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)
Sep 152014
 
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Keenan Allen, San Diego Chargers (December 8, 2013)

Keenan Allen Beats Terrell Thomas for a TD – © USA TODAY Sports Images

The New York Giants secondary was set.

The team had two former first-round picks (Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Prince Amukamara) at their outside cornerback positions, both of whom were capable of shutting down an opponent’s No. 1 target. Then, for those pesky slot receivers, New York signed the self-proclaimed best nickel defender in the game, Walter Thurmond III, this offseason.

On paper, everything seemed perfect. It looked as if a team that had been led for so many years by their front four, would now be led by their secondary.

Two games into the season, that tactic took a massive blow. Versus the Arizona Cardinals Sunday afternoon, Thurmond suffered a torn pectoral muscle. He will have surgery on Tuesday. His season is over.

In years past, the Giants secondary had been ravaged by injuries. As a result, New York didn’t just build up its starting unit this offseason, but depth as well. Aside from Rodgers-Cromartie and Thurmond, Zack Bowman was signed from Chicago, Trumaine McBride was re-signed and Bennett Jackson drafted.

The injury to Thurmond, while a blow, shouldn’t be that bad. Right? New York should be able to slide any of the above mentioned players into the nickel cornerback position. Right?

Actually, wrong. While New York was considered to be incredibly deep at the cornerback position, it actually lacks experience at the nickel.

Here’s a look at what each cornerback on the Giants roster has done when brought in to play nickel. If the Giants deem the present group not worthy, here’s a few other options that may be worth a look.

Stats are courtesy of Pro Football Focus

Zack Bowman, Chicago Bears (October 10, 2013)

Zack Bowman – © USA TODAY Sports Images

PRESENTLY ON THE ROSTER:

Zack Bowman, CB
Last Year Team: Chicago Bears
Snaps in Slot: 2013 – 8, 2012 – 0, 2011 – 5, 2010 – 5

When the news broke that Thurmond would miss the season, the instant logical solution to many was to simply plug Bowman in. The issue with that? Bowman has rarely been used at the nickel cornerback position throughout the duration of his career. The 29-year old has primarily been known as an outside corner and special teams player. While Bowman excelled in the preseason this year, it was very rarely when lined up in the slot. In four preseason games, Bowman played just two snaps matched up against the slot receiver.

Trumaine McBride, CB
Last Year Team: New York Giants
Snaps in Slot: 2013 – 10, 2012-0, 2011- 0, 2010- 12

McBride enjoyed a breakout season in 2014 while filling in for injured Giants cornerback Corey Webster. When quarterbacks decided to test McBride, their average QB rating was under 60. However, similar to Bowman, McBride has been known as an outside cornerback throughout the majority of his NFL career. In fact, between 2011 and 2012, McBride didn’t play a single snap in the slot.

Jayron Hosley, CB
Last Year Team: New York Giants
Snaps in Slot: 2013-4, 2012-177, 2011- 0

Jayron Hosley is arguably the player with the most experience in the slot, having played 177 snaps as the Giants nickel cornerback in 2012. The issue? He wasn’t particularly effective. Quarterbacks completed 52-of-76 passes when testing Hosley and had a combined quarterback rating of 86.7. In the 2014 preseason, Hosley played primarily outside and struggled, but did get six reps in nickel. He allowed two catches on the only two passes thrown his way. There’s also the small tidbit that Hosley is still suspended for two games. There is a chance that if the new drug policy is put in place, Hosley can play as early as this Sunday, but that’s no guarantee.

Antrel Rolle, New York Giants (August 9, 2014)

Antrel Rolle – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Antrel Rolle, S
Last Year Team: New York Giants
Snaps in Slot: 2013-176, 2012- 173, 2011- 319

It seems as if every year the Giants try everything to get Rolle out of the slot, and every year something happens that puts him right back in it. Since joining the Giants, Rolle has played 668 snaps as a nickel cornerback. He’s had some success, too. Last year, a quarterback’s rating when testing Rolle was 66.6, but in 2012, that number was 107.3. Rolle is much better suited to simply play safety, as was evident last year, and New York will most likely try all other scenarios before moving the Pro Bowler down.

ON THE PRACTICE SQUAD:

Bennett Jackson, CB
Last Year: Rookie
Snaps in Slot: 2014 preseason-53

Quietly, Bennett Jackson had a pretty impressive preseason when playing the nickel cornerback position. On 53 snaps, he was only tested four times. He allowed two catches for 36 yards. Jackson is presently stashed on the Giants practice squad and could be activated if Thurmond is placed on the injured reserve, and the Giants decide not to activate Hosley.

Chandler Fenner, CB
Last year: Rookie
Snaps in Slot: 2014 preseason- 0

A very, very unlikely situation would be the activation of Chandler Fenner to the Giants 53-man roster. While Fenner played well in the preseason and team’s training camp, he saw no snaps as a nickel back in the preseason.

Terrell Thomas, New York Giants (October 6, 2013)

Terrell Thomas – © USA TODAY Sports Images

OUTSIDE THE TEAM:

Terrel Thomas, CB
Last Year: New York Giants
Snaps in Slot: 2014-315, 2010- 57

While Jordan Raanan (NJ.com) and Conor Orr (The Star-Ledger) have reported that, at least to this point, the Giants have not contacted Thomas’ reps, the former second-round pick is still a free agent after being cut by the Seattle Seahawks in training camp.

Thomas was one of the feel-good stories for the Giants a year ago when he bounced back from a third ACL tear to play the full 16 games. Thomas saw over 300 snaps as the nickel corner and played well at times. In his first game action in two years, Thomas allowed 45 completions in 59 attempts for 453 yards with three touchdowns. He intercepted one pass and a quarterback’s average rating when testing the USC alum was an even 91. He’s available, knows the system and has had more experience and success than any other cornerback option on the roster.

Charles James II, CB
Last Year Team: New York Giants
Snaps in Slot: 2014 (preseason)- 44 2013 (PS)- 27

During the Giants 75-man roster cut down, they waived fan-favorite Charles James. The former undrafted free agent is still a free agent and saw some action in the nickel package this preseason, but struggled mightily. James played 27 snaps and allowed a completion on both of the throws tossed his way. Similar to Thomas, NJ.com and The Star-Ledger are reporting there has been no phone call made from the Giants to James.

Dunta Robinson, CB
2013 Team: Kansas City Chiefs
Snaps in Slot: 2013- 143 2012-48 2011-3

An unlikely option for the Giants would be to sign a veteran with little connection to the team. Former first-round pick Dunta Robinson is presently a free agent and had the most success in the slot last year of available veterans. Playing for the Kansas City Chiefs, Robinson allowed 17 completions on 24 targets as a nickel corner.

Sep 132014
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (September 8, 2014)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Arizona Cardinals at New York Giants, September 14, 2014

Stats and analysis courtesy of Pro Football Focus

Earlier this week, New York Giants offensive coordinator  Ben McAdoo said one of the things that he was encouraged by when watching the film of the debacle in Detroit, was the mistakes his offense made weren’t the same ones, but different.

While NJ.com’s Jordan Raanan pointed out the contrary, there was no denying that Monday featured plays to be made, the Giants simply didn’t make them. Versus Arizona this Sunday at 1:00 PM, the Giants hope to change that and get their first win of the season.

In fact, after starting last season 0-6 last year, there’s been a different feel around the locker room this week in practice. The Giants know that in order to keep those 0-6 thoughts out of their minds, they need to win a game. 1-1 looks a lot better than 0-2.

Rueben Randle, New York Giants (September 8, 2014)

Rueben Randle – © USA TODAY Sports Images

FOUR DOWNS:

First Down
Rueben Randle
It wasn’t pretty for Rueben Randle last week in Detroit. Maybe not because of Randle himself, but because he wasn’t targeted by Eli Manning. The former second-round pick caught just two passes for one yard on three targets. Comparing that to tight end Larry Donnell making his first start, the big-bodied end was thrown at eight times.

