Mar 022015
 
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Bo Molenda (23), Dale Burnett (18), Ken Strong (50), Harry Newman (12); 1933 New York Giants

Bo Molenda (23), Dale Burnett (18), Ken Strong (50), Harry Newman (12); 1933 New York Giants – Photo Courtesy of Rev. Mike Moran

The 1933 season is the most significant in the National Football League’s early history. While being mired in the depths of the Great Depression, many significant changes were made during the offseason that ensured not only the fledgling league’s survival, but allowed it to prosper and ultimately overtake college football and baseball as the country’s first choice for sporting entertainment. This marked the birth of the modern NFL, and planted the seed that would blossom on December 28, 1958 at Yankee Stadium when the Giants and Baltimore Colts captivated a national television audience in what has become known as “The Greatest Game Ever Played.”

The first major decision was for the league to create its own standard of play. Since the league’s inception in 1920, the rules governing competition were legislated by college football, which had hamstrung the NFL’s growth by preventing the pro game from differentiating itself from the college game. With its own set of rules ready for 1933, the NFL began to establish its own identity and attract new fans with a different style of play. The main intent was to create more excitement on offense and increase scoring.

The Impetus for Innovation

The catalyst for this unprecedented change was spontaneous improvisation. The NFL had no firmly-established tie-breaking procedure in place at the close of the 1932 regular season. The 6-1-6 Chicago Bears and 6-1-4 Portsmouth Spartans finished officially tied for first place, as ties were not factored into winning percentages at the time. Their 6-1 equated as a 0.857 winning percentage, and during the season the two had played one another to 13-13 and 7-7 ties. There had been too many disputed championships in the 1920’s and the owners did not desire another.

For the first time, a playoff game was arranged to decide who would be declared champion. A blizzard followed by subzero temperatures forced the game to hastily be shifted indoors from Wrigley Field to Chicago Stadium, which had a considerably smaller playing surface. Some of the special ground rules put in place for the game gave a glimpse into the future of football, as well as a controversy that arose late in the game.

The confined space only allowed for a field that was 80 yards in length and approximately 50 yards in width, with the sidelines nearly abutted to the grandstands. The actual playing field was 69-yards from goal line to goal line. The end zones were smaller than regulation and rounded along the end line to fit within the contours of the field that was shaped like a hockey rink. As a precaution, inbounds markers were placed on the field to allow play to begin more toward the center of the field instead of right on the sideline following an out-of-bounds play. This proved to be a revelation, as fewer downs were wasted attempting to center the ball, and also allowed for more productive offensive plays with more of the field was available to use. The goal posts were also moved up from the end line to the goal line.

The game was tied 0-0 five minutes into the fourth quarter. On fourth-and-goal from the Spartans two-yard line, Chicago fullback Bronko Nagurski charged toward the line, but abruptly pulled up and lofted a pass into the hands of teammate Red Grange for a touchdown. Portsmouth head coach Potsy Clark immediately stormed the field in protest, claiming Nagurski was not the required five yards behind the line of scrimmage when he passed the ball forward. Referee Bobby Cahn upheld the ruling and the touchdown stood. The Bears held on for a 9-0 victory and were professional football’s champions for 1932.

The NFL declared it would no longer strictly adhere to the college rule book and forged its own code on February 25, 1933. Although the professional parameters were still strongly rooted to the college game, the differences were significant and would ultimately prove to stimulate a more open and entertaining brand of football. Higher scoring games also decreased the likelihood of tie games, a direct response to the fact that the participating teams in the 1932 playoff participated in a total of 10 tie contests.

  • Forward passes were allowed anywhere behind the line of scrimmage, rather than five yards back (the penalty for which had been loss of possession.)
  • The goalposts were moved to the goal line to make field goals a more attractive option.
  • In-bound lines were added to the field to keep plays from being wasted merely to center the ball on the field.
  • The ball carrier was not ruled down unless contacted by a defender.

Structural differentiation occurred by borrowing ideas from major league baseball. Boston Redskins owner George Preston Marshall and Chicago Bears owner George Halas championed the idea of splitting the NFL into Eastern and Western divisions and having the two first-place teams meet in what they conceived as a “World Series of Football.” Splitting into divisions created “pennant races” that fans would follow, stimulating interest in more cities around the league as more teams had the opportunity to qualify for the championship. The annual championship game would also once-and-forever eliminate disputed championships. Everything would be settled on the field. This reorganization was officially implemented on July 8, 1933, and the site of the championship was predetermined on a rotating basis. The Western Division champion would host the game in 1933 and all subsequent odd-numbered years while the Eastern champion would host in 1934 and all further even-numbered years. This system remained unchanged until expansion caused the league to realign into four divisions in 1967.

The NFL expanded to ten teams in 1933, up from its all-time low of eight in 1932. The placement of the new franchises was significant. Beginning in the late 1920’s, NFL President Joe Carr mandated that the league migrate from large towns and small cities into large cities, especially ones that had a major league baseball team. This helped elevate the NFL’s image, as many pro football teams would share stadiums with their baseball counterparts.

The Staten Island Stapes withdrew from the NFL after the 1932 season (but would continue as an independent team and occasionally play NFL teams in exhibition matches.) Three new franchises received league charters and were based in Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The number of franchises that had competed at least one season in the APFA/NFL was now at 51 in the circuit’s 14th season. The realignment featuring two five-team divisions operating from large metropolitan areas gave the NFL much needed stability. The days of impermanent and transient franchises were drawing to a close.

Player statistics were officially recorded by the league for the first time in 1932. Weekly postings of league leaders were distributed to the press and printed in newspapers beginning in 1933. This gave fans an interactive experience, allowing them to follow their favorite players as they would during baseball season by tracking the league-leaders in batting average and ERA.

Reload

The Giants themselves also underwent a transformation prior to the season, having endured back-to-back disappointing seasons as the core of the team that had challenged for the league title in 1929 and 1930 got old.

The core of New York’s team was its perennially-powerful line. Ray Flaherty and Red Badgro were the best pair of ends in pro football. The interior line was anchored by Len Grant, Butch Gibson, Mel Hein, Potsy Jones and Bill Owen. The infusion of new blood took place in the backfield, with fullback Bo Molenda, tailback Harry Newman and halfback Ken Strong, the latter signing with the Giants after the Staten Island Stapes left the league.

Ray Flaherty, New York Giants (1933)

Ray Flaherty, New York Giants (1933)

The Giants struggled to score points in 1932 after Benny Friedman departed for Brooklyn. The new tailback was chosen for his pedigree. Newman had played behind Friedman while at Michigan in college. The hope was his time observing Friedman playing and practicing alongside him would translate into production on the field. Newman could run, pass and kick almost as well as Friedman, and the Giants billed him as the team’s marquis star. Newman said, “’It was Benny who taught me how to pass. I think I may have thrown two passes in high school. Benny felt if I was going to make it to the top in college, I needed to be a good passer as well as a runner.”

Following four weeks of drills and practice in Pompton Lakes, NJ and exhibition games versus the All-Long Island Stars and Patterson Night Hawks, the 1933 New York Football Giants opened the season with a five-game, three-week road trip. The league opener was a Wednesday-night contest, pitting the Giants against the Pittsburgh Pirates in their inaugural football game.

The Pittsburgh Press said Newman “stole the show” and “did everything with the ball but swallow it,” while comparing him to baseball pitching great Carl Hubbell. The crowd of 25,000 remained enthusiastic, despite the Giants dominant performance. Newman scored on a 5-yard rush and threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to Dale Burnett. Perhaps most pleasing to Coach Steve Owen, however, was Newman’s successful 39-yard field goal, as no New York kicker successfully made a field goal during the entire 1932 season. Strong also had a good all-around game for the Giants, scoring on an interception return and two point-afters. The Pirates only score came on a safety when the ball skittered though the end zone in the third quarter when Strong’s punt was blocked. The Giants won 23-2.

New York was overwhelmed by the Spartans and 90-degree temperatures four days later in Portsmouth. Tailback Glenn Presnell moved the Spartans offense up and down the field on New York in front of 7,000 fans. Portsmouth had the game well in hand, 17-0 in the fourth quarter, when the Giants avoided a shutout with an unusual play. Newman called his own number on a rush from the Spartans 45-yard line, ran through the line and into the secondary. He fumbled the ball when hit from behind, but teammate Red Badgro was nearby to scoop the loose ball at the 20-yard line and take it the rest of the way for the touchdown. Strong added the point-after from placement and the final score was 17-7. The busy road trip continued with an exhibition contest at the Indianapolis Indians on Wednesday before a league contest versus Green Bay at Milwaukee.

Milwaukee fans had been eager to see the Packers in person, and the game against the Giants was very much anticipated as the two teams had battled one another for league supremacy in 1929 and 1930. Instead they witnessed 60 full minutes of undisciplined execution combined with sloppy ball handling. Strong and Newman had productive game for New York, but The Milwaukee Journal provided a descriptive summary of the Wisconsin team’s performance: “Twelve thousand fans laid it on the line hoping to see the Packers and Giants artistically maul each other around in a National League football game at Borchert Field Sunday afternoon, and 12,000 fans, after seeing the exhibition, quietly left the park gently holding their noses between the forefinger and thumb.”

A first quarter Green Bay fumble led to an impressive 39-yard placement field goal by Strong from a wide angle into a brisk wind. In the second quarter, Hein intercepted a pass at the Packer 25-yard line, and Newman connected with Burnett on a 19-yard touchdown pass shortly thereafter for a 10-0 New York lead. Green Bay scored late in the fourth quarter to make the final 10-7 score look respectable, but those who saw it knew better. The Milwaukee Journal detailed “the Bay’s” comedy of errors: “It wasn’t that the Packers lost, they have lost before. They lost to the Bears last Sunday but still looked like a football team. It was that they fumbled, missed signals, fumbled, missed tackles, fumbled, passed like the Apache A.C. Indians, fumbled, checked signals until they finally resorted to a huddle, fumbled, passed wildly from center, fumbled, used bad judgment in spots, fumbled – and then used butter fingers on the ball some more. It was a sad, sad exhibition all around.”

New York headed back to the East Coast for one last road game in Boston. The newly renamed Redskins were building themselves into a rugged outfit. They were strong on the line of scrimmage and had one of the great young backs in the league in Cliff Battles. After jumping out to a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, Boston gained control of the tempo and pounded out long drives for a 21-7 lead in the third quarter. New York fought back. Stu Clancy connected with Flaherty on a 35-yard aerial, and then finished the drive with a 15-yard rush into the end zone. However, Glenn “Turk” Edwards pierced the line and blocked Newman’s point-after attempt, leaving New York behind 21-13.

New York Giants at Boston Redskins (October 8, 1933)

New York Giants at Boston Redskins (October 8, 1933)

Late in the fourth quarter, the Giants had the ball on their 20-yard line and were desperate for a quick score. Newman took the snap from center, sprinted toward the edge and flipped a lateral toward a teammate who missed the ball. Newman retrieved the ball on the 10-yard line, reversed field, and traversed the distance for an 80-yard touchdown. His point-after was good, bringing the score to 21-20. Newman’s long run gave him 108 yards for the contest, and earned him the distinction of being the first officially recognized 100-yard rusher in franchise history. Unfortunately for the Giants, this was not the only accolade of the day. The Redskins were able to run out the clock before New York could threaten again. Battles carried the ball 16 times for 215 yards and a touchdown in the first officially recorded 200-yard rushing performance in pro football history. The Giants headed back to Harlem with a 2-2 record.

Home Cooking

The environs of the Polo Grounds definitely agreed with Owen’s team in 1933. If they felt road weary after their five-games-over-three-weeks road trip, they certainly recovered in a hurry. New York opened their home schedule with a record-setting romp in their first-ever meeting with Philadelphia in front of 18,000 fans.

Harry Newman, New York Giants (October 15, 1933)

Harry Newman, New York Giants (October 15, 1933)

Scoring early and often, the Giants set a team record with eight touchdowns and 56 points. The New York Times game summary said: “the red-jerseyed New York team swept ruthlessly through the visiting eleven to register one of the largest scores ever made in professional football. The Giants gave evidence of tremendous power and fine cooperation, unleashing a running and passing attack that completely puzzled the Philadelphia congregation.

The Giants eight touchdowns were scored by six different players: five were rushing and three passing, with Molenda and Kink Richards each going over twice. New York had totaled eight touchdowns in a game against Frankford in 1930 in a 53-0 win, but only converted five point-afters. This time the Giants were eight-for-eight. Jack McBride converted four placements, Strong two, Newman one and Hap Moran passed to Newman for one.

Fifty-point scores were not uncommon in the early days of professional football as mismatches often occurred between the league’s handful of established franchises and the rabble of teams that struggled to hold their rosters together. As the NFL stabilized in the later 1920’s, the level of competition became balanced as there were fewer teams and stronger rosters. One-sided blowouts became less frequent. The Giants two 50-point games in 1929 and 1933 were the only occurrences of that plateau being reached through the six-year span of 1928-1933, and New York would not reach it again until 1950.

The Giants entertained the Dodgers the next week in an inter-borough battle that drew an exuberant 35,000 spectators to the Polo Grounds. Brooklyn featured familiar names to fans of the Giants: Benny Friedman, along with newcomers Chris Cagle and John “Shipwreck” Kelly, who left New York after the 1932 season and acquired a percentage of the Dodgers franchise. Newman again drew praise for his deft passing against Brooklyn’s durable defense, which came into this game off a shut out versus Cincinnati.

A unique play occurred in the second quarter with New York ahead 7-0. Newman punted to the irascible Kelly, who surprisingly punted the ball right back to Newman, giving the Giants a new possession with a net loss of one yard. The Giants lead 14-0 at the half, and after leading another touchdown drive, Newman was given star treatment and was taken out to a standing ovation. Owen sent in Richards to finish the game at tailback. Friedman got the Dodgers on the scoreboard late with a fourth quarter touchdown pass. Brooklyn successfully completed an on-sides kick, but the Giants defense held and the final score was 21-7. After bolstering their record to 4-2, good for first place in the Eastern Division, the Giants boarded the train to Washington for a mid-week exhibition match before heading to the mid-West to meet a familiar foe with a new look.

The Comeback Kings

New York Giants Center/Linebacker Mel Hein in 1933 - Photo Courtesy of Rev. Mike Moran

New York Giants Center/Linebacker Mel Hein in 1933 – Photo Courtesy of Rev. Mike Moran

After winning the NFL title in 1932, Ralph Jones stepped down as coach for the Bears. George Halas, having bought out long-time partner Edward “Dutch” Sternamn, reinstalled himself as head coach. Part of his motivation may have been the desire to work closely with Bronislau “Bronko” Nagurski, who was the embodiment of everything Halas desired in a football player: tough, smart and relentless. Nagurski was a unique specimen. At six feet two inches in height and 235 pounds, he was a nightmare for defender to bring down. On defense he played tackle where he demolished blockers. Hein stated years later, “I learned that if you hit him by yourself, you were in trouble. If you hit him low, he’d trample you to death; if you hit him high, he’d take you about 10 yards. The best way to tackle Bronko was to have your teammates hit him about the same time – one or two low, one or two high. He was the most powerful fullback that I ever played against. Bronko had a knack of running fairly low. He had a big body and he could get that body, that trunk, down and be able to throw his shoulder into you. If you didn’t get under his shoulder, he just knocked you butt over tea kettles.”

The Chicago Daily Tribune boasted the expected crowd was to be the largest ever at Wrigley Field for a professional football game. (The Cardinals occasionally played there when Comiskey Park was unavailable). An added draw was Newman, who had many fans in the area from his time at Michigan University, and his college teammate Bill Hewitt, now on the Bears. Newman was leading the NFL in passing while also averaging five yards per rush. Halas drilled the 5-0 Bears in defensing New York’s diversified attack. Also of note were the three active players who participated in the first Giants – Bears game at the Polo Grounds in 1925: McBride for the Giants and Red Grange and Link Lyman for Chicago, as well as Coach Halas. The Giants and Bears had met 13 times overall with Chicago holding an 8-5 advantage over their Eastern rivals.

The Bears were the cardiac team of the 1933 season, having won four of their five games by coming from behind late in the final period. The Giants controlled much of the action through the first three quarters, keeping the Bears pinned deep in their own end of the field throughout the third quarter. The field position advantage finally paid off for New York when Strong was good on a 26-yard placement for a 10-7 lead. The Giants defense appeared to close the contest after recovering a fumble at mid field. Newman advanced New York to the Bears 35-yard line where the drive stalled. Luke Johnsos tipped the field position advantage and swung the momentum Chicago’s way when he broke through the line and blocked Strong’s punt, Hewitt scooped the ball and wasn’t tackled until he was dragged down from behind by Newman at New York’s 18-yard line. The comeback was on and the 28,000 Chicagoans were on their feet.

