Nov 042016
 
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Odell Beckham, New York Giants (January 3, 2016)

Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Game Preview: Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants, November 6, 2016

THE STORYLINE:
This is one of the most important games of the season for the Giants and Eagles. Both teams are 4-3. The Giants are 1-1 in the NFC East while the Eagles are 0-2 in the division. I’ve discussed it ad nauseam – the Giants have failed to make the playoffs in recent years, and Tom Coughlin was fired, because the Giants could not beat the teams in their division, especially the Eagles and Cowboys. The Eagles have beaten the Giants an absurd 13-of-16 times and four in a row. While one could argue that the Eagles were a better team in the last eight years, they were not that much better. The Eagles are in the Giants heads. And everyone knows it. Until the Giants grow a set and punch the Eagles in the mouth, this trend will continue.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • QB Ryan Nassib (elbow) – questionable
  • RB Bobby Rainey (calf) – questionable
  • WR Odell Beckham, Jr. (hip) – probable
  • RT Marshall Newhouse (calf) – questionable
  • DE Kerry Wynn (concussion) – out
  • S Darian Thompson (foot) – out
  • S Nat Berhe (concussion) – questionable
  • LS Zak DeOssie (ankle) – probable

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
The Giants have faced a series of good defenses – Vikings, Ravens, Packers, Rams – and will face another on Sunday. Under new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, the Eagles have impressively roared to 8th in the NFL in overall defense (20th against the run, 5th against the pass).

“Their defense is a hard charging unit, their front four leads them,” said Ben McAdoo. “They’re deep and talented along the defensive line. Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox and company are playing very well upfront for them. Athletically, their linebackers can run and they can hit. Their secondary had a lot of position flexibility. They have some guys that can play some different spots, with Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod and Jaylen Watkins.”

As McAdoo, points out, this is a very good defensive line with ends Connor Barwin (who has given the Giants fits) and Graham, plus a very strong interior duo of Cox and Bennie Logan. And the Eagles are deep on the defensive line and will rotate in fresh reinforcements frequently. The Eagles are second in the league in sacks (22). On paper, this looks like a bad match-up for the Giants given how New York’s offensive front has been playing. If the Giants offensive line can rise to the occasion, the Giants can do damage running the ball and attacking a secondary – that while ranked 5th – has given up some big plays.

To me, other than the offensive line, the big key to success for the Giants in this game is the Eli Manning to Odell Beckham connection. When the Giants last had the Eagles number, Plaxico Burress was the Eagle-killer. Odell Beckham has to become the new Eagle-killer. Eli and Odell have to click and connect for the Giants to win this game. Eli is going to have to play with more toughness and courage in the pocket and elevate his overall game. This is why he is being paid the big bucks. He has to out-play his rookie counterpart.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The Eagles are 28th in overall offense (16th rushing, 29th passing) but 10th in scoring. Given the fact that the Giants are likely going to have issues on offense against Philadelphia’s defense, the Giants likewise need their defense to bring it on Sunday. Carson Wentz (66 percent completion rate) is having a remarkable first season, but he is still a rookie playing in his eighth NFL game. The Eagles offensive line isn’t what it once was and comes into this game banged up. The Eagles receiving corps – while respectable – doesn’t scare people.

“Offensively, they’re a West Coast ball control outfit,” said McAdoo. “That’s their foundation. They use personnel groups and creativity to try and create confusion for the defense. Carson Wentz is a big, strong, athletic quarterback who has acclimated well to the pro game. They’re deep in experience along the offensive line. Ryan Mathews is their feature ball carrier and he can carry the mail. They have a trio of play makers in the pass game, how they like to deal the ball, with Darren Sproles, Zach Ertz and Jordan Mathews; they feature those three guys inside.”

The good news for the Giants is that they finally have the added athleticism at linebacker to deal with a back like Sproles and a tight end like Ertz. The bad news is Darian Thompson is out (possibly for the season) and the Giants will have to play with the injury-prone Nat Berhe or Andrew Adams at free safety. But overall, I like the match-ups for the Giants in this game. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Janoris Jenkins, and Eli Apple should be able to shut down the wide receivers, allowing the linebackers and Landon Collins to focus on the backs/tight ends. Wentz has not been taking many deep shots down the field, and I expect the Giants pass rush to also force him to dump the ball off short for much of this contest.

The Eagles try not to tax Wentz. Giants should be able to stop the run. Matthews is the starter, but Sproles is the bigger threat as a runner and receiver. Wentz’s go-to guys are Matthews (36 catches), Sproles (22 catches), and Nelson Agholor (21 catches). If the Giants can keep Sproles and Ertz in check, the Eagles should struggle to move the football and Wentz will be in trouble. Keenan Robinson and Jonathan Casillas will be under the spotlight in coverage.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Over the past few seasons, the Eagles have fielded one of the NFL’s best special teams units. And unfortunately, their special teams prowess has been a major factor in a number of Giants defeats. Wendell Smallwood (kickoffs) and Darren Sproles (punts) are very dangerous returners. The Eagles are very good in covering returns.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Offensive Coordinator Mike Sullivan on the Eagles defense: “They’re able to apply quite a bit of pressure just with their front four and that makes it a challenge.”

Head Coach Ben McAdoo on the Giants offense: “Some say that the points are in the passing game. I believe the points are in balanced football. I believe in running the football and having things come off of the run game. That makes for a good red zone, green zone offense. We need to keep running the ball and to be balanced. We need to be aggressive with what we’re doing in the passing game. The most important thing about it is we need to get down there (the red zone) more. We’re not down there enough.”

THE FINAL WORD:
This should be a defensive struggle with the outcome possibly being decided by turnovers and special teams plays. The latter favors the Eagles. But if the Giants offensive line can give Eli some time, I like Odell Beckham to have a big game in this spot.

Oct 252016
 
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Landon Collins and Janoris Jenkins, New York Giants (October 23, 2016)

Landon Collins and Janoris Jenkins – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 17 – Los Angeles Rams 10

Overview

This was a dangerous game for the New York Giants given the distraction and fatigue of traveling to London combined with the media frenzy surrounding Josh Brown. Stating the obvious, this was not a “fun” week for the entire franchise.

The good news is the Giants won a game that they desperately needed to win. By improving their record to 4-3, New York remains very much in the hunt for a playoff spot. And the team now has two weeks to get healthy and concentrate on fixing those areas where it is struggling. The defense is finally starting to create turnovers and accrue sacks.

The bad news is the offense seems stuck in neutral and if this isn’t rectified quickly, the Giants will be sitting home again come playoff time.

Giants on Offense

Simply pathetic. New York was held to 13 first downs, 232 total net yards, 196 net yards passing, and 36 net yards rushing. The Giants were only 4-of-13 (31 percent) on 3rd down conversion attempts and only held the ball for just under 25 minutes. In 11 offensive possessions, the Giants longest drive was 71 yards (which resulted in a short field goal). The next longest drive was 37 yards. Ouch.

I’ll sound like a broken record but the same problems remain. The Giants can’t run the football. Teams are focusing on taking Odell Beckham out of the game and when Eli Manning and Odell Beckham can’t click on the big play, this offense becomes one of the worst in the NFL as the Giants can’t otherwise sustain drives. The longest offensive play for the Giants on Sunday was 25 yards.

The Giants have only scored more than 20 points twice this year. In this game, the defense scored once and set up the offense’s only touchdown drive at the opponent’s 35-yard line.

The Giants only ran 57 offensive plays: 37 passes, 18 runs, and 2 kneel-downs by Eli Manning. They were hampered by terrible starting field position (backed up to the goal line) three times in the second half. The Giants were not penalized once on offense.

Quarterback

The Giants literally passed twice as much as they ran the ball. Eli Manning was 24-of-37 for 196 yards, 0 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions. For the second week in a row, he spread the ball around, connecting with 10 different targets. But the average gain per pass play was only 5.3 yards. Manning is receiving absolutely no help from his running game. But he certainly is not playing at a very high level. He needs to get his ass in gear.

Running Backs

Once again, the running game was a non factor. Giants backs carried the ball 18 times for 38 yards (2.1 yards per carry). The “leading” rusher was Rashad Jennings with 13 carries for 25 yards (1.9 yards per carry). His longest run was five yards! Paul Perkins had four carries for 12 yards with the team’s longest run of 10 yards. Most of the runs come out of the shot-gun formation and it is not working very well. It’s interesting to note that Perkins’ playing time increased this week.

Jennings caught 2-of-3 passes thrown in his direction. One went for no yards while the other picked up an impressive 24 yards. Perkins caught one pass for four yards while Bobby Rainey caught one pass for -2 yards.

