Dec 092016
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (September 11, 2016)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Game Preview: Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants, December 11, 2016

THE STORYLINE:
What are the New York Giants to the television networks, media, and football fans who don’t root for the Giants? The big-city market team with a super-talented, prima donna wideout and an overrated, mistake-prone quarterback. This weekend they are supposed to be victim #12 for the media darling, “unbeatable” Dallas Cowboys. This game is expected to be a mere formality. Dallas is supposed to cinch the NFC East title on the Giants home field and celebrate in the MetLife locker room with a grinning Jerry Jones looking on in amusement.

Ever since the Giants beat the Cowboys in the season-opener, Dallas has gotten stronger and won 11 games in a row. They are playing with tremendous confidence. And an NFL suffering through a terrible ratings drop is praying for a Cowboys Super Bowl run, so expect no help from the officials.

The Giants don’t have to be perfect to beat the Cowboys. They weren’t perfect on September 11th when they beat them 20-19. But New York will have to play its best game of the season thus far to win. Do the Giants want to be fodder for Dallas’ highlight reel or do they want to steal their headlines? It’s been a long time since the Giants have won a high-profile December game against a quality opponent with playoff implications for both teams.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • WR/Returner Dwayne Harris (ankle) – questionable
  • TE Larry Donnell (illness) – probable
  • OG Justin Pugh (knee) – questionable
  • DE Jason Pierre-Paul (core muscle) – out
  • DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa (knee) – questionable
  • DT Johnathan Hankins (quadriceps) – questionable
  • LB Mark Herzlich (concussion) – out
  • CB Coty Sensabaugh (ribs) – questionable
  • S Nat Berhe (concussion) – out

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
It’s a stunning statistic. The Giants are now 26th in offense. We’re reached Dan Reeves/Dave Brown-era levels. This isn’t supposed to happen with Eli Manning, Odell Beckham, and a supporting cast that was expected to be stronger/more experienced than the group that finished 8th in offense in 2015.

The media and fan knee-jerk reaction is to change this or change that. With four regular season games left, it’s too late to make dramatic changes anywhere. You have to go with what you have and pray you execute better. If it fails, the organization will have to make tough assistant coach, scheme, and personnel decisions in the offseason. The problem is obvious. Opposing defenses are not allowing Beckham to wreck the game. They double- and sometimes triple-team him with a safety deep. They dare the Giants to nickel-and-dime them without making mistakes. The Giants can’t run the ball against defenses playing back. And Sterling Shepard, Victor Cruz, and the backs and tight ends are not doing enough damage DOWN THE FIELD in the passing game to compensate. It’s really that simple. The big question is how much is coaching exacerbating the problem? Some contend the Giants are far too reliant on the 3-WR, 1-TE, and 1-RB (“11” personnel) formation and have become far too predictable. Running out of the shotgun doesn’t seem to be very productive.

The good news is that the Giants may have Justin Pugh and Shane Vereen back this week. The bad news is that both are not 100 percent and both will be rusty.

Dallas doesn’t have a lot of stars on their defense. But they are well-coached. They are 18th overall (2nd against the run, 29th against the pass). More noteworthy, despite giving up a lot of passing yards, they are 5th in scoring defense, allowing only 19 points per game.

“The defense is playing very fast and aggressive, like they always do,” said Ben McAdoo. “They do a great job hunting the ball carrier. (Demarcus) Lawrence is giving them a nice boost, along with (Tyrone) Crawford, and (Maliek) Collins is playing really well as a three-technique. (Sean) Lee and (Byron) Jones have paired to be a great tandem in coverage at the linebacker and safety spots.”

The Giants are 31st in rushing and the Cowboys are 2nd against the run. The Cowboys are 29th against the pass. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this one out. Expect another game with the pass-to-run ratio is 2-to-1 or even 3-to-1. Hopefully the weather cooperates. It’s not realistic to expect Rashad Jennings or any of the tight ends to make a serious impact. It will have to be Beckham, Sterling Shepard, Victor Cruz, Shane Vereen, and Paul Perkins as receivers. Eli Manning has to elevate his game. He can’t play like he did last weekend or the Giants have no chance.

Bottom line? The Giants are averaging 20 points per game. Dallas is allowing 19 points per game. If the Giants don’t score a touchdown more than that, they probably will lose.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
There is no way to sugar-coat it. Losing Jason Pierre-Paul the week before playing the Cowboys is not good. It’s not even so much about his pass rush but the fact that JPP is one of the best run-defending defensive ends in football. But the situation is what it is and you have to move on. Throughout their history, undermanned New York Giants defenses have risen to the occasion and defeated offensive juggernauts when they weren’t supposed to. Now is the time for Kerry Wynn, Romeo Okwara, and Owamagbe Odighizuwa to make a statement.

The challenges are severe. The Cowboys are 4th in the NFL in offense. They are 2nd in rushing and 19th in passing. The Cowboys have the best offensive line in football. The best running back. One of the best wide receivers in football. A Hall of Fame tight end. And a big, mobile quarterback with a 108.6 QB rating and a 19-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott has gotten better with each game. Through 12 games, he has an astounding 1,285 yards and 12 touchdowns. Elliott is averaging 4.9 yards per carry. He’s the complete package. He can beat you with power, moves, instincts, and speed. And Elliott is very good catching the ball, averaging 11.5 yards per catch (on par with many receivers). Quarterback Dak Prescott, wide receiver Dez Bryant, and tight end Jason Witten present their own unique challenges, but the bread-and-butter of this offense is obvious: Elliott running behind a superb run-blocking offensive line. Everything is secondary to limiting the damage on the ground. The good news is the Giants held Elliott to his season-low in Week One (51 yards, 2.6 yards per carry). But Elliott will no doubt carry that chip on his shoulder into this game against a defense missing JPP. And the Giants defense just gave up its first 100-yard game last weekend, mostly after Pierre-Paul left the game.

Olivier Vernon is playing better now than he did earlier in the year. He needs a top-notch effort against one of the best left tackles in football (Tyron Smith). Whomever plays left defensive end will face the lesser player, Doug Free. But the real battle will be inside with Johnathan Hankins and Damon Harrison against a VERY strong interior, including two Pro Bowlers. This is a game where the Giants will need Devon Kennard to step up both as a run defender and pass rusher, including from a down position. Kelvin Sheppard – the run-down middle linebacker – will be on the spot to get off of blockers and make tackles.

The Cowboys take advantage of their strong running game to open up things in the passing game. Linebackers tend to bite on play action and opposing secondaries have less help on the back end to deal with Bryant, Witten, and lesser receivers who still can do damage (slot receiver Cole Beasley actually is the leading pass receiver on the team with 60 catches, compared to Bryant who has 37). Giants fans know what Bryant (17 yards per catch, six touchdowns) and Witten (52 catches) can do. But also keep in mind that Prescott can run the ball – he has 217 rushing yards and five touchdowns on the ground.

The Giants have no choice but load up against the run and hope their talented secondary can handle the passing targets mostly on their own. I anticipate we’ll see Landon Collins up near the line of scrimmage a lot, but he and the linebackers can’t be too aggressive on play-action. That’s easier said than done. Getting heat on Prescott will be difficult without JPP. Vernon will have issues with Smith. The reserve ends really haven’t demonstrated any pass-rushing prowess this season. Neither have the defensive tackles. And the pass rushers can’t go all out as they will have to maintain pass-rush integrity against the mobile quarterback. Spagnuolo will have to blitz but the Giants lack top-notch blitzers too. The best bet for Steve Spagnuolo is probably to mix things up and hopefully confuse the rookie quarterback and his blockers.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
To make matters worse, the Cowboys have a huge advantage on special teams. They have the best place kicker in football who is virtually automatic even from long distance. The punter is outstanding, averaging over 46 yards per punt. Dwayne Harris was a difference-maker in the game in the Meadowlands last year, but he is battling a number of injuries and has struggled. Robbie Gould has been shaky. Don’t be surprised if we see Odell Beckham returning punts.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Head Coach Ben McAdoo on how teams approach Odell Beckham: “He attracts a lot of attention. It’s a challenge to get him the ball. Teams pay a lot of attention to him. You know going into the game they’re going to have a plan for him. In the past, there may have been one way to take him away. Now, what we’re seeing is they have a few different ways to try and take him away and make you go the long road. We just have to be patient. That’s where the consistency part of things really shows up. You have to be patient and consistent. You have to eliminate the unforced errors. You’re not going to get many opportunities to let him blow the top off of things… When you have a premier player, they don’t want to have a premier player wreck the game.”

THE FINAL WORD:
The good news is the one team to beat the Cowboys is the Giants. And they did it in Dallas so they certainly can do it at home in New York, like they did last season. The Giants are not scared of the Cowboys. The bad news is while the Cowboys offense has gotten better, the Giants offense has stagnated. And it’s Cowboys who are oddly built to win in cold weather and not the Giants. I’d feel more confident about this game if Pierre-Paul was playing. But I think stopping the run and rushing the passer is going to be a problem without him. The Giants have to figure out a way to score more than 20 points in this contest against a team that is allowing less than that per game. The Cowboys also have the advantage in terms of the kicking game. It’s a game like this where the Giants need a team-elevating effort from Eli Manning. It’s been a long time since that happened. Manning has to be more than “good” on  Sunday night. He has to be “great.”

Dec 052016
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (December 4, 2016)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Pittsburgh Steelers 24 – New York Giants 14

Overview

The knee-jerk overreaction to wins and losses by NFL fans and the media is annoying, but it’s the time we live in. The New York Giants are 8-4 with a good chance to make the playoffs. Don’t lose sight of that fact.

This loss was significant because it all-but-ended any hopes the Giants had to catch the Dallas Cowboys for the division title. But if you were going to pick one game for the Giants to lose among the last five, this was the game – the sole remaining AFC opponent on the regular-season schedule.

Give the Pittsburgh Steelers credit because they soundly beat the Giants. But there were a number of plays in this game that had a dramatic impact on the outcome. Yes, you can say that about virtually any NFL game, but there were some key swings in this contest. For example:

  • With the game tied 0-0, late in the 1st quarter, facing a 3rd-and-14 from their own 5-yard line, QB Eli Manning hit WR Odell Beckham for a 15-yard gain. But a holding penalty was called on Ereck Flowers in the end zone. Not only did Pittsburgh go up 2-0, but they got the ball right back at their own 36-yard line on the free kick. They only needed 38 yards to set up a field goal and go up 5-0. Keep in mind that the thing that set all of this up was the questionable offensive pass interference call on Odell Beckham before the safety.
  • On the Giants ensuing possession, they drove to the Steelers 9-yard line. It appeared at worst the Giants would cut the score to 5-3 and at best go ahead 7-5. On 2nd-and-4, Manning’s pass is picked off and returned 58 yards to the NYG 40-yard line. Three plays later, the Steelers are up 11-0. In hindsight, this interception was probably the key play of the game.
  • Late in the first half, the Steelers are at the NYG 42-yard line facing a 3rd-and-17. QB Ben Roethisberger throws a short WR screen to Eli Rogers, who frustratingly picks up 18 yards on his only catch of the game. This enables the Steelers to go up 14-0 at the half.
  • Despite earlier season success on 4th down, the Giants were 0-for-3 on 4th down attempts in the second half, including a failed 4th-and-1 from the 3-yard line and a 4th-and-9 sack from the 24-yard line. In both cases, the Steelers came darn close to being penalized (pass interference and unnecessary roughness).

While I don’t like to blame officials for losses, poor officiating was a factor in this game. Some reporters have discounted this by saying the Giants dramatically won the penalty aspect of the game. The Giants were flagged only four times for 24 yards while the Steelers were flagged 12 times for 115 yards. However, that does not erase the fact that there were a number of critical non-calls at key points of the game. These were non-calls that changed the complexion of the contest.

My point in all of this? A play here or there, and a call here or there, and this game could easily have had a different outcome. With as much that went wrong on offense, defense, and officiating, this game was still just 14-7 with 6:30 left in the 3rd quarter. How frustrating was this game? On four Giants drives that reached the Steelers 9-, 3-, 30-, and 24-yard lines, the Giants came away with ZERO points.

Giants on Offense

One game doesn’t make a trend, but 12 do. The Giants are obviously struggling on offense in 2016. This was not supposed to be the case. And it’s the same issue it has been virtually all season: if the Giants can’t make big plays in the passing game, they struggle to move the football. The team can’t run the ball. It struggles on 3rd down. Receivers not named Odell Beckham have not made enough plays. The offensive line has not advanced as expected. While Eli Manning has had a decent year, he hasn’t elevated this offense.

Why are the Giants struggling on offense? Everyone has their own primary theory, but it’s the old coaching versus talent debate when things are not going well. We heard it last year on the defensive side of the ball. We are hearing it now on the offensive side. Some argue it is the players. Others argue that Tom Coughlin made Ben McAdoo look better than he is. Others blame the offensive coordinator and say Ben McAdoo has too much on his plate with the play calling. Regardless, the results are not pretty.

In all-too-common statistical theme, look at these numbers against Pittsburgh: the Giants ran 55 plays (one was a kneel down) for 234 total net yards (178 passing, 56 rushing). That’s embarrassing. New York was 4-of-11 (36 percent) on 3rd down and 0-of-3 (0 percent) on 4th down. The Giants were shut out in the first half and only scored their second touchdown with 26 seconds left in the game.

The Giants passed the ball 41 times and only ran it 13 times – a 3-to-1 ratio. But those 41 pass attempts only resulted in 178 net passing yards, or 4.3 yards per pass play. New York’s longest play of the game was for only 25 yards. The Giants had one drive over 57 yards and that resulted in an interception. Eight of New York’s 12 possessions gained 18 yards or less. Another only gained 28 yards.

Quarterback

Playing in a hostile environment against an upgrade in competition, the Giants needed Eli Manning to play well. He didn’t. The Giants were shut out in the first half as Manning completed 9-of-14 passes for 70 yards. Oddly, Manning and the Giants offensive braintrust only targeted Odell Beckham once in the first half with 47 of the passing yards being accrued by Rashad Jennings and Will Tye. Perhaps the back-breaking play of the game was Manning’s interception deep in Pittsburgh territory. The Giants trailed 5-0 and looked poised to either cut into that lead or go ahead. Instead the interception was returned 58 yards, setting up the Steelers first touchdown of the game. It was a 9- to 13-point swing (the Steelers went for two but failed). Manning was 15-of-25 for 125 yards and two touchdowns in the second half, but the first TD was set up by a fumble recovery deep in Steelers territory. And the last scoring drive came with under two minutes to go with the Giants trailing 24-7. Manning seems jumpy and he is having trouble connecting with receivers down the field – not a good combination.

Running Backs

The Giants running game is not functional. Schematically, the almost-exclusive reliance on running out of the shotgun formation simply is not working. The Giants only ran the football 13 times, and that is not going to get it done. Paul Perkins carried the ball seven times for 38 yards, with 18 of those yards coming on one carry. Rashad Jennings carried the ball six times for 19 yards. Jennings caught all six of his targets for 34 yards and a touchdown, but four of those receptions only netted a total of ONE yard. Perkins was not targeted. Jennings gave up the Giants first sack with an embarrassing attempted blitz pick-up. (Side Note: I have no idea who designed the play where Jennings lined up behind Beckham and was promptly tackled for a 4-yard loss, but that one needs to come out of the playbook).

Wide Receivers

In the last nine games, Sterling Shepard has averaged 29 yards receiving per game. Victor Cruz is averaging 42 yards per game in the 11 games he has played this year. In a WR-centric offense whose base is the 3-WR set, that’s not going to get it done. Cruz was shut out in this game with no targets. Shepard caught 4-of-8 targets for a grand total of 21 yards and one meaningless late game touchdown. Roger Lewis caught one pass for eight yards. So once again, Manning was left with the double-teamed Odell Beckham, who was targeted an exceptionally-high number of 16 times, but only one of those came in the first half. Beckham finished the game with 10 catches for 100 yards, and the team’s two longest gains (25 and 23 yards). There was a lot of contact on Beckham in this game that was not called and could have kept drives alive. I just didn’t care for the way the Giants called the game with respect to Beckham. One target in the first half and 15 targets in the second half? It’s almost as if they knew they screwed up and tried to overcompensate.

Tight Ends

If Beckham is doubled and the other wide receivers are not producing, one would think the tight ends would be heavily contributing to the passing game. Wrong. Will Tye, Jerell Adams, and Larry Donnell were targeted eight times. The results? Three catches for 32 yards. Worse, Donnell and Tye were involved in probably the offense’s two worst moments of the game: Manning’s first interception that completely shifted momentum back to the Steelers and the failed 4th-and-1 effort at the 3-yard line. Since Tye became the starting tight end after the bye week, he’s only averaging 26 yards per game with only one touchdown. Manning took a shot deep to Adams early in the game, but Adams completely misjudged the ball. Tye had a 16-yard gain on 2nd-and-21, but he got tripped up far too easily on a play that he might have scored on. A few plays later, Manning was picked off.

Offensive Line

Giants backs actually averaged 4.4 yards per carry against a top-10 run defense, but the team only ran the ball 13 times. Believe it or not, Manning was only officially hit three times. But two of these were sacks and Eli hasn’t looked comfortable behind this line all year. John Jerry was flagged with a holding call that wiped out a 21-yard pass reception. Ereck Flowers was flagged with a holding call that caused a safety and a false start. Flowers allowed too much pressure throughout the game, including the 4th-and-13 pass that was intercepted and the 4th-and-9 sack (Marshall Newhouse and Weston Richburg didn’t handle the inside pressure on the latter either). Jerry’s failure to pick up the blitz on the 4th-and-1 incomplete pass came at a bad time.

Fans keep saying Jerry Reese has to address the line. But the Giants have spent two #1 and a #2 draft pick on the offensive line in recent years. The truth of the matter is the Giants are not getting the production out of Flowers, Justin Pugh (who missed his fourth game in a row), and Richburg that they expected. The problem was supposed to be the right side of the line. Flowers has been too inconsistent at left tackle – allowing too much pressure and being flagged too much. But you also have to wonder about the Giants personnel acquisition versus scheme. For example, Flowers’ strength is his run blocking. He can muscle and maul as good as anyone in the NFL (think Jumbo Elliott when he played left tackle for the Giants). But the Giants run a pass-centric, finesse offense that runs the ball as more of after-thought out of the shotgun. Imagine Flowers playing left tackle for the Steelers. I bet you he would be a heck of a player in their scheme.

