Nov 202014
 
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New York Giants Defense (October 19, 2014)

New York Giants Defense – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants, November 23, 2014

Some New York Giants fans are still in denial. They refuse to accept that 2014 New York Giants – like their 2013 predecessor – are a bad football team. The Giants are 31st in the NFL on defense. They are 21st in rushing and haven’t come close to 100 yards rushing in weeks. The Giants have a terrible offensive line. They have one receiver who scares anyone. Assets? Eli Manning and Odell Beckham. And every now and then Larry Donnell flashes. That’s about it.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is a 3-7 football team that plays like a 3-7 football team despite one of the better QBs in the NFL and incredible head coaching continuity. The Giants may upset someone, but usually when they play a good football team, they are going to get beat. That won’t change until they get better players on offense, defense, and special teams.

The players should be on watch. The remainder of this season they will be closely evaluated by a franchise that will have to dump half its roster again in the offseason. There are no guarantees that another team will offer them employment either. Jobs are at stake.

FOUR DOWNS:

First Down
Will Eli Manning bounce back?
Contrary to what many idiots in the media have been saying this week, Eli is was actually having one of his best seasons until last Sunday despite the fact he (1) was coming off April ankle surgery; (2) was learning a completely new offensive system, terminology, footwork fundamentals, routes, etc.; and (3) he was surrounding by a mediocre supporting cast, exacerbated by the loss of Victor Cruz. But last Sunday against the 49ers, Eli fell back into some old bad habits and forced some throws.

Eli is a competitor and wants very much to win and is willing to take chances when the chips are down. But he has to accept that the rest of 2014 is more about 2015 and beyond. His focus at this point should be to continue to acclimatize himself to this West Coast system. Don’t force the issue, but treat the remaining six games almost as practice for 2015. Work on his technique and understanding of this system. If the play is there, make the throw. If not, throw the ball away. For his own physical and psychological well-being, let’s not start inflating those interception totals again. Keep the nay-sayers at bay.

The good news? The Giants are not facing a top-10 defense this week.

Second Down
Can Odell Beckham continue to bring the “wow” factor?
Let’s be honest. The only reason some Giants fans continue to tune in at this point is Odell Beckham. He hasn’t been perfect (media and fans have underplayed some of his drops), but it is obvious to everyone that he is the only truly exciting player on the Giants roster right now. And despite his tremendous productivity in just a few games, there is a sense that he has only scratched the surface. Is he capable of practically single-handily taking over a game, and winning a game the Giants should otherwise lose?

Third Down
Can the Giants stop the run?
The Giants are dead last in run defense. 32 out of 32, allowing an average of 145 yards per game. Dallas is 2nd in the NFL in rushing, averaging over 153 yards per game. Dallas’ strength is New York’s weakness. It’s pretty easy to figure out what the game plan will be.

Fourth Down
Can the Giants stop the pass?
Just one month ago, the Giants played Tony Romo and the Cowboys. The results? The Cowboys accrued 20 first downs and 423 yards of offense. Dallas was 9-of-14 on third down (64 percent). The Cowboys were 3-for-3 (100 percent) in the red zone. Romo only had 6 incompletions, and none in the second half of the game where he was a perfect 9-for-9. Dallas also had five pass plays over 20 yards. WR Dez Bryant had 9 catches for 128 yards and TE Gavin Escobar 3 catches for 65 yards and two touchdowns. WR Terrance Williams had the third touchdown reception. Giant-killer TE Jason Witten was kept quiet but we all know his ability. Now the Giants are without their most consistent corner (Prince Amukamara) and best coverage linebacker (Jacquian Williams).

BREAKING DOWN DALLAS:

OFFENSE
Strength?
The Cowboys have no major weakness on offense other than a recent historical tendency to act like a bunch of spoiled babies on the sidelines when things don’t go there way and Tony Romo’s fragile back. They are 6th overall in the NFL in terms of yards gained, averaging 387.5 yards per game. The Cowboys are tied for 7th in terms of points with 26.1 points per game. They are 2nd in rushing and 17th in passing. RB Demarco Murray – by far – is the NFL’s leading rusher with 1,233 yards. WR Dez Bryant is one of the most dangerous players in the NFL. TE Jason Witten is a future Hall of Famer and back-up TE Gavin Escobar caught two touchdown passes against the Giants in October. Tony Romo is completing over 68 percent of his passes and has a QB rating of 107.2. And if that were not enough, Dallas arguably has the NFL’s best offensive line with three first rounders who are playing like first rounders.

Weakness?
Bryant is the one true stud the Cowboys have at wide receiver. Terrance Williams has six touchdowns, but only 27 catches. The next most productive wideout is Cole Beasley with 16. The Cowboys are also -1 in turnover differential having turned the football over 18 times (10 fumbles, 6 interceptions by Romo, 2 by the backup).

DEFENSE

Strength?
Dallas is in the middle of the pack defensively, ranking 15th in terms of yards allowed (14th against pass, 12th against run). There are no obvious defensive superstars on the team but the unit has played much better than expected. Before the season, it was anticipated Dallas’ defense would be one of the worst in the league. Their strength has been their overall consistency. MLB Rolando McClain has been a major addition as a fiery leader and play maker. CB Orlando Scandrick is their best defensive back who can play both outside and the nickel.

Weakness?
On paper, this defense should be much worse than it is. Perhaps Dallas’ offense is so productive that it hides the defense. Dallas only has 16 sacks on the year. And their third-down defense is subpar, allowing teams to covert over 42 percent of the time. Dallas suffered another big hit at linebacker when they lost Justin Durant late last month.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Place kicker Dan Bailey is exceptional. He’s automatic from even 50+ yards. Dwayne Harris averages over 25 yards per kickoff return and almost 9 yards per punt return..

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

Odell Beckham
If one player could help pull off the upset, it’s Odell. But the opposition will begin to concentrate more and more attention on him.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
With no Prince Amukamara, the Giants not only need Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to play well against Dez Bryant, they will need him to stay on the field for most of the game. DRC hasn’t played a full game in quite some time due to his IT band (back/hamstring) issue.

FROM THE COACHES’ MOUTH:

Tom Coughlin - “Keep fighting, keep fighting, keep fighting, that is all it takes, one game at a time, bounce back. Again, it is about all of those eyes that look at me on Wednesday morning, I am thinking about them, quite frankly, trying to bring them through the disappointment toward the next opponent.”

Jason Garrett - “That has always been something that we have strived for around here – to  be a balanced attack, to be able to attack a defense a lot of different ways…Really, when you are talking about any of this stuff it starts with the guys up front. We made a real commitment to get better on the offensive line here in the last three or four years by using first round pick to draft guys. We think it has been a good investment for our team and it really allows you to do what you want to do offensively. It allows you to feature the skill players that you have both in the running game and in the passing game…The idea is that we want to be a more physical football team, control the line of scrimmage more and be a team that can run the football. Fortunately, we have been able to draft the guys we have up front and we think they are some really good, young, cornerstone type of players who can be here for a long time.”

FINAL WORD:

The Giants should be able to move the football better against this opponent than they have in recent weeks as long as the offensive line plays better this week against a lesser defensive opponent. Justin Pugh (quadriceps) is probably out so look for Geoff Schwartz to start at right tackle. The Giants need John Jerry to bounce back.

However, the real problem for the Giants is on the defensive side of the football. The Giants what they are – the 31st-ranked defense in the NFL and the 32nd-ranked run defense. And the Giants linebackers don’t match up well against the Cowboys tight ends and running backs in coverage.

Look for Beckham to take one to the house on special teams, but it won’t be enough. Cowboys 42 – Giants 27.

Nov 172014
 
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Larry Donnell, New York Giants (November 16, 2014)

Larry Donnell Almost Comes Down with Game-Winner – © USA TODAY Sports Images

San Francisco 49ers 16 – New York Giants 10

Game Overview

It was a tight game and the Giants came very close to pulling off the upset, but this team finds new ways to lose every week.

The 32nd-ranked and now injury-depleted defense played much better this week, good enough to win. Special teams even made plays. But Eli Manning – who came into this contest with only six interceptions – almost doubled that total in a single game with five. And the offensive line was outright dreadful, directly impacting the Giants’ ability to run or throw the football.

Offensive Overview

The Giants scored on their first possession – the first time they have done that in 21 games. It was an impressive 5-play, 63-yard effort that ended with a touchdown.

After that? The Giants had 11 more possessions:

  • Five interceptions.
  • Three Punts.
  • Two turnovers on downs.
  • One field goal.

In a game decided by less than a touchdown, the interceptions proved decisive. One handed the 49ers three points. Three others occurred in San Francisco territory, including the 17- and and 4-yard lines. That’s a 9-point swing right there.

Quarterback

By far, Eli Manning played his worst game of the season, finishing 22-of-45 for 280 yards, 1 touchdown, and 5 interceptions (36.6 quarterback rating).

Was Eli hampered by no running game? Yes. Was he hampered by terrible pass protection? Yes, far worse than the official stats indicate. But this was “bad” Eli at his worst, falling back to some bad habits. He was taking chances with the football instead of taking the sack or throwing the ball away.

Manning made some excellent plays under duress. None better than his 17-yard completion on 3rd-and-10 in the 4th quarter on a play where he should have been sacked as the right side of the line collapsed. Manning also made a superb throw to Rueben Randle on 3rd-and-12 as not one, but two, free blitzers smashed into him. Manning never lost confidence in himself to the bitter end. But he was one of the major reasons – if not THE reason – why the Giants lost the game.

On the first pick, Eli stared down Beckham but you also have to give credit to ILB Chris Borland for making a great jump on the ball. “I thought I could get it in there, the guy jumped it pretty well, the linebacker,” said Manning.

The second pick was bad. The Giants were in field goal range. Manning was focused on Rueben Randle but the corner had him well covered. Eli should have come off that throw and looked for another target. “I had a little quick out, the corner jumped it, tried to pull it back and couldn’t pull it back in time and it went to another defender,” said Manning. In other words, it sounds like Manning decided at the last second to not make the throw but unleashed the football regardless. You can’t do that.

The third pick was a bad overthrow in the direction of Randle. Eli was under immediate pressure and rushed his throw. “I tried to hit a corner route to Rueben, I don’t know if I just overthrew it,” said Manning. “I was on the ground, I didn’t see how it all finished up.”

Pocket collapsing on Manning as he rushes his throw

Pocket collapsing on Manning as he rushes his throw

The pass rush also directly contributed to the fourth interception as RT Charles Brown completely whiffed on the rookie defensive end and Manning was hit as he threw.

Pocket collapses again on Eli on 4th interception

Pocket collapses again on Eli on 4th interception

Running Backs

With Rashad Jennings back after missing four games, it’s pretty safe to say we know where the major problem lies with the running game. It’s the offensive line. Jennings, who surprisingly played 59 snaps, finished the game with 59 yards on 18 carries (3.3 yards per carry). Andre Williams only played nine snaps and had two carries for a total of two yards. Henry Hynoski had one carry for four yards on 3rd-and-1.

Wide Receivers

Rueben Randle had seven catches for a career-high 112 yards. Those are impressive numbers, but also keep in mind that he had 15 passes thrown in his direction. Randle was very sharp early, catching two passes on crossing routes for a total of 38 yards on the team’s lone TD drive. My biggest problem with Randle in the game was his inability to make the game-winning TD catch on 2nd-and-goal from the 4-yard line. There was contact with the defender, but he could have made the play.

So close to winning the game

So close to winning the game

Odell Beckham was largely quiet for three quarters but came on late. He finished with six catches for 93 yards. But like Randle, seven other passes thrown in his direction fell incomplete (including two drops) or were picked off. The highlight of the game was obviously his 37-yard circus catch down to the 4-yard line on what very well could have been the game-winning touchdown drive.

Fans and the media have criticized the play calling on the goal line, but the 49ers loaded up in the box, daring the Giants to make plays on the outside, something New York has done well all year (the Giants are actually one of the NFL’s best red zone teams this year). Two of the fade passes hit the receivers in the hands. They didn’t make the play.

Preston Parker was a non-factor, catching only one pass for nine yards. Corey Washington was on the field for nine offensive snaps but was not thrown to.

Tight Ends

Larry Donnell started off strong, catching three passes for 54 yards in the first half, including a 19-yard touchdown on the team’s opening drive. He also made a spectacular 30-yard reception on 3rd-and-4 in the 2nd quarter despite being mugged on the play. But he was held without a catch in the second half. And while it would have been a difficult catch, he had both hands on the 3rd-and-goal potential game-winning touchdown throw with just under five minutes to play. (Though, I personally thought he was also mugged on this play).

A lot of contact by the safety before the ball arrives

A lot of contact by the safety before the ball arrives

Offensive Line

Just dreadful, especially after RT Justin Pugh left the game with a strained quad muscle after only playing eight snaps. His replacement Charles Brown was atrocious, both as a run blocker and pass blocker. Coughin was asked how Brown did. “Not very well,” responded Coughlin. That said, some of Brown’s problems in pass protection were also caused by RG John Jerry’s poor game. Both VETERAN linemen played like they had never seen a stunt before and got in each others way. “We didn’t initially stop the first rusher in order that we could then switch it off,” said Coughlin. “We had too much penetration.”

Once again – for the fifth game in a row – the Giants were out-muscled and out-played up front. The Giants averaged 3.1 yards per carry and the Giants had problems running the ball even when the Niners were playing nickel defense. Rookie ILB Chris Borland gave the Giants fits, not only with his two picks, but his run defense. It’s like he had an invisible cloak as Giants blockers just let him run right by them a number of times, including FB Henry Hynoski and Jerry.

Eli Manning was under constant duress, far worse than the official two sacks and seven quarterback hits indicate. This is especially troublesome when you consider the 49ers were 25th in sack production coming into the game. “There was pressure, sometimes to the point where (Eli) wasn’t going to be able to function if he didn’t release the ball when he did,” said Coughlin a day after reviewing the tape.

