Sep 222017
 
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Robert Thomas, New York Giants (November 6, 2016)

Robert Thomas – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Game Preview: New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles, September 24, 2017

THE STORYLINE:
Unbelievably, there is a good chance the New York Giants season will all but officially end on Sunday. In September. Facing an 0-3 start, the Giants probably could not have picked a worse opponent to face given their painful recent history against the Philadelphia Eagles. Stating the obvious, the Eagles have the Giants number, winning five out of the last six, and 14 out of the last 18 games. Those are embarrassing numbers.

Lose on Sunday, and the New York Giants franchise will subject themselves of months of questions and debate about the competency of Jerry Reese, Ben McAdoo, and Eli Manning. Fans will begin talking about the draft and free agency IN SEPTEMBER. That’s as bad as it gets.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • WR Odell Beckham, Jr. (ankle – probable)
  • TE Evan Engram (concussion – questionable)
  • OT Bobby Hart (ankle – out)
  • LB B.J. Goodson (shin – out)
  • LB Keenan Robinson (concussion – probable)
  • LB J.T. Thomas (groin – out)
  • CB Janoris Jenkins (ankle – questionable)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
The Giants have scored 13 points in two games. Again, I repeat, the Giants have scored 13 points in two games. If you don’t score, you can’t win. The Giants are struggling to even move the football. In their last eight games, where the team has not been able to reach the 20-point mark, 46 percent of the Giants drives have resulted in three-and-outs. During that same time frame, in 97 drives, the Giants have scored nine touchdowns.

  • The Giants gambled and lost on bringing back the same offensive line.
  • The Giants don’t/can’t run (only 30 rushing attempts for 97 yards TOTAL in the first two games).
  • The quarterback is getting hit too early and too often even when the other team is only rushing four.
  • Odell Beckham missed the first game, wasn’t himself the second game, and Brandon Marshall has been a bust so far.
  • The offensive brain trust appears inflexible and stubborn.

Enter the 11th-ranked, aggressive Philadelphia Eagles defense, coached by super-prick but equally effective Jim Schwartz. He and his charges smell blood. The strength of the Eagles defense is a deep and talented defensive line salivating over the prospects of facing a shitty New York Giants offensive line that somehow plays even worse when facing the Eagles. Why have the Giants struggled to beat the Eagles in recent years? Look no further than the Giants getting their asses kicked up front by the Eagles.

The Eagles already have eight sacks in two games. With Bobby Hart out, we’ll probably see the line that played for most of the game against the Lions: LT Ereck Flowers, LG Brett Jones, OC Weston Richburg, RG John Jerry, and RT Justin Pugh. Having Pugh play right tackle over Hart for this game is probably an upgrade, but Pugh has had some of his worst games against the Eagles, including at RT. The prospect of Jones and Jerry facing DTs Fletcher Cox and Tim Jernigan is more than a bit nerve-wracking as is Flowers dealing with the outside speed rushers the Eagles will line up over him. The Eagles won’t have to blitz. They’ll play the run on their way to the quarterback and just rush four. It’s as predictable as the sun rising in the east.

Barring some unforeseen turnaround, the Giants won’t be able to block the Eagles up front. They won’t be able to run the football. Eli Manning will get hit early and often and begin to hear footsteps. Beckham will be double- and triple-covered. And the Giants won’t be able to take advantage of injury-riddled Eagles secondary. If Engram can’t play, it will be even worse.

The only chance the Giants have is the offense doesn’t turn the ball over, Manning plays with 2011 NFC Championship Game-type toughness, Beckham makes a couple of huge plays, and the defense and special teams carry the team the rest of the way.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
Three things have sabotaged the Giants defense early: injuries, particularly to Janoris Jenkins, B.J. Goodson, and Keenan Robinson; disappointing third-down defense; and not enough forced turnovers. The bad news is Goodson is out again and Jenkins is questionable; good news is Robinson is back. If Jenkins can’t go, the defense will be significantly weakened against the Eagles 3rd-ranked passing offense. The Eagles finished 2016 11th in rushing and 24th in passing. The major leap they have so far taken forward in the passing game is primarily due to the rapid emergence of Carson Wentz at quarterback. Unfortunately, Wentz is the real deal and he has those characteristics that have hurt the Giants in recent years: mobility combined with an ability to improvise. One again, the Giants face a quarterback who can hurt them with his feet if they don’t maintain disciplined pass-rush lanes and/or fail to wrap him up and bring him down.

Wentz’s favorite targets so far have been TE Zach Ertz (13 catches), WR Alshon Jeffery (10 catches, 1 TD), WR Nelson Agholor (7 catches, 2 TDs), RB Darren Sproles (7 catches), and WR Torrey Smith (5 catches). The Eagles are likely test rookie middle linebacker Calvin Munson in coverage with Ertz and Sproles. If Jenkins is out, look for a heavy dose of shots in Jeffery’s direction as well.

Ex-Patriot LeGarrette Blount has been sharing rushing duties with Sproles. The Lions smartly eschewed running at Damon Harrison and chose to to run outside more. So I would look for Sproles on outside runs.

Stating the obvious, the Giants defense needs to have a monster game for the team to win. They have to shut down the run and get after Wentz, forcing some turnovers along the way. At worst, they need to simply get off of the field on third down. To me, the Giants defensive line has to play lights out. It’s up to Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Jason Pierre-Paul to take over the game.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
The Eagles have been one of the tougher special teams units in the NFL for years. Tom Quinn’s special teams bit the team in the ass once again last week with a game-breaking punt return for a touchdown. Enter Darren Sproles, who broke a long return against the Giants in the first game last year. So far, Quinn also hasn’t been able to get his return game going either.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Ben McAdoo on Carson Wentz: “He seems like he has eyes in the back of his head now. He’s very aggressive trying to keep the play alive, slide in the pocket, come out of the pocket, and he’s not afraid to take a chance down the field and make a throw that’s a long opportunity ball for his guys. Throw it up to those big playmakers, whether it’s the receivers or the tight end, to give him a chance to make a play down the field.”

Ben McAdoo on Zach Ertz: “Don’t forget about Ertz. He’s a very talented player. He’s a smart player. You can see it with the way he knows how to find the holes in the zones and run away. Friendly for the quarterback versus his man.”

THE FINAL WORD:
The Eagles are playing better on offense, defense, and special teams. This is the season for the Giants. To stay alive, they have to beat the team that has has their number since 2008 at a venue that has been a horror-show for them. The recent history of this rivalry for the Giants has been shoddy blocking, turnovers, and special teams blunders. It might be a good day to mow the lawn.

Sep 202017
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (September 18, 2017)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports

Detroit Lions 24 – New York Giants 10

RECAP

The Giants have become the new Patriots of the NFL when it comes to disclosing information about injuries. Janoris Jenkins and B.J. Goodson, two of the highest graded NYG defenders from week 1, surprisingly were on the team’s inactive list prior to kickoff. On the flip side, star receiver Odell Beckham dressed and made his 2017 debut on Monday Night Football against the 1-0 Detroit Lions, led by the NFL’s highest-paid player, Matthew Stafford.

On Detroit’s second drive (following the Giants’ three-and-out that included a sack), Stafford led the Lions on a 9-play drive that ended with a 3rd-and-12, 27-yard touchdown pass on a vertical route to Marvin Jones over Eli Apple, who never  located the ball. Things were looking up soon after, as New York responded with their own 8 play scoring drive that resulted in rookie tight end Evan Engram’s first career touchdown.

With the game tied 7 a piece, the Lions took over the field position battle thanks to two rookie mistakes. First, Engram’s celebration penalty, and second, kicker Aldrick Rosas’ kick out of bounds. The defense however stepped up when Jason Pierre-Paul forced a sack-fumble, which was recovered by Devon Kennard. It took just one play to hand the ball back to Detroit after Manning threw a pass slightly behind Engram, who tipped it into the arms of linebacker Tahir Whitehead. Fast forward 5 plays and Stafford throws his second touchdown, this time to tight end Eric Ebron who simply outran safety Darian Thompson on a crossing route.

Both defenses held their own towards the end of the second half, with Detroit sacking Manning 3 times in 6 drop backs, gaining more field position advantages. They ended the first half with a 6-play drive capped off by a 56-yard field goal that hit the cross bar and bounced over, by Matt Prater.  A sign of the Giants coaching staff having little-to-no confidence in the ability of this offense was the fact they let the clock run from 1:20 all the way down to :35 as the Lions field goal unit got on the field. That was an opportunity that Ben McAdoo simply looked past, scared that the offense would end up giving the ball back to the Lions.

Down 17-7, the Giants put together arguably their best drive of the night that got them as close as 1st-and-goal from the 1-yard line. An opportunity like that resulted in just a mere 3 points, largely attributed to a holding penalty on guard Brett Jones.

At the start of the 4th quarter, the biggest turnaround/turning point of the game occurred. Manning threw a perfect deep ball up the right sideline to Brandon Marshall, the hyped free agent signing who has made zero impact so far. It would have resulted in a 30+ yard gain but instead, Marshall let the ball slip right through his hands, an inexcusable drop. Two plays later, Lions rookie punt returner Jamal Agnew returned a punt for an 88-yard touchdown, making it 24-10. The air was sucked out of the team and fans at that point and it was never recovered. The Giants’ top targets were dropping balls, passes were being thrown well before the first down marker on 3rd/4th down, and the running game couldn’t find an inch. Slightly different path, but the same result for the offense that hasn’t had an identity in years. The Lions played a conservative, clock-eating style of offense and the Giants lost, 24-10 at home.

QUARTERBACKS

  • Eli Manning: 22/32 – 239 yards – 1 TD/1 INT – 87.9 rating. Upon watching the offense a second and third time respectively, Manning didn’t deserve to be thrown under the bus by Ben McAdoo. He had pressure at his feet and in his face often, again, and still made some big time throws despite it. If Brandon Marshall and Evan Engram hold onto downfield passes that Manning put on the money, we are talking about a 300+ yard game and maybe even a win. One glaring hole from the night, however, was a play in which Manning went to the ground before even bring touched by Lions defensive end Ezekiel Ansah. He needs to rise above a situation like that and stay strong when the pressure is on.

RUNNING BACKS

  • Shane Vereen: 6 att – 28 yards – 4.7 avg. Also picked up 27 yards on 3 catches. There is a sense of security and more potential with Vereen on the field. A better blocker, receiver, and playmaker in space with the ball in his hands. One of the game-plan changes this team needs to make is get the ball in his hands more than 12 times per game, minimum. Vereen has always been an assertive runner WHO can create on his own and unfortunately that is what the NYG backs will need to do all year.
  • Orleans Darkwa: 3 att – 17 yards – 5.7 avg. Darkwa’s first rush went for 11 yards. The opportunities have been sparse for the Giants’ most physical back, but he can move the chains by falling forward and pushing piles. He should have been in there on the Giants rushing attempt from the 1-yard line.
  • Paul Perkins: 7 att – 10 yards – 1.4 avg. Also added 2 catches for 12 yards. The running back position appears to be up for grabs, as Perkins simply hasn’t been making plays. Yet once again, he hasn’t really had the opportunity to find a rhythm. The running lanes aren’t there but Perkins is still showing too much hesitation and timidness.

