Dec 052016
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (December 4, 2016)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Pittsburgh Steelers 24 – New York Giants 14

Overview

The knee-jerk overreaction to wins and losses by NFL fans and the media is annoying, but it’s the time we live in. The New York Giants are 8-4 with a good chance to make the playoffs. Don’t lose sight of that fact.

This loss was significant because it all-but-ended any hopes the Giants had to catch the Dallas Cowboys for the division title. But if you were going to pick one game for the Giants to lose among the last five, this was the game – the sole remaining AFC opponent on the regular-season schedule.

Give the Pittsburgh Steelers credit because they soundly beat the Giants. But there were a number of plays in this game that had a dramatic impact on the outcome. Yes, you can say that about virtually any NFL game, but there were some key swings in this contest. For example:

  • With the game tied 0-0, late in the 1st quarter, facing a 3rd-and-14 from their own 5-yard line, QB Eli Manning hit WR Odell Beckham for a 15-yard gain. But a holding penalty was called on Ereck Flowers in the end zone. Not only did Pittsburgh go up 2-0, but they got the ball right back at their own 36-yard line on the free kick. They only needed 38 yards to set up a field goal and go up 5-0. Keep in mind that the thing that set all of this up was the questionable offensive pass interference call on Odell Beckham before the safety.
  • On the Giants ensuing possession, they drove to the Steelers 9-yard line. It appeared at worst the Giants would cut the score to 5-3 and at best go ahead 7-5. On 2nd-and-4, Manning’s pass is picked off and returned 58 yards to the NYG 40-yard line. Three plays later, the Steelers are up 11-0. In hindsight, this interception was probably the key play of the game.
  • Late in the first half, the Steelers are at the NYG 42-yard line facing a 3rd-and-17. QB Ben Roethisberger throws a short WR screen to Eli Rogers, who frustratingly picks up 18 yards on his only catch of the game. This enables the Steelers to go up 14-0 at the half.
  • Despite earlier season success on 4th down, the Giants were 0-for-3 on 4th down attempts in the second half, including a failed 4th-and-1 from the 3-yard line and a 4th-and-9 sack from the 24-yard line. In both cases, the Steelers came darn close to being penalized (pass interference and unnecessary roughness).

While I don’t like to blame officials for losses, poor officiating was a factor in this game. Some reporters have discounted this by saying the Giants dramatically won the penalty aspect of the game. The Giants were flagged only four times for 24 yards while the Steelers were flagged 12 times for 115 yards. However, that does not erase the fact that there were a number of critical non-calls at key points of the game. These were non-calls that changed the complexion of the contest.

My point in all of this? A play here or there, and a call here or there, and this game could easily have had a different outcome. With as much that went wrong on offense, defense, and officiating, this game was still just 14-7 with 6:30 left in the 3rd quarter. How frustrating was this game? On four Giants drives that reached the Steelers 9-, 3-, 30-, and 24-yard lines, the Giants came away with ZERO points.

Giants on Offense

One game doesn’t make a trend, but 12 do. The Giants are obviously struggling on offense in 2016. This was not supposed to be the case. And it’s the same issue it has been virtually all season: if the Giants can’t make big plays in the passing game, they struggle to move the football. The team can’t run the ball. It struggles on 3rd down. Receivers not named Odell Beckham have not made enough plays. The offensive line has not advanced as expected. While Eli Manning has had a decent year, he hasn’t elevated this offense.

Why are the Giants struggling on offense? Everyone has their own primary theory, but it’s the old coaching versus talent debate when things are not going well. We heard it last year on the defensive side of the ball. We are hearing it now on the offensive side. Some argue it is the players. Others argue that Tom Coughlin made Ben McAdoo look better than he is. Others blame the offensive coordinator and say Ben McAdoo has too much on his plate with the play calling. Regardless, the results are not pretty.

In all-too-common statistical theme, look at these numbers against Pittsburgh: the Giants ran 55 plays (one was a kneel down) for 234 total net yards (178 passing, 56 rushing). That’s embarrassing. New York was 4-of-11 (36 percent) on 3rd down and 0-of-3 (0 percent) on 4th down. The Giants were shut out in the first half and only scored their second touchdown with 26 seconds left in the game.

The Giants passed the ball 41 times and only ran it 13 times – a 3-to-1 ratio. But those 41 pass attempts only resulted in 178 net passing yards, or 4.3 yards per pass play. New York’s longest play of the game was for only 25 yards. The Giants had one drive over 57 yards and that resulted in an interception. Eight of New York’s 12 possessions gained 18 yards or less. Another only gained 28 yards.

Quarterback

Playing in a hostile environment against an upgrade in competition, the Giants needed Eli Manning to play well. He didn’t. The Giants were shut out in the first half as Manning completed 9-of-14 passes for 70 yards. Oddly, Manning and the Giants offensive braintrust only targeted Odell Beckham once in the first half with 47 of the passing yards being accrued by Rashad Jennings and Will Tye. Perhaps the back-breaking play of the game was Manning’s interception deep in Pittsburgh territory. The Giants trailed 5-0 and looked poised to either cut into that lead or go ahead. Instead the interception was returned 58 yards, setting up the Steelers first touchdown of the game. It was a 9- to 13-point swing (the Steelers went for two but failed). Manning was 15-of-25 for 125 yards and two touchdowns in the second half, but the first TD was set up by a fumble recovery deep in Steelers territory. And the last scoring drive came with under two minutes to go with the Giants trailing 24-7. Manning seems jumpy and he is having trouble connecting with receivers down the field – not a good combination.

Running Backs

The Giants running game is not functional. Schematically, the almost-exclusive reliance on running out of the shotgun formation simply is not working. The Giants only ran the football 13 times, and that is not going to get it done. Paul Perkins carried the ball seven times for 38 yards, with 18 of those yards coming on one carry. Rashad Jennings carried the ball six times for 19 yards. Jennings caught all six of his targets for 34 yards and a touchdown, but four of those receptions only netted a total of ONE yard. Perkins was not targeted. Jennings gave up the Giants first sack with an embarrassing attempted blitz pick-up. (Side Note: I have no idea who designed the play where Jennings lined up behind Beckham and was promptly tackled for a 4-yard loss, but that one needs to come out of the playbook).

Wide Receivers

In the last nine games, Sterling Shepard has averaged 29 yards receiving per game. Victor Cruz is averaging 42 yards per game in the 11 games he has played this year. In a WR-centric offense whose base is the 3-WR set, that’s not going to get it done. Cruz was shut out in this game with no targets. Shepard caught 4-of-8 targets for a grand total of 21 yards and one meaningless late game touchdown. Roger Lewis caught one pass for eight yards. So once again, Manning was left with the double-teamed Odell Beckham, who was targeted an exceptionally-high number of 16 times, but only one of those came in the first half. Beckham finished the game with 10 catches for 100 yards, and the team’s two longest gains (25 and 23 yards). There was a lot of contact on Beckham in this game that was not called and could have kept drives alive. I just didn’t care for the way the Giants called the game with respect to Beckham. One target in the first half and 15 targets in the second half? It’s almost as if they knew they screwed up and tried to overcompensate.

Tight Ends

If Beckham is doubled and the other wide receivers are not producing, one would think the tight ends would be heavily contributing to the passing game. Wrong. Will Tye, Jerell Adams, and Larry Donnell were targeted eight times. The results? Three catches for 32 yards. Worse, Donnell and Tye were involved in probably the offense’s two worst moments of the game: Manning’s first interception that completely shifted momentum back to the Steelers and the failed 4th-and-1 effort at the 3-yard line. Since Tye became the starting tight end after the bye week, he’s only averaging 26 yards per game with only one touchdown. Manning took a shot deep to Adams early in the game, but Adams completely misjudged the ball. Tye had a 16-yard gain on 2nd-and-21, but he got tripped up far too easily on a play that he might have scored on. A few plays later, Manning was picked off.

Offensive Line

Giants backs actually averaged 4.4 yards per carry against a top-10 run defense, but the team only ran the ball 13 times. Believe it or not, Manning was only officially hit three times. But two of these were sacks and Eli hasn’t looked comfortable behind this line all year. John Jerry was flagged with a holding call that wiped out a 21-yard pass reception. Ereck Flowers was flagged with a holding call that caused a safety and a false start. Flowers allowed too much pressure throughout the game, including the 4th-and-13 pass that was intercepted and the 4th-and-9 sack (Marshall Newhouse and Weston Richburg didn’t handle the inside pressure on the latter either). Jerry’s failure to pick up the blitz on the 4th-and-1 incomplete pass came at a bad time.

Fans keep saying Jerry Reese has to address the line. But the Giants have spent two #1 and a #2 draft pick on the offensive line in recent years. The truth of the matter is the Giants are not getting the production out of Flowers, Justin Pugh (who missed his fourth game in a row), and Richburg that they expected. The problem was supposed to be the right side of the line. Flowers has been too inconsistent at left tackle – allowing too much pressure and being flagged too much. But you also have to wonder about the Giants personnel acquisition versus scheme. For example, Flowers’ strength is his run blocking. He can muscle and maul as good as anyone in the NFL (think Jumbo Elliott when he played left tackle for the Giants). But the Giants run a pass-centric, finesse offense that runs the ball as more of after-thought out of the shotgun. Imagine Flowers playing left tackle for the Steelers. I bet you he would be a heck of a player in their scheme.

Giants on Defense

Given the Giants defense only gave up two drives longer than 48 yards, it is hard to blame it for this loss. But I’m not willing to let it completely off of the hook. The Steelers offense scored five times (two touchdowns, three field goals) and accrued almost 400 net yards of offense (272 passing, 117 rushing). The Steelers were 7-of-15 (47 percent) on 3rd down and 1-of-1 (100 percent) on 4th down. While the Giants defense forced two punts to start the game, this was only after the Steelers were able to move the ball and thereby pin the Giants back inside the 20 on their first two possessions. The defense only forced one three-and-out all game and Pittsburgh was able to control the clock and keep the Giants offense off of the field.