Look at these two back-to-back plays on the Giants’ second possession which ended in a three-and-out. Extremely poor blocks by Jerry at right guard led directly to 2nd and 3rd down incompletions.

John Jerry gets beat on incomplete 2nd down pass

John Jerry gets beat on incomplete 2nd down pass (3-man rush on play)

John Jerry gets beat on incomplete 3rd down pass

John Jerry gets beat again on incomplete 3rd down pass

The left side of the offensive line had issues at times as well. On the play before Eli’s second interception, Manning had no time as Weston Richburg failed to pick up the end stunt.

Weston Richburg beaten on stunt by Aldon Smith

Weston Richburg beaten on stunt by Aldon Smith

But the big problem was the right side. Charles Brown and John Jerry were the worst players on the field. Late in the second quarter, rookie linebacker Aaron Lynch literally knocked Brown on his ass and sacked Eli, fortunately the play was wiped out by an illegal holding penalty. At the start of the 3rd quarter, Jerry got beat for a sack/forced fumble. On the very next snap, Brown and Jerry failed to properly pick up a stunt and Eli was sacked again.

Charles Brown and John Jerry fail to pick up stunt and Eli is sacked again

Charles Brown and John Jerry fail to pick up stunt and Eli is sacked again

These are just a few snapshots of the problems. Brown’s play actually deteriorated as the game progressed. By the 4th quarter, the 49ers were simply toying with him. And the offensive line – as an entire unit – just collapsed on New York’s final drive with 1:09 to play. Eli never had a chance.

Center J.D. Walton continues to struggle with big, physical tackles. He was also flagged with a holding penalty, helping to halt the Giants’ last drive right before halftime.

To me, the dreadfulness of this line is encapsulated by its inability to gain an inch of space for Rashad Jennings on the 4th-and-an-inch play in the third quarter. In fact, Jennings actually lost ground on this play. 4th-and-an-inch – perhaps even less than that! The result didn’t shock any of us because we know how bad this line is.

Jennings never had a chance

Jennings never had a chance

Simply too much penetration by safety and defensive lineman

Simply too much penetration by safety and defensive lineman

The screen game was not good either. On one middle screen late in the game, Jerry not only did not blocking anyone, he literally tackled Rashad Jennings.

Defensive Overview

When compared to the terribly poor defensive performance the previous four games (over 400 yards of offense allowed), the Giants defense improved this week by allowing “only” 333 yards (148 yards rushing, 185 yards passing). The more impressive stat was only allowing 16 points (really 13 when you consider that one interception set up the 49ers at the Giants’ 29-yard line).

The 49ers only scored three points off of five New York Giants turnovers.

Not counting the kneel downs, the 49ers had 10 legitimate possessions. They scored nine points on three drives in the first half with another drive ending with an unforced fumble and another with a punt. In the second half, they scored on their opening possession, turned the ball over on downs off a botched field goal, and punted three times.

The one play that really hurt was the 48-yard touchdown catch-and-run by WR Michael Crabtree early in the 3rd quarter.

That said, there issues with the defensive schemes that continue to bug me. On a key 3rd-and-5 play on the 49ers’ first scoring drive, Fewell sent two blitzers (Jameel McClain and Spencer Paysinger) off of the left side and dropped DL Mathias Kiwanuka (playing DT on this snap) into coverage against TE Vernon Davis. As is usually the case, the opposing offense easily recognized and blocked the blitz. Kiwanuka, who should not be called upon to cover a receiver the caliber of Davis, was caught in a chase position. An easy first down was the result.

Giants send two blitzers and drop Kiwanuka

Giants send two blitzers and drop Kiwanuka

Blitz is easily blocked and Kiwanuka is in no position to defend pass

Blitz is easily blocked and Kiwanuka is in no position to defend pass

Defensive Line/Linebackers

The 49ers rushed for 148 yards, averaging 4.0 yards per carry. They controlled the clock for almost 35 minutes and were a decent 6-of-14 on third down (43 percent). With those numbers, you would expect the 49ers to have generated more points. Not counting the drive where the 49ers started on the Giants 29-yard line (49ers only gained three yards on three plays on this possession), the defense really only allowed three scoring drives: two field goal drives and one touchdown drive.

On these three drives:

  1. First field-goal drive: 49ers running backs gained 29 yards on four carries, the biggest being RB Frank Gore’s 17-yard gain (to the right) – the longest on the day for San Francisco. QB Colin Kaepernick also lost seven yards on a QB run.
  2. Second field-goal drive: The 49ers ran the ball four times for 23 yards with the longest run by a 16 yarder by Gore (to the right). But the Giants’ defense also caused two -1 yard runs on this drive.
  3. Touchdown drive: The 49ers only ran the ball once on this three-play drive, an 11-yard gain by Gore (to the right).

The 49ers did move the ball well on their opening possession, including gaining 47 yards six runs (16 coming on a QB scramble). But the drive ended with an unforced fumble by Gore.

So overall, the 49er running game, though very productive, did not help the 49ers generate a lot of points.

That said, there were some worrisome breakdowns. On the 17-yard gain by Gore on the first scoring drive, the left-side of the defense was nowhere to be found.

Robert Ayers, Mike Patterson, and Mark Herzlich easily washed inside...

Robert Ayers, Mike Patterson, and Mark Herzlich easily washed inside…

opening up the entire left-side of the defense

opening up the entire left-side of the defense

This drive stalled however when Jason Pierre-Paul and Devon Kennard blew up a read option play to the right side of the defense, with Kennard tackling the quarterback for a 7-yard loss. It was a nice play by Pierre-Paul who originally took the bait inside but was athletic enough to re-direct and force Kaepernick into Kennard’s path.

Pierre-Paul and Kennard cause 7-yard loss

Pierre-Paul and Kennard cause 7-yard loss

Really, most of the damage in the running game seemed to come against the left side of the defense and away from Pierre-Paul and Johnathan Hankins. Here we see Gore’s 16-yard gain on the second field goal drive. Mathias Kiwanuka is pushed way inside by #71, Herzlich is blocked by #77, and the TE (#89) takes out Antrel Rolle. (Markus Kuhn was also knocked to the ground). Jameel McClain can’t make the play.

Kuhn, Kiwanuka, Herzlich, and Rolle all effectively taken out of the play

Kuhn, Kiwanuka (by #71), Herzlich (by #77), and Rolle (by #89) all effectively taken out of the play

On the very next play, Kiwanuka has the quarterback dead to rights, but can’t make the play and Colin Kaepernick scrambles for nine yards.

Kiwanuka should nail the QB for a big loss but allows him to get around him

Kiwanuka should nail the QB for a big loss but allows him to get away

The leading tacklers for the Giants were the linebackers: McClain (all 68 defensive snaps, 14 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss), Kennard (55 snaps, 9 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss), and Herzlich (48 snaps, 9 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss, and 1 pass defense). Herzlich was a bit up and down, but he brought some needed emotion to the team. The trio of McClain-Herzlich-Kennard isn’t a very athletic or speedy group and that showed up on the film. Spencer Paysinger played 13 snaps and had three tackles.

Kiwanuka (64 snaps, 4 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss) led the defensive line in tackles, but did not play well. Pierre-Paul (64 snaps) only had one tackle but was stouter against the run. DE/DT Robert Ayers (39 snaps) finished with 2 tackles, 1 sack (the only by the Giants), 1 QB hit, and 1 tackle for a loss. DE Damontre Moore (18 snaps) had the Giants only other QB hit as New York only officially hit Kaepernick in the pocket twice. The Giants pass rush was obviously not good on Sunday.

Johnathan Hankins (54 snaps, 2 tackles), Mike Patterson (35 snaps, 3 tackles), and Markus Kuhn (18 snaps, 2 tackles rotated at defensive tackle and did not really stand out. Jay Bromley was available but did not play.

Defensive Backs

The 49ers were limited to 193 yards passing as Colin Kaepernick only completed 15-of-29 passes. 48 of those yards came on their lone touchdown of the game. The 49ers only had two offensive plays over 20 yards.

On the long touchdown throw, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (41 snaps, 2 tackles, 2 pass defenses) was beat by WR Michael Crabtree to the inside for an intermediate gain. But the real problem was S Quintin Demps was caught badly out of position and failed to prevent the long score.

Crabtree beats DRC to the inside but Demps is way out of position, failing to prevent long TD

Crabtree beats DRC to the inside but Demps is way out of position, failing to prevent long TD

The other big negative play was a 35-yard pass interference penalty on 2nd-and-18 by Rodgers-Cromartie, who continues to be plagued by IT band issue that limits his snaps and affects his play. The pass interference penalty helped to set up San Francisco’s first field goal. The announcers felt interference should not have been called, but DRC did not help his case by turning around for the football. Early in the game, Rodgers-Cromartie made a nice play by defeating a block and knocking away a pass on a bubble screen. He also knocked down a 2nd-and-11 pass near the goal line in the 2nd quarter. Late in the 2nd quarter, WR Michael Crabtree beat DRC for a 25-yard gain, the only other long pass play.

Zack Bowman (48 snaps, 3 tackles, 1 fumble recovery) played more than any other corner. Newcomer Chykie Brown (30 snaps, 3 tackles, 1 pass defense) saw more action than Jayron Hosley (20 snaps) and actually played pretty well. Brown had nice coverage on a deep shot to TE Vernon Davis after Eli’s first interception and later made an excellent play by diving and knocking away a 3rd-and-11 pass intended for Crabtree.

Antrel Rolle (6 tackles) and Demps (4 tackles) played all 68 snaps. Stevie Brown played 17 snaps but did not show up on the stat sheet. Safety play is killing the Giant this year. Rolle has been just OK and Demps and Brown have been below average.

Special Teams

The Giants special teams performed well in this game.

The Giants surprised everyone in the 3rd quarter with an onside kick that PK Josh Brown made possible by forcing the 49er who was in the process of securing the ball to fumble. Mark Herzlich also deserves credit for ripping the ball away.

Brown had two other kickoffs, one resulting in a touchback and the other returned 26 yards after a holding penalty was enforced.

Brown remains perfect on the season on field goals, hitting from 43 yards out in this contest.

Steve Weatherford punted three times, averaging 43 yards per punt (40.3 net).

Preston Parker returned five kickoffs, with a long of 38 yards. He reached the 22, 25, 29, 22, and 41 on his five returns.

Odell Beckham returned three punts for 39 yards, with the long being a 25 yarder.

Damontre Moore made a dumb play with a late block on a punt return.

The Giants had good coverage on the botched field goal where the holder attempted to complete a pass down field (good awareness by both McClain and Herzlich).

(San Francisco 49ers at New York Giants, November 16, 2014)
Nov 142014
 
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Steve Weatherford, New York Giants (January 22, 2012)

Steve Weatherford – © USA TODAY Sports Images

San Francisco 49ers at New York Giants, November 16, 2014

The New York Giants once promising three-game winning streak seems like a far distant memory as the 2014 season is beginning to seemed headed for a very familiar path. With the San Francisco 49ers coming to MetLife Sunday afternoon, a loss could all but eliminate the Giants from postseason contention for a third consecutive year.

FOUR DOWNS:

First Down
Can Odell Beckham Jr. continue to be special?
Odell Beckham Jr. is looking like he could be arguably the best player selected in the 2014 NFL Draft. In his last two games, Beckham has 254 receiving yards and, despite playing in just five games overall, could become the Giants leading receiver this week.  The 49ers are another tough task defensively, especially if Aldon Smith dresses. How will Beckham play?

Second Down
Can Rashad Jennings make an impact if he returns?
Since Rashad Jennings suffered a knee sprain versus the Atlanta Falcons, the Giants have yet to win a game. Andre Williams has shown promise, but is far from a feature back at this point in his career. Peyton Hillis is what he is and Michael Cox is now on injured reserve. When Rashad Jennings left the Giants lineup, so to did their rushing attack. Jennings is expected to return this Sunday, but will he make an impact? He hasn’t played in a month. How much can he handle?

The Giants have been known, at least as of late, to not baby players in their first game back (i.e., Beckham and Andre Brown). Will the Giants lean on Jennings heavily as well?

Jason Pierre-Paul (90), Justin Tuck (91), New York Giants (January 22, 2012)

Pierre-Paul and Tuck – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Third Down
Where is Jason Pierre-Paul?
This is Jason Pierre-Paul’s contract season. The season where players normally break out. While Pierre-Paul has been stout against the run, the fierce pass-rushing, unblockable, first-team All-Pro from 2011 still hasn’t taken the field. He’s flashed, sure, but has yet to do it on a consistent basis. This season, he’s on pace for under seven sacks (6.2).

Fourth Down
Can the defense stop the read option?
It’s coming, you can better believe that. Back when Colin Kaepernick led the 49ers to the Super Bowl, he did it by unleashing the read option. If anything, the Seattle Seahawks, who ran for 350 yards against New York last week, learned a thing or two from San Fran. Kaepernick is faster than Russell Wilson and is a better runner. Can Perry Fewell’s defense keep him contained? If not, New York has very little chance to win.

BREAKING DOWN SAN FRANCISCO:

OFFENSE - by Connor Hughes
Strength?
While Kaepernick hasn’t taken the “next step” as an elite passer in the NFL, it isn’t for lack of targets. Be it the receivers, or tight end, the 49ers have some of the best weapons in the NFL. At Kaepernick’s disposal this year are Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree, Stevie Johnson, Brandon Lloyd and Vernon Davis.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie should be able to handle whomever he lines up from, but those after? The Giants cornerback position, which was once one of the deepest in the NFL, is dangerously thin. Not to mention, who will cover TE Vernon Davis?

While the game plan will be to shut down the 49ers running game, containing the pass is another must for New York. If one gets going, the other is sure to follow. The Giants can’t put a ton of small bodies on the field because the 49ers will then run the ball. They can’t come out in their base constantly as the 49ers will pass.

Sunday is a very, very tough test for the Giants.

Weakness?
Since dazzling the NFL his first year seeing extensive action, Kaepernick has struggled at times with San Francisco. His decision making has been questionable, his accuracy subpar and Kaepernick has struggled getting off his first read.

