Corey Washington – © USA TODAY Sports Images
New York Giants 27 – Indianapolis Colts 26
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.
There was a Victor Cruz sighting on a long pass down the sideline…then the receiver fumbled the ball. Getting the former Pro Bowler involved still seems to be an issue for the Giants although Manning did target Cruz a few times Saturday, missing him once open over the middle. Another throw in his direction ended with an interception that was called back due to penalty.
Damontre Moore versus the starters
In the Giants ‘NASCAR’ variation, the team has elected to go with Robert Ayers as the defensive tackle, not Damontre Moore. You can’t really fault the decision as Ayers had several pressures on the quarterback from the defensive tackle spot, but still, Moore has proven time and time again he needs the promotion. He’s a man among boys against the twos.
How does Ryan Nassib handle the demotion?
There was one of two ways Ryan Nassib could have handled the third-team reps he received leading up to the Giants match-up with the Colts. He took it the good way. The really, really good way. Nassib completed 11-of-15 passes for 158 yards including a game-winning touchdown. He now appears to be back with the second team again.
Is Will Beatty healed?
As expected, Will Beatty did not play long, but he started the game and held up pretty well. He made no glaring mistakes. “I felt good out there,” said Beatty after the game. “I felt like I had an average performance, but I don’t want to be average. I want to be extraordinary.”
OFFENSIVE OVERVIEW - by Eric Kennedy
Five offensive players did not play, including WR Odell Beckham Jr. (hamstring), WR Trindon Holliday (hamstring), RB Peyton Hillis (ankle/foot), TE Daniel Fells (knee), and TE Xavier Grimble (hamstring).
For three quarters, the first- and second-team units of the Giants were dreadful. The Giants had nine offensive possessions and all nine resulted in punts. The Giants did not pick up a single first down on seven of the nine offensive possessions that went three-and-out. These seven possessions netted 14 yards. On the other two possessions, the Giants gained 53 yards, but 15 of these yards were by penalty. In the first half, the Giants had 48 total net yards in 26 offensive plays (1.8 yards per play), had five first downs (three due to penalty), and were 2-of-12 throwing the football for seven net yards. Unbelievably, it could have been worse in that the Giants had two turnovers erased due to defensive penalties called against the Colts.
The Colts seemed to be playing at a higher level of intensity and urgency. In summary, the out-competed and out-executed the Giants. The Giants could not get their running game going until late. There seemed to be a more conscious effort to throw the football farther down the field in this contest, but the problem was the pass protection was shoddy and Eli was under duress on many throws.
“I think we have to work on a lot of things,” said Tom Coughlin. “Basically we have to work on everything… We didn’t run it, we certainly didn’t throw the ball with any consistency. We don’t have people who are definitely running open. Our protection does break down from time to time and we don’t react well under pressure when we do realize that there has to be a hot or sight adjustment involved in getting the ball out of the quarterback’s hand and trying to accomplish a positive play in the face of pressure.”
A mixture of second-, and third-, and fourth-teamers rallied the Giants in the 4th quarter with three straight long touchdown drives: 11 plays for 80 yards, 11 plays for 92 yards, and 9 plays for 86 yards. While the positives from these three possessions should not be ignored (and will be discussed below), the game’s results should not and cannot detract from the fact that the starting offensive unit still looks – to use John Mara’s word – “broken.” Is it talent? Is it scheme? Is new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo over his head? Is it the learning curve for the new offensive system? Is it a combination of all of these factors? Whatever the reasons, it’s not good. The Giants only have three weeks to dramatically turn this around or they are in store for a very bad season.
QUARTERBACKS - by Eric Kennedy
A week after finishing the game against the Steelers 0-for-2, in four possessions against the Colts, Eli Manning finished the game 1-of-7 for six yards. The initial, somewhat positive 6-of-7 performance in the Hall of Fame Game has faded. In three games, Eli has yet to complete a pass over 10 yards. The $100 million quarterback has ceased making plays.
Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images
To be fair to Eli, his pass protection against the Colts was not good. He was pressured and sometimes hit on every throw in his first two series. But what is alarming is that Eli seems to expect the poor pass protection and seems gun shy out there. He’s not stepping into throws when he knows (or expects) he is going to get hit. The better part of valor in a meaningless preseason game? Perhaps, but Eli played afraid last season and he’s playing afraid again this preseason. He’s rushing throws in instances where old Eli Manning would have casually side-stepped the rush. If that continues, the Giants have no chance. When Eli plays gun shy like he did in 2013, his passes are inaccurate and often carelessly thrown. Five of his seven throws that counted against the Colts were simply bad passes where the intended receiver had no shot to make the play (two passes to Cruz, one to Randle, one deep shot to Jernigan, and one to Donnell). Another pass intended for Cruz was a poor decision as Cruz was well covered and the throw was easily picked off (this interception was wiped out by a penalty away from the play).
