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 ([email protected]) or on twitter (@Connor_J_Hughes)

Oct 172014
 
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Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants (October 28, 2012)

Jason Pierre-Paul – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, October 19, 2014

After a dismal performance versus Philadelphia, the suddenly silent Giants travel to Dallas to take on the surprising 5-1 Cowboys.

FOUR DOWNS:

First Down
Can the defensive line and linebackers contain DeMarco Murray?
Versus the Philadelphia Eagles last week, running back LeSean McCoy made a mockery of the Giants defensive front, crossing the century mark for the first time this season. On Sunday, the Giants will face a running back that has gone over 100 yards in ever game this season. Running behind arguably the best offensive line in football, Murray is putting together the best season of his young career, displaying tremendous vision and explosiveness getting to and through the holes. If New York can’t contain Murray, something no team has been able to do this year, it may be a long day in Dallas.

Second Down
Can Dominique Rodgers-Cromarite play? Can he be effective?
The biggest question surrounding Rodgers-Cromartie isn’t exactly if he’s going to play, but if he’s going to be effective playing. The Giants gave the former first-round pick a massive contract in the offseason to go toe-to-toe with receivers like Dez Bryant during the regular season. But if Rodgers-Cromartie isn’t entirely healthy, he may be as much of a liability as an asset. DRC practiced for the first time all week on Friday, and coach Tom Coughlin and Co. should have gotten a nice look on what exactly he could do on the field. If he can’t go, or is a go at half speed, it may be New York’ s best bet to have Prince Amukamara shadow Bryant.

Third Down
How will Justin Pugh respond?
Last week, Justin Pugh made Connor Barwin look like the second coming of Lawrence Taylor. Then again, nearly everyone that lined up across from Pugh Sunday night looked the same. The second-year pro played the worst game of his football career, per his own admittance, and will surely look to put that game behind him. On Wednesday, Pugh admitted that he has been wearing an elbow brace for the last three weeks, two of which it was covered up with a sleeve. When asked if it will require offseason surgery Pugh said he didn’t know and that the injury was “just something I’m dealing with.” If Pugh isn’t 100 percent, it explains his sudden drop off in production last week. If it’s an injury that’s going to linger, the Giants offensive line could be in trouble.

Fourth Down
Is Odell Beckham Jr. ready?
Just a few short weeks ago, Odell Beckham Jr. was the biggest question mark on the Giants offense. Was the rookie injury prone, a bust, a star, average? After catching four passes for 44 yards and a touchdown in his season debut, everything seemed to be aligning for the Giants. Rueben Randle and Beckham could man the outside, Victor Cruz in the slot. Cruz’s season-ending  injury threw that idea in the trash and now Beckham needs to step up as “The Guy” not “Another guy.” Can the rookie handle it?

BREAKING DOWN DALLAS:

OFFENSEby Eric Kennedy
Strength?
The Cowboys are loaded on offense. The offensive line has three first-round draft picks playing like first-round draft picks. DeMarco Murray is the most dangerous running back in football. Dez Bryant is a top 5 NFL wideout. The ageless Jason Witten has a long history of killing the Giants at tight end. Quarterback Tony Romo is completing nearly 70 percent of his passes and still looks like Houdini at times back there when you think he is about to be sacked.

Weakness?
Really, the Cowboys don’t have any glaring weaknesses on offense. If pressed, one can say Murray has been injury-prone and Romo is a long history of choking in big spots. The other receivers outside of Bryant are not world-beaters, but the running game, Bryant, and Witten draw so much attention that guys like Terrance Williams have five touchdowns in 18 catches. Right tackle Doug Free will miss the game, but there shouldn’t be a big drop off between him and back-up Jermey Parnell.

DEFENSE by Connor Hughes
Strength?
The Cowboys defense has been much, much better than expected in 2014, and a lot of that has to do with it’s success stopping the pass. The Dallas secondary has graded out with a positive 17.8 rating from ProFootballFocus and its two cornerbacks are a big reason why. Neither Orlando Scandrick or Sterling Moore have allowed a touchdown this year as the Cowboys have allowed the 12th fewest passing yards per game this season. It’s not great, but compared with how terrible things were a year ago, it’s an improvement.

Weakness? 
Without Sean Lee, the Cowboys have struggled stopping the run this year, allowing an average of 115 yards per game and 5.1 yards per carry. The Giants offensive line should be able to control the line of scrimmage and open up running lanes for Peyton Hillis and Andre Williams. The biggest thing the Giants offense can do is keep Tony Romo and Dez Bryant off the field with New York’s secondary – potentially – without Rodgers-Cromartie. Running the ball and controlling the time of possession is the No. 1 way to do that.

PLAYER TO WATCH:

Connor Hughes –
Justin Pugh
When Justin Pugh admitted Wednesday he had been “dealing” with an elbow issue, it instantly threw up red flags for me, personally. Sure, everyone in the league is dealing with injuries at this point, but coming off a four-sack let up performance. Pugh may be dealing with it more than he’d like to admit. While the Cowboys haven’t exactly been the best at getting after an opponent’s quarterback – they enter Sunday’s game with just six team sacks – I’ll have my eye on how Pugh handles whomever comes his way.

Eric Kennedy –
Jon Beason
Run defense is about all 11 defenders on the field, but Jon Beason is the man in the middle and it’s his job to get his teammates lined up properly and make plays on Murray. Still struggling with his toe injury, Beason has not played well in the three games he has played this season. Against this particular opponent, the Giants need a monster game out of him both as a run defender and in pass coverage.

FROM THE COACHES’ MOUTH:

Tom Coughlin – “(The Cowboys) have outstanding team speed, as you know. Their offense has done an outstanding job of controlling the ball, controlling the clock. They’re number one in the league in rushing. They’re scoring 27 and a half points a game, 56 percent on third down. Defense, they’ve played very well. They have outstanding team speed, they run to the ball very well. They do have a nice rotation going. They’re giving up 21 points a game, which is outstanding. Their special teams feature Dan Bailey, who kicked a 56-yard field goal last week. They do an outstanding job with Chris Jones as the punter. The return game with Dwayne Harris is very good and they do have outstanding speed on their coverage teams.”

Jason Garrett – “DeMarco (Murray) is a really good football player and he has been since we drafted him four years ago. I just think we have gotten better and better on the offensive line. We have allocated resources to that position. We have three first-round picks up there. The other guys, Doug Free and Ron Leary, are all playing well together. Our tight ends are blocking, receivers are blocking, fullback is blocking and DeMarco is an awfully good football player, so we made a real commitment to be better in this area and allocated resources to do it. I think we are just seeing the fruits of all that at the start of the season. Obviously, DeMarco is a big part of it.”

FINAL WORD:

Connor Hughes – This is one of the more interesting games of the season, more because no teams can come into the game off more different performances. The Dallas Cowboys are fresh off a shocking victory over the Seattle Seahawks on the road, while the Giants are coming off an embarrassing defeat to the Eagles. The Giants could come in dead and demoralized after losing captain Victor Cruz, or hungry and motivated to put last week’s dismantling far behind them. The Cowboys could come in emotionally drained from defeating Seattle, or red-hot knowing they beat the best of the best where they were unbeatable. In my mind, the Victor Cruz loss is going to take it’s toll on the Giants. While he drops may have plagued New York, he was still a game breaker and reliable. He was the most sure thing the Giants had. Now, with Rashad Jennings out, Manning walks to the line with questions across the offensive line, again, a running back that hasn’t proven he can pass protect, a rookie wide receiver, another receiver who hasn’t proven he can be a No. 1 target, a receiver that was building Tiki Huts last year and a tight end who’s caught one pass the last two games. I don’t think that Dallas is all that great and their injuries across the offensive line are cause for concern. But on Sunday, I feel they’ll be the better team, especially if Rodgers-Cromartie can’t go.
Dallas 27 – Giants 13

Eric Kennedy – Screw the prediction. When you put on the “ny”, you are expected to perform and proudly represent the 90-year old flagship franchise. The Giants are rebuilding…and they are hurting…and everyone expects them to lose this game. But as we saw last week, attitude, emotion, and a sense of urgency still can make a difference. Play smart, play physical. Play for your teammates. Bring the pain. Everything else will fall into place.

Oct 112014
 
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Odell Beckham, Jr., New York Giants (May 31, 2014)

Odell Beckham, Jr. – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles, October 12, 2014

The New York Giants (3-2) square off against the Philadelphia Eagles (4-1) Sunday evening in New York’s second NFC East matchup.

FOUR DOWNS:

Odell Beckham, New York Giants (October 5, 2014)

Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports Images

First Down
Will Odell Beckham Jr. be special on special teams?
For the past several years, the Giants have desperately been looking for some kind of spark on special teams. This Sunday it appears as if Beckham will be given a chance to ignite it. The Giants first round pick has taken reps as the team’s punt returner in place of Preston Parker. When Beckham was drafted, Giants general manager Jerry Reese raved about how Beckham could score in “three different ways.” He caught a touchdown last week. Now he’ll have a chance to do it in way No. 2.

Second Down
Can the Giants get pressure on Nick Foles?
The Eagles offensive line is battered, bruised and depleted, similar to the Atlanta Falcons a week ago. Can the Giants make Nick Foles’ day miserable? If not, and the team lets the third-year pro sit back and throw, it could be a long night for the Giants defense.

Third Down
Does Robert Ayers Jr. play?
When Ayers, who has been one of the biggest surprises for the Giants this year, showed up to practice Friday morning, he went to the trainers with neck pain. Turns out, Ayers is dealing with “Neck Spasms.” He didn’t practice Friday and is questionable for this Sunday.

Fourth Down
Can Eli Manning continue to be the Eli Manning of late?
Eli Manning and the Giants offense are playing the best football they have in years. The last three games, the offense has scored 30 or more points in each and Manning has had a 100+ quarterback rating. Those two statistics together have not happened since 2010. Will the hot streak continue for Manning? Or will Philly cool down the red-hot Giants offense.