Grange, who, along with Hein, played the full 60 minutes, charged forward for a first down at the eight-yard line. On third-and-goal from the 11-yard line, Keith Molesworth received the snap from center, play-faked to Johnny Sisk, and handed off to Bill Hewitt who came around from the end position. Hewitt followed blockers into the line but pulled up as a herd of New York defenders collapsed on him, and lobbed a pass to Bill Karr alone in the end zone. “Automatic” Jack Manders was good on the placement and the Bears went ahead 14-10 with six minutes to play. The Chicago defense held to preserve their perfect record at 6-0. Newman and Strong ran the ball well for the Giants, but Newman completed only two passes while having four intercepted. The Giants held Nagurski in check, but never quite got a handle on Hewitt, who was the game’s top performer.

New York returned home at 4-3, just ahead of 3-3-1 Boston, who was facing the Bears at Fenway Park. The Giants hosted the always tough Spartans, a team owning a three-game winning streak over New York. The first three quarters of the game showed no reversal of fortune for either team. Glenn Presnell ran 81 yards for a touchdown and kicked a field goal for a 10-0 lead. The battle in the trenches was mostly a stalemate. Portsmouth’s front wall was fortified by All-Pro linemen Ox Emerson and George Christensen.

Ken Strong, New York Giants (November 5, 1933)

Ken Strong, New York Giants (November 5, 1933)

New York’s first break came with approximately 10 minutes to play in the fourth quarter. Presnell, who was soon to leave the game from exhaustion, missed an 18-yard placement attempt. Like the blocked punt the previous week in Chicago, the momentum tipped and the door of opportunity opened. Following an exchange of punts, Newman, who had not yet completed a pass, led the Giants on a 68-yard advance. Badgro and Hank Reese began to control the line of scrimmage, clearing space for Strong, Burnett and Newman on plunges and slants. Newman completed a nine-yard pass to Flaherty and completed the drive with a 12-yard aerial to Strong, who fell backward over the goal line for a touchdown. Strong missed the point-after and the deficit remained 10-6.

The aroused New York defense smothered Portsmouth on the ensuing possession and the Giants started on their 48-yard line after receiving a punt. On the first snap, Newman rolled right and lofted a deep ball into the hands of Burnett at the Spartan’s 14-yard line as the Polo Grounds crowd was “galvanized into an excited, roaring mass.” A Spartans defender was penalized for a late hit on Burnett and the ball was set on the one-yard line. The Giants lined up strong to their left and Strong followed a wave of interference to go over for the winning score and added the point-after for a 13-10 victory. Presnell and Strong registered all the points for their respective teams.

The First Pennant Race

The Giants enthusiasm was tempered after receiving news from out of town. Boston had upset the Bears 10-0. The upcoming Redskins game at the Polo Grounds would be a pivotal match for first place in the division. The 5-3 Giants had a half-game lead over 4-3-1 Boston, but the Redskins had won the first game and a sweep would give them a tie-breaking advantage. A large crowd was expected, since the game was billed as a memorial and charity fundraiser for the late Fordham coach Major Frank Cavanaugh. A high scoring game was predicted – the Redskins led the league in rushing and the Giants led the league in passing. That proved not to be the case.

The contest was a savage battle in the trenches. Boston sent Battles into the fray behind Edwards, looking to duplicate the success they enjoyed in the first game. The Giants countered with Strong plunging behind Grant. Neither team passed the ball with great success as the pressure from both defensive fronts was tremendous. It was entirely appropriate that game’s lone touchdown was scored by an unsung member of the pits.

Newman sparked the Giants only sustained drive with a 15-yard return of a Battles’ punt to the New York 44-yard line in the second quarter. Strong plunged three times for a first down at the Boston 44-yard line. Newman connected on a pass to Burnett to the 28-yard line, and then ran a slant off right tackle for a first down at the Redskins 13-yard line. Three rushes left the Giants with a fourth-and-12 on the 15-yard line. Owen passed on the field goal attempt and signaled Newman to run a play.

Newman took the snap from Hein, rolled to his right and fired a high pass toward the goal line. Battles was in position defending the intended receiver. He leapt up and batted the ball down. Tackle Tex Irvin had been running interference for Newman and was in the area. Irvin reached out, grabbed the deflected ball and fell over for the touchdown. Strong’s point-after gave New York a 7-0 advantage and closed out the scoring for the day. The second half was a field-position struggle featuring the punting exploits of Battles and Strong. Neither team advanced beyond the other’s 30-yard line nor there were no serious scoring threats.

With a 6-3 record and a firmer hand on first place, the Giants again found disconcerting news from the out-of-town scoreboard. The Bears had shockingly been played to a 3-3 tie at Philadelphia. Halas’ team would certainly be motivated to get out of their unexpected slump when they visited the Polo Grounds the following week.

In a calculated risk, Owen changed up his line-up, eschewing explosiveness for size. Given that Chicago was the league’s burliest team – their roster averaged 208 pounds, including 215 along the line – this seemed like a questionable strategy. The prospects of a defender staring down the barrel at the 267-pound George Musso running interference for the 235 pound Nagurski must have kept Owen awake at night. Strong and Newman would start the game on the bench in favor of Clancy and McBride. Owen said he would substitute the larger backs for the more dynamic pair when a scoring opportunity presented itself. Richards would also receive significant playing time subbing for Molenda, who was beat up after playing the full sixty minutes of the previous three games.

Owen’s strategy played out exactly as he had envisioned it during the closing moments of the second quarter. The larger lineup played Halas’ eleven to a stalemate through the game’s first 25 minutes. Looking for a spark, Newman and Strong entered the game with the Bears in possession of the ball at their own end of the field. Newman intercepted a Carl Brumbaugh pass and returned it 20 yards to the Chicago 25-yard line. But a clipping penalty during the return moved the ball back to midfield (the penalty for clipping was 25 yards at the time.)

Chicago Bears at New York Giants (November 19, 1933)

Chicago Bears at New York Giants (November 19, 1933)

From the 50-yard line, Newman received the snap, dropped back to pass, and kept retreating under a heavy rush all the way back to New York’s 25-yard line. Side-stepping and weaving through would-be tacklers, Newman headed back up-field. Most of Chicago’s defense was now behind Newman and his receivers took on the role of blockers. He advanced the ball beyond the 50-yard line and wasn’t brought to the ground until he had reached the 15-yard line for a net gain of 35 yards that electrified the 22,000 fans at the Polo Grounds.

Newman completed an eight-yard pass to Turtle Campbell with just over one minute on the clock before halftime. The Giants called their fourth time out of the half and accepted the accompanying five-yard penalty (essentially a delay-of-game infraction). Deciding it was too risky to run another play, Newman called for the field goal try on second down, which Strong sent through the uprights with ease for a 3-0 Giants lead at intermission.

The Bears came back with a vengeance in the third quarter. Nagurski plunged into the line and Brumbaugh flipped laterals to Sisk and delivered aerials to Molesworth during a 66-yard advance. A remarkable 25-yard play included three exchanges of the ball. Brumbaugh passed downfield to Hewitt, who lateralled to Karr. This play was Chicago’s fourth first down of the drive and set the ball goal-to-go on the seven-yard line. But on first down a lateral was mishandled and the Giants recovered the loose ball. The reprieve was temporary however. Strong launched a deep punt but Molesworth evaded several tacklers and returned it back to the New York’s 18-yard line. Sisk and Manders bucked through the line for a first-and-goal from the eight-yard line.

According to The New York Times summary, “Then came the most thrilling moments of the game and a goal line stand by the Giants that had the crowd cheering frenziedly.” On successive plunges Manders, Sisk and Molesworth advanced to the one-yard stripe. Manders was stuffed again on fourth down, but New York was offside and gave Chicago another chance one half-yard from pay dirt. The Giants line penetrated and Molesworth was thrown for a three-yard loss on the fifth attempt. New York took over possession on their own four-yard line. Grant and Ollie Satenstein were cited for their exceptional efforts to come off blocks and repel the forward charge.

Neither team penetrated deep into the other’s territory and Strong’s field goal held up for the 3-0 win. New York was not firmly in control of the division yet as Boston kept pace by defeating Green Bay. And Brooklyn was on an undefeated roll of their own and stood at 4-2-1.

The Giants dispatched the slumping Packers the next week with relative ease, 17-6. The contest was notable for Strong’s unique free kick field goal in the second quarter. You can read more about this historic occurrence here.

The Dodgers vaulted over the Redskins into second place with a 14-0 win over Boston at Ebbets Field. Brooklyn’s defense had been virtually impregnable following the 21-7 loss to New York in October. Since that game, the Dodgers surrendered only three points over five games during a 4-0-1 run (the tie game was 3-3 versus Pittsburgh). They had given up only four touchdowns thus far during the season; one to the Bears and three to the Giants. Standing at 5-2-1, a win over New York on Thanksgiving would put Brooklyn in first place by percentage points over the currently 8-3 Giants.

Owen again altered his strategy for a rugged opponent, this time emphasizing the aerial attack as Brooklyn was the toughest unit to run on. The first half saw the expected physical line play from both units and three missed field goals, two by New York and one by Brooklyn. The second Giants miss was one that had the fans of both teams on their feet in anticipation of a potentially great feat.

New York had the ball on Brooklyn’s 45-yard line with only seconds on the clock before halftime and elected to go for what would be a record long field goal. Newman knelt on the Giants 48-yard line for the hold. The snap and spot were perfect and New York’s front kept the Dodgers out for Strong’s booming placement. It was high and long enough but sailed just outside the right upright. Remarkably, the ball flew over the end zone and hit the Ebbets field grandstand wall before coming back to the turf. Its flight was estimated to have been 65 yards and the 28,000 fans gave Strong an ovation for his effort as the teams walked off the field for intermission.

Dale Burnett (18), Harry Newman (12 - making the tackle), Ken Strong (50), New York Giants (November 30, 1933)

Dale Burnett (18), Harry Newman (12 – making the tackle), Ken Strong (50), New York Giants (November 30, 1933)

A four-play drive in the third quarter, all passes, gained 59 yards to set up Strong’s 16-yard field goal to put the Giants on top 3-0. Following an exchange of punts, New York was on the move again, now with Clancy in for Newman. Clancy plunged for three-yards and McBride completed a nine-yard pass to Flaherty for a first down. Four consecutive rushes moved the chains again and the Giants had the ball on the Dodgers 11-yard line as the game moved into the final period.

Brooklyn crowded the line of scrimmage and Clancy called for a trick play. McBride received the direct snap from Hein and handed off to Molenda, who faked a line buck and tossed a diagonal pass toward Flaherty in the end zone. Flaherty was knocked down by a defender before the ball arrived and the pass interference penalty gave New York a first-and-goal on the one-yard line. Clancy went over for the score on a plunge and the Giants had the game in control after McBride’s placement made it 10-0. Brooklyn never threatened and the Giants returned to the Polo Grounds at 9-3, all but assured of the first Eastern Division title in league history.

Only 10,000 spectators braved a cold rain to watch the Giants clinch the Eastern Division title against Pittsburgh. The 27-3 final score belied the frustration New York endured for most of the first three quarters. Newman passed the ball nearly at will on three long drives in the first half – including a 98-yard march between the one-yard lines – that all came up empty. With three minutes left in the third quarter, the Pirates still lead 3-0. Finally New York’s attack broke free. Newman peppered the Pittsburgh secondary with accurate strikes to sure-handed receivers and Strong capped the drive with a scoring strike of his own for a 7-3 advantage at the end of the penultimate period. Another touchdown drive gave the Giants a 14-3 lead. The Giants intercepted two passes (including one by Newman), giving New York short fields to work with and the rout was on.

New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles (December 10, 1933); Ken Strong with the Football

New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles (December 10, 1933); Ken Strong with the Football

A surprisingly-tough Eagles team gave the Giants a run for their money to end the regular season at the snow-covered Baker Bowl in Philadelphia. Given that New York had already clinched the division and had easily rolled over the Eagles in the first meeting, they may not have been sharp. A 61-yard rush by Swede Hanson in the middle of the fourth quarter gave Philadelphia a 14-13 lead and apparent upset victory, but it was to be short lived. The 8,000 fans who withstood the winter weather were stunned to see Newman complete a 61-yard touchdown pass to Richards immediately after. The 20-14 lead held and 11-3 New York closed the season on a seven-game win streak and with a perfect 7-0 record at home. Despite the championship game being held in Chicago, Owen and the Giants were confident.

The First Greatest Game Ever Played

Anticipation was high for the NFL’s first championship game between division winners. Newspaper coverage previewing the event was the most extensive since Grange’s debut in 1925. The Chicago Daily Tribune billed the game as “the football championship of the United States.” Articles were written in both cities portraying the exploits of Newman, Strong, Manders and Nagurski. Point spreads were not published, but The New York Times hinted toward what handicappers might be thinking, “The elevens are so evenly matched defensively that the game probably will be decided on mistakes or ‘breaks,’ with the chance that it will develop into an aerial battle.”

New York Giants - Chicago Bears NFL Championship Game Program (December 17, 1933)

New York Giants – Chicago Bears NFL Championship Game Program (December 17, 1933)

Grange would not start the game for Chicago, but he would see plenty of playing time. In his ninth season of professional ball, Grange no longer possessed the breakaway speed that had earned him the moniker “The Galloping Ghost”. But he was an extremely-intelligent player and was one of Halas’ most dependable defensive backs.

Despite a light rain and fog at the game’s start and chilly temperatures, 30,000 eager fans arrived at Wrigley Field, the largest crowd there in eight years. The game opened at a deliberate pace as the two teams sparred one another. Gradually the tempo increased as they warmed up and before long their engines were humming. The ebb and flow, big plays, momentum swings and rapid lead changes made everyone forget the weather in a hurry. The New York Times summary put it succinctly: “The game was a thrilling combat of forward passing skill, desperate line plunging and gridiron strategy that kept the chilled spectators on their feet in constant excitement.”

On Chicago’s first possession, Molesworth quick-kicked the ball over Newman’s head, and pinned New York deep in their own end. Strong punted for the Giants on third down, and Molesworth returned the ball eight yards to the New York 42-yard line. Nagurski and Gene Ronzani rushes moved the chains twice and set the ball on the 15-yard line. From there the Giants defense stiffened and Manders was good on a 16-yard placement to giving the Bears a 3-0 lead.

New York resorted to deception to try to get on the scoreboard. The ball was spotted on the Bears 45-yard line, where the Giants lined up in an unbalanced formation with both guards and tackles deployed to Hein’s right and only the end on his left. The right end was split approximately 20 yards toward the sideline. Newman stepped up from his tailback position directly under center. On the first signal, the left end stepped back, making Hein eligible, and the wingback stepped up to cover the right tackle and the right end stepped back. Hein snapped the ball into Newman’s hands, who handed it right back to Hein. The line fired off to their right, Newman followed the fullback into the line as if he still possessed the ball and was brought to the ground by Musso. While this was going on, Hein nonchalantly walked forward approximately five yard with the concealed ball. Chicago had been completely fooled. None of the Bears defenders had paid any attention to the center, but Hein suddenly broke into a sprint toward the goal line. Brumbaugh alertly saw Hein take off and chased him down after a 30-yard gain. The Bears held and kept New York off the scoreboard.

Hein said, “This was a play we had to alert the officials about ahead of time. We put all the linemen to my right except the left end. Then he shifted back a yard, making me end man on the line, while the wingback moved up on the line on the right. Harry Newman came right up under me, like a T-formation quarterback. I handed the ball to him between my legs and he immediately put it right back in my hands – the shortest forward pass on record. I was supposed to fake a block and then just stroll down the field waiting for blockers, but after a few yards I got excited and started to run and the Bear safety, Keith Molesworth, saw me and knocked me down. I was about 15 yards from the goal, but we never did score on that drive.”

In the second quarter, Grange returned Richards’ punt to the Giants 46-yard line. Ronzani caught a 15-yard pass on second down at the Giants 29-yard line. A short rush and two incomplete passes brought Manders out for another field goal, which was good from 40-yards and gave Chicago a 6-0 advantage.

1933 NFL Championship Game (December 17, 1933)

1933 NFL Championship Game (December 17, 1933)

New York returned the kickoff to their 38-yard line. On second-and–five, Richards bucked into the line, bounced off Lyman and charged through the secondary until he was brought down at the Chicago 29-yard line. Newman threw a scoring strike to Badgro and Strong’s point-after placement marked the game’s first lead change as New York moved ahead 7-6. The score held to halftime, as a long Chicago drive resulted in a rare Manders’ missed field goal attempt.

In the third quarter, Richards punted out of bounds at the Bears 37-yard line. Nagurski bulled through the line for a 14-yard gain to the Giants 49-yard line. After an incomplete pass and three-yard Ronzani plunge, Nagurski picked up seven yards on a cut back through the line for a first down. George Corbett completed a 27-yard pass to Brumbaugh before New York stuffed three rushes. Manders was good on his third field goal, this one from 18-yards, to put Chicago back on top 9-7.

Newman returned the kickoff to New York’s 27-yard line and completed a pass to Burnett on first down to the 50-yard line and then another pass to Burnett to the Bears 37-yard line. On second-and-10, Richards bucked for six yards and on third down Newman connected with Badgro to Chicago’s nine-yard line for a first-and-goal. New York was penalized for illegal motion, so on first down from the 14-yard line, Newman completed a 13-yard pass to Max Krause who was pushed out of bounds at the one-yard line. Richards was stuffed on a plunge by Lyman, but Krause went over for the score on third down. Strong’s placement put New York ahead 14-9.