Giants on Defense

Given the Giants defense only gave up two drives longer than 48 yards, it is hard to blame it for this loss. But I’m not willing to let it completely off of the hook. The Steelers offense scored five times (two touchdowns, three field goals) and accrued almost 400 net yards of offense (272 passing, 117 rushing). The Steelers were 7-of-15 (47 percent) on 3rd down and 1-of-1 (100 percent) on 4th down. While the Giants defense forced two punts to start the game, this was only after the Steelers were able to move the ball and thereby pin the Giants back inside the 20 on their first two possessions. The defense only forced one three-and-out all game and Pittsburgh was able to control the clock and keep the Giants offense off of the field.

To me, the lowlights were:

  • Allowing the quick 3-play, 40-yard touchdown strike after Eli Manning’s first interception. That was too easy.
  • Allowing the Steelers to convert on 3rd-and-17 on their last field goal drive before halftime.
  • Allowing the Steelers to drive 88 yards in seven plays right after the Giants had cut the score to 14-7 late in the 3rd quarter.
  • Allowing the Steelers to salt the game away with their 11-play, 48-yard field goal drive that took 5:17 off of the clock.

The Steelers scored on 3-of-5 possessions in the first half. The defense performed better with two forced turnovers and two punts in the second half. But that 88-yard drive was a killer.

Defensive Line

It was a mixed bag for the defensive line. The Giants held running back Le’Veon Bell to 31 yards rushing on 11 carries (2.8 yards per carry) in the first half. However, after Jason Pierre-Paul was lost to injury, and as the Steelers began to wear down the Giants defense, that changed in the second half. Bell’s final 17 carries picked up 87 yards (5.1 yards per carry). Ben Roethlisberger has been difficult to sack all season, with just 14 sacks coming into this game. Olivier Vernon sacked him twice. He was also credited with two tackles for losses. However, no other defensive lineman hit the quarterback. Damon Harrison has been amazingly productive as a tackler. He had nine more in this game and now is third on the team with 72 tackles on the season. Johnathan Hankins was fairly quiet with two tackles. Reserves Kerry Wynn (2 tackles), Romeo Okwara (2 tackles), Jay Bromley (1 tackle), and Robert Thomas (no tackles) did not stand out. I will make one note that sounds like a cop-out – there was a lot of jersey-grabbing by Pittsburgh blockers.

Linebackers

Like the defensive line, better in the first half against the run then significantly worse in the second half. Though the defensive backs deserve some of the blame on the tight end coverage, Pittsburgh’s backs and tight ends were far too productive in this game. And it could have been worse if not for a few dropped passes. Tight end Ladarius Green had six catches for 110 yards and a touchdown. Tight end Jesse James had three more catches for 32 yards. And running back Le’Veon Bell had six catches for 64 yards. In other words, all but nine of Roesthlisberger’s completions went to these three players, who were also responsible for 206 of the 289 passing yards. Four of Pittsburgh’s five longest completions went to Bell (37 and 21 yards) and Green (33 and 20 yards). Jonathan Casillas and Keenan Robinson seemed late to react in coverage and Casillas missed some open-field tackles. Cassilas’ effort on Bells’ 19-yard run late in the game was embarrassing.

The linebackers were in on a lot of tackles (26). Casillas and Kelvin Sheppard each had eight tackles (tied for second on the team). Casillas also forced a fumble that set up the Giants first touchdown. Robinson had six tackles. Devon Kennard had four plus the team’s only other QB hit (aside from the two sacks by Olivier Vernon).

Defensive Backs

Pittsburgh’s wideouts only caught nine passes for 83 yards. And six of those went to All-Pro Antonio Brown, who was limited to 54 yards (9 yards per catch). But his outstanding 22-yard reception over corner Janoris Jenkins hurt (though much of the blame here goes to Leon Hall who was playing safety and ran himself out of coverage). So did Eli Rogers’ 18-yard bubble screen gain on 3rd-and-17, which led to a field goal. Landon Collins also gambled and lost on a 3rd-and-4 pass to tight end Ladarius Green for a killer 20-yard score late in the 3rd quarter. Otherwise, Collins played well and was credited with seven tackles and three pass defenses. Eli Apple had a big game with five tackles, one tackle for a loss, one interception, two pass defenses, and one fumble recovery. Apple did give a 12-yard completion on 3rd-and-6 on a field goal drive. His pick was the first of his career and impressive as he took the ball away from the intended wideout. Apple also knocked away a 3rd-and-3 pass in the 4th quarter. Jenkins made a really nice play by tackling Brown for a 1-yard loss on a WR screen.

Giants on Special Teams

Brad Wing punted four times with a 44.3 yards-per-punt average (39.3 yard net). One punt resulted in a touchback and none were downed inside the 20. The always-dangerous Antonio Brown did not return a single punt. The Steelers returned two kickoffs – one for 24 yards and one for 23 yards.

Robbie Gould made both of his extra points (hooray for small victories!). Only one of his three kickoffs resulted in a touchback. The Giants were not able to recover his onside kick at the end of the game.

Dwayne Harris has been battling a variety injuries all year. He was forced to leave the game early with an ankle issue. Before he departed, Harris returned one punt for one yard, and two kickoffs for a total of 40 yards (22 and 18 yard returns). Bobby Rainey had a 38-yard return late in the game.

(New York Giants at Pittsburgh Steelers, December 4, 2016)
Dec 022016
 
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Rashad Jennings, New York Giants (August 9, 2014)

Rashad Jennings – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Game Preview: New York Giants at Pittsburgh Steelers, December 4, 2016

THE STORYLINE:
I get the sense that many Giants fans are not enjoying this season. They see the Giants as a flawed team and that the roof will eventually collapse. These fans are disappointed that the offense has fallen from top 10 in 2015 to now 21st in the NFL. The running game is 31st in the NFL. Every game is a nail-biter. The Giants have fattened their win total against weak teams. All of these facts or impressions are correct.

But every team has its flaws. And the Giants are a legitimate 8-3 team with a franchise quarterback who is playing decently but has yet to hit his stride, arguably the best wide receiver in football, and a physical defense that can stop the run and the pass and is continuing to improve. The Giants are capable of losing to any team but they are also very capable of beating any team. The Giants are about to enter the toughest part of their schedule – the part that will ultimately define their season – but they should not fear anyone who they are about to play.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are a perennial tough out. They have their own franchise QB, arguably the best wide receiver in football, a two-way threat at running back, and a tough, prideful defense. And the Steelers become all that much more difficult to defeat when they are playing at home. That said, the Giants should be insulted that the Steelers are a solid touchdown favorite in this game.

This is a big game for the Giants. Win and their division title/#1 seed hopes are still alive and well. Lose and the Giants will be relegated to fighting for a Wild Card spot.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • WR/Returner Dwayne Harris (wrist) – probable
  • OG Justin Pugh (knee) – out
  • OL Brett Jones (calf) – questionable
  • OL Marshall Newhouse (knee) – questionable
  • DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa (knee) – out
  • LB Mark Herzlich (concussion) – out
  • S Nat Berhe (concussion) – out

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
It seems like the Steelers have been playing their trademark 3-4 defense forever. However, while Pittsburgh’s defense has played better in recent weeks against offensively-challenged opponents, they have fallen to 19th in the NFL this season (9th against the run, 23rd against the pass). The Steelers are middle-of-the pack in sacks (24) with no premiere pass-rushing threats. The heart and soul of the defensive team remains the linebacking corps. These are the run stoppers and pass-rushers on the team. You have to be ready for any of them to come after the quarterback. They are fundamentally sound, tough, physical players who play with a lot of pride. This is what makes their defense tough.

Inside, Lawrence Timmons is in his 10th season, but is still leading the team in tackles. Next to him in the middle is Ryan Shazier – the pup in his third year – who is coming on. Outside linebackers Arthur Moats (3.5 sacks), Jarvis Jones, and James Harrison (4 sacks – yes he’s still around) will challenge the Giants offensive tackles.

While the Steelers defense has given up yardage this year, they toughen up near the goal line and are currently the toughest red zone defense in the league. The Giants are 13th in red zone offense and have been hit or miss in this area, though better in recent weeks. Obviously, finishing drives will be important but don’t be surprised if the Giants bog down offensively as they get closer to the end zone.

The game plan seems fairly obvious. While the Giants don’t want to become too one-dimensional in order to keep the Steelers honest, the Giants 31st-ranked running game versus the Steelers 9th-ranked run defense suggests the Giants should attack primarily through the air. Keep in mind the short passing game – a trademark of the West Coast Offense – is often considered equivalent to a running play. That’s how you can view a 4- or 5-yard pass to Rashad Jennings or Paul Perkins.

On the flip side is New York’s 12th-ranked passing game versus Pittsburgh’s 23rd-ranked pass defense. The Steelers can be exposed through the air and they only have seven interceptions as a team. I feel the key to this game is composure. Pittsburgh is a tough place to play. Some teams get intimidated by mystique and crowd noise. Eli Manning has to keep his teammates calm. Don’t make stupid penalties (i.e., false starts) or force the issue and turn the ball over. Again, the Steelers are 19th in defense. The Giants can move the ball against these guys. If New York finishes their drives, the Giants will win this game.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
While the Giants and Steelers may not currently have top-10 offenses, what makes both so dangerous are they both have 2-time Super Bowl winning quarterbacks who can carry their team, and also bring their teams from behind in the clutch. Both offenses have a superb wide receiver. But the added plus for Pittsburgh is their running game. The Steelers have the NFL’s 12th-ranked offense (18th in rushing, 8th in passing). While 18th is middle-of-the-pack, running back Le’Veon Bell, who missed the first three games of the season, has exploded the last two weeks with 266 yards rushing. He also is a featured target in the Pittsburgh passing game with an astonishing 57 receptions. So as much attention as wide receiver Antonio Brown rightly receives, I feel the key to this game defensively is controlling Bell as a rusher and receiver.

Led by center Maurkice Pouney and right guard David DeCastro, the Steelers are capable of controlling the line of scrimmage. This is going to be out-right war at the line of scrimmage between the tackles. Here is where we truly find out how good defensive tackles Damon Harrison and Johnathan Hankins are. Ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon are also going to have to hold their ground on the edge. The linebackers have to get off of blocks and gang-tackle the big, powerful Bell.

In many ways, it is the Giants linebackers who will be on the spot in this game. The bulk of the Steelers offense runs through their three-headed monster of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Brown, and Bell. Not only do the linebackers have to be physical against the run, but they will have to keep Bell in check as a receiver. The Steelers don’t feature the tight end, but when they get close to the end zone, they do have four TDs on the year. Kelvin Sheppard, Jonathan Casillas, Devon Kennard, and Keenan Robinson must come to play.

Then there is Antonio Brown. If there is anyone better than Beckham, it may be Brown. He has 82 catches for almost 1,000 yards and 10 TDs through 11 games despite being the focal point of everyone’s pass defense. The good news for the Giants is that the man covering him in this game – Janoris Jenkins – practiced against Beckham on a daily basis in training camp. That level of competition will help Jenkins against a receiver with a similar skill set. Obviously, as much as the Giants don’t want Bell to nickel-and-dime the Giants to death, New York doesn’t want Brown to blow the game wide open on cheap plays either.

Teams are not getting to Roethlisberger. The Steelers have given up only 14 sacks all year (just over one per game). Part of that is the blocking up front, but Roethlisberger gets rid of the ball quickly and he is a big guy who is hard to tackle and capable of running with the football when in trouble. TACKLING – tackling Roethlisberger, Bell, and Brown – will be HUGE in this game.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Do the Giants have a place kicking problem? Robbie Gould has now missed three extra points in two weeks. It’s unnerving to be entering the final stretch, and the toughest stretch, with a big question mark at kicker.

The Steelers use Antonio Brown as their primary punt returner. He has only 14 returns all year because teams try to kick away from him. He obviously is a threat every time he touches the football (four career TDs as a punt returner). Brad Wing’s placement will be key as will be the work of the gunners. And the Giants will be a bit short-handed on special teams this week with Mark Herzlich out.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo on the Steelers offense: “You try to take one thing away and they will open up a hole somewhere else. But they have been good for a long time. The quarterback makes it all go and when you have a skill guy like Antonio Brown outside and a back like (Le’Veon) Bell that can do the things that he can do inside, it is going to make it difficult for our guys. Everybody just has to do their job, is what it comes down to. Hopefully we will have enough things to change it up to take away what they do really well. Ben (Roethlisberger) is good enough that he is going to figure out what you are taking away and then go use his other tools, so it will be that kind of game all day long. We are going to need a couple of breaks here and there and need some turnovers and our guys need to play fast and relentless and hopefully something good happens.”

THE FINAL WORD:
Football is often a game about match-ups and I like the match-ups in the game for the Giants. I think Janoris Jenkins can handle Antonio Brown. I think the Giants defense can hold Le’Veon Bell under 100 yards rushing. Pittsburgh does not have the dynamic tight end. I do worry about Bell as a pass receiver. And the Giants need to be careful of the gadget play involving Brown. On the flip side, the Giants can attack through the air and the Steelers have issues stopping the pass. Obviously, the offensive tackles need to do a reasonable job of keeping blitzing linebackers off of Eli. Much of the pass protection will be mental – picking up stunts, late dogs, etc. Red zone offense versus red zone defense is another key. What I don’t want to see is this game coming down to Robbie Gould.

Nov 282016
 
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Odell Beckham, New York Giants (November 27, 2016)

Odell Beckham Celebrates His TD Against the Cleveland Browns – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 27 – Cleveland Browns 13

Overview

The New York Giants won their eighth game of the season, their sixth in a row, and by their largest point margin of the season by defeating the winless Cleveland Browns on the last weekend in November. Despite Cleveland’s record, this was a very dangerous spot for the Giants against an opponent they could have easily overlooked. With the offense and special teams playing at a mostly subpar level, the defense once again carried the day for New York. Good defense will almost always keep you in a game. The Giants had entered the game as the least penalized in the NFL but were flagged with nine infractions for 100 yards against the Browns. As expected, the turnover and sack numbers are beginning to favor the Giants.

Giants on Offense

The good news is that the offense scored three touchdowns and was 2-of-2 in the red zone. The offense did not turn the football over.

The bad news is that the Giants ran only 53 offensive plays (not counting the two kneel downs) and punted nine times. The offense was limited to 13 first downs, 296 total net yards (192 net yards passing), and 26:09 time of possession. The 104 yards rushing was inflated by a 22-yard end around by a wide receiver. The Giants were 4-of-13 (31 percent) on 3rd down and QB Eli Manning only completed 15 passes. The Giants began both the first and second half with four punts in a row. This all against a defense that had been 31st in the NFL.

In terms of pass/run ratio, the Giants had one of their most “balanced” games of the season. On the 53 offensive snaps, the Giants passed 28 times (one sack) and ran the ball 25 times.

Quarterback

Strange game for Eli Manning. He only completed 15 passes (15-of-27 or 56 percent). But he averaged almost 13 yards per completion, threw three touchdown passes and no interceptions, and finished the game with a 115.4 QB rating. On the first four drives of the first half, Manning was 8-of-12 for 49 yards, and was also sacked once. He missed an open Odell Beckham deep on the first possession on what could have been a 58-yard score. Manning also was way off on two other down-field shots to Beckham in the 1st quarter. On the the first four drives of the second half, Manning was 1-of-6 for no yards. But on the three touchdown drives, Manning was 6-of-9 for 145 yards and 3 touchdowns. Three of Manning’s passes gained 110 yards. And the throws to Dwayne Harris and Victor Cruz were picture-perfect. As I’ve said all year long, the Giants offense largely lives and dies by the big passing play.

Running Backs

Not a terribly productive game against what had been the 31st-ranked run defense in the NFL. If you take away the 22-yard end around by Sterling Shepard, Rashad Jennings and Paul Perkins carried the ball 24 times for 84 yards (3.5 yards per carry). One drive was stopped when Jennings was stuffed on 3rd-and-1. Jennings and Perkins were relatively unproductive in the passing game too, catching four passes for 18 yards. Perkins was flagged with a false start.

Wide Receivers

Odell Beckham was targeted 11 times. He caught six of those passes for 96 yards and two touchdowns. His three highlights included his 32-yard catch-and-run touchdown, his 41-yard reception that set up the final touchdown, and his 4-yard touchdown on 3rd-and-goal that sealed the game. Beckham simply is playing at a different speed than the other players on the field.

Oddly, Sterling Shepard was never targeted in the game. His 22-yard end around helped to set up the final score. Dwayne Harris was targeted once, and it resulted in the first touchdown of the game, a 13-yard score. Victor Cruz (1-of-5) and Roger Lewis (1-of-4) were targeted nine times, resulting in only two catches for 55 yards. Lewis’ 18-yard catch came on the first TD drive while Cruz’s 37-yard catch came on the second. Cruz seems to struggle to create any kind of vertical separation from defenders, but oddly the Giants take repeated deep shots in his direction. Manning repeatedly tried to his Lewis deep, but his throws were off the mark.

Tight Ends

Will Tye caught both passes thrown his way for a total of 12 yards on back-to-back plays in the first half. That was the extent of the tight end “productivity” in the passing game. Jerell Adams was not targeted but flashed as a blocker.

Offensive Line

The good news is that despite being down to their fourth-string left guard, the Giants won the game and Eli Manning survived. Manning was officially hit four times and sacked once (coverage sack). The running backs only averaged 3.5 yards per carry however against the 31st-ranked run defense. Despite outstanding starting field position at midfield, one drive was sabotaged by back-to-back penalties, the first a holding penalty on LT Ereck Flowers and then a false start on RT Bobby Hart. The first penalty wiped out a 19-yard gain. Flowers allowed a few pressures, but the Giants took more deep shots this week and the pass protection was reasonable.