To me, the lowlights were:

  • Allowing the quick 3-play, 40-yard touchdown strike after Eli Manning’s first interception. That was too easy.
  • Allowing the Steelers to convert on 3rd-and-17 on their last field goal drive before halftime.
  • Allowing the Steelers to drive 88 yards in seven plays right after the Giants had cut the score to 14-7 late in the 3rd quarter.
  • Allowing the Steelers to salt the game away with their 11-play, 48-yard field goal drive that took 5:17 off of the clock.

The Steelers scored on 3-of-5 possessions in the first half. The defense performed better with two forced turnovers and two punts in the second half. But that 88-yard drive was a killer.

Defensive Line

It was a mixed bag for the defensive line. The Giants held running back Le’Veon Bell to 31 yards rushing on 11 carries (2.8 yards per carry) in the first half. However, after Jason Pierre-Paul was lost to injury, and as the Steelers began to wear down the Giants defense, that changed in the second half. Bell’s final 17 carries picked up 87 yards (5.1 yards per carry). Ben Roethlisberger has been difficult to sack all season, with just 14 sacks coming into this game. Olivier Vernon sacked him twice. He was also credited with two tackles for losses. However, no other defensive lineman hit the quarterback. Damon Harrison has been amazingly productive as a tackler. He had nine more in this game and now is third on the team with 72 tackles on the season. Johnathan Hankins was fairly quiet with two tackles. Reserves Kerry Wynn (2 tackles), Romeo Okwara (2 tackles), Jay Bromley (1 tackle), and Robert Thomas (no tackles) did not stand out. I will make one note that sounds like a cop-out – there was a lot of jersey-grabbing by Pittsburgh blockers.

Linebackers

Like the defensive line, better in the first half against the run then significantly worse in the second half. Though the defensive backs deserve some of the blame on the tight end coverage, Pittsburgh’s backs and tight ends were far too productive in this game. And it could have been worse if not for a few dropped passes. Tight end Ladarius Green had six catches for 110 yards and a touchdown. Tight end Jesse James had three more catches for 32 yards. And running back Le’Veon Bell had six catches for 64 yards. In other words, all but nine of Roesthlisberger’s completions went to these three players, who were also responsible for 206 of the 289 passing yards. Four of Pittsburgh’s five longest completions went to Bell (37 and 21 yards) and Green (33 and 20 yards). Jonathan Casillas and Keenan Robinson seemed late to react in coverage and Casillas missed some open-field tackles. Cassilas’ effort on Bells’ 19-yard run late in the game was embarrassing.

The linebackers were in on a lot of tackles (26). Casillas and Kelvin Sheppard each had eight tackles (tied for second on the team). Casillas also forced a fumble that set up the Giants first touchdown. Robinson had six tackles. Devon Kennard had four plus the team’s only other QB hit (aside from the two sacks by Olivier Vernon).

Defensive Backs

Pittsburgh’s wideouts only caught nine passes for 83 yards. And six of those went to All-Pro Antonio Brown, who was limited to 54 yards (9 yards per catch). But his outstanding 22-yard reception over corner Janoris Jenkins hurt (though much of the blame here goes to Leon Hall who was playing safety and ran himself out of coverage). So did Eli Rogers’ 18-yard bubble screen gain on 3rd-and-17, which led to a field goal. Landon Collins also gambled and lost on a 3rd-and-4 pass to tight end Ladarius Green for a killer 20-yard score late in the 3rd quarter. Otherwise, Collins played well and was credited with seven tackles and three pass defenses. Eli Apple had a big game with five tackles, one tackle for a loss, one interception, two pass defenses, and one fumble recovery. Apple did give a 12-yard completion on 3rd-and-6 on a field goal drive. His pick was the first of his career and impressive as he took the ball away from the intended wideout. Apple also knocked away a 3rd-and-3 pass in the 4th quarter. Jenkins made a really nice play by tackling Brown for a 1-yard loss on a WR screen.

Giants on Special Teams

Brad Wing punted four times with a 44.3 yards-per-punt average (39.3 yard net). One punt resulted in a touchback and none were downed inside the 20. The always-dangerous Antonio Brown did not return a single punt. The Steelers returned two kickoffs – one for 24 yards and one for 23 yards.

Robbie Gould made both of his extra points (hooray for small victories!). Only one of his three kickoffs resulted in a touchback. The Giants were not able to recover his onside kick at the end of the game.

Dwayne Harris has been battling a variety injuries all year. He was forced to leave the game early with an ankle issue. Before he departed, Harris returned one punt for one yard, and two kickoffs for a total of 40 yards (22 and 18 yard returns). Bobby Rainey had a 38-yard return late in the game.

(New York Giants at Pittsburgh Steelers, December 4, 2016)
Dec 022016
 
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Rashad Jennings, New York Giants (August 9, 2014)

Rashad Jennings – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Game Preview: New York Giants at Pittsburgh Steelers, December 4, 2016

THE STORYLINE:
I get the sense that many Giants fans are not enjoying this season. They see the Giants as a flawed team and that the roof will eventually collapse. These fans are disappointed that the offense has fallen from top 10 in 2015 to now 21st in the NFL. The running game is 31st in the NFL. Every game is a nail-biter. The Giants have fattened their win total against weak teams. All of these facts or impressions are correct.

But every team has its flaws. And the Giants are a legitimate 8-3 team with a franchise quarterback who is playing decently but has yet to hit his stride, arguably the best wide receiver in football, and a physical defense that can stop the run and the pass and is continuing to improve. The Giants are capable of losing to any team but they are also very capable of beating any team. The Giants are about to enter the toughest part of their schedule – the part that will ultimately define their season – but they should not fear anyone who they are about to play.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are a perennial tough out. They have their own franchise QB, arguably the best wide receiver in football, a two-way threat at running back, and a tough, prideful defense. And the Steelers become all that much more difficult to defeat when they are playing at home. That said, the Giants should be insulted that the Steelers are a solid touchdown favorite in this game.

This is a big game for the Giants. Win and their division title/#1 seed hopes are still alive and well. Lose and the Giants will be relegated to fighting for a Wild Card spot.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • WR/Returner Dwayne Harris (wrist) – probable
  • OG Justin Pugh (knee) – out
  • OL Brett Jones (calf) – questionable
  • OL Marshall Newhouse (knee) – questionable
  • DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa (knee) – out
  • LB Mark Herzlich (concussion) – out
  • S Nat Berhe (concussion) – out

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
It seems like the Steelers have been playing their trademark 3-4 defense forever. However, while Pittsburgh’s defense has played better in recent weeks against offensively-challenged opponents, they have fallen to 19th in the NFL this season (9th against the run, 23rd against the pass). The Steelers are middle-of-the pack in sacks (24) with no premiere pass-rushing threats. The heart and soul of the defensive team remains the linebacking corps. These are the run stoppers and pass-rushers on the team. You have to be ready for any of them to come after the quarterback. They are fundamentally sound, tough, physical players who play with a lot of pride. This is what makes their defense tough.

Inside, Lawrence Timmons is in his 10th season, but is still leading the team in tackles. Next to him in the middle is Ryan Shazier – the pup in his third year – who is coming on. Outside linebackers Arthur Moats (3.5 sacks), Jarvis Jones, and James Harrison (4 sacks – yes he’s still around) will challenge the Giants offensive tackles.

While the Steelers defense has given up yardage this year, they toughen up near the goal line and are currently the toughest red zone defense in the league. The Giants are 13th in red zone offense and have been hit or miss in this area, though better in recent weeks. Obviously, finishing drives will be important but don’t be surprised if the Giants bog down offensively as they get closer to the end zone.

The game plan seems fairly obvious. While the Giants don’t want to become too one-dimensional in order to keep the Steelers honest, the Giants 31st-ranked running game versus the Steelers 9th-ranked run defense suggests the Giants should attack primarily through the air. Keep in mind the short passing game – a trademark of the West Coast Offense – is often considered equivalent to a running play. That’s how you can view a 4- or 5-yard pass to Rashad Jennings or Paul Perkins.

On the flip side is New York’s 12th-ranked passing game versus Pittsburgh’s 23rd-ranked pass defense. The Steelers can be exposed through the air and they only have seven interceptions as a team. I feel the key to this game is composure. Pittsburgh is a tough place to play. Some teams get intimidated by mystique and crowd noise. Eli Manning has to keep his teammates calm. Don’t make stupid penalties (i.e., false starts) or force the issue and turn the ball over. Again, the Steelers are 19th in defense. The Giants can move the ball against these guys. If New York finishes their drives, the Giants will win this game.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
While the Giants and Steelers may not currently have top-10 offenses, what makes both so dangerous are they both have 2-time Super Bowl winning quarterbacks who can carry their team, and also bring their teams from behind in the clutch. Both offenses have a superb wide receiver. But the added plus for Pittsburgh is their running game. The Steelers have the NFL’s 12th-ranked offense (18th in rushing, 8th in passing). While 18th is middle-of-the-pack, running back Le’Veon Bell, who missed the first three games of the season, has exploded the last two weeks with 266 yards rushing. He also is a featured target in the Pittsburgh passing game with an astonishing 57 receptions. So as much attention as wide receiver Antonio Brown rightly receives, I feel the key to this game defensively is controlling Bell as a rusher and receiver.

Led by center Maurkice Pouney and right guard David DeCastro, the Steelers are capable of controlling the line of scrimmage. This is going to be out-right war at the line of scrimmage between the tackles. Here is where we truly find out how good defensive tackles Damon Harrison and Johnathan Hankins are. Ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon are also going to have to hold their ground on the edge. The linebackers have to get off of blocks and gang-tackle the big, powerful Bell.