WIDE RECEIVERS

  • Odell Beckham: 4 rec – 36 yards. In his first game back since the August 21 injury in Cleveland, the Giants limited his snaps, 61% to be exact. There was a visible lack of burst and confidence to his movement and a player like him needs that to be effective. His biggest impact on the game may have been the attention he demanded from the Lions on his deep routes. He was triple-covered four times.
  • Sterling Shepard: 2 rec – 23 yards. A near touchdown where he was clocked by safety Glover Quin while reaching for the ball could have changed the game. By no means was it a “should have had it” play, but someone needs to step up and make something happen eventually. Shepard had a couple of rushing attempts as well, as he appears to be the most explosive player this team has with the ball in his hands until Beckham is fully back.
  • Brandon Marshall – 1 rec – 17 yards: Was on the wrong end of one of the most influential plays of the night. A horrendous deep ball drop that helped alter the momentum of the entire game. On the next drive, Marshall showed a poor effort on a ball that was slightly above his head on a crossing route. The issue with Marshall his entire career is how he approaches the game when things aren’t going his way and the team is losing. Is the desire to win burning inside of him? Or is he going to continue to play like a has been that is looking forward to retirement?

TIGHT ENDS

  • Evan Engram: 4 rec – 49 yards – 1 TD. With each week that passes, Engram is getting more and more comfortable in the Giants’ offense. His ability to get open and make plays after the catch are going to be crucial to any sort of offensive turnaround. His first career touchdown was unchallenged by the Lions’ defense due to a playaction fake. Late in the game, Engram dropped a 29-yard touchdown pass after being hit by cornerback Darius Slay. A tough play indeed, but one that could have changed the outcome of the game. Engram also graded out poorly as a blocker with a couple of bad breakdowns in crucial situations.
  • Rhett Ellison: 2 rec – 21 yards. To this day, I can’t recall a target intended for Ellison where a positive play wasn’t the result. If the Giants want more blocking presence on the field without fully compromising their playmaking potential, Ellison needs more snaps. He was only on the field for 39% of the plays. With that said, Ellison was beaten badly on two key running plays as a blocker.
  • Jerell Adams: 1 rec – 38 yards. The Giants biggest play of the night was to Adams up the right sideline. Manning was under heavy pressure which forced an under throw. But a nice adjustment to the ball by Adams brought the Giants to their best field position of the night. It was Adams’ only play of the game and he showed that he could be a missing piece to an offense that needs more blocking presence without fully compromising play-making potential.

OFFENSIVE LINE

  • Tackles: Ereck Flowers, for the second straight week, graded out the worst on the line and had another bottom-5 performance from around the league. Poor footwork. Poor knee bend. Inaccurate hands. Lack of hustle and grit. There is zero difference between the rookie version of Flowers and the year 3 version. Patience is one thing if there are signs of progress here and there. Stubbornness is another. Throwing him out there to protect Manning’s blind side is the latter. It’s time – Flowers needs to be benched or moved. Justin Pugh shifted over to right tackle after the first drive as a result of Bobby Hart’s ankle injury. His performance on the outside was good enough to sell me on the idea of moving him to his college position, left tackle, full time.
  • Interior: John Jerry and Weston Richburg graded out with positive performances. After Jerry’s split-blunder on the Lions first sack of the night, he played well enough. He stayed on his man, as his assignment was being responsible for just one tackle the rest of the game. Richburg played very solid assignment-football, allowing just one tackle himself and very good pass protection when he was left alone. Brett Jones, who played all but one drive at left guard, was up and down. He allowed a cover-sack and committed a big holding penalty. While he doesn’t look good out there, especially with adjustment-based lateral movement, his grit and fight is something Flowers could take notes on. He is a true, blue-collar hustler who makes up for shortcomings by simply outworking his opponent.

DEFENSIVE ENDS

  • Jason Pierre Paul recorded his first sack, which also forced a fumble in the 2nd quarter. His overall impact on the game was better than the 3 tackle-stat sheet leads on. He was disruptive and pursued well to the sideline, forcing the Lions’ running backs inside on a few occasions. Olivier Vernon forced Lions tackle Greg Robinson into a few penalties, but overall his impact wasn’t anything stand out. His match-up in this contest should have led to more production. Too often was he being neutralized by a lone blocker against the run. Romeo Okwara recorded two pressures in limited action. He continues to be a solid 3rd-down threat who can line up anywhere.
  • The Lions tried to keep Damon Harrison away from having an impact. They ran to the outside so often and double-teamed him on most passing plays. Even on a “quiet” night, Harrison was still in on 6 tackles and controlled the inside running lanes when Detroit did try to go there. Rookie Dalvin Tomlinson got his first start and I think it will be his for the rest of the year. He was active both in the box and in pursuit, showing plus athleticism and range. He is going to be a major factor moving forward. Jay Bromley and Robert Thomas failed to make a positive impact on their limited snaps.

LINEBACKERS

  • The pregame surprise of the night was B.J. Goodson showing up on the inactive list, out with a shin injury. The NFL week 1 leader in tackles was replaced by undrafted rookie Calvin Munson. The Lions made him move laterally often which he struggled with early but made some impact play tackles late in the game as his reads became more confident. Munson did a nice job of making himself small through traffic and filling lanes. He was on the field for every snap.
  • Devon Kennard only played about half the team’s defensive plays, but had a disruptive night. He recorded a QB pressure, QB hit, and tackle for loss. He was very stout against the run and displayed versatile pass rushing by breaking through the Detroit line from different spots. Jonathan Casillas recorded two tackles for loss, but was also ridden out on a couple of Detroit’s bigger running plays. J.T. Thomas was hurt, again, early in the game.

SAFETIES

  • Landon Collins and Darian Thompson both played every snap. Collins didn’t make any impact plays other than a couple of physical downhill hits against the run. Thompson was beat by tight end Eric Ebron on Detroit’s second touchdown, but broke up a pass later in the game. His range against deep routes appears to be a step behind and his impact as a run defender is minuscule. He had a fairly simple opportunity for an interception in the 2nd quarter, but he badly mistimed his leap for the ball with poor body control. On the Lions’ first touchdown drive, Nat Berhe was assigned to spy Matthew Stafford on a 3rd-and-12 play. He over-pursued badly which allowed an easy cutback lane for Staffod to scramble for a 1st down. The Lions scored 3 plays later.

CORNERBACKS

  • With Janoris Jenkins on the sideline injured, Eli Apple and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie were both on the field for every snap. Both had every up and down nights. Apple’s allowed touchdown to Marvin Jones was something we have seen since the beginning for him, trouble locating the deep ball with body control. He had solid coverage as usual, but that’s only half the battle when defending the pass. The Lions were noticeably attacking him. He made a few physical plays and deflected a pass later on. Rodgers-Cromartie led the team with 11 tackles, most of which were against the run. He had two bad missed tackles that resulted in extra yards for Detroit in key situations, however.
  • Ross Cockrell got his first real playing time with the Giants and played well. Interesting to see him ahead of Michael Hunter on the depth chart, as he out-snapped him 39 to 1.

SPECIAL TEAMS

  • K Aldrick Rosas: 1/1 – 25 yards. Easy chip shot, but a kick out of bounds in the 2nd quarter added to a field position loss.
  • P Brad Wing: 5 punts for 47.8 yard average. An overlooked mishap for the team was Wing out-kicking his coverage by 10-15 yards on the return for a touchdown. That ball needs to be higher, not as far, so the returner has less space to work with upon catching the ball.
  • Return: Dwayne Harris had a quiet night.

3 THOUGHTS ON DETROIT

  • I’ve seen this team play a lot since the start of last season. Matthew Stafford is certainly inching his way towards the elite level. His arm talent is second to none in this league, he has sneaky mobility in and out of the pocket, and he has proven to be unfazed by big moments several times. Detroit is 110% justified in giving him the contract they did, as there may be one or two QBs in the league I take over him for the next 5+ years.
  • The secondary is playing better in the first two weeks than what I saw all of last year, most notably nickel corner Quandre Diggs. Darius Slay is the best corner you’ve never really heard about, and even the Nigel Lawson/D.J. Hayden split can hang with many high-caliber WRs in certain matchups. They are a solid duo who will be on the field based on who the other team has running routes.
  • The Giants offensive line is a mess, and the Lions are somehow piecing together solid performances with players the Giants could have easily signed, most notably Ricky Wagner and T.J. Lang. They aren’t superstars and I won’t pretend they are, but the gap between them and what the Giants are throwing out there is astronomical. That’s how bad this OL personnel is for NYG. And it makes this front office look bad for not adding any veteran piece of value in free agency.

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

  • Everything looks worse when a team is losing. Everything gets questioned and that is often a result of overreacting. But sometimes, bold statements are justified. The debate of what Ben McAdoo will be is still very much alive. Throwing your first-class, team-first-always quarterback under the bus to the NY media was a low blow. McAdoo is as blah as it gets in interviews as he doesn’t like to dive too deeply into questions and information. Was his comment about Manning, which he has done before, a sign of frustration? Will that spill over into the bigger egos on this team? McAdoo needs to remember, the Giants haven’t accomplished much and the offense has never been worse, since he’s been a part of the organization.
  • I touched on this briefly above, but I will repeat. The best move for this offensive line is to move Pugh to left tackle right now. No trades or signings. Pugh’s value to the team is best suited there and Flowers has two options. Play right tackle so they don’t have to rely on D.J. Fluker or Chad Wheeler, or sit on the bench. I understand he hasn’t played on that side since early in college but he is not a left tackle in this league, something I have said since he was drafted. There has been no improvement, no progression with him. If anything, he might surprise and simply play at a higher level over there.
  • Time for this pass rush to step up. I wouldn’t put the below average label on them yet, but making 1 or 2 plays via the pass rush isn’t enough, especially with a line that has Greg Robinson playing left tackle. Granted the Lions were barely dropping back in the second half, but it is time for these guys to step up. They have as tough a test as they will have all year in Philadelphia next week. Show us you deserve all that money, Vernon and JPP.
Sep 162017
 
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Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Eli Apple, New York Giants (December 18, 2016)

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Eli Apple – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Game Preview: Detroit Lions at New York Giants, September 18, 2017

THE STORYLINE:
The issue is not that the New York Giants lost to the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday night. There is no shame in that and the Giants certainly can recover from 0-1. The issue is the way the Giants lost. I’ve been preaching since last year that the Giants offense has become a one-trick pony: Eli Manning finding Odell Beckham for the big play. Take that away and the Giants offense becomes one of the worst in the NFL.

So what did the Giants do this offseason? They swapped Evan Engram/Rhett Ellison for Larry Donnell/Will Tye, Brandon Marshall for Victor Cruz, and Paul Perkins for Rashad Jennings. They rolled the dice by going with the same offense line. The results so far have been no different. Even without Beckham in the line-up, the Giants should have been able to generate more than three points and 13 first downs (2 in the first half!) with the weapons the team has against that Dallas defense.

This will sound like an overly-dramatic overreaction, but Ben McAdoo and the offensive brain trust are running out of excuses. So is the entire franchise for not being able to put together a viable offensive line in years.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • WR Odell Beckham, Jr. (ankle – questionable)
  • WR Tavarres King (ankle – probable)
  • OL Bobby Hart (ankle – probable)
  • OL D.J. Fluker (leg – questionable)
  • DT Jay Bromley (knee – probable)
  • LB B.J. Goodson (leg – questionable)
  • LB Keenan Robinson (concussion – out)
  • CB Janoris Jenkins (ankle/hand – probable)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
Ben McAdoo and his offensive assistants were clearly out-coached by the Dallas Cowboys staff last Sunday night. The Dallas defense knew what New York was going to do and the Giants coaches had no answer for it. Obviously, execution also matters. And Eli Manning looked like a quarterback playing out the string of a possible Hall of Fame career. The offensive line still can’t block. The running backs can’t create on their own. And the receivers who played didn’t provide many yards after the catch.

