Aug 282015
 
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Odell Beckham, New York Giants (August 14, 2015)

Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Jets at New York Giants, August 29, 2015

THE STORYLINE:
New York Giants fans are in a generally pissy mood. While a number of teams have already been hit hard on the injury front, the Giants have seen over 20 percent of their 90-man roster on the injury report and have already lost four safeties for the season. Throw in the uncertain injury status of important cogs such as Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle, Weston Richburg, and Jon Beason, and Giants fans fear that medical issues will once again sabotage the season. And we have yet to even play the third preseason game!

The third preseason game is the most important dress rehearsal for the regular season. It’s the game where the starters play the longest – usually at least the first half. And it’s the preseason game where coaches want to see positive performances and consistency. Yet as a fan, at this point, I just find myself not caring about that and just praying no one else gets hurt.

THE INJURY REPORT: (Unofficial – will be updated once Giants make official).

  • WR Victor Cruz (calf – will not play)
  • WR Rueben Randle (knee – expected to play)
  • RT Marshall Newhouse (ankle – expected to play)
  • OC Weston Richburg (knee – questionable)
  • RT/RG Brandon Mosley (back – not expected to play)
  • LT Will Beatty (pectoral – on PUP and will not play)
  • DE George Selvie (knee – will not play)
  • LB Jon Beason (knee – will not play)
  • LB Mark Herzlich (concussion – will not play)
  • CB Chykie Brown (knee – will not play)
  • CB Jayron Hosley (concussion – expected to play)
  • CB Chandler Fenner (hamstring – will not play)
  • S Landon Collins (knee – expected to play)
  • S Nat Berhe (calf – underwent surgery on Friday and will not play)

FOUR DOWNS: No, I’m not lazy… the main questions this team faces remain the same for the third week in a row.

First Down
How will the offensive line perform?
The New York Jets are very talented up front. They are big and physical and this will be a great test for the Giants. Unfortunately, Weston Richburg continues to be bothered by knee tendinitis and did not practice all week. Dallas Reynolds may be starting in his place on Saturday. The Giants have yet to officially move Geoff Schwartz back into the starting line-up at right guard or right tackle either. With the start of the regular season only two weeks away, the offensive line still seems far too unsettled.

Second Down
Can the defense stop the run?
For whatever reason, the coaching staff seems determined to start Cullen Jenkins at defensive end and Markus Kuhn at defensive tackle despite the fact that these two have struggled in holding up at the point-of-attack in the first two preseason games. Fellow starters defensive end Robert Ayers and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins did not play well against the run against the Jaguars either. If the Jets are able to generate decent yardage totals on the ground on Saturday against the starting group, the alarm bells will start to sound. On the other hand, since the starters for both teams will play the entire first half, we may finally get a better gauge on Jay Bromley, Kenrick Ellis, Owamagbe Odighizuwa, Kerry Wynn, and Damontre Moore if they are allowed some quality reps against the Jets starting offensive line in the first half.

Third Down
Who will do well or poorly at cornerback?
For the first time this preseason, Prince Amukamara will be on the field alongside Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. That’s the good news. The bad news is we still don’t know who the main nickel corner is, as well as who are the primary back-ups at corner in case a starter gets hurt. The under-the-radar injury that has hurt the Giants is the knee injury suffered by Chykie Brown early in training camp. He should return soon, but he has missed valuable practice time. Jayron Hosley returns this week after missing most of the first preseason game and all of the second with a concussion. Hosley is competing for playing time and a roster spot along with Trevin Wade, Trumaine McBride, Mike Harris, Josh Gordy, and Chandler Fenner. Wade seems to the favorite right now among an uninspiring group.

Fourth Down
How will the new safeties perform?
The football gods must be playing a bad joke on the G-Men. Considered by many the weakest position on the team heading into training camp, the Giants have now lost three players who had a legitimate chance to start in Nat Berhe, Bennett Jackson, and Mykkele Thompson. Worse is that two others – Landon Collins and Cooper Taylor – have missed valuable practice time due to injury. Now the penciled-in starters are veteran journeymen Jeromy Miles (who has yet to flash this preseason) and Brandon Meriweather (who was just picked off the NFL scrap heap). Both lack range. The only other two safeties on the roster are rookie free agents who were only signed because of all of the injuries (Justin Halley and C.J. Conway).

PLAYERS TO WATCH:
Brandon Meriweather
The Giants desperately need some good fortunate at safety. What they need is for Brandon Meriweather to demonstrate that he can be a viable NFL starter.

Markus Kuhn
Kuhn has been starting at defensive tackle since the May/June OTA’s, but he has yet to demonstrate why. Unless he shows greater stoutness against the run, the decision-making process of the coaching staff will come into question. Jay Bromley and Kenrick Ellis have played better in the preseason.

Johnathan Hankins
For as much grief as Kuhn has received from fans, Johnathan Hankins hasn’t been making much of an impact against the run either yet this preseason. It’s time for him to start rounding his game into form.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Tom Coughlin on what he wants to see from his offensive football team against the Jets: “It is continued improvement for me. The timing of the passing game is not there yet, and it’s got to happen. I thought our protection did a nice job early on (against the Jaguars). We’ll be tested this week, the Jets have an outstanding pressure package – they also have an outstanding front, a big front, so we are going to be tested with regards to that, too. That brings up the idea of some kind of consistency with your run game. We have got to have that. We had it at times the other night (against the Jaguars); we need it more often but we are going up against a very good front, so those would be the ways, you mentioned offense, where we would be looking to see us make progress.”

THE FINAL WORD:
I hate to admit it, but the injuries are sapping my enthusiasm. The team can’t catch a break. Things could still work out if Landon Collins is as good as advertised, but rookie safeties who miss half the preseason usually don’t excel. The Giants also need Brandon Meriweather to experience an unlikely career renaissance. Can this team stop the run? Can it rush the passer? Can they cover?

Offensively, the injury issues to Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle are not ideal. The top three targets have yet to play in a game together. And the Giants still have not set on what their final offensive line heading into the season will look like. The clock is ticking. The season starts in two weeks.

I feel like the Giants are an Eli Manning or Odell Beckham injury away from a true disaster.

Aug 232015
 
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Eli Manning and Shane Vereen, New York Giants (August 22, 2015)

Eli Manning and Shane Vereen – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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New York Giants 22 – Jacksonville Jaguars 12

Game Overview

Like most preseason games, there was good and there was bad. But the big take-away from this game is the continued mounting injury situation that is likely to impact the 2015 season. Some of the players who have been lost for the season probably were not going to make the team such as wide receiver Marcus Harris (knee) and safety Justin Currie (ankle). But the Giants have now lost two safeties who were receiving first-team reps in Mykkele Thompson (Achilles) and Bennett Jackson (knee). This is in addition to weird losses of defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (hand/arm) and left tackle Will Beatty (pectoral).

Heading into the second preseason game, the Giants were missing 18 players on the roster due to injury. They came out with six more injured, two done for the season and fingers crossed on Jon Beason (knee sprain). They’ll get most of these players back, but the hits have been already significant for a thin team projected by many to struggle.

And the coaching staff have made two decisions in the preseason that have come back to bite them in the ass. The first was to play wide receiver Rueben Randle last week in Cincinnati despite him missing the week of practice before the game with knee tendinitis. That set him back. And despite the dwindling numbers at safety, it should have been either Justin Halley or Brandon Meriweather in the game late in the 4th quarter against the Jaguars and not Bennett Jackson, who had a good chance to be the team’s starter on opening night against Dallas.

Offensive Overview

On the surface, it was another disappointing performance for the first-team unit. With Eli Manning at quarterback, the first team played three drives and the results were 76 yards, five first downs, two punts, and a 51-yard field goal. But it was the passing game, especially quarterback Eli Manning and Odell Beckham, who let the Giants down early. Meanwhile, those supposed areas of concern – the offensive line and the running game – showed promise. If one believes that this was only a hiccup for Manning and Beckham, and that the healthy return of Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle will make a difference, then there were some positive developments on Saturday despite the lack of production.

The second- and third-team offensive units performed decently, scoring on their first four drives of the second half as the Giants pulled away.

Quarterbacks

I don’t really worry about Eli Manning, but if we are going to fairly evaluate his performance, this was not a good effort. Yes, he was the victim of some short-arming by Beckham and drops by Beckham and Preston Parker. He also had a couple of passes batted or tipped at the line of scrimmage. But Manning’s accuracy was off when pressured. The word coming into training camp was that Manning was primed for a huge year with renewed arm strength and building confidence in Ben McAdoo’s system. But that hasn’t translated yet to the field. If the Giants are going to make the playoff this year, Eli Manning will have to carry them there like he did in 2011. And he has to make plays when not given picture-perfect pass protection. We’re not seeing that level of play yet.

The Giants tried to get the passing game going early as Manning threw deep to Beckham without success on their first two plays. The first five plays were pass plays where Manning was 1-for-4 with two tipped passes. Manning continued to target Beckham and Parker without success on the two ensuing drives. Manning finished the game a paltry 4-of-14 for 46 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions.

Ryan Nassib, New York Giants (August 22, 2015)

Ryan Nassib – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Ryan Nassib played much better this week, finishing the game 19-of-35 for 217 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. That said, he did make some questionable decisions, missing some open receivers and throwing into coverage. Nassib’s mobility helped to extend some plays, including clutch moments to keep drives alive, but he also has to be careful not to run too soon when he has decent pass protection. That said, Nassib made some excellent throws on the run. He has a fastball and was particularly accurate on a few slants, including the touchdown pass to Dwayne Harris. Ex-Jaguar quarterback Mark Brunell was very impressed with Nassib during the game.

Running Backs

The stats seem a bit misleading as Giants running backs only gained 83 yards on 24 carries (3.4 yards per carry), but the big three of Rashad Jennings (1 carry for 4 yards), Andre Williams (3 carries for 13 yards), and Shane Vereen (3 carries for 13 yards) flashed and averaged over four yards per carry as a group. Williams made a nice, instinctive cut on his 11-yard run off the left side. He later had a very physical inside run in the 2nd quarter. Williams performed well in pass protection. Vereen caught one pass for 14 yards on 3rd-and-10 – a perfect example of why he was signed.

Orleans Darkwa also continues to impress, carrying the ball six times for 25 yards. Akeem Hunt had four carries for 10 yards, with a long run of seven yards. Long-shot Kenneth Harper had seven carries for 18 yards with a quality 9-yard run to help run out the clock. Darkwa had one catch for nine yards and Hunt two receptions for nine yards. Even fullbacks Henry Hynoski and Nikita Whitlock got into the act catching the ball as they each had one reception for five yards. Hunt missed a blitz pick-up late in the first half.

Wide Receivers

To be frank, “superstar” Odell Beckham played like crap. He made a business decision or two on deep throws where he short-armed the ball. He also had one ball sail through his hands and later dropped a pass that would have kept a drive alive and put the Giants at the 5-yard line. He got frustrated and took a cheap shot at a Jaguars defender. Overall, he was targeted five times with no catches.

With Victor Cruz (calf) and Rueben Randle out, Preston Parker started. Manning’s pass on Parker’s first opportunity was too low. But he later dropped a perfectly-thrown back-shoulder throw on 3rd-and-9. In the second quarter, Parker caught one key pass for 14 yards on 3rd-and-8 from Manning.

Corey Washington had two catches for 17 yards but also could not come down with a well-contested ball on 3rd-and-14. He did have a 6-yard reception on 3rd-and-3 in the third quarter.

More impressive were James Jones (5 catches for 83 yards), Geremy Davis (4 catches for 43 yards), and Dwayne Harris (2 catches for 35 yards and a touchdown). Jones was the best wide receiver on the field on Saturday night. He had two catches for 36 yards on the drive right before halftime (though he also dropped a ball too on this possession). Jones caught an 18-yarder on 3rd-and-4 in the 3rd quarter and an 13-yard catch on 3rd-and-6 in the 4th quarter.

Harris was flagged for a bogus holding call on a well-executed 19-yard screen pass to Orleans Darkwa. He did a nice job of catching a low throw despite contact on his touchdown reception.

Right now Jones, Davis, and Harris three would be my favorites to make the team with Parker and Washington being cut.

Tight Ends

Larry Donnell caught three passes for 29 yards. But some old troubling signs appeared in his game. He lost the ball after one big third down catch that originally was ruled an incomplete pass. Ball security Donnell! On the same drive, he had a high throw from Manning sail through his hands. Also, Donnell took another awkward quasi-somersault fall when being tackled. Donnell had a nice block on linebacker Paul Posluszny on Shane Vereen’s 10-yard run.

Jerome Cunningham was targeted twice with no catches, but he did draw a pass interference penalty. Daniel Fells got a good block on Darkwa’s 16-yard run early in the 3rd quarter.

Offensive Line

All things considered, the coaching staff has to be somewhat pleased with the progress the offensive line is making. However, there are just enough rough spots – particularly on the right side of the line – to keep the coaches and quarterbacks nervous.

Rookie left tackles – particularly ones who have serious technique issues – usually are disasters their initial season. But Ereck Flowers continues to hold his own (no pun intended) and improve. There were a couple of plays where his man got around him and pressured the quarterback, but he’s been surprisingly adequate in pass protection while flashing those advertised run-blocking mauling skills. The left side of the line created some big holes for the running backs, though guard Justin Pugh missed a block on an Andre Williams run that lost yardage in the second quarter. Flowers and Pugh also had some issues on a stunt late in the first half.

The right side of the offensive line hasn’t been the disaster predicted thus far. Marshall Newhouse did an adequate job pass protection for most of the first half. However, his pass blocking deteriorated late in the second quarter when he gave up one sack and a few pressures.

John Jerry continues to have some issues at right guard. He gave up a couple of pass pressures on New York’s second drive. And if Jerry (or Odell Beckham) had been able to take out the defensive back who made the tackle, Vereen would have scored from 44 yards out on his 10-yard run in the 1st quarter.

Geoff Schwartz entered the game in the second quarter at right guard. He was more steady than Jerry at that position. However, Schwartz had some issues when playing right tackle both in pass protection (bull-rushed on a 3rd-and-5 incomplete pass, failure to pick up stunt on 3rd-and-14) and the running game (got stood up and pushed back on one right-side run). The Giants also played Schwartz at right guard and Jerry at right tackle.