Compare Eli with Andrew Luck. Luck had better pass protection, but Andrew also dumped the ball quickly off when pressured or calmly moved away from pressure and made the play. Even when under duress, Luck threw the ball accurately. Eli did not. And he is not extending drives like he used to by making great throws under pressure.
Of course the hope by all true-blue Giants fans is that Eli’s problems are simply the result of learning a drastically different offensive system with many new offensive components that have yet to gel. Many assert – and not without good reason – that offensive pass protection is not there yet, he and his targets are not comfortable with offensive packages that were all finally installed this past week, and the team has yet do demonstrate consistent productivity in the running game.
But if we are to be honest with ourselves, we must also consider the worst-case scenario: that at a young 33-years old, Eli may simply not be a good quarterback anymore. He did not play as well in 2012 as he did in 2011. In 2013, he had his worst season as a full-time starter, looking rattled and making dumb mistakes that bad quarterbacks often make. So far, 2014 looks like a continuation of his bad play in 2013. In past seasons, Eli has had poor running games and inconsistent pass protection (yes, despite the reputation of previous offensive lines). That didn’t matter. Eli overcame and made the players around him better. That did not happen in 2013 and it is not happening now. If you had no idea who the quarterback was on the field and just watched his play, you would say, “Man, that quarterback isn’t very good. He looks rattled.”
Eli Manning has lost his mojo and it remains questionable about whether he can get back. Sometimes quarterbacks get hit too many times and just lose it. That happened to Neil Lomax. It might be happening to Eli Manning. Eli is set to count $20 million against the salary cap in 2015. Once unthinkable options will have to be considered if Eli doesn’t became a franchise-level quarterback again.
Curtis Painter – © USA TODAY Sports Images
Curtis Painter had two drives in the first half and was 1-of-5 for seven yards before the break. The Giants went three-and-out on his first three possessions of the second half as he went 1-of-4 for three yards. His last drive – the one that began the NYG comeback at the beginning of the 4th quarter – was obviously his best. Though he was aided by a defensive penalty on a 3rd-down sack, Painter completed 4-of-6 passes for 54 yards and a touchdown.
Aside from Andrew Luck, the best quarterback on the field on Sunday was Ryan Nassib. Trailing by 12 points with 8:24 to play, Nassib led the Giants on two long touchdown drives, completing 11-of-15 passes for 158 yards and a touchdown. Nassib was in control of the offense, he didn’t panic despite some shoddy pass protection (especially on the last drive), and he made clutch throws when his team needed it most. If Eli continues to struggle in 2014, the selection of Nassib in the 2013 NFL Draft may have more meaning in 2015 and beyond.
RUNNING BACKS - by Eric Kennedy
Like the passing game, the running game struggled until the fourth quarter. Rashad Jennings (7 carries for 17 yards, 2.4 yards per carry) and Andre Williams (8 carries for 19 yards, 2.4 yards per carry) were kept in check. Kendall Gaskins (4 carries for 6 yards, 1.5 yards per carry and a “long” of 2 yards) was a complete non factor. The best of the bunch was Michael Cox, who carried the ball seven times for 32 yards (4.6 yards per carry) and scored a touchdown. Andre Williams did do better against the blitz this week, but both Gaskins and Cox were still a bit shaky.
WIDE RECEIVERS - by Eric Kennedy
Technically, Victor Cruz still does not have a catch this preseason. Officially, Cruz was targeted twice in this game and came away with no catches. But Cruz did catch a 51-yard pass from Manning in the 1st quarter. The problem was that Cruz fumbled the ball away to the Colts. A defensive holding penalty wiped out the play. But at least Cruz flashed. Rueben Randle – the Giants starting split end or X-receiver – has been nearly invisible for three straight games. That does not bode well for the Giants offense.
After a very strong finish to the 2013 season, Jerrel Jernigan seems to have reverted to his old unimpressive ways. Though Eli Manning has looked to him early in often in all three preseason games, Jernigan once again looks like a smallish receiver with limited ball skills who isn’t flashing after the catch. He had a chance on a deep ball, but the pass sailed through his hands.
The best receivers for the Giants on Saturday night were Marcus Harris (4 catches for 41 yards), Preston Parker (3 catches for 53 yards), and Corey Washington (3 catches for 20 yards and a touchdown). Two of Harris’ catches came in clutch situations (3rd-and-1 and 4th-and-2 on Nassib’s first touchdown drive). Washington caught his third game-winning touchdown pass in three games. He also drew a 15-yard pass interference penalty right before the score.
Travis Harvey had two catches for 36 yards; his 27-yard reception down to the 2-yard line was huge. Julian Talley had one catch for seven yards, but it was a big one on 3rd-and-7 on the first TD drive. Mario Manningham (one target, no catches) is playing himself off of the team.