Giants on Defense

The bad news is the Giants allowed the NFL’s 29th-ranked offense to accrue 343 total net yards with quarterback Josh McCown throwing for 322 yards and wide receiver Terrell Pryor catching six passes for 131 yards. The defense was also flagged three times for 55 yards.

The good news was just about everything else. The Giants defense was credited with seven sacks, eight tackles for losses, 11 quarterback hits, five pass defenses, three forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries. The Browns were 3-of-14 (21 percent) on 3rd down and 1-of-2 (50 percent) on 4th down. Fifteen offensive drives resulted in one touchdown, two field goals, three turnovers, one turnover on downs, and eight punts. The Browns were not only held to 13 points, but the Giants defense also scored. Giants defenders of the past would be very proud.

Defensive Line

As a unit, the defensive line had a monster game and everyone got into the act:

  • Jason Pierre-Paul: 7 tackles, 3 sacks, 3 QB hits, 3 tackles for losses, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery for a TD.
  • Olivier Vernon: 4 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 tackles for losses, 5 QB hits.
  • Damon Harrison: Team-high 9 tackles, 1 forced fumble.
  • Johnathan Hankins: 3 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 QB hits, 1 forced fumble.

Even reserves such as Romeo Okwara (2 tackles, 1 pass defense) and Kerry Wynn (1 fumble recovery) got into the act. In total, the line was responsible for 25 tackles, 6 sacks, 5 tackles for losses, 10 QB hits, 1 pass defense, 3 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, and one touchdown. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Linebackers

The defensive line, linebackers, and secondary limited the Browns to 58 yards on 21 carries. The 2.8 yards-per-carry average was far below what running backs Isaiah Crowell (4.3) and Duke Johnson (5.0) had been averaging. One of the Browns main targets – tight end Gary Barnidge – was held to one catch for 11 yards. Back-up tight end Seth DeValve caught three passes for 39 yards late in the game. Cleveland loves to throw to their backs and Crowell, Johnson, and Danny Vitale caught 10 passes for 69 yards. Keenan Robinson was credited with five tackles; Jonathan Casillas four tackles; and Devon Kennard three tackles. Robinson was flagged with a 15-yard penalty on a 19-yard completion on the Browns only touchdown drive of the game. Kennard nailed Crowell for a 1-yard loss after a quick throw and recovered the first fumble. Kelvin Sheppard did not show on the stat sheet, but he had good coverage on an incomplete pass in the red zone.

Defensive Backs

Terrelle Pryor caught six of 12 passes thrown in his direction for 131 yards. Fifty-four of those yards came on one pass play against CB Eli Apple, who also was flagged for a 35-yard pass interference penalty against Pryor on a FG drive. Apple came darn close to intercepting a pass on the very next play but his foot was barely out-of-bounds. The two bad plays stick out, but Apple played well otherwise.

The other three Browns receivers were limited to five catches on 11 targets for 72 yards. Janoris Jenkins was credited with 5 tackles, 1 sack, 2 tackles for losses, and 2 pass defenses. He gave up a 14-yard completion to Pryor late in the first half but then knocked away an end zone pass to the taller Pryor, forcing a field goal. Jenkins was beaten by WR Corey Coleman for a 21-yard touchdown in the second half. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie expertly defended a late 3rd-and-19 pass and Jenkins followed that up by almost intercepting the 4th-and-19 incompletion.

CB Trevin Wade had issues on back-to-back plays late in the 2nd quarter that allowed the Browns to set up a field goal. First he was beat for 22 yards by Pryor on 2nd-and-30. On the following play, Wade was flagged with a holding penalty on a 3rd-and-8 incomplete pass, keeping the drive alive. Landon Collins had seven tackles, but uncharacteristically missed a few tackles. Nat Berhe suffered another concussion, putting his season in doubt. Andrew Adams made a very nice pass breakup on 3rd-and-8 to force a punt.

Giants on Special Teams

The special teams star for the Giants was Brad Wing, who punted nine times, averaging 47.4 yards per punt (44.7 net) with five punts downed inside the 20 and three downed inside the 10-yard line. He had one touchback. Punt coverage was outstanding as the Browns only returned three punts for five yards. Roger Lewis made a fantastic play by downing one ball at the 4-yard line.

Three of Robbie Gould’s five kickoffs resulted in touchbacks. Kickoff coverage was solid as the Browns two kickoff returns went for 24 and 21 yards. Gould missed yet another extra point however.

Subbing for the injured Dwayne Harris, Bobby Rainey disappointed. His two kickoff returns went for 26 and 25 yards. His three punt returns resulted in seven yards and a muffed punt that set up Cleveland’s first scoring drive. He also was flagged with an invalid fair-catch signal.

Rainey was replaced by Odell Beckham, who had a 59-yard punt return for a touchdown wiped out by a holding penalty on Mark Herzlich and a 28-yard return wiped out by illegal block penalties on Eli Apple and Paul Perkins. His other return went for 12 yards.

(New York Giants at Cleveland Browns, November 27, 2016)
Nov 252016
 
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Victor Cruz, New York Giants (November 20, 2016)

Victor Cruz – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Game Preview: New York Giants at Cleveland Browns, November 27, 2016

THE STORYLINE:
This is the last “easy” game on the schedule and the last game of November. Everyone is thinking the same thing: beat the Browns, get to 8-3, and then concentrate all efforts on a December run leading up to the regular-season finale on New Year’s Day. But make no mistake about it, if the Giants take the Cleveland Browns lightly, they will lose. The Browns are not without talent. And the odds that they will go winless in 2016 are not good. They will beat someone. A New York Giants team that has beaten seven teams by a combined 27 points had better be on their game.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • RB Orleans Darkwa (lower leg) – questionable
  • WR Dwayne Harris (wrist) – probable
  • WR Roger Lewis, Jr. (concussion) – questionable
  • OG Justin Pugh (knee) – out
  • OL Brett Jones (calf) – out
  • OL Marshall Newhouse (knee) – out
  • OL Adam Gettis (calf) – questionable
  • DE Jason Pierre-Paul (knee) – questionable

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
The 3-4 defense of the Cleveland Browns is 31st in the NFL (31st against the run, 22nd against the pass). They don’t rush the passer very well as they only have 16 team sacks on the year. That said, they do have some players who can present problems. Rookie defensive end/linebacker Emmanuel Ogbah (3 sacks) is beginning to flash as a pass rusher. Nose tackle Danny Shelton is a 335-pound load in the middle of the defense who could present problems for center Weston Richburg. Ex-Patriot outside linebacker Jamie Collins is an athletic play-maker. Two-time Pro Bowler cornerback Joe Haden has three interceptions and is one of the NFL’s best covermen. He will line up against Odell Beckham, Jr.

What hurts the Giants coming into this game is the situation at left guard. The Giants are down to 4th stringer Adam Gettis starting and that’s a bit scary. And Gettis is also playing hurt with a calf injury. Heaven help the Giants if someone else gets injured on the offensive line on Sunday – depth is nil with only Will Beatty and Shane McDermott in reserve.

Given that Cleveland is 31st against the run, there may be a temptation to force the run and really get the ground game going. The Giants have to be careful not to play it too conservatively and allow the Browns to hang around. I would suggest using the passing game to get a two-score lead and then focus more on the ground game. Amazingly, Beckham has not cracked the 100-yard mark since his 222-yard performance against the Ravens on October 16th. The Giants have to do a better job of moving him around to defeat double-team coverage and get him more involved.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The Browns are 29th in the NFL in offense (25th rushing, 27th passing). Much of the failure of the Browns franchise for decades has been the inability to to acquire a true franchise quarterback. Five different quarterbacks have played for the Browns this year alone. Due to injuries to other players, Josh McCown will get his third start of the season on Sunday. The 37-year old McCown has played in four games this year and only completed 53.3 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and six interceptions. McCown is a journeyman who has played for seven teams. But he is an experienced veteran with 59 regular-season starts. The Giants should not take him lightly. In the two games he started (against the Ravens and Jets), the Browns moved the ball and had a good chance to win both games.

Despite their offensive rankings, the Browns actually have some offensive talent. Ex-quarterback wide receiver Terrelle Pryor is a big, athletic target with 56 catches and four touchdowns. While he has struggled somewhat during his rookie year (only 17 catches), wide receiver Corey Coleman is a 1st rounder who is very capable of breaking a game open. Fellow wideout Andrew Hawkins has three touchdowns. That all said, the Giants secondary matches up pretty well with this group. The primary concern will be tight end Gary Barnidge (39 receptions) as the Giants have had issues covering athletic, pass-receiving tight ends. Running backs Duke Johnson (42 catches) and Isaiah Crowell (26 catches) are also both factors in the passing game. The Giants linebackers and safeties will be on the spot given the Browns tendencies.

And while the Browns are 25th in rushing, Crowell (4.3 yards-per-carry) and Johnson (5.0 yards-per-carry) are productive when they get a chance. The Giants must also be wary of the trick play, especially since Pryor is a former quarterback.

I would put the onus on the corners to handle the wideouts and focus my coverage attention more towards Barnidge and the two running backs. McCown’s game is better suited to the short-passing attack rather than taking shots down the field. Obviously, the Giants must keep the ground attack under control. That will help to mute play-action – something the Giants linebackers had issues with against the Bears.

The injury issue on this side of the ball is Jason Pierre-Paul (knee) is “questionable” although he says he will play. The elite player on the offensive line for the Browns is left tackle Joe Thomas.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
The Browns haven’t been very good in kickoff returns (long of 24 yards) and punt returns (long of 18 yards). Undermanned teams such as the Browns are always capable of rolling the dice and using a fake field goal or punt, or an onside kick.

It’s a bit unnerving to not know what kind of kicker the Giants have yet in Robbie Gould. The weather was a factor in his missed extra points last week, but the Giants obviously need Gould to produce better.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Offensive Coordinator Mike Sullivan on Odell Beckham, Jr.: “When it comes to Odell, obviously we all know he is a dynamic play maker. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the more we give him the ball, the higher our chances are of winning. He is seventh in the NFL right now, I mean, he’s got 98 targets, so we’re trying, and that’s always a big part of our plan. I think the thing that is important to realize when it comes to that is really two things; number one, based upon where he’s aligned, in formation, often times that can create some other opportunities in terms of the run game; shifting the front, getting some things that have created some openings that have helped us the past two weeks. Secondly, opportunities for other guys. There is no more revealing clip or picture to have all of you guys take a look at, than the touchdown of Sterling Shepard. We put Odell in a specific spot and if you go back and look at that clip, the safety who was aligned to his side, it was a two high configuration, his eyes are right on Odell. Had he not done that, then it’s one-on-one and he’s got a touchdown in the end zone, and we can all see him enjoy the celebration. But, because of his commitment to him and the corners commitment to him, that opens up the middle of the field and that created a touchdown for Sterling. There are certain by-products, if you will, based upon his alignment. While he may be not getting the ball, it certainly creates those opportunities. We definitely would like to get the ball in his hands as much as possible and want to be good coaches and know that what makes us good coaches is getting the ball and what helps us win.”

THE FINAL WORD:
Playing a winless team this late in the season scares the bejesus out of me because the opponent is due for a win. The Giants had better take the Browns seriously.

Nov 212016
 
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Sterling Shepard, New York Giants (November 20, 2016)

Sterling Shepard – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 22 – Chicago Bears 16

Overview

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

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

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

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

Giants on Offense

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

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

Quarterback

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

Running Backs

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

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

Wide Receivers

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

Tight Ends

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

Offensive Line

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

Giants on Defense

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

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

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

Defensive Line

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

Linebackers

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

Defensive Backs

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

Giants on Special Teams

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

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

(Chicago Bears at New York Giants, November 20, 2016)
Nov 182016
 
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Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants (October 16, 2016)

Jason Pierre-Paul – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Game Preview: Chicago Bears at New York Giants, November 20, 2016

THE STORYLINE:
Almost every New York Giants fan is thinking the same thing: the Giants should beat the 2-7 Chicago Bears and 0-10 Cleveland Browns and be 8-3 in two weeks. Clearly that is the most likely scenario if the Giants remain focused and don’t take the Bears and Browns lightly. That said, keep in mind the Giants have won six games by a total of 21 points. Every game has been a struggle.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • RB Orleans Darkwa (lower leg) – questionable
  • WR Victor Cruz (ankle) – probable
  • WR Dwayne Harris (toe) – probable
  • OG Justin Pugh (knee) – out
  • OL Brett Jones (calf) – out
  • OL Adam Gettis (calf) – questionable

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
The Bears are a well-coached 3-4 defense under former Giants defensive coordinator John Fox and former 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. Despite not having a lot of top talent, the Bears are 11th in defense (11th against the run, 12th against the pass). The good news for the Giants is the Bears are really beat up on defense. Two starting defensive linemen – NT Eddie Goldman (ankle – questionable) and DE Mitch Unrein (back – doubtful) – have missed practice this week. So has reserve CB Deiondre’ Hall (ankle – doubtful). Four more starting defenders have been limited, including LB Pernell McPhee (knee – questionable), LB Willie Young (ankle – questionable), CB Tracy Porter (knee – questionable), and CB Bryce Callahan (hamstring – questionable). Reserve NT Will Sutton was placed on IR this week.

As is the case with 3-4 defenses, the primary pass-rushing threats come from the outside linebackers. Young leads the Bears with 6.5 sacks, while top reserve and Giants 2016 Draft target LB Leonard Floyd is second on the team with five sacks. Given the depleted nature of the Bears defense, expect Fox and Fangio to play it conservatively. They will focus on preventing the big play in the passing game with extra attention of course being given to Odell Beckham, Jr. This should open up opportunities for the running game as well as other passing targets, namely Sterling Shepard, Victor Cruz, and the backs and tight ends.

What we’re about to discover is if the Giants rushing success against the Bengals was a mirage or not. If the Giants cannot consistently run the ball against the Bears, they will have to continue to live and die with a passing game that has largely been dependent on the big play. The good news for the Giants is that they have really cut down on penalties in recent weeks. But turnovers remain a problem and the blocking up front remains inconsistent. Thus, the offense has largely been feast or famine.

What we’re really all waiting for is a clean game (no turnovers) with consistent running-game performance that results in  30+ points on the scoreboard. The Giants will be very thin up front for this game. Both Justin Pugh and Brett Jones are out and Adam Gettis is questionable.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The Bears are a middle-of-the-pack offense (16th overall, 21st rushing, 18th passing). But like the defense, the Bears are hurting on this side of the ball. Their best offensive weapon – WR Alshon Jeffery – has been suspended. Right guard Kyle Long was placed on Injured Reserve. RT Bobby Massie (concussion) is doubtful.  LG Josh Sitton (ankle – questionable), WR Eddie Royal (toe – questionable), and WR Marquess Wilson (foot – questionable) were all limited in practice.

The Bears offense has long succeeded or failed on the incredibly inconsistent play of QB Jay Cutler. There are occasional moments when Cutler looks like a world-beater, but he has the make-up of a loser who loves to bitch-and-whine when things don’t go his way. Without Jeffery, Cutler’s primary targets will likely be TE Zach Miller (44 catches, 3 touchdowns), Royal (30 catches, 2 touchdowns), and WR Cameron Meredith (29 catches, 2 touchdowns). The Giants secondary should be able to handle this group provided the linebackers and safeties can keep Miller under control.

Despite Chicago’s 21st-ranking in the run game, RB Jordan Howard is a dangerous back. He’s rushed for 605 yards on 114 carries (5.3 yards per carry). Running backs Jeremy Langford and Ka’Deem Carey are averaging 4.0 yards per carry. The focal point must be on stopping the run. If the Giants stymie Chicago’s running game and make it difficult for Miller to get open down the middle of the field, the Bears offense will be in trouble. Look for Cutler to get frustrated and start making mistakes.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Tom Quinn’s special teams units are giving up too many big returns. Eddie Royal is a dangerous punt returner who already has returned one punt for a touchdown this season (and has three in his career). Robbie Gould gets a chance to help or hurt his old team. Dwayne Harris (who is probable) is battling a nagging toe injury and it remains to be seen if Bobby Rainey takes over return duties this weekend. If he does, keep in mind that Rainey has had fumbling issues as a returner throughout his career.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Offensive Coordinator Mike Sullivan on the Bears outside linebackers: “If you’re talking about the outside linebackers that become different defensive ends, obviously they’re a very talented defensive front. That’s not coach speak. You put the tape on and there aren’t too many quarterbacks that are back there that either are not getting hit or they’re having to reset and move in the pocket or they’re getting sacked. Of course with Floyd, he’s a young guy that’s really coming into his groove. McPhee is a heck of a player, he’s been on a pitch count, if you will, because of his injuries. Hicks, of course, is tremendous and young; that’s a great group. You asked about the outside guys, they become defensive ends when we go to our zebra package and so obviously we have to be aware of opportunities that we have and trying to make sure that if we want to push the ball down the field, we account for those guys, trying to help tackles when necessary and do various things because they definitely do present a challenge.”

THE FINAL WORD:
The Bears are going nowhere and banged up. They also gave the Giants a gift this week by oddly talking trash. “We’re gonna tear their ass up,” said Pernell McPhee. It’s been a long time since the Giants blew anyone out. Could this finally be the week?

Nov 172016
 
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Leonard Marshall and Bill Parcells, New York Giants (December 23, 1984)

Leonard Marshall and Bill Parcells, New York Giants (December 23, 1984)

By Larry Schmitt, with contributions from Matt Michelman

The day after the close of the 1978 season, and 29 days after The Fumble, December 18, 1978, John McVay was released as head coach of the New York Giants and Andy Robustelli resigned as director of football operations, pending the acquisition of his successor. The once proud franchise, last place finishers in five of the previous six football season, were the league punch line. The co-owners, Wellington and Tim Mara, had not spoken to one another in almost a full calendar year.

The two leading candidates for the new coaching position were from the college ranks: Joe Paterno of Penn State and Bill Walsh of Stanford. Both men were involved in preparation of their programs’ respective bowl games and would not interview until after January 1. Dan Reeves, an assistant coach on Dallas was also in the running, and would not become available until the Cowboys post season had concluded.