The mutual offensive momentum was irresistible. Corbett returned the kickoff to the Bears 23-yard line, then alternated plunges with Nagurski for a combined seven yards. One third-and-three from the 30-yard line, Nagurski was stopped after a gain of one. Chicago was flagged for illegal motion on the play and the Giants accepted the five-yard penalty to give Chicago a third-and-eight. From a punt formation, Corbett passed to Brumbaugh who traversed through open field down to New York’s eight-yard line, a gain of 67 yards which had the Wrigley Field stands in a state of bedlam. Two rushes netted two yards, and on third-and-goal, Nagurski faked a plunge and lobbed a pass over the line to Karr in the end zone – the same exact play that had won the championship in the playoff against Portsmouth the previous season. Manders’ placement put Chicago back ahead, 16-14, the third lead-change of the quarter.

Strong returned the kickoff to the Giants 26-yard line. Three consecutive Newman completions quickly moved New York to Chicago’s 25-yard line. After a false start, Newman completed his fourth consecutive pass, this one to Burnett, and the Giants had a first-and-goal on the Bears eight-yard line as the thrilling third quarter ended.

On the fourth quarter’s first play, Newman handed off to Strong who ran a slant to the left, spun and lateraled the ball back to Newman. Chicago’s defense reacted to the ball and changed direction. Newman spotted Strong alone in the end zone and finished the drive with his fifth completion and a touchdown to regain the lead. Strong said, “Newman handed off to me on a reverse to the left, but the line was jammed up. I turned and saw Newman standing there, so I threw him the ball. He was quite surprised. He took off to his right, but then he got bottled up. By now I had crossed into the end zone and the Bears had forgotten me. Newman saw me wildly waving my hands and threw me the ball. I caught it and fell into the first-base dugout.” Strong’s placement put New York on top again, 21-16.

The Bears received the kickoff and generated two first downs as they advanced to midfield. New York’s defense held its ground and forced a punt. The Bears defense responded in kind and forced a Giants punt after three downs. The Giants got the ball back when Ronzani threw a deep pass that was intercepted by Krause at the Giants 35-yard line. Unable to move the chains, New York went three-and-out again and gave the Bears favorable field position in doing so. Strong received Hein’s true snap, but Chicago pressure quickly penetrated and rushed the punting attempt. The ball went straight up in the air and bounced forward for a net of nine yards.

The Bears started their third possession of the fourth quarter on the Giants 47-yard line. A nine-yard pass and Nagurski run gave Chicago a first down on the Giants 33-yard line. Nagurski faked a plunge and completed a jump pass to Hewitt who raced through the secondary. As two defenders converged on Hewitt at the at the 20-yard line, he lateralled to Karr who continued diagonally toward the sideline, then cut back to pick up a block on a defender, and ran the distance for the go-ahead touchdown. Brumbaugh’s placement put the Bears ahead 23-21 with three minutes on the clock.

The Giants looked to strike fast after receiving the kickoff, and lined up in the same unbalanced formation where Hein had run with the snap-handoff in the first quarter. Only this time, Newman took the snap and pitched to Burnett who ran right, while Hein released as a receiver. The Bears were fooled a second time, but Burnett was pressured by the pass rush and his throw was high and wobbly. The arc of the ball allowed Molesworth to recover and knock the ball to the ground incomplete before Hein could get his hands on it.

After moving the chains there was time left for just one more play, and Newman called for a hook-and-lateral. Newman completed a pass to Badgro who had Burnett trailing him. Grange had been in position and when tackling Badgro, he noticed Burnett looking for the ball. As he wrapped up Badgro, Grange pinned Badgro’s arms to his body. Badgro was unable to release the ball to the wide open Burnett as Grange wrestled him to the ground.

Grange said, “I was alone in the defense and Burnett was coming at me with (Hein) on the side of him. I could see he wanted to lateral, so I didn’t go low. I hit him around the ball and pinned his arms.” Badgro unsuccessfully tried to run through the tackle once he realized he couldn’t deliver the ball. “If I’d gotten by Red Grange, I would have scored. Grange had me around the middle. His arms were around the ball and I couldn’t get rid of it. If I get by him, we win the game.

The clock expired and the final gun went off. Owen overheard an official near the New York bench ask, “Who won?” to which Newman quipped, “How should I know? I was only playing.”

There was no most-valuable-player award at the time. Newman and Manders stood out for their respective teams, but The Chicago Daily Tribune had this to say on the subject after going through a roll call of performers:”…realize that THIS football game belonged to the teams. No better example of teamwork and uniform direction can be found in the history of the sport…and in all mechanics of the game, blocking and tackling, the players left slight chance for criticism. Six times the lead changed. And on each occasion that New York or Chicago went to the fore the tension increased.”

The significance of the moment was not missed in the post-game buzz. Scribes noted the impact of the new rules and realized they had just been treated to a glimpse of the future. And they raved about it. The New York Times said: “The struggle was a revelation to college coaches who advocate no changes in the rules. It was strictly an offensive battle and the professional rule of allowing passes to be thrown from any point behind the line of scrimmage was responsible for most of the thrills.”

For the very first time, pro football was acknowledged as a leader, something to be emulated, not scorned. It would be some time before the tag “post-graduate” would be retired for good, but during that chilly and wet afternoon at Wrigley Field, the pendulum swung in the pros favor and there would be no looking back.

Feb 262015
 
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Josh Brown, New York Giants (December 7, 2014)

Josh Brown – © USA TODAY Sports Images

While there were some bright spots, the special teams of the New York Giants continued to under-perform in many key statistical areas in 2014. Consider the following:

Field Goals: The Giants finished 3rd in the NFL as place kicker Josh Brown converted on 24-of-26 attempts for a 92.3 average. This is all the more remarkable when you consider one of those misses was blocked. Brown also hit all 44 extra point tries. Unfortunately, the only real miss by Brown was a factor in the 1-point loss to Jacksonville in November.

Punting: Steve Weatherford, who was impacted by an early-season ankle injury, finished 16th in the NFL in gross average (45.5 yards per punt) and 22nd in the NFL in net average (40.1 yards per punt). He was middle-of-the-pack with punts in the 20-yard line with 25 and touchbacks with six. The Giants also allowed a blocked punt for a touchdown against the Eagles.

Kickoff Returns: The Giants finished 18th in kickoff returns, averaging 23.3 yards per return. They did not return a kickoff for a touchdown and the longest return was only for 45 yards.

Punt Returns: The Giants finished 19th in punt returns, averaging 7.7 yards per return. They did not return a punt for a touchdown and the longest return was for only 25 yards (which was 26th in the NFL). The Giants were 5th in the NFL in fair catches with 27.

Opposing Kickoff Returns: The Giants were very good at covering kickoffs as opposing teams averaged only 18.3 yards per return (2nd best in the NFL), with a long of 33 yards. Forty-six of Josh Brown’s 82 kickoffs resulted in touchbacks (56 percent).

Ted Ginn, Arizona Cardinals (September 14, 2014)

Ted Ginn – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Opposing Punt Returns: The Giants were not as strong covering punts as opposing teams averaged 10.6 yards per return and the Giants allowed a punt return to go 71 yards for a touchdown against the Cardinals. In addition, the Giants finished 23rd in the NFL in opposing fair catches with 17.

With the additions of Trindon Holliday, Quintin Demps, and Odell Beckham, plus the expected return of David Wilson, the return game was supposed to be a strength for the Giants in 2014. However, Holliday missed the bulk of camp with a hamstring injury as was placed on Injured Reserve. David Wilson re-injured his neck in training camp and retired. Beckham kept injuring his hamstring and was not a factor in the punt return game until later in the season. Demps never really flashed on kickoff returns like he did in Kansas City.

The kickoff return game was split among Preston Parker (21 returns, 24.2 yard average), Demps (12 returns, 21.3 yard average), and Michael Cox (11 returns, 23.7 yard average). The punt returns were split between Beckham (21 returns, 11 fair catches, 8.1 yard average), Parker (8 returns, 6 fair catches, 6.6 yard average), and Rueben Randle (no returns, 10 fair catches).

Zak DeOssie, New York Giants (August 18, 2013)

Zak DeOssie – © USA TODAY Sports Images

THE KICKERS AND LONG SNAPPER

Steve Weatherford tore ligaments in his left ankle in September and was hobbled with the injury for much of the season. He finished 18th in the NFL in punting average (45.5 yards per punt) and 25th in net punting average (38.6). Twenty-five of Weatherford’s punts were downed inside the 20-yard line and only six resulted in touchbacks. He did suffer his first blocked punt of his career. Before coming to the Giants, Weatherford played for the Saints (2006-08), Chiefs (2008), Jaguars (2008), and Jets (2009-2010). He is a good directional punter with average length strength.

In his 12th season, Josh Brown had his finest season, making 24-of-26 of his field goals (92.3 percent) with one of the misses being blocked. He made all44 extra point attempts. And 45 of his 82 kickoffs resulted in touchbacks. Brown was originally drafted in the 7th round of the 2003 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks. Before coming to the Giants as a free agent in 2013, he kicked for the Seahawks (2003-07), St. Louis Rams (2009-11), and Bengals (2012). Brown now owns the Giants records for both single season and career field goal percentage. In his two seasons with the Giants, Brown has succeeded on 47-of-52 field goal attempts (90.4 percent).

Zak DeOssie is one of the NFL’s most consistent and better long snappers, being voted to the Pro Bowl in 2008 and 2010. DeOssie was drafted as a linebacker by the Giants in the 4th round of the 2007 NFL Draft. He is now strictly a special teams player. Aside from his long snapping duties, DeOssie also excels in punt coverage.

Feb 232015
 
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Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Walter Thurmond, New York Giants (August 9, 2014)

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

Before the season, many had anticipated that the secondary might not only be the strength of the defense, but the strength of the entire team. The Giants had parted ways with long-time contributors such as Corey Webster, Aaron Ross, and Terrell Thomas and had reinforced the unit with free agents Dominique-Rodgers Cromartie (DRC), Walter Thurmond, Quintin Demps, and Zack Bowman. The team also re-signed Trumaine McBride and Stevie Brown. As for those already under contract, Prince Amukamara appeared primed for his best season, Antrel Rolle was coming off his best season, and Will Hill appeared to be a budding star.

But these high expectations soon began to turn to dust. Will Hill failed yet another drug test and was cut in early June. Jayron Hosley also failed a drug test and was suspended for the first month of the season; when he returned, guys signed off the street quickly passed him on the depth chart. Cooper Taylor looked sharp in the preseason but broke his foot in August and was lost for the year. Injuries then struck hard at corner once the regular season began. Nickel corner Walter Thurmond was placed on Injured Reserve after only two games, followed by  Trumaine McBride and Prince Amukamara. The loss of Amukamara – who indeed was having his best season – was particularly a hard pill to swallow. Without two of their top three corners, more pressure was placed on DRC, who was also dealing with a litany of injury issues to the point where he could not play a full game. A year after playing his best season, Rolle may have played his worst, failing to make many impact plays. And Stevie Brown and Quintin Demps were both disappointing at the other safety spot, both losing the starting job to the other at different points of the season. Stevie Brown’s 2012 season – where he led the team with eight interceptions – appears to have been a mirage.

The Giants were quickly left to scramble and made in-season roster moves including signing Chykie Brown, Mike Harris, and Chandler Fenner. Chykie Brown and Harris performed reasonably well given the circumstances, but overall, the secondary failed to fulfill their preseason boasts as one of the best units in the NFL. The Giants finished 18th in the NFL in pass defense.

THE CORNERBACKS

Although Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie played in all 16 games, hamstring, back, side, and shoulder injuries limited practice and game snaps for much of the season and impacted his play on the field. Nevertheless, Rodgers-Cromartie remained the team’s most physically-talented defensive back and he often shut down his opponent. Rodgers-Cromartie finished the season with 38 tackles, two interceptions, and 12 pass defenses. Rodgers-Cromartie was originally drafted in the 1st round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Arizona Cardinals. He was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles in 2011 and signed with the Broncos as an unrestricted free agent in 2013 and the Giants in 2014. Rodgers-Cromartie combines superb size and overall athletic ability, including speed, size, and leaping ability. When motivated and focused, Rodgers-Cromartie is one of the better cover corners in the NFL. But he needs to be more consistent, and he s not a very physical player as a hitter or tackler.

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

Prince Amukamara – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Prince Amukamara was having his best season before being placed on Injured Reserve in November 2014 with a torn biceps muscle. Amukamara started eight games and finished the season with 45 tackles, three interceptions, and 11 pass defenses. Amukamara was drafted in the 1st round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Giants, but his initial season was a virtual wash due to a broken foot that required surgery. Amukamara also battled a high ankle sprain and hamstring injuries in 2012. Amukamara is a well-built corner with good overall athleticism and speed. He usually does a good job of keeping his opponent quiet during a game and he finally started making more plays on the football in 2014. Amukamara flashes in run defense with his hitting and tackling.

Walter Thurmond III was placed on Injured Reserve in September 2014 with a torn pectoral muscle that required surgery after playing in only two games. Thurmond was originally drafted in the 4th round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Seahawks. He missed much of the 2011 and 2012 seasons recovering from a broken leg (fibula), playing in only eight regular-season games. In November 2013, he was suspended four games for violating the NFL’s drug policy. That year he played in 12 regular-season games, with three starts, and finished with 33 tackles, six pass defenses, and one interception that he returned for a touchdown. The Giants signed Thurmond as an unrestricted free agent in March 2014. Thurmond combines decent size with good speed and quickness. Smooth in coverage, Thurmond is considered one of the better slot corners/nickel backs in the NFL. Thurmond obviously has off-the-field concerns.

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

Trumaine McBride – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Trumaine McBride was placed on Injured Reserve in October 2014 after thumb surgery. He finished the 2014 season 21 tackles, 1 sack, 1 interception, 1 pass defense, and 2 forced fumbles in six games with one start. McBride was originally drafted in the 7th round of the 2007 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears. The Bears waived him in September 2009. He has also spent time with the Cardinals, Saints, and Jaguars. The Giants signed McBride to a Reserve/Future contract in January 2013. That season, McBride played in 15 games with 10 starts, and he finished the season with 37 tackles, 15 pass defenses, 2 interceptions, and 1 forced fumble. McBride lacks ideal size and speed, but he plays with good quickness and instincts.

The Giants claimed Chykie Brown off of waivers from the Baltimore Ravens in November 2014. He ended up playing in eight games with four starts and finished the season with 31 tackles and two pass defenses for the Giants. Brown was originally drafted by the Ravens in the 5th round of the 2011 NFL Draft. In four seasons with the Ravens, Brown played in 46 regular-season games with two starts. Brown has decent size and athletic ability. While he struggled in Baltimore, Brown held his own for the Giants in the final month of the season.

The Giants signed Mike Harris off of the Practice Squad of the Detroit Lions in October 2014. He ended up playing in five games with one start, mainly at slot/nickel corner where he performed at a reasonable level. Harris finished the season with 21 tackles, one interception, and two pass defenses. Harris was originally drafted in the 6th round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars. In two seasons with Jacksonville, Harris played in 31 games with eight starts. Harris was waived by the Jaguars in August 2014 before signing with the Lions in October. Harris has decent size and athleticism. He is a good tackler and special teams player.

Zack Bowman, New York Giants (October 19, 2014)

Zack Bowman – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Zack Bowman played in all 16 games with five starts but saw his playing time decrease as the season progressed despite all of the injuries that hit the secondary. He finished the year with 24 tackles, two interceptions, and six pass defenses. Bowman was originally drafted in the 5th round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Bears. In six seasons with the Bears, Bowman played in 73 regular-season games with 23 starts. The Giants signed Bowman as an unrestricted free agent in March 2014. Bowman is a big, physical corner who can make plays on the football. He lacks ideal speed and quickness and can be beat deep. Bowman is a good special teams player.

Chandler Fenner was signed to the 53-man roster from the Practice Squad in October 2014. He played in 11 games, mainly on special teams, and finished the season with seven tackles. Fenner was originally signed by the Kansas City Chiefs as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2012 NFL Draft. He did not make the team but the Seattle Seahawks signed him to their Practice Squad in December 2012. He missed all of 2013 with a knee injury that landed him on Seattle’s Injured Reserve. The Giants signed Chandler Fenner in August 2014. Fenner has a nice combination of size and athleticism and he plays a physical game.

Jayron Hosley has not developed since being drafted in the 3rd round of the 2012 NFL Draft. He not only received a 4-game suspension for drug use at the start of the season, but he was quickly by-passed on the depth chart by guys signed off of the street when injuries hit the secondary hard. Hosley ended up playing in just six games with two starts. He finished the season with eight tackles and one pass defense. Hosley lacks ideal stature, but he is athletic with good speed and quickness. However, despite his athletic ability, Hosley’s play against the pass actually seems to have deteriorated since being drafted. He has also been very injury prone, missing significant time in both 2012 and 2013.

