Aug 192017
 
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Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants (November 27, 2016)

Jason Pierre-Paul – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Preseason Game Preview: Preview: New York Giants at Cleveland Browns, August 21, 2017

THE STORYLINE:
The second preseason game is a much more serious affair than the first. All of the team’s healthy starters should play, providing a better indication of where this team is at and potential trouble spots. You may or may not think it is premature to worry about aspects of the team, but there are early indications that the offensive line and running game could be issues once again. Defensively, the team looks strong but there are concerns about depth in the secondary. Of course, many eyes will be on Aldrick Rosas and whether or not he can be relied upon.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • RB Shaun Draughn (ankle)
  • WR Dwayne Harris (upper body)
  • WR Darius Powe (hamstring)
  • LB Keenan Robinson (concussion)
  • LB Mark Herzlich (stinger)
  • LB J.T. Thomas (knee)
  • CB Eli Apple (ankle)
  • S Duke Ihenacho (hamstring)
  • S Ryan Murphy (lower body)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
The blocking up front remains a concern. Against the Steelers, center Weston Richburg and right guard John Jerry did not have good games. And tackles Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart have been inconsistent in practice. The running game against the Steelers was putrid despite Ben McAdoo’s desire to focus on that aspect of the offense. There are still questions about whether or not Paul Perkins is a legitimate NFL starter.

We should get our first look at the real first-team offense with Eli Manning at quarterback and Odell Beckham, Brandon Marshall, and Sterling Shepard at wide receiver. Much attention will be on how the offensive line protects Eli and opens up holes for Perkins. Can the line provide Manning with enough time to utilize all of his dangerous weapons? Can the running game keep him out of 2nd-and-10 and 3rd-and-9 situations? When this offense is in true regular-season mode, Shane Vereen is the third-down back and a feature in the passing game. We’ll probably get a good indication on how seriously the Giants are taking this game by how much Vereen plays (Vereen tends to get nicked up so the Giants probably won’t play him all that much). It will be interesting to see if the Giants also send tight end Evan Engram on more vertical routes or whether the team is “hiding” that for the regular season. Up front, now is the time for D.J. Fluker to make a serious push for playing time. Jerry has opened the door for him. Jerry is the better pass protector and Fluker the better run blocker.

In terms of competition for roster spots, Geno Smith seemed to take the lead in the quarterback battle over Josh Johnson, but Smith made a stupid killer mistake in the Steelers game. Smith can solidify his chances with a sound game. If Johnson out-plays Smith in Cleveland, things will start to get a bit dicey. It will be interesting to see if Davis Webb plays in the second or third preseason games. Snaps are limited.

Among the tight ends and receivers, Matt LaCosse has been a camp all-star again, but we need to see it in games. Right now, it looks like Rhett Ellison, Evan Engram, and Jerell Adams are the locks with LaCosse and Will Tye on the bubble. Things are more cloudy at wide receiver once you get past the top four of Beckham, Marshall, Shepard, and Dwayne Harris. Tavarres King was a favorite at one point, but he has missed a lot of time due to an ankle injury. Roger Lewis is coming off a bad game and remains inconsistent. Darius Powe now has a hamstring issue. Travis Rudolph just may not have enough athletic ability. Could someone like Jerome Lane now sneak into the picture? On the line, much attention will be focused on back-up tackles Adam Bisnowaty and Chad Wheeler again. Both had rough moments against Pittsburgh.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The starters looked good against the Steelers, but keep in mind that Pittsburgh also sat their starting quarterback and best weapons. The Giants appear to be in good shape with multiple all-stars on the defensive line and in the secondary. But depth at safety (3rd and 4th safeties) and cornerback (5th corner) remain areas of concern. The linebacking unit has also been a bit nicked up.

Up front, the concerns about the defensive tackle spot alongside Damon Harrison appears to be diminishing with the strong efforts of Jay Bromley and Dalvin Tomlinson. Robert Thomas missed the first preseason game and should now get a chance to show his wares. Jason Pierre-Paul also did not play against the Steelers. Olivier Vernon looks set for a big year. But again, is there a back-up pass rusher on this team? Kerry Wynn had a strong game last week. Can he build upon it?

At linebacker, B.J. Goodson was a bit inconsistent, but he looks much more athletic this preseason. Combine that with his physical, aggressive nature and the Giants are willing to live with some growing pains there. What is interesting is that Calvin Munson appears to be making a serious push for a roster spot.

Landon Collins was all over the field against the Steelers. He’s one of those guys you want to get out of the game as soon as possible. He’s ready. Darian Thompson will be the other starter. Regardless of his upside, Andrew Adams is the primary back-up here. Nat Berhe is coming off a rough game and time may be running out on him. If Eric Pinkins makes it, it may be solely for special teams. I’m not sure the 4th safety is on this team yet. And I’m not sure the Giants really want Adams being the primary back-up. At corner, the big story is the emergence of Michael Hunter as a viable NFL cornerback. If he truly pans out, the Giants are in very good shape and ideally only need to find that 5th corner in case injuries start piling up. Valentino Blake and DaShaun Amos are coming off a rough game. The coaches seem to like Donte Deayon but he doesn’t offer and special teams value.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Both Aldrick Rosas and Mike Nugent went 2-for-2 last week and both hit long field goals, though Rosas was more impressive with his 52 yarder in the rain. In the event of a tie, one would think the Giants would go with youth over the fading veteran. But we shall see. The Giants did not use Dwayne Harris last week. Will they continue to keep him in bubble wrap in the preseason? (He had the hell beat out of him last year).

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Ben McAdoo on the second preseason game: “We want to stack some success with the way the game management went last week. We had 11 guys on the field each play, and that is easier said than done in the first preseason game. And just keep continuing to build. Go good to great on defense. Offense, be more productive. We are going to have everybody in the mix there and special teams, continue to improve.”

THE FINAL WORD:
My focus will be on pass protection and the running game on offense. I’m starting to get worried about both these areas again. Defensively, can Jay Bromley and Kerry Wynn string together two good games? What do the Giants have in Robert Thomas? How worried should we be about the back-up safeties? Of course, the field goal battle is a primary focal point. This is actually one of those games where you may want to see drives stall in enemy territory so you can get a better read on Rosas.

Aug 132017
 
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Davis Webb, New York Giants (August 11, 2017)

Davis Webb – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Pittsburgh Steelers 20 – New York Giants 12

by BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor Sy’56

QUICK RECAP

If this were a regular season game, the pregame hype would have been enormous, as some of the most game-breaking talents reside on each roster respectively. However, as often is the case, the stars were not on the field for any game snaps in the first week of preseason. Notable Steelers Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, and Ben Roethlisberger along with the Giants’ Eli Manning and Odell Beckham watched from the sidelines. The Steelers gave the start to  2017 4th-round pick Josh Dobbs, and the Giants opted to go with Josh Johnson, whom is in a open competition with Geno Smith for the team’s backup quarterback job.

Both teams forced multiple turnovers that provided their offenses with good field position, but PIT turned a NYG special teams fumble into a touchdown at the end of the first half, and an interception into a field goal in the 3rd quarter for a total of 10 points. NYG turned their two turnovers into 6 points, having to settle for field goals both times. NYG did have a possession late in the game down 8 points, leaving them with a chance to tie the game. Davis Webb led the offense into PIT territory with 2 minutes left, but didn’t make it past the 39-yard line.

QUARTERBACKS

  • Josh Johnson went 5/10 for 31 yards. He struggled to smoothly go through progressions after his initial target was covered. He was sacked three times in the 1st quarter, 2 of which he had more than enough time to get rid of the ball. He failed to locate the receivers that were open.
  • Geno Smith had the better night of the two, going 10/16 for 114 yards, although he did throw an interception (and had another one called back because of a PIT penalty). Smith showed off his strong arm and hit targets on the move. He also did a much better job of keeping his eyes downfield while scrambling.
  • Rookie Davis Webb looked solid-enough for a pro debut. He was getting the ball out fast but was wild-high a couple times. Webb also rushed a throw when he didn’t need to, showing a lack of awareness in the pocket. He looked comfortable with his footwork and working under center, two of his holes coming out of college.

RUNNING BACKS

  • Paul Perkins and Shane Vereen didn’t see a lot of action, combining 6 attempts for 8 yards. Neither made any catches or were given the opportunity to really get into a groove.
  • Rookies Wayne Gallman and Khalid Abdullah combined for 21 yards on 9 carries. Gallman had a nice blitz pickup in pass protection and a 4-yard catch while Abdullah missed his blocking assignment on a play late in the game. He also had a drop and showed slow/delayed decision making with the ball in his hands.
  • FB Shane Smith had the better night of the two fullbacks competing for a roster spot. He created running room on the few plays he played in the backfield and added a nice catch and run in the flat for a 9-yard gain. Jacob Huesman had a very blatant missed block on a 3rd-down running attempt.

WIDE RECEIVERS

  • The position as a whole didn’t stand out. They had a hard time getting open, forcing NYG into some cover sacks. Darius Powe showed excellent hands and ball skills on his 15-yard reception, with his easy catch-and-run ability. Undrafted rookies Jerome Lane and Keeon Johnson flashed in limited opportunities, showing physical yards-after-the-catch and toughness in traffic.
  • Roger Lewis got a lot of playing time early, but failed to capitalize on two separate end zone opportunities. The first one he came down with the ball but it was after he ran out of the end zone, making him an ineligible receiver on a play where he was the primary target. The second attempt, he had CB Ross Cockrell attached to his outside hip, but still had a clear, uninterrupted attempt to catch the ball on his inside shoulder. He did not make the most of his opportunities.
  • Brandon Marshall and Dwayne Harris saw a very limited amount of snaps.
  • Rookie Travis Rudolph got into the game early in the 2nd quarter. This coaching staff wants to give him every opportunity to make an impression. He made a nice catch up and away from his body in the 4th quarter. His lack of long speed and strength against defensive backs stood out, however.

TIGHT ENDS

  • Rhett Ellison, Evan Engram, Jerell Adams, and Matt LaCosse all saw snaps where they lined up in the backfield. I think there is still a strong chance this team avoids the fullbacks on the roster and leaves it up to this position to fill the role when needed.
  • Ellison’s role as a receiver will be more this season than it has ever been for him. He averaged 10 catches per season over his first 5 years in the NFL and if Friday night was any indication, he may be at 10 catches within the first 2 weeks in 2017.
  • Engram’s first pro catch went for 11 yards on a play-action pass where he showed explosive turn and run ability. He also graded out positively as a blocker.
  • Jerell Adams had a night, leading the team with both 3 catches and 28 yards. He made catches away from his body, showing off his enormous wing span. Athletically he played fast, twitchy, and without hesitation. It looks like things are clicking for him and if he reaches the upside I discussed he had after NYG drafted him, watch out. His blocking was also top tier, a strength we already knew he had.

OFFENSIVE LINE

  • The group did not play well early. NYG QB’s were sacked 7 times, although they were not all at the hands of the line.
  • LT Ereck Flowers looked powerful and aggressive. His footwork was very solid, although his knee bend and hand placement were inconsistent. He did allow a sack to rookie T.J. Watt, but it was mainly a result of pressure up the middle allowed by C Weston Richburg that made Josh Johnson run into Watt.
  • LG Justin Pugh played a solid game, getting movement in the run game and sticking to his man in pass protection.
  • RG John Jerry played terrible. Steelers DE Cameron Heyward was tossing him around like a 220-pound tight end. Javon Hargrave also out-quicked him on a play to Jerry’s inside shoulder, forcing a TFL.
  • The rookie tackles struggled mightily. Welcome to the NFL, I suppose. LT Chad Wheeler allowed two sacks to veteran pass rusher Arthur Moats. He had a hard time sealing the edge. Wheeler also got his exposure to the PIT defensive style when Heyward bull-rushed him onto his back. In addition to a false start, RT Adam Bisnowaty was having a hard time locking onto his man.
  • LG Adam Gettis doesn’t look sexy out there, but he did a solid job of sticking to his man and getting some movement in the run game. OC Brett Jones showed a lack of awareness, failing to see the play clock on a couple plays and also threw a grounder to Josh Johnson on a shotgun snap in the red zone.