Wide Receivers

I’ve contended for this offense to click, the top targets have to be the receivers. On Sunday, Eli’s top targets were Victor Cruz (5-of-8 for 55 yards), Odell Beckham (5-of-9 for 49 yards), and Sterling Shepard (5-of-7 for 32 yards). The problem was that these three receivers only averaged nine yards per catch. It is no coincidence that Cruz’s longest reception (25 yards) and Beckham’s longest reception (22 yards) led to the only offensive points of the day. Beckham’s 22-yard reception on 3rd-and-3 on the game-winning drive despite heavy contact against double-team coverage was the offensive play of the game. Cruz dropped a pass in the 1st quarter that killed a drive. The blocking by Cruz and Shepard on the flare to Beckham out of the backfield that lost six yards was pathetic. Beckham could have made a better effort on a 3rd-and-1 sideline pass that fell incomplete in the 3rd quarter.

Tight Ends

Stating the obvious, the Giants are not getting any help from their tight ends. Just like the previous game against the Ravens, the offense put the team in a hole by turning the ball over on the first possession of the contest as Larry Donnell fumbled the ball away. This turnover set up the Rams only touchdown. Donnell was targeted two other times but did not catch another pass. Will Tye caught two passes for a grand total of 14 yards. He’s been a major disappointment this year after a surprise rookie season. Rookie Jerell Adams caught one pass for five yards.

Offensive Line

The story line here remains the same. Decent pass protection and terrible run blocking. Eli Manning was not sacked. He was hit officially five times. That said, Eli isn’t holding the ball very long either. Many of the pass plays are short, quick throws – which makes the offensive line look better in pass protection than it really is. RT Bobby Hart gave up a couple of hits on Manning. The Giants only ran the ball 18 times, but when they did, they also only generated 38 yards or just over two yards per carry. The good news was there were no penalties.

Giants on Defense

This was the Giants best defensive game of the season to date. Not only did the defense do a good job of stopping the run (74 yards on 20 carries), but it picked off four passes, defensed 12 passes overall, and accrued three sacks and seven QB hits. Most importantly, the defense held the Rams to 10 points and scored on defense. The Rams were shutout in the the final three quarters of the game. The defense was only penalized three times (one offsetting). The biggest negatives were allowing first downs late in the game on 3rd-and-22 and 4th-and-10.

Defensive Line

It’s interesting to note that Jason Pierre-Paul is back at right defensive end, with Oliver Vernon now at left defensive end. The defensive line was fairly stout against the run and applied a decent amount of pass pressure. The Rams stuck with the run throughout the game but only averaged 3.7 yards per carry. Their longest run by a running back was only eight yards. Damon Harrrison (1), Jay Bromley (1), Jason Pierre-Paul (0.5), and Kerry Wynn (0.5) all registered sacks. Although Olivier Vernon did not sack the quarterback, he was a factor in pressuring the pocket throughout the game and caused a holding penalty that wiped out a big gain. This was the best pass-rush game for both JPP and Vernon so far this season. The inside guys got some good pressure too. Bromley was flagged with defensive holding.

Linebackers

Keenan Robinson (8 tackles, 2 pass defenses) had another strong game. His 4th quarter deflection of a Case Keenum pass caused an interception that set up the Giants game-winning touchdown. And Robinson’s sure open-field tackle of the ever-dangerous Tavon Austin off a bubble screen may have saved a touchdown. Jonathan Casillas was only in on three tackles, but also tipped a pass that was almost intercepted. Devon Kennard had two tackles and a QB hit. Only one tackle for Kelvin Sheppard.

Defensive Backs

Led by Landon Collins (2 interceptions, 2 pass defenses, 8 tackles) and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (2 interceptions, 3 pass defenses, 4 tackles), the Giants secondary had a phenomenal day. Collins was the beneficiary of two deflections, but his 44-yard return for a score not only changed the complexion of the game, it will go down as one of the most memorable in Giants history. And while DRC’s second, game-deciding interception was a gift, the first was a fantastic play that stopped a 4th-quarter scoring threat. He also almost came down with a third interception off of a flea flicker. Janoris Jenkins gave up the longest play of the game – a 48-yard reception to wideout Brian Quick (Jenkins was also guilty of illegal contact on the play). That said, Jenkins defensed three passes and had a solid game overall. Eli Apple was flagged with a 13-yard pass interference penalty on 3rd-and-7. Safety Andrew Adams gave up the 10-yard score on 3rd-and-6 in the 1st quarter. Aside from his turnovers, Collins was laying the lumber with a couple of big hits. Collins messed up on one deep shot and was lucky the QB couldn’t connect on what should have been an 81-yard score to start the second half. The biggest negatives were allowing the Rams to convert on 3rd-and-22 and 4th-and-10 late in the game.

Giants on Special Teams

Robbie Gould replaced Josh Brown. He made his only FG attempt (29 yards). Only 1-of-4 of his kickoffs resulted in touchbacks. Kickoff coverage was solid as the Rams longest return was 25 yards. Brad Wing punted eight times! He averaged 49.8 yards per punt (43.8 yard net) with one touchback and two punts downed inside the 20. Tavon Austin returned three punts and the Giants did give up a 19-yard punt return. Roger Lewis forced a fumble, but the Rams recovered the loose ball.

Dwayne Harris returned three punts for only 11 yards. Odell Beckham returned one punt for zero yards. Coty Sensabaugh was flagged with holding on one return. For the second week in a row, the Giants were unable to return a kickoff with all opponent kickoffs resulting in touchbacks.

(New York Giants at Los Angeles Rams, October 23, 2016)
Oct 212016
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (December 21, 2014)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Game Preview: New York Giants at Los Angeles Rams, October 23, 2016

THE STORYLINE:
Unless the Cowboys collapse, this is a “must” game for the Giants if they want to keep any division title hopes alive. This is a dangerous game for the Giants against an opponent that is very much capable of beating them, with the added distractions of playing in London and now the Josh Brown affair. Just find a way to win this game and heal up during the bye for the second-half push.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • WR Odell Beckham, Jr. (hip) – probable
  • RB Rashad Jennings (thumb) – probable
  • RT Marshall Newhouse (calf) – out
  • DE Olivier Vernon (wrist) – probable
  • LB Keenan Robinson (knee) – probable
  • CB Eli Apple (groin) – probable
  • CB Trevin Wade (ankle) – probable
  • FS Darian Thompson (foot) – out
  • SS Nat Berhe (concussion) – out
  • LS Zak DeOssie (ankle) – questionable

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
Statistically, the Rams are a middle-of-the-pack defense (17th overall, 23rd against the run, 17th against the pass). But they remain a typical Jeff Fisher defensive team – physical, aggressive, and borderline dirty. They try to get under your skin and thrive off of turnovers. The heart of the Rams defense is their defense line, which has been banged up but is unfortunately getting a bit healthier just in time for the game against the Giants. Their two best players are DT Aaron Donald and RDE Robert Quinn. Donald has three sacks, but he is leading the NFL with QB hits and pressures. Quinn has missed two games with a shoulder injury but is expected to play. Last season, John Jerry actually did a good job on Donald. Jerry and his his interior line mates will be on the spot again as will Ereck Flowers. In the back seven, the Rams utilize more run-and-hit tweeners at linebacker and safety that enhances their overall defensive athleticism and speed. In fact, their defensive depth chart lists only one starting linebacker and six defensive backs.

What we’ve seen from the Giants on offense is this: continued issues running the ball, continued issues in the red zone, and an inability to sustain drives without the big play. Like a true West Coast Offense, the Giants often use the short passing game in lieu of the run – hence the very pass-centric nature of the offense.

After last year’s game where Odell Beckham torched the Rams defense and after witnessing last week’s Ravens game, you can guarantee that Jeff Fisher is going to double- and possibly triple-team Beckham in this game. The Giants “broke out” offensively last week ONLY because of the return of the Manning-to-Beckham long-distance connection. Now if Beckham is able to still be a major factor, the Rams are toast. But more likely others are going to have to pick up the slack – especially Sterling Shepard and Victor Cruz. The Giants can’t always count on Beckham to put up 150+ yards and two touchdowns per game. That’s just not realistic. And it’s time for the big boys up front – Flowers, Pugh, Richburg, Jerry, and Hart – to start moving people off the line and for the backs to gain yards. The Rams are 23rd overall against the run and 19th in yards-per-rush. If there was an opponent to finally get the ground game going, this is it.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The Rams looked like a train wreck offensively early on in the season but have been playing better of late because their quarterback is playing much better. Ben McAdoo provided a good overview himself of the Rams offense: “Their offense is ascending. They’re getting better. (QB Case) Keenum has found his groove a little bit here over the last three weeks or so. He’s completing a high percentage of balls. Big body receivers who can catch the ball everywhere. They have great range that can come up with the catches. Their tight end is playing well, (TE Lance) Kendricks, he’s a good player and a complete player, which is tough to find in today’s game. Of course, (RB Todd) Gurley. He really has a chance to make everything go for them. We really have to stop him and commit to stopping him.”

