Dec 262016
 
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Harold Landry, Boston College Eagles (November 26, 2016)

Harold Landry (#7) – © USA TODAY Sports Images

2017 NFL Draft Prospects: December 26, 2016 Bowl Games

by BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor Sy’56

MIAMI (OH)

#6 WR Rokeem Williams – 6’1/198

Fifth year senior. Nephew of former NFL WR Troy Brown. Big play guy, has averaged 20+ yards per catch over the past three seasons. Straight line athlete that will get a second look from teams if he can run a sub 4.45, which most expect. This will be my first look at him.

Other Notables:

#91 DE JT Jones – 6’3/246

MISSISSIPPI STATE

#8 WR Fred Ross – 6’2/205

Fourth year senior. One of the best WRs in school history. 1st Team All SEC in 2015, 2nd Team in 2016. Smooth route runner that gets in and out of cuts very well for a guy with his length. His hands are inconsistent, double catches a lot of balls and had a case of the drops throughout this season. He isn’t very physical, won’t do a ton to break tackles. Ross is a mid rounder that can likely contribute early on.

#58 OT Justin Senior – 6’5/305

Fourth year senior, three year starter primarily at RT. His future may be inside at the next level, just not a guy that looks good when he is sliding out to the edge. Senior has really good hands though, good technique and a powerful bunch. I think he gets drafted late. Higher upside at OG than OT.

#11 S Kivon Coleman – 6’3/205

Fourth year senior and two year starter. Coverage-savvy defensive back with good hips to turn and run against deep speed. Quick to diagnose, plays the game with his eyes and reacts quickly. Not the most physical guy but will stick his hat in the mix against downhill ball carriers. Late rounder based on being reliable on the back end and some nice tools to work with.

#88 DT Nick James – 6’4/325

Fifth year senior with some off field baggage that needs to be looked in to. Was arrested in August, but was never prosecuted. Lacks production but this is a guy that deserves another look from teams. He is a big body that moves very well. Does a lot of the dirty work inside and can be a handful for interior blockers. Big time weight room guy that has tools. Late rounder.

Other Notables:

#60 C Jamaal Clayborn – 6’4/320

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

MARYLAND

Other Notables:

#76 OT Michael Dunn – 6’5/300
#19 WR Teldrick Morgan – 6’0/190
#27 CB Alvin Hill – 6’0/200

BOSTON COLLEGE

*#7 DE Harold Landry – 6’3/250

Junior that hasn’t declared yet, if I had to guess I’d say he will be in this draft class. Landry has a legit shot at round 1 if he does. Probably best suited for the 3-4 OLB role, Landry is one of those short area burst guys that can beat anyone off the edge but also has a level of lower body balance and power that can be hard to find. He isn’t just fast in space, he is strong and quick in a phone booth. His pass rush moves have evolved and it showed, as he led the nation in sacks this year with 15. Every down defender that I could see going as high as the top 10 overall if he works out well.

#9 S John Johnson – S – 6’0/204

Fourth year senior, two year starter. A few initial looks at Johnson and you won’t see anything eye popping. But you really have to see him play more than a few times to appreciate all he can do for a defense. He has starts at S and CB in addition to seeing some time at LB. Very good special teams defender. Johnson is a fluid player that reacts well, reads the QB well, and will forecast correctly often. Smart and reliable guy to have on your back end. He’ll play at the Senior Bowl and could see him drafted on day 2.

#28 Matt Milano – 6’1/220

Two year starter that played a role that created production. His stats may inflate him a tad but he is still a solid three down defender that can do a few things for a defense. Fast to react, tough and hard nosed, Milano is a nice weak side fit for most teams. He can track the back side well and he’ll make the plays when he’s there. Maybe limited but still a guy that most teams will want towards the end of the draft.

Other Notables:

#36 FB Bobby Wolford – 6’2/248
#93 DE Kevin Kavalec – 6’2/260
#97 Truman Gutapfel – 6’3/288

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

NC STATE

#21 RB Matthew Dayes – 5’9/203

Fourth year senior. Has led the team in rushing each of the past two years. Very well balanced runner with a strong stout frame. Has more speed in the open field than you think, can run away from guys. Can also wiggle his way out of a tackle. Very good pass catcher, very good blocker. Dayes does everything well, but won’t stand out in any lone aspect. Most will say 5th-6th round, but I think he deserves a 3rd-4th round grade.

#66 C Joe Scelfo – 6’1/295

Fifth year senior, graduate transfer from South Alabama. Had a nice career there and proved he could perform at a high level in the ACC. Faced some big time competition this year and did well. Scelfo is very good on the move, excels as a run blocker in space and lateral mover. He isn’t very big or powerful, thus has a hard time with the bigger bull rushers when he is one on one. Maybe not a starter in the league but I think he can stick somewhere. Late rounder.

Other Notables:

#29 CB Jack Tocho – 6’0/200

VANDERBILT

#74 OT Will Holden – 6’7/314

Fifth year senior, three years of starting experience, two of which at left tackle. 2nd Team All SEC in 2016. Not a household name here but if you watch him 3 times, you realize he doesn’t get beat often in the SEC. He wins most of his one on one battles against both speed and power. Very smart, very sound technique. His athletic ability and power don’t stand out, but he consistently gets the job done. I’d be comfortable with him as a backup tackle with the potential of him evolving in to a starter. 4th or 5th rounder.

*#41 LB Zach Cunningham – 6’4/230

Fourth year junior that hasn’t declared yet, most are assuming he will enter the draft. Unanimous All American and 1st Team all SEC after leading the conference in tackles. I don’t see the star in him as I do with the other SEC linebackers in this class. He is very long and lean and doesn’t always have the body control I want to see when in traffic. What he does have is big time speed and versatility. He may be faster than some WRs in this class and he knows how to use it. Cunningham makes tackles all over the field and if he can find the right role, he can be an important piece to a good defense. In the same breath I could see him really struggling if he’s put in to the wrong role. Likely a day 2 guy.

Other Notables:

#4 CB Torren McGaster
#69 DT Adam Butler – 6’5/295

Dec 242016
 
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New York Giants Offense (December 22, 2016)

New York Giants Offense – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Philadelphia Eagles 24 – New York Giants 19

Overview

Three bad calls may have changed the outcome of this game. But the greater reality is that the New York Giants simply did not play well enough on offense, defense, and special teams to defeat the Philadelphia Eagles. The Giants did not match the Eagles early intensity and it cost them dearly as they found themselves in a quick 14-0 hole that ultimately proved too difficult to overcome. Interceptions, shoddy pass protection, dropped passes, missed tackles/sacks, and an anemic return game all contributed to the loss.

The good news? With Tampa Bay’s 31-24 loss to New Orleans, the 10-5 New York Giants are now officially in the playoffs. Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!

Giants on Offense

The statistics for this game are very telling. But ultimately it is the final number on the scoreboard that continues to be the major problem. The Giants are simply not scoring enough. They haven’t reached the 30-point plateau all season. In the last four games, the Giants have scored 14, 10, 17, and 19 points. They are struggling to score more than ONE touchdown per game.

The Giants ran 88 offensive plays, were 10-of-22 on 3rd down (45 percent), had a season-high 24 first downs, and held the ball for over 34 minutes. When a team surpasses the 70-play mark, they usually win. But the Giants turned the ball over three times, including one for a defensive score. And the Giants were a pathetic 1-of-5 (20 percent) in the red zone. While the Giants generated an impressive season-high 470 total net yards, 63 of their 88 offensive plays were pass plays despite the fact that the Giants averaged 4.6 yards per rush.