DEFENSIVE LINE

  • This night was mostly about the backups getting snaps and the competition for the starting spot next to DT Damon Harrison. DTs Jay Bromley and rookie Dalvin Tomlinson both played well with their respective styles. Bromley made an early TFL, showing power and burst out of his stance, beating well-respected Ramon Foster. Tomlinson was showing outstanding athletic ability in pursuit. He is much more twitchy, agile, and athletic than I anticipated. He still struggled to maintain his ground against the double team, being pushed back 3+ yards on a few occasions.
  • DE Devin Taylor had one of the biggest plays of the night, intercepting a Dobbs pass in the 2nd quarter on a zone blitz. It was an easy play, as Dobbs literally threw it right to him unaware that Taylor had dropped into coverage, but still it was a big play for Taylor and his chances of making the team.
  • Third year DE Owa Odighizuwa was in the game early, as I think he is a guy on the bubble who this coaching staff wants to see play a lot throughout preseason. At the very least, he showed a strong presence against the run. He is a powerful player.
  • DE Kerry Wynn made 3 tackles and recorded a sack in addition to his special teams prowess. He has developed nicely since making this team as an UDFA 2 years ago. I think he has an inside track at making the roster because of his versatility, which was in full display in this game. Athletic, rangy, and aggressive at all times.
  • DE Jordan Williams stood out athletically and also recorded a sack along with 3 tackles. His sack was a blown assignment by the PIT offensive line where he was untouched to the QB.

LINEBACKERS

  • Roster hopefuls Deontae Skinner and Calvin Munson got plenty of snaps. Skinner showed range to the sidelines and good athleticism in coverage, while Munson was confident in his calls at the line and played physical. He did show some poor angles in pursuit, proving he may not be ready for the speed of the NFL just yet.
  • B.J. Goodson played physical and fast. He was a tad late on decision making and reads, however. A half-second late and that could be the difference on a lot of running plays. His quickness in a phone booth showed up on a 2nd quarter sack. Goodson was an excellent and productive blitzer in college.

CORNERBACKS

  • Valentino Blake saw a lot of playing time, starting off high and ending low. His 1st quarter interception put NYG in position to take the early lead. It was, however, a terrible throw by the rookie Dobbs that was nowhere near any PIT receiver. Blake later allowed the lone passing TD to Cobi Hamilton and fortunately had another one called back by a PIT penalty. Overall he struggled.
  • Donte Deayon got the early look as the team’s starting nickel corner with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie sitting out for the night. He showed quality movement but a lack of instincts. His lack of physical presence is obvious.
  • Michael Hunter had a solid game, showing good coverage on a NYG sack. He also showed off his long speed, sticking to Darius Heyward-Bey’s hip pocket on a deep fly route. Heyward-Bey is one of the fastest WRs in the game (don’t worry, we didn’t see the slight hold of his jersey you had in your hand).

SAFETIES

  • Landon Collins appears to be in mid-season form, and I’m not surprised. He didn’t play much but still led the team with 5 tackles including a few hits you could hear from the last row.
  • Nat Berhe had a rough night. After making a physical downhill take-down of PIT TE Jesse James, he missed two tackles. One was QB Josh Dobbs in space that resulted in a few extra yards. Dobbs was a solid but far from spectacular runner in college. His next missed tackle was on a 3rd-and-10 play where he went high on the receiver, missed, and it resulted in a PIT first down. He also lost his footing a couple times in coverage and the question needs to be asked, is he too aggressive for his own good?
  • Second-year safety Darian Thompson only played in 2 games last season, thus 2017 can be considered an extension of his rookie year. He played a lot. He showed good movement but there isn’t a lot of presence about him when he comes in contact with ball carriers and blockers. He does have quality range in deep coverage, though.
  • Eric Pinkins got some playing time late, showing off exactly what we have discussed. Physical play and straight-line ability but lateral stiffness and overall hesitation. He is still trying to figure the game out mentally.

SPECIAL TEAMS

  • K Aldrick Rosas and Mike Nugent both went 2-for-2, respectively. Rosas hit one from 52 yards out with about 6-7 yards to spare, while Nugent’s longest was from 45 yards. Rosas showed more distance on his kickoffs.
  • Brad Wing punted 4 times with a long of 52 and pinned PIT inside the 20 once.
  • CB Donte Deayon muffed a punt late in the 2nd quarter that led to a PIT TD. Not good for him, as he will need the special teams box checked off if he intends on making the team.
  • WR Travis Rudolph also fumbled after being popped on a kick return, but NYG fortunately fell on it. He did return a kick for 31 yards later on, the longest of the night for both sides.

3 STUDS

  • TE Jerell Adams, S Landon Collins, K Aldrick Rosas

3 DUDS

  • RG John Jerry, RB Kahlid Abdullah, DB Donte Deayon

3 TAKEAWAYS FOR PIT

  • Rookie OLB T.J. Watt is going to be a player in that system, he fits like a glove. He plays hard, physical, and mechanically sound. PIT knows what to do with those guys.
  • Tip of the cap to QB Josh Dobbs in his first NFL game experience. He started off poorly but maintained his composure and finished strong. With the PIT backup Landry Jones possibly in line to take over starting duties if the Big Ben retirement is coming soon like he says, Dobbs needs to impress over the next 2 years to secure a long-term spot on this team.
  • RB Le’veon Bell may very well be the most important player on that team now. The RB talent behind him is scary bad. PIT may have taken for granted what DeAngelo Williams provided.
Aug 092017
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (December 4, 2016)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Preseason Game Preview: Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Giants, August 11, 2017

THE STORYLINE:
Expectations are high. Many expect the 2017 New York Giants to make a Super Bowl run. However, since 1990, the Giants historically tend to under-perform when expectations are high and over-perform when expectations are low. But Ben McAdoo is not Ray Handley, Dan Reeves, Jim Fassel, or Tom Coughlin. We don’t know yet how HIS teams will respond under the microscope.

Football fans everywhere are dying for football to begin. But the casual fan usually over-reacts to the preseason, and particularly to the first preseason game, which is little more than a controlled scrimmage. Starters usually don’t play long, players are rusty and not yet used to the increased intensity and physicality. Sixty-minute football stamina isn’t there yet. There are often special teams breakdowns as young players are rotated in to see who has the ST chops to make the team. So take things with a grain of salt.

That all said, the Pittsburgh Steelers are a very good opponent for any team to play in the preseason. They are a perennial playoff contender, always well-coached, and always VERY physical and fundamentally sound. The Steelers still play football the way it was meant to be played: hit the other guy in the mouth and make him quit. If the Giants want to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender and be considered a tough, physical team, then they will have to show they can match Pittsburgh’s intensity level.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • RB Shaun Draughn (ankle – on the PUP)
  • LB J.T. Thomas (knee – on the PUP)
  • WR Sterling Shepard (ankle)
  • WR Tavarres King (ankle)
  • WR Kevin Snead (lower body)
  • DT Robert Thomas (“sore”)
  • LB Keenan Robinson (concussion)
  • LB Mark Herzlich (stinger)
  • CB Mykkele Thompson (quad)
  • S Ryan Murphy (lower body)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
It’s been discussed ad nauseam. The New York Giants were an incredibly disappointing 25th in total offense in 2016, and an embarrassing 29th in rushing. But even the passing game let the team down, falling to 17th overall. Opposing game plans were easy to predict but effective: take away Odell Beckham and make the running game or someone else in the passing game beat you. The Giants rarely met this challenge. If they didn’t hit the big play, drives usually stalled. Only the 49ers scored less points.

So in the offseason, the Giants said good-bye to players such as Victor Cruz, Rashad Jennings, and Larry Donnell. The team added Brandon Marshall, Evan Engram, and Rhett Ellison. Second-year and largely unproven Paul Perkins has been handed the starting running back job. Shane Vereen is back after missing most of 2016. The offensive line is exactly the same. Eli Manning is a year older and entering the twilight of his career. Now comes the real test: can someone besides Odell Beckham hurt the opponent? On paper, Brandon Marshall, Evan Engram, and Sterling Shepard should. Is Paul Perkins a legitimate starter? Can the oft-criticized offensive line improve its pass and run blocking? Tackles Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart will be in the spotlight. The Steelers 3-4 defense can make you look silly on offense if you are not physically and mentally prepared.

Nevertheless, the starters for both teams are not likely to play long, and the game will quickly turn into auditions for the 53-man roster for lesser-known players. Many fans get bored when the back-ups enter the game. Others love analyzing the prospects behind the starters. These are some key areas to watch:

  • Does Brandon Marshall still have “it”? He had a stellar 2015 campaign and declined in 2016 on a bad Jets team. He’s 33-years old and playing in his second-to-last season. If Marshall can approach anywhere near his 2015 level of play, the Giants passing offense should be deadly.
  • Can Evan Engram really make an impact as a rookie? Engram has been coming on at camp as he develops chemistry with Eli Manning. The TE/WR hybrid should be a tough match-up for defenses that could afford to ignore the Giants’ tight ends in recent years.
  • Can the Giants run the football? As much as it pains me to say this, the Giants have been a finesse offense that has lacked toughness and physicality in the running game in recent years. All are to blame – backs and blockers. Short-yardage and goal-line situations have been particularly painful. Can Paul Perkins be “the man”? How much of an impact will tight end Rhett Ellison have as a blocker? Can an offensive line that failed to get the job done in 2016 redeem itself in 2017? Will the Giants even attempt to use a fullback (Shane Smith or Jacob Huesman) as a lead blocker in the preseason?
  • Battles for back-up positions: Will Geno Smith or Josh Johnson earn the #2 spot this preseason? Is Orleans Darkwa the #3 running back? Who are the #5 and #6 receivers after Odell Beckham, Brandon Marshall, Sterling Shepard, and Dwayne Harris? How will the two rookie tackles (Chad Wheeler and Adam Bisnowaty) perform? After Evan Engram and Rhett Ellison, which tight ends will make the team? (Jerell Adams, Matt LaCosse, and Will Tye may be fighting for only one or two spots).

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The likelihood that the New York Giants were going to improve from dead-last (and one of the worst in NFL history) on defense in 2015 to a top-10 defense in 2016 was not good at all. But that’s exactly what the Giants did after going on a free agent spending spree that added impact players Damon Harrison, Olivier Vernon, and Janoris Jenkins. Those moves, combined by the breakout season by Landon Collins, changed everything. Now the challenge is to at least remain one of the best defenses in the NFL and, ideally, improve. In terms of personnel, the biggest offseason loss was defensive tackle Jonathan Hankins. He was a very solid player and it is not known yet who will fill that void. The Giants have also handed over the starting middle linebacker position to a very green and unproven second-year player (B.J. Goodson). Here are some key areas to watch against Pittsburgh:

  • Who will start at defensive tackle alongside Damon Harrison and how will he perform? The candidates are Robert Thomas, Jay Bromley, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Corbin Bryant.
  • Will anyone step up at defensive end after Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon? JPP and OV played far too many defensive snaps in 2016. And their back-ups could not consistently pressure the passer. Will this once again be an area of weakness?
  • Is B.J. Goodson really ready to take over the middle linebacker position? He better be. There really isn’t a fallback option.
  • Depth is a concern at linebacker after Goodson, Jonathan Casillas, Keenan Robinson, and Devon Kennard. Do the Giants have ANY viable back-ups? The linebacker position was largely ignored during the offseason.
  • Barring injury, the top three corners are as good as anyone in the NFL. But the Giants need depth (see the playoff game). Keep an eye on Michael Hunter, Valentino Blake, Mykkele Thompson, and Donte Deayon.
  • Still green and unproven Darian Thompson has been handed the starting free safety job. He has to prove he can stay healthy and perform in a very talented secondary. Depth is even a bigger concern here as question marks abound with Andrew Adams, Nat Berhe, Eric Pinkins, and others. If Landon Collins were to get hurt, things could get scary back here.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
All eyes will be on the place-kicking battle. It’s a classic potential versus stability decision. Aldrick Rosas has the big leg but he is completely unproven. He’s been very good at camp, but now we’re getting closer to when the games really count and come down to made/missed field goals and extra points. Mike Nugent is the reliable, aging veteran, but he did have issues with extra points in his final year in Cincinnati.

