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

Odell Beckham and Tom Coughlin – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 30 – Atlanta Falcons 20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OFFENSIVE OVERVIEW by Connor Hughes

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

QUARTERBACK by Connor Hughes

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

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

RUNNING BACKS by Connor Hughes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WIDE RECEIVERS - by Connor Hughes

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

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

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

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

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

TIGHT ENDS by Connor Hughes

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

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

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

OFFENSIVE LINE by Connor Hughes

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

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

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

DEFENSIVE OVERVIEW – by Eric Kennedy

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

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

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

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

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

DEFENSIVE LINE by Eric Kennedy

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

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

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

Antrel Rolle and Johnathan Hankins – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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

LINEBACKERS – by Eric Kennedy

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

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

Mark Herzlich played 27 snaps and finished with two tackles.

DEFENSIVE BACKS by Eric Kennedy

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

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

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

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

SPECIAL TEAMS by Eric Kennedy

Special teams continue to be an issue.

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

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

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

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

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

Jason Pierre-Paul – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Atlanta Falcons at New York Giants, October 5, 2014

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

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

FOUR DOWNS:

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

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

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

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

Osi Umenyiora – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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

BREAKING DOWN ATLANTA:

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

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

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

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

PLAYER TO WATCH:

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

Odell Beckham and Zack Bowman – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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

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

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

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

FROM THE COACHES’ MOUTH:

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

Tom Coughlin – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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

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

FINAL WORD:

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

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

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

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

Prince Amukamara – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 45 – Washington Redskins 14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OFFENSIVE OVERVIEW by Eric Kennedy

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

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

Daniel Fells and Adrien Robinson – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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

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

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

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

QUARTERBACK by Eric Kennedy

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

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

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

Perfect Pass from Manning to Randle

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

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

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

RUNNING BACKS by Eric Kennedy

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

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

Peyton Hillis – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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

WIDE RECEIVERS by Eric Kennedy

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

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

Rueben Randle – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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

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

TIGHT ENDS by Eric Kennedy

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

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

Larry Donnell – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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

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

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

OFFENSIVE LINE by Eric Kennedy

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

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

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

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

DEFENSIVE OVERVIEW – by Connor Hughes

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

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

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

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

DEFENSIVE LINE – by Connor Hughes

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

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

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

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

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

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

LINEBACKERS – by Connor Hughes

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

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

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

DEFENSIVE BACKS – by Connor Hughes

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

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

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

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

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

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

SPECIAL TEAMS – by Connor Hughes

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

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

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

Todd Gurley – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 2015 NFL Draft: Quarter-Point Thoughts

By Colin Lindsay (Great Blue North Draft Report)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sep 242014
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (December 29, 2013)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants at Washington Redskins, September 25, 2014

The New York Giants (1-2) square off against the Washington Redskins (1-2) Thursday evening in New York’s first NFC East matchup.

Prince Amukamara and Stevie Brown, New York Giants (September 8, 2014)

Prince Amukamara and Stevie Brown – © USA TODAY Sports Images

FOUR DOWNS:

First Down
Who plays free safety?
When the Giants released safety Will Hill, it was assumed that Stevie Brown would fill in at free safety after missing all of last season with a knee injury. The last time Brown saw significant playing time, he tied for the league lead in interceptions with eight. Those hopes of yet to materialize this year as Brown has struggled in coverage and has yet to trust the instincts that made him one of the league’s best ball hawks two years ago. Last week versus Houston, Brown was benched.

When Brown exited the lineup, rookie Nat Berhe took his place. This week in practice, Quintin Demps got the first-team reps at free safety. So who will be out there Thursday night? It’ll be interesting to look who steps on the field first, how that player performs and if there is a role for Brown within the defense as a starter. When Brown had his most success, he was allowed to play the ‘Kenny Phillips’ role. Sit back 15-20 yards from the line of scrimmage, watch the quarterbacks eyes and stop anything that goes deep down the field. Brown could be removed as an everyday starter and used in that position instead. All will be shown in Washington.

Second Down
Has the offensive line turned the corner?
With offensive lines, so many times it’s not so much about having the best players, but the players that play best together. The last two games for the Giants have been some of the best in pass protection, and last Sunday versus Houston may have been the best run blocking the team has provided in well over a year. The question now is centered around if Sunday was a mirage, or is that how the line will play on a regular basis. A good, but banged up, Washington defensive front will be a nice test.

Third Down
Does Andre Williams see an increased workload?
Rashad Jennings ran the ball an awful lot last week with immense success. In a game in which he set career highs, Jennings rushed for 176 yards and touched the ball nearly 40 times. In a short turnaround, Jennings’ body may not be fully healed just yet.

Versus Houston, Williams got a few carrie spelling Jennings, but didn’t seem to have the same success. It wasn’t necessarily a knock on Williams, but rather more attributed to the fact Jennings was playing out of his mind. Through three games, Williams hasn’t experienced the same success he found in the preseason, there’s no denying that, but that could also be due to the fact he hasn’t been allowed to get into a rhythm running the ball. Williams comes off as a player that gets stronger as the game goes on. He may have a chance to do just that tomorrow night.

Steve Weatherford (5), Josh Brown (3), New York Giants (December 22, 2013)

Josh Brown Kicks the Game-Winner in Overtime – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Fourth Down
Can the special teams be special?
For the last several years, few units in the NFL has been as porous as the Giants special teams. Be it poor coverage, poor blocking or poor returns, there’s been nothing ‘special’ about the unit. This offseason, it looked like New York made the right changes to fix the group. Trindon Holliday and Quintin Demps were signed while Odell Beckham Jr. was drafted to address the return game. Bennett Jackson was drafted and Zack Bowman signed to fix the coverage unit. Three games in, it’s the same old, same old.

There’s no explosiveness from the return game as Holliday is on the injured reserve and Beckham is dealing with a hamstring. A training camp foot injury hurt Jackson’s shot of making the roster and he’s on the practice squad. Zack Bowman has missed more special teams tackles than he’s made. A lot of criticism has been given to Tom Quinn, some of it warranted, but more needs to go to the players.

Just like the offense, playmakers need to make plays. Demps and Bowman were brought in to do that, but both have been below average three games in.

BREAKING DOWN WASHINGTON:

OFFENSE - by Connor Hughes
Strength?
As bad as it sounds, Robert Griffin III’s dislocated ankle may have been the best thing to happen to Washington this season. In Jay Gruden’s high-octane, go-deep offense, it looks as if former fourth-round pick Kirk Cousins may be better suited to play the offense, at least it’s looking that way right now. In the two games Cousins has played, the quarterback has completed 52-of-81 passes (64.2 percent) and thrown for 677 yards with five touchdowns and one interception. In fact, Cousins’ 427 passing yards last week versus Philadelphia were more than Griffin has ever thrown for in his 30 games played.

Will Hill, New York Giants (October 27, 2013)

DeSean Jackson is now a member of Washington – © USA TODAY Sports Images

While Cousins’ gaudy numbers haven’t exactly been compiled against the league’s best secondaries (Jacksonville/Philly), they’re impressive none the less. The quarterback seems to be thriving in Gruden’s offense and looks far different than the quarterback that started against the Giants in the final game of last season. Then again, having targets like DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garćon to throw the ball to helps. Last year’s final game of the season, one where Cousins completed just 19-of-49 passes for 169 yards with a pair of interceptions, will certainly be on the quarterback’s mind. The key? New York will have to  pressure Cousins and keep him off balance.

Weakness?
There really isn’t a known weakness across the Redskins offense: The have one of the league’s better running backs in Alfred Morris, two good receivers in Garćon and Jackson and a good offensive line that has allowed Cousins to be pressure on just 19 percent of his drop backs. On Thursday night, the Giants will look to find and exploit a potential hole. That could be putting pressure into the face of Cousins. Versus Philadelphia and Jacksonville, Cousins was allowed to drop back and scan the defense with little pressure heading his way. If the Giants can create pressure, either with their front four or blitzes, Cousins may be forced into mistakes. Cousins has a little bit of a reputation as a player who will take some chances. In the 10 games he’s played in, he’s thrown an interception seven.

DEFENSE -by Eric Kennedy
Strength?
The Redskins operate out of a 3-4 on defense and the strength of their defensive team in in their front seven. The Redskins were terrible defensively in 2013, but they retained defensive coordinator Jim Haslett who has mostly done a fine job during his tenure in Washington. Thus far, the Redskins look much improved on defense in 2014. Up front, ex-Cowboy Jason Hatcher is the best pass rusher at RDE. Hatcher has been bothered by a hamstring injury however. NT Chris Baker is filling for the injured Barry Cofield. Jarvis Jenkins is the LDE. The more dangerous players are at OLB with Brian Orakpo (who is dealing with torn ligaments in his left hand) and Ryan Kerrigan. Both can rush the passer and have caused the Giants problems in the past. ILB Perry Riley is an athletic, 3-down player.

Weakness?
It’s the secondary. And it’s weaker now that the Redskins have lost CB DeAngelo Hall – who has caused problems for Eli in the past – for the season. He will be replaced at left corner by rookie Bashaud Breeland. RCB David Amerson has struggled at times. E.J. Biggers is the nickel corner and Victor Cruz should do well against him. The safeties – Brandon Meriweather and Ryan Clark – are veterans who are on the downside of their respective careers.

Larry Donnell, New York Giants (September 14, 2014)

Larry Donnell – © USA TODAY Sports Images

PLAYER TO WATCH:

Connor Hughes –
Larry Donnell
Quickly, Larry Donnell is establishing himself as the complete package at tight end for the Giants. It was always known that Donnell had the ability to be a receiver, but blocking was a huge work in progress. It looks like Donnell, and positional coach Kevin Gilbride, have put in the time to fine-tune Donnell’s craft in that aspect. He took a huge step forward in that area versus Houston and Washington will provide another tough test. Tom Coughlin was hoping someone would step up at the position, someone has.

Eric Kennedy -
Prince Amukamara and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
These two have the most important match-up battles against Pierre Garçon and DeSean Jackson. With the free safety spot shaky right now, it is critical that both Amakamara and DRC  play well against Washington’s two most explosive play-makers.

FROM THE COACHES’ MOUTH:

Tom Coughlin - (On Kirk Cousins) “All you have to do is put the tape on. Forty-five points, two games. He’s thrown the ball very well – the deep ball, the percentage passes, all kinds of yardage. They’ve done a very nice job in terms of adjusting their style of play and he’s played well.”

Eli Manning, New York Giants (September 21, 2014)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Jay Gruden - (On an improved Eli Manning) “Yeah, I think so. That is just my impression of just watching them for the last 23 hours. I would say my impression coming in playing the Giants from playing them a couple years ago and studying them now, I think it is totally different.”

FINAL WORD:

Connor Hughes – 
As good as last week’s win was, it came against the same team that was selecting No. 1 overall in this year’s draft. With that being said, it’s extremely encouraging to see the rate at which the offense is picking up Ben McAdoo’s scheme. Comparing the dysfunctional unit that was on display for four quarters in Detroit, to the way the team has played the last eight, it’s an entirely different unit.

It’s not going to be easy against Washington, but just like the Giants, call the last two games what they are. Kirk Cousins has torched the Jacksonville Jaguars and Philadelphia Eagles. For any that have watched Philly this year, the defense is far from anything close to a dominant force. As for Jacksonville? Well, it’s the same old Jaguars.

The Giants defense will be the toughest Cousins has faced, and with the way the pass rush has faired this season, I think Cousins could be in for a very long day. Not only is the Giants secondary vastly improved, but so to is the pass rush. Damontre Moore looks to be a budding super star, Jason Pierre-Paul is back and Robert Ayers Jr. has been one of the best and most underrated free agent signings. If that pass rush can get into the face of Cousins and force some throws, I wouldn’t be surprised to see another two-to-three interceptions.