Five scoring drives sounds like a lot. But in 12 offensive possessions, the Giants scored only one touchdown. Four other forays into the red zone resulted in only 12 points. There were three interceptions, one turnover on downs, and three punts. The Giants had five plays of 20 yards or more, but none longer than 33 yards. Remarkably, the Giants were only penalized twice on offense despite running almost 90 offensive snaps.

Quarterback

I’ve talked in recent weeks about the Giants playing it safer with more of a 50/50 run-pass ratio, allowing Eli Manning to become more of “game manager.” For whatever reason – perhaps the quick 14-0 and later 21-6 deficits – the Giants got away from that formula on Thursday night. Manning threw the ball an astounding, team-record 63 times (completing 38) and had his highest yardage game (356) since he passed the 400-yard mark in Week 6 against the Baltimore Ravens. But the aggressiveness came with increased risk which cost the Giants dearly as Eli threw three very bad interceptions, including one inexplicable throw into double-coverage that was returned for a touchdown. After the game, Eagles defenders boasted they rattled and confused Manning, and it is hard to argue against those damning claims.

We can point to good and bad throws, but ultimately you simply are not going to win games when one side of the ledger (one touchdown pass) is “balanced” with three interceptions and one defensive score. Eli was bad Thursday night and he was perhaps the major reason the Giants lost the game. Ben McAdoo was pretty blunt about it: “We need some more accurate throws, some better decision making… (on the first interception, it) looked like (Eli) may have been blind and if you’re blind you can’t pull the trigger there. We’d like to see him eat the ball there… The second interception there, he under threw it a little bit, needed to get a little bit more air under it. We’ll have to sit down and talk about the decision but he under threw it.” If Manning does not start playing smarter and tougher with better execution, the Giants are not going anywhere.

Running Backs

One of the tragedies of the game was that the Giants had one of their more productive ground games of the season, and the numbers would have been much higher had the run-pass ratio not been so out of whack. Paul Perkins and Rashad Jennings carried the ball 24 times for 112 yards – an impressive 4.7 yards per carry. It looks like Perkins (15 carries for 68 yards) is starting to finally move ahead of Jennings (9 carries for 44 yards) even though Rashad was still on the field a bit more (41 snaps to Perkins’ 34 snaps). The Giants had a couple of longer runs with a 20-yarder by Perkins and a 19-yarder by Jennings. However, the passing plays to the backs were not productive. Jennings and Perkins caught 5-of-7 targets for a grand total of 16 yards. Bobby Rainey caught one pass for 13 yards on the last desperate drive, but he also dropped a pass.

Wide Receivers

Odell Beckham (11 catches for 150 yards), Victor Cruz (8 catches for 84 yards), and Sterling Shepard (7 catches for 61 yards) combined for 26 catches (season-high) for 295 yards. That’s the kind of productivity the Giants envisioned from these three before the season started. In fact, the catch totals were season-high numbers for both Beckham and Cruz (and Cruz’s first game with more than one catch since before the bye). But what should not be lost in those numbers are 18 other targets in the direction of those three that fell incomplete, some due to dropped passes by each receiver. Beckham claimed after the game that Manning’s deep shot into the end zone right before the final interception was a well-thrown pass, but he did not accelerate like he should have to get it. That said, the officials were letting Eagles defenders often mug the Giants receivers, including on a potentially decisive 4th-and-6 play to Shepard late in the game. The Giants threw the ball 63 times, but the Eagles were never flagged with defensive holding or pass interference. Ben McAdoo was a bit critical of the run blocking on the perimeter. Roger Lewis saw 22 snaps but only had one deep pass thrown his way.

Tight Ends

Manning and the Giants targeted Will Tye more this week. Eight times Manning threw in Tye’s direction, completing five for only 23 yards (4.6 yards per catch). But two of those throws ended in disaster, including the first interception that returned for a touchdown and the last interception where Tye did not do enough to fight for the ball. Jerell Adams caught one pass for nine yards. That said, this was the most Adams has played this year with 40 snaps as the Giants are beginning to employ more and more two-tight end formations. Adams had some issues blocking DE Brandon Graham.

Offensive Line

The numbers look good. The Giants averaged 4.6 yards per run as the line opened up some very good holes for Paul Perkins and Rashad Jennings. Eli Manning was not sacked. However, Manning was officially hit a far, far too high 10 times and was under duress more than that, including when the Eagles were only rushing three. The right side of the offensive line – RT Bobby Hart and RG John Jerry – probably had their worst game of the season. DE Brandon Graham gave Hart fits all night. Officially, Graham had four QB hits on Manning, but it seemed like more than that. Jerry had his hands full with Pro Bowl DT Fletcher Cox and was flagged with a killer false start penalty on 4th-and-1 right before the 4th-and-6 incomplete pass. Justin Pugh struggled in pass protection in the second half. He was also flagged with a 10-yard holding penalty. LT Ereck Flowers held up well for the most part but did allow a pressure on the last play where Eli was intercepted.

Giants on Defense

Many will argue that the defense did enough to win this game, as they only allowed 17 points, 15 first downs, and 286 total net yards (including only 168 net yards passing). The Eagles were 4-of-12 (33 percent) on 3rd down, 0-of-1 on 4th down, and 0-of-1 in the red zone. The Eagles did not pick up one first down on six offensive possessions. The defense was sabotaged by two very questionable personal foul penalties.

But… the Eagles had two touchdown long touchdown drives (78 and 75 yards) in the first half, including the Eagles first possession where the Giants defense looked like it was sleep-walking. (This is the fifth time this year the defense has surrendered a TD on the opening drive). Another drive in the second half gained 73 yards before the Giants held with a goal line stand. While the Eagles only reached the red zone once, their two longest plays of the night were touchdowns – a 40-yard pass and 25-yard run. The Giants defense did not accrue a sack and was credited with only three quarterback hits. There were far too many missed tackles and sack opportunities. And the Eagles rushed for 118 yards, including 27 frustrating yards by the quarterback Carson Wentz.

Defensive Line

A frustrating night for the defensive line. The Giants held feature back Ryan Mathews to 46 yards on 18 carries (2.6 yards per carry). But 17 of those 46 yards came on the first play of the Eagles first touchdown drive. The always-dangerous Darren Sproles carried the ball only seven times. Six of those runs only gained 15 yards. But his far-to-easy 25-yard touchdown put the Eagles on top early. The bigger frustration was line’s inability to bring quarterback Carson Wentz down. Wentz avoided negative plays by avoiding sacks and turning those potential killer losses into positive scrambles, completions, or throwing the ball away. Wentz scrambled for nine yards on the opening touchdown drive, eight yards (with an added 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty) on the second touchdown drive, and an 11-yard gain on the field goal drive. Giants defensive ends only combined for a total of six tackles, one tackle for a 6-yard loss (by Olivier Vernon), and two quarterback hits. The defensive tackles only accrued three tackles.

Vernon played the run extremely well. But one would have to say that both Eagles offensive tackles did a fine job with Vernon and Romeo Okwara in pass protection. The 15-yard roughing-the-passer penalty on an incomplete 3rd-and-14 pass on Vernon was highly questionable. Okwara (50 snaps) received the bulk of the playing time over Kerry Wynn (5 snaps) and Owa Odighizuwa (2 snaps). Wynn combined with Devon Kennard to stuff Mathews on 4th-and-goal. Inside, reserve Jay Bromley (16 snaps) saw more playing time than Robert Thomas (3 snaps).