Robustelli’s recommendations for the director of football operations position were Bobby Beathard, personnel director of the Miami Dolphins, and Jan Van Duser, head of the NFL’s personnel office. Regarding his five year tenure with the New York Giants, which involved a major restructuring of the scouting department, Robustelli said, “It was tough trying to tear down the old building and attempt to build it again while people were living in it. It meant catching a lot of hell and maybe losing a couple of friends.”

Veteran player Jack Gregory said of the changes, “The Maras are great people. I think they’re kinda fed up with the fans getting on them. I guess it was their only choice left. I don’t know it its entirely justified, but what else can you do?”

Robustelli felt optimistic on what he was leaving behind. The organizational structure, while imperfect, had been modernized and reorganized. Player prospects were now seen by multiple scouts, who all reported up to a chief scout. Coaches were able to operate without interference from ownership. Wellington Mara said, “I told Andy all I just would like to have is veto power over trades, and I think we all should agree on the head coach.”

Getting “all” to agree was going to prove to be the most elusive of ideals.

Robustelli, fed up with the infighting, walked away from the Giants on December 31, leaving the quarrelsome Maras on their own. He wrote years later, “During my five seasons as director of operations, the games played behind the games played on Sunday were far tougher and costlier to the franchise than anything that happened on the field. Like the games on the field, there were soon two teams in our office.”

The New Year was filled with rumors and innuendo. Press conferences were called and little substance was revealed, consternation abounded, and potential candidates vanished. Paterno, who wanted full control of the football organization, ultimately refuted the Giants courting, while Walsh went to San Francisco. Reeves felt uncomfortable with the feuding owners and chose to remain in Dallas. The frustration boiled over. Tim Mara said of Paterno, “I don’t know what job or jobs my uncle offered him. My gut reaction is that Joe Paterno never was going to come to the Giants anyway.”

All the elder Mara would say is, “We don’t always agree.”

Rumors from unnamed sources suggested the two owners were conducting their own searches in solitary.

Wellington declared, “I am the president of the Giants. The office was given me by election. Even though the shareholding is equal, having been made president, I’m chief operating officer. It’s my responsibility, when there is a deadlock, to make the final decision…I want to get a man who can run this franchise the next 10 or 20 years, a good man whom I can trust.”

Tim Mara, who was titled as vice president and treasurer, retorted, “No. No. Nobody can make that final decision. We’ve had 15 years of losing, six straight years of being in the cellar. If he picks the man it will be the same old story. Business as usual.”

Wellington said, “I think there is a difference between an equal voice and the ability to immobilize an organization.”

Don Smith, the Giants former press director said, “The inviolate Mara bond has come apart. Blood was always thicker than water. The sense of family is being disrupted, shattered in the press.”

Tim Mara said, “Of course, there’s some strain. It’s been going on for some time now, and now it’s out. Now we have to go from here.”

John Mara, Wellington’s eldest son and law student at Fordham said, “The most disturbing thing is that we’ve prided ourselves as being a family. We’ve always been able to work things out and now we can’t. It’s pretty much torn the families apart. It’s unlikely that we’ll ever be able to live together peacefully again.”

The state of stasis became a stare-down contest over the potential appointment of Assistant Director of Operations Terry Bledsoe, who Wellington Mara preferred as Robustelli’s successor. Tim Mara countered with Gill Brandt from Dallas.

On February 9th, following back-to-back press conferences by the two Maras, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle stepped in to arbitrate what had become a public embarrassment to the league. Rozelle told the two owners to each draw up a list of their preferred candidates. Two names that appeared on each were Van Dueser and former San Diego coach Tommy Prothro. Van Dueser, however, chose not to get involved in the dysfunctional situation and withdrew his name from consideration after interviewing, “It was partly for personal reasons and partly for professional reasons.” Prothro declined outright, choosing to remain in retirement.

Wellington Mara said, “Some people who were prime candidates did not want to become referees.”

Tim Mara conceded that the franchise was beginning to be perceived as “foolish and ridiculous.” Wellington announced that since the two could not agree on a director of operations, that he would find the team a head coach, which incensed Tim.

Wellington: “It’s like taking an exam. When you can’t answer the second question, you go ahead and answer the third and fourth.”

An incredulous Tim said, “This was unexpected. Well just told me an hour ago. Naturally, I’m going to take this up with the commissioner. I think the coach is only one part of a football organization. The D.O. is the one who’s going to have to pull it all together…I want to have a winner. Well wants to have a winner, his way. Well’s way has had us in the cellar the last 15 years. I think the people he wants have only been linked to failure.”

On February 10th, the embarrassment reached its zenith. New Jersey Governor Brendan Byrne spoke on behalf of his populace and proposed a solution while at the NJSEA: “I have not excluded the possibility of a public or private buyout of the Giants to solve their ridiculous disputes. The sports complex is a first-class, professional operation and New Jersey had expected a similarly professional performance from the Giants.”

Tim Mara told reporters that former Washington coach George Allen inquired about the vacant coaching position, but that very well may have been in response to Tim’s learning of Wellington having had a clandestine meeting with Reeves. Tim said, “It seems we’ve been growing farther apart.”

The only thing the two seemed to agree upon was mediation from Rozelle.

Wellington: “(I) would prefer the commissioner come over and run the team, I could prefer that to just sitting here and doing nothing.”

Tim: “The only person who has that power is the commissioner.”

A disgusted Rozelle had also grown tired of the feuding in public: “I’m going to continue working with both of (the Maras), but the less said, the better.”

A Great Compromise

Wellington Mara had received a recommendation from Bobby Beathard about his director of scouting, George Young. Wellington was familiar with Young’s detailed reports on college and pro players, and told Rozelle that he wanted Young, but that he couldn’t suggest anyone to Tim because it would be automatically rejected. Wellington told Rozelle that the Young recommendation had to come from him.

Rozelle told Tim Mara that he needed to choose between Young and Yale Athletic Director and former Cleveland Browns quarterback Frank Ryan. Tim said, “I had Frank Gifford check out Young for me. He called Bobby Beathard and got a glowing report, and he told me that he was definitely the man.”

On the 58th day of the bitter impasse, Young, showing the attributes of both Paul Brown and Henry Kissinger, came to Rozelle’s office in New York to meet with the Maras. The way the meeting unfolded spoke volumes to how desperate Rozelle was to have this saga finished forever.

Tim Mara recalled: “…we go on Wednesday to the Drake Hotel and we interview Young for two hours. We’re impressed and we go to Rozelle’s office. We’re sitting there and we have to go over the new resolutions about how the club shall be governed and who has right of first refusal in the event of a stockholder’s death and things like that. It also placed the football operation in the hands of whoever would get the general manager’s job.

“George wants to go home and talk it over with his wife but Pete wants it settled tonight. So George is in the other room and we’re dotting i’s and crossing t’s…Now it’s like 7:00 p.m. and nobody is in the league office, so Pete walks over to the typewriter and he starts to type out the press release for that night. It’s probably the first one he wrote in 25 years and the last one he ever wrote. While he’s writing, he suddenly looks up and says, ‘This is a great way to spend today. It’s my wedding anniversary.’”

A hastily scheduled news conference was called to get the word out immediately. An exhausted, horse-voiced Wellington Mara proudly boasted in front of the cameras and reporters, “It’s a sign the Giants are conforming with the rest of the league.”

The fallout from the Wellington-Tim Mara feud is forever be remembered in a document residing at the NFL’s office. In it are guidelines on ownership, drawn up by Rozelle, that decree any changes in the ownership of an existing franchise, or a new charter being drawn up for an expansion franchise, must have a majority owner. There will never be another 50-50 split ownership. Wellington said, “I regard it as a personal tragedy that our club provided the wisdom for that rule.”

Tim Mara said, “Sure, there were differences. But I always said that once we solved this problem, it would be behind us.”

Young came to the Giants with universal approval. Don Shula called Young, “A walking encyclopedia of information,” and added, “We went into games well-prepared basically because of George. He was my right-hand man.” Former Kansas City coach Hank Stram said, “George is in the good position of coming to a team that needs his kind of help. He knows football inside and out. He comes to the Giants well prepared.”

Regarding what promised to be a sometimes precarious man-in-the-middle between the often ornery owners, Young was appropriately diplomatic: “(I am) very happy to be with the Giants. I read the New York papers…But I know a good job when I see one. This is a wonderful opportunity and the Maras are one of the greatest families in pro football.”

On his credentials, Young said, “My experience is in personnel, waivers, things I can help a coach with. Some head coaches are excellent coaches, but are not good evaluators of personnel. Others are not good at talking to other people about trades. I don’t care who gets credit for anything, as long as we’re going in the same direction. That’s more important than any ego trip.”

The bruised egos of the two owners, however, would never completely heal. Wellington and Tim would remain on non-speaking terms for the remainder of Tim’s ownership (he sold his interest to Bob Tisch in March 1991), and one of Young’s responsibilities was to serve as their intermediary. While unease permeated the Giants offices with little respite, the feuding in public was over for good.

Establishing Order

While it took the owners 58 days to find their man, it took Young only eight days to find his. This bold and decisive move exemplified Young’s conviction and underscored his authority.

Ray Perkins was named the 11th head coach of the Giants, but was only the second to come from outside the organization (Bill Arnsparger being the first). Young was acquainted with Perkins when they were both in Baltimore with the Colts in the late 1960’s. The always quotable Young said, “Always hire a guy you know.”

Perkins had gained a strong reputation as a hardworking and studious wide receiver with the Colts, as a position coach with New England and as the offensive coordinator with San Diego. That his name had little resonance with the general public did not faze the owners, who were thrilled with the addition to their staff.

Wellington Mara: “Ray Perkins is very impressive in an unimpressive way.”

Tim Mara: “We have two people who I feel have credibility. They may not be that well-known by the man in the street, but the people in football, the people whose life is football, the people from the other 27 teams, know about them.”

One of the Giants rival executives, Gil Brandt of Dallas, ironically had given The New York Times a very candid and detailed analysis on his thoughts of the Giants a month earlier, during the Mara’s standoff. In it, he cited New York’s three chief failings:

(1) Organizational stability – the Giants were looking for their fifth head coach in 10 years. “When you pick a coach, you’ve got to pick the right man. If you pick somebody and he stays for two years and you’re not satisfied and then go to someone else, you’re back starting from scratch again.”

(2) Player acquisition and development – “When you draft top choices like Rocky Thompson, Eldridge Small, Al Simpson, guys who should be playing for you now and are no longer there, you get wiped out….Sometimes poor choices are not entirely on the scouting department. We’ve made some choices that we were high on that never improved. You have to find a way to make players compete so that they’re not just satisfied with what they’ve done but want to improve all the time.”

(3) Find the long term answer at quarterback – “Number one, they have to improve the quarterback situation, and they have to strengthen the wide receivers. Their running backs are adequate, the offensive line is coming together. Defensively, they’re pretty well set. They have the nucleus of doing well. I would try to trade or draft a quarterback. When you draft a quarterback, he’s usually not ready to play, but you can build with him. If you trade for one, it’s harder because nobody wants to give up a player like Danny White, our backup.”

In the short time since that interview was published the organization had become remarkably stabilized by Young’s presence, and a demanding coach was in place who would make players accountable. The third piece of the puzzle, that had proved to be elusive for the previous regime, was still missing.

Robustelli said as he exited his post, “When I came here, we were two years behind any expansion team. We had to tear down an organization and we had nothing to trade. If you add seven players a year, in five years you should have 35 players. Right now I would say the Giants are in a position for the first time to draft for depth. There’s only about four positions where we really need help at.”

The most critical of those positions was quarterback, which had been a revolving door since the departure of Fran Tarkenton after the 1971 season. Norm Snead, Randy Johnson, Craig Morton, Jim Del Gaizo, Joe Pisarcik, Jerry Golsteyn and Randy Dean all took their turns as starters over the ensuing seven seasons; results were routinely inconsistent and usually disappointing. The man on Young’s and Perkins’ radar would be another name the public was not familiar with, yet had the people in the know in the football world enamored. He was a strong-armed quarterback at a small school in Kentucky with a losing record (10-27 the past four seasons) that ran the ball more than they threw it.

Phil Simms’ final semester at Morehead State was a hectic one. He was continuously visited by NFL scouts and coaches.

Simms recalled: “There was no combine then, so the coaches and scouts who wanted to see me came to Morehead…I had worked out for about nine teams, and every single person who came to Morehead wanted to see how hard I could throw. In fact, when I asked Ray Perkins, the Giants coach at the time, how he wanted me to throw the ball, he said, ‘Son, I want you to throw that ball as hard as you can every time.’ ‘Even short passes?,’ I asked. ‘I want you to knock ‘em down.’

“Then Bill Walsh came along. I started working out, throwing hard as usual, and Bill said, ‘Oh that’s wayyy to hard. Throw a little softer. Throw with a little more rhythm. I want you to drop back gracefully. Be light on your feet. And I want you to throw with beautiful rhythm. I want your passes to be really pretty. I want nice spirals.’…After about 10 minutes I finally got it. I finally got to a speed that he liked. For the next 30 minutes I threw just the way he wanted me to. The results were awesome. That was one of the most enjoyable days I’ve ever had as a quarterback.”

“Bill came back to Morehead to work me out a second time. Afterward, he said, ‘Phil, if we draft you you’re going to lead the league in passing every year.’ The Forty-Niners didn’t have a first round pick that year. They had the first pick of the second round, and Bill told me he was confident I would be there. He was wrong. I wound up being a first round pick of the Giants.”

The most familiar name to football fans hoping for a quarterback in the spring of 1979 was Jack Thompson of Washington State. When Rozelle called the Giants first pick – the seventh overall – the boisterous reaction of the approximately 200 fans on hand at the Waldorf-Astoria ballroom surprised everyone in the room. The New York press was so amazed, that they pleaded with the commissioner for a second-take. Rozelle obliged, and as he stepped up to re-announce the Giants pick with a wry smile, anticipating another lively response, he got that and more.

The riled Giants fans jeered before Rozelle even said Simms’ name, and the commissioner chuckled his way off the stage while they howled defiantly. That group of Giants fans left an indelible impression on Rozelle, and he looked to capitalize on their passion. The next year, Rozelle had the draft moved to the New York Sheraton hotel, which possessed a gallery that could accommodate up to 750 people. Also, for the first time, fans could watch the selection process from home as the draft was broadcast live on television.

Despite what the fans thought, everyone in the Giants organization was thrilled to have Simms.

Perkins said, “I think Phil Simms, at some point in time, has a chance to be a great quarterback… We had good reason to believe he would not be there in the second round.”

Ray Perkins and Phil Simms, New York Giants (1979)

Ray Perkins and Phil Simms, New York Giants (1979)

Former Giants coach John McVay, who was now the director of player personnel for San Francisco, told Perkins, “You guys made one hell of a pick.”

Young said, “Once in a while you get to get a guy with a great arm and great potential and you darn better take it. Names, that’s just feeding Pablum to the fans.”

Just weeks following the draft, tragedy struck the Giants. On June 22nd, defensive tackle Troy Archer was killed when his pickup truck struck a telephone pole in North Bergen, New Jersey. Archer died from severe head trauma. Another passenger was also killed and a third went to the hospital with critical injuries. Archer lost control of the vehicle on a rain-slicked road, alcohol and drug involvement were ruled out by investigators. The loss of the young, talented player was a harbinger of personal loss that was going to linger with the franchise.

Welcome to the Big Time

The Giants brought five quarterbacks to camp and the three who made the opening day roster were Simms, Pisarcik and Dean. Pisarcik was a sub-50% passer with two touchdowns and four interceptions as the Giants began the campaign 0-2. Perkins sat Pisarcik and started Dean after the Week 3 27-0 disaster at Washington on Monday Night Football. While the stat sheet was ugly – 7-of-24 with two more interceptions – it was believed that Pisarcik’s confidence was shot as the line was not protecting him. He’d been sacked 17 times over the first three games and the physical beating was becoming overwhelming. Dean didn’t fare much better in Week 4, he was 10-of-22 and two interceptions in a home loss to Philadelphia.

Pisarcik got the start for the Week 5 game at New Orleans, and Giants fans got a glimpse of the future.

The game did not appear to be anything out of the ordinary at first. New Orleans led 7-0 midway through the second quarter. Pisarcik, who had entered the game with a sore knee, struggled going to 3-of-9 for 39 yards. After he took a hard hit and bruised his shoulder, Perkins sent in Simms.

Immediately there was a noticeable lift in New York’s energy. Simms connected on two deep throws to Johnny Perkins and had the Giants in position to tie the game, but an underthrown pass toward the end zone was intercepted. New Orleans kicked a field goal and led 10-0 at the half. Simms said, “I underthrew the ball. Instead of going ahead and throwing it, I tried to make it perfect.”

The Saints widened the margin to 17-0 to start the third quarter, but the Giants matched that with Simms’ first touchdown drive for the Giants. The defense held and Simms brought New York downfield for a field goal attempt that would’ve made it a one-score game at 17-10, but Joe Danelo’s 43-yard kick missed the mark.

A linebacker Harry Carson interception gave the Giants the ball right back and this time Simms delivered with his first NFL touchdown pass, an 11-yarder to running back Ken Johnson. With 11:00 left in the game, Brian Kelley recovered a New Orleans fumble, and again Simms drove the Giants into scoring territory. Running back Doug Kotar caught a pass at the Saints 15-yard line, but the ball was jarred loose on the tackle and the Saints recovered and ultimately held on for a 24-14 victory.

Although New York was 0-5, the locker room was not despondent. Perkins was initially non-committal, but Simms was given the start the next week at Giants Stadium against 5-0 Tampa Bay. Despite failing to score more than 17 points for the 17th straight game, the Giants upset the Buccaneers 17-14. Simms statistics were not impressive, 6-of-12 for 37 yards, as Billy Taylor ran the ball 33 times for 148 yards and both Giant touchdowns.

The following week Simms aired it out for 300 yards and two touchdowns against San Francisco in a 32-14 win. Two more wins at Kansas City and Los Angeles saw the Giants at 4-5 and thinking about the possibility of the playoffs. The four-game win streak for Simms set an NFL standard for rookie quarterbacks that would stand for 25 years.

