matched up on an island against deep routes.
-Donte Deayon finished with 4 tackles and a huge fumble recovery. Call it good luck if you want, but this kid gets around the ball often. I wasn’t surprised to see him being the one to land on the loose ball in the 3rd quarter. The kid is a hustler and has a nose for the action.
-Landon Collins and Curtis Riley played every snap again. Collins had a solid game with 5 tackles, 1 TFL, and an impressive pass break up in the end zone where he showed outstanding awareness and ball skills. Riley, other than a bad missed tackle in the 3rd quarter, was solid in deep range coverage. He read Watson like a book on the few times he looked downfield.
-Michael Thomas saw extended playing time in passing situations. He is a solid presence to have out there because of how physical he can be against ball carriers on draw plays and/or screens.
-K Aldrick Rosas 2/2 (Made 44, 30). 3/3 XP. Rosas remains perfect on the young season and is putting them right down the middle.
-P Riley Dixon: 4 punts – 49.5 avg / 38.3 net. Not a great net average there, as he may have not been putting enough under the ball. HOU PR Tyler Ervin had too much space between him and the first defender a few times.
-KR/PR Stacy Coley, newly signed, bobbled but recovered his first punt. Quiet game besides that.
-QB Eli Manning, DL Kerry Wynn, OG Patrick Omameh
-WR Cody Latimer, OT Chad Wheeler, P Riley Dixon
3 THOUGHTS ON HOU
-Talk about a team that shoots itself in the foot. That has been the theme for HOU for a couple years now, none more so than what we have seen the past 2 weeks. Left tackle Julie’n Davenport and his THREE false starts + 1 holding penalty. Two bad turnovers in the second half when HOU was moving the ball and gaining momentum. The 0-3 Texans are going to be looking for a new head coach this upcoming offseason if this stuff doesn’t change.
-Calais Campbell in week 1. JJ Watt in week 3. These are two defensive linemen who came out of college who many did not know where to peg position-wise. Tall, long, and near-300 pounds with excellent power, bendability, and foot-quickness. They are now both in hybrid-front schemes where they are moved around and their impact is felt on almost every play. If this NYG scheme sticks around, there really is a lot of value on a defender like that. While the NYG defensive line looks promising for the next few years, this is the kind of player this scheme could use to maximum potential. And I already have a couple of prospects in mind for next spring’s draft.
-I am still holding out on calling Deshaun Watson one of the next big QBs in this league. So many were touting him as exactly that prior to this season based on a handful of solid performances in 2017, but I still see what I saw in college. Too many misfires on simple throws and a lack of awareness of what is going on around him in the pocket.
3 CLOSING THOUGHTS
-As stated above, Chad Wheeler did not play well in this game. If it were Flowers, we would likely see fans outside of the Giants practice facility protesting his job. However the principle that Shurmur was finally the one to bench him is a welcome sign that this regime will quickly remove a player from the lineup who underperforms despite not having a lock to replace him. Now where do you go from here? Wheeler deserves to show if he can bring his play to another level like any young player, but if NYG continues to win and this spot continues to show weakness, it may be time to look into a trade for a veteran on a losing team. Joe Staley from SF is signed through 2019 and if the Niners season takes a nosedive without their starting QB, a phone call should be placed.
-The injury to Evan Engram is unfortunate. However with the way this team is put together, it may not have much of a negative impact. NYG will now have a true blocking TE in there at all times and as much as they are going to rely on the running game, it may actually be a better fit for the trenches. Considering the RT spot is going to need help, having Ellison or Simonson in there makes it easier to keep that extra blocker on that side. Where as when Engram is in there, the coaches have to feel like he needs to be running routes. My point is, his absence won’t be as negative overall as some are making out to be.
-This was one of the best versions of Eli Manning we have seen in a couple years. He played with some extra emotion, extra urgency, extra confidence. Offensive lines around the league rely on chemistry so much and the fact this group communicated much better in HOU was a very positive sign. If they can continue their upswing, this offense is incredibly dangerous.