Jan 262016
 
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Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning, New York Giants (January 3, 2016)

Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Philadelphia Eagles 35 – New York Giants 30

Overview

My apologies for this game review being three weeks late. But better late than never and now that we unofficially know that the Giants’ offensive, defensive, and special teams systems will remain in place in 2016, what transpired against the Philadelphia Eagles on January 3, 2016 does have more meaning.

The regular-season finale was a crappy end to one of the team’s crappiest seasons in its history. Let’s painfully – but briefly – rehash what transpired:

Will Beatty tears his pectoral muscle in May and never returns, causing a domino effect on the offensive line at tackle. Jason Pierre-Paul permanently disfigures himself on July 4th, misses half the season, and returns to play one-handed football. Giants safeties start dropping like flies before the season even starts. Victor Cruz’s “the return” never happens. Jon Beason breaks himself again. The Giants also lose Johnathan Hankins, Owa Odighizuwa, Devon Kennard, Prince Amukamara, Geoff Schwartz, Larry Donnell, and Daniel Fells for much of the season.

For the most part, the Giants play competitive football in 2015, but keep painfully losing in the final seconds due to questionable decisions, red zone ineptitude, bad defense, and untimely special teams mistakes. The Giants lost the opener in Dallas with a red zone meltdown combined with allowing Tony Romo to drive the length of the field in the final seconds. A red zone turnover against the Falcons and another defensive collapse left the Giants at 0-2. The Giants rebound with a three-game winning streak before being blown out by the Eagles. Dwayne Harris haunts his former team as the Giants defeat the Cowboys at home. Eli Manning throws six touchdown passes against the Saints but the Giants still lose.

Nevertheless, the Giants beat the Buccaneers to improve their record to 5-4. They are in first place in the terrible NFC East with seven games left to play. The 2-6 Cowboys and 4-4 Eagles are wounded and fading. The Redskins are 3-5. Even with the Patriots looming next, with Tom Coughlin, Eli Manning, and Odell Beckham, the Giants are the favorites to win the NFC East.

But in a far-too-common occurrence during the Tom Coughlin era, the Giants collapse in the second half of the season. They only win one of their last seven games. The Giants have the Patriots on the ropes but Beckham and Landon Collins can’t hold onto the football. With the division on the line, the Giants fail to show up in Washington. Coughlin’s eschews a late field goal against the Jets who win in overtime as Josh Brown misses a game-tying field goal. A heroic comeback against the Panthers falls short as the defense collapses late again. New York gets destroyed in the Minnesota cold.

Which brings us to Week 17. Both the Giants and Eagles are 6-9. In their last seven games, the Eagles have lost five contests and been badly beaten by the Buccaneers (45-17), Lions (45-14), and Cardinals (40-17). The Eagles are 15th in offense and 30th in defense. Chip Kelly is fired before the finale. On the other hand, it is widely speculated both inside and outside of the locker room that this will be Tom Coughlin’s last game as head coach of the Giants. There is talk about sending him out on a high note with an inspired effort against a team that has owned the Giants the last eight years.

Instead an Eagles team with nothing to play for soundly beat the Giants 35-30. Coughlin is left with one last sour memory as the Eagles have now beaten the Giants 13 times in the last 16 match-ups. Once again, bad defense and red zone inefficiency lead to defeat.

As the third Giants’ head coach to win two NFL Championships, Tom Coughlin is undeniably one of the top three coaches in franchise history. But in the end, he was done in by his inability to defeat his divisional rivals in recent years. In addition to the Eagles dominance over the Giants, the Cowboys have defeated the Giants six out of the last eight games. And although the Giants had fared much better against the Redskins, the Giants came up woefully short in both 2012 and 2015 against Washington with the division on the line.

Giants on Offense

The Giants accrued 30 points, 30 first downs, and 502 total net yards (208 rushing and 294 passing) against the Eagles. New York had 81 offensive snaps to Philadelphia’s 65. The Giants won the time of possession battle 31:54 to 28:06 and were 7-of-15 (47 percent on third down). With numbers like that, you would expect a victory. But the team’s defense was again poor. And offensively, the Giants were only 2-of-5 (40 percent) in the red zone. The biggest error of the game came late in the 3rd quarter. With the Giants up 27-21 and driving at the Eagles’ 14-yard line, Eli Manning was sacked. The ball was knocked out of his hands and returned 83 yards for a touchdown. It was at least a 10-point swing in the game, and possibly a 14- or 15-point swing.

After punting on their opening possession, the Giants scored on each of their four remaining drives of the first half with two field goals and two touchdowns. Unfortunately, the first field goal drive stalled after the Giants faced a 1st-and-goal from the 5-yard line. The second stalled after facing a 2nd-and-5 from the Eagles’ 7-yard line. The second half was not as kind as the Giants scored twice (touchdown and field goal), punted twice, had the fumble returned for a touchdown, and ended the game with a turnover on downs. There was one head-scratching call (or audible) on 3rd-and-10 in the 3rd quarter when a draw play was called.

Quarterback

Eli Manning had a solid day, completing 24-of-43 passes (56 percent) for 302 yards, 2 touchdowns, and no interceptions. His fumble that was returned for a touchdown was probably the difference in the game but that play was more on Ereck Flowers than him. Manning did miss a wide open Myles White in the end zone on the second drive that ended with a field goal. He also missed a wide open Odell Beckham in the 4th quarter on an errant throw and threw into double coverage a few plays later on a deep pass intended for Randle.

Running Backs

Rashad Jennings, Andre Williams, and Shane Vereen had the type of day that the Giants dreamed they would have on a regular basis in 2015. Jennings carried the ball 27 times for an inspiring 170 yards (6.3 yards per carry) and a touchdown. Williams chipped in with 26 yards on five carries (5.2 yards per carry) and Vereen 12 yards on four carries (3.0 yards per carry). Vereen also caught 6-of-8 passes thrown in his direction for 72 yards (12.0 yard average). He was a big factor on the team’s second TD drive when he ran for four yards on 3rd-and-2 and then caught three passes for 41 yards on three consecutive plays. But obviously the story was Jennings who ran with toughness and purpose. Remarkably, half his 863 yards on the season came in the last four games.

Wide Receivers

Aside from one big touchdown play to Rueben Randle, the wide receivers were surprisingly quiet against a secondary that they should have destroyed. One game after his NFL suspension, Odell Beckham was held to 5-of-7 passes thrown in his direction for just 54 yards. He was also flagged with a false start. Randle caught a 45-yard touchdown pass but was held to three receptions on his other six targets for just 34 yards. He lazily couldn’t come down with a 3rd-and-7 pass on the opening drive. Hakeem Nicks caught just 2-of-4 targets for 24 yards and Myles White did not have a catch despite three passes thrown in his direction. Nicks had a chance to be a hero late in the game but dropped a deep pass from Manning on the last desperate drive.