Kaepernick has thrown 13 interceptions in his last 25 games. He completed 58 percent of his passes last year, and 61.9 this year. He’s averaged just 7.69 and 7.50 yards per completion sine 2010.

DEFENSE - by Eric Kennedy
Strength?
A week after playing the NFL’s 4th-best defense, it doesn’t getting any easier this week with the Giants facing the 3rd-best defense in terms of yards allowed (5th against pass and 7th against the run). The strength of this 3-4 defense team remains the front seven with stalwarts such as LDE Ray McDonald, RDE Justin Smith, and outside linebackers Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith. Rookie inside linebacker Chris Borland has been exceptional.

That all said, don’t discount the secondary. The safeties have been excellent. Free safety Eric Reid is fast developing into one of the best in the game. Ex-Colt strong safety Antoine Bethea is having an excellent season.

Weakness?
It’s not so much a “weakness” as the corners simply are not as strong as other areas of the defense. Also, the 49ers lost their nose tackle last week, but Glenn Dorsey returns this week after a preseason biceps injury.

The biggest weakness to date has been the 49ers are 25th in the NFL in sacks. Getting Aldon Smith back from suspension should improve their pass rush however.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

Connor Hughes –
Colin Kaepernick
While not as efficient as a passer, Kaepernick is a far better runner than Seattle’s Russell Wilson. After struggling against Seattle, how will the Giants defend Kaepernick? It’ll be an interesting test for the Giants and it’ll be fun to watch how Fewell elects to defend it.

Eric Kennedy -
Rashad Jennings
For the Giants to have a chance in this game, the need the running game to be more productive. That will be difficult against one of the NFL’s best run defenses. Plus Jennings is still not 100 percent and likely to be rusty. Still, he should be a shot in the arm to the offense and might make a bigger impact as a receiver.

FROM THE COACHES’ MOUTH:

Tom Coughlin - “(The 49ers) are going to run. That is their deal. They are going to set things up with the run. You have to be very, very good and very, very strong. We need turnovers. We need field position.”

Jim Harbaugh - “(Against the Seahawks, the Giants) got hit on a couple quarterback-sucker plays and a few zone-read keepers by the quarterback that amounted to some big yardage. I anticipate that will be fixed by the time we play.”

FINAL WORD:

Connor Hughes – It’s truly mind-boggling how injury depleted the Giants have been over the last few years, but this year is even more than most. The Giants are without nearly half their starting lineup and truthfully, I don’t believe they have enough to stick with San Francisco for four quarters.  New York will keep it close, but in the end, the 49ers pull it out. San Fransisco 28 – New York 20.

Eric Kennedy – It makes little sense to pick the Giants in this spot but I think New York rebounds with a win this week. I expect the 49ers to come into this game overconfident, and two back-to-back cross-country road trips should take some life out of them. The San Francisco win against the Saints in New Orleans was impressive, but the 49ers have been a bit shaky this year. Much depends on which version of Colin Kaepernick shows up. When he is “on”, he can make some unbelievable throws, especially outside of the pocket. But when Kaepernick is “off”, he can be really bad. Pray for the latter this weekend. Giants 24 – 49ers 13.

Nov 102014
 
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Tom Coughlin, New York Giants (November 9, 2014)

Tom Coughlin – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Seattle Seahawks 38 – New York Giants 17

Game Overview

Stating the obvious, there is enough empirical evidence to clearly demonstrate that the New York Giants are not a good football team. Most notably:

  • For the second season in a row, after nine games, the team is 3-6.
  • When the Giants play a good football team, it not only loses but it loses badly. Going back to 2013, five of the team’s last eight losses have been by three touchdowns or more. In other words, the Giants are regularly being blown out.
  • The Giants are now officially the 32nd-ranked defense in the NFL – dead last. They are 31st against the run, 25th against the pass, and 27th in scoring defense. Rewind back to training camp, the defense was supposed to be the strength of this team.

The season is over by mid-November again. Fans are already thinking about the offseason with almost half the schedule still to play. This is a pretty sad state of affairs.

Offensive Overview

Aided by a Seattle turnover, the Giants’ offensive performed reasonably well in a very tough environment in the first half of the game, scoring 17 points on six possessions. The two big offensive negatives in the first half were (1) for the 20th game in a row, not being able to score on the opening drive of a game, and (2) failing to generate any points after the second Seattle turnover near midfield.

The second half was a different story as the Giants did not score a single point on five offensive possessions, two ending with turnovers and one on downs.

Overall, the basic problem remains. The Giants haven’t been able to run the football during the four-game losing streak. Giants’ running backs were held to 43 yards rushing on 16 carries. (There was also one WR carry for 11 yards).

In the first half, the Giants ran 33 plays and passed the ball 23 times (almost 70 percent). In the second half, the Giants ran 30 plays and passed the ball 23 times (77 percent).

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

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Quarterback

Eli Manning played better in the first half, completing 16-of-23 passes for 192 yards, 1 touchdown, and no interceptions. In the second half, he completed 13-of-21 passes for 91 yards, 0 touchdowns, and 1 interception.

Manning had a couple of superb excellent deep throws in the first half including his 25 yarder to Preston Parker and his 44 yarder to Odell Beckham.

Manning’s one interception, his first since September, is somewhat correctly being pointed to as one of the reasons why the Giants failed to make this a competitive game late in the contest. The Giants had a 1st-and-10 at the Seattle 39-yard line in a tie game. He threw deep to Odell Beckham against one-on-one coverage by CB Richard Sherman. In this case, Sherman had good position and an interception off of a deflected pass was the result. Eli took a shot and trusted his rookie WR to make a play. It didn’t happen. Should Eli have played it more conservatively? In hindsight, yes. But this is the type of shot that most NFL quarterbacks will take in the direction of their best receiver. The defense collapsed after this play. Manning doesn’t play defense. Did the interception suck the air out of the defense’s balloon too? Perhaps. But it should not have. It was still a tie game.

Eli’s worst play came with the game out of reach when he fumbled the ball away without being touched.

Andre Williams, New York Giants (November 9, 2014)

Andre Williams – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Running Backs

Giants running backs only ran the ball 10 times in the first half and six times in the second half. Andre Williams carried the ball 13 times for 33 yards (2.5 yards per carry) and scored one touchdown. Some fans contend he should be able to do more with the blocking he is getting, but I don’t see it. Williams is not getting much room to operate. Williams caught 2-of-5 passes thrown in his direction for five yards. Peyton Hillis carried the ball once for four yards and caught the ball once for five yards before leaving with a concussion, his second in two seasons. RB Michael Cox ran the ball twice for six yards and caught the ball twice for nine yards before leaving the game with a broken leg.

Wide Receivers

Two bright spots in this game were the play of Odell Beckham (7 catches for 108 yards) and Preston Parker (7 catches for 79 yards and a touchdown). Like the offense, both performed better in the first half, when Beckham had 5 catches for 92 yards and Parker had 4 catches for 49 yards. Beckham was matched up against All-Pro Richard Sherman for most of the game and caused Sherman problems at times, such as his double-move on his 44-yard deep catch. He followed that up with a 26-yard reception, setting up the Giants’ second touchdown of the game.

Preston Parker, New York Giants (November 9, 2014)

Preston Parker – © USA TODAY Sports Images

After a terrible performance against the Colts, Parker rebounded with his best game as a Giant, catching all seven passes thrown in his direction. He was flagged with a 10-yard offensive pass interference penalty that helped to stop a critical drive right after a second Seattle turnover. Parker made a very nice play on 3rd-and-4 by taking a big hit, breaking a tackle, and turning a short completion into a 20-yard gain.

Rueben Randle still is not productive enough. He caught 5-of-10 passes thrown in his direction for 39 yards. To be fair to Randle, he was obviously held/interfered with at least a couple of times but the penalties were not called.

Corey Washington was activated for the game but did not play on offense.

Tight Ends

Larry Donnell caught 4-of-6 passes thrown in his direction for 26 yards. His longest receptions were only seven yards each. Daniel Fells caught one pass for 12 yards.

Offensive Line

Despite throwing the football 73 percent of the time against one of the best pass defenses in the NFL, one would think that the offensive line did a reasonable job in pass protection by giving up only one sack (another “sack” was credited when the ball slipped out of Eli’s hand). However, too often Manning had Seattle defenders bearing down on him, even on quick-pass plays or on plays where the Giants moved the pocket. Manning was officially hit nine times but the pressure was even greater than that.

Look at the following back-to-back offensive plays where Eli is under immediate pressure as first Will Beatty, then John Jerry, completely whiff (and I do mean whiff) on their blocks.

Will Beatty whiffs in pass protection

Will Beatty whiffs in pass protection

John Jerry whiffs in pass protection

John Jerry whiffs in pass protection

Here is another example where Eli is forced to unload the ball quickly as he is about to get slammed by two defenders.

No time for Eli Manning

No time for Eli Manning

On running plays, once again, the Giants got their butts whipped up front by a stronger, tougher, more physical front seven. To be brutally honest, the Giants’ offensive line is soft.

Look at this play! The defensive end easily gets past Jerry and Pugh to nail Williams, who never had a chance. One man beat two blockers!

Defensive end blows by Jerry and Pugh to hit Williams in backfield

Defensive end blows by Jerry and Pugh to hit Williams in backfield

Weston Richburg, coming off an ankle injury, was flagged twice for holding and each penalty helped to end possessions prematurely. He had issues on other plays both run blocking and in pass protection. Justin Pugh was flagged with a false start. J.D. Walton simply isn’t very good. He’s a liability as both run and pass blocker.

Defensive Overview

New York Giants defensive rankings in terms of yards allowed:

  • 2011 – 27th
  • 2012 – 31st
  • 2013 – 8th
  • 2014 – 32nd

The 2011 and 2012 Giants’ defenses each gave up over 6,000 yards of offense – the first time that has ever happened in the team’s long and storied history. That may happen again in 2014 as the defense is allowing over 400 yards per game.

Here’s a hint Perry Fewell…stop smiling.

Fewell after the Seahawks convert on 3rd down

Fewell after the Seahawks convert on 3rd down

In the Seattle game, the positives were three turnovers (two interceptions and one fumble). The Giants also forced two more fumbles that they were unable to recover. Unfortunately, both failed recovery attempts came on the game-clinching drive by Seattle that put them up 31-17.

But this was a horrific defensive performance and the players ought to be ashamed of themselves. The 350 yards rushing allowed were the most by an NFL defense in five years and the third-most in the 90-year history of the franchise.

The defense was out-muscled by a tougher, more physical opponent. Whether it was poor preparation by the coaching staff or player stupidity, the defense continually gave up the edge to QB Russell Wilson (14 carries for 107 yards and one touchdown). And the Giants wanted no part of RB Marshawn Lynch (21 carries for 140 yards and four touchdowns) between the tackles and off-tackle.

Defensive Line/Linebackers

A train wreck. 350 yards rushing? This is a game for men and the Giants didn’t play like men. And they didn’t play smart. Giant defenders over-pursued and lost contain. The most annoying thing is it isn’t like the Giants haven’t seen this style of offense before. They had to prepare for it in recent years against Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick.

As an example, look at the following back-to-back plays in the first quarter where the left side of the defense, including Ayers, completely loses contain on Wilson, who runs for a total of 20 yards.

Left side of the defense loses contain

Left side of the defense loses contain

Then they do it again on the very next play!

Then they do it again on the very next play!

In the second quarter, it was more of the same. In the first picture, either JPP or Stevie Brown lose contain on the right side of the defense; in the second picture, either Mathias Kiwanuka or Jacquian Williams lose contain on the left side.

Now right side of defense loses contain

Now right side of defense loses contain

Feeling left out, the left side decides to abandon its responsibilities

Feeling left out, the left side decides to abandon its responsibilities

But if you think the damage was limited to the perimeter of the defense, you are sorely mistaken. Time after time the Seahawks powered right up the gut or off tackle against a very soft defense in mano a mano situations. Defenders were pushed back and many yards were gained after contact. For example, there was one play where McClain hit RB Marshawn Lynch right at the line, but Lynch ran right through McClain and picked up 22 yards.

The only positives you can put to are that Robert Ayers and Johnathan Hankins each had sacks and Jason Pierre-Paul and Jameel McClain both forced fumbles.

Playing all 64 defensive snaps were McClain (12 tackles), Williams (9 tackles), and Pierre-Paul (8 tackles).

The Giants’ defensive tackles played like crap and were pushed back with ease. Inside, Hankins (51 snaps, 4 tackles) saw most of the action. Mike Patterson (28 snaps, 9 tackles) split time with Markus Kuhn (22 snaps, 1 tackle). Cullen Jenkins saw 18 snaps and had two tackles.

Kiwanuka (40 snaps, 1 tackles) did not play well. He was regularly mauled at the point-of-attack. And both he and Ayers (32 snaps, 5 tackles) lost outside contain on Wilson running plays. Damontre Moore only had three snaps (and one of those, Fewell had him dropping into coverage on a three-man rush on 3rd down that resulted in an easy completion (shocker). Devon Kennard had 22 snaps and finished with one tackle.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, New York Giants (November 9, 2014)

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Defensive Backs

The Seahawks only passed for 172 yards, but those 172 yards came on 10 pass completions and the passing yards are misleading because Seattle ran the football so well. Zack Bowman and Quintin Demps had interceptions and Antrel Rolle recovered a fumble.

The Giants played much of the game in the nickel with Bowman and Rodgers-Cromartie seeing 60+ snaps and Jayron Hosley 42 snaps. Stevie Brown (35 snaps) saw more action than Demps (28 snaps), who may have been out of position on a 3rd-and-long deep pass that was luckily overthrown. Newcomer CB Chykie Brown played six snaps.

The big pass play in terms of yardage was a deep shot where – for some reason – Fewell had LB Jacquian Williams covering a wideout 60 yards down the field. But we’ve seen this before in Fewell’s defense.