Dallas Reynolds saw a lot of snaps at center. Emmett Clearly and Adam Gettis formed the left side of the second-team line again. When Gettis briefly left with a stinger, Brett Jones played at left guard. These guys played pretty well although there was one run on the left side blown up by penetration against Cleary and Jones. Gettis was flagged with a holding penalty on running play that he got stood up on.

Another offensive line combination had Bobby Hart at right tackle and Bret Jones at right guard. Jones seems to lack size and power. Hart has both, but the same pass rusher who gave Marshall Newhouse some problems – DE Chris Smith – also gave Hart issues on one pass rush. Eric Herman later replaced Jones at right guard, but he immediately gave up a pass pressure on the play where Nassib did a fantastic job of avoiding a sack and getting the ball to Dwayne Harris for a 27-yard gain. Herman gave up another pressure later on this possession.

Guys like Michael Bamiro and Sean Donnelly didn’t enter the contest until late in the 4th quarter.

Defensive Overview

The Jacksonville Jaguars have been an offensively-challenged team, yet the Giants had issues getting them off the field on their first three drives of the game as Jacksonville had drives of 10, 10, and 12 plays – each resulting in field goals. The first-team defense still looks soft against the run and opposing starting quarterbacks are having a far too easy time completing passes. Sometimes it looks like a 7-on-7 drill out there with very little pass rush and soft coverage. That doesn’t bode well when the Giants face high-powered, multi-dimensional offenses like the Cowboys and Eagles.

The second- and third-teamers were clearly superior to the Jacksonville offensive counterparts as the Jaguars only gained three first downs in the first half after the first three drives, and only one first down in the second half until late in the game.

I made this point last week, but I’ll make it again – Steve Spagnuolo’s blitz packages are much better than Perry Fewell’s. It’s a night and day difference.

Defensive Line

The starting defensive line had Cullen Jenkins at left end, Markus Kuhn at left tackle, Johnathan Hankins at right tackle, and Robert Ayers at right end. Jenkins didn’t play well at end. As would be expected, he looked sluggish rushing the passer from that spot. But somewhat unexpectedly, he had a lot of issues defending the run there too. I’m not sure what the thinking is about having him play out there, especially in the preseason when guys like Damontre Moore, Kerry Wynn, and Owamagbe Odighizuwa should be seeing some first-team practice reps. Jenkins did get good pressure on the quarterback rushing from DT on 3rd-and-20.

Ayers was pretty invisible as a pass rusher and didn’t stick out in run defense either.

Kuhn should not be starting. Period. In fact, he should be fighting for a roster spot. The coaching staff is blind if they can’t see this. Lost in the fan criticism of Kuhn is that Hankins hasn’t been making as much noise as was expected from a guy who was supposed to be a budding Pro Bowl candidate. Hankins did not play well on Saturday night. The Giants starters are not playing tough up the gut right now. Hankins needs to kick it into gear and Kenrick Ellis and Jay Bromley should be splitting Kuhn’s first-team reps.

As soon as Bromley came into the game (against starting Jaguars offensive linemen), he made a play by shooting through the line and hitting the back in the backfield. In the second half, Ellis and Bromley really gummed things up inside against Jacksonville back-ups. Ellis got a couple of decent pass pressures on the quarterback.

Damontre Moore flashed on the pass rush with two sacks, but he still has issues at the point-of-attack on running plays. And another team took advantage of the defense’s young ends by running an end-around to his side on a play where he bit on the fake. This showed up too on play-action fake on a roll-out pass that Kerry Wynn bit too hard on in the 2nd quarter.

Odighizuwa batted down a pass at the line and also gave the Jaguar tackles some problems with his bull-rush. He is very quick off the ball too.

Jon Beason, New York Giants (August 22, 2015)

Jon Beason – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Linebackers

Before he left the game, an excited Jon Beason’s feet were pumping and he was correctly reading running plays. He was hurt by a defensive line in front of him that was getting pushed back however. Despite being picked, Beason did a good job of recovering and saving a touchdown on a pass to a receiver coming out of the backfield.

J.T. Thomas had a big night against his former team. He disrupted an otherwise well-blocked run on the Jaguars’ first drive. Thomas looked fast blitzing the quarterback and was rewarded with a sack/forced fumble (he also missed a tackle on another sack opportunity). Thomas later read and destroyed a screen pass for an 8-yard loss.

Kennard recovered a fumble. The good news about him is he doesn’t look completely out of water in pass coverage.

Unai’ Unga (6 tackles, 1 pass defense) was very active for the second week in a row. He did a nice job of shooting the gap and tackling the runner for no gain on a stretch play. I am hoping the Giants can find a roster spot for him. Victor Butler’s penetration on a running play may have been a factor in a Jaguars’ running back losing his concentration and fumbling the football.

Defensive Backs

Surprisingly the Jaguars took a number of deep shots at Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Not surprisingly, these plays were not a success for Jacksonville. Rodgers-Cromartie got picked (possibly illegally) on a 3rd-and-2 short crossing pass that picked up 36 yards in the first quarter. He was fortunate that his man who was open dropped the ball on a post route (Bennett Jackson seemed to misread the play here too).

As he has been all summer, cornerback Trevin Wade (who started for the injured Prince Amukamara) was up and down. Wade gave up a couple of first-down catches early. But he had good coverage on a deep shot down the middle. Wade seemed to be playing way off the ball, allowing too much space underneath.

Trumaine McBride, Mike Harris, and Josh Gordy played decently against Jacksonville’s struggling offensive reserves. McBride had good coverage on a deep pass late in the 2nd quarter but grabbed the receiver with his left arm before the ball arrived and was flagged for a 29-yard pass interference penalty. Harris also got flagged with a 5-yard defensive holding call on 2nd-and-8. The Giants corners were aggressive against the run on Saturday.

Brandon Meriweather, New York Giants (August 22, 2015)

Brandon Meriweather – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Bennett Jackson missed a tackle on 3rd-and-8 that would have prevented a first down. Jeromy Miles was pretty quiet…I’m not sure if that is a good thing or bad thing. He should have turned and intercepted the ball on the play where McBride was flagged for interference. Miles also missed a tackle near the line on a 12-yard run late in the 2nd quarter.

Brandon Meriweather looked vulnerable in deep coverage as a Jaguars receiver got behind him on one deep effort that fell incomplete.

Special Teams Overview

Steve Weatherford has not been punting well this preseason. He’s over-punting in situations where the Giants could down a punt inside the 20. He also isn’t showing much directional ability. His net on three punts was 36 yards.

Josh Brown, on the other hand, did well. He nailed kicks of 51, 43, 53, 37, and 28 yards. He did miss a 46-yarder but a penalty on the Jaguars wiped out that miss.

Giants continue to struggle on punt returns with Dwayne Harris returning two for seven yards and Preston Parker two for three yards. Akeem Hunt returned two kickoffs, each for 24 yards. Derrick Johnson had one return for 21 yards.

Punt coverage was good as the Jaguars only returned two punts for six yards. Kickoff coverage was not as solid as the Giants gave up returns of 42 and 35 yards.

(Jacksonville Jaguars at New York Giants, August 22, 2015)
Aug 212015
 
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Rashad Jennings, New York Giants (November 30, 2014)

Rashad Jennings – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Jacksonville Jaguars at New York Giants, August 22, 2015

THE STORYLINE:
The second preseason game is more serious than the first. The starters will play a bit longer and coaches want to see their players beginning to round into form a bit more. That said, winning the game takes a backseat to getting quality practice reps and working on areas of weakness.

Head Coach Tom Coughlin would like to see much more productivity out of his passing offense than he did last week but that will be tough with Victor Cruz and Rueban Randle once again on the sideline. “Everybody wants to talk about our passing game,” lamented Coughlin earlier this week. “Unless we get out there and practice together, what passing game?” While the offensive line was not the huge issue that some made it out to be last week, the team will be looking for fewer individual breakdowns that sabotaged a number of running plays.

Where the Giants really need to show marked improvement is on defense. The starting defense played horribly against the Cincinnati Bengals, and the back-ups were not all that much better. A Giants defense that has made it mission #1 to stop the run gave up 225 yards rushing in Cincinnati.

With an extensive injury list already, particularly in the secondary, keep your fingers crossed the Giants come out of this game relatively healthy. Not counting safety Mykkele Thompson who is on Injured Reserve, the Giants will be down six defensive backs heading into this contest.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • WR Victor Cruz (calf – will not play)
  • WR Rueben Randle (knee tendinitis – will not play)
  • WR Julian Talley (toe – will not play)
  • OG/OT Brandon Mosley (back – will not play)
  • LT Will Beatty (pectoral – on PUP and will not play)
  • DE George Selvie (knee – will not play)
  • LB Jonathan Casillas  (unknown – will not play)
  • CB Prince Amukamara (groin – will not play)
  • CB Chykie Brown (knee – will not play)
  • CB Jayron Hosley (concussion – will not play)
  • CB Chandler Fenner (injured in practice on Thursday – will not play)
  • S Landon Collins (knee – will not play)
  • S Nat Berhe (calf – will not play)
  • S Cooper Taylor (toe – will not play)

FOUR DOWNS:
First Down
How will the offensive line perform?
We asked this same question last week. The results in Cincinnati were mixed. The first-team offensive line pass protected reasonably well although their performance was aided Eli Manning getting rid of the ball quickly. This week the Giants focused more on their downfield passing attack and Eli may need to hold the ball a bit longer. And the Giants certainly want more consistency and productivity in running the ball with their main backs (Rashad Jennings, Andre Williams, Shane Vereen). Fans will be focusing on left tackle Ereck Flowers, right guard John Jerry, right tackle Marshall Newhouse, and right guard/tackle Geoff Schwartz in particular. Schwartz won’t start, but he should receive a decent amount of playing time.

Second Down
Can the defense stop the run?
We asked this same question last week and the answer was definitely not. The team gave up an unacceptable 225 rushing yards. The Giants not only had issues at the point-of-attack, but the younger defenders were often fooled by misdirection. Jacksonville wants to run the ball so this will be a good test. The Giants must determine who should be starting at defensive tackle alongside Johnathan Hankins in the base defense.

Third Down
Who will do well or poorly at cornerback?
Same question as last week. The good news is that Prince Amukamara (groin) will probably play. The bad news is the Giants are still really thin at corner with injuries to Chykie Brown, Jayron Hosley, and possibly Chandler Fenner. The problem remains for New York – after Amukamara and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the team has nothing but question marks. Trevin Wade has a nose for the football but he also gives up big plays. Trumaine McBride left last week’s game early with a hamstring issue; he needs to step it up. Other candidates for serious playing time include Mike Harris and Josh Gordy. All will see serious playing time in the second half given the injury situation. Will any take advantage of the opportunity?

Fourth Down
How will the new safeties perform?
Broken record – same question as last week. Landon Collins is missing valuable practice and playing time. Mykkele Thompson – who was receiving some first-team reps – is now gone for the season. Nat Berhe has yet to practice or play this summer. Now Cooper Taylor is hurt again. The starters for this game will likely be Jeromy Miles and Bennett Jackson. Miles didn’t really distinguish himself last week and Jackson was up and down. The only others healthy enough to play are Justin Currie, Justin Halley, and newcomer Brandon Meriweather. It’s not a pretty situation.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:
Markus Kuhn
The coaches and players keep talking up Markus Kuhn, who started against the Bengals, but we have yet to see the improved performance on the playing field. To be fair to Kuhn, defensive tackles often do the dirty work and it’s difficult for them to flash. But one does expect a defender to make an obvious positive play once in a while against the run and pass. Jay Bromley and Kenrick Ellis played better last week – albeit against reserves. With the Giants unlikely to part ways with 3rd rounder Bromley this year, the final defensive tackle spot could be between Kuhn and Ellis. The Giants could possibly keep five defensive tackles, but even given that scenario, it would be extremely difficult for them to activate all five on game day. “The big guys, they set the tone,” Kuhn said. “We have to push back the offensive line, we have to set the new line of scrimmage.”

Marshall Newhouse
It seems like the Giants would like Newhouse to really take hold of the right tackle position, at least until Will Beatty returns in October. That way, Geoff Schwartz and John Jerry can battle it out at right guard with the hope that Schwartz moves Jerry to the bench. But the Giants are hedging their bets here by having Schwartz practice at both right guard and right tackle. Newhouse did not play poorly last week, but the spotlight remains on a player who was benched by his two previous teams. “I have confidence in Marshall, I’ve been around him at a different spot before, and he’s an athletic guy,” said Offensive Coordinator Ben McAdoo this week. “He’s a smart guy and I look forward to him growing in the offense.”

James Jones
Rueben Randle is having a disappointing summer. We haven’t heard much noise when he has practiced and he has missed most of the last two weeks with knee tendinitis. The assumption is that he is on the verge of a breakout season in his contract year, but if the Giants can’t count on him, there may be an opportunity here for someone to move past him on the depth chart. James Jones seems to be coming on. I wouldn’t be shocked if he makes a serious push to become the team’s new third receiver. “He was out of work for a little bit, he’s getting his football legs underneath him, the last two days of practice he’s stood out a little bit, and it’ll be exciting to see him over this next week get out there a perform,” said McAdoo this week.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Tom Coughlin (on the Jacksonville Jaguars): “This weekend will be an outstanding test because you have a team that’s trying to be very physical and wants to run the ball, has a good run defense, so it’ll be a good test.”

THE FINAL WORD:
I’m not sure the Giants will satisfy their fans yet by looking like a well-oiled machine on Saturday night. Hopefully, the starting defense puts up a little resistance this week, but there could be issues with Jeromy Miles and Bennett Jackson as the starting safeties. And down six defensive backs, the secondary could be a problem all night, especially once Amukamara and DRC exit the game. The Giants may frustrate fans by trying to work on their running game against a good run defense, in other words, playing weakness against strength, but that’s the point of preseason. It also hurts that Cruz and Randle will not play. Don’t get too depressed! This is practice.

Aug 152015
 
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Orleans Darkwa, New York Giants (August 14, 2015)

Orleans Darkwa – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Cincinnati Bengals 23 – New York Giants 10

Game Overview

It’s usually unwise to make too much of preseason games, particularly the first contest. Every year we see teams that look great in the preseason founder in the regular season and teams that look terrible go on to post-season glory.

