Oct 312014
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (August 16, 2014)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Indianapolis Colts at New York Giants, November 3, 2014

The New York Giants look to snap their two-game losing streak against a tough opponent Monday night in the Indianapolis Colts.

Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants (August 18, 2013)

Ahmad Bradshaw – Photo Courtesy of Evan Pinkus and the Giants

FOUR DOWNS:

First Down
Old faces in new places
A former New York Giant is making quite the impact for the Indianapolis Colts… it’s just not the player anyone expected. A year after dealing with neck injuries, Ahmad Bradshaw has found new life with the Colts and has all but supplanted Trent Richardson as the team’s starting running back. As for the other former Giant? Hakeem Nicks hasn’t had any impact on the offense. Last week, he played in just 19 of the team’s snaps.

Both players will sure be revved up to play their former team again in their former stadium, will the Giants contain them?

Second Down
Can the Giants establish a running game?
One of the things that made Giants running back Rashad Jennings so special was his vision. Even if option one wasn’t open, Jennings found the second and third holes that were formed as the play developed to turn negative plays into positive ones. It’s a trait Jennings developed over time. Andre Williams just doesn’t have it yet.

Williams has struggled to get things going for New York on a consistent basis. If the initial hole isn’t there, the play usually doesn’t work. Williams’ vision will develop over time, it just isn’t there yet. Will this be the game he breaks out?

Third Down
Will New York be able to contain Andrew Luck?
The odds of New York shutting down Andrew Luck are slim, but the team can contain him. Pressure Luck, forcing him out of his comfort zone and to roll out of the pocket and across his body. That’s easier said, than done. Can the Giants execute the defensive game plan?

Fourth Down
Can for one week there not be a miscommunication in the secondary? 
Just once, can the Giants not have a defensive meltdown in the secondary? Can someone not think someone else has their help? Can everyone just be on the same page as everyone else? It’s a weekly occurrence and it needs to stop. Every year the defense starts this way and then needs to be ‘dumbed down.’ Not sure if that’s on the players, or the coaching staff.

BREAKING DOWN INDIANAPOLIS:

OFFENSE - by Connor Hughes
Strength?
The Colts offense is littered with playmakers all across the field. Reggie Wayne (questionable to play), T.Y. Hilton, Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener, Hakeem Nicks, Ahmad Bradshaw and Trent Richardson are all capable of making plays at any point in time. Couple that with one of the best quarterback’s in the game and the Colts have one of the better attacks in all of football.

Weakness?
The interior offensive line can be had. The Colts guard play has been suspect this year and have struggled at times. The playmakers and Andrew Luck overshadows the line play.

DEFENSE - by Eric Kennedy
Strength?
The Colts defense had been ranked 3rd in league in terms of yards allowed until the game against the Steelers where they gave up over 600 yards of offense. That likely anomaly dropped them to 15th. Until that game, the defense was performing at a high level and had shut out the Cincinnati Bengals. The Colts are outstanding on 3rd down. And while they have a lot of “no-name” defensive players, they are very well coached and can confuse opposing offenses with their various 3-4 and 4-3 schemes. No player has more than four sacks, but the team has 21 overall. The run defense is giving up less than 100 yards per contest.

Weakness?
The sum of the Colts defense is stronger than their component parts as the team lacks impact defensive playmakers. They have a lot of “solid” guys, but there is no one to really fear. The defense benefits from the fact that the Indianapolis offense is so productive, allowing the defense to pin its ears back against what often becomes a one-dimensional opponent.

Eli Manning and Hakeem Nicks, New York Giants (September 15, 2013)

Eli Manning and Hakeem Nicks – © USA TODAY Sports Images

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

Connor Hughes -
Hakeem Nicks
When Hakeem Nicks was at his best with the New York Giants, he was the team’s No. 1 target. He’s not that in Indianapolis and his numbers have reflected that. Nicks will revved up to play Monday night to play against his former team at his former home. While Nicks hasn’t been a focal point of the offense this year, he should be on Monday. Will he be a factor?

Eric Kennedy -
Eli Manning
The Giants season is on the line. If the Giants have any shot to make the playoffs this year, Eli will have to carry this team like he did in 2011. New York desperately needs for him to out-play Andrew Luck, which is no small feat.

FROM THE COACHES’ MOUTH:

Tom Coughlin - “(The Colts are) number one in the league on offense, first place in the AFC South, an exceptional fast start team. Sixty-four points in the first quarter, the opponents, 13. They are the number one passing team as well, big plays, you name it. Defensively – very, very aggressive. Prior to the Pittsburgh game, they were third in the league on defense. They have a high percentage of pressure on each and every down and distance. Special teams is outstanding as well with McAfee and Vinatieri and Whalen doing the returning.”

Chuck Pagano - “Eli (Manning) is obviously going to end up in the Hall of Fame with his brother one day. He is one of the elite quarterbacks in this game. If you don’t pressure and you can’t get pressure on him or do some things to disrupt the timing and rhythm of that offense that (Offensive Coordinator Ben McAdoo) is running over there now, then (Manning) will rip you to shreds. He can make all the throws and he has great touch and great vision and does a great job controlling safeties and people with his eyes. There isn’t anything that he hasn’t seen from a defensive standpoint.”

FINAL WORD:

Connor Hughes - The difficult part of the Giants schedule began two weeks ago and it won’t get easy Monday night. Luck and the Colts march in after having a dreadful performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers and will be ready to go in prime time. I’m just not sure the Giants match up.

The running game hasn’t been there the last two weeks, the team refuses to take shots down the field and the defense is questionable. If Wayne plays, the Colts bring three No. 1 receivers to the table. If the Giants match that with their secondary, that opens up room on the ground for Ahmad Bradshaw and Trent Richardson to run against a smaller front. It doesn’t favor New York, and it could get out of hand quick. Colts 31 – Giants 10.

Eric Kennedy – Many fans charge me with being a Debbie Downer or pessimist. Others will say I simply sound like a dreadful broken record. But Giants fans probably need to come to the recognition that this team simply isn’t very talented. One post in The Corner Forum really resonated with me this past week:

The Giants won the super bowl in ’11 with a team that was basically in decline. The ’10 Giants were a better squad overall that pissed away the year with an insane number of turnovers and a historic collapse at home. In ’11 the Giants peaked at the right time and won a title due to one of the greatest quarterbacking performances of all time. I loved every minute of it but I do not think anyone can truthfully argue that the 2011 Giants were loaded with talent. They had the best QB play in the NFL and an awesome receiving corps. But they did play “over their heads” and a lot of that has to do with coaching. TC does not get enough credit for that. Late 2012 and the shit show that was 2013 finished the collapse and now the team is rebuilding. Luckily this can happen quickly in the NFL when you have a franchise QB.

- BBI Poster rocco8112.

Bad drafting and injuries have decimated New York’s 2008-12 NFL Draft classes, and the Giants are suffering the consequences. Simply put, since the middle of 2012, the Giants have been a bad football team. Now, they are relying on veteran and rookie free agents at far too many positions, and unfortunately, injuries (yet again) have hit the team hard across the board. The Giants are not talented enough to overcome it. The Colts are clearly the better football team. And Ahmad Bradshaw is going to show Jerry Reese he made another mistake. Colts 34 – Giants 17.

Oct 262014
 
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Perry Fewell, New York Giants (January 8, 2012)

Perry Fewell – © USA TODAY Sports Images

The Outsider’s Report: Special Defensive Pressure Package Edition

By BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor Daniel in MI

The warden finally allowed us to watch the tape of the Giants-Cowboys game now that we have been released from the Hole. (Editor’s Note: When your job is in the prison cafeteria, people need to be specific when they ask for a tossed salad. ‘Nuff said.) The Outsider Report (TOSR) staff carefully examined the tape, and then asked to be put back in the Hole. That request denied, we decided to write up our report. As always, although we lack any contacts, inside information, derrière millinery, or media passes, we nevertheless bring you the truth beyond the facts. Although much of what we write is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate, it scores over pedestrian media in two important ways: 1) it’s free; and 2) we use only the most effervescent fonts.

In our view, the key to this game was the inability of the Giants to get any pass rush. Some observers astutely note that when you give quarterbacks 8-10 minutes in the pocket, they tend to find open WRs. It seemed like no matter what the Giants did, there was little pass rush. This was especially true in the second half when Dallas QB Tony Romo had exactly zero incomplete passes. (This, sadly, negated the usual Giants second half D motto, “It could have been worse!”)

So, it was gratifying for TOSR sources to learn that the league this week launched an investigation into the whereabouts of the Giants LBs and what happens to them when they rush the passer. At a press conference held by Rodger Goodell he said,

It has come to my attention that during games, defensive players for the New York Football Giants seem to be disappearing from the field of play. Our film analysis shows that this is taking place on plays in which Linebackers rush the passer. They leave the defensive backfield toward the opposing Quarterback and then… just, well, vanish. It has happened game after game. Fans have asked us to look into it, and we are responding. We have used the chips embedded in their pads this year to try and track them with telemetry, but the signals just go blank. It’s as if they enter the Bermuda Triangle on the field. Then after the pass is complete, the data begin again as the player appears jogging to the new line of scrimmage, typically 8 or more yards downfield.