Special Teams

Steve Weatherford is clearly struggling with the torn ligaments in his left ankle and his bad back. He punted five times for an average of 38.6 yards and a net of 34.4 yards. If there is any chance that he could be doing more damage to himself and/or he might not be completely healthy for training camp, the Giants should IR him now. Seattle only returned two punts for a total of one yard.

PK Josh Brown remains perfect on the year as he converted from 41 yards out. Two of his three kickoffs resulted in touchbacks. Seattle returned one kickoff for 28 yards.

Seattle only punted once in the game and that punt resulted in a touchback. Two of Seattle’s seven kickoffs were returned, with Michael Cox only reaching the 19 and 16 yard lines.

(New York Giants at Seattle Seahawks, November 9, 2014)
Nov 072014
 
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Antrel Rolle, New York Giants (December 15, 2013)

Antrel Rolle – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants at Seattle Seahawks, November 9, 2014

The 3-5 New York Giants (1-2 in the NFC East) will travel to Seattle to play the defending Super Bowl Champion Seahawks in a stadium where the road team rarely wins. Despite injury issues at quarterback, the 6-2 Philadelphia Eagles (2-0 in the division) and 6-3 Dallas Cowboys (1-1) in the division have all but left the Giants in the dust. The Giants have zero wiggle room. They must win this game or their season is all but officially over.

FOUR DOWNS:

First Down
Will Jason Pierre-Paul be Jason Pierre-Paul?
While few players on the Giants defense played well Monday night, Pierre-Paul was one of those that stood out as being abnormally quiet. Just a week after his best game of the season, Pierre-Paul was kept in check all night in prime time. The same statement that was made before the season still holds true today, in order for the defense to be successful, Pierre-Paul need to be a force. Be that against the run, the pass, or both. He can’t go invisible as he did on Monday.

Second Down
Will New York’s rebuilt secondary hold up?
It seems like a very, very long time ago that the Giants secondary was considered the deepest and strength of the team. Injuries have ravaged the position, taking the teams No. 2, No. 3, No. 4 and now, with Zack Bowman in the hospital, No. 5 cornerbacks. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has been banged up and now, New York may be starting a combination of Jayron Hosley and Chandler Fenner opposite DRC. It’s gotten ugly, very ugly. With a pass rush that has been sporadic, the New York secondary may be ripe for the picking Sunday.

Third Down
Can Odell Beckahm Jr. continue to progress?
If the Giants season ends short of the playoffs, one of the things that will be interesting to watch progress is the play of Odell Beckham Jr. The rookie has progressed each game he’s played with his play coming to the forefront on Monday night. The potential of Beckham going up against Richard Sherman will be fun to watch.

Fourth Down
Will Eli Manning throw an interception?
Eli Manning is going through his best interception-less streak of his career, but is this the week it finally comes to an end? The Seahawks have one of the better secondaries in the NFL and there’s a chance if New York falls behind early, Manning will need to air it out. One of the biggest positives of this season has been the progression of Manning after the regression from a year ago.

BREAKING DOWN SEATTLE:

OFFENSE - by Connor Hughes
Strength?
The Seahawks rushing attack is one of the best in the NFL with its combination of power and technique. The team simply wears opponents down throughout a game and by the fourth, no one wants any part of Marshawn Lynch. Couple the running game with the smart play of Russell Wilson, and Seattle has quite the 1-2 punch.

This season, Seattle is No. 2 in rushing yards per game, averaging 148.5.

Weakness?
Aside from Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawks don’t really have another dynamic playmaker on the team’s offense. Golden Tate is in Detroit, Percy Harvin was traded to the Jets. There really isn’t anyone as a receiver that scares an opposition. From that standpoint, if New York can contain the run, the Seahawks lack-of receivers may be exactly what the Giants beat-up secondary needs.

DEFENSE - by Eric Kennedy
Strength?
While not quite as intimidating defensively as last season, the Seahawks are still very good on defense. In terms of yards allowed, they are fourth in the NFL (4th against the run and 6th against the pass). But they are 10th in points allowed. When healthy, the Seahawks are strong on the defensive line and have the best secondary in the NFL. While Seattle’s cornerbacks receiver a lot of media attention, they have the best starting safety combination in the NFL. Bruce Irvin is a play-maker at linebacker.

Weakness?
Injuries. Seattle has had injury issues both at linebacker and in the secondary. And while Seattle can still rush the passer, the sack numbers haven’t been there  yet with Seattle only accruing 11 sacks on the season.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

Connor Hughes –
Odell Beckham Jr.
Yeah, I most definitely was not the guy that wrote the mathematically article about how the Giants should hold off on any lofty expectations about Beckham. The receiver looks like the real deal and is getting better and better each passing week. It will be very interesting to watch Beckham against the Seattle secondary and against Sherman when he wonders over to that side.

Beckham does things athletically I’ve never seen before. The one-handed grabs that were shown on tape on Monday Night Football were the same catches he was making every day from the jugs machine in training camp. Now that he’s healthy, the world is seeing what he’s capable of.

He’s surprised me. A lot.

Eric Kennedy -
Jason Pierre-Paul
If Robert Ayers plays as well as he did last week, and Jason Pierre-Paul can re-gain the form he showed only a few weeks ago against Dallas, the Giants defensive line could cause all kinds of problems for a Seahawks offensive line that has really struggled with injuries. The pass rush is important, but this week, run defense will be the greater emphasis. Stop the run.

FROM THE COACHES’ MOUTH:

Tom Coughlin - On the Seahawks leading the NFL with 5.1 yards per carry: “They definitely build themselves on that aspect of it. Now, they do it from open formations, too. It’s not just regular personnel. They want to run the ball first, and off of that comes all of their play-actions, which are outstanding, and then the quarterback (Russell Wilson) and his ability to keep the ball on the bootleg – scramble, get on the perimeter, make plays outside the pocket, that’s his game. He has a strong arm and he’s smart…Keep him in (the pocket). Keep him in there. He’s their second-leading rusher and he runs up and down the field if you’re not careful.”

Pete Carroll - “I think (Odell Beckham) looks terrific. We had him really highly rated in the draft. (We) loved his overall football ability. He was a terrific returner. His great speed and also he has just great athleticism and he is great competitor and smart player. You put it all together. He is a tremendous prospect for them and he is really coming alive and you can see that he has great potential.”

FINAL WORD:

Connor Hughes – I have a feeling this game will be a lot closer than many think, but this season as an entirety feels like it may spiral out of control after this loss. Antrel Rolle’s comments seem to have ruffled a few feathers and there’s only so much that can be expected from the Giants’ secondary. If Rodgers-Cromartie goes down, how much can really be expected of Chandler Fenner and Jayron Hosley?

It really is the strangest thing I’ve ever seen – the injuries that constantly seem to attack the Giants. More than anything else, the secondary injuries. Every year it seems players drop like flies. I don’t have any explanation for it, but this year may be the worst in recent memory. Realistically, because of injuries, the Giants could enter Sunday’s game without the following starters:

  • Running back (Jennings)
  • Receiver No. 2 (Cruz)
  • Receiver No. 3 (Jernigan)
  • Left guard (Schwartz)
  • Right Guard (Snee)
  • Left Guard (Richburg)
  • Defensive Tackle (Jenkins)
  • Defensive End (Kiwanuka)
  • Middle Linebacker (Beason)
  • Stronside Linebacker (McClain – who’s playing middle because of Beason)
  • Cornerback No. 2 (Amukamara)
  • Cornerback No. 3 (Thurmond)
  • Cornerback No. 4 (McBride)
  • Cornerback No. 5 (Bowman)

How many teams can take claim to that? How many teams can survive that? Seattle 28 – New York 17.

Eric Kennedy – I really want to pick the Giants in this game, but I can’t. Seattle doesn’t appear to be the same team as they were last year and I think they can be beaten at home. And in some ways, this game is a good match-up for the Giants in that the strength of Seattle’s offense is their running game rather than their passing game – which is key for the G-Men given New York’s incredibly banged-up secondary. But I just don’t see how the Giants are going to move the football in this game unless Eli Manning and Odell Beckham put on a 2-man show. The Seattle defensive line is going to dominate the Giants offensive line. In particular, their big defensive tackles are going to take away the inside running game. The Giants will become one dimensional. Rueben Randle will be easily handled and the Seahawks have the linebackers and safeties to cover Larry Donnell pretty effectively. If I’m Coughlin and McAdoo, I replace Preston Parker in the slot with Kevin Ogletree and perhaps the Giants could do some damage there.

Seattle just needs to play it conservatively and keep pounding the ball. With the Giants unable to move the rock and likely to be punting frequently with an injured punter (back problems now for Steve Weatherford), the Giants defense will eventually break. Look for Eli to be under duress, get frustrated, and throw a pick or two.

Bottom line…the Giants are 3-0 against bad teams; 0-5 against better teams. And the five losses haven’t been close. Giants keep it interesting until second half, but New York loses 29-9.

Nov 062014
 
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Tom Coughlin and Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants (November 3, 2014)

Tom Coughlin and Ahmad Bradshaw – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Indianapolis Colts 40 – New York Giants 24

Game Overview

The New York Giants were badly beaten by a healthier team with vastly superior personnel and completely comfortable with their offensive and defensive schemes.

The Giants record since 2011 (19-21) and the number of uncompetitive games this team has played proves beyond a shadow a doubt that this team simply lacks talent to seriously compete for a playoff spot. The Giants are getting crushed far too regularly, and not just by top teams but average teams like the Panthers and Lions. Say what you will about the coaching staff (some of it warranted), but how many top 100 players are on this roster?

I’ve said it again and again – injuries and bad picks have gutted the 2008-2012 New York Giants draft classes. There are only five players left from the 31 players taken in the 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011 drafts: Will Beatty, Jason Pierre-Paul, Prince Amukamara, James Brewer, and Jacquian Williams. And the five players from the 2012 NFL draft still on the roster are not performing at a high standard:  Rueben Randle, Jayron Hosley, Adrien Robinson, Brandon Mosley, and Markus Kuhn. You can’t have five “bad” drafts in a row and not have that impact your team.

New York Giants - Indianapolis Colts November 3 2014 (2)

 

New York Giants - Indianapolis Colts November 3 2014 (3)

As for the game itself, the Giants offense never gave the team a chance, and then the defense collapsed in the third quarter.

The warning signs were there before the game started:

  • The Giants had not scored an opening-possession touchdown in 18 consecutive games, the NFL’s longest streak. (Now unfortunately 19 games).
  • Coming into the game, the Colts had outscored their opponents in the first quarter, 68-13. The Giants had been outscored, 48-14. (The Giants actually held their ground here, only being outscored 3-0 by Colts in first quarter).
  • Other than the game against the Steelers, the Colts have been the NFL’s stingiest defense on third down. (The Giants were 4-of-16 or 25 percent, which is actually better than most of the Colts opponents, believe it or not).

The Colts have the NFL’s #1 offense and average over 30 points per game. Everyone knew for the Giants to have a chance, they would have to score points early and often. The Giants failed miserably, scoring one field goal in eight first-half possessions. They punted seven other times, going three-and-out four times and only gaining one first down on two other drives. The Giants were very fortunate that the defense kept them in the game, only trailing 16-3 at the half.

During the Giants three-game winning streak, it seemed as if the Giants were finally grasping Ben McAdoo’s offense, and being more and more comfortable with the up-tempo, no-huddle style. For some reason, the pace has slowed and the entire offense seems out of sync during the last three losses. Perhaps that is due to the loss of Victor Cruz and Rashad Jennings. Perhaps most significantly, the offensive line is regressing again despite the same five linemen starting every game this year.

The Giants finally scored their first touchdown in the third quarter, but it was too little too late as the defense – now missing Prince Amukamara – imploded as the Colts scored three touchdowns in the third quarter and tacked on another field goal early in the fourth quarter to take a commanding 30-point lead. For the Giants to have a chance, it was necessary for the defense to force some turnovers, and it didn’t – no interceptions or fumble recoveries. And the Giants gave up eight plays over 20 yards, including four plays over 30 yards.

This once-proud franchise is clearly on downward talent spiral. At this point last season, the Giants were 2-6. Now they are 3-5. They are what they are – a bad football team. Many fans don’t want to admit that one obvious truth. It’s easier to make excuses. But the road to recovery begins with accurately recognizing your own problems.

One offseason and a handful of new players are not going to fix this mess. Hopefully management recognizes that. The Giants talk tough and can play well in spurts, but when better teams punch them in the mouth, the air goes out of their balloon and they wilt. Unlike the 2007 and 2011 New York Giants, there isn’t much toughness or resilience. And they aren’t very good.

Quarterback

The greatest tragedy of this season is that Eli Manning is actually having one of his best seasons and it is being wasted. That said, the Giants passing game in the first half was not good. Eli only completed 9-of-23 passes for 97 yards (52.3 quarterback rating). Not all of that was on him as he was the victim of a number of dropped passes. But a few of his throws were off the mark and his delay of game penalty after a kickoff return was inexcusable. In the second half, he completed 18-of-29 passes for 262 yards, but the bulk of that damage came far too late to matter.

“The ball was high at times during the game,” said Head Coach Tom Coughlin. “Fundamentally, he obviously just has to get the ball down. He knows that. We talked about it and hopefully we will get better at that.”

Running Backs

The Giants running game has simply disappeared with Rashad Jennings being hurt. Andre Williams had yet another disappointing game, rushing 12 times for 22 yards (1.8 yards per carry). Peyton Hillis had four carries for 20 yards. In other words, the Giants top two backs combined for 42 yards. That’s not going to get it done. As The Bergen Record pointed out, 11 of the Giants 3rd down situations were nine yards or more. Much of that is due to the failed running game.

The Giants have talked about Williams’ lack of patience as a runner and how this is normal for a young back. That may be true, but he really still is not getting a lot of running room to operate with. Is that because teams stack up against the inside run, or simply the Giants’ offensive line getting out-muscled on a down-by-down basis? Regardless, Williams didn’t help matters with his fumble that turned a 2nd-and-6 situation into a 3rd-and-12 situation. Williams’ best run of the night was a 9-yard carry outside a poor block by Larry Donnell. He juked the oncoming defender and finished the run with power. There was an odd play late in the second half where Weston Richburg pulled to his right, but Williams ran left to the spot vacated by Richburg. It seems to me he ran the wrong way.