The game is going to come down to who turns the ball over, when those turnovers come and who makes less. If Eli Manning is good Eli, the Giants can win this one running away. It’s going to come down to who makes the fewest mistakes. I think that team will be the Giants.
New York 23 – Washington 13

Eric Kennedy – The Giants have to stop the run and make Washington one-dimensional. Offensively, the Giants should be able to do damage against this secondary if they can keep the pass rushers off of Manning. I’m 0-3 on predictions this year. Let’s keep it going.
Redskins 42 – Giants 0

Sep 242014
 
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Victor Cruz, New York Giants (September 21, 2014)

Victor Cruz – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 30 – Houston Texans 17

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

First Down
Can the defense get off of the field on 3rd down?
YES! Houston was held to a paltry 2-of-12 (17 percent) on third down and failed on their one offensive 4th down attempt (they converted on a special teams 4th down play).

Second Down
Can the defense force some turnovers?
YES! Three interceptions. One each by Prince Amukamara, Antrel Rolle, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Amukamara and DRC had shots at other passes as well.

Third Down
Can the Giants finally get the ground game going?
Rashad Jennings played like a man possessed Sunday afternoon, running for a career-high 176 yards on 34 carries including a one-yard touchdown. There will be more on this in the positional breakdown, but Jennings truly is a complete back. He can catch the ball, run the ball, but more importantly, he blocks like an offensive lineman.

Fourth Down
Can Eli Manning build on his positive performance from last week?
This sentence may be repeated quite often as the season goes on, but Eli Manning had his best game in the West Coast offense Sunday afternoon. The two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback keeps getting more comfortable and seems to enjoy the dinking-and-dunking the Giants are now doing to work down the field.

OFFENSIVE OVERVIEW by Connor Hughes

The Giants scored 30 points Sunday versus the Texans. The Giants could have scored 50.

Ben McAdoo’s West Coast offense was run near perfectly versus Houston as Manning marched the Giants up and down the field with ease on near every possession. Manning had time to throw, the team’s playmakers made plays and, for the first time all year, the Giants established a running game. It was easily the most complete game for the Giants in the short three-game season.

The one noticeable thing that may have had a lot to do with the Giants ability to run the ball were the formations in which they were running the ball out of. The Giants routinely spaced the field with three wide receivers, then ran the ball right up the gut of the Texans defensive line. Since there were three receivers on the field, the Texans couldn’t come out in their base defense. Playing in a nickel and time package, the Giants offensive line took advantage. It was big guys beating up little guys, with a few highlight plays from Jennings.

Granted, this was the Houston Texans, the same team that was selecting first overall in this year’s draft, but it was very promising to see. For the first time in awhile, the Giants dominated from start to finish.

QUARTERBACK by Connor Hughes

While Manning looked good last week versus the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday may have been the most comfortable he’s looked during a game in quite some time. Manning completed 21-of-28 passes for 234 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He marched the Giants up-and-down the field, rolled out and found open receivers on play action passes.

While Manning went deep down the field just once on the incomplete pass to Randle, he seemed entirely comfortable throwing things underneath and letting his playmakers make plays. Two of the biggest plays Sunday (Victor Cruz’s 26-yard touchdown and 61-yard reception) were both passes of just eight yards that Cruz turned into more.

Once Manning got into his rhythm, he started making Manning throws again. His second touchdown of the game, a nine-yard pass to Daniel Fells, was a thing of beauty:

RUNNING BACKS by Connor Hughes

One of the more impressive things about Rashad Jennings is his vision, it really is incredible. There were countless plays on Sunday where Jennings started one way, then made a little juke/shimmy/cutback to find another lane on the other side of the field. These are the little things that can’t be measured or seen in any drill, it’s god given.

Maybe the best example of Jennings vision came on a first-down run in the second half. It looked as if the Giants wanted to run a stretch play to the right side of the field. A stretch is a play in which the entire offensive line blocks the defensive line right, and the running back runs that way. The play is designed to get the outside.

Jennings started going this way, and the defense started their pursuit there, too. Jennings saw this, then saw the left side of the field wide open. He reversed his angle and took it the other direction for a first. You just can’t coach that. Jennings played like a man possessed.

But the biggest play Jennings made Sunday wasn’t one that shows up on the stat sheets. In fact, if it wasn’t for his play, Cruz isn’t doing any salsa in any endzone. With the Texans showing blitz in the A gap, Manning took the snap and Jennings stepped up and picked up in the blitzing linebacker. The block gave Manning enough time to fire a pass to Cruz, who then made a defender miss and raced into the endzone.

WIDE RECEIVERS by Connor Hughes

Victor Cruz caught a lot of flack for his game last week, and for good reason. Cruz asked for the ball more in order for the offense to have success, then dropped three passes when they were thrown his way.

If Cruz had caught two of the three he missed versus Arizona, the Giants probably win the game. Because of one of his catches this week, the Giants did.

It was a classic, old school Victor Cruz performance filled with yards after the catch and ankle-breaking moves. On his touchdown, the move he made to free himself was just unreal.

Cruz seems to have found himself a home in the Giants offense and is beginning to get on the same page as Manning. He’s finding the holes in the defense again.

It’s tough to know exactly what to make of Rueben Randle. He’ll make plays like last week’s one-handed grab that leaves everyone awestruck, but then he’ll play like he did versus Houston which leaves much to be desired. Randle wasn’t bad, he was just blah. The former second-round pick caught five passes for 27 yards.

When McAdoo imagined the Giants offense, I doubt designing plays for Preston Parker was what he had in mind. Either way, Parker played well filling in for Jerrel Jernigan/Odell Beckham Jr. He dropped the one ball, but made a few other catches and ran a nice route on a comeback.

TIGHT ENDS by Connor Hughes

The biggest surprise for the Giants has been the emergence of Larry Donnell as the team’s tight end. Addressing this early, I labeled Donnell as a ‘Dud’ following the game after his fumble on the goal line. The ‘Dud’ label was really just a half dud, there really weren’t any full duds coming out of that game.

With that being said, I take it back entirely. The fumble was a perfect hit by the safety who put his helmet right on the ball. Donnell could have moved the ball to the other hand, but it was more just a textbook play by Kendrick Lewis.

Donnell as a receiver continues to impress, even though that’s what he’s known as doing. Sunday, there was one play that stood out more than most. The biggest thing Donnell can develop is chemistry with Manning. To be able to adjust to plays on the fly because he can anticipate what Manning is thinking. There was a glimpse of that beginning to happen.

With Donnell perfectly covered by Daniel Manning, Manning threw a pass just behind Donnell. The tight end had to stop his pattern and jump back to make the grab, but that’s what Manning wanted him to do. Had he led him, it’s an interception. Donnell saw this, too, and made the adjustment on the ball for a helluva catch.

Donnell also took huge strides Sunday blocking. Believe it or not, the Giants let him face off against JJ Watt. Believe it or not, Donnell held his own. If that aspect of his game comes around, the Giants may have something special on their hands.

OFFENSIVE LINE by Connor Hughes

Get this out of the way now: Sometimes, J.J. Watt does things that only J.J. Watt can do. Like…

Watt is one of the league’s best defensive players, he’s going to make plays no matter who is in front of him. With that being said, the Giants did a remarkable job against him. In particular, Justin Pugh. Pugh went up against Watt more than a few of the other Giants and did very, very well. Sure, he let up a few plays, but not nearly as much as so many others.

Aside from containing Watt, the Giants offensive line played their best game in potentially two years. There were massive holes for Jennings to run through and time for Manning to throw. The player that stood out the most was John Jerry.

When Jerry arrived in New York, he was known primarily as a pass blocker. Sunday, he made some incredible plays pulling in the run game.  During the first two weeks of the season, Brandon Mosley was listed on the game day depth chart as the starting right guard. In a pre-game announcement, a ‘substitution’ of Jerry for Mosley was announced. Sunday, Jerry was listed as the starting right guard and he deserves it.

Sometimes, you don’t need the best offensive linemen to make the best offensive line. What you need is five players playing together. The last two weeks, the Giants have had that.

DEFENSIVE OVERVIEW – by Eric Kennedy

Not playing for the Giants on defense were LB Jon Beason (foot/ankle) and LB Devon Kennard (hamstring).

The New York Giants defense played very well in the first half of the game, but slackened noticeably in the second half. It was a mostly positive performance as the Giants held the Texans to a 17 percent third-down conversion rate, made a key 4th down stop, picked off three passes, and limited the Texans to 17 points.

In the first half, the Giants held the Texans to four first downs, 0-of-7 on third down, and 83 net yards (41 rushing and 42 passing) as Houston was kept off of the scoreboard. However, the Texans gained 16 first downs, 328 net yards (78 rushing and 250 passing), and 17 point in the second half. The Giants also surrendered three plays of over 40 yards in the second half, two of which came on the TD drive where the Texans cut the score to 17-10 at the end of the third quarter. The game got uncomfortably close at this point.

Overall, it was a step in the right direction, but not a complete game.

Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants (September 21, 2014)

Jason Pierre-Paul – © USA TODAY Sports Images

DEFENSIVE LINE – by Eric Kennedy

It was a solid all-around game for the Giants up front. Houston running backs were held to 85 yards rushing on 17 carries. Had the Giants not surrendered a 46-yard run to rookie Alfred Blue in the third quarter, those numbers would have looked even better (39 yards on 16 carries). The only other time the Giants were a bit soft against the run was on Houston’s opening drive when Blue picked up 22 yards on three carries. It was on these few plays where the Texans were able to successfully block DE Jason Pierre-Paul (7 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss, 1 pass defense) and DT Johnathan Hankins (4 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 1 pass defense). The big play by Hankins was stuffing the 4th-and-1 play early in the third quarter (with an assist from DE Mathias Kiwanuka and DT Mike Patterson). Pierre-Paul was very disruptive against the run at times.

The Giants only had two sacks. Among the defensive linemen, only Hankins received partial credit for a sack. But those numbers do not tell the full story. The Giants got good pressure much of the day from all four starters at different points of the contest. Pierre-Paul made his presence felt as a pass rusher and Kiwanuka and DT Cullen Jenkins (4 tackles, 1 pass defense) flashed at times. JPP caused the first interception with his hit on the Houston QB as he was throwing the ball. In addition, I really the way JPP has been hustling all over the field. When he doesn’t get to the QB, he chases and pursues the ball carrier.

Robert Ayers caught my attention several times as a pass rusher from the defensive tackle position, and Damontre Moore had a couple of quality pass rushes. Ayers helped to cause the second interception. The Giants tipped three passes and would have had more sacks had they been able to wrap up QB Ryan Fitzpatrick on a number of occasions.

Jameel McClain, New York Giants (September 14, 2014)

Jameel McClain – © USA TODAY Sports Images

LINEBACKERS – by Eric Kennedy

Without Jon Beason playing, the fear was this unit would be a major liability in this game. It wasn’t. There was the one big 46-yard run where both Jameel McClain and Jacquian Williams were blocked (along with Hankins and Pierre-Paul), but for the most part the linebackers did their job agains the run. McClain finished the game with a team-high 11 tackles, plus 0.5 sacks and one tackle for a loss. He flashed on the blitz a couple of times. Williams (5 tackles) was far more physical against the run this week and flashed on a play where he stunted with JPP and helped to cause an incompletion on third down. But both McClain and Williams also missed sacks on the elusive Fitzpatrick. Mark Herzlich (4 tackles and 1 tackle for a loss) played on the weakside (strongside in Fewell’s defense).

Oddly, the Texans never really went after the linebackers in pass coverage until the third quarter when they experienced a moderate amount of success over the middle to TE Garrett Graham and crossing routes to the slot receiver.

DEFENSIVE BACKS – by Eric Kennedy

The defensive backs played pretty well for the most part, but they did give up some big plays. The best news was the turnovers. Three interceptions, two of which led to 10 points. CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (3 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss, 1 interception, 2 pass defenses) was sharp. He got his first interception as a Giant and almost a second. DRC also stood out in run defense on one play, nailing the back for a 2-yard loss. He was often lined up against perenial Pro Bowler Andre Johnson, who was limited to 24 yards on four catches. Rodgers-Cromartie was flagged with a defensive holding penalty.

Prince Amukamara, New York Giants (September 14, 2014)New York Giants (September 14, 2014)

Prince Amukamara – © USA TODAY Sports Images

CB Prince Amukamara (5 tackles, 1 interception, 2 pass defenses) also had a interception and almost came down with two more. But he also was beat by WR DeAndre Hopkins a couple of times (a 17-yard comeback route and a 49 yard deep pass). He was also flagged for a bogus pass interference penalty that gave the Texans a 1st-and-goal from the 1-yard line.