To try and learn more, we asked Giants LB Jacquian Williams some incisive questions:

TOSR: What kind of name is Jacquian?

JW: What? I don’t know, it’s just what my parents named me. I thought you wanted to talk about pass rush?

TOSR: Ok, ok. What do you experience when you rush the passer?

JW: It’s very spooky. I begin to rush. I see an offensive player, usually a lineman or back, and then, it all just kind of goes blank. There’s flashes of light, I see sky sometimes, or turf, I hear weird grunting noises. Then, nothing. The play is over and they’ve made another first down. I can’t really remember anything that happened.

TOSR: And, do you think you’ve been abducted? Do you get anal probed at any point?

JW: What?

TOSR: Nothing, never mind. Do you see a QB at any point during this process?

JW: I thought I saw one once. I can’t be sure. It was blurry.

TOSR: Can you show me on this doll where they blocked you?

JW: Here and here. And, sometimes, …here.

TOSR: So, shoulders, chest, and sometimes legs?

JW: I think so. I like I said, it’s all sort of a blur. I don’t want to talk about it anymore.

TOSR: And, do you ever try and avoid these blocks? How do we know you’re really trying to get to the QB?

JW: What are you saying? That I’m ‘asking for it’ by the way I rush? That it didn’t really happen? Look, I don’t know what happens out there! It’s not my fault. IT’S NOT MY FAULT!

TOSR: Just one more question. Seriously, what kind of name is Jacquian? Do we pronounce the “i” or…

JW: I’m outta here.

Looking to go more in depth, we caught up with Giants DC Perry Fewell to ask him more about this mystery. We asked him whether he had any insight into the disappearance of his pass rushing LBs. “We had veteran players. We run a sophisticated pass rush scheme. You have to take into account and communicate a lot out there — the down, distance, game clock, opponent tendencies, the QB, the personnel package, the field conditions, the strong side of the formation, wind speed, barometric pressure, biorhythms, astrological charts, whether there’s an ebb tide, polling results, electrical resistance, shear stress, the partial pressure of nitrogen, hydrostatic pressure, ovulation, market fluctuation, centripetal force, and charmed quarks.” We suggested that it seemed complex. He responded, “It is! It’s much harder than rocket science, it’s football. But, as a coach you simplify it for the players to help them understand. I have boiled it all down to easy to understand three point schemes for pass and run pressures.”

To validate this information, I got my hacker roommate who is part of the mysterious group known only as Anonymous — but whose name is Ed Tergarian, and he lives in his mom’s basement in West Caldwell — to hack Coach Fewell’s computer, and steal a copy of the defensive playbook. (Editor’s note: “password123” is not a secure password, Perry) In a TOSR exclusive, here for the first time is the Giants LB blitz package reproduced in its entirety. We ask you to PLEASE do not share this information for obvious reasons, to avoid giving away our strategies. Once this is published, our sources will leave for Russia like that NSA leaker guy. (Although, in this case, it’s just to pick up the mail-order bride. Welcome, Anastasia!)

NY Football Giants Pressure Packages for SAM, MIKE, and WILL

Passing Pressure Package: Three-Step Plan
A) Directly engage opposing blockers
B) ???
C) Really big sacks!

Run Blitz: Three-Step Plan
A) Synergy
B) Think Outside the Box
C) Empowerment!

That’s it. That’s the whole damn thing. Well, he definitely boiled it down. I see why they disappear now. I want to disappear now, too.

Tune in next week when we examine the Giants run blocking scheme. Spoiler alert: “Just kinda get in the way of someone if you can” could be in there! Until then, thank goodness it’s a bye week so we can pretend we’re fans of a functional football team. “They just look like the Broncos, but really that was the Giants. See? Manning is the QB.”

Oct 232014
 
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New York Giants Offense (October 19, 2014)

New York Giants Offense – Photo by Big d E

Dallas Cowboys 31 – New York Giants 21

Both quarterbacks played well. This game was lost in the trenches. It really is that simple. The Dallas Cowboys out-played the Giants on the offensive and defensive lines. It’s hard to win football games when you are out-played up front. The Giants could not rush the football because the offensive line could not generate move out a subpar front seven that had struggled against the run. The Giants defensive line exerted virtually no pressure on the Cowboys quarterback and gave up 156 yards on the ground.

REVISITING: FOUR DOWNS
During our game preview, we listed ‘Four Downs,’ which took a look at the top four questions surrounding the Giants heading into the game. Now that the game has been played and the film reviewed, it’s time to break it down.

First Down
Can the defensive line and linebackers contain DeMarco Murray?
No. Murray rushed for 128 yards on 28 carries (4.6 yards per carry) and one touchdown.

Second Down
Can Dominique Rodgers-Cromarite play? Can he be effective?
DRC only played 15 defensive snaps, mostly on third down. In hindsight, the Giants would have been better off to have sit him.

Third Down
How will Justin Pugh respond?
Much better than a week ago versus Philly, but then again, it would have been hard to be worse. Aside from a penalty directed his way, Pugh held his own against the Dallas Cowboys. He wasn’t terribly great, but wasn’t terribly bad, either.

Fourth Down
Is Odell Beckham Jr. ready?
Beckham has yet to have his truly ‘breakout performance,’ and by breakout, its in reference to 100 or more receiving yards, eight or more catches, but Sunday was again another indication that the rookie is progressing. Beckham caught four passes for 34 yards and a pair of touchdowns as Manning looks to be targeting the rookie more and more. Beckham also rushed once for 13 yards.

OFFENSIVE OVERVIEW - by Connor Hughes

The Giants offense gained 352 total yards of offense versus Dallas, rushing for 104 and passing for 248. The team picked up 20 total first downs, held the ball for 26:11.

Eli Manning, New York Giants (October 19, 2014)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

QUARTERBACK - by Connor Hughes

As has been the case against every opponent not nicknamed the ‘Detroit Lions,’ Eli Manning was very efficient versus the Cowboys. Manning completed 21-of-33 for 248 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. It marked the third straight game in which Manning did not throw an interception.

One of the more alarming observations from the game was the fact Manning and Co. have not attempted to stretch the field much this season. Of his 21 completions, Manning averaged just 7.5 yards per completion. Comparing that to Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, who completed 17 passes, he averaged 12.1 yards per completion.

Manning has the weapons to stretch the field, but the team just isn’t looking to do it. With a running game that hasn’t truly got it going yet with Andre Williams in the backfield, it may be beneficial for Manning to take the shots.

Even if the pass is incomplete, the defense will need to respect the pass. The safety will need to come out of the box for fear of the deep bomb. With New York never even taking a shot, there’s no fear of anything past 10 yards.

RUNNING BACKS - by Connor Hughes

It’s tough to gauge exactly why Andre Williams is struggling to establish anything consistent on the ground: It could be the offensive line, could be Williams not seeing potential cutback lanes and strictly running where the ball is supposed to be. Discounting his 22 yard rush, Williams rushed 17 times for 29 yards (1.7 yards per carry).

When Rashad Jennings was in the game, rarely did he run strictly through the hole the play was designed for. While Jennings isn’t the strongest or fastest running back, he has tremendous vision. He could see the lane left when running right, and adjust his carries to compensate and pick up yardage. With Williams in the game, it doesn’t appear as if that’s the same case.

At times, it looks like Williams strictly runs through the hole the play is designed to go through. That works when the hole is there. When its not, Williams is tackled for no gain or a loss.

Odell Beckham, New York Giants (October 19, 2014)

Odell Beckham – Photo by Big d E

WIDE RECEIVERS - by Connor Hughes

Victor Cruz will be missed. That was evidently clear on Sunday. Yes, the Giants have Odell Beckham and need Beckham to step up, but Beckham isn’t replacing’ Cruz in the slot. That’s Preston Parker.

While Parker will play a role of if he’s open, he’s hardly a game-changer like Cruz. On Sunday, Parker caught just two passes for 19 yards.

The Giants had been hoping Rueben Randle would step up, but as this season has made clear, it doesn’t look as if Randle is a clear-cut No. 1 in the NFL. Hypothetically, Beckham – if he can establish to a No. 1 – with Randle on the other side and Cruz in the slot is a perfect receiving corps. Every player compensates for each other perfectly. The Giants would have one of everything at the three spots.

TIGHT ENDS - by Connor Hughes

Larry Donnell didn’t cost the Giants a game, but he contributed to the loss. While his seven catches for 90 yards were a nice breakout from the one catch in the previous two complete games, Donnell’s fourth quarter fumble cost the Giants their best chance at tying the game.

For as good as Donnell has been, he’s also lost three fumbles on his 33 touches. That’s not good.

Donnell gives the Giants a chance to stretch the field and is New York’s best receiving option at the position, so it’s unlikely New York benches him, but Daniel Fells is right now the more “sure” thing. Fells is the type of tight end that would have started for New York any year under Kevin Gilbride. He’s reliable, runs the right routes, and can get to spot A on the field when he’s supposed to be there.