But we have to evaluate what we have to work with, and there were not many positives coming out of the New York Giants initial preseason performance. The Giants were clearly out-classed and if this game was in fact a true indication of New York’s overall talent level, then the Giants are going to have a rough 2015 season.

But as bad as the Giants were on the field, the truly disappointing result was the rash of injuries to an already injury-plagued defensive backfield. Coming into the game, the Giants were missing cornerback Prince Amukamara (groin) and Chykie Brown (knee) and safety Nat Berhe (calf). Mykkele Thompson ruptured his Achilles’ tendon during the game and is done for the season. Safety Landon Collins (knee), cornerback Jayron Hosley (neck and possible concussion), and cornerback Trumaine McBride (hamstring) all left the contest and did not return. Collins will miss at least a couple of weeks of practice time he cannot afford to miss. The net effect was that the Giants were running out of defensive backs to put on the field in only their first preseason game.

As for the action on the field, the results were also not good. The Giants are still having problems in areas that sabotaged their 2014 season:

  • While the run blocking wasn’t as bad as it first appeared, there were three negative plays by the first-team line on the two runs by Andre Williams and the 3rd-and-1 short-yardage play to Shane Vereen.
  • The first-team defense looked dreadful both against the run and pass as the Cincinnati starters cut through them like butter.
  • The Giants could not stop the run all night, allowing an unacceptable 225 rushing yards.

In a nutshell, the Giants had trouble moving the ball and the Bengals didn’t. The game was not as close as the somewhat lopsided score would indicate. The Giants got their asses kicked.

Offensive Overview

The Giants starting offense was so bad that Tom Coughlin kept quarterback Eli Manning and the starting offense in for four drives and the entire first quarter. In 15 plays, they only gained 38 yards and one first down. The first three drives were three-and-outs. The Giants did manage a touchdown drive in the second quarter with the first-team offensive line in the game with back-up skill position players, and then chipped in another field goal later in the quarter. But that was it. In the end, the Giants only gained a paltry 13 first downs and 118 passing yards. The team did rush for 106 yards, with Orleans Darkwa responsible for almost half of that production.

Quarterbacks

The Giants only passed for 118 net yards as New York never really threatened the Bengals deep. Everything was largely dink-and-dunk. The longest play was Ryan Nassib’s 28-yard throw to TE Jerome Cunningham. Eli Manning completed only 4-of-8 passes for 22 yards, with 16 of those coming on a screen pass, despite very good pass protection. Manning and RB Rashad Jennings didn’t sell a swing pass, leading to a 5-yard loss on the first drive. The play was too hurried. Manning was hurt by a couple of third-down drops by wideouts Rueben Randle and Preston Parker.

It was a disappointing night for Nassib (8-of-18 for 79 yards) who didn’t do much with his extended playing time. Nassib had pretty good pass protection, but he tended to take off with the ball quite a bit. He was also off-the-mark on way too many of this throws. Ricky Stanzi (3-of-7 for 34 yards) has no chance to make the team, but he didn’t really look all that bad. His stats would have looked better had wideouts James Jones and Justin Talley been able to keep both feet in-bounds. Stanzi also wasn’t helped by some shoddy late pass protection. Stanzi’s last fourth down throw into the end zone was right on the mark too, but Derrick Johnson couldn’t come down with the reception given the tight coverage.

Running Backs

The stats for the big three were disappointing as three of the six running plays were not well blocked: Rashad Jennings (2 carries for 14 yards), Shane Vereen (2 carries for 4 yards), and Andre Williams (2 carries for -2 yards). Williams did have a 16-yard gain on a screen pass and Jennings gained six yards on another pass.

The most productive player on the field for the Giants was Orleans Darkwa (9 carries for 52 yards and a touchdown), who ran with vision and power. The diminutive Akeem Hunt (3 carries for 18 yards) also flashed. The problem? Is there a roster spot for either? Darkwa did pretty well on blitz pick-ups while Hunt was late on one effort, causing Ryan Nassib to scramble out of the pocket.

Wide Receivers

Not a productive night. Odell Beckham played but wasn’t on the same page as Eli Manning on his only chance of the night. Rueben Randle (knee tendinitis) looked gimpy and did not have a catch. He dropped a 3rd-down back-shoulder throw and left after three snaps. Victor Cruz (knee) did not play. The leading receiver, Julian Talley (3 catches for 34 yards), is a long shot to make the team. He also couldn’t come down with one on-the-mark sideline throw from Stanzi. Dwayne Harris had one catch for 15 yards, James Jones two catches for 11 yards, Corey Washington one catch for eight yards, and Geremy Davis one catch for five yards. Washington did not distinguish himself despite a number of opportunities. Preston Parker dropped a third-down pass. Harris also dropped a pass. Jones couldn’t keep his feet in bounds on a well-thrown ball from Stanzi.

“I didn’t think our receivers played well,” said Tom Coughlin.

Tight Ends

Other than Jerome Cunningham’s one catch for 28 yards to set up the team’s second-quarter field goal, the tight ends were really a non factor. Adrien Robinson is supposed to be this amazing athlete, but he looks very cumbersome to me. He had two catches for 12 yards. Larry Donnell was very quiet with one catch for five yards. Larry Donnell did not get a good block on the failed 3rd-and-1 running play early in the second quarter. I didn’t care for Adrien Robinson’s effort run blocking on one play in the third quarter that was stuffed.

Offensive Line

The first-team offensive line did better than the media and fans thought they did. Pass protection was very solid. And although there were blocking mistakes on the two runs by Andre Williams, the run blocking was not as bad as it first appeared.

On the first possession, many blamed RT Marshall Newhouse for the 5-yard loss on the swing pass, but there was nothing Newhouse could do. Manning and Jennings didn’t sell the play and the defensive end simply reversed his field to make the tackle. On the second drive, RG John Jerry’s man blew into the backfield to nail Andre Williams (bad play #1). There was immediate pressure on Eli on second down but that’s because the Bengals didn’t bite on the play-action off a naked boot and the unblocked end was in Manning’s face. The Giants had good pass protection on third-and-long but there was miscommunication between Manning and Beckham.

The good news is that despite a face mask penalty on Ereck Flowers (bad play #2), he really didn’t look all that bad in his first real live action. On the play where he got the penalty, he grabbed at his man after being knocked off balance. On the next snap, Jerry did a nice job of engaging the middle linebacker on a draw play that picked up good yardage. On the next snap, all five offensive linemen provided excellent pass protection and followed that up with good protection on 3rd down, but Preston Parker dropped the ball.

On Eli’s fourth and last series, Weston Richburg’s man got past him and almost decapitated Andre Williams (bad play #3). The really disappointing moment was the failure to convert on 3rd-and-1 behind Newhouse and Jerry. However, it appears that Larry Donnell was the chief culprit in allowing penetration on that play.

Ironically, where the right side of the line had some issues run blocking was on the team’s best drive of the game, the TD drive in the second quarter. But Darkwa showed good vision navigating around penetration. Of the starters, Justin Pugh stood out as the guy didn’t make any mistakes. Flowers and Richburg each had one negative play. Jerry had a couple of issues in run blocking. Newhouse did not play as poorly as many say he did.

The second-team offensive line had some shaky moments, but played better than expected. That line was composed of Emmett Cleary at left tackle, Adam Gettis at left guard, Dallas Reynolds at center, Eric Herman at right guard, and Brandon Mosley at right tackle. The Giants best running play came with this group as they opened a big hole for Darkwa to gain 20 yards. But the drive stalled after back-to-back poor pass protection plays, first by Clearly and then by Mosley. On the next series, Mosley moved to right guard and Bobby Hart was inserted at right tackle. This group did an OK job in pass protection. The Giants later went back to Mosley at right tackle and Herman at right guard, but I thought Hart did a pretty good job at right tackle.

Late in the game, the Giants had Sean Donnelly at left tackle, Michael Bamiro at left guard, Brett Jones at center, Herman at right guard, and Hart back at right tackle. Herman gave up a couple of sacks late in the contest. His man got around him on the first and he couldn’t recover when Akeem Hunt got in the way. On the second, Herman failed to pick up the stunt.

Mosley and Donnelly were flagged with false starts and Gettis with a questionable holding penalty.

Defensive Overview

Growing pains under Steve Spagnulo’s new defensive scheme are to be expected, especially throughout the preseason and early regular season. But the Bengals starting offense ripped though the Giants starting defense in six plays for what was a far-too-easy touchdown drive on their first possession. Minus starting quarterback Andy Dalton, the Bengals also continued to move the ball against the starters on their second drive, resulting in a field goal and a quick 10-0 lead. There were issues in both pass and run defense. The second teamers gave up an 11-play, 80 yard touchdown drive in the second quarter too.

While the second- and third-teamers only held the Bengals reserves to six second-half points, Cincinnati didn’t have much trouble moving the ball after intermission either until reaching the red zone (they also missed a very short field goal). The mobile back-up quarterback gave the Giants problems with his legs and the Bengals called a lot of misdirection plays. The good news? This experience will help the young players.

It was interesting to see some early signs on how Spagnuolo will generate pass pressure in this defense. The blitz packages already look smoother and more professional than under Perry Fewell. They were not as easy to spot by the opposition and the quarterback took some shots.

The most damning statistic of the night was the defense allowing 225 yards rushing. You can’t win if you can’t stop the run. It’s also an indication that your team isn’t very tough and physical.

Defensive Line

The Giants started off with Johnathan Hankins and Markus Kuhn at defensive tackle and Robert Ayers and Cullen Jenkins at defensive end. The coaching staff keeps talking up Kuhn but he’s not making any plays in games. He got pushed around far too often. Hankins had a decent pass rush on one play on the opening drive.

On the second series, things looked more natural with Ayers and George Selvie at defensive end and both of them blew up the first run. Selvie, who played right defensive end, also helped to stuff another run to his side. On the next snap, Ayers got immediate pressure in the quarterback’s face, leading to a clean-up sack by Jenkins and Damontre Moore. Jenkins pressured the quarterback off a stunt on third down on the next series, leading to a punt.

In the second quarter, Selvie and Kerry Wynn played defensive end. Wynn helped to stuff a run and then Selvie got a decent bull rush on the quarterback. Owamagbe Odighizuwa had a rough start at left defensive end when he was easily taken out of running play to his side that picked up good yardage. Damontre Moore also had some issues holding up at the point-of-attack at left end, but did make one nice play to his side that Jay Bromley helped to gum up. That said, Bromley and Kerry both got handled on the 2-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter.

What caused the most problems for the young defensive ends in the second half was misdirection. Wynn and Odighizuwa bit too hard on play fakes, opening up the perimeter. Bromley made some plays in the third quarter both defending the run and rushing the passer. Kenrick Ellis looked pretty stout inside and he helped to pressure the quarterback into a clean-up sack by Wynn and Cooper Taylor. (Ellis was also held on the play).

What was a bit troubling is that guys like Selvie and Moore were playing against back-ups in the third quarter and often were not getting enough pressure. That doesn’t bode well for when they have to up against NFL starters when the games count.

Linebackers

Jon Beason got beat by the tight end for a first down on the Bengals first offensive snap and then got effectively taken out on a run up the gut for another first down on the second play. Devon Kennard looked good at times in coverage and against the run, but he also got clobbered on one second-quarter running play to his side. J.T. Thomas was invisible.

Uani Unga flashed in run defense, but couldn’t make a play on the running back in space after a short catch, leading to a big gain down inside the 5-yard line. Jonathan Casillas did a nice job of reading screen and tackling the running back for a loss. Cole Farrand was easily blocked and also had some issues with misdirection. He disrupted one run by aggressively filling the gap at the line, but got caught too far inside on another run to his side. Tony Johnson made a nice tackle in the backfield in the fourth quarter.

Defensive Backs

Aside from cornerback Trevin Wade (who also got beat deep for 42 yards), there weren’t many positives. Landon Collins looked gimpy (probably the ankle he tweaked in practice) early and then lost valuable playing time by hurting his knee. Mykkele Thompson had a real shot to contribute this year and is now done for the season. Jayron Hosley was forced to leave the contest with a neck injury and possible concussion. Trumaine McBride also left with a hamstring issue that Coughlin said was troubling McBride before the game.

Hosley got beat for a first down by WR A.J. Green on the Bengals third offensive play. It looks like Bennett Jackson covered the wrong guy and left WR Mohamed Sanu wide open for the touchdown three plays later (Jeromy Miles looked late getting over to cover the guy Jackson covered too). Collins got beat over the middle by the tight end on the second series, but he was also picked by his own man (Hosley) on the play.

Jackson had good coverage on a second-down incomplete pass to a tight end. Cooper Taylor looked out of position on a 30-yard completion early in the third quarter.

Wade did get beat deep on one play but looked like the best corner on the field other than Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. He has a nose for the football, as indicated by a few pass defenses and an interception that he returned 61 yards late in the game. He almost had another interception early in the third quarter when he jumped another route but dropped the ball on what might have been a pick 6 opportunity.

Cornerback Chandler Fenner was picked on all evening and doesn’t look like an NFL-caliber player.

Josh Gordy looked good on a corner blitz that forced an incompletion but he was also flagged with a 30-yard pass interference penalty. He later batted down a third-down pass in the red zone. Late in the game, he missed the running back in the backfield on a blitz, leading to a 26-yard gain.

Justin Currie was active against the run.

Special Teams Overview

One of the best plays of the night for the Giants was Akeem Hunt’s 70-yard kickoff return. The Giants couldn’t get anything going with their punt returns. Josh Brown missed a 53-yard field goal but made a 41-yarder. Punt and kickoff return coverage was good.

(New York Giants at Cincinnati Bengals, August 14, 2015)
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (November 11, 2012)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants at Cincinnati Bengals, August 14, 2015

THE STORYLINE:
Fans often read too much into the first preseason game, which is basically nothing more than a glorified scrimmage. The point is not so much to win – though that is nice – but to simply get some quality full-speed, full-contact practice reps against a different opponent. The starters usually only play for part of the first quarter before giving way to the second- and third-teamers.