A lack of targets this week to Randle may not be because the Giants don’t want to get him the ball, but can’t. The Cardinals have one of the better cornerback tandems in the league in Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie. Last week versus the San Diego Chargers, the two combined to allow only four catches for 32 yards.

Second Down
Throw me the ball
Victor Cruz did a very un-Victor Cruz like thing this week when he stated the key to the offense’s success was, well, throwing him the ball. The only issue with Cruz’s statement…he was thrown the ball last week.

He just didn’t make the plays.

According to Pro Football Focus, Cruz rated out -1.9 score, the worst of any Giants receiver. He was target six times, but managed only two receptions and dropped two passes, second most in the NFL.

It’s time Cruz backs up his talk with his play. But Monday’s lack-of-production was not because the ball wasn’t send the former Pro Bowler’s way.

Third Down
J.D. Walton
No one of the Giants offensive line played particularly well Monday night in Detroit, but Walton stood out as visually struggling the most. Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh made a mockery of the Giants center, regularly sending him yards into the backfield.

Versus Arizona, Walton won’t be facing the likes of Suh and Fairley. Instead, he’ll see an awful lot of Dan Williams and Paul Soliai. Versus the Chargers last week, the two combined for three quarterback hurries and two tackles.

Prince Amukamara, New York Giants (August 18, 2014)

Prince Amukamara – Photo by Connor Hughes

Fourth Down
Prince Amukamara
One of the brightest spots for the New York Giants on Monday was the play of Prince Amukamara. The former first-round pick played as just that and showed he may in fact be New York’s best cornerback.

Sunday afternoon will be a great test for Amukamara, no matter whom he faces. The Arizona Cardinals bring to the table two very good outside receivers in Michael Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald. After only being thrown at four times last week and catching only one pass, Fitzgerald will be eager to put a terrible season opener behind him.

If it’s Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie who draws Fitzgerald, that means Amukamara will get Michael Floyd. The former first-round pick caught five of the seven passes thrown his way last week for 119 yards. He gained 27 yards after contact, including a 63-yard bomb from quarterback Carson Palmer.

BREAKING DOWN THE CARDINALS:

OFFENSE - Eric Kennedy
Strength?
The strength of the Cardinals’ offense is obvious…it’s their outstanding receiving corps. The Giants faced Detroit’s Calvin Johnson in the opener, now they face another of the game’s best in Larry Fitzgerald who is coming off a sub par game (1 catch) and looking to rebound. Michael Floyd meanwhile picked up the slack with 5 catches for 119 yards. Both are big, physical targets who can make big plays and help out their inconsistent quarterback. The guy who has really impressed me is rookie John Brown, who looks like a third-round steal. Ted Ginn has game-breaking speed, but is inconsistent. Combine that with an underrated group of tight ends, led by John Carlson.

The Giants have invested a lot of resources in a secondary that did not play well on Monday night. They need big rebound game. Calvin Johnson may be the best receiver in football, but Arizona’s receiving corps is more talented overall.

Weakness?
It used to be the offensive line, but the Cardinals signed LT Jared Veldheer in the offseason and that has improved the overall state of the unit. Still, the offensive line is a bit shaky. The Cardinals still are not that impressive up front and defensive tackles Johnathan Hankins and Cullen Jenkins (as long as hip is not too much of a problem) could present a lot of problems for Arizona. The bigger overall weakness for the Cardinals – and this is related to their offensive line – is their running game. The Cardinals were 23rd in rushing in 2013 and they might not be much more improved this year. RB Andre Ellington can break the big play but he is undersized and hurt his left foot last week. Former Steeler Jonathan Dwyer is ordinary. The Giants should be able to take away the Cardinals running game and make them one dimensional. If they don’t, then it will be difficult to win this game.

DEFENSE - Connor Hughes
Strength?
There’s no doubt where the strength of the Cardinals defense lies, Antonio Cromartie and Patrick Peterson are two of the most physically gifted cornerbacks in the NFL. The two are fast, tall and play the ball in the air exceptionally well. As hard as it will be for Manning, if he starts forcing the ball against the two, things won’t turn out well.

I’d expect the Giants to try to attack the slot and seam more than the outside. Last year, Patrick Peterson played just 69 snaps in nickel and Cromartie 15. If that same trend holds true on Sunday, Cruz should be matched up against Jerraud Powers, who played 31 snaps in the nickel defense last week. That’s a matchup worth testing. Not Jerrel Jernigan/Randle on the outside versus Peterson and Cromartie.

Weakness?
The defensive line for the Cardinals has been ravaged by injured taking into consideration the loss of Darnell Docket, then the fact John Abraham may never play another snap. The Giants aren’t facing Ansah/Suh/Fairley this week. Manning should have additional time in the pocket. Then again, last week he was only pressured 31 precent of the times (Ryan Tannehill and Matt Ryan were pressure more).

Last week versus San Diego, the Cardinals outside linebackers (Sam Acho, Matt Shaughnessy, Thomas Keiser) combined for zero sacks, zero hurries and zero total pressure on Phillip Rivers.

Eli Manning, New York Giants (August 28, 2014)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

PLAYER TO WATCH:
Connor Hughes –
Eli Manning

The one thing that has gotten Eli Manning in trouble in years past is that Brett Favre gun-slinger mentality. Where some quarterbacks will see a situtation and say, “Eh, probably shouldn’t throw there,” Manning will see the same scenario and say, “Eh, I may be able to get it there.” This was evidently apparent on the Victor Cruz interception versus Detroit.

As Manning rolled out, Cruz was open. Had Manning planted his feet, got underneath it and led Cruz, it’s probably a touchdown. But Manning didn’t. He threw off his back foot, the pass was underthrown, jumped and intercepted.

Manning can’t make those plays versus the Cardinals. The days of the Giants offense gaining 400 yards, at least at this point, are over. Manning needs to realize that punting the ball and letting the defense play defense in a field position game is a win. If he throws another two interceptions, the Giants have no shot.

Eric Kennedy -
The Offensive Line
OK..so this is really five players…sue me. To me, the key to this game for the Giants is their ground game. They need to be able to run the ball against a beat up Cardinals front seven. It’s time to get back to old-fashioned Giants’ football and pound Arizona for four quarters. I expect the Cardinals to play eight in the box and dare the Giants to beat them with the pass. But I’d still stick with the run and use my two big backs to play some smash-mouth football. That should help settle down the line. But consistency will be key. Keep mistakes to a minimum…don’t miss blocks…don’t get penalized. Power football.

FROM THE COACHES’ MOUTH:

Tom Coughlin - In studying the Arizona Cardinals, they are a good team and they certainly did emerge last year, a team that beat Seattle late in the season and just barely lost to San Francisco. (A) 10-6 football team that is a very, very aggressive, physical, defensive team. Very good upfront, runs the ball. In Carson Palmer they have found the quarter that Bruce Arians indicated that he was looking for and take advantage of an outstanding receiving group and can throw the ball down the field. They do have a nice group of running backs that have played well in that system. They are a good team, and we look forward to playing them Sunday.

Bruce Arians - (On how his secondary is coming together) I was really pleased the other night. We put them in situations where Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie were on islands, but we also put our young safeties in that same situation because we do like to pressure a lot. They handled themselves extremely well. They did get behind us a couple times and we were able to get pressure on Philip Rivers and they did not complete some balls, but that is going to happen the way we played defense.