The streak nearly reached five. A Giants Stadium record crowd of 76,490 erupted joyously with 8:33 to play in the fourth quarter when Simms hit Taylor for a 23-yard touchdown and 14-6 led over heavily-favored Dallas. However, the Cowboys, led by Giant nemesis Roger Staubach, led Dallas to 10 points in the last three minutes to pull out the victory, with the winning points coming on a 22-yard field goal with three seconds to play. Linebacker Brad Van Pelt said, “I don’t want to say it was our Super Bowl, but we treated it like it was a Super Bowl.”

The Giants won two of their next three before falling out of contention after a second loss to Dallas and ended the year 6-10, their seventh consecutive losing record. Simms finished second in Rookie of the Year voting to the St. Louis Cardinals Ottis Anderson. The decade of despair ended with a sense of optimism heading into 1980.

Another brush with personal loss put a scare into the Giants in March when linebacker Dan Lloyd was diagnosed with lymphoma. The Giants maintained his locker during his treatment and recovery in anticipation of his return the following year. Ultimately, Lloyd also sat out the 1981 season, and was declared cured of cancer by his doctors in 1982. A knee injury forced him to miss the 1982 season, after which he was released by the Giants. Lloyd retired from football after playing in the USFL during the 1983 season.

Simms opened the 1980 season with a five-touchdown, 280-yard performance at St. Louis in a 41-35 victory, the best passing day for a Giant since Fran Tarkenton in 1970. A last-second loss at home to the Redskins sent the Giants into a tailspin that nearly cost them their team captain.

Phil Simms, New York Giants (October 26, 1980)

Phil Simms, New York Giants (October 26, 1980)

Harry Carson recalled: “When I played badly in our third game of the season in 1980, a 35-3 loss at Philadelphia on a Monday night, I considered retiring. At the time football wasn’t much fun. I was tired of doing the same thing day after day for a losing team (New York’s record at that point since Carson had joined the team in 1976 was 21-43). Then I spent 10 minutes closeted alone with Perkins. I suggested that the Giants donate my game check to charity because I had played so badly. I told him I wanted to quit, to go home and get away from football for a while. He told me to wait and come see him the next morning at the stadium…Perk did not try to talk me out of quitting. He just told me to make sure of what I was doing. I know he cared for me as a person, not just as a player. I’ll always respect him for that.”

Carson remained a Giant but had a frustrating, injury-marred season that included two stays on the injured reserve list. An eight-game losing streak ended with a thrilling 38-35 upset of heavily favored Dallas at home, the Giants first win over the Cowboys since 1974. Simms had a 300-yard passing day in that victory and the next week as well over Green Bay. However, his season ended abruptly in a loss to St. Louis with a bruised collar bone. Rookie Scott Brunner quarterbacked the Giants the rest of the way to their woeful 4-12 record. It seemed like the languishing from 1970’s would never end.

Sudden Impact

Ironically, the rancor surrounding the Giants number one pick – and second overall – in the 1981 draft came from within the organization rather than outside it. Specifically, the veterans of the defensive unit, several of which had All-Pro credentials, were displeased with the notion of a rookie coming in as the team’s highest paid player.

Young seemed unmoved, and made no public statements to quell the rumors: “Our approach will be to try to get as many quality players as we can and not be dictated to by the need-for-position board. It’s my experience when you bring the position board into the draft room, you’re in trouble.”

Young never hesitated with the selection after New Orleans took George Rogers first overall, but he deflected praise when asked about taking linebacker Lawrence Taylor, who was regarded by most as the best athlete in the draft, “Today we are all just as smart or just as dumb as one another.”

Perkins reminisced years later: “I’ve never looked at game films and been as totally impressed as I was with (Taylor). I stayed up all night before the draft hoping and praying and crossing my legs, fingers, and everything else, that (New Orleans coach) Bum Phillips would take George Rogers. And he did.”

Taylor had been uneasy on becoming a focal point of distraction: “I heard the talk that some of the Giants would walk out if I got a lot of money. I didn’t want people to be mad at me. So I sent the Giants a telegram Monday saying I would rather not be drafted by them. Monday night I got calls from some of the players, on offense and defense and some coaches. They said there was nothing to the story, and there would be no walkout. They said they wanted me here.”

He also discussed the move from his college position of defensive end to outside linebacker: “I feel at home in that position. I know what’s going on there. The block can only come from one direction.” Veteran Brian Kelley was expected to vacate his outside position and move to one of the inside spots as the Giants converted full-time to the 3-4 defense under new defensive coordinator Bill Parcells.

To say Taylor’s transition to a new position and gaining acceptance from the veterans went smoothly would be an understatement of the grandest proportions.

Carson: “When we arrived at training camp, it didn’t take us long to see what the guys in scouting and personnel already knew. Once we took the field, you couldn’t help but watch him as he went through drills. He made some agility drills look easy…I had never seen a player so big, so fast and so strong move the way Lawrence Taylor moved on the football field. He would make plays that would make players turn to one another and ask, ‘Man, did you see that shit?’ Lawrence Taylor was something special.”

Simms: “From what I saw in person, I can’t think of another player that compares with Lawrence Taylor. My gosh! Even if you knew nothing about football, you could see that he was different from anybody else that you had ever practiced or played with. He had skill that was unique and new to the NFL…When you played us, you actually had to change your offensive philosophy, just because you had to find a different way to deal with him…Lawrence was a ferocious competitor. He loved to win and he never turned that off.”

New York started the 1981 season unevenly at 2-2. Clearly, the defense was the strength of the team and largely responsible for the two wins, where a combined 14 points were allowed, and had kept the Giants close in two tough losses to division powerhouses Philadelphia and Dallas.

Lawrence Taylor, New York Giants (September 13, 1981)

Lawrence Taylor, New York Giants (September 13, 1981)

Carson: “With each game we players that 1981 season, we could all see Lawrence Taylor was the real deal. We saw week in and week out an athlete with superb mental and physical abilities will himself, like an artist, to be better than most other players on the same field…I remember thinking, ‘Damn, I’m glad he’s on my side!’”

Perkins: “(Taylor) makes the offenses study how they’ll attack him and how they’ll try to keep him from attacking them. When you do that you have to put two men on him, which starts to restrict their offensive schemes.”

Brian Kelley said, “Looking at it on paper, you wouldn’t believe a weak-side linebacker could affect a defense so much. Watching it on film, it’s obvious. With Lawrence out there, he completely changes the whole offense.”

Simms: “(Taylor) was not only good. He was frightening.”

That week Young traded for Rob Carpenter, a big, versatile fullback who suddenly became available from the Houston Oilers. Young said, “Ray asked me last spring about getting him. We talked to the Oilers as soon as they named their new coach, but he wanted to look over his team first. He’s a real all-round back. He’s a good blocker, has good running moves and excellent hands.”

Carpenter sat on the bench as New York lost to Green Bay at home, as well as the first half the following week against St. Louis. Perkins sent Carpenter out with the first team to start the third quarter and the lift he gave the offense was not unlike the one Taylor had given the defense. Suddenly, the Giants rushing attack was consistent and reliable. Big gains on first down were followed-up with crucial pick-ups in short yardage. The Giants controlled the clock, gave the defense much needed rest, and energized the Giants Stadium crowd who cheered every time the chains moved. In 30 minutes of action, Carpenter totaled 104 yards on 14 carries and caught two passes for 23 yards as the Giants rolled to a confidence-boosting 34-14 victory.

The next week was even better. On the road in Seattle, Carpenter started and had a 122-yard rushing day on 21 carries, the first a Giant had consecutive 100-yard rushing games since Ron Johnson in 1972. The defense smothered the Seahawks and registered five sacks and four takeaways, giving New York its first shutout in three years. Taylor said, “It’s hard to complete a lot of passes if someone’s in your face all the time.”

The next week, New York won on the road against heavily-favored Atlanta. The victory was the franchise’s first in overtime. All this newfound success proved to be fleeting however, as the Giants lost three in a row. The first setback was a physical beating by the Jets where Simms was injured while enduring a nine-sack barrage. The second was a late loss following a Brunner-led comeback in Green Bay, and the third an overtime loss set up by a botched squib kick at home to Washington. The Giants also lost Simms for the second season in a row in the Washington game with a separated shoulder.

Now 5-6, many felt this was the same old Giants team on the verge of another late-season collapse as they had done so many times before. Next up was 9-2 Philadelphia, owners of a 12-game win streak over New York.

Character and Guts

The first three quarters at Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium saw the defenses dominate a gritty 10-10 stalemate. The Giants front seven made life miserable for Philadelphia quarterback Ron Jaworski, who was sacked three times en route to a 20-of-45 passing day. New York played it close to the vest and relied on the running of Carpenter, who would finish the day with 111 yards on 24 carries.

The tipping point came early in the fourth quarter. On 3rd-and-1 for Philadelphia on their own 23-yard line, running back Wilbert Montgomery was stopped inches short of the yard marker. Eagles coach Dick Vermeil expectedly sent out his punting unit, but result turned out to be puzzling. Vermeil called for a snap to the up-back for a run, but the center misinterpreted the call and snapped the ball to a very surprised punter Max Runnager, who then shanked the kick for a net gain of nine yards.

New York took over on the Eagles 32-yard line and sent Carpenter into the line five successive times. After an incomplete third down pass, Joe Danelo kicked a 30-yard field goal for a 13-10 New York advantage. Philadelphia advanced the ball as far as their 45-yard line on their next possession, then the Giants defense took over the game.

Scott Brunner (12), Jim Clack (58), New York Giants (November 22, 1981)

Scott Brunner (12), Jim Clack (58), New York Giants (November 22, 1981)

Back-to-back holding penalties and a Brad Van Pelt sack of Jaworski set up a third-and-39 for the Eagles from their own 16-yard line. On the next snap, cornerback Terry Jackson jumped an out-route, picked the ball cleanly, and raced down the sideline 32 yards untouched for a touchdown and 20-10 lead. Jackson said, “They put two guys in my deep zone. He had to throw the ball across the field, and when he let it go I knew I had it. I also knew I would score because all the other Eagles were blocking on the other side of the field.”

The Eagles mustered up one last desperation drive that ended with a missed field goal. The Giants then ran off most of the final three minutes from the clock with Carpenter plunges and a prevent defense.

This game was almost three years to the date after “The Fumble.” It was quite ironic that the Veterans Stadium crowd began to chant “WE WANT JOE! WE WANT JOE!” as Jaworski dumped off short passes against New York’s soft zone defense. The Joe they called for was none other than Joe Pisarcik, who had been Philadelphia’s backup quarterback after a trade with the Giants during the 1980 draft.

After the game, the New York locker room was buoyant:

Taylor: “The defensive game plan was take it to them. If we lost this game, we had no chance for the playoffs.”

Van Pelt: “We started slow, but we should be proud of our performance.”

Perkins: “I don’t think the score indicates just how bad we beat them. We showed a lot of character and guts. We could have bit the dust and played the last five games and gone home for Christmas. I told our guys Monday we were going to shock the world today.”

Ironically, in the midst of New York’s most prosperous season in over a decade, hard feelings over an old grudge surfaced, when Wellington Mara sent a letter to Commissioner Rozelle, stating that the state of the franchise was being compromised by the divided ownership. In the letter, Mara wrote, “I am convinced that the absence of acknowledgement of authority will not change, and that under the circumstances, the 50%-50% ownership balance is a fatal blow to the ability of the Giants to cope with the demands of the future.”

Essentially, Wellington was asking that his title of President be officially recognized in a hierarchical manner over Tim’s titles of Vice President and Treasurer. Rozelle took no action. Prior to this, Frank Gifford attempted to mediate the situation between the owners. Tim Mara said, “Just before Thanksgiving, Frank Gifford talked to Well, he wanted to patch things up…He spent three hours with Well, and he told me that Well listened. He didn’t commit himself one way or the other…It turned out he had already written that letter to Rozelle before he spoke to Gifford. Except neither Gifford nor I knew that until I got ‘copied’ with the letter. I think Pete was great, he was diplomatic, he just let it ride.”

Ultimately, the Giants ownership situation was settled. Wellington would make one final plea to Rozelle late in the 1983 season, only to have Rozelle decree with full certainty that the agreement made in 1979 during the hiring of George Young would be upheld in perpetuity.

After a tough 17-10 loss at San Francisco, the Giants won two more defensive struggles to enter the final week of the season 8-7. A Saturday win at home against 12-3 Dallas guaranteed a winning record, but nothing more. New York also needed the Jets to defeat Green Bay on Sunday, as the Packers owned a tie breaker over the Giants.

The lead-up to Week 16 was unlike anything New York had ever seen. Both franchises had been absent from the post season since the 1960s and combined for two winning season during the abysmal decade of the 1970s (both by the Giants, in 1970 and 1972). Newspapers and local news broadcasts gleefully speculated on the possibility of a Giants-Jets Super Bowl.

The legend of “Giants Stadium Weather” was born on December 19, 1981. Kick-off temperatures in the upper 20s dropped steadily throughout the contest. Winds in the 15-23 mph range gusted to 40 mph with a chill factor registered in the low single digits. New York’s squad, whose strength was defense and power running, would be largely unaffected. Over the 3-1 stretch after Simms was lost for the season, the Giants offense averaged 2.5 turnovers per game while scoring 15 points. But the defense only allowed 11 points per game. The Cowboys potent passing offense would be challenged by the elements. Perkins said his approach for the pivotal contest was, “…just like a playoff game. You win or you go home for Christmas.”

An unnamed member of the New York defense told Sports Illustrated’s Paul Zimmerman, “When you hit the Cowboys early, and keep hitting them, they’ll lose interest – particularly if it’s a game they’re not totally committed to.”

The game started with the Giants blowing Dallas off the ball on both sides of the line of scrimmage. New York drove deep into Dallas territory twice in the first quarter but came up empty both times. After Johnny Perkins dropped a sure touchdown pass in the end zone, Danelo sliced a 21-yard field goal attempt wide left. On the next possession he missed twice, first from 32 yards, and then from 27 yards after a Dallas offsides penalty. Danelo said, “I just blew that first one (first possession), no excuses. I jumped at the ball instead of kicking it. I tried to guide that one through (third miss), steer it.”  Most disheartening for New York was those kicks were attempted with the wind at Danelo’s back.

The Giants defense, however kept the Dallas offense in check. George Martin and Taylor combined for three first half sacks and the teams entered the second half tied 0-0. The Giants broke the stalemate with just under five minutes left in the third quarter on a 62-yard drive that featured a good break when a flea-flicker pass from Brunner was tipped by Ed “Too Tall” Jones and landed in the arms of running back Leon Perry, who advanced for a 16-yard gain. Two plays later, Brunner hit tight end Tom Mullady for a 20-yard touchdown pass at the pylon for a 7-0 lead.

The raucousness at Giants Stadium was short lived however, as immediately Dallas responded with an 80-yard drive that was completed with a three-yard touchdown pass from White to tight end Doug Cosbie. The Giants seemed rattled, as on the kickoff, the return man muffed, bobbled and eventually fell on the ball on the one-yard line. Two plays later Dallas intercepted a Brunner pass and converted it into three points and a 10-7 lead with 9:12 on the clock.

New York drove into Dallas territory, but a third down sack forced a punt and the Cowboys took over on their own five-yard line. Running back Tony Dorsett ran the ball on first and second down before White completed a third down pass to move the chains. The next three downs repeated the pattern, and New York took a time out with 2:14 on the clock with Dallas on their own 45-yard line. Another first down would all but doom the Giants.

Dire circumstances notwithstanding, the following sequence of plays hinted that for the first time in 18 years, the football gods were about to smile upon the Giants.

New York Giants Defense (December 19, 1981)

New York Giants Defense (December 19, 1981)

On 1st-and-10, Dorsett bobbled a pitch out that Martin recovered for the Giants on the Dallas 45-yard line with 2:08 to go in the game. A holding penalty and incompletions on first and second down preceded a seven yard pass from Brunner to wide receiver John Mistler on third down. On f4th-and-13 from the Cowboys 48-yard line, Brunner stepped up under heavy pressure and completed a pass to Mistler late crossing the field. Mistler ran out of bounds at the Dallas 27-yard line to stop the clock at 1:35.

Two runs and an incomplete pass set New York up with a fourth-and-three on the Dallas 20-yard line. Danelo had his first chance at redemption with 0:30 on the clock and the fierce wind blowing in his face. Defying history, Danelo sent the ball cleanly through the uprights and Giants Stadium into a state of pandemonium as the score was tied 10-10 at 0:25.

The Cowboys won the overtime coin toss and strategically chose to defend the East end zone with the wind at their backs. New York went three and out, and Dave Jennings’ punt into the wind was short and gave Dallas the ball at their 40-yard line.

On 2nd-and-three from their own 47-yard line, Dorsett again mishandled a pitchout. This time he nearly recovered it, but Lawrence Taylor hit him while on the ground and freed the ball for Taylor himself to recover at the Cowboys 39-yard line.

New York ran the ball five consecutive plays, including a surprise naked bootleg for 19 yards by Brunner on third down, to set Danelo up for a 33-yard field goal. The attempt to give the Giants their first winning season in nine years and maintain their playoff dreams another 24 hours came on third down. Brunner said, “There really was little choice, the wind had become too much of a factor.”

The ball was spotted on the left hash and Danelo’s kick seemed headed toward center most of its flight, but at the very last moment sliced to the right, and clanged off the upright. The game remained tied and the Cowboys took over possession of the ball.

Danelo said, “I saw the Cowboys jumping around like they just won the Super Bowl, but Coach Perkins came over to me on the sideline and said, ‘Don’t be down, you’re going to get another chance.’…All I was doing was praying that I’d get another shot. It was killing me that I was letting down my teammates.”

The Giants defense made certain that was the case. On first down, White was sacked and fumbled, but Dallas recovered. On second down, White hurried a pass from a collapsing pocket and Byron Hunt intercepted for New York and gave the Giants possession on the Cowboys 24-yard line. After two short rushes and an incomplete pass, Perkins sent Danelo out to win the game from 35 yards out.