The best way for a bubble player to make the 53-man roster? Kick ass on special teams as a blocker for or head hunter against the return game.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Ben McAdoo’s advice to those on players on the bubble: “We talked about that the other day. There is a lot of competition in camp, so the more competition, the more guys are on the bubble. If you don’t know if you are on the bubble, then you are on the bubble. We talked about how your fears can lead to your greatness, your greatness lies within your fears, so embrace them and compete your tail off on Friday night.”

THE FINAL WORD:
The #1 concern is always coming out of the preseason healthy. But it’s important that we someone else besides Odell Beckham step up on the offensive side of the football. Steve Spagnuolo and the entire defense needs to prove that 2016 was not an aberration but the start of new era of strong NYG defense. Second-year players B.J. Goodson and Darian Thompson could make a strong unit even better. The Giants need to fill the void left by Johnathan Hankins. Finally, place kicker may be the biggest question mark on the team right now.

Jan 102017
 
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Romeo Okwara, New York Giants (January 8, 2017)

Romeo Okwara – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Green Bay Packers 38 – New York Giants 13

Overview

There was some weird payback karma going on in this one. No, the 2016 New York Giants were not as dominant as the 2011 Green Bay Packers, and the Giants were not expected to beat the Packers and roll to the Super Bowl. But like the Packers in that playoff game five years ago, the Giants were victimized by costly dropped passes and a morale-shaking, end-of-the-half Hail Mary. Every Giants fan in the world must have had a flashback to the Giants Hail Mary at Lambeau Field – it was even in the same end zone! And like that older playoff match-up, a close game rapidly got out of hand in the second half.

The Giants lost by 25 points. This was the team’s most one-sided defeat of the season. And despite the strong start by the defense, this was a total team loss. Offense, defense, and special teams all played poorly. Long story short, when you give up over 30 points in a playoff game and/or you are held under 20 points, you are not going to win. You are also not going to win when your are -2 in turnover differential. Not on the road in the playoffs.

So the Giants go back to the drawing board. They will have to spend the next 12 months to get back to the same position (or better) that they found themselves in this January. While the Giants have a relatively young team with a solid core of players, their most important player is 36 and on the downside of his career. The clock is ticking.

Giants on Offense

It sounds like lazy writing on my part because I keep saying the same things over and over again. But this was the sixth game in a row where the Giants did not break the 20-point barrier. The last time that happened to a Giants team was 1980. The Giants had 13 offensive possessions. The results? One touchdown, two field goals, two turnovers, and eight punts. Four of New York’s 15 first downs came after the score was 38-13 with less than three minutes to play. The Giants managed seven first downs and six points in the first half. Not counting the last meaningless drive, the Giants had four first downs and a touchdown (the entire “drive” coming on one play) in the second half.

The most disturbing element to all of this is that Green Bay isn’t all that good on defense. They were 22nd in the NFL overall (8th against the run, 31st against the pass). The Giants ran for 70 yards against the Packers and 11 of those yards were a scramble by Eli Manning. In other words, Giants backs gained 59 yards. That was not terribly unexpected since the Giants ran for only 43 yards against the Packers in October. But for the second time, the Giants could not take advantage of a terrible Packers pass defense.

And here comes the broken record – once again, the Giants proved they could not score touchdowns by matriculating the ball down the field in small chunks. Not by coincidence, their sole touchdown came on the big pass play. The Giants only had three plays over 20 yards on Sunday: a 26-yard reception by Sterling Shepard that set up the first field goal, a 51-yard pass reception by Will Tye that set up the second field goal, and a 41-yard touchdown reception by Tavarres King. Those three plays were practically the extent of the Giants offense on Sunday – against the 31st-ranked pass defense!

In recent weeks, point production had been poor, but the Giants had emphasized the ground game with a 50/50 run-pass balance or better that had led the Giants to winning the time of possession battle. Not this week. New York called 47 pass plays and 16 runs. Point production did not increase and the Giants got clobbered in the time of possession battle (25:29 to 34:31). Turnovers were not an issue until the game was already decided. The offense only committed two penalties for a total of 10 yards, but both penalties put the Giants in 1st-and-15 holes that contributed to two three-and-outs.

This game was a microcosm of New York Giants offensive futility in 2016. The Giants couldn’t run the ball. Their best scoring drives contained big passing plays. Most damning of all for a team that was in its third year of running a West Coast Offense, the Giants were terrible at the short- to intermediate-passing game. They were a West Coast Offense that sucked running the West Coast Offense. This was a strange development given the team’s top 10 offensive ranking in 2015 in the same scheme with few personnel changes. The most significant changes were moving from the Tom Coughlin/Ben McAdoo dynamic to Ben McAdoo/Mike Sullivan with a number of position coaching switches (quarterback, wide receivers, offensive line).

Quarterback

Eli Manning did not play poorly. And he was victimized by dropped passes (at least six), a couple of breakdowns in pass protection, and no running game. But on a day the Giants passed the ball 47 times in 63 snaps (or 3x the number of running plays) against the 31st ranked pass defense, more was hoped for and expected. Thirteen points and 15 first downs (four of which were meaningless) are not good enough. The Giants had five three-and-outs. Three other drives also resulted in punts. Eli’s fumble and interception – while not to be excused – came when the game was already decided. Manning finished the game 23-of-44 (disappointing 52 percent) for 299 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception. Almost 40 percent of his yardage production came on just three pass plays.

Running Backs

Coming into this game, the question was would the Giants continue to try to force feed the ground game or would they try to take advantage of Green Bay’s poor pass defense? In the first half, the Giants passed twice as much as they ran (22 pass plays, 12 runs). Paul Perkins received the bulk of those snaps but he could not deliver with just 12 yards on seven carries (1.7 yards per rush). Rashad Jennings actually had more success four carries for 25 yards (6.3 yards per carry). Perhaps the most questionable decision of the first half was calling on Bobby Rainey to run the ball on 3rd-and-1 with less than two minutes to go before halftime. Rainey was stuffed on his only carry of the day. The Giants punted and a 7-6 game turned into a 14-6 nightmare when the Packers converted on their Hail Mary.

The Giants only ran the football four times in the second half of the game for a total of 22 yards. In all, Perkins (3 catches in 5 targets for 27 yards, one drop), Rainey (1 catch for 8 yards), and Jennings (1 catch for 4 yards) were targeted seven times, with five catches for 39 yards – but most of this pass-receiving action came after the score was 38-13. Perkins screwed the pooch by not falling on Manning’s fumble (the whistle had not blown).

Wide Receivers

Whether by design or by Manning’s decisions, the overwhelming majority of the passes were targeted at the wide receivers. Thirty of Manning’s 44 pass attempts were directed at the wideouts. However, the results were mostly extremely disappointing:

  • Odell Beckham caught 4 of 11 targets for 28 yards with three drops, including one dropped TD
  • Sterling Shepard caught 4 of 9 targets for 63 yards with two drops, including one dropped TD
  • Victor Cruz caught 3 of 4 targets for 30 yards
  • Tavarres King caught 3 of 6 targets for 63 yards with one 41-yard touchdown

In other words, these 30 pass attempts to wideouts resulted in 14 catches for 194 yards, just one touchdown, and 16 incompletions. Most disappointing was the play of Odell Beckham. It was hoped that “playoff Beckham” would reach even greater heights of excellence. Instead, Beckham laid a major egg. He was all but invisible against a terrible pass defense, and hurt his team with those three key drops. He dropped a 3rd-and-5 pass inside the 30-yard line on the promising opening drive. On the ensuing possession, he dropped what should have been a 28-yard touchdown pass. When the Giants were desperate, down 24-13 early in the 4th quarter, a wide-open Beckham dropped a deep pass on 3rd-and-11. The Giants punted and quickly found themselves trailing 31-13.

Victor Cruz’s career with the Giants may be over, and if it is, he went out with a whimper. The highlight of the game for New York was King’s 41-yard touchdown reception. One wonders if King should have replaced Cruz long ago. Shepard had a 26-yard reception on the first field goal drive, but three plays later could not come down with what should have been a 15-yard TD and then dropped a 3rd-and-3 pass.

Tight Ends

Jerell Adams was a somewhat surprising scratch as the Giants decided to go with more experience and activate Larry Donnell, who was not targeted in the game. Will Tye caught four of seven passes thrown in his direction for 66 yards, including the team’s longest play of the game and Tye’s longest catch of his career – a 51-yard reception that set up the second field goal. That said, a good tight end should have feasted on the defense the Packers were running. Tye just doesn’t have the size to muscle up against linebackers and come down with closely-contested passes.

Offensive Line

It was not a strong effort by the Giants up front. The Packers are no slouches against the run (8th in the NFL) or rushing the passer (40 sacks). Both showed as the Giants running backs were held to 59 yards on 16 carries (3.7 yards per carry) and Eli Manning was sacked twice with three quarterback hits. The Giants were only penalized twice on offense, but false starts by Ereck Flowers and Marshall Newhouse on 1st-and-10 stymied drives before they got started and led to two three-and-outs. The interior trio did not distinguish themselves with their run blocking as each had breakdowns that disrupted running plays, including the killer failed 3rd-and-1 effort late in the first half. The Giants could not run the ball despite the fact that the Packers played both safeties deep (cover 2). Julius Peppers got the first sack against Ereck Flowers, but that was a bit of a coverage sack where Eli ran into Peppers. Flowers later gave up a pressure by Peppers on 3rd-and-6 early in the 3rd quarter leading to a punt. On the second and last sack, Flowers was cleanly beaten by LB Clay Matthews, who stripped the ball from Manning for the final nail in the coffin. Marshall gave up one big hit on Manning late in the game.

Giants on Defense

To win this game, the Giants needed a dominating performance on defense. They didn’t get it. Tragically, it was the defense’s worst performance of the season, allowing five touchdowns (four through the air) and a field goal. The Giants did not force single turnover and allowed a close game in the 3rd quarter slip away with four consecutive scoring drives. Green Bay was 3-of-4 (75 percent) in the red zone and controlled the ball for over 34 minutes.

All of this despite the fact that the Giants defense started the game as well as could be hoped for (except for the lack of turnovers). The Packers first five possessions of the game resulted in four first downs and five punts. Green Bay was held scoreless until late in the second quarter. But then disaster struck. After poor punt, Green Bay got the ball on the Giants 31-yard line. Three plays later, they scored to take a 7-6 lead with 2:20 left on the clock. Then after a quick three-and-out, with 1:38 left on the clock, the Packers drove 80 yards in eight plays to take a heart-breaking 14-6 lead into the half when Aaron Rodgers completed a 42-yard Hail Mary pass that should have been easily knocked down.

The defense appeared to regain its composure in the 3rd quarter by first forcing a three-and-out and then holding on 4th-and-1 on the Green Bay side of the field. This turnover on downs spurred the offense to its only TD of the game and the Giants were within one point (14-13) with 5:16 to go in the 3rd quarter. It’s at this point the roof collapsed as Green Bay scored 24 unanswered points on their next four possessions. Despite accruing five sacks in the game, Aaron Rodgers had far too much time to throw. And with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie out of the lineup after the first series, the secondary did not play as well as had been anticipated.

The defense was only flagged once.

Defensive Line

The run defense was respectable as Green Bay backs were held to 75 yards on 23 carries (3.3 yards per carry) with a long run of 10 yards. Indeed, there were only two drives where the Packers ran the ball remotely well, the main one being their last TD possession when the contest was all but decided.