In many ways, it is the Giants linebackers who will be on the spot in this game. The bulk of the Steelers offense runs through their three-headed monster of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Brown, and Bell. Not only do the linebackers have to be physical against the run, but they will have to keep Bell in check as a receiver. The Steelers don’t feature the tight end, but when they get close to the end zone, they do have four TDs on the year. Kelvin Sheppard, Jonathan Casillas, Devon Kennard, and Keenan Robinson must come to play.

Then there is Antonio Brown. If there is anyone better than Beckham, it may be Brown. He has 82 catches for almost 1,000 yards and 10 TDs through 11 games despite being the focal point of everyone’s pass defense. The good news for the Giants is that the man covering him in this game – Janoris Jenkins – practiced against Beckham on a daily basis in training camp. That level of competition will help Jenkins against a receiver with a similar skill set. Obviously, as much as the Giants don’t want Bell to nickel-and-dime the Giants to death, New York doesn’t want Brown to blow the game wide open on cheap plays either.

Teams are not getting to Roethlisberger. The Steelers have given up only 14 sacks all year (just over one per game). Part of that is the blocking up front, but Roethlisberger gets rid of the ball quickly and he is a big guy who is hard to tackle and capable of running with the football when in trouble. TACKLING – tackling Roethlisberger, Bell, and Brown – will be HUGE in this game.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Do the Giants have a place kicking problem? Robbie Gould has now missed three extra points in two weeks. It’s unnerving to be entering the final stretch, and the toughest stretch, with a big question mark at kicker.

The Steelers use Antonio Brown as their primary punt returner. He has only 14 returns all year because teams try to kick away from him. He obviously is a threat every time he touches the football (four career TDs as a punt returner). Brad Wing’s placement will be key as will be the work of the gunners. And the Giants will be a bit short-handed on special teams this week with Mark Herzlich out.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo on the Steelers offense: “You try to take one thing away and they will open up a hole somewhere else. But they have been good for a long time. The quarterback makes it all go and when you have a skill guy like Antonio Brown outside and a back like (Le’Veon) Bell that can do the things that he can do inside, it is going to make it difficult for our guys. Everybody just has to do their job, is what it comes down to. Hopefully we will have enough things to change it up to take away what they do really well. Ben (Roethlisberger) is good enough that he is going to figure out what you are taking away and then go use his other tools, so it will be that kind of game all day long. We are going to need a couple of breaks here and there and need some turnovers and our guys need to play fast and relentless and hopefully something good happens.”

THE FINAL WORD:
Football is often a game about match-ups and I like the match-ups in the game for the Giants. I think Janoris Jenkins can handle Antonio Brown. I think the Giants defense can hold Le’Veon Bell under 100 yards rushing. Pittsburgh does not have the dynamic tight end. I do worry about Bell as a pass receiver. And the Giants need to be careful of the gadget play involving Brown. On the flip side, the Giants can attack through the air and the Steelers have issues stopping the pass. Obviously, the offensive tackles need to do a reasonable job of keeping blitzing linebackers off of Eli. Much of the pass protection will be mental – picking up stunts, late dogs, etc. Red zone offense versus red zone defense is another key. What I don’t want to see is this game coming down to Robbie Gould.

Nov 282016
 
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Odell Beckham, New York Giants (November 27, 2016)

Odell Beckham Celebrates His TD Against the Cleveland Browns – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 27 – Cleveland Browns 13

Overview

The New York Giants won their eighth game of the season, their sixth in a row, and by their largest point margin of the season by defeating the winless Cleveland Browns on the last weekend in November. Despite Cleveland’s record, this was a very dangerous spot for the Giants against an opponent they could have easily overlooked. With the offense and special teams playing at a mostly subpar level, the defense once again carried the day for New York. Good defense will almost always keep you in a game. The Giants had entered the game as the least penalized in the NFL but were flagged with nine infractions for 100 yards against the Browns. As expected, the turnover and sack numbers are beginning to favor the Giants.

Giants on Offense

The good news is that the offense scored three touchdowns and was 2-of-2 in the red zone. The offense did not turn the football over.

The bad news is that the Giants ran only 53 offensive plays (not counting the two kneel downs) and punted nine times. The offense was limited to 13 first downs, 296 total net yards (192 net yards passing), and 26:09 time of possession. The 104 yards rushing was inflated by a 22-yard end around by a wide receiver. The Giants were 4-of-13 (31 percent) on 3rd down and QB Eli Manning only completed 15 passes. The Giants began both the first and second half with four punts in a row. This all against a defense that had been 31st in the NFL.

In terms of pass/run ratio, the Giants had one of their most “balanced” games of the season. On the 53 offensive snaps, the Giants passed 28 times (one sack) and ran the ball 25 times.

Quarterback

Strange game for Eli Manning. He only completed 15 passes (15-of-27 or 56 percent). But he averaged almost 13 yards per completion, threw three touchdown passes and no interceptions, and finished the game with a 115.4 QB rating. On the first four drives of the first half, Manning was 8-of-12 for 49 yards, and was also sacked once. He missed an open Odell Beckham deep on the first possession on what could have been a 58-yard score. Manning also was way off on two other down-field shots to Beckham in the 1st quarter. On the the first four drives of the second half, Manning was 1-of-6 for no yards. But on the three touchdown drives, Manning was 6-of-9 for 145 yards and 3 touchdowns. Three of Manning’s passes gained 110 yards. And the throws to Dwayne Harris and Victor Cruz were picture-perfect. As I’ve said all year long, the Giants offense largely lives and dies by the big passing play.

Running Backs

Not a terribly productive game against what had been the 31st-ranked run defense in the NFL. If you take away the 22-yard end around by Sterling Shepard, Rashad Jennings and Paul Perkins carried the ball 24 times for 84 yards (3.5 yards per carry). One drive was stopped when Jennings was stuffed on 3rd-and-1. Jennings and Perkins were relatively unproductive in the passing game too, catching four passes for 18 yards. Perkins was flagged with a false start.

Wide Receivers

Odell Beckham was targeted 11 times. He caught six of those passes for 96 yards and two touchdowns. His three highlights included his 32-yard catch-and-run touchdown, his 41-yard reception that set up the final touchdown, and his 4-yard touchdown on 3rd-and-goal that sealed the game. Beckham simply is playing at a different speed than the other players on the field.

Oddly, Sterling Shepard was never targeted in the game. His 22-yard end around helped to set up the final score. Dwayne Harris was targeted once, and it resulted in the first touchdown of the game, a 13-yard score. Victor Cruz (1-of-5) and Roger Lewis (1-of-4) were targeted nine times, resulting in only two catches for 55 yards. Lewis’ 18-yard catch came on the first TD drive while Cruz’s 37-yard catch came on the second. Cruz seems to struggle to create any kind of vertical separation from defenders, but oddly the Giants take repeated deep shots in his direction. Manning repeatedly tried to his Lewis deep, but his throws were off the mark.

Tight Ends

Will Tye caught both passes thrown his way for a total of 12 yards on back-to-back plays in the first half. That was the extent of the tight end “productivity” in the passing game. Jerell Adams was not targeted but flashed as a blocker.

Offensive Line

The good news is that despite being down to their fourth-string left guard, the Giants won the game and Eli Manning survived. Manning was officially hit four times and sacked once (coverage sack). The running backs only averaged 3.5 yards per carry however against the 31st-ranked run defense. Despite outstanding starting field position at midfield, one drive was sabotaged by back-to-back penalties, the first a holding penalty on LT Ereck Flowers and then a false start on RT Bobby Hart. The first penalty wiped out a 19-yard gain. Flowers allowed a few pressures, but the Giants took more deep shots this week and the pass protection was reasonable.

Giants on Defense

The bad news is the Giants allowed the NFL’s 29th-ranked offense to accrue 343 total net yards with quarterback Josh McCown throwing for 322 yards and wide receiver Terrell Pryor catching six passes for 131 yards. The defense was also flagged three times for 55 yards.

The good news was just about everything else. The Giants defense was credited with seven sacks, eight tackles for losses, 11 quarterback hits, five pass defenses, three forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries. The Browns were 3-of-14 (21 percent) on 3rd down and 1-of-2 (50 percent) on 4th down. Fifteen offensive drives resulted in one touchdown, two field goals, three turnovers, one turnover on downs, and eight punts. The Browns were not only held to 13 points, but the Giants defense also scored. Giants defenders of the past would be very proud.

Defensive Line

As a unit, the defensive line had a monster game and everyone got into the act:

  • Jason Pierre-Paul: 7 tackles, 3 sacks, 3 QB hits, 3 tackles for losses, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery for a TD.
  • Olivier Vernon: 4 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 tackles for losses, 5 QB hits.
  • Damon Harrison: Team-high 9 tackles, 1 forced fumble.
  • Johnathan Hankins: 3 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 QB hits, 1 forced fumble.

Even reserves such as Romeo Okwara (2 tackles, 1 pass defense) and Kerry Wynn (1 fumble recovery) got into the act. In total, the line was responsible for 25 tackles, 6 sacks, 5 tackles for losses, 10 QB hits, 1 pass defense, 3 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, and one touchdown. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Linebackers

The defensive line, linebackers, and secondary limited the Browns to 58 yards on 21 carries. The 2.8 yards-per-carry average was far below what running backs Isaiah Crowell (4.3) and Duke Johnson (5.0) had been averaging. One of the Browns main targets – tight end Gary Barnidge – was held to one catch for 11 yards. Back-up tight end Seth DeValve caught three passes for 39 yards late in the game. Cleveland loves to throw to their backs and Crowell, Johnson, and Danny Vitale caught 10 passes for 69 yards. Keenan Robinson was credited with five tackles; Jonathan Casillas four tackles; and Devon Kennard three tackles. Robinson was flagged with a 15-yard penalty on a 19-yard completion on the Browns only touchdown drive of the game. Kennard nailed Crowell for a 1-yard loss after a quick throw and recovered the first fumble. Kelvin Sheppard did not show on the stat sheet, but he had good coverage on an incomplete pass in the red zone.