When Fells is in the game, the Giants know what they’ll get out of him, but what Donnell does with his pure athletic ability are things Fells just can’t do. Donnell can’t come off the field, but he’s doing his part in trying to make it so he can.

Tom Coughlin has been a stickler for players who can’t hold on to the ball. One more fumble from Donnell may cost the tight end his No. 1 spot.

OFFENSIVE LINE - by Eric Kennedy

The Dallas Cowboys defense controlled the line of scrimmage. The Cowboys were the stronger, more physical team. That showed up most clearly in New York’s attempted ground attack. Coming into this game, the Cowboys defense had been surrendering 5.1 per carry. Take away runs by Eli Manning, Odell Beckham, and the one meaningless 9-yard run by Peyton Hillis at the end of the first half, and the Giants averaged 3.1 yards. Take away the one 22-yard run by Andre Williams, and the Giants averaged 2.2 yards on 24 carries.  Given the fact that the Giants only ran 59 offensive plays in the game, that means 41 percent of their snaps averaged 2.2 yards.

Who was the problem? It was across the board, and it just wasn’t always the offensive line. But the line did not win their one-on-one match-ups…even missing blocks away from the play and allowing backside defenders to disrupt the play. There were occasions where a player simply got beat (physical mistake), and other occasions where the defender making the play wasn’t blocked (mental mistake).

Tyrone Crawford Beats John Jerry to Disrupt Run

Tyrone Crawford Beats John Jerry to Disrupt Run

Pass protection was better in that Manning was not sacked and only officially hit three times. But keep in mind that Dallas is a terrible team at rushing the passer (only six sacks all season) and that Eli again made his protection look better than it was due to quickly getting rid of the ball. It’s pretty clear that in some instances, Tom Coughlin and Ben McAdoo simply don’t trust the line and/or their quarterback in very long down-and-distance situations as New York continues to run the ball even on third and long.

No One Blocks DT Terrell McClain

No One Blocks DT Terrell McClain

As troubling as the inability to run the football against a weak defensive front was, penalties were also a huge problem. I’ve pointed out in our Giants-Redskins game review that the short passing game in the West Coast Offense can be a thing of beauty as long you don’t suffer any setbacks on 8-12 play drives. But a penalty, sack, or negative run can stymie a drive. Teams only have so many possessions per game. Not counting the two meaningless drives at the end of the half and game, the Giants had nine offensive possessions against the Cowboys. The Giants scored touchdowns on three of those drives (one-third). They overcame a holding call on Will Beatty on one of these drives.

But on three other possessions, penalties put a halt to things:

  • False start on Will Beatty on a 4th-and-1 attempt. Punt.
  • False starts by Justin Pugh and Weston Richburg, the latter on 2nd-and-13. Punt.
  • Not the OL, but Rueben Randle offensive holding on 1st-and-10 on Dallas 40-yard line. Punt.

What about the other three drives?

  • First possession of the game, after two runs, the Giants face 3rd-and-11 and hand-off to “speedster” Peyton Hillis for four yards. Punt. That’s the same as surrendering on 3rd-and-11. Not a very brave message to your team to start the game.
  • Near the 2-minute warning in the first half, after two runs picked up 6 yards, Eli could not connect with WR Preston Parker on 3rd-and-4. Punt.
  • Early in the 4th quarter, Eli connected with TE Larry Donnell for the first down, but Donnell fumbled the ball away.

In my opinion, Dallas never really “stopped” the Giants passing game. But penalties and an inability to run the football prevented the Giants from doing even more damage than the 21 points they accrued.

DEFENSIVE OVERVIEWby Eric Kennedy

The expectations coming out of training camp were that the defense was the far more settled portion of the team, with no turnover on the entire defensive coaching staff, same system, and an infusion of talent into what was going to be one of the best secondaries in the league. The Giants defense dominated its offensive counterpart throughout camp and there was talk of this being a top five unit.

But the same old problems remain.

In five seasons under defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, the Giants defensive rankings in terms of yards allowed are as follows:

  • 2010: 7th
  • 2011: 27th
  • 2012: 31st
  • 2013: 8th
  • 2014: 25th

Defensive rankings, points per game:

  • 2010: 17th
  • 2011: 25th
  • 2012: 12th
  • 2013: 18th
  • 2014: 21st

There is a whole lot of mediocrity there. Even when the yardage totals were respectable (2010 and 2013), the points per game totals were not. And it’s the same shit each year: blown coverages, blitz packages that rarely if ever produce, an inability to get off the field on third down, and an inability to make key stops in critical situations.

When the parts change but the results don’t, that suggests coaching is an issue.

Perry Fewell, New York Giants (October 19, 2014)

Perry Fewell – Photo by Big d E

That said, Perry Fewell once again has a built-in excuse to save his butt. The Giants lost their top nickel corner (Walter Thurmond) and his replacement (Trumaine McBride). The team’s #1 free agent acquisition (Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie) can’t stay on the field and isn’t producing as expected. There was a major downgrade at free safety with the release of Will Hill. And Jon Beason has been more of a liability than asset with his foot issue. Personnel matters too. And simply put, the Giants are not good enough on defense. The defensive line is not getting to the quarterback. The linebackers are below average. And the secondary is beat up and underperforming.

Perry Fewell and his defensive team looks great when they face someone like Kirk Cousins or Josh Freeman, but the results are usually pretty bad when they face a quality NFL starter.

As for this particular game, the numbers – once again – tell the story. The Cowboys accrued 20 first downs and 423 yards of offense, including 156 yards on the ground. Dallas was 9-of-14 on third down (an unacceptable 64 percent). Dallas controlled the clock 33:49 (to Giants’ 26:11). The Cowboys were 3-for-3 (100 percent) in the red zone. QB Tony Romo only had 6 incompletions, and none in the second half of the game where he was a perfect 9-for-9. Dallas also had six plays over 20 yards totaling 162 yards.

Dallas scored on half of their possessions: four touchdowns and a field goal on 10 opportunities. Their first three touchdown drives went 76 yards in 11 plays, 80 yards in 10 plays, and 93 yards in 6 plays. When the Giants got to within 28-21 with 5:28 to play, the defense could not stop the Cowboys, allowing Dallas to to pick up three first downs and 49 yards, erasing 4:29 from the clock, and setting up the game-clinching field goal. On these five scoring drives, Dallas converted on 3rd-and-8, 3rd-and-5, 3rd-and-10, 3rd-and-6, 3rd-and-9, 3rd-and-6, 3rd-and-8, and 3rd-and-1.

Coming into this game, the Giants game-plan had to be to limit the damage of RB DeMarco Murray, WR Dez Bryant, and TE Jason Witten. Murray rushed for 128 yards and a touchdown (4.6 yards per carry). Bryant caught 9 passes for 151 yards (16.8 yards per catch). In other words, 279 of Dallas’ 423 yards were by these two players. The Giants were able to limit the damage of Witten (2 catches for 27 yards), but were burned by his backup (3 catches for 65 yards and two touchdowns). Romo completed 17-of-23 passes for 279 yards and three touchdowns. His QB rating was a gaudy 135.7.

DEFENSIVE LINE - by Eric Kennedy

Jason Pierre-Paul (60 snaps, 6 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 tackles for a loss, 3 quarterback hits) and Mathias Kiwanuka (55 snaps, 2 tackles) saw the bulk of the playing time at defensive end. Cullen Jenkins (1 quarterback hit) left the game with an injury after playing only 11 snaps at defensive tackle. Because of that, Johnathan Hankins (40 snaps, 3 tackles), Mike Patterson (32 snaps, 2 tackles), and Markus Kuhn (23 snaps, 1 tackle) saw the most action at defensive tackle.

DE/DT Robert Ayers (19 snaps, 1 tackle) and DE Damontre Moore (10 snaps, 0 tackles) saw more limited time.

The Giants gave up 102 rushing yards (6 by Romo) in the first half alone. That said, there were times when they did a nice job on the Cowboys running game. JPP and Hankins stood out at times against the run and both caused holding penalties that helped to stop two first-half drives. The left side of the defensive line – Mathias Kiwanuka and Cullen Jenkins – were two who had issues in run defense.

The bulk of Murray’s 73 first-half yards came in big chunks as he had runs of 17, 10, and 21 yards – accounting for 66 percent of his production. Other than those three runs, the Giants actually did a decent job on him. Unfortunately, those three runs do count.

On 2nd-and-9 on first TD drive, Murray picks up 17 yards as Beason (blocked by #72), Jenkins (blocked by #70), and Kiwanuka (blocked by #78) were effectively handled at the point of attack. Murray has a huge hole to run through.

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 2.07.27 PM

Beason, Jenkins, and Kiwanuka Effectively Blocked

On 1st-and-10 on second TD drive, the Giants are in good position to stop Murray, but Devon Kennard is stiff-armed and a 10-yard gain results.

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 2.15.25 PM

Kennard Can’t Make the Play

On 1st-and-10 on same drive, Murray picks up 21 yards as Dallas runs at Kiwanuka and Kennard.