Linebackers

Like the defensive line, a frustrating night for the linebackers as most of the damage on the ground amounted to two running plays for 42 yards (the other 23 carries by backs picked up 44 yards) and three Carson Wentz scrambles for 28 yards. Pass coverage on the tight ends was far better than it was in the first match-up when the Giants gave up 152 yards receiving to the tight ends alone. This time, Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, and Trey Burton caught six passes for 63 yards. Mathews and Sproles caught thee passes for 39 yards.

Jonathan Casillas (knee) and Keenan Robinson (shoulder) came into the game banged up and they played less than normal as Casillas was on the field for 34 snaps and Robinson 29 snaps. Kelvin Shepard actually played more than any linebacker with 44 snaps, followed by Devon Kennard with 35 snaps. Once again, big plays were lacking as the unit as a whole was credited with just 11 tackles and one pass defense. Casillas had a chance at a pick but couldn’t make the play. Kennard helped to stuff that play on the goal line.

Defensive Backs

Minus Janoris Jenkins, the secondary held up incredibly well aside from one major exception. Unbelievably, Eagles receivers only caught five passes for 66 yards. It would have been a virtually perfect coverage performance had it not been for the 40-yard touchdown by Nelson Agholor. Apple was closest to Agholor and may have been distracted by the very questionable 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty on the previous play. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie shut out his opponent all night and finished with an interception and two passes defensed. Trevin Wade was the primary nickel corner and may have played the best game of his Giants career, including a key tackle of Darren Sproles short of the sticks on 3rd down and an expertly-defended deep pass late in the game. Safety Landon Collins led the team with nine tackles and two tackles for losses. Andrew Adams badly missed Darren Sproles on his 25-yard touchdown run. He did tackle Mathews for a 2-yard loss late in the 3rd quarter. Coty Sensabaugh only played 11 snaps, but he did have a tackle for a 3-yard loss and a QB hit off a blitz.

Giants on Special Teams

The good news was that Robbie Gould was a perfect 4-of-4 on field goal attempts with efforts from 35, 35, 29, and 41 yards. Brett Jones was flagged with a false start before one of these successful attempts. Four of Gould’s kickoffs resulted in touchbacks. Two other kickoffs were only returned 19 yards apiece. Brad Wing punted three times, averaging 48.3 yards per punt with one kicked out of bounds at the 2-yard line. The always-dangerous Darren Sproles did not return a punt.

The bad news is the Giants could not get their own return game going. Dwayne Harris and Bobby Rainey returned four kickoffs for only 82 yards (20.5 yards per return). Harris returned three punts for -2 yards. Harris continues to make questionable decisions on his returns. He also fumbled a punt that was fortunately recovered by Trevin Wade.

(New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles, December 22, 2016)
Dec 212016
 
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Odell Beckham, New York Giants (November 6, 2016)

Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Game Preview: New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles, December 22, 2016

THE STORYLINE:
If the New York Giants beat the Philadelphia Eagles, the Giants will return to the playoffs for the first time in five years. If they lose, they can still get in this week if one of four other teams lose on this weekend.

The Eagles have lost five games in a row and are 5-9. But they are still playing hard and they always give the Giants trouble. It’s always a rough spot for the road team on Thursday night football, and the Giants are a bit banged up right now.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • OL Marshall Newhouse (shoulder) – probable
  • OL Will Beatty (lower leg) – probable
  • DE Jason Pierre-Paul (core muscle) – out
  • DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa (knee) – probable
  • LB Jonathan Casillas (knee) – questionable
  • LB Keenan Robinson (shoulder) – probable
  • CB Janoris Jenkins (back) – questionable
  • S Nat Berhe (concussion) – out
  • LS Zak DeOssie (hamstring) – probable

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
The Eagles are a very respectable 12th in defense (13th in points allowed). They are 17th against the run and 12th against the pass. Under defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, they are well coached. The challenge for the Giants is blocking the guys up front. Fletcher Cox (6.5 sacks) is a disruptive player at defensive tackle and Philadelphia’s two ends – Connor Barwin (4 sacks) and Brandon Graham (5.5 sacks) – usually give the Giants fits. Philadelphia has good depth on the defensive line and will rotate their players frequently. The Eagles have 31 sacks on the season. Second-year middle linebacker Jordan Hicks is coming on and he has three interceptions.

The last time these two teams met in early November, the Giants offensive line did a decent job in pass protection but the Giants were only able to generate 58 yards rushing, averaging a paltry 2.6 yards per carry. The Eagles held the Giants to 16 first downs. The Giants only had two drives longer than 31 yards. But the defense helped to provide New York with good field position and Eli Manning threw four touchdown passes.

So the key question here is do the Giants continue to force-feed the running backs this week, like they did against the Cowboys or Lions? Or does Ben McAdoo worry about the Giants’ previous ground-game ineptitude against the Eagles and come out with a greater focus on the passing game? My guess is that McAdoo has decided to get this ground game going come hell or high water. While the point production hasn’t been there, the Giants have reduced their mistakes and become a more physical offense with the greater run emphasis. That doesn’t mean New York won’t take its shots to the wideouts. Odell Beckham (2), Sterling Shepard (1), and Roger Lewis (1) combined for four touchdowns in November. If Eli has time, the Giants have to like their match-ups against this secondary.

To me, offensively, this game really comes down to how well the Giants offensive line and tight ends can block the Eagles up front. Philadelphia has owned New York in recent years because the Giants get their asses kicked on the line. Ideally, the offensive front will build on its decent game against the Lions. Both tackles – especially Ereck Flowers – need to do a reasonable job. Fletcher Cox and Bernie Logan will also challenge the interior trio.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The Eagles are currently 20th in offense (9th rushing, 24th passing). Their offensive line has been doing a very good job of run blocking, and Lane Johnson now returns to right tackle after a 10-game suspension. Running back Ryan Mathews has eight rushing touchdowns and is averaging 4.5 yards per carry. The mercurial Darren Sproles averages 4.7 yards per carry. The Eagles ran roughshod (169 yards) over what had been the NFL’s best run defense (Baltimore Ravens) last week. In the November match-up, the Eagles ran for about 100 yards and had two rushing touchdowns against the Giants.

The defensive focus is obvious: stop the run. Not only do the Giants have to be tough, stout, and physical up front, but they have to be disciplined as the Eagles will run the read-option (something New York did well against in November, but that was with Jason Pierre-Paul in the lineup). The Eagles will test Romeo Okwara, Kerry Wynn, and Owa Odighizuwa in run defense. They also know that Jonathan Casillas (knee) and Keenan Robinson (shoulder) are beat up.

Although the Giants defeated the Eagles in the first match-up, the defense did not have one of its better games. Two interceptions helped, but the defense gave up four plays of more than 30 yards and allowed five drives over 50 yards. Rookie quarterback Carson Wentz threw for 364 yards. And the Eagles tight ends killed the Giants, accruing 152 receiving yards. While the Giants did a good job on Sproles in coverage, the Eagles are likely to test the Giants undercoverage again with a heavy dose of passing to the tight ends and Sproles. Keep in mind that the Giants two best cover linebackers are playing hurt.