Gurley has struggled against defenses geared up stop him, only averaging 2.9 yards per carry. But he is certainly capable of taking over a game and the Giants primary defensive task must be to keep him in check. Keenum has actually done a good job of spreading the ball around to WR Kenny Britt (30 catches, 2 TDs), WR Tavon Austin (26 catches, 1 TD), Kendricks (18 catches, 1 TD), WR Brian Quick (16 catches, 3 TDs), and Gurley (15 catches). And Keenum completed a remarkable 84 percent of his passes against the Lions last Sunday. While Britt and Quick are the bigger receivers McAdoo references, Austin is the smaller, quick-as-hiccup dynamo who can break open a game.

Game plan is simple. Stop Gurley. Make the Rams one dimensional and get after Keenum – a journeyman quarterback coming off a strong game but who someone the Giants should be able to rattle if they can pressure on him. It’s well past time for Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon to have a breakout game. With Darian Thompson and Nat Berhe out again, Andrew Adams once against will be under the microscope. He’s performed reasonably well given the circumstances – just don’t give up the big play. The return of Eli Apple should help – provided he is reasonably healthy and not too rusty.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Of course the big PR nightmare this week is the Josh Brown story. Statistically, Brown has proven to be one of the best place kickers in all of Giants history. Now he may not return. Robbie Gould will kick against the Rams. The game may come down to him. Benny Cunningham has six career returns over 40 yards. Tavon Austin is very dangerous on punt returns. And the Rams will use trick plays on special teams, especially out of the punt formation.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Offensive Coordinator Mike Sullivan on DT Aaron Donald: “He is a fantastic football player. I don’t know if there’s another defensive tackle that’s playing at such a high level. Just the disruption that he causes in both the run and the pass, and the number of quarterback hits he has and in terms of the pass game. Then also, he’s behind the line of scrimmage in the run game as well. When you talked about someone we have to be aware of and know that we take into account from a protection standpoint, from a double team standpoint in the run game, he’s at the forefront of our mind. He’s a heck of a player and we’re going to have our hands full for sure.”

THE FINAL WORD:
There are a number of Giants who I keep expecting to have breakout games, including JPP, Vernon, Shepard, and to a smaller extent, Will Tye. The Giants defense is too talented to have this few sacks and turnovers. Something has to give soon. If the Giants win the turnover battle, they win this game.

Oct 172016
 
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Odell Beckham, New York Giants (October 16, 2016)

Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 27 – Baltimore Ravens 23

Overview

A New York Giants offense that has struggled to score this year, including scoring only two touchdowns in three games, managed a “breakout” game against the Baltimore Ravens with 27 glorious points. This despite only being 4-of-14 (29 percent) on 3rd down, rushing for a pathetic 38 yards, being 0-for-2 in the red zone, and maintaining possession for only 25 minutes. So how did they do it? The big play finally returned.

Giants on Offense

The Giants ran the ball 17 times and passed 47 times. The Giants are becoming much more pass-centric than they were under Tom Coughlin.

The running game was a joke. The Giants struggled in short-yardage and in the red zone. The Giants were -3 in turnover differential (2 interceptions, 1 fumble). The second-leading receiver had 34 yards. How hell did the Giants score 27 points? The big play returned to the Giants arsenal. Seventeen of the Giants 27 points really came from three pass plays from Eli Manning to Odell Beckham: 75-yard touchdown, 66-yard touchdown, and a 43-yard deep throw that set up a field goal. The team’s fourth longest play was a 24-yard strike from Manning to wideout Roger Lewis, Jr. The bulk of this latter drive and one other field goal drive was earned the old-fashioned way of simply plugging along with smaller chunks of yardage.

Long story short – when the Manning to Beckham connection can combine for big plays, the Giants offense is a vastly different animal.

The offense only had one penalty. And while it struggled on 3rd down, the Giants were 3-for-3 on 4th down conversions.

Quarterback

Eli Manning was 32-of-46 for 403 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. Fifty-five percent of his yardage went to Odell Beckham. But Manning didn’t force the ball to Odell, who was targeted 10 times (or just over 20 percent of his throws). Manning spread the ball around to nine different receivers. Manning had no support from his ground game. The big difference was the big play. Four of Manning’s passes accounted for half of the passing offense. Manning was intercepted twice, but one was a deep throw on the last play of the first half and on the other the intended receiver was knocked to the ground.

Running Backs

The running backs were a non-factor on the ground, gaining on 38 yards on 17 carries for a pathetic 2.2 yards-per-carry average. The backs did catch eight passes for 52 yards (6.5 yards per catch). Bobby Rainey dropped a pass.

Wide Receivers

If you had told me the Giants would only rush for 38 yards against the Ravens and that Victor Cruz (3 catches for 31 yards) and Sterling Shepard (4 catches for 25 yards) would only combine for 56 yards, then I would have said there was no way the Giants would have won the game. But Odell Beckham had eight catches for a career-high 222 yards and scored from 75 and 66 yards out, the latter on 4th-and-1. His 43-yard deep reception also set up a field goal. It was a dominating performance. All of this with a painful hip pointer injury. The negatives? He fumbled the ball away after a catch on the first offensive play. This set up the Ravens first touchdown. Taking his helmet off after the game-winning touchdown could have cost the Giants the game. He’s got to stop the immature crap.

The other noteworthy player was rookie Roger Lewis, Jr., who caught a 24-yard touchdown reception. Cruz dropped a pass, but did have key short catches for first downs on the first scoring drive on 3rd-and-1 and 4th-and-5. Shepard also caught a 10-yard pass on 4th-and-3.

Tight Ends

Larry Donnell returned from his concussion and caught six passes for 34 yards. But his bad habit of awkwardly leaving his feet and exposing himself to injury and/or a turnover reared its ugly head again. Worse, with time running out in the game and the Giants down by a field goal, Donnell ran out of bounds just short of the sticks on 3rd down, setting up an unnecessary 4th-and-1 (that fortunately turned out well). He also dropped a pass. Will Tye caught two passes for 15 yards.

Offensive Line

Bad news, good news. The bad news was the Giants couldn’t run the ball worth a lick, generating only 38 measly yards on 17 carries. They were terrible in short yardage and on the goal line. The good news was that a Ravens defense that made the Giants one-dimensional and could pin its ears back and rush the passer only sacked Eli Manning once and hit him twice. Ereck Flowers gave up the sole sack to Terrell Suggs. No penalties this week!

Giants on Defense

The defense started off poorly and finished shaky, but did a good job in between. A 70-yard field goal drive and a 30-yard touchdown drive after a turnover gave Baltimore an early 10-0 lead. The defense then forced five consecutive punts, held the Ravens to a field goal after another turnover, and made a dramatic goal-line stand. Things got dicey again with a late 56-yard field goal drive, a 75-yard touchdown drive, and an unnecessarily-dramatic finish to close the game.

The problem remains a surprising lack of turnovers being forced (none again) and a disappointing pass rush (the Giants two sacks came from a safety and a defensive tackle).

Defensive Line

The Ravens rushed for 98 yards on 26 carries, but 33 of these yards came on one gain. Not great, but respectable. The Giants gave up two short-yardage touchdowns, but also had a dramatic goal-line stand. The Giants did generate more heat on the quarterback with week. Johnathan Hankins had one sack and Jason Pierre-Paul and Romeo Okwara did register hits on the quarterback. But it was nowhere nearly enough. Olivier Vernon (2 tackles) was very quiet. Hankins had three tackles for a loss and Jay Bromley had one. Owamagbe Odighizuwa has been a non-factor since he was drafted. His roughing-the-passer penalty on a 4th-and-5 incomplete pass that should have ended the game could have proved devastating. JPP was credited with two pass breakups.

Linebackers

Jonathan Casillas (11 tackles) was very active and may have saved the game with his tackle for a loss on 4th-and-goal. Devon Kennard (6 tackles) had his best game of the season, especially against the run where he was physical and aggressive. Keenan Robinson continues to look sharp in pass coverage. Kelvin Sheppard knocked a pass away. Tight end Dennis Pitta caught 6-of-10 passes thrown in his direction for only 36 yards.

Defensive Backs

Like the Giants, much of Baltimore’s yardage came from big plays. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Landon Collins gave up a 41-yard completion on 3rd-and-9 on the Ravens first drive that resulted in 3 points. Janoris Jenkins (2 pass breakups) gave up a 70-yard bomb, but his face-mask penalty may have actually saved a touchdown as the defense held on the goal line. Trevin Wade gave up a 42-yard pass interference penalty that set up a 4th quarter field goal. The late 30-yard pass interference penalty on Rodgers-Cromartie that set up the Ravens late touchdown was completely bogus. DRC had three pass breakups, including the last heave into the end zone. He also tackled very well.