FINAL WORD:

Connor Hughes – Everything says the Giants shouldn’t win this game. In fact, if anything, the Arizona Cardinals are actually a better team than the Detroit Lions are right now. Their defense is better, their offense (aside from the Calvin Johnson/Matt Stafford factor) is overall better and the team is battled tested playing in the – oh what a difference a few years make – toughest division in professional football.

With all that being said.. I think the Giants pull this one out. On Monday night in Detroit, the Giants had plays that could have been made, they just didn’t make them. Will those same plays be there against a much more talented Arizona secondary? Probably not.

Eli Manning, New York Giants (August 9, 2014)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

The Giants need to stay away from turnovers and need to get after Carson Palmer. Last year, Palmer completed just 49 percent of his passes when pressured. According to Pro Football Focus, when feeling the rush, Palmer threw 15 interceptions to just three touchdowns. If the Giants can do both of those things, I think they win. New York 20 – Arizona- 10.

Eric Kennedy – Coming into the season, I thought the Giants would beat the Lions but lose to the Cardinals. Arizona is a good football team, and if they were healthy, they are a better football team than the Giants. But they are beat up. QB Carson Palmer has issues with his shoulder. Their offensive line and running game are still shaky. But most importantly, they have been slammed with injuries up front. The strength of the Cardinals is their secondary and receiving corps. Both the Giants and Cardinals are coming off of short weeks and the Cardinals are traveling across country. If the Giants can get their ground game going – and they should – I think the Giants can win this game. But Eli must protect the football better. When the Giants win the turnover battle, they usually win. Giants 20 – Cardinals 16.

Sep 112014
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (September 8, 2014)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Detroit Lions 35 – 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
Can John Jerry, J.D. Walton and Weston Richburg contain Ndamukong Suh?
To answer bluntly, no. Ndamukong Suh made a mockery of both Walton, who was three yards deep in the backfield nearly every play and New York’s running game suffered as a result. Suh seldom went head-to-head with Richburg.

Second Down
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie vs Calvin Johnson
This match-up did not go as well as hoped for the Giants. While the 67-yard touchdown to start the game was more on Damontre Moore and Stevie Brown, DRC gave up several key completions to Johnson. More was hoped for and expected.

Third Down
Reggie Bush
Reggie Bush gave the Giants problems early on in the game as a receiver, particularly on the first two drives. Bush beat LB Jacquian Williams twice for 18 yards on the first touchdown drive, and then beat Stevie Brown for 24 yards on the second touchdown drive. He was held to just seven yards on three more catches after that. Bush was a non-factor in the running game, carrying the ball nine times for 15 yards (1.7 yards per carry).

Fourth Down
Walter Thurmond III vs Golden Tate
Walter Thurmond played well. Golden Tate did have six catches for 93 yards but that damage did not occur against Thurmond. Tate’s biggest play was his 44-yard reception where there was another busted coverage in the Giants zone defense with Stevie Brown likely being the guilty party.

OFFENSIVE OVERVIEW – by Connor Hughes
The New York Giants were without a few of their offensive pieces Monday night in Detroit. Not suiting up for New York were: WR Odell Beckham Jr., OT Charles Brown, OT James Brewer, and OG Adam Snyder. 

From the outside perspective, things weren’t pretty Monday night in Detroit. With just a few minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Giants had mustered 91 yards on 40 plays. When the game concluded, the offense managed two touchdowns, quarterback Eli Manning was turning the ball over and the offensive line wasn’t blocking. The receivers were dropping passes and creating little separation. The running game was ineffective.

It appeared as if everything went wrong for the Giants and that Manning had continued to regress. It seemed there was little-to-no hope for the team.

And you know what? That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Following an intensive film breakdown, the Giants offense performed much better than expected. No, it wasn’t great, and certainly wasn’t good, but it wasn’t as hopeless as originally anticipated. In fact, the best way to describe it, there is hope for the Giants offense. The players just need to make the plays. The passes were there to be caught. There were ways to extend drives. The Giants were inches away from making them. There was progress.

The nuts and bolts don’t tell the complete story: 197 total yards (144 passing, 53 rushing). Two sacks for 19 yards. 3-for-13 on third downs. Two-for-three on fourth downs. 16 total first downs accumulated (four rushing, eight passing).

QUARTERBACK – by Connor Hughes
There was a very strong and glaring realization when analyzing the game film from Monday night: Eli Manning didn’t play poorly. In fact, he was one of the offense’s bright spots. Sure, some of his passes could have been a little more accurate, but that criticism can be given to three-to-four Manning throws a game every since he entered the league a decade ago.

Knocking out the one glaring mistake early, Manning never should have thrown the ball to Victor Cruz during his second interception. The play was a dud from the beginning when Nick Fairley blew past J.D. Walton.

I get Manning’s thought process: Victor Cruz was open and behind the defense with little safety help. In fact, had the play been on the opposite side of the field, where Manning could have rolled out to his right and thrown with his body as opposed to against, it very well may have been a touchdown.

The interception was a bit of the gun-slinger in Manning coming out. He believes he can make any throw, this was one he couldn’t. With the Giants down and needing a play, Manning tried to put some life into the team. Unfortunately, it should have been a situation where the offense lived to fight another down.

The first interception Manning threw, Manning also took blame for. Although, looking at the tape, I don’t see it as his fault. Now, there is no way to know the exact play call or what Larry Donnell was thinking, but this much is true. Manning and Donnell made direct eye contact before the play and Donnell noted he saw it. Donnell could have gotten a seam route call, Manning could have seen the blitz and expected Donnell to change on the fly. That’s probable, too. Either way, it’s a miscommunication.

The facts remained, when Manning had time, he made nice throws down the field. Whether his receivers caught them was another issue. On the first third down of the game, Manning went to Jernigan, who was open and should have caught the ball for a first down. Had he not gone to Jernigan, both Rueben Randle and Victor Cruz had run double-curls on the opposite side of the field, but were a yard or two short of the first. Jernigan was there for the first.

There was a play down the seam later in the game where Manning went to Victor Cruz. The result? Another drop. There were plays to be made, the playmakers on the Giants just didn’t make them. Can’t blame Manning for that.

There were a few “bad” throws from Manning on the night, but on many, Manning didn’t have a clean pocket. As was the case on his first “bad” throw to Donnell. Donnell was open on an out route, Manning released the ball, but was unable to step into the throw due to pressure. Had Manning had a little more time, it’s a six-yard completion.

There were many glaring take-aways from Monday’s game. The regression of Manning was not one of them. Should he have thrown that ball down the sideline across his body to Cruz? No. Was he the team’s biggest issue? No.

RUNNING BACKS – by Connor Hughes
There really isn’t anything ‘special’ about Rashad Jennings. He doesn’t have elite speed. He isn’t the toughest player in the world to bring down. He doesn’t do anything ‘great.’

What Jennings does do, is everything very, very well. There were little running lanes for Jennings to work with, much of that had to do with Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. Where Jennings made his presence felt was his ability to react to the early pressure up the middle from Suh and Co., and find the cutback lane.

On Jennings’ longest run of the night, the Lions immediately pushed the Giants offensive line into the backfield. Jennings began running to the left, then cutback and around Suh to turn what appeared to be a non-gain into a pretty nice pickup.

Jennings also truly stands out – and did again Monday – with his pass blocking. I didn’t catch a play where Jennings made the “wrong” decision on whom to pick up. He made the correct blocks and chips.

It’s been awhile since the Giants had an every-down back, but Jennings appears to be it. He’s a good runner, blocker and receiver, and the Giants used him in all areas Monday. Not many running backs in the NFL can take claim to that.

The lone other Giant to get a carry Monday was Andre Williams, who continues to be the same player the Giants thought he was in the preseason. Williams is a very good runner, but isn’t there just yet as a blocker or receiver. He’s a good change of pace back, and once he gets more comfortable in his other two roles, he should see an increase in playing time. The issue the Giants have right now is that when Williams checks into the game, opponent’s know he’s a one-trick pony at this point in his career.