BREAKING DOWN PHILADELPHIA:

Justin Tuck, New York Giants (October 27, 2013)

Giants Run Defense – © USA TODAY Sports Images

OFFENSE – by Connor Hughes
Strength?
LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles have been everything and more for the Philadelphia offense this year. While McCoy has struggled a little to get it going on the ground, Sproles has picked up the slack. The game breaking ability out of the backfield Sproles regularly displayed for the New Orleans Saints and San Diego Chargers is now showcased weekly in Philly. When Sproles comes out of the backfield, it will most likely be Jacquian Williams tasked with stopping him. As far as McCoy, Jason Pierre-Paul said it best, the moment you forget about him he’ll go off for 100 yards rushing in the first quarter. The two are the heart and soul of the offense, especially with a struggling Nick Foles.

Weakness?
It’s no shock here, the weakest unit on the Eagles offense was their strongest a year ago. The Eagles offensive line is bruised and battered heading into Sunday’s game. One of the reasons McCoy has struggled to get going, and Foles has looked nothing like the quarterback that burst onto the scene last year, is because of the men up front. There’s little running lanes, and even less time in the pocket. Lane Johnson is back, but Evan Mathis and Jason Kelse are not.

DEFENSE by Eric Kennedy
Strength?
The Eagles defense is currently ranked 28th in terms of yards allowed, but it is opportunistic, having scored three touchdowns already this year. The base defense is a 3-4, but the Eagles will shift in various fronts. The strength of the defensive team is in the front seven. Defensive ends Fletcher Cox and Cedric Thorton can cause issues, and are flexible enough to move to tackle when the Eagles go to their pass-rushing packages, where DE Vinny Curry becomes a factor. Linebacker/defensive end hybrids Trent Cole and Connor Barwin can also rush the passer. Brandon Graham has also been making plays. The leader, inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans, should play this week after suffering a groin injury.

Weakness?
It’s the secondary. The Eagles are 29th against the pass. Outside of safety Malcon Jenkins and Brandon Boykin, the Eagles are struggling. Jenkins has all three of the Eagles interceptions this season. Corners Bradley Williams and Cary Williams are not very good. Nickelback Brandon Boykin will likely match up against Victor Cruz quite a bit. He’s undersized but very quick and athletic.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

Connor Hughes –
Zach Ertz, Darren Sproles, Brent Celek
It won’t be a Giant I have my eyes on this Sunday, but rather several Eagles, and what Giant covers them on passing routes. Prior to joining Philadelphia, head coach Chip Kelly and New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick would exchange offensive philosophies. It was Kelly who originally came up with the two tight end approach the Patriots used to reach the Super Bowl (Rob Gronkowski/Aaron Hernandez), and Kelly is now building it in Philly with Ertz and Celek. The biggest question with Philadelphia is when the team comes out with two tight ends and Sproles in the backfield, who covers whom?  Will it be Jacquian Williams on Ertz, or Sproles? If Williams is on Ertz, who covers Sproles and Celek? Will Rolle come down? Or Demps? Will Trumaine McBride be forced to cover one of the tight ends? It’s a difficult task presented to Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell this week

Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants (October 28, 2012)

Jason Pierre-Paul – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Eric Kennedy –
Jason Pierre-Paul
JPP has been running his mouth all week. Can he back it up? Though the Eagles offense has struggled thus far this season, they are still loaded and capable of embarrassing an opponent. Philadelphia will go up tempo and prevent the Giants from subbing defensive personnel, such as getting pass rusher Robert Ayers in at defensive tackle. JPP will face one of the best left tackles in football in Jason Peters. But “great” players are supposed to show up in big games against top-notch opponents. If JPP isn’t a factor on Sunday night both rushing the passer, stopping the run, and being aware of misdirection (screens, end arounds, etc.), it could be a long night for the defense.

FROM THE COACHES’ MOUTH:

Tom Coughlin – “Exciting week, divisional week preparing for coach Chip Kelly and his staff. Outstanding Philadelphia Eagles football team, 4-1 team that could be 5-0. Scored 156 points, 88 in the second half, 31.2 per game. They’ve overcome double-digit deficits in the second half of the first three weeks. They’re a team that’s scored on seven returns, which is amazing. You’re talking about being at this point, five games into the season, they have a punt return for a touchdown, a kickoff return for a touchdown, they have two blocked punts for touchdowns, they have three defensive touchdowns, so they’ve done an outstanding job in that area.”

Chip Kelly – “The team I see this year, they are playing…changed offensively in terms of their scheme. Eli Manning seems very comfortable in the scheme; he is getting the ball out a lot faster than they did before. They seem like they are in a lot more spread formations. Defensively, it is the same style. It looks like Jason Pierre-Paul is really playing at a high level right now, he is very healthy. Their front four is doing a lot of really good work. They added guys like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the secondary, who is an outstanding corner, so they added a couple pieces there, (a) really good football team coming in here on Sunday.”

FINAL WORD:

Connor Hughes – Finally. The war of words between the trash-talking Giants and Philadelphia Eagles is put to rest with the teams stepping on the field Sunday night. Unfortunately, I’m not sure it will be the Giants walking off it with their fourth straight victory.

Entering the game, the Giants have a better offense than the Eagle defense. And the Giants defense is better – with the offensive line at its present state – than the Eagles offense. The Giants are hot, the Eagles, despite their 4-1 record, are not. Everything points to New York continuing its winning streak. But I just don’t see it happening.

When the Giants played the Patriots in the past, the team is built to beat them. It didn’t matter how good, or how many weapons New England had, the Giants schematically were the perfect match. They were able to pressure Brady with four, knock him to the ground and control the clock to beat the unbeatable. They did it twice on the biggest of stages.

With Philadelphia, I see something similar. They match up very well against the Giants defense. Who exactly covers Celek? Sproles? Ertz? The Giants could go nickel, using Trumaine McBride to cover one, but that opens up rushing lanes. It’s a difficult situation.

It should be close, as all Giants and Eagles games seem to be. But I see an Eli Manning interception late in the fourth sealing the deal.
Philadelphia 24 – New York 20

Eric Kennedy – How good are the Eagles? Are they simply not as good as they were last year because of the injury issues on their offensive line and the loss of DeSean Jackson? Or are they poised for a breakout game? The problem – as Connor astutely points out – is that the Eagles have a lot of very dangerous underneath targets at running back and tight end who create significant match-up problems for the Giants defense. This is an opponent where the Giants will miss Will Hill and not having more overall speed and athleticism at linebacker. The Eagles are also one of the most dangerous screen teams in the NFL. On the other side of the ball, on paper, the Giants should be able to move the ball if the team can protect Eli Manning and create running room for Andre Williams. But if I’m the Eagles, I really challenge and test the ability of Williams to protect Eli. This was a bad time to lose Rashad Jennings, who is very good as pass protector and receiver. In a close game, specials will likely determine the outcome. The Eagles special teams have been outstanding. They have scored four touchdowns, including on blocked punts. The Giants special teams remain less than special, finding different ways to screw up each contest.

I think the Giants are the better team. But I also think there is something about those green turds from Philadelphia that bring out the worst in the Giants. The trash-talking, which was started by the Giants this week, was unnecessary, and I believe a sign of underlying doubt and mental weakness against this particular opponent.
Philadelphia 33 – New York 10

Oct 082014
 
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Odell Beckham and Tom Coughlin, New York Giants (October 5, 2014)

Odell Beckham and Tom Coughlin – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 30 – Atlanta Falcons 20

After things looked so bleak following the Giants second consecutive loss to start the season, everything has turned around. The Giants have rattled off three straight victories to hold their first winning record in quite some time. The defense is attacking, the offense is gelling and even the special teams avoided a major let down this week.

Below you will find the complete game review from the Giants 30-20 victory over the Atlanta Falcons.

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
Who guards whom?
The Falcons moved WR Julio Jones around quite a bit in the first half of the game, and many of the Giants defensive backs had their chances against him. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie seemed to fare the best against Jones, especially in the second half when the pass rush picked up.

Second Down
Time to feast for Giants defensive line?
The defensive line did not feast at all in the first half as a patchwork Atlanta offensive line missing four starters did an admirable job both run and pass blocking. Atlanta managed 14 first downs in the first half, averaged 4.4 yards per run, and completed 17-of-23 passes. Jason Pierre-Paul became a one-man wrecking crew in the second half. Robert Ayers also began to pressure the QB, and Johnathan Hankins made the defensive play of the game with his 4th quarter 4th-and-1 sack with under five minutes to play. Not counting two late meaningless runs, Atlanta was held to 13 rushing yards in the second half. In summary, it was famine in the first half; feasting in the second half.

Third Down
How much can Odell Beckham Jr. play? 
Odell Beckham Jr. appeared to be on the Andre Brown just-got-back-from-an-injury snap count. The wideout played 37 snaps and seemed to get stronger as the game progressed. By the fourth quarter, Beckham was fully involved in the game and making all the plays the Giants had hoped he would when the used the No. 12 pick in the draft on him.

Fourth Down
Will  Osi Umenyiora be a factor?
In the general review of things, no. Umenyiora had his first sack of the season against Eli Manning, but it was more of a coverage sack than anything else. Umenyiora put a nice move on Beatty, but Manning had time to throw, no one was open. Instead of forcing it, Manning ate the sack and lived to fight another down. Aside from that play, it was a very, very quiet game for Umenyiora in his return to MetLife.

OFFENSIVE OVERVIEW – by Connor Hughes

For whatever reason, maybe it was the fact the team was looking a week forward to Philadelphia, the Giants offense was a bit slow and iffy to start the game. There wasn’t much in terms of energy, few big plays and, until Beckham ignited a rally, it looked as if the Giants were headed for a disappointing defeat. A nice second half rally led the Giants to their third straight win and lit up the scoreboard a bit, too. For the first time since 2009, the Giants offense has scored 30 or more points in three straight.

QUARTERBACK – by Connor Hughes

It wasn’t his flashiest performance, but Eli Manning was consistent. The quarterback completed 19-of-30 passes for 200 yards with two touchdowns with no interceptions. He had a quarterback rating of 104.5. For the first time since 2010, Manning has had a quarterback rating above 100 in three straight games. It’s no surprise why Manning has had success the last three games: he’s had loads of time in the pocket and continues to release the ball at an alarming fast rate (second fastest in the NFL). Nearly every time Manning dropped back, he had time to scan the field.