This time, set up on the right hash mark, Danelo drove the ball with authority toward center and it stayed true. The Giants won 13-10 and bedlam reigned in Giants Stadium. Teammates mobbed Danelo and Perkins carried him off the field on his shoulders. Perkins said, “I felt like I had to carry him off the field.”

Danelo said, “I just kept my head down and kicked it through. I knew if I got under the ball too much, it would hang up in the air like the first one in overtime did.”

Aside from the kicking drama, the story of the Giants success again was centered on their defense. Dorsett came into the game leading the NFL with 1,607 yards rushing, but was held to 39 yards on 21 carries with two lost fumbles. Perkins said, “We knew we had to stop Dorsett. If you don’t stop their running game, you don’t have to worry about their passing game.”

The final three Cowboys possessions all ended with turnovers. Safety Beasley Reece said, “Tony Hill, Drew Pearson, a couple of the others, they all made mention of how we had been hitting, ‘You guys are flying all over the field,’ and, ‘You guys are hitting everything that moves,’ those kinds of things. It’s an image we’re proud of.”

Bill Parcells said, “We’re not even close to the way I’d like us to be, either.”

Encore

The next afternoon at Shea Stadium the Jets punched the Giants first ticket to the post season since 1963 with a 28-3 win over Green Bay. Dave Jennings said, “I’m glad it wasn’t thrilling. I wasn’t ready for two in a row like that. You don’t know how many years I’ve gone home and watched the first round of the playoffs on TV and been sick to my stomach…When it was over I let out a yell, a small one.”

Lawrence Taylor said, “This is something that hasn’t gone on around here in a long time. I can’t really comprehend what it means to the veterans. My happiness couldn’t be one-tenth of the other players’ happiness.”

After winning four of their last five games, the Giants were a confident group heading to Philadelphia to face the reigning NFC Champions in the Wild Card Game. The wave of momentum New York had ridden during the end of the Dallas game swelled to a tsunami during the first quarter against the Eagles.

After having the opening drive of the game stall at their own 40-yard line, New York punted. Eagles returner Wally Henry fumbled and the Giants recovered at the Eagles 25-yard line. Carpenter carried five times for 21 yards before Brunner threw a touchdown pass to Mistler for a 6-0 lead (the hold on the extra point was fumbled) less than five minutes into the game.

Following a Philadelphia three-and-out, Brunner engineered a 12-play, 62-yard drive that consumed almost the remainder of the first quarter clock. A 10-yard touchdown pass to Mistler increased the lead to 13-0. It only took the Giants six seconds to add to it. Henry fumbled the kickoff on the Philadelphia three-yard line, and while attempting to recover at the five-yard line, he was crashed into by Mike Dennis. Mark Haynes recovered the free ball just inside the pylon at the corner of the end zone for a touchdown and 20-0 New York advantage.

Rob Carpenter, New York Giants (December 27, 1981)

Rob Carpenter, New York Giants (December 27, 1981)

The statistics told the story. At the end of the first quarter the Eagles had run three offensive plays for a gross of 10 yards, but lost nine on a George Martin sack of Ron Jaworski, and had two turnovers by their special teams. After trading touchdowns just before halftime New York led 27-7 and held advantages over Philadelphia in first downs (11 to 4), net yards (188-74), and time of possession (19:07 – 10:53). The Eagles also fumbled three more times in the second quarter, but recovered them all.

Philadelphia scored early in the third quarter and again late in the fourth but New York was able to hold on, as the game plan was apparently to run out the clock for the final 30 minutes. The Giants ran 18 offensive plays in the second half (not including punts and kneel downs), 16 of which were Carpenter rushes. The other two plays were a rush by Leon Perry and a Brunner pass to Carpenter.

Carpenter registered 33 carries for 161, both Giants post-season records. Not only was Carpenter’s 100-yard rushing day a franchise first in the post season, but the 27-21 victory was also the Giants first on the road in their history, and first overall since 1958. Between the years 1933 and 1963, New York had gone 0-8 away as post season visitors.

The following week the Giants saw their season come to an end with a 38-24 setback to the eventual Super Bowl champion 49ers in San Francisco. New York was actually hanging in the game at 24-17 midway through the fourth quarter, but a pair of quick touchdowns by the 49ers sealed their fate. Regardless, the 1981 season was considered an unqualified success by all.

Bumps in the Road

It is not at all an exaggeration to suggest that if the Giants 1982 season wasn’t over before it even began, there were a number of underlying circumstances conspiring against it.

  • Phil Simms was lost for the year with torn knee ligaments suffered in the preseason game against the Jets.
  • Rob Carpenter held out for a new contract, and wouldn’t return to the playing field until December.
  • The NFL Players Association staged a 57-day, eight-week strike that obliterated seven games from the league schedule.
  • Ray Perkins resigned as head coach on December 15, with three weeks left to play, effective after the conclusion of the Giants season to take over as the head coach of the University of Alabama.

The Giants began the season losing their first two home games in frustrating fashion, with late-game collapses in contests where they had statistically dominated their opponents. After the players strike, New York was beaten badly at Giants Stadium by Washington and was buried in a 0-3 hole.

Lawrence Taylor, New York Giants (December 5, 1982)

Lawrence Taylor, New York Giants (December 5, 1982)

A win on Thanksgiving at Detroit and a home victory over the Eagles had the Giants hopeful at 2-3, but four days later Perkins announced his intention to leave after the season. He said, “I’m leaving the Giants with mixed emotions… This new job does me great honor for many reasons, being my alma mater and a great university in the part of the country where I was raised…Deep down, it was what I wanted to do more than anything in the world. This is simply something that’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me. If it was any other place, college or pro, it would not have lured me away. I’ve always told my players to do something you enjoy. Don’t do something because it will be rewarded with money. This is something I want do.”

New York released Perkins from his contract, which included a three-year extension that was given after the 1981 season and which had bound his services to New York through the 1985 season.

Young immediately named defensive coordinator Bill Parcells as New York’s head coach in-waiting.

Young said, “Bill Parcells was first on my list, and it was a short list…I didn’t want to run the risk losing (Parcells). Somehow people always think a stranger is a better guy. In Baltimore, we had a guy named Chuck Noll sitting on our staff and we let him get away…Continuity is important, but you want to get the best guy. If he contributes to the continuity, fine, but you want to get the best guy. You don’t get the continuity first; you get the best guy first.”

A New Jersey native, and acknowledged Giant fan during his youth, Parcells said, “Coaching the New York Giants for Bill Parcells is what Alabama is for Ray Perkins.”

After climbing back to 3-3, New York dropped two more late decisions before winning at Philadelphia in the finale. The Giants finished 4-5 and just missed out on a playoff berth in the one-season-only expanded format where divisions had been eliminated.

The Longest Season

The 1982 season was seen as something of a fluke and expectations were high heading into 1983. After a 2-2 September, the Giants went 1-10-1 over the remained of the schedule. As bad as the football was at times, an accumulation of off-field losses and behind-the-scenes chicanery probably made Sunday afternoons seem like a refuge from the tumult.

Taylor said, “Sunday is a different world. It’s like a fantasy world, which I’d rather live in. Then I go back to the rest of the world and that’s when the trouble starts.”

The streak of personal misfortune continued for the Giants as backfield coach Bob Ledbetter passed away on October 9, at the age of 49, from complications resulting from a stroke he had suffered on September 24th. Players and coaches were distraught at the news. Beginning with the Week 6 game the following day against the Eagles, New York wore a black stripe over the right shoulder as a symbol of mourning, which remained throughout season.

The biggest on-field loss was of Phil Simms, again with a season ending injury. Brunner, who had begun the season as the starter, was benched in the third quarter of the Philadelphia game. After leading a touchdown drive to get the Giants back in the game, Simms had New York on the move again. But after throwing an incompletion, he knew something was wrong: “As I followed through, I brought my hand down and Dennis Harrison brought his arm up. My hand and his arm collided, and I said, ‘Damn, that hurt,’ and then looked down and saw the bone sticking out of my right thumb, and I said, ‘Holy shit, oh my God,’ and I started screaming.”

While the losses piled up through October and November, few outside the organization were aware that Parcells mother Ida was terminally ill. She passed away at the age of 71 from a form of bone cancer in mid-November, only weeks after being diagnosed. At the same time, Parcells’ father Charles was undergoing treatment for a blood infection incurred after bypass surgery.

None of this was reported in the New York sports pages at the time, but Parcells recalled years later, “I had the feeling that the world was crashing down on my head. It was one thing after another, and I didn’t handle it well. But what are you going to do? They’re not going to cancel the football games. In this business you don’t ever stop. You can’t stop. You’ve just got to keep going…You’ve got to be able to deal with it. The poor-me syndrome is very damaging psychologically, and it loves company.” Charles Parcells passed away in February 1984.

1983 New York Giants Media Guide

1983 New York Giants Media Guide

Giants fans found themselves making NFL history on December 4, when 51,589 ticket holders decided to stay home instead of watching the Giants and Cardinals play in person. While the miserable weather, that included driving rain and temperatures dropping from the low 40’s into the upper 30’s, was certainly a factor, the memory of the infamous 20-20 tie the two teams were involved in on Monday Night Football six week earlier couldn’t have helped. Brad Van Pelt said, “If I was a fan and my seats weren’t covered, I wouldn’t have shown up either.” In the post-game locker room, Harry Carson told reporters he wanted to be traded, “As far as I’m concerned, next week’s game will be my last at Giants Stadium. I don’t deserve this. I don’t think anybody does.”

With morale at an all-time low, Parcells had his confidence shaken by a tip from his agent, Robert Frahley, the week after the Cardinal game. Frahley told Parcells that George Young had inquired with former Miami Dolphin acquaintance and current University of Miami Head Coach Howard Schellenberger on his possible interest in the Giants head coaching position if it were to become available after the season.

The news was leaked to the popular CBS pre-game show The NFL Today, and was broadcast in a segment by Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder. After an ugly 17-12 loss to Seattle, in which the dissatisfied Giants Stadium crowd chanted for broadcaster John Madden (who was in the CBS booth providing color analysis of the game), the press peppered Young on the rumor. A visibly perturbed Young said, “Bill is the coach. I don’t want to comment on anything that is speculative.”

Schellenberger was also mentioned as a potential coaching candidate for the New Jersey Generals of the USFL, but ultimately declined both offers and stayed with the University of Miami. Parcells recalled in his biography: “I never met Howard Schellenberger, but to his credit, he told my agent, ‘These guys are offering me the job, and I’m not going to take it. You need to tell Bill that’s what they’re doing.’ So he was really a coach’s coach, and I’ve admired him for that.”

Another member of the Giants family was lost on December 17th, the day of the season finale. Recently retired back Doug Kotar passed away, 16 months after being diagnosed with a malignant, inoperable brain tumor. Kotar had played for the Giants from 1974 through 1981, and retired early during the 1982 training camp as he struggled to return from shoulder and knee injuries. Shortly thereafter he had complained of persistent headaches, which led to his diagnosis.

When the melancholy 1983 campaign mercifully came to a close, those who were left standing – which weren’t many as New York ended the year with a league-high 25 players on injured reserve – likely entered the offseason with a sense of relief.

Makeover

The first change Parcells made was within. He recalled years later: “I think in ’83, I was trying to be a head coach. In ’84, I decided to be Bill Parcells. And I kind of made a little promise with myself that I would try to do things my way, and I gave my best effort in that regard. And I really dispensed with the feelings of doing what a head coach was supposed to do.”

The next change was the roster. Nearly 50% of the previous season’s team was gone by Week 1 of the 1984 season, with many of the missing faces having been familiar ones like Brad Van Pelt and Brian Kelley. In their place were young, untested players with great potential like Carl Banks and Gary Reasons.

Carson said, “I could definitely sense a change in the attitude of the coaching staff, but I also saw a shift in the player’s personalities…The competition for jobs had gotten more intense with younger players vying for a spot on the roster.”

Despite the pressure to win now, growing pains were not unexpected. It would take some time for the mental toughness and discipline to match the physical talent. To that end, Parcells leaned heavily on his staff of assistants.

Simms said, “I tell people all the time that the hardest part of playing under that coaching staff wasn’t Bill Parcells. It was his assistants: Al Groh, Bill Belichick, Romeo Crennel, Mike Pope, Ron Erhardt. They were all vocal. They were all rough. They all could generate some fear. Ron Erhardt, man he was old school. He would call your ass out on the field. He would call your ass out in the meeting room in front of the whole team.

“We watched more films than I ever had watched before. There was a real sense of urgency for everybody involved, for me, for Ron, for Parcells. Our jobs were at stake. If we didn’t go out and get it done, we knew there would were going to be new people around.”

The work paid tremendous dividends early for Simms and the Giants. Employing a new vertical-attack passing game, Simms threw for nearly 600 yards and seven touchdowns and no interceptions against Philadelphia and Dallas to open the season 2-0, New York’s best start in sixteen years.

Phil Simms, Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants (September 2, 1984)

Phil Simms, Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants (September 2, 1984)

Simms said, “There were times I thought I’d never have the chance to show what I thought I could do. There were other times I began to wonder if I was really as good as I thought I was, that I might not have what it takes to play in this league.”

The NFL initiated a new recognition program for players in 1984, where four players who had noteworthy games – one each on offense and defense from each conference – were given a “Player of the Week” award. Lawrence Taylor was the first Giant to be named the “NFC Defensive Player of the Week” for his three sack, two-forced fumble effort against the Cowboys in Week 2.

Paul Zimmerman, who covered the game for Sports Illustrated, described Taylor’s play that afternoon eloquently: “There are blitzes and there are blitzes. There are safety blitzes and maniac blitzes, single linebacker blitzes and delayed blitzes; there are blitzes that look like blintzes because they’re so ineffective. Then there are Lawrence Taylor blitzes. They are like nothing else in the NFL, or any other FL. They are like messages from Thor, or as Taylor’s former New York Giant teammate Beasley Reece once said, ‘When Lawrence is coming, you can hear sirens going off.’ Random House’s unabridged dictionary defines a blitz this way: ‘War waged by surprise, swiftly and violently, as by the use of aircraft, tanks, etc.’ Etcetera stands for Lawrence Taylor.”

A portent of an arising ritual was also noted by Zimmerman: “With 52 seconds left Sunday, the Cowboys got the ball on their 26-yard line. They had their regulars in, and they were throwing passes out of the shotgun and calling time-outs to stop the clock, but on the sideline the Giants had already begun celebrating. Carson went around with a bucket of water and a sponge, anointing teammates, coaches, everyone. He gave Parcells a dousing. The coach laughed. Carson laughed. The bitterness of last month was forgotten.”

The Giants eventually found themselves at 4-4 midway through the season and in the thick of the postseason hunt. The turning point of the 1984 season, and the Parcells-era Giants, is looked upon as the October 28 meeting with Washington at Giants Stadium.

The week leading up to the game, Parcells rode nose tackle Jim Burt particularly hard. Burt said the coach had been, “using me like a tool to get to the team.”

Carson: “Bill told Burt that if he wasn’t ready to play, (Redskins center Jeff) Bostic was going to embarrass him on the field…This back-and-forth went on all week. While Jim tried to play it off, I could tell it was getting to him. At one point Jim was coming out of his stance using dumbbells to improve his quickness on the snap. Parcells; was getting into Burt’s head and Bill knew it.”

Simms: “Bill’s always looking for your hot button, whatever it takes to get to you. There are a lot of buttons for him to push. The most important one is always the one that makes you play better. And he’ll always find it. He knew what my hot button was before I knew it. He figured me out before I figured myself out. That’s one of his gifts.”

Burt: “It was brutal. (Parcells) screamed at me every minute. I knew why he did it, but I didn’t like it.”

The tactic worked, and then some. The Giants led 23-0 late in the second quarter and 37-6 one play into the fourth quarter. New York not only handily defeated the Redskins 37-13, they physically punished them. New York dominated every statistical category, and according to plan, stuffed the Washington rush. John Riggins was held to 51 yards on 16 carries and the Redskins for 79 yards as a team. They also held Washington to 4-of-17 on third down conversions. Parcells said, “It was our best performance of the year, and I thought our defense was magnificent.”

The win broke a six-game losing streak to the Redskins and the 37 points were the most a Giants team had scored in a game in four years. New York broke from its usual tendencies and employed a new offense, running from the three-wide receiver set the entire game. Simms said, “We tried to spread things out to make their defense cover the whole field.”

Simms was the first Giant to be named the “NFC Offensive Player of the Week” with his 18-29-338-2-0 performance, despite being sacked seven times. Parcells said, “I thought Phil Simms showed outstanding courage under quite a bit of pressure.”

Halfback Joe Morris also tied a club record with three rushing touchdowns, being the first to do so since 1971. Erhardt said, “The pass opened up the running game for us. We picked our spots.”

As the game clock was expiring and most of the Giants sideline was celebrating, Burt felt an unsettled urge that required closure. He stood near Parcells on the sideline, “He gave me a big smile and said, ‘I got you ready, didn’t I?’ I didn’t say anything. I just gave him a halfway smile and looked for a water bucket.”

Burt sought assistance. According to Carson, “(Burt) said, ‘We should get him.’ I said, ‘What do you mean, we?’ Jim said, ‘C’mon Harry, you know you’re one of Parcells’ guys. If I did something by myself, he would have my ass! But if you did it with me, he wouldn’t do anything to us.’”

Burt told the press several days later, “It was cold. There was a lot of ice.”

Parcells said: “And without looking, I knew it was Jim Burt.” When asked after the game if he expected to be dunked after every victory, the coach replied, “I hope so.”

Bill Parcells, Harry Carson, Lawrence Taylor; New York Giants (November 11, 1984)

Bill Parcells, Harry Carson, Lawrence Taylor; New York Giants (November 11, 1984)

He received his wish four of the next five weeks, a run that had New York in the three-way tie for first place with Washington and Dallas at 9-5, and 8-6 St. Louis right behind, with two games left to play. A Week 15 loss at St. Louis all but eliminated the Giants from an NFC East title, but with help they could qualify as a Wild Card entry.