In 2014, the Bengals were a 10-5-1 playoff team in a very tough division. The two days of practice plus this preseason game should serve the Giants well in preparing for the 2015 season.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • WR Victor Cruz (recovering from knee surgery – will not play)
  • WR Rueben Randle (knee tendinitis – questionable)
  • CB Prince Amukamara (groin – will not play)
  • CB Chykie Brown (knee – will not play)
  • OG Geoff Schwartz (ankle – will not play)
  • LT Will Beatty (pectoral – on PUP and will not play)
  • LB Jameel McClain (neck – will not play)
  • S Nat Berhe (calf – will not play)

FOUR DOWNS:
First Down
How will the offensive line perform?
On paper, the New York Giants offense looks set except for one major exception: the offensive line. Barring injury, left tackle Ereck Flowers, left guard Justin Pugh, and center Weston Richburg should eventually become stalwarts. But it is unusual for a rookie to start at left tackle and do well in his first season. And there are major question marks on the right side of the line. Geoff Schwartz seems more interested in interviews and his twitter account than getting back onto the playing field. John Jerry was extremely inconsistent in 2014 at right guard. And right tackle Marshall Newhouse has been discarded by two teams that benched him. There are also serious reservations about the team’s depth. Do any of the the young reserves have NFL talent? It’s been a long time since Offensive Line Coach Pat Flaherty as turned one of the reserves into a legitimate starter.

Second Down
Can the defense stop the run?
The Giants were dead last in the NFL in 2014 in run defense in terms of yards allowed per rush. Teams that can’t stop the run usually lose, and lose a lot. The Bengals were 6th in the NFL in rushing the football in 2014. This will be a good test for the defensive line, particularly the defensive ends. Those who perform best against the run at both tackle and end are far more likely to start when the real bullets starting flying. It will also be interesting to see how the revamped linebacking and safety corps perform in run defense.

Third Down
Who will do well or poorly at cornerback?
With no Prince Amukamara (groin) and Chykie Brown (knee), Jayron Hosley has been starting with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie this week. He’s been up and down. The Bengals have very good wide receivers, led by A.J. Green and Mohamed Sanu. The Giants have a bunch of question marks after Amukmara and DRC. Who will take advantage of the opportunity? Or will the third/fourth cornerback positions be a sore spot all season for New York?

Fourth Down
How will the new safeties perform?
Outside of veteran journeyman Jeromy Miles, the safeties are very young and green as grass. There is talent, but opposing teams will test their inexperience throughout the upcoming season with play-action, pump fakes, misdirection, and other tactics. It’s assumed that Landon Collins will start at one position, but there is still an open competition at the other spot with Miles and Jackson currently the two leading candidates. Others who could factor into the picture include Mykkele Thompson and Cooper Taylor. Nat Berhe was supposed to be a leading candidate but he remains sidelined with a torn calf muscle.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:
Ereck Flowers
The two tackle spots could be problem spots in 2015. Flowers appears to have the tools and temperament to succeed, but he is very young and raw. It’s a huge risk to entrust Eli Manning’s blindside to a rookie. If Flowers struggles all preseason, the Giants may have to consider shifting Justin Pugh to left tackle.

Marshall Newhouse
Marshall Newhouse is big and athletic, but he simply has not been able to put it all together in his five NFL seasons with two teams. The odds on him turning it around in New York are not good, but he certainly is being handed a wonderful opportunity. If Newhouse struggles, the Giants will have to sign someone or hope one of the younger players such as Brandon Mosley or Bobby Hart can replace him. Moving Geoff Schwartz to right tackle remains a possibility too if he will ever get back on the field.

Jon Beason
The injury-prone Jon Beason is the cerebral and emotional leader of the defense. Can he stay healthy? And if so, have all of the injuries – including the most recent foot injury – sabotaged his mobility to the point where he is now an ineffective player? The Giants need Beason to be a stud against the run and not too bad of a liability in pass defense.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Tom Coughlin (on what he expects from the rookies in the preseason): “Play hard. Play hard. Give great effort, let’s see what you’ve got. Plenty of spots out there to be (taken). You’ve seen the guys that are competing for starting jobs. Hopefully all that is going to do is get better.”

THE FINAL WORD:
The Bengals should win the game because they are the better team with more stability and depth. Also keep in mind that the Giants will be missing a few of their most important players such as Victor Cruz, Prince Amukamara, and Geoff Schwartz. The Giants offense is a much different animal with both Odell Beckham and Cruz in the line-up at the same time. Same with the defense with Rodgers-Cromartie and Amukamara. The most important thing for the Giants – other than avoiding injuries – is to simply see some progress in the offensive line and the defense overall. I expect some rough moments in both areas. The second- and third-team offensive lines could really struggle. And the Bengals have enough offensive weapons to give the Giants undermanned and young secondary problems.

Dec 292014
 
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Odell Beckham, New York Giants (December 28, 2014)

Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Philadelphia Eagles 34 – New York Giants 26

Game Overview

This game was not only a microcosm of the season but the past few seasons. The Giants can throw the football, but they can’t run it. The defense and special teams stink. The Giants can’t beat a team with a winning record. And they can’t beat the Eagles.

Offensive Overview

The Giants gained over 500 yards of offense and passed for 429 yards, the latter being the fourth highest in franchise history. They had 78 offensive snaps and controlled the time of possession by almost 10 minutes (34:37 to 25:23).

The Giants scored on 4-of-7 first-half drives and and 2-of-7 second-half drives, but only managed two touchdowns as New York was 1-of-3 in the red zone.

The Giants were 7-of-18 on third down (39 percent). The running backs only gained 76 yards on 25 carries (3 yards per carry).

Quarterback

Eli Manning completed 28-of-53 passes for 429 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception for a 78.3 QB rating. The yardage total is obviously impressive (4th highest in team history), but he only completed 52 percent of his passes, threw into double coverage some, and was lucky a few of his passes were not picked off.

That said, the lower completion percentage was not only a question of inconsistent accuracy, but some dropped passes, some non-calls by the referees, and a strategy to take more shots down the field.

“Now was the percentage the way you’d like it? Probably not,” said Tom Coughlin after the game. “But there were some deep shots that we wanted to take. We wanted the one-on-ones and we wanted to take some shots and we did. Unfortunately, most of them were not completions and they go in the book as incomplete. But it was part of what we wanted to do.”

Examples of some of the negative plays? On the second Giants’ possession that ended with a punt, the Eagles blitzed Eli up the middle and he somehow missed spotting Rueben Randle and Larry Donnell in the middle of the field as he threw the ball away deep (Eli was lucky intentional grounding was not called). On the following 3rd-and-9 play, Manning badly overthrew Odell Beckham.

Eli missed some opportunities like on this incomplete play.

Eli missed some opportunities like on this incomplete play.

Trailing by eight with over three minutes to play, the Giants had one final chance to tie the game, but Eli’s deep pass to Rueben Randle was picked off.

“It was just underthrown,” said Manning. “Rueben read the coverage right. They were jumping the outside route. He converted it to a go. I just couldn’t get enough on the throw. I saw it clean. They were in a quarters coverage. There should have been a window out there to hit the throw to Rueben. I couldn’t step into the throw. The ball floated up a little bit. I left it a little inside and let the safety make a play on it. It wasn’t a bad read. It was just kind of a poor throw based on the circumstances.”

Running Backs

Same old story…lots of run attempts…very little productivity. And this against the 17th-ranked defense against the run. Andre Williams carried the ball 15 times for 43 yards (2.9 yards per carry) and one touchdown. Rashad Jennings carried the ball 10 times for 33 yards (3.3 yards per carry). Williams caught all three passes thrown in his direction for 19 yards, while Jennings caught 3-of-5 passes for 21 yards.

Williams did have a nice 9-yard run on 3rd-and-1 on the opening touchdown drive and an 8-yard run on the first FG drive. And Jennings had a nice 16-yard reception on 3rd-and-13 in the first quarter and an 18-yard run in the third quarter. But too often it was only 1-3 yards per attempt, or worse, a negative-yardage play.

Part of the problem may be the use of differing blocking schemes.

“We were dabbling a lot between schemes, whether we were outside zone, whether we were a zone team or a power team, what fit our personnel the best,” Williams said. “As we continue to learn the offense and learn what we’re good at, we’re bound to get better…I think we’re capable of both. I just don’t know if we knew when and where we were supposed to do what. It all comes with newness, new faces, and new players. Everything was new this year, especially for me. I think that played a big role.”

Wide Receivers

It was the Odell Beckham (12 catches for 185 yards and one touchdown) and Rueben Randle (6 catches for 158 yards) show. And both could have had an even bigger day as Beckham was actually targeted 21 times and Randle 13 times. As productive as these two were, the Eagles also had an unbelievable 11 pass defenses in the game.

The Eagles got away with obvious pass interference on Beckham on a few plays, including deep shots in the first and second quarters. Beckham had a nice 22-yard sideline reception on the Giants’ first FG drive on 3rd-and-5. Three plays later he had a 17-yard reception. Beckham had two catches on the Giants’ second-half field goal drive, including a spectacular, leaping 16-yard reception on 3rd-and-and-20 that set up the successful 53-yard field goal. Later in the quarter, Beckham had a shot at a perfectly-thrown deep ball down the middle of the field by Manning but the safety knocked the ball out of Beckham’s arms. Three plays later, Beckham could not come down with another deep pass, this time along the right sideline. Of course, the big highlight was Beckham’s 63-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown.

However, that was basically it for Beckham. “He was sick on he sideline,” said Coughlin. “He was ill and was vomiting and so on and so forth. They held him. He didn’t come back with a lot of strength right there.”

Randle made a great 43-yard catch despite double-coverage on the opening touchdown drive and followed that up on the next play with an 18-yard reception down to the 1-yard line. In the second quarter, Randle made another big play with another athletic 36-yard grab on 3rd-and-7. Three plays later, he caught a 25-yard pass. These plays helped the Giants get into FG range. However, the drive stalled when Randle was flagged with an offensive pass interference (pick) penalty.

Also on the downside, Randle really should have have come down with three more catches, including a 3rd-and-9 pass in the second quarter and a 3rd-and-11 pass on the play before the blocked punt. On the Giants’ third-quarter drive that ended with a 53-yard field goal, Randle had a key 24-yard catch-and-run on 3rd-and-2. After a 15-yard catch by Beckham, Randle appeared to have caught a 34-yard touchdown pass but a holding penalty wiped out the play. Then the inconsistency returned as Randle dropped the very next pass.

The only other receiver targeted in the game was Preston Parker, who caught 2-of-4 passes thrown in direction for 20 yards. He had a key 13-yard reception on 3rd-and-10 two plays before Beckham’s 63 yard catch-and-run.

Tight Ends

Larry Donnell caught 2-of-6 passes thrown in his direction for 26 yards. On the Giants’ first FG drive, Donnell didn’t do a very good job of picking up a pass rusher on an incomplete 2nd-and-5 pass. One play later, Manning tried to hit him deep on the end zone, but he couldn’t make the play and the Giants settled for three points. On the following drive, Donnell got wide open on a 3rd-and-5 play but dropped a pass thrown behind him and the Giants had to punt. Donnell did have a 10-yard catch on 3rd-and-5 in the third quarter. Eli went deep to Donnell again in the fourth quarter but couldn’t connect.

Adrien Robinson could not make a play on a deep pass opportunity.

Offensive Line

Pass protection was pretty good as Eli Manning was not sacked and only officially hit three times. That was quite an improvement over the first Giants-Eagles game when Manning was sacked eight times, especially when you keep in mind that the Giants took a lot of deep shots down the field in this game.

Run blocking remains a sore spot as the Giants only averaged three yards per carry on 25 attempts against the NFL’s 17th-ranked run defense.

For example, on the first play of the second NYG drive, OC J.D. Walton and LG Weston Richburg allowed the Eagles’ nose tackle to run right past them to nail Jennings for a 3-yard loss.

Jennings has no chance as NT runs by Walton and Richburg.

Jennings has no chance as NT runs by Walton and Richburg.

Here you see Fletcher Cox shove Walton back into the backfield, disengage, and nail Williams for no gain.

Fletcher Cox abusing J.D. Walton.

Fletcher Cox abusing J.D. Walton.

After Jenning’s 18-yard run in the third quarter, Walton got shoved back again on a 3-yard loss. Then he made matters worse by getting flagged with a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty. Two plays later, Walton was flagged with a false start and the Giants found themselves in a 3rd-and-29 situation, largely due to Walton.

Of course, the huge offensive line mistake was the holding penalty on LT Will Beatty that wiped out Rueben Randle’s 34-yard touchdown. The Giants had to settle for a field goal instead.

Even late in the game when the Giants were down by 8 points in the fourth quarter, and the Eagles probably looking pass first, the Giants couldn’t run it. Look how neither Walton nor Beatty can get any movement at the point-of-attack.

Both Walton and Beatty stonewalled and Jennings is bottled up.

Both Walton and Beatty stonewalled and Jennings is bottled up.

Defensive Overview

Just another dreadful performance. The Giants’ defense gave up 27 points, 23 first downs, 426 total net yards, 262 passing yards, and 164 rushing yards. The Eagles converted 7-of-16 third-down attempts (44 percent). And Philadelphia gained 20 yards or more on EIGHT plays.

The defense allowed the Eagles to score two touchdowns on their first two possessions, allowed the Eagles to drive the field at the end of the first half to set up an easy field goal, and couldn’t stop the Eagles in the second half once the Giants had twice cut their lead.

Yet after the game, Coughlin – at least publicly – seemed borderline delusional about the play of his defense against an Eagles’ offense led by Mark Sanchez of all people.

“I thought our defense battled,” said Coughlin. “Their first score was right down the field and score, but once we settled down, we did a decent job of holding them. I’m not sure what the number of punts were or anything like that. We did have some three and outs, which was very good and put ourselves in position…Defensively, again, I say we had a good plan, the plan was well taught. I thought we did a pretty good job, although you always say you’re going to try to stop the run. They had a lot of run yardage as it turns out.”

Defensive Line/Linebackers

Really shitty run defense once again against the Eagles as Philadelphia gouged New York for 164 yards, averaging over 5 yards per carry. The pass rush was not as consistent as the team’s four sacks suggest.

The best of a mediocre bunch was Jason Pierre-Paul (5 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 tackles for losses, 2 QB hits). The Giants didn’t get much out of Kerry Wynn (3 tackles) and Damontre Moore (1 tackle) at defensive end. Cullen Jenkins (1 tackle) also played some end but was largely invisible.

The tackles played very poorly, especially Johnathan Hankins (2 tackles, 1 QB hit) and Mike Patterson (4 tackles). Their defense on the goal line early in the fourth quarter was embarrassing as the running back jogged into the end zone untouched. Markus Kuhn (3 tackles, 1 sack, 1 tackle for a loss, 1 QB hit) was a little better, but not much.