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 2.18.37 PM

TE Blocks Kennard, RT Takes Out Kiwanuka

In the second half, most of Murray’s damage/impact again came on three runs:

  1. A 15-yard gain when Patterson, McClain, and Kuhn were blocked.
Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 4.29.49 PM

Patterson, McClain, and Kuhn Can’t Make the Play

  1. An 8-yard run on 3rd-and-1 when the Cowboys were trying to run out the clock.
  2. A 17-yard cutback run on the very next snap where either Kiwanuka and/or Kennard appeared to lose contain.

But the big problem wasn’t the run defense, there was no pass rush. JPP had two good pressures, one resulted in an incompletion on what could have been a 57-yard TD pass (that’s what pressure does). And he had a very nice sack against Pro Bowl LT Tyron Smith late in the first half. His early sack was more of a coverage sack/snafu by Romo than an actual good pass rush. Other than that, it was like Romo was playing 7-on-7 back there as he was rarely even disturbed. The few times Fewell blitzed, it didn’t get there, and there were times when the pass rush was minimized by dropping linemen into coverage (i.e., Jenkins was dropped into coverage on the 3rd-and-5 play that resulted in a 24-yard completion to TE Gavin Escobar).

Just one example where Romo had all day to throw was his 18-yard touchdown pass to WR Terrance Williams. The Giants had good coverage on the play, but Romo had all day to find a receiver who would eventually get open. On this play, the Giants initially rushed four, but Markus Kuhn got stymied at the line and then peeled off to cover the running back.

There was no pressure on Romo at all in second half as he completed all nine of his attempts (again, it was like a 7-on-7 drill).

What really bugs me is dropping defensive linemen into coverage. Maybe I’m looking at the wrong plays, but this never seems to work. Look where the Giants’ best pass rusher (#90) is on the 44-yard completion on 3rd-and-6 in the third quarter.

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 3.27.21 PM

#90 Caught in No-Man’s Land

LINEBACKERSby Eric Kennedy

Jon Beason was only able to last 17 snaps before being forced to leave the game with his never-ending toe issue. It’s time to shut him down, put him on IR, and let him have surgery. He wasn’t very good when he played (no tackles). He was effectively blocked at the point-of-attack (see 17-yard run above) and looked a step slow in coverage (Escobar’s 24-yard completion on 3rd-and-5). The team plays better with Jameel McClain inside.

Jacquian Williams (62 snaps, 7 tackles) saw the most action, followed by McClain (53 snaps, 5 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss), and Devon Kennard (22 snaps, 4 tackles). Williams gave up a 12-yard completion to Witten on 3rd-and-8 on the first TD drive, but the Giants did a good job of keeping Witten under wraps and Williams probably deserves a lot of credit there. I’d like to see more of Kennard, but he did get stiff-armed on the 10-yard run and blocked on the 21-yard on the second TD drive.

DEFENSIVE BACKS - by Eric Kennedy

The main four in this contest were Antrel Rolle (62 snaps, 3 tackles), Quintin Demps (61 snaps, 6 tackles), Prince Amukamara (59 snaps, 7 tackles 1 interception, 2 pass defenses), and Zack Bowman (45 snaps, 5 tackles, 1 pass defense).

Stevie Brown (0 tackles), Jayron Hosley (1 tackle), and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (1 tackle) chipped in with 15 snaps apiece. Chandler Fenner saw four snaps.

Tony Romo’s one interception came on a play where Dez Bryant fell down. The Giants only defended three passes as Tony Romo only threw six incompletions, and was a perfect 9-for-9 in the second half. It doesn’t get much worse than that.

Plays that stood out me included:

  • Jayron Hosley and DRC holding Bryant 1-yard short of the first down on 3rd-and-8.
  • Bowman’s excellent deep coverage on WR Terrance Williams.
  • Demps missing Romo on a safety blitz.
  • Either Hosley or Beason badly busting coverage on Escobar’s 15-yard TD reception on 3rd-and-10 (seems to happen far too often in Fewell’s defenses).
  • Amukamara having excellent coverage on Bryant on a perfectly-thrown 8-yard slant on 3rd-and-6. A few plays later, Amukamara got beat deep by Bryant, but he recovered in time to knock away Romo’s under thrown ball (one of few times Romo was pressured).
  • A typical Fewell zone special where Romo was provided with an easy pitch-and-catch opportunity to his security blanket (Witten) on 3rd-and-9 on the second TD drive.
Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 2.55.03 PM

You’ve Got to Cover Witten Better Than This

In the second half, it was worse, again with no incompletions for the Cowboys.

Chandler Fenner was completely lost when attempting to cover Bryant out of the slot on 3rd-and-6, resulting in a game-changing 44-yard completion. On this play, Fenner and Demps also missed the tackle after the completion.

Two plays later, Amukamara was beat by Bryant for an easy 17-yard completion.

On the next snap, all of the linebackers bit on the play-action fake and Bowman was beaten by Escobar for a 26-yard touchdown on a very well-thrown pass. Demps, for some reason, did not smash Escobar as he came down with the throw. This 6-play, 93-yard drive put the Cowboys up for good and all of the damage was done on these three plays.

Amukamara continued to have issues with Bryant on other second-half possessions. He gave up a completion of 23 yards in the 3rd quarter. In the 4th quarter, on 3rd-and-8, Bryant beat Amukamara’s jam for a 24-yard completion down to the 1-yard line. Late in the game with the Giants trailing 28-21 and desperately trying to get the ball back, Bryant beat Prince for gains of 10 and 13 yards.

Antrel Rolle was invisible. He’s not playing like he did last year. If he doesn’t turn it around, this may be his last season with the team.

SPECIAL TEAMS - by Eric Kennedy

Special teams were not an issue in this game.

Steve Weatherford punted five time, averaging 44.8 yards per punt (39.6 net). Dallas only returned two punts for six yards. All four of Josh Brown’s kickoffs resulted in touchbacks as Dallas never returned a kickoff.

Michael Cox returned three kickoffs for 87 yards (29 yards per return) with a long return of 40 yards. Odell Beckham returned two punts for 21 yards, with a long of 13 yards.

In terms of return yardage, the Giants out-gained the Cowboys 108 to 6.

(New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, October 19, 2014)
Oct 172014
 
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Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants (October 28, 2012)

Jason Pierre-Paul – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, October 19, 2014

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

FOUR DOWNS:

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

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

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

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

BREAKING DOWN DALLAS:

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

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

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

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

PLAYER TO WATCH:

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

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

FROM THE COACHES’ MOUTH:

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

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

FINAL WORD:

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

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

Oct 132014
 
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Markus Kuhn and Mathias Kiwanuka, New York Giants (October 12, 2014)

Markus Kuhn and Mathias Kiwanuka – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Philadelphia Eagles 27 – New York Giants 0

Long-time BBI readers know that in each season, the Giants play a game where we decide not to write the usual position-by-position breakdown because (1) it is too painful to re-watch the game, (2) no one really wants to read how much their favorite team sucked across the board, and (3) there is a need to take a step back and look at the big picture.

This is one of those reviews.

This game was not as close as the 27-0 score. The Eagles out-gained the Giants in total net yards (448 to 253), net yards rushing (203 to 85), net yards passing (245 to 168), and first downs (24 to 12). The Giants punted 10 times, turned the ball over on downs once, and fumble the ball away on another drive. Meanwhile, the Eagles scored on four of their first five offensive possessions and cruised the rest of the way.

But I think this game tells us more about the Giants than the Eagles.

What we do know is the Giants are only the third-best team in the NFC East. They are not as bad as the Washington Redskins, but they are not as good as the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles. They are likely to finish the 2014 standings in third place.

It’s difficult to not be emotional following the embarrassing performance against a hated division rival and potential career-altering injury to Victor Cruz. And it’s always imprudent to make definitive statements or dramatic conclusions after a great win or bad loss.

The problem with the loss to the Eagles is that we don’t know if the team was so uncompetitive because their talent is so much worse than the Eagles, they were badly out-coached, or they didn’t match the Eagles’ sense of urgency and passion. The next month will provide us with more definitive answers.

But there are some troubling trends that we should take note of:

  • In the last three seasons, uncompetitive, blowout losses are becoming an all-too-common occurrence with this team. One of the greatest coaches in team history has been left standing at the post-game podium, literally scratching his head without answers (at least publicly) after too many games.
  • This team has an inflated opinion of itself. Two NFL titles will do that. But it’s literally a .500 team over the last two and a half seasons (19-19), with a quite a few embarrassing losses and no playoff appearances. The players talk too much. John Mara admitted that he felt last year’s 7-9 team had as much talent as the Super Bowl teams. And he often comes across as cocky. So does Jerry Reese, who continues to undervalue certain positions, a tendency that has repeatedly come back to bite the team in the ass. There is an arrogance about this team that is no longer deserved.
  • While Roger Goodell and the NFL front office seems to determined to turn the pro game into the version of football we see in Starship Troopers, games are still determined not only by great quarterback play, but in the trenches. When the Giants play well up front, they win; when they don’t, they lose. The Giants are not good enough on the defensive and offensive lines. They are better than they were in 2013, but these areas are still too weak.
  • Special teams hemorrhaging has not abated. It’s been a problem almost every season under Tom Quinn.