Steve Spagnuolo is using his defensive backs quite a bit on the blitz. Landon Collins sacked Joe Flacco and Andrew Adams and Leon Hall also had hits on Flacco. Collins – once again – was all over the field with 12 tackles, including two tackles for a loss. He did over-run the play on the Ravens’ longest rushing play of 33 yards. Collins also gave up a 22-yard completion on 4th-and-1 on the Ravens final TD drive and could have ended the game before Odighizuwa’s roughing-the-passer penalty with an interception but dropped it.

Giants on Special Teams

Brad Wing was superb, averaging 51.3 yards per punt with a 50.5 yards-per-punt average. The Ravens only returned one punt for three yards. Josh Brown made both his field goal efforts (21 and 31 yards) and five of his six kickoffs resulted in touchbacks. The sole kickoff return went for 26 yards.

Dwayne Harris made a number of poor decisions in fielding punts inside the 10. He returned three punts for only 11 yards. The Giants had no kickoff return yardage as every Ravens kickoff resulted in a touchback.

Zak DeOssie was flagged with an illegal use of hands penalty on the Ravens’ one punt return. Jerell Adams was penalized for being offsides on a 4th-and-2 punt, which gave the Ravens a 1st down and kept the drive alive.

(Baltimore Ravens at New York Giants, October 16, 2016)
Oct 142016
 
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Sterling Shepard, New York Giants (September 18, 2016)

Sterling Shepard – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Game Preview: Baltimore Ravens at New York Giants, October 16, 2016

THE STORYLINE:
Once again, we find the Giants in a must-win game before October is even over. This has been disturbing recurrence for the team the last few seasons. But if the Giants fall to 2-4, they have to pray that the Cowboys and Eagles lose or they are in deep trouble.

The Giants have lost three in a row; the Ravens have lost two in a row. Both teams are beat up and desperate for a win.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • RB Rashad Jennings (thumb) – questionable
  • WR Dwayne Harris (toe) – questionable
  • TE Larry Donnell (concussion) – probable
  • TE Jerell Adams (ear) – probable
  • RT Marshall Newhouse (calf) – out
  • DE Jason Pierre-Paul (groin) – questionable
  • DE Olivier Vernon (wrist) – probable
  • LB Devon Kennard (concussion) – questionable
  • CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (groin) – questionable
  • CB Eli Apple (groin) – questionable
  • FS Darian Thompson (foot) – out
  • SS Nat Berhe (concussion) – out

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
Baltimore’s base defense is the 3-4, something New York struggled against last week. The Ravens have the #3 ranked defense in the NFL (5th against the pass, 4th against the run). Those statistics are a bit skewed in that the Ravens have not played a murder’s row of offensive juggernauts (Bills, Browns, Jaguars, Raiders, Redskins). And Baltmore will likely be missing some key defenders such as linebackers C.J. Mosley and Elvis Dumervil. But this is tough, physical, and well-coached unit. They will hit you in the mouth. The finesse Giants offense hasn’t responded well to this kind of challenge in recent years.

To win, the Giants tackles need to play better than they did last week. Both Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart struggled with pass-rushing linebackers that are the trademark of a 3-4 defense. It gets worse this week for Flowers as he faces Terrell Suggs, who leads the Ravens in sacks. DE Timmy Jernigan has also been very disruptive. The secondary is a veteran, experienced group that also plays a physical game.

It’s hard to believe the Giants will make a living running the ball against the Ravens. They certainly didn’t last week against an equally tough and stout run defense. If I was Ben McAdoo, I would be very tempted to throw caution to the wind and give Paul Perkins a heavy dose of playing time. This is risky as rookie running backs usually need a lot of work in pass protection, and 3-4 defenses like to blitz from all angles. But Perkins appears to be the only back on the team who can create on his own, and once he gets pass the line, he’s a home-run threat.

Ultimately on offense, the Giants are going to live or die with Eli Manning, Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard, and Victor Cruz. Eli has to get out of his funk. And the Giants have to do a better job of adjusting to what teams are doing to them defensively. If teams are going to double- or even triple-team Beckham, then Shepard and Cruz have to make them pay. I love what I see from Perkins in the screen game – another reason why I want him to have more snaps.

“Teams want to make us go the long way,” said McAdoo. “It’s probably pretty smart. They don’t want to let Odell wreck the game. That’s been their focus. He’s had a lot of man coverage underneath and a safety over the top. Sometimes another safety leaning that way. They want to force you to go elsewhere, force you to run the ball and be patient. A lot of that has to do with if teams make you go the long way, you’re going to make a mistake and it’s going to kill the drive. A penalty or a mental error. That can certainly happen. Where we are in the season, we should be very confident in our ability to minimize the penalties. Hone in on the mental part of the game so we don’t make those types of mistakes, so we can go the long way.”

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The Giants secondary is still a mess. Safeties Darian Thompson and Nat Berhe are out again. Eli Apple is officially “questionable” but he didn’t practice all week. Dominique-Rodgers Cromartie is hobbled once again. The pass rush has been anemic and now Jason Pierre-Paul joins Olivier Vernon on the injury list. Against this backdrop, the Giants face the NFL’s 22nd-ranked offense (22nd passing, 16th rushing). Like on defense, the Ravens have some key cogs missing on offense: WR Steve Smith, RG Marshal Yanda, and LT Ronnie Staley. RT Rick Wagner is also ailing but probably will play. The fly in the ointment is that the Ravens changed offensive coordinators this week – so there will be a different flavor that Steve Spagnuolo will have to adjust to. The good news is that Spagnuolo is familiar with the Ravens’ personnel, having served as an assistant coach there in 2013-14.

Terrance West has received the bulk of the touches at running back and is averaging 5.0 yards per carry. Tight end Dennis Pitta is the leading receiver on the team. Wide receiver Mike Wallace is the deep threat. With Smith out, look for Kamar Aiken (who started 14 games in 2015) and Breshad Perriman to see more action. Both are big receivers. Of course, the heart of the offensive team is Joe Flacco, who has been up-and-down, prompting the offensive coordinator switch.

With the injury issues on the Ravens offensive line, the Giants defensive line needs to step up. Those guys need to start earning their paychecks. The run defense was shoddy last week. Stop the run and make the Ravens one-dimensional. The focus in the secondary should be on Pitta. My guess is the Giants keep Janoris Jenkins on Wallace. Like last week, much depends on how long Rodgers-Cromartie can play. When he leaves the field, without Apple and the safeties, the secondary is woefully undermanned.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
John Harbaugh’s background is special teams, and year in and year out the Ravens field one of the very best units in the NFL. The are particularly adept at blocking kicks. And their returners are dangerous. The Giants catch a break with Devin Hester out.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Ben McAdoo on the Giants offense: “I need to do a better job staying committed to the run. I believe in our run game. I believe we’re making strides upfront and our backs are making progress. We need to stick with it and continue to chip away so we’re in a position to win the battle of the hitting game in the fourth quarter.”

THE FINAL WORD:
I hate making grandiose statements about one regular-season game, but if the Giants lose this one, we may be looking at another year where the season is effectively over by November. My guess is this game will come down to which quarterback plays better. I have no idea who that will be.

Oct 122016
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (October 9, 2016)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Green Bay Packers 23 – New York Giants 16

Overview

OK maybe Giants fans need to step back onto the ledge. A disturbing trend with the New York Giants has developed since 2012: losing. The Giants now find themselves in the midst of yet another 3-game and possibly longer losing streak. Such losing streaks make it exceptionally difficult for an NFL team to make the playoffs – even Roger Goodell’s watered-down, crappy-level-of-play league.

My wife asked me, “Do the Giants just suck again?” Ouch.

I found myself trying to justify that things are not as bleak as the results. I said, “The sum doesn’t seem to equal the parts right now.” But I also am reminded by Bill Parcells’ famous quote, “You are what your record says you are.”

I touch upon it more below, but long story short is that most of the Giants high-priced, multi-million dollar “star” players are not playing like stars.

Giants on Offense

I will repeat what I said last week: you can’t win in the NFL if you don’t score. And for the second week in a row, the Giants offense only scored one touchdown. For the second week in a row, the Giants didn’t score a touchdown in the first half.  The Giants won another game earlier this year against the Saints where the offense did not score a touchdown. The Giants have only scored more than 20 points once this season, and that was in a 29-27 loss to the Redskins.