Bennett Jackson was signed to the Practice Squad in August 2014 and placed on the Practice Squad/Injured List in October 2014 with cartilage damage knee injury that required microfracture surgery. The Giants drafted Jackson in the 6th round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Jackson converted to cornerback from wide receiver at Notre Dame and could project to safety. He has good size and decent speed for a corner, but may lack ideal quickness for the position. He is a good hitter and tackler. Jackson was a team captain at Notre Dame and a good special teams player.

Josh Victorian was signed to the Practice Squad in November 2014. Victorian was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2011 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Ravens. Since then, he has spent time with the Patriots (2011), Saints (2012), Steelers (2012-13), Texans (2013), and Lions (2014). He has played in 12 NFL games, four for the Steelers with one start in 2012 and eight for the Texans in 2013. Victorian has average size and lacks ideal overall athleticism, but he is a hard working, instinctive football player.

Travis Howard was waived/injured and placed on Injured Reserve in August 2014. Howard was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Houston Texans after the 2013 NFL Draft. He spent some time on the Practice Squad of the Patriots that season before the Giants signed him to their Practice Squad in December 2013. Howard is a physical corner with good ball skills. He has good size and long arms, but lacks ideal speed and quickness. Howard is a good hitter, but he needs to become a more consistent and reliable tackler.

Antrel Rolle, New York Giants (December 14, 2014)

Antrel Rolle – © USA TODAY Sports Images

THE SAFETIES

Despite starting all 16 games, Antrel Rolle did not have the same impact on the playing field that he did in 2013. Rolle finished the season with 87 tackles, three interceptions, nine pass defenses, and one forced fumble. Rolle was steady but did not make many big plays. Rolle was originally drafted as a cornerback in the 1st round of the 2005 NFL Draft by the Arizona Cardinals. After three inconsistent seasons at corner, the Cardinals moved him to free safety in 2008. Rolle was signed by the Giants in March 2010 after the Cardinals cut him in a salary-related move. One of the better coverage safeties in the game, Rolle has good speed and range. Due to his experience as a cornerback, unlike most safeties, Rolle can play man coverage and has often been called upon to play the slot corner position. He is a good tackler and run defender. Rolle has become one of the key leaders of the defense. He also has been very durable, never missing a game in his five seasons with the Giants. Rolle has been voted to the Pro Bowl twice (2009 and 2010) and named All-Pro twice (2010 and 2013). He also played in the 2013 Pro Bowl as a second-alternate.

Stevie Brown played in all 16 games. He started the first three games of the season, lost his starting job for eight weeks, then regained it for the last five weeks of the season. Brown finished with 38 tackles, one sack, and one pass defense. Brown was originally drafted by the Oakland Raiders in the 7th round of the 2010 NFL Draft. The Raiders released him in September 2011 and he then spent time with the Panthers and Colts. The Giants signed him in April 2012. Brown had a tremendous season in 2012, intercepting more passes in a single season by a Giant in 44 years. He was placed on Injured Reserve in August 2013 after tearing the ACL in his left knee in the preseason. Brown has superb size for a safety, but lacks quickness and range. Despite his size, he does not stand out as a run defender and tackler. Against the pass, Brown lacks range and quickness, and is prone to making mental mistakes. Contrary to 2012, he rarely made plays on the football in 2014.

Quintin Demps, New York Giants (September 25, 2014)

Quintin Demps – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Quintin Demps begain the season as the Giants’ third safety, was promoted to the starting job for half the season, then lost it again the final month of the season. Demps finished the year with 57 tackles, four interceptions, seven pass defenses, and one forced fumble. Demps was originally drafted in the 4th round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles. He has spent time with the Eagles (2008-09), Houston Texans (2010-12), and Chiefs (2013). The Giants signed Demps in March 2014. Demps has a nice combination of size and athletic ability. He’s a frustratingly inconsistent player who flashes play-making ability but also makes too many mistakes in coverage. He does not stand out against the run either.

Nat Berhe, a 5th round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, played in all 16 games. Although he was mainly relegated to special teams, he did see some time on defense and finished the season with 10 tackles. Berhe lacks ideal size and speed, but he is a smart, aggressive competitor who plays hard all of the time. In college, Berhe made a ton of tackles against the run, but was not as active in pass defense.

Cooper Taylor was placed on Injured Reserve in August 2014 with a semasoid bone issue in his foot that required surgery. Cooper was impressing with his play during training camp and the preseason. Cooper was selected in the 5th round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Giants. A heart condition caused him to slip in the draft. Taylor has an excellent combination of size and athleticism. Taylor missed six games in 2013 with shoulder and hamstring injuries. He played in 10 games that year, serving almost exclusively on special teams.

Thomas Gordon was originally signed by the Giants as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2014 NFL Draft. The team waived Gordon in August, but re-signed him to the Practice Squad in December 2014. Gordon lacks ideal height, but he is well-built and a decent athlete. He is a good run defender who hits and tackles well. He started 38 games at Michigan.

Feb 172015
 
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Jameel McClain and Jon Beason, New York Giants (September 8, 2014)

Jameel McClain and Jon Beason – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Ever since the New York Giants shifted from the 3-4 to the 4-3 defense in 1994, there have been some glimpses of outstanding linebacker play from players such as Michael Brooks, Jessie Armstead, Michael Barrow, and Antonio Pierce. But outside of Armstead, New York simply hasn’t been able to draft any long-term impact players at the position. Instead fans have been subjected to a long list busts or journeymen who have included Ben Talley, Scott Galyon, Doug Colman, Pete Monty, Ryan Phillips, O.J. Childress, Dhani Jones, Brandon Short, Quincy Monk, Wesley Mallard, Nick Greisen, Reggie Torbor, Gerris Wilkinson, Zak DeOssie (who was not drafted as a long snapper), Jonathan Goff, Bryan Kehl, Clint Sintim, Phillip Dillard, Jacquian Williams, and Greg Jones. If that list wasn’t so painful, it would be comical. Because the Giants have drafted so poorly at this position, they have repeatedly had to address the linebacker spot in free agency, or in the case of Jon Beason, by trade. While they have had more success there, these older players haven’t remained on the team very long.

Before the season, it was hoped that the linebacking position would be reasonably improved. Jon Beason was a major positive in-season addition to the team in 2013 and it was believed with a full offseason, his impact would increase even more so. The Giants added Jameel McClain in free agency and the coaching staff was talking up the improvements Jacquian Williams had made. But linebacker remained a weakness for the Giants in 2014 and was a significant factor in the team’s near dead-last rankings in overall defense and against the run. Beason broke his foot during June OTA’s and never recovered and was placed on Injured Reserve after playing in only four games. Williams, who also ended the season on IR with a concussion, simply has not developed, along with fellow 2011 rookie class members Spencer Paysinger and Mark Herzlich. All three of those players have been here four years and the Giants have very little to show for it. Jameel McClain was the best of the bunch, but he most likely looked better than he really was simply by being compared to poorer quality teammates.

The only true bright spot on the horizon is Devon Kennard, a defensive end-linebacker tweener who flashed with his ability as a line-of-scrimmage player and pass rusher. However, it remains to be seen if he really can fit in as a true 4-3 linebacker who can cover tight ends and backs.

Mark Herzlich and Devon Kennard, New York Giants (November 16, 2014)

Mark Herzlich and Devon Kennard – © USA TODAY Sports Images

“For a rookie, (Kennard is) very mature,” said Perry Fewell in December. “He’s very serious about his work and his business. He has a very professional attitude every single day in the classroom and on the field about his work and how he can improve for a rookie. We always talk about the rookie wall or what have you. It doesn’t seem to faze him. We’re giving him more in the classroom and he’s able to take it on the field. He loves to talk football and he loves to visualize what he’s doing and how he’s doing it. He takes the critiquing not personally, but he takes it as a learning experience and for a rookie, that’s very mature.

“It’s kind of tough (to determine his ideal position). He’s a powerful man that can play at defensive end and rush and do that type of thing. He’s also skillful enough to play a linebacker position. He’s not as fleet-footed as you would like for him to be and so we put that in the term of a tweener. I think after the season and over the next training period, if he works on his burst and his explosion, that he can be an ideal linebacker. We call him a SAM linebacker. That would be his ideal position and he can also transition and put his hand on the dirt and rush, but I think linebacker would be his natural position.”

THE PLAYERS

Jon Beason’s 2014 NFL season was basically wiped out due to a ligament tear and fracture to the sesamoid bone in his right foot during an OTA practice on June 12. He aggravated the injury in Week 2 against Arizona, missed the next three games, and aggravated the injury again in Week 7 against Dallas. After that, the doctors decided he needed season-ending surgery and Beason was placed on Injured Reserve in October. In the end, he only played and started in four games and finished the season with 11 tackles. Beason was originally drafted in the 1st round of the 2007 NFL Draft by the Panthers. He is a three-time Pro Bowler (2008-2010). Beason missed most of the 2011 season with a ruptured left Achilles tendon. He also missed most of the 2012 season with a torn right ACL, an injury that required microfracture knee surgery. The Giants acquired Beason in a trade with the Panthers in October 2013. He played in 12 games with the Giants in 2013, starting his last 11 at middle linebacker. In those 12 games, he finished with 93 tackles and one interception. Beason lacks ideal size, but he is a decent athlete with very good intangibles. He is smart, instinctive, energetic, and productive, and brought leadership and gravitas to a linebacking corps in 2013 sorely needing all of those qualities. Beason is a better run defender than in coverage, where he sometimes struggles against better athletes in space. Beason is a good hitter and tackler. He obviously has been a very fragile, injury-prone player in recent years.

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

Jameel McClain – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Jameel McClain played in all 16 games in 2014 with 14 starts, primarily at middle linebacker. He finished the season as the team’s leading tackler with 116, and also had 2.5 sacks, three pass defenses, and one forced fumble. McClain was originally signed by the Baltimore Ravens as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2008 NFL Draft. In six seasons with the Ravens, McClain started 55 regular-season games. A serious neck injury (spinal contusion) suffered late in 2012 caused him to miss the first six games of the 2013 season on the Physically-Unable-to-Perform (PUP) List. The Ravens released him in February 2014 and the Giants signed him in March. A defensive end in college, McClain has good size and he is versatile, being able to play both inside and outside linebacker. He is an aggressive, hard-working, tough, physical player who is solid against the run and a decent blitzer. McClain lacks ideal overall athleticism, quickness, and speed. He is not as strong in pass coverage. McClain is a good leader.

A fifth round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, Devon Kennard was a pleasant surprise. Kennard missed three games in September with a hamstring injury and the season-finale with a toe injury, but he played in 12 games, starting six. He finished the season with 43 tackles, 4.5 sacks, one pass defense, and two forced fumbles. A bit of a ‘tweener who lacks ideal speed and quickness for linebacker, Kennard has collegiate experience playing both 4-3 defensive end and 3-4 outside linebacker. He played at outside linebacker in the 4-3 for the Giants. Kennard has good size and strength for linebacker. He is a stout player against the run and flashes as a blitzer. He is not as good in pass coverage. Kennard is a very smart player, but he has been injury prone at both the college and pro level.

Jacquian Williams, New York Giants (July 22, 2013)

Jacquian Williams – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Jacquian Williams started the first nine game of the season, but suffered a serious concussion in early November and was placed on Injured Reserve in December 2014. He finished the season with 78 tackles and three pass defenses. Williams was drafted in the 6th round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Giants. His 2012 season was sabotaged by a PCL knee injury that caused him to miss six games. Williams lacks size, but he is extremely athletic. He is more of a run-and-chase run defender and coverage linebacker than physical presence due to his lack of size and overall physicality. While Williams gets in on a lot of tackles, he rarely makes big plays in any phase of the game.

In his fourth season with the Giants, Mark Herzlich had his most productive season, playing in 15 games with eight starts at outside linebacker. He finished the season with 52 tackles, one sack, and two pass defenses. Herzlich was signed as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2011 NFL Draft. Herzlich was regarded as one of the better collegiate linebackers in the country before missing the 2009 season with bone cancer, which led to him having a titanium rod inserted into his left femur. Herzlich has very good size but is a sup-par athlete for the position. He is a good run defender, but struggles in coverage and is not much of a blitzer.

Spencer Paysinger, New York Giants (September 8, 2014)

Spencer Paysinger – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Spencer Paysinger saw his playing time dramatically decrease in 2014. He played in 15 games with one start, but only had 15 tackles. The year before in 2013, Paysinger started 10 games and finished with 74 tackles. Paysinger was signed as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2011 NFL Draft. Paysinger is a decent athlete who has gotten bigger and stronger. He doesn’t make many plays.

Terrell Manning was placed on Injured Reserve in December 2014 with an ankle injury after playing in only one game with the Giants in Week 13. He was with the Giants in training camp before being waived on August 30. The Giants re-signed him off of the Bengals’ Practice Squad in late November 2014. Manning was originally drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the 5th round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Manning has spent time with the Packers (2012-13), Chargers (2013), Vikings (2014), Dolphins (2014), Bears (2014), and Bengals (2014). In three seasons, Manning has played in 10 NFL games with no starts. Manning lacks ideal overall athleticism and size, but he is an instinctive, aggressive, physical player who hits and tackles well.

The Giants signed James Davidson to the Practice Squad in September 2014 and the 53-man roster in December 2014. Davidson was originally signed by the Cincinnati Bengals as a rookie free agent after the 2014 NFL Draft, but waived in August. Davidson was an undersized collegiate defensive end who projects to linebacker at the pro level. Whether he has the overall athleticism and instincts for the position remains to be seen. Obviously, he is a project.

Uani Unga was signed to the Practice Squad in late December 2014. Unga suffered a serious injury to his right knee (ACL, MCL, and meniscus) his last year in college in 2013 and was not drafted. Unga lacks ideal size and overall athleticism but he is a smart, instinctive, physical, and competitive football player who plays the run well.

Feb 172015
 
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Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers (December 28, 2014)

Le’Veon Bell – © USA TODAY Sports Images

by Brendan Cassidy for BigBlueInteractive.com

The Slow Death of the Fantasy Running Back:

Finding solid fantasy football running backs seems to be a more difficult task each year. As the NFL continues to progress into more of a passing league, reliable fantasy running back options seem to be dwindling. Add in all the running back time-shares across the league, and it is of upmost importance to snag at least one if not two quality running backs in the first few rounds of your draft. The last six years running back carries and touchdowns have decreased, and I see no reason why this trend will end in 2015. Grab the studs while you can, because the drop off will be steep and could ultimately end your fantasy season before it even begins.

The Rankings:

  1. Le’Veon Bell:

Any running back list for 2015 should begin with Le’Veon Bell at the top of it regardless of scoring format. Not only is he the top running back, he is the top overall fantasy player heading in to 2015. Bell finished the season second in rushing yards with 1,361; however, where he really added his value was the receiving game where he lead all running backs with 854 receiving yards and had 83 receptions (second only to Matt Forte.) He is an every down and back and one of Rothlesberger’s favorite targets in the receiving game (behind only Antonio Brown, who, by the way lead the entire NFL with 129 receptions in 2014.) If you have first pick in your draft, I would be confident grabbing him and if you are in an auction league, spending a pretty penny on him may very well be worth it.

  1. Eddie Lacy:

After a promising rookie campaign where Lacy took him Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, the second year back got off to a horrid start in the 2014 season. To the dismay of fantasy owners who invested a first round pick in him, Lacy was barely start-able the first quarter of the season. However, for those who managed to hold on to him through his struggles, it would soon pay off. The biggest reason Lacy was so inadequate the first month was most likely due to the fact Lacy started the season against three of the top run defenses (Seahawks, Jets and Lions.) After the tough stretch, Lacy was able to pick it up, averaging an elite 20.1 PPG the last twelve games of the season. This the type of production you should expect from him in Green Bay’s high powered offense as the feature back. Despite the slow start, Lacy finished 6th in fantasy points in the season in PPR season. Look for him to improve even more going into his third year and be in the running for top fantasy player of 2015.

  1. Jamaal Charles:

Jamaal Charles, the top fantasy player of 2013, took a small step back in 2014, but still finished with a very respectable season. The biggest reason for his regression was the dismantling of his offensive line and an injury that seemed to bother him throughout most of 2014. Despite missing almost two full games, Charles was able to finish 7th overall in fantasy points with 253.4 Charles gets a large chunk of his value through the receiving game (hence increasing his value even more in PPR leagues; whereas, he is around the 5th best option in a standard scoring league. Look for Kansas City to address the offensive line in free agency and/or the draft increasing Charles’s value for 2015.