The Giants match-up fairly well with the Eagles wide receivers. But the health situation of Janoris Jenkins is a concern. If he can’t go, the Eagles will likely target Coty Sensabaugh and Trevin Wade. Wentz has been up-and-down this year with 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. His favorite targets are wide receiver Jordan Matthews, tight end Zach Ertz, and Sproles.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
The Eagles are tough on special teams. In the first game, Darren Sproles returned one punt for 66 yards (his longest of the year) and was a shoe-string tackle away from an 81-yard score on that play. The Giants obviously have to do a better job of keeping him in check. The Eagles led the NFL in kickoff return average. Jason Pierre-Paul – who will miss this game – did block an Eagles field goal attempt. It will be fascinating to see how much the Giants use Odell Beckham at punt returner moving forward.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Head Coach Ben McAdoo on Philadelphia’s defensive line: “They play very well up front. There will be some carryover from the scheme we saw last week with Detroit. They play a lot of the wide nine, but they’re loaded up front. One of the best front fours in the game.”

THE FINAL WORD:
Having two division rivals play on Thursday night this late in the season is absurd. Despite the fact that the Giants are the better team, this is a tough spot for them as they will be the road team on a very short week with no real practice. The Giants have more to play for and this is definitely a very winnable game, but don’t be shocked to see the Eagles pull off the upset.

Dec 192016
 
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Odell Beckham, New York Giants (December 18, 2016)

Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 17 – Detroit Lions 6

Overview

This was an impressive win against one of the NFL’s better teams. It was a matter-of-fact, business-like effort that was reminiscent of the Giants teams of the late 1980s and early 1990s. The offense was unspectacular but efficient. The defense was smothering and opportunistic. Special teams helped the defense by pinning the Lions offense deep in their territory. There weren’t a ton of highlights, but at the end of the day, the Giants tallied yet another victory – their eighth in nine games.

Giants on Offense

Statistically, the offensive performance was not much better than the dreadful performance against the Cowboys as New York only accrued 17 points (up from 10), 17 first downs (up from 12), and 300 total net yards (up from 260), averaging 4.8 yards per offensive play. But the offense was far more efficient, being 7-of-15 (47 percent) on 3rd down conversions and 2-for-2 (100 percent) in red zone opportunities. And the Giants did not turn the ball over. Offensively, the New York was flagged just twice.

The big change in the last two weeks has been the commitment to the run. Last week, the Giants literally ran the ball on half of their offensive snaps. This week, 32 of New York’s 62 offensive snaps were running plays – or slightly MORE than half. Against the Cowboys, the Giants averaged 3.1 yards per rush. This weekend, they averaged 3.6 yards per rush. These are not good figures. But the commitment to the ground game is keeping opposing defenses honest, balancing the time of possession, providing more respite for the defense, and most importantly, reducing mistakes and risk. The offense may not be winning games, but it hasn’t been losing them either.

That all said, let us not lose sight of the fact that the offense is not carrying its fair share of the workload. Seventeen points is not enough. Punting the football away seven times in a game is far too much. The offense needs to do better.

The Giants had four pass plays over 20 yards but none over 29 yards. Their longest run was 11 yards.

Quarterback

This was a bit of a rebound performance for Eli Manning, who had not reached the 200-yard passing mark in the previous three games. While Manning barely surpassed that mark against the Lions (201 gross yards), he was efficient (20-of-28 or 71 percent completion percentage). Manning threw two touchdowns and no interceptions and finished with a 115.3 QB rating. Quarterbacks hate the description, but Eli “managed” the game, very similarly to Phil Simms in the later years of his career. Manning averaged 10 yards per completion.

Running Backs

For better or worse, Ben McAdoo and staff have decided to run the football and grind it out. Detractors will point to the scoreboard – only 27 total points in two games. Advocates will point to fewer killer mistakes and improved time of possession. Giants backs ran the ball 31 times for 105 yards (Odell Beckham had a 9-yard end around), averaging 3.4 yards per carry. That average was dragged down by Rashad Jennings, who only gained 38 yards on 18 carries (2.1 yards per carry). The far more productive player was Paul Perkins, who carried the ball 11 times for 56 yards (5.1 yards per carry). Shane Vereen also chipped in with 11 yards on two carries (5.5 yards per carry). The ground game was an important factor in all three scoring drives.

The backs were only targeted five times in the passing game for a total of two completions for 9 yards. The best passing play was a 25-yard screen pass on 3rd-and-12 where Vereen fumbled at the end of the play, the ball being recovered in the end zone for a touchdown by Victor Cruz. However, an illegal-use-of-hands penalty wiped out the play. Vereen has had ball security issues in his limited playing time this year.

Wide Receivers

Same story as most of the other contests. Odell Beckham remained the primary option with six catches of eight targets for 64 yards and a touchdown. Sterling Shepard was a bit more productive this week with four catches (targeted five times) for 56 yards and a touchdown. Victor Cruz got his one catch – this one on a perfectly-thrown pass from Eli Manning for 29 yards. Cruz hasn’t caught more than one pass in a game since before the bye week. It’s no coincidence that the Giants best passing plays came on their scoring drives:

  • 29-yard pass to Cruz and then 6-yard TD to Shepard.
  • 22-yard pass to Beckham on FG drive.
  • 25-yard pass to Beckham on 3rd-and-10, 23-yard pass to Shepard, and 4-yard TD to Beckham.

Beckham did drop a deep pass right before halftime that might have resulted in additional points. Shepard also dropped a pass.

Tight Ends

The tight ends were move involved this week with seven catches in eight targets. Will Tye caught four passes for 25 yards and Jerell Adams chipped in with three catches for 18 yards. Both averaged only about six yards per catch however. Tye was flagged for holding, but the penalty was erased with an offsetting penalty by the Lions. The blocking was decent.

Offensive Line

Justin Pugh returned to left guard after missing five games with a knee injury. The Giants ran for 114 yards on 32 attempts (3.6 yards per carry). Eli Manning was only officially hit three times, but two of those were sacks. The first sack occurred on a strange play where RT Bobby Hart let the left defensive end go and Pugh attempted to block him from across the formation. The whole thing looked like a mess. The second sack came when RDE Ezekiel Ansah beat LT Ereck Flowers to the inside. Flowers also gave up the other hit on Manning. Bobby Hart’s illegal-use-of-hands penalty did wipe a touchdown on the Giants field goal drive. Overall, this was a reasonably good performance.

Giants on Defense

Despite missing two of their best players (Jason Pierre-Paul and Janoris Jenkins), for the second week in a row, the New York Giants defense did a number on the opponent:

  • 6 points
  • 16 first downs
  • 324 total net yards (but 48 of those came in garbage time)
  • 56 yards rushing (13 of which came on QB scrambles)
  • 5-of-14 on third down (36 percent)
  • 0-of-3 in red zone opportunities with two turnovers

Detroit’s 11 offensive drives resulted in:

  • 2 field goals
  • 2 turnovers
  • 6 punts
  • end of the game

Aside from the two turnovers, there were not a lot of dramatic plays. The Giants were credited with only one sack, four QB hits, four tackles for losses, and five pass defenses. But the run defense was excellent and the secondary only gave up one big passing play. Detroit’s two longest drives (74 yards and 58 yards) resulted in end zone turnovers. Those turnovers were the difference in the game. And the Lions had come into the game with only seven interceptions and three fumbles lost all year. Also keep in mind that the Lions are the NFL’s comeback kings this year, winning eight come-from-behind games in the 4th quarter. Not this time.