This is the Giants offense:

  1. They have some talented wide outs and tight ends who can hurt you in the passing game.
  2. They can’t run the ball.
  3. They struggle on third down and in the red zone.

So defending the Giants is easy and predictable. Focus on taking away the big plays in the passing game by playing soft, conservative coverage. You don’t have to blitz a ton because you can pressure the now-jumpy Manning with just four defenders against an offensive line that struggles with stunts. Largely ignore the run. Make the Giants nickel-and-dime you because they are likely to eventually stall on 3rd down. The proof is in the pudding. The Giants have not scored 20 points in a game for seven games in a row now, including against the Detroit Lions last December (a 17-6 victory for New York). Right now, Ben McAdoo’s offense without Tom Coughlin’s overall influence isn’t working.

How do the Giants overcome this? The simplest solution would be to run the football and keep running it until the opponent has to move an extra defender into the box. But the finesse New York Giants seem incapable of playing smash-mouth football. The other solution is just keep moving the chains with short- to medium-passes. Bing, bing, bing… down the field. And perhaps your receivers start generating serious yards after the catch. Force defenders to play tighter coverage.

The Lions play the same wide-nine defense up front that the Eagles have played. It’s a get-to-the-QB-at-all-costs scheme that is particularly troublesome for the Giants given the state of their offensive line and the immobility of Eli Manning. The Lions ends will play wide of tackles Ereck Flowers and the gimpy Bobby Hart (ankle), angled towards the QB, largely eschewing the run. The Giants are an ideal team to run the wide nine against.

Whether or not Odell Beckham (ankle) plays or not, the Giants are toast unless Eli Manning starts playing with greater toughness and confidence (easy for me to say, but I’m not the one being paid $20 million per season). He has to just say “fuck it” and be the Eli of old. Get Brandon Marshall into the action and I’d keep hitting Engram and Ellison over the middle. I’d be tempted to start Shane Vereen and keep the Lions off balance with runs with Vereen early (you can bring in Perkins later in the game). Last year, the Giants ran the ball more than they passed against the Lions. While the Giants only averaged 3.6 yards per rush, they kept the aggressive Lions defense honest.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
People are going to accuse me of nit-picking, but the Giants defense didn’t do enough to help the team win last week. For now, the defense has to carry this team. That means getting off the field on third down and forcing turnovers. Last week, the Giants didn’t force one turnover, only had one sack, and allowed Dallas to convert on over 50 percent of their chances. The struggling Giants offense was also encumbered by horrible field position. The defense has to create better opportunities for the offense. It is what it is.

The Lions don’t run the ball well, but they can hurt you with their passing game. Matthew Stafford may be inconsistent, but he is certainly capable of putting up big numbers and he has a knack for leading his team from behind in the 4th quarter. And he has a plethora of targets to choose from including wideouts Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, and Kenny Golladay; tight end Eric Ebron; and pass-catching running backs Theo Riddick and Ameer Abdullah. Look for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to cover Tate out of the slot and Janoris Jenkins to cover Jones. That will play a lot of pressure on Eli Apple (who had a rough game against Dallas) to cover the emerging Golladay (two touchdowns last week). Golladay is big (6’4”) and he can get deep. Landon Collins and the linebackers will be challenged by Ebron and the running backs in pass coverage. This is a bad opponent to be missing Keenan Robinson. And now Goodson is bothered by a shin injury. We may see more three safety packages, especially if the Lions can’t run the ball. The Detroit Lions offensive line has been completely revamped. The defensive line should and must get after Stafford.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
One of the few bright spots from last Sunday was the play of Dwayne Harris. He looks like he still can make an impact both as a returner and cover man. They’ll need a strong game from him and his teammates because Detroit has one of the strongest special teams units in the league. Aldrick Rosas still really hasn’t been tested (he made a 25-yard attempt in the opener).

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Ben McAdoo on the Lions: “They are a different team (from last season). (On offense) they are playing very well. They are hot. They had a nice come-from-behind win, which they can do. That has been (quarterback) Matthew Stafford’s M.O. The quarterback’s playing well, playing with a lot of confidence, extending plays. They possess some matchup problems for you, for anybody they play with the backs out of the backfield and the tight end with some size and speed in Ebron, and the receivers that they do have. Whether it’s a guy who is quick underneath or a big man that can run pretty well.

“On defense, it starts up front for them. They are doing a nice job of getting after the quarterback, pushing the pocket, and they mix in those wide nine fronts, which are a challenge. They squeeze the pocket and they squeeze the run at the same time. (Jarrad) Davis is a young linebacker who’s continuing to grow and learn the pro game. They threw him in there right off the bat and he’s developing for them. (Free safety Glover) Quin does a good job directing the secondary. They are very multiple. They have a lot of calls. Special teams is where they probably don’t get as much attention as they deserve. They are very good on special teams. They have a bunch of core players. They roll maybe eight different guys in there that have a lot of value on special teams for them, and they are very good.”

THE FINAL WORD:
This is not a must-win game, but it is darn close. Going 0-2 would be bad. Another game of not reaching 20 points would be bad. Another game where the team can’t reach the 50-yard rushing mark would be bad. Another game where Eli isn’t the old Eli would be bad. The defense and special teams may have to come to the rescue, especially if Beckham is out another week.

Sep 122017
 
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Olivier Vernon, New York Giants (September 10, 2017)

Olivier Vernon – © USA TODAY Sports

Dallas Cowboys 19 – New York Giants 3

RECAP

Five days before the game, things were looking up for the injured Odell Beckham and the decision to uphold Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension was public. Fast forward to the hours prior to kickoff and Beckham decided the confidence in his ankle just wasn’t there, forcing him to sit out while Elliott was granted permission to play until his case was heard in Federal Court (AKA the suspension won’t be served until 2018 in all likelihood). The Giants were without their star and the Cowboys finagled their way into being full strength – and it was eerie how unsurprised Jerry Jones was about the whole thing.

How the game began became the underlying theme of the night. Long, steady possessions by Dallas with proper run/pass balance, ball protection, and overall control. The first two Giants drives resulted in 6 plays, 4 total yards, a sack, a holding penalty, and Eli Manning looking insecure in the pocket. In fact, the Giants initial first down didn’t come until the 2nd quarter. The Giants defense was on the field for 20:43 out of 30:00 minutes in the first half as the Cowboys recorded 47 plays, the most by any NFL team since 2007.

Down 16-0 at halftime, Eli Manning led a 16-play, 9:44-drive that resulted in their only three points of the night. They were 1st-and-goal from the 5-yard line with an opportunity to seize momentum, but blown blocks up front, a 9-yard sack, and completed pass well short of the needed yardage brought rookie Aldrick Rosas onto the field for his first career regular-season kick, a 25 yarder.

Momentum was there for taking again, as the Giants defense stopped Dallas and got the ball back in the hands of Manning. The response? Reaching their own 32-yard line but going no further because of missed blocks and Manning rushing through his reads while neglecting his passing mechanics.

There were only six total points scored in the second half between the two NFC East rivals, as Dallas bled the clock out with consistent ball control and the Giants missing that big-play presence. Manning threw his first interception the play after their biggest gain of the night with just under 8 minutes left in the game, the final nail in the coffin.

The Giants head back to East Rutherford trying to figure how to increase their 2.9 yards-per-carry and 33% 3rd-down conversion rate. The problems with this offense from 2016 are still here, albeit without Beckham in the picture. Speaking of the Giants star receiver, he made plenty of money by not playing because there may not be a non-quarterback in the league that impacts his respective team more than #13.

QUARTERBACKS

  • 29/38 – 220 yards – 0 TD – 1 INT – 78.8 rating. Manning lacked command and toughness. His shaky feet in the pocket could partially be blamed on the poor play upfront, but he rushed several throws when he didn’t need to. There was enough zip on his passes and his lone deep pass of the night actually had too much on it. When the team needed him to step up, he didn’t answer the bell. A couple of the biggest opportunities resulted in Manning not getting the job done.

RUNNING BACKS

  • Paul Perkins: 7 att – 16 yds – 2.3 avg. Minimal space to run, yes. But he didn’t create anything on his own, either. He was late to make his decisions and didn’t break tackles. That is a rough combination. Only on the field for 30% of the team’s plays.
  • Orleans Darkwa: 3 att – 14 yds – 4.7 avg. Had the nicest run of the night, 12 yards on his first attempt which didn’t happen until the second half of the second quarter. Pass blocked well, showed more life with the ball in his hands than Perkins.
  • Shane Vereen: 9 rec – 51 yards – 5.7 avg. Had plenty of garbage time production, but played well earlier in the game as well. His knack for positive plays and reliability on passing downs wasn’t used enough early on. Lacks the star power but he is a chain mover via the pass game. Not one carry for the back that seems to find the hidden yards every time he touches the ball is inexcusable. Vereen may very well be the best RB on this team by a wide margin; he needs more meaningful touches.
  • Shane Smith: On the field for 8 offensive plays; got the job done on 3rd down. His presence wasn’t too noticeable, but he was an important player in his limited reps. He moved the pile on a 3rd-and-1 Darkwa conversion.

WIDE RECEIVERS

  • Sterling Shepard: 7 rec – 44 yds. The 6.3 yard average per reception isn’t good, but Shepard played tough and did what was asked of him in the offense. This is a very underneath-heavy passing game and Shepard’s strength and toughness fit the slot role well. With Dallas was dropping so may defenders into deep half coverage, Shepard’s short routes in combination with the poor pass blocking up front, Manning looked his way plenty. He dodged a bullet with his self-recovered fumble in the 2nd quarter.
  • Roger Lewis: 4 rec – 54 yards. Two of the 3 biggest gains on offense went to Lewis, who saw more snaps because of the Beckham injury. He made a couple nice catches on the move and ran good routes into the vacant windows against the Cowboys Cover-2 defense. If he can continue to show he picking things up mentally, his tools will be used this year.
  • Brandon Marshall: 1 rec – 10 yds. The hyped WR signing couldn’t have had a quieter night. His first target came with 1:32 left in the 2nd quarter. He was held without a catch until the garbage-time drive at the end of the game and had he not come up with that 10 yard reception, it would have been the first time since his rookie year in 2007 in which he was held without a catch. He got one downfield opportunity in the second half which resulted in zero separation and a throw that was about 7 yards past his reach. Marshall’s play presented the question, can he create on his own?

TIGHT ENDS

  • Evan Engram: 4 rec – 44 yds. Engram got the start and played more than twice as many snaps as Rhett Ellison and Jerell Adams combined. The longest Giants play of the night was a 31-yard pitch-and-catch where he showed his elite-level speed down the sideline. His blocking was average at best, including a bad miss on the Giants 1st-and-goal rush from the 5-yard line. If he has the time to get into his intermediate and deep routes, Engram is going to make a lot of plays in this offense.
  • Rhett Ellison: 1 rec – 9 yds. One of the surprises of the night, Ellison was only on the field for a third of the Giants offensive plays. His one target resulted in an impressive 9-yard gain where he bowled over defenders and dragged them for an extra few yards. In an offense that struggled to pass the ball anything beyond quick releases, Ellison was vastly under-utilized. His blocking was solid, but he had two significant misses that resulted in TFL or no-gain runs.