Williams had two nice back-to-back plays on the Giants first TD drive when he caught a short pass on 3rd-and-10, broke two tackles, and powered his way down to the 1-yard line. He was hit at the line on the very next play but still managed to score.

Hillis flashed on two back-to-back plays that were well-executed: a 26-yard screen pass followed immediately by a 16-yard run. But even on these plays, it’s clear that Hillis is a lumbering back who struggles to create on his own. Hillis also missed a blitz pick-up on 3rd-and-9 on the same drive, leading to an incompletion and punt.

Peyton Hillis, New York Giants (November 3, 2014)

Peyton Hillis – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Henry Hynoski picked up a 3rd-and-1 first down on a rare carry.

Wide Receivers

The Giants miss Victor Cruz. But they are also being very much hurt by the fact that Rueben Randle is increasingly looking like a 2nd-round bust. After three seasons, there is still too much miscommunication between Randle and Manning, and that has to be on the wideout. Randle was targeted 11 times but only caught four passes for 49 yards. Early in the game, Manning expected Randle to continue his route across the middle of the field on 3rd-and-9, but Randle stopped and the Giants were forced to punt. In the second quarter, Randle dropped a 3rd-and-7 pass inside the Colts red zone. The Giants were forced to settle for a field goal.

Third receiver Preston Parker was terrible. He was targeted six times, dropped three passes, only caught one pass for seven yards, and left the game with a foot sprain. The Giants should consider replacing him with Kevin Ogletree in the slot.

Odell Beckham, New York Giants (November 3, 2014)

Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports Images

One of the few players to play well was Odell Beckham who caught 8-of-11 passes thrown in his direction for 156 yards. He had a key 19-yard reception on 3rd-and-10, but he also dropped a pass in the first half. For the first time in a Giants uniform, Beckham demonstrated his dangerous run-after-the-catch ability on his 59-yard play on the Giants first touchdown drive.

Corey Washington saw action in the second half and finished with four catches for 48 yards and 20-yard touchdown. He’s still very raw and will make mistakes, but given the reality of the 3-5 season, it’s time to give him more playing time.

Larry Donnell, New York Giants (November 3, 2014)

Larry Donnell – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Tight Ends

The Giants need more out of Larry Donnell, who caught four of eight passes thrown in his direction for 25 yards and one touchdown. He dropped a well-thrown deep pass from Manning in the first quarter.

Offensive Line

Tom Coughlin and Ben McAdoo keep giving this line an opportunity to improve its ability to be physical and run block. The line keeps failing miserably. Despite all intentions, de facto, the Giants are a one-dimensional team. When they run the ball, it’s almost like throwing away snaps. The Giants have two options – they can continue to work at improving their run game and pray; or they can largely abandon the run, put Manning at far greater risk, and pray.

An illustration on the run blocking came late in the first quarter. RT Justin Pugh, who has really regressed this year, completely whiffed on his block on one run by Andre Williams. On the very next snap, OC J.D. Walton could not sustain his block on the defensive tackle who stuffed the run. Two plays, two bad blocks, two yards. Even worse, on the game’s first offensive play, the Giants didn’t even bother to block the weakside end, leading to a 1-yard loss.

Too often, the opposing team is simply not being moved off of the line of scrimmage. Look at the following shot where Walton, Pugh, and Donnell are stalemated BEHIND the line of scrimmage. Williams has little chance on this play.

Giants Blockers Stalemated at Line of Scrimmage

Giants Blockers Stalemated Behind Line of Scrimmage

And the OL continues to make life more difficult for Manning. On the second Giants possession, Pugh was flagged with a false start (now 1st-and-15). After a dropped pass by Larry Donnell, Will Beatty got beat to the inside and Eli was hit as he threw the ball (2nd-and-15 turns into 3rd-and-15). Giants run and punt. On the next series, John Jerry failed to pick up a stunt on 3rd-and-12 and Eli had to throw the ball away. Pugh also had an illegal use of hands penalty. The final dagger was Will Beatty getting beat to the outside on strip-sack-fumble that set the Colts up on the Giants 4-yard line and an insurmountable 37-10 advantage.

Weston Richburg left the game with a sprained ankle. Before that, he gave up a sack when he failed to pick up a stunt.

Even when the game was out of hand, the OL continued to piss me off. Pugh lazily allowed the end to get past him, nailing Hillis for a 4-yard loss. Then Jerry got beat for a sack-strip-fumble on Manning. Jerry Reese’s draft picks – including the two high-round draft picks at tackle – and free agent acquisitions on the offensive line suck.

Defensive Line

The Colts came out throwing, only running the ball with their backs four times in the first half of the game for a total of 20 yards. Andrew Luck threw 31 first-half passes, which is a high number for a full game. He completed 17 of those for 202 yards. The problem was that outside of DE/DT Robert Ayers (3 tackles, 1 sack, 7 quarterback hits, and 1 forced fumble), the rest of the line did not get enough heat on Luck. Ayers deserves special kudos. Seven QB hits is an exceptionally high number for one player. And he did that in 45 defensive snaps.

Jason Pierre-Paul (65 snaps) did not make the impact expected and/or hoped for. He finished the game with only 2 tackles, 1 QB hit, and 1 pass defense. Mathias Kiwanuka saw his snaps reduced (57) and finished with 4 tackles and 2 QB hits. He was also flagged with an illegal use-of-hands penalty. Damontre Moore saw his playing time increase (25 snaps) and finished 5 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss, and 1 QB hit.

Inside, Mike Patterson (24 snaps, 1 tackle) started along with Johnathan Hankins (48 snaps, 1 tackle, and 1 pass defense). Neither made much of an impact, nor did Markus Kuhn (22 snaps) and Jay Bromley (16 snaps, 1 tackle). I spotted both Hankins and Bromley hitting Luck, but it wasn’t enough.

In the end, the Colts running backs only carried the ball 22 times, and finished with less than 100 yards on the ground. But they didn’t really try to run the football until the score was out of hand (37-10) and then they did so pretty easily – 45 yards on six carries on their final scoring drive that ended with a field goal. That said, it was the passing game that killed the Giants. The Giants got 11 QB hits and quite a few pressures from blitzes, but only sacked Luck once despite him dropping back 47 times. And seven of those QB hits came from one player. If the Colts didn’t call off the dogs at the end of the third quarter, the score would have been worse.

Linebackers

Jameel McClain and Jacquian Williams played all 75 defensive snaps. Devon Kennard only played 28 as the Giants were often in their nickel package. The Colts did not run the football until the second half. Pass coverage was an issue however.

Given the fact that the Giants often left their linebackers all alone with the Colts’ talented tight ends, it appears that Perry Fewell was more concerned about the wide receivers as I assume safety attention was focused elsewhere. The man on the spot using this strategy was Jacquian Williams, and Andrew Luck repeatedly threw in his direction.

Williams finished the game with 17 tackles (13 solo). He had an active first series with good short coverage on two passes to Colts’ running backs. But he missed a tackle on Andrew Luck on 3rd-and-4, keeping alive a drive that ended with a field goal. Williams was later beat by WR T.Y. Hilton over the middle for a 13-yard gain, but that’s an unfair match-up for any linebacker. In the second quarter, Williams had pretty tight coverage on TE Coby Fleener on the 21-yard gain on the play before the 32-yard touchdown pass to Fleener where the Giants’ defense was caught napping. Later in the first half, Williams had good coverage on Fleener on a 3rd-and-7 incomplete pass. He had tight coverage, but gave up a 13-yard completion to Fleener on the next possession.

Perhaps Williams’ worst play was getting beat deep by TE Dwayne Allen for 35 yards on 3rd-and-8 on the first series of the second half. This was the biggest play on a drive that ended with a touchdown and 23-3 lead. On the next series, Williams had good coverage on an incomplete pass to Allen, but he gave up an 11-yard completion to Fleener on a 3rd-and-8 on a drive that ended with a TD and 30-10 lead.

Kennard was flagged with a costly 15-yard facemask penalty on the Colts’ first touchdown drive.

Defensive Backs

The secondary did not play well and mental, as well as physical, breakdowns continue under Perry Fewell’s defense. One of the key moments of the game was when the Giants’ defense was not set on a far-too-easy 32-yard touchdown pass to Fleener. (Tom Coughlin really should have called a timeout before the snap). That play put the Colts up 10-0. What also bothers me is that a couple of times linebackers were called upon to cover wide receivers with no other defender in sight on crossing patterns over the middle. It happened with Williams on Hilton and McClain on Hakeem Nicks.

That said, it is important to recognize that the Giants have now lost three of their best corners – Prince Amukamara, Walter Thurmond, and Trumaine McBride – and their remaining top corner – Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie – is playing hurt. Antrel Rolle (all 75 snaps, 7 tackles, 1 pass defense) is not playing as well as he did last year and the Quintin Demps (74 snaps, 3 tackles, 1 pass defense) and Stevie Brown (21 snaps, 2 tackles) are a big downgrade from Will Hill. Rolle dropped an interception that would have prevented a field goal.

After Amukamara (17 snaps) left the game, the Giants were really in a tough predicament against this offense. The top corners remaining were the gimpy Rodgers-Cromartie (63 snaps, 1 tackle), Zack Bowman (53 snaps, 1 tackle), and Jayron Hosley (41 snaps, 3 tackles, 1 pass defense).

Hosley looked decent at times, but had issues on other plays as the slot corner. The biggest play he gave up in the first half was a 27-yard catch-and-run to WR T.Y. Hilton on a shallow crossing pattern. But he did cause a couple of incomplete passes too with solid coverage. In the second half, Hosley was beaten by WR Reggie Wayne on 3rd-and-5 on a play where the Giants sent an all-out blitz. Wayne then ran away from Hosley for the 40-yard score.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, New York Giants (November 3, 2014)

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie – © USA TODAY Sports Images

DRC’s worst play came on the 2nd-and-15 31-yard touchdown throw to Hilton where Rodgers-Cromartie had an interception ripped right out of his hands. Instead of 16-3 and Giants ball, the game becomes 23-3.

Special Teams

Josh Brown was 1-for-1 on field goal attempts, hitting his 38 yarder. One of his three kickoffs went for a touchback. One return went for 30 yards on a player where he tackled the returner. The other return only went for six yards after a pop-up kick.

Steve Weatherford punted eight times (seven in the first half), averaging 44.1 yards per punt (39.4 net). He did not have a good night, with two poor back-to-back efforts in the first quarter (37-yard punt that was returned for 15 yards and a 35 yard punt). The Colts returned five punts for a total of 38 yards (7.6 yards per return).

The Giants only returned one punt, with Odell Beckham losing three yards. Three other punts were fair caught by Rueben Randle. In a nutshell, the Giants punt return game remains a non-factor.

Michael Cox returned four kickoffs for 88 yards (22-yard average). The longest was a 33-yard return on the game’s first play, but he also made a bad decision to return one out of the end zone on a play where he only reached the 9-yard line (this was very poorly blocked too by the Giants). Another return only reached the 16-yard line.

(Indianapolis Colts at New York Giants, November 3, 2014)
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (August 16, 2014)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Indianapolis Colts at New York Giants, November 3, 2014

The New York Giants look to snap their two-game losing streak against a tough opponent Monday night in the Indianapolis Colts.

Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants (August 18, 2013)

Ahmad Bradshaw – Photo Courtesy of Evan Pinkus and the Giants

FOUR DOWNS:

First Down
Old faces in new places
A former New York Giant is making quite the impact for the Indianapolis Colts… it’s just not the player anyone expected. A year after dealing with neck injuries, Ahmad Bradshaw has found new life with the Colts and has all but supplanted Trent Richardson as the team’s starting running back. As for the other former Giant? Hakeem Nicks hasn’t had any impact on the offense. Last week, he played in just 19 of the team’s snaps.

Both players will sure be revved up to play their former team again in their former stadium, will the Giants contain them?

Second Down
Can the Giants establish a running game?
One of the things that made Giants running back Rashad Jennings so special was his vision. Even if option one wasn’t open, Jennings found the second and third holes that were formed as the play developed to turn negative plays into positive ones. It’s a trait Jennings developed over time. Andre Williams just doesn’t have it yet.

Williams has struggled to get things going for New York on a consistent basis. If the initial hole isn’t there, the play usually doesn’t work. Williams’ vision will develop over time, it just isn’t there yet. Will this be the game he breaks out?

Third Down
Will New York be able to contain Andrew Luck?
The odds of New York shutting down Andrew Luck are slim, but the team can contain him. Pressure Luck, forcing him out of his comfort zone and to roll out of the pocket and across his body. That’s easier said, than done. Can the Giants execute the defensive game plan?

Fourth Down
Can for one week there not be a miscommunication in the secondary? 
Just once, can the Giants not have a defensive meltdown in the secondary? Can someone not think someone else has their help? Can everyone just be on the same page as everyone else? It’s a weekly occurrence and it needs to stop. Every year the defense starts this way and then needs to be ‘dumbed down.’ Not sure if that’s on the players, or the coaching staff.

BREAKING DOWN INDIANAPOLIS:

OFFENSE - by Connor Hughes
Strength?
The Colts offense is littered with playmakers all across the field. Reggie Wayne (questionable to play), T.Y. Hilton, Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener, Hakeem Nicks, Ahmad Bradshaw and Trent Richardson are all capable of making plays at any point in time. Couple that with one of the best quarterback’s in the game and the Colts have one of the better attacks in all of football.

Weakness?
The interior offensive line can be had. The Colts guard play has been suspect this year and have struggled at times. The playmakers and Andrew Luck overshadows the line play.