The Giants sleep-walked their way through a dreary 10-3 loss to New Orleans at home on a cold, wet Saturday afternoon in a game that meant nothing in the playoff chase. The 9-7 record would get New York into the post season if Washington defeated St. Louis on Sunday and Miami defeated Dallas Monday night.

The Sunday afternoon game looked to be a one-sided affair in New York’s favor as Washington dominated the first half and led 23-7 at halftime. It could have been 24-7 if not for a missed point-after in the first quarter. That missing point proved critical during the Cardinals’ come-back bid in the second half.

St. Louis chipped away at the lead, cutting the deficit to 23-17 late in the third quarter, before moving ahead 27-26 with 6:15 to play. Washington responded with a long drive that ended with a 33-yard field goal for a 29-27 lead with 1:33 on the clock. St. Louis was not yet finished, however. A nine-play, 47-yard desperation drive moved them into Redskins territory and a 50-yard field goal attempt as the clock expired missed wide left. Washington locked up first place, St. Louis was eliminated, and the Giants chances were extended another day.

The Monday night game in Miami was no less exasperating for those with outside interests, although it took a while before it got going. The Dolphins led 7-0 at halftime and 14-7 at the end of the third period. After intercepting a Dan Marino pass deep in Miami territory, Dallas tied the game 14-14 with 7:28 to play. Marino responded with a nine-play drive to put Miami back ahead 21-14 with 2:31 left to play.

The Cowboys first play after the two-minute warning was a 66-yard touchdown pass on a tipped ball to Tony Hill, tying the game 21-21. The Dolphins seemed to be playing for overtime with two short passes that kept the clock moving, but on third-and-one Marino connected with Mark Clayton on a 63-yard touchdown pass that vaulted Miami to the lead 28-21 for good. Dallas missed the playoffs for the first time in ten years and the Giants were back in for the second time in four years.

The Giants traveled to Los Angeles to face the Rams, who had beaten New York badly in early October. That had been before the Giants had galvanized, and the hardened New York team upset the favored Rams 16-13.

Phil Simms and Zeke Mowatt, New York Giants (December 23, 1984)

Phil Simms and Zeke Mowatt, New York Giants (December 23, 1984)

Harry Carson, who had demanded to be traded in 1983 and walked out of camp in July, was all-in with his team of underdogs. After the game he proclaimed, “We don’t care who gives up on us. We didn’t give up on ourselves. We can’t worry about what people think. We’re more together and have more talent than any team I’ve been associated with. We’re going to stick together.”

The Giants did stick together, and they gave the 15-1 49ers all they could handle in the NFC Divisional Playoff. After San Francisco jumped out to a fast 14-0 lead, the game settled into a plodding slugfest on Candlestick Park’s soft sod. The 49ers moved on toward their Super Bowl title with a 21-10 victory over New York, but the Giants exit wasn’t without merit. Simms said, “The 49ers are a good team and deserved to win today, but I still think we can play with them. I wish we had put more offensive pressure on them.”

San Francisco coach Bill Walsh said, “The Giants are a team of the future.”

A Giant Leap Forward

Not unlike the year before, the 1985 Giants started fast in September. The season opener, in a hot and muggy Giants Stadium, saw the ferocious New York defense terrorize Philadelphia quarterbacks with eight sacks in a 21-0 win. Carson christened the new season and his coach with douse of water from a Gatorade bucket – a ritual that still had gone largely unnoticed excepting the fans at the home games.

Although the Giants seemed mediocre at 3-3 in mid-October, this team felt different than any in recent memory. The victories were convincing, the losses were close, usually decided late with a gaffe or mental error. Nobody in the NFL took the Giants lightly any longer. The days of New York being a doormat were in the rear view mirror.

The biggest difference from 1984 to 1985 were three players: defensive end Leonard Marshall, who was leading the NFL in sacks and had been named the “NFC Defensive Player of the Month” for September; halfback Joe Morris, who had become a consistent ground gainer who possessed cutting ability and speed to give New York explosiveness on the rush; and rookie tight end Mark Bavaro, who was pressed into service when starter Zeke Mowatt injured his knee in the final preseason game and was out for the season. Bavaro impressed coaches with his toughness and blocking ability, but surprised them with his knack for getting open and soft hands to give Simms a safe option in the passing game.

Leonard Marshall, Lawrence Taylor, Jim Burt; New York Giants (November 10, 1985)

Leonard Marshall, Lawrence Taylor, Jim Burt; New York Giants (November 10, 1985)

A four-game win streak – the Giants longest since 1970 – put New York at 7-3 in November. That streak ended on a Monday night at Washington’s RFK Stadium in a game mostly remembered for Taylor’s career ending sack of Redskin quarterback Joe Theisman. Morris had another three-touchdown game, including one from 51 yards and another 41 yards, but the difference was Washington coach Joe Gibbs willingness to gamble and swing momentum his team’s direction when they needed it most. The Redskins converted two onside kicks and a fake punt, all of which led to touchdown drives in their 23-21 win. Parcells was measured in post-game comments, “I don’t think we were horrendous. I don’t think anyone was outstanding. I think we got outplayed. We had our chances to win the game and we couldn’t do it.”

New York rebounded and won two of their next three, and scored over 30 points in all three games (the first such scoring streak for the Giants since 1968), and headed to Dallas with the opportunity to win their first NFC East Division title. (The only other non-expansion teams not to have won their division since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 at that time were the Houston Oilers, New York Jets and New Orleans Saints.)

The entire saga of game can be encapsulated in a maddening sequence of plays that took place in the fourteenth minute of the second quarter.

The Giants had opened a 14-7 lead just over five minutes into the quarter. The defense forced a Dallas punt that resulted in a touchback. Simms then engineered an eight-play drive that had New York with a 1st-and-10 at the Dallas 22-yard line with two minutes to go before halftime. The ninth play of the drive initiated the nightmarish descent. Defensive end Ed “Too Tall” Jones batted a Simms pass up into the air that defensive end Jim Jeffcoat caught on the rebound and rumbled 64 yards for the tying touchdown.

The Giants three-and-out after the kickoff involved two sacks of Simms, one each by Jones and Jeffcoat. From the New York 12-yard line, punter Sean Landetta was pressured after a high snap threw off his timing, and a desperation shovel pass fell incomplete. The Cowboys took over on downs and scored on their first play, a 12-yard strike from Danny White to wide receiver Mike Renfro. In just 59 seconds the Giants went from being on the verge of a two score lead to trailing 21-14. Defensive end Casey Merrill said, “We were dominating them in every phase of the game, and then wham, bam, and we’re behind.”

The emotional toll of the scoring splurge was far greater than the seven point deficit. The Giants played unconfidently the majority of the final 30 minutes, until a late surge with Dallas ahead 28-21. A Simms pass toward the end zone was intercepted and the Cowboys won the division, despite the fact that starting quarterback White and his backup Gary Hogeboom both left the game with injuries. The fourth and decisive Dallas touchdown drive came with third stringer Steve Pelluer under center, who had never appeared in a regular season game before.

The New York locker room was mostly despondent afterward.

Taylor: “Every time we play those guys we beat ourselves.”

George Martin: “It was the toughest loss of my career.”

Carson: “It was the toughest loss since I’ve been here. I feel so bad because those cheap touchdowns beat us.”

Simms was refreshingly defiant: “I’m proud of myself and the team. I’m tired of hearing the Giants can’t win the big game.”

Parcells put the outcome into perspective succinctly: “We’re not through yet.”

Giants Again

Not all was lost for New York. Although they had lost out on the division title, a win in the season finale against Pittsburgh would send the Giants to the playoffs as a Wild Card. It would be the first time New York qualified for the post season in consecutive seasons since the three-year run of 1961-1963. It would also give the Giants a 10-6 record, their first double digit total in the win column since 1963. A loss for the Giants would open the door for Washington and San Francisco, who were also 9-6 and vying for Wild Card status.

Recalling the 1981 season finale, “Giants Stadium Weather” arrived in full force. At kickoff the temperature was 28 degrees with sustained winds at 12 mph. The team that was built for those conditions played with the same brutality as the unforgiving wind chill.

The Giants received the opening kickoff and pounded their way up and down field on a 71-yard, 11-play drive, nine of which were runs. Morris closed the drive with his 19th rushing touchdown of the season.

The teams exchanged punts twice and the Steelers put together a drive that ended with a field goal early in the second quarter. After the kickoff, New York looked to be headed for a three-and-out, but a third down pass interference penalty on Pittsburgh gave the Giants a second chance, and Morris made them pay. On first-and-10 from the Giants 35-yard line, Morris ran behind right guard, cut left, and while sprinting past a diving tackler, had his shoe knocked off and ran the remaining 52 yards on his sock.

Joe Morris, New York Giants (December 21, 1985)

Joe Morris, New York Giants (December 21, 1985)

The next time New York had the ball, Rob Carpenter’s 46-yard run set up a short dive for Morris’ third touchdown of the half and 21st of the year. The Giants added another touchdown before halftime and won the game comfortably 28-10.

Morris rushed for 202 yards on the day, second most in team history behind Gene Roberts’ 218 set in 1950, and 1,336 for the season, a new team record. He was the first Giant to reach the 1,000 plateau since Ron Johnson in 1972. As a team, New York ran the ball 53 times for 289 yards and held the ball for 38:04. The final game of the regular season finished just like the first one, with Parcells receiving a Gatorade dunk, though this time Lawrence Taylor was the one with the bucket.

Simms: “The whole game was a tribute to our line blocking.”

Morris: “I just did what I’m supposed to do when I get that kind of blocking.”

Jim Burt: “We played a total game offensively and defensively. It shows what we can do when we’re on.”

Parcells: “We’ve had some tough times this year, but more good times than tough. I’m happy for the older guys – Harry Carson, George Martin, Brad Benson. It’s nice to see them smile.”

San Francisco and Washington both won their final games as well, and the three-way tie of 10-6 teams meant the Giants would host San Francisco in the NFC Wild Card Game the next week. It would be the first home post-season contest for New York since the 1962 NFL Championship Game at Yankee Stadium.

The jubilation was short lived, and the Giants adopted the motto “Strictly Business” which they had printed on hats that also read “New York Giants Playoffs 1985” to prove they were not just happy to be a participant. Rob Carpenter said, “I think we’re going to find out how good we are, and there’s no better way than playing the 49ers because of what they’ve done to us in the past. This will be a test of how much we’ve progressed.”

Harry Carson said, “The last couple of times we played them we sat back to see what they were going to do, and then we would adjust. By the time we adjusted they were up 14 or 21 points. This time, I don’t think we’ll sit back.”

Bill Walsh said, “The Giants have a dramatically different offense this year. They have a great runner and they’re taking advantage of it. It’ll be our job to corral Joe.”

While not quite as cold as the previous week, the game time temperature of 32 degrees with a nine mph wind ensured the 49ers were likely to see plenty of Morris. The greeting that welcomed the Giants was something that had not been heard at a Giant game in two decades. Simms said, “I knew what Tittle and Gifford and Huff must’ve felt like. When we came out of the tunnel at Giants Stadium, the crowd greeted us with the loudest roar I’d ever heard. I knew there was no way we were going to lose.”

The defense set the tone early. They sent the 49ers off of the field after a rare three-and-out to start the game, and the fans behind the Giants bench gave the defense a standing ovation. The Giants took over on their own 36-yard line. Two Morris rushes gained 14 yards and Giants Stadium again roared as the chains moved. Four plays later Eric Schubert kicked a 47-yard field goal and New York had a 3-0 advantage less than five minutes into the game. Carson said, “I couldn’t remember the last time we had a lead against the 49ers.”

Leonard Marshall (70) and Jim Burt (64), New York Giants (December 29, 1985)

Leonard Marshall (70) and Jim Burt (64), New York Giants (December 29, 1985)

San Francisco gained two first downs during their next possession, and pinned New York on their own two-yard line after a punt. The Giants ran 13 plays and crossed mid-field, but punted the ball back. The pass rush began getting to quarterback Joe Montana. After completing a pass while being hit by linebacker Andy Headen, Montana was sacked by Burt. Two plays later, now in the second quarter, Montana’s third down pass was batted down by George Martin who was crashing the pocket. San Francisco punted, and New York drove from their 20-yard line to the 49ers 26-yard line, largely on the legs of Morris, but Schubert’s 43-yard field goal missed wide left.

Montana’s second pass of the next possession was tipped by Gary Reasons and intercepted by Terry Kinard, who advanced the ball to San Francisco’s 38-yard line. Four plays later, the Giants struck pay dirt when Simms led Mark Bavaro down the right seam for a one-handed catch over safety Ronnie Lott in the end zone, sending Giants Stadium into a state of near bedlam. The Giants led 10-0 with 8:11 to play in the half.

Bavaro said, “I thought it was over my head. It hit my forearm and started rolling down to my wrist…Phil just threw the ball over Lott’s head and that was it.”

San Francisco received the kickoff and took over at their own 12-yard line. On the first play, Montana completed a pass for eight yards that had 15 more tacked on as Leonard Marshall was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct when he threw a punch at a San Francisco lineman.

Three plays later the drive seemed to come to a halt when Marshall sacked Montana. But defensive end Casey Merrill was flagged for unnecessary roughness for a late hit when he also hit Montana, which gave the 49ers a first down on their own 41-yard line. The 49ers converted their next third down without the aid of a penalty and advanced into New York territory. The Giants defense seemed to be tiring as they allowed back-to-back 10-yard runs by Wendell Tyler.

Two more Tyler rushes gained one-yard each, and the clock stopped at the two minute warning. Montana’s third-and-eight pass was high and went through the back of the end, but the 49ers received a new set of downs for the third time on the drive via penalty as cornerback Ted Watts was called for defensive holding. San Francisco took over first-and-goal on the nine-yard line.

On first down Roger Craig rushed for two yards and a second down pass intended for Craig was incomplete. A false start penalty on the 49ers moved the ball back to the Giants 12-yard line, and Montana completed a pass to wide receiver Dwight Clark at the three-yard line on third down. New York managed to keep San Francisco out of the end zone and Ray Wersching kicked a 21-yard field goal with 0:25 on the clock.

The 49ers ran 16 plays (not including penalties), advanced the ball 85 yards and possessed the ball for 7:58. But he Giants defense felt rejuvenated as they headed to the locker room. Burt said, “That was the biggest mental boost of the game. We stopped them for three points. They had eight cracks at us inside the 20. It was exhausting and it was getting chaotic.”

The emotional boost carried over to the offense after the intermission. Simms engineered an eight play, 77-yard drive to start the second half, and finished it with a three-yard touchdown pass to tight end Don Hasselbeck. The 17-3 lead ended up being the final score, despite sustained drives by both teams. Schubert missed two more field goals for the Giants, and all three 49er drives in the fourth quarter ended on downs in New York territory.

The Giants first home post-season game since 1962 was also their first home post-season win since 1958. Parcells received a double-dunk from Carson and Casey Merrill as the final seconds ticked off of the clock.

Bill Parcells, New York Giants (December 29, 1985)

Bill Parcells, New York Giants (December 29, 1985)

Despite the 49ers intent to control the Giants rushing attack, Morris had a big day with 141 yards rushing yards, which surpassed the game totals of 13 of San Francisco’s 16 regular season opponents.

Simms: “It was a big win. We beat a team a lot of people didn’t think we could beat. There’s no question the difference is our offensive line. Last year we couldn’t do anything. This year we beat ‘em up front physically.”

The other side of the coin was the defense, which held the 49ers without a touchdown for only the second time since Walsh became their coach in 1979.

Parcells: “I thought our defense did as good as it ever did. Those were the World Champions. Somebody had to get rid of them. I’m glad we did.”

Bill Belichick: “There were people in Montana’s face. We got good pressure up the middle from Burt and Marshall and Martin, something we had a problem with in the past.”

Carson: “We had confidence. We put pressure on (Montana). We tried to tag him, to rattle him.”

Martin: “(Montana) was more concerned about me than he was about throwing the ball. We just kept coming.”

Simms: “That was the best I’ve ever seen our defense play, the most aggressive. Our defense was so aggressive the 49ers were looking over their shoulders.”

Taylor: “We were awesome. We kicked their ass. That’s all there is to it.”

A Hard Lesson

The Giants reward for their victory over the 49ers was a trip to Chicago to face the ferocious 15-1 Bears. They were a juggernaut that recalled the legendary Monsters of the Midway teams of the 1940’s that physically whipped the opposition. Wellington Mara said, “(The Late Bears owner George) Halas would have beaming at this Bears team. It’s his kind of team and Mike Ditka is his kind of coach.”

Ditka was also complimentary of the Giants, “They got a lot of good athletes on that football team. They’ve got a great offense. They’ve got good balance in throwing and running the football. They play defense the way it’s supposed to be played. They come after you and they take no prisoners.”

The Bears were the team that took no prisoners on a frigid day at Soldier Field. The temperature was 14 degrees at kickoff with a 13 mph wind that sent the chill factor below zero. The Giants received the kickoff and seemed to gain some momentum after two Morris rushes gave New York a first down at their 40-yard line. On second down Carpenter fumbled after catching a pass. Chicago recovered the ball and New York never recaptured that initial burst.

The teams exchanged three three-and-outs, with the field position tipped in Chicago’s favor. The Giants had a 4th-and-20 from their own 12-yard line after Simms had been sacked. Punter Sean Landetta’s drop was affected by the wind and the ball grazed the side of his foot. The Bears Shaun Gayle scooped up the loose ball and returned it five yards into the end zone for a 7-0 lead that was as improbable as it was sudden.

Landetta said, “The wind just blew it. I did everything normal, but when I dropped the ball, I saw it moving. I tried to swing my leg into it. I missed it, or maybe I grazed it with my foot. That’s something that not only never happened to me before, but I never thought it could happen.”

The defenses and wind continued to dominate the first half. A Chicago drive to New York’s eight-yard line ended with a 26-yard Kevin Butler field goal attempt sailing wide left. A Giants drive just before halftime, set up by a 25-yard Bears punt giving New York the ball on the Chicago 45-yard line, ended with Schubert’s 19-yard attempt striking the left upright.