There were two throws that were a little questionable, one on a curl route to Rueben Randle, and another on a  slant to Randle. Manning felt a little pressure, didn’t have time to set his feet and threw it anyway. Those are the throws that have gotten Manning in trouble in the past, but that didn’t happen this week. From someone who truly questioned his ability to play in a West Coast offense, Manning is looking like the perfect fit.

RUNNING BACKS – by Connor Hughes

Rashad Jennings will be missed. Not just for his ability as a running back, but all of the little things he does in a game that sometimes goes unnoticed. Jennings is a pro’s pro, there’s nothing special about him and he doesn’t do anything ‘great.’ What Jennings does do is everything exceptionally well. His football IQ may be one of the highest on the team, and there’s no backing down from anyone. For a player like Andre Williams who is trying to learn the proper way to pass protect, he may have the perfect mentor:

On the play in which Jennings was injured, there was no clear cut sign as to how exactly he got hurt. He got a carry and was being brought down when a safety came in to apply an extra hit. It looked as if when the safety hit Jennings, his body bent a little funky, but no camera angle showed the direction in which his knee went. After the play, Jennings got up, walked over to the sideline and did not return.

It’s been said more times than it needs to, but Sunday simply illustrated it more: the issue with Andre Williams is not his ability to run the ball; he can do that at an extremely high level. His issue is executing in the other two facets of the game – blocking and receiving. After practices, Williams has been working with the jugs machine catching balls, and it showed Sunday. While it certainly wasn’t pretty, Williams caught two passes and turned both into first downs. After his first, he got up quite fired up.

Where Williams has made little progress, and may be a massive issue come Sunday night, is in pass protection. It’s not that Williams can’t block. He has the size and build to match up with blitzing linebackers or chip defensive ends. When he does engage with someone, it’s not as if he’s being tossed around like a rag doll. His issue is knowing who to block.

When Williams checked into the game full time, the Giants play-faked to him in the shotgun formation, then had him run directly into the line. If Williams didn’t do that, he simply ran out on a pass route. Only once that I counted, on all of his snaps, did Williams pass block straight on the snap. It didn’t go well.

Williams stepped up in the pocket, expecting a blitzing linebacker. Instead, a safety came off the edge. Williams was late to recognize this, late to get over, and, as a result, Manning had to rush a pass.

Shortly after this play, the Giants brought Peyton Hillis in. The veteran made an instant impact. Pass blocking is usually a trait running backs need to learn. Again, it’s not that Williams can’t block, it’s just that he is lacking in the experience department. Once it all clicks, he has the ability to be a complete NFL back.

WIDE RECEIVERS by Connor Hughes

Preston Parker has filled in admirably for Jerrel Jernigan over the past few weeks as the Giants waited for Beckham to get healthy. There’s the good, there’s the bad. What Parker has done well is what his assignment is and when the ball is thrown his way, he doesn’t drop it. As was the case on his long 42-yard reception. On the play, a safety and cornerback were both matched up on Parker, but both were peeking inside at Manning. As a result, Parker got behind both and deep into the secondary. Atlanta had a linebacker playing centerfield, and he bit the wrong way, leaving Parker wide open.

Where Parker had his issues was after he caught the ball and suddenly it was his time to make a play. On one particular play, Parker made a little bit of a questionable decision on what angle to take. On third down, Parker caught the ball and turned up the field. Instead of darting up the field directly, he chose to run towards the sidelines and around Randle. Had he just cut up the field, the play may have resulted in a first down, instead of a fourth and short.

Watching the film, all eyes were on Odell Beckham Jr., and the rookie didn’t disappoint. It may not all come together this season, but Beckham has all the tools to be one of the better receivers in the NFL. He has Hakeem Nicks-like size, where he plays bigger than he is, speed and unbelievable hands. Prior to the game, when the quarterbacks were just throwing to their receivers, Beckham ran a fade route and jumped in the air, then – with his hand facing the quarterback – palmed the ball and brought it down with ease. He makes plays like this on a regular basis. It’s incredible to watch.

In the game, it was obvious the Falcons were respecting his speed. The Giants gave them reason to, running Beckham deep on many of his first patterns. Then, they took advantage of the over-anxious Falcons.

On the play that wasn’t, Manning’s throw-away intended for Beckham, there was an ever-so-slight move Beckham put on that allowed him to get open. It was the slightest movement inside that got the corner to bite. Then, Beckham burst up the field. It’s a shame Manning didn’t see it as it would have been an 82-yard touchdown.

TIGHT ENDS – by Connor Hughes

After catching three touchdowns versus Washington, Larry Donnell got some additional attention from the Falcons secondary. Normally, Donnell was matched up with a linebacker, and a safety was overtop. With that attention being given to Donnell, Manning went to work with his wide receivers. The more Donnell develops, the more this is going to happen. It’s a positive for the Giants offense. Something that few thought would be said, the Giants have enough playmakers on the field to make a defensive coordinators job difficult.

On Sunday, Atlanta was focused on Donnell and Victor Cruz, that left Rueben Randle, Preston Parker and Beckham open. When the Giants played Washington last week, that attention was devoted to the receivers, leaving Donnell open. It’s going to be a week-to-week, pick-your-poison for defenses. It’s great for the Giants, bad for fantasy owners. Donnell can go off any week for 30 points, or be down with three – or in this case, zero – the next.

Donnell did make one play that won’t show up on the stat sheet, or help any fantasy team. After a Randle fumble, Donnell was one of the only players to react instantly to the ball on the ground.

OFFENSIVE LINE – by Connor Hughes

As has been the case the last three weeks, the Giants offensive line was near perfect versus Atlanta. There was little pressure allowed on Eli Manning, and running lanes were opened up regularly. The one time Atlanta got to Manning, a sack by Osi Umenyiora, it was both a coverage sack, and vintage Umenyiora.

Manning had time to throw, went through his first and second reads, but no one was there. Instead of forcing the ball, he ate the sack. The fact is, if it weren’t for a great move from Umenyiora, Manning may have had six seconds to throw.

It seemed as if every time Manning dropped back to pass, he had time in the pocket. It helped. And it’s helped each week.

DEFENSIVE OVERVIEW – by Eric Kennedy

Overall, the Falcons gained 397 net yards of offense (90 yards rushing and 307 yards passing). But they were only 2-of-13 (15 percent) on third-down conversions and 1-of-2 (50 percent) on fourth-down efforts. The Falcons were also only 1-of-3 (33 percent) in red zone opportunities. The Giants only forced one turnover and that turnover unfortunately was negated by the interceptor fumbling the ball right back to Atlanta.

Aside from one play, it was a tale of two halves for the Giants defense.

In the first half, the Giants allowed 14 first downs. They also allowed 10 points on two long drives, the first covering 80 yards in nine plays and resulting in a touchdown. With 3:40 left before the half, the Falcons drove 73 yards in 11 plays to take a 13-10 halftime lead. The Giants defense did force two first-half punts and successfully held the Falcons to another first-half field goal when Preston Parker fumbled a kickoff return at the Giants 21-yard line.

In the second half, there was only one snafu, but it was a big one: a 74-yard touchdown pass from QB Matt Ryan to RB Antone Smith on 3rd-and-4 in the third quarter. That breakdown allowed the Falcons to go ahead 20-10.

However, the Falcons were limited to six first downs in seven second-half possessions, with three of those harmlessly coming with under two minutes to play with the Giants up 30-20.

DEFENSIVE LINE – by Eric Kennedy

The Giants defense started to play better when the defense line started to play better. It really was almost that simple. A patchwork Atlanta Falcons offensive that was missing four starters did an admirable job against New York both run and pass blocking in the first half. Falcons running backs rushed for 50 yards on 11 carries in the first half for a 4.5 yards per carry average. In addition, although there was some sporadic first-half pressure on QB Matt Ryan, he went largely untouched and has a reasonable amount of time given the circumstances.

The line did play well on the first series with DT Cullen Jenkins (nice flow to ball carrier for 1-yard gain), DT Johnathan Hankins (tipped pass), and DE Jason Pierre-Paul (nice pursuit after short completion) all making plays. The second series, when the Falcons marched 80 yards for a touchdown, was not so good. While Hankins and JPP flashed on the pass rush on two back-to-back plays, the rest of the DL play was uninspiring. And RB Stephen Jackson finished off the drive by running in the direction of JPP and Hankins for a 10-yard touchdown. The Falcons continued to push the front around after Preston Parker’s fumble until DT Mike Patterson tackled Jackson for a 2-yard loss on 2nd-and-goal from the 2-yard line. Until that play, Patterson wasn’t looking too good, and DE Mathias Kiwanuka was having issues. The defensive line was seldom heard from on the Falcons long field-goal drive right before halftime too.

Antrel Rolle and Johnathan Hankins, New York Giants (October 5, 2014)

Antrel Rolle and Johnathan Hankins – © USA TODAY Sports Images

In the second half, the defensive tone changed as Pierre-Paul decided enough was enough. Though the stats don’t indicate it, JPP (5 tackles, 2 quarterback hits) was a one-man wrecking crew as he repeatedly pressured Ryan, helped to gum up the running game, tipped a pass, caused a holding penalty, and continued to hustle in pursuit. Two others who made contributions were DE Robert Ayers (2 tackles, 2 quarterback hits), who flashed as a pass rusher, and Hankins (4 tackles, 1 sack, 2 quarterback hits). Hankins made a superb play when he played off a block, pursued down the line, and nailed the ball carrier. Of course, the defensive play of the game was his 4th-and-1 sack of Ryan with just under five minutes to play in the game. Patterson (3 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss) also improved in the second half, and Jenkins (4 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss) also got in on the action.

LINEBACKERS – by Eric Kennedy

Jacquian Williams led the team with 13 tackles. He also had one tackle for a loss and one pass defense. I was not impressed with him early on as he got hung up on blocks on a few of Stephen Jackson’s bigger runs, including an 11-yard gain and the 10-yard touchdown on Atlanta’s first scoring drive. He continued to have issues on the next series, including completely misreading the play and running himself out of position. But as the game wore on, he got better. Williams saved a touchdown on the 3rd-and-goal shovel pass. While he missed a tackle on a short pass to RB Devonta Freeman that turned into a 13-yard gain, he later had good coverage on RB Jacquizz Rodgers on 2nd-and-goal. In the third quarter, he combined with CB Trumaine McBride to nail Freeman for a 1-yard loss after a short pass. In the fourth quarter, Williams made an excellent play in backside pursuit and nailed Jackson for a 2-yard loss.