The problem was the pass rush where it was feast or famine. The five sacks (three by the defensive line) were a bit misleading as Aaron Rodgers had an eternity to throw on some plays – including plays that resulted in big gains or touchdowns. It was clear that the Giants were trying to stay disciplined in their rush lanes and not allow Rodgers to hurt them outside the pocket, but they simply gave him too much time. The most disappointing player was DE Oliver Vernon (1 tackle) who was all but shut out. Defensive ends Romeo Okwara and Kerry Wynn each had a sack but combined for a total of two tackles. Defensive tackles Damon Harrison (5 tackles) and Johnathan Hankins (3 tackles, 1 sack, 1 tackle for a loss) had strong games. Reserve defensive tackles Jay Bromley and Robert Thomas each chipped in with one tackle each, including one impressive stop by Bromley.

Linebackers

Jonathan Casillas (11 tackles) and Keenan Robinson (6 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss on a screen pass, 1 pass defense) were active. Casillas had one of his better games against the run, and was a factor on the failed 4th-and-1 effort by Green Bay. He did give up a couple of receptions to TE Jared Cook however. The other linebackers were largely invisible. Devon Kennard was credited with one tackle. Run defense was solid. Aaron Rodgers only targeted seven seven receivers, three of whom were Cook (5 catches in 9 targets for 48 yards), RB/WR Ty Montgomery (3 catches in 4 targets for 41 yards), and FB Aaron Ripkowski (2 catches for 11 yards). But 34 of Montgomery’s yards came on a 3rd-and-10 play against the secondary (not linebackers) as a wide receiver when the Packers ran a pick play.

Defensive Backs

Losing Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie early due to injury was huge. As the game wore on, the Aaron Rodgers and the Packers exploited match-ups in the slot against Trevin Wade in particular. Eli Apple (4 tackles, 1 pass defense on 3rd-and-8) also had some issues outside and finished a promising season on a down note. Janoris Jenkins (1 tackle) did a nice job except for the team’s only defensive penalty – a 32-yard pass interference flag in the 1st quarter. Coty Sensabaugh had six tackles, a sack, one tackle for a loss, and one pass defense on a 3rd-and-10 shot into the end zone to WR Randall Cobb.

Landon Collins was very active with nine tackles, one sack, and two pass breakups – including a 3rd-and-2 deep pass to TE Jared Cook. Collins had an amazing series midway through the 3rd quarter when he clobbered the fullback short of the first down after a short pass, helped to stuff the 3rd-and-1 run, and then did the same on 4th-and-1. Leon Hall started at free safety (over Andrew Adams) and accrued five tackles and broke WR Jordy Nelson’s ribs on a deep pass breakup. He did whiff on a sack opportunity that Hankins cleaned up on.

The only wideouts to do any real damage were Randall Cobb and Davante Adams, but these two wrecked the Giants secondary to the tune of 13 catches for 241 yards and four touchdowns. Three of Cobb’s five catches were for scores. Adams beat Apple deep for 31 yards and two plays later – after Rodgers had an eternity to throw – Adams beat Sensabaugh for a touchdown despite tight coverage. Then came the devastating 42-yard Hail Mary where none of the Giants defenders got enough depth or seemed to jump for the ball. Apple had the best shot at the ball, but Collins and Hall were back there too. This was one spot where DRC was really missed too with his height and leaping ability.

In the second half, Cobb beat Wade for 20 yards out the slot and then beat him against for the 30-yard touchdown on the very next play (Landon Collins also ran himself out of a chance to tackle Cobb short of the goal line). In the 4th quarter, Adams beat Sensabaugh out of the slot for 12 yards on 3rd-and-9. Three plays later, Apple was beat in the end zone for a 16-yard score by Cobb.

Giants on Special Teams

The Giants needed a strong game out of their special teams to win and they didn’t get it. The good news is that Robbie Gould made both of his field goal efforts (from 26 and 40 yards out) in very cold conditions. But Brad Wing self-admittedly had his worst day of the season with eight punts for 39 yards per punt (and a terrible 32.8 net). Not only were hist punts short, but there were a number of line drives. Wing did have one punt downed at the 6-yard line and another fair caught at the 10-yard line.

None of Gould’s four kickoffs resulted in touchbacks and the Packers returned two kickoff over 30 yards. Green Bay also returned a punt 23 yards, which set up a short field on the Packers field goal drive.

The Giants return game was a disaster. Dwayne Harris returned three punts for four yards (1.3 yards per return). Odell Beckham did not return a punt and the Giants came close to turning the ball over by accidentally touching a punt yet to be downed. While Harris did have a 31-yard kickoff return, Bobby Rainey may have sealed the Giants fate with his boneheaded decision to field a kickoff that was headed out of bounds or into the end zone. Instead, he stepped out of bounds at the 3-yard line after the Packers had gone up 21-13. The atrocious field position contributed to a three-and-out and easy Packers score after the 23-yard punt return. Odell Beckham returned two kickoffs for the first time in his career, with both returns picking up 24 yards each.

(New York Giants at Green Bay Packers, January 8, 2017)
Jan 062017
 
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Green Bay Packers at New York Giants (December 11, 1938) NFL Championship Game

Green Bay Packers at New York Giants (December 11, 1938) NFL Championship Game

Game Preview: New York Giants at Green Bay Packers, January 8, 2017

THE STORYLINE:
The New York Giants and Green Bay Packers ancient playoff rivalry has officially been reignited in full force. The Giants and Packers met in NFL title games in 1938, 1939, 1944, 1961, and 1962. The Giants won the first of these NFL Championships but lost the other four. Fast forward to the 2007 NFC Championship Game – the Packers were heavy favorites to win what ended up being Brett Favre’s last game in a Packers uniform. In a post-season classic and arguably Eli Manning’s best game, the Giants won in overtime. Four years later, the Giants once again tore the hearts out of the Packers faithful by pulling off a monumental upset of a 15-1 Packers team that was expected to waltz to the Super Bowl. Now for the EIGHTH time, two flagship franchises of the NFL will meet in the cold of winter in the playoffs. It’s fitting that uniforms of both teams are not all that different from those teams in the 1960s and that the game will be played at venerable and frigid Lambeau Field.

In terms of roster makeup, five years is almost an eternity. Very few players remain on both teams from the 2011 playoff game. Tom Coughlin is gone as is most of his coaching staff from that season. But the quarterbacks are the same. And the fans remember. Despite significant changes in both franchises, I guarantee you that many Packers fans didn’t want to see the Giants again in the playoffs. It is impossible for Green Bay fans to shake the pain of 2007 and 2011. And the longer Sunday’s game remains tight, the more nervous the people in the stands will get. The players on both sides on the field will feel that nervousness. The pressure is once again on the Packers, not the Giants. Psychologically, this match-up favors New York.

Win or lose, Ben McAdoo’s debut season exceeded expectations. Very few expected an 11-win season and a playoff spot wrapped up before the regular-season finale. Now we find out what mettle Ben McAdoo and his team are really made of. In some ways, this reminds me of 1984. In his second year after a disastrous debut season, Bill Parcells was still considered a question mark. His team was expected to be badly beaten by a Rams team that had easily done so in the regular season. However, the Giants pulled off the upset in a low-scoring game. It was the first major step in building the Parcells’ legacy. A win in Green Bay against his old team and his old head coach and mentor would be huge for McAdoo and the franchise.

That all said, there is one player on the Giants who may be under tremendous personal pressure: Eli Manning. The quarterback who holds virtually every record in team history turned 36 last Tuesday. As we have all learned, making the playoffs is never guaranteed. This could be Eli’s last shot at post-season glory. One more significant playoff run would ensure Eli’s legacy. On the flip side, if Manning fizzles, a team with a relatively young, solid core will have to be concerned about the all-important quarterback position moving forward in 2017. Does Eli Manning have a bit of post-season magic left in his right arm?

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • TE Jerell Adams (shoulder) – probable
  • RT Bobby Hart (forearm) – probable
  • DE Jason Pierre-Paul (core muscle) – out
  • DE Owa Odighizuwa (hamstring) – doubtful
  • CB Janoris Jenkins (back) – probable
  • CB Coty Sensabaugh (ankle) – probable
  • S Nat Berhe (concussion) – probable

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
The New York Giants have not scored more than 20 points in five straight games. If that streak reaches six in a row, the Giants will likely be one-and-done in the playoffs. Looking at the big picture, what Ben McAdoo and his staff have done is force fed the ground game in recent weeks. While the team has surpassed the 100-yard mark in each of the last three games, it hasn’t been pretty and point production has suffered. This strategy has reduced risk, increased the time of possession, and turned Eli Manning into more of a game manager. The Giants have been playing not to lose on offense, relying on their rapidly improving defense.

Opposing defenses have pretty much approached the Giants offense the same all season: play two-deep safeties (cover 2), double (and sometimes triple) Odell Beckham, and dare the Giants to beat them in other areas. Simply put, the Green Bay Packers are not likely to be overly concerned about what the Giants running game or other receiving options will do to them. They know Sterling Shepard, Victor Cruz, and Will Tye will not hurt them down the field. And they do not fear Rashad Jennings and Paul Perkins. The Giants have demonstrated all year that if they don’t get big chunks in the passing game (almost exclusively to Beckham), they have trouble moving the ball and scoring.

Back in October at Lambeau Field, this was how the Packers handled the Giants. New York scored 19 points and just one touchdown. They had only ONE play over 20 yards (to Tye for 27 yards) and only ran the football 14 times for 43 yards. In total, the Giants finished with an embarrassing 14 first downs (4 in the first half) and 219 total net yards. A jittery Eli Manning struggled against a poor pass defense, completing only 50 percent of his passes. Both offensive tackles struggled terribly. Cruz was shut out and Shepard held to two catches for 14 yards. Beckham was targeted 12 times, but only had five catches for 56 yards.

The 3-4 defense of the Packers finished 2016 ranked 22nd in defense (8th against the run, 31st against the pass). Their shoddy pass defense has further been weakened by injury issues at corner. Back in October, the Packers had the NFL’s 1st-ranked run defense and 27th-ranked pass defense. The Giants approached that game as expected, passing the ball 74 percent of the time (40 passes, 14 runs). But the Giants could not take advantage of Green Bay’s poor pass defense. So the dilemma the Giants face in this game is do they go with another pass-heavy game plan, hoping to execute far better? Or do they continue their recent strategy of force-feeding their backs against what is a quality run defense that is likely to play the pass first? If the Giants could actually move the ball on the ground against Green Bay, the latter strategy would make sense as it would help win the time of possession battle and keep Aaron Rodgers on the bench.  The problem is that is a big “if” as the Giants have yet to demonstrate a consistent ground game that moves the chains AND produces points (note the Giants only have six rushing touchdowns this year). At the very least, one would hope the more explosive and instinctive Paul Perkins receives the bulk of the carries.

The Packers are almost dead last in pass defense, but they have 40 sacks and have forced 25 turnovers (17 of those interceptions). Ultimately, what the strategy comes down to is this: does Ben McAdoo believe Eli Manning can play at a different level than he did in the regular season and protect the football? Does he believe his tackles can block Green Bay’s outside rushers better than they did in October? If he does, then he is more likely to open up the offense and play match-up football. Does Eli have some magic left? Is Odell Beckham a money player in the playoffs? Can rookies like Shepard, Perkins, and maybe even tight end Jerell Adams make a difference?

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The New York Giants have a defense again. Unbelievably, the Giants improved from 32nd in 2015 to 10th in 2016 in yards allowed, and from 30th to 2nd in points allowed. But now it’s money time. The 2011 NYG defense finished 27th in the NFL, but turned it on during the playoff run. With the Giants offense struggling to score points, the pressure is on the defense to play as well if not better than it did down the stretch of the regular season.