The picture is worse this week. In the other contests, the Giants had at least been gaining yardage. This week, the Giants only accrued a paltry 219 total net yards (43 yards rushing, 176 yards passing). Those are Dave Brown-era type numbers. The Giants had four first downs in the first half. FOUR. They finished the game with only 14 first downs and 23 minutes in time of possession. Third down remains a problem as New York was 4-of-13 (31 percent) on third-down conversions.

What stands out like a sore thumb is exactly what I talked about in the game preview: the Giants are not making big plays. The Giants only had one offensive play over 20 yards (a 27-yard completion to Will Tye). Opposing defenses are concentrating on Odell Beckham and making sure that Eli and Odell don’t hurt them deep by playing two-deep safety coverage. The Giants have not been able to make teams pay by either running the ball or hurting them consistently underneath. The Giants only had 54 offensive snaps against the Packers. They only ran the ball 14 times.

This offensive ineptitude does not make much sense. This was Ben McAdoo’s offense last year, not Tom Coughlin’s. Eli Manning is in the third year of a system that he thrived in last year. The only change in the offensive line has been Bobby Hart playing at right tackle. The Giants parted ways with the disappointing Rueben Randle but added Sterling Shepard and Victor Cruz. The running back situation has been in a state of flux due to injuries but they are not what drove the offense in 2015. Something is wrong but it is difficult to identify what the reason or reasons are. The Giants should not being doing this poorly on offense. If this continues throughout the season, Offensive Coordinator Mike Sullivan will be made the scapegoat by season’s end even though he currently is not calling the plays.

Quarterback

This is the type of game that Eli Manning’s critics love. This is where they come out of the woodwork and state his overrated or done. Eli played like crap on Sunday night. He was the major reason the Giants lost the game. Manning appeared jittery and was not terribly accurate. Right before halftime, with the Giants trailing 14-6, Manning missed a wide open Will Tye deep for what may have been a touchdown. On the very next snap, Manning fumbled the ball away after being sacked, setting up a late field goal for the Packers. It was a 10-point swing in the game.

Manning barely completed 50 percent of his throws, finishing the game 18-of-35 for a measly 199 passing yards, 1 touchdown, and no interceptions (he was lucky a pass on the team’s lone TD drive was not intercepted). This was against a Packers defense that had been 29th against the pass and that was missing its best corner. On a night when the Giants needed their $24 million (2016 cap number) to come up big, Eli came up terribly small.

Eli had a great 2015 campaign. Why is he playing worse? The wide receiving corps is stronger. He may be missing Shane Vereen, but is there that big of a drop off from Vereen to Bobby Rainey? I don’t buy the argument that age is catching up with him. Eli is a “young” 35-year old. He doesn’t have a lot of wear-and-tear on him. Is he hurt? Is it simply a funk? Is the McAdoo-Sullivan-QB Coach Frank Cignetti dynamic holding him back? I have no idea. But he should be playing better than he is.

Running Backs

The NFL’s #1 run defense was clearly not afraid of the Giants ground game. And the Giants coaching staff clearly did not think much of its own chances either. Giants running backs carried the ball 14 times for 42 yards (3 yards per rush). If you take away one 14 yard gain by Bobby Rainey, then those numbers look even worse. Orleans Darkwa’s seven carries gained just 11 yards. Yikes. Rainey gained 22 yards on five carries. Take away the 14 yard gain, and his other four carries gained eight yards. Paul Perkins had two rushes for nine yards.

The backs were more productive in the receiving game as Rainey caught all six passes thrown in his direction for 52 yards. Perkins caught one pass for 13 yards – he looks very dangerous on screen passes.

Wide Receivers

Opposing teams are keeping their safeties deep and doubling Odell Beckham. Wouldn’t you? Beckham was targeted twice as much (12 times) as any other target but only had five receptions for 56 yards and a touchdown. The other two “stalwarts” in the receiving corps were invisible against one of the NFL’s worst pass defenses. Sterling Shepard caught two passes for 14 yards. Victor Cruz was shut out. The Giants are going to have to closely monitor the Cruz situation. Is he still getting his feet back underneath him or is he permanently damaged goods? If it is the latter, the Giants would be best off moving Shepard to the slot and starting Tavarres King outside. In other words, don’t waste valuable playing time on a player who may be cut on a losing team. At some point a decision has to be made whether it is time to move on.

Tight Ends

Larry Donnell did not play because of a concussion. Will Tye had the Giants longest play of the night: a 27-yard gain. He also had a hard-fought 10-yard catch-and-run. He made nice plays on both of these receptions and got wide open late in the first half on what should have been a long touchdown had Manning not missed him. Rookie Jerell Adams caught his first two NFL passes and finished with 27 yards and actually looked pretty good as a receiver.

Offensive Line

The charge that Jerry Reese has largely ignored the offensive line is largely false. After all, the team has two first round draft picks and a second round draft pick on the OL. That’s a higher investment than most teams. The problem is the Giants don’t seem to be getting a good return on their investment. Bad drafting? Players out of position? Bad coaching? Everyone has a theory. Both tackles – Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart – had a rough night and were a major factor in the offense’s ineptitude. I’m not shocked that the two young players are having issues in pass defense. What is alarming is that the Giants front five can’t seem to run block against defenses that are not playing the run. Flowers (holding), Hart (false start), and Pugh (holding but declined) were all flagged with penalties too. Hart gave up the sack where Manning fumbled the ball away near the end of the 2nd quarter. Flowers gave up two sacks in the 3rd quarter and was lucky another 4th quarter sack was wiped out due to offsetting penalties. Flowers got worse as the game progressed.

Giants on Defense

When Steve Spagnuolo doesn’t have his full toolkit, he plays scared. And he did it against the Packers. Right or wrong, his intent was not to give up big passing numbers to Aaron Rodgers with a depleted and beat up secondary. To the Giants credit, they only gave up 23 offensive points and 259 net passing yards to one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks. Aaron Rodgers barely completed half of his passes, completing 23 passes with 22 incompletions and two interceptions. One would normally like the Giants chances in that situation. The problems were the Giants gave up 147 yards rushing and could not exert any kind of pass rush against the quarterback. The defense allowed three 70+ yard drives in the first half, two of which resulted in touchdowns. And with the game still in the balance late in the 3rd quarter, the Giants allowed two 65+ yard drives that took over 10 minutes off of the clock and resulted in field goals. The Giants had one last chance late when they cut the score to 23-16 with 2:54 to go, but the defense could not make a stand.

Defensive Line

The Giants simply are not getting their money’s worth from Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon. The Giants had no sacks and only three QB hits – one by Vernon, one by Damon Harrison, and one by Johnathan Hankins. This is the third time in five games where the Giants don’t have a sack. Indeed, there were more than a few plays where Rodgers had all the time in the world to throw. It was embarrassing.

With the defense more concerned with the pass than the run, more pressure was placed on the guys up front to do the job against the rush without extra support (Landon Collins). They largely failed. The Packers ran for 147 yards on 32 carries (4.6 yards per rush). The Giants did a better job on James Starks (12 carries for 33 yards) than Eddie Lacey (81 yards on 11 carries) and fullback Aaron Ripkowski (17 yards on two carries). Hankins was flagged with encroachment and Vernon with a personal foul after one of the interceptions. Vernon did have two tackles for losses and Harrison deflected a pass.

Linebackers

Better in pass coverage than run defense. My biggest problem with our linebackers is they seem invisible. Against the run and on screen passes, I saw a lot of running around with no effect. Their instincts just seem off. Kelvin Sheppard isn’t good against in any area. He had a chance to recover a potential game-turning fumble late in the 4th quarter and blew it. Jonathan Casillas started the season off strong but has reverted to his career journeyman form. He screwed up big time with his mistackle of WR Randall Cobb on 3rd-and-9 in the 4th quarter. This enabled the Packers to keep alive their final, time-consuming field goal drive. Keenan Robinson did some nice things in coverage, including knocking away an endzone pass, but he wasn’t very physical or instinctive against the run either. The stat sheet tells me Devon Kennard played, but you could have fooled me.

Defensive Backs

What should have been a team strength has become an area of weakness due to a rash of injuries. Two of the top three safeties (Darian Thompson and Nat Berhe) were out. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (groin) was in and out of the lineup all night. Eli Apple came into the game with a bum hamstring and left in the first half with a groin injury. Given all of that, it is fairly remarkable that Aaron Rodgers was held to a 50 percent completion percentage and 259 yards passing. The obvious bright spot was Janoris Jenkins with his three pass defenses and two interceptions (unbelievably, the defense’s first turnovers of the season). He saved a TD on the first play of the 4th quarter too. Each week Landon Collins is near the top of the tackle list. He also had a pass defense this week, but gave up a key 21-yard completion to Randall Cobb on 3rd-and-4 late in the 3rd quarter. Andrew Adams had five tackles and a pass defense. Bad news? He wasn’t noticeable. Good news? He wasn’t noticeable. Leon Hall had issues on the Packers opening touchdown drive, giving up three completions before Apple was burned for the 2-yard touchdown. Hall continued to struggle on the next drive and was lucky a penalty erased what should have been a 21-yard touchdown pass on 3rd-and-6. Michael Hunter gave up the 29-yard touchdown pass to WR Davonte Adams. Trevin Wade deflected away a late touchdown pass, but fell down on the 13-yard completion on 3rd-and-10 that sealed the game for the Packers.