Defensive Backs

Terrelle Pryor caught six of 12 passes thrown in his direction for 131 yards. Fifty-four of those yards came on one pass play against CB Eli Apple, who also was flagged for a 35-yard pass interference penalty against Pryor on a FG drive. Apple came darn close to intercepting a pass on the very next play but his foot was barely out-of-bounds. The two bad plays stick out, but Apple played well otherwise.

The other three Browns receivers were limited to five catches on 11 targets for 72 yards. Janoris Jenkins was credited with 5 tackles, 1 sack, 2 tackles for losses, and 2 pass defenses. He gave up a 14-yard completion to Pryor late in the first half but then knocked away an end zone pass to the taller Pryor, forcing a field goal. Jenkins was beaten by WR Corey Coleman for a 21-yard touchdown in the second half. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie expertly defended a late 3rd-and-19 pass and Jenkins followed that up by almost intercepting the 4th-and-19 incompletion.

CB Trevin Wade had issues on back-to-back plays late in the 2nd quarter that allowed the Browns to set up a field goal. First he was beat for 22 yards by Pryor on 2nd-and-30. On the following play, Wade was flagged with a holding penalty on a 3rd-and-8 incomplete pass, keeping the drive alive. Landon Collins had seven tackles, but uncharacteristically missed a few tackles. Nat Berhe suffered another concussion, putting his season in doubt. Andrew Adams made a very nice pass breakup on 3rd-and-8 to force a punt.

Giants on Special Teams

The special teams star for the Giants was Brad Wing, who punted nine times, averaging 47.4 yards per punt (44.7 net) with five punts downed inside the 20 and three downed inside the 10-yard line. He had one touchback. Punt coverage was outstanding as the Browns only returned three punts for five yards. Roger Lewis made a fantastic play by downing one ball at the 4-yard line.

Three of Robbie Gould’s five kickoffs resulted in touchbacks. Kickoff coverage was solid as the Browns two kickoff returns went for 24 and 21 yards. Gould missed yet another extra point however.

Subbing for the injured Dwayne Harris, Bobby Rainey disappointed. His two kickoff returns went for 26 and 25 yards. His three punt returns resulted in seven yards and a muffed punt that set up Cleveland’s first scoring drive. He also was flagged with an invalid fair-catch signal.

Rainey was replaced by Odell Beckham, who had a 59-yard punt return for a touchdown wiped out by a holding penalty on Mark Herzlich and a 28-yard return wiped out by illegal block penalties on Eli Apple and Paul Perkins. His other return went for 12 yards.

(New York Giants at Cleveland Browns, November 27, 2016)
Nov 252016
 
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Victor Cruz, New York Giants (November 20, 2016)

Victor Cruz – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Game Preview: New York Giants at Cleveland Browns, November 27, 2016

THE STORYLINE:
This is the last “easy” game on the schedule and the last game of November. Everyone is thinking the same thing: beat the Browns, get to 8-3, and then concentrate all efforts on a December run leading up to the regular-season finale on New Year’s Day. But make no mistake about it, if the Giants take the Cleveland Browns lightly, they will lose. The Browns are not without talent. And the odds that they will go winless in 2016 are not good. They will beat someone. A New York Giants team that has beaten seven teams by a combined 27 points had better be on their game.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • RB Orleans Darkwa (lower leg) – questionable
  • WR Dwayne Harris (wrist) – probable
  • WR Roger Lewis, Jr. (concussion) – questionable
  • OG Justin Pugh (knee) – out
  • OL Brett Jones (calf) – out
  • OL Marshall Newhouse (knee) – out
  • OL Adam Gettis (calf) – questionable
  • DE Jason Pierre-Paul (knee) – questionable

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
The 3-4 defense of the Cleveland Browns is 31st in the NFL (31st against the run, 22nd against the pass). They don’t rush the passer very well as they only have 16 team sacks on the year. That said, they do have some players who can present problems. Rookie defensive end/linebacker Emmanuel Ogbah (3 sacks) is beginning to flash as a pass rusher. Nose tackle Danny Shelton is a 335-pound load in the middle of the defense who could present problems for center Weston Richburg. Ex-Patriot outside linebacker Jamie Collins is an athletic play-maker. Two-time Pro Bowler cornerback Joe Haden has three interceptions and is one of the NFL’s best covermen. He will line up against Odell Beckham, Jr.

What hurts the Giants coming into this game is the situation at left guard. The Giants are down to 4th stringer Adam Gettis starting and that’s a bit scary. And Gettis is also playing hurt with a calf injury. Heaven help the Giants if someone else gets injured on the offensive line on Sunday – depth is nil with only Will Beatty and Shane McDermott in reserve.

Given that Cleveland is 31st against the run, there may be a temptation to force the run and really get the ground game going. The Giants have to be careful not to play it too conservatively and allow the Browns to hang around. I would suggest using the passing game to get a two-score lead and then focus more on the ground game. Amazingly, Beckham has not cracked the 100-yard mark since his 222-yard performance against the Ravens on October 16th. The Giants have to do a better job of moving him around to defeat double-team coverage and get him more involved.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The Browns are 29th in the NFL in offense (25th rushing, 27th passing). Much of the failure of the Browns franchise for decades has been the inability to to acquire a true franchise quarterback. Five different quarterbacks have played for the Browns this year alone. Due to injuries to other players, Josh McCown will get his third start of the season on Sunday. The 37-year old McCown has played in four games this year and only completed 53.3 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and six interceptions. McCown is a journeyman who has played for seven teams. But he is an experienced veteran with 59 regular-season starts. The Giants should not take him lightly. In the two games he started (against the Ravens and Jets), the Browns moved the ball and had a good chance to win both games.

Despite their offensive rankings, the Browns actually have some offensive talent. Ex-quarterback wide receiver Terrelle Pryor is a big, athletic target with 56 catches and four touchdowns. While he has struggled somewhat during his rookie year (only 17 catches), wide receiver Corey Coleman is a 1st rounder who is very capable of breaking a game open. Fellow wideout Andrew Hawkins has three touchdowns. That all said, the Giants secondary matches up pretty well with this group. The primary concern will be tight end Gary Barnidge (39 receptions) as the Giants have had issues covering athletic, pass-receiving tight ends. Running backs Duke Johnson (42 catches) and Isaiah Crowell (26 catches) are also both factors in the passing game. The Giants linebackers and safeties will be on the spot given the Browns tendencies.

And while the Browns are 25th in rushing, Crowell (4.3 yards-per-carry) and Johnson (5.0 yards-per-carry) are productive when they get a chance. The Giants must also be wary of the trick play, especially since Pryor is a former quarterback.

I would put the onus on the corners to handle the wideouts and focus my coverage attention more towards Barnidge and the two running backs. McCown’s game is better suited to the short-passing attack rather than taking shots down the field. Obviously, the Giants must keep the ground attack under control. That will help to mute play-action – something the Giants linebackers had issues with against the Bears.

The injury issue on this side of the ball is Jason Pierre-Paul (knee) is “questionable” although he says he will play. The elite player on the offensive line for the Browns is left tackle Joe Thomas.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
The Browns haven’t been very good in kickoff returns (long of 24 yards) and punt returns (long of 18 yards). Undermanned teams such as the Browns are always capable of rolling the dice and using a fake field goal or punt, or an onside kick.

It’s a bit unnerving to not know what kind of kicker the Giants have yet in Robbie Gould. The weather was a factor in his missed extra points last week, but the Giants obviously need Gould to produce better.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Offensive Coordinator Mike Sullivan on Odell Beckham, Jr.: “When it comes to Odell, obviously we all know he is a dynamic play maker. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the more we give him the ball, the higher our chances are of winning. He is seventh in the NFL right now, I mean, he’s got 98 targets, so we’re trying, and that’s always a big part of our plan. I think the thing that is important to realize when it comes to that is really two things; number one, based upon where he’s aligned, in formation, often times that can create some other opportunities in terms of the run game; shifting the front, getting some things that have created some openings that have helped us the past two weeks. Secondly, opportunities for other guys. There is no more revealing clip or picture to have all of you guys take a look at, than the touchdown of Sterling Shepard. We put Odell in a specific spot and if you go back and look at that clip, the safety who was aligned to his side, it was a two high configuration, his eyes are right on Odell. Had he not done that, then it’s one-on-one and he’s got a touchdown in the end zone, and we can all see him enjoy the celebration. But, because of his commitment to him and the corners commitment to him, that opens up the middle of the field and that created a touchdown for Sterling. There are certain by-products, if you will, based upon his alignment. While he may be not getting the ball, it certainly creates those opportunities. We definitely would like to get the ball in his hands as much as possible and want to be good coaches and know that what makes us good coaches is getting the ball and what helps us win.”

THE FINAL WORD:
Playing a winless team this late in the season scares the bejesus out of me because the opponent is due for a win. The Giants had better take the Browns seriously.

Nov 212016
 
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Sterling Shepard, New York Giants (November 20, 2016)

Sterling Shepard – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 22 – Chicago Bears 16

Overview

Before we get into the minutiae of the Giants-Bears game, sometimes it is important to take a step back and look at the overall picture. With 10 regular-season games down and six to go, the New York Giants find themselves with the third-best record in the NFC. Before the season started, most Giants fans would have gladly accepted a 7-3 record at the 10-game mark (though no one envisioned the Cowboys being 9-1 with a rookie quarterback, and the Giants clearly played the Packers and Vikings at the wrong time).

With six regular-season games left to play, the Giants already have more wins than they did in 2014 and 2015, and the same amount of wins they had in 2013. The Giants are winning the close games as seven of their victories have been by a total of 27 points. The Giants have gone from 32nd in defense to 16th (11th in in scoring defense) despite being 29th in team sacks with 18. On the other hand, the Giants offense has fallen from 8th in the NFL in 2015 to 20th in 2016 (rushing game from 18th to 31st being the biggest culprit). Perhaps the most remarkable statistic is that the Giants are 7-3 despite being 29th in the NFL in turnover differential (-7).