The challenge is arguably the quarterback who is playing the best in the NFL right now, Aaron Rodgers. How well? A 40-to-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Worse, he has an 18-to-0 ratio in his last seven games. Rodgers is very accurate and can make all of the throws, even when on the move and not having his feet properly set. Indeed, some of his best plays come when he is buying time with his mobility. The Giants not only need to get pressure on him, but they need to bring him down. Not having Jason Pierre-Paul hurts as the Giants won’t be able to generate much consistent pass pressure without blitzing, like they did against the Washington Redskins last week. But when you blitz Rodgers, you are rolling the dice and risking giving up the cheap big play. The last time these two teams met, the Giants got virtually no pressure on Rodgers (no sacks and three QB hits). And there were plays when Rodgers had all day to throw.

That all said, there are two areas where the Giants should match-up well. One, with running backs Eddie Lacey and James Starks out, the Packers have been forced to play wide receiver Ty Montgomery at running back. While Montgomery has averaged an extremely impressive 5.9 yards per carry, he’s no Lacey. And the Giants feel they can rough him up. In the October meeting, the Packers ran for 147 yards on the Giants with Lacey leading the way.

The other area where the Giants match-up well is the Packers’ strength – their wide receiving corps. The last time these two teams met, Eli Apple and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie were hurt. As great as Jordy Nelson (97 catches, 14 touchdowns), Davante Adams (75 catches, 12 touchdowns), and Randall Cobb (60 catches, 4 touchdowns) have been, this trio hasn’t dealt with the trio of corners the Giants can field.

The greater challenge in coverage may be tight ends Jared Cook and Richard Rodgers, as well as RB/WR Montgomery coming out of the backfield. The Giants did not defend the screen game well in October, and Cook did not play in that game. In addition, wide receiver Geronimo Allison has looked good and the Packers may try some 4-WR sets.

Despite New York’s lofty defensive ranking, this game will be a challenge for the Giants. Much depends on which version of Rodgers shows up. He hasn’t had his best games against the Giants, including in October when he only completed half his passes and threw two of his seven interceptions. The Giants are not likely to get much heat on him without blitzing their defensive backs, but Rodgers will be looking for that too based on his film study of the Washington game. Steve Spagnuolo has to pray his defenders up front stymie Green Bay’s patch-work ground game (watch out for the fullback too) so he can concentrate on the pass targets.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
This is an area where the Giants can win the game. I expect Odell Beckham to return punts. And keep in mind the Giants early season success in blocking or coming close to blocking punts and kicks. If the Giants get desperate, might we see a fake from the not-so-conservative Ben McAdoo?

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Head Coach Ben McAdoo on the Packers: “Winners of six in a row. They’re scoring the football at a good clip, 31 points a game during the streak. Taking care of the football and Aaron is playing MVP-type football. Defensively, they get after the quarterback and are forcing turnovers. They have 11 turnovers in the last three weeks. They’re holding opponents to 18 points during their winning streak.”

THE FINAL WORD:
My head says Packers given the level at which Aaron Rodgers is performing combined with New York’s constant struggle to score more than 20 points per game. Also, Rodgers doesn’t turn the ball over and Manning does. But my gut says the Giants are in heads of Mike McCarthy, Rodgers, and the Green Bay fans. The longer this game remains close, the more nervous the Packers will get. Eli Manning understands the preciousness of the situation. And we’re about to see if Odell Beckham has a playoff level. The turnover differential will probably decide the game.

Jan 022017
 
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Devon Kennard, New York Giants (January 1, 2017)

Devon Kennard – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 19 – Washington Redskins 10

Overview

This was a strange but encouraging game for the New York Giants. The Washington Redskins had everything to play for – win and they were going to the playoffs; lose and they were staying home. The game really meant nothing for the Giants other than staying sharp and avoiding injuries.

The Giants dominated the first half, sat two of their best players in the second half (Odell Beckham and Janoris Jenkins), allowed the Redskins to tie the game midway through the 4th quarter, and then calmly put the game away late. It was either a testament to a good Giants team peaking at the right time or an immense choke job by the Redskins. Most likely, it was a bit of both.

Regardless, give Ben McAdoo credit. He took a risk taking this game as seriously as he did. And he was rewarded by not only giving his team some momentum going into the playoffs, but he ended the post-season hopes of a hated division rival. In short, the Giants were ready to play a game in which they were at a natural emotional disadvantage.

Giants on Offense

I speculated in my game preview: “My guess is will see a heavy dose of the ground game – both to continue to prime that aspect of the offense for the post-season run, but also to protect Eli.” This is essentially what the Giants appeared to do. The run-to-pass ratio was a startling 40 to 28. The Giants played it VERY conservatively, which did indeed give them a chance to work on their anemic but improving ground attack and protect Eli Manning. At times, the offense had the feel of treating this contest as a preseason game.

The good news is the Giants ran for a season-high 161 yards and dominated the time of possession (35:52 to 24:08). The Giants did not turn the football over. That has happened four times this year, and it is no coincidence that the Giants won all four of those games.

The worries remain however. The Giants have not broken the 20-point mark for five games in row. The offense only scored 13 points against the Redskins, totaling just 17 first downs, 332 total net yards, and 171 net yards passing. The Giants were 6-of-17 (35 percent) on 3rd down, 0-of-1 on 4th down, and 1-of-3 (33 percent) in the red zone. Eight of their 12 possessions (67 percent) resulted in punts. Half of their possessions (six) resulted in three-and-outs, including five in the second half of the game.

Quarterback

In some ways, it has been a good season for Eli Manning, who topped the 4,000-yard mark for the sixth time of his career, and who just about tied his career-high completion percentage figure (63.1 percent). But Manning’s TD-to-INT figures (26-to-16) were disappointing as was his yards-per-pass attempt figure (6.7). To be blunt, the offense took a major step backwards in 2016, as the passing game fell from 7th in 2015 (271.4 yards per game) to 17th in 2016 (242.4 yards per game). Manning threw nine fewer touchdown passes and two more interceptions than he did in 2015.

Against the Redskins, the Giants only generated 13 points on offense. Only four drives gained more than one first down despite a season-high 161 yards rushing and allowing only one sack and two quarterback hits. To be fair to Eli, the Giants played it very conservatively on offense, and Ben McAdoo sat the team’s best offensive weapon for the bulk of the second half. Manning did complete 63 percent of his throws (17-of-27). But those 27 throws only generated 180 yards of offense with 24 percent of that production coming on one pass play for 44 yards. Only one other pass play gained more than 20 yards. Manning’s internal clock is off. He seems to feel pressure when it’s not really there. He misses seeing some open receivers and has been too inaccurate. Manning has also been lucky that some passes have not been picked off, including an early pick-6 chance by Josh Norman in this game.

Running Backs

As I’ve talked about for several weeks, Ben McAdoo and his offensive staff have made a conscious effort to get the ground game going, come hell or high water. The Giants ran the ball 40 times in 68 offensive snaps. The big news was that Paul Perkins was given his first official start and the rookie responded with 102 yards on 21 carries (4.9 yards per carry). This was the first time a Giants running back gained 100 yards during the 2016 season. Perkins had runs of 22 and 14 yards. But there were also key shorter runs like his tough 4-yard gain on 3rd-and-3 on the first scoring drive. Perkins is quicker and more instinctive than Rashad Jennings. There are similarities between Perkins’ late-season emergence and that of Ahmad Bradshaw during his rookie year in 2007. Perkins was targeted twice in the passing game, but both those attempts fell incomplete.

Rashad Jennings still got his touches, carrying the ball 18 times for 52 yards (2.9 yards per carry) and one touchdown. The problem with Jennings is that he simply isn’t producing. He’s averaged only 3.3 yards per run all season. If Perkins is the new Bradshaw, Jennings certainly is not Brandon Jacobs. Jennings caught one pass for five yards.

Wide Receivers

Despite sitting most of the second half, Odell Beckham, Jr. still finished the game as the team’s leading receiver with five catches for 44 yards, three of which came on the lone touchdown drive. Perhaps the most memorable aspect of Beckham’s game was what he didn’t do, that is, retaliate against asshole corner Josh Norman, who was clearly trying to get under his skin.

With only 180 passing yards, the other receivers were fairly quiet. Sterling Shepard caught three passes for 30 yards and gained nine yards on an end-around. Victor Cruz had two catches for just seven yards.

The offensive play of the game was Eli Manning’s perfectly-thrown 44-yard deep pass to Tavarres King (18 snaps) after the Redskins had tied the game 10-10. This play put the Giants in field goal range and enabled the team to regain the lead late in the 4th quarter. Rogers Lewis (16 snaps) and Dwayne Harris (8 snaps at wide receiver) were not targeted.

Tight Ends

Jerell Adams (shoulder) did not play. Larry Donnell (25 snaps) played but was not targeted in the passing game. Will Tye caught four of five passes thrown in his direction and had a team-high 47 receiving yards, including a 24-yarder. The blocking by Tye and Donnell was decent – both were often sent in motion as lead blockers. However, Donnell was flagged with a holding penalty.

Offensive Line

Marshall Newhouse started at right tackle for Bobby Hart (forearm). The offensive line had a solid game. Against a Redskins team that had 37 sacks coming into the game, the line allowed one sack and only two quarterback hits. New York also rushed for a season-high 161 yards. Ereck Flowers was flagged for holding and Newhouse for illegal use of hands, the latter wiping out a 16-yard gain on 3rd-and-8 and leading to a punt. Left guard Justin Pugh gave up the only sack on a spin move by former Giants defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins in the 4th quarter.

Giants on Defense

Coming into this game, the Redskins were 3rd in offense in the NFL, averaging 411 yards and almost 26 points per game. They were 14th in rushing, averaging 4.6 yards per rush, and 2nd in passing. A very aggressive Giants defense – missing Jason Pierre-Paul and sitting Janoris Jenkins in the second half – did the following to Washington:

  • 10 points (0 in the first half)
  • 16 first downs (4 in the first half)
  • 284 net yards (83 in the first half)
  • 38 net yards rushing (10 in the first half)
  • 246 net yards passing (73 in the first half)
  • 3 turnovers
  • 1 defensive score

Washington only had two drives longer than 34 yards. One was an 11-play, 76 yard drive that ended with a touchdown. The other was a 4-play, 57-yard drive that ended with an interception. Washington’s 13 drives resulted in two scores for 10 points, a missed 57-yard field goal, three turnovers, and seven punts. The Redskins came into the game with the FEWEST three-and-outs in the NFL with just 20. New York forced FIVE three-and-outs on Sunday.

Defensive Line

The Washington Redskins have a very good offensive line, yet New York largely controlled the line of scrimmage, holding the NFL’s 14th-ranked rushing attack to a measly 38 yards and 2.5 yards per carry. As expected, given the absence of Jason Pierre-Paul, most of the pass rush came from blitzes as defensive backs had three of New York’s four sacks. The only linemen to register hits on QB Kirk Cousins were Damon Harrison (25 snaps, 4 tackles, 1 sack, 1 tackle for a loss) and Olivier Vernon (2 tackles). Harrison’s 10-yard statement sack knocked the Skins back to their own 4-yard line on their second drive. He also broke up a screen pass in the 4th quarter. Romeo Okwara (41 snaps), Owamagbe Odighizuwa (31 snaps), and Kerry Wynn (12 snaps) were shut out in the stat department. Johnathan Hankins (27 snaps), Jay Bromley (8 snaps), and Robert Thomas (6 snaps) were each credited with one tackle.

Linebackers

Keenan Robinson (47 snaps, 7 tackles) and Jonathan Casillas (38 snaps, 6 tackles, 2 pass defenses) were very active, combining for a total of 13 tackles. Devon Kennard (30 snaps, 2 tackles) continues to be employed both at linebacker and defensive end in pass rushing situations. His pass pressure was a factor on Kirk Cousins’ second game-deciding interception. Kelvin Sheppard (10 snaps) only had one tackle, but it was a tone-setting 3rd-and-1 stuff on the Redskins opening possession. Thirteen of Cousins’ 22 completions and 126 of his 287 passing yards went to RB Chris Thompson (6 catches for 37 yards), TE Jordan Reed (5 catches for 40 yards), and TE Vernon Davis (2 catches for 49 yards) – but much of that tight end yardage came against the defensive backs.