SS Antrel Rolle gave the Giants a huge lift right before halftime with an interception and 25 yard return down to the Houston 2-yard line, setting up a score and a 14-0 halftime advantage. FS Stevie Brown and CB Trumaine McBride got burned on Hopkins’ 44-yard touchdown pass that cut the score to 17-10. This is the second time this season Brown has given up a long touchdown by not properly covering the deep half of the field. Other than that play, McBride wasn’t noticed so it appears he did a good job in replacing Walter Thurmond for at least one week.

SPECIAL TEAMS – by Eric Kennedy

There were two huge mistakes early that originally appeared would cost the Giants dearly. First, the Giants were unprepared for a fake punt that resulted in an easy 10-yard completion and a first down on Houston’s first offensive possession (thankfully, the defense saved the special teams here). Second, early in the second quarter, Zak DeOssie’s bad snap on a 30-yard field goal effort not only resulted in no points, but also gave Houston the ball at the 41-yard line.

Damontre Moore, New York Giants (September 14, 2014)

Damontre Moore blocks a punt – © USA TODAY Sports Images

On the positive side, Damontre Moore’s punt block in the 4th quarter set the Giants’ offensive up on the Houston 29-yard line, helping the Giants to extend their lead to 27-10.

PK Josh Brown was 3-for-3 on his field goal efforts (from 39, 29, and 31 yards out). Of his seven kickoffs, four went for touchbacks while three were returned for a total of 67 yards, the longest being a return of 31 yards.

Steve Weatherford punted four times with an average of 39.8 yards per punt. The only punt returned by Houston went for three yards.

Quintin Demps had one kickoff return for 17 yards. Preston Parker returned one punt for 12 yards and had another 12-yard called back due to a holding penalty on Damontre Moore. Larry Donnell recovered an onside kick.

(Boxscore – Houston Texans at New York Giants, September 21, 2014)
Sep 222014
 
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New York Giants at Washington Redskins (September 22, 1940); Tuffy Leemans with the ball.

New York Giants at Washington Redskins (September 22, 1940); Tuffy Leemans with the ball.

by Larry Schmitt for BigBlueInteractive.com

Part of the early NFL’s success in distinguishing itself from the more popular college game was splitting the league into two divisions and having the first place finishers meet to decide the league championship. Fan interest spiked, newspaper coverage increased, statistical documentation improved and the league stabilized.

In their eight seasons prior to the divisional format, the New York Giants had two sets of rivals. The first was the teams they regularly competed with for first place, the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears. The second set was the various geographical rivals within the New York City area. Most were short lived incarnations: the New York Yankees (1926-1928), the Brooklyn Lions/Horsemen (1927), the Staten Island Stapletons (1929-32), and the Newark Tornadoes (1929-30). The longest-tenured and most-viable franchise was the Brooklyn Dodgers/Tigers (1930-44).

Most of those local teams were unsuccessful and not much of a threat to the Giants on the field, but they were more than a nuisance. They competed with the Giants for talent and occasionally were successful in outbidding the established franchise for players. They also were an unneeded distraction when home dates conflicted. It was hard enough getting fans to come to the Polo Grounds without having games coincide within the city limits.

At the outset of divisional play in 1933, the usual teams were at the top. The Giants won the Eastern Division title and the Bears won the Western. In fact, over the first 14 seasons of this format, there was very little variety in the NFL Championship game. The Western Division was represented by the Bears eight times, the Packers four times and the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Rams once each. The domination in the East was even more stringent; all 14 titles belonged to just two teams. The Giants represented the East eight times and the other six by their first true rival, the Boston/Washington Redskins.

The 1933-35 seasons saw the Giants dominate the Eastern Division with little competition. Although New York’s record against Boston was 5-1 in that span, the rivalry with the Redskins grew to be so spectacular in the late 1930’s through the mid 1940’s that it was compared to famed college clashes in the vein of Yale-Harvard and Army-Navy. The league schedule-makers wisely capitalized on this feud, and often scheduled the Giants and Redskins to meet in the final week of the regular season. The December Giants-Redskins games at the Polo Grounds regularly had larger crowds than their Championship Games against the Bears or Packers the following week. The Redskins final season in Boston was the launch point, and it featured what would become almost an annual rite of passage to the Championship match – a winner-take-all, head-to-head season finale.

The New Contender Emerges

In 1936, former Giant end Ray Flaherty, who served as Steve Owen’s assistant coach in 1935, was in his first season as head coach of Boston and he had his team playing sharply, physically and confidently. Joining Flaherty was rookie Wayne Millner, a strong two-way end who proved to be a clutch receiver. The Redskins arrived in New York with a 6-5 record while the Giants stood at 5-5-1, which included a 7-0 win at Boston in October. Only a victory would vault the Giants into first place.

Much of the hype leading up to the game included a subplot of who would lead the NFL in rushing. Giants’ rookie sensation Tuffy Leemans entered the final week with 806 yards. New York’s practices were shortened in the early part of the week, first due to the Polo Grounds field being frozen, later from torrential rains falling. One of the practice reports from midweek described the scene of the Giants sloughing through ankle-deep mud in the patch of field close to the center field bleachers, as the grounds crew had the field of play covered with a tarp. “The ball carriers slipped and passes found the water-soaked pigskin wobbling through the air.”

The weather was not much better on game day, and kept what was expected to be a near capacity crowd to 18,000. The New York Times described the contest as not “even being a football game, but rather a parody of one.” Ball carriers “skidded as far as they ran” in “the clammiest mud imaginable.” The downpour lasted through the first three quarters and floodlights were turned on in the second half to illuminate the mud caked players through the foggy haze that settled inside the dreary Polo Grounds. The pileups became dangerous as the field deteriorated. The hazardous conditions were blamed for Les Corzine’s broken ankle and Tony Sarausky’s concussion “that narrowly missed being a fracture of the skull.”

The Redskins put the Giants in a hole early and held the field-position advantage throughout. Future Hall of Fame tackle Glen “Turk” Edwards partially blocked Ed Danowksi’s punt from the Giants end zone, setting up Boston on the New York four-yard line. Three plays later Don Irwin plunged over from one-yard out to put the Redskins ahead 7-0.

Boston Redskins at New York Giants (December 6, 1936)

Boston Redskins at New York Giants (December 6, 1936)

New York’s offense never found any tread. Passing the ball was a near impossibility, and Boston played a virtual 10-man line to clog the line of scrimmage and stuff the New York rushing attack in the “veritable quagmire.” Boston threatened twice more in the first half, but failed to capitalize as their scoring chances failed with a missed a field goal and lost fumble. Battles’ 74-yard sloshing punt return in the third quarter sealed the Giants fate.

Ironically, despite the Giants 14-0 loss, the Polo Grounds would still host the NFL Championship Game the following Sunday. Redskins Owner George Preston Marshall was dissatisfied with the small crowds at Fenway Park and decided his team would not return to Boston. Green Bay defeated the Redskins 21-6 in a defensive slugfest. After the game, Marshall told his team (which had three All-Pros in Battles, Edwards and center Frank Bausch) they were good enough to win a championship, all they needed was a quality passer.

That passer was taken with the Redskins first pick of the draft: tailback Sammy Baugh, whom Marshall personally scouted. Baugh was more than a ground breaking passer, he was an all-round player who also was a hard tackling safety on defense and exceptional punter. Meanwhile, Owen and the Giants believed they were more than one player away from going back to the Championship Game, and populated their roster with a significant number of rookies, including backs Ward Cuff and Hank Soar, ends Will Walls, Jim Poole and Jim Lee Howell, and guard Orville Tuttle.

In 1937, the new-look teams met under the flood lights for a night contest in front of 25,000 Washingtonians. They marveled at Baugh’s aerials, which twice drove the home team to field goals. The real ace for the Redskins though was back Riley Smith, who not only accounted for all of Washington’s points in the 13-3 victory, but who also made the game-altering play on defense. New York trailed 6-3 in the fourth quarter and was advancing on Washington’s rugged defense. Twice earlier, New York had been stopped on downs in goal-to-go situations. Riley intercepted Danowski’s pass and returned it 58 yards for the clinching score.

Despite the loss, Owen had to be encouraged with his young team’s performance on a big stage against one of the best outfits in the league. New York actually had the statistical advantage in most categories, including a lop-sided rushing-yards advantage of 226-105. The teams were almost even in the forward passing department. Baugh was 11-17 for 116 yards and Danowski 9-17 for 85 yards, but Danowski threw two interceptions, the second of which being the most costly.

Busy at the Blackboard

New York won their next four games and entered the season finale with a 6-2-2 record. Part of their success was a new two-platoon system where Owen had his team divided into interchangeable sub units. Beginning with the home opener in October versus Philadelphia, Owen swapped out 10 players at the end of the first and third quarters – the lone exception being Mel Hein who usually played the full 60 minutes. Not only did this keep his team fresh, it gave all the young players plenty of game experience.

A friendly rivalry known as “the soda pop derby” developed between the two squads (known as Team A and Team B) and they charted their net score throughout the season. The team with the highest net point differential would be treated to a round of sodas (or perhaps a more adult beverage) by the other.

The 7-3 Redskins won five of six following a 2-2 start. Rookie Baugh hit his stride in mid-October and led the league in forward completions and passing yards. He was most comfortable operating from the Double Wing formation. This formation featured the Single Wing’s unbalanced line, but had the quarterback or blocking back moved just outside the end, potentially giving the tailback four receiving options on every snap. Since the backfield was more balanced in this setup, the defense had a more difficult time anticipating where the ball would go after the snap. Flaherty also devised a new strategy where a back moved laterally to receive a pass behind a group of pulling linemen, which would later become known as a screen pass. Washington also featured the league’s #1 defense and leading rusher, Battles, who became the first player to lead the league in rushing twice (having first done so in 1932.)

T-Formation and Single WingThe Giants-Washington game at the Polo Grounds again fell on the final Sunday of the regular-season schedule and would determine which team played the Western Division Champion for the Ed Thorp Memorial Trophy. The anticipation was high and ticket demand heavy – the Giants had hopes for a sellout. Marshall did his part to drum up interest in his own pompous way. He brought a caravan of approximately 10,000 football crazy fanatics from the DC region north on the Amtrak to Manhattan, including the Redskins 75-piece matching band, who paraded from Penn Station to the Giants offices at Columbus Circle. New York had never seen anything like it.

The Redskins boasted of being at both psychological and physical peaks for the December showdown, not a man on their roster missed practice. The press highlighted the fact that Flaherty held a 2-1 advantage against his mentor Owen.  The Giants had several key personnel nursing injuries, including Leemans, but had a statistical advantage in the standings. New York would be awarded first place in the event of a tie. Owen was also ready to fully deploy a scheme he’d been experimenting with throughout the season – a twist on the Single Wing that he called the A-Formation.

The A-Formation had three aspects that made it unique:

  • First, the line was unbalanced to one side and the backfield strong to the opposite side. The Single Wing was a power formation that attacked the edges of the defense with slant runs. The line and backfield were always strong to the same side, having the intent of delivering the most men to the point-of-attack as possible. The A-Formation’s asymmetry offered more opportunity for deception.
  • Second, the line splits were very unusual. The ends were moved a few yards further way from the tackles (a tactic Owen no doubt observed in November when the Giants hosted Green Bay, as Earl “Curly” Lambeau moved end Don Hutson further away from the collisions at the line of scrimmage to take advantage of his speed and route running ability) and spread the defense laterally. The over and under guards were close to Hein at center, but the right tackle took a wider split, almost as an end would. This created natural running and passing lanes and caused confusion in the defense’s pre-snap alignment.
  • Third, Hein was the multi-talented catalyst for the execution. His unique combination of range and strength allowed the line to deploy in this unorthodox manner. No other center possessed the capability of snapping the ball (Hein was the only center at the time to snap with his head up looking at the defense), getting out of his stance and engaging a defender effectively.  Every man in the backfield was eligible to take the snap. In Single Wing and Double Wing schemes, the snap almost always went to the tailback. In the A-Formation, Hein would snap the ball to the tailback, halfback or fullback on any given play. Not only did the defense have little idea where the play would be going, they did not know from where it would originate.  Being a highly-regarded defensive strategist throughout his career, Owen’s offensive system was derived from the places that gave defenses the most trouble, uncertainty and hesitation.