What this all means is there is still tremendous room for improvement. The defense has rapidly improved despite struggling to sack quarterbacks and forcing turnovers until the last few games. The offense is still capable of dramatically improving if it cuts down on turnovers and sustains drives better with a more consistent running game, the latter which is finally showing some signs of life. The Giants have yet to score more than 28 points in a single game. They can do better than that.

As for the game, the Bears had to be thrilled with the windy conditions. Jay Cutler is not a good quarterback, but he has the type of arm that can cut through the wind. Eli Manning doesn’t and the conditions helped to neutralize the strength of the Giants offense. Greater emphasis was placed on the ground game where the Bears held the advantage coming into the contest. In effect, the playing field was leveled for the Bears. This was the type of game where you are just thrilled to get out with a win and relatively healthy.

Giants on Offense

Some fans will say the Giants offense stunk in the first half because the team only scored nine points. But the Giants only had three first-half offensive possessions, and two of those resulted in scoring drives. That offensive success continued early in the 3rd quarter as the Giants scored two touchdowns. However, after the Giants gained a 6-point lead, the offense went into a shell for the rest of the game as the next five possessions resulted in only two first downs and five punts. Had New York lost this game by 1-point, the fans and the media would be calling for Ben McAdoo’s head. Good defense covers up a multitude of sins.

That all said, on a terribly windy day, the Giants played a very clean game. No turnovers. No sacks. One offensive penalty. The Giants were 3-of-3 (100 percent) in the red zone. The Giants only had one offensive play over 21 yards.

Quarterback

Statistically, it was not an awe-inspiring game for Eli Manning as the team was held to 6.3 yards per pass play. But it was an efficient game despite treacherous windy conditions. Manning finished 21-of-36 for 227 yards, 2 touchdowns, and no interceptions for a quarterback rating of 95.5. What impressed me was the way Eli calmly avoided pressure to buy more time to deliver the football. The Giants scored four times on their first five possessions (three touchdowns and a field goal). Manning was 5-of-6 on the first TD drive, including a 15-yard pass on 4th-and-2. And despite six incompletions on the second scoring drive, Manning helped to set up the 46-yard field goal with a 5-yard pass on 4th-and-2. (Manning was lucky that the ensuing 3rd-and-10 pass was not intercepted). On the third scoring drive, Manning had key passes of 12 yards to Sterling Shepard on 3rd-and-8, a 20-yard sideline shot to Odell Beckham, and then a 9-yard touchdown throw to Will Tye. On the final scoring drive, Manning rushed for four yards on 3rd-and-4, made an excellent play by scrambling out of trouble and finding Victor Cruz for a huge 48-yard gain, and then threw a 15-yard scoring strike to Shepard on 3rd-and-4. In the last five possessions, Eli was 2-of-7 for nine yards. Both of his completions came up 1-yard short of the first down marker. His dumb-ass moment of the game was his last throw when he forced a 3rd-and-10 pass to Jennings that came close to being a game-winning pick-6 for the Bears.

Running Backs

The backs were not great, but it was a respectable performance on windy day where the Giants desperately needed their running game to be respectable. Rashad Jennings was the leading runner (7 carries for 34 yards and a touchdown) and receiver (5 catches for 44 yards) for the Giants in the first half. The longest gain on the team’s first scoring drive was his 16-yard screen reception, and he finished this drive off with a 2-yard touchdown run. Jennings was responsible for 49 of the team’s 57 yards on the field goal drive, including a 12-yard reception, a 21-yard run, a 10-yard reception, and a 5-yard, tackle-breaking catch on 4th-and-2. On the second TD drive, Jennings gained four yards on 3rd-and-1. While Jennings did pick up two first downs on the last five possessions (10-yard run on 2nd-and-4 and a 12-yard run on 2nd-and-9), Jennings and the rest of the team failed to move the chains the rest of the game.

Paul Perkins only carried the ball four times for 16 yards. The niftiest run of the game was his 11-yard cutback on 2nd-and-9 on the first TD drive. He did have two catches for 16 yards. Overall, Jennings and Perkins rushed for 101 yards on 25 carries (4.0 yards per carry).

Wide Receivers

A rare game where a receiver other than Odell Beckham was the leading target for Eli Manning. Sterling Shepard was targeted 11 times, catching five passes for 50 yards. His three most noteworthy receptions were his 15-yard, juking run-after-the-catch reception on 4th-and-2 that set up the first touchdown; his 12-yard reception on 3rd-and-8 on the second TD drive; and his 15-yard touchdown on 3rd-and-4 for the team’s final score. Beckham had a quiet game with five catches for 46 yards, the most significant being his 20-yard reception on the second touchdown drive. Victor Cruz only had one catch, but it was a big one – a 48-yard gain on the final TD drive. Roger Lewis (5 snaps) caught a key 8-yard reception on 3rd-and-7 on the field goal drive. Unfortunately, Lewis was injured on this play and did not return. Overall, aside from Cruz’s big gain, the receivers were limited to 9.5 yards per reception.

Tight Ends

Larry Donnell went from being bench to being inactive. The bulk of the snaps went again to Will Tye who caught 2-of-5 passes thrown in his direction for 12 yards a touchdown. He also dropped a pass. Jerell Adams (17 snaps) was targeted once but did not have a catch. Blocking by the tight ends was decent.

Offensive Line

With Justin Pugh (knee) and Brett Jones (calf) out, Marshall Newhouse started at left guard. The Giants received a scare when he suffered a sprained knee and was replaced by Adam Gettis for five plays, but Newhouse returned and finished the game. The offensive line did not allow a sack and Eli Manning was only officially hit four times. Meanwhile, Giants running backs average 4.0 yards per carry for a total of 101 yards. Ereck Flowers was flagged with a holding penalty that wiped out a first down and sabotaged the Giants second possession and had some shaky moments in pass protection. Marshall Newhouse gave up one big hit. But overall, the line played fairly well.

Giants on Defense

It really was a tale of two halves for the Giants defense. The Bears had four possessions in the first half and scored on their first three: a 9-play, 76-yard drive that resulted in a touchdown; a 7-play, 39-yard drive that resulted in a 40-yard field goal; and an 8-play, 79-yard drive that resulted in a touchdown. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was 11-of-14 for 126 yards and a touchdown in the first half with tight end Zach Miller catching three passes for 61 yards and a 19-yard score. The Giants defense also had trouble stopping running back Jordan Howard as he rushed for 72 yards on 12 carries in the first half (the Bears as a team rushed for 88 yards in the first half).

In the second half, the Bears were shut out. Their seven possessions resulted in a missed field goal, five punts, and an interception. Chicago only gained five yards on the ground and four first downs in the second half. Overall, the defense accrued four sacks, seven tackles for losses, six QB hits, seven pass defenses, and one forced fumble.

The Bears offense did have five plays over 20 yards and two plays over 30 yards. The defense was only flagged with two penalties.

Defensive Line

When evaluating each unit, one must take into account the tremendous early success the Bears offense had combined with defensive shutdown in the second half. The defensive line did not play well for the first 30 minutes, but they woke up after the break. All of the Giants four sacks came in the 4th quarter. Jason Pierre-Paul had a tremendous second half and he was credited with 5 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 tackle for a loss, 3 QB hits, 1 pass defense, and 1 fumble. With the Giants only leading by six points, JPP’s 13-yard sack on 1st-and-10 from the Giants 30-yard line at the 2-minute warning may have saved the game. JPP also drew a holding penalty earlier on this drive and could have had another sack in the 4th quarter but whiffed on Cutler. Olivier Vernon was credited with 3 tackles, 1 sack, and 2 tackles for losses (one for a 7-yard loss). But he was also flagged with a ticky-tack roughing-the-pass penalty. Johnathan Hankins had 6 tackles, 0.5 sacks, and 1 tackle for a loss. Damon Harrison had six tackles and deserves special mention for his hustle way down field to tackle the back on a screen pass. Romeo Okwara (15 snaps) had one tackle for a loss and Owamagbe Odighizuwa (12 snaps) was credited with a QB hit.

Linebackers

Like the defensive line, much, much better in the second half. Kelvin Sheppard (32 snaps) led the linebackers with six tackles, followed by Devon Kennard (41 snaps, 4 tackles), Keenan Robinson (41 snaps, 3 tackles, 1 pass defense), and Jonathan Casillas (40 snaps, 3 tackles, 1 tackle for a 2-yard loss, 1 pass defense). Pass coverage was an issue in the first half. Cutler completed 11-of-14 first-half passes for 126 yards. But six of these passes for 91 yards were to tight end Zach Miller and running back Jeremy Langford. Miller beat Kennard on for a 19-yard score early in the 1st quarter. Miller then beat Robinson for a 34-yard gain on 3rd-and-9 on the Bears FG drive. Miller got hurt near the end of the second quarter and it is probably no coincidence that the Bears offense began to really struggle after that point. The Giants also shut out Langford in the receiving department in the second half.

Defensive Backs

Despite the Bears success moving the football in the first half, Bears receivers only caught five passes for 35 yards in the first half (7.0 yards-per-catch) as the defensive backs basically shut down the wideouts for the first 30 minutes. The receivers did more damage in the second half in terms of yards-per-catch with five receptions for 104 yards (20.8 yards-per-catch). For the second game in a row, Eli Apple (62 snaps, 7 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss) replaced Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (34 snaps, 2 tackles) as the corner opposite Janoris Jenkins (64 snaps, 2 tackles, 1 pass defense). Apple nailed WR Cameron Meredith for a 2-yard loss after a quick throw late in the 1st quarter, though he missed a tackle after another short completion in the 2nd quarter. Apple gave up a 17-yard reception on 3rd-and-18, but his sure tackle forced a punt. Apple gave up a 35-yard completion on the first play of the Bears’ last desperate drive to win the game. Landon Collins’ superb year continues as he was credited with 6 tackles, 3 pass defenses, and the game-saving interception. Nat Berhe’s (24 snaps, 3 tackles) playing time increased at the expense of Andrew Adams (37 snaps, 3 tackles).