Giants on Special Teams

Josh Brown was a perfect three-for-three on field goal attempts (47, 41, 30). Three of his kickoffs resulted in touchbacks with the Packers only averaging 21 yards on two returns. The Packers only returned one punt for three yards as Brad Wing average 39.2 yards per punt with three downed inside the 20-yard line. However, Roger Lewis was flagged with a 15-yard penalty for interfering with the returner.

Dwayne Harris injured his jaw and toe in the game. He returned one punt for six yards and three kickoffs for 103 yards (34.3 yards per return). Bobby Rainey also returned a kickoff 37 yards. In other words, the Giants kickoff return team had a good night.

Coaching

The Giants have to start moving Odell Beckham around more like they did his rookie season. Teams are doubling him far too easily. They also need to make more of a concerted effort to get the ball to Sterling Shepard. Defensively, it’s hard to be too critical after holding down the Packers’ passing game with a patchwork secondary. That said, where is the pass rush? And the team has once again developed an annoying habit of being unable to make a late defensive stand.

(New York Giants at Green Bay Packers, October 9, 2016)
Oct 072016
 
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Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants (November 17, 2013)

Jason Pierre-Paul Returns an INT for a TD – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Game Preview: New York Giants at Green Bay Packers, October 9, 2016

THE STORYLINE:
After an encouraging start, the New York Giants prospects for a successful season are beginning to fade a bit as injuries combined with odd scheduling have most pundits expecting the Giants to lose their third game in a row. Green Bay has had two weeks to prepare for this game while the Giants have had a short week. And the last quarterback you want to face with a depleted secondary is Aaron Rodgers.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • RB Rashad Jennings (thumb) – questionable
  • TE Larry Donnell (concussion) – out
  • RT Marshall Newhouse (calf) – out
  • DE Olivier Vernon (wrist) – probable
  • DT Robert Thomas (illness) – probable
  • CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (groin) – questionable
  • CB Eli Apple (hamstring) – questionable
  • FS Darian Thompson (foot) – out
  • SS Nat Berhe (concussion) – out

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
The New York Giants are moving the football (6th in the NFL in yards), but they are not scoring enough (27th in the NFL). That in a nutshell is all you need to know. From my perspective, the overriding issue is that teams are defending against the deep passing game, daring the Giants to beat them with the running game and short passing game without making a killer mistake (penalty, dropped pass, turnover, sack, etc.). Red zone offense has also been a problem in some games.

With the Giants depleted secondary, Green Bay is going to score. You have to figure the Giants are going to need at least 30 points to win this game. The Giants have no fullback and are down to Will Tye (more pass receiver than blocker) and Jerell Adams (green rookie) at tight end. My method of attack would be to throw caution to the wind and come up with 3- and 4-WR sets and pass, pass, pass against what is the 29th-ranked pass defense that is also missing its best defensive back (CB Sam Shields). The Giants are not going to win this game with Orleans Darkwa gaining four yards per clip or Will Tye or Bobby Rainey catching seven yard passes. Spread the Packers out and go for big chunks of yardage down the field. Last week, the Giants longest pass completion to a wide receiver was 14 yards. That’s not going to get it done.

Moreover, the 3-4 defense of the Packers is very tough to run against (#1 in the NFL allowing less than 43 yards per game). Their most dangerous pass rush threats are their two outside linebackers – Clay Matthews and Nick Perry. So both Giants not-so-nifty tackles will be under pressure with a heavy pass-first offense. If Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart can do a reasonable job in pass protection, then this game will come down to Eli Manning, Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard, and Victor Cruz doing more than they have done to date. Eli Manning has four touchdown passes. He needs to double that total in this game. Be a star. Be a difference maker. Same with Odell Beckham, who has not scored yet this year. Get a 4th wideout (Tavarres King) on the field – spread the Packers unimpressive secondary thin. Attack. And stop turning the football over!

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The Giants are in a terrible situation with two of their top three safeties out and two of their top three corners hurt facing QB Aaron Rodgers and wideouts Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. You saw what the 31st-ranked Minnesota Vikings offense did against CB Trevin Wade and S Andrew Adams. The Packers have got to be licking their chops. Worse, the Packers actually have a very good ground game with Eddie Lacey and James Starks. If the Giants give their undermanned secondary additional help, Coach Mike McCarthy and Rodgers will simply call for a heavy dose of the ground game. Still, this is how the Giants will probably have to go. Force the Packers to drive the length of the field rather than give up the cheap big play deep and pray the Packers make a mistake. Rodgers is unlikely to do that, however, unless you get in his face.

Much depends on how effective Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is and how much he plays. DRC has an annoying habit of sitting on the sidelines when he doesn’t feel 100 percent. When Wade is on the field, Rodgers is going to go after him. Wouldn’t you? Nelson and Cobb are the recognizable household names, but the Packers have some good looking young receivers who can do damage too.

If the Giants are going to have any chance to win this game, the front seven has to elevate its game to a different level. The Giants have not gotten their money’s worth out of Jason Pierre-Paul (1 sack) and Olivier Vernon (1 sack). Inside, it was expected that Damon Harrison and Johnathan Hankins would be more disruptive. Owa Odighizuwa and Jay Bromley are doing nothing. The linebackers have to make big plays – force a fumble, intercept a pass, sack the quarterback. The group will have to stop the physical Lacy without an extra man in the box. And they MUST get to Rodgers without blitzing too much.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Each week, the Giants do something bad on special teams – allow big punt return, penalty that wipes out block, muffed punt, etc.. It’s a trademark of the Tom Quinn special teams. Let’s for once have a clean game while making plays that help the Giants win the game.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Ben McAdoo on the Packers offense: “They are very good. With Jordy (Nelson) back, they’re firing on all cylinders in the receiving room. They have a good group of young receivers there that are developing as well. Randall (Cobb) is always dangerous in the slot. They can bring him out of the backfield, too. You definitely don’t want to let (Eddie) Lacy and (James) Starks get rolling downhill. They are two big backs and a nice one-two punch.”

THE FINAL WORD:
This is just a bad spot for the Giants. Back-to-back road trips on a short week against a quality opponent who plays well at home and who has had two weeks to prepare. Combine that with Rodgers versus the depleted secondary and you have a recipe for disaster unless the Giants “stars” start playing like impact players.

Oct 042016
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (October 3, 2016)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Minnesota Vikings 24 – New York Giants 10

Overview

Giants fans need to step away from the ledge. The loss to the Minnesota Vikings was not unexpected, especially given the quality of the opponent, the Giants current injury situation, and the hoopla surrounding the Vikings first Monday night game in their new stadium. For the Giants to pull off the upset, they were most likely going to have to win the turnover battle, have the passing game excel, the defensive line dominate, and/or the special teams to out-play its counterpart. None of these things happened. The Giants lost fair and square. If New York fails to make the playoffs again this season, it won’t be this game the Giants look back to and regret. It will be the Week 3 loss to the Redskins.

Giants on Offense

You can’t win in the NFL if you only score 10 points. And you are not likely to win if you lose the turnover battle. Aside from interception, the biggest issue for the Giants was the disconnect between Eli Manning and his top three wide receivers. This was a major factor in the team being an abysmal 2-of-12 (17 percent) on 3rd down and 0-of-2 (0 percent) on 4th down. When you can’t matriculate the ball down the field, you have to rely on the big play. But the Giants only had one offensive gain over 20 yards in the game.

Another negative factor in sustaining drives was penalties. After being relatively clean in the first two weeks of the season, the Giants had penalty issues for the second game in a row as the Giants were flagged 8 times for 69 yards. Half of these were on offense and were an issue in stalling three drives. The book on the Giants now is this: don’t let them beat you deep in the passing game; make them drive the length of the field in small chunks and they’ll shoot themselves in the foot.

The Giants had 11 offensive possessions. Six resulted in punts (including the first five), an interception, two turnovers on downs, and two scoring drives. Not good enough.