Defensive Line

The Giants controlled the line of scrimmage, limiting the Lions to 56 yards rushing on 19 carries (2.9 yards per rush). Ironically, Detroit’s best run of the game was their first play which picked up 12 yards. The Lions only attempted to run the ball seven times (not counting one scramble) in the second half as they recognized the futility of doing so. The pass rush was a bit better than the stats reveal. The Giants were only credited with one sack and four QB hits. However, Matthew Stafford was forced to escape the pocket a number of times. As expected, Oliver Vernon led the way with 5 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss, 0.5 sacks, 2 QB hits, and the fumble recovery in the end zone that prevented a touchdown. Damon Harrison (4 tackles) and Johnathan Hankins (5 tackles, 0.5 sacks) were rocks in the middle. Romeo Okwara (2 tackles) was not as noticeable this week. Kerry Wynn was flagged with a late roughing-the-passer penalty.

Linebackers

It was a pretty nondescript game for the linebacking corps as Jonathan Casillas, Devon Kennard, B.J. Goodson, Kelvin Sheppard, and Keenan Robinson were only credited with 10 total tackles. Casillas had one tackle for a loss and Kennard one quarterback hit. Coverage was decent as tight end Eric Ebron was limited to four catches for 36 yards. And not counting one late 33-yard garbage-time catch, the backs were held to five catches for 28 yards.

Defensive Backs

While not perfect, the Giants did a good job on a potentially-dangerous passing attack despite Janoris Jenkins missing the bulk of the game with a back injury. Three Lions receivers caught a total of 14 passes (in 22 targets) for 176 yards. But 67 of those yards came on one play, when Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (DRC) was beat deep by WR Golden Tate. However, give DRC credit for chasing down Tate at the 11-yard line and saving a touchdown as the Lions fumbled the ball away on the next snap. DRC finished the game with a team-high three pass defenses and a game-sealing interception in the end zone late in the 4th quarter.

Eli Apple played every snap and also saved a touchdown with his sole breakup in the end zone. DRC and Apple combined for 14 tackles, including two tackles for losses by Apple after short throws. Eli was flagged with a defensive holding penalty on a 3rd-and-9 incomplete pass that kept a field-goal drive alive. He also gave up a 21-yard completion on 3rd-and-7 to WR Marvin Jones despite very tight coverage. CB/S Leon Hall saved a touchdown with his forced fumble that was recovered in the end zone by the Giants. Coty Sensabaugh and Trevin Wade both received more playing time than normal (25 snaps each) with Jenkins out. Landon Collins had a team-high eight tackles. He was flagged with a 6-yard pass interference penalty on 3rd-and-3. Collins made a strong tackle on TE Eric Ebron after a 1-yard catch on 3rd-and-2 to force a punt late in the 3rd quarter.

Giants on Special Teams

The Detroit Lions have one of the strongest special teams units in the NFL and the Giants held serve in this department. The negative was the partially-blocked punt that traveled only 18 yards with Jonathan Casillas missing his man. Thankfully that did not lead to any points for Detroit. Brad Wing has been very busy this year. He punted the ball seven more times on Sunday, averaging 42.6 yards per punt (41 yards net) despite the block. For the second week in a row, two of his punts were downed inside the 5-yard line. That was huge.

Robbie Gould nailed his 47-yard field goal attempt. One of his four kickoffs resulted in a touchback, but another was ruled out-of-bounds at the start of the second half and contributed to Detroit’s second field goal drive because of the outstanding field position it provided.

Dangerous returner Andre Roberts was limited to 32 yards on two kickoff returns and 11 yards on four punt returns. That was huge as well. There was a big hit by Kerry Wynn on one kickoff return.

Dwayne Harris returned one kickoff 23 yards and two punts 19 yards. Odell Beckham returned two punts and had a spectacular 63-yard touchdown return called back due to a blatant and unnecessary illegal block by safety Eric Pinkins.

(Detroit Lions at New York Giants, December 18, 2016)
Dec 172016
 
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Elijah McGuire, UL Lafayette Ragin Cajuns (November 19, 2016)

Elijah McGuire – © USA TODAY Sports Images

2017 NFL Draft Prospects: December 17, 2016 Bowl Games

by BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor Sy’56

HOUSTON

#1 QB Greg Ward Jr – 5’11/190

Three year starter with 27 winds under his belt. Had a very solid dual-threat career, completing 67+% of his passes three straight seasons. He will make a move to WR or RB at the next level. Very shift and savvy ball carrier that can add some bulk to his frame and be a threat in the open field. He will likely get drafted in the final round.

#94 DE Cameron Malveuax – 6’6/270

Fifth year senior and two year starter. Dirty work-type guy with tools. Will be attractive to teams looking to develop a 3-4 DE, as he is a guy that will be able to add 20 pounds to his frame. Plays a physical, tough brand but won’t be the play-making type. Late rounder at best.

#26 CB Brandon Wilson– 5’11/200

Fifth year senior, three year starter. Actually has seen starts at CB and RB over the past two years in addition to be a dangerous kick returner. There is a chance some teams see him as a RB at the next level. He isn’t the most fluid ball skill guy and will struggle in downfield coverage. He has a physical style to him though, risky type that will take chances. I like him as a late rounder, you can do a few things with him. In the era of short rosters, he has game-day versatility.

Other Notables:

#51 LB Steven Taylor– 6’1/225
#81 LB Tyler Bowser– 6’2/340

SAN DIEGO STATE

#56 OG Nico Siragusa – 6’5/330

Fifth year senior and three year starter. 1st Team All Muntain West 2 straight years. Some call him the best OL in school history. Has played both guard spots but primarily on the left side. Road grader type that gets off the snap well and will win a lot of one on one battles. He can handle big guys in the NFL right away. Doesn’t have the foot quickness to be a factor in space against linebackers. Needs better balance and body control on the move. 3rd-5th rounder is where I would peg him now.

#19 RB Donnel Pumphrey – 5’8/180

Record setting all purpose back. His name was thrown in to the Heisman discussion about mid-way through the year. Doak Walker Award finalist. Currently the #2 career rusher in NCAA history, behind only Ron Dayne. Anyone that rushes for over 6,000 yards in 4 years needs to be looked at. He doesn’t carry a ton of weight, he won’t break tackles, and his presence as a tackler is minimal. However I think there is some Dexter McCluster in him and he could find a spot somewhere in the league as a rotational back and return man. 5th or 6th round,

#23 CB Damontae Kazee – 5’11/190

2015 Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year and many consider him the favorite to win it in 2016. 40+ career starts and 15 IN Ts over the past two seasons despite teams often trying to throw away from him. Kazee is very physical, very aggressive. He shows no hesitation in going after ball carrier and fullbacks alike. I didn’t get to see him challenged in coverage that much yet. He really does have shut-down potential because of his speed and playing strength. He is smart, experienced, quick reactions. He is a darkhorse for a guy that could creep up in to that 1st/2nd row area.

Other Notables:

#75 OT Miller, Kwayde – OT – 6’7/315
#71 OT Brunskill, Daniel – OT – 6’5/265
#54 OLB Munson, Calvin – 6’1/245
#58 DE Barrett, Alex – 6’3/258
#12 S Smith, Malik – 6’0/190

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

APPALACHIAN STATE

#75 C Parker Collins– 6’2/295

One of my favorite centers to watch this year. I don’t think he is the top guy in the class but he plays really hard and will make an impact in the league. I see an eventual starter here if he can add some bulk and strength. Three year starter with experience at OG and C, his future will likely be at C. He is one of the better ones in this class when it comes to blocking on the move at he second level. Real competitor here. Late rounder that will be very attractive to teams that move their centers laterally often.