Giants on Special Teams

Really an up-and-down peformance. Robbie Gould said it was the worst conditions he has played in and it showed, as he missed two extra points. Fortunately, those did not come back to haunt the Giants. Gould did surprisingly nail a 46-yard field goal. Only one of his kickoffs resulted in a touchback and the Bears did return one kickoff 40 yards and two others for 27 yards. Brad Wing punted six times, averaging 44.5 yards per punt (42.5 yard net) with two downed inside the 20-yard line. Eddie Royal’s three returns only went for a total of 12 yards.

Dwayne Harris returned three punts for a total of 14 yards. He had an 18-yard return wiped out due to an illegal block by Orleans Darkwa. He muffed one punt that Eli Apple thankfully recovered. Harris’ 46-yard kickoff return to start the second half helped to set up the team’s second touchdown. But one of his returns only reached the 15-yard line.

(Chicago Bears at New York Giants, November 20, 2016)
Nov 182016
 
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Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants (October 16, 2016)

Jason Pierre-Paul – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Game Preview: Chicago Bears at New York Giants, November 20, 2016

THE STORYLINE:
Almost every New York Giants fan is thinking the same thing: the Giants should beat the 2-7 Chicago Bears and 0-10 Cleveland Browns and be 8-3 in two weeks. Clearly that is the most likely scenario if the Giants remain focused and don’t take the Bears and Browns lightly. That said, keep in mind the Giants have won six games by a total of 21 points. Every game has been a struggle.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • RB Orleans Darkwa (lower leg) – questionable
  • WR Victor Cruz (ankle) – probable
  • WR Dwayne Harris (toe) – probable
  • OG Justin Pugh (knee) – out
  • OL Brett Jones (calf) – out
  • OL Adam Gettis (calf) – questionable

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
The Bears are a well-coached 3-4 defense under former Giants defensive coordinator John Fox and former 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. Despite not having a lot of top talent, the Bears are 11th in defense (11th against the run, 12th against the pass). The good news for the Giants is the Bears are really beat up on defense. Two starting defensive linemen – NT Eddie Goldman (ankle – questionable) and DE Mitch Unrein (back – doubtful) – have missed practice this week. So has reserve CB Deiondre’ Hall (ankle – doubtful). Four more starting defenders have been limited, including LB Pernell McPhee (knee – questionable), LB Willie Young (ankle – questionable), CB Tracy Porter (knee – questionable), and CB Bryce Callahan (hamstring – questionable). Reserve NT Will Sutton was placed on IR this week.

As is the case with 3-4 defenses, the primary pass-rushing threats come from the outside linebackers. Young leads the Bears with 6.5 sacks, while top reserve and Giants 2016 Draft target LB Leonard Floyd is second on the team with five sacks. Given the depleted nature of the Bears defense, expect Fox and Fangio to play it conservatively. They will focus on preventing the big play in the passing game with extra attention of course being given to Odell Beckham, Jr. This should open up opportunities for the running game as well as other passing targets, namely Sterling Shepard, Victor Cruz, and the backs and tight ends.

What we’re about to discover is if the Giants rushing success against the Bengals was a mirage or not. If the Giants cannot consistently run the ball against the Bears, they will have to continue to live and die with a passing game that has largely been dependent on the big play. The good news for the Giants is that they have really cut down on penalties in recent weeks. But turnovers remain a problem and the blocking up front remains inconsistent. Thus, the offense has largely been feast or famine.

What we’re really all waiting for is a clean game (no turnovers) with consistent running-game performance that results in  30+ points on the scoreboard. The Giants will be very thin up front for this game. Both Justin Pugh and Brett Jones are out and Adam Gettis is questionable.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The Bears are a middle-of-the-pack offense (16th overall, 21st rushing, 18th passing). But like the defense, the Bears are hurting on this side of the ball. Their best offensive weapon – WR Alshon Jeffery – has been suspended. Right guard Kyle Long was placed on Injured Reserve. RT Bobby Massie (concussion) is doubtful.  LG Josh Sitton (ankle – questionable), WR Eddie Royal (toe – questionable), and WR Marquess Wilson (foot – questionable) were all limited in practice.

The Bears offense has long succeeded or failed on the incredibly inconsistent play of QB Jay Cutler. There are occasional moments when Cutler looks like a world-beater, but he has the make-up of a loser who loves to bitch-and-whine when things don’t go his way. Without Jeffery, Cutler’s primary targets will likely be TE Zach Miller (44 catches, 3 touchdowns), Royal (30 catches, 2 touchdowns), and WR Cameron Meredith (29 catches, 2 touchdowns). The Giants secondary should be able to handle this group provided the linebackers and safeties can keep Miller under control.

Despite Chicago’s 21st-ranking in the run game, RB Jordan Howard is a dangerous back. He’s rushed for 605 yards on 114 carries (5.3 yards per carry). Running backs Jeremy Langford and Ka’Deem Carey are averaging 4.0 yards per carry. The focal point must be on stopping the run. If the Giants stymie Chicago’s running game and make it difficult for Miller to get open down the middle of the field, the Bears offense will be in trouble. Look for Cutler to get frustrated and start making mistakes.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Tom Quinn’s special teams units are giving up too many big returns. Eddie Royal is a dangerous punt returner who already has returned one punt for a touchdown this season (and has three in his career). Robbie Gould gets a chance to help or hurt his old team. Dwayne Harris (who is probable) is battling a nagging toe injury and it remains to be seen if Bobby Rainey takes over return duties this weekend. If he does, keep in mind that Rainey has had fumbling issues as a returner throughout his career.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Offensive Coordinator Mike Sullivan on the Bears outside linebackers: “If you’re talking about the outside linebackers that become different defensive ends, obviously they’re a very talented defensive front. That’s not coach speak. You put the tape on and there aren’t too many quarterbacks that are back there that either are not getting hit or they’re having to reset and move in the pocket or they’re getting sacked. Of course with Floyd, he’s a young guy that’s really coming into his groove. McPhee is a heck of a player, he’s been on a pitch count, if you will, because of his injuries. Hicks, of course, is tremendous and young; that’s a great group. You asked about the outside guys, they become defensive ends when we go to our zebra package and so obviously we have to be aware of opportunities that we have and trying to make sure that if we want to push the ball down the field, we account for those guys, trying to help tackles when necessary and do various things because they definitely do present a challenge.”

THE FINAL WORD:
The Bears are going nowhere and banged up. They also gave the Giants a gift this week by oddly talking trash. “We’re gonna tear their ass up,” said Pernell McPhee. It’s been a long time since the Giants blew anyone out. Could this finally be the week?

Nov 152016
 
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Odell Beckham, New York Giants (November 14, 2016)

Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 21 – Cincinnati Bengals 20

Overview

We’ve become unaccustomed to this. It’s mid-November and the Giants are still alive! Winners of four straight, the Giants are a serious contender for a Wild Card playoff spot, and the division crown is still not quite out of reach. This was a big game for the Giants. The Cowboys, Eagles, and Redskins all won on Sunday. The pressure was on New York to keep pace on Monday night. With seven games to go, and two very winnable games next on deck, Giants are in very good shape at 6-3.

Giants on Offense

The Giants had 13 offensive possessions, but four only really stand out: the first and last drives of the first half that resulted in touchdowns, the touchdown drive at the end of the 3rd/beginning of the 4th quarter, and the last drive where the Giants ran out the clock. These four drives accounted for 16 of the team’s 23 first downs and 238 of the team’s 351 net yards. The other nine possessions ended with two interceptions, one turnover on downs, and six punts.

The Giants remain heavily pass-centric. In 72 offensive plays, the Giants called 46 passes, 24 runs, and two kneel-downs. The Giants did not hit on any big plays. While the Giants had four plays over 20 yards, none was longer than 25 yards. The Giants were only penalized once on offense.

Quarterback

As Eli Manning goes, so goes the Giants offense. Eli was masterful on the team’s opening drive as he completed all six pass attempts and the Giants easily drove 80 yards downfield for an early touchdown. The Giants next four possessions resulted in 72 yards, two punts, one turnover on downs, and one interception as Manning went 9-of-16 with one pick. Manning then went 4-of-5 (with one drop) on the team’s final drive of the first half as the Giants drove 75 yards for their second touchdown.

Outside of the game-winning, 47-yard drive, Manning was pretty much a non-factor in the second half of the game. To be fair, however, Manning had a number of passes dropped. Manning was again 4-of-5 on the scoring possession, including the clutch 3-yard touchdown throw on 4th-and-goal. His second interception after the Bengals turnover was a terrible decision. Manning finished the game 28-of-44 (63.6 percent of his passes) for 240 yards (net 229 yards – 5.1 yards per pass play), 3 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. The Giants longest pass play was their first – the 25-yarder to Will Tye.

Running Backs

A “breakout” game for the Giants running backs as Rashad Jennings (15 carries for 87 yards) and Paul Perkins (9 carries for 31 yards) totaled 118 yards on 24 carries (4.9 yards per carry). Most of the damage came in the second half as Jennings and Perkins were limited to 37 yards on 12 carries (3.1 yards per carry) through the first 30 minutes of the contest.

Jennings had a number of key plays, including a 16-yard reception on the first TD drive, a 24-yard run on the game-winning drive, a 9-yard run on 3rd-and-6 late in the game, and then a 25-yard run to seal the deal. That said, outside of the 16-yard reception, the passes to the backs did not amount to much as Jennings caught 3-of-6 passes thrown in his direction (with two drops) for 22 yards and all three passes intended for Perkins fell incomplete.

Wide Receivers

Odell Beckham remains the centerpiece as he was targeted 11 times, with 10 of those passes being completed for 97 yards and a touchdown despite constant double teams. His sick double-move against Pacman Jones put the Giants up 14-10 at the break. While not putting up big numbers, Sterling Shepard is increasingly becoming a factor. He caught another touchdown this week – the game-winner on 4th-and-goal. He finished with 42 yards on five receptions. Shepard did drop a 3rd-and-4 pass, causing a punt.