WIDE RECEIVERS – by Connor Hughes
Throughout the Giants game with the Lions, the Giants played with primarily three wide receivers, with Corey Washington getting a couple snaps near the goal line. Actually… I take that back… a fifth ‘wide receiver’ actually got a snap:

One of the receivers who caught some of the most flack was Rueben Randle. The former second-round pick was targeted just three times and caught two passes for one yard. He did have a completion that was nullified by a defensive penalty.

There are a lot of questions on whether Randle was struggling to get ‘open.’ Watching the film, that wasn’t readily apparent. Instead, it looked as if the Giants just simply weren’t looking to get him the ball.

It could have been because Manning was looking to get rid of the ball quickly, and not going to his second, third, fourth reads. Either way, Manning was not looking in Randle’s direction. Period. It wasn’t as if Manning was looking to Randle, he wasn’t open, then he was taking a sack, or throwing to someone else. Manning just wasn’t going there. It was almost as if Randle wasn’t in this week’s game plan.

Jerrel Jernigan, on the other hand, was targeted and continues to leave much to be desired. It started with a case of the “alligator” arms on the first series of the game. Manning made the right read, Jernigan was open and he just short-armed it. The safety was coming up to apply a hit, and it looked like Jernigan knew that. The entire approach to the ball was awkward. The route was a bit lazy, too.

Manning didn’t take many deep shots in the game, but he did go down the field to Jernigan on one play and Jernigan had a step. Manning didn’t have a clean pocket and as a result couldn’t put it out directly in front, but Jernigan adjusted to the ball and turned around. From the film, it looked like the ball hit Jernigan’s hands and bounced out. Again, these are plays that are there to be made, and the Giants playmakers aren’t making them.

Victor Cruz made a public cry to have the ball thrown to him more. In the first half of Monday’s game, he probably should have. In the second half, he needs to catch some passes. You can’t complain about needing the ball more, but then when the ball is thrown to you…

The reason the Giants drafted Odell Beckham Jr. was to take some of the pressure off Cruz. Cruz benefits more when he has someone else on offense who demands that coverage shadow. If Cruz’s numbers drop a bit because he is the No. 1 option, that’s understandable. But drops? These are the types of plays that aren’t on Manning. If these passes are caught, Monday is a different game.

For whatever reason, early on, Cruz was simply not targeted by Manning. The Giants offense is predicated on getting the ball out of Manning’s hands fast, which may have been why Manning didn’t go through his reads as much. The ball was out of his hands before he could survey the field. Still, it was a bit puzzling why those quick reads were to Jernigan and Donnell, not Cruz and Randle.

Corey Washington’s main rep came in the red zone with Eli Manning throwing the high fade to the 6-4 target. It was the right decision, Washington has the height advantage. The biggest question mark was if the Giants planned on using Washington in the red zone…why not try to get Manning and Washington some reps together in the preseason?

TIGHT ENDS – by Connor Hughes
Larry Donnell saw almost all of the Giants reps at tight end, with the score potentially being a reason for that. Donnell isn’t the Giants strongest blocker, but he is their best receiver, and he showed that Monday.

Donnell ran some nice routes, and his two fade routes near the goal line showed the potential he has. On his first fade, Donnell came a big toe away from getting his first touchdown. On his second, it was a touchdown.

The thing that impressed me most with Donnell on the two fades were the positioning he got.

Where Donnell struggled is the same place Donnell has always struggled: Blocking. There was one play that particularly stood out. On the Jerrel Jernigan end-around that lost two yards, Will Beatty had whiffed a bit on the block and allowed LB DeAndre Levy to run free to Jernigan. While Beatty’s block on the play was dismal, Donnell ran right past Levy, allowing him to make the play. Had Donnell even just chipped him, it’s a potentially big play.

OFFENSIVE LINE – by Connor Hughes
Collectively as a unit, it wasn’t pretty. That’s how it should be, though. If one offensive lineman has a bad day and allows pressure on the quarterback, things aren’t going to go well.

That was situation on Monday night. Were all five of the Giants offensive linemen bad? No. Were most of them bad at different points in time? Yes. Were some worse than others? Yes.

With this unit being such a deep area of concern, I tried to spend as much time as I could looking at each unit individually to grade them out and see how they performed.

Before getting to the offensive linemen, a compliment to Suh. Prior to the game, I talked extensively to Weston Richburg about what makes Suh so special. The No. 1 thing he talked about was the defensive tackle’s ability to jump the count. Emphasizing that, one play stood out to me more than anything else. With this, there simply isn’t anything you can do as a lineman. Look below where Suh is, compared to the rest of his defensive linemen.

Will Beatty
No, it really wasn’t as bad as originally anticipated. Did Beatty miss a few blocks? Yes. Was the failed cut attempt as ugly as a block attempt can be? Yes. Did Beatty stand up well against Ansah for a large portion of the night? Yes.

Overall, Beatty didn’t perform that poorly and was far from the weakest link on the offensive line. You can see when Manning had a clean pocket, Beatty had a lot to do with it:

With that being said, he whiffed on a block that had the potential to be a touchdown. On the end-around, Beatty missed the initial block on Levy who came flying in to make tackle on Jernigan for a two-yard loss. Had he made that tackle, and Donnell continued down the field, there was a lot of room to run.

My biggest question mark with Beatty came strictly on the cut block. Not the technique, or the fact the cut failed, but why? Normally, offensive linemen will go with a cut block on third- or second-and-short situations. The objective is to get the lineman quickly on the ground and their hands down so that the quarterback can throw a quick pass over their head. It’s designed to prevent bat downs.

When Beatty went with his cut-block attempt, it was third-and-nine. Watching the film, Manning didn’t look like he was trying to hit any quick pass. It was a longer developing play. I don’t understand why exactly Beatty went with a cut block. To me, it didn’t make sense in that situation.

Weston Richburg
Playing the first game of his professional career, it was impressive the way Richburg handled himself in Detroit. In fact, Richburg may have been the Giants best offensive linemen. The rookie routinely made his way to the second level, sealed on a few runs and performed well in pass protection.

J.D. Walton
Walton, and right guard John Jerry, drew the short straw and faced Suh throughout the course of the night. Neither fared well at all, but Walton performed poorly no matter who he went up against. The center was knocked back into the backfield multiple times on running plays, was blown past by Fairley on Manning’s second interception and was over-matched by most he faced. It wasn’t pretty for the Giants center.

Walton didn’t have the best preseason for the Giants, either, and the question now comes up on if he could be close to losing his starting position when Geoff Schwartz returns. If either Brandon Mosley, Adam Snyder or John Jerry prove they can perform at right guard, it would allow Weston Richburg to slide in at center.

John Jerry
It’s tough to grade out or break down John Jerry’s film because he went up against Suh the majority of the night. The biggest take away from the film was that Suh simply beat Jerry off the ball too many times and caught him off guard. Did Jerry look bad Monday night? Yes. But he was going up against arguably the best defensive tackle in the NFL. Unlike Jerry, Walton was brought in to start. Jerry was meant to “compete” for a starting position, but the Giants wanted Snee, Richburg or Mosley at that right guard position. He showed some promise on running plays, but he was overpowered by Suh on far to many occasions.

Justin Pugh
Quietly, Justin Pugh had a nice game Monday night. He seldom allowed any pressure around his right side and didn’t jump out on the film for any negative reason. Of each of the offensive linemen I looked at, I struggled finding anything negative to write about in regards to Pugh. Did he overpower anyone? Not really, but he didn’t perform poorly, either. At this point, the Giants will take that day in, and day out.