The linebackers just didn’t make enough plays although Mark Herzlich flashed statistically with 7 tackles, 1 sack, and 1 tackle for a loss. He did sack Sanchez and made a nice tackle short of the first-down marker on a 3rd-and-2 run. Jameel McClain had eight tackles and one pass defense in the end zone at the end of the first half. Spencer Paysinger played but didn’t show up on the stat sheet.

On the first running play by the Eagles – a play that picked up 23 yards – JPP, Patterson, and Hankins were all blocked and McClain overran the play.

JPP, Patterson, and Hankins blocked; McClain overruns the play.

JPP, Patterson, and Hankins blocked; McClain overruns the play.

On the very next snap, both McClain and Herzlich bite badly on the play fake to the left as WR Jordan Matthews crosses wide open behind them to the right en route to his 44-yard catch-and-run TD.

Linebackers leave big hole in coverage by biting on play-action fake.

Linebackers leave big hole in coverage by biting on play-action fake.

On 2nd-and-15 on Eagles’ next possession, note how Hankins and Moore are easily blocked up front and no other linebacker or defensive back is anywhere near the line of scrimmage to help out against LeSean McCoy on an 8-yard run.

Moore and Hankins blocked and no one else there to stop McCoy.

Moore and Hankins blocked and no one else there to stop McCoy.

After Eagles pick up first down on 3rd-and-7, Wynn fails to account for Sanchez on a read option (and McClain is completely driven away from play) on 15-yard run by a nimble-footed quarterback (sarcasm off).

Kerry Wynn bites on play fake and Sanchez runs around him for 15 yards.

Kerry Wynn bites on play fake and Sanchez runs around him for 15 yards.

And then there is this little gem where the Giants’ defense appears unbalanced towards the side with fewer players. Everyone bites on McCoy’s first step to the left before he cuts back to the right and there is NO ONE on the perimeter of the defense to stop the run and McCoy gains 21 easy yards. This was a big play on the Eagles’ touchdown drive that put Philadelphia up 31-19.

No one outside to stop McCoy on 21-yard gain.

No one outside to stop McCoy on 21-yard gain.

How bad was the defense? With the Eagles up by 8 points with 4 minutes left to play, and Philadelphia facing a 3rd-and-18 from their own 8-yard line, the Giants should have been prepared for a draw play. Instead they gave up 17 yards on the draw and almost a first down.

Defensive Backs

Mark Sanchez completed nearly 64 percent of his passes for 292 yards and two touchdowns. WR Jordan Matthews caught eight passes for 105 yards, including a 44-yard touchdown pass. The other wideouts to catch passes were Jeremy Maclin (3 catches for 49 yards) and Riley Cooper (2 catches for 37 yards). The tight ends caught 5 passes for 57 yards and a touchdown.

Mike Harris (10 tackles, 1 interception, 1 pass defense) was beat by TE Zach Ertz for 18 yards on Philly’s first offensive snap. Two plays later, Stevie Brown (3 tackles) looked pathetic and slow trying to make a tackle on WR Jordan Mathews, who is not known for his speed, on his 44-yard touchdown catch-and-run. On the next possession, Harris was beat by Ertz again for 10 yards on 3rd-and-7.

Chykie Brown (6 tackles, 1 pass defense) had good deep coverage on Cooper on the Eagles’ second drive, but he was later flagged on this same drive with a questionable and game-altering 41-yard pass interference penalty on a play where Stevie Brown picked off Sanchez at the NYG 9-yard line. Three plays later, on third-and-goal, TE Brent Celek scored on a 1-yard TD reception by beating Harris who got caught up in the goal line congestion. Harris missed a tackle on McCoy after a short pass early in the 4th quarter on a play that picked up 15 yards and then got beat by Matthews on an 8-yard slant down to the 1-yard line. Chykie Brown got flagged with an offside penalty on 3rd-and-13 that helped the Eagles move a bit closer for their last field goal.

Antrel Rolle (8 tackles) just doesn’t seem to be making plays anymore against the run and the pass. On 1st-and-goal from the NYG 6-yard line, Mark Herzlich gambles on Mark Sanchez keeping the ball on a read-option play. Instead, RB LeSean McCoy has the ball. In my opinion, Rolle has to cover the gap on the potential cutback run more aggressively than he did. Instead, Rolle only makes the tackle after McCoy gains five yards down to the 1-yard line.

Antrel Rolle needs to make the play sooner in the hole on the goal line.

Antrel Rolle needs to make the play sooner in the hole on the goal line.

Late in the third quarter, Rolle had McCoy all alone but let him get away for an 11-yard gain.

Rolle has McCoy 1-on-1 but lets him get away on 11-yard run.

Rolle has McCoy 1-on-1 but lets him get away on 11-yard run.

Rolle also committed a 15-yard face mask penalty on the Eagles’ last scoring drive.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (2 tackles) gave up a big 20-yard completion to Maclin on 3rd-and-16 on the Eagles’ FG drive right before halftime. He also didn’t make much of an effort to get off a block on Matthew’s 44-yard touchdown. Quintin Demps (3 tackles) didn’t make any plays.

But what really drives me nuts are plays where receivers are simply left wide open, either from flaws in the defensive schemes and/or mental mistakes by the players.

Note how no one is anywhere near two Eagles receivers on this 3rd-and-7 play where Matthews picked up an easy 24 yards.

It's 3rd-and-7, not 3rd-and-27.

It’s 3rd-and-7, not 3rd-and-27.

And no one covers Jeremy Maclin on a short crossing route that picked up 25 yards.

Easy pitch-and-catch again for Sanchez and his receiver.

Easy pitch-and-catch again for Sanchez and his receiver.

And at the end of the first half, the corner and safety (Rolle) were nowhere to be found on a 22-yard completion to Cooper.

Seriously?

Seriously?

There were a few positives, but not many. Chykie Brown knocked away one pass. Harris did pick off Sanchez and returned the ball to the Eagles’ 49-yard line and tipped away a pass intended for Ertz in the end zone at the end of the first half.

Special Teams Overview

The punt blocked for a touchdown early in the third quarter was a difference maker. Punter Steve Weatherford’s other six punts averaged 41.8 yards, but only a 33.7 net. The Eagles returned two punts for 15 yards with a long of 13 yards. Zack Bowman made a nice play on one return by tackling Sproles right away.

Josh Brown was 4-of-4 on field goals, including kicks of 38, 20, 36, and 53 yards. Five of his seven kickoffs went for touchbacks. The Eagles returned one kickoff 29 yards and the other only went for 11 yards.

I have no idea why the Giants were trying to draw the Eagles offsides with a hard count on a fake FG attempt since the penalty would not have helped them there. Instead, Weatherford was flagged with a false start.

The Giants did not return a punt as all seven were fair caught by either Rueben Randle (5) or Odell Beckham (2) – bad job by the Giants in holding up the Eagles’ gunners.

Preston Parker’s three kickoffs were returned to the 24, 19, and 20 yard lines. He fumbled his first kickoff return but was fortunate the loose ball was recovered by Mark Herzlich.

(Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants, December 28, 2014)
Dec 262014
 
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New York Giants Helmets (October 27, 2013)

New York Giants Helmets – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants, December 28, 2014

The 90th season in the history of the New York Football Giants is about to end. After making the playoffs in five of seven seasons (2005-2011), including winning two NFL titles, the Giants have now missed the playoffs three straight seasons and five of the last six seasons. The Giants have have had two losing seasons in a row for the first time since 2003-2004 (Jim Fassel’s last season and Tom Coughlin’s first season).

With the benefit of time, it is easier to see that the overall problem has been the steady decline of overall starting talent and depth. Injuries have been a factor but so has questionable drafting and free agent moves. The proof is in the pudding. How many players on the current roster would you rank among the best in the NFL? How many are Pro Bowlers?

2014 clearly was not a success. There were some positives, the most important being the reconstruction of QB Eli Manning (who statistically has had one of his best seasons after playing his worst) and the emergence of WR Odell Beckham (perhaps the best player to come out of the 2014 NFL Draft). The tight ends played better than feared. And as could be expected, the offense did improve as players became more comfortable with Ben McAdoo’s system.

But minus Geoff Schwartz and no viable depth, the offensive line continued to remain a terrible liability. The team lost David Wilson for good, Rashad Jennings could not stay healthy, and Andre Williams struggled. The Giants averaged less than four yards per rushing attempt. Victor Cruz suffered a season-ending and potential career-altering knee injury. Rueben Randle did not develop as hoped.

Defensively, for all intents and purposes, the Giants lost Jon Beason during the OTAs. It was anticipated that the Giants’ secondary would be one of the best in team history and carry the defense, but the Giants lost Prince Amukamara, Walter Thurmond, Trumaine McBride, and Cooper Taylor to injury, and Will Hill to drugs. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was never healthy. Antrel Rolle regressed and the other safeties weren’t very good. Linebacker play was at best mediocre. While Jason Pierre-Paul did play better than the previous two years, he didn’t really make a big impact until it was too late. Mathias Kiwanuka didn’t get the job done. Cullen Jenkins was hurt. Johnathan Hankins played above expectations, but Damontre Moore played below them.

By all indications, Tom Coughlin and the bulk of his coaching staff will return in 2015. The larger question is the talent arrow now pointing up or down with this team? The Giants are getting a lot of positive contributions from young players such as Beckham, Richburg, Williams, Donnell, Pugh, Hankins, Wynn, and Kennard. Hopefully guys like Cruz, Amukamara, Ayers, and Schwartz come off season-ending injuries and return to form. But will JPP and Thurmond be back? What about Rolle? Can the Giants adequately address talent-deficiency issues on the offensive line, tight end, linebacker, and safety? There are still some significant questions about the overall state of the defensive line and wide receiving corps too. In a nutshell, the Giants need more impact players…more difference makers.

FOUR DOWNS:

First Down
Is this Perry Fewell’s last stand?
There has been much speculation that Perry Fewell’s job is in jeopardy. His defense is 28th in the NFL. Injuries undoubtedly have been a factor, but Fewell’s defenses have been cellar-dwellers for much of his tenure in New York. While the defense has improved its play in the last month, that success has come against some of the NFL’s worst offenses. On Sunday, even with Mark Sanchez at quarterback, the Giants will face one of the better offenses and an offense that Perry Fewell has struggled to counter. Perhaps the decision on whether to retain or fire Fewell has already been made. If not, this game may ultimately decide his fate.

Second Down
Can the Giants get out of this game injury free?
Given the fact that this game will be played on December 28, serious injuries suffered in this game could impact a player’s availability in 2015. The last thing the Giants need is another injury to a player important for their future.

Third Down
Can the Giants get over their mental block with the Eagles?
For some reason, in recent years, the Giants have more problems with the Eagles than they do with any other team. The Eagles are a decent team but they should not be giving the Giants as much problems as they have in recent years, including earlier this year when the Eagles absolutely dominated them. To be blunt, there is not a huge talent differential between these two teams. It’s time for New York to man up and take care of business.

Fourth Down
Can Eli Manning and Odell Beckham end the season on high statistical notes?
This game is basically meaningless other than draft position and whether or not the narrative heading into the offseason will be more positive or negative. And football is supposed to be a team sport and not about individual accomplishments. That said, it would be nice for Eli Manning and Odell Beckham to continue to add to their positive overall individual statistical accomplishments. Manning is having one of his best overall seasons ever and it would be nice to further accentuate a very solid TD-to-INT ratio (29-to-13). He is two TDs short of his career high. And his 13 interceptions are his second-lowest ever since he became a full time starter. He’s less than 20 yards from his fourth 4,000-yard season. Odell Beckham? He’s breaking records left and right every time he plays.

BREAKING DOWN PHILADELPHIA:

OFFENSE
Strength?
The Eagles are 5th in offense in terms of yards gained and 3rd in terms of points scored (over 29 per game). Their fast-break offense enables them to run on average 70 offensive snaps per game which is very high. The Eagles also tend to do very well early in games,  having scored 85 points on their first and second drives.

Partly due to injuries, the offensive line has had its up and downs this year. But the offensive line still has a number of talented players, especially on the left side with LT Jason Peters and LG Evan Mathis. The Eagles have a lot of talent at the skill positions including RB LeSean McCoy (149 rushing yards against the Giants in October), RB Darren Sproles, WR Jeremy Maclin (1,269 yards and 10 touchdowns), WR Riley Cooper, WR Jordan Matthews (7 touchdowns), TE Brent Celek, and TE Zach Ertz (coming off a 15-catch game). McCoy and Sproles can hurt you both running the ball and catching it, and present match-up problems for linebackers in coverage.

Weakness?
The Eagles turn the football over a lot, including both interceptions (20) and lost fumbles (15). Mark Sanchez has been inconsistent at quarterback, and is more at ease with the short- to intermediate-throw than the long ball.

DEFENSE
Strength?
The Eagles are ranked 25th in defense (three spots higher than the Giants). Earlier in the season, turnovers largely covered up bad play. That said, back in October, this 3-4 Eagles defense dominated the Giants at the line of scrimmage and shut out New York. Philadelphia can rush the passer as they are second in the NFL with 49 sacks. RDE Fletcher Cox is very good. Reserve pass rushing specialist DE Vinny Curry has nine sacks. LOLB Connor Barwin has 14.5 sacks and gave RT Justin Pugh fits in the last game. ROLB Trent Cole (6.5 sacks) has a history of playing well against New York. Reserve Brandon Graham can play a number of positions and also rush the passer.

Weakness?
The Eagles secondary isn’t very good. They give up a lot of yards and a lot of big plays. They have given up 64 plays of 20 yards or more, the highest in the NFL. The Eagles are also 23rd in scoring defense, allowing almost 25 points per game (which makes the shutout against the Giants even more disconcerting).

SPECIAL TEAMS
The Eagles have scored six touchdowns on special teams: two on punt returns, two on kickoff returns, and two on blocked punts. Darren Sproles is very dangerous on punt returns as is Josh Huff on kickoff returns.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

Odell Beckham
Not to sound like a broken record, but he’s THE reason to watch this game. Can he break 100 yards again?

The Offensive Line
If they can pass protect, the Giants can score a lot of points against this defense.