Victor Cruz (ankle) did not play and was replaced by Roger Lewis, Jr., who had been a very pleasant surprise coming into the game. However, national TV spotlight seemed to get the best of of Lewis’ nerves as he struggled. Lewis caught 1-of-4 passes thrown in his direction for just two yards. Lewis dropped a perfectly-thrown 3rd-and-7 deep pass from Manning that led to a punt. In the 3rd quarter, Lewis wasn’t on the same page with Manning on an incomplete deep throw on 3rd-and-4, leading to another punt. Tavarres King was activated and played a lot of snaps (45). He caught one pass for six yards and also drew a 10-yard pass interference penalty.

Tight Ends

Larry Donnell continued to ride the pine as the Giants move forward with Will Tye (5 catches for 53 yards) and Jerell Adams (3 catches for 18 yards). Tye started the Giants off with a 25-yard reception on the first TD drive that was culminated by Adams’ first touchdown reception (from 10 yards out). Adams did fumble and was lucky the ball bounced out-of-bounds. Tye dropped a pass.

Offensive Line

The Giants were forced to scramble when left guard Justin Pugh’s replacement – Brett Jones – was injured on the first drive. He was replaced by tackle Marshall Newhouse. The line struggled a bit in the first half before settling down and playing decently against a good defensive line. Giants backs rushed for 118 yards on 24 carries (4.9 yards per carry). Manning was sacked once and officially hit six times. Newhouse deserves credit for being able to adjust on the fly. He was penalized for an illegal block. The low point came when Weston Richburg and Newhouse were beat by DT Geno Atkins for an 11-yard sack on 4th-and-2. Atkins also gave John Jerry issues at times; DE Wallace Gilberry also beat Jerry once for a big hit on Manning. Adam Gettis saw some late playing time and performed well.

Giants on Defense

The defense played exceptionally well. Coming into the game, the Bengals were 4th in the NFL in passing and 7th in rushing. The Giants only gave up 12 first downs, 78 net yards rushing, and 186 net yards passing (and 71 of those yards came on one play). After giving up a 3-play, 80-yard drive to start the game, the longest drive allowed was only 41 yards, which resulted in a field goal. The other 10 points were set up by an 84-yard kickoff return and an interception that was returned to the Giants 7-yard line. Holding the Bengals to a field goal after the interception was decisive. The defense was only penalized once.

Defensive Line

The defensive line appears to be getting stronger as the season wears on. Olivier Vernon had a strong game, leading the team with 10 tackles, 1 sack, and 2 tackles for losses. Jason Pierre-Paul isn’t putting up the numbers, but he was a factor with 5 tackles, 2 QB hits, and 2 pass defenses. Damon Harrison had another strong game with 8 tackles (a very high number for a DT), 0.5 sacks, and 1 tackle for a loss. Johnathan Hankins only had one tackle, but it was for a loss. Reserve Robert Thomas was surprisingly productive with 1 sack and 1 tackle for a loss in limited action. Cincinnati running backs were limited to 63 yards on 22 carries (2.9 yards per carry). QB Andy Dalton was sacked twice and hit five times by linemen. The line also did a nice job of containing the mobile quarterback from doing damage on the ground (only one rush for 15 yards).

The high point for the line came in the 4th quarter. The Giants stuffed the Bengals on 3rd-and-1 to end one drive. On the next series, Pierre-Paul smashed into Dalton to cause one incomplete pass followed by back-to-back 7-yard sacks. Cincinnati never got the ball back.

Linebackers

Jonathan Casillas was questionable coming into the game with a calf injury. He played and finished the game with 5 tackles, 0.5 sacks, and 1 tackle for a loss. The other linebackers were pretty quiet in the play-making department: Kelvin Sheppard (3 tackles), Devon Kennard (2 tackles), and Keenan Robinson (2 tackles). That said, aside from one play where Casillas was beaten for a 71-yard gain by TE Tyler Eifert out of a bizarre formation, the Giants did a great job in coverage on the tight ends and running backs. Eifert only caught two more passes for 25 yards. Running back Giovani Bernard caught only three passes for 19 yards. No other back or tight end had a reception. Sheppard did miss one tackle but later did a nice job sniffing out a screen pass.

Defensive Backs

The secondary did a marvelous job. A.J. Green – one of the very best wide receivers in football – was held to seven catches for 68 yards and a touchdown. The other receivers? Tyler Boyd caught two passes for 12 yards and Brandon LaFell one catch for nine yards. That was it!!! Jenkins made a fantastic play by fighting off a block and tackling Green for no gain on a 3rd-and-goal pass right after Eli’s first interception.

Landon Collins is making a serious push for Pro Bowl honors with his fourth interception in three games. Janoris Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (DRC), and Trevin Wade were all credited with pass defenses. Wade’s hit on Boyd at the goal line on 3rd-and-5 dislodged the ball and saved a touchdown. Eli Apple rebounded with a strong game. He played every defensive snap as DRC was limited (14 snaps) with a back issue. Apple’s tight coverage on LaFell on 3rd-and-9 late in the 3rd quarter was a big play. Coty Sensabaugh actually played more than Wade and was the primary slot corner. He was very steady as was free safety Andrew Adams. The biggest negative was that Jenkins was flagged for defensive holding on an incomplete 3rd-and-15 pass.

Giants on Special Teams

The lowlight of night was arguably the 84-yard kickoff return that enabled the Bengals to take a 17-14 lead early in the 3rd quarter. None of Robbie Gould’s four kickoffs resulted in touchbacks. The other returns went for 23, 23, and 15 yards. Romeo Okwara flashed on kickoff coverage with two strong tackles. Brad Wing punted six times, averaging 46 yards per punt (40.2 net) with two downed inside the 20-yard line. The Bengals returned three punts for 35 yards, the longest being a decent-sized 18-yard gain.

The Giants return game was pretty anemic. Dwayne Harris returned two kickoffs for 21 and 16 yards, and Bobby Rainey one kickoff for 16 yards. Harris had one punt return for eight yards. Rainey returned three punts for 32 yards. He did have one decent 15-yard return.

(Cincinnati Bengals at New York Giants, November 14, 2016)
Nov 122016
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (August 14, 2015)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Game Preview: Cincinnati Bengals at New York Giants, November 14, 2016

THE STORYLINE:
The 5-3 New York Giants are currently in second place in the once-again competitive NFC East behind the 7-1 Dallas Cowboys. Most figure the Cowboys are shoo-ins for the division title, but keep in mind the Giants have already beaten the Cowboys once. If the Giants can get within one game of Dallas, the December 11th game against the Cowboys at MetLife Stadium looms large.

First the Giants must defeat the always-schizophrenic Cincinnati Bengals, a 3-4-1 team that at times looks like world beaters and at other times an also-ran.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • QB Ryan Nassib (elbow) – probable
  • WR Victor Cruz (ankle) – questionable
  • OG Justin Pugh (knee) – out
  • DE Kerry Wynn (concussion) – questionable
  • LB Jonathan Casillas (calf) – questionable
  • S Andrew Adams (shoulder) – questionable

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
The Bengals run a 4-3 defense that is currently ranked 25th in the NFL (23rd against the run, 21st against the pass). The strength of the defense is the defensive line, led by DT Geno Atkins (3.5 sacks) and LDE Carlos Dunlap (5 sacks). The line may not get a lot of sacks, but they get pressure (hits on the QB) and knock down a lot of passes. The linebacking corps will be missing middle linebacker Rey Maualuga. It is a physical but not overly athletic group. The safeties are big and there is some talent at corner.

The Giants are coming off a 28-point “explosion” against the Philadelphia Eagles and are looking to build upon that success. Look for Ben McAdoo to rely more and more on young players like WR Roger Lewis, RB Paul Perkins, and TE Jerell Adams moving forward. Lewis adds more explosiveness to the wide receiver position than Victor Cruz, as does Perkins to the running back spot.

The chief challenges are up front. The two weakest links on the Giants offensive line will be facing the Bengals best players. The undersized Brett Jones fills in for the injured Justin Pugh at left guard. His first start will be against Atkins, who is one of the NFL’s best defensive tackles. Right tackle Bobby Hart will have his hands full with Dunlap.

That all said, this is an opponent who the Giants can move the ball against. The Giants have done a good job of cutting down their offensive penalties (although there were a few frustrating false starts last week). It’s now time to cut down on the turnovers. Play a clean game. Spread the less athletic Bengals out and get the ball to Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard, Roger Lewis, and Paul Perkins in the open field.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The strength of this current Bengals team is their offense, which is currently ranked 6th in the NFL (7th in rushing, 4th in passing). The Bengals have an experienced offensive line and are loaded at the skill positions. Why the team can be so schizophrenic at times is the play of their quarterback – Andy Dalton. That said, Dalton is completing 67 percent of his passes, has only thrown three interceptions, and fields a 98.0 quarterback rating.

The headliners are the passing targets, but the Bengals have a very underrated running game. Running back Jeremy Hill averages 5.0 yards per carry and has scored five touchdowns. Giovani Bernard has chipped in with two more. The Giants defensive must prevent the Bengals from being multi-dimensional on offense and keep the team’s ground game under control.

When the Bengals throw the ball, they have two very dangerous targets: All-World wide receiver A.J. Green and tight end Tyler Eifert, who missed a lot of time due to an injury but who is healthy now. Dalton also throws a lot to Giovani Bernard out of the backfield (31 receptions). Ex-Patriots wideout Brandon LaFell (4 touchdowns) has benefited from the attention that Green receives.