DEFENSIVE OVERVIEW – by Eric Kennedy
For at least the first half of the 2014 season, we knew a defense that had received an infusion of talent in the offseason would have to carry the team while the offense sputtered. That did not happen on Monday night. The back seven, particularly the secondary, was supposed to be the strength of the defense but the Giants gave up 341 net passing yards to the Lions.  QB Matt Stafford completed 22-of-32 passes for 346 yards and two touchdowns for a QB rating of 125.3. That tremendous offensive productivity was from a team with a completely new coaching staff and offensive scheme.

Some very disturbing notes:

  • While the Giants stopped the run until the fourth quarter, they simply could not get off of the field on third down, including third-and-long. Detroit was 10-of-15 (67 percent) on third down.  Detroit was able to overcome terrible down-and-distance situations throughout the night. On the first TD drive, the touchdown came on 3rd-an-9 after Detroit had faced a 2nd-and-15. On the second TD drive, they overcame 2nd-and-18 and a 3rd-and-13. On the first FG drive, they overcame a 3rd-and-11.
  • The Giants allowed six pass plays of 20 or more yards, including passes of 67 and 44 yards.
  • The Giants got burned at least three times when Perry Fewell decided to drop 1 or 2 defensive linemen into coverage instead of having them rush the passer. These plays failed miserably. Though the numbers don’t indicate it, the Giants did apply some decent pressure on Stafford at times throughout the game. The Giants got burned on the 3rd-and-13 play that ended with a 16-yard touchdown (3 man rush, CB blitz), the 44-yard gain on 3rd-and-11 (3 man rush with Cullen Jenkins dropping), and the 22-yard gain on 3rd-and-7 on the last TD drive (2-man rush with Mathias Kiwanuka and Robert Ayers dropping. Great, now we’re dropping two defensive linemen.
  • There was also a dumbfounding (to me) call where on 3rd-and-25 from the Giants’ 38-yard line, Fewell basically called a prevent defense in a situation where the Giants had to prevent the Lions from getting into field goal range. There was hardly a Giant DB in the picture. Stafford completed a dart over the middle in traffic but he could have just as easily dumped the ball off short. There were two completely uncovered receivers with no defender within 15 yards.  Luckily, the Lions missed the field goal, but they should not have. Bad defensive call.
  • A constant theme during Perry Fewell’s tenure with the Giants has been confusion in the secondary that leads to big plays. That happened again on Monday night. Too often in zone coverage the other team’s wide receivers seem to be wide open in critical situations.  The troubling thing is that the mistakes are also being made by players who have been with Fewell for more than one offseason.
  • Damontre Moore did screw up by not keeping under control and preventing Stafford from launching his 67-yard touchdown pass. But he was basically benched after that play and the Giants could have used him. Other Giant defenders screwed up and weren’t benched. I don’t understand that move.
  • The Giants defense utterly gave up in the fourth quarter. It was embarrassing. You can say they wore down or whatever. The Lions ran 63 offensive plays…that’s not a terribly high number. A defense that wants to think of itself as a “top 5” defense doesn’t lie down like that.

Overall, a defense that was supposed to carry this team failed miserably. They surrendered two touchdowns on Detroit’s two first possessions, immediately putting the Giants in a 14-0 hole. They gave up another decent drive in the first half that thankfully ended in a missed field goal. In the second half, while the defense did a good job of limiting the Lions to a field goal after Eli Manning’s first interception, Detroit scored an additional 17 points on their next three possessions, including drives of 66 and 80 yards. There was one sack (player unblocked) and no turnovers forced.

DEFENSIVE LINE – by Eric Kennedy
The defensive line played pretty well. They were outstanding against the run – until the fourth quarter.  Johnathan Hankins (5 tackles) was a rock inside against the run and even flashed on occasion on the pass rush. Cullen Jenkins (2 tackles) was not as noticeable but he looked good a times against both the run and the pass. Jason Pierre-Paul (4 tackles), suffered a neck stinger, but he was very good against the run and the most consistent pass rusher the Giants had on the field. He came close a few times, and he also hustled on plays down the field. It was a mixed bag for Mathias Kiwanuka (1 tackle), who started off the game strongly but faded as the game wore on; hence, my objection to keeping Damontre Moore on the bench because of his early miscue. Kiwanuka’s pass rush became weaker as the night progressed and the Lions ran quite successfully at him and Mike Patterson (1 tackle) in the second half. Robert Ayers (1 tackle, 1 sack) played both end and tackle and flashed on occasion at both spots. My overall takeaway on the defensive line was this: good against the run, decent but not game-changing rushing the passer, and kind of gave up late in the game.

LINEBACKERS – by Eric Kennedy
Improved play was expected from this group, but the early returns were more of the same. Jon Beason, as could be expected after missing all of camp and the preseason, looked rusty. While he did a good job of reading plays and helping his teammates do a stellar job against the run (again until the 4th quarter), he was only in on four tackles and actually missed a tackle. Jameel McClain was also only in on four tackles. He flashed on a couple of plays, but it wasn’t enough. And he looked terrible down on the goal line on the Lions’ last score. Jacquian Williams (7 tackles) was dreadful. While the strength of his game is pass coverage, he did not do a good job against RB Reggie Bush early in the game, including badly missing a tackle. Bush had Williams leaning the wrong way on another reception. Williams was flagged with defensive holding too. In the third quarter, Williams’ missed tackle on the tight end turned a short gain into a 26-yard pass play. But what bothered me the most was his lack of physicality against the run, particularly in the second half of the game. He just seems like a player who doesn’t like contact…and that’s kind of a bad thing for a football player. The final kicker was his indecision on Stafford’s 3rd-and-5 touchdown run. Make the play!

DEFENSIVE BACKS – by Eric Kennedy
Much more was expected from this group. I do think part of it is scheme. There is a lot talent at cornerback with this group, and Perry Fewell has to learn to trust them by playing more man coverage and less zone. That said, there were instances in the game where the players did not engender such faith. The play that sticks out to me is the 24-yard reception by WR Calvin Johnson on 3rd-and-4 in the second quarter. Dominique-Rodgers Cromartie (4 tackles, 2 pass defenses) is locked up one-on-one with Johnson in press man coverage, but DRC allows Johnson an easy release to the inside for the big play on the slant. Given the caliber of competition (Johnson), Rodgers Cromartie didn’t have a “bad” game, but much more was expected from him. He had his share of nice plays but he also gave up a few (and was lucky Prince Amukamara saved his ass on a deep post route). Speaking of Amukamara (8 tackles, 2 pass defenses), he played well both against the run and in pass coverage. He made a nice play on the TE in the end zone to save a touchdown. Walter Thurmond wasn’t noticed. That’s good in that he usually kept his man quiet, but a game-changing play by him – or one of his teammates in the secondary – would have been nice. That was the hope coming into this season by this defensive back group.

Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions (September 8, 2014)

Calvin Johnson – © USA TODAY Sports Images

The bigger problem was at safety. It’s clear that Stevie Brown (9 tackles) is a major step down from Will Hill. Brown was actually very good against the run, far more active than the linebackers. That is an area where he really has improved since 2012. But Brown was too often a liability in coverage. He really screwed up on the 67-yard touchdown pass. As the last line of defense as a free safety, and facing the NFL’s best wide receiver, Brown simply must be in better position to keep that play from turning from a decent-sized 3rd-down completion into a long touchdown. He was out of position and worse, failed to make the tackle. Brown was burned badly by Reggie Bush (and looked slow in the process) on a 24-yard gain on the next possession. A safety has to be able to cover a back better than that. Later on this drive, Brown should have been beaten for an easy score by the tight end, but the ball was underthrown. I wonder if Stevie Brown should be playing strong safety and Antrel Rolle should be playing free safety. Rolle (4 tackles) was pretty quiet except for forcing one fumble that was recovered by the Lions. More is expected from him. As a unit, the secondary only had four pass defenses on the night and no interceptions.