Jameel McClain started at middle linebacker and finished with seven tackles, one quarterback hit, and two pass defenses. He flashed a couple of times on the blitz, but like Williams, got hung up on some blocks in the first half.

Mark Herzlich played 27 snaps and finished with two tackles.

DEFENSIVE BACKS – by Eric Kennedy

Until the pass rush dialed it up in the second half, the Giants had issues with WR Julio Jones, who had eight catches for 88 yards in the first half. The Falcons moved Jones around all over the field and at times he was matched up on various defensive backs. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who was battling some leg issues in the game, seemed to fare better against him than Prince Amukamara. This was not one of Amukamara’s better games. On the first TD drive, Jones got open for 22 yards against Amukamara and SS Antrel Rolle. A few plays later, Prince was flagged for illegal use of hands on a play where Rodgers-Cromartie was covering Jones deep. On 3rd-and-8 on this TD drive, Jones beat CB Trumaine McBride on a crossing pattern for 11 yards. On the very next play, Jackson scored on a 10-yard run on a play where CB Zack Bowman and FS Quintin Demps could not fight off of blocks.

McBride (7 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss, and 1 forced fumble) played reasonably well. And I thought DRC, who only played 49 snaps, did a mostly positive job on the very dangerous Jones. My biggest criticism was Rodgers-Cromartie assuming Antrel Rolle would make the tackle on the 74-yard touchdown pass to RB Antone Smith. Rodgers-Cromartie pulled up and Smith was off to the races. Never assume. DRC should have ended the game with a gimme pick on a Hail Mary too, but dropped the ball.

Amukamara had some issues in coverage in the second quarter. Jones got open easily against him for 14 yards on the late field goal drive. He then played far too soft on back-to-back plays inside the 20-yard line, allowing two easy completions for 17 yards. But on 3rd-and-goal, Amukamara did play tight coverage on WR Roddy White to force Atlanta to settle for the FG. In the third quarter, he was flagged for defensive holding on the play Demps picked off the pass. To his credit, Amukamara made a nice play against WR Devin Hester on 3rd-and-4.

Antrel Rolle had 11 tackles, but his one missed tackle led to a 74-yard touchdown after a short throw to the running back. Quintin Demps (4 tackles, 1 interception) picked off Matt Ryan but promptly fumbled the ball back to the Falcons. He did make a nice play on the speedy and elusive Hester on an end around. Zack Bowman gave up a 22-yard pass to Roddy White.

SPECIAL TEAMS – by Eric Kennedy

Special teams continue to be an issue.

First the good. PK Josh Brown was 3-for-3 on field goal attempts including kicks of 49, 50, and 26 yards. The 50-yard field goal – given that it extended the Giants lead to 27-20 with five minutes to go – was particularly clutch. Three of Browns’ kickoffs resulted in touchbacks. Four others were returned, including three by the dangerous Devin Hester. Hester was limited to 60 yards on three kickoff returns with a long of 22 yards. Damontre Moore made a nice stop on one return. Peyton Hillis missed a tackle opportunity on another return.

Steve Weatherford punted three times. One was returned 25 yards by Hester on play where Weatherford had to make the tackle (both Jameel McClain and Zak DeOssie missed tackles). On the second punt, the Giants got to Hester for a 2-yard loss before he lateraled to a teammate on a play that went nowhere. Weatherford nailed his third punt 67 yards. It only netted 47 with the touchback, but that kept the ball away from Hester.

Kickoff returns were not good. Quintin Demps returned three kickoffs for 60 yards. He only reached the 17, 17, and 19 yard lines on his three returns. The team would have been better off with the touchbacks. Worse, Preston Parker fumbled the ball away at the Giants’ 21-yard line, setting up an easy field goal for the Falcons.

The Giants did not return a punt in the game as Preston Parker fair caught three and Odell Beckham fair caught another. Jason Pierre-Paul hit the punter on 4th-and-4, allowing the Falcons to maintain possession on a drive in the third quarter.

(Atlanta Falcons at New York Giants, October 5, 2014)
Oct 052014
 
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Andre Williams, New York Giants (October 5, 2014)

Andre Williams – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Odell Beckham, New York Giants (October 5, 2014)

Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports Images

The play had never been run. Not in a practice, and most certainly not in a game.

Eli Manning lined up in the shotgun formation with two wide receivers to his left, and one to his right. He took the snap and a couple steps back before hitting his back foot. A perfect pocket formed around him.

Manning then looked left and lobbed a pass into the end zone and in the direction of Odell Beckham Jr.

The rookie jumped up, came down, and instantly erased any and all criticism thrown his way. The score put New York on top for good in a 30-20 victory over the Atlanta Falcons yesterday in East Rutherford.

“Words can’t even describe it,” Beckham said. “To be out this long and to have to deal with the adversity I’ve had, I just want to thank God for giving me the opportunity to play and allowing me to score in my first game.”

While Beckham was expected to be kept on a tight snap count, the Giants unleashed the No. 12 overall pick in this year’s draft in front of a rowdy crowd at MetLife Stadium. Of the 64 plays run by the Giants, Beckham was on the field for 37 of them, catching four passes for 44 yards and the score.

Early in the game, it appeared as if the Giants were gearing up for an ugly beginning to the month of October. After jumping on top, 7-0, the Giants watched as Atlanta scored 20 of the game’s next 23 points.

Eli Manning, New York Giants (October 5, 2014)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Facing a third down midway through the third quarter, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan found running back Antone Smith out of the backfield. Smith broke an Antrel Rolle tackle and raced 74 yards for a touchdown to put Atlanta up, 20-10.

“We caught them in a zero coverage,” Falcons head coach Mike Smith said. “It was a great throw by Matt, getting the ball out of his hands. And in zero, there is no defensive depth and he just outran everybody.”

Preston Parker, New York Giants (October 5, 2014)

Preston Parker – © USA TODAY Sports Images

With the life all but sucked out of MetLife Stadium, Manning answered on New York’s following drive, marching the team on a 83-yard touchdown drive. Rookie running back Andre Williams accounted for 33 of the yards, including a three-yard rushing touchdown.

The Giants defense then answered, forcing a Falcon three-and-out and giving the ball back to Manning. The quarterback, who completed 19-of-30 passes for 200 yards and a pair of touchdowns on the afternoon, proceeded to complete 4-of-5 passes on the drive before finding Beckham for the go-ahead score.

“I was proud of the team today,” Manning said. “We got down 10 in the third quarter and we responded and responded right away. We had a drive and a touchdown. Our defense rallied and started getting some sacks and some stoppages, and offensively, we did what we had to do to win. So I was proud of the guys. No one started getting uptight or getting worried.”

On the ensuing drive, Atlanta took over trailing by seven with just over four minutes left. Facing a fourth on one, Smith kept the offense on the field. Ryan dropped back to pass, but felt pressure up the middle from defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins. The second-year pro brought Ryan down for his second sack of the season.

“It was huge,” Coughlin said of Hankins’ play. “I figured they would try to kick the ball. It was close to four minutes (left).”

The Giants (3-2) will travel to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles Sunday night. Philadelphia (4-1) presently sit in a two-way tie atop the NFC East with the Dallas Cowboys.

Video highlights of today’s game are available at NFL.com.

Tom Coughlin’s Post-Game Press Conference: The transcript and video of Head Coach Tom Coughlin’s post-game press conference are available at Giants.com.

Post-Game Player Media Q&As: Transcripts and video of the post-game media sessions with the following players are available at Giants.com:

 

Oct 052014
 
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New York Giants Fans (October 5, 2014)

New York Giants Fans – © USA TODAY Sports Images

NEW YORK GIANTS 30 – ATLANTA FALCONS 20

The New York Giants defeated the Atlanta Falcons, 30-20, Sunday afternoon to win the team’s third straight game. Below you will find a new quick hits and tidbits from the Giants victory.

Odell Beckham, New York Giants (October 5, 2014)

Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Odell Beckham Jr. (unofficially) played 37 snaps and 35 plays Sunday afternoon. On New York’s back-to-back touchdown drives in the third and fourth quarter, Beckham was on the field for the majority of the plays of both series. These were his only consecutive drives of the afternoon. 36 of those snaps were played offensively, one on special teams. Beckham lined up to return one punt. He called a fair catch.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie worked in-and-out of the game. Cromartie said his ankle/groin flared up during the game, and as a result, he took it easy. Cromartie said he believes he’ll be a full participant in practice and will not be limited versus Philadelphia.

After the game, Zack Bowman received X-Rays. He said those x-rays were “precautionary” and not on any specific area. He said multiple times he is “fine.”

Rashad Jennings suffered a left knee sprain in the third quarter. He came out of the game and did not return. Jennings said he believes he is OK, but will have an MRI on the knee. All knee-related injuries are deemed “sprains” before an MRI depicts the exact amount of damage.

Entering the game, Beckham Jr. and Devon Kennard had been dealing with hamstring issues. Both players said they felt fine after the game and did not re-injure the areas. Kennard said he played every special teams snap. His hamstring was wrapped heavily after the game, but assured that was just precautionary and that if there was an aggravation of the area, he’d know already.

Eli Manning completed 19-of-30 passes for 200 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He has now completed 112-of-169 (66.8%) for 1,174 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions. At this time last year, Manning had thrown eight touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

The one apparent “blunder” for Manning was when the quarterback overthrew a wide open Beckham for what could have been a 80+-yard touchdown. Manning said after the game that although the ball was in Beckham’s direction, it wasn’t to him. Manning was throwing the ball away. Just as Manning released the ball, Beckham broke open. Manning didn’t see anyone open and started to feel pressure so he threw the ball away. It may look on film like Manning missed Beckham, but in truth he was throwing it away.

After catching three touchdowns a week ago, Larry Donnell didn’t catch a pass and was only targeted once on Sunday. Manning spoke after the game and said that’s just how the game went. Rueben Randle was targeted a game-high 10 times. He caught four of them for 33 yards and a touchdown.

Eli Manning, New York Giants (October 5, 2014)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Receiver Preston Parker caught a three passes for a game-high 61 yards, highlighted by a 42-yard reception. Parker returned one kickoff and fumbled the ball away; Atlanta recovered and turned ended up kicking a field goal.