DEFENSE - by Eric Kennedy
Strength?
The Colts defense had been ranked 3rd in league in terms of yards allowed until the game against the Steelers where they gave up over 600 yards of offense. That likely anomaly dropped them to 15th. Until that game, the defense was performing at a high level and had shut out the Cincinnati Bengals. The Colts are outstanding on 3rd down. And while they have a lot of “no-name” defensive players, they are very well coached and can confuse opposing offenses with their various 3-4 and 4-3 schemes. No player has more than four sacks, but the team has 21 overall. The run defense is giving up less than 100 yards per contest.

Weakness?
The sum of the Colts defense is stronger than their component parts as the team lacks impact defensive playmakers. They have a lot of “solid” guys, but there is no one to really fear. The defense benefits from the fact that the Indianapolis offense is so productive, allowing the defense to pin its ears back against what often becomes a one-dimensional opponent.

Eli Manning and Hakeem Nicks, New York Giants (September 15, 2013)

Eli Manning and Hakeem Nicks – © USA TODAY Sports Images

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

Connor Hughes –
Hakeem Nicks
When Hakeem Nicks was at his best with the New York Giants, he was the team’s No. 1 target. He’s not that in Indianapolis and his numbers have reflected that. Nicks will revved up to play Monday night to play against his former team at his former home. While Nicks hasn’t been a focal point of the offense this year, he should be on Monday. Will he be a factor?

Eric Kennedy -
Eli Manning
The Giants season is on the line. If the Giants have any shot to make the playoffs this year, Eli will have to carry this team like he did in 2011. New York desperately needs for him to out-play Andrew Luck, which is no small feat.

FROM THE COACHES’ MOUTH:

Tom Coughlin - “(The Colts are) number one in the league on offense, first place in the AFC South, an exceptional fast start team. Sixty-four points in the first quarter, the opponents, 13. They are the number one passing team as well, big plays, you name it. Defensively – very, very aggressive. Prior to the Pittsburgh game, they were third in the league on defense. They have a high percentage of pressure on each and every down and distance. Special teams is outstanding as well with McAfee and Vinatieri and Whalen doing the returning.”

Chuck Pagano - “Eli (Manning) is obviously going to end up in the Hall of Fame with his brother one day. He is one of the elite quarterbacks in this game. If you don’t pressure and you can’t get pressure on him or do some things to disrupt the timing and rhythm of that offense that (Offensive Coordinator Ben McAdoo) is running over there now, then (Manning) will rip you to shreds. He can make all the throws and he has great touch and great vision and does a great job controlling safeties and people with his eyes. There isn’t anything that he hasn’t seen from a defensive standpoint.”

FINAL WORD:

Connor Hughes – The difficult part of the Giants schedule began two weeks ago and it won’t get easy Monday night. Luck and the Colts march in after having a dreadful performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers and will be ready to go in prime time. I’m just not sure the Giants match up.

The running game hasn’t been there the last two weeks, the team refuses to take shots down the field and the defense is questionable. If Wayne plays, the Colts bring three No. 1 receivers to the table. If the Giants match that with their secondary, that opens up room on the ground for Ahmad Bradshaw and Trent Richardson to run against a smaller front. It doesn’t favor New York, and it could get out of hand quick. Colts 31 – Giants 10.

Eric Kennedy – Many fans charge me with being a Debbie Downer or pessimist. Others will say I simply sound like a dreadful broken record. But Giants fans probably need to come to the recognition that this team simply isn’t very talented. One post in The Corner Forum really resonated with me this past week:

The Giants won the super bowl in ’11 with a team that was basically in decline. The ’10 Giants were a better squad overall that pissed away the year with an insane number of turnovers and a historic collapse at home. In ’11 the Giants peaked at the right time and won a title due to one of the greatest quarterbacking performances of all time. I loved every minute of it but I do not think anyone can truthfully argue that the 2011 Giants were loaded with talent. They had the best QB play in the NFL and an awesome receiving corps. But they did play “over their heads” and a lot of that has to do with coaching. TC does not get enough credit for that. Late 2012 and the shit show that was 2013 finished the collapse and now the team is rebuilding. Luckily this can happen quickly in the NFL when you have a franchise QB.

– BBI Poster rocco8112.

Bad drafting and injuries have decimated New York’s 2008-12 NFL Draft classes, and the Giants are suffering the consequences. Simply put, since the middle of 2012, the Giants have been a bad football team. Now, they are relying on veteran and rookie free agents at far too many positions, and unfortunately, injuries (yet again) have hit the team hard across the board. The Giants are not talented enough to overcome it. The Colts are clearly the better football team. And Ahmad Bradshaw is going to show Jerry Reese he made another mistake. Colts 34 – Giants 17.

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New York Giants Offense (October 19, 2014)

New York Giants Offense – Photo by Big d E

Dallas Cowboys 31 – New York Giants 21

Both quarterbacks played well. This game was lost in the trenches. It really is that simple. The Dallas Cowboys out-played the Giants on the offensive and defensive lines. It’s hard to win football games when you are out-played up front. The Giants could not rush the football because the offensive line could not generate move out a subpar front seven that had struggled against the run. The Giants defensive line exerted virtually no pressure on the Cowboys quarterback and gave up 156 yards on the ground.

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

First Down
Can the defensive line and linebackers contain DeMarco Murray?
No. Murray rushed for 128 yards on 28 carries (4.6 yards per carry) and one touchdown.

Second Down
Can Dominique Rodgers-Cromarite play? Can he be effective?
DRC only played 15 defensive snaps, mostly on third down. In hindsight, the Giants would have been better off to have sit him.

Third Down
How will Justin Pugh respond?
Much better than a week ago versus Philly, but then again, it would have been hard to be worse. Aside from a penalty directed his way, Pugh held his own against the Dallas Cowboys. He wasn’t terribly great, but wasn’t terribly bad, either.

Fourth Down
Is Odell Beckham Jr. ready?
Beckham has yet to have his truly ‘breakout performance,’ and by breakout, its in reference to 100 or more receiving yards, eight or more catches, but Sunday was again another indication that the rookie is progressing. Beckham caught four passes for 34 yards and a pair of touchdowns as Manning looks to be targeting the rookie more and more. Beckham also rushed once for 13 yards.

OFFENSIVE OVERVIEW - by Connor Hughes

The Giants offense gained 352 total yards of offense versus Dallas, rushing for 104 and passing for 248. The team picked up 20 total first downs, held the ball for 26:11.

Eli Manning, New York Giants (October 19, 2014)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

QUARTERBACK - by Connor Hughes

As has been the case against every opponent not nicknamed the ‘Detroit Lions,’ Eli Manning was very efficient versus the Cowboys. Manning completed 21-of-33 for 248 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. It marked the third straight game in which Manning did not throw an interception.

One of the more alarming observations from the game was the fact Manning and Co. have not attempted to stretch the field much this season. Of his 21 completions, Manning averaged just 7.5 yards per completion. Comparing that to Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, who completed 17 passes, he averaged 12.1 yards per completion.

Manning has the weapons to stretch the field, but the team just isn’t looking to do it. With a running game that hasn’t truly got it going yet with Andre Williams in the backfield, it may be beneficial for Manning to take the shots.

Even if the pass is incomplete, the defense will need to respect the pass. The safety will need to come out of the box for fear of the deep bomb. With New York never even taking a shot, there’s no fear of anything past 10 yards.

RUNNING BACKS - by Connor Hughes

It’s tough to gauge exactly why Andre Williams is struggling to establish anything consistent on the ground: It could be the offensive line, could be Williams not seeing potential cutback lanes and strictly running where the ball is supposed to be. Discounting his 22 yard rush, Williams rushed 17 times for 29 yards (1.7 yards per carry).

When Rashad Jennings was in the game, rarely did he run strictly through the hole the play was designed for. While Jennings isn’t the strongest or fastest running back, he has tremendous vision. He could see the lane left when running right, and adjust his carries to compensate and pick up yardage. With Williams in the game, it doesn’t appear as if that’s the same case.

At times, it looks like Williams strictly runs through the hole the play is designed to go through. That works when the hole is there. When its not, Williams is tackled for no gain or a loss.

Odell Beckham, New York Giants (October 19, 2014)

Odell Beckham – Photo by Big d E

WIDE RECEIVERS - by Connor Hughes

Victor Cruz will be missed. That was evidently clear on Sunday. Yes, the Giants have Odell Beckham and need Beckham to step up, but Beckham isn’t replacing’ Cruz in the slot. That’s Preston Parker.

While Parker will play a role of if he’s open, he’s hardly a game-changer like Cruz. On Sunday, Parker caught just two passes for 19 yards.

The Giants had been hoping Rueben Randle would step up, but as this season has made clear, it doesn’t look as if Randle is a clear-cut No. 1 in the NFL. Hypothetically, Beckham – if he can establish to a No. 1 – with Randle on the other side and Cruz in the slot is a perfect receiving corps. Every player compensates for each other perfectly. The Giants would have one of everything at the three spots.

TIGHT ENDS - by Connor Hughes

Larry Donnell didn’t cost the Giants a game, but he contributed to the loss. While his seven catches for 90 yards were a nice breakout from the one catch in the previous two complete games, Donnell’s fourth quarter fumble cost the Giants their best chance at tying the game.

For as good as Donnell has been, he’s also lost three fumbles on his 33 touches. That’s not good.

Donnell gives the Giants a chance to stretch the field and is New York’s best receiving option at the position, so it’s unlikely New York benches him, but Daniel Fells is right now the more “sure” thing. Fells is the type of tight end that would have started for New York any year under Kevin Gilbride. He’s reliable, runs the right routes, and can get to spot A on the field when he’s supposed to be there.

When Fells is in the game, the Giants know what they’ll get out of him, but what Donnell does with his pure athletic ability are things Fells just can’t do. Donnell can’t come off the field, but he’s doing his part in trying to make it so he can.

Tom Coughlin has been a stickler for players who can’t hold on to the ball. One more fumble from Donnell may cost the tight end his No. 1 spot.

OFFENSIVE LINE - by Eric Kennedy

The Dallas Cowboys defense controlled the line of scrimmage. The Cowboys were the stronger, more physical team. That showed up most clearly in New York’s attempted ground attack. Coming into this game, the Cowboys defense had been surrendering 5.1 per carry. Take away runs by Eli Manning, Odell Beckham, and the one meaningless 9-yard run by Peyton Hillis at the end of the first half, and the Giants averaged 3.1 yards. Take away the one 22-yard run by Andre Williams, and the Giants averaged 2.2 yards on 24 carries.  Given the fact that the Giants only ran 59 offensive plays in the game, that means 41 percent of their snaps averaged 2.2 yards.

Who was the problem? It was across the board, and it just wasn’t always the offensive line. But the line did not win their one-on-one match-ups…even missing blocks away from the play and allowing backside defenders to disrupt the play. There were occasions where a player simply got beat (physical mistake), and other occasions where the defender making the play wasn’t blocked (mental mistake).

Tyrone Crawford Beats John Jerry to Disrupt Run

Tyrone Crawford Beats John Jerry to Disrupt Run

Pass protection was better in that Manning was not sacked and only officially hit three times. But keep in mind that Dallas is a terrible team at rushing the passer (only six sacks all season) and that Eli again made his protection look better than it was due to quickly getting rid of the ball. It’s pretty clear that in some instances, Tom Coughlin and Ben McAdoo simply don’t trust the line and/or their quarterback in very long down-and-distance situations as New York continues to run the ball even on third and long.

No One Blocks DT Terrell McClain

No One Blocks DT Terrell McClain

As troubling as the inability to run the football against a weak defensive front was, penalties were also a huge problem. I’ve pointed out in our Giants-Redskins game review that the short passing game in the West Coast Offense can be a thing of beauty as long you don’t suffer any setbacks on 8-12 play drives. But a penalty, sack, or negative run can stymie a drive. Teams only have so many possessions per game. Not counting the two meaningless drives at the end of the half and game, the Giants had nine offensive possessions against the Cowboys. The Giants scored touchdowns on three of those drives (one-third). They overcame a holding call on Will Beatty on one of these drives.

But on three other possessions, penalties put a halt to things:

  • False start on Will Beatty on a 4th-and-1 attempt. Punt.
  • False starts by Justin Pugh and Weston Richburg, the latter on 2nd-and-13. Punt.
  • Not the OL, but Rueben Randle offensive holding on 1st-and-10 on Dallas 40-yard line. Punt.

What about the other three drives?

  • First possession of the game, after two runs, the Giants face 3rd-and-11 and hand-off to “speedster” Peyton Hillis for four yards. Punt. That’s the same as surrendering on 3rd-and-11. Not a very brave message to your team to start the game.
  • Near the 2-minute warning in the first half, after two runs picked up 6 yards, Eli could not connect with WR Preston Parker on 3rd-and-4. Punt.
  • Early in the 4th quarter, Eli connected with TE Larry Donnell for the first down, but Donnell fumbled the ball away.

In my opinion, Dallas never really “stopped” the Giants passing game. But penalties and an inability to run the football prevented the Giants from doing even more damage than the 21 points they accrued.

DEFENSIVE OVERVIEWby Eric Kennedy

The expectations coming out of training camp were that the defense was the far more settled portion of the team, with no turnover on the entire defensive coaching staff, same system, and an infusion of talent into what was going to be one of the best secondaries in the league. The Giants defense dominated its offensive counterpart throughout camp and there was talk of this being a top five unit.

But the same old problems remain.

In five seasons under defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, the Giants defensive rankings in terms of yards allowed are as follows:

  • 2010: 7th
  • 2011: 27th
  • 2012: 31st
  • 2013: 8th
  • 2014: 25th

Defensive rankings, points per game:

  • 2010: 17th
  • 2011: 25th
  • 2012: 12th
  • 2013: 18th
  • 2014: 21st

There is a whole lot of mediocrity there. Even when the yardage totals were respectable (2010 and 2013), the points per game totals were not. And it’s the same shit each year: blown coverages, blitz packages that rarely if ever produce, an inability to get off the field on third down, and an inability to make key stops in critical situations.