  1. Demarco Murray:

Murray was the most difficult for me to rank. The Cowboys workhorse is coming off an incredible season where he was the most reliable running back in fantasy football, he scored in the top 12 in fantasy points among running backs every single week; a feat hard to come by, and reliability fantasy owners have to drool at. What scares me is he is coming off a season where he had over 400 touches and there is a good chance he could be suiting up for a different team next season. Aided by the top offensive line in football, Murray was able to rush for a league best 1,845 yards while taking home the AP Offensive Player of the Year Award. The biggest knock against Murray in 2015 will be the wear and tear he endured throughout the season. It truly seemed the Cowboys were running him into the ground in anticipation that he will sign elsewhere next season. Of the last 27 running backs to have 400 or more touches in a season, 22 saw a decrease in fantasy production the following season. Furthermore, of those 27 players, a third suffered an injury the following season leading to a significant amount of time missed. Murray has all the talent in the world, but fantasy owner should have tempered expectations in 2015, especially if Murray signs elsewhere.

  1. Arian Foster:

After missing the majority of the 2013 season due to injury, Arian Foster had a huge rebound campaign in 2014. Despite missing 3 games to injury, Foster finished the 2014 season as a top 5 back. When Foster did play he was elite, and worth every bit the mid 2nd round price tag fantasy owner paid for him. You can expect him to miss a few games each season, making it extremely important to grab his back up as a handcuff in 2015. If relatively healthy in 2015, you can expect Foster to put up another elite fantasy season.

  1. Matt Forte:

Forte is the running back most dependent in the receiving game on this list. Take away his receptions and receiving yards and he is nothing more than a middle of the road running back heading into his age 30 Season with a subpar offensive line. Having said that, Forte finished the 2014 season with an unreal 102 receptions for 808 yards. To put that in perspective, only three wide receivers had more receptions than Forte in 2014 (Antonio Brown, Demaryius Thomas, and Julio Jones.)

While I think his receptions will go down a bit in 2015, there is no reason to believe he wont have 80-90 catches to go with 1,000 rushing yards, making him an elite fantasy option for the upcoming season.

  1. Marshawn Lynch:

Lynch, affectionately known as “Beast Mode” by his fans, is coming off one of his best seasons as a pro finishing with over 1300 yards and 13 TDs. However, questions surrounding his future with the Seahawks and even possible retirement keep him lower on this list than if he had no questions concerning his future. If Lynch, does return with the Seahawks, he is a bona fide first round pick (potentially top 5 overall) who will likely put up 1200 yards and 12-14TDs behind an extremely solid offensive line.

  1. LeSean McCoy:

McCoy was one of the top fantasy players in 2013, and many had high hopes for him in 2014, even drafting him first overall in many cases. Unfortunately for McCoy owners, while his season was solid, it in no way merited a top 3 pick. To put McCoy’s season in perspective, Matt Asiata (yes Matt Aaiata, arguably the least athletic RB in the NFl) finished with only seven fewer fantasy points than McCoy, while in a timeshare with Jerick McKinnon. Furthermore, McCoy was unfortunate to have had a large share of his TDs vultured by Darren Sproles and Chris Polk. Having said that, he is still the lead back for one of the most explosive and up-tempo offenses in the NFL. Look for him to rebound in 2015 with an increase in yards and touchdowns. I would feel comfortable taking him late in the first or early second round.

  1. C.J. Anderson:

In 2014 C.J. Anderson was one of the heroes for fantasy owners in the second half of the season. Undrafted in virtually all leagues, Anderson was able to shine as the lead back after both Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman went down with injuries. While his value as a starter is undeniable, it does worry me that the Broncos could use a running back by committee approach if Ball and Hillman are healthy. Factor in Peyton Manning’s age and health, and a lot of question marks surround this offense. If you feel like gambling, he is a solid pick in the beginning to middle of the second round with top 3 overall fantasy upside if he is the starter throughout the season.

  1. Jeremy Hill:

Jeremy Hill emerged as the top rookie running back (and most likely second most impressive after Odell Beckham Jr.) and a legit RB1 after an injury to Giovanni Bernard. Hill exploded in the second half of the season carrying many teams to fantasy championships. While he is an undeniable talent; the fact they have a talented Giovanni Bernard as a back up and possible sharer of carriers hurts Hill’s value. I would strongly suggest picking up Bernard in the 7th or 8th round if you spend a premium pick on Hill.

Honorable Mentions:

Adrian Peterson:

AP will be three years removed from one of the best seasons ever for a running back. Approaching the wrong side of 30 and having missed virtually the entire 2015 season after a child abuse scandal, I cannot justify spending a premium pick (1st or 2nd round) with Peterson and all the question marks that surround him. If he is around in the 3rd or 4th and you are feeling adventurous, look to nab him, but know the risks involved when you do.

Andre Ellington:

Ellington was having a solid season after leading the NFL in yards per carry in 2013. However, the former seventh round pick’s seasons was derailed with an ACL injury. While his effectiveness coming off an injury will be in doubt, you could do much worse having Ellington as an RB2 considering the upside he has.

Carlos Hyde:

This is somewhat contingent on Frank Gore and the 49ers parting ways in the offseason, which many people expect. In that scenario, Hyde, who was impressive in a limited role is all of a sudden catapulted into the work horse role in the 49ers run heavy offense behind a stout offensive line. He is one of my favorite “value picks” heading into next season if he is indeed the starter.

Lamar Miller:

Miller, the former University of Miami product, has been very boom and bust the past few seasons. Drafted high before the 2013 season, he disappointed many with a very inconsistent season. However, this past season he had a career year while seeing the bulk of the carries. It will be important to monitor the Knowshon Moreno situation, if he does not return to the Dolphins next year, look for Miller to get the bulk of the carries and be a mid to high end RB2.

What have we learned?

As you can see from this list, once you get outside the top 10 RBs there is a steep decline in talent and reliability. On the contrary, the wide receiver position is arguably the deepest it has ever been. You can nab solid WRs as late as the 8th or 9th round. Stack up on the elite RBs early and look to solidify your roster with WRs in the later rounds of the draft.

The guys who get the most carries tend to produce the most. Look to avoid running backs that have strong competition for carries in the earlier rounds, as the value usually isn’t there. Be smart with your running back drafting strategy and you will have a big advantage over your fantasy football foes in 2015.

Brendan Cassidy has over 15 years of fantasy experience, both in league and daily formats. He is also an avid life-long Giants fan.

Feb 162015
 
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Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants (November 3, 2014)

Jason Pierre-Paul – © USA TODAY Sports Images

The New York Giants must decide soon whether or not to use the Franchise or Transition tag on soon-to-be unrestricted free agent defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. Starting today (February 16), NFL teams have a two-week window to decide on to designate Franchise or Transition players about to become unrestricted free agents. That window closes on March 2. Other teams can begin negotiating with free agents on March 7 and sign the to contracts on March 10.

A Franchise tag binds a player to the team for one year if certain conditions are met. Each team may only designate one player each year as that team’s Franchise player. There are two types of Franchise tags:

  • An “exclusive” franchise player must be offered a one-year contract for an amount no less than the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position as of a date in April of the current year in which the tag will apply, or 120 percent of the player’s previous year’s salary, whichever is greater. Exclusive franchise players cannot negotiate with other teams. The player’s team has all the negotiating rights to the exclusive player.
  • A “non-exclusive” franchise player must be offered a one-year contract for an amount no less than the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position for the previous year, or 120 percent of the player’s previous year’s salary, whichever is greater. A non-exclusive franchise player may negotiate with other NFL teams, but if the player signs an offer sheet from another team, the original team has a right to match the terms of that offer, or if it does not match the offer and thus loses the player, is entitled to receive two first-round draft picks as compensation.

Teams can also use a Transition tag, which also guarantees the original club the right of first refusal to match any offer the player may make with another team. The transition tag can be used once a year by each club. A transition player must be offered a one-year contract for an amount no less than the average of the top 10 salaries of last season at the player’s position or 120 percent of the player’s previous year’s salary, whichever is greater. A transition player designation gives the club a first-refusal right to match within seven days an offer sheet given to the player by another club. If the club matches, it retains the player. If it does not match, it receives no compensation.

The upside to using a Franchise tag on Pierre-Paul is that the team could ensure that he remains with the Giants in 2015. The downside is he would count for about $15 million against the 2015 salary cap.

In his fifth NFL season, Pierre-Paul had his second-best season in 2014, starting all 16 games and finishing with 77 tackles, 12.5 sacks, six pass defenses, and three forced fumbles. Pierre-Paul played the run well most of the year and finished up strong as a pass rusher after a slow start, with nine of his sacks coming in the last five games of the season. Pierre-Paul was originally drafted in the 1st round of the 2010 NFL Draft. His best season came in 2011 when he accrued 86 tackles and 16.5 sacks. 2012 and 2013 were down seasons for him with a total of only 8.5 sacks. Pierre-Paul had surgery in June 2013 to repair a herniated disc in his lower back and suffered a shoulder injury that caused him to miss the last five games of that season.

The Giants have used the Franchise tag twice in recent years, once for running back Brandon Jacobs in 2009 and once for punter Steve Weatherford in 2012. But both were signed to long-term deals soon after being tagged.

Feb 152015
 
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The BBI Podcast – February 15, 2015

Eric from BBI provides an overview of recent New York Giants news, including the signing of Canadian Football League (CFL) offensive lineman Brett Jones and the contract re-structuring of defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins.  Eric also answers questions from fans on defensive line prospects in the 2015 NFL Draft, Rueben Randle and others who may factor in for the competition at the #3 wide receiver spot, the never-ending Giants injury situation, what Giants might be on the bubble from a salary-cap perspective, the impact of Steve Spagnuolo on the team’s defense, and the prospects for defensive end Robert Ayers.

Feb 132015
 
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Green Bay Packers at New York Giants (November 23, 1930); Benny Friedman with the Football

Green Bay Packers at New York Giants (November 23, 1930); Benny Friedman with the Football

by Larry Schmitt with contributions from Rev. Mike Moran for BigBlueInteractive.com

The 1930 season was the NFL’s eleventh in operation. Although the circuit had made many significant improvements in its structure, organization and operation, it still was subordinated in the general public’s favor. Baseball, college football and boxing received far more attention and recognition from the media and public. Pro football was largely ignored until the World Series had concluded, and Sunday sports pages were filled with college football summaries from Saturday, while pro football previews rarely existed, even in the cities where the home team was hosting a contest that very day.

New York City is the perfect example of this phenomenon. Prior to the onset of the Great Depression in October 1929, three local colleges fielded nationally-significant teams – Columbia, Fordham and NYU – that were loyally followed by fans. When they met one another, games were moved from their respective campuses to the larger Polo Grounds or Yankee Stadium to accommodate the demand for tickets. It was not uncommon in the 1920’s for the Giants to play a home game in front of crowds in the low 10,000’s the day after a college game that featured a capacity crowd in the same building. The NYU-Fordham contests guaranteed full houses at the close of the decade, with crowds of 50,000 and 60,000 packing the Polo Grounds respectively in 1928 and 1929. The 1930 game was moved to Yankee Stadium where 78,500 patrons purchased every ticket. New York had plenty of football fans, they just happened to prefer the college version of the sport.

Big Crowds and Seminal Moments

Accentuating this preference was the fact that New Yorkers’ support for teams beyond the city limits was robust as well. The Army Cadets from West Point, which is approximately 50 miles north of Harlem, used the Polo Grounds as its home-away-from-home when playing marquis games that drew crowds that exceeded the capacity of Michie Stadium.

This devotion to college football expanded beyond the state. New York’s large Catholic and Irish populations formed a segment of fans that soon became known as the “Subway Alumni.” Although most of them never visited South Bend, Indiana, they adopted the team as their own. Notre Dame’s first contest in the city was at the Polo Grounds on November 8, 1921 against Rutgers. The crowd of 15,000 would prove to be the smallest the visitors from Indiana would ever perform before within the metropolitan area, but a phenomenon had taken root. The turnout was probably affected by the fact that the game was held on a Tuesday. Notre Dame had beaten Army 28-0 at West Point the prior Saturday and stayed over at the Bear Mountain Inn to prepare for the Rutgers game. Newspapers covered the game extensively and reveled in Notre Dame’s performance in their 48-0 win.

Notre Dame had visited West Point nearly every season since 1913, and their rivalry had become celebrated as both teams were national powers. The first meeting between the two in New York took place on October 13, 1923 at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. A near-capacity crowd exceeding 30,000 watched Notre Dame’s 13-0 victory. A month later, on November 24, Army played rival Navy to a 0-0 tie at the Polo Grounds. The stadium was filled beyond its normal capacity. The throng of 63,000 was accommodated by temporary bleachers along the outfield walls, and was the largest in city history to that point.

The Army-Notre Dame game on October 18, 1924 was held at the Polo Grounds as well, and was a tremendous boon for the visitors from Indiana. Over 60,000 fans were in attendance while a major corner stone of Notre Dame lore was established. This was the day New York Herald Tribune writer Grantland Rice penned his famous opening to his game summary of Notre Dame’s 13-7 victory:

Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they are known as Famine, Pestilence, Destruction and Death. These are only aliases. Their real names are Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden. They formed the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another fighting Army football team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds yesterday afternoon as 55,000 spectators peered down on the bewildering panorama spread on the green plain below.

The Army-Notre Dame game outgrew the Polo Grounds. Between 1925 and 1929, the five games between the teams at Yankee Stadium averaged over 80,000 spectators. The November 10, 1928 game featured another legendary moment for Notre Dame. Tied 0-0 with Army at halftime, Notre Dame Head Coach Knute Rockne delivered his impassioned, and now legendary, “Win One for the Gipper” speech in the Yankee Stadium locker room. Notre Dame controlled the second half for a 6-0 win over the previously unbeaten Army team.

Army also played Navy in New York City during this time. The 1925 and 1927 games were held at the Polo Grounds, where the crowd of 75,000 in 1927 was the largest ever at the venue for any sporting event. The 1930 game at Yankee Stadium was attended by 70,000 spectators. The largest crowd for an Army game in New York was the December 12, 1928 contest against Stanford before a standing room only house of 86,000, and the November 8, 1930 contest versus Illinois drew 74,000 fans.

Competition Amid Apathy

Amidst all this appreciation for college football, the Giants were received with relative indifference. In 1921, University of Chicago Head Coach Amos Alonzo Stagg famously tagged pro football as a “menace,” and fans of the college game still derisively termed NFL product as “Post Graduate Football” and stayed away in droves. While that claim proved ludicrous decades later, pro football’s image problem was real and largely self-inflicted.

The NFL game was indistinguishable from the college game, and experienced great difficulty attracting new fans. Many colleges had programs dating back to the 1890’s; their fan bases were deeply rooted and loyal, while the NFL experienced a nomadic and unpredictable period of franchise movement and lack of stability.

The Giants inaugural-season crowd average at the Polo Grounds was a seemingly robust 24,000 for nine dates. But, when discounting the 73,000 who showed up for the Red Grange game on December 6, the average drops significantly to 17,875 for the other eight home games. The following season was grim. Pro football felt the strain of over-saturation in the market as five teams competed on Sundays in the greater New York area: the Giants and Brooklyn Lions of the NFL, and the Newark Bears, Brooklyn Horsemen and New York Yankees of the rival AFL. Before the season closed, Newark ceased operations and the Brooklyn teams merged as a single entity within the NFL. Grange’s Yankees were the AFL’s lone survivor and were absorbed into the NFL in 1927. Both they and the Giants – whose attendance for eight home dates at the Polo Grounds plummeted to a paltry 9,500 per game average – finished in near financial ruin.

The Giants attendance rebounded into the middle 10,000’s for the next two seasons: 18,500 for the championship season of 1927 and 16,000 in 1928. A strong team in 1929 featuring headliner Benny Friedman boosted the season average to 21,250 for eight home dates. Over this span, the Giants largest home gate, aside from the 1925 Grange game, was a turnout of 38,000 to see the Providence Steam Roller on November 8, 1927. That was a triple header on Election Day where the Giants were warmed up by two high school games, who no doubt were the bigger attraction. It is not known how many stayed in their seats to watch the pros at day’s end.

Most Giants home crowds ranged from 15,000 to 25,000, but many dates fell below 10,000. Compounding the problem was the fact that the Giants gave away thousands of tickets for each date, in hopes of attracting new fans to home games. On the road, the gate for Giants games averaged approximately 4,000-5,000 less than home games. The Giants largest away game was 26,000 for a game against the Bears at Wrigley Field on November 3, 1929. Games in smaller cities like Providence, Frankford, Pottsville and Green Bay were usually in the 8,000-9,000 range.

Hard Times, Good Times

The onset of the Great Depression in October 1929 put another strain on the fledgling pro game. Nobody knew it at the time, but the Depression proved to be a blessing in disguise and helped the NFL gain respectability.

As would be expected, initially, the first result from the economic downturn across all sports was reduced attendance. Baseball, boxing, and college and pro football all suffered at the gate. The big three sports would not fully recover to their Roaring 20’s-level of prosperity again until well after World War II. Pro football, however, bucked the trend. By the late 1930’s, attendance began a slow but consistently steady upward climb, as did press coverage.