Andre Williams, New York Giants (October 5, 2014)

Andre Williams – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Andre Williams rushed 20 times for 65 yards and a touchdown, he caught two passes for 18 yards as well. Rashad Jennings ran 10 times for 55 yards.

Quintin Demps intercepted his second pass in as many weeks, but fumbled the ball on the return and Atlanta recovered. Johnathan Hankins had his second sack of the season.

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan completed 29-of-45 passes for 316 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Julio Jones caught 11 passes for 105 yards.

Former Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora, who now plays for the Falcons, was an honorary captain for Atlanta. He recorded a sack of Manning in the second quarter, his first of the season.

Inactive for the New York Giants: WR Julian Talley, LB Jon Beason, G Adam Snyder, OT Charles Brown, DE Kerry Wynn, OT James Brewer, DT Jay Bromley

Inactive for the Atlanta Falcons: QB Sean Renfree, CB Javier Arenas, LB Tyler Starr, G Justin Blalock, T Cameron Bradfield, WR Harry Douglass, DE Cliff Matthews.

Oct 052014
 
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Rashad Jennings, New York Giants (October 5, 2014)

Rashad Jennings – © USA TODAY Sports Images

NEW YORK GIANTS 30 – ATLANTA FALCONS 20

The New York Giants pulled out their third-straight victory Sunday afternoon, defeating the Atlanta Falcons, 30-20. It certainly didn’t start pretty, but as the final seconds ticked off of the clock, New York remained within one game of the NFC East division lead with a game against the Philadelphia Eagles on the horizon.

Below you will find some of the studs, and some of the duds, from the Giants victory this Sunday.

Please note, these observations are from the initial reaction. Game film has not been watched and the game has not been analyzed. These are just initial notes taken from Sunday’s game.

THE STUDS:

Odell Beckham Jr.
Starting with the obvious, the Giants rookie was everything the team could have hoped for and more Sunday afternoon. There were the big plays, the explosiveness and the scoring that Jerry Reese and Co. imagined when the team selected Beckham 12th overall in the draft.

Andre Williams
Another rookie, Andre Williams, looked eerily familiar to another former Giant that wore No. 44. Williams was running as if he was looking for contact. The thing about Williams is that he seems to get stronger as the game goes on. In the first half, Williams had -1 rushing yards. When the game ended, he had 65. He looks like he can be a very, very special player.

Eli Manning, New York Giants (October 5, 2014)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Eli Manning
I had my doubts, a lot of them, during the preseason and first game of the regular season. I wrote them down, I made them known. I did not believe Eli Manning could play in a West Coast offense.

I was wrong.

Manning completed 19-of-30 passes for 200 yards, neither number impressive, but he threw two touchdowns and no interceptions. Manning continues to get the ball out of his hands lightning fast and is thriving with Ben McAdoo. The quarterback looks revitalized and has the Giants playing some of the best football I’ve seen in awhile.

The Offensive Line
Eli Manning was sacked just once and pressured just a few other times. Carl Banks said on WFAN a few weeks ago that sometimes it isn’t the offensive lines with the best players that are the best offensive lines, it’s the unit that plays together as unit the most that makes the best team. A few weeks in, that seems to be the Giants line. They’re opening running lanes and protecting Manning. As long as the line keeps doing those two things, the Giants will be in good shape.

Johnathan Hankins, New York Giants (October 5, 2014)

Johnathan Hankins – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Johnathan Hankins
I’ve said it, written it and tweeted it 100 times, the Giants have something special in Johnathan Hankins. Not only is Hankins a force against the run, but he’s developing into quite the interior pass rusher as well. Aside from the fourth down sack, there was one play that really stood out to me. In the third-ish quarter, Matt Ryan handed the ball off to a running back who tried to stretch it to the far side of the field. Hankins exploded off the line, shed his block, pursued down the line of scrimmage and made the tackle for a one-yard gain. It’s been a Giants routine to draft defensive tackles (Barry Coefield, Linval Joseph) and then let them go when their contracts are up. Hankins may be one the team is forced to hold on to. He’s a special player. A very, very special player.

THE DUDS:

Quintin Demps
The duds this week are much like those against the Houston Texans, more “uh ohs” than anything else. Demps’ interception was nice, but to then fumble the ball on the return isn’t good. Demps came to the Giants being known as someone with sure hands, for whatever reason that’s changed. Going back to the preseason, Demps has fumbled three returns (two kicks, one INT). Maybe the most infuriating thing about Demps return was after the ball came out, he was the only one to try to jump on it.

Preston Parker
The Giants defense bailed the team out on Preston Parker’s kick return fumble, but he cannot let go of that ball. That’s a play where the Giants offense is looking to answer, and instead the defense is right back on the field. Not to mention, it looked like Parker got caught by the turf monster on his 42-yard catch that should have been a 62-yard touchdown.

Oct 032014
 
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Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants (August 28, 2014)

Jason Pierre-Paul – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Atlanta Falcons at New York Giants, October 5, 2014

The New York Giants look to win their third consecutive game of the season and keep within one game of the NFC East lead entering a matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles next week. The Falcons have the offensive weapons to be one of the most explosive teams in the league, but their offensive line bruised and battered beyond recognition.

What’s to look for in the Giants victory? Find out all that and more in BBI’s game preview:

FOUR DOWNS:

First Down
Who guards whom?
The Atlanta Falcons walk into MetLife Stadium with one of the best receiving corps in the NFL. The Giants, to this point in the NFL season, counter with two of the top 10 cornerbacks in the NFL. So, who gets whom? Will it be Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie versus the athletic Julio Jones? Will Prince Amukamara matched up against Roddy White? Or, will it be reversed. No matter where the Giants cornerbacks line up, the battle will be something to watch throughout Sunday afternoon.

Second Down
Time to feast for Giants defensive line?
One of the more pleasant surprises for the Giants defense this year has been the play of its defensive line. Robert Ayers Jr. has been one of the more underrated free-agent signings this offseason, Jason Pierre-Paul looks to be back to his 2011 form and Damontre Moore is developing into one of the better young defensive ends in the league. The corps, along with Johnathan Hankins, may have a field day against an injury-riddled Falcon front. Atlanta will be without center Joe Hawley, tackle Lamar Holmes and guard Joe Blalock.

Third Down
How much can Odell Beckham Jr. play? 
It’s becoming evidently clear that Giants rookie Odell Beckham Jr. will see his first action of the season this Sunday, but how much action will that be? Will he have an impact? All these questions and more will be answered if the rookie suits up Sunday afternoon.

Osi Umenyiora, New York Giants (December 9, 2012)

Osi Umenyiora – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Fourth Down
Will  Osi Umenyiora be a factor?
For the first time in his career, Osi Umenyiora will suit up and play against the New York Giants. Two years ago, the disgruntled defensive end left east Rutherford in hopes of finding a big contract with another team. When he first signed with the Falcons last year, Umenyiora boasted claims of how he’d be the defensive player of the year and how Atlanta was the most talented team he’d ever been a part of. Those hopes have yet to materialize. Through four games this season, playing in a reduced pass rusher role, Umenyiora has yet to record a sack. But he’ll be amped up to go against New York. Will Sunday be a flash back to the Osi of old? If it is, the defensive end could make it a long day for Eli Manning.

BREAKING DOWN ATLANTA:

OFFENSE – by Eric Kennedy
Strength?
The Falcons are tied with the Colts for the #1 offense in the NFL in terms of yardage (444 yards per game), and #2 in the NFL in scoring (almost 33 points per game). The strength of their offensive team is quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White. With third receiver Harry Douglas out, expect more chances for speedster Devin Hester at wideout. Jones and White may be the best 1-2 combination in the NFL at wide receiver. Jones has Calvin Johnson-like ability and we saw what Johnson did to the Giants. Ryan leads the NFL in pass plays over 20 yards, and when he’s “on”, he is a machine.

Weakness?
The Falcons have been hammered by injuries on the offensive line. The Falcons lost their left tackle in the preseason, forcing rookie Jake Matthews (#6 player taken in the 2014 Draft) to move from right tackle to left tackle. Last Sunday, they lost their starting right tackle and center for the season. In addition, their left guard will miss the game against the Giants. It will be a patch-work line for the Falcons on Sunday. That said, two of the replacements – Peter Konz and Gabe Carini – have started in the NFL. Harland Gunn is likely to start at left guard. He was just signed off of the practice squad.

DEFENSE – by Connor Hughes
Strength?
Not much is going right for the Atlanta Falcons defense right now. At all. The lone “bright spot” was the fact the team did a decent job containing the run in two of their four games. Versus the New Orleans Saints, Atlanta held Mark Ingram to 60 yards running and versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it held Bobby Rainey to 41 yards rushing. What about those two other games? Well, Giovani Bernard, Jeremy Hill, Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnnon ran for a combined 377 yards on the ground.

Weakness?
Just about everything. Without Adrien Peterson and with a starting quarterback making his first career start, the Minnesota Vikings exposed the Falcons for what they are: a weak defensive team. There’s little pass rush, little physicality and even less to go by in the secondary. The Vikings scored 41 points, gained 26 first downs and 558 total yards.  The Falcons defense simply isn’t very good, and the Giant should have their way with them.

PLAYER TO WATCH:

Odell Beckham (13) and Zack Bowman (31), New York Giants (June 18, 2014)

Odell Beckham and Zack Bowman – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Connor Hughes –
Odell Beckham Jr.
It may be the easy selection, but my eyes will be glued on No. 13 whenever he’s on the field. With the way the Giants offense has been clicking the last two games, albeit against the Houston Texans and Washington Redskins, the addition of Beckham can only improve the presently surging Giants.

When Beckham was selected, he was considered a player that had the ability to score in three separate ways: receiving, kick return and punt return. Aside from that, he was all but named the starting outside receiver, allowing Victor Cruz to play in the slot. If Beckham can be the player the Giants imagined he would, the offense can take a huge step forward.

I’ll have my eyes on Beckham in how well he knows the offense. Does he zag when Manning wants him to zig? These are the little things that are ironed out by getting reps together. Because of Beckham’s hamstring, he and Manning haven’t had many together.