All of this becomes moot if the Giants upset the 5-1 Dallas Cowboys next week and go on to win the bulk of their division games and win the NFC East. But I don’t think that is going to happen. Victor Cruz is gone. The once unbelievably deep secondary is rapidly becoming weaker with the departure of Will Hill, the regression of Stevie Brown, and injuries to Walter Thurmond (on IR), Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (who can’t seem to finish a game now), and Trumaine McBride. The schedule is getting tougher and the Giants are already two games back with 10 to play.

The focus by fans, the media, and the team at this point should be more strategic. The Giants need to building for the future rather than taking a short-term approach. To be brutally frank, this is not a Super Bowl caliber team. All attention and effort should be focused on the long-term objective of getting the New York Football Giants back to Super Bowl contention.

With that in mind, let’s consider the following:

  • Eli Manning has proved that he has a lot of good football left in him. He has also proven he not only can adapt to the West Coast system, but he may actually be better suited for it as this state of his career. If the Giants believe that Eli has another good 5-6 years left in him (and I think they do), they have time to construct a better team around him. In the meantime, keep the emphasis on the short-passing attack in order to preserve Eli’s body and state of mind. They may lose many more battles this season, but don’t lose the war (i.e., Eli).
  • The Giants have some weapons in Odell Beckham and Larry Donnell to build around, but not enough. Victor Cruz’s career may be over, or he may never be the same player again. Jerrel Jernigan was drafted to be a slot receiver, but of course, he’s nowhere to be found. Don’t be shocked to see the Giants be in position to find the best prospect at their pick in the first round of the 2015 NFL draft to be another wide receiver. The need is there.
  • Offensively, the rest of the season should be spent on getting Manning and the entire offense more accustomed to the new system. The loss of Cruz will hurt. Teams that were focusing special attention on Cruz will now focus more attention on Larry Donnell and Odell Beckham. The three-headed monster is gone. Those visions of Cruz, Beckham and Donnell tormenting secondaries evaporated before they could be fully implemented. Does Rueben Randle have an NFL future? What about Corey Washington?
  • The Giants need to continue to allocate serious resources to the offensive line. Much of the rest of the season should be spent on seriously evaluating Will Beatty (who was improving until Sunday) and Justin Pugh (who largely shut down JJ Watt but allowed the Eagles pass rushers to blow by him all night). Weston Richburg is likely the center of the future. But Geoff Schwartz wasn’t looking too good before he got hurt. The Giants really could use a stud road grader at guard. And they need better overall depth to shove guys like James Brewer, Charles Brown, and Dallas Reynolds off of the team. The Giants also need to seriously evaluate long-time offensive line coach Pat Flaherty.
  • Do the Giants consider Ben McAdoo a strong future head coaching candidate? If so, it may be time to part ways with Tom Coughlin. This is nothing against Coughlin, easily one of the three greatest head coaches in team history, and still one of the best in the business. But as John Mara, Jerry Reese, and Tom Coughlin have repeatedly pointed out this year after Kevin Gilbride, sometimes change and a shake-up is needed. Coughlin is 68 years old. How well does he relate to 25 year olds now? Has his message grown stale with a team that too often does not appear ready to play? Coughlin does not appear to be able to get his team to shut its mouth. Is a 68-year old the best candidate to oversee a rebuilding team? Perhaps most importantly, by keeping Coughlin, does the team lose out on the next up-and-coming hot coaching candidate? (But also keep in mind these “hot” coaching candidates are more often busts than not).
  • On the subject of coaches, it’s time for Tom Quinn to go. At best, his special teams have been average in good years. But usually, they are a team weakness. He’s been here eight seasons. Enough is enough.
  • I’m not a fan of Perry Fewell. I think he’s OK. The best his defense has ever performed was 2010 (notwithstanding the meltdowns against the Eagles and Packers) and for a 6-game stretch at the end of the 2011 season. But one never really comes away with the impression that, “Wow, we really out-coached the other team’s offensive coordinator.” Fewell seems to play it far too conservatively at times. This team has never been a good blitzing team under him. In years past, the defense has had trouble holding leads. This year, the defense seems to have trouble starting games. Is it more personnel than coaching? Personnel definitely has a significant role, but Fewell just doesn’t do it for me. I think the Giants can do better.
  • On the subject of defensive personnel, the Giants have some tough decisions to make. Antrel Rolle turns 32 in December is will demand a big contract. He may not be the right fit for a rebuilding club. But how will his departure impact DRC, who is signed through the 2018 season? A more difficult question is what do do with JPP? He will demand a mega-contract. He has played much better this year and is probably set for some breakout games. But he has had some injury issues and talks better than he plays. That said, replacing him would be very difficult and the Giants are already lacking in the pass rush department.
  • Also speaking defensive personnel, the team is going to continue to have issues until they get younger, faster, healthier, and more physical at linebacker. The game has changed. You need guys who can run and hit and stay on the field on all three downs. Jerry Reese continues to ignore that fact or attempt to patch up the linebacking corps with short-term free agent solutions and low-round draft picks.
  • In the secondary, hopefully the Giants can re-sign Prince Amukamara and Walter Thurmond to reasonable contracts. But the Giants need help at safety unless Cooper Taylor and Nat Berhe really surprise. The importance of safeties in this league continues to rise.

My final comment is this. I like to think of myself as a logical man, someone not influenced by notions of “luck” and “karma” and “destiny.” But when it comes to football, those concepts sometimes enter my mind. The Giants had two of the most unbelievable and unexpected playoff runs in sports history in 2007 and 2011. It all came together at the right moment for the Giants. In 2007, the “football gods” decided that Eli Manning would turn from a bumbling, stumbling quarterback into a stone-faced assassin. Corey Webster would go from a draft bust to a cornerstone on the post-season defense. Playing hurt, Plaxico Burress would play perhaps his best game on the frozen tundra in Green Bay. Kevin Boss more than adequately filled in for Jeremy Shockey. The Giants defense would hold the highest-scoring offense in NFL history to 14 points. Eli and David Tyree combined for the greatest play in NFL history. In 2011, the Giants made a Super Bowl run with a near-dead last running game and defense. JPP became a one-man wrecking crew. Victor Cruz came out of nowhere to put up monster numbers. Hakeem Nicks had one of the greatest post-season performances by a wide receiver in NFL history. Jake Ballard made clutch plays in close victories.

Then the “football gods” decided that was enough. One by one, those playoff heroes were picked off, often under strange circumstances – Burress, Boss, JPP, Nicks, Cruz, Ballard, among others. It was as if each had their moment in the sun to play during those critical Super Bowl runs, but then, once that moment had passed, those players (or their exceptional ability) were taken away long before they should have been.

I wouldn’t trade 2007 and 2011 for anything. But we appear to be paying the price now. The football gods have decided to give someone else a chance.

(New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles, October 12, 2014)
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Odell Beckham, Jr., New York Giants (May 31, 2014)

Odell Beckham, Jr. – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles, October 12, 2014

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

FOUR DOWNS:

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

Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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

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

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

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

BREAKING DOWN PHILADELPHIA:

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

Giants Run Defense – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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

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

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

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

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

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

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

Jason Pierre-Paul – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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

FROM THE COACHES’ MOUTH:

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

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

FINAL WORD:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Odell Beckham and Tom Coughlin – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 30 – Atlanta Falcons 20

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

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

REVISITING: FOUR DOWNS
During our game preview, we listed ‘Four Downs,’ which took a look at the top four questions surrounding the Giants heading into the game. Now that the game has been played and the film reviewed, it’s time to break it down.

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

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

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

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

OFFENSIVE OVERVIEW by Connor Hughes

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

QUARTERBACK by Connor Hughes

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

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

RUNNING BACKS by Connor Hughes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WIDE RECEIVERS - by Connor Hughes

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

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

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

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

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

TIGHT ENDS by Connor Hughes

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

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

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

OFFENSIVE LINE by Connor Hughes

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

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

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

DEFENSIVE OVERVIEW - by Eric Kennedy

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

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

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

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

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

DEFENSIVE LINE by Eric Kennedy

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

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

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

Antrel Rolle and Johnathan Hankins – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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

LINEBACKERS - by Eric Kennedy

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

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

Mark Herzlich played 27 snaps and finished with two tackles.

DEFENSIVE BACKS by Eric Kennedy

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

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

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

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

SPECIAL TEAMS by Eric Kennedy

Special teams continue to be an issue.

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

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

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

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

(Atlanta Falcons at New York Giants, October 5, 2014)
Oct 032014
 
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Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants (August 28, 2014)

Jason Pierre-Paul – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Atlanta Falcons at New York Giants, October 5, 2014

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

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

FOUR DOWNS:

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

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

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

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

Osi Umenyiora – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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

BREAKING DOWN ATLANTA:

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

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

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

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

PLAYER TO WATCH:

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

Odell Beckham and Zack Bowman – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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

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

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

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

FROM THE COACHES’ MOUTH:

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

Tom Coughlin – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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

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

FINAL WORD:

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

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

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

Sep 302014
 
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Prince Amukamara, New York Giants (September 25, 2014)

Prince Amukamara – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 45 – Washington Redskins 14

After lethargic and bumbling demonstrations during training camp, the preseason, and the first two regular-season games, the first-team offense of the New York Giants has caught fire. In the matter of five days, the once 0-2 G-Men have righted the ship and find themselves at .500 at the quarter-point of the season. Is it a mirage or the start of something bigger? The next three games before the bye week will be very telling.