OFFENSIVE LINE

  • Tackles: Ereck Flowers started off on the right foot, but fell well below the average mark. His second half was an image of what we watched for pretty much all of 2016. Poor use of leverage and too much over-committing his upper body, leaving him unbalanced and without control. Bobby Hart had the worst night of the group, making Demarcus Lawrence look like he was Von Miller off the edge. He spent way too much time on the ground and lacked a consistent push in the run game.
  • Interior: Justin Pugh played the best of the bunch, putting together an above-average score, although he did tail off a bit in the second half. His technique and initial punch stood out to me in a positive way. Weston Richburg had an average performance, making a couple of effective second-level blocks but was, once again, pushed back into the pocket a couple times. John Jerry got off to a horrific start, allowing a sack, a pressure, and committing a penalty all within the first 6 plays. He hit a nice stride in the 2nd half, getting movement as a run blocker and neutralizing his man in the pass game. But the damage was done early, ending with a below average grade.

DEFENSIVE LINE

  • Ends: As we saw last year, both Jason Pierre Paul and Olivier Vernon played the majority of the defensive snaps (89% and 97%, respectively). Pierre Paul had the highest grade of the group, showing his usual excellent range in pursuit and sturdiness at the point of attack. He brought Dak Prescott down once on a pressure. Vernon recorded the lone New York sack, a play in which he went untouched to the QB. Otherwise, he had a quiet night and struggled to break free from Dallas left tackle Tyron Smith. Kerry Wynn and Romeo Okwara saw time in the diverse, borderline exotic fronts that Steve Spagnulo threw together but neither made any impact.
  • Interior: Damon Harrison led all defensive linemen on my grading sheet, playing his usual dominant version of himself. He was stout and active, adapting to the game’s situation all night. His versatility created pressure for Dak Prescott up the middle, deflected a pass, and brought down running backs for a loss. He is a weapon that no offensive line will keep contained. After watching him break down last year, they were sure to keep his snaps limited to just under 65%. Technically Jay Bromley started, but rookie Dalvin Tomlinson out-snapped him 3:1. As I said when they drafted him last spring, Tomlinson would impact the game week 1 in Dallas. He was an integral piece to holding down the 2016 NFL rushing champion Ezekiel Elliot for the most part. Robert Thomas saw 21 snaps, but struggled to make any impact. He was brought in on favorable pass-rush downs but struggled to disengage from blockers and at times, look way over-matched by the size of Dallas guard Chaz Green. He had a very rough game.

LINEBACKERS

  • The brightest spot of the entire defense, the highest grade I have given a Giants linebacker in over a year went to B.J. Goodson. His 18 tackles were the most in the NFL by a long shot on opening weekend. His range and power presence on the move especially stood out. There was a play where he completely lit up All-Pro Guard Zack Martin and finished it off with a tackle for loss. Jonathan Casillas and Devon Kennard played a physical brand and helped contain the Cowboys run game, especially in the first half. Kennard didn’t play even half the snaps, as the Giants were in the nickel for the majority of the game, but his presence was felt on plays where is wasn’t directly involved on the tackle. They played a physical, blue collar brand.

SAFETIES

  • Landon Collins was all over the field, being used as a linebacker, nickel cornerback, and roaming safety. His performance in coverage was top notch, if only they kept him on tight end Jason Witten all night. Those were the few times #82 had a hard time getting open. Darian Thompson, in what is basically considered his rookie season, struggled to react. On several occasions he was a step or three too late to support the run, especially to the sidelines. His physical impact when making hits just isn’t there, as he looks like an average-sized cornerback trying to play the safety spot. He wasn’t tested much in deep coverage. Andrew Adams was on the field for 8 defensive snaps, but wasn’t really tested.

CORNERBACKS

  • Arguably the most entertaining one-on-one battle of the night was Janoris Jenkins vs. Dez Bryant. Jenkins dominated this match-up in 2016 and while I can’t use that word again this time around, he did keep Bryant contained. Minus the one long penalty (21-yard pass interference) that set up the lone touchdown of the night, Jenkins won every match-up down field (3 attempts). He did miss two tackles where there was a VERY questionable effort put forth. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the team’s nickel corner, was on the field for 70% of the plays. His knack for reading routes and forecasting throws gets better and better, but he is not the ideal defender to cover the quicker slot receivers. Cole Beasley made him look silly on a couple of occasions. Eli Apple received the lowest grade of all the Giants defensive backs that played significant snaps. He was beat by Brice Butler early to set up the first Cowboys field goal, beat by Jason Witten on the lone Dallas touchdown, and targeted often on 3rd down where his success rate was not high. His impact on the run game was strong, however.

SPECIAL TEAMS

  • K Aldrick Rosas: 1/1 – 25 yards. Easy chip shot, otherwise a quiet night.
  • P Brad Wing: 6 Punts – 44.8 yard avg. 41.5 yard net avg, both solid numbers.
  • Return: Dwayne Harris had a quiet night.

3 STUDS

  • LB B.J. Goodson, DT Damon Harrison, OG Justin Pugh

3 DUDS

  • RT Bobby Hart, LT Ereck Flowers, QB Eli Manning

3 THOUGHTS ON DALLAS

  • The linebackers in a 4-3 defense can absolutely change the game. Anyone who watched the combination of Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith cannot argue against that statement. Those two were as responsible as any for the Dallas win. They compliment each other perfectly and will be headache for opponents all year.
  • Dak Prescott was inaccurate for the majority of the game. He missed a handful of very easy throws, but he looked antsy and overly-excited. Putting too much mustard on the ball and finishing high. This game could have been much worse had he been on top of his game.
  • No, I don’t think the Dallas defense is improved up front. The likes of Maliek Collins, Charles Tapper, and Demarcus Lawrence have the Giants offensive line to thank for that talk. They are a sub-par group.

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

  • The most over-reactionary thoughts in the sports world are post-week 1 NFL football. The sky is not falling, this team is not going 0-16. If you have paid attention to the Eli Manning career, the Giants have had several of these games, sometimes multiple in each year. It was as ugly as it got, but that was not a representation of this Giants squad. They will be better Monday night at home.
  • Odell Beckham made a lot of money by not playing. His mere presence on the field changes the complexion of the entire offense, and his true value will be felt when he gets back on the field. He makes other players better, plain and simple.
  • Hats off to the defense after an exhausting first half. But a solution needs to be found for defending the tight end. Enough of this already. Each year more and more teams are adding the athletic pass catcher to that position; it will become the norm very soon. Jason Witten became the all time leading receiver for the storied organization and his historic production against the Giants was highlighted (150 career catches against the Giants alone). If there is an Achilles’ heel to this strong defense, the tight end is it.
Sep 082017
 
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New York Giants Offense (September 11, 2016)

New York Giants Offense – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Game Preview: New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, September 10, 2017

THE STORYLINE:
The most direct route to make the playoffs is to win your division. And the best way to win your division is to have a winning record against your division opponents, and particularly against those division opponents who represent the biggest threat. Because of all of that, this is a big game whose outcome quite possibly will affect the playoff picture in December.

It is no accident that the NFL has mandated that the Giants play the Cowboys in Dallas for the fourth time in five years. The Giants-Cowboys contest is always a ratings bonnaza for a league that saw its popularity take a big dip in 2016. (The conspiracy theorist in me suspects this is why Ezekiel Elliott is playing despite his 6-game suspension being upheld).

The Cowboys won the NFC East in 2016 with a stellar 13-3 regular-season record. But two of their losses came at the hands of the 11-5 Giants, who swept the Cowboys by a total of four points. Once again, the Cowboys and Giants are expected to be the leading contenders for the NFC East title. This game should be close and come down to the 4th quarter.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • FB Shane Smith (quad – probable)
  • WR Odell Beckham, Jr. (ankle – questionable)
  • WR Tavarres King (ankle – probable)
  • DT Jay Bromley (knee – probable)
  • LB Keenan Robinson (concussion – out)
  • CB Eli Apple (ankle – probable)
  • CB Michael Hunter (concussion)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
Will Odell Beckham, Jr. play? And if he does, how effective will he be? In a game that actually counts, the Giants have yet to prove they can move the football and score without someone other than Beckham making plays. Look no further than last year’s game in the Meadowlands. The difference in that 10-7 game was a 61-yard pass play to Beckham, which unbelievably accounted for 23 percent of the team’s offense in that game. No other play gained more than 19 yards. It truly was a pathetic display of “offense” for the Giants.

The book on defending the Giants is prevent the big play to Beckham, and force the Giants to beat you with their running game and throwing to other players. This will likely remain the book until the Giants hurt teams with their other weapons. Enter Brandon Marshall, Evan Engram, Rhett Ellison, and second-year players Sterling Shepard and Paul Perkins. The expectation is that these players will be effective players in their own right, and make the Giants’ offense less predictable and dependent on Beckham. That remains to be seen.

The largely no-name Dallas defense is a perfect example of a unit whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts. On paper, the Cowboys defense shouldn’t be very good. But unbelievably they were #1 against the run in 2016 and 14th overall. While some of this is due to the fact that the Cowboys controlled the clock and limited opportunities by opponents, don’t underestimate the fact that this is an exceptionally well-coached, cohesive unit that plays hard, hustles to the football, and forces turnovers. They are a scrappy bunch.

Unless both teams play outside their 2016 norms (Cowboys #1 run defense vs. Giants #29th rushing attack), don’t expect New York to be able to consistently run the football. The Giants are not a physical football team. If I’m Dallas, I dare the Giants to beat me with the run and focus on defending the pass (and specifically Beckham if he plays). The good news for the Giants justifiably-maligned offensive line is that the Cowboys really don’t have any consistent pass rushers who scare you. The Cowboys will likely have to scheme their pass rush by using stunts and blitzes, placing stress on both young outside tackles and right guard John Jerry.

On paper, where the Giants should be able to make hay is the passing game. With or without Beckham, the passing game is still the strength of the Giants offense. Much depends on how much Brandon Marshall has in the tank and how much rookie stage-fright Evan Engram has. But Marshall, Engram, Shepard, Ellison, and hopefully Beckham should expose a Cowboys’ secondary that has had issues for years. Look for Dallas to play it conservatively, try to prevent the big play, and force the Giants to nickel-and-dime their way down the football field without making a mistake. This is where Engram comes in. If the Cowboys play a lot of 2-deep coverage, Engram has the athletic ability and speed to exploit the middle of the defense – something the Giants didn’t have last year.

Turnovers. This is always important in closely-fought, divisional games. The team that commits more turnovers will likely lose. Eli Manning must play it safe and throw the ball away or take sacks instead of throwing the ball up for grabs. When sacked, hold onto the football. Same with Paul Perkins running with the football.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The New York Giants defense is the strength of the team. The Giants finished last year 10th in total defense (339.7 yards per game) and 2nd in scoring defense (17.8 points per game). Everyone is striving to exceed last year’s marks. The Giants lost Johnathan Hankins in the offseason, but there are a number of areas where the defense may be stronger. Both defensive ends looked primed to exceed their 2016 play. B.J. Goodson appears to be an upgrade at middle linebacker. Eli Apple – as long as his ankles are OK – should be better. The expectation is that Darian Thompson will be an upgrade over Andrew Adams at free safety. But let’s be clear, the Giants have multiple impact players on their defense in Jason Pierre-Paul, Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison, Janoris Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Landon Collins. They are loaded.