This effect was twofold. First, many colleges reassessed their football programs. Many universities subordinated football’s relevance, and others disbanded their programs completely. It was no longer possible for some football fans to find a game to attend on a Saturday afternoon, while interest by others faded as their favorite program’s prestige diminished. Second, the job market for college graduates shrank dramatically. For some, pro football was their only opportunity for employment, even if it was only for a portion of the year. Ken Strong, a member of the Staten Island Stapletons at the time of the stock market crash and later of the Giants, said, “The Depression sent a lot of boys into professional football who would have had jobs in good times. It has helped a good many of them pay off debts they ran up in order to get through college.” This resulted in higher-quality rosters in the pro ranks, and better games. Some college fans for the first time gravitated to the NFL to follow the alumni from their college teams.

Wide-scale growth and prosperity for the pro game was still a long way off, but the seed planted by pro football in 1920 was now beginning to take root. Still, even with more attention on pro football, many still thought the pro game inferior to the college game. Many in the general public would quickly proclaim that a good college team would be more than capable of whipping the best pro teams. It would not be long before that theory was put to the test, and that debate rendered obsolete. It served as the catalyst for pro football’s ascension in public opinion.

Champions and Contenders

Notre Dame was the National Champion in 1929 and would repeat with a dominant and undefeated 1930 season. The Packers were the NFL champs in 1929, finishing just ahead of the Giants in a heated race, and had not lost a game since December 1928. The difference between first and second place was a late season contest at the Polo Grounds where Green Bay defeated the Giants 20-6. They would renew their rivalry twice in 1930, and it was not a coincidence. Teams still set their own schedules, and a meeting between two good teams usually meant a strong turnout at the gate (weather permitting) and this was not lost on the owners who spent the offseason tightening their belts. Tim Mara said later of the challenging financial period, “The only luck we had was in 1930. I agreed to go to Green Bay for $4,000, and the Packers agreed to come to New York for $5,000. We cleared $60,000 on the two games. This was a real lifesaver, coming as it did right after the Wall Street crash.”

The two teams featured similar traits – high-scoring offenses that helped further the passing game (something that would tremendously help pro football vault over college football later in the decade) and powerful lines that battered opponents. The Giants led the NFL in scoring in 1929 while the Packers allowed the fewest points. New York tailback and passing pioneer Benny Friedman said years later, “We had no problems with anyone else, but the Packers were special. They were so big, and yet they were so fast, that they almost won their games before they took the field.”

Len Grant, New York Giants (1930)

Len Grant, New York Giants (1930)

New on the Giants roster in 1930 was end Morris “Red” Badgro. All-Pro end Ray Flaherty left the Giants to coach at Gonzaga, but Badgro stepped in and performed just as well as his predecessor. Rookies Len Grant and Butch Gibson brought young blood to an already strong line and back Dale Burnett contributed as a blocker and occasional ball carrier.

The 1930 New York Football Giants were a confident team heading into the early part of their season, which as usual was a string of road games as they waited for the baseball Giants to conclude their season and vacate the Polo Grounds. Friedman, tackle Steve Owen and halfback Jack Hagerty picked up where they left off the year before and dominated the Newark Tornadoes and Providence Steam Roller by an aggregate tally of 59-7. In between, the Giants also played a Thursday night exhibition contest against the Long Island Bulldogs in Brooklyn. New York’s resolve was quickly put to the test the following week on a visit to the reigning champions in Green Bay.

The Packers also brought back much of their 1929 roster into the new season. Tackle Cal Hubbard, guard Mike Michalske and end Johnny “Blood” McNally, who wrought havoc on the Giants in their pivotal game in 1929, were back and as good as ever. A newcomer brought an enticing dimension with him. Tailback Arnie Herber, while playing in limited time behind Verne Lewellen, showed promise with a strong and accurate passing arm.

City Stadium was filled with 13,000 fans to greet the 2-0 and unscored upon Packers. The front walls of both defenses controlled the early action. Midway through the second quarter, Green Bay advanced into New York territory. Lewellen connected on a short pass to end Tom Nash, who evaded a defender before traveling the distance into the end zone on a 15-yard play. The Giants offense was unable to respond and punted the ball back. New York also held, then created a golden opportunity by blocking the Packers punt. From Green Bay’s 24-yard line, three rushes moved the chains for a first down. After being thrown for a loss, Friedman connected with Len Sedbrook for a 20-yard touchdown.

Both defenses regained firm control of the contest through the third quarter. The 7-7 tie was broken in the final period when McNally received a short pass from Red Dunn and raced 55 yards for the touchdown and eventual 14-7 victory. Again, New York had played the Packers tough but came up just short. The Packers seemed to have a knack for spurning the Giants by making a big play late precisely when they needed it.

Revival

The next stop on road trip provided another familiar opponent, against the always formidable Chicago Bears, who had recently undergone a significant change in on-field leadership. George Halas and Edward “Dutch” Sternaman, who co-owned the Bears, had also served as co-coaches for the franchise’s first nine seasons. Both men were opinionated and strong willed, which often led to confrontations. During the offseason, the two founders decided the best path for all involved would be to step back and find someone new to coach the Bears while they both focused on the business aspect of running the team. They settled on Ralph Jones, who was a successful collegiate coach at Purdue and Illinois.

Jones was a cerebral coach, and he tinkered with Halas’ favored offensive system, the original T-Formation. Jones set the quarterback under center where he would receive a direct snap. (Previously he would take a short snap approximately two or three yards behind the center.) Jones also widened the line splits, giving the blockers more freedom for lateral movement within schemes, rather than simply trying to outmuscle the defender directly across from him. The most revolutionary change was the pre-snap motion where one of the halfbacks would move laterally across the formation and be far outside the end when the play started. Over the course of the upcoming decades, this back-in-motion would ultimately evolve into the flanker.

Nearly as unique as the new schemes was the rookie who made the X’s and O’s come to life on the field, Bronislau “Bronko” Nagurski. At six feet, two inches in height and weighing approximately 235 pounds, Nagurski was larger than most linemen of his era. He lined up at tackle on defense, but was a fullback on offense. It certainly is no surprise that Nagurski was a devastating force on line plunges, but he also proved to be adept at ball placement when pulling up before hitting the line and delivering a strike to a receiver. Later in his career, Owen answered a question regarding the best way to defense Nagurski, “With a shotgun, as he’s leaving the dressing room.”

Just over 12,000 fans showed up for the Bears home opener at Wrigley Field. Like the Giants, the Chicago football teams opened their seasons on the road while they awaited their shared stadia to become available after the conclusion of baseball season. The first quarter featured a scoreless 15 minutes where New York wasted long advances with lost fumbles in Chicago territory.

When the Giants finally secured a firm grip on the ball, they took over the game quickly. They erupted for two touchdowns in the first six minutes of the second quarter, sparked by a takeaway. Dale Burnett intercepted a Carl Brumbaugh aerial at Chicago’s 20-yard line and was dragged down from behind at the two-yard line by Nagurski. Ossie Wiberg plunged over the line for the touchdown but Friedman’s placement attempt sailed wide left. Following a short Bears punt, Friedman directed a 47-yard scoring drive over ten plays. Eight advances were rushes, including three by Friedman totaling 19 yards. The star tailback was one-for-two passing, with the completion being good for 10 yards to Len Sedbrook to the three-yard line to set up Burnett’s touchdown plunge. Red Grange’s brother Garland Grange blocked Friedman’s point-after attempt.

Apparently satisfied with the 12-0 lead, Friedman retired to the sidelines for most of the afternoon while Jack Hagerty assumed the helm. Attempting to placate the patrons who called out to see Friedman launch aerials, Head Coach LeRoy Andrews reinserted Friedman in a quasi-curtain call, and he finished the day a modest three-for-five for 33 yards passing. The Giants defense handled Jones’ new version of the T-formation with little trouble, having allowed just six first downs and not letting Chicago reach New York’s 20-yard line.

The Giants home opener came on a short week as they had a Thursday game scheduled against Chicago’s other team. The Cardinals featured a genuine triple threat in Ernie Nevers, a player who could run, catch, punt and drop kick with equal effectiveness while also playing rock-solid defense. The marquis attractions Friedman and Nevers would meet up under the lights in the Polo Grounds’ first-ever night game, a new marketing experiment by the NFL in its continuing quest to engage the public.

A crowd of 15,000, which included former Governor Al Smith, watched the Giants perform in the clutch with big plays in a come-from-behind win. All of New York’s scoring occurred in the final five minutes of both halves.

Chicago baffled New York on a 75-yard advance featuring reverses, a triple pass and delayed line bucks. The drive was initiated near the end of the opening period and carried over into the second. Mack Flenniken went over for the score but the point after was missed. The middle part of the quarter was played evenly before Sedbrook took off on an 85-yard touchdown run for New York to tie the game. Then Friedman shrewdly directed a touchdown drive that was capped off with a Wiberg plunge. Friedman’s point-after gave the Giants a 13-6 advantage at the half.

A scoreless third quarter set up a thrilling final period. The first nine minutes of the quarter were dominated by stout defenses and exchanges of punts. With under six minutes to play, Chicago assumed possession of the ball on the mid-field stripe. On first down, Bunny Belden connected with Chuck Kassel on a deep pass for a 42-yard gain. Flenniken plunged twice for the final seven yards and the touchdown. Howard Maple’s point-after try was wide, but the Cardinals were within one point, 13-12 and had momentum on their side.

The kickoff return gave New York the ball at mid-field and Friedman wrested control of the contest. Line plunges and slants were mixed with a 10-yard completion to Tiny Feather. Friedman went over for the score to give the Giants a 19-12 lead, but missed the point-after. Chicago initiated a desperation drive for a tie, but Nevers lost a fumble on New York’s 40-yard line. Friedman battered through the Cardinals defense, and completed a pass to Glenn Campbell at the two-yard line. Three Freidman goal-to-go plunges were stonewalled by Chicago’s front, but he creased them on fourth down for the final tally and a 25-12 win.

There was no opportunity for rest. In less than 72 hours the Giants would host Frankford for their third game in eight days. As was their custom, however, the Yellow Jackets arrived at the Polo Grounds having played a home game on Saturday – local blue laws forbade public gatherings on Sunday. The scoreless first quarter belied the firepower in New York’s passing offense. Four of the Giants team-record eight touchdowns came from the arm of Friedman, and the Giants topped the 50-point mark for the first time in franchise history. The other scores came via two rushes, an interception return and a fifth touchdown pass by Hap Moran, which had commenced the parade.

Hap Moran (22), New York Giants (October 19, 1930)

Hap Moran (22), New York Giants (October 19, 1930)

The Giants previous high mark for points in a game was a 45-3 win at the Buffalo Bisons in 1929. An unofficial milestone was reached in this 53-0 win as well. Friedman was the first-known player to accumulate 300 yards passing in a game. Newspaper accounts credit him with 18 completions in 23 attempts for 310 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. NFL statistical records were not officially recorded until 1932, however, so this performance is mostly overlooked in historical chronicles.

(The NFL’s first officially recognized 300-yard passer is by Pat Coffee of the Cardinals. On December 5, 1937, Coffee was 17-of-35-for 304 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions in a 42-28 loss to the Bears in a game that was called with just under three minutes to play on account of darkness at an icy Wrigley Field. The Giants first official 300-yard passing effort was by Paul Governalli on November 9, 1947, who was 16-of-35 for 341 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in a 41-24 loss to Philadelphia.)

After a full week off, the Giants went back to the three-games-in-eight-days grind. The defense was up to the challenge, and New York defeated Providence on Sunday, Newark on Wednesday night and Staten Island on the following Sunday by aggregate score of 68-14 at the Polo Grounds.

Steve Owen, New York Giants (October 26, 1930)

Steve Owen, New York Giants (October 26, 1930)

The game against the Stapletons was actually a formidable challenge as the Giants escaped with a come-from-behind 9-7 win off the foot of Friedman who was good on a 42-yard placement field goal with under 1:00 on the clock. (You can read more about this game here.)

A two-games-in-four-days road trip saw Friedman rush and pass New York to a 19-6 win at Portsmouth on Wednesday night before a Sunday afternoon rematch with the Cardinals at Comiskey Park. A small crowd of only 4,000 attended because across town at Wrigley Field the Bears tangled with Green Bay in a crucial contest that drew 22,000 spectators. Both Chicago teams lost close games: the Bears 13-12 and the Cardinals 13-7, setting up a stretch run for first place between the 10-1 Giants and 8-0 Packers.

Most surprisingly to the fans at Comiskey Park was that the hero of the day was neither Friedman nor Nevers. Friedman struggled through the first half, completing just one of eight pass attempts, while Nevers caught a 20-yard pass for a 7-0 Chicago halftime lead. That score had been set up by a 65-yard Nevers punt that was downed on the New York one-yard line. The ensuing Giants punt only moved the ball out to the 35-yard line, giving Chicago a short field. Nevers rushed for 10 yards on first down and scored two plays later.

Moran entered the game after halftime but there was no change on the scoreboard until several minutes had elapsed from the fourth quarter clock. When New York had the ball on their own 40-yard line, Moran completed a five-yard pass to Hagerty who sprinted down field, zig-zagged through would be tacklers, and crossed over for a 60-yard touchdown. Moran’s placement try was blocked and the Giants trailed 7-6.

After forcing a Chicago punt, New York took over from their 30-yard line. Moran lofted a deep ball to Glenn Campbell for a 35-yard gain into Cardinal territory. On first down, Moran connected again with Campbell, this time for seven yards to the 28-yard line. On second-and-three, Moran faked a pass and raced around end to the Chicago 15-yard line. Mule Wilson plunged twice to set up a first-and-goal from the two and Moran received the honors of going over for the touchdown himself. His point-after put the Giants in the lead 13-7. New York’s defense preserved for the important victory. Moran unofficially finished the day six-of-eight passing for 147 yards with one touchdown pass and one interception. Despite missing a field goal late to ice the game, he outplayed both Friedman and Nevers and was the lead man in both the Chicago Herald Tribune and New York Times on Monday.

On November 16, the day the Giants lost 12-0 to the Bears in miserable cold rain and wind at the Polo Grounds, the big news was college star back Chris Cagle was to be released from his coaching contract at Mississippi A&M to play for the Giants. Cagle had been a star performer for West Point before losing his amateur eligibility when it was discovered he had been married, which was a violation of college rules at the time. The current Giants squad faced an improved Bears team that featured the powerful Nagurski finding his niche. He plowed through New York’s front wall setting up one fourth-quarter touchdown and going over for the second himself. The Giants passing attack, whether it was Friedman or Moran, struggled on the sloppy track in front of the small crowd of 5,000 fans. Good news arrived for the Giants from out of town however. The Packers were upset by the Cardinals at Comiskey Park 13-6, giving the Giants a chance to vault past Green Bay as the Packers came to New York the next week.

The Rematch

Pro football generated some buzz during the week leading up to the game. The contest was billed as a de facto league championship match. The New York Times even made mention of former Giant Cal Hubbard returning to face his old team with its new star Cagle. The public bought into the hype and the 40,000 fans gave the Giants their largest home attendance mark since Red Grange’s visit in 1925.

Benny Friedman (1) and Chris Cagle (10), New York Giants (1930)

Benny Friedman (1) and Chris Cagle (10), New York Giants (1930)

To the dismay of fans, however, Cagle left the game in the first quarter having suffered a facial laceration after catching a short pass. Badgro put the Giants on the scoreboard first when he caught a perfectly placed spiral from Friedman along the sideline at the two-yard line and was tackled lunging over the final stripe for the touchdown. Friedman’s placement gave New York a 7-0 lead that held into the second half.

In the third quarter, Moran set up New York’s second touchdown with a rush out of the punt formation with the Giants pinned deep at their end of the field. Moran ran around right end then cut up the center of the field. Two blockers kept pace with Moran, who evaded McNally twice as he traversed up-field, until the Green Bay 10-yard line. Lavern Dilfer, who had been deep to receive the presumed punt, made a flying tackle of Moran one yard short of the end zone. This 91-yard carry remained the franchise standard until 2005.

Three consecutive plunges left the ball about a foot away from pay dirt, where Friedman followed behind the left guard for the touchdown. Friedman’s point-after placement was blocked and New York lead 13-0.

Green Bay valiantly fought back. A long pass reception by McNally gave the defending champions the ball on New York’s 11-yard line, but the Giants defense stiffened and thwarted the advance on downs at the two-yard line. The Giants punted the ball back and a Dunn-to-Lewellen aerial quickly gave the Packers a first-and-goal on the four-yard line. Lewellen swept around right end for the touchdown, but Dunn’s placement missed. The third quarter ended with New York ahead 13-6.

Chris Cagle (12), Benny Friedman (1), New York Giants; Green Bay Packers at New York Giants (November 23, 1930)

Chris Cagle (12), Benny Friedman (1), New York Giants; Green Bay Packers at New York Giants (November 23, 1930)

Green Bay made one lengthy, exhausting advance in attempt to tie the game in the final period. They overcame a holding call at mid-field (a 15-yard penalty at the time) and moved the chains five times until the ball reached New York’s five-yard line. Herdis McCrary plunged twice for a yard, and Bo Melinda slammed ahead for a two-yard advance. The thrilled Polo Grounds crowd was caught up in the tension-packed goal-line stand, and on their feet exhorting the defense. Before the ball was snapped, several players on both sides of the line jumped early. The players held their positions once the ball was reset. On the snap, Dunn handed to McCrary who was stoned by the center of the Giants front wall as the Polo Grounds faithful roared their approval.