Eric Kennedy –
Quintin Demps
I was tempted to list Jon Beason as I believe the Falcons will need to try to run the ball quite a bit in order to prevent Matt Ryan from getting killed. But aside from special teams and turnovers, the easiest way for the Giants to lose this game is giving up big pass plays to Jones, White, and Hester. As mentioned above, the Falcons lead the NFL in big plays over 20 yards. They may not be able to sustain long drives with their beat-up offensive line, but they certainly can get cheap touchdowns. And Demps – as the last line of defense – has to be in the right spot and not give up big plays and cheap points.

FROM THE COACHES’ MOUTH:

Tom Coughlin, New York Giants (September 14, 2014)

Tom Coughlin – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Tom Coughlin –  “They’re 2-0 in their division. They started the year off with an outstanding win over New Orleans in the division. They did a very good job in the offseason of acquiring veteran players. They drafted well, they all seem to be contributing very well. All three phases are very skilled, including special teams with Devin Hester.”

Mike Smith – “I think Eli is one of the elite quarterbacks in the league. I think you are only as good as your last game in the NFL. I think that is the world that we live in. I think his body of works speaks for itself. He is a two-time Super Bowl Champion. The last two weeks he has run Coach [Ben] McAdoo’s offense that he brought in almost flawlessly. Everybody wants to jump to conclusions on one game, two games and you have to look at the body of work over a long period of time.”

FINAL WORD:

Connor Hughes – The Giants offense seems to be rolling, the defense is forcing turnovers and the special teams is, well, hanging out for the ride. In the three facets of the game, I believe the Giants offense is better than the Falcons defense, and the Giants defense is better than the Falcons offense with their offensive line issues. Special teams is the one area I believe the Giants are dramatically worse in.

It’s going to be interesting to watch the Giants cornerbacks match up against Atlanta’s receivers, but I’m not sure Matt Ryan will have the time to get them the ball. The offensive line is banged up, the Giants defensive line is playing their best football in years. This one could be over early. Giants 34 – Atlanta 17.

Eric Kennedy – Too much confidence by fans, and I fear, from the Giants this week. This is exactly the type of game the Giants have blown in recent years. Even when winning two NFL titles in 2007 and 2011, there was not a lot of week-by-week consistency by the G-Men except for the 2008 season. The Giants should win this game. But they have to prove to me they have the leadership and maturity to avoid a letdown before playing their two biggest division rivals. And Devin Hester against the Giants special teams? We’ve seen this act before. Giants dominate statistically, but Falcons score on offense, defense, and special teams. Falcons 27 – Giants 10.

Sep 262014
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (September 25, 2014)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

There were smiles everywhere on the Giants sideline, and for good reason. As the waning seconds ticked off New York’s 45-14 victory over the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field, the Giants had done just about everything right.

Larry Donnell, New York Giants (September 25, 2014)

Larry Donnell – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Quarterback Eli Manning scored a combined five touchdowns – throwing three to tight end Larry Donnell – for an offense that gained 449 yards. Defensively, the Giants forced six turnovers and stymied the red-hot Kirk Cousins.

It was the perfect performance for a team in desperate need for just that.

“We were able to get past the previous game very quickly and into this week,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “We played well and did a lot of very good things.”

The Giants (2-2) entered Thursday night’s prime time showdown with the Redskins (1-3) looking to build off their first victory of the season a week ago versus the Houston Texans. After throwing for two touchdowns and completing 75 percent of his passes versus Houston, Manning picked up right where he left off.

The two-time Super Bowl MVP completed 28-of-39 passes, threw 300 yards, tossed four touchdowns and ran for a fifth on the ground. The lone blemish on an otherwise perfect performance was a fluky redzone interception.

On a second and goal at the Washington six yard line, Manning fired a slant pass to wide receiver Rueben Randle. Randle caught the ball, but just as he put his second foot down in the endzone, Redskins safety Brandon Meriweather put a helmet on the ball and popped it into the air. Keenan Robinson intercepted the ball off a deflection.

Eli Manning, New York Giants (September 25, 2014)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

“We’re starting to get the feel of things,” Manning said. “This offense is starting to click. We’re running the ball really well and the line is doing a great job controlling the line of scrimmage.”

On the Giants first possession of the game, a Victor Cruz drop forced New York to punt. On Washington’s first possession, defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka got the ball right back with a sack-fumble of Kirk Cousins that defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins recovered. Six plays later, Manning found Donnell on the first of his three receiving touchdowns.

“We did that a couple times in practice,” Donnell said. “Eli checked to it when he saw the coverage he wanted. He threw it up and I went and got it.”

Donnell, who entered 2014 with just three career receptions and no touchdowns, caught seven passes for 54 yards and three scores versus Washington.

The Giants offense went three and out on their next possession, but then scored on their next three drives. There were two more scores from Donnell, followed by a 29-yard Josh Brown field goal to close out the first half.

Trailing 24-7 at half, Washington attempted a comeback on its first possession of the third quarter. After receiving the second half kickoff, Cousins marched Washington 83 yards on five plays, capped by an Alfred Morris 20-yard rushing touchdown.

Following a Giants punt, Washington got the ball back with a chance to make it a one score game. The Giants defense had other plans. On their next six possessions, the Redskins punted twice and threw four interceptions. Trumaine McBride, Quintin Demps, Antrel Rolle and Prince Amukamara all picked off passes from Cousins.

Prince Amukamara, New York Giants (September 25, 2014)

Prince Amukamara – © USA TODAY Sports Images

“With the offense putting the points up on the board, it forced (Washington) to pass the ball more frequently,” Rolle said. “Right now we’re starting to put together some good football on both sides of the ball.”

The Giants then turned those Washington turnovers into 21 points, highlighted by a Daniel Fells’ touchdown reception and Andre Williams’ first career touchdown run.

Game video highlights are available at Giants.com.

The Giants will host the Atlanta Falcons on October 5 at MetLife Stadium at 1:00P.M.
—-
News and Notes

The Giants gained 449 yards on offense and tallied 31 first downs. The Giants held the ball for 37:17.

Victor Cruz caught led the Giants with 108 yards receiving on six catches. Rueben Randle caught eight passes for 89 yards. Defensively, Jacquian Williams led the team with nine tackles. Damontre Moore had his first career sack.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie shadowed wide receiver DeSean Jackson throughout the game’s entirety. He held the former Philadelphia Eagle to one reception for nine yards. Quintin Demps started in place of Stevie Brown.

The 45 points scored by the Giants were the most since the team scored 52 versus the New Orleans Saints on Dec. 9, 2012. Manning’s rushing touchdown was his first since Sept. 11, 2011.

With his second interception in back-to-back games, Amukamara has set a new career high for interceptions in a season.

Inactives

Not playing for the Giants were WR Odell Beckham Jr. (hamstring), LB Jon Beason (foot/ankle), LB Devon Kennard (hamstring), OT Charles Brown (shoulder), DL Kerry Wynn, OT James Brewer (back) and DT Jay Bromley.

Sep 242014
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (December 29, 2013)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants at Washington Redskins, September 25, 2014

The New York Giants (1-2) square off against the Washington Redskins (1-2) Thursday evening in New York’s first NFC East matchup.

Prince Amukamara and Stevie Brown, New York Giants (September 8, 2014)

Prince Amukamara and Stevie Brown – © USA TODAY Sports Images

FOUR DOWNS:

First Down
Who plays free safety?
When the Giants released safety Will Hill, it was assumed that Stevie Brown would fill in at free safety after missing all of last season with a knee injury. The last time Brown saw significant playing time, he tied for the league lead in interceptions with eight. Those hopes of yet to materialize this year as Brown has struggled in coverage and has yet to trust the instincts that made him one of the league’s best ball hawks two years ago. Last week versus Houston, Brown was benched.

When Brown exited the lineup, rookie Nat Berhe took his place. This week in practice, Quintin Demps got the first-team reps at free safety. So who will be out there Thursday night? It’ll be interesting to look who steps on the field first, how that player performs and if there is a role for Brown within the defense as a starter. When Brown had his most success, he was allowed to play the ‘Kenny Phillips’ role. Sit back 15-20 yards from the line of scrimmage, watch the quarterbacks eyes and stop anything that goes deep down the field. Brown could be removed as an everyday starter and used in that position instead. All will be shown in Washington.

Second Down
Has the offensive line turned the corner?
With offensive lines, so many times it’s not so much about having the best players, but the players that play best together. The last two games for the Giants have been some of the best in pass protection, and last Sunday versus Houston may have been the best run blocking the team has provided in well over a year. The question now is centered around if Sunday was a mirage, or is that how the line will play on a regular basis. A good, but banged up, Washington defensive front will be a nice test.

Third Down
Does Andre Williams see an increased workload?
Rashad Jennings ran the ball an awful lot last week with immense success. In a game in which he set career highs, Jennings rushed for 176 yards and touched the ball nearly 40 times. In a short turnaround, Jennings’ body may not be fully healed just yet.

Versus Houston, Williams got a few carrie spelling Jennings, but didn’t seem to have the same success. It wasn’t necessarily a knock on Williams, but rather more attributed to the fact Jennings was playing out of his mind. Through three games, Williams hasn’t experienced the same success he found in the preseason, there’s no denying that, but that could also be due to the fact he hasn’t been allowed to get into a rhythm running the ball. Williams comes off as a player that gets stronger as the game goes on. He may have a chance to do just that tomorrow night.

Steve Weatherford (5), Josh Brown (3), New York Giants (December 22, 2013)

Josh Brown Kicks the Game-Winner in Overtime – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Fourth Down
Can the special teams be special?
For the last several years, few units in the NFL has been as porous as the Giants special teams. Be it poor coverage, poor blocking or poor returns, there’s been nothing ‘special’ about the unit. This offseason, it looked like New York made the right changes to fix the group. Trindon Holliday and Quintin Demps were signed while Odell Beckham Jr. was drafted to address the return game. Bennett Jackson was drafted and Zack Bowman signed to fix the coverage unit. Three games in, it’s the same old, same old.

There’s no explosiveness from the return game as Holliday is on the injured reserve and Beckham is dealing with a hamstring. A training camp foot injury hurt Jackson’s shot of making the roster and he’s on the practice squad. Zack Bowman has missed more special teams tackles than he’s made. A lot of criticism has been given to Tom Quinn, some of it warranted, but more needs to go to the players.