The Cowboys are loaded on offense as well. They finished last year 5th in total offense and 2nd in rushing offense. They are the NFL’s most balanced team with a near equal run-pass ratio. 2016 rookie sensations quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott are now in their second year and should be better.

Coach Ben McAdoo broke them down well: “It all starts up front with them. They are good up front. They lost a couple pieces, but they haven’t missed a beat. They are very talented there with the guys who jumped in to replace their two departures. They are very good, very physical, and they work well as one. Talented in pass protection, as well. They may be the finest unit in the league. There are a couple others that are chasing them, but they are very good. Obviously, Dak does a nice job. Really jumped in with both feet last year. I’m sure he is a lot more confident going into his second year than he was in his first year, and they seem to be putting more on him this year from a mental standpoint. Zeke is one of the better backs in the league. He is a complete back. He is not just a runner. He can play, he can protect, he can play in the pass game, and he’s very explosive and dynamic when he gets into space. The perimeter players, what makes them unique is they all complement each other well. They have a big receiver in Dez (Bryant). They have the quick twitch receiver in (Cole) Beasley, who can get open in a phone booth type guy. They have (tight end Jason) Witten, who is a consistent pro, a future Hall of Famer who can do a variety of things for them, including block, which he doesn’t get a lot of credit for. They have some other role players that come in and do a lot of good things for them. So they are very talented. One of the better offenses in the league.”

That all said, the Giants match-up very well with the Cowboys on this side of the ball. Janoris Jenkins gave Dez Bryant fits in 2016 (only 2 catches for 18 yards and a fumble in two games). Elliott ran for 51 yards in the opener and a “quiet” 107 yards in the second game last year. Witten and Beasley had a greater impact in the opener (17 catches) than the second game (8 catches). The question here is how much will Keenan Robinson be missed in pass coverage? Provided the defensive tackle who lines up next to Damon Harrison does his job, the Giants should continue to be one of the few teams who can keep Elliott in check. If I’m the Cowboys, I use play-action or a trick play early to keep the Giants from being as aggressive against the run. New York needs to be wary of that. Apple needs to keep Terrance Williams quiet and DRC will be challenged by the very quick Beasley.

Up front, Dallas is as good as it gets at left tackle, center, and right guard. But there are changes at left guard and right tackle. The JPP versus La’el Collins match-up will be one to watch. I would expect Steve Spagnuolo to send more than a few defensive back blitzes (including Landon Collins and DRC) as well as B.J. Goodson up the middle. The Giants will have to be disciplined on their pass rush, however, as Prescott can hurt you with his feet.

The Cowboys didn’t turn the ball over much in 2016. Prescott only threw four interceptions during the regular season. And Dallas only had nine fumbles. But three of those turnovers – including two of Dak’s interceptions – came in the second Giants-Cowboys game. (Dallas did not turn the ball over in the first game).

It’s true against any team, but more so against the Cowboys than anyone else: stop the run, make Dallas one-dimensional, then get after the quarterback.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
I think practically everyone would have gone with Aldrick Rosas as the place kicker, but here is one of the big unknowns of the Giants 2017 season. Rosas could literally sink the Giants season. The pressure on this kid will be immense. Along the same line, the Cowboys will be going with a rookie returner (Ryan Switzer) on both kickoffs and punts. Get down the field, put hats on him, and try to knock the ball loose. We didn’t see much of Dwayne Harris this preseason. Let’s see if he can spark the return game.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Steve Spagnuolo on Ezekiel Elliott: “He’s a premier back. There’s 32 in the world that play that position. There’s 32 teams. There are some really good backs, but he obviously proved last year that he makes an offense go. I know they have a really good offensive line, but he’s able to do all the things you want a great back to do. He has great vision. He can run inside. He bounces it outside. He turns the corner and it’s scary and he runs with power. I mean, he’s not an easy back to take down. He’s become a good pass receiver, too, so we have to worry about that. He’s a guy we have to respect and we have to go out and always be concerned about. When No. 21 is out there, we have to be concerned about it.”

THE FINAL WORD:
I always think too much is made of the first game. This is a big contest and it would really help the Giants if they can beat the Cowboys in their own park to start the season, but this is a game the Giants obviously can afford to lose. That said, the Giants match-up well against the Cowboys. The Giants strengths (passing offense) are the Cowboys weaknesses (passing defense) and the Cowboys strengths (rushing offense) are the Giants strengths (rushing defense). The Giants will be the more one-dimensional team, but the Cowboys are facing the much more talented Giants defense. If the game is close, it will come down to special teams and turnovers – and this is where the Giants could lose the game if they are not good (or careful) enough.

Sep 072017
 
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BBI New York Giants Videocast of September 7, 2017: BigBlueInteractive.com’s Sy’56 and Mike Siegel talk about the state of the New York Giants entering the 2017 regular season, and make predictions for the Giants-Cowboys match-up Sunday Night’s first game of the season.

Sy’56 has worked for Ourlads Scouting LLC since 2013, starting off as a college depth chart manager and now a lead scout for one the most-sold NFL draft guides year-in, year-out. He has been scouting for over 10 years and will compile anywhere from 400-600 scouting reports per season, with that number increasing year by year. He watches and studies game films 20-25 hours per week throughout the entire year with his main focus being NFL Draft prospects.

Mike Siegel, aka gidiefor, serves as a moderator and is a longtime contributor in The Corner Forum, originally joining BBI in 2004. Raised in Brooklyn, NY, he is a rabid Giants fan, an attorney, a family man, proud grandfather of five, and a former NYC Park Professional, Mounted Park Ranger, and instructor at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, who was noted for his work in Brooklyn Park rehabilitation projects, park publications, public park tours and programs, and also his paper-folding prowess. His more than fifteen-foot high Origami holiday tree in Central Park’s Dairy was a fixture in the 1980’s. He has been an active participant in BBI’s outside gatherings, and strongly believes in fostering the BBI community environment and promoting serious discussion about Giants football.

Sep 022017
 
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Roger Lewis and Matt LaCosse, New York Giants (August 31, 2017)

Roger Lewis and Matt LaCosse – © USA TODAY Sports

New York Giants 40 – New England Patriots 38

QUICK RECAP

For the 13th consecutive season, the New York Giants ended their preseason schedule against the New England Patriots. These two have had a couple of epic Super Bowl contests over the past decade and even though multiple starters on both sides did not dress, there is an extra sense of nostalgia seeing the Giants in their “Whites” and the Patriots in their “Blues”. The final preseason contest was less about the starters getting their reps and more about the potential backups battling it out for roster spots.

The Giants jumped out to a commanding 34-14 lead at halftime, clicking on all cylinders offensively. But just like last week against the Jets, the backup defense struggled to hold the lead and ended up losing it completely in the 4th quarter with under a minute left. Rookie Davis Webb then engineered a 7-play drive which ended with a game-winning 48-yard field goal by fellow rookie Aldrick Rosas with no time left on the clock. The Giants improved to 2-2 on the preseason with a 40-38 victory.

QUARTERBACKS

  • The backup job battle between Geno Smith and Josh Johnson was back and forth throughout the entire preseason. Smith, the more talented of the two, was on fire going 10/11 for 111 yards and a TD. He was hitting guys left and right in stride with a nice blend of zip and touch. Johnson entered the game early in the 2nd quarter, getting the majority of the snaps. He responded with his own preseason-best performance, going 11/14 for 135 yards and a TD. At their best, Smith is the better quarterback. There is no debating that but Johnson may be the more secure guy. Who wins this job will come down to which situation they prefer, really. If I had to choose, Smith is the guy.
  • Davis Webb came in during the 4th quarter. He went 8/14 for 103 yards and was a little erratic on his deep throws but continues to show excellent footwork. Webb works on his craft a lot, rollout positioning especially. It came to fruition in the game-winning drive when he evaded pressure from his blind side, rolled out to the left, and completed a nice ball. Hopefully this is the last Webb sees the field against another team until next year. All in all, he had a great preseason process.

RUNNING BACKS

  • Shaun Draughn finally got to show this coaching staff what he can do. It’s been a bumpy ride when it comes to his health and opportunities, but a 14-carry, 54-yard night, including a touchdown and a couple catches, could be enough for him to warrant a roster spot.
  • Orleans Darwka ran hard downhill, showing his physical brand and proving he is the top “pile-pusher” among the NYG backs. He has proven before that when he gets some space allowing him to gain a full head of steam, he can do damage in there. He carried the ball 8 times for 40 yards, including the long of the night, 21 yards.
  • Shane Vereen and Wayne Gallman rounded out the rest of the RB play. Vereen looked physical, especially as a blocker. He is going to be a crucial part to this 3rd down offense. Gallman struggled to break free from initial contact. He probably takes more hits than he should considering his small-ish frame, but can’t blame a back for being a fighter. He enters the season as the team’s most explosive rusher.
  • Shane Smith had his best game of the preseason and it looks like he is getting more used to the speed of the game. He is more assertive and showed a couple of nice adjustments to stick to his man and maintain running lanes.

WIDE RECEIVERS

  • No Beckham, Marshall, Harris, or King. Opportunity for the young guys who want to make this team or practice squad. Travis Rudolph led the position group with 3 catches for 46 yards, including a gutsy extension catch over the middle on a seam route. From day one, he has been the young kid who does everything right from running routes, securing and tucking the ball, and constantly catching the ball. The physical shortcomings aren’t going anywhere, but he has proven he can make plays when the opportunity is given.
  • Jerome Lane continued to impress. The raw, physical receiver showed another pure hands catch on a crossing route. For a guy that spent just one year in college as a wide receiver, the amount of untapped upside warrants a spot on the practice squad.
  • Canaan Severin, Marquis Bundy, and Ed Eagen all had impressive nights in their own respects. Severin appears to be the highest-upsided of them all and could sneak his way onto a roster spot. His ability to adjust to the ball and attack with his hands at 6’2/205 is attractive.

TIGHT ENDS

  • With Rhett Ellison and Evan Engram on the sideline to preserve safety, there were plenty of snaps to go around for Matt LaCosse, Will Tye, and Jerrell Adams.
  • LaCosse, who had as good of a training camp as anyone when it came to making plays, finally got a steady dose of action and ended up with 5 catches for 60 yards and 2 touchdowns. As a blocker, he graded out above average. I think its time this gets on the 53-man roster because he hasn’t stopped making plays since he’s been here.
  • Will Tye opened the game with a fumble on the Giants’ first drive. He continued to look more athletic than he was last season, but there is a sense of “You know what you are getting with him” when it comes to Tye. Limited upside both as a blocker and receiver.
  • Adams has turned into a dominant-level blocker. His ability to stifle, move, and stick to defenders is going to a factor this year. He is still growing into his top-tier frame and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him on the field for 10+ snaps per game.

OFFENSIVE LINE

  • All in all, a very solid performance from the backups. All 5 starters did not play, leaving it up to the back-up players themselves to give one last effort to make this team. The Patriots were very vanilla with their pass rush scheme, so that helped quite a bit.
  • The young tackles, Chad Wheeler and Adam Bisnowaty, continued to show what we have seen all preseason. Wheeler is a gifted athlete with body control and balance, but there are flashes each week that show his lack of true man-strength and lack of experience. Bisnowaty was a major disappointment in his first preseason; there is a lot of work for him to do. No player has ruined more plays by himself than the rookie from Pittsburgh. He did get some action at left guard in the 4th quarter and for what its worth, looked more comfortable there when he wasn’t forced into space.
  • D.J. Fluker excels against defenses like this, vanilla and straight-ahead power rushers. He can handle anyone that is thrown at him in that fashion. There are still a couple of occasions where he ducks his head and reaches when trying to block laterally. Brett Jones had a very solid game, especially in the run game. The team had a lot of success running off either one of his shoulders, I think the backup OC job is his.
  • Jarron Jones, a practice squat candidate, has come along OK with his footwork in comparison to where he was in August. There is no way he can be depended on if an injury were to occur, however. He continued to whiff on defenders and appear three steps behind mentally.