TIGHT ENDS - by Eric Kennedy
If Adrien Robinson saves his career and becomes a legitimate NFL tight end, we’ll point back to this game as the catalyst. Robinson made two huge catches on New York’s game-winning drive, none bigger than his 26-yard grab on 4th-and-16. He immediately followed that up with a 33-yard catch down to the Colts’ 19-yard. The problem? Robinson did this against Colts’ scrubs. Kellen Davis made a heck of a leaping catch from Curtis Painter on his 3-yard touchdown reception. His blocking was so-so. He got pushed back on one outside run and the play was disrupted.
Larry Donnell was targeted once but the throw was off the mark. His blocking was up and down. He missed a block on a Jennings run from a stand-up position. He later couldn’t control the edge on another outside run from the down position. But there were other plays where he made nice blocks from the down position.
OFFENSIVE LINE - by Eric Kennedy
There were no egregious breakdowns in the running game – the line simply didn’t get that much of a push and the Colts did a nice job of filling gaps. The bigger problem was pass protection. LG Geoff Schwartz gave up a couple of early pass pressures that led to incomplete passes. He failed to pick up a stunt on one play and a blitz on another. Justin Pugh was cleanly beaten by a blitzing linebacker for a sack. On the play were Eli was picked off, Brandon Mosley was bull-rushed back into the pocket. Mosley later had issues on a stunt.
Among the starters the best news was that Will Beatty – in his first game action since breaking his leg – didn’t look bad. Interestingly, Weston Richburg also saw some time at right guard with the starters.
Late in the first half, before he left the game with a shoulder injury, Charles Brown gave up one pressure, as did James Brewer. Brewer was also flagged with a false start.
In the second half, the Giants ran a number of offensive line combinations, even changing up with the scrubs with the game on the line. Give Tom Coughlin credit for still evaluating talent in a meaningless preseason game when other coaches may have tried to stack the odds more in their favor.
The first line combination was James Brewer (LT), Weston Richburg (LG), Dallas Reynolds (OC), Brandon Mosley (RG), and Rogers Gaines (RT). Later Richburg and Reynolds flip-flopped with John Jerry also coming in for Mosley. Brewer got beat to the inside on one pressure and later a sack when he got shoved back into Nassib (the sack was wiped out due to a penalty). John Jerry is a frustrating player. He looks the part and at times does a very nice job in pass protection and with run blocks. But he falls off of too many of his run blocks. Weston Richburg and Rogers Gaines seemed to be the most consistent two of the reserves.
Later in the 4th quarter, Eric Herman played left guard. He was a bit shaky in pass protection. Jerry also gave up a pressure late in the game. The final OL combination – on the game winning drive – was practically a sieve. This had Mark Asper (LT) Eric Herman (LG), Weston Richburg (OC), John Sullen (RG), and Adam Gress (RT). Gress was a disaster. He was flagged twice (false start and personal foul) and gave up two pressures. Asper and Sullen were both beat on an 8-yard sack.
DEFENSIVE OVERVIEW - by Connor Hughes
DT Mike Patterson (shoulder), LB Jon Beason (foot), and CB Jayron Hosley (foot) did not play. Patterson entered training camp as the nominal starter, but Johnathan Hankins has played pretty well and Patterson may have now gone from starter to on the roster bubble due to his long absence.
When looking at the box score and scoreboard, it’s easy to get an impression about how the Giants defensive unit played. When re-watching the game, that perception completely changes. There are things you simply can’t defend and a lot of that was done by Indianapolis quarterback Andre Luck. The Giants defensive line put constant pressure on Luck, but Luck responded by moving around, extending plays and releasing the ball quickly to receivers.
Were those receivers running wide open in the Giants defense? Sometimes, a little, most times, no. Luck thread the needle, fit the ball into the smallest of holes and showed why he may be the face of the NFL in a few years.
Also, there was a lot of talk on Hakeem Nicks torching the Giants defense. I didn’t see it. Of his catches, two were made against Trumaine McBride and one against Jacquian Williams. I’d expect Nicks to beat both. On his long catch-and-run on a missed tackle from Walter Thurmond III, Thurmond went for a strip and as a result missed the tackle. Nicks looked better than he did last year, but it wasn’t really anything crazy.
DEFENSIVE LINE - by Connor Hughes
Jason Pierre-Paul has spent this offseason and training camp talking…and talking…and talking. So, with the former All-Pro getting some increased reps Saturday, I kept my eye on him every time he stepped foot on the field, specifically when he rushed the passer. The result? Variety isn’t really in Pierre-Paul’s tool box. On nine of his 10 rushes, Pierre-Paul went with a direct bull rush. A few times he got the Colts right tackle off balance, most of the times it was useless. There was one rush where Pierre-Paul gave a little shoulder-shimmy, but then made contact with a bull rush again.