Quarterback

There is something about the Minnesota Vikings that brings out the worst in Eli Manning. Fans can exclaim that is rubbish, but we’ve seen it before. Lawrence Taylor used to have the same problem with the Los Angeles Rams. Long story short, the Giants were not going to beat Minnesota unless Eli played well and he didn’t. Despite having reasonable pass protection (no sacks and only 2 quarterback hits), Manning appeared jumpy in the pocket and had accuracy issues. He was out-played by his counterpart that was only traded to the Vikings a few weeks ago. Manning finished 25-of-45 for 261 yards, 0 touchdowns, and 1 interception. In other words, he had 20 incompletions and only averaged 5.8 yards per pass play. This is even worse when you consider 67 of those yards came on a dump off to a running back.

Running Backs

With Rashad Jennings (#1 back) out again and Shane Vereen (#2 back) possibly done for the season, the Giants relied on a trio of back-ups who performed pretty darn well, especially considering the quality of the opponent. The Giants only rushed the ball 18 times out of 63 plays, with only six rushing attempts in the second half. But they averaged a very respectable 4.3 yards per rush. Orleans Darkwa saw the bulk of the work (12 carries for 48 yards) followed by Bobby Rainey (4 carries for 22 yards), and Paul Perkins (2 carries for 8 yards). The backs were also heavily involved in the passing game with Rainey catching 7-of-9 passes thrown his way for 43 yards, Perkins 2-of-3 passes for 72 yards, and Darkwa 0-of-2 passes. Perkins had the offensive play of this night with his nifty 67-yard catch-and-run where he demonstrated good vision and speed. He did have issues in pass protection however.

Wide Receivers

Along with Manning, the wide receivers were the major offensive letdown on the evening. To win, Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard, and Victor Cruz had to play well. They didn’t. Beckham had his worst game as a pro since the second game of his career. He only caught 3-of-9 passes thrown in his direction for a measly 23 yards. Beckham dropped a pass and had a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. There also was major confusion between Manning and Beckham on the deep interception that started the 3rd quarter off on a bad note – this was a key momentum killer in the game. Shepard was also surprisingly kept quiet, catching 4-of-7 targets for only 30 yards. Cruz caught 5-of-9 passes for 50 yards and was flagged with an illegal block penalty. The longest reception by any of these three was 14 yards!

Tight Ends/Fullbacks

Larry Donnell suffered a concussion early in the 2nd quarter. Will Tye was the only factor in the passing game, catching 4-of-6 passes for 43 yards.

Offensive Line

The offensive line played well. The Vikings were averaging five sacks per game but the Giants offensive line held them sackless and only allowed two hits on quarterback Eli Manning. Against a very good run defense, the team also averaged 4.3 yards per rush. The biggest negative were two penalties on LT Ereck Flowers: a false start and a holding penalty (though the holding call was questionable). Bobby Hart was also flagged with illegal use of hands but that was declined.

Giants on Defense

The Giants defense was severely hampered by three de facto starters missing the game (Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Eli Apple, and Darian Thompson) and a primary back-up (Nat Berhe). This turned a team strength into a team weakness. To compensate, the Giants needed an exceptionally strong game from their front seven. They didn’t get it.

Coming into the game, the Vikings had the 31st-ranked offense. Minnesota gained 22 first downs, 366 total net yards (262 passing, 104 rushing), and controlled the clock for over 35 minutes. The Vikings converted half of their 3rd-down conversion attempts. The Giants did not force a turnover, register a sack, and only hit QB Sam Bradford (101.9 QB rating) twice. The Giants also only defensed one pass.

New York’s defense did not make a stand after Dwayne Harris’ muffed punt, allowed a long 2nd-quarter touchdown drive, and most damning, could not stop the Vikings after the Giants cut the score to 17-10 early in the 4th quarter. Minnesota drove 76 yards in eight plays to put the game away.

Defensive Line

This is not what the Giants expected. With both primary offensive tackles out of the game, defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon were non-factors in a game where the Giants expected and needed them to make a difference. Each registered one hit on the QB – the only two hits on the night. The inside tackles were not much better as what had been an anemic Vikings ground attack gained 104 yards and scored twice, and Sam Bradford was rarely pressure up the middle.

Linebackers

The linebackers came up small, particularly team captain Jonathan Casillas who had issues tackling in the open field. Coverage was also an issue as many of the Vikings successful pass plays came against CB Trevin Wade or over the middle against the under coverage. There were no impact plays to speak of – no sacks, no forced turnovers, no pass breakups. Casillas, Keenan Robinson, Kelvin Sheppard, and Devon Kennard did combine for 21 tackles.

Defensive Backs

The Giants were simply undermanned here with corners Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Eli Apple and safeties Darian Thompson and Nat Berhe being out. The Giants were forced to start defensive backs who were at the bottom of the depth chart in Trevin Wade and Andrew Adams. Both had issues. Wade in particular was a disaster, giving up 70 yards on two deep passes to WR Charles Johnson and a 7-yard touchdown on 3rd-and-4 to TE Kyle Rudolph. When the Vikings needed a play, they went after Wade. Adams – as would be expected of a green, undrafted rookie starting for the first time – was exposed as well, being late to help out in coverage. Aside from a pass interference penalty, Janoris Jenkins had a decent game. Landon Collins led the team in tackles and also had a tackle for a loss. Unbelievably, the Giants only broke up one pass all night.

Giants on Special Teams

Dwayne Harris started the game off with a bang on a 44-yard kickoff return, but his muffed punt after the Giants defense forced a three-and-out inside the Vikings 10-yard line set the tone for the night and directly led to a 7-0 lead. It was an early momentum killer in a hostile building. The Giants didn’t gain any punt return yardage on the evening.

The coverage teams actually did a respectable job against a very dangerous return team as the Vikings only gained 29 yards on kickoff returns and 13 yards on punt returns. Brad Wing average 46.7 yards per punt with three of his six punts being downed inside the 20-yard line, including one at the 1-yard line. Josh Brown hit his only field goal attempt of the night, from 40 yards out.

Coaching

As expected, criticism of the new head coach is beginning to mount. Many of those who were praising him two weeks ago are starting to say he was the wrong hire. It’s simply too early to make those kind of judgments. That said, the Giants did mismanage the clock at the end of the first half, which prevented the team possibly taking two more shots at the end zone. Turnovers remain an issue and the passing game seems out of sync. Being a 39-year old head coach and NFL play-caller at the same time isn’t easy. If Mike Sullivan had more experience with the West Coast Offense, he’d probably be calling the plays. The McAdoo-Sullivan marriage seemed odd from the start other than Sullivan’s familiarity with Eli Manning. Steve Spagnuolo is quickly gaining a reputation as a guy who can coach only when he has all of his chess pieces still on the board.

(New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings, October 3, 2016)
Oct 012016
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (December 27, 2015)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Game Preview: New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings, October 3, 2016

THE STORYLINE:
The Giants are not in bad shape at 2-1, but they blew a big opportunity last week against the Redskins and now face one of the NFL’s better teams on their home turf in prime time. Worse, the Giants have major injury issues that will have an impact on the contest. This is an important game for the Giants as the Cowboys and Redskins are likely to win this week against powder-puff opponents (the Eagles have a bye).

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • RB Rashad Jennings (thumb) – questionable
  • RT Marshall Newhouse (calf) – out
  • DE Olivier Vernon (wrist) – probable
  • DT Robert Thomas (illness) – out
  • CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (groin) – questionable
  • CB Eli Apple (hamstring) – doubtful
  • FS Darian Thompson (foot) – out
  • SS Nat Berhe (concussion) – out

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
The Vikings have been outstanding on defense to start the season (6th overall, 9th against the pass, 7th against the run). The problem for the Giants is that the Minnesota defensive strength is their front seven and the Giants offensive weakness is the line. The Giants will faces challenges across the board. RDE Everson Griffen (4 sacks) is one of the best two-way weakside ends in the game and he will battle LT Ereck Flowers, who has had issues in the past in pass protection. Still-green RT Bobby Hart will be opposed by LDE Brian Robison (2 sacks) and Danielle Hunter (3 sacks). Ex-Giant defensive tackle Linval Joseph (3 sacks) is also off to a strong start. The linebacking corps is strong too, led by Anthony Barr, who can do it all. Middle linebacker Eric Kendricks is a rapidly rising player. Chad Greenway has given the Giants problems in the past. Long story short, Eli Manning will likely be under duress and not have a lot of time in the pocket. And safety valve Shane Vereen is now on IR so the pressure will be on the tight ends and Bobby Rainey to pick up the slack both as receivers and blockers.

The Minnesota secondary is quite good too, led by right cornerback Xavier Rhodes and free safety Harrison Smith.