FROM THE COACHES’ MOUTHS:

Tom Coughlin – “Probably the best thing we have done is take care of the football. Offensively, the ball has not been turned over in two weeks, so I am hoping we can do that again.”

Chip Kelly – “(On Odell Beckham) They are moving him around more. Obviously, you have to know where he is at all times. They seem like they are putting him in more positions…In my opinion, I thought he was the best in the draft, I think he is showing people that.”

FINAL WORD:

The Eagles really are a middle-of-the-pack team that was thriving off of turnovers and big plays on special teams earlier in the season. But for some reason, they seem to have the Giants’ number. Offensively, if the Giants can protect Eli Manning, New York can score a lot of points on this defense. Can the offensive line play two strong games in a row against an opponent who rushes the passer so well?

Defensively, the Eagles are a match-up problem for the Giants. Devon Kennard (toe) will not play and the Giants will be forced to play a three defensive back package most of the game with the slow Jameel McClain and Mark Herzlich at linebacker. The Eagles should be able to run and pass against that defense unless Mark Sanchez plays like crap and/or the defensive line dominates. The Giants simply are not athletic (or good enough) at linebacker an safety to cover these backs and tight ends.

The Giants defense was pretty bad against a mediocre Rams offense last week, and it could have been much worse had not the quarterback missed wide open targets. I don’t see the defense playing very hard to save Perry Fewell’s job, and I wonder if this game will mark the last of Tom Quinn too – especially if the special teams gives up a score.

Eagles 38 – Giants 24.

Dec 222014
 
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Tom Coughlin and Odell Beckham, New York Giants (December 21, 2014)

Tom Coughlin and Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 37 – St. Louis Rams 27

Game Overview

Despite the Rams’ overall record, this was a surprisingly easy win against a very tough opponent. St. Louis has one of the very best defenses in football yet the Giants put up 514 yards and 37 points against them.

Aside from the victory itself, the most encouraging aspect of this game was that this was the first time in a long while where another team punched the Giants in the mouth and New York didn’t back down from the fight – both literally and figuratively. That bodes well moving forward.

The downside was the defense surrendered 27 points and 387 yards against what had been the 26th-ranked offense in the NFL. Indeed, had you told me that the Rams would do that well on offense before the game, I would have said there was no way the Giants would have won this contest.

This was a game the Giants’ offense won.

The easy victory is even more astonishing when you consider the fact the Giants were flagged 12 times for 149 yards. Most teams don’t overcome nearly 150 yards in penalties and still win.

Offensive Overview

So much for my pre-game prediction that the Giants would score only three points. The Giants scored 37 and accrued 514 total net yards with 128 yards rushing and 386 yards passing against a defense that had only allowed 12 points in their last three games and had held the Denver Broncos to seven points. The Giants were 8-of-17 (47 percent) on third-down conversion attempts and controlled the clock 10 minutes more than the Rams. And very importantly, the Giants did not commit a turnover.

The Giants were also incredibly balanced, rushing the football 34 times and passing 33 times. And the big plays were back as the Giants had seven plays of over 20 yards and three plays over 40 yards.

The only real downside was red zone efficiency where the Giants were only 3-of-7 (43 percent) or the Giants would have put up over 50 points.

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

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Quarterback

Eli Manning played one of his best games in his 11-year career. Indeed, Manning’s 148.8 quarterback rating was his highest in a full game ever. Manning was a near perfect 16-of-18 for 200 yards and one touchdown in the first half, and finished the game 25-of-32 (78 percent) for 391 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions. However, there were a few risky throws in the second half where Eli was lucky a defender didn’t come down with the pick.

Lost in the Odell Beckham hype is that when you give Eli Manning solid pass protection, he can be as good as any quarterback in the NFL. How this message is lost on (or underplayed by) Jerry Reese is beyond me.

Running Backs

Andre Williams (47 snaps) had his second 100-yard game in three weeks, carrying the ball 26 times for 110 yards (4.2 yards per rush). While those numbers are inflated by his impressive 45-yard run in the third quarter, Williams did generally run for positive yardage throughout the game and kept a tough Rams’ defense honest. Indeed, I was surprised to see that Williams only rushed for 32 yards on 13 carries in the first half as I felt his toughness between the tackles had a greater impact on the game than that low productivity. Tom Coughlin and Ben McAdoo have been slammed by many fans for being too stubborn by sticking with an unproductive running game, but in this contest, that balance bore fruit. The Rams could not simply pin their ears back and attack Manning.

Although Williams did give up the sole sack of Manning on a safety blitz, Williams did a very good job most of the contest in pass protection, something many feared would be a problem for him his rookie season given his lack of experience in doing so in college.

Orleans Darkwa (20 snaps) only carried the ball four times, but he picked up 21 yards (5.3 yards per carry) and scored on an impressive 12-yard touchdown run where the Rams originally had him bottled up, but he kept his legs moving and cut back to his right for the score.

FB Henry Hynoski only played 15 snaps.

Rueben Randle, New York Giants (December 21, 2014)

Rueben Randle – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Wide Receivers

Before addressing the amazing Odell Beckham, let’s first commend Rueben Randle for an excellent game. Randle (64 snaps) caught all six passes thrown in his direction for 132 yards (22 yards per catch average) and a touchdown. Indeed, this was the type of game many of us had hoped to see from Randle throughout this season. Whether this performance is only a tease or the start of improved productivity from Randle remains to be seen. But Randle was a major factor in this contest. His big plays included a 49-yard reception on the Giants’ opening scoring drive, a 16-yard reception on 3rd-and-16 on the second scoring drive, a 19-yard reception on the fourth scoring drive, a 7-yard touchdown reception on 3rd-and-3, and a 31-yard reception on 3rd-and-4 when the Giants were attempting to run out the clock.

Wideouts – even top ones – are usually not as productive game in and game out as Odell Beckham. Facing one of the best defenses in football, and against a coaching staff and secondary intent on not letting him beat them by any means necessary (including cheap shots and dirty play), Beckham responded with an 8-catch, 148-yard, and 2-TD performance. Beckham caught more passes in the first half (five) but only gained 30 yards. That said, one of those five receptions was a 9-yard touchdown catch.

Beckham (68 snaps) only had three receptions in the second half, but the first was the back-breaker for the Rams. After St. Louis had pulled within seven points near the end of the third quarter, Beckham caught an 80-yard strike from Manning on 3rd-and-10. The play took all of the wind out of sails of the Rams and pretty much ended the game. How did Beckham get so wide open? Ironically it was Randle who drew double-team attention over the middle, and Beckham made a heck of fake to the outiside (don’t blink or you will miss it) to create separation from the defensive back. On the Giants’ next possession, Beckham also caught a 29-yard reception on 3rd-and-4 on the FG drive that put the Giants up by 17 points with 8:29 to play.

Randle draws the double team on crossing route as Beckham's fake to the outside creates separation on the 80-yard TD.

Randle draws the double team on crossing route as Beckham’s fake to the outside creates separation on the 80-yard TD.

For all of Beckham’s on-field productivity (Beckham extended his Giants and NFL rookie records with his eighth consecutive game with at least 90 receiving yards), his confidence/cockiness also appears to be having a positive emotional impact on his teammates. And when the Rams went after the team’s best player, they came to his defense in a big brouhaha on the Giants’ bench in the second quarter. That type of fight has been missing from the Giants for the last three seasons. Beckham was flagged with a questionable taunting penalty after his first TD.

The only other wide receiver to catch a pass was Preston Parker (23 snaps), who caught three passes for 32 yards before he was ejected from the game in the second quarter for coming to Beckham’s defense. But Parker had an impact before he departed with a 8-yard catch on 3rd-and-6 on the second scoring drive. He caught a couple of passes despite taking big hits from Rams defenders. However, he was flagged with an offensive pass interference penalty when he started blocking too early on a TE screen.

Kevin Ogletree (19 snaps) and Corey Washington (3 snaps) were not targeted.

Daniel Fells, New York Giants (December 21, 2014)

Daniel Fells – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Tight Ends

The Giants ran a bunch of two tight end formations.

Larry Donnell (47 snaps) caught 4-of-5 passes thrown in his direction for 42 yards including an 11-yard reception on the first scoring drive and an impressive,leaping 23-yard reception on 3rd-and-3 on the third scoring drive. He did drop one pass.

Daniel Fells (43) snaps) caught 2-of-3 passes thrown his way for 20 yards. He had a nice 12-yard reception where he dragged his tackler a few extra yards after the catch.

Adrien Robinson only saw six snaps.

Offensive Line

In my opinion, as good as Eli Manning, Odell Beckham, and Rueben Randle looked, the story of the game was the Giants’ offensive line against one of the best defensive lines and front sevens in football. It wasn’t picture perfect. Yards per carry were not ideal and pass protection sometimes looked better than it was given short drops and Eli’s quick release, but the Giants clearly won the battle up front. Nobody expected that. What I really liked was the big guys didn’t back down from the chippiness of the Rams players. There was a lot of pushing and shoving after plays and the Giants’ offensive linemen did not back down.

I have given RG John Jerry and OC J.D. Walton a lot of grief this season but both may have played their best game as Giants on Sunday. Jerry in particular deserves special mention for his superlative effort of keeping rookie DT sensation Aaron Donald invisible. Justin Pugh also did a real nice job on Chris Long.

Many are going to slam Will Beatty for his four holding penalties against DE Robert Quinn (two on pass blocks, two on run blocks). I won’t. I thought a couple of those penalties were somewhat borderline and Quinn, who had 10.5 sacks coming into this game, was largely kept away from Manning. Quinn only had one official hit on Manning and the Rams only had three hits overall. Only three hits? Who would have thought that? The only sack given up was by RB Andre Williams on a failed blitz pick-up.

Picture-perfect pass protection on 3rd-and-16 play.

Picture-perfect pass protection on 3rd-and-16 play that picked up 16 yards.

Here Eli makes pass protection look better than it was as he throws off back foot for 23-yard gain.

Here Eli makes pass protection look better than it was as he throws off back foot for 23-yard gain.

Another clean pocket for Manning on 19-yard completion to Randle.

Another clean pocket for Manning on 19-yard completion to Randle.

Note the pocket again on the 3rd-and-4 play that picked up 29 yards to Beckham.

Note the pocket again on the 3rd-and-4 play that picked up 29 yards to Beckham.

Pass protection was not only surprisingly good, but Giants’ running backs also gained 131 yards on 30 carries.

This run only picks up six yards, but note no penetration by defense.

This run only picks up six yards, but note no penetration by defense.

A huge hole right up the middle against the vaunted  Rams defensive front, leading to a 45-yard gain.

A huge hole right up the middle against the vaunted Rams defensive front, leading to a 45-yard gain.

Defensive Overview

The impressive offensive performance covered up for an almost equally disappointing defensive performance. Even with the the injuries the Giants have suffered on defense throughout the season, there is no way the Giants should have given up 27 points, 387 yards, and 23 first downs on only 54 offensive snaps to the 26th-ranked offense with Shaun Hill at quarterback. The Rams averaged 7.2 yards per play and they were 2-of-3 (67 percent) in the red zone. The Giants not only allowed Hill to throw for 290 yards, but the Rams also rushed for 106 yards. Mental breakdowns remain a problem and it could have been worse as the Rams missed some golden opportunities to wide open receivers in the passing game.

The Giants’ offense kept gaining multiple-score advantages, and the Giants’ defense kept allowing the Rams to get back into the game. The Rams scored 10 points on their final two possessions of the first half to cut what had been a 20-3 lead to 20-13. They gave up a 90-yard touchdown drive after the Giants went up 27-13 and later gave up a 3-play, 66-yard touchdown drive in just over a minute when the Giants were up 37-20.

The only positive overall defensive team stat was that the Rams were held to 1-of-6 (17 percent) on third-down conversions.

Defensive Line

The Giants did not play as well against a better offensive line than the team has played in the last three weeks. RB Tre Mason rushed for 76 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries (5.8 yards per carry). WR Tavon Austin chipped in 25 yards on three end arounds. The Giants only officially hit QB Shaun Hill five times, with three of those hits coming from the defensive line. That said, both sacks did come from the defensive ends.

A very clean pocket for Shaun Hill.

A very clean pocket for Shaun Hill.

Jason Pierre-Paul (4 tackles, 1 sack, 1 tackle for a loss, 1 QB hit) remains the Giants’ most disruptive player but he was only so-so in this game. His sack came on the Rams’ first drive on a 3rd-and-4 play where he lined up at LDE and ran a stunt with DT Cullen Jenkins. Pierre-Paul was flagged with an offsides penalty that wiped out an interception. (Though the QB probably wouldn’t have thrown that pass without the offsides). That said, Pierre-Paul did cause two holding penalties by LT Greg Robinson in the fourth quarter.

Huge hole for Tre Mason as McClain is blocked and JPP is caught too far upfield.

Huge hole for Tre Mason as McClain is blocked and JPP is caught too far up field.

JPP blocked and linebackers and safeties nowhere to be found on 12-yard gain.

JPP blocked and linebackers and safeties nowhere to be found on 12-yard gain.

Kerry Wynn (3 tackles, 1 sack, 1 tackle for a loss, 1 QB hit, 1 interception, 1 fumble recovery) did not play as superlatively as his stats suggest, but he played well and seems to be growing in confidence the more he plays. He intercepted a deflected pass late in the first quarter to end one scoring threat. Wynn picked up a sack after the Rams failed to block Pierre-Paul and JPP’s pressure forced the quarterback into the arms of Wynn. Wynn ended the game with a fumble recovery on a bad snap by the center. Wynn has good size and he is a heady player with very good awareness.

Oddly, the only other defensive linemen to show up on the stat sheet were Johnathan Hankins (1 tackle) and Jenkins (1 QB hit). It was a game to forget for Hankins who was barely noticeable and was flagged twice (offsides and defensive holding). Jenkins had a couple of decent rushes but was flagged for a borderline roughing-the-passer penalty.

Mike Patterson, Markus Kuhn, Jay Bromley, and Damontre Moore all played but did not show up on the stat sheet and did not make their presence felt in the game.

Linebackers

The linebacker/safety coverage on the tight ends was not ideal as Rams tight ends caught eight passes for 77 yards and a touchdown. Running backs chipped in with three receptions for 26 yards. In addition, the linebackers were nowhere to be found on a couple of longer RB Tre Mason runs.