I saw one play where the vintage Pierre-Paul came out. He had an unbelievable jump off the line on a running play and came into the backfield to make a near tackle on Trent Richardson, but was tackled to the ground by an offensive lineman. Can’t fault Pierre-Paul on that one.
It was one of our four downs and I still think it needs to happen extensively versus the Jets. The Giants know what they have in Mathias Kiwanuka, they don’t yet versus starters with Damontre Moore. Kiwanuka, who has had a very good camp and preseason, continued that versus the Colts, but Moore simply abused the second team offensive line. He made plays on the run, put constant pressure on the quarterback and was all over the field. He’s proven worthy of a promotion to see what he can do versus the starters. There’s a big, big difference between a team’s backup left tackle and their starter.
I really liked what I saw from Johnathan Hankins providing pressure up the middle on a few plays. Also, something interesting I don’t recall seeing last week, in the Giants ‘NASCAR’ package, Cullen Jenkins dropped into coverage.
Jay Bromley had a pretty good showing with the second team as he’s had a very nice camp and preseason, too. I saw a few times where he created pressure up the middle.
LINEBACKERS - by Connor Hughes
Be it coaches, teammates, fans or media, the hype surrounding Devon Kennard is nearly impossible to miss. Kennard made a very nice play on his sack where he displayed something you can’t coach: speed. As quarterback Chandler Harnish rolled out, Kennard read the play to make sure the ball wasn’t going to be thrown over his head. As it looked like Harnish may tuck it down an run, Kennard burst forward and got to the quarterback in no time at all. I rarely fall for ‘hype,’ but this kid just looks good.
Jacquian Williams – © USA TODAY Sports Images
There was one ‘rookie mistake’ I saw from Kennard. On a Trent Richardson run, the back gave a little move as if he was going to cut outside, Kennard committed that way and Richardson then took it up the middle. It should have been a one-to-two yard gain, instead Richardson picked up seven. The move froze Kennard.
I liked what I saw from Spencer Paysinger, too. There was an extra gear I didn’t know he had when he burst to the quarterback on one play; he made a couple nice plays against the run, too. The biggest issue with Paysinger is that I don’t think he can do anything to upseat Jacquian Williams. Williams continues to have a very nice preseason and led the team in tackles Saturday.
DEFENSIVE BACKS – by Connor Hughes
The more that I watch Walter Thurmond III play, the more I am fascinated by his game. He’s physical despite not being one of the ‘bigger’ guys and has brought that tenacity that made Seattle’s secondary so good. The first play I took notice of him was on Hakeem Nicks’ first catch. On a drag, Thurmond closed incredibly quick, wrapped Nicks up and then immediately went for the strip. While he still made the tackle, with help from Amukamara, the downside of going for the strip was shown later when he missed a tackle and allowed Nicks to pick up a first down.
The other play that really jumped out at me from Thurmond was on a run play. The corner came down in the box, just steps away from the defensive end and waited as the ball was snapped. Once he saw the handoff go to Richardson, he burst in and made the tackle for no gain.
There was also a little ‘bad’ with Thurmond on the two touchdowns he gave up. On the first, credit a perfectly-thrown ball by Luck. Thurmond had good coverage and help from Antrel Rolle was coming over. Just as Thurmond let up as Rolle closed, Luck threaded the needle for the score. On the second touchdown, Thurmond tried to press and was simply beat off the line.
Speaking of Rolle, it’s so nice to see someone play with the tackling fundamentals he does. It would be easy, and defensive backs do it regularly, to just throw a shoulder in there and go for the “big play.” Rolle doesn’t do that. He wraps up on every…single…play.
Hopefully Prince Amukamara, who left the game with a groin injury, isn’t seriously injured because he has been playing with a new-found physicality this year. He put a big hit on Nicks on his first reception.
If Cooper Taylor (sesamoid bone foot fracture) hadn’t gotten hurt, I’m not sure how much longer Quintin Demps could have held him off from getting reps with the first-team three-safety package. When Taylor was in the game, he was constantly around the ball. He showed speed closing gaps, was solid against the run and was really having a good game before the injury. Another player who continues to flash is Nat Berhe. I saw the rookie come flying in again to make the tackle and apply a ‘boom’ factor.
SPECIAL TEAMS – by Connor Hughes
The Giants spent a bit of money this season hoping to put a jolt into their return game. Quintin Demps and Trindon Holliday were signed in free agency and Odell Beckham Jr. was drafted in the first round. Well, two of those three haven’t played and as a result Preston Parker has stepped up.
Parker has looked pretty good as a punt returner and is beginning to show some life as a receiver. If he can add duo value, he’s got a good chance at making the team.
As much as super-legged Brandon McManus intrigues, I don’t see anyway he makes the Giants 53-man roster. It was Josh Brown’s spot to lose, and he’s done nothing to lose it.