When the parts change but the results don’t, that suggests coaching is an issue.

Perry Fewell, New York Giants (October 19, 2014)

Perry Fewell – Photo by Big d E

That said, Perry Fewell once again has a built-in excuse to save his butt. The Giants lost their top nickel corner (Walter Thurmond) and his replacement (Trumaine McBride). The team’s #1 free agent acquisition (Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie) can’t stay on the field and isn’t producing as expected. There was a major downgrade at free safety with the release of Will Hill. And Jon Beason has been more of a liability than asset with his foot issue. Personnel matters too. And simply put, the Giants are not good enough on defense. The defensive line is not getting to the quarterback. The linebackers are below average. And the secondary is beat up and underperforming.

Perry Fewell and his defensive team looks great when they face someone like Kirk Cousins or Josh Freeman, but the results are usually pretty bad when they face a quality NFL starter.

As for this particular game, the numbers – once again – tell the story. The Cowboys accrued 20 first downs and 423 yards of offense, including 156 yards on the ground. Dallas was 9-of-14 on third down (an unacceptable 64 percent). Dallas controlled the clock 33:49 (to Giants’ 26:11). The Cowboys were 3-for-3 (100 percent) in the red zone. QB Tony Romo only had 6 incompletions, and none in the second half of the game where he was a perfect 9-for-9. Dallas also had six plays over 20 yards totaling 162 yards.

Dallas scored on half of their possessions: four touchdowns and a field goal on 10 opportunities. Their first three touchdown drives went 76 yards in 11 plays, 80 yards in 10 plays, and 93 yards in 6 plays. When the Giants got to within 28-21 with 5:28 to play, the defense could not stop the Cowboys, allowing Dallas to to pick up three first downs and 49 yards, erasing 4:29 from the clock, and setting up the game-clinching field goal. On these five scoring drives, Dallas converted on 3rd-and-8, 3rd-and-5, 3rd-and-10, 3rd-and-6, 3rd-and-9, 3rd-and-6, 3rd-and-8, and 3rd-and-1.

Coming into this game, the Giants game-plan had to be to limit the damage of RB DeMarco Murray, WR Dez Bryant, and TE Jason Witten. Murray rushed for 128 yards and a touchdown (4.6 yards per carry). Bryant caught 9 passes for 151 yards (16.8 yards per catch). In other words, 279 of Dallas’ 423 yards were by these two players. The Giants were able to limit the damage of Witten (2 catches for 27 yards), but were burned by his backup (3 catches for 65 yards and two touchdowns). Romo completed 17-of-23 passes for 279 yards and three touchdowns. His QB rating was a gaudy 135.7.

DEFENSIVE LINE - by Eric Kennedy

Jason Pierre-Paul (60 snaps, 6 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 tackles for a loss, 3 quarterback hits) and Mathias Kiwanuka (55 snaps, 2 tackles) saw the bulk of the playing time at defensive end. Cullen Jenkins (1 quarterback hit) left the game with an injury after playing only 11 snaps at defensive tackle. Because of that, Johnathan Hankins (40 snaps, 3 tackles), Mike Patterson (32 snaps, 2 tackles), and Markus Kuhn (23 snaps, 1 tackle) saw the most action at defensive tackle.

DE/DT Robert Ayers (19 snaps, 1 tackle) and DE Damontre Moore (10 snaps, 0 tackles) saw more limited time.

The Giants gave up 102 rushing yards (6 by Romo) in the first half alone. That said, there were times when they did a nice job on the Cowboys running game. JPP and Hankins stood out at times against the run and both caused holding penalties that helped to stop two first-half drives. The left side of the defensive line – Mathias Kiwanuka and Cullen Jenkins – were two who had issues in run defense.

The bulk of Murray’s 73 first-half yards came in big chunks as he had runs of 17, 10, and 21 yards – accounting for 66 percent of his production. Other than those three runs, the Giants actually did a decent job on him. Unfortunately, those three runs do count.

On 2nd-and-9 on first TD drive, Murray picks up 17 yards as Beason (blocked by #72), Jenkins (blocked by #70), and Kiwanuka (blocked by #78) were effectively handled at the point of attack. Murray has a huge hole to run through.

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Beason, Jenkins, and Kiwanuka Effectively Blocked

On 1st-and-10 on second TD drive, the Giants are in good position to stop Murray, but Devon Kennard is stiff-armed and a 10-yard gain results.

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Kennard Can’t Make the Play

On 1st-and-10 on same drive, Murray picks up 21 yards as Dallas runs at Kiwanuka and Kennard.

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TE Blocks Kennard, RT Takes Out Kiwanuka

In the second half, most of Murray’s damage/impact again came on three runs:

  1. A 15-yard gain when Patterson, McClain, and Kuhn were blocked.
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Patterson, McClain, and Kuhn Can’t Make the Play

  1. An 8-yard run on 3rd-and-1 when the Cowboys were trying to run out the clock.
  2. A 17-yard cutback run on the very next snap where either Kiwanuka and/or Kennard appeared to lose contain.

But the big problem wasn’t the run defense, there was no pass rush. JPP had two good pressures, one resulted in an incompletion on what could have been a 57-yard TD pass (that’s what pressure does). And he had a very nice sack against Pro Bowl LT Tyron Smith late in the first half. His early sack was more of a coverage sack/snafu by Romo than an actual good pass rush. Other than that, it was like Romo was playing 7-on-7 back there as he was rarely even disturbed. The few times Fewell blitzed, it didn’t get there, and there were times when the pass rush was minimized by dropping linemen into coverage (i.e., Jenkins was dropped into coverage on the 3rd-and-5 play that resulted in a 24-yard completion to TE Gavin Escobar).

Just one example where Romo had all day to throw was his 18-yard touchdown pass to WR Terrance Williams. The Giants had good coverage on the play, but Romo had all day to find a receiver who would eventually get open. On this play, the Giants initially rushed four, but Markus Kuhn got stymied at the line and then peeled off to cover the running back.

There was no pressure on Romo at all in second half as he completed all nine of his attempts (again, it was like a 7-on-7 drill).

What really bugs me is dropping defensive linemen into coverage. Maybe I’m looking at the wrong plays, but this never seems to work. Look where the Giants’ best pass rusher (#90) is on the 44-yard completion on 3rd-and-6 in the third quarter.

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#90 Caught in No-Man’s Land

LINEBACKERSby Eric Kennedy

Jon Beason was only able to last 17 snaps before being forced to leave the game with his never-ending toe issue. It’s time to shut him down, put him on IR, and let him have surgery. He wasn’t very good when he played (no tackles). He was effectively blocked at the point-of-attack (see 17-yard run above) and looked a step slow in coverage (Escobar’s 24-yard completion on 3rd-and-5). The team plays better with Jameel McClain inside.

Jacquian Williams (62 snaps, 7 tackles) saw the most action, followed by McClain (53 snaps, 5 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss), and Devon Kennard (22 snaps, 4 tackles). Williams gave up a 12-yard completion to Witten on 3rd-and-8 on the first TD drive, but the Giants did a good job of keeping Witten under wraps and Williams probably deserves a lot of credit there. I’d like to see more of Kennard, but he did get stiff-armed on the 10-yard run and blocked on the 21-yard on the second TD drive.

DEFENSIVE BACKS - by Eric Kennedy

The main four in this contest were Antrel Rolle (62 snaps, 3 tackles), Quintin Demps (61 snaps, 6 tackles), Prince Amukamara (59 snaps, 7 tackles 1 interception, 2 pass defenses), and Zack Bowman (45 snaps, 5 tackles, 1 pass defense).

Stevie Brown (0 tackles), Jayron Hosley (1 tackle), and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (1 tackle) chipped in with 15 snaps apiece. Chandler Fenner saw four snaps.

Tony Romo’s one interception came on a play where Dez Bryant fell down. The Giants only defended three passes as Tony Romo only threw six incompletions, and was a perfect 9-for-9 in the second half. It doesn’t get much worse than that.

Plays that stood out me included:

  • Jayron Hosley and DRC holding Bryant 1-yard short of the first down on 3rd-and-8.
  • Bowman’s excellent deep coverage on WR Terrance Williams.
  • Demps missing Romo on a safety blitz.
  • Either Hosley or Beason badly busting coverage on Escobar’s 15-yard TD reception on 3rd-and-10 (seems to happen far too often in Fewell’s defenses).
  • Amukamara having excellent coverage on Bryant on a perfectly-thrown 8-yard slant on 3rd-and-6. A few plays later, Amukamara got beat deep by Bryant, but he recovered in time to knock away Romo’s under thrown ball (one of few times Romo was pressured).
  • A typical Fewell zone special where Romo was provided with an easy pitch-and-catch opportunity to his security blanket (Witten) on 3rd-and-9 on the second TD drive.
Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 2.55.03 PM

You’ve Got to Cover Witten Better Than This

In the second half, it was worse, again with no incompletions for the Cowboys.

Chandler Fenner was completely lost when attempting to cover Bryant out of the slot on 3rd-and-6, resulting in a game-changing 44-yard completion. On this play, Fenner and Demps also missed the tackle after the completion.

Two plays later, Amukamara was beat by Bryant for an easy 17-yard completion.

On the next snap, all of the linebackers bit on the play-action fake and Bowman was beaten by Escobar for a 26-yard touchdown on a very well-thrown pass. Demps, for some reason, did not smash Escobar as he came down with the throw. This 6-play, 93-yard drive put the Cowboys up for good and all of the damage was done on these three plays.

Amukamara continued to have issues with Bryant on other second-half possessions. He gave up a completion of 23 yards in the 3rd quarter. In the 4th quarter, on 3rd-and-8, Bryant beat Amukamara’s jam for a 24-yard completion down to the 1-yard line. Late in the game with the Giants trailing 28-21 and desperately trying to get the ball back, Bryant beat Prince for gains of 10 and 13 yards.

Antrel Rolle was invisible. He’s not playing like he did last year. If he doesn’t turn it around, this may be his last season with the team.

SPECIAL TEAMS - by Eric Kennedy

Special teams were not an issue in this game.

Steve Weatherford punted five time, averaging 44.8 yards per punt (39.6 net). Dallas only returned two punts for six yards. All four of Josh Brown’s kickoffs resulted in touchbacks as Dallas never returned a kickoff.

Michael Cox returned three kickoffs for 87 yards (29 yards per return) with a long return of 40 yards. Odell Beckham returned two punts for 21 yards, with a long of 13 yards.

In terms of return yardage, the Giants out-gained the Cowboys 108 to 6.

(New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, October 19, 2014)
Oct 172014
 
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Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants (October 28, 2012)

Jason Pierre-Paul – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, October 19, 2014

After a dismal performance versus Philadelphia, the suddenly silent Giants travel to Dallas to take on the surprising 5-1 Cowboys.

FOUR DOWNS:

First Down
Can the defensive line and linebackers contain DeMarco Murray?
Versus the Philadelphia Eagles last week, running back LeSean McCoy made a mockery of the Giants defensive front, crossing the century mark for the first time this season. On Sunday, the Giants will face a running back that has gone over 100 yards in ever game this season. Running behind arguably the best offensive line in football, Murray is putting together the best season of his young career, displaying tremendous vision and explosiveness getting to and through the holes. If New York can’t contain Murray, something no team has been able to do this year, it may be a long day in Dallas.

Second Down
Can Dominique Rodgers-Cromarite play? Can he be effective?
The biggest question surrounding Rodgers-Cromartie isn’t exactly if he’s going to play, but if he’s going to be effective playing. The Giants gave the former first-round pick a massive contract in the offseason to go toe-to-toe with receivers like Dez Bryant during the regular season. But if Rodgers-Cromartie isn’t entirely healthy, he may be as much of a liability as an asset. DRC practiced for the first time all week on Friday, and coach Tom Coughlin and Co. should have gotten a nice look on what exactly he could do on the field. If he can’t go, or is a go at half speed, it may be New York’ s best bet to have Prince Amukamara shadow Bryant.

Third Down
How will Justin Pugh respond?
Last week, Justin Pugh made Connor Barwin look like the second coming of Lawrence Taylor. Then again, nearly everyone that lined up across from Pugh Sunday night looked the same. The second-year pro played the worst game of his football career, per his own admittance, and will surely look to put that game behind him. On Wednesday, Pugh admitted that he has been wearing an elbow brace for the last three weeks, two of which it was covered up with a sleeve. When asked if it will require offseason surgery Pugh said he didn’t know and that the injury was “just something I’m dealing with.” If Pugh isn’t 100 percent, it explains his sudden drop off in production last week. If it’s an injury that’s going to linger, the Giants offensive line could be in trouble.

Fourth Down
Is Odell Beckham Jr. ready?
Just a few short weeks ago, Odell Beckham Jr. was the biggest question mark on the Giants offense. Was the rookie injury prone, a bust, a star, average? After catching four passes for 44 yards and a touchdown in his season debut, everything seemed to be aligning for the Giants. Rueben Randle and Beckham could man the outside, Victor Cruz in the slot. Cruz’s season-ending  injury threw that idea in the trash and now Beckham needs to step up as “The Guy” not “Another guy.” Can the rookie handle it?

BREAKING DOWN DALLAS:

OFFENSEby Eric Kennedy
Strength?
The Cowboys are loaded on offense. The offensive line has three first-round draft picks playing like first-round draft picks. DeMarco Murray is the most dangerous running back in football. Dez Bryant is a top 5 NFL wideout. The ageless Jason Witten has a long history of killing the Giants at tight end. Quarterback Tony Romo is completing nearly 70 percent of his passes and still looks like Houdini at times back there when you think he is about to be sacked.

Weakness?
Really, the Cowboys don’t have any glaring weaknesses on offense. If pressed, one can say Murray has been injury-prone and Romo is a long history of choking in big spots. The other receivers outside of Bryant are not world-beaters, but the running game, Bryant, and Witten draw so much attention that guys like Terrance Williams have five touchdowns in 18 catches. Right tackle Doug Free will miss the game, but there shouldn’t be a big drop off between him and back-up Jermey Parnell.