Note how Herzlich, McClain, and Brown are all bunched together on pitch play to left that scored.

Note how Herzlich, McClain, and Brown are all bunched together on pitch play to left that scored.

Jameel McClain led the team in tackles (7) and QB hits (2). On one blitz up the middle, he smashed into Shaun Hill as he released the pass, helping to cause an incompletion and punt.

A blitzing McClain smashes into the QB, causing an incomplete pass on 3rd down.

A blitzing McClain smashes into the QB, causing an incomplete pass on 3rd down; JPP also hit the QB on the play.

In the second half, McClain was unblocked on an outside blitz, causing an incompletion on 3rd-and-6. This was an unusual formation from Fewell as he had two linemen in a down position, one standing up (Wynn, who stunted all the way to the right), and McClain rushing from a two-point stance. This seemed to confuse the Rams.

Rams blockers were confused by this formation.

Rams blockers were confused by this formation, leading to a QB hit and incompletion.

Mark Herzlich had 5 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss, and 1 pass defense, but he also got burned in coverage on a 23-yard touchdown pass by TE Lance Kendricks in the third quarter.

Herzlich beat badly for a 23-yard TD.

Herzlich beat badly for a 23-yard TD.

Devon Kennard (4 tackles) was quieter than usual.

Defensive Backs

Shaun Hill completed 24-of-32 passes (75 percent) for 290 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception (not his fault) for a 110.2 QB rating. And it would have been worse had Hill not missed some wide open receivers, including one in the end zone at the end of the first half.

Shaun Hill missed this wide open receiver at end of first half on what should have been a TD.

Shaun Hill missed this wide open receiver at end of first half on what should have been a TD.

Tight end wide open deep down middle but Hill overthrows him.

Tight end wide open deep down middle but Hill overthrows him.

In terms of the wide receivers, the only consistent performer was Kenny Britt who caught 9-of-11 passes thrown in his direction for 103 yards. The other Rams’ receivers only caught four passes, but one of them was a 47-yard touchdown pass where either CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie or S Stevie Brown or both mentally messed up. These mental breakdowns are a regular occurrence in Perry Fewell’s defense and it is getting old. This was not the case of two inexperienced players who were filling in for injured starters making a mistake – it was the team’s premiere CB and starting free safety.

Who was supposed to cover the WR deep on this TD? Who knows? But this happens to often.

Who was supposed to cover the WR deep on this TD? Who knows? But this happens too often.

The only defensive back to break up a pass was nickel back Mike Harris. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was flagged with a 26-yard pass interference penalty on a play where he intercepted a pass. This was key play on the Rams’ first touchdown drive. DRC also had another interception wiped out on a free play due to an offsides penalty.

Zack Bowman didn’t look sharp. He got beat on a deep post to Kenny Britt. The ball was underthrown and Bowman was lucky a flag was not thrown.

Antrel Rolle (5 tackles) and a face mask penalty was pretty quiet.

Special Teams

Josh Brown and Zak DeOssie were flagged with personal foul penalties on Rams’ returns that helped St. Louis get two field goals. The Giants also had a 29-yard field goal blocked late in the 4th quarter. Brown did kick field goals of 29, 37, and 52 yards.

Brown kicked off eight times with three of his kickoffs going for touchbacks. The other five were returned for an average of 18 yards per return with a long return of 25 yards. Orleans Darkwa forced a fumble on the Rams’ first kickoff return that Nat Berhe recovered. Berhe also made a nice play by tackling the ball carrier at the 10-yard line on another return.

Steve Weatherford punted three times, averaging 50.7 yards per punt but only netting 30.3 yards. The Giants gave up punt returns of 41 and 17 yards to Tavon Austin.

Preston Parker returned one kickoff for 24 yards and Quintin Demps returned one for 21 yards. The Giants did not return a punt as Odell Beckham fair caught three.

(New York Giants at St. Louis Rams, December 21, 2014)
Dec 192014
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (September 8, 2014)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants at St. Louis Rams, December 21, 2014

The Giants 2-game winning streak – which really should have been a 3-game winning streak had it not been for the unbelievable collapse against the Jaguars – has some fans feeling a little better than they did last month. However, despite their 6-8 record, the Rams are a major upgrade in competition for New York and the best team the Giants have played since losing to Dallas on November 23. The Rams are an ascending team that has beaten some of the NFL’s best, including the Broncos and Seahawks. There are some serious match-up problems for the Giants in this game. We’re about to see if this little December “run” has been a mirage.

FOUR DOWNS:

First Down
Can the blockers up front give Eli Manning a chance?
The Rams have arguably the best defensive line in football. On top of that, Gregg Williams is one of the most aggressive defensive coordinators in football. He doesn’t care if his down four can do the job all by themselves, he will still bring the blitz in any situation. The Rams are fast, physical, and very good up front. This may be the best pass rushing team the Giants face all year and that’s saying something when you consider some of the teams the Giants have already played. Two huge match-up problems for the Giants are DT Aaron Donald (8 sacks) versus RG John Jerry and RDE Robert Quinn (10.5 sacks) versus LT Will Beatty. The Rams also have an NFL-high 23 sacks from blitzes and will be facing a group of linemen, tight ends, and backs who have not excelled against blitzing defenses this year.

Second Down
Will Eli Manning avoid the killer mistake?
Love him or hate him, we all know that Eli at times will make some mind-blowing mistakes, especially when under constant duress and/or becoming frustrated. With no running game, Eli will be under siege on Sunday. He is going to get hit a lot. He is facing a team whose defense is peaking. But the Rams do have issues of their own on offense. Eli has to play smart and not put his defense in a bad position. Throw the ball away. Take the sack. If the play isn’t there, punt. Don’t turn the football over. That includes fumbles as well as interceptions. Eli has to become more of a game manager on Sunday.

Third Down
What can Odell Beckham do against a talented and well-coached defense whose #1 game plan will be to take him out of the game?
Odell Beckham is now officially a marked man. Ben McAdoo has done a fantastic job of moving him around – outside, inside, backfield, etc. – just to make it more difficult for opposing defenses to double and possibly triple-team him. Gregg Williams is a dick, but he’s a very good defensive coordinator. He will make it his defense’s duty to not let Beckham beat them. The Rams will get their hands on Beckham, hit him with or without the ball, and try to get into his head. St. Louis defensive backs have talked about it all week…they are intent on not letting Odell do his thing against them. Can Odell overcome all of that and get into their heads?

Fourth Down
Can the Giants defense rise to the challenge?
The Giants offense will not be able to score a lot of points against this opponent. The only chance the Giants have is if the NYG defense – which has played very well at times during the last three weeks – can play a complete game on Sunday against a team with quarterback issues. Much of that is on the players, but also much is on Perry Fewell. The Giants can ill-afford giving up a couple of touchdown drives. The Giants need to play like the Cardinals did against the Rams – blow for defensive blow – in  a game that ended 12-6. The defense can’t start slow or finish slow. No letup. Force three-and-outs and turnovers.

BREAKING DOWN ST. LOUIS:

OFFENSE
Strength?
The Rams have some size on the offensive line and some talented skill players. I would say the best thing they do offensively is use misdirection and trick plays to help cover for issues at the quarterback position. WR Tavon Austin is a very fast, quick, dynamic play-maker who actually touches the ball more as a rusher (31 rushes) than receiver (28 receptions). The troubled but talented ex-Titan Kenny Britt can make plays. TE Jared Cook leads the team in receptions. The Rams will spread the football around. There are seven players on the team with over 20 receptions.

Weakness?
The quarterback. Aging journeyman Shaun Hill has taken over for Austin Davis. Hill is more of a game manager and is being called upon not to lose games. The Rams are 26th in offense in terms of yards and 20th in terms of scoring. They struggle to run the ball at times although rookie running back Tre Mason can break the big play. The Rams have given up 41 sacks.

DEFENSE
Strength?
The Rams are very talented in the front seven and have very good overall defensive team speed. The Rams are 11th on defense but that ranking is a bit misleading as the Rams defense has been getting better as the season has progressed. St. Louis is very good in third-down situations and in the red zone. They have only given up 12 points in the last three games.

RDE Robert Quinn and LDT Aaron Donald are the main headliners up front but LDE Chris Long – who missed most of the season – has returned and he is very good as well. Alec Ogletree and James Laurinaitis are former high-round draft picks and 3-down linebackers who lead the team in tackles.

Weakness?
Perhaps the secondary. It’s a feisty group with good overall athleticism. But even though the Rams are ranked 10th in pass defense, their pass rush probably covers up for some vulnerabilities in the secondary. The problem is you have protect your quarterback long enough to exploit their defensive backs. The Rams run defense has not been consistent, but remains 12th against the run.

SPECIAL TEAMS
Coached by Jim Fassel’s son, the Rams probably run more trick plays on special teams than any other pro team. They are very fast on specials and dangerous on punt and kick returns. Tavon Austin has one punt return for a TD and Benny Cunningham is averaging almost 30 yards per kickoff return.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

RG John Jerry
John Jerry isn’t very good. And Aaron Donald – who may end up being defensive rookie of the year – is the type of player who Jerry is likely to struggle against big time.

WR Odell Beckham
He and Eli are carrying the offense right now. And Beckham – who may end up being offensive rookie of the year – is THE reason to tune in and watch the Giants right now.

FROM THE COACHES’ MOUTH:

Tom Coughlin on the Rams – “The team is built on speed and physicality…They are allowing in the last five weeks just 9.2 points per game…allowing in the green zone just 14 touchdowns, the fewest in the NFL. In the last nine games they have 35 sacks.”

Jeff Fisher on the improved Giants pass rush – “I think the Giants are playing better as a team. When you get a lead like they did against Washington, in particular, they are able to roll up and rush. I think their pressure is also a result of the match-ups up front. Their ends are outstanding. They have been winning the match-ups against tackles and they have played some young quarterbacks that are holding the football.”

FINAL WORD:

The Rams defense versus the Giants offense is a scary match-up. The Rams have shown some vulnerability to the run, but the Giants haven’t been able to run the football against any halfway decent run defense. If the Rams were not a blitzing team, the match-ups up front would be scary enough, but throw in Gregg Williams’ aggressive and confusing blitz packages, and one has to seriously fear for Eli Manning’s safety in this game. Eli will be under a tremendous amount of pressure. He has to play smart. Giants fans won’t like it, but I think the Giants have to play it conservatively on offense if for no other reason than to protect the quarterback. I might take some shots on first down. But don’t be surprised to see some head-scratching runs on third down.

The only way I see the Giants winning this game is if the Giants’ defense matches the Rams’ defensive intensity and the Giants somehow manage to not get out-played on special teams. But as well as the Giants’ defense has played at times during the last three weeks, they really have not played a complete game. And while the Rams are not a good offensive team, they run a ton of misdirection and misdirection gives Perry Fewell’s players fits.

Two more bad signs? Jeff Fisher and Tom Coughlin go way back and Fisher has good success against Coughlin. And as good as the Giants used to be in playing in domes, they have now lost four of their last five in domes.

Most importantly, the Giants may have the better quarterback and Odell Beckham. But the Rams are the better football team.

Rams 20 – Giants 3.

Dec 162014
 
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Odell Beckham and Tom Coughlin, New York Giants (December 14, 2014)

Odell Beckham and Tom Coughlin – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 24 – Washington Redskins 13

Game Overview

A bad 5-9 football team beat a worse 3-11 football team.

Offensive Overview

It was the Eli Manning and Odell Beckham show and not much else. The Giants only gained 287 total net yards and 143 of those yards came on passes from Manning to Beckham. In other words, half the offense. The Giants only had three plays over 20 yards, and all three were passing plays from Manning to Beckham for 35, 31, and 21 yards. And all three touchdowns were Manning to Beckham connections.

The Giants only rushed for 49 yards. In five first-half possessions, the Giants only gained seven first downs, punted four times, and only netted 95 yards. It took the team 12 plays to travel 56 yards on their one first-half scoring drive.

In the second half, the lone field goal was set up by an onside kick (the Giants could not gain a first down after the successful recovery). There were two more punts and one turnover on downs. The good news is that Manning and Beckham hooked up for their second and third touchdowns on the day.

How bad would this team be without Manning and Beckham?

Quarterback 

Overall, Manning played fairly well given the complete absence of a running game. He finished the game 23-of-34 for 250 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions (118.5 QB rating). Most of the yardage came in the second half as Eli was held to 9-of-16 for 79 yards in the first half of the game. That said, on the 3rd-and-7 play after the onside kick recovery, Manning was fortunate that the linebacker did not intercept his pass intended for Preston Parker. There were two plays that stood out to me in the second half. The first was the 35-yard touchdown pass to Beckham where Manning looked off the coverage to the right, helping Beckham to pull loose from the coverage. The second was his remarkably accurate 18-yard throw to Rueben Randle on 3rd-and-8 despite rolling to his right and throwing back across his body. That’s a throw that normally gets quarterbacks in trouble.

Running Backs 

A virtual non-factor. Rashad Jennings carried the ball once for three yards before leaving the game with a re-aggravated ankle injury. Andre Williams (56 snaps) carried the ball 18 times for a pathetic 44 yards (2.4 yards per carry). His longest run was six yards. The “best” run of the day was Henry Hynoski’s 2-yard gain on 4th-and-1. But Hynoski was unable to convert on a 3rd-and-1 play late in the second quarter, killing a drive.

Wide Receivers

It was the superlative Odell Beckham and not much else from the other wideouts. Beckham caught 12-of-15 passes thrown in his direction for 143 yards and three touchdowns. He and Manning were the offense as the other four wide receivers on the team only caught seven passes for 71 yards.

Ironically, it was a bit of a rough start for Beckham as he couldn’t drag his foot inbounds on one third-down conversion attempt that would have kept the opening drive alive. He later couldn’t handle a somewhat high throw on the first play of the ensuing drive. But the drive ended with an excellent touchdown reception by Beckham despite tight, aggressive coverage by the Redskins’ defensive back.

Odell Beckham comes up with TD despite tight coverage

Odell Beckham comes up with TD despite tight coverage

Besides the 143 receiving yards, Beckham also helped to cause an additional 70 penalty yards as the corner who was covering him was flagged five times on two pass interference, one defensive holding (declined), and two personal foul penalties. Of course, Beckham’s two second-half touchdowns were decisive. In the third quarter, he demonstrated excellent acceleration by sprinting through the middle of the defense for a 35-yard touchdown. On the drive where the Giants really put the Redskins away, Beckham had a key 21-yard reception on 3rd-and-2. And while he dropped his first TD attempt on this drive on 1st-and-goal, he made up for it on 2nd-and-goal with his 6-yard TD reception.