Just like the offense, playmakers need to make plays. Demps and Bowman were brought in to do that, but both have been below average three games in.

BREAKING DOWN WASHINGTON:

OFFENSE – by Connor Hughes
Strength?
As bad as it sounds, Robert Griffin III’s dislocated ankle may have been the best thing to happen to Washington this season. In Jay Gruden’s high-octane, go-deep offense, it looks as if former fourth-round pick Kirk Cousins may be better suited to play the offense, at least it’s looking that way right now. In the two games Cousins has played, the quarterback has completed 52-of-81 passes (64.2 percent) and thrown for 677 yards with five touchdowns and one interception. In fact, Cousins’ 427 passing yards last week versus Philadelphia were more than Griffin has ever thrown for in his 30 games played.

Will Hill, New York Giants (October 27, 2013)

DeSean Jackson is now a member of Washington – © USA TODAY Sports Images

While Cousins’ gaudy numbers haven’t exactly been compiled against the league’s best secondaries (Jacksonville/Philly), they’re impressive none the less. The quarterback seems to be thriving in Gruden’s offense and looks far different than the quarterback that started against the Giants in the final game of last season. Then again, having targets like DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garćon to throw the ball to helps. Last year’s final game of the season, one where Cousins completed just 19-of-49 passes for 169 yards with a pair of interceptions, will certainly be on the quarterback’s mind. The key? New York will have to  pressure Cousins and keep him off balance.

Weakness?
There really isn’t a known weakness across the Redskins offense: The have one of the league’s better running backs in Alfred Morris, two good receivers in Garćon and Jackson and a good offensive line that has allowed Cousins to be pressure on just 19 percent of his drop backs. On Thursday night, the Giants will look to find and exploit a potential hole. That could be putting pressure into the face of Cousins. Versus Philadelphia and Jacksonville, Cousins was allowed to drop back and scan the defense with little pressure heading his way. If the Giants can create pressure, either with their front four or blitzes, Cousins may be forced into mistakes. Cousins has a little bit of a reputation as a player who will take some chances. In the 10 games he’s played in, he’s thrown an interception seven.

DEFENSE by Eric Kennedy
Strength?
The Redskins operate out of a 3-4 on defense and the strength of their defensive team in in their front seven. The Redskins were terrible defensively in 2013, but they retained defensive coordinator Jim Haslett who has mostly done a fine job during his tenure in Washington. Thus far, the Redskins look much improved on defense in 2014. Up front, ex-Cowboy Jason Hatcher is the best pass rusher at RDE. Hatcher has been bothered by a hamstring injury however. NT Chris Baker is filling for the injured Barry Cofield. Jarvis Jenkins is the LDE. The more dangerous players are at OLB with Brian Orakpo (who is dealing with torn ligaments in his left hand) and Ryan Kerrigan. Both can rush the passer and have caused the Giants problems in the past. ILB Perry Riley is an athletic, 3-down player.

Weakness?
It’s the secondary. And it’s weaker now that the Redskins have lost CB DeAngelo Hall – who has caused problems for Eli in the past – for the season. He will be replaced at left corner by rookie Bashaud Breeland. RCB David Amerson has struggled at times. E.J. Biggers is the nickel corner and Victor Cruz should do well against him. The safeties – Brandon Meriweather and Ryan Clark – are veterans who are on the downside of their respective careers.

Larry Donnell, New York Giants (September 14, 2014)

Larry Donnell – © USA TODAY Sports Images

PLAYER TO WATCH:

Connor Hughes –
Larry Donnell
Quickly, Larry Donnell is establishing himself as the complete package at tight end for the Giants. It was always known that Donnell had the ability to be a receiver, but blocking was a huge work in progress. It looks like Donnell, and positional coach Kevin Gilbride, have put in the time to fine-tune Donnell’s craft in that aspect. He took a huge step forward in that area versus Houston and Washington will provide another tough test. Tom Coughlin was hoping someone would step up at the position, someone has.

Eric Kennedy –
Prince Amukamara and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
These two have the most important match-up battles against Pierre Garçon and DeSean Jackson. With the free safety spot shaky right now, it is critical that both Amakamara and DRC  play well against Washington’s two most explosive play-makers.

FROM THE COACHES’ MOUTH:

Tom Coughlin – (On Kirk Cousins) “All you have to do is put the tape on. Forty-five points, two games. He’s thrown the ball very well – the deep ball, the percentage passes, all kinds of yardage. They’ve done a very nice job in terms of adjusting their style of play and he’s played well.”

Eli Manning, New York Giants (September 21, 2014)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Jay Gruden – (On an improved Eli Manning) “Yeah, I think so. That is just my impression of just watching them for the last 23 hours. I would say my impression coming in playing the Giants from playing them a couple years ago and studying them now, I think it is totally different.”

FINAL WORD:

Connor Hughes – 
As good as last week’s win was, it came against the same team that was selecting No. 1 overall in this year’s draft. With that being said, it’s extremely encouraging to see the rate at which the offense is picking up Ben McAdoo’s scheme. Comparing the dysfunctional unit that was on display for four quarters in Detroit, to the way the team has played the last eight, it’s an entirely different unit.

It’s not going to be easy against Washington, but just like the Giants, call the last two games what they are. Kirk Cousins has torched the Jacksonville Jaguars and Philadelphia Eagles. For any that have watched Philly this year, the defense is far from anything close to a dominant force. As for Jacksonville? Well, it’s the same old Jaguars.

The Giants defense will be the toughest Cousins has faced, and with the way the pass rush has faired this season, I think Cousins could be in for a very long day. Not only is the Giants secondary vastly improved, but so to is the pass rush. Damontre Moore looks to be a budding super star, Jason Pierre-Paul is back and Robert Ayers Jr. has been one of the best and most underrated free agent signings. If that pass rush can get into the face of Cousins and force some throws, I wouldn’t be surprised to see another two-to-three interceptions.

The game is going to come down to who turns the ball over, when those turnovers come and who makes less. If Eli Manning is good Eli, the Giants can win this one running away. It’s going to come down to who makes the fewest mistakes. I think that team will be the Giants.
New York 23 – Washington 13

Eric Kennedy – The Giants have to stop the run and make Washington one-dimensional. Offensively, the Giants should be able to do damage against this secondary if they can keep the pass rushers off of Manning. I’m 0-3 on predictions this year. Let’s keep it going.
Redskins 42 – Giants 0

Sep 242014
 
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Victor Cruz, New York Giants (September 21, 2014)

Victor Cruz – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 30 – Houston Texans 17

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 the defense get off of the field on 3rd down?
YES! Houston was held to a paltry 2-of-12 (17 percent) on third down and failed on their one offensive 4th down attempt (they converted on a special teams 4th down play).

Second Down
Can the defense force some turnovers?
YES! Three interceptions. One each by Prince Amukamara, Antrel Rolle, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Amukamara and DRC had shots at other passes as well.

Third Down
Can the Giants finally get the ground game going?
Rashad Jennings played like a man possessed Sunday afternoon, running for a career-high 176 yards on 34 carries including a one-yard touchdown. There will be more on this in the positional breakdown, but Jennings truly is a complete back. He can catch the ball, run the ball, but more importantly, he blocks like an offensive lineman.

Fourth Down
Can Eli Manning build on his positive performance from last week?
This sentence may be repeated quite often as the season goes on, but Eli Manning had his best game in the West Coast offense Sunday afternoon. The two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback keeps getting more comfortable and seems to enjoy the dinking-and-dunking the Giants are now doing to work down the field.

OFFENSIVE OVERVIEW – by Connor Hughes

The Giants scored 30 points Sunday versus the Texans. The Giants could have scored 50.

Ben McAdoo’s West Coast offense was run near perfectly versus Houston as Manning marched the Giants up and down the field with ease on near every possession. Manning had time to throw, the team’s playmakers made plays and, for the first time all year, the Giants established a running game. It was easily the most complete game for the Giants in the short three-game season.

The one noticeable thing that may have had a lot to do with the Giants ability to run the ball were the formations in which they were running the ball out of. The Giants routinely spaced the field with three wide receivers, then ran the ball right up the gut of the Texans defensive line. Since there were three receivers on the field, the Texans couldn’t come out in their base defense. Playing in a nickel and time package, the Giants offensive line took advantage. It was big guys beating up little guys, with a few highlight plays from Jennings.

Granted, this was the Houston Texans, the same team that was selecting first overall in this year’s draft, but it was very promising to see. For the first time in awhile, the Giants dominated from start to finish.

QUARTERBACK – by Connor Hughes

While Manning looked good last week versus the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday may have been the most comfortable he’s looked during a game in quite some time. Manning completed 21-of-28 passes for 234 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He marched the Giants up-and-down the field, rolled out and found open receivers on play action passes.

While Manning went deep down the field just once on the incomplete pass to Randle, he seemed entirely comfortable throwing things underneath and letting his playmakers make plays. Two of the biggest plays Sunday (Victor Cruz’s 26-yard touchdown and 61-yard reception) were both passes of just eight yards that Cruz turned into more.

Once Manning got into his rhythm, he started making Manning throws again. His second touchdown of the game, a nine-yard pass to Daniel Fells, was a thing of beauty:

RUNNING BACKS – by Connor Hughes

One of the more impressive things about Rashad Jennings is his vision, it really is incredible. There were countless plays on Sunday where Jennings started one way, then made a little juke/shimmy/cutback to find another lane on the other side of the field. These are the little things that can’t be measured or seen in any drill, it’s god given.

Maybe the best example of Jennings vision came on a first-down run in the second half. It looked as if the Giants wanted to run a stretch play to the right side of the field. A stretch is a play in which the entire offensive line blocks the defensive line right, and the running back runs that way. The play is designed to get the outside.

Jennings started going this way, and the defense started their pursuit there, too. Jennings saw this, then saw the left side of the field wide open. He reversed his angle and took it the other direction for a first. You just can’t coach that. Jennings played like a man possessed.

But the biggest play Jennings made Sunday wasn’t one that shows up on the stat sheets. In fact, if it wasn’t for his play, Cruz isn’t doing any salsa in any endzone. With the Texans showing blitz in the A gap, Manning took the snap and Jennings stepped up and picked up in the blitzing linebacker. The block gave Manning enough time to fire a pass to Cruz, who then made a defender miss and raced into the endzone.