As for this particular contest, the Giants humiliated the Redskins on national television on their own home field. Despite giving up some big plays, the defense forced six turnovers and created excellent field position for the offense. The Giants offense was a machine, scoring six touchdowns. All in all, it was an impressive performance across the board.

REVISITING: FOUR DOWNS
During our game preview, we listed ‘Four Downs,’ which took a look at the top four questions surrounding the Giants heading into the game. Now that the game has been played and the film reviewed, it’s time to break it down.

First Down
Who plays free safety?
Quintin Demps was the man who replaced Stevie Brown at free safety and the former Kansas City Chief played so-so. There were highlights, like his bat down of a Kirk Cousins screen pass when he came flying in on a blitz, along with an interception. However, there were also several plays the safety missed. He opened up his hips too much and allowed an easy slant completion to Niles Paul, then also took a bad angle on the Alfred Morris touchdown run. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great for Demps, either.

Second Down
Has the offensive line turned the corner?
For the second game in a row, the offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage. Eli Manning was barely touched and the Giants rushed for 154 yards.

Third Down
Does Andre Williams see an increased workload?
Andre Williams finished the game with the most carries (15) and yards (66). Peyton Hillis saw his first action this year at running back and chipped in with 31 yards on eight carries.

Fourth Down
Can the special teams be special?
There was nothing special about the Giants special teams, but it wasn’t terrible, either. There were no big returns let up by the Giants and few lanes on punt and kick returns. Return wise, there was a nice one by Preston Parker, but it was called back on a holding. Unlike in previous weeks, the special teams didn’t stand out for a glaring mistake, it just didn’t do anything to separate itself with a “great” play, either.

OFFENSIVE OVERVIEW by Eric Kennedy

It is always dangerous to make dramatic and sweeping statements after one or two performances. This is especially true after facing lesser teams with significant injury issues. But it is clear that this offensive system under Ben McAdoo is very different from the previous system under Tom Coughlin and Kevin Gilbride. It’s not just the emphasis on the West Coast-style short-passing game – which obviously makes the offensive line look better and reduces wear-and-tear on Eli Manning. It’s the pace of the offense. In my lifetime, the Giants have never been this quick to run plays. The no-huddle is the base offense. And when it works, it’s impressive. The defense is back on its heels. The offense is dictating, not the defense. Of course, if you don’t pick up first downs, the hurry-up, no-huddle can backfire. But in this particular game, against this particular opponent, Giants fans have rarely been treated to such offensive efficiency.

Daniel Fells and Adrien Robinson, New York Giants (September 25, 2014)

Daniel Fells and Adrien Robinson – © USA TODAY Sports Images

The Giants ran 78 offensive plays. They picked up 31 first downs. They were 11-of-16 (69 percent) on third-down conversions. They gained 449 yards of offense, with 154 yards rushing and 295 net yards passing. There were no fumbles and one fluke interception. The Giants were 6-of-8 (75 percent) in the red zone. They controlled the clock for over 37 minutes.

The downside to the West Coast offense is it is a dink-and-dunk type of scheme. It’s safer, but it relies on an offense to remain relatively mistake free in order to extend drives that often end up being 8-12 plays long. A sack or penalty or negative run can sabotage a drive. For example, on the Giants third possession of the game, a holding call basically stopped the drive in its tracks. But when the offense plays mistake-free, like the Giants largely did against the Redskins, the results are impressive. While there were six pass plays of 20 yards or more, the longest was only 36 yards.

It is also important to note that their is a symbiotic relationship between offense and defense. I’ve been bitching for weeks that the defense has to help the offense by getting the ball back, either by forcing three-and-outs or turnovers. Against the Redskins, when the offense stumbled with a turnover, the Giants got the ball back one play later. Most importantly, the offense started on a short field five times – at the Redskins 24, 21, 35, 22, and 46 yard lines. Four of those drives ended with touchdowns. You cannot divorce the 45-point explosion from that key fact.

My biggest worry now? Ben McAdoo is going to be one hot coaching commodity after this season.

QUARTERBACK by Eric Kennedy

It would appear the stories of Eli Manning’s demise were premature. The two-time Super Bowl MVP has his mojo back. To confirm, he will need to demonstrate some come-from-behind heroics and another playoff run, but let’s focus on this particular game for now.

Manning was near-perfect in the first half, going 20-for-24 (with three drops) for 209 yards and three touchdowns. His first-half QB rating was 142.5. When the Giants were in hurry-up, no-huddle in the first half, Eli was in as much of a “zone” as he has ever been in the NFL. He properly read the defense, scanned the field, made the correct decision, and delivered extremely accurate throws. And he spread the ball around to seven different targets in the first half, including 15 passes to the wide receivers, seven passes to the tight ends, and two passes to the backs.

Rueben Randle, New York Giants (September 25, 2014)

Perfect Pass from Manning to Randle

Manning seems to be regaining his trust in his blockers up front, and with that, he is starting to move around the pocket without worrying about contact. That is a departure from his skittishness from the preseason. My favorite pass of his on the night was the 27-yarder to Rueben Randle where dropped the ball perfectly over the corner and in front of the safety.

My biggest criticism of Manning in this game was while his short to medium throws were mostly spot on, he missed some deep opportunities, including what should have been an easy deep strike to Preston Parker for a 22-yard touchdown and possibly a 56-yarder to Victor Cruz. He also was very lucky on one late sideline throw where the defensive back dropped a sure interception.

By game’s end, Eli was 28-of-39 (with five drops) for 300 yards, four touchdowns, and one interception (on a throw that should have been a touchdown). He also rushed for a fifth touchdown.

RUNNING BACKS by Eric Kennedy

The Giants took control of the game in the first half, when they went up 24-7. Only one-third (13-of-38) of the offensive plays in the first half were runs, with the Giants gaining 3.7 yards per carry and the longest run being only 12 yards. Obviously, Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams were not the focus early on.

Daniel Fells and Adrien Robinson, New York Giants (September 25, 2014)

Peyton Hillis – © USA TODAY Sports Images

In the second half, with the big lead, the Giants began to pound the ball more as Jennings, Williams, Peyton Hillis, and Henry Hynoski finished with 24 more carries. Interestingly, Williams finished with two more carries than Jennings and had the team’s biggest run, 23 yards. Five days after he carried the ball 34 times against the Texans, Jennings carried it only 13 times, affording the Giants’ feature back somewhat of a break. Jennings’ most important run of the night might have been his 1-yard effort on 3rd-and-1 at the Redskins 7-yard line. Jennings picked up the first down basically on his own, allowing the Giants to go up 21-7. The normally sure-handed Jennings did drop a sure touchdown pass; the not sure-handed Williams dropped a pass as well.

WIDE RECEIVERS by Eric Kennedy

As Rueben Randle and Larry Donnell improve, and with Preston Parker being an improvement over Jerrel Jernigan as the third receiver, Victor Cruz seems to be getting his mojo back as well. He’s not quite there yet, as the dropped passes remain an issue (the Giants’ first drive stalled at mid-field when Cruz dropped a 3rd-and-5 pass for a first down and room to run). But Cruz is finally more involved in the offense and he looks slippery after the catch. He caught four passes for 83 yards in the first half, including a 36-yarder (the Giants longest offensive play of the game) on the second touchdown drive, and a 29-yarder with only one second left before halftime to set up the Giants’ lone field goal of the game. Late in the third quarter, he made a very nice play with a 20-yard catch-and-run over the middle down to the Redskins 2-yard line. By game’s end, he was targeted 10 times, with six catches for 108 yards. For those who have not noticed it yet, Cruz sometimes lines up in the backfield before going out on his pattern, an interesting wrinkle from Ben McAdoo.

Daniel Fells and Adrien Robinson, New York Giants (September 25, 2014)

Rueben Randle – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Like Cruz, Randle isn’t quite “there” yet, but he’s improving. He finished as the team’s leading receiver with eight catches on 10 targets for 89 yards. He would have had a bigger night had he been able to hold onto the ball after a hit by the safety in the end zone. It looked like a touchdown regardless, but the officials ruled it wasn’t and the ball was intercepted after coming loose from Randle’s hands. Randle had a 27-yard reception on New York’s third touchdown drive of the first half. He also made an outstanding, leaping 21-yard reception down the right sideline to the 2-yard line in the third quarter. Perhaps the most satisfying play was his 12-yarder on 3rd-and-7. It came on a back-shoulder throw, the type of play Randle hasn’t been on the same page with Eli in the past.

Quietly, Preston Parker is beginning to have an impact as the Giants’ third receiver. He only caught three passes for 29 yards, but one was a clutch 10-yard gain on 3rd-and-9 on New York’s third touchdown drive. Later in the half, he had a 12-yard gain on 3rd-and-4 and drew a 17-yard pass interference penalty on the Giants field goal drive. He also dropped a pass on this possession however. In the second half, he easily got behind the Washington defense on what should have been a 22-yard touchdown but Eli overthrew him.