The Bears 7-0 lead held thought he third quarter and Chicago put the Giants away with two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter. The game summed up the 1985 Giants when they were not at their best: the defense played hard but the offense and special teams were undone by a few untimely errors.

The difference in the contest jumped off of the stat sheet. Chicago, with the benefit of the early lead, ran the ball 44 times while New York passed the ball 53 times, including six sacks of Simms. The Bears were 7-of-16 on third down attempts while the Giants combined to go 0-of-14 on third and fourth down attempts, skewing the time of possession 37:14 – 22:46 in Chicago’s favor. Essentially, the Bears beat the Giants at their own game.

Tackle Karl Nelson: “We were hoping to run the ball more on them, and we wanted to give Phil more time. We didn’t do either.”

Center Bart Oates: “Our protection was a disappointment, we made too many mental breakdowns.”

Ditka: “It wasn’t easy winning. We beat a good football team today.”

The day after the game the Giants got their start on the 1986 season. For the third time in in five years, they ended their season against the team that ultimately went on to win the Super Bowl.

Parcells: “Riding home on the plane last night, you think it’s another offseason, another training camp, another preseason schedule, another 16 games just to stand where you were standing yesterday. You never know when that opportunity is going to come again.”

Guard Billy Ard: “I think it was a good season. Next season, we definitely will go further.”

Tackle Brad Benson: “We’re close to having it all together. We need a little bit of time. We placed higher expectations on ourselves this year, so losing was a disappointment. But that doesn’t spoil the year, and to think that would be a big mistake. This has given us an idea of what we have to do.”

Wellington Mara: “Go back to last year. The Bears lost to the 49ers for the NFC title 23-0. If they can improve that much, we can, too. You’re certainly not satisfied unless you’re number one. But let’s face it. Only four teams went further than we did. And a lot of our young players haven’t reached their potential.”

Parcells: “You don’t get any satisfaction out of winning Wild Card games. I just want to get into a championship game, and I’m not going to rest ‘til I get there.”

The Giants had come a long way since the ownership feud was brokered almost seven earlier. The hardest part of climbing a mountain is when one nears the summit – when one first sees the peak, but it feels just out of reach. The 1986 offseason was the Giants opportunity to pause, take a deep breath, and recharge for one final surge.

************************************************************************

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Richard Whittingham, 1987, Harper Collins

“Giants: The Unforgettable Season”
Kevin Lamb, 1987, Macmillan Publishing Co.

“Simms To McConkey: Blood, Sweat and Gatorade”
Phil Simms, Phil McConkey with Dick Schapp, 1987, Crown Publishers, Inc.

“Once A Giant, Always…”
Andy Robustelli with Jack Clary, 1987, Quinlan Press

“Tuff Stuff”
Sam Huff, 1988, St. Martin’s Press

“The Pro Football Chronicle”
Dan Daly & Bob O’Donnell, 1990, Collier Books

“No Medals for Trying: A Week in the Life of a Pro Football Team”
Jerry Izenberg, 1990, Macmillan Pub Co

“Lawrence Taylor: What the Coachers Said”
Dan Herbst, Gameday, Dec. 19, 1992, Giants vs Kansas City edition

“Wellington: The Maras, the Giants, and the City of New York”
Carlo DeVito, 2006, Triumph Books

“Captain For Life”
Harry Carson, 2011, St. Martin’s Press

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Michael Eisen, Dandre Phillips, Corey Rush; 2016; New York Football Giants, Inc.

“Official 2016 NFL Record & Fact Book”
2016, NFL Communications Dept.

Historical New York Times searchable archive (via ProQuest)

Pro Football Reference
New York Giants Franchise Encyclopedia

Going Back Through the VCR Archives: Looking Back at 25 Years of Giants Games on Tape
Giants-Dallas, December 19, 1981

Nov 152016
 
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Odell Beckham, New York Giants (November 14, 2016)

Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 21 – Cincinnati Bengals 20

Overview

We’ve become unaccustomed to this. It’s mid-November and the Giants are still alive! Winners of four straight, the Giants are a serious contender for a Wild Card playoff spot, and the division crown is still not quite out of reach. This was a big game for the Giants. The Cowboys, Eagles, and Redskins all won on Sunday. The pressure was on New York to keep pace on Monday night. With seven games to go, and two very winnable games next on deck, Giants are in very good shape at 6-3.

Giants on Offense

The Giants had 13 offensive possessions, but four only really stand out: the first and last drives of the first half that resulted in touchdowns, the touchdown drive at the end of the 3rd/beginning of the 4th quarter, and the last drive where the Giants ran out the clock. These four drives accounted for 16 of the team’s 23 first downs and 238 of the team’s 351 net yards. The other nine possessions ended with two interceptions, one turnover on downs, and six punts.

The Giants remain heavily pass-centric. In 72 offensive plays, the Giants called 46 passes, 24 runs, and two kneel-downs. The Giants did not hit on any big plays. While the Giants had four plays over 20 yards, none was longer than 25 yards. The Giants were only penalized once on offense.

Quarterback

As Eli Manning goes, so goes the Giants offense. Eli was masterful on the team’s opening drive as he completed all six pass attempts and the Giants easily drove 80 yards downfield for an early touchdown. The Giants next four possessions resulted in 72 yards, two punts, one turnover on downs, and one interception as Manning went 9-of-16 with one pick. Manning then went 4-of-5 (with one drop) on the team’s final drive of the first half as the Giants drove 75 yards for their second touchdown.

Outside of the game-winning, 47-yard drive, Manning was pretty much a non-factor in the second half of the game. To be fair, however, Manning had a number of passes dropped. Manning was again 4-of-5 on the scoring possession, including the clutch 3-yard touchdown throw on 4th-and-goal. His second interception after the Bengals turnover was a terrible decision. Manning finished the game 28-of-44 (63.6 percent of his passes) for 240 yards (net 229 yards – 5.1 yards per pass play), 3 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. The Giants longest pass play was their first – the 25-yarder to Will Tye.

Running Backs

A “breakout” game for the Giants running backs as Rashad Jennings (15 carries for 87 yards) and Paul Perkins (9 carries for 31 yards) totaled 118 yards on 24 carries (4.9 yards per carry). Most of the damage came in the second half as Jennings and Perkins were limited to 37 yards on 12 carries (3.1 yards per carry) through the first 30 minutes of the contest.

Jennings had a number of key plays, including a 16-yard reception on the first TD drive, a 24-yard run on the game-winning drive, a 9-yard run on 3rd-and-6 late in the game, and then a 25-yard run to seal the deal. That said, outside of the 16-yard reception, the passes to the backs did not amount to much as Jennings caught 3-of-6 passes thrown in his direction (with two drops) for 22 yards and all three passes intended for Perkins fell incomplete.

Wide Receivers

Odell Beckham remains the centerpiece as he was targeted 11 times, with 10 of those passes being completed for 97 yards and a touchdown despite constant double teams. His sick double-move against Pacman Jones put the Giants up 14-10 at the break. While not putting up big numbers, Sterling Shepard is increasingly becoming a factor. He caught another touchdown this week – the game-winner on 4th-and-goal. He finished with 42 yards on five receptions. Shepard did drop a 3rd-and-4 pass, causing a punt.

Victor Cruz (ankle) did not play and was replaced by Roger Lewis, Jr., who had been a very pleasant surprise coming into the game. However, national TV spotlight seemed to get the best of of Lewis’ nerves as he struggled. Lewis caught 1-of-4 passes thrown in his direction for just two yards. Lewis dropped a perfectly-thrown 3rd-and-7 deep pass from Manning that led to a punt. In the 3rd quarter, Lewis wasn’t on the same page with Manning on an incomplete deep throw on 3rd-and-4, leading to another punt. Tavarres King was activated and played a lot of snaps (45). He caught one pass for six yards and also drew a 10-yard pass interference penalty.

Tight Ends

Larry Donnell continued to ride the pine as the Giants move forward with Will Tye (5 catches for 53 yards) and Jerell Adams (3 catches for 18 yards). Tye started the Giants off with a 25-yard reception on the first TD drive that was culminated by Adams’ first touchdown reception (from 10 yards out). Adams did fumble and was lucky the ball bounced out-of-bounds. Tye dropped a pass.

Offensive Line

The Giants were forced to scramble when left guard Justin Pugh’s replacement – Brett Jones – was injured on the first drive. He was replaced by tackle Marshall Newhouse. The line struggled a bit in the first half before settling down and playing decently against a good defensive line. Giants backs rushed for 118 yards on 24 carries (4.9 yards per carry). Manning was sacked once and officially hit six times. Newhouse deserves credit for being able to adjust on the fly. He was penalized for an illegal block. The low point came when Weston Richburg and Newhouse were beat by DT Geno Atkins for an 11-yard sack on 4th-and-2. Atkins also gave John Jerry issues at times; DE Wallace Gilberry also beat Jerry once for a big hit on Manning. Adam Gettis saw some late playing time and performed well.

Giants on Defense

The defense played exceptionally well. Coming into the game, the Bengals were 4th in the NFL in passing and 7th in rushing. The Giants only gave up 12 first downs, 78 net yards rushing, and 186 net yards passing (and 71 of those yards came on one play). After giving up a 3-play, 80-yard drive to start the game, the longest drive allowed was only 41 yards, which resulted in a field goal. The other 10 points were set up by an 84-yard kickoff return and an interception that was returned to the Giants 7-yard line. Holding the Bengals to a field goal after the interception was decisive. The defense was only penalized once.

Defensive Line

The defensive line appears to be getting stronger as the season wears on. Olivier Vernon had a strong game, leading the team with 10 tackles, 1 sack, and 2 tackles for losses. Jason Pierre-Paul isn’t putting up the numbers, but he was a factor with 5 tackles, 2 QB hits, and 2 pass defenses. Damon Harrison had another strong game with 8 tackles (a very high number for a DT), 0.5 sacks, and 1 tackle for a loss. Johnathan Hankins only had one tackle, but it was for a loss. Reserve Robert Thomas was surprisingly productive with 1 sack and 1 tackle for a loss in limited action. Cincinnati running backs were limited to 63 yards on 22 carries (2.9 yards per carry). QB Andy Dalton was sacked twice and hit five times by linemen. The line also did a nice job of containing the mobile quarterback from doing damage on the ground (only one rush for 15 yards).

The high point for the line came in the 4th quarter. The Giants stuffed the Bengals on 3rd-and-1 to end one drive. On the next series, Pierre-Paul smashed into Dalton to cause one incomplete pass followed by back-to-back 7-yard sacks. Cincinnati never got the ball back.

Linebackers

Jonathan Casillas was questionable coming into the game with a calf injury. He played and finished the game with 5 tackles, 0.5 sacks, and 1 tackle for a loss. The other linebackers were pretty quiet in the play-making department: Kelvin Sheppard (3 tackles), Devon Kennard (2 tackles), and Keenan Robinson (2 tackles). That said, aside from one play where Casillas was beaten for a 71-yard gain by TE Tyler Eifert out of a bizarre formation, the Giants did a great job in coverage on the tight ends and running backs. Eifert only caught two more passes for 25 yards. Running back Giovani Bernard caught only three passes for 19 yards. No other back or tight end had a reception. Sheppard did miss one tackle but later did a nice job sniffing out a screen pass.

Defensive Backs

The secondary did a marvelous job. A.J. Green – one of the very best wide receivers in football – was held to seven catches for 68 yards and a touchdown. The other receivers? Tyler Boyd caught two passes for 12 yards and Brandon LaFell one catch for nine yards. That was it!!! Jenkins made a fantastic play by fighting off a block and tackling Green for no gain on a 3rd-and-goal pass right after Eli’s first interception.

Landon Collins is making a serious push for Pro Bowl honors with his fourth interception in three games. Janoris Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (DRC), and Trevin Wade were all credited with pass defenses. Wade’s hit on Boyd at the goal line on 3rd-and-5 dislodged the ball and saved a touchdown. Eli Apple rebounded with a strong game. He played every defensive snap as DRC was limited (14 snaps) with a back issue. Apple’s tight coverage on LaFell on 3rd-and-9 late in the 3rd quarter was a big play. Coty Sensabaugh actually played more than Wade and was the primary slot corner. He was very steady as was free safety Andrew Adams. The biggest negative was that Jenkins was flagged for defensive holding on an incomplete 3rd-and-15 pass.

Giants on Special Teams

The lowlight of night was arguably the 84-yard kickoff return that enabled the Bengals to take a 17-14 lead early in the 3rd quarter. None of Robbie Gould’s four kickoffs resulted in touchbacks. The other returns went for 23, 23, and 15 yards. Romeo Okwara flashed on kickoff coverage with two strong tackles. Brad Wing punted six times, averaging 46 yards per punt (40.2 net) with two downed inside the 20-yard line. The Bengals returned three punts for 35 yards, the longest being a decent-sized 18-yard gain.

The Giants return game was pretty anemic. Dwayne Harris returned two kickoffs for 21 and 16 yards, and Bobby Rainey one kickoff for 16 yards. Harris had one punt return for eight yards. Rainey returned three punts for 32 yards. He did have one decent 15-yard return.

(Cincinnati Bengals at New York Giants, November 14, 2016)
Nov 122016
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (August 14, 2015)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Game Preview: Cincinnati Bengals at New York Giants, November 14, 2016

THE STORYLINE:
The 5-3 New York Giants are currently in second place in the once-again competitive NFC East behind the 7-1 Dallas Cowboys. Most figure the Cowboys are shoo-ins for the division title, but keep in mind the Giants have already beaten the Cowboys once. If the Giants can get within one game of Dallas, the December 11th game against the Cowboys at MetLife Stadium looms large.

First the Giants must defeat the always-schizophrenic Cincinnati Bengals, a 3-4-1 team that at times looks like world beaters and at other times an also-ran.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • QB Ryan Nassib (elbow) – probable
  • WR Victor Cruz (ankle) – questionable
  • OG Justin Pugh (knee) – out
  • DE Kerry Wynn (concussion) – questionable
  • LB Jonathan Casillas (calf) – questionable
  • S Andrew Adams (shoulder) – questionable

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
The Bengals run a 4-3 defense that is currently ranked 25th in the NFL (23rd against the run, 21st against the pass). The strength of the defense is the defensive line, led by DT Geno Atkins (3.5 sacks) and LDE Carlos Dunlap (5 sacks). The line may not get a lot of sacks, but they get pressure (hits on the QB) and knock down a lot of passes. The linebacking corps will be missing middle linebacker Rey Maualuga. It is a physical but not overly athletic group. The safeties are big and there is some talent at corner.

The Giants are coming off a 28-point “explosion” against the Philadelphia Eagles and are looking to build upon that success. Look for Ben McAdoo to rely more and more on young players like WR Roger Lewis, RB Paul Perkins, and TE Jerell Adams moving forward. Lewis adds more explosiveness to the wide receiver position than Victor Cruz, as does Perkins to the running back spot.

The chief challenges are up front. The two weakest links on the Giants offensive line will be facing the Bengals best players. The undersized Brett Jones fills in for the injured Justin Pugh at left guard. His first start will be against Atkins, who is one of the NFL’s best defensive tackles. Right tackle Bobby Hart will have his hands full with Dunlap.

That all said, this is an opponent who the Giants can move the ball against. The Giants have done a good job of cutting down their offensive penalties (although there were a few frustrating false starts last week). It’s now time to cut down on the turnovers. Play a clean game. Spread the less athletic Bengals out and get the ball to Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard, Roger Lewis, and Paul Perkins in the open field.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The strength of this current Bengals team is their offense, which is currently ranked 6th in the NFL (7th in rushing, 4th in passing). The Bengals have an experienced offensive line and are loaded at the skill positions. Why the team can be so schizophrenic at times is the play of their quarterback – Andy Dalton. That said, Dalton is completing 67 percent of his passes, has only thrown three interceptions, and fields a 98.0 quarterback rating.

The headliners are the passing targets, but the Bengals have a very underrated running game. Running back Jeremy Hill averages 5.0 yards per carry and has scored five touchdowns. Giovani Bernard has chipped in with two more. The Giants defensive must prevent the Bengals from being multi-dimensional on offense and keep the team’s ground game under control.

When the Bengals throw the ball, they have two very dangerous targets: All-World wide receiver A.J. Green and tight end Tyler Eifert, who missed a lot of time due to an injury but who is healthy now. Dalton also throws a lot to Giovani Bernard out of the backfield (31 receptions). Ex-Patriots wideout Brandon LaFell (4 touchdowns) has benefited from the attention that Green receives.

To date, the Giants two top corners – Janoris Jenkins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie – have done a very good job of shutting down their individual opponents on a game-by-game basis. But Dalton won’t be afraid to throw to Green against these two. This is a game where Jenkins and DRC really could impress if they keep Green’s damage to a minimum. What has to worry Steve Spagnuolo however is the 152 yards accrued by Eagles tight ends last week and now having to face Eifert, who is one of the best pass-receiving tight ends in the game. It will be very difficult to double Green and Eifert and stop the running game. This is why the Bengals can be so dangerous. If the Giants play back, the Bengals will run the ball. I hate to say it, but much depends on what version of Dalton shows up on Monday night.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
The Giants are rapidly turning into a special teams unit that can block field goals and punts. On the other hand, Dwayne Harris really appears to be in a funk. Not only has he yet to break a big one, he is making questionable choices in the return game. We have yet to see Robbie Gould in a pressure-packed FG situation. Brad Wing and the punt coverage team is coming off of a weak game against the Eagles.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo on Bengals WR A.J. Green: “He is an elite wide receiver. I have talked to Leon Hall a lot this week about A.J. This is what I was talking to Leon about – he has a unique ability, A.J. Green waits the last minute, stick his hands out and catches the ball… A.J. has great hands, he is a bigger wide out, with really good quickness. We have to find a way to slow him down. We can’t let him wreck the football game. That is a good football player, but we will have different people on him and do different things and (Janoris Jenkins) will be one of them. ”

THE FINAL WORD:
Don’t let the Bengals losing record fool you. They are a dangerous team with a fine defensive line and a well-rounded and potentially explosive offense. We are about to discover if the Giants are going to be serious contenders for the division title or if they will have to focus on a Wild Card spot.