DEFENSE - by Connor Hughes
Strength?
The Cowboys defense has been much, much better than expected in 2014, and a lot of that has to do with it’s success stopping the pass. The Dallas secondary has graded out with a positive 17.8 rating from ProFootballFocus and its two cornerbacks are a big reason why. Neither Orlando Scandrick or Sterling Moore have allowed a touchdown this year as the Cowboys have allowed the 12th fewest passing yards per game this season. It’s not great, but compared with how terrible things were a year ago, it’s an improvement.

Weakness? 
Without Sean Lee, the Cowboys have struggled stopping the run this year, allowing an average of 115 yards per game and 5.1 yards per carry. The Giants offensive line should be able to control the line of scrimmage and open up running lanes for Peyton Hillis and Andre Williams. The biggest thing the Giants offense can do is keep Tony Romo and Dez Bryant off the field with New York’s secondary – potentially – without Rodgers-Cromartie. Running the ball and controlling the time of possession is the No. 1 way to do that.

PLAYER TO WATCH:

Connor Hughes –
Justin Pugh
When Justin Pugh admitted Wednesday he had been “dealing” with an elbow issue, it instantly threw up red flags for me, personally. Sure, everyone in the league is dealing with injuries at this point, but coming off a four-sack let up performance. Pugh may be dealing with it more than he’d like to admit. While the Cowboys haven’t exactly been the best at getting after an opponent’s quarterback – they enter Sunday’s game with just six team sacks – I’ll have my eye on how Pugh handles whomever comes his way.

Eric Kennedy -
Jon Beason
Run defense is about all 11 defenders on the field, but Jon Beason is the man in the middle and it’s his job to get his teammates lined up properly and make plays on Murray. Still struggling with his toe injury, Beason has not played well in the three games he has played this season. Against this particular opponent, the Giants need a monster game out of him both as a run defender and in pass coverage.

FROM THE COACHES’ MOUTH:

Tom Coughlin – “(The Cowboys) have outstanding team speed, as you know. Their offense has done an outstanding job of controlling the ball, controlling the clock. They’re number one in the league in rushing. They’re scoring 27 and a half points a game, 56 percent on third down. Defense, they’ve played very well. They have outstanding team speed, they run to the ball very well. They do have a nice rotation going. They’re giving up 21 points a game, which is outstanding. Their special teams feature Dan Bailey, who kicked a 56-yard field goal last week. They do an outstanding job with Chris Jones as the punter. The return game with Dwayne Harris is very good and they do have outstanding speed on their coverage teams.”

Jason Garrett - “DeMarco (Murray) is a really good football player and he has been since we drafted him four years ago. I just think we have gotten better and better on the offensive line. We have allocated resources to that position. We have three first-round picks up there. The other guys, Doug Free and Ron Leary, are all playing well together. Our tight ends are blocking, receivers are blocking, fullback is blocking and DeMarco is an awfully good football player, so we made a real commitment to be better in this area and allocated resources to do it. I think we are just seeing the fruits of all that at the start of the season. Obviously, DeMarco is a big part of it.”

FINAL WORD:

Connor Hughes - This is one of the more interesting games of the season, more because no teams can come into the game off more different performances. The Dallas Cowboys are fresh off a shocking victory over the Seattle Seahawks on the road, while the Giants are coming off an embarrassing defeat to the Eagles. The Giants could come in dead and demoralized after losing captain Victor Cruz, or hungry and motivated to put last week’s dismantling far behind them. The Cowboys could come in emotionally drained from defeating Seattle, or red-hot knowing they beat the best of the best where they were unbeatable. In my mind, the Victor Cruz loss is going to take it’s toll on the Giants. While he drops may have plagued New York, he was still a game breaker and reliable. He was the most sure thing the Giants had. Now, with Rashad Jennings out, Manning walks to the line with questions across the offensive line, again, a running back that hasn’t proven he can pass protect, a rookie wide receiver, another receiver who hasn’t proven he can be a No. 1 target, a receiver that was building Tiki Huts last year and a tight end who’s caught one pass the last two games. I don’t think that Dallas is all that great and their injuries across the offensive line are cause for concern. But on Sunday, I feel they’ll be the better team, especially if Rodgers-Cromartie can’t go.
Dallas 27 – Giants 13

Eric Kennedy - Screw the prediction. When you put on the “ny”, you are expected to perform and proudly represent the 90-year old flagship franchise. The Giants are rebuilding…and they are hurting…and everyone expects them to lose this game. But as we saw last week, attitude, emotion, and a sense of urgency still can make a difference. Play smart, play physical. Play for your teammates. Bring the pain. Everything else will fall into place.

Oct 132014
 
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Markus Kuhn and Mathias Kiwanuka, New York Giants (October 12, 2014)

Markus Kuhn and Mathias Kiwanuka – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Philadelphia Eagles 27 – New York Giants 0

Long-time BBI readers know that in each season, the Giants play a game where we decide not to write the usual position-by-position breakdown because (1) it is too painful to re-watch the game, (2) no one really wants to read how much their favorite team sucked across the board, and (3) there is a need to take a step back and look at the big picture.

This is one of those reviews.

This game was not as close as the 27-0 score. The Eagles out-gained the Giants in total net yards (448 to 253), net yards rushing (203 to 85), net yards passing (245 to 168), and first downs (24 to 12). The Giants punted 10 times, turned the ball over on downs once, and fumble the ball away on another drive. Meanwhile, the Eagles scored on four of their first five offensive possessions and cruised the rest of the way.

But I think this game tells us more about the Giants than the Eagles.

What we do know is the Giants are only the third-best team in the NFC East. They are not as bad as the Washington Redskins, but they are not as good as the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles. They are likely to finish the 2014 standings in third place.

It’s difficult to not be emotional following the embarrassing performance against a hated division rival and potential career-altering injury to Victor Cruz. And it’s always imprudent to make definitive statements or dramatic conclusions after a great win or bad loss.

The problem with the loss to the Eagles is that we don’t know if the team was so uncompetitive because their talent is so much worse than the Eagles, they were badly out-coached, or they didn’t match the Eagles’ sense of urgency and passion. The next month will provide us with more definitive answers.

But there are some troubling trends that we should take note of:

  • In the last three seasons, uncompetitive, blowout losses are becoming an all-too-common occurrence with this team. One of the greatest coaches in team history has been left standing at the post-game podium, literally scratching his head without answers (at least publicly) after too many games.
  • This team has an inflated opinion of itself. Two NFL titles will do that. But it’s literally a .500 team over the last two and a half seasons (19-19), with a quite a few embarrassing losses and no playoff appearances. The players talk too much. John Mara admitted that he felt last year’s 7-9 team had as much talent as the Super Bowl teams. And he often comes across as cocky. So does Jerry Reese, who continues to undervalue certain positions, a tendency that has repeatedly come back to bite the team in the ass. There is an arrogance about this team that is no longer deserved.
  • While Roger Goodell and the NFL front office seems to determined to turn the pro game into the version of football we see in Starship Troopers, games are still determined not only by great quarterback play, but in the trenches. When the Giants play well up front, they win; when they don’t, they lose. The Giants are not good enough on the defensive and offensive lines. They are better than they were in 2013, but these areas are still too weak.
  • Special teams hemorrhaging has not abated. It’s been a problem almost every season under Tom Quinn.

All of this becomes moot if the Giants upset the 5-1 Dallas Cowboys next week and go on to win the bulk of their division games and win the NFC East. But I don’t think that is going to happen. Victor Cruz is gone. The once unbelievably deep secondary is rapidly becoming weaker with the departure of Will Hill, the regression of Stevie Brown, and injuries to Walter Thurmond (on IR), Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (who can’t seem to finish a game now), and Trumaine McBride. The schedule is getting tougher and the Giants are already two games back with 10 to play.

The focus by fans, the media, and the team at this point should be more strategic. The Giants need to building for the future rather than taking a short-term approach. To be brutally frank, this is not a Super Bowl caliber team. All attention and effort should be focused on the long-term objective of getting the New York Football Giants back to Super Bowl contention.

With that in mind, let’s consider the following:

  • Eli Manning has proved that he has a lot of good football left in him. He has also proven he not only can adapt to the West Coast system, but he may actually be better suited for it as this state of his career. If the Giants believe that Eli has another good 5-6 years left in him (and I think they do), they have time to construct a better team around him. In the meantime, keep the emphasis on the short-passing attack in order to preserve Eli’s body and state of mind. They may lose many more battles this season, but don’t lose the war (i.e., Eli).
  • The Giants have some weapons in Odell Beckham and Larry Donnell to build around, but not enough. Victor Cruz’s career may be over, or he may never be the same player again. Jerrel Jernigan was drafted to be a slot receiver, but of course, he’s nowhere to be found. Don’t be shocked to see the Giants be in position to find the best prospect at their pick in the first round of the 2015 NFL draft to be another wide receiver. The need is there.
  • Offensively, the rest of the season should be spent on getting Manning and the entire offense more accustomed to the new system. The loss of Cruz will hurt. Teams that were focusing special attention on Cruz will now focus more attention on Larry Donnell and Odell Beckham. The three-headed monster is gone. Those visions of Cruz, Beckham and Donnell tormenting secondaries evaporated before they could be fully implemented. Does Rueben Randle have an NFL future? What about Corey Washington?
  • The Giants need to continue to allocate serious resources to the offensive line. Much of the rest of the season should be spent on seriously evaluating Will Beatty (who was improving until Sunday) and Justin Pugh (who largely shut down JJ Watt but allowed the Eagles pass rushers to blow by him all night). Weston Richburg is likely the center of the future. But Geoff Schwartz wasn’t looking too good before he got hurt. The Giants really could use a stud road grader at guard. And they need better overall depth to shove guys like James Brewer, Charles Brown, and Dallas Reynolds off of the team. The Giants also need to seriously evaluate long-time offensive line coach Pat Flaherty.
  • Do the Giants consider Ben McAdoo a strong future head coaching candidate? If so, it may be time to part ways with Tom Coughlin. This is nothing against Coughlin, easily one of the three greatest head coaches in team history, and still one of the best in the business. But as John Mara, Jerry Reese, and Tom Coughlin have repeatedly pointed out this year after Kevin Gilbride, sometimes change and a shake-up is needed. Coughlin is 68 years old. How well does he relate to 25 year olds now? Has his message grown stale with a team that too often does not appear ready to play? Coughlin does not appear to be able to get his team to shut its mouth. Is a 68-year old the best candidate to oversee a rebuilding team? Perhaps most importantly, by keeping Coughlin, does the team lose out on the next up-and-coming hot coaching candidate? (But also keep in mind these “hot” coaching candidates are more often busts than not).
  • On the subject of coaches, it’s time for Tom Quinn to go. At best, his special teams have been average in good years. But usually, they are a team weakness. He’s been here eight seasons. Enough is enough.
  • I’m not a fan of Perry Fewell. I think he’s OK. The best his defense has ever performed was 2010 (notwithstanding the meltdowns against the Eagles and Packers) and for a 6-game stretch at the end of the 2011 season. But one never really comes away with the impression that, “Wow, we really out-coached the other team’s offensive coordinator.” Fewell seems to play it far too conservatively at times. This team has never been a good blitzing team under him. In years past, the defense has had trouble holding leads. This year, the defense seems to have trouble starting games. Is it more personnel than coaching? Personnel definitely has a significant role, but Fewell just doesn’t do it for me. I think the Giants can do better.
  • On the subject of defensive personnel, the Giants have some tough decisions to make. Antrel Rolle turns 32 in December is will demand a big contract. He may not be the right fit for a rebuilding club. But how will his departure impact DRC, who is signed through the 2018 season? A more difficult question is what do do with JPP? He will demand a mega-contract. He has played much better this year and is probably set for some breakout games. But he has had some injury issues and talks better than he plays. That said, replacing him would be very difficult and the Giants are already lacking in the pass rush department.
  • Also speaking defensive personnel, the team is going to continue to have issues until they get younger, faster, healthier, and more physical at linebacker. The game has changed. You need guys who can run and hit and stay on the field on all three downs. Jerry Reese continues to ignore that fact or attempt to patch up the linebacking corps with short-term free agent solutions and low-round draft picks.
  • In the secondary, hopefully the Giants can re-sign Prince Amukamara and Walter Thurmond to reasonable contracts. But the Giants need help at safety unless Cooper Taylor and Nat Berhe really surprise. The importance of safeties in this league continues to rise.

My final comment is this. I like to think of myself as a logical man, someone not influenced by notions of “luck” and “karma” and “destiny.” But when it comes to football, those concepts sometimes enter my mind. The Giants had two of the most unbelievable and unexpected playoff runs in sports history in 2007 and 2011. It all came together at the right moment for the Giants. In 2007, the “football gods” decided that Eli Manning would turn from a bumbling, stumbling quarterback into a stone-faced assassin. Corey Webster would go from a draft bust to a cornerstone on the post-season defense. Playing hurt, Plaxico Burress would play perhaps his best game on the frozen tundra in Green Bay. Kevin Boss more than adequately filled in for Jeremy Shockey. The Giants defense would hold the highest-scoring offense in NFL history to 14 points. Eli and David Tyree combined for the greatest play in NFL history. In 2011, the Giants made a Super Bowl run with a near-dead last running game and defense. JPP became a one-man wrecking crew. Victor Cruz came out of nowhere to put up monster numbers. Hakeem Nicks had one of the greatest post-season performances by a wide receiver in NFL history. Jake Ballard made clutch plays in close victories.

Then the “football gods” decided that was enough. One by one, those playoff heroes were picked off, often under strange circumstances – Burress, Boss, JPP, Nicks, Cruz, Ballard, among others. It was as if each had their moment in the sun to play during those critical Super Bowl runs, but then, once that moment had passed, those players (or their exceptional ability) were taken away long before they should have been.

I wouldn’t trade 2007 and 2011 for anything. But we appear to be paying the price now. The football gods have decided to give someone else a chance.

(New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles, October 12, 2014)