TIGHT ENDS by Eric Kennedy

So the Giants may not have the worst group of tight ends in the NFL. In fact, the Giants tight ends have quickly become an instrumental part of their offense, something we were clued in on as early as the Organized Team Activity (OTA) practices. At the time, we thought, “Why the heck is Ben McAdoo featuring our tight ends when our tight ends are so dreadful?” Once again, a lesson for us fans to perhaps reserve judgement until the bullets actually start flying.

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

Larry Donnell – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Aside from the overall performance of the offense and the resurgence of Eli Manning, the story of this game has to be the emergence of Larry Donnell. Seven catches for 54 yards sounds fairly modest. But three first-half touchdowns certainly does not. As was pointed out repeatedly on the telecast, Donnell is rapidly becoming a match-up problem for defenses. Donnell got open against linebackers, safeties, and even corners in this game. He is not particularly fast, but he is an athlete with very good overall agility and body control. Combine that with his size and sure hands, and you have an emerging weapon very well suited to this type of offense. If Donnell stays healthy and humble, he could be in store for a huge season. Through four games, it’s clear that Donnell is quite comfortable making the tough, athletic catch despite opposing contact. His size allows him to out-muscle or out-reach defenders, and he is very natural catching the ball away from his large frame. The best news is that Manning is beginning to trust Donnell to make the correct adjustments during the play. On the first touchdown pass, Manning threw the ball away from the defender and Donnell expected Manning to do just that. They were both on the same page in reading how to react to the defender. That chemistry should only build with time.

We should not lose sight of the fact that Daniel Fells is starting to make some noise as the second tight end. Fells only has six catches in four games, but three of those have gone for touchdowns. For a guy who was out of football in 2013, Fells looks like a legitimate NFL contributor as a second tight end. Aside from his 2-yard touchdown, Fells caught an important 6-yard pass on 3rd-and-4 on the third touchdown drive.

The icing on the cake was Adrien Robinson’s first NFL catch. Yes, the 15-yarder came in garbage time, but hey, at this point, we’ll take it.

OFFENSIVE LINE by Eric Kennedy

The Giants offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage. Read that again. Savor it.

Please note that the improvement in Eli, the ground game, the passing game, third-down conversions, time of possession, and points all seem intimately connected to the performance of the offensive line. Duh? Well, it’s surprising how quickly many fans fail to appreciate that point.

To be fair, the Giants were facing a beat-up front seven and the short-passing game does significantly reduce the pressure on linemen to hold their blocks. In other words, the system often makes the line’s performance look better than it really is. That said, the Giants are protecting Manning – something they didn’t do last season – and they are creating running room for the backs – again something they didn’t do last season. Left tackle Will Beatty is regaining his 2012 form. Right tackle Justin Pugh is building on his solid rookie season. And of particular note, the trio of Weston Richburg, J.D. Walton, and John Jerry have been a huge upgrade over their 2013 counterparts. Eli isn’t getting pressure immediately in his face. What I like about this group is they are developing a touch of nastiness to their game. They seem to enjoy punishing defenders.

Though actual hits are often under-reported, according to the official game book, Eli was only hit once in the game. This came on the play where Jerry gave up some immediate pressure and OLB Ryan Kerrigan beat Pugh for the sack. Eli was hardly touched. And the Giants rushed for 154 yards. That’s a nice day at the office. The only other negative notes I had were a holding penalty on Jerry and inside pressure allowed by Walton and Jerry on the play were Manning was almost picked off.

DEFENSIVE OVERVIEW - by Connor Hughes

There is a telling stat that should be provided: Since taking over as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, teams are 3-12 the week after facing Chip Kelly’s team. Actually, make that 3-13 following Thursday night.

The Washington offense looked downright dysfunctional, most of that having to do with Kirk Cousins. The quarterback was throwing passes right at the Giants defensive backs and seemed completely unprepared for the game. During his first two games played this year, Kirk Cousins didn’t face much pressure. He was allowed to sit back in the pocket and wait for his guys to get open. The Giants made a concerted effort to make sure that was not the case, and Cousins didn’t respond. The quarterback was under constant pressure and made bad decisions as a result.

The numbers don’t lie, Washington finished with the following stats: 329 yards (243 passing, 86 rushing), 17 first downs and a whopping six turnovers. The six turnovers are nice, but a bit padded as well. Trumaine McBride, Antrel Rolle and Demps had balls thrown right at them. Mathias Kiwanuka’s sack-fumble and Prince Amukamara’s interception were the two that were truly “forced.” Either way, the Giants defense has gone from turnover-challenged to a turnover machine the last two weeks.

Not bad for a unit without Jon Beason and Devon Kennard.

DEFENSIVE LINE - by Connor Hughes

There’s been a lot of heat thrown Mathias Kiwanuka’s way, and some of it warranted. The veteran is no longer the player he used to be, but he’s still a very, very serviceable player. Kiwanuka set the tone early with a sack-strip-fumble of Kirk Cousins on Washington’s first drive. Kiwanuka did a great job of smacking the offensive lineman’s hands away to get around and apply the hit on Cousins. The scary part of the hit? Cousins had no idea it was coming.

The sacks aren’t there just yet for Jason Pierre-Paul, but the defensive end has been a complete and total force through the first four games of 2014. Pierre-Paul is back playing sideline-to-sideline, playing both the run and pass and seems like he’s a much more mature and intelligent player than he used to be. Pierre-Paul always had the physical attributes to be one of the league’s best, but couple in game smarts? It’s a dangerous, dangerous combination.

Pierre-Paul again made his presence felt and should have had a sack had he not been tackled by Trent Williams.

One of the reasons Cousins struggled as much as he did was the fact his timing clock was messed up from the start. The Giants put an emphasis on pressuring the quarterback as often as they could, and it worked. It didn’t matter who brought the pressure, the pocket was regularly collapsed.

While the defensive backs of the Giants got a lot of credit for the interceptions, much more of it has to go to the defensive line pressuring Cousins into the throws. Two specifically stand out. On Antrel Rolle’s interception, Robert Ayers Jr. blew up his lineman and forced Cousins to throw the ball early.

On Prince’s pick, there wasn’t pressure, but rather a forest Cousins had to throw around.

LINEBACKERS - by Connor Hughes

I understand, in essence, the decision to have Mark Herzlich in the game. Aside from the starters (McClain/Williams), Herzlich is the Giants best linebacker against the run. You put the Boston College product on the field in base formations where you expect the run, he should be able to keep it contained.

That mindset works…when opponents run the ball. When they don’t? It’s not pretty. Not pretty at all.  Three screen-grabs show the complete and total story:

The thing that is completely mind boggling is the fact those second and third photos just above were near identical plays that came on back-to-back series. I do not know how much longer Herzlich can be in the game, because he is a complete liability against the pass. When watching the film, Herzlich simply turns on both plays and runs towards the center of the field. I do not know why he’s running towards the center of the field because others were guarding the area (as you can see in the one, Rolle is there). Against good teams, those plays will cost the Giants. Beason may be back this week, which should signal the end of Herzlich as a starter. If something were to happen that opens up another spot before Devon Kennard returns from injury, I don’t know how Spencer Paysinger is kept off the field.

DEFENSIVE BACKS - by Connor Hughes

Prince Amukamara and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie earned their paychecks, holding Pierre Garćon and DeSean Jackson to just three receptions, but my eye, for the most part, was on Quintin Demps. Stevie Brown lost his spot to Demps for not making the instinctive plays that led to eight interceptions two years ago, would Demps really be a better fit?

The answer, as mentioned in ‘Four Downs,’ was both yes, and no. Things didn’t start great for Demps as he gave up a first down completion to Niles Paul on Washington’s first drive. On a slant, Demps opened his hips allowing Paul to create separation and gain the first down, but he responded well. Two plays especially stand out.

Washington attempted a receiver reverse and the receiver looked to have a lot of room to run, but Demps closed very quickly to negate anything big from happening. On another play, Demps came firing in from the edge on a blitz, leaped in the air and batted down the pass.

The one play that I wasn’t sure if it was Demps, or nickel cornerback Trumaine McBride, was the touchdown throw from Cousins to Andre Roberts. After watching it back, I believe this one has to fall on McBride. Washington came out and spread the defense, then proceeded to run four verticals. Four verticals normally line two wide receivers to the left or right with a tight end, then another receiver on the other side. All four players run streaks, or deep patterns.

In this particular situation, Washington lined up all on the far side of the field. Amukamara matched up on Jackson, McBride on Roberts and Demps, in his safety position, had the deep zone. It looked like Jameel McClain was a little slow on covering Paul, which meant Demps needed to pick up the tight end. For some reason, McBride stuttered at the seven yard line, allowing Roberts to get behind him.

Could Demps have pulled off and covered Roberts with help? Sure, but that would have meant leaving Paul wide open.

SPECIAL TEAMS - by Connor Hughes

As stated in ‘Four Downs,’ it was nothing special for the special teams, but nothing especially bad, either. Washington returned two kickoffs for 33 yards (16.5 average) with a long of 20. The Redskins did not return a punt.