Double Wing and A-FormationNew York would also prepare with a new defensive alignment to deal with Baugh’s aerial assault: a 5-3-2-1 defense instead of their usual 6-4-1. The Giants practices were lively and the team brimmed with confidence. They had extra time to prepare as their last game was against Brooklyn on Thanksgiving Day (a disappointing 13-13 tie, a win would have clinched the East.) A case of beer was present at the Sunday practice as players were ready to celebrate the anticipated Green Bay victory over Washington. When word spread that the Redskins upset the Packers 14-6, guard Johnny Dell Isola told Owen, “Don’t let that bother you Steve. We’ll get that championship for you next Sunday anyway.”

Despite all the preparation, conceptualization and scheming, football games are decided on the field of play.  The second largest crowd in pro football history to that point, 58,285, witnessed a masterful performance by the visitors. The New York Times described the scene eloquently: “There is not a superlative in the English langue that can quite describe the magnificence of the Washingtonians. Their charging had the New Yorkers rocked back on their heels, their passing had them absolutely bewildered and the running was a gem of football perfection.”

Despite all Owens best intentions, the Redskins were clearly the better team, and dominated the game 49-14.  Although the Giants passers actually accrued more yards than Baugh, they were far less efficient. Baugh was 12-of-17 for 212 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception while the Giants combined for 18-of-33 for 154 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. The real story of the domination was told in the trenches. Edwards and his crew were powerful along both fronts. Washington outrushed New York 238-18, including -5 for the Giants in the second half. Battles had 165 yards rushing and also a 75-yard interception return.

The Redskins caravan traveled to Chicago, where they upset the favored Bears at frozen Wrigley Field in 15 degree temperatures, 28-21, to win the NFL Championship.

The Giants exacted revenge on their new favorite team to hate in 1938. New York upset the Redskins in Washington 10-7 in a fourth-quarter comeback in October, then throttled them 36-0 in the season finale at the Polo Grounds. The Giants defeated Green Bay 23-17 for the NFL Title the following week.

 

Washington Redskins at New York Giants (December 4, 1938); Mel Hein (#7)

Washington Redskins at New York Giants (December 4, 1938); Mel Hein (#7)

(See “The 1938 New York Giants” for more detail.) 

In 1939, the meeting of the NFL’s previous two champions took place at Griffith Stadium in the first week of October. Both teams were 1-0, with wins over Philadelphia (Washington entered the game on a week’s rest) and New York was riding a 10-game unbeaten streak that had begun with the fourth quarter come-from-behind victory over the Redskins the previous year. This game would be played without one of the heroes of that win, end Jim Lee Howell was sidelined with an injury, as well as Leemans, Soar and guard Tarzan White.

The anticipated capacity crowd was held to 26,341 by driving rains that turned the field “into a miniature lake,” but they were treated to a primal battle featuring “bone shattering line play” as described in The New York Times. The Giants defense kept New York’s unbeaten string to eleven games with opportunistic play, as Washington controlled the field position and the ball throughout. The Redskins had the advantage in first downs 12-7 and total yards 208-74 (the Giants had -3 yards passing.) Three interceptions, a fumble recovery and a goal-line stand resulting in a missed 15-yard field goal by Washington enabled the Giants to survive with a 0-0 tie.

Ascending Tension

New York continued clutch play throughout the season. They did not usually dominate, but big plays at key moments earned them the moniker of “money team.” At 8-1-1 entering the season finale, the Giants only blemish was an 18-14 loss at Detroit in November. Washington was equally impressive and also 8-1-1. Their only loss was a 24-14 setback to the Packers, who had already clinched the Western Division. Both teams were confident, and the demand for tickets was so strong 4,000 bleacher seats were installed at the Polo Grounds. The Redskins were expected to arrive with approximately 15,000 in tow.

An interesting development from Washington this season was the addition of tailback Frank Filchock to their roster. While Filchock favored running, he was very capable throwing the ball and at times performed as a near equal with Baugh. “We made the defenses change,” Flaherty explains. “They’d get all set for Baugh’s passing and then would have to change when we put the running unit in. We tried to keep them constantly off balance and usually succeeded.” Filchock not only led the NFL in scoring strikes in 1939 with 11, he also earned the distinction of throwing the first 99-yard touchdown in NFL history (to Andy Farkas at Pittsburgh.) Balancing out the throwing tandem of Slingin’ Sammy and Flingin’ Frank, as they were known as in Washington, was fullback Farkas leading the league in scoring with 68 points (five rushing touchdowns, five receiving touchdowns, a kickoff return touchdown and two point afters.)

The Giants clutch defense would be put to the test. New York led the league in key categories of fewest points surrendered and most takeaways, and was second in yards yielded. Most of the Giants were in good health, save for Leemans who continued to nurse nagging injuries that he tried to keep discreet, “I’m not going to let them know where I’m banged up. They’ll have to find that out themselves.”

Refusing to take a cue from his boastful owner Marshall, Washington coach Flaherty only predicted “a good, close game.” Owen was equally guarded, “We’ve got a tough ballgame ahead of us. The boys are ready for it and I know they’ll do their best. That is all.” In the event of a tie, a playoff would be held the following Sunday in Washington.

The weather was not ideal. A chilly rain fell and the field was somewhat muddy, but would hold up well.  The crowd of 62,530 jammed into the Polo Grounds was the second largest in NFL history to that point (the largest was the Red Grange at the Polo Grounds in 1925 that exceeded 70,000) and they were treated to an intense, thrilling contest that ended with a legendary controversy.

The Giants dominated the first 30 minutes. Their physical play limited Washington to four rushing yards and sent several key Redskins to the sidelines with injuries, including Baugh, Farkas and Edwards.  Despite their dominance, the lead was just six, coming on Cuff and Strong field goal placements. Washington’s lone drive into New York territory ended with a Leemans’ interception of a Filchock pass in the end zone just before the half.

While the Redskins offense remained in capable hands with Filchock, Baugh was missed in the punting game. A poor third quarter punt set the Giants up with a short field at the Washington 40-yard line. After Danowski completed a pass Soar, two rushes placed the ball on the 16-yard line. The drive stalled and New York came up empty when Cuff’s 21-yard field goal attempt missed. The Giants came right back. Soar intercepted Filchock and returned the ball 25 yards to the Redskin 19-yard line. Washington’s defense was stout again, but this time Cuff’s 15-yard placement was good. New York led 9-0 going into the fourth quarter.

Filchock led Washington on their first advance of the second half, but New York put the threat to a close when Leemans, on his bad leg, intercepted his second pass of the afternoon.  Washington held and forced a New York punt. The Giants intercepted another Filchock pass, but it was the Redskins who were about to alter the tenor of the contest. They held New York again. Then Willie Wilkin blocked Len Barnum’s punt, giving Washington possession on the Giants’ 19-yard line with hope and a jolt of momentum.

After a run lost a yard, Filchock went back to the aerial attack. Fading to his right as he dropped back, Filchock launched a high arcing long ball to the left, which was timed perfectly to miss being deflected by the diving Barnum into the hands of Masterson just across the goal line. Masterson added the point-after and Washington was very much alive, trailing 9-7 with 5:34 on the clock.

Detonation

The rejuvenated Washington defense held the Giants to another three-and-out. Dick Todd returned the punt 30 yards to the New York 47-yard line. Filchock and Todd each advanced the ball once while their line creased New York’s forward wall. On first and ten from the Giants 19-yard line, Filchock completed a pass to Frank Spirida inside the eight-yard line. Filchock ran a keeper to the five and Washington called time out with 45 seconds left. Flaherty was penalized for calling consecutive time outs as he sent Bo Russell out for the placement attempt and the ball was moved back to the 10-yard line. Those five yards would prove to be critical.

There were no hash marks visible on the field to judge where the ball was spotted, but the spot was right-of-center, and Russell’s straight-ahead kick from short range went up in a straight line and appeared to pass almost directly over the right upright. It is impossible to tell with any degree of certainty whether or not it was inside, as the goalposts were much shorter in this era. The ball cleared the field of play and landed in the Polo Grounds grandstand. It appeared to have traveled a diagonal line of trajectory, but the possibility remains that it may have been just good enough.

The fans in the end zone seats celebrated as the ball landed among them while some of the Washington players also celebrated on the field. The mood changed dramatically as referee Bill Halloran walked into the middle of the players, waving his arms indicating the kick was no good. Several Redskins players stomped behind Halloran who conferred with umpire Tom Thorp.  Players and coaches from the Washington sideline swarmed around the officials.

Order was restored long enough for Danowski to twice hand off to John “Bull” Karcis, who was assaulted by enraged defenders each time he went into the line, and run the remaining time off of the clock. When the final gun sounded, seemingly every man from the Redskins sideline went right for Halloran while Giants fans stormed the north end zone and dismantled the goal posts. A mob of Washington players allegedly threatened Halloran and Thorp who were surrounded by police and Polo Grounds ushers, while the enraged Flaherty gesticulated that the kick was good. Wingback Ed Justice was alleged to have thrown several punches at Halloran (without any landing) and was dragged off of the field by several officers. The scene was riotous, brawls broke out amongst the horde of fans running rampant on the field, while the argumentative mob followed the officials into the tunnel toward the dressing rooms. It was a full half hour before the Polo Grounds was settled again.

Several spectators stated the kick was wide – by anywhere from two feet to a few inches – while in the locker room Washington players insisted it was good. In the post-game press conference, Flaherty seethed, “If that Halloran has a conscience, he’ll never have a sound night’s sleep again.” The kicker Russell himself said, “It was close; it could’ve been called either way.” Most surprising was the refusal to comment from owner Marshall.

The day after the game, NFL President Carl Storck revealed that if an investigation revealed Justice had thrown a punch he would be banned from the league for life, “If Justice was guilty of attacking an official, as has been alleged, he is deserving of the most serious penalty we can impose. Our officials must be protected.” Justice was ultimately exonerated and played with Washington through the 1942 season. Regarding the field goal decision, Storck said, “The decision on a play of that type must rest entirely on the referee’s judgment, and I have every confidence in Bill Halloran’s judgment. He is highly competent.”

At the press conference opening championship week, Owen said, “I was in no position to see whether it was good or not. No one on the sideline is in a position to see. Bill Halloran never hesitated in giving his decision.” The Giants went on to play the Packers in Milwaukee for the NFL title but were handled ruthlessly in a 27-0 rout.

The 1940 season saw the emergence of a new contender in the East. The young Brooklyn Dodgers with their star tailback Clarence “Ace” Parker found themselves on equal footing with the two dominant teams. New head coach Jock Sutherland had them operating an efficient, and at times explosive, offense and rugged defense. They were no longer a team to be taken for granted as an easy win.

Washington Redskins at New York Giants (November 24, 1940)

Washington Redskins at New York Giants (November 24, 1940)

While the Giants and Redskins split a pair of 21-7 home wins between one another, the Dodgers handed New York a 21-6 defeat at the Polo Grounds on December 1, burying the Giants in third place, their lowest finish in four years. It was their first loss to Brooklyn since 1930, ending a 17-0-3 unbeaten run versus their inter-borough rivals. Despite leading the NFL is scoring during the regular season (and forging the distinction of being the last Wing-style team to do so) Washington found out firsthand what the future of the professional football was going to look like when the Chicago Bears unleashed George Halas’ new version of the T-Formation. The final score of 73-0 remains the most one sided score in NFL history.

A Period of Perseverance

In 1941, the Giants swept Washington, including the second game where the Giants scored 10 points in the final 53 seconds for a come-from-behind win at the Polo Grounds to clinch the Eastern Division. The Dodgers, however, swept the Giants, including the game on December 7th when a chill went through the crowd as the PA called upon all active duty servicemen report immediately for duty. Nobody knew at the time that Japan had just attacked the U.S. Naval base at Pearl Harbor. Brooklyn’s victory also knocked the Redskins into third place. New York played an anti-climactic championship game in front of a small crowd at Wrigley Field against the Chicago Bears the next week. The Monsters of the Midway gave New York their own dose of the modern T-Formation and won the game 37-9.