DEFENSIVE LINE

  • Damon Harrison, Dalvin Tomlinson, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Olivier Vernon didn’t dress for the game while Jay Bromley remains sidelined with a knee injury. The Patriots offense was held to 3.4 yards per carry.
  • Robert Thomas notched a sack along with 3 tackles, proving his multi-down threat. He fought hard to get off blocks, showing quick and strong hands and a relentless engine.
  • Kerry Wynn made the defensive play of the night, tipping a Jacoby Brissett pass to himself and returning it for a 15-yard touchdown in the first quarter. To think about how far he has come in his young four-year career is a proof-is-in-the-pudding development that shows sometimes being patient with these high-upside, high-character young guys can really pay off. He has become an important piece to this potentially dominant defense.
  • Devin Taylor hasn’t showed enough in his short tenure with the club. He is too slow off the ball and struggles to get movement on blockers. Too many plays do I have the “NF” (Non-Factor) next to his name. Same can be said for Stansly Maponga, a hybrid DE/OLB who just doesn’t fit with this scheme nor has he shown the needed athleticism.
  • Rookie Avery Moss was all over the field. Both DE spots, pass rushing OLB, coverage OLB, and pass-rushing DT. The tools are there, he just needs to put his best foot forward in the weight room. He isn’t powerful enough yet but there is a play-maker somewhere in there.
  • Jordan Williams and Josh Banks, both a tad undersized for interior play but too big and slow for the outside, get off the ball well but both were struggling to get off their blocks. They were beat on a few of the Patriots more positive running plays.

LINEBACKERS

  • B.J. Goodson, Devon Kennard, Jonathan Casillas, and Keenan Robinson (injury) did not play. Curtis Grant saw the most action in the group and responded with 8 tackles, the most on the team. He is an excellent interior defender, as he can explode into 3-5 yard creases with power and presence. Very good tackler who makes the effort to wrap up violently. He was exposed in space a few times. Grant is not a poor athlete but he does have trouble reacting laterally and in coverage.
  • Fellow backup and roster hopeful Deontae Skinner added 3 tackles while roster probable Calvin Munson recorded 2. Munson is less physically gifted but he has proven to be the most instinctual backup they have and, when it comes to that position, instincts trump all.
  • J.T. Thomas got the most live action he’s seen in almost a year and he didn’t disappoint. He had 4 tackles a forced a fumble. Thomas showed a physical brand when tackling and filling lanes to meet blockers. He was very impressive against the backups of NE and could end up being the athletic but powerful backup they need on the weak side.

CORNERBACKS

  • Janoris Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Michael Hunter, and Eli Apple all remained on the sideline. This position group has seen as much turnover as any on the team. The top 4 seemed pretty much locked in, thus I think these guys were competing for a practice squad spot or two and the final spot on the 53-man roster.
  • DaShaun Amos has been with the team all offseason and preseason, and his size/speed combination were on display against the Patriots. He is a smooth transition guy, very important for the man coverage scheme.
  • Tim Scott was in on a lot of action. He allowed a few passes to be completed in his direction but he played a physical downhill style. He made an impression on me in his 2 games here. Tay Glover-Wright allowed a touchdown pass, struggling to control his body when locating the ball.
  • Donte Deayon only played early on, but he was beat for a 1st quarter TD matched up against Cody Hollister. It was a play that further exposed Deayon’s glaring weakness, his size. He just doesn’t have a lot of range when attacking the ball against a receiver and he is so easily moved. I think he has an inside track at making this team but he needs to be avoided when it comes to placing these CBs in certain roles.

SAFETIES

  • Darian Thompson got the start, as he simply needs more and more experience. The second year, projected starter next to Landon Collins is still extremely raw when it comes to reading and reacting to NFL offenses.
  • Nat Berhe gave his weekly missed tackle when he tried to take down Austin Carr on his way into the end zone. There is such a thing as a player who is too aggressive, and Berhe is exactly that. The issues that a poor-tackling safety can present could really damn a defense. I respect his presence considering his size, but is this a guy who will hurt the Giants as much as help? More?

SPECIAL TEAMS

  • Kicker Aldrick Rosas went 4-fo- 4, including the game-winning 48-yarder. It was good to see him respond positively to a pressure situation. Even though it was a low-intensity preseason game, the Giants would have lost if he missed. Rosas went 8-for-8 in preseason games and as far as I’m concerned, did everything right to deserve the job.

3 STUDS

  • DE Avery Moss, QB Geno Smith, TE Matt LaCosse

3 DUDS

  • OT Adam Bisnowaty, S Nat Berhe, CB Tay Glover-Wright

3 PATRIOTS TAKEAWAYS

  • What New England does with their backup QB situation is going to be one of the more interesting personnel situations in the league next year. Jacoby Brissett has shown enough in his now two preseasons and the 2016 regular-season to warrant backup duty. If that is the case, teams looking for a starting QB next year could skip the development process by trading a 1st round pick for Jimmy Garoppolo.
  • Two players who I wanted the Giants to draft in the 5th and 6th rounds respectively, were both taken by the Patriots. OT Conor McDermott played a very solid RT and LB Brooks Ellis showed what liked in college (a big and physical guy with enough speed paired with excellent instincts). If either one of these guys shakes loose via roster cuts, NYG should give them a hard look.
  • When a Patriots pass catcher goes down, there is always someone that comes out of nowhere it seems. Austin Carr is a name that my boss at Ourlads was all in on from last fall all the way through the draft process. Austin Carr is the reliable route running, catch-everything no-namer that all of you may be adding to your fantasy roster soon if he can get on that 53-man roster.
Aug 302017
 
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Nat Berhe, New York Giants (September 1, 2016)

Nat Berhe – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Preseason Game Preview: New York Giants at New England Patriots, August 31, 2017

THE STORYLINE:
The New York Giants and New England Patriots have been playing against each other in the 4th preseason game since 2005. Last year was a bit of a roll reversal for each team as it was the Giants who sat most of their starters while New England played their starters, including Tom Brady. The Giants back-ups actually performed admirably well in that game.

We don’t know how Bill Belichick will approach this year’s game, but Ben McAdoo already made it known he will handle the game like he did last year. So aside from the list of injured players below, don’t expect Giants’ stalwarts like Eli Manning, Brandon Marshall, Damon Harrison, Jason Pierre-Paul, Olivier Vernon, Janoris Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Landon Collins to play. We may not eve see guys like Sterling Shepard, Dwayne Harris, Shane Vereen, and Rhett Ellison. Last year, Weston Richburg did not play and the other starters on the offensive line only played a handful of snaps.

Long story short, this is less of a competitive contest than an evaluation period for the bubble players right before Saturday’s massive cut-down deadline.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • WR Odell Beckham, Jr. (ankle)
  • WR Tavarres King (ankle)
  • DT Jay Bromley (knee)
  • LB Keenan Robinson (concussion)
  • LB Mark Herzlich (stinger)
  • CB Eli Apple (ankle)
  • CB Michael Hunter (concussion)
  • S Duke Ihenacho (knee)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
The biggest story line offensively for the Giants will be this is the final audition for the back-up quarterbacks. On Saturday, Geno Smith or Josh Johnson will be cut. And if both struggle against the Patriots, while unlikely, it is not out of the realm of possibility that the Giants cut both. Smith has looked like the more legit NFL quarterback this preseason, but as demonstrated throughout his short NFL career, he has also been guilty of the ugly turnover. Johnson simply has not impressed. At the bottom of the depth chart is Davis Webb, who hasn’t received nearly enough practice and preseason snaps to probably seriously contend for the #2 job. A shot-gun QB in college, he’s still learning the basics of NFL footwork.

Because Shaun Draughn simply was not able to stay healthy, the running back situation is easier to figure out. Paul Perkins will be the starter. Shane Vereen will probably rival him for snaps/playing time. Orleans Darkwa will probably be the short-yardage back. Wayne Gallman is the developmental prospect who will probably struggle to be active on game day.

My guess it the top three tight ends are Evan Engram, Rhett Ellison, and Jerell Adams. Will the Giants carry four? Or will they opt to go with a fullback (Shane Smith)? This is a HUGE game for Smith and tight ends Matt LaCosse and Will Tye.

At wide receiver, the Giants will surely sit Odell Beckham and probably Brandon Marshall and Dwayne Harris. It will be interesting to see if Sterling Shepard plays. Heading into camp, Tavarres King had the inside track to the #5 wide receiver position, but he has missed a lot of time. Is his job safe? Could the Giants only carry five receivers? Roger Lewis and Travis Rudolph are fighting for their NFL lives. Both have been “fortunate” to see many of the other contenders fall by the wayside due to injury (Darius Powe, Keeon Johnson, Kevin Snead, Kevin Norwood).

Lastly, this brings us to the Giants Achilles’ heel: the offensive line. Does McAdoo give the starting five extra time to prepare for the Cowboys? Or does he do what he did last year and only play the starters for about 10 snaps? Media and fans were excited to see Brett Jones replace John Jerry at right guard against the Jets, but Jerry was back at right guard with the first team this week at practice. Really, the questions here for this game is how many back-up offensive linemen do the Giants keep? And who? They will surely be actively scanning the waiver wire for upgrades. Jones may not be safe. He’s probably fighting Jon Halapio for the reserve center/guard spot. Is D.J. Fluker are sure thing? He may not bring a lot of versatility in terms of position interchangeability and he did not appear to seriously challenge Jerry. Undrafted rookie free agent Chad Wheeler has out-performed 6th-round pick Adam Bisnowaty. Do both, one, or none of these two make it?

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The starting defense is ready. Ben McAdoo would be crazy to play his best defensive players, specifically Jason Pierre-Paul, Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison, Janoris Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Landon Collins. Factor in that injured players Eli Apple, Michael Hunter, Jay Bromley, and Keenan Robinson won’t play and Giants fans should not read anything in terms of the team’s defensive performance against the Patriots. Other than possibly Donte Deayon, none of the corners playing in this game will make the team. (Let that sink in before you starting bitching on the game thread about our secondary).

The injury to Jay Bromley complicates things for the Dallas game. Bromley says he will be ready, but players usually are overly optimistic with the press. Dalvin Tomlinson or Robert Thomas may be seeing more snaps in the opener than expected.

At end, we know who the starters are. Kerry Wynn seems to be in the lead for the top reserve defensive end spot, but none of the reserves have really stood out as pass rushers in the preseason. Romeo Okwara, Devin Taylor, and Avery Moss have been quiet. One guy who may have sneaked his way into the picture is DE/DT Jordan Williams. He has flashed. This game is an important contest to all of these players. While the Giants’ sub-par secondary is getting burned, it will be more important for fans to keep an eye up front to who almost gets to the quarterback.

At linebacker, Mark Herzlich has been sidelined for weeks with a neck injury. How serious is it? Might he end up on IR? That would open things up for other reserves and/or waiver wire pick-ups. The sure bets are Devon Kennard, Jonathan Casillas, B.J. Goodson, and Keenan Robinson. There is very little depth here, especially when you consider Robinson is already battling his second concussion of the preseason. J.T. Thomas should be thanking his lucky stars. One guy to watch is Calvin Munson.