Rueben Randle, New York Giants (December 14, 2014)

Rueben Randle – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Randle (31 snaps) was benched in the first quarter for the second time in three games. When the Giants drafted Randle’s former collegiate teammate and friend Odell Beckham, I thought that might spur Randle to greater heights. It appears to have had the opposite effect. As BBI poster RetroJint said, Randle seems to be “stuck at the crossroads of indifference and envy.” Randle’s one big contribution – and it was a significant play – was his 18-yard reception on 3rd-and-8 that set up the last touchdown. But he also could not come down with a couple of passes that hit him in the hands, including a contested 3rd-and-7 reception that would have kept a drive alive earlier in the game.

BBI poster Emil wrote the following after the game:

Fans don’t often get to see this side of football because all eyes are on the QB at the snap when you watch on TV, but check out the replay of Beckham’s last TD. He wins the route right off the line of scrimmage by attacking the defender’s outside shoulder (his shoulder to the sideline). He uses his feet to get the DB to open up the inside and Beckham exploits it for the TD. It all happens in about a second and the DB is toast. Game over.

Many WRs are fast, many are big, some are big and fast. Few are big, fast, and textbook route runners. In fact, with this new generation of large WRs, most get by on their physical talents because they can. Doesn’t take much for a 6-3+ WR to gain the advantage on a DB. Beckham doesn’t have that luxury. He is fast, and has an incredible catch radius, but he is not big. By running perfect routes, pretty much all the time, he gains separation without getting in the space of the defensive back. It is simply amazing to watch.

Would also point out, this is one of the reasons Beckham gets separation and Randle does not. Randle, who never seems to get separation, runs inconsistent routes and has lazy footwork. Not to mention, he seldom uses his size to his advantage. If Rueben Randle could add some polish to his game, like Amani Toomer did, he would be a real asset in this offense.

Preston Parker played 36 snaps and has one catch for 12 yards. Kevin Ogletree played 19 snaps and had three catches for 25 yards. He had a key 15-yard catch on 3rd-and-4 on the Giants’ first touchdown drive. Corey Washington caught one pass for four yards on his only snap of the game.

Tight Ends

The tight ends were strangely quiet in the passing game as Larry Donnell (38 snaps), who torched the Redskins earlier in the season, had only two catches for 11 yards. Daniel Fells (29 snaps) had one catch for 16 yards that helped to ignite New York’s go-ahead touchdown drive. Adrien Robinson played 12 snaps.

Sometimes the issues with the blocking are with the tight ends and not the offensive line. For example, in the second quarter, Donnell’s man penetrated into the backfield and completely disrupted a run by Williams.

Larry Donnell's opponent penetrates into backfield, disrupting play

Larry Donnell’s opponent penetrates into backfield, disrupting play

Offensive Line

The offensive line remains a sore spot. The line as it is currently constituted simply cannot run block effectively against decent run defenses. The Giants were held to a pathetic 49 yards rushing. Sometimes it is borderline comical. There was one run on the TD drive where RT Justin Pugh got stood up, and a pulling LG Weston Richburg slammed into him, knocking Pugh to the ground and allowing Pugh’s man to make the tackle. But the main issue is the Giants simply are not knocking people off of the line of scrimmage. For example, on the graphic below, Larry Donnell is called upon to block the defensive lineman on a down block and Will Beatty is called upon to pull and take out the linebacker. Neither can do their job and Williams has no place to run.

Will Beatty and Larry Donnell can't make their blocks

Will Beatty and Larry Donnell can’t make their blocks

Pass protection was much better, especially in the first half. The only sack that was given up appears to have been a mental rather than physical breakdown as the Giants left the Redskins’ best pass rusher, linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, unblocked. Either TE Daniel Fells screwed up on the play or their was a flaw in the pass protection call. There was one series in the game where pass protection was an issue from a physical standpoint. Ironically, that was on the Giants’ last TD drive as Manning was hit hard a couple of times. Richburg was also flagged with a holding penalty on this drive.

The most harmful penalty was the one on the preceding series when Pugh’s holding penalty wiped out a 30-yard touchdown to Beckham. This drive ended with a failed 4th-and-1 conversion attempt.

J.D. Walton appeared to have forgotten the snap count on a 3rd-and-2 play at the Washington 9-yard line, causing a 5-yard penalty and a subsequent field goal when the Giants could not convert on 3rd-and-7.

Defensive Overview

It was largely a tale of two halves as New York’s defense was torched by Washington for 16 first downs and 265 yards in the first half, including 98 yards rushing and 167 yards passing. In other words, the Redskins gained more yards in the first half than the Giants did in the entire game. Fortunately for New York, the Redskins only managed 10 first-half points as QB Robert Griffin III inexplicably lost the ball while crossing the goal line at the end of the first half.

In the second half, New York gave up one big offensive play that set up a field goal, but otherwise completely shut down the Redskins (61 of Washington’s 107 second-half  yards came on that one play). The Redskins only gained five second-half first downs, and three of those came on the one scoring drive. Meanwhile, the Giants piled up the sacks, finishing with seven and 12 hits on the quarterback.

The Redskins did have seven plays that gained 20 yards or more. In addition, the defense was often fooled by misdirection. And there were a couple of big mental breakdowns on plays where running backs were left wide open in pass defense.

Defensive Line

For the third week in a row, the Giants played a bad offensive line and for the third week in a row, the pass rush was a huge factor, with New York accruing seven sacks. That said, run defense discipline in the first half was suspect as the Redskins gained 98 yards on 16 carries (6.1 yards per carry). And the pass rushing was more of a factor in the second half, with six of the seven sacks coming after the break.

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

Jason Pierre-Paul – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Jason Pierre-Paul (68 snaps, 7 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 2 tackles for losses, 5 QB hits, 1 forced fumble) played a terrific game. Yes, much of his damage came in fourth quarter against a right tackle who was shifted to the left side once Pro Bowler Trent Williams left the game. Yet before Williams departed, JPP had a series of key plays against him in the third quarter, including combining with Devon Kennard for 4-yard sack on 4th-and-2, slamming Robert Griffin the III to the ground on 2nd-and-goal from the NYG 11-yard line, and then on the following play sacking Griffin for a 9-yard loss to force the Skins to settle for a FG.

After the Giants went up 24-13, Pierre-Paul and Johnathan Hankins took over the next series as JPP clobbered Griffin as he threw the ball, Hankins stunted and sacked Griffin on 2nd-and-10, and then Pierre-Paul sacked Griffin from a stand up position on 3rd-and-22.

While JPP was pretty stout against the run, he continues to over-pursue the running back on QB keepers around his end. JPP also had a defensive offside penalty.

Interestingly, Kerry Wynn (41 snaps, 7 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss, 1 QB hit) played slightly more than Damontre Moore. Wynn impressed with his hustle and instincts against the run. And for an undrafted rookie, he was probably the most disciplined defensive lineman on the field in terms of not over-pursuing the back on play-action fakes. Wynn didn’t flash as much on the pass rush, but he did pressure the quarterback once into an incompletion.

Moore (39 snaps, 5 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 2 QB hits) was flagged with a defensive holding penalty on the tight end in the second quarter. He combined with Johnathan Hankins on a key 4-yard sack inside the New York 10-yard line late in the first half. In the second half, I was impressed with his hustle chasing Griffin 23 yards down field to make the tackle. Moore also did a nice job of keeping Griffin from scrambling for a first down on 3rd-and-4 in the fourth quarter.

Odell Beckham, New York Giants (December 14, 2014)

Johnathan Hankins – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Johnathan Hankins (50 snaps, 6 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 3 tackles for a loss, 2 QB hits, 1 forced fumble) played his best game as a Giant. He not only had 2.5 sacks, but he was a factor rushing the passer on a number of other plays as Redskin quarterbacks had no room to step up in the pocket in order to avoid the outside rush. For example, on JPP’s 3rd-and-goal sack, Hankins was right there too, and Griffin had nowhere to run. Two of Hankins sacks came late in the 4th quarter and helped to make the victory a comfortable one.

Cullen Jenkins (32 snaps, 2 tackles, 1 sack, 1 tackle for a loss, 1 QB hit) played more than he has in weeks and saw some time both at end and tackle. His sack came on 3rd-and-4 on Griffin’s first drive. Mike Patterson (22 snaps, 1 tackle), Jay Bromley (16 snaps, 1 tackle), and Markus Kuhn (11 snaps, 3 tackles) all played in the rotation.

Linebackers

The only linebackers to play on defense were Jameel McClain (70 snaps, 6 tackles, 1 QB hit), Devon Kennard (49 snaps, 7 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 2 tackles for losses, 1 pass defense, 1 forced fumble), and Mark Herzlich (32 snaps, 4 tackles).

The run defense was shaky in the first half, as was pass coverage on running backs as Silas Redd (3 catches for 62 yards) and Chris Thompson (3 catches for 22 yards and a touchdown) were a factor in early Redskins’ success.

For example, during Washington’s first drive, on a read option, it appears that Kennard didn’t maintain his gap responsibility on a play where QB Colt McCoy picked up 20 yards on the ground. Two plays later, Kennard couldn’t get off of the block from the TE at the point-of-attack and RB Alfred Morris gained 14 yards. Later on this opening FG drive, there was no linebacker in sight on a short pass to Redd that picked up 17 yards on 1st-and-15.

On the Redskins’ TD drive, McClain was easily beaten by TE Niles Paul out of the backfield for a 17-yard reception. And it was either McClain or Stevie Brown who should have picked up Thompson out of the backfield on his wide open 9-yard touchdown reception.

On the Redskins final drive of the first half, Redd was left side open for a 37-yard gain with no one in the picture. Some linebacker or safety was at fault there.

The linebackers played better in the second half. Kennard combined with Jason Pierre-Paul to sack Griffin on 4th-and-2. And he and Herzlich were pretty tough at the point-of-attack on running plays after intermission, including on a 3-yard loss.

Herzlich was flagged with an illegal use of hands that wiped out a 1-yard loss caused by Kennard.

Defensive Backs

The Giants did a fine job on the two main wide receivers: Pierre Garcon (4 catches for 36 yards) and DeSean Jackson (3 catches for 15 yards). The only big pass play to a wideout was the 61 yarder to Andre Roberts.

But to be fair, there were breakdowns that were covered up by the incompetence of Robert Griffin III. For example, note how two receivers are wide open on this first-half 3rd-and-10 pass play where Griffin throws the ball out of bounds.

The Redskins missed some golden opportunities in the secondary

The Redskins missed some golden opportunities in the secondary

Griffin did exploit one of these pass defense breakdowns for a 20-yard gain to Roberts late in the first half.

For the second week in a row, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (57 snaps, 4 tackles, 1 pass defense) and Chykie Brown (68 snaps, 5 tackles) started at corner with Mike Harris (38 snaps, 2 tackles) being the third corner. Unlike last week, Zack Bowman (14 snaps, 0 tackles) did log some time on defense.

Rodgers-Cromartie played well. The Redskins mostly shied away from testing him. He knocked down one pass thrown in his direction to Garcon. Griffin also took one deep shot to Jackson but Rodgers-Cromartie was stride for stride with the Giants’ nemesis. While DRC saved a touchdown by chasing down Roberts on his 61-yard gain, Rodgers-Cromartie may have been the cornerback Rolle said was out of position on the play to begin with (it was either DRC or Mike Harris, and my guess was it was DRC). Nevertheless, Rodgers-Cromartie is playing more than he did during the losing streak and that is having an impact on the overall defense.

Chykie Brown did give up a 22-yard reception to Garcon on the Redskins’ sole TD drive, but once again he surprisingly kept his opponent mostly quiet. He’s playing better than expected since being cut by the Ravens.

Stevie Brown appears to have regained the starting free safety job as for the second week in a row he logged far more snaps (70 snaps, 3 tackles) than Quintin Demps (22 snaps, 5 tackles, 1 pass defense).

Cullen Jenkins, New York Giants (December 14, 2014)

Antrel Rolle – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Antrel Rolle (70 snaps, 4 tackles, 1 pass defense) did not play one of his better games. He had very good coverage on TE Jordan Reed in the end zone on the second-to-last play of the first half, but he could not come down with the interception. Rolle had a dreadful third quarter. First, he should have sacked Griffin for a loss on 2nd-and-6, but Griffin stiff-armed Rolle to the ground and picked up 23 yards. On the next series, Rolle took a bad angle on a 3rd-and-6 play that should have been limited to about a 15-yard completion. He overshot Andre Roberts who then rumbled for a 61-yard gain. On the very next snap, Rolle hit Griffin out-of-bounds for a 15-yard personal foul penalty.

Special Teams

It was mostly a positive performance for the special teams.

Josh Brown hit a 32 yard field goal. Two of his four kickoffs resulted in touchbacks, but one was kicked out of bounds, resulting in Washington starting their possession at the 40-yard line. The Redskins returned one kickoff for 33 yards so that was not ideal either.

Steve Weatherford punted six times, averaging and netting over 43 yards per punt. Five of his six punts were downed inside the 20-yard line, and four inside the 10-yard line. And the Redskins only returned one punt for one yard. Zack Bowman did a nice job of downing two punts inside the 10-yard line.

Preston Parker returned three kickoffs for 90 yards, including a 45 yarder that set up the team’s first touchdown.

Odell Beckham returned four punts for 19 yards, with a long of 13. He was flagged for an invalid fair catch signal in the second quarter. And he muffed the last punt, leading to the team’s only turnover with nine seconds left in the game. The Giants are using him so heavily on offense that the team may want to consider pulling him off specials for the remainder of this season in order to give him a bit of a break. Adrien Robinson was flagged with an illegal block on one return.

One of the big plays in the game was the recovery of the onside kick by the Giants at the start of the third quarter. Given that the Giants were kicking off from the 35 yard line after 30 penalty yards were assessed, the decision was a no brainer but the Washington was expecting the onside kick and the Giants still recovered. It was a nice hustle play by CB Chandler Fenner.

(Washington Redskins at New York Giants, December 14, 2014)