Neither team threatened to score again. The 13-7 final moved 11-2 New York ahead of 9-2 Green Bay in the league standings. The New York Times game summary unofficially gave the Packers the statistical edge in first downs 15 to eight, as well as passing yards 138 to 67. The Giants led in rushing yards, 172 to 160, most of which came from the lengthy jaunt by Moran. This was only the second loss the Packers had suffered in 24 months.

Backyard Brawling

The Giants had little time to celebrate their huge victory; for the third time their schedule had them playing three games in eight days. Next up was a Thanksgiving Day game at Staten Island against the coveted player who got away.

Prior to the 1929 season, Coach Andrews was instructed by Tim Mara and Dr. Harry March to offer a $4,000 contract to the graduated NYU star and triple-threat back Ken Strong. For reasons still unclear, Andrews offered Strong a contract for $3,000. Strong declined the offer and signed with the Stapletons, and would always relish the opportunity to show up the team that had underbid for his services.

Thompson Stadium was standing-room only with over 12,000 fans in attendance while hundreds more crowded outside the fences trying to view the action on the field. Although the Stapletons entered the game at 4-4-2 and never having beaten the Giants before, they had plenty of motivation. Aside from Strong, Mule Wilson had recently signed to Staten Island after being released by the Giants; Doug Wycoff was a member of the 1927 World Champion Giants; and the Giants first star player, Hinkey Haines, was an assistant coach on the sidelines.

The game was a physical altercation where both teams earned every inch of ground they were able to muster. Wilson was part of the Stapletons starting 11 and the leading ground gainer on the day, but his biggest impact was felt on defense. He repeatedly fought through blocks and dropped Friedman and Cagle in the backfield for losses and frustrated New York’s typically potent offense. The first score of the game came with just under 1:00 to play in the second quarter. Campbell blocked Strong’s punt at the Staten Island 20-yard line and recovered the loose ball in the end zone himself. The hold for the point-after try was mishandled and Friedman’s pass for Moran in the end zone was defended. The Giants led 6-0 at the half.

New York’s defense made a crucial stand in the third quarter after Jim Fitzgerald recovered a fumble on the Giants 20-yard line and a subsequent unnecessary roughness penalty set the ball on the five-yard line. Four consecutive rushes were stopped and the Giants took over on downs. Staten Island held their ground as well, and a Friedman punt from the end zone gave the home team the ball on the plus 45-yard line. Wycoff completed two passes to Bernie Finn to again set the ball five yards from New York’s goal line. This time Wycoff took the ball over for the score on second down and Strong’s placement was good and gave the Stapletons a 7-6 lead in front of their raucous crowd.

The struggle continued well into the fourth quarter. New York lost its captain Friedman to a leg injury, but the Giants were able to mount a last minute desperation drive despite his absence. Cagle completed two passes to Moran, giving the Giants a first and goal on the five-yard line but failed to score after three plunges and a missed a placement field goal attempt by Wiberg. The loss cost the Giants more than the services of Friedman. Their stay atop the standings was all too brief, as Green Bay had routed the Yellow Jackets in Frankford 25-7 and regained first place.

As the compressed schedule prevented Friedman from dressing for the Giants game against Brooklyn at the Polo Grounds on Sunday, Hagerty would get the start in his place. This promised to be another rugged contest for New York as not only did the Dodgers feature the NFL’s stingiest defense (they would finish the season allowing a league low 4.9 points per game), but had the motivation of yet another former New York star, Jack McBride, who led the league in scoring.

Chris Cagle, New York Giants (November 30, 1930)

Chris Cagle, New York Giants (November 30, 1930)

The crowd of 25,000 was not restricted just to fans of the home team hoping the Giants would keep pace with Green Bay, many fans came over the bridges from Brooklyn to support their team as well. New York significantly outplayed the Dodgers in the first half but only had six points to show for it, and again that lone score was the result of Campbell recovering a blocked punt. This time Campbell blocked Jim Mooney’s punt at Brooklyn’s 45-yard line, scooped the loose ball, evaded Mooney and rambled the distance uncontested into the end zone.

In the second half, Brooklyn’s offense began to find seams in the Giants front. Stumpy Thomason ran for several long gains and also cleared the way for McBride between the tackles. McBride ultimately doomed his former team in the fourth quarter on a 37-yard rush that set up his two-yard plunge for the tying score. His point-after placement gave Brooklyn a 7-6 edge that held up as the final score. McBride played the full 60 minutes, scored all the Dodgers points and essentially buried New York in second place as Green Bay annihilated the Stapletons 37-7 two boroughs away at Thompson Stadium. Rumors of a player revolt surfaced the day after the game and Andrews was abruptly dismissed as head coach.

A few weeks earlier, Mayor Jimmy Walker had devised a plan where three football games would be used for unemployment relief fund generation. Local school NYU would host Colgate University on December 6 in one benefit, the Army-Navy game at Yankee Stadium on December 13 was the second, and a new and exciting venture would be the Giants opposing a team of all-stars from Notre Dame, coached by Knute Rockne.

Allegedly, according to some players, Andrews became obsessed with facing Rockne and his All Stars. Practices became unusually brutal and he verbally berated the players, and threatened fines and releases. One story purported Friedman and Owen approaching Mara and seeking relief from the conditions that the team felt had become intolerable. He obliged and installed the two as co-player coaches for the remainder of the season. Friedman said years later: “(Andrews) just got himself all worked up thinking about this great meeting with Rockne. He thought he had to be tougher with us and pretty soon he lost control of himself completely.”

Funny Math

Although the 11-4 Giants still had a mathematical chance to move back ahead of the 10-2 Packers, it was unrealistic as their hopes were tethered to the unlikely probability of a Green Bay collapse. The season played out with New York winning its final two games at Frankford and Brooklyn, and Green Bay losing at the Bears and tied at Portsmouth. The Packers became the NFL’s second champions to repeat, and they did it by four-thousandths of a percentage point.

The method for calculating win percentage at this time is important to consider, and it had to do with the way the league handled ties. Essentially, tie games were disregarded as if the games had never been played. Green Bay’s record of 10-3-1 gave them a win percentage of 0.769 because the tie game at Portsmouth was discluded from the factoring – the 10 wins were divided by 13 total games. It was not until 1972 when the NFL changed the parameters and treated a tie game as a half-win and half loss. When this calculation is applied retroactively to the 1930 Packers record, their win percentage is 0.750 which would drop them to second place behind the 13-4 Giants win percentage of 0.765.

Despite the late season slump that dismantled New York’s championship hopes, the season was considered a qualified success. The Friedman-led squad led the NFL in scoring for the second year in a row and the Giants were a marquis attraction on all their road trips. The attendance at the Polo Grounds was sometimes curtailed by poor weather, but the turnout for the November game against Green Bay was very encouraging and hinted that pro football was beginning to catch on in New York. Friedman was a first-team All Pro, and Badgro and linemen Rudy Comstock and Joe Westoupal were second-team All Pro.

The Giants had one more game to play. The upcoming exhibition contest against the Notre Dame All Stars had no effect on league standings or post-season awards, but it meant everything in regards to gaining the respect and recognition of the general public. The entire NFL was vested in a strong performance from the Giants, even if the majority of the home fan base was not.

The Pros Versus the Joes

Like the Packers, Notre Dame repeated as champions in 1930. The original plan for the charity game was for the Giants to play the current Notre Dame team, but Coach Rockne was concerned about the impact of cross-country travel via rail on his team, as their season concluded at USC on December 7. His contingency plan was brilliant and more alluring to the public – an all-star team comprised of Notre Dame Alumni.

Rockne assembled the legendary Four Horsemen (Elmer Layden, Don Miller, Jim Crowley, Harry Stuhldreher); five of the Seven Mules (Adam Walsh, Joe Bach, Rip Miller, Noble Kizer, Ed Hunsinger); Jack Chevigny from the 1928 team; seven members from the 1929 national champions (Jack Cannon, John Law, Tim Moynihan, Ted Twomey, Joe Vezie, John Gebert, Jack Elder); Bucky O’Connor, Frank Carideo from the current 1930 team;, and two former Notre Dame players with NFL experience, Hunk Anderson and Glenn Carberry.

New York Giants - Notre Dame All-Stars (December 14, 1930)

New York Giants – Notre Dame All-Stars (December 14, 1930)

Although the Four Horsemen were by far the main attraction, the undercard billing was compelling. The press debated who the better tailback was, Carideo, who Rockne touted as “the best passer alive” or Friedman. Unlike many college coaches, Rockne was not opposed to football being a profession. He himself had played several years in the APFA/NFL predecessor Ohio League, which included a championship with the 1915 Massilon Tigers and legendary contests against Jim Thorpe’s Canton Bulldogs. But that did not mean Rockne did not believe college football was the superior brand, and he was not shy about public boasting either.

However, Rockne appeared to waver after committing to the game with the Giants. Just days after the acceptance, rumors circled that he was reconsidering and was privately concerned that he may have put himself into a potentially regretful position. Public outcry over this wavering demanded Rockne’s assurance that he and his all-star team make an appearance. The New York Times ran a story every day leading up to the game describing the unprecedented ticket demand for a Giants-All Stars match-up, which was to be paired with the Army-Navy game to be played at Yankee Stadium on Saturday. Charles Stoneham, owner of the baseball Giants, donated the use of the stadium so all the proceeds would be used for the unemployment fund.

While Rockne may have been concerned about suffering personal embarrassment, the risk undertaken by the Giants was far more significant. They would be representing the institution of professional football as a whole. A loss to the college players could realistically damage the NFL’s public perception permanently. Mara and March received telegrams from owners and executives around the league offering their best wishes for success.

Rockne may have only had limited time to get his group ready, but he made the most of it and drilled his group hard. Gathering in South Bend on the Tuesday prior to the game in New York, Crowley said later that the two practices left him “stiffer and more sore than in all the years I played regularly lumped together.” Rockne explained, “At first I thought these fellows might not be able to put up a good game after several years’ layoff. But when I got to South Bend on Wednesday I found them a little older but was pleasantly surprised to see the way they handled the ball. This is not going to be merely a spectacle but a real game.”

The New York press covered the lead-up to the game daily, and the public’s anticipation grew to a near fever pitch. Both games that weekend were sold out in advance. The anticipation was just as fervent in South Bend. Over 1,500 alumni from Northern Illinois and the greater Chicago area had a police-escorted parade and reception with the All-Star team, as well as with the returning 1930 National Champions who had defeated USC 27-0.

The welcome mat would reach all the way East too. A reception and gala dinner with Mayor Walker was planned for the All Stars upon their arrival in the Big Apple. Rockne telegrammed Walker to confirm plans, as well as notify the fans in New York that he and his boys were confident: “We don’t expect to have our season’s winning record broken by your team of Giants.”

Rockne and his team arrived on Saturday morning and were paraded by a police escort from Grand Central Terminal to City Hall where the New York City Police Band and hundreds of devotees from the Notre Dame fan clubs of New York and New Jersey greeted their heroes enthusiastically. All of the local radio stations broadcast the reception, and Rockne, Mara and Walker were interviewed live on national radio.

Rockne held a closed practice inside the Polo Grounds, and insisted that all the Giants office personnel be prohibited from having any view of the field while the Notre Dame team went through their final drills. Rockne told the press afterward, “We have several surprises for the Giants and we don’t want to spoil any of them.” Rockne and Mayor Walker walked across the Harlem River to Yankee Stadium and watched Army defeat Navy 6-0. Mayor Walker was also scheduled to have dinner with Rockne and the All Stars the evening after the game versus the Giants on Sunday at the Vanderbilt Hotel with the local Notre Dame fan clubs.

The New York Times game day preview backed Rockne’s proclamations, “As to the game itself it promises to be one of the best, with the edge by no means favoring Friedman’s highly competent performers.” That afternoon the Polo Grounds was a house with divided loyalty. The grandstands behind the Giants side of the field were decorated with red and blue bunting while the Notre Dame side was augmented with navy blue and yellow. Pre-game ceremonies included marching bands from NYU and the Police Brigade and Rifle Guard playing “Victory March” (Notre Dame’s Fight Song) and “The Sidewalks of New York” over and over as the Polo Grounds seats filled. More than half of those in attendance were there to cheer on Rockne’s team.

As the two teams stepped onto the field for warmups, Rockne surveyed the competition. Acknowledging the Giants outweighed the All Stars by an average of 60 pounds per man; he approached Friedman and bargained, “We’ve got a lot of boys who think they’re football players. They may have a lot to learn today. How about some concessions?” The two bartered and agreed upon free substitution and shortened 12:30 quarters. Rockne returned to his team and attempted to buoy their confidence, “The Giants are heavy but slow. Go out there, score two or three quick touchdowns, and then defend. Don’t get hurt.”

The Giants size, strength and toughness was obvious to all. The one area that was grossly overlooked was their motivation and resolve. The Giants were sick and tired of hearing about the All Stars and how professional football was second rate. They had something to prove and they did it from snap-to-whistle on every play right from the opening kickoff.

On the first play from scrimmage, 170 pound Law lined up across from the 240 pound Owen. Law turned to referee Tom Thorp and asked, “Can you tell me sir, how much time is left?” Notre Dame was knocked backward on the first three plays, the last of which was finished in the end zone for a safety. The Giants had a 2-0 lead before the game was two minutes old and Rockne’s team finished the quarter with -12 yards from scrimmage. The beating only got worse from there.

Red Badgro (17), New York Giants (December 14, 1930)

Red Badgro (17), New York Giants makes tackle for a safety against Notre Dame All-Stars (December 14, 1930) – Courtesy of Rev. Mike Moran

The New York Times game summary was a complete reversal from its preview the day before: “From start to finish the Giants had the South Benders utterly at their mercy.” Friedman put the game on ice for New York with two touchdowns in the second period. The first touchdown was a short plunge by Friedman. The second an impressive 20-yard rush that was set up by a brilliant play fake. Friedman read the defense at the line, dropped pack and pump-faked, which opened the center of the defense. He ran through the hole in the line, stepped around or through four tacklers and trucked Carideo on his way into the end zone. Referee Tom Thorpe said, “That was one of the finest calls and executions I’ve ever seen.” Friedman’s placement made the score 15-0.

During the action there were some memorable exchanges between the elevens. During the second quarter, Kizer told Walsh, “I’m going to pull out on this play and take the inside back on pass defense. So cover me here.” Walsh exclaimed, “What? And leave me here all alone? Not on your life!” On the snap, both players vacated their positions and sprinted for the bench. Crowley said, “They weren’t scared, they were smart, that’s all.”

Stuhldreher had an encounter with Butch Gibson. “He really smothered me, but he was a gentleman. He helped scrape the dirt off me and checked for broken bones. ‘I want to ask you something,’ he said. ‘I went to a small school called Grove City. You went to a big one, Notre Dame. Now do you know which one played better football?’ I couldn’t do anything but agree with him. I was afraid not to for fear that I’d get him even angrier. As it was, he got me many more times in the game.”

Benny Friedman with ball, New York Giants against Notre Dame All Stars (December 14, 1930)

Benny Friedman with ball, New York Giants against Notre Dame All Stars (December 14, 1930) – Courtesy of Rev. Mike Moran

The All Stars managed one first down, which came on a 12-yard run by Enright, and their furthest advance was to their own 49-yard line. At halftime Rockne sought relief for his battered team. He approached March and said, “I came here to help with a charity and at a lot of trouble. You’re making us look bad. Slow up, will you? I don’t want to go home and be laughed at. Lay off next half.”  The Giants subbed out most of their starters for the second half, except for Turtle Campbell. How much drop off there was is debatable.

Consider that the second half replacement for Friedman at tailback was Moran, who was a catalyst for New York late in the season. Cagle, billed as the Giants next great star and the Army player who ignited Rockne’s 1928 “Win One for the Gipper” speech, subbed for Tiny Feather at half back. Burnett, the Giants third highest scorer, subbed for Sedbrook. The Giants had a deep bench and had many players were eager to step in and take their shots at the All Stars.

New York’s second team continued to play both brilliantly and brutally. A 30-yard pass from Moran to Campbell, followed by Moran’s placement, closed the scoring while defensively Notre Dame was kept off of the board. The final score was a resounding 22-0. Statistically it was worse. The Giants had eight first downs to Notre Dame’s one and outgained the All Stars 138 yards to 34. Notre Dame failed to complete a pass in nine attempts, with two intercepted. They also lost a fumble. After the game, Rockne told his team, “That was the greatest football machine I ever saw. I’m glad none of you got hurt.”

The game summaries were almost apologetic toward Rockne and his team. Readers were reminded that the game was played for charity ($115,153 was raised and put directly into the city’s fund for the unemployed) and that the All Stars had been assembled on short notice and had minimal practice time to get ready. The Giants were a practiced and battle-hardened unit, ready for full contact while many of the Notre Dame team had spent the season scattered around the country in coaching positions.