To date, the Giants two top corners – Janoris Jenkins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie – have done a very good job of shutting down their individual opponents on a game-by-game basis. But Dalton won’t be afraid to throw to Green against these two. This is a game where Jenkins and DRC really could impress if they keep Green’s damage to a minimum. What has to worry Steve Spagnuolo however is the 152 yards accrued by Eagles tight ends last week and now having to face Eifert, who is one of the best pass-receiving tight ends in the game. It will be very difficult to double Green and Eifert and stop the running game. This is why the Bengals can be so dangerous. If the Giants play back, the Bengals will run the ball. I hate to say it, but much depends on what version of Dalton shows up on Monday night.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
The Giants are rapidly turning into a special teams unit that can block field goals and punts. On the other hand, Dwayne Harris really appears to be in a funk. Not only has he yet to break a big one, he is making questionable choices in the return game. We have yet to see Robbie Gould in a pressure-packed FG situation. Brad Wing and the punt coverage team is coming off of a weak game against the Eagles.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo on Bengals WR A.J. Green: “He is an elite wide receiver. I have talked to Leon Hall a lot this week about A.J. This is what I was talking to Leon about – he has a unique ability, A.J. Green waits the last minute, stick his hands out and catches the ball… A.J. has great hands, he is a bigger wide out, with really good quickness. We have to find a way to slow him down. We can’t let him wreck the football game. That is a good football player, but we will have different people on him and do different things and (Janoris Jenkins) will be one of them. ”

THE FINAL WORD:
Don’t let the Bengals losing record fool you. They are a dangerous team with a fine defensive line and a well-rounded and potentially explosive offense. We are about to discover if the Giants are going to be serious contenders for the division title or if they will have to focus on a Wild Card spot.

Nov 072016
 
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Odell Beckham, New York Giants (November 6, 2016)

Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 28 – Philadelphia Eagles 23

Overview

This was an incredibly important victory for the New York Giants franchise. Not only did it improve the team’s overall record to a respectable 5-3 with eight games to go, but it improved the division record to 2-1. Perhaps just as significantly, it began removing a huge mental barrier that this team cannot beat the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Eagles out-gained the Giants in most offensive categories. And the turnover battle was equal. The difference in this game was Philadelphia leaving 12 points off of the score board with one blocked field goal and three failed 4th-down conversion attempts in field-goal range.

It wasn’t a pretty win and it should not have been as tight as it was late in the game, but a win over the Eagles is always a beautiful thing. Enjoy it.

Giants on Offense

It was really hit or miss for the Giants offensively on Sunday. The good news is the Giants reached their highest single-game point total of the season (28) with four touchdown passes. They converted both of the Eagles early turnovers into touchdowns off of the short field. The Giants had six plays of 25 yards or more.

The problems were the Giants had only two drives of more than 31 yards. New York was limited to 16 first downs, 302 total net yards, and 54 net yards rushing. The Giants were 4-of-13 (31 percent) on third down and 0-of-1 on 4th down. While the team was perfect in the red zone, it only reached the red zone once.

What I was most impressed with was that the two times the Eagles scored momentum-shifting touchdowns that cut the Giants lead to four points, the Giants responded with long touchdown drives. That was huge.

Quarterback

When your starting quarterback throws four touchdown passes, it’s a good day. And both of Eli’s interceptions were fluky. What I liked most about Elis performance was he seemed far less distracted about the rush. He subtly moved around in the pocket to buy an extra half second or so. This gave him and his receivers a chance to make plays down the field. Manning finished the game 22-of-36 for 257 yards and QB passer rating of 96.6. His worst play was missing a wide-open Odell Beckham deep on 4th-and-3 late in the 2nd quarter.

Running Backs

These guys simply can’t get untracked. Of the team’s 61 offensive snaps, the backs carried the ball 22 times for 58 yards (2.6 yards per carry). While Rashad Jennings (11 carries for 26 yards) continues to get his touches, what is far more interesting is the continued increase in the use of Paul Perkins (11 carries for 32 yards). Bobby Rainey and Orleans Darkwa didn’t have a single touch as a runner or receiver. Both Jennings (3 catches for 13 yards) and Perkins (3 catches for 15 yards) were involved in the passing game.

Wide Receivers

The numbers were not big, with one significant exception: touchdown catches (4). No receiver had more than four catches and no receiver had more than 46 yards. But Odell Beckham (2 touchdowns), Roger Lewis (1), and Sterling Shepard (1) all put points on the board. Beckham was targeted 10 times, but only had four receptions. Yet the two touchdown catches were both excellent plays. He also drew a pass interference penalty. Manning’s first “interception” was a perfectly-thrown ball to Beckham that was torn away from while falling to the ground. Beckham also had two drops and a false start. Lewis and and Shepard so badly beat their defenders with sweet moves that they were wide open in the end zone. Cruz was seeing reduced snaps in the game before he sprained his ankle. Lewis dropped back-to-back passes in the 2nd quarter, including one that might have gone for a 79-yard score.

Tight Ends

Will Tye started for Larry Donnell, who was benched. Jerell Adams also continued to see his snaps increased. Tye was targeted seven times (second most after Beckham) and had four catches for 33 yards. He had a nice, physical 13-yard catch-and-run. Adams surprisingly caught 3 passes for 24 yards. He was flagged with a false start and dropped a ball after being hit. Donnell never saw an offensive snap.

Offensive Line

Against one of the NFL’s best pass rushing teams, the Giants offensive line only allowed one sack and two QB hits. But run blocking remained a headache as the Giants backs only ran the ball for 58 yards and 2.6 yards per carry. Justin Pugh left the game with a knee injury and was replaced by Brett Jones, who did an admirable job given the circumstances. Ereck Flowers was flagged twice (holding, false start) and John Jerry once (holding). The sack was given up by the right side of the line – Bobby Hart and Jerry.

Giants on Defense

It was an up-and-down day for the defense as well. The good news is the defense set the tone early in the first quarter with two huge interceptions that set up touchdowns and a quick 14-0 advantage. The Eagles were held to 3-of-15 (20 percent) on 3rd down and 1-of-4 (25 percent) on 4th down. And the three 4th-down stops occurred in or near the red zone.

The bad news is the Giants gave up way too many big plays against an offense that had been struggling to make the big play. The Eagles had six plays over 20 yards, including four plays of 30 yards or more. Philadelphia generated 443 yards of offense (347 passing, 96 rushing) with five drives over 50 yards.

Defensive Line

The defensive line did OK. Eagles backs gained 100 yards (the quarterback had -4 rushing yards) and Carson Wentz was only sacked once and hit three times by the defensive line. What the line did do well is play disciplined football against the read-option. Olivier Vernon had 5 tackles, 1 sack, and 1 tackle for a loss. Jason Pierre-Paul was credited with 5 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss, 2 QB hits, and 1 pass defense. For years, JPP had issues with the read-option, but on Sunday he was a stud against it, including a 4th-down stop. While the Giants didn’t touch Wentz much, they did get some decent pressure on him at times up the middle.

Linebackers

Keenan Robinson (10 tackles, 1 pass defense) continues to stand out. Jonathan Casillas only had 3 tackles, but he did hit Wentz on a blitz and defensed a pass. Devon Kennard had 3 tackles and hit Wentz as well. Kelvin Sheppard played 20 snaps but only got in on one tackle. The good news was the Giants did a great job of defending RB Darren Sproles as receiver (3-of-9 targets for only 14 yards). But the coverage on the tight ends was not good. Zach Ertz caught all eight targets thrown his way for 97 yards. Trey Burton chipped in with three more catches for 55 yards. That’s 152 yards receiving for the tight ends! B.J. Goodson looked very stiff in the open field in coverage against the tight end.

Defensive Backs

WR Nelson Agholor was held to 4 catches for 41 yards. Jake Matthews (6 catches for 88 yards) had the more productive day. Eli Apple struggled and was benched. He gave up a 32-yard completion to TE Trey Burton on Philadelphia’s first scoring drive. Apple also lost contain on the Eagles 8-yard touchdown run that cut the score to 14-10. In the 3rd quarter, he was flagged for being offsides and then missed a tackle on a short completion that turned into a 23-yard gain down to the 3-yard line. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie gave up a 33-yard completion to Matthews late in the 2nd quarter, but otherwise played well. Janoris Jenkins pretty much shut out his opponent, but he had a sure interception slip through his hands and was flagged with defensive holding.

Leon Hall was surprisingly declared inactive before the game.

Landon Collins is in the process of making quite a name for himself. He had another big game with 12 tackles, 1 sack, 1 tackle for a loss, 1 interception, and 1 pass defense. Andrew Adams also had his best game as rookie with 9 tackles, 1 interception, and 2 pass defenses. His finger-tip deflection near the end of the 1st quarter saved a touchdown. These two set the tone early with their two picks. Nat Berhe returned from concussion, only played a few defensive snaps, and gave up a 58-yard deep pass to WR Bryce Treggs. He did make a sure tackle to prevent a 1st down on 3rd-and-8.

The play that bothered me was the incredibly soft coverage on 4th-and-9 where Matthews was left wide open for an easy 25-yard pitch-and-catch. I have no idea what the Giants were doing there.

Giants on Special Teams

The Giants special teams almost cost the Giants this game. Darren Sproles had a 66-yard punt return that was inches away from being an 81-yard touchdown. Keenan Robinson’s shoe-string tackle, and a 4th-down stand, saved seven points. Sproles’ other return went for 10 yards as Brad Wing averaged 46 yards (35 net) on seven punts. Kickoff coverage was decent with 3-of-5 kickoffs resulting in touchbacks.

The good news is the Giants blocked another field goal, with Jason Pierre-Paul firing through the middle. Janoris Jenkins recovered but almost gave the ball right back to the Eagles (Mark Herzlich recovered the loose ball). Paul Perkins almost blocked a punt too.

Dwayne Harris returned one punt for 10 yards and two kickoffs for a total of 30 yards. He made a very poor decision to return the last kickoff out of the endzone. This pinned the Giants back at the 12-yard line.

(Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants, November 6, 2016)
Nov 042016
 
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Odell Beckham, New York Giants (January 3, 2016)

Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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

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

THE INJURY REPORT:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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