#14 RB Marcus Cox– 5’10/205

Downhill slasher that will shoot upfield when the lanes are there. He has some explosion and violence to him that will get him to break tackles and gains yard after contact, something I always look for. Pretty good receiver out of the backfield. He didn’t do well in limited pass blocking opportunities from what I saw but I would need to see more before I put a negative label there. Late rounder.

Other Notables:

#6 LB Gilchrist, Kennan – 6’2/225
#3 S Gray, Alex – 6’3/225

TOLEDO

#3 RB Kareem Hunt – 6’0/225

Four year starter that has had a very long, productive career. He has gained nearly 5,000 career total yards, averaging over 6 yards per carry. Hunt isn’t very shifty or fast, but he has a good downhill approach with a low pad level and consistent ability to break tackle and fall forward. He has shown more versatility this year with soft hands out of the backfield and quality pass blocking. Reminds me of NYG RB Rashad Jennings coming out of Liberty. 5th-6th rounder.

#91 DT Treyvon Hester – 6’3/300

Fifth year senior, three year starter. Really quick and active interior guy that will get in on a lot of action. Moves well in traffic, shows a natural flow to the ball. He isn’t a very stout guy but he does play strong and powerful.. Violent player that could do well on an attacking, aggressive defense. 5th-6th rounder.

Other Notables:

#23 S Rogers, DeJuan – 6’0/190

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

UCF

#10 CB Shaquill Griffin – 6’1/200

I’ve only seen him once this year but he fits the mold of tall, long, fast corners that a lot of teams are searching for right now. He showed me that he can turn and run with legit speed as well as make plays on the ball. He is a physical, aggressive guy. I want to see more but he is someone that can shoot up the board in the coming months. 25 pass break ups over the past two years.

Other Notables:

#21 S Drico Johnson – 6’2/205
#24 CB DJ Killings – 6’0/185

ARKANSAS STATE

#93 DE Chris Odom – 6’3/255

Son of former NFL linebacker Cliff Odom, a 13 year veteran. Tools are there, teams will like the height/weight/speed combination and he put together a 12.5 sack season this year. Odom bends well off the snap and turns the edge, does a lot of little things right. Scouts and coaches alike are always intrigued by prospects with NFL in their blood. I think he will test well and some will see a high ceiling edge rusher here. Potentially a 4th or 5th rounder.

Other Notables:

#55 LB Xavier Woodson-Luster – 6’1/207
#94 DT Waylon Roberson – 6’1/342

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

SOUTHERN MISS

#9 QB Nick Mullens – 6’1/200

Accurate thrower that has started for four years. Didn’t have the 2016 some of us thought he would, could even say he took a step back. 90+% of his snaps came from the shotgun and he wasn’t forced to make multiple reads pre and post snap. Will need a lot of development. He protects the ball well and will fit the ball in to tight windows. Does a nice job of timing his throws and anticipating lanes. Just doesn’t have the measurables or arm power that some want to see.

Other Notables:

#70 C Cameron Tom, 6’2/287
#12 LB D’Nerius Antoine – 6’1/215

UL LAFAYETTE

#15 RB Elijah McGuire – 5’11/215

Top prospect in the game. Will leave school as their all time career yards leader by a long shot. Dual-threat type that averaged 35 catches per season since 2014. He’s put on about 25 pounds over the past three years and I think the best is yet to come with him. He truly is an every down threat and I would say his hands out of the backfield are among the best in the class. I haven’t seen him tested much as a blocker just yet, so that will factor in to his grade but when we are talking about what he can do with the ball, he excites me. Versatility and high ceiling type.

Other Notables:

#7 LB Otha Peters 6’2/228

Dec 162016
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (November 6, 2016)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Game Preview: Detroit Lions at New York Giants, December 18, 2016

THE STORYLINE:
At 9-4, the New York Giants are close to finally returning to the playoffs. But they are not there yet and they can still screw this up. This is a dangerous game for the Giants. Sunday’s contest against the Detroit Lions is sandwiched between two division games, with the following game against the arch-rival Philadelphia Eagles coming four days later on Thursday night. After the Giants biggest win of the season thus far, will New York suffer an emotional letdown against the first-place, 9-4 Detroit Lions?

Amazingly, eight of Detroit’s nine wins have been 4th-quarter comebacks. If the game is close, the Lions believe they will pull out the win.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • RB Shane Vereen (concussion) – questionable
  • OG Justin Pugh (knee) – probable
  • DE Jason Pierre-Paul (core muscle) – out
  • DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa (knee) – probable
  • DT Johnathan Hankins (shoulder) – probable
  • LB Keenan Robinson (shoulder) – questionable
  • LB Mark Herzlich (concussion) – probable
  • S Nat Berhe (concussion) – questionable
  • LS Zak DeOssie (hamstring) – probable

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
It’s bad and getting worse. The Giants are now down to 27th in offense in terms of yards and 25th in terms of scoring. Eli Manning hasn’t topped the 200-yard passing mark in the last three games. The last time he threw for more than 260 yards was on October 16th against the Ravens. Victor Cruz has caught FOUR passes since the bye week. The starting tight end – Will Tye – hasn’t caught more than two passes in a game the last four contests. The Giants are 30th in the NFL in rushing (both yards per game and rushing average).

Enter the Detroit Lions, who are middle-of-the-pack in yardage allowed (15th) but 10th overall in scoring defense (20.6). “Last seven ballgames, they’ve given up about 16 points and have caused 10 turnovers,” said Ben McAdoo. “It starts upfront. They’ll try and squeeze you. They play the wide-nine as they try and play with width and work hard up the field. Try and get to the quarterback first and play everything else along the way. Their secondary and the linebackers are doing a nice job playing to the front. They’re well-coordinated.”

In Detroit’s 4-3 defense, the players to watch up front are DE Ezekiel Ansah, ex-Raven DT Haloti Ngata, and DE Kerry Hyder. Ansah is the primary pass-rushing threat even though he has no sacks thus far this year (14.5 in 2015). Hyder is a player who has come out of nowhere to lead the Lions in sacks with eight. So both Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart will be under the spotlight once again. Ngata is on the downside of his career but he can still present problems. What will be interesting to see is how effective left guard Justin Pugh will be coming off of a knee injury that caused him to miss the last five games. Middle linebacker Tahir Whitehead leads the team in tackles (107) and Darius Slay is developing into one of the NFL’s better cornerbacks. Linebacker DeAndre Levy has missed most of the season due to injury but is getting healthy again. He’s strong in coverage. [LATE NOTE: Ansah (shoulder), Slay (hamstring), and Levy (knee) are “questionable” for the game.]

Weather may be an issue again on Sunday with rain in the forecast. Through 13 games, the Giants are averaging 3.4 yards per rush. The Lions have allowed 4.3 yards per rush. With Eli struggling and the defense peaking, I would not be shocked to see McAdoo make a big commitment to the run on Sunday. But in the end, the Giants will be what they have been – the Manning-to-Odell Beckham show. If that duo can click, the Giants will move the ball and score. If they struggle to connect, the offense will be dead in the water. It would be nice to say the Giants can diversify their passing game, but they have proven incapable of doing so. At some point, the coaches have to decide whether Victor Cruz – who is struggling to separate – is helping or hurting the offense. I’d be tempted to get a more vertical threat such as Roger Lewis more playing time.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The Giants defense is coming off its best game and the team is now 7th in scoring defense (18.8 points per game). But with the Giants offense struggling and a diverse passing offense coming to town, the Giants defense can’t afford to let the positive press go to their heads. Jason Pierre-Paul is still out.