The strategic question is how much to rely on the ground game and max protect? If the Giants defense were mostly healthy, Ben McAdoo may have wanted to play this more conservatively as Minnesota’s offense has struggled. Now the Giants may have to be more aggressive, assuming the Vikings will have more success moving the football. The risk here is turnovers. The Vikings are 2nd in the NFL in forcing turnovers (5 interceptions, 4 fumbles recovered) for a superb +8 turnover differential. The Giants have been on the other end of the spectrum (5th in the NFL in turnovers, -6 in turnover differential). To me, the key to this game is for the Giants offense to stay out of negative plays – turnovers, penalties, sacks. Don’t get into 2nd-and-15 and 3rd-and-11 situations over and over again.

I suggest a lot of 3-step, get-rid-of-the-ball-quickly type pass plays. Bing…bing…bing. If the play isn’t there, throw it away. Count on Odell Beckham, Victor Cruz, and Sterling Shepard to make plays after the catch. I would not rely a ton on Rainey who has a history of fumbling. Run the ball with Orleans Darkwa between the tackles. Worst case scenario? Punt. Keep your composure in the loud, hostile environment. Ball security is imperative. Eli is going to be pressured and get hit. He has to not fumble it away or make dumb throws into coverage.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The Vikings have been hammered by injuries on offense, losing their starting quarterback, running back, and left tackle. They had to over-pay to trade for Sam Bradford from the Eagles but he has kept the team afloat. Still, the Vikings are currently 31st in offense (28th in passing, 32nd in rushing). The problem for New York is half their secondary is missing as they are down three safeties (Darian Thompson, Nat Berhe, Mykkele Thompson) and possibly two cornerbacks (Eli Apple is doubtful and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is questionable).

The Vikings ground game – as the stats show – has been anemic and they are without All-Star Adrian Peterson. The Giants must keep the back-ups from being a factor so they can concentrate on helping out their weakened secondary. Only three Vikings have more than three catches on the season thus far: WR Stefon Diggs (20 catches, 1 TD), TE Kyle Rudolph (14 catches, 2 TDs), and WR Adam Thielen (11 catches). Look for the Giants to keep Janoris Jenkins on the dangerous Diggs and to focus their undercoverage on Rudolph. Much depends on if DRC plays or not. If he can’t go, much pressure will be placed on corners Leon Hall and Trevon Wade to deliver. Bradford and the Vikings have to be licking their chops at whomever is playing free safety (Hall or Andrew Adams?).

RDE Olivier Vernon has been hampered with a nagging wrist injury but he gets an opportunity to play against T.J. Clemmings who was shifted to left tackle due to an injury to the starter. The Giants will need a big game from him as well as everyone up front to stop the run and put more consistent heat on the passer than they have done so far this season. This would be a good spot for either Vernon or Jason Pierre-Paul to have a breakout game.

Remarkably, through three games, the Giants defense has not forced a turnover. And Bradford has not yet thrown an interception. This is the type of game that will likely be decided by turnovers.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
The Giants have become one of the more dangerous punt and kick blocking teams in the NFL. But punt coverage continues to be an Achilles heel and must be tightened up. Marcus Sherels is a very good punter returner and Cordarrelle Patterson an extremely dangerous kickoff returner. The Vikings have an amazing 11 kickoff/punt return touchdowns in the last five seasons. Close defensive games are often decided by special teams plays.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Ben McAdoo on the Vikings defense: “Everything is tied together. You can’t just give their front credit. It’s their front four in combination with the linebackers. The way they rush. Then the secondary ties into everything that they do. They play well together and on time together. They know you’re going to have to get the ball out in a hurry. Their secondary fits in accordingly.”

THE FINAL WORD:
The Vikings are 3-0 and feeling good about themselves. The Giants are coming off an embarrassing loss. Normally, I like the Giants chances in this situation as I do think the Vikings are playing a bit over their heads and the Giants haven’t hit their stride yet. But the injury situation is not good, and the Vikings will be looking to make a statement on national television at home against a Giants team that tends to struggle on Monday night. My gut says the Giants fall to 2-2.

Sep 262016
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (September 25, 2016)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Washington Redskins 29 – New York Giants 27

Overview

Stating the obvious, this was a bad loss. Every team in the reinvigorated NFC East won on Sunday except for the Giants. The 2015 version of this team reared its ugly head as breakdowns on offense, defense, and special teams all contributed to a very close, heart-breaking defeat.

We’ll address the more specific factors why the team lost below, but the best indicator of success and failure in the NFL is the turnover differential. And for the third game in a row, the Giants turned the ball over more than their opponent. Through three games, the Giants have turned the ball over seven times (4 fumbles, 3 interceptions) and only have one take-a-way (which was a gimme muffed punt). You can’t keep losing the turnover battle and win. It will catch up to you and it did on Sunday.

Another factor was penalties. Coming into the game, the Giants had only committed seven (accepted) infractions on the season. On Sunday, the Giants were penalized 11 times for 128 yards. And a few of these penalties came at the worst time on offense, defense, and special teams.

Giants on Offense

Despite accruing 457 total net yards (337 passing, 120 rushing) and 28 first downs, and being a respectable 44 percent on 3rd down conversions, the Giants offense was a major factor in the loss. Significant negatives included:

  • Three turnovers (2 interceptions and 1 fumble). The RB Shane Vereen fumble occurred on the Washington 34-yard line late in the first half, possibly eliminating at least a field goal opportunity. The QB Eli Manning first interception occurred in the end zone, erasing certain points. The last interception was devastating as the Giants were attempting to set up a game-winning field goal attempt.
  • For the second game in a row, red zone offense was an issue. New York was 2-of-5 (40 percent) in red zone chances and had to settle for field goals of 29 and 30 yards. As mentioned, they also turned the football over in the red zone.
  • Killer (and dumb) penalty on center Weston Richburg for unsportsmanlike conduct. This occurred on play where Eli Manning hit Odell Beckham for a 24-yard gain down to the Washington 5-yard line. Instead, the Giants were moved back to the 20-yard line. Two plays later, Manning was intercepted in the end zone.
  • The top PRODUCTIVE receiving targets remain Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard, and Victor Cruz. However, the other tight ends and backs are not making plays. The top three wide receivers caught 15-of-21 passes thrown their way for 264 yards and one touchdown. Manning was 10-of-17 on his other throws to tight ends and backs for 86 yards and two interceptions.

Overall, the Giants scored touchdowns on half of their six first-half possessions with two punts and a turnover. In the second half, the Giants scored only two field goals on five possessions with one punt and two turnovers.

Interesting note: the Giants did not run the football in the 4th quarter despite the game being close.

Giants on Defense

Losing corners Eli Apple and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie hurt, but the overall defense took a major step backwards on Sunday. Not only did the Giants give up 403 total net yards (313 passing, 90 rushing) but they had a number of other issues:

  • For the third game in a row, the defense did not force a turnover.
  • The Redskins scored on 4-of-5 first-half possessions and would have been a perfect 5-of-5 for not the boneheaded play by Kirk Cousins to not throw the ball away on the last play of the first half.
  • The defense allowed drives of 60 (11 plays), 75 (2 plays), 56 (8 plays), 50 (3 plays), 68 (15 plays), and 56 (10 plays) yards in the game. This allowed Washington to hold a sizeable time-of-possession advantage (33:26 to 26:34). The Redskins were only forced to punt twice all day.
  • The Giants had the lead three times in the second half. The defense could not hold that lead.
  • Coming into the game, the Giants defense had only allowed three plays of over 20 yards with the longest being 23 yards. On Sunday, the Skins had six plays of 20 yards or more, including 55 yards (touchdown), 44 yards (touchdown), and 31 yards. The most-damning play was the 55-yard touchdown allowed on a WR-screen on 3rd-and-15. But the two-play, 75-yard drive after the Giants had gone up 21-9 late in the first half also hurt. The Giants defense actually held the Redskins to 0-for-4 in the red zone and 0-for-2 in goal-to-go situations. But half of the Skins points came on two plays that covered 99 yards.
  • The 15-yard roughing-the-pass penalty called on DE Olivier Vernon on an incomplete 2nd-and-14 pass on the game-winning drive may have saved the day for Washington.

Giants on Special Teams

Special teams were a major reason why the Giants lost this game:

  • The Giants gave up a 50-yard punt return early in the second quarter. The Skins only netted nine yards after the return, but it was enough to set up a successful 45-yard field goal.
  • The Redskins were able to regain the lead 26-24 after they successfully executed a fake punt that picked up 31 yards.
  • Andrew Adams’ unnecessary roughness penalty in the 4th quarter erased a blocked punt by DE Romeo Okwara that would have given the Giants the ball inside the Redskins 20-yard line.

Overall, this defeat was a team effort from the starting quarterback down to the man who was signed to the 53-man roster on Saturday. A play here or there, and the Giants would have won this game. Those words sound hauntingly reminiscent of 2015.

(Washington Redskins at New York Giants, September 25, 2016)