By the time the 1942 training camps rolled around, the NFL landscape was very different. The most able bodied young men were called to duty in service of their country. Young men from college who were deemed undesirable for service mixed with aged veterans coaxed out of retirement, including Hein.

The Giants opened their season at 1-0 Washington in one of the most peculiar and unexpectedly significant outcomes in NFL history. The game conditions were miserable: blustery winds, heavy rain and a muddy field. The Giants won the coin toss and the normally conservative Owen elected to receive (he was the first coach to ever win the toss then elect to kick, being more comfortable with his defense to open a game). The first play from scrimmage was a 30-yard pass from Leemans to end Will Walls, who caught the ball at the 20, evaded a defender and sloshed his way into the end zone for a surprising 7-0 lead. Owen said later, “When the game opened, it seemed sure to rain, and I instructed Tuffy Leemans to try for a touchdown pass as soon as he got the ball.” That was New York’s only pass attempt of the game. The Giants were seemingly comfortable with the touchdown lead and content to run into the line a few times before punting and playing defense.

Baugh’s short passing game worked fairly well given the conditions. Several completions moved his team to the Giants 5-yard line where halfback Bob Seymour would go over for the score on his second plunge. Despite controlling the ball and amassing a huge advantage in yardage – Washington would end up outrushing New York 113-1 – the game remained deadlocked 7-7 late into the third quarter. Owen rolled the dice a second time and adjusted his defensive backfield during a Redskin advance. O’Neal Adams snared a Dick Poillon pass and returned it 66 yards for a touchdown to give the Giants a 14-7 advantage. It was a lead that would hold up, despite the Giants inability to register a single first down over the game’s 60 minutes. [Note: In modern scoring a touchdown is recorded as a first down.]A final Washington drive ended with another interception in New York territory in the fourth quarter.

The final statistics belied logic. Washington’s advantages of 15 first downs to 0 and 233 total yards to 51 left seemingly intelligent observers flummoxed. Members of the press corps credited the Giants with playing “smart football,” noting New York did win the turnover battle 3-0. Owen said of the game changing Adams interception, “That was not luck; we had gambled on stealing a favorite play of the Redskins, a wide flat pass, and had our ends play inside their ends.” New York’s strong punting game also served them well, as they forced Washington to drive long distances on the soft, muddy Griffith Stadium field. Marshall remained incredulous however: “One yard! Gadzooks, I could make more yardage than that just by falling down!”

Marshall was likely placated by the rest of Washington’s dominant season. This proved to be the Redskins lone loss of the campaign as they were hardly tested the remainder of the season. The roll to a 10-1 record included a 14-7 win at the Polo Grounds in November. The Giants meanwhile had a mediocre 5-5-1 year, only good enough for third in the East. The Redskins hosted the most impressive Bears team of the period for the NFL Championship. Chicago led the NFL in total offense and defense while boasting an average margin of victory that was nearly 27 points (one of those wins was a 26-7 decision over the Giants at the Polo Grounds) despite having lost Halas to the Navy mid-season (Hunk Anderson and Luke Johnsos served as co-coaches for the final six games ).

Washington Redskins at New York Giants (November 15, 1942)

Washington Redskins at New York Giants (November 15, 1942)

Baugh, and the other Washington players who were embarrassed two years earlier, earned a semblance of revenge as they deprived the Bears of a perfect season in a 14-6 upset. The end result, given the Giants unlikely September victory, was that the NFL would have to wait another 30 years before it would see a perfect team, when Don Shula’s 1972 Dolphins emerged 17-0 after beating George Allen’s Redskins in Super Bowl VII.

Reinvigorated Competition

In 1943, the manpower drain from World War II forced the NFL to trim roster size, shorten the season schedule and loosen restrictions on in-game substitution to allow coaches game management flexibility. Cleveland lost its team for the season, as the league granted the Rams request to suspend operations for a year as they had lost too many players as well as their owner to the armed services. Washington lost its coach Flaherty to the Navy as well, and was now lead by Dutch Bergman.  The Redskins didn’t seem to notice the difference as the reigning NFL Champs picked up where they left off the year before. They extended their unbeaten streak to 17 games before losing to the Pitt-Phil amalgamation. The Giants meanwhile still hovered around 0.500. Back-to-back wins over two of the league’s weakest teams, Brooklyn and the Chicago Cardinals, boosted New York’s record to 4-3-1 and gave them a longshot opportunity to steal the Eastern Division title from Washington if they could sweep the final home-and-home series with the Redskins. The first game at the Polo Grounds was originally scheduled to be the season finale, but a conflict forced the game at Griffith Stadium to be tacked on at the end of the season.

New York entered the game in mostly good shape. Walls, who had been out since injuring his knee in a game against the Bears three weeks earlier, was tentatively scheduled to return, which was just in time as Adams broke his jaw in the Dodgers game. Second year man Frank Liebel would also be relied upon heavily. Owen was counting on a good performance from his battle tested veterans like Hein, Cuff, Leemans, Cope and Soar to lead the mostly inexperienced team against the tough Redskins. Very few of the young players had ever faced a passer the caliber of Baugh, who would end the season as the league leader in three categories: passing, punting and interceptions, to become the first “Triple Crown” winner. Baugh though, would miss the protection from his All-Pro guard Dick Farman, who had injured his knee a week earlier, and wingback Wilbur Moore.

The crowd of 51,308 was treated to another Giants-Redskins late-season thriller. Early on there did not seem to be much potential for drama. Washington controlled the ball for most of the first half but did not take the lead until 18 seconds before the intermission with a 26-yard Masterson field goal. New York’s sound defense kept Washington out of the end zone. Owen explained his strategy for Baugh, who completed 16 passes for only 154 yards, “The Giants had good luck with Baugh because, unlike other teams, we figured out it was a waste of manpower trying to rush him. He could throw too fast to be stopped. We didn’t try to stop him. Instead, we covered his receivers closely to hold all gains to short ones and to tackle those receivers so hard that they had to pay full price for every yard.”

Washington seemed to solve the Giants scheme on the first drive of the third quarter. Farkas carried the load, pounding the ball eight times for 63 yards before landing on pay dirt to give the Redskins a 10-0 advantage.  The Giants responded with a revived running game of their own, starting from their 28-yard line. Two Paschal rushes totaled 31 yards; a Cuff reverse advanced another 21 yards to the Washington 20-yard line. Paschal carried the ball four consecutive plays before going over for the score to bring the Giants back to 10-7.

Washington Redskins at New York Giants (December 5, 1943); Al Blozis (#32), Len Younce (#60), Frank Cope (#36)

Washington Redskins at New York Giants (December 5, 1943); Al Blozis (#32), Len Younce (#60), Frank Cope (#36)

The New York defense held and the Paschal-Cuff tandem went back to work while the buzz in the Polo Grounds grandstands grew to a roar. The Giants marched from their 34-yard line to the Redskins 21 on three rushes, with only a touchdown-saving tackle from Baugh on Paschal preventing New York from taking the lead. Ultimately Baugh’s defensive effort kept Washington ahead, as the drive stalled and Wilkin blocked Cuff’s 22-yard placement.

Both defenses tightened, the two teams repeatedly traded punts as the game became a struggle for field position. Tackle Al Blozis in particular was a force in New York’s clampdown on the Redskins futile advances while Masterson spearheaded the Washington resistance. Time became an ally for Washington, as even escaping with a tie would lock up the division. Just over five minutes remained when Paschal returned a punt 20 yards to the New York 44-yard line. Paschal plunged once for three yards to set up what Owen later described as the “perfect” play.

Paschal took the hand-off from Leemans after an end-around fake, charged through right tackle, paused, then outraced Baugh to the end zone. The play’s success was a result of both scheme and slick ball handling. Owen said, “Emery Nix was the left half, Dave Brown the wingback. Brown faked his end-run reverse so well he drew off the Redskins secondary. Meanwhile, Paschal roared through the quick opener hole over guard after their guard had been trapped. All Bill had to do was sprint – along the shortest distance to the touchdown, a straight line – to win the game.” Baugh explained his reaction from the safety position, “I expected a pass, particularly since Brown a fast runner and a fresh man, had just been put in there. I wasn’t fooled by the ball-handling, but was going over on pass defense assignment to pick up either the end or the wingback.”

New York was ahead for the first time 14-10 and every fan in the Polo Grounds was on their feet in a state of bedlam. Washington returned the kickoff to their 45-yard line, but the excellent starting field position went for naught as the Giants secondary defensed four Baugh aerials in a  row, allowing New York to take over on downs. “Baugh was seldom dangerous on the long ones because he lofted the ball so high,” said Owen.

Karcis and Leemans took turns on line plunges and moved the chains once for a first down before kneeling down to expire the game clock. Paschal had earned the reprieve, his work for the day established a franchise record with 188 rushing yards on 24 carries, most of which came in the second half. No doubt Owen wanted to preserve him for the next game. His two touchdowns gave him 10 on the season, good for a first place tie with Green Bay’s prodigious Hutson. More good news for the Giants arrived from out of town, the Packers defeated Pitt-Phil, allowing New York to ascend to second place.

Owen stated he was “delighted” with the Giants line as they limited Washington’s ground game to 69 yards on defense while opening holes in the Redskins front for 270 yards on offense.  However, the New York passing game was dreadful – seven attempts yielded a meager two completions for seven yards. The Giants won the league’s coin flip, enabling them to host the divisional playoff in the event they were able to upset Washington again. It would be the second playoff since divisional play began in 1933 and the first in the East (the Packers and Bears participated in the first playoff in 1941). Owen said he did not expect a let down from his team, “I think most of the boys realize next Sunday’s battle is merely the second half of one and the same ballgame. We’re leading at the end of the first half.”

While Masterson of the Redskins boasted his enthusiasm toward a championship rematch with the Bears, Chicago co-coach Anderson offered his observation, “I saw the Giants play Washington in New York Sunday. It was such a viciously fought game… officials told me afterward that it was one of the toughest games they worked all year.” The Giants appeared in relatively good health for the week of practice, while the Redskins training staff was busy tending to several key players, including Farkas, Wilkin and Masterson who nursed an assortment of injuries incurred the previous week. Farman and Moore would also miss their second consecutive games.

Griffith Stadium was filled to the brim with 35,504 rabid fans anticipating a blowout. They got one, but it was the Redskins who were on the receiving end. The New York Times stated “the once-haughty champions of the National Football League were bounced all over Griffith Stadium” and “were thoroughly outplayed in every department, including that of effective passing.” There was little mystery as the statistics told the complete story. After Washington took a 7-0 lead in the second quarter on a Baugh touchdown pass, the tide turned quickly. Frank Cope blocked a Baugh punt that was recovered by Steve Pritko for the tying touchdown. Emery Nix completed a 75-yard touchdown pass to Frank Liebel soon after for a 14-7 halftime lead. All told, New York intercepted five of Baugh’s 28 attempts over the course of the game, and they capitalized often in the 31-7 romp. Paschal churned out 92 yards rushing for the Giants as they dealt Washington their third consecutive loss, the first time they had endured such a streak since 1937.

First Playoff in the East

Practices at the Polo Grounds included lineup shuffling, as they hoped to extend the Redskins doldrums one more week in the playoff. Liebel was out for the playoff, having suffered a broken nose in the season finale. Guard Charley Avedisian had his arm in a sling after suffering a shoulder separation. Adams, who had missed the first two Washington games was being fit with a special face guard for his still healing broken jaw. The Redskins hoped to change their fortunes by altering their normal routine. They arrived two days earlier than normal for a road game, and sequestered themselves in Westchester County rather than Manhattan. Despite Farman and Moore being out of the lineup again, Bergman said his team was in overall better shape.

Commissioner Elmer Layden decreed the game required a victor. Should the score be tied after 60 minutes, there would be a 15-minute sudden death overtime period following a three-minute period of rest. If the game remained tied after the initial overtime, the process would repeat itself until a team scored.

The advance planning for such a contingency proved completely unnecessary. Much to the dismay of most of the 42,800 fans in attendance, the Redskins returned the previous week’s favor by whipping the Giants in front of their own fans, 28-0.