SPECIAL TEAMS – by Eric Kennedy
The Giants need their special teams to excel this year too while the offense struggles. And Tom Quinn’s unit once again came up short. The Giants had one punt blocked and had two others almost blocked. In the process, Steve Weatherford was hammered and suffered ligament damage to his left ankle. Weatherford punted five times for an average of 40.2 yards per punt. The Lions were held to 11 yards on three punt returns.

Josh Brown attempted no field goals and all three of his kickoffs resulted in touchbacks.

Quintin Demps returned one kickoff for 14 yards to the 16-yard line. Not good. Preston Parker made a big mistake by fielding a punt inside the 5-yard line. He did have one return that picked up 18 yards.

(Boxscore – New York Giants at Detroit Lions, September 8, 2014)
Sep 112014
 
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Rueben Randle, New York Giants (September 8, 2014)

Rueben Randle – © USA TODAY Sports Images

It’s not really an ideal situation for Rueben Randle and the rest of the New York Giants receivers.

Following a stagnant performance in the season opener, Randle and Co. are looking to jump-start a Giants offense that was particularly lacking in the playmaker department Monday night.

In a perfect world, Randle admitted he’d enjoy splitting out wide at MetLife Stadium against the Arizona Cardinals and looking across the line of scrimmage at a cornerback fresh out of college.

Instead? He’ll get either Antonio Cromartie or Patrick Peterson.

The duo has only combined for 40 interceptions, six Pro Bowl appearances and three All-Pro honors.

“It would be ideal (to face someone else),” Randle said with a smile, “but it’ll be great work for us. We’ll see where we stand as receivers with the two great cornerbacks we’ll be facing.”

In both Cromartie and Peterson, the Cardinals bring together two of the more athletically gifted cornerbacks in the NFL. Each were selected in the first round with Peterson going No. 5 overall in 2011, and Cromartie No. 19 in 2006.

Coming out of college, Peterson ran the 40-yard dash in 4.34 seconds and had a vertical of 38 inches. Cromartie posted similar impressive numbers, running a 4.47 40 and the same vertical. Nearly as jaw-dropping as the duo’s timed results are their other measurables.

Both corners are over 6-feet tall. Cromartie is 6-2.

“He is longer, so our job is to get his hands off us,” Randle said. “We can’t let him jam us at the line of scrimmage and we have to get him running to open up his hips.”

While Cromartie is an NFL vet, Peterson is just 24 years old. Peterson is as physically gifted as any other cornerback in the NFL, but he’s struggled with consistency.

At times, Peterson has flashed the ability to be a ‘shutdown cornerback,’ but has also had a knack for getting caught out of position. If Peterson starts hot, it’s a long day for the offense. If a receiver can get past Peterson early, it tends to be the reciprocal.

According to Pro Football Focus, when a quarterback threw at Peterson in 2012, their average quarterback rating was a 64.9. In 2013, that rating jumped to 91.3. To compare with other cornerbacks in the NFL, Joe Haden graded in at a 75.2 rating last year. Richard Sherman led all with quarterbacks averaging a 47.3 rating.

Randle acknowledged that Peterson is in the top-tier of today’s best defensive backs, but that doesn’t mean he’s unbeatable.

“Just by keeping him off balance,” Randle said. “You can’t let him get back there and be comfortable to where he can be the athlete he is and break up the ball and create interceptions.”

Last week versus Detroit, it was Randle who looked off balance. The third-year pro caught two passes for just one yard on three targets from quarterback Eli Manning. Randle said the key this week versus Arizona is getting off to a hot start.

After watching Monday’s film, Randle saw he wasn’t lacking receptions because he wasn’t open. He found the holes in the defense, but Manning, at times, rushed the ball to other receivers instead of waiting for others to get open.

Versus Arizona, Randle is hoping to give Manning the faith and confidence to go to him early and often.

“(If I can) capitalize on more opportunities it will definitely build confidence in Eli,” Randle said. “He can sit back there and allow us to get open. He won’t have to rush or anything to throw us the ball or force it.”

Sep 102014
 
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Odell Beckham, New York Giants (August 9, 2014)

Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Things weren’t pretty Monday night in Detroit as the New York Giants kicked off their season.

Not on defense, where Calvin Johnson torched New York’s rebuilt secondary. Not on special teams, where the unit allowed a block punt and punter Steve Weatherford tore ligaments in his ankle. And certainly not on offense where, well, just about everything went wrong.

Giants quarterback Eli Manning was under constant pressure and Detroit’s defensive line clogged up any running lanes resulting in little success from the running game. But what may have been the most alarming factor was the lack of playmakers taking the field for the Giants.

Rueben Randle, Victor Cruz and Jerrel Jernigan were complete non factors as Manning was forced to turn to tight end Larry Donnell and Rashad Jennings out of the backfield. The receivers created little, if any, separation. When they did get separation, the group struggled catching the ball.

During the NFL Draft, the Giants elected to forego drafting an offensive lineman in order to add to the above receiving corp. With the No. 12 pick in the draft, the Giants selected LSU receiver Odell Beckahm Jr. The hope was that Beckham would occupy the outsider receiver, position along with Randle, so that Cruz – who general manager Jerry Reese admitted “can’t” play outside – could play in the slot.

With former first-round pick Hakeem Nicks gone, New York needed Beckham to have a near immediate impact. They needed him to be a playmaker.

A nagging hamstring injury has kept Beckham off of the field and left the Giants offense searching for answers. As Manning and Co. continue to struggle, the need for Beckham to get back on the field seems as important as ever.

But is it realistic to believe Beckham can truly change the fortunes of the Giants offense? Can the rookie really turn around a unit that looks to be one of the league’s worst?

History certainly doesn’t stand in New York’s favor.

Since the year 2000, a total of 55 wide receivers have been selected in the first round of the NFL Draft. The success each has seen? Staggeringly little.

Of all NFL receivers selected in the first round, the group has average 37 receptions, 519 yards and three touchdowns each season. Of receivers selected with the No. 12 overall pick (the selection spot of Odell Beckham) or higher, the average jumps slightly to 40 receptions for 554 yards and four scores.

While the numbers seems surprisingly low, there are a few exceptions. The following are players who have exceeded the above-average numbers and put together impressive numbers their first year in the league:

PLAYER NAME, TEAM, STATISTICS:
2003: Andre Johnson, Houston, 66-976-4
2004: Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona, 58-789-8
2004: Roy Williams, Detroit, 54-817-8
2004: Lee Evans, Buffalo, 48-843-9
2004: Michael Clayton, Tampa Bay, 80-1193-7
2006: Santonio Holmes, Pittsburgh, 49-824-1
2007: Calvin Johnson, Detroit, 48-756-4
2007: Dwayne Bowe, 70-995-5
2011: AJ Green, Cincinnati, 65-1056-7
2011: Julio Jones, Atlanta, 54-959-8
2012: Justin Blackmon, Jacksonville, 64-865-5

Jerrel Jernigan was selected by the Giants in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft and went through the same learning curve as many other NFL rookies. His first year in the league, Jernigan struggled to find success on the field and didn’t appear in a game until his second season in the NFL.

“All the defensive backs are talented,” Jernigan said. “They’re all fast and all of them looked at the quarterback. In college, a lot of defensive backs will focus just on their man. Here, they look at the quarterback and their drop to know if you’re going to be running an intermediate route or deep route.

“You need to get used to the coverages, route running and getting the details to get that. Defensive backs here can read what you’re doing a lot better than college players.”