Statistically, the Lions are just 21st in the NFL in yards per game and 17th in scoring (22.7 points per game). But quarterback Matthew Stafford is having a tremendous season with a 22-to-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio and completing 66.7 percent of his passes. Stafford has five targets with over 42 receptions, including WR Golden Tate (71 catches, 3 touchdowns), ageless slot WR Anquan Boldin (55 catches, 7 touchdowns), RB Theo Riddick (53 catches, 5 receiving touchdowns), WR Marvin Jones (46 catches, 4 touchdowns), and TE Eric Ebron (43 catches, 1 touchdown). There is no one target to concentrate on.

The Lions do not run the ball well. They are 29th in rushing (25th in yards-per-rush with 3.8 yards per carry). Detroit only has four rushing touchdowns and Riddick leads the team with just 357 rushing yards. Obviously, the Giants don’t want to allow the Lions to get their ground game going on Sunday (especially if the weather is bad), but the defensive focus will be more on the 13th-ranked passing game.

The Giants have to feel good about their cornerback match-ups on Tate, Boldin, and Jones. An interesting battle will be Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie vs. Boldin – these two played together with the Cardinals. Janoris Jenkins and Eli Apple will likely cover Tate and Jones most of the time. The issue will probably be covering Riddick and Ebron as receivers. (LATE UPDATE- Riddick is “doubtful” with a wrist injury and Ebron is “questionable” with a knee injury). Ebron is having a decent year and the Giants have a way of making opposing tight ends look like superstars. So pass coverage by Landon Collins, Jonathan Casillas, Keenan Robinson (who has a shoulder issue), and Devon Kennard will be key. My guess is we don’t see a lot of Kelvin Sheppard this week.

One variable to keep an eye on is that Stafford has a significant injury to the middle finger of his throwing hand. He played with it last Sunday and fully practiced this week, but it could be a factor, especially if the ball is wet. The Lions have only turned the football over 10 times this year (7 interceptions and 3 fumbles). Also, DE Olivier Vernon will be facing rookie left tackle Taylor Decker.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
The Detroit Lions are very good on special teams across the board. They are top-10 in both punt and kickoff coverage. The punter and kicker are having fine seasons. Andre Roberts has returned two punts for touchdowns this year and is averaging over 14 yards per punt return. He also returns kickoffs.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Head Coach Ben McAdoo on Detroit’s offensive weapons: “They’re all players that would probably be featured in other places. With the collection of guys they have, they have a pretty unique group and a guy that’s pretty special delivering the ball. Marvin Jones, we looked at him as a free agent. He’s a very talented player. He doesn’t just go long; he can really stick his foot in the ground and separate. (Anquan) Boldin is tough playing inside. He’s a completion waiting to happen. (Golden) Tate can do a lot of different things for you, short, deep, in the backfield, whatever the case may be. (Theo) Riddick is a guy that is a matchup challenge coming out of the backfield getting screens and burst routes. He can run away a little bit. (Eric) Ebron is a young, developing player. He’s a big target and can run down the middle of the field. Put the fear in two-deep coverage.”

THE FINAL WORD:
Historically-speaking, this is the type of game the Giants would lose… coming off of an emotional divisional win, now facing a non-division opponent with another division game on the horizon. It will be interesting to see if a Ben McAdoo-coached team suffers a letdown in this spot. The Lions are a well-coached team with a solid defense, diverse passing game, and very good special teams. This game will be close. And the new Cardiac Kids in Detroit believe they will win the close game. The difference maker in this contest could be returner Andre Roberts.

Dec 122016
 
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Romeo Okwara, New York Giants (December 11, 2016)

Romeo Okwara – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 10 – Dallas Cowboys 7

Overview

This was the New York Giants most important victory since the 2011 NFL season, ironically the last time the Giants swept the Dallas Cowboys. Despite winning six out of their last seven games heading into this contest, many were predicting doom and gloom for New York down the stretch after the team’s 24-14 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Dallas Cowboys were supposed to make mincemeat out of the Giants and celebrate their division title on New York’s home field. Making matters worse, all of the Giants Wild Card challengers won earlier in the day.

As good as this feels, the jubilation from the victory must be short lived. The nine wins have not guaranteed a playoff spot and the Giants have three difficult games coming up, including two division match-ups on the road. But being 9-4 overall and 3-1 in the NFC East is much, much better than being 8-5 overall and 2-2 in the division with three games to go.

The game was an old-fashioned, defensive slug match with both teams combining for only 25 first downs, 520 total net yards, and 17 points. There were six turnovers and the Giants and Cowboys were a combined 3-of-29 on third down. Not counting the final turnover on downs, neither team reached the red zone.

Fans will long remember this cold night game with a dusting of snow on the field. And the ghosts of the Giants defensive past must have watched with pride.

Giants on Offense

Despite the thrilling win, we should not lose sight of the fact that the New York Giants offense is playing like crap and getting worse. In a game of immense magnitude, this was a PATHETIC effort across the board on offense. The numbers speak for themselves:

  • 10 points
  • 12 first downs
  • 260 total net yards
  • 2-of-14 on third down
  • 3.1 yards per rush
  • 23 percent of the offense coming on one play

This is the fifth time this year the Giants have been held to under 300 yards of offense. And I will keep beating this dead horse until proven otherwise – the Giants offense is completely dependent on the big passing play. Other than Odell Beckham’s 61-yard score, no other play gained more than 19 yards.

The offense should be ashamed and embarrassed. If the Giants are going to make a serious run this year, the offensive players had better get their collective heads out of their asses. And pronto.

Quarterback

Eli Manning played like shit. And he’s getting worse. This is the third game in a row Manning has passed for under 200 yards. Yes, the offensive line stunk. Yes the running game was under-productive. But Manning has been encumbered with those issues in previous seasons, including the 2011 title run. In the first half, Manning was 10-of-16 for 80 with two lost fumbles (one where the ball simply slipped out of his hand on what should have been a 24-yard touchdown to Roger Lewis). He also threw one deep pass that should have been intercepted. In the second half, he was 7-of-12 for 113 yards. And 61 of those yards came on a slant pass for the team’s only touchdown. The other six passes accrued just 52 yards. Worse, on one of the Giants few scoring threats, he threw an interception at the Cowboys 15-yard line with 9:40 left to play when a field goal or touchdown would have been huge. And the Giants were VERY lucky the Cowboys dropped two more throws that could have been picked off, including one in Giants’ territory with 2:52 left to play.

Running Backs

You can’t say the coaches were not persistent. Not counting two kneel downs, the Giants ran the ball 31 times in 62 offensive plays. That’s the very definition of balance. The problem was that both Rashad Jennings and Paul Perkins each only gained 45 yards on 15 carries. Bobby Rainey had the other carry for 5 yards. In total, the Giants gained 95 hard-fought yards (3.1 yards per carry). Shane Vereen returned but only played three snaps before suffering a concussion. All four backs were targeted in the passing game, but their efforts only amounted to 26 yards on five catches (5.2 yards per catch). Perkins was flagged with another false start. He also fumbled on the team’s field goal drive and was fortunate to recover.