Defensive Backs

Janoris Jenkins (23 snaps, 1 tackle, 1 pass defense) sat out the second half with a sore back. He shut out his opponents. Coty Sensabaugh (ankle) and Nat Berhe (concussion) did not play. Redskins wide receivers were held to just nine catches for 161 yards, with 49 yards coming on one pass play to Pierre Garcon, who had four of the nine receptions. Giants killer DeSean Jackson was limited to two catches for 34 yards, and dangerous slot receiver Jamison Crowder only had two catches for 16 yards.

The star of the game was undoubtedly Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (DRC) who had two interceptions, one sack (on 3rd-and-8), and one tackle for a loss. His first interception stopped a scoring threat in the 3rd quarter and his second all but ended the contest when Washington was threatening to tie or win the game. DRC dominated his match-ups. So did Eli Apple (4 tackles) except for the Redskins lone TD drive. Apple first gave up back-to-back plays that gained 33 yards. He then got beaten by TE Jordan Reed for the 1-yard touchdown slant. Apple was very aggressive against the run, helping to blow up two running plays.

Landon Collins led the team with eight tackles and two tackles for losses. He also had a 12-yard sack on 3rd-and-14, as did corner/safety Leon Hall (31 snaps, 4 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss) on 3rd-and-10. Collins did give up a 31-yard completion to TE Vernon Davis on the Redskins field goal drive. He also was flagged with a late hit penalty. Hall saw more playing time at safety at the expense of Andrew Adams (31 snaps, 1 tackle). On Pierre Garcon’s 49-yard catch-and-run, Adams not only got beat in coverage, but he failed to make the tackle after the catch.

Trevin Wade (41 snaps, 4 tackles) ended the game by recovering a fumbled lateral for a touchdown. He did give up an 11-yard completion on 3rd-and-6 on the TD drive when he fell down on the play.

Giants on Special Teams

Robbie Gould made both of his field goals (22 and 40 yards out). He has not missed since coming to New York (10 straight kicks). All four of his kickoffs resulted in touchbacks and the Redskins had no kickoff return yardage.

Brad Wing punted eight times, averaging 45.4 yards per punt (but only 37.9 yard net). One of his punts resulted in a touchback. Dangerous punt return Jamison Crowder returned five punts for 40 yards, including a 19-yard return that was factor in setting up Washington’s first score of the game.

The Giants did not return a kickoff. Dwayne Harris returned six punts for 46 yards (7.7 yards per return) with a long of 12 yards.

(New York Giants at Washington Redskins, January 1, 2017)
Dec 302016
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (September 25, 2016)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Game Preview: New York Giants at Washington Redskins, January 1, 2017

THE STORYLINE:
This is effectively a playoff game for the Washington Redskins. For the New York Giants, it’s a tune-up for the playoffs and a chance to hurt their long-time division rival. There is not a lot of playoff experience on the Giants roster and this game will provide a preview of the type of intensity the Giants will face next weekend. The stadium will be rocking. The Redskins will be desperate.

Ben McAdoo has said his starters will play the entire game. That remains to be seen. While keeping sharp and building momentum are important, so is not suffering injuries to key players in a relatively meaningless game.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • TE Will Tye (illness) – probable
  • TE Jerell Adams (shoulder) – questionable
  • RT Bobby Hart (forearm) – probable
  • DE Jason Pierre-Paul (core muscle) – out
  • LB B.J. Goodson (concussion) – questionable
  • CB Janoris Jenkins (back) – questionable
  • CB Coty Sensabaugh (ankle) – questionable
  • S Nat Berhe (concussion) – out

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
The good news is that the Giants running game is finally showing some signs of life. The bad news is that Eli Manning simply is not having the type of season hoped for and expected. The naysayers are pointing to his age and saying this is the beginning of the inevitable deterioration. Since Eli’s 400-yard game against the Ravens on October 16, he only has ONE 300+ yard game to his credit, and that came in his last game when he threw three killer interceptions against the Eagles. Back in September, Manning also threw two killer interceptions in a 29-27 loss to the Redskins. Proponents will point to “playoff Eli” (8-3 post-season record). The next two games will be very telling about how worried the Giants should be about the quarterback position heading into the new year.

Unless he dramatically ups his game in the playoffs, we probably are witnessing the end of Victor Cruz in a Giants uniform. Cruz simply isn’t producing. He has 37 catches and one touchdown this year, and that score came in the season opener. The last time Cruz was a consistent scoring threat was 2012. It would be nice for Cruz to finish up his Giants career on a high note, but that probably is not in the cards. The good news is that Cruz did have eight catches in the Philly game. Let’s see if he can build off of that.

What will be fascinating to see is if there is a “playoff” version of Odell Beckham, Jr.? Every sport has its superstars. But the real legends make their mark in the post-season.

As for the Redskins, they are a bit of an odd team defensively. They are 29th overall on defense (22nd in scoring defense). They are 25th in run defense and 28th in pass defense. But the Redskins can get after the quarterback and have two quality corners. Washington has 37 sacks on the year with a trio of pass-rushing threats at linebacker in their 3-4 scheme, including Ryan Kerrigan (11 sacks), Trent Murphy (9 sacks), and Preston Smith (4.5 sacks). Right defensive end Chris Baker is a solid player and Giants fans are very familiar with cornerback Josh Norman. He and fellow corner Bashaud Breeland are both coming off of 2-interception games against the Bears.

To the point, this is the weakest defense the Giants will see from here on out. Teams can run, pass, and score on the Redskins. But Washington can present problems for Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart. Eli Manning will be at some risk in this game. I would not be shocked to see him bail on some plays if he is about to get clobbered. Much attention will be given to the Beckham-Norman head-to-head match-up. My guess is will see a heavy dose of the ground game – both to continue to prime that aspect of the offense for the post-season run, but also to protect Eli.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The Giants defense really struggled in the September game against Washington. The defense allowed 400 yards of offense, did not force a turnover, forced only two punts, gave up three leads, and allowed six plays of 20 yards or more.

Remarkably, the Redskins are 3rd in offense in the NFL, averaging 411 yards and almost 26 points per game. They are 14th in rushing, averaging 4.6 yards per rush, and 2nd in passing. While Washington’s skill positions get a lot of attention, the Redskins field one of the biggest and best offensive lines in the NFL. Left tackle Trent Williams and right guard Brandon Scherff are Pro Bowl players. The Redskins will count on Williams to erase New York’s best pass rusher, DE Olivier Vernon.

QB Kirk Cousins is within striking distance of a 5,000-yard season despite throwing the same number of passes as Eli Manning. His 24-to-10 touchdown-to-interception ratio is not as impressive. Cousins has a bit of Jekyll and Hyde in him. If you want to bring out the worst in Cousins, you have to take away his running game, which is easier said than done with that big offensive line and running backs Robert Kelley and Chris Thompson. Kelley is the pounder while Thompson provides the flash and catches the football out of the backfield (43 receptions).

Where the Redskins really hurt you is the big play. They are second in the NFL in plays over 20 yards with 74. While Cousins can do damage down the field with the vertical game, especially with WR DeSean Jackson (18.0 yards per catch), many of the big plays come from receivers doing damage after a short reception. Both Jackson and slot WR Jamison Crowder are very adept at this as well, as demonstrated by their punt return backgrounds. That said, Washington can threaten defenses in the passing game in all three levels. Jordan Reed is one of the most dangerous pass-receiving tight ends in football. TE Vernon Davis is nearing the end, but he is still a viable target with over 40 receptions. And then there is WR Pierre Garcon who leads the team with 75 catches.

The Giants must limit the damage Washington does on the ground or it will be a long day. So much of Washington’s offense is based off of play-action and the threat of the run. New York is not likely to get much heat on Cousins without blitzing.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Jamison Crowder is tied for first in the NFL averaging 13.1 yards per punt return, with one 85-yard touchdown return. He had a 50-yard return in the September game against the Giants. In that game, the Redskins also ran a fake punt that picked up 31 yards. The Giants blocked a punt against Washington (erased due to an unrelated unnecessary roughness penalty).

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Head Coach Ben McAdoo on Washington’s offense: “Offensively, Kirk’s playing at a high level. He’s seeing the field, moving in the pocket well, we know he can make all the throws. Their offensive line has gelled together nicely. Robert Kelley and Chris Thompson provide a strong one-two punch at the running back position and they’re loaded on the perimeter with DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon, Jordan Reed and Jamison Crowder. Crowder is really playing well for them.”

THE FINAL WORD:
It’s strength on strength (Giants defense versus Redskins offense) and weakness on weakness (Giants offense versus Redskins defense) in this game. But it’s hard to see the Giants matching the Redskins intensity and sense of urgency since this is a de facto playoff game for Washington. We saw against Philadelphia (first half-quarter of the game) what happens when the other team plays with more of both.

Dec 242016
 
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New York Giants Offense (December 22, 2016)

New York Giants Offense – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Philadelphia Eagles 24 – New York Giants 19

Overview

Three bad calls may have changed the outcome of this game. But the greater reality is that the New York Giants simply did not play well enough on offense, defense, and special teams to defeat the Philadelphia Eagles. The Giants did not match the Eagles early intensity and it cost them dearly as they found themselves in a quick 14-0 hole that ultimately proved too difficult to overcome. Interceptions, shoddy pass protection, dropped passes, missed tackles/sacks, and an anemic return game all contributed to the loss.

The good news? With Tampa Bay’s 31-24 loss to New Orleans, the 10-5 New York Giants are now officially in the playoffs. Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!

Giants on Offense

The statistics for this game are very telling. But ultimately it is the final number on the scoreboard that continues to be the major problem. The Giants are simply not scoring enough. They haven’t reached the 30-point plateau all season. In the last four games, the Giants have scored 14, 10, 17, and 19 points. They are struggling to score more than ONE touchdown per game.

The Giants ran 88 offensive plays, were 10-of-22 on 3rd down (45 percent), had a season-high 24 first downs, and held the ball for over 34 minutes. When a team surpasses the 70-play mark, they usually win. But the Giants turned the ball over three times, including one for a defensive score. And the Giants were a pathetic 1-of-5 (20 percent) in the red zone. While the Giants generated an impressive season-high 470 total net yards, 63 of their 88 offensive plays were pass plays despite the fact that the Giants averaged 4.6 yards per rush.

Five scoring drives sounds like a lot. But in 12 offensive possessions, the Giants scored only one touchdown. Four other forays into the red zone resulted in only 12 points. There were three interceptions, one turnover on downs, and three punts. The Giants had five plays of 20 yards or more, but none longer than 33 yards. Remarkably, the Giants were only penalized twice on offense despite running almost 90 offensive snaps.

Quarterback

I’ve talked in recent weeks about the Giants playing it safer with more of a 50/50 run-pass ratio, allowing Eli Manning to become more of “game manager.” For whatever reason – perhaps the quick 14-0 and later 21-6 deficits – the Giants got away from that formula on Thursday night. Manning threw the ball an astounding, team-record 63 times (completing 38) and had his highest yardage game (356) since he passed the 400-yard mark in Week 6 against the Baltimore Ravens. But the aggressiveness came with increased risk which cost the Giants dearly as Eli threw three very bad interceptions, including one inexplicable throw into double-coverage that was returned for a touchdown. After the game, Eagles defenders boasted they rattled and confused Manning, and it is hard to argue against those damning claims.

We can point to good and bad throws, but ultimately you simply are not going to win games when one side of the ledger (one touchdown pass) is “balanced” with three interceptions and one defensive score. Eli was bad Thursday night and he was perhaps the major reason the Giants lost the game. Ben McAdoo was pretty blunt about it: “We need some more accurate throws, some better decision making… (on the first interception, it) looked like (Eli) may have been blind and if you’re blind you can’t pull the trigger there. We’d like to see him eat the ball there… The second interception there, he under threw it a little bit, needed to get a little bit more air under it. We’ll have to sit down and talk about the decision but he under threw it.” If Manning does not start playing smarter and tougher with better execution, the Giants are not going anywhere.