Stuhldreher said, “It wasn’t much of a football game. Rock had the idea that we could beat the pros, and I guess he sort of got carried away in the pregame publicity. But we did drum up a real good crowd for the game, and that was great…except that he got the Giants sore at us. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that opening kickoff. Layden caught the ball and was belted by all 11 Giants. They really whammed him. He staggered to his feet, took a dazed look at me in the huddle, shook his head, and asked, ‘Is this game over yet?’

A Victory for All

The reverberations from Giants victory were profound; nobody ever accused “post graduate” football as being inferior again. Although some fans continued to begrudge the pros, this contest can be marked as the starting point where the general public began to turn to the NFL as the favored version of the game. Press coverage for professional football began to be displayed on an equal plane with college football over the course of the decade. Football stadia began to see larger crowds on Sundays rather than Saturdays. The transition was slow, but it was steady, and by the end of World War II, the NFL had expanded coast-to-coast and was cultivating a national market via the new medium of television. College football experienced little growth and its attraction remained largely regional.

The Giants-All Stars game was the last Rockne coached. He was killed in a plane crash in Kansas on March 31, 1931. He remains a coaching legend, having pioneered and popularized the early passing game. His 0.881 winning percentage remains the highest of college coaches who have stood on the sideline for at least 100 games.

March turned over his interest in the Giants as Tim Mara handed the duties to his sons Jack (President) and Wellington (Secretary). Friedman was originally offered the head-coaching position of the Giants, but that offer was pulled when Friedman demanded an ownership interest in the team. After an injury plagued 1931 season, which included double-duty as head coach for Yale University, Friedman moved on to Brooklyn as player-coach of the Dodgers.

Tim Mara then offered the job to Owen, who was initially reluctant (he suggested Guy Chamberlain to Mara first) but ultimately accepted the role. Still with a lingering dissatisfaction of the late season swoon and ugly departure of Andrews, Mara wanted more than anything a strong, reliable man in charge who was able to withstand hard times. He said, “What I needed was a man’s man. What I wanted was a man who could manage other men, a man other men would respect. What I got was even more than I bargained for.”

Owen was the Giants steward for 23 seasons. He spanned the stretch when the NFL stabilized itself through the depression, tread water through World War II, transitioned from the Single Wing to the T-Formation, survived competition from the rival AAFC, overtook college football and closed the gap with major league baseball. Under his guidance, the Giants emerged as the NFL’s flagship franchise. They appeared in a league-high eight championships in that time. Owen and his Giants won two of those championships in memorable fashion on their home field in front of appreciative crowds. In both NFL Championship Games, in 1934 versus the Bears and 1938 versus the Packers, the league standard for championship-game attendance was set.

The legacy of the win over the Notre Dame All Stars cannot be overstated. The Giants’ home attendance for league games in 1930 was 16,000. It jumped to just over 24,000 the next season in 1931, despite the fact that team’s fortunes declined. The 1931 Giants finished 7-6-1 and were never a factor in the league race for first place. Changes took place after a losing season in 1932. The Giants built a new team. And the NFL created its own rules manual which intentionally differentiated it from the college game. The NFL realigned into two divisions and installed a post-season championship game that generated new fan interest. Prosperity that seemed unimaginable at the start of the decade was about to become unavoidable.

Feb 092015
 
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Johnathan Hankins, New York Giants (September 14, 2014)

Johnathan Hankins – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Ever since the New York Giants transitioned to the 4-3 defense from the 3-4 in 1994, the defensive line has been the heart of a New York Giants defense that had made eight playoff appearances in 21 seasons, and has helped the team reach three NFL Championship games, winning two. Yet with the free agent losses of defensive end Justin Tuck and defensive tackle Linval Joseph before the season, and a free agent spending spree at cornerback, the Giants entered training camp with the expectation by some that the defensive backfield might surpass the defensive line as the strength of the team. In the end, injuries sabotaged the secondary and the defensive line did indeed regress.

The Giants finished 29th in defense in terms of yards allowed and 22nd in points allowed. The Giants were 30th against the run in terms of total yards allowed and 32nd in terms of yards-per-rush allowed (4.9). New York was 18th against the pass. The good news was they finished 4th in the NFL in terms of sacks with 47. But after Perry Fewell’s defense gave up over 6,000 yards for the third time in four seasons (the only times in history of the franchise that has occurred), he was fired in January.

The best players up front were clearly defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins. But Pierre-Paul started the season off slowly and didn’t really impact games the way he should until the Giants were already out of playoff contention. Hankins had a breakout year in his sophomore season. But it wasn’t enough.

Mathias Kiwanuka started 11 games at left defensive end, but did not play well and finished the season on Injured Reserve. Free agent acquisition Robert Ayers flashed as a pass rusher at both defensive tackle and end, but was inconsistent against the run and also finished the season on IR. The coaching staff did not appear to trust Damontre Moore, who did not start a game. By year’s end, he was surprisingly passed on the depth chart by undrafted rookie Kerry Wynn.

At tackle, Cullen Jenkins was bothered by a nagging calf issue and was barely noticeable. Mike Patterson and Markus Kuhn were easily blocked and rarely made any plays. Jay Bromley saw more action down the stretch, but his rookie season was a wash.

Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants (December 14, 2014)

Jason Pierre-Paul – © USA TODAY Sports Images

DEFENSIVE ENDS

In his fifth NFL season, Jason Pierre-Paul had his second-best season, starting all 16 games and finishing with 77 tackles, 12.5 sacks, six pass defenses, and three forced fumbles. Pierre-Paul played the run well most of the year and finished up strong as a pass rusher after a slow start, with nine of his sacks coming in the last five games of the season. Pierre-Paul was originally drafted in the 1st round of the 2010 NFL Draft. His best season came in 2011 when he accrued 86 tackles and 16.5 sacks. 2012 and 2013 were down seasons for him with a total of only 8.5 sacks. Pierre-Paul had surgery in June 2013 to repair a herniated disc in his lower back and suffered a shoulder injury that caused him to miss the last five games of that season. Pierre-Paul has an excellent combination of size, strength, and athleticism. When healthy and focused, Pierre-Paul can be an explosive, disruptive difference-maker. His tremendous wingspan helps him to bat passes down at the line of scrimmage (28 career pass defenses and 2 interceptions). As a pass rusher, he can beat blockers with both power and movement skills. He could improve his initial quickness off the snap. Pierre-Paul is a very good run defender both at the point-of-attack as well as in backside pursuit. He can be vulnerable to misdirection such as on read-option plays. To become a truly great player, Pierre-Paul needs to be consistently great on a game-to-game basis and not disappear in some contests.

Mathias Kiwanuka started the first 11 games of the season, but he was placed on Injured Reserve in December 2014 with a knee injury that troubled him much of the year. Kiwanuka had a disappointing season, finishing with only 28 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles. Kiwanuka has shifted between defensive end and linebacker ever since he was drafted in the 1st round of the 2006 NFL Draft. He primarily played linebacker for the Giants in 2007 and 2010-12, and defensive end in 2006, 2008-09, and 2013-14. Kiwanuka combines good size and overall athleticism, but he never really developed as expected and now may be slowing down. Kiwanuka has never been a consistent pass rusher and his play against the run deteriorated in 2014.

Robert Ayers, New York Giants (November 16, 2014)

Robert Ayers – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Robert Ayers proved to be one of the team’s best pass rushers as key rotational player who could play both end and defensive tackle in pass rush situations. Before he was placed on Injured Reserve in December 2014 with a torn pectoral muscle, in 12 games with one start, Ayers accrued 22 tackles, five sacks, one pass defense, and one forced fumble. Ayers was originally drafted in the 1st round of the 2009 NFL by the Broncos. In five seasons with the Broncos, Ayers played in 72 regular-season games with 27 starts. He signed with the Giants as a free agent in April 2014. Ayers has good size for a defensive end and his quickness and overall athleticism presents problems for guards and centers when he lines up at tackle in pass rush situations. He is an average run defender at best and would earn more playing time if he could improve in this area.

More was hoped for and expected from Damontre Moore in 2014. Moore played in all 16 games but he had no starts and finished the year with 32 tackles, 5.5 sacks, and two pass defenses. Moore was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Giants. Moore lacks ideal size and timed speed, but he flashes as a pass rusher. His biggest issues are his sub-par play against the run and mental mistakes, the latter two causing him to be by-passed on the depth chart.

Kerry Wynn, New York Giants (December 21, 2014)

Kerry Wynn – © USA TODAY Sports Images

An undrafted rookie free agent signed after the 2014 NFL Draft, Kerry Wynn was a pleasant surprise. Not only did he make the 53-man roster but he received significant playing time in the final month of the season and finished the year with 17 tackles, 1.5 sacks, one pass defense, and one interception. Wynn has a nice combination of size, strength, and overall athletic ability. He appears to be a smart, heady player who performed well against the run. He did not really stick out as a pass rusher and will need to improve in this area.

Paul Hazel was signed to the Practice Squad and then 53-man roster in December 2014. Hazel was originally signed by the Jacksonville Jaguars as a rookie free agent after the 2013 NFL Draft. He was claimed by the Browns after the Jaguars waived him and he played in 13 games in 2013 for Cleveland. The Texans then claimed Hazel off of waivers from the Browns in March 2014, but he did not make the team. Hazel is a tall, thin pass rusher who has spent time at linebacker.

Jordan Stanton was signed to the Practice Squad in August 2014, cut, and then added to the Practice Squad again in December 2014. Stanton was originally signed by the Giants as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2014 NFL Draft. Stanton has decent size and flashes some ability, but he did not really standout in the 2014 preseason.

Johnathan Hankins, New York Giants (December 14, 2014)

Johnathan Hankins – © USA TODAY Sports Images

DEFENSIVE TACKLES

Johnathan Hankins became a full-time starter in 2014, a year after he was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2013 NFL Draft and playing in 11 games as a reserve. Hankins started all 16 games and finished the year with 51 tackles, seven sacks, three pass defenses, and one forced fumble. Hankins has a nice combination of size, strength, and overall athletic ability. He is a stout run defender. Hankins surprised with his ability to rush the passer both in terms of his power and agility. Hankins has the ability to become one of the NFL’s better defensive tackles.

In 2014, Cullen Jenkins was troubled by a calf injury, missed four games, and had a sub-par season, finishing with only 16 tackles and one sack in 12 games with 11 starts. Jenkins was originally signed by Green Bay Packers as an undrafted free agent after the 2003 NFL Draft. He did not make the team but spent time in NFL Europe and then re-signed with the Packers in 2004. Jenkins played with the Packers (2004-10) until he signed with the Eagles (2011-12). He was signed by the Giants in March 2013 after he was released by the Philadelphia Eagles. Jenkins lacks ideal size and is on the downside of his career. In his prime, he was a solid two-way defensive tackle who could play the run and rush the passer. Versatile, he has experience as a defensive tackle and defensive end in the 4-3, and as a defensive end in the 3-4.

Mike Patterson played all 16 games in 2014, starting eight, but he only finished the season with 27 tackles and no sacks or other big plays. Patterson was originally drafted in the 1st round of the 2005 NFL Draft by Philadelphia, where in eight seasons he played in 115 regular-season games with 99 starts. Patterson underwent brain surgery in January 2012 to repair an arteriovenous malformation. He played in just five games in 2012 before being placed on the reserve/non-football illness list with pneumonia. Patterson was signed by the Giants in April 2013 after being cut by the Philadelphia Eagles. Patterson lacks ideal size. He is a non-factor on the pass rush and his run defense deteriorated in 2014.

Markus Kuhn, New York Giants (December 7, 2014)

Markus Kuhn – © USA TODAY Sports Images

In his third season with the Giants, Markus Kuhn saw his most playing time, playing in 14 games with one start. He finished the season with 19 tackles and one sack. Kuhn was originally drafted in the 7th round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Giants. He suffered a torn ACL knee injury that season and began the following season on the Reserve/Physically-Unable-to-Perform (PUP) List before being activated to the 53-man roster in November. Kuhn was born in Germany and was only a one-year starter in college. Kuhn has good size and he is a hard worker, but he does not really stand out as either a run defender or pass rusher.

The Giants drafted Jay Bromley in the 3rd round of the 2014 NFL Draft. While active for eight games, he did not see a lot of snaps and only finished the season with five tackles and no sacks. Bromley combines decent size and strength with good athletic ability. Bromley is more of a 3-technique disruptor than 1-technique run stuffer. He needs to improve his play against the run.

Dominique Hamilton spent most of the season on the Practice Squad but was signed to the 53-man roster twice in December 2014. Hamilton originally signed with the Oakland Raiders as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2012 NFL Draft. The Raiders cut him and he was on NFL practice squads in 2012 (Redskins) and 2013 (Redskins and Chiefs). The Chiefs waived him in August 2014 and the Giants signed him to the Practice Squad in September. Hamilton looks the part with excellent size and long arms. He’s not overly quick or agile. Hamilton is a better run defender than pass rusher.

Feb 052015
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (September 14, 2014)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Largely lost in the disappointing 6-10 season and the Odell Beckham hype was the fact that New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning experienced a renaissance in 2014. Approaching his mid-30’s and coming off arguably his worst season in the NFL in 2013, Manning rebounded with one of his best seasons in 2014. Indeed, had it not been for a dreadful 5-interception game against the San Francisco 49ers in November, Manning would have thrown only eight picks all season – his lowest ever in the NFL. His success was even more impressive when you consider he was coming off April ankle surgery, had a new offensive coordinator and position coach, was introduced to a radically-different offensive system, and lost his security blanket Victor Cruz early in campaign. Before the season, many said Manning was washed up and the team should move on. By season’s end, those thoughts had largely disappeared. Of all of the Giants’ personnel problems, the quarterback position is not one of them.

It originally looked like Ryan Nassib was going to have an up-hill fight for the #2 quarterback spot as the Giants had re-signed 2013 #2 quarterback Curtis Painter and had added quarterbacks Josh Freeman and Rusty Smith in free agency. But Freeman and Smith didn’t even make it to training camp, and Nassib clearly out-performed Painter in the preseason, completing 44-of-74 passes for 588 yards, five touchdowns, and no interceptions (107.3 quarterback rating). Nassib not only earned the promotion to the #2 spot, but the team was comfortable enough with him to cut Painter and only go with two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster.

Eli Manning, New York Giants (November 3, 2014)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Eli Manning rebounded from arguably his worst season in 2013 with one of his best seasons in 2014 under a new offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach, and West Coast Offense-based system. The latter required him to reprogram his footwork and become accustomed to new route depths run by his receivers. Despite a year-long learning curve, Manning finished the season with 4,410 yards (second-highest total in his career and in franchise history), 30 touchdowns (one shy of his career-high in 2011), and 14 interceptions (13 fewer than he threw in 2013). Manning’s completion percentage (63.1) was a career-high. His passer rating of 92.1 was the second-highest of highest of his career (93.1 in 2009). And all of this despite the fact that Manning played behind a sub par offensive line that allowed 28 sacks and only generated 3.6 yards per carry (tied for 28th in the NFL). Manning was the first player selected in the 2004 NFL Draft and immediately traded to the Giants by the Chargers. The 34-year old Manning owns practically every quarterback record in franchise history. He is 8-3 as a playoff quarterback and a two-time Super Bowl MVP. His best season was 2011 when he carried the Giants to the playoffs, highlighted by seven come-from-behind victories on a team with a poor regular-season defense (27th in the NFL) and running game (32nd in the NFL).

Manning has excellent size and a strong arm. He is extremely tough and has never missed a game in 11 seasons. He only has a 59 percent career completion percentage though that figure should improve with the offensive emphasis shifting from a down-field, vertical attack to the West Coast system. Manning excels in the mental aspects of the game. He has the perfect temperament for playing in the New York metropolitan area as the intense media spotlight does not seem to faze him. He is very smart and hard-working. Manning reads opposing defenses extremely well. The coaching staff trusts him to make complicated pre-snap reads for both the running and passing games. On the negative side, Manning is still guilty of making the ill-advised, head-scratching throw when the smarter decision would be to throw the football away or take the sack. His gun-slinger mentality also causes him to make some risky throws in tight windows. A true pocket passer, Manning is not a threat to harm a defense with his feet. Manning was voted to the Pro Bowl in 2008 and 2011, and played in the game in 2012 as a second alternate. When Manning is on his game, he is one of the most clutch performers in the NFL.

Ryan Nassib, New York Giants (August 3, 2014)

Ryan Nassib – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Ryan Nassib was drafted in the 4th round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Giants. He made the team as the #3 quarterback that year but was never active on game day and did not play. In 2014, Nassib played well in the preseason and became the #2 and only other quarterback behind Eli Manning. He saw limited time at the close of four games, completing 4-of-5 passing attempts for 60 yards in a blowout loss to the Eagles. Nassib has average height and mobility, but he is a mentally and physically tough, well-built quarterback with a good arm. He is very smart and played in two pro style offenses in college. At the college level Nassib was a team leader and clutch player who had a history of winning games late.