At corner, again, I don’t think anyone playing in this game has a legit shot to make the team other than Donte Deayon – and he’s no sure thing either if the Giants see an upgrade on the waiver wire. Don’t fret the CB play on Thursday night. That said, because guys like Nigel Tribune, DaShaun Amos, Tim Scott, Tay Glover-Wright, and Daniel Gray will be running around clueless, it will be tough to get a good read on the back-up safeties. I’ve been disappointed in Nat Berhe’s play this preseason. The Giants may be stuck with him, but again, I’d be checking out that waiver wire. The top three safeties obviously will be Collins, Darian Thompson (how much does he play in this game?), and Andrew Adams. None of the other reserve safeties have impressed (Duke Ihenacho, Ryan Murphy, Eric Pinkins, and Daniel Gray)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
The place-kicker competition this preseason has been as good as I can ever remember. Neither has missed and both have impressively nailed kicks from 50+ yards. This literally may come down to the last kick. Dwayne Harris’ absence has meant we haven’t had a serious look at our return game this preseason.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Ben McAdoo on what he looks for in the 4th preseason game: “We want to give every player who’s on the bubble an opportunity to show what they can do.”

THE FINAL WORD:
I think this is a good football team. But the offensive line, running game, and place kicker could sabotage the season. There are also serious depth concerns at linebacker and safety. The ankle situations for Odell Beckham and Eli Apple could be a problem, at least in the short-term.

But this Giants defense may be the best the team has had since 2007, and maybe better. This is certainly the most talent group of receivers Eli Manning has had since 2011. This is a team that should be a serious Super Bowl contender.

As for this game, the key players to watch are the quarterbacks, place kickers, fullback versus reserve tight ends, defensive ends, and linebackers.

Aug 282017
 
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Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants (August 26, 2017)

Jason Pierre-Paul – © USA TODAY Sports

New York Giants 32 – New York Jets 31

QUICK RECAP

The traditional week 3 match-up of cross-town rivals took place Saturday night at Metlife Stadium. These two franchises are going in completely different directions with the Giants in the midst pursuing at least one more Super Bowl under their long-time quarterback’s leadership and the Jets in a full-blown-rebuild state of mind. Week 3 is the unofficial final dress rehearsal for the starters, as they play more snaps in this game than any other preseason match-up. The Giants were without their two star receivers, Odell Beckham and Brandon Marshall, while the Jets sat veteran quarterback Josh McCown to let young guns Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty continue to battle it out.

The Giants jumped all over the Jets in the first half. They scored their first offensive touchdown of the preseason in the first quarter and added two more in the first-half via-interceptions. With starters playing on both sides of the ball for the first 30 minutes, the Giants walked into the locker room at halftime with a commanding 29-3 lead. The Jets answered back, mainly with Petty at the helm, in the second half and made it close. Close to the point where they were 3 yards and a 2-point conversion away from winning. On that play, rookie running back Elijah McGuire finished just inches short of the goal line, sealing the first Giants victory of the 2017 preseason.

QUARTERBACKS

  • Eli Manning looked sharp for the second straight week. He didn’t quite play the entire first half, but he went 7/14 for 121 yards and an interception that can easily be put on the offensive line. He had Roger Lewis open deep, striding towards the end zone but pressure up the middle cut off his step into the throw, forcing it to fall short and into a Jets defensive back’s hands. There are still signs of his arm lacking life and the hope here has to be it doesn’t fall off too much during the winter months.
  • More of the same from the backup battle between Geno Smith and Josh Johnson. Neither one is taking the bull by the horns. Smith looked very inaccurate and a little more rattled this time around, whereas Johnson just seemed overly pedestrian. Part of me now has the thought that Davis Webb should be given the backup job initially to help the Giants save a roster spot. If Manning were to actually go down in-season, I bet one if not both would still be available on the free agent wire. Speaking of Webb, he got in with about 8 minutes remaining in the game and went 2/4 for 20 yards, including a near interception. He did an excellent job on a pass-rush-forced rollout, keeping his eyes downfield and completing a pass near the sideline.

RUNNING BACKS

  • I discussed how I wanted to see Paul Perkins run more assertively, and that he did. Six carries for 33 yards spelled a good night for the second year back. He juked rookie safety Marcus Maye out of his shoes on a 12-yard dash up the middle, didn’t even get touched in a phone booth.
  • Shane Vereen didn’t see a lot of playing time, as they are likely trying to protect him as much as possible. Also, the 3rd spot is up for grabs between rookie Wayne Gallman and Orleans Darkwa. I think it is likely both make the team, but Gallman is certainly making his case to get touches weekly. His ability to slither through traffic and find extra yards has been apparent each week. Darkwa got the goal-line carry and touchdown in the first quarter and it looks like he may be their short-yardage option early on. In addition, Gallman is having a hard time sustaining his blocks. Shaun Draughn got in for one series but was rocked by a Jets defender and put into the concussion protocol. Tough luck offseason for him and it looks like he will be the odd man out.
  • Shane Smith had a “key” block on Darkwa’s touchdown run. I put that in quotes because it was a very simple block against a CB. Smith is showing more hesitation in traffic than I want to see. Is the game too fast for him? Especially with the amount of zone running the Giants do where he has to move laterally. Keep in mind that for the best runs of the night Smith was not on the field.

WIDE RECEIVERS

  • With Odell Beckham, Brandon Marshall and Dwayne Harris out, it was a night of opportunity for Roger Lewis and Travis Rudolph. Both took advantage of it. Lewis, as he was all of camp, was up and down. Lewis dropped a touchdown pass, albeit it was a tough play, but responded with a tough reception in traffic on 4th down right after. He also ran himself open earlier in the game on a play that could have resulted in a touchdown, but the forced under throw took away the opportunity.
  • Rudolph had one of the nicest plays of the night, snaring a poor Josh Johnson pass over the defender and completing the Giants longest play of preseason, 57 yards. He is the reliable route runner and pass catcher that quarterbacks love to work with. His value on special teams may be the final feather in his cap to make the squad.
  • Sterling Shepard showed off impressive ball skills in the 1st quarter, twisting his body to adjust to a slightly inaccurate throw, coming down with Manning’s longest pass of the night (31 yards).

TIGHT ENDS

  • Rookie Evan Engram continues to strengthen my notion of him being a big time weapon in this offense. During the scouting process last year I kept on writing down the names Aaron Hernandez and Jordan Reed. And one of my bold predictions for this Giants team is going to be….he will be better than both of them in their respective rookie seasons by a long shot (Reed 45-499-3 in 9 games and Hernandez 45-563-6). In addition to that, I like Engram’s long-term potential better than both because of his athleticism and intangibles. And one more for you, I graded Engram out almost perfect on his blocking assignments Saturday night. Watch out for this kid, a legit “Offensive Rookie of the Year” candidate.
  • Matt LaCosse, a favorite of mine during camp, finally got more involved in the passing game. Only 2 catches for 8 yards but he showed really good breaks and quick-area burst. Someone is going to scoop this guy up and if he gets his chances, he will make something happen. He was no slouch as a blocker. I would certainly take him over Will Tye if the Giants keep 4 tight ends.
  • Rhett Ellison was a non-factor in the passing game, but I mean it when I say he is a better run blocker than our tackles. He is so technically sound, his hands are incredibly strong, and he simply wants it. If you focus on him, it’s hard not to love what he brings to the table.

OFFENSIVE LINE

  • Overall, very solid night from the tackles. Ereck Flowers did allow a sack and had a false start penalty, however. Flowers’ sack was on a stunt from his inside shoulder that he didn’t see fast enough. When he commits, he doesn’t adjust well and you can bet defensive coordinators are going to attack that. He performed very well within his 1-on-1 match-ups, as this is the kind of defense he match-ups up well against. Straight-ahead bull rushers with minimal quick twitch laterally won’t win often against him. Bobby Hart had a relatively quiet night, in a good way. He is showing quicker feet and more balance. I still like him better at guard but I guess it’s time for me to put that argument away.
  • John Jerry had an ugly night, mainly because of the play that forced the Manning interception. Jerry simply lost his anchor and was pushed onto his back deep in the pocket. He has had as rough a preseason as anyone when it comes to the game action. Weston Richburg continues to a nice job hustling, playing through the whistle, making the line calls…etc. However, he just isn’t a guy who can sustain blocks against power defenders. Too many times he get stossed to the side or driven back.
  • Justin Pugh is playing better than I’ve ever seen him, and I have thought he was a Pro Bowl caliber guy over the past 2-3 years. The ability he showed to keep his balance, power, hand position, and leverage is exactly what I look for when scouting interior guys. He played excellent.
  • The disappointing backups were Brett Jones and, once again, Adam Bisnowaty. Jones is struggling with his shotgun snaps, a major no-no for centers. And while I admire his grit and hustle, he gets walked back into the pocket repeatedly by bull rushers. He does a nice job of staying on them, but he is a guy who can ruin a QB’s pocket presence because he’s always creeping in, making it smaller and smaller. I’m not sure he is the guy to make this roster as a backup OC. Bisnowaty just can’t seem to lock anyone up; he spends way too much time trying to regain his balance.
  • D.J. Fluker and Jon Halapio are my two favorite backups for the interior. Fluker is limited in space, that’s been heavily confirmed. But he consistently moves guys as a run blocker. Halapio has OC experience and I simply trust him more head up on a bull rusher. There is lower body stiffness that can get him in trouble on the move, but he plays a mean game and can get a push. Backup offensive lineman are hard to find, so you can’t kill anyone for this group being hard to watch.

DEFENSIVE LINE

  • Jason Pierre Paul is looking better than ever. Three tackles, a sack, a tipped pass, and a tackle for loss that led to a safety. He was all over the field and the Jets’ line simply had no answer for him. He is turning into a leader as well. When Romeo Okwara was getting cheap shot-ed by Jets OG James Carpenter, it was JPP who was the first to come to his defense. I have a bold prediction for him coming soon.
  • The backup DE situation is coming into picture. The Giants are rotating these guys inside/outside more than I can ever remember. Romeo Okwara showed enough stout-ness against run blockers, but he struggled to get off blocks. He continues to flash for one play, then get badly beat on the next 3-4. Kerry Wynn is the most consistent force among the backups and he is a staple on special teams. Avery Moss got a lot of playing time, even some of it earlier than usual, but failed to make an impression. And I think the writing is on the wall for Owa Odighizuwa via his play. There just isn’t enough effort or impact for him to warrant a spot here.
  • Jay Bromley’s mild knee sprain will more than likely keep him out Thursday night. This could be the beginning of an opportunity for Dalvin Tomlinson to prove his potential as the man next to Damon Harrison. Bromley gets pushed backwards too often and while the rookie 2nd rounder hasn’t been overly stout himself, he makes better adjustments. Tomlinson is a better athlete with more range and can take advantage of the fact Harrison demands so much attention because of it. Tomlinson had a quiet night Saturday but he still flashed speed and quickness within the tackle box that Bromley just doesn’t have.
  • Robert Thomas was in for a long time. I think he is a lock for the 53-man roster, but what kind of role should he play? They let him loose a little bit, got him moving up field in space and it didn’t end well. He spent a lot of time on the ground and just didn’t have the length to get off blocks. There isn’t a lot of creativity to his game, thus I think he is best suited for a stay at home, run defender-type role.