YEAR
2000
2001
2002
2003
2004
2005
2006
2007
WRs SELECTED56337616
AVG RECEPTIONS3228344140324935
AVG YARDS395387479552597431824490
AVG TOUCHDOWNS32435213
YEAR
2008
2009
2010
2011
2012
2013
WRs SELECTEDNONE62343
AVG RECEPTIONSN/A4434474346
AVG YARDSN/A634422757573561
AVG TDsN/A44533

When the Giants selected Beckham, he was considered about as ‘Pro Ready’ as a rookie can be, but can he truly be the Giants offensive savior? Can the team really rely on an immediate impact from a rookie playing a position that has seen little instant success?

New York has rarely gone with a receiver in the first round. In fact, Beckham is just the fifth receiver taken in the first round by the Giants since 1975. Mark Ingram (87), Thomas Lewis (94), Ike Hilliard (97) and Nicks (09) were also selected in the first round.

Of the group, Nicks had the most success his first year. The UNC alum caught 47 passes for 790 yards and six touchdowns in 14 games.

But will Beckham follow the same path as Nicks and see early success in his career? The Giants certainly hope so, but it’s a gamble. For every Nicks-like performance, there are three Ashley Lelies and Donte Stallworths.

It’s a risk, and history certainly isn’t in New York’s favor.

Sep 092014
 
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Victor Cruz, New York Giants (September 8, 2014)

Victor Cruz – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Victor Cruz isn’t blind.

Nor is he oblivious, ignorant or impervious to what the New York Giants displayed on the field Monday night. He knows it wasn’t good, heck, he knows it was downright ugly.

What Cruz, like so many others are, is shocked. Because he, like so many others, never expected the same issues that had plagued the offense the first week of learning Ben McAdoo’s West Coast offense to still be affecting the team now.

Detroit dismantles Giants dismal offense, 35-24
Quick hits and tidbits, Giants fall to Detroit in season opener

“I did think those problems would be over and we would be able to get into a rhythm,” Cruz said. “Mainly because we were playing a full four quarters. We were playing more than we had in the preseason.”

One quarter or four, it didn’t matter. Nationally televised for the world to see was exactly what the Giants had done in their previous five preseason games. There was no time for quarterback Eli Manning to throw. There was little separation created by the receivers. And, just like under previous coordinator Kevin Gilbride, there were interceptions due to miscommunication between Manning and his intended target.

Cruz caught just two passes for 24 yards on five targets. If the Giants offense is to turn things around, Cruz doesn’t think coaches need to look far for a solution.

Taking a chapter out of Keyshawn Johnson’s playbook, Cruz wants to be thrown the ball.

“There needs to be an increased number of targets in my direction and other play-makers’ directions,” Cruz said. “That all comes with the continuity. That comes with getting the running game going. That comes with building what we want to build as the game continues.”

Rueben Randle, New York Giants (September 8, 2014)

Rueben Randle – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Despite the Detroit Lions secondary being ravaged by injury, the Giants were unable to take advantage, especially Cruz’s receiving counterpart, Rueben Randle. Playing his first game in an offense that was supposed to benefit the former second-round pick, Randle was as big of a non-factor as a team can have. There was no more excuse of the complexity of ‘reading the defense’ like in the previous offense.

Randle simply didn’t get separation. Manning went his way three times. The result? Two catches for one yard. Jerrel Jernigan was targeted seven times, Rashad Jennings five and Larry Donnell eight.

“I think it was just the way the game unfolded,” Cruz said. “I don’t think it was anything deliberate or [Eli] wasn’t looking his way. I just think it was the way the coverages panned out, and there were a lot of the plays we were calling that were being shifted over to JJ’s side.”

This coming Sunday, Randle, Cruz and Manning will look to establish something, anything, against an Arizona Cardinals defense flying high following a season-opening win against the San Diego Chargers.

The Cardinal defense held Philip Rivers and Co. to 290 yards of offense and just 238 pass yards. Rivers completed 21-of-36 passes and threw one interception. On the ground, Arizona allowed just 52 yards in a 18-17 victory.

It’s hardly a cake walk for the Giants in the team’s home opener, but Cruz believes another tough opponent is exactly what New York needs.

“I am excited to see how we respond,” Cruz said, “just get back on the field and shake off this game one and get on the field and run some routes and begin to feel good about ourselves

“We want to get back out there and be focused and get our confidence back and be able to run some routes again and catch the ball and see football again”

Sep 062014
 
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Weston Richburg, New York Giants (July 22, 2014)

Weston Richburg – © USA TODAY Sports Images

It didn’t matter what team called his name during the 2014 NFL Draft in May, the goal was always the same for Weston Richburg.

Come the first game of the season, he wanted to step on the field with the starters.

When he picked up his phone during the second round of the draft and heard Giants coach Tom Coughlin’s voice, nothing changed. Richburg knew the Giants had just signed J.D. Walton and Geoff Schwartz. He knew Chris Snee was looking to make a comeback.

It just didn’t matter. He wanted to start.

“I had that picture in my mind,” Richburg said.

The Giants are now two days away from kicking off their season on Monday Night Football. When the offense takes Ford Field in prime time, Richburg will be lining up next to Walton with the ones.

“It’s a heck of a beginning to an NFL career,” Richburg said. “I’m very excited about it and wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s just a great way to start it.”

Going up against one of the best defensive tackles in the game? Well, that just makes it even better.

Not only will Monday be Richburg’s first career start, but he’ll also be matched up against Detroit Lions defensive tackle and former first-round pick Ndamukong Suh.

Suh, 27, has a resume that’s already chock-full of awards and accolades in his short four-year NFL career. In 2010, Suh’s first season in the NFL, the 6-4, 307-pound tackle won Rookie of the Year honors and earned the first of his three Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro honors.

Throughout his career, Suh has recorded 27.5 sacks, 186 tackles and two forced fumbles while terrorizing opponent’s interior offensive linemen with his rare combination of size, speed and strength.

In his two previous meetings with the Giants, Suh has recorded five tackles and 1.5 sacks.

Richburg has spent countless hours in the film room watching tape on Suh. He’s taken note of his moves, and how he gets an edge on those he faces. The biggest observation the rookie’s made? Suh has impeccable timing jumping the count.

“He catches a lot of guys off guard,” Richburg said. “You can mix up the snap count a little to counter as an offense, but as a guard, that’s your advantage. You know the snap count.

“If we’re going to a silent count, it makes that a little more difficult, but you need to be able to anticipate it as well as you can and be able to fire off right when the ball is snapped so you can negate his perfect timing.”

Playing the Lions in Detroit, quarterback Eli Manning and the rest of the Giants offense will almost certainly have to turn to the silent count, and even if Richburg is able to get the initial step on Suh, he still needs to contain him.

At the NFL Scouting Combine in 2010, Suh bench-pressed 250 pounds 32 times. Richburg wasn’t too shabby, either, putting the same weight up 26 times. But Suh has played 63 regular season games in the NFL, Richburg five preseason games.

“He’s big and strong,” Richburg said,” I’m gonna have to buckle up, strap the cleats on a little tighter and just try to drive him off the ball.”

Sep 062014
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (August 16, 2014)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants at Detroit Lions, September 8, 2014

THE STORYLINE:
The New York Giants injury-riddled offensive line limps on to Ford Field in Detroit and prepares to face the vaunted Lion defensive front. As many questions surrounding the receivers, quarterback Eli Manning and tight end position, more than double are placed around the offensive line.

Is Will Beatty 100 percent? Is Weston Richburg ready to be a starter? Who starts at right guard? Can Geoff Schwartz be 100 percent again this year? Will Justin Pugh avoid a sophomore slump? The list goes on and on.

The simple fact remains: It doesn’t matter when Odell Beckham returns, or how quickly Manning picks up the West Coast scheme. If the Giants offensive line isn’t vastly improved from a year ago, it’ll more of the same for New York.