Owen believed that “as Baugh goes, so go the Redskins.” That proved to be true once again. In the first game, Baugh played well but not spectacularly. In the second game he was dreadful. In the playoff he was magnificent, completing 16-of-21 for 199 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions on offense. He also intercepted one he returned 38 yards to set up a score, and added a 65-yard punt for good measure. His sharp passing forged three scoring drives that were capped off by short Farkas touchdown plunges.  Overall, the Washington defense held New York to eight first downs and 112 total yards. Leemans was 4-of-20 passing with three interceptions while the Giants three-headed rushing attack was held in check.

Despite the disappointment of the one-sided defeat, the Giants were lauded for coming from seemingly nowhere and extending their season while pushing the defending champions to the brink. The conjecture was they were spent by the chase and had little left, while Washington shook off their malaise and finally performed to their full capability. The Redskins won the Eastern Division for the third time in four years, but failed in their attempt to become the first team to win consecutive championship games, as the Bears – who were on a week’s rest – defeated them handily in Wrigley Field 41-21.

The 1944 season saw more change in the NFL. The Pitt-Phil combine ceased and the Card-Pitt was formed, the Rams resumed operations and the Brooklyn Dodgers were now known as the Tigers. More significantly though, was the catching on of the T-Formation. The Bears had led the league in scoring three consecutive seasons and convincingly won three of the last four championships running the system that was now spreading through the colleges. Washington was now on the bandwagon, although their chief operator was reluctant at first, “I hated the T when we went to it on 1944,”said Baugh years later, “but my body loved it. I probably could have lasted a year or two more as a single wing tailback, my body was so beat up, but the T gave me nine more seasons.”

Power T-Formation

The Giants and Redskins were involved in another back-to-back season-closing pressure cooker that set the fate for three teams in the East. New York won out and lost to Green Bay in the NFL Championship Game at the Polo Grounds 14-7. That game holds the distinction of being the last time two Wing-style teams squared off in a title game (the Giants base set was the A-Formation and the Packers the Notre Dame Box.)

(See “Missing Rings: The 1944 New York Football Giants” for more detail.)

Washington represented the East in the championship game for the sixth time in 10 seasons in 1945 with an 8-2 record as Baugh became comfortable operating from the T-Formation. They swept the Giants, who declined significantly to a 3-6-1 record. The Redskins lost the Championship Game at frozen Cleveland Municipal Stadium against the Rams where a safety proved the difference in a 15-14 game, forging a significant rule change. In the first quarter, the Redskins had the ball on their own five-yard line. Baugh dropped back to pass from his own end zone, but the attempt struck the goal post and the ball bounced dead in the end zone. The rules at the time declared this to be a safety and gave the Rams a 2-0 lead. The following off season the rule was changed so any pass striking the goal post was called incomplete.

Ignominious End

The Giants revamped their roster for 1946. Hein retired for good after a record 15 seasons, tied with Jack Blood who played with Green Bay and Pittsburgh from 1925-39. Tailback Arnie Herber also retired, so New York signed Filchock away from Washington to the very first multi-year contract in New York’s history – three years for $35,000. Filchock had made a smooth transition from the Double Wing to the T-Formation in 1944, Owen hoped he could do the same learning the nuances of the unique A-Formation.

Filchock did, and he led the Giants in both passing (1,262 yards with 12 touchdowns) and rushing (371 yards and two touchdowns). New York won the East with a 7-3-1 record while Washington slumped to 5-5-1. Washington won the October match-up at Griffith Stadium 24-14 and had a chance to force a playoff with the Giants with a win in the season finale at the Polo Grounds.

The most notable points from New York’s 31-0 whipping of their rivals was the crowd of 60,337, the Polo Grounds largest since the 1939 Redskins game; Ken Strong tying Ward Cuff as the Giants career leading scorer; and Filchock outplaying former teammate Baugh. Although Baugh accrued more yards through the air (240-142), Filchock was more efficient, threw two touchdown passes and was on the receiving end of one of Baugh’s three interceptions. The Giants won the Eastern Division for the eighth time in its 14 years.

Unfortunately for Filchock, his legacy is usually focused on an attempted fix of the Championship Game with the Bears. Fluctuation in the point spread triggered an investigation; undercover police observed Giants practices and wiretaps were installed on the business phone of a known gambler, Alvin J. Paris. No New York players were ever heard on the phone, but Paris mentioned Filchock and Merle Hapes by name to his associates.

Mara and NFL Commissioner Bert Bell were summoned to New York City Mayor William O’Dwyer’s office Saturday afternoon to meet with Police Commissioner Arthur Wallander. The two players were interrogated there at 2:00 AM. Filchock denied any involvement, while Hapes admitted to being offered $2,500, the profits of a $1,000 bet that Chicago would cover the 10-point spread and an offseason job that would earn him $15,000.

Both players were cleared by the police and Paris was arrested and held on $25,000 bail (he ultimately served one year in prison after testifying against other members of his syndicate). Bell publically stated the morning of the game that the NFL would continue with its own investigation into the offers. Hapes was barred from playing in the game for failure to report the bribe offer being made.

Fans heard of the late night intrigue over the radio that morning, and Filchock was robustly booed and hackled when he stepped on the Polo Grounds field. According to all reports he played valiantly in defeat, even if his statistics may not have born this out. His six interceptions were detrimental in the Giants 24-14 loss, rendering the 10-point spread a push. Angry Chicago players took umbrage in dealing extra punishment to Filchock whenever the opportunity allowed, but he played just over 50 minutes of the contest.

Flichock ultimately acknowledged he did receive a bribe offer from Paris. Both he and Hapes received lifetime bans from the NFL for being “guilty of actions detrimental to the welfare of the National Football League and of professional football.” Hapes retired from football altogether and Filchock, after being rejected by the AAFC, played seven more seasons in the CFL.

New York and Washington’s shared reign in the Eastern Division came to a close in 1947. Earl “Greasy” Neal’s Philadelphia team, whose version of the T-Formation was powered by the dynamic Steve Van Buren, won out the final three seasons of the decade, capturing the NFL title the last two. The Giants began an uneasy transition to the T-Formation in 1949, but never fully committed to it until Owen’s departure after the 1953 season as he routinely reverted to his A-Formation.

A new rivalry for the Giants was born in the new decade. The merger of the NFL and AAFC introduced New York to the Cleveland Browns, whose innovative coach Paul Brown explored the Halas T-Formation further and developed it into a pass-first scheme. The Eastern Division was renamed the American Conference for three seasons, then the Eastern Conference through 1966. Over the 17-season span from 1950 through 1966 Cleveland and New York dominated their half of the league, as the Giants and Redskins had previously. New York and Washington would renew their battles for division supremacy in the post AFL-NFL merger in the mid 1980’s.


Overall Regular-Season Record: Giants led series 13-8-1

Overall Playoff Series Record: Washington led series 1-0 (1943 Divisional Playoff)

1936

10/4       Giants 7               at            Boston 0

12/6       Giants 0                vs            Boston 14

1937

9/16       Giants 3                at            Washington 13

12/5       Giants 14             vs            Washington 49

1938

10/9       Giants 10             at            Washington 7

12/4       Giants 36             vs            Washington 0

1939

10/1       Giants 0                at            Washington 0

12/4       Giants 9               vs            Washington 7

1940

9/22       Giants 7                at            Washington 21

11/24     Giants 21             vs            Washington 7

1941

9/28       Giants 17             at            Washington 10

11/23     Giants 20             vs            Washington 13

1942

9/28       Giants 14             at            Washington 7

11/15     Giants 7                vs            Washington 14

1943

12/5         Giants 14             vs            Washington 10

12/12     Giants 31             at            Washington 7

*12/19  Giants 0                vs            Washington 28

1944

12/5       Giants 14             vs            Washington 10

12/12     Giants 31             at            Washington 7

1945

10/28     Giants 14             vs            Washington 24

12/12     Giants 0                at            Washington 17

1946

10/13     Giants 14             at            Washington 24

12/12     Giants 31             vs            Washington 0

Sep 192014
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (August 16, 2014)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Houston Texans at New York Giants, September 21, 2014

It’s normally ridiculous to talk about “must win” games in September, but the 0-2 Giants find themselves in that situation against the Houston Texans on Sunday. An 0-3 hole would be extremely difficult to overcome if this team has any serious playoff aspirations. The problem for the Giants is that while the passing game did look sharper last week, the lack of overall talent at wide receiver (as demonstrated by the fact that Preston Parker and Julian Talley are now the #3 and #4 receivers on the depth chart), continued issues on the offensive line, and key injuries on defense (Jon Beason, Walter Thurmond) may sabotage the season.

FOUR DOWNS:

First Down
Can the defense get off of the field on 3rd down?
Everyone knew the Giants offense would struggle early this year. What everyone was counting on was for the defense to step up and carry the team while the offense adjusted to the new system. While the defense hasn’t been “bad,” it certainly hasn’t been “good” either. The biggest issue is defense can’t get off of the field on third down. The Lions were 67 percent on 3rd down against the Giants. Against the Cardinals, the New York offense only had the ball three times in the first half as the Giants defense allowed Arizona to maintain possession on drives of 11, 10, and 8 plays.

Second Down
Can the defense force some turnovers?
Somewhat related to our “first down” point, even better than forcing three-and-outs, force some turnovers. The Giants defense was supposed to thrive on turnovers this season. They have none in two games. Create a short field for the offense, or better yet, score some points of your own.

Third Down
Can the Giants finally get the ground game going?
The Giants have not been able to run the football yet this season against two very good defensive lines. This has made the Giants dangerously one-dimensional, something completely contrary to Tom Coughlin’s desires.

Fourth Down
Can Eli Manning build on his positive performance from last week?
Eli Manning played well enough for the Giants to win last week. The key now is to keep it going and build off of last week’s positive performance. Consistency is the key.

BREAKING DOWN THE TEXANS:

OFFENSE - Eric Kennedy
Strength?
The Texans can run the football. Arian Foster is a big, physical productive football player. He already has 241 yards on 55 carries in just two games. Foster can also catch the ball. And he is helped by a very solid offensive line, anchored by Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown. The offensive line has not given up a sack this season.  WR Andre Johnson, though older and affected by injury issues in recent years, is still a stud.

Weakness?
It’s tough to call a quarterback with 118.4 quarterback rating a weakness. But Ryan Fitzpatrick is with his fifth NFL team for a reason – historically-speaking, he’s been a very average to below-average historically in this league. If the Giants can shut down the Texans’ running game, the pressure will be on Fitzpatrick to make plays in the clutch. Fitzpatrick has not thrown an interception yet. He’s due.

DEFENSE - Connor Hughes
Strength?
There are things the Houston Texans do well defensively, but it starts entirely with J.J. Watt. The NFL’s newest $100 million man is a force against the run, the pass and just about everything in between. One of the things that makes him so difficult to defend is the fact he can overpower near anyone that gets in front of him.

This season, Watt is tied with Jurrell Casey as the No. 2 ranked 3-4 defensive end by Pro Football Focus, grading out with a positive 7.2 score. Rushing the passer, Watt is ranked No. 1 despite only bringing the quarterback down once. On 76 passing snaps, Watt has hit the quarterback eight times and hurried him six others. Group that with his one sack and he himself has applied pressure on 15.1 percent of an opponent’s pass plays.

During his four-year NFL career, Watt has never faced the Giants. Back in 2012, he faced the Green Bay Packers when Giants offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo was the team’s quarterback coach. Watt recorded six tackles and two sacks in that game.

Weakness?
One of the bigger weaknesses for the Texans defense over the last several years as been its secondary. That hasn’t change in 2014.

Through the first two games of the season, Houston’s two starting cornerbacks (Johnathan Joseph, Kareem Jackson) are ranked No. 104 and No. 67 respectively by Pro Football Focus. Joseph has been thrown at 12 times, 10 of which were caught by the opponent’s receiver gaining 116 yards. A quarterback’s rating when testing Joseph is a staggering 106.9. Jackson has been thrown at 14 times, allowing seven completions for 63 yards. He intercepted his first pass of the season last week.

The safety position hasn’t been much better. Starter D.J. Swearinger is the No. 46 ranked safety.

If the Giants are able to slow down J.J. Watt, there are plays to be made in the secondary. The key is going to be giving Eli Manning enough time to throw the ball.

PLAYER TO WATCH:

Connor Hughes –
Corey Washington
There was one constant throughout the entire preseason, and his name was Corey Washington. The game-winning touching-catching machine reached the hype and myth level of Jonas Seawright during his first year with the team. On Sunday, there’s a good chance he’s given the opportunity to transition his training camp play onto the game field.