Returning for the Giants, Preston Parker ran back two punts for 11 yards with a long of six. He had a 29-yard return nullified on an illegal block penalty on Nat Behre. Parker returned the Giants only kickoff of the day 34 yards. The biggest special teams screw up of the night was Parker not fielding one punt in the third quarter, allowing the ball to eventually travel 77 yards. Making matters worse was 10-yard penalty on Damontre Moore on the same play. These snafus completely altered the field position battle at the time. Josh Brown went 1-for-1 with a 29-yard field goal. Steve Weatherford punted five times, with three downed inside the 20-yard line. He averaged 45 yards per punt.

(New York Giants at Washington Redskins, September 25, 2014)
Sep 302014
 
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Todd Gurley, Georgia Bulldogs (September 27, 2014)

Todd Gurley – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 2015 NFL Draft: Quarter-Point Thoughts

By Colin Lindsay (Great Blue North Draft Report)

What have we learned so far… Truth is we may not have actually learned a whole lot through the New York Giants first four games of the year. We did learn that the weeks after wins are a whole lot more fun than the weeks after losses.  We also learned that if the Giants are plus multiple turnovers (Houston, Washington) they probably win, but if they are a net minus multiple turnovers (Detroit, Arizona) they most likely lose.  Now the test for the Giants will be can win their share of games where there is no real difference in the turnovers.

And it is going to be a test because there are no gimmies over the next 7-8 weeks on the Giants’ schedule. However, with a offense that appears to be getting into sync – although they’d probably still like to see a few more big plays – and a defense that has guys who can rush the passer and other guys that can cover – although they’ll likely be having to paper over weaknesses at both linebacker and safety – the Giants figure to be reasonably competitive the rest of the way, again assuming they don’t end up -2 or more too many weeks in turnovers. At the same time, they may have just a few too many deficiencies (see above), not to mention the SOS difficulty, to win more than 9-10 games.

As such we are kind of thinking the Giants currently look like a team that will end up with a mid-round pick at the 2015 NFL Draft – say somewhere between 14 and 18 – although that’s why they actually play the games. We also note the qualifiers that (a) team needs can change quite literally from week to week, and (b) that the ultimate quality of the upcoming draft is still to be determined based on a number of factors including how many underclassmen opt to turn pro this winter. However, the draft is a process and to paraphrase “we are where we are!”

For starters, it certainly appears that much of the doom and gloom about Eli, the TEs and the offensive line – not that some of it wasn’t warranted at the time – may have been somewhat overblown hysteria. Certainly, the emergence of Larry Donnell as a legitimate receiving threat – for the record, he’s on pace to catch over 100 passes this season – has arguably been the best storyline for the Giants so far this season. If nothing else, should the emergence of Donnell continue the rest of the season, it will almost certainly take TE off the board for the Giants early at the 2015 Draft, although it is still possible the team could address the position in later rounds this coming May.

There is something of a similar story along the offensive line. Indeed, heading into the season it appeared that the Giants #1 priority heading into the 2015 off-season would be to figure out to do at LT with incumbent starter Will Beatty continuing to struggle through the pre-season. However, after a somewhat rocky start in the season opener against Detroit, Beatty has been pitching shutouts. And breaking down the game tape suggests that there are indeed some things Beatty appears to be doing differently of late. For starters, Beatty appears to be getting off the snap much more crisply that he did last year and in the pre-season. In particular, Beatty had been tending to just stand up off the snap before moving toward his assignment, whereas this year he‘s coming off the snap much lower and more assertively toward the point of attack. Beatty also appears to be taking somewhat better angles in the pocket. In the past, for example, Beatty has tended to drift out toward the DE when the latter takes a wide route, which in effect shortened the distance the DE had to go to get around him; this year, though, Beatty has been staying tighter to the pocket and has been letting the DE come to him. It also appears that Beatty has simply been battling harder his year. Against Washington, for example, he had his knees buckled on 2-3 occasions, but he still managed to throw his body between the rusher and the QB and disrupt the rush.

At the same time, though, Beatty still displays some really labored footwork, especially when back-peddling. Indeed, Beatty’s feet look like a couple of pistons when he’s moving in reverse; in particular, there’s just way too much up and down movement in his footwork which tends to limit his lateral range. And because he lifts his feet so far off the ground when back-peddling, Beatty struggles to maintain his balance when he has to absorb contact from a defensive linemen when one of his feet is off the ground. Meanwhile, anyone who wants to see how its supposed to be done only needs to look down the line at RT Justin Pugh who has a smooth, easy slide step and really does kind of glide around the pocket without a whole lot of wasted motion.

What it all may mean is that OT may not be quite the priority at the 2015 draft that it appeared to be at the start of the season. While he’s far from the most polished guy at the position, Beatty likely won’t be going anywhere – at least in the short term – this off-season, and even if the Giants did decide that #65 wasn’t worth the cap figure, it appears that Pugh is likely the LT in waiting. That doesn’t mean the Giants won’t address the position at the 2015 draft, it just may mean that it may be more a RT/depth type player rather than a pure LT with a premium pick. And that may be a good thing because the 2015 OT draft class hasn’t developed as well had been expected. Its still likely that the top LT prospects like Ogbuehi, Scherff and Peat will be off the board by the middle of the opening round, but there is something of a drop-off to the next level. And that may have the Giants looking at RT prospects like Corey Robinson of South Carolina, Oklahoma‘s Tyrus Thompson or Ty Sambrailo of Colorado State in the 3rd or 4th rounds. (And for anyone actually checking out Robinson, #50 next to him is A.J. Cann, arguably the best OG prospect in this year’s draft, who’d bring a little of that old Chris Snee intensity to the unit were he still there in the second round, although that’s probably a longshot.)

In fact, assuming that the Giants pick somewhere toward the middle of this year’s opening round, its not clear that there will necessarily be a great match between their needs and the talent available. Of course, the one thing about the draft is that its hardly static and a whole bunch can and likely will change between now and May. Right now, though, it also looks like there won’t be any mid-first round locks at DE to fill the Giants other big need for a quality edge rusher to pair with Jason Pierre-Paul. Again the elite DE prospects like Leonard Williams and Randy Gregory look like they will be long gone by the time the Giants get on the clock, and while the second tier group has some talent including guys like Mario Edwards of Florida State, Florida’s Dante Fowler or Shilique Calhoun of Michigan State there are no locks at the position outside the top 2-3 guys and the team might be just as well served looking at one of several underrated emerging prospects at the position rising like BYU junior or Alvin Dupree of Kentucky.

Of course, its almost impossible to project what other general goals a team like the Giants might have entering an off-season that is still months away. However, it would not be a surprise at all here if the Giants head into 2015 looking to upgrade both the speed and athleticism in the back seven, especially at WLB and at safety, on defense, as well as continue to add impact players on offense. Unfortunately, for a team like the Giants, it does not look like 2015 is going to be a very good year at all at either safety or linebacker. Alabama’s Landen Collins is a potential top ten pick at safety, but he’s another player likely to be off the board when the Giants make their opening round pick and there is a real drop-off at the position after that, although a team could get lucky  in the 3rd round with someone like Derron Smith of Fresno State, Ole Miss’ Cody Prewitt, Kurt Drummond of Michigan State or Syracuse junior Durrell Eskridge. Meanwhile, there’s a better than even chance no LB will be chosen at all in this year’s opening round, although Washington WLB Shaq Thompson and Miami ILB Denzel Perryman look to be good value in the middle of the second round.

On the other hand, the 2015 Draft looks like it will be very deep at the offensive skill positions. Indeed, WR is quietly emerging as the deepest position in this year’s draft. And while the Giants did select Odell Beckham with their #1 pick this past May, they are hardly set at the position behind Beckham and Cruz. In fact, if there is a player who could be described as a perfect fit for the Giants’ offensive scheme it could very well be Stanford WR Ty Montgomery, a bigger (6-1, 215), faster version of what the Giants had hoped they’d get in Jerrel Jernigan. For the record, Montgomery has already scored receiving, rushing and return TDs this fall, after catching 61 passes in 2013 when he also was #2 in the country in KO returns with an average of over 30 yards per pop. Like last ear, though, the 2015 draft looks like it will be rich with receivers such that teams should be able to get players who can contribute right through the second day and into the 4th round.

Meanwhile, the $64K question for the Giants at the 2015 draft just might be whether they pull the trigger if Georgia RB Todd Gurley were still available when they make their opening round pick. For those that don’t follow college football, Gurley is being described as the best player in all of college football this fall with AP type ability (as a football player not a parent!). Its possible, however, that he slips out of the top 10 because of the position he plays. You’d have to figure, though, that while Rashad Jennings has been solid enough this year, new OC Ben McAdoo would just love to get his hands on a big back like Gurley who can break tackles in the open field and really put pressure on opposing defenses to really have to think about devoting extra resources to stopping the Giants running game, in the process hopefully opening things up even more for the passing attack. And while ending up with a stud like Gurley is probably still something of a longshot, we’d still expect the Giants to look to add another back with a premium pick next year from a draft that like the situation at WR. is exceptionally deep at the position.