LINEBACKERS

  • Good to see B.J. Goodson show improving movement and instincts in coverage. There were two plays where Goodson called out the intended direction of the pass play pre-snap. Looks like Antonio Pierce is rubbing off on him. The same can’t be said for rookie Calvin Munson, who was the main culprit on the Jets 85-yard touchdown pass and run to Bilal Powell. In his defense, that is a tough match-up for any LB. Munson did end up with 5 tackles and continues to show solid interior run defense.
  • Jonathan Casillas recorded 2 tackles and a sack. He is excelling at gap protection with his hard-nosed, stuff-the-lane approach. The Giants defense is one of the more physical in the league now and he is a major reason why. Devon Kennard continues to show his versatility. He is pursuing guys to the sideline, rushing the passer from a DT position, and showing solid man coverage.
  • Curtis Grant got a lot of playing time and was in on 5 tackles. He is such a good looking straight-line athlete but I’m afraid the quickness of the game is just too much for him. He had a horrible missed tackle in the 4th quarter on Jets RB Elijah McGuire. Subtle change of direction and Grant whiffed in a phone booth.

CORNERBACKS

  • Hopefully these ankle injuries aren’t going to linger for Eli Apple. He is looking very good and sure of himself, especially when defending the run and short passing game. He did get away with a blatant deep pass interference call in the 2nd quarter though. And remember, those penalties are an absolute killer. He needs to trust himself more and stop grabbing.
  • Janoris Jenkins…how many cornerbacks his size can hit the way he does? He made one of hits of the night that immediately jarred the ball loose and into the hands of Donte Deayon, which resulted in a pick 6. Jenkins is at the top of his game right now; I don’t think I have ever seen him play better.
  • Speaking of Deayon, I think he is playing his way onto the roster. His pick 6 was partial luck, but this kid has always been a playmaker. Some defensive backs simply have a knack for finding the ball and making things happen. The one caveat however, he is a liability in the run game. He does show toughness as a tackler, but receivers are having a very easy time washing him out of plays when blocking.
  • Nigel Tribune had a rough night. He fell on ArDarius Stewart’s first touchdown of the night when trying to track the ball and also had a deep pass interference late in the game in the midst of the Jets monster comeback. In addition, he completely whiffed on a press attempt that led to a Chad Hansen 2-point conversion.

SAFETIES

  • Do we sound like Giants’ homers when we say Landon Collins looks like a guy that could contend for “Defensive Player of the Year”?  This guy is all over the field and it looks like the coaching staff knows exactly how to use him in his 3rd year. His 1st-quarter interception for a touchdown and several of his tackles were a result of top notch instincts. We are now seeing this every time he is on the field, whether it is practice or a game. He is the real deal.
  • Darian Thompson made an impact play, sacking Christian Hackenberg and showed good coverage in his deep third. I am still wondering if Andrew Adams is quietly in the running for the starting job. He got in there pretty early Saturday night and plays more physically with just as much range in coverage.
  • Nat Berhe and Duke Ihenacho are both overly aggressive to a fault. They launch themselves towards the action and yes, the occasional big hit is made, but they are missing too many tackles. When safeties miss tackles, bad things happen. Berhe also showed his lack of long speed in his pursuit of Powell on the long TD.
  • Eric Pinkins may have made the worst coverage-based mistake of the night on ArDarius Stewart’s second touchdown. He completely let him slip by and past, got fooled by Hackenberg looking in the opposite direction, and left Stewart literally standing all alone in the end zone waiting for the eventual touchdown pass. It was an ugly, ugly look for Pinkins who got a very limited amount of snaps.

SPECIAL TEAMS

  • The kicking battle has reached its highest point of competition. Mike Nugent was 2/2 including a 54 yarder that had some room left on it. Aldrick Rosas hit a 24 yarder on his only attempt. Neither one has missed one in any of the preseason games, a good sign. This is a tough call to make.
  • Newcomer Ed Eagen, a wide receiver, showed a quick burst on his returns but he is highly unlikely to make the team. No other notable returns.

3 STUDS

  • DE Jason Pierre-Paul, S Landon Collins, LG Justin Pugh

3 DUDS

  • CB Nigel Tribune, S Eric Pinkins, OC Brett Jones

3 TAKEAWAYS FOR NYJ

  • I bet nobody is talking about this guy, but OG Ben Braden caught my eye all night and in the re-watch. Talk about a guy who can athletically AND powerfully move guys. I think NYJ has a keeper in him.
  • This QB situation is worse than I even thought. Hackenberg may not be in the league in 2-3 years and while I like Petty’s grit, he can’t be called a starter. We all know what the deal is with McCown. Jets are clearly heading towards a top 3 pick in the 2018 Draft.
  • I loved the 2017 Draft class for NYJ, notably WRs Chad Hansen and ArDarius Stewart. I had much higher grades on them than what was out there and if Bilal Powell can prove to be a steady long term contributor in the backfield, this NYJ team will be a very friendly spot for their first-round QB next year. The turnaround may be a quick one here.
Aug 252017
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (December 6, 2015)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Preseason Game Preview: New York Jets at New York Giants, August 26, 2017

THE STORYLINE:
From a fan and media perspective, it is clear this preseason is not going as hoped for the New York Giants. The offense – which struggled to score points in 2016 – has not yet scored a touchdown. The same weak spots in 2016 appear to still be weak spots this preseason, specifically the blocking up front and the inability to generate yards on the ground. And while the Giants have not had any devastating injuries (knock on wood), they have suffered a plethora of nagging injuries that have sabotaged practice time or caused the team to churn the bottom of the roster just in order to have enough players to practice and play in the preseason without exposing starters to unnecessary risk.

The good news? Most fans – including this one – couldn’t possibly tell you what the team’s preseason records in previous years. For most Giants fans, preseason memories are limited to who got hurt (Jason Sehorn) and the occasional breakout performance (Victor Cruz) or bizarre ending (Jack Golden). A year from now, most fans won’t remember a darn thing from the 2017 preseason. What is important is for the team to physically and mentally get ready for the Dallas Cowboys on opening day.

This third preseason game has always been a bitch for the Giants. The Jets and their fans always take this game way too seriously and this is the one game where both teams have been hit by devastating injuries in the past (yes, past performance is no guarantee of future results but I’m superstitious so lay off).

What do we want to see? Stay healthy. See SOME improvement in the running game. Score a touchdown or two.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • WR Odell Beckham, Jr. (ankle)
  • WR Brandon Marshall (shoulder)
  • WR Dwayne Harris (upper body)
  • WR Tavarres King (ankle)
  • LB Keenan Robinson (concussion)
  • LB Mark Herzlich (stinger)
  • LB J.T. Thomas (knee)
  • CB Eli Apple (ankle)
  • CB Michael Hunter (concussion)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
The red flags are there. It appears that the offensive line is still an issue. And the Giants simply cannot run the football. With respect to the line, the alarming thing is that it is not just the tackles who are inconsistent, but the interior of the line has been a problem as well. One of the greatest compliments you can give an offensive line and a coach is that the whole exceeds the sum of the parts. Well with the Giants, it appears the whole is LESS than the sum of the parts. Or perhaps, the Giants really screwed up in their evaluation of the parts. To the point, EVERYONE on the offensive line has to play better. At different points, Ereck Flowers, Bobby Hart, John Jerry, and Weston Richburg have struggled to create holes for the running backs and protect the quarterbacks. They are NOT getting the job done. And worse, the Giants have no fallback plan. The only realistic option to replace Flowers is Justin Pugh, but Pugh has not taken snaps at left tackle. D.J. Fluker has received most of his practice snaps at right guard and does not appear to be a threat to unseat Bobby Hart at all. And Fluker has not received first-team reps at right guard. Brett Jones has not worked with the first team at center, but did receive some first-team reps at right guard in practice this week. The two back-up tackles are green rookies. For better or worse (and right now it is looking like worse), the Giants are pretty much stuck with Flowers-Pugh-Richburg-Jerry-Hart again.

We cannot let Paul Perkins off of the hook either. Yes, he hasn’t had much room to operate. But he also is not creating on his own or running with a great deal of instinctiveness. There has been hesitation to his play. Right now, it is fair to wonder if the Giants truly have a legitimate NFL-quality starting running back on the roster.

So right now, we’re looking at another year of a finesse, pass-first West Coast Offense that has to rely on the short passing game in order to protect Eli Manning and which has trouble even picking up one yard on 3rd-and-1. This is not a physical offense. The Giants will have to cross their fingers that Eli rebounds with a stronger season and that Odell Beckham, Brandon Marshall, Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram, Rhett Ellison, and Shane Vereen can provide match-up problems in the passing game. Yards after the catch will be key.

With four of arguably the Giants five best wide receivers out of this game, don’t expect the offense to look sharp against the Jets.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
Right now, it looks like the Giants are going to sink or swim in 2017 based on the play of their defense. The good news is that the Giants may have an emerging force at linebacker in B.J. Goodson. The guy does something other Giants linebackers haven’t done in years: make plays. If everyone stays relatively healthy (a big if), the addition of a mobile, physical middle linebacker who makes plays to this defense is huge. There will still be growing pains with Goodson, but the arrow is definitely pointing up with him. Now if Darian Thompson can take hold of the free safety position, the Giants will be in great shape on defense.

The biggest worry here is the fact that Keenan Robinson is back in the concussion protocol. He clearly suffered a setback and if he concussed himself again, who knows how long he will be out?  He’s always been an injury-prone player, but he was an underrated performer for the Giants last year in pass coverage. Also keep your fingers crossed that Michael Hunter won’t be out long at cornerback. He has developed nicely and looks to be a serious upgrade over Trevin Wade and Coty Sensabaugh. That 4th cornerback spot is much more important than fans realize, especially with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Eli Apple having a history of missing time.

Ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon seem poised for a big season. I hope the Giants don’t risk them much more this preseason. Same with Damon Harrison, Janoris Jenkins, and Landon Collins. I don’t care if the Jets move the ball against our back-ups in a preseason game.

It’s been pointed out by others on BBI, but keep an eye on a couple of relative unknown players who are flying under the radar: DE/DT Jordan Williams and LB Calvin Munson.

With Hunter and possibly Eli Apple out, and Valentino Blake leaving the team, this will be a great opportunity for Donte Deayon to make a push for a roster spot. But since he is such a liability against the run and on specials, he will have to excel in pass coverage. If he doesn’t, the Giants will be keeping an eye on the waiver wire on September 2, and not just at corner, but at safety where the play of Nat Berhe remains a cause for concern.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Not receiving a lot of press is the fact that while Aldrick Rosas has been perfect this preseason, he has begun to miss more kicks in practice, going 3-for-4 a number of times recently. Stating the obvious, this position is far from settled yet. Dwayne Harris was limited all of 2016 with various injury problems. What is a bit disconcerting is that he has been sidelined for a couple of weeks now with an unidentified “upper body” issue. The Giants not only need him on the field in the return game, but they need him close to 100 percent. Who knows what is wrong with him?

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Ben McAdoo on what he is looking for from an offense missing key components for this game: “I am looking for getting in a little bit of a rhythm. We want to take care of the ball. That’s important to us. We want to play with some physicality, complete the ball and just get a little bit better. Find a way to make some gains this week.”

THE FINAL WORD:
I don’t expect a performance by the Giants that will leave fans feeling terribly good about the state of the team. Too many of the top receivers will be out. The Giants should struggle to run the football against this defense. I’ll feel better when the preseason is past us.