Wide Receivers

Tell me if you heard this before? It was Odell Beckham and not much else. Beckham was targeted nine times, only catching four of those passes for 94 yards and a touchdown. While his superlative 61-yard catch-and-run on the slant pass proved to be the game-winning score, Beckham also dropped two passes. The first should have been a 31-yard touchdown pass late in the 1st quarter.

Sterling Shepard caught three-of-four passes thrown his way for 39 yards. Shepard’s primary contribution was his 14-yard reception on 4th-and-3 that set up Robbie Gould’s 39-yard field goal. Victor Cruz was a non-factor with one catch in four targets for four yards and one drop. He could have helped out Manning on his interception by coming back for the ball. Roger Lewis was targeted once but he did not have a catch.

Tight Ends

Ever since he arrived on the scene in New Jersey, Ben McAdoo’s offense has favored the tight end over the fullback. And for six years, McAdoo was the tight ends coach in Green Bay. But you would be hard pressed to find a more unproductive group of tight ends in the League. Will Tye and Jerell Adams combined for four catches for 30 yards (7.5 yards per catch). These two do give a good effort when blocking.

Offensive Line

Not good. The Giants ran the ball on half of their offensive snaps and only averaged slightly more than three yards per carry. And while Eli Manning was officially hit only four times, he was under duress too much against a team not known for pressuring the passer. Bobby Hart’s holding call sabotaged the opening drive of the game. Manning was sacked three times in the first half. Right guard John Jerry failed to pick up the stunting end on the first sack. The second “sack” came when the ball slipped out of Eli’s hand just as a free blitzing linebacker was about to hit him. Left tackle Ereck Flowers appears to be regressing and was badly beaten for a sack-forced fumble turnover on the final sack of the first half. He also failed to spot a blitzing linebacker on the play where Manning was hit late and then allowed another hit on Manning on the same drive. To his credit, Flowers did regain his composure and played better in the second half. Left guard Marshall Newhouse was flagged with a holding penalty that wiped out a 21-yard run by Paul Perkins. And as pointed out by Cris Collinsworth, Newhouse missed his pulling block on the inside linebacker a couple of times on running plays.

Giants on Defense

THIS is New York Giants defense. The NFL’s 4th-ranked offense was held to:

  • 7 points
  • 13 first downs
  • 260 total net yards
  • 1-of-15 on third down

Dallas’ 15 offensive drives resulted in:

  • 1 touchdown
  • 1 missed field goal
  • 1 turnover on downs
  • 3 turnovers
  • 9 punts

Dallas’ longest gain of the night was their 31-yard touchdown pass. No other play gained more than 18 yards. There were three sacks, eight quarterback hits, five tackles for losses, two interceptions, nine pass defenses, two forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery. Dez Bryant was held to one catch for 10 yards and a fumble. Jason Witten only caught four passes for 26 yards. Wow! And beyond all of the stats, with the game in the balance throughout the 4th quarter, the defense didn’t break. Hell, it didn’t even bend. Ben McAdoo put the game in their hands and they won it. This was old fashioned Giants football!

Defensive Line

Perhaps the Giants best defensive performance in years was accomplished without DE Jason Pierre-Paul. The Giants were down to only three defensive ends as Owamagbe Odighizuwa (knee) was also inactive. In stepped undrafted rookie free agent Romeo Okwara, making his first NFL start in perhaps the most important game of the regular season. The result? Okwara, despite a bit of a rough start, finished the game with a team-leading 8 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss, 1 sack, a team-high 3 quarterback hits, and 1 pass defense. Are you kidding me? DE Olivier Vernon (5 tackles, 1 QB hit) didn’t put up the same numbers against top-flight left tackle Tyron Smith, but Vernon gave Smith issues as the game wore on and Dak Prescott felt his presence. Reserve Kerry Wynn chipped in with two tackles. Vernon was flagged for being offsides.

Inside, Damon Harrison (4 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss) and Johnathan Hankins (2 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss) helped hold down Ezekiel Elliott to a “quiet” 107 yards on 24 carries. And the line did a good job of making sure Prescott did not hurt the defense with his feet (only one carry for one yard). Hankins was flagged with a defensive holding penalty.

Linebackers

Based on the first-half numbers, it looked like Ezekiel Elliott was in store for a huge night. He carried the ball 15 times for 86 yards in the first half, averaging 5.7 yards per carry. But in the second half, Elliott was held to a paltry 21 yards on nine carries. More impressive was a pass defense that held Giant-killer TE Jason Witten to four catches for 26 yards, Elliott to no catches, and Lance Dunbar to just three catches for 12 yards.

Devon Kennard, New York Giants (December 11, 2016)

Devon Kennard – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Devon Kennard had a big night with 6 tackles, 2 tackles for losses, 1 sack, 1 pass defense, and 1 forced fumble. Keenan Robinson had 6 tackles and a pass defense. Jonathan Casillas was credited with 5 tackles and a sack. Kelvin Sheppard had three tackles.

Defensive Backs

In a game where many players stood out, Janoris Jenkins deserves special recognition. He held Dez Bryant to one catch for 10 yards, forcing a fumble after that catch that helped to seal the game. Bryant was targeted a Dallas team-high nine times and that lone catch came late in the 4th quarter. Jenkins picked off another pass intended for Bryant in the 2nd quarter. And his 4th-and-10 breakup of Prescott’s last pass effectively ended the game.

As a unit, Cowboys wide receivers were held to 10 catches for 127 yards. Terrance Williams was left all alone for an easy 31-yard touchdown in the 1st quarter. (Landon Collins accepted blame for the blown coverage and it looked like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had initial responsibility for Williams). Williams’ other four catches gained just 45 yards. Slot receiver Cole Beasley caught four passes for 41 yards. Both Eli Apple (2 tackles, 1 pass defense) and Rodgers-Cromartie (5 tackles, 2 pass defenses) had strong games. Leon Hall tracked down a poorly-thrown Prescott ball for a key interception and 29-yard return. Coty Sensabaugh (2 tackles) has quietly contributed to this team as has undrafted rookie free agent Andrew Adams (3 tackles). Landon Collins was credited with 6 tackles, 1 QB hit, and a fumble recovery late in the game. He was often singled up on Witten and he kept him largely quiet.

Giants on Special Teams

A major factor in this victory was the punting of Brad Wing, who punted nine times, averaging 43.2 yards per punt (42.9 yard net) on a cold night. Five of his punts landed inside the 20-yard line with two downed by Dwayne Harris at the 3-yard line. The Cowboys returned three punts for a total of three yards. One of Robbie Gould’s three kickoffs resulted in a touchback. Dallas only gained a total of 28 yards on their two kickoff returns.

The Giants kickoff return game was not much better as both of Bobby Rainey’s efforts gained only 20 yards each. Odell Beckham returned four punts for 22 yards, the longest being 12 yards. But he also muffed a punt that he fortunately recovered. Dwayne Harris returned one punt for four yards. B.J. Goodson was flagged with an illegal block on one punt return.

(Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants, December 11, 2016)
Dec 092016
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (September 11, 2016)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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

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

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

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

THE INJURY REPORT:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Pittsburgh Steelers 24 – New York Giants 14

Overview

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giants on Offense

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

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

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

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

Quarterback

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

Running Backs

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

Wide Receivers

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

Tight Ends

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

Offensive Line

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

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

Giants on Defense

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

To me, the lowlights were:

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

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

Defensive Line

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

Linebackers

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

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

Defensive Backs

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

Giants on Special Teams

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

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

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

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

Rashad Jennings – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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

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

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

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

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

THE INJURY REPORT:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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