With Odell Beckham Jr. still sidelined with a hamstring injury and Jerrel Jernigan on the IR, there’s just one player ahead of Washington on the depth chart to see significant playing time. In fact, it could take just one hit for Washington to suddenly become a starter. Whether he’s the first on the field in a three-wide set, there’s a very good chance Washington sees meaningful snaps as a receiver.

If those snaps come, and Washington plays well, he could supplant Preston Parker as the Giants No. 3 receiver until Beckham returns from injury.

Eric Kennedy -
Antrel Rolle
The highest-paid member of the defense has been far too quiet. Rolle has been playing his “natural” position – a position that was supposed to lead to more impact plays. That hasn’t happened. Rolle called a player’s only meeting on defense this week and challenged his teammates to play with more aggressiveness and confidence. He wants them to make plays. Rolle needs to lead by example.

FROM THE COACHES’ MOUTH:

Tom Coughlin - “(The Texans) have led in their two games six of the eight quarters. Ryan Fitzpatrick has played very well, managed the game extremely well for his team. As you know, three touchdowns, no interceptions, he has a quarterback rating of 118 and he’s played very, very well. They run the ball extremely well. Arian Foster has 55 carries for 241 for 4.4 with a long of 40. He’s an exceptional runner, plus the offensive line has given up one sack throughout the course of the two games. Their defense is a physical front eight. Versus Oakland they did provide the ball for their offensive team at the plus-21 and plus-28 with turnovers, one fumble and one interception. Against Washington, Niles Paul had a 48-yard catch, run after the catch, was stripped, lost the ball inside the 10. Their defense provided, again, the Houston defense provided the ball, turned it over inside their own 10-yard line twice in that particular game.”

Bill O’Brien - (On if the Giants are a trap game for 2-0 Houston) “Absolutely not. I was just saying something to someone downstairs here, every week is a big challenge in this league. There are great coaches and great players on the other side that we have to be prepared for. Every week is a different matchup. Houston versus Oakland is a lot different than Houston versus New York. New York versus Arizona is a lot different than Houston versus New York. It is a matchup that is very difficult because of all the players that they have and the schemes that they run. It is a very difficult challenge for us on the road.”

FINAL WORD:

Connor Hughes – I took a leap of faith last week that the Giants would pull out a victory over the Arizona Cardinals despite everything telling me the wouldn’t.

Despite Arizona starting a quarterback that hadn’t played since I graduated high school, the Giant still managed to find a way to give away the game. With 10 minutes left, the Giants led by four points. When the game ended, the Giants lost by 11 despite allowing the Cardinals to gain just 37 yards offense those final 10 minutes.

Despite the fact the Houston Texans were the worst team in the league last year, they’re talented. They have J.J. Watt, one of the best receivers (Andre Johnson) in the game and a running back that is a threat both running and out of the backfield. Last year, the Texans simply quit on their head coach. The team wasn’t drafting No. 1 for lack of talent.

If the Giants want a chance in this game, they’re going to have to avoid the turnovers, get after Ryan Fitzpatrick and force turnover. If they do all three, they have a chance at winning. Offensively, I don’t think it’s going to be pretty, but if they can avoid the turnovers, the Giants still have a shot at the victory.

With that being said, I took a leap of faith last week and fell flat. Despite Antrel Rolle’s pleas to fans, I think the Giants drop to 0-3. Texans: 21 – Giants: 13.

Eric Kennedy - Until proven otherwise, the Giants simply are not a very good football team. The offense is averaging 14 points per game and can’t seem to run the ball. There are not a lot of weapons in the passing game. Defensively, the losses of Walter Thurmond (for the season) and Jon Beason (for at least this game) are going to hurt. The defense flashes, but can’t finish. Special teams continue to remain a sore spot. It’s going to be a long season. Texans 28 – Giants 14.

Sep 182014
 
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Trumaine McBride and Jon Beason, New York Giants (December 22, 2013)

Trumaine McBride and Jon Beason – © USA TODAY Sports Images

It didn’t take long for the phone call to be made.

Shortly after New York Giants cornerback Walter Thurmond III found out his injured pectoral muscle was torn, sidelining him for rest of the 2014 season, the self-proclaimed best nickel corner in the game dialed fellow corner Trumaine McBride.

Trumaine McBride, New York Giants (December 15, 2013)

Trumaine McBride – © USA TODAY Sports Images

McBride, who last saw sporadic nickel snaps six years ago, saw his phone light up with Thurmond’s name and answered.

“He just told me if I need anything, as far as tips about playing nickel, to reach out to him,” McBride said.

While McBride may be lacking experience as a nickel cornerback, it doesn’t mean he hasn’t been preparing for this moment throughout the offseason.

Back on March 12, after enjoying a breakout season, McBride re-signed with the New York Giants. With Corey Webster and Aaron Ross gone, McBride was expected to compete for the starting position opposite Prince Amukamara.

But the ensuing months were filled with moves that pushed McBride further and further down the depth chart. Zack Bowman, Thurmond and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie were signed and Bennett Jackson drafted.

The group of Amukamara, Thurmond and Rodgers-Cromartie began boasting claims as the league’s best trio. Last year’s surprise star was suddenly rendered an afterthought.

With every addition the Giants made to the secondary’s meeting room, McBride took notice. Despite playing nearly his entire career as an outside cornerback, he knew his opportunity to play may not be at the place he’d been most comfortable at. During the offseason, McBride began studying some of the best nickel cornerbacks in the league and working specifically with the group. He wanted to be prepared for anything.

If Amukamara went down, McBride wanted to fill in outside. If Thurmond went down, he wanted to have his named called there, too. One of the best ways to do that? Watch and learn from Thurmond himself.

“Walt’s a guy that plays hard every down and is a very smart, physical cornerback,” McBride said. “Just watching the way he approaches the game. He’s a great guy and a great player on the field.”

McBride said that playing nickel, as opposed to outside cornerback, is vastly different. While cornerbacks have the sideline to their advantage, nickel cornerbacks need to guard both the inside, and outside, portions of the field.

Trumaine McBride, New York Giants (December 22, 2013)

Trumaine McBride – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Not to mention, being a nickel corner requires a different physicality. Being closer to the line of scrimmage, McBride knows he’ll have to stick his head in on some running plays, comparing nickel cornerback to a “cornerback-linebacker” hybrid position.

“It’s just an overall different game plan,” McBride said. “You aren’t going up anymore against guys that are 6-foot-2, you’re going up against guys that are 6-feet and shifty. You have to adjust to the shiftiness of an inside slot receiver.”

While Thurmond has offered help, McBride admits what may be the biggest beneficiary to him learning nickel is the fact he gets to face receiver Victor Cruz every day in practice. During his five-year NFL career, Cruz has established himself as one of the league’s best slot receivers.

“Going up against him every day definitely helps you,” McBride said. “There aren’t many guys out there better than Vic.”

The Houston Texans, who McBride and the Giants will face on Sunday, like to move each of their receivers in and out of the slot in Bill O’Brien’s new offensive scheme. Andre Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins and Demarius Johnson have all seen over 20 reps inside this year.

There isn’t a set player McBride can expect. Does that make his life harder? Not at all.

“I’ve been preparing for this since the offseason,” McBride said. “I knew it could be a possibility of me moving inside. So as far as mentally, I have no issues.”

Sep 172014
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (September 14, 2014)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Arizona Cardinals 25 – New York Giants 14

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

First Down
Rueben Randle
Randle had decent game against a top-flight opponent, including a spectacular, one-handed touchdown grab. But his four catches all came in the first half and he dropped a deep pass late in the fourth quarter when the Giants were desperately trying to tie the game.

Second Down
Throw me the ball
Victor Cruz made some plays on both touchdown drives, but his 3rd-and-6 drop right after the Cardinals had cut the lead to 14-13 was a major reason why the Giants lost this game. That set up the ensuing 9-point swing caused by the two special teams disasters.

Third Down
J.D. Walton
He was OK in pass protection although there was one holding call on an inside blitz. As most centers do, he struggled with NT Dan Williams, one of the best in the business, on running plays.

Fourth Down
Prince Amukamara
I saw one mistake from Prince Amukamara, but other than that, he was his normal, solid self. It helped that he, and the rest of the secondary, were playing a quarterback that hadn’t seen action in four years. The one play where Amukamara got beat was on the first play of the game. Michael Floyd ran a comeback, Amukamara played streak. Those plays happen from time-to-time.

Aside from that, the physicality Amukamara has been playing with this year is noticeably impressive. The cornerback has crept up to the line countless times and stuck his head in to make plays on the running back. Amukamara  spoke of how he wanted to take his game to another level this year, he’s done that in Weeks 1 and 2.

OFFENSIVE OVERVIEW by Eric Kennedy

The good news is that Eli Manning looked sharper and more comfortable against one of the NFL’s best secondaries. The offensive line looked better in pass protection, albeit against a defense that was missing its best pass rusher. At wide receiver, Rueben Randle and Victor Cruz were more involved. And the Giants may have found a tight end in Larry Donnell.

The bad news is the Giants have really struggled to run the ball in back-to-back games against two of the NFL’s better run defenses. The Giants are still losing the turnover battle and teams that do that usually lose. Victor Cruz came up small in this game. Most importantly, the Giants are averaging 14 points per game. You can’t win by scoring only 14 points per contest.

The defense is not helping out the offense. They have forced no turnovers and they have problems getting off of the field on third down. The Giants moved the ball well in the first half of the game against the Cardinals, but they only had three possessions to work with. They drove 48 yards on their first drive until turning the ball over, drove 30 before a third-down sack ended a drive, and finished off of the half with an impressive 13-play, 90-yard effort. One got the sense had the offense had more opportunities, they would have done more damage.

The second half was frustrating. A phantom personal foul call stopped the first drive before it started. The Giants drove 42 yards on their second drive before taking two deep shots that they were unable to connect on. They followed that up with an impressive 8-play, 74-yard touchdown drive. In the fourth quarter, with the Giants up 14-13, Cruz dropped a perfect pass from Manning on 3rd-and-6, leading to a punt and the two special teams disasters. When the Giants got the ball back with nine minutes to go in the game and trailing by 8 points, Eli and Company easily moved the ball down field until an unforced turnover by Rashad Jennings basically ended the game. The Giants had one more late shot, but two more dropped passes sealed their fate.

QUARTERBACK by Eric Kennedy

Was Eli perfect? No. But this is the best he’s looked in a long time, perhaps pre-Hurricane Sandy. And he’s starting to look comfortable in this offense. Now he has to work on the consistency. He finished the game 26-of-39 for 277 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. However, had it not been for several dropped passes, he would have been in the 30-of-39 neighborhood with perhaps 350 yards or more.

Eli Manning, New York Giants (September 14, 2014)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Most importantly, he looked comfortable and in command. He looked more like the Eli of old.

Eli started off the game strong, connecting on his first four passes for 43 yards. His costliest mistake came on 3rd-and-8 from the Arizona 30-yard line. Pressured immediately by three defenders, including two unblocked blitzers, Manning fired a pass to “hot” receiver Victor Cruz, who stumbled coming over the middle. Whether the stumble caused Eli to second-guess himself or not as he was delivering the ball, the pass was low, bounced off of the shoulder pads of a lineman, and was intercepted off of the deflection. After two completions and two Arizona penalties, the second drive ended prematurely after two short runs and a sack. On the third and last drive of the first half, Manning was 6-of-7 for 72 yards and a touchdown.

Manning only missed two throws in the first half, going 12-of-14 for 135 yards. It was a near-perfect performance.

As mentioned, the second half was frustrating. A bogus personal foul penalty put the Giants in a 3rd-and-17 before the drive even really started. Eli never attempted a pass on this possession. On the second drive of the half, after completing two passes for 34 yards, Eli couldn’t connect on two deep shots. Other than a late throw to Donnell, these were probably his two poorest throws of the game. But he followed that up by going a perfect 4-of-4 for 43 yards and a touchdown on the next possession, not counting the 25-yard pass interference penalty his throw to Victor Cruz caused. At this point in the game, Eli was 19-of-23 with only four incompletions!