Running Backs

One of the tragedies of the game was that the Giants had one of their more productive ground games of the season, and the numbers would have been much higher had the run-pass ratio not been so out of whack. Paul Perkins and Rashad Jennings carried the ball 24 times for 112 yards – an impressive 4.7 yards per carry. It looks like Perkins (15 carries for 68 yards) is starting to finally move ahead of Jennings (9 carries for 44 yards) even though Rashad was still on the field a bit more (41 snaps to Perkins’ 34 snaps). The Giants had a couple of longer runs with a 20-yarder by Perkins and a 19-yarder by Jennings. However, the passing plays to the backs were not productive. Jennings and Perkins caught 5-of-7 targets for a grand total of 16 yards. Bobby Rainey caught one pass for 13 yards on the last desperate drive, but he also dropped a pass.

Wide Receivers

Odell Beckham (11 catches for 150 yards), Victor Cruz (8 catches for 84 yards), and Sterling Shepard (7 catches for 61 yards) combined for 26 catches (season-high) for 295 yards. That’s the kind of productivity the Giants envisioned from these three before the season started. In fact, the catch totals were season-high numbers for both Beckham and Cruz (and Cruz’s first game with more than one catch since before the bye). But what should not be lost in those numbers are 18 other targets in the direction of those three that fell incomplete, some due to dropped passes by each receiver. Beckham claimed after the game that Manning’s deep shot into the end zone right before the final interception was a well-thrown pass, but he did not accelerate like he should have to get it. That said, the officials were letting Eagles defenders often mug the Giants receivers, including on a potentially decisive 4th-and-6 play to Shepard late in the game. The Giants threw the ball 63 times, but the Eagles were never flagged with defensive holding or pass interference. Ben McAdoo was a bit critical of the run blocking on the perimeter. Roger Lewis saw 22 snaps but only had one deep pass thrown his way.

Tight Ends

Manning and the Giants targeted Will Tye more this week. Eight times Manning threw in Tye’s direction, completing five for only 23 yards (4.6 yards per catch). But two of those throws ended in disaster, including the first interception that returned for a touchdown and the last interception where Tye did not do enough to fight for the ball. Jerell Adams caught one pass for nine yards. That said, this was the most Adams has played this year with 40 snaps as the Giants are beginning to employ more and more two-tight end formations. Adams had some issues blocking DE Brandon Graham.

Offensive Line

The numbers look good. The Giants averaged 4.6 yards per run as the line opened up some very good holes for Paul Perkins and Rashad Jennings. Eli Manning was not sacked. However, Manning was officially hit a far, far too high 10 times and was under duress more than that, including when the Eagles were only rushing three. The right side of the offensive line – RT Bobby Hart and RG John Jerry – probably had their worst game of the season. DE Brandon Graham gave Hart fits all night. Officially, Graham had four QB hits on Manning, but it seemed like more than that. Jerry had his hands full with Pro Bowl DT Fletcher Cox and was flagged with a killer false start penalty on 4th-and-1 right before the 4th-and-6 incomplete pass. Justin Pugh struggled in pass protection in the second half. He was also flagged with a 10-yard holding penalty. LT Ereck Flowers held up well for the most part but did allow a pressure on the last play where Eli was intercepted.

Giants on Defense

Many will argue that the defense did enough to win this game, as they only allowed 17 points, 15 first downs, and 286 total net yards (including only 168 net yards passing). The Eagles were 4-of-12 (33 percent) on 3rd down, 0-of-1 on 4th down, and 0-of-1 in the red zone. The Eagles did not pick up one first down on six offensive possessions. The defense was sabotaged by two very questionable personal foul penalties.

But… the Eagles had two touchdown long touchdown drives (78 and 75 yards) in the first half, including the Eagles first possession where the Giants defense looked like it was sleep-walking. (This is the fifth time this year the defense has surrendered a TD on the opening drive). Another drive in the second half gained 73 yards before the Giants held with a goal line stand. While the Eagles only reached the red zone once, their two longest plays of the night were touchdowns – a 40-yard pass and 25-yard run. The Giants defense did not accrue a sack and was credited with only three quarterback hits. There were far too many missed tackles and sack opportunities. And the Eagles rushed for 118 yards, including 27 frustrating yards by the quarterback Carson Wentz.

Defensive Line

A frustrating night for the defensive line. The Giants held feature back Ryan Mathews to 46 yards on 18 carries (2.6 yards per carry). But 17 of those 46 yards came on the first play of the Eagles first touchdown drive. The always-dangerous Darren Sproles carried the ball only seven times. Six of those runs only gained 15 yards. But his far-to-easy 25-yard touchdown put the Eagles on top early. The bigger frustration was line’s inability to bring quarterback Carson Wentz down. Wentz avoided negative plays by avoiding sacks and turning those potential killer losses into positive scrambles, completions, or throwing the ball away. Wentz scrambled for nine yards on the opening touchdown drive, eight yards (with an added 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty) on the second touchdown drive, and an 11-yard gain on the field goal drive. Giants defensive ends only combined for a total of six tackles, one tackle for a 6-yard loss (by Olivier Vernon), and two quarterback hits. The defensive tackles only accrued three tackles.

Vernon played the run extremely well. But one would have to say that both Eagles offensive tackles did a fine job with Vernon and Romeo Okwara in pass protection. The 15-yard roughing-the-passer penalty on an incomplete 3rd-and-14 pass on Vernon was highly questionable. Okwara (50 snaps) received the bulk of the playing time over Kerry Wynn (5 snaps) and Owa Odighizuwa (2 snaps). Wynn combined with Devon Kennard to stuff Mathews on 4th-and-goal. Inside, reserve Jay Bromley (16 snaps) saw more playing time than Robert Thomas (3 snaps).

Linebackers

Like the defensive line, a frustrating night for the linebackers as most of the damage on the ground amounted to two running plays for 42 yards (the other 23 carries by backs picked up 44 yards) and three Carson Wentz scrambles for 28 yards. Pass coverage on the tight ends was far better than it was in the first match-up when the Giants gave up 152 yards receiving to the tight ends alone. This time, Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, and Trey Burton caught six passes for 63 yards. Mathews and Sproles caught thee passes for 39 yards.

Jonathan Casillas (knee) and Keenan Robinson (shoulder) came into the game banged up and they played less than normal as Casillas was on the field for 34 snaps and Robinson 29 snaps. Kelvin Shepard actually played more than any linebacker with 44 snaps, followed by Devon Kennard with 35 snaps. Once again, big plays were lacking as the unit as a whole was credited with just 11 tackles and one pass defense. Casillas had a chance at a pick but couldn’t make the play. Kennard helped to stuff that play on the goal line.

Defensive Backs

Minus Janoris Jenkins, the secondary held up incredibly well aside from one major exception. Unbelievably, Eagles receivers only caught five passes for 66 yards. It would have been a virtually perfect coverage performance had it not been for the 40-yard touchdown by Nelson Agholor. Apple was closest to Agholor and may have been distracted by the very questionable 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty on the previous play. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie shut out his opponent all night and finished with an interception and two passes defensed. Trevin Wade was the primary nickel corner and may have played the best game of his Giants career, including a key tackle of Darren Sproles short of the sticks on 3rd down and an expertly-defended deep pass late in the game. Safety Landon Collins led the team with nine tackles and two tackles for losses. Andrew Adams badly missed Darren Sproles on his 25-yard touchdown run. He did tackle Mathews for a 2-yard loss late in the 3rd quarter. Coty Sensabaugh only played 11 snaps, but he did have a tackle for a 3-yard loss and a QB hit off a blitz.

Giants on Special Teams

The good news was that Robbie Gould was a perfect 4-of-4 on field goal attempts with efforts from 35, 35, 29, and 41 yards. Brett Jones was flagged with a false start before one of these successful attempts. Four of Gould’s kickoffs resulted in touchbacks. Two other kickoffs were only returned 19 yards apiece. Brad Wing punted three times, averaging 48.3 yards per punt with one kicked out of bounds at the 2-yard line. The always-dangerous Darren Sproles did not return a punt.

The bad news is the Giants could not get their own return game going. Dwayne Harris and Bobby Rainey returned four kickoffs for only 82 yards (20.5 yards per return). Harris returned three punts for -2 yards. Harris continues to make questionable decisions on his returns. He also fumbled a punt that was fortunately recovered by Trevin Wade.

(New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles, December 22, 2016)
Dec 212016
 
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Odell Beckham, New York Giants (November 6, 2016)

Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Game Preview: New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles, December 22, 2016

THE STORYLINE:
If the New York Giants beat the Philadelphia Eagles, the Giants will return to the playoffs for the first time in five years. If they lose, they can still get in this week if one of four other teams lose on this weekend.

The Eagles have lost five games in a row and are 5-9. But they are still playing hard and they always give the Giants trouble. It’s always a rough spot for the road team on Thursday night football, and the Giants are a bit banged up right now.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • OL Marshall Newhouse (shoulder) – probable
  • OL Will Beatty (lower leg) – probable
  • DE Jason Pierre-Paul (core muscle) – out
  • DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa (knee) – probable
  • LB Jonathan Casillas (knee) – questionable
  • LB Keenan Robinson (shoulder) – probable
  • CB Janoris Jenkins (back) – questionable
  • S Nat Berhe (concussion) – out
  • LS Zak DeOssie (hamstring) – probable

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
The Eagles are a very respectable 12th in defense (13th in points allowed). They are 17th against the run and 12th against the pass. Under defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, they are well coached. The challenge for the Giants is blocking the guys up front. Fletcher Cox (6.5 sacks) is a disruptive player at defensive tackle and Philadelphia’s two ends – Connor Barwin (4 sacks) and Brandon Graham (5.5 sacks) – usually give the Giants fits. Philadelphia has good depth on the defensive line and will rotate their players frequently. The Eagles have 31 sacks on the season. Second-year middle linebacker Jordan Hicks is coming on and he has three interceptions.

The last time these two teams met in early November, the Giants offensive line did a decent job in pass protection but the Giants were only able to generate 58 yards rushing, averaging a paltry 2.6 yards per carry. The Eagles held the Giants to 16 first downs. The Giants only had two drives longer than 31 yards. But the defense helped to provide New York with good field position and Eli Manning threw four touchdown passes.

So the key question here is do the Giants continue to force-feed the running backs this week, like they did against the Cowboys or Lions? Or does Ben McAdoo worry about the Giants’ previous ground-game ineptitude against the Eagles and come out with a greater focus on the passing game? My guess is that McAdoo has decided to get this ground game going come hell or high water. While the point production hasn’t been there, the Giants have reduced their mistakes and become a more physical offense with the greater run emphasis. That doesn’t mean New York won’t take its shots to the wideouts. Odell Beckham (2), Sterling Shepard (1), and Roger Lewis (1) combined for four touchdowns in November. If Eli has time, the Giants have to like their match-ups against this secondary.

To me, offensively, this game really comes down to how well the Giants offensive line and tight ends can block the Eagles up front. Philadelphia has owned New York in recent years because the Giants get their asses kicked on the line. Ideally, the offensive front will build on its decent game against the Lions. Both tackles – especially Ereck Flowers – need to do a reasonable job. Fletcher Cox and Bernie Logan will also challenge the interior trio.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The Eagles are currently 20th in offense (9th rushing, 24th passing). Their offensive line has been doing a very good job of run blocking, and Lane Johnson now returns to right tackle after a 10-game suspension. Running back Ryan Mathews has eight rushing touchdowns and is averaging 4.5 yards per carry. The mercurial Darren Sproles averages 4.7 yards per carry. The Eagles ran roughshod (169 yards) over what had been the NFL’s best run defense (Baltimore Ravens) last week. In the November match-up, the Eagles ran for about 100 yards and had two rushing touchdowns against the Giants.

The defensive focus is obvious: stop the run. Not only do the Giants have to be tough, stout, and physical up front, but they have to be disciplined as the Eagles will run the read-option (something New York did well against in November, but that was with Jason Pierre-Paul in the lineup). The Eagles will test Romeo Okwara, Kerry Wynn, and Owa Odighizuwa in run defense. They also know that Jonathan Casillas (knee) and Keenan Robinson (shoulder) are beat up.