WIDE RECEIVERS – by Connor Hughes

Victor Cruz caught a lot of flack for his game last week, and for good reason. Cruz asked for the ball more in order for the offense to have success, then dropped three passes when they were thrown his way.

If Cruz had caught two of the three he missed versus Arizona, the Giants probably win the game. Because of one of his catches this week, the Giants did.

It was a classic, old school Victor Cruz performance filled with yards after the catch and ankle-breaking moves. On his touchdown, the move he made to free himself was just unreal.

Cruz seems to have found himself a home in the Giants offense and is beginning to get on the same page as Manning. He’s finding the holes in the defense again.

It’s tough to know exactly what to make of Rueben Randle. He’ll make plays like last week’s one-handed grab that leaves everyone awestruck, but then he’ll play like he did versus Houston which leaves much to be desired. Randle wasn’t bad, he was just blah. The former second-round pick caught five passes for 27 yards.

When McAdoo imagined the Giants offense, I doubt designing plays for Preston Parker was what he had in mind. Either way, Parker played well filling in for Jerrel Jernigan/Odell Beckham Jr. He dropped the one ball, but made a few other catches and ran a nice route on a comeback.

TIGHT ENDS – by Connor Hughes

The biggest surprise for the Giants has been the emergence of Larry Donnell as the team’s tight end. Addressing this early, I labeled Donnell as a ‘Dud’ following the game after his fumble on the goal line. The ‘Dud’ label was really just a half dud, there really weren’t any full duds coming out of that game.

With that being said, I take it back entirely. The fumble was a perfect hit by the safety who put his helmet right on the ball. Donnell could have moved the ball to the other hand, but it was more just a textbook play by Kendrick Lewis.

Donnell as a receiver continues to impress, even though that’s what he’s known as doing. Sunday, there was one play that stood out more than most. The biggest thing Donnell can develop is chemistry with Manning. To be able to adjust to plays on the fly because he can anticipate what Manning is thinking. There was a glimpse of that beginning to happen.

With Donnell perfectly covered by Daniel Manning, Manning threw a pass just behind Donnell. The tight end had to stop his pattern and jump back to make the grab, but that’s what Manning wanted him to do. Had he led him, it’s an interception. Donnell saw this, too, and made the adjustment on the ball for a helluva catch.

Donnell also took huge strides Sunday blocking. Believe it or not, the Giants let him face off against JJ Watt. Believe it or not, Donnell held his own. If that aspect of his game comes around, the Giants may have something special on their hands.

OFFENSIVE LINE – by Connor Hughes

Get this out of the way now: Sometimes, J.J. Watt does things that only J.J. Watt can do. Like…

Watt is one of the league’s best defensive players, he’s going to make plays no matter who is in front of him. With that being said, the Giants did a remarkable job against him. In particular, Justin Pugh. Pugh went up against Watt more than a few of the other Giants and did very, very well. Sure, he let up a few plays, but not nearly as much as so many others.

Aside from containing Watt, the Giants offensive line played their best game in potentially two years. There were massive holes for Jennings to run through and time for Manning to throw. The player that stood out the most was John Jerry.

When Jerry arrived in New York, he was known primarily as a pass blocker. Sunday, he made some incredible plays pulling in the run game.  During the first two weeks of the season, Brandon Mosley was listed on the game day depth chart as the starting right guard. In a pre-game announcement, a ‘substitution’ of Jerry for Mosley was announced. Sunday, Jerry was listed as the starting right guard and he deserves it.

Sometimes, you don’t need the best offensive linemen to make the best offensive line. What you need is five players playing together. The last two weeks, the Giants have had that.

DEFENSIVE OVERVIEW – by Eric Kennedy

Not playing for the Giants on defense were LB Jon Beason (foot/ankle) and LB Devon Kennard (hamstring).

The New York Giants defense played very well in the first half of the game, but slackened noticeably in the second half. It was a mostly positive performance as the Giants held the Texans to a 17 percent third-down conversion rate, made a key 4th down stop, picked off three passes, and limited the Texans to 17 points.

In the first half, the Giants held the Texans to four first downs, 0-of-7 on third down, and 83 net yards (41 rushing and 42 passing) as Houston was kept off of the scoreboard. However, the Texans gained 16 first downs, 328 net yards (78 rushing and 250 passing), and 17 point in the second half. The Giants also surrendered three plays of over 40 yards in the second half, two of which came on the TD drive where the Texans cut the score to 17-10 at the end of the third quarter. The game got uncomfortably close at this point.

Overall, it was a step in the right direction, but not a complete game.

Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants (September 21, 2014)

Jason Pierre-Paul – © USA TODAY Sports Images

DEFENSIVE LINE – by Eric Kennedy

It was a solid all-around game for the Giants up front. Houston running backs were held to 85 yards rushing on 17 carries. Had the Giants not surrendered a 46-yard run to rookie Alfred Blue in the third quarter, those numbers would have looked even better (39 yards on 16 carries). The only other time the Giants were a bit soft against the run was on Houston’s opening drive when Blue picked up 22 yards on three carries. It was on these few plays where the Texans were able to successfully block DE Jason Pierre-Paul (7 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss, 1 pass defense) and DT Johnathan Hankins (4 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 1 pass defense). The big play by Hankins was stuffing the 4th-and-1 play early in the third quarter (with an assist from DE Mathias Kiwanuka and DT Mike Patterson). Pierre-Paul was very disruptive against the run at times.

The Giants only had two sacks. Among the defensive linemen, only Hankins received partial credit for a sack. But those numbers do not tell the full story. The Giants got good pressure much of the day from all four starters at different points of the contest. Pierre-Paul made his presence felt as a pass rusher and Kiwanuka and DT Cullen Jenkins (4 tackles, 1 pass defense) flashed at times. JPP caused the first interception with his hit on the Houston QB as he was throwing the ball. In addition, I really the way JPP has been hustling all over the field. When he doesn’t get to the QB, he chases and pursues the ball carrier.

Robert Ayers caught my attention several times as a pass rusher from the defensive tackle position, and Damontre Moore had a couple of quality pass rushes. Ayers helped to cause the second interception. The Giants tipped three passes and would have had more sacks had they been able to wrap up QB Ryan Fitzpatrick on a number of occasions.

Jameel McClain, New York Giants (September 14, 2014)

Jameel McClain – © USA TODAY Sports Images

LINEBACKERS – by Eric Kennedy

Without Jon Beason playing, the fear was this unit would be a major liability in this game. It wasn’t. There was the one big 46-yard run where both Jameel McClain and Jacquian Williams were blocked (along with Hankins and Pierre-Paul), but for the most part the linebackers did their job agains the run. McClain finished the game with a team-high 11 tackles, plus 0.5 sacks and one tackle for a loss. He flashed on the blitz a couple of times. Williams (5 tackles) was far more physical against the run this week and flashed on a play where he stunted with JPP and helped to cause an incompletion on third down. But both McClain and Williams also missed sacks on the elusive Fitzpatrick. Mark Herzlich (4 tackles and 1 tackle for a loss) played on the weakside (strongside in Fewell’s defense).

Oddly, the Texans never really went after the linebackers in pass coverage until the third quarter when they experienced a moderate amount of success over the middle to TE Garrett Graham and crossing routes to the slot receiver.

DEFENSIVE BACKS – by Eric Kennedy

The defensive backs played pretty well for the most part, but they did give up some big plays. The best news was the turnovers. Three interceptions, two of which led to 10 points. CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (3 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss, 1 interception, 2 pass defenses) was sharp. He got his first interception as a Giant and almost a second. DRC also stood out in run defense on one play, nailing the back for a 2-yard loss. He was often lined up against perenial Pro Bowler Andre Johnson, who was limited to 24 yards on four catches. Rodgers-Cromartie was flagged with a defensive holding penalty.

Prince Amukamara, New York Giants (September 14, 2014)New York Giants (September 14, 2014)

Prince Amukamara – © USA TODAY Sports Images

CB Prince Amukamara (5 tackles, 1 interception, 2 pass defenses) also had a interception and almost came down with two more. But he also was beat by WR DeAndre Hopkins a couple of times (a 17-yard comeback route and a 49 yard deep pass). He was also flagged for a bogus pass interference penalty that gave the Texans a 1st-and-goal from the 1-yard line.

SS Antrel Rolle gave the Giants a huge lift right before halftime with an interception and 25 yard return down to the Houston 2-yard line, setting up a score and a 14-0 halftime advantage. FS Stevie Brown and CB Trumaine McBride got burned on Hopkins’ 44-yard touchdown pass that cut the score to 17-10. This is the second time this season Brown has given up a long touchdown by not properly covering the deep half of the field. Other than that play, McBride wasn’t noticed so it appears he did a good job in replacing Walter Thurmond for at least one week.

SPECIAL TEAMS – by Eric Kennedy

There were two huge mistakes early that originally appeared would cost the Giants dearly. First, the Giants were unprepared for a fake punt that resulted in an easy 10-yard completion and a first down on Houston’s first offensive possession (thankfully, the defense saved the special teams here). Second, early in the second quarter, Zak DeOssie’s bad snap on a 30-yard field goal effort not only resulted in no points, but also gave Houston the ball at the 41-yard line.

Damontre Moore, New York Giants (September 14, 2014)

Damontre Moore blocks a punt – © USA TODAY Sports Images

On the positive side, Damontre Moore’s punt block in the 4th quarter set the Giants’ offensive up on the Houston 29-yard line, helping the Giants to extend their lead to 27-10.

PK Josh Brown was 3-for-3 on his field goal efforts (from 39, 29, and 31 yards out). Of his seven kickoffs, four went for touchbacks while three were returned for a total of 67 yards, the longest being a return of 31 yards.

Steve Weatherford punted four times with an average of 39.8 yards per punt. The only punt returned by Houston went for three yards.

Quintin Demps had one kickoff return for 17 yards. Preston Parker returned one punt for 12 yards and had another 12-yard called back due to a holding penalty on Damontre Moore. Larry Donnell recovered an onside kick.

(Boxscore – Houston Texans at New York Giants, September 21, 2014)