FOUR DOWNS:
First Down
Can John Jerry, J.D. Walton and Weston Richburg contain Ndamukong Suh?
It won’t take long for the Giants offensive line to get their first test. Monday night, the team will face one of the top defensive tackles in the NFL in Suh. The former first-round picks brings a rare combination of size, speed and strength to the interior of the Lions defensive line and is a handful for any all-pro guard. Jerry, Walton and Richburg will have their hands full.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Walter Thurmond, New York Giants (August 9, 2014)

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Walter Thurmond – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Second Down
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie vs Calvin Johnson
The two have matched up several times before in their careers, and Rodgers-Cromartie may be one of the few corners in the NFL who is athletically gifted enough to stick with a healthy Megatron one-on-one. Last year, the Giants contained Johnson, albeit while the receiver was injured. Lions quarterback Matt Stafford will most definitely take a few shots in Johnson’s direction. Who wins the jump ball when it’s at its highest point?

Third Down
Reggie Bush
There’s been a lot of talk surrounding Calvin Johnson versus the Giants secondary, but what may be the biggest difference maker in Monday’s game is if the Giants can contain Reggie Bush, both as a runner and receiver. The fact is, if the Giants give up 100 yards and a touchdown to Johnson, the team can still win the game. If Bush goes off against the Giants nickel defense which is so focused on stopping the pass? It could be a very, very long night. Bush is a shifty player who has shown that he’s much more than a third down back since leaving New Orleans. The Giants need to keep him from getting to the second level.

Fourth Down
Walter Thurmond III vs Golden Tate
Two of the few subtractions from last year’s Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks team will match up Monday night in Thurmond and Tate. Thurmond is the Giants nickel corner, Tate the Lions slot receiver. Thurmond seemed excited to face his former teammate after the two went at it every day in practice a year ago. It’ll be a nice battle within the battle to watch.

PLAYER TO WATCH:
Connor Hughes – Eli Manning
It seems like the easy option to take, but I’ll have both of my eyes fixed squarely on Eli Manning Monday night. I’ve been critical of the signal caller this year with how uncomfortable he’s looked in the West Coast scheme this year. The excused have been dropped by the Giants of “We aren’t game planning for the preseason” and “It’s just the preseason” and “We’ll be ready for Detroit.” Well, it’s Detroit, are the Giants ready?

Manning is one of the smartest quarterbacks in the NFL, but when he has been the most successful is when he’s been allowed to cock back and throw the ball deep. That’s not really this offense anymore. Can Eli make it work in a West Coast offense?

Then again, I digress. If the offensive line doesn’t get it going, it doesn’t matter if Joe Montana, Steve Young, Peyton Manning or Tom Brady lined up behind center. Manning needs time to throw, no matter the scheme. Can the depleted line give him that?

Rueben Randle, New York Giants (October 21, 2013)

Rueben Randle Scores from 24 Yards Out – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Eric Kennedy – Any Other Receiver Besides Victor Cruz
While I share Connor’s concern about the offensive line, particularly if there is another injury, my greater fear right now is Eli will have no other receiver who he trusts to run the right route, get open, and catch the football. And very much related to this, is there a wide receiver or tight end on this team who really concerns the other team? If I’m Detroit or any other team, I load up against the run, and double Victor Cruz. I dare Rueben Randle, Jerrel Jernigan, and Larry Donnell/Daniel Fells to beat me. If Rueben Randle doesn’t begin to CONSISTENTLY make other teams pay for focusing too much attention on Cruz, then the Giants’ passing offense will be in deep trouble. Manning will get blamed, but he has to have guys to throw the football to.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • Jon Beason (foot)
  • Odell Beckham Jr. (hamstring)
  • James Brewer (back)
  • Charles Brown (shoulder)
  • Markus Kuhn (ankle)
  • Brandon Mosley (back)

FROM THE COACHES MOUTH:
Tom Coughlin (NYG) – The Detroit Lions had a good preseason; they were 3-1, they played three very good, close games, which is good. Again, indicating the depth is there. They have a new coach, Jim Caldwell, at the helm in Detroit and with new coaches, new coordinators, we have spent a lot of time trying to study and predict, but here we go. So we’re excited about it.

Jim Caldwell (DET) on what he sees in Eli Manning – What I see is a very talented guy who certainly has unique abilities to move his team and score, which no matter what the stats might say, this guy is dangerous, and I think he has proven that over time. You don’t win two Super Bowls without having an unusual skill set. I happen to know a bit about his family. I know one thing, and that is you better prepare for him just like you would anybody else that is as talented as him. He can hurt you.

Mathias Kiwanuka, New York Giants (December 22, 2013)

Mathias Kiwanuka – © USA TODAY Sports Images

THE FINAL WORD:
Connor Hughes - From watching the team every day in practice for the last two months, there truly is little optimism surrounding the squad. I am not saying that it’s impossible to turn this thing around, but just going on what I’ve seen thus far.

If the offense takes even miniature strides, I could see them being a 10-6, 11-5 team, because the defense is that good. Completely ignoring the present lack-of playmakers, questions at the tight end position and Manning’s early struggles in the West Coast offense, my biggest red flag is the offensive line.

The Giants did do their best to fix up the “broken” unit that took the field for 16 games last year, but I’m not sold on if the changes made are truly going to make that big of a difference. Are the Giants better up front than a year ago? Absolutely. Is it good enough? I just don’t know.

J.D. Walton is a huge question at center. So are Richburg, Jerry and Mosley at guard. Pugh is solid, but what is there to expect from Beatty? It’s often forgotten that before Beatty’s injury, he was hardly playing like the franchise left tackle the Giants paid him to be.

In my opinion, Detroit has one of the top defensive lines in the NFL. It’s going to be tough for the Giants to get anything going against them. Is it impossible? I’d never put anything past Tom Coughlin, but I see it as unlikely the Giants establish much on the offensive side of the ball. Countering that, as vastly improved as the Giants defense is, it won’t be able to keep with Detroit if the offense turns in three-and-out after three-and-out.

The Giants could easily win this game if the offense takes a jump from the preseason. But again, going off what I’ve seen each day in camp, I don’t see that happening. Detroit 28 – Giants 13.

Eric Kennedy - While it appears the Giants have solid special teams (kicking game) and perhaps a very good defense, my head tells me the Giants are a deeply flawed offensive team. In 2013, the Giants had one good wide receiver and arguably the worst group of tight ends, running backs, and offensive linemen in the NFL. Fast forward to September 2014. It appears the Giants still only have one good wide receiver, the worst group of tight ends in the NFL, and a very shaky offensive line with no depth. That’s not on Tom Coughlin, Ben McAdoo, or Eli Manning. That’s on Jerry Reese. It’s his job to procure talent and to be frank, he didn’t do enough this offseason despite all of the free agent activity. Many think I’m picking on Mr. Reese. I’m not. I’m just calling it like I see it. How does a team that has converted to a tight end-centric offense go into the season with Larry Donnell or Daniel Fells as their starter? The offensive line is literally a house of cards. One more injury and it will be a disaster.

For all his fast starts, Tom Coughlin’s Giants have lost three openers in a row. On the other hand, Coughlin’s Giants are 8-4 on Monday night.

I’m not going with my head on this game but my heart. New York is a flawed team, but so is Detroit. If the Giants play it close to the vest, combining a good running game and defense with solid special teams, I think Detroit will shoot itself in the foot. I like the character of this team. Team leadership – with captains like Manning, Cruz, Rolle, Beason, and DeOssie – is strong. And Tom Coughlin is still one of the best coaches in the NFL. My shot in the dark, wild card predictions are the NYG defense scores in this game and the Giants block a punt. Giants 27 – Lions 20.