Although the Giants defeated the Eagles in the first match-up, the defense did not have one of its better games. Two interceptions helped, but the defense gave up four plays of more than 30 yards and allowed five drives over 50 yards. Rookie quarterback Carson Wentz threw for 364 yards. And the Eagles tight ends killed the Giants, accruing 152 receiving yards. While the Giants did a good job on Sproles in coverage, the Eagles are likely to test the Giants undercoverage again with a heavy dose of passing to the tight ends and Sproles. Keep in mind that the Giants two best cover linebackers are playing hurt.

The Giants match-up fairly well with the Eagles wide receivers. But the health situation of Janoris Jenkins is a concern. If he can’t go, the Eagles will likely target Coty Sensabaugh and Trevin Wade. Wentz has been up-and-down this year with 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. His favorite targets are wide receiver Jordan Matthews, tight end Zach Ertz, and Sproles.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
The Eagles are tough on special teams. In the first game, Darren Sproles returned one punt for 66 yards (his longest of the year) and was a shoe-string tackle away from an 81-yard score on that play. The Giants obviously have to do a better job of keeping him in check. The Eagles led the NFL in kickoff return average. Jason Pierre-Paul – who will miss this game – did block an Eagles field goal attempt. It will be fascinating to see how much the Giants use Odell Beckham at punt returner moving forward.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Head Coach Ben McAdoo on Philadelphia’s defensive line: “They play very well up front. There will be some carryover from the scheme we saw last week with Detroit. They play a lot of the wide nine, but they’re loaded up front. One of the best front fours in the game.”

THE FINAL WORD:
Having two division rivals play on Thursday night this late in the season is absurd. Despite the fact that the Giants are the better team, this is a tough spot for them as they will be the road team on a very short week with no real practice. The Giants have more to play for and this is definitely a very winnable game, but don’t be shocked to see the Eagles pull off the upset.

Dec 192016
 
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Odell Beckham, New York Giants (December 18, 2016)

Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 17 – Detroit Lions 6

Overview

This was an impressive win against one of the NFL’s better teams. It was a matter-of-fact, business-like effort that was reminiscent of the Giants teams of the late 1980s and early 1990s. The offense was unspectacular but efficient. The defense was smothering and opportunistic. Special teams helped the defense by pinning the Lions offense deep in their territory. There weren’t a ton of highlights, but at the end of the day, the Giants tallied yet another victory – their eighth in nine games.

Giants on Offense

Statistically, the offensive performance was not much better than the dreadful performance against the Cowboys as New York only accrued 17 points (up from 10), 17 first downs (up from 12), and 300 total net yards (up from 260), averaging 4.8 yards per offensive play. But the offense was far more efficient, being 7-of-15 (47 percent) on 3rd down conversions and 2-for-2 (100 percent) in red zone opportunities. And the Giants did not turn the ball over. Offensively, the New York was flagged just twice.

The big change in the last two weeks has been the commitment to the run. Last week, the Giants literally ran the ball on half of their offensive snaps. This week, 32 of New York’s 62 offensive snaps were running plays – or slightly MORE than half. Against the Cowboys, the Giants averaged 3.1 yards per rush. This weekend, they averaged 3.6 yards per rush. These are not good figures. But the commitment to the ground game is keeping opposing defenses honest, balancing the time of possession, providing more respite for the defense, and most importantly, reducing mistakes and risk. The offense may not be winning games, but it hasn’t been losing them either.

That all said, let us not lose sight of the fact that the offense is not carrying its fair share of the workload. Seventeen points is not enough. Punting the football away seven times in a game is far too much. The offense needs to do better.

The Giants had four pass plays over 20 yards but none over 29 yards. Their longest run was 11 yards.

Quarterback

This was a bit of a rebound performance for Eli Manning, who had not reached the 200-yard passing mark in the previous three games. While Manning barely surpassed that mark against the Lions (201 gross yards), he was efficient (20-of-28 or 71 percent completion percentage). Manning threw two touchdowns and no interceptions and finished with a 115.3 QB rating. Quarterbacks hate the description, but Eli “managed” the game, very similarly to Phil Simms in the later years of his career. Manning averaged 10 yards per completion.

Running Backs

For better or worse, Ben McAdoo and staff have decided to run the football and grind it out. Detractors will point to the scoreboard – only 27 total points in two games. Advocates will point to fewer killer mistakes and improved time of possession. Giants backs ran the ball 31 times for 105 yards (Odell Beckham had a 9-yard end around), averaging 3.4 yards per carry. That average was dragged down by Rashad Jennings, who only gained 38 yards on 18 carries (2.1 yards per carry). The far more productive player was Paul Perkins, who carried the ball 11 times for 56 yards (5.1 yards per carry). Shane Vereen also chipped in with 11 yards on two carries (5.5 yards per carry). The ground game was an important factor in all three scoring drives.

The backs were only targeted five times in the passing game for a total of two completions for 9 yards. The best passing play was a 25-yard screen pass on 3rd-and-12 where Vereen fumbled at the end of the play, the ball being recovered in the end zone for a touchdown by Victor Cruz. However, an illegal-use-of-hands penalty wiped out the play. Vereen has had ball security issues in his limited playing time this year.

Wide Receivers

Same story as most of the other contests. Odell Beckham remained the primary option with six catches of eight targets for 64 yards and a touchdown. Sterling Shepard was a bit more productive this week with four catches (targeted five times) for 56 yards and a touchdown. Victor Cruz got his one catch – this one on a perfectly-thrown pass from Eli Manning for 29 yards. Cruz hasn’t caught more than one pass in a game since before the bye week. It’s no coincidence that the Giants best passing plays came on their scoring drives:

  • 29-yard pass to Cruz and then 6-yard TD to Shepard.
  • 22-yard pass to Beckham on FG drive.
  • 25-yard pass to Beckham on 3rd-and-10, 23-yard pass to Shepard, and 4-yard TD to Beckham.

Beckham did drop a deep pass right before halftime that might have resulted in additional points. Shepard also dropped a pass.

Tight Ends

The tight ends were move involved this week with seven catches in eight targets. Will Tye caught four passes for 25 yards and Jerell Adams chipped in with three catches for 18 yards. Both averaged only about six yards per catch however. Tye was flagged for holding, but the penalty was erased with an offsetting penalty by the Lions. The blocking was decent.

Offensive Line

Justin Pugh returned to left guard after missing five games with a knee injury. The Giants ran for 114 yards on 32 attempts (3.6 yards per carry). Eli Manning was only officially hit three times, but two of those were sacks. The first sack occurred on a strange play where RT Bobby Hart let the left defensive end go and Pugh attempted to block him from across the formation. The whole thing looked like a mess. The second sack came when RDE Ezekiel Ansah beat LT Ereck Flowers to the inside. Flowers also gave up the other hit on Manning. Bobby Hart’s illegal-use-of-hands penalty did wipe a touchdown on the Giants field goal drive. Overall, this was a reasonably good performance.

Giants on Defense

Despite missing two of their best players (Jason Pierre-Paul and Janoris Jenkins), for the second week in a row, the New York Giants defense did a number on the opponent:

  • 6 points
  • 16 first downs
  • 324 total net yards (but 48 of those came in garbage time)
  • 56 yards rushing (13 of which came on QB scrambles)
  • 5-of-14 on third down (36 percent)
  • 0-of-3 in red zone opportunities with two turnovers

Detroit’s 11 offensive drives resulted in:

  • 2 field goals
  • 2 turnovers
  • 6 punts
  • end of the game

Aside from the two turnovers, there were not a lot of dramatic plays. The Giants were credited with only one sack, four QB hits, four tackles for losses, and five pass defenses. But the run defense was excellent and the secondary only gave up one big passing play. Detroit’s two longest drives (74 yards and 58 yards) resulted in end zone turnovers. Those turnovers were the difference in the game. And the Lions had come into the game with only seven interceptions and three fumbles lost all year. Also keep in mind that the Lions are the NFL’s comeback kings this year, winning eight come-from-behind games in the 4th quarter. Not this time.

Defensive Line

The Giants controlled the line of scrimmage, limiting the Lions to 56 yards rushing on 19 carries (2.9 yards per rush). Ironically, Detroit’s best run of the game was their first play which picked up 12 yards. The Lions only attempted to run the ball seven times (not counting one scramble) in the second half as they recognized the futility of doing so. The pass rush was a bit better than the stats reveal. The Giants were only credited with one sack and four QB hits. However, Matthew Stafford was forced to escape the pocket a number of times. As expected, Oliver Vernon led the way with 5 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss, 0.5 sacks, 2 QB hits, and the fumble recovery in the end zone that prevented a touchdown. Damon Harrison (4 tackles) and Johnathan Hankins (5 tackles, 0.5 sacks) were rocks in the middle. Romeo Okwara (2 tackles) was not as noticeable this week. Kerry Wynn was flagged with a late roughing-the-passer penalty.

Linebackers

It was a pretty nondescript game for the linebacking corps as Jonathan Casillas, Devon Kennard, B.J. Goodson, Kelvin Sheppard, and Keenan Robinson were only credited with 10 total tackles. Casillas had one tackle for a loss and Kennard one quarterback hit. Coverage was decent as tight end Eric Ebron was limited to four catches for 36 yards. And not counting one late 33-yard garbage-time catch, the backs were held to five catches for 28 yards.

Defensive Backs

While not perfect, the Giants did a good job on a potentially-dangerous passing attack despite Janoris Jenkins missing the bulk of the game with a back injury. Three Lions receivers caught a total of 14 passes (in 22 targets) for 176 yards. But 67 of those yards came on one play, when Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (DRC) was beat deep by WR Golden Tate. However, give DRC credit for chasing down Tate at the 11-yard line and saving a touchdown as the Lions fumbled the ball away on the next snap. DRC finished the game with a team-high three pass defenses and a game-sealing interception in the end zone late in the 4th quarter.

Eli Apple played every snap and also saved a touchdown with his sole breakup in the end zone. DRC and Apple combined for 14 tackles, including two tackles for losses by Apple after short throws. Eli was flagged with a defensive holding penalty on a 3rd-and-9 incomplete pass that kept a field-goal drive alive. He also gave up a 21-yard completion on 3rd-and-7 to WR Marvin Jones despite very tight coverage. CB/S Leon Hall saved a touchdown with his forced fumble that was recovered in the end zone by the Giants. Coty Sensabaugh and Trevin Wade both received more playing time than normal (25 snaps each) with Jenkins out. Landon Collins had a team-high eight tackles. He was flagged with a 6-yard pass interference penalty on 3rd-and-3. Collins made a strong tackle on TE Eric Ebron after a 1-yard catch on 3rd-and-2 to force a punt late in the 3rd quarter.

Giants on Special Teams

The Detroit Lions have one of the strongest special teams units in the NFL and the Giants held serve in this department. The negative was the partially-blocked punt that traveled only 18 yards with Jonathan Casillas missing his man. Thankfully that did not lead to any points for Detroit. Brad Wing has been very busy this year. He punted the ball seven more times on Sunday, averaging 42.6 yards per punt (41 yards net) despite the block. For the second week in a row, two of his punts were downed inside the 5-yard line. That was huge.

Robbie Gould nailed his 47-yard field goal attempt. One of his four kickoffs resulted in a touchback, but another was ruled out-of-bounds at the start of the second half and contributed to Detroit’s second field goal drive because of the outstanding field position it provided.

Dangerous returner Andre Roberts was limited to 32 yards on two kickoff returns and 11 yards on four punt returns. That was huge as well. There was a big hit by Kerry Wynn on one kickoff return.

Dwayne Harris returned one kickoff 23 yards and two punts 19 yards. Odell Beckham returned two punts and had a spectacular 63-yard touchdown return called back due to a blatant and unnecessary illegal block by safety Eric Pinkins.

(Detroit Lions at New York Giants, December 18, 2016)