Tight Ends

Will Tye finished his surprising year on a strong note with five catches for 67 yards and a touchdown. Tye’s run blocking is noticeably improving as well, though he did miss one block that led to a 2-yard loss.

Offensive Line

From left to right, the offensive line was Ereck Flowers, Dallas Reynolds, Weston Richburg, John Jerry, and Justin Pugh. Adam Gettis also saw some time at left guard. The good news was the 208 yards rushing. And the line looked sharp on a number of pulling efforts, especially by Pugh and Reynolds. Richburg also stood out with his effort to make an initial block, then come off his man and engage a second defender. The bad news was that pass protection was shaky at times. Eli Manning was only officially hit four times, but two of those were sacks. The line had pass protection issues on the first drive as Flowers and Reynolds gave up back-to-back pass pressures. Then Jerry was flagged for holding on a play where Manning was pressured. Early in the 2nd quarter, on 3rd-and-7, Flowers gave up the first sack when he was beat by an outside rush and Reynolds blocked his man into Flowers. Of course, the decisive play of the game was the gimpy Flowers being beat for a sack-forced fumble that resulted in at least a 10-point swing. The line did a poor job of protecting Manning on the last desperate drive as both tackles and Reynolds gave up pressure.

Giants on Defense

The NFL’s 32nd-ranked defense played terribly. The Eagles scored three offensive touchdowns on their five first-half possessions as they easily drove 80 yards in five plays, 85 yards in six plays, and 80 yards in 16 plays. While the Giants did force two punts and caused a fumble in the second half, the defense also allowed a 13-play, 91-yard touchdown drive that for all intents and purposes put the game away. The Giants made the inconsistent Sam Bradford look like an all-star as he completed 30-of-38 passes for 320 yards and two touchdowns. Tight end Zach Ertz caught all nine passes thrown in his direction for an astounding 152 yards receiving (16.9 yards per catch). Wide receiver Jordan Matthews caught two touchdown passes. Running backs DeMarco Murray and Darren Sproles carried the ball 15 times for 93 yards (6.2 yards per carry) and two touchdowns.

Most damning of all? The Giants’ “defense” (and I use that term loosely) allowed the Eagles to convert 10-of-13 third down opportunities, a 77 percent success rate that was the highest by a Giants’ opponent since 1970.

What’s worrisome moving forward is how uninspired and confused Steve Spagnuolo’s defenders looked. Are there talent issues? You bet. But the players on the field didn’t appear to play with much effort and there were too many easy plays for the Eagles simply because defenders were out of position. For example, there was one 3rd-and-1 play where the Eagles had two wideouts split to the left with only one defensive back in the picture. It was an easy uncontested pitch-and-catch for a first down. The defense also came up small again at the end of a game, allowing the Eagles to pick up two first downs, 37 yards, and run almost three minutes off of the clock after the Giants had cut the score to 35-30 with 4:30 left to play.

Defensive Line

The starters up front were Jason Pierre-Paul at left end, Cullen Jenkins at left tackle, Jay Bromley at right tackle, and Robert Ayers at right end. Ayers played a strong game with 7 tackles, 1 sack, 3 tackles for a loss, and 2 quarterback hits. Sadly, no other Giant officially hit Sam Bradford. Pierre-Paul had six tackles and two pass defenses, Bromley five tackles, and Jenkins three tackles. As reserves, George Selvie chipped in with two tackles and a fumble recovery. He was flagged with a neutral zone infraction. Montori Hughes had two tackles and one tackle for a loss, but was easily blocked on Murray’s 54-yard TD run. Hughes did flash on a few occasions with his hustle in run defense. Pierre-Paul was successfully blocked on Darren Sproles’ 6-yard touchdown run as Sproles ran around him. JPP did bat a pass up into the air that was intercepted by Jonathan Casillas, setting up the Giants’ first touchdown drive on a short field. Jenkins was easily blocked on a 3rd-and-5 draw play that picked up a first down on the Eagles’ third touchdown drive of the first half.

Linebackers

The Giants started in the nickel with Jasper Brinkley and Jonathan Casillas starting at linebacker. Brinkley finished the game with 9 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss, and 1 forced fumble. Casillas had 7 tackles and 1 interception. Others spotted in the game included Mark Herzlich (1 tackle) and Nico Johnson (0 tackles). The Giants linebackers looked slow, unathletic, and lethargic in coverage. The Eagles’ game plan was obvious and successful. Alternate throws to the middle of the field with short passes to the outside perimeter. Force the linebackers and safeties to run to the ball and make plays. Let this one astounding fact sink in: Bradford was 21-of-23 for 243 yards throwing to the tight ends and running backs!!!

Casillas was slow to react to receivers out of the backfield and to fill the gap on Murray’s 54-yard touchdown run. Johnson got faked on a misdirection boot to his side. Later, Zack Ertz (who caught all nine passes in his direction for 152 yards) was left all alone on a 60-yard gain. Casillas did not run with Ertz and there seemed to be confusion between defensive backs Landon Collins and Prince Amukamara on the play when the tight ends crossed. Brinkley couldn’t stay with Ertz on a 19-yard completion on 2nd-and-11 down to the Giants’ 3-yard line. Brinkley did make a number of nice plays in the 3rd quarter, including the forced fumble, an aggressive tackle in the hole against the RB, and then a sure tackle after a short pass. Casillas was beat by TE Brent Celek for 24 yards on 3rd-and-5 on the Eagles’ last touchdown drive. Both Casillas and Brinkley looked awful in coverage on this drive, including Brinkley embarrassingly whiffing on an open-field tackle attempt that set up the Eagles at the Giants’ 3-yard line.

Defensive Backs

The Giants started the game with Landon Collins and the recently re-signed and gimpy Brandon Meriweather at safety, Prince Amukamara and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie outside at cornerback, and Trevin Wade playing nickel corner. Trumaine McBride was forced to play safety after Meriweather injured his knee. The only defensive back with a pass breakup was Wade with just one.