The Giants defense then allowed the Cardinals to drive the field and cut the score to 14-13. After two Rashad Jennings runs, Manning threw a perfect pass to Victor Cruz who dropped the ball. Punt return for TD. Fumbled kickoff. Nine point swing. Nothing to do with Eli.

Trailing by eight points with nine minutes to play, Manning drove his team 65 yards in 12 plays only to have the drive end with an unforced fumble by Jennings. There was another drop by Cruz on this possession. But Eli completed 5-of-9 passes for 46 yards before the turnover.

New York got the ball back at their own 15-yard line with 3:19 to play, still trailing by eight points. After a short completion, there were two more drops. On 4th-and-6, Eli threw behind Larry Donnell. Game over after Arizona took 1:23 off of the clock and went up 25-14 with 1:13 to play.

Last note: Dumb coaching decision to keep Eli in the game on last meaningless possession. Not because of the stat-packing interception but because of the injury risk poised to your franchise quarterback in such a no-win situation.

RUNNING BACKS by Eric Kennedy

Andre Williams, New York Giants (September 14, 2014)

Andre Williams – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Even against good offensive lines, the Cardinals are extremely difficult to run against, and try as they might, the Giants simply could not generate a consistent ground attack against Arizona. It wasn’t that the running backs did poorly on their rushing efforts; there just wasn’t much room to run. The Giants finished the first half with only 31 yards on 13 rushing attempts with a long run of seven yards. They finished with 81 yards on 27 attempts (3 yards per carry) but even this was inflated by a late 13-yard run, down by 11 points with 30 seconds to play.

Rashad Jennings finished with 64 yards on 13 carries (3.6 yards per carry) and Andre Williams with 12 yards on 8 carries (1.5 yards per carry). Jennings did run tough and generated yards on his own. He also looked sharp as a receiver, catching 4 passes for 45 yards. Jennings had an 11-yard run where he broke three tackles and a 19-yard reception on a play where he broke two tackles. (He even blocked a punt in this game). That said, Jennings badly missed his block on a blitzing defender on Eli’s first-half interception, and his unforced fumble in the 4th quarter sealed the game when it looked like the Giants had a good shot to tie the game.

Williams, who never caught a pass his final year in college, caught 2-of-4 passes thrown in his direction for 7 yards. In a move I assume was designed to “punish” Jennings for fumbling the ball, Williams was placed in the game with the Giants needing to drive 85 yards with 3:19 left, down by 8 points. Williams, who is not a natural pass receiver, caught one pass but dropped the next. This seemed like an odd time to make a statement.

Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle, New York Giants (September 14, 2014)

Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle – © USA TODAY Sports Images

WIDE RECEIVERS by Eric Kennedy

The good news is that Rueben Randle finally got involved and while the numbers don’t look superlative (4 catches for 39 yards and a touchdown), it was a step in the right direction against a top-flight opponent in CB Patrick Peterson. His touchdown catch was a superb one-handed grab. The bad news is that Randle dropped a well-thrown ball by Manning on their last real chance to tie the game. Yes, there was contact between him and the corner, but he has to make that play in that situation.

For brief portions of the game, Victor Cruz had a positive impact. He really came on during the first touchdown drive, catching 3 passes for 41 yards, including a pass thrown behind him. He was also a factor on the second TD drive with a 14 yard catch and then drawing a 25-yard pass interference penalty. He finished the game with 5 catches for 60 yards. However, Cruz came up small in the 4th quarter and his dropped pass on 3rd-and-6 was a major reason why the Giants lost this game. If he catches that ball, the drive continues and the sequence of events that led to a 9-point turnaround don’t happen. Then, with the Giants trailing by 8 and the team desperately trying to tie the game, he dropped another pass. He’s been paid big bucks to a positive difference maker, not a negative one. Cruz also stumbled on his crossing pattern on Eli’s first interception – it’s unknown whether that caused Eli to hesitate on his delivery.

Jerrel Jernigan caught two passes for 15 yards and left the game with a season-ending foot injury. Preston Parker caught one pass for 29 yards. But he also lost his footing in the end zone on a throw from Manning that fell incomplete. Unfortunately, this came on the play right before Jennings’ fumble.

TIGHT ENDS by Eric Kennedy

Larry Donnell has now been the leading Giants’ receiver for two games in a row. Two games do not make a trend, but it is a very positive sign. It’s not just the amount of catches, but the quality of catches. Donnell looks athletic down the field, he is adjusting to the ball well, and he is making difficult catches in traffic. Now if he can just work on his run-after-the-catch skills, we may really have found something. Donnell was targeted nine times, catching seven passes for 81 yards. He also had another catch wiped out due to a penalty. His blocking is not as bad as some fans think. Donnell received 58 offensive snaps while Daniel Fells received 20. Fells caught a 1-yard touchdown pass to put the G-Men ahead 14-10.

OFFENSIVE LINE by Eric Kennedy

Bottom line is the pass protection was much better this week but the run blocking wasn’t very good. Much of that had to do with the opponent. Arizona is VERY tough to run the ball on. RDE Calais Campbell and NT Dan Williams in particular gave the Giants fits, but these two give all of their opponents fits. Also, since LB John Abraham did not play, the Cardinals pass rush was not at its best. Also, like Eli of old, I think he did a good job of making the line look better in pass protection at times by getting rid of the ball quickly. This was the specific intention of Ben McAdoo’s new offense as well.

The two linemen who had the most problems were LG Weston Richburg and OC J.D. Walton. But these two also faced the toughest opponents in Campbell and Williams. #93 and #92 for the Cardinals were all over the field on Sunday, unfortunately for the Giants. Richburg gave up two sacks to Campbell, one that was wiped out due to a questionable penalty on the Cardinals. A few plays later, the right side of the offensive line, Justin Pugh, John Jerry, and Walton seemed to be confused by a stunt as Eli was sacked on 3rd-and-7. This is not unusual for a line that has hardly played together. Walton was flagged with a holding call in the third quarter on an inside blitz. Other than that, the line pass protected fairly well. Will Beatty, Pugh, and Jerry did not suffer any significant breakdowns (Beatty did give up some pressure on the first pick).

Run blocking was another story. The Cardinals front seven is just really, really good in run defense and against an offensive line that has very little playing time together, they pretty much dominated up front. The Giants could not handle Campbell and Williams, and those two allowed the Cardinals linebackers to run cleanly to the ball carriers. It really was that simple.

DEFENSIVE OVERVIEW – by Connor Hughes

The Giants defense wasn’t without much Sunday afternoon. Linebacker Devon Kennard, defensive end Kerry Wynn and defensive tackle Markus Kuhn were the only defensive players to miss Sunday’s game.

It was strange watching Sunday’s game film, it truly was. In fact, following the conclusion of the game, I was still a bit puzzled on how the film I watched was that of a loss, not a win. The Giants rushed the passer, contained – when they had to – the run and played solid coverage. In fact, if it wasn’t for penalties, it would have been a near perfect game.

But still, it was a loss. It wasn’t as if the reason was hidden, the Giants turned the ball over four times, but it was surprising none the less.

DEFENSIVE LINE – by Connor Hughes

Start with the most glaring observation from watching the film: Jason Pierre-Paul is back. Be it 2011 JPP, or a new-and-improved 2013 one, Pierre-Paul showed Sunday that he has put the last two seasons of injury-related struggles very far in his rear view mirror. Pierre-Paul stuffed the run and rushed the passer, but there was one play that stood out more than any: His sack.

Obviously, it was a sack, so it’s going to stand out. But this one stuck out for a different reason. On the play, the Cardinals tried their best to take advantage of Pierre-Paul’s aggressiveness. Drew Stanton dropped back, and waited slightly before turning to look at his tight end. What the Cardinals wanted to do was have the tight end chip JPP, then let him go and have Stanton throw the ball right over JPP’s head. The only issue? Pierre-Paul didn’t bite.

At all.

Pierre-Paul stuck with the tight end causing Stanton to hold on to the ball. It wasn’t until the play broke down and Stanton went to run that Pierre-Paul left the tight end’s side. it was great play recognition by the former All-Pro.

Through the first two games of the season, Pierre-Paul is ranked as the league’s best run stopper as a 4-3 defensive end. Here’s a pretty accurate description of how he’s gotten those praises.

Pierre-Paul is starting to play as his mouth has indicated he would throughout the entire offseason. Those incredible plays Pierre-Paul used to make on an every-Sunday basis are beginning to return. Even when he doesn’t reach the quarterback, he’s disrupting the play. Pierre-Paul, by my count, had two bat-downs of passes. Here’s a clip of one I’m still not sure how he hit.

Another player who had a pretty good game as a defensive end was Robert Ayers Jr. During the preseason, Ayers was one of the unsung heroes who quietly played very well when in the game. It could have been a favorable match-up, but when Ayers came off the edge, he reached the quarterback with ease. Ayers had one sack clean, then one nullified by a penalty. The most impressive part of both of them was the jump he got off the ball.

When Johnathan Hankins was drafted by the Giants, it was as a big run stuffer. Two games into the season, it looks like run-stopper is just one of the many labels that will be given to Hankins. While it’s still early, the Giants may have the complete package at the defensive tackle position, something they haven’t been able to take claim to in quite some time. Hankins routinely collapsed the pocket on Stanton, running over whomever the offense put in front of him. His play progression on his first career sack was a thing of beauty:

Damontre Moore has yet to get his first career sack. Matt Stafford juked him out last week. Stanton climbed the pocket and fell into the arms of Mathias Kiwanuka/Jason Pierre-Paul this week. While he’s yet to bring the quarterback down himself, Moore still continues to flash. He got double the reps as last week and made it count. It may only be a matter of time before he supplants Kiwanuka as the Giants starting defensive end opposite Pierre-Paul.

LINEBACKERS – by Connor Hughes

Jordan Raanan of NJ.com had a great breakdown of the Jon Beason injury with a near frame-by-frame look at how the Giants captain was injured. When he was replaced by Mark Herzlich, it wasn’t pretty.

After signing with the Giants as an undrafted free agent, it appeared as if Herzlich was on the fast track to take over as the Giants middle linebacker of the future. The team gave him every shot to grab hold of the position, Herzlich just isn’t a starting middle linebacker in the NFL. He’s a fine special teams player, but defensively he’s a liability.

Another player who didn’t have a spectacular game was Jameel McClain. McClain got himself in position to make plays, he just didn’t. There were two counts that I saw where he had contain on the outside, but failed to shed his block and make the tackle. The result of both runs were first downs.

Jacquian Williams didn’t stand out for any negative reasons. He made a few nice plays on the run, and never should have been in pass coverage against a wide receiver.

DEFENSIVE BACKS – by Connor Hughes

Prince Amukamara continues to impress, as was outlined in the four downs section at the top. The physicality in which he has brought to the table this year is far more than in year’s past. There was a lot of talk last week on Amukamara being ‘better’ than Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, but Rodgers-Cromartie had himself a game. There was tight coverage and physicality. He looked every bit as good as what New York hoped he’d be when it signed him to a mega deal this offseason.

Stevie Brown struggled versus the Lions, but played much better on Sunday. There was one play though he needs to make. Monday afternoon, Tom Coughlin was irate at the fact his defense has yet to force a turnover. It’s not for lack of opportunities. Similar to the offense, the playmakers need to make plays. Brown had a golden opportunity to haul in an interception and just dropped it.

The Giants are going to miss Walter Thurmond III this year. The nickel cornerback, who tore his pectoral muscle on Sunday, flashed several times the physicality the Giants were hoping he’d bring to the secondary. Thurmond loves to hit, something he clearly brought over from Seattle, and closes extremely quick on wide receivers who make catches at the line of scrimmage.

SPECIAL TEAMS – by Connor Hughes

The good first: Rashad Jennings perfectly fits what New York wants in a running back. He’s tough, he’s physical and he goes 100 percent on every single play. Doesn’t matter if he’s rushing, blocking, receiving… or playing punt team. Jennings went all out in an attempt to get a punt block and actually tipped it.

Zack Bowman caught a lot of flak for the missed tackle on Ted Ginn Jr. and it was warranted, he has to make that tackle. With that being said, he’s hardly the only one at fault:

(Boxscore – Arizona Cardinals at New York Giants, September 14, 2014)