The safeties were just dreadful in coverage as indicated by the receiving productivity of the tight ends. In addition, Meriweather was caught flat-footed on Murray’s 54-yard TD run. He also made a pathetic, flailing effort to tackle Ertz on his 60-yard catch-and-run. Collins looked lost out there at times. He got blocked and couldn’t make a play on Sproles’ 6-yard TD run. He later badly missed a tackle on Ertz too. On the Eagles’ third touchdown drive, on 3rd-and-10, Collins was cleanly picked off of Ertz, resulting in an easy first down. Collins was beat again by Ertz for 21 yards in the 3rd quarter. He gave up two more catches to Ertz late in the 4th quarter when the Eagles were running out the clock.

Wade got beat deep on 3rd-and-3 by Jordan Matthews who thankfully dropped a perfect pass, leading to the Eagles only punt of the first half. Only two Eagles’ wide receivers caught passes and only one caught more than two passes. The wideouts were limited to a combined 11 catches for 77 yards. But Matthews caught two touchdowns. One of those was also against Wade, who struggled at times with Matthews out of the slot. He did knock away one pass intended for Matthews on one of the Giants only three third down stops. Jayron Hosley was beaten easily by Matthews for his second touchdown on 1st-and-goal from the 3-yard line. Rodgers-Cromartie and Amukamara were never really tested.

Giants on Special Teams

Josh Brown finished a strong season 3-of-3 on his field goal kicks, including a 48 yarder. Five of his kickoffs resulted in touchbacks. The other two kickoff returns went for only 24 yards combined. Brad Wing punted three times with all three punts downed inside the 20-yard line, including at the 2-, 3- and 9-yard lines. None were returned. All six Eagles kickoffs resulted in touchbacks with no returns. The only punt returned was by Odell Beckham for five yards.

(Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants, January 3, 2016)
Jan 012016
 
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Tom Coughlin, New York Giants (March 26, 2014)

Tom Coughlin – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Game Preview: Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants, January 3, 2016

THE STORYLINE:
This is the end of yet another utterly miserable and meaningless season. The Giants remained relevant until early December only because of the crappy state of the rest of the division. Despite four heart-breaking, late 4th quarter losses, at 5-5, the team was in complete control of its fate heading into a decisive game against the Washington Redskins on November 29th. Eli Manning vs. Kirk Cousins. Nevertheless, the Redskins took a commanding 20-0 lead and held on for a victory that would propel them to a division title. The game was reminiscent of key divisional failures against the Redskins (December 2012) and Cowboys (November 2013). Once at 5-4, the Giants lost five of six games with their playoff hopes very much alive. Atrocious defense, an inconsistent running game, red zone failures, untimely special teams breakdowns, questionable game management decisions led to a season of agony as the Giants lost seven games by six points or less.

This Giants-Eagles regular-season finale has a very eerie feel to it. Chip Kelly has already been fired. Tom Coughlin may “retire” immediately after the game. No one knows how the players on either team will respond. How they do will probably decide the outcome. Because of that, a win or loss here is virtually insignificant (see the Giants 42-7 beat down of the Eagles in Andy Reid’s last game in December 2012…the only Giants home victory against the Eagles in the last eight years).

What did the Giants accomplish in 2015? Aside from stat padding by Eli Manning and Odell Beckham, not much. And even Beckham managed to tarnish what had been his stellar popular image. Four consecutive non-playoff seasons. Three consecutive losing seasons. Dead-last defense. Horrible 4th quarter collapses. Two blowouts. Over 20 players on Injured Reserve. Let’s just get this thing over and get the few cornerstone players on the team out of the game healthy.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • WR Dwayne Harris (back/shoulder – questionable)
  • RT Marshall Newhouse (concussion – out)
  • DE Jason Pierre-Paul (ankle – questionable)
  • S Craig Dahl (concussion – out)
  • S Cooper Taylor (concussion – out)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
Moving forward, the Giants are obviously in better shape personnel-wise on the offensive side of the ball. Despite turning 35 on Sunday, Eli Manning is playing some of his best football and shows no signs of slowing down. Odell Beckham is one of the game’s true impact players. The offensive line has three good players to build around. Will Tye has flashed as a respectable #2 tight end at the very least. Shane Vereen is one of the game’s better third down backs. But the Giants still need a lot of help here. Can (or should) the Giants count on high-priced, injury-prone Victor Cruz, Will Beatty, and Geoff Schwartz next season or move on? If the Giants prefer Flowers at left tackle, Beatty is probably gone regardless. Cruz may never be the same player again. And aside from Beckham, the cupboard is pretty bare at wide receiver as Rueben Randle has proven to be a coach killer. The Hakeem Nicks encore was downright ugly. Dwayne Harris is a #3/#4 type. Wide receiver is a huge need on this team. So is offensive line unless Schwartz rebounds in big way and Bobby Hart turns out to be a surprise. Hart will start on Sunday against the Eagles and he may be the most important player to watch in this game. Even if Tye develops into a player, the Giants need more help at tight end as Larry Donnell regressed. While Rashad Jennings is capable at running back, he’s nothing special. Andre Williams was a huge disappointment in this system.

The Eagles’ front usually gives the Giants more problems than any other opponent. Will Flowers, Pugh, Richburg, Jerry, and Hart put on their big boy pants or skirts on Sunday?

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
32nd in defense. 419.3 yards per game allowed. Almost 6,300 yards allowed. The Giants have given up over 6,000 yards four times in their history. And those four years were 2011, 2012, 2014, and 2015. The defense is an absolute train wreck and it has been for years. It’s not all due to the changing state of the game.

The Giants are facing an absolute defensive rebuild. Because of that, now would be an opportune time to switch to a 3-4 defense if they choose to do so. Despite a shaky rookie season, the coaches are optimistic about safety Landon Collins. Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie dropped two potentially game-altering interceptions but otherwise had a very strong season. Despite a disappointing season before he ended up on Injured Reserve, Johnathan Hankins is a versatile talent who can play in any system. Everyone else is a question mark. Depending on their salary demands, it may be wise to let former 1st rounders Jason Pierre-Paul and Prince Amukamara walk. JPP is permanently-damaged goods who may not respond well to a big contract. Prince is an injury-prone player who likely wants to be paid like a top corner but isn’t one. Jay Bromley probably sticks around at least one more year but all of the other defensive tackles are disposable. Defensive end Robert Ayers has flashed but he hasn’t proven to be a very tough player and is also a free agent. Defensive end, linebacker, and safety are an utter mess. Depending on if Amukamara returns, corner might be as well. There are players starting on the Giants’ defense that would struggle to make Practice Squads on other teams. There is no way the Giants can fix this unit in one offseason.

The Eagles are Jekyll and Hyde on offense depending on the play of their quarterback and offensive line at a given moment or game. Again, the Giants seem to bring out the best in them.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
The special teams played much better this year but still had untimely breakdowns that contributed to painful losses. There were big punt returns by the Saints, Patriots, and Panthers. Josh Brown had his second very strong season, but for the second year in a row picked a bad time to miss his first kick, leading to losses (Jaguars in 2014 and Jets in 2015). Dwayne Harris did return a kickoff and punt for touchdowns. Brad Wing was a nice pick-up.

The Eagles’ special teams are outstanding and were a big factor in the team’s upset victory over the Patriots. Darren Sproles has two punt returns for touchdowns this year. Last year in the Meadowlands, the Eagles blocked a punt for a touchdown, a play that turned the game.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Tom Coughlin on his future with the Giants: “Do I want to come back? I don’t know if that’s a great question right now. What I want to do is win a game on Sunday, that’s the bottom line for this group right now. I always have the competitive spirit. Sometimes it takes me a day or two to figure it all out when it’s over. Right now, let’s stick with the game and let’s go win a football game.”

THE FINAL WORD:
The closest season to this one that I can recall was BBI’s first season in 1995. That year, the Giants lost seven games that were decided on the final drive of the game. In six of those games, the Giants were either tied or leading at some point in the 4th quarter. Sound familiar? While the 1995 Giants had Dave Brown at quarterback, the team could run the football and play defense.

I despise the Eagles, but it may be best for the Giants to lose this game. By doing so, the Giants not only avoid a road trip to Seattle in 2016, but they could very much improve their draft position. My most important concern is to get Manning, Beckham, Flowers, Pugh, Richburg, Harris, Vereen, DRC, and Collins out of this game healthy. The most important player to watch is Bobby Hart.

Dec 282015
 
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butchsun1

Minnesota Vikings 49 – New York Giants 17

Overview

Oh, good. For a moment there I thought we were in trouble. – Butch Cassidy

The Giants got clobbered but I wouldn’t read too much into this one particular game. The Giants found out the day before that their playoff hopes were dead and were bound to suffer an emotional letdown against a quality opponent headed to the tournament. The Giants were missing one of their two superstars. And a weak and poorly-constructed roster once again is feeling the effects of an inordinate number of players on Injured Reserve (currently up to 18). Throw in the mental strain of six devastating 4th quarter collapses and it was only a matter of time before the Giants were on the receiving end of good old-fashioned ass whooping.

The more troubling concerns are the longer term trends. While the blowouts are down this year, they have continued since 2012. For the last four seasons, the Giants have fielded weak, injury-depleted rosters. They seem no further along on their rebuilding process than when they started.

The bottom line is this is a bad football team. It simply does not have the horses to consistently compete. Until the Giants acquire better players and players who are not so injury-prone, they will remain an also-ran who at best flirts with a playoff appearance.

Tom Coughlin will likely be fired or forced to retire in early January. This is a bottom-line business and the Giants have missed the playoffs six of the last seven years. He and his hand-picked defensive coaches have been unable fix a defense that remains a disaster.  The team hasn’t been able to consistently run the ball for years. The Giants remain an unconfident, uptight, finesse team that lacks toughness on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Coughlin must share a significant portion of the blame for those faults. In addition, other than Eli, Coughlin’s old warriors are gone and his cachet doesn’t carry much with the new guys. He will be 70. Sadly, it’s time for a change.

Offense

We now know what happens when Odell Beckham does not play. The results were not pretty.  The Giants had seven offensive possessions in the first half. Two resulted in interceptions and four with punts. The Giants had six first downs in the first half, three coming on their lone scoring drive that resulted in a short field goal. The Giants did not complete a pass until the second quarter and only had five pass completions in the first half. Running back Rashad Jennings accounted for 100 of the Giants’ 112 first-half yards.

For the game, New York was 1-of-11 (9 percent) on third-down conversion attempts and 0-of-2 (0 percent) on fourth-down conversion attempts. The Giants did not score a touchdown until the game was out of reach (32-3). Over half of Manning’s passing yards came on two pass plays. If that was not bad enough, the offense was directly responsible for two touchdowns by the opposition and put their own defense in bad field position situations all night.

Quarterbacks

Missing the target that had been responsible for 26 percent of the team’s receptions, 36 percent of the team’s passing yardage, 41 percent of the team’s receiving touchdowns, and opening up opportunities for his teammates, Eli Manning struggled mightily. He did not complete a pass until New York’s second drive in the 2nd quarter. He was 5-of-13 for 77 yards in the first half, and 50 of those 77 yards came on one play. His first-half quarterbacking rating was 19.2. Two of his three interceptions led directly to two touchdowns. Vikings’ defensive backs only had five interceptions on the season coming into this game. Manning also could not handle a shotgun snap on 3rd-and-16 that led to a 13-yard loss. In the end, over half of his 234 passing yardage came on two pass plays. He only completed 15 passes in the game. There was another delay-of-game penalty to boot. Ryan Nassib came into the game late in garbage time and was 5-of-5 for 68 yards and a touchdown.

Running Backs

Rashad Jennings came to play and was astoundingly responsible for 100 of New York’s 112 first-half yardage, including one screen pass for 50 yards and nine carries for 50 yards. He finished the night with 14 carries for 74 yards (5.3 yards per carry) and two catches for 62 yards. Jennings did not pick up a corner blitz well on a play where Manning was hit. The other four backs only had six carries for 17 yards, with Andre Williams being the only other back with more than one carry (three carries for 5 yards). Shane Vereen was held to two catches for 21 yards. He also dropped a pass in the red zone where the Giants had to settle for a field goal.

Wide Receivers

Absolute shit. Minus Odell Beckham, the Giants and Eli Manning desperately needed the other wideouts on the roster to excel and they did the opposite. Through almost to the end of the 3rd quarter, when the Vikings were up 32-3, Giants receivers had three catches for 21 yards!!! Rueben Randle and Hakeem Nicks looked like they were going through the motions. Dwayne Harris dropped Manning’s first attempt. Randle dropped another on the field goal drive inside the red zone. Myles White dropped a fourth down pass.

Tight Ends

Crap. Giants tight ends had one catch for six yards in the first half. In the end, Will Tye, Jerome Cunningham, and Matt LaCosse had a total of eight catches, but seven of those came when the game was well out of hand. Tye was also flagged for an illegal shift and dropped a 4th-and-6 pass late in the game.

Offensive Line

The Giants needed a strong performance up front and did not get it. Manning was sacked four times (three times in the first half) and officially hit eight other times, even though he it seemed far more than that. Too many penalties too with Marshall Newhouse (false start), Ereck Flowers (unnecessary roughness and holding), and Justin Pugh (illegal use of hands) being flagged. The line did run block pretty well in the first half of the contest, except on a poorly-designed 2nd-and-1 play right before the pick six where two Vikings were left unblocked. Newhouse gave up the first sack on 3rd-and-10 in the 1st quarter. The second sack wasn’t on the line as the Vikings did not bite on a play-action rollout and the defensive end got around Will Tye. Pugh gave up the third sack on 3rd-and-9 and another sack late in the 4th quarter. Flowers gave up a few late pressures and a bit hit on Eli.

Defense

The defense hung in there but once again predictably faded. The fate of the Giants’ defense has been based on turnovers, and that’s never wise. The Giants have lost 17 of their last 18 regular-season games in which their defense did not force a turnover, including against Minnesota.

The defense forced three punts to start the game, including one possession that started on Minnesota’s 45-yard line. The Vikings’ fourth possession started on their 46 and resulted in an 8-play, 40-yard drive that ended with a field goal. Minnesota’s only offensive touchdown of the half came on a very short field, the drive starting on New York’s 44-yard line. The Vikings’ last first half points also came on a short field, with Minnesota only having to pick up 23 yards and one first down to set up a field goal. The defense gave up only 13 first half points despite being in bad field position most of the half.

In the second half, the Giants’ defense allowed a 58-yard drive that ended with a field goal. Another interception gave the Vikings the ball on the Giants’ 4-yard line and an easy touchdown for a commanding 29-3 lead. Then came a 47-yard drive that set up a 53-yard field goal, an onside kickoff that gave the Vikings the ball at the Giants’ 18-yard line and a turnover on downs that gave the Vikings the ball on the Giants’ 35-yard line. The biggest embarrassment for the defense was the 68-yard touchdown run late in the game when the Vikings were simply attempting to run out the clock.

Oddly, despite the team giving up 49 points, the defense only allowed the Vikings 17 first downs and 150 net passing yards. The Vikings were also only 2-of-5 (40 percent) in red zone efficiency.

Defensive Line/Linebackers

The front seven did a decent job against the run in the first half, holding the Vikings to 44 yards on 14 carries (3.1 yards per carry). The Giants also sacked Teddy Bridgewater twice, including 9-yard sack split between Robert Ayers and George Selvie on 3rd-and-5 after Manning’s first interception. Ayers got the other sack late in the first half (note to Giants…stop dancing around like dumb asses when the other team is kicking your ass on the scoreboard).

Adrian Peterson really didn’t hurt the Giants all that much until late in the 3rd quarter when he broke off a 39-yard run when Jason Pierre-Paul got double-teamed and J.T. Thomas couldn’t get off the block by the tight end. This set up a long field goal. The defense started to fade very late in the 3rd quarter and early in the 4th quarter, first with Bridgewater’s 9-yard scramble on 3rd-and-8 and then running back Jerick McKinnon’s 7-yard touchdown on 3rd-and-goal. On the later run, Pierre-Paul and Jasper Brinkley simply failed to make the play. The nadir came on McKinnon’s three runs late in the game that picked up a total of 80 yards, including a 68-yard touchdown run. Jay Bromley and Ayers were each flagged with being offsides. Thomas was thrown out of the game for throwing a punch.

Defensive Backs

Teddy Bridgewater only completed 15-of-25 passes for 168 yards. The problem remains the safeties. Craig Dahl was beaten for a 28-yard touchdown by tight end Kyle Rudolph on 2nd-and-14. Landon Collins was late getting over to help out on the play as well. Collins later gave up a 25-yard reception against Rudolph on 3rd-and-3 on Minnesota’s first scoring drive of the second half. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Prince Amukamara didn’t really hurt their team but didn’t really help either. I didn’t like how Amukamara played patty-cake with the wide receiver on Jerick McKinnon’s 7-yard touchdown run in the 4th quarter on 3rd-and-goal. Trevin Wade, playing the nickel, made a nice play defending a 3rd-and-5 shot into the end zone, but he later gave up a 21-yard reception on 3rd-and-3 on the field goal drive right before halftime.

Special Teams

Not good. An ailing Dwayne Harris (shoulder) returned two punts for a total of 12 yards, muffing his first chance. He also let one punt hit the turf and roll that he should have fair caught. Shane Vereen returned seven kickoffs, but his longest effort was only 23 yards. Ben Edwards also returned one kickoff for 20 yards. None of Josh Brown’s kickoffs resulted in touchbacks. Both of his onside kicks failed, and one was returned 27 yards to the Giants’ 18-yard line, setting up another touchdown. Brad Wing punted six times, averaging 40 yards per punt. One punt was expertly downed on the 4-yard line by Landon Collins and Craig Dahl. Wing’s 30-yard punt right before halftime helped the Vikings add an additional field goal. Punt coverage and kickoff coverage on the two traditional kickoffs were good.

Cram it in your Cramhole Award

Minus Odell Beckham, the entire wide receiving corps. Three catches for 21 yards until late in the 3rd quarter when the game was out of reach? Holy crap.

(New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings, December 27, 2015)
Dec 252015
 
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New York Giants - Minnesota Vikings (December 6, 1964)

New York Giants – Minnesota Vikings (December 6, 1964)

New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings, December 27, 2015

THE STORYLINE:
The significance of this game depends on the outcome of Eagles-Redskins game played the day before on Saturday night. If the Eagles win, the Giants must win to keep their now desperate playoff hopes alive. If the Redskins win, the Giants’ playoff hopes are officially dead.

Either way, a seriously undermanned Giants team – sans Odell Beckham – are clear-cut underdogs against a well-rounded 9-5 Minnesota Vikings team on its way to the playoffs. Only a few of the ole’ football coach’s warriors from the 2011 NFL Championship remain – Eli Manning, Hakeem Nicks, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Mark Herzlich – for this potential last stand. An era may be ending.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • RB Orleans Darkwa (illness – probable)
  • WR Dwayne Harris (shoulder – questionable)
  • LT Ereck Flowers (illness – probable)
  • DE George Selvie (concussion – probable)
  • DT Markus Kuhn (knee – out)
  • LB Devon Kennard (foot – out)
  • L James Morris (quad – out)
  • S Cooper Taylor (concussion – out)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
The 4-3 defense of the Vikings is 13th in the NFL (7th against the pass and 20th against the run). Minnesota is 4th in red zone defense. It’s solid group anchored up front by defensive tackles ex-Giant Linval Joseph and 1st rounder Sharrif Floyd and defensive ends Everson Griffen (8.5 sacks) and Brian Robison (4 sacks). The leading tackler is rookie middle linebacker Eric Kendricks (76 tackles, 4 sacks). He is flanked by 1st rounders Chad Greenway and Anthony Barr, two athletic play makers.

The secondary has performed surprisingly well but they haven’t made a lot of plays on the ball (only 5 interceptions by the defensive backs). 37-year old ex-Cowboy Terence Newman (3 interceptions) and third-year Xavier Rhodes are the starting corners. Free safety Harrison Smith leads the defensive backfield. Andrew Sendejo is the strong safety.

The game story here is the absence of Odell Beckham and how the Giants will compensate. Facing game-time temperatures of below 10 degrees, Eli Manning’s best friend would be a strong running game. New York had their best rushing performance of the season against a tough Carolina defense last week. Can the Giants build upon that performance? Beckham accounts for 26 percent of the team’s receptions, 36 percent of the team’s passing yardage, and 41 percent of the team’s receiving touchdowns. No Beckham. No Victor Cruz. Only the disappointing Rueben Randle, banged-up special teamer Dwayne Harris (shoulder), reclamation project Hakeem Nicks (4 catches for 26 yards), and ex-Packer practice squader Myles White (5 catches for 54 yards). The Giants desperately need a career-game out of Randle. If not, Manning will have to feature running back Shane Vereen and rookie tight end Will Tye. A wild card here could be tight end Jerome Cunningham.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The Vikings are 28th in the NFL on offense (31st passing and 5th rushing). They are a throwback-type offense that runs the ball well and likes to use the play-action pass. The Vikings don’t turn the ball over much (only 8 interceptions and 7 lost fumbles).

Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater doesn’t put up big numbers, but he is surprisingly efficient for a second-year player. While he only has 13 touchdown passes, he is completing over 66 percent of his passes and has a quarterback rating of 90.4. His top two targets are rookie wide receiver Stefon Diggs and tight end Kyle Rudolph. Each has 47 catches and four touchdowns. Ex-Steeler and Dolphin deep threat Mike Wallace has 36 catches and 2 touchdowns. Since the Giants have struggled covering quality tight ends, Bridgewater will likely look for Rudolph early and often. Bridgewater has some mobility and will run with the football at times (178 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns). The Vikings also like to bootleg off of play action.

Given the opponent and very cold temperatures, the defensive focus has to be on stopping the run. Running back Adrian Peterson is still one of the very best in the business. He’s virtually their entire running game with 1,314 yards and 9 touchdowns (no other back has 200 yards). Peterson can wear you out, but he can also break the big run. He has an 80-yard touchdown run his year and is averaging 4.6 yards per carry against defenses specifically designed to stop him. It’s old-fashioned power football, running the ball behind a big, physical offensive line, fullback (Zach Line), and multiple tight ends.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Minnesota is very strong on special teams. Cordarrelle Patterson has returned two kickoffs for touchdowns this season, and has four in his career. He averages over 31 yards per kickoff return. Marcus Sherels has a punt return for a touchdown this season (he has three in career, including an 86-yarder against the Giants in 2013) and is averaging almost 10 yards per punt return. The Vikings are also outstanding covering punts, being second in the NFL by allowing only 5 yards per return. They are more vulnerable on kickoff returns, being 31st in the NFL, and having given up four returns over 40 yards. Dwayne Harris (shoulder) is ailing and may not be able to play much on special teams this week. Shane Vereen may handle kickoff return chores while Ben Edwards handles punt returns.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Steve Spagnuolo on QB Teddy Bridgewater and the Vikings’ offense: “Of course like any good quarterback with a running game, he’s aided by that. They’ve become really good—(Offensive Coordinator) Norv (Turner) has done a great job—with the play action concepts that they have. They don’t do a lot, but what they do, they do it really well. Because you’re so focused on 28 (Adrian Peterson), everybody gets (sucked up). That’s the whole deal with a good running game and play action pass off of it. We’re hopeful that we can play good on first and second down and get into some unmanageable third downs for them, it’d be better for us. That’ll be the intent.”

THE FINAL WORD:
Obviously if the Redskins win on Saturday, there will be an emotional letdown and the Giants may get pummeled by a Vikings team still in a division title race. Regardless, it is difficult seeing a Giants team missing Beckham and severely limited by the 32nd-ranked defense (the Giants are only 78 yards from giving up 6,000 yards on the season again) from pulling off the upset. In extremely cold conditions, the team that runs the ball, stops the run, and plays better special teams will prevail. The Vikings are superior in all three categories.

Dec 212015
 
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Carolina Panthers 38 – New York Giants 35

I’m Mad as Hell

Your move Mr. Mara.

The 2015 New York Giants nightmare of a season is just about over, unless the football gods want to get in one more last kick to the nuts by dragging this out another week. Regardless of the team’s final record, it is brutally clear this team is poorly constructed. They play hard, but they simply are not good enough.

One of the strengths of the New York Giants organization for the last 36 years is they are not impulsive. There have only been three general managers and six head coaches employed by the Giants during that timeframe, including two short tenures by Ray Handley and Dan Reeves. There was immense pressure to fire Bill Parcells after the 1983 season and Tom Coughlin after the 2006 season, moves which probably would have cost the Giants all four of their Super Bowl titles. Meanwhile, both George Young and Ernie Accorsi retired under their own volition, meaning the team has never fired a traditional, modern era GM.

John Mara and Steve Tisch don’t want to fire Tom Coughlin, a man who will go down in history as one of the team’s top three head coaches in addition to Steve Owen and Parcells. They are conscious of the fact that firing Coughlin after the 2006 season would have been a huge mistake and that the 2015 New York Giants are an undermanned squad that has been competitive in every single game. This is an improvement over the 2012-14 Giants who were on the receiving end of a number of humiliating blowouts.

Seven of the Giants’ eight losses have been by a total of 21 points, and six of them have been by four points or less. But therein lies the danger. Mr. Mara may not be seeing the forest through the trees. Despite having a franchise quarterback who is playing some of the best football of his career and one of the NFL’s most explosive skill players, this team is not getting better in a league and division filled with mediocrity. The Giants are on track for their third losing season in a row, fourth non-playoff season in a row, and sixth non-playoff season in seven years. As great as the 2007 and 2011 campaigns were, one gets the sense that poor talent acquisition and coaching wasted chances at more glory. Numerous offensive and defensive coordinators as well as positional coaches have been fired. And due to poor drafting and an inordinate number of serious injuries, the roster has rotted.

The defense is once again dead last in the NFL. Dead last. This has become the norm for a franchise that prided itself on defense throughout most of its history. They can’t stop the run, they can’t rush the passer, and they can’t cover. When a game is on the line, they wilt under the pressure. Many of the starters would be backups or wouldn’t even be on the 53-man roster of many other teams. The offense is in better shape because of Eli Manning, Odell Beckham, and a recent investment in the offensive line, but it has talent issues at well on the right side of the offensive line and the other skill positions. In short, General Manager Jerry Reese has done a horrible, horrible job of acquiring talent.

As for the coaches, they are quality men with a proven track record of success either with the Giants or on other teams. In many ways, they are a victim of Jerry Reese’s poorly-run operation. But in a bottom line business, the team has become too accustomed to losing. Tom Coughlin’s edge seems to be gone. Even under the new CBA rules, practices are not tough. Instead of an angry “no medals for trying” attitude we get “we played hard.” Players freely admit their confidence is shaken. A culture of mediocrity and defeat has gripped a franchise only a few years removed from an NFL title.

The Giants are clearly at a crossroads. They can stay the course, hope Jerry Reese and his staff draft better and make better decisions in free agency than they have. They can hope that a soon-to-be 70-year old Tom Coughlin, Ben McAdoo, and Steve Spagnuolo can take those new pieces and create a better product and somehow reverse the recent cultural demise. Or they can do what they have done in recent years and serve up some scapegoats to appease those thirsting for blood, firing a position coach, or maybe even reorganizing the personnel department.

Less likely, but what should be considered is an entire organizational enema. It is indisputable that the chief reason for the team’s demise is the failure to acquire sufficient talent. There have been too many bad draft picks and too many poor free agent decisions. The occasional success does not erase the fact that the Giants are not getting enough good players. All three levels of the defense are a joke. Offensively, the team can’t run the football and has no one who scares the opposition other than Manning and Beckham. It’s a two man team. How can John Mara not see that? The Giants are no further along on their “rebuild” as when they started after the 2012 season. They got Beckham and improved the offensive line, but the defense has completely fallen off of the cliff. It can’t be fixed in one offseason.

If the Giants are going to make a change, the time is now. Losing has become too easy for this franchise. The coach is approaching retirement age. Most of the roster is completely disposable and therefore malleable. They can completely change their offensive and defensive systems because of that. If there is any doubt within the organization about Reese, then he should be let go too. You don’t want to get into a situation where Reese hires a new head coach and is then fired himself a year later. Getting rid of Reese may seem too reactionary, but Reese has been truly terrible at his job.

General Observations from the Game

The Odell Beckham shenanigans obscure what ended up being a great game. It was expected that the undefeated Carolina Panthers would make short work of a flawed Giants team. With 4:34 left to play before halftime, the game was tied 7-7 as both teams had scored once off of long touchdown marches and each had punted the ball away four times. Then came a disastrous sequence. Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie dropped a pick-6. Three plays later Rashad Jennings fumbled the ball away at the New York 46-yard line. Three plays after that, on 3rd-and-1, the defense lost track of Cam Newton’s favorite receiving target, tight end Greg Olsen, as he ran untouched 37 yards for a touchdown. The Giants went three and out. The Panthers made New York pay by driving 72 yards for a commanding 21-7 lead. In the matter of minutes, a close game got out of hand.

The beat down that was expected by many continued in the third quarter. The Giants went three-and-out twice while the Panthers added two more touchdowns to go up 35-7 with 5:32 left in the 3rd quarter. The game was over.

But then began New York’s dramatic comeback as they rallied to tie a game from a 28-point deficit for the first time in their entire team history. Within the span of 15 minutes, they scored four touchdowns, including a dramatic 14-yarder from Manning to Beckham on 4th-and-5 with 1:46 to play. MetLife Stadium went nuts. The Giants only needed one more defensive stop to get the ball back in regulation or send the game into overtime. But for the seventh time this season, the Giants’ defense was unable to make that stop late in a contest with the game in doubt. Carolina kicked the game-winning 43-yard field goal with no time left as the Panthers easily gained the 49 yards and four first downs they needed to win the game.

Offensive Observations

Too little too late. As I’ve said for weeks, the Giants need Eli Manning and Odell Beckham to play near-perfect games in order to win. Beckham dropped a 52-yard touchdown on the team’s first drive, got foolishly caught up in a personal battle with Josh Norman, and was a complete non-factor until late in the 3rd quarter. Not counting the give-up play right before halftime, the Giants first nine possessions resulted in one touchdown drive, one turnover, and seven punts (four of which came after three-and-outs).

The offense does deserve credit for the furious comeback effort with four straight touchdown drives of 64, 66, 14, and 66 yards against one of the toughest defenses in the NFL. Manning ended the day 29-of-46 for 245 yards, four touchdowns, and one interception – the latter partially caused by the pass rush combined with Hakeem Nicks falling down. Manning’s numbers would have been even better had not for a couple of missed opportunities deep to Beckham, including the drop.

The Giants finally got Shane Vereen back into the passing game, as he caught 8 passes for 43 yards and a touchdown. Beckham almost redeemed himself on the day with two 4th-down conversions, including the game-tying 14-yard touchdown that was also set up his 40-yard catch-and-run. Will Tye chipped in with five catches for 43 yards and a touchdown. Rueben Randle caught a 27-yarder touchdown but that was due to a breakdown in the Panthers’ pass defense. His other three catches only went for 20 yards.

Jennings’ fumble overshadowed what was sadly the team’s first 100-yard rushing performance by a single ball carrier this year. He ran the ball 16 times for 107 yards (6.7 yards per carry average), including a 38-yard touchdown run. Vereen chipped in with 29 yards on four carries (7.3 yards per carry) and Andre Williams 21 yards on six carries (3.5 yards per carry). The offensive line performed surprisingly well given the quality of the opponent. Manning was not sacked and only officially hit four times. The team rushed for an impressive 161 yards against what had been the NFL’s #4 run defense.

Defensive Observations

The defense has been so bad for so long that we have become accustomed to seeking out minor victories such as forcing four punts in Carolina’s first five possessions and preventing points in four 4th quarter possessions. Bullshit. The defense still gave up three first half touchdown drives, including two in the last 3:30 of the half. It then gave up two more touchdown drives in the 3rd quarter. Two of the 4th quarter “stops” were a blocked field goal after a 62-yard drive that should have put the game away and an unforced turnover. In the end, Cam Newton became the first player in NFL history to run for 100 yards, pass for three hundred yards, and throw five touchdown passes. It will likely be his signature performance of his MVP season.

To be honest, I don’t have the heart to discuss this unit in detail. Pointing out bright spots on this defense is like picking out your favorite entree at the Golden Corral. The linebackers and safeties are a joke. The highly-paid cornerbacks laid an egg. The best defensive lineman is playing with one hand. Every Giant fan knew Carolina was going to score in the final 1:46. We knew it. They knew it. Needing a late stand, the defense has faltered against the Cowboys, Falcons, Saints, Patriots, Redskins, Jets, and Panthers. They are dead last defensively despite not having to face a slew of top quarterbacks or offenses. It’s a sad day when Giants fans wish their defense could be “as good” as the Browns, Colts, and Jaguars or any other team in the NFL

Without their bell cow running back Jonathan Stewart, the Giants knew they had to stop Cam Newton on the ground. They didn’t. Instead, he had his best rushing day of the year. The defense also knew it couldn’t let the Panthers’ mediocre group of wideouts do much damage. Instead, “stalwarts” such as Ted Ginn, Jerricho Cotchery, Corey Brown, and Devin Funchess caught 15 passes for 213 yards and four touchdowns. Tight end Greg Olsen chipped in with 79 more yards and a touchdown. Newton ended the day with a 116.9 quarterback rating. The New York Giants no longer know how to acquire defensive talent or coach them. This has been problem for years now.

Special Teams Observations

The 36-yard punt return by Ted Ginn set up Carolina’s final touchdown. Dwayne Harris was kept in check. The blocked punt by Rodgers-Cromartie was a momentary game-saver.

Coaching Observations

It’s clear the coaching staff is saddled with a weak roster. It’s a tribute to the coaches and players that all but one of the games have been competitive. That said, the coaching staff shares the blame. As mentioned in other game reviews, there have been questionable decisions from the head man. In this particular contest, his original choice to punt on 4th-and-2 trailing 35-7 was a curious one. Eli correctly waived off the punt team to keep the comeback alive. Despite Coughlin’s and Ben McAdoo’s protestations to the contrary, this game was more evidence that there has been too much running back by committee and not enough of a focus on Jennings and Vereen. Spagnuolo has made some odd personnel choices late in games such as having Craig Dahl cover Josh Reed out of the slot against the Redskins and Uani ‘Unga cover guys like Jason Witten of the Cowboys and Greg Olsen of the Panthers.

Tom Coughlin should have benched Odell Beckham. His decision not to seems to suggest that he at least believes he is coaching for his football life. Coughlin knows that without Manning and Beckham, this team is beyond dreadful.

Cram it in your Cramhole Award

Josh Norman, Cortland Finnegan, and many of the Panthers defenders are tools, and Norman sounds like a little bitch. But Odell Beckham allowed him to get under his skin and it impacted the entire team. It may have cost his 52 teammates a playoff spot and his coaches their jobs. The game is not about individuals, no matter how good you are. Now it’s up to Odell to decide whether he will learn and grow from this incident. He should use it to fuel an even greater fire and lift his entire team in years to come.

(Carolina Panthers at New York Giants, December 20, 2015)
Dec 182015
 
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Cullen Jenkins, New York Giants (December 6, 2015)

Cullen Jenkins – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Carolina Panthers at New York Giants, December 20, 2015

THE STORYLINE:
Despite the fact that the Giants are tied with the Eagles and Redskins for first place in the NFC East, they are in deep trouble. If the Giants lose to the Carolina Panthers as expected, and the Eagles and Redskins both win, the Giants are all but officially eliminated from division title contention and most likely any serious shot at a Wild Card playoff spot. Thus, for all intents and purposes, this is a playoff game for the Giants. If they lose, they have to pray the Bills beat the Redskins in Maryland and/or the Cardinals beat the Eagles in Philadelphia.

The Giants could not have picked a worse opponent for a must-win game. The undefeated 13-0 Panthers are the most physical team in football. The are top five defensively against both the run and the pass and they are the second-best running team in the NFL. The Panthers are +18 in turnover differential having forced a league-leading 33 takeaways (21 interceptions and 12 forced fumbles). They average 31.6 points per game while only allowing an average of 18.7 points per game.

“The hard thing for the Giants is the Panthers are such a physical team on both sides of the ball,” ex-Ravens Head Coach Brian Billick told The New York Post. “That’s typically been a hallmark for the Giants, but I don’t know if you can look at the Giants and say they are a physical team. That’s going to be the challenge for them: Can they raise up and be that physical team? That Panthers defense looks like a Giants defense. They put pressure on you with the four-man rush. They make you pay in the open field. They are going to have match physicality on both sides.”

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • WR Dwayne Harris (shoulder – questionable)
  • LT Ereck Flowers (ankle – questionable)
  • DE George Selvie (concussion – out)
  • DT Markus Kuhn (knee – out)
  • LB Devon Kennard (hamstring/foot – out)
  • LB J.T. Thomas (ankle – questionable)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
The 4-3 defense of the Panthers is #3 in the NFL (#4 against the run and #5 against the pass). They are third in the NFL in sacks with 40, eighth defensively on 3rd down, and 9th in red zone defense. They are a physical AND fast group that has a league-leading 33 forced turnovers, including four defensive scores.

They are strong at all three levels, particularly in the front seven. Carolina has arguably the best defensive tackle duo in football in Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short (9 sacks). Left defensive end Charles Johnson and right end Jared Allen have been two of the better ends in the NFL for years and they are backed up by very good players in their own right such as Kony Ealy and Mario Addison who each have 5 sacks on the season. As good as the defensive line is, particularly inside at tackle, the entire linebacking corps may be the strength of the defense. All three starters are fast, physical play makers who can defend the run, rush the passer, and cover. The headliner is Luke Kuechly, arguably the best middle linebacker in football. He is not only his team’s second leading tackler but he has 4 interceptions and one touchdown. Weakside linebacker Thomas Davis and strongside linebacker Shaq Thompson are also very good. Davis is the team’s leading tackler, has 5.5 sacks, and has picked off 3 passes and forced 4 fumbles. The secondary is led by Josh Norman (4 interceptions, 16 pass defenses, and 2 defensive scores), who some suggest has replaced Seattle’s Richard Sherman as the best cornerback in football. Free safety Kurt Coleman has 7 interceptions, including one for a touchdown. Ex-Saint Roman Harper is a physical player. Ex-Bear Charles Tillman returns this week after missing four games with a knee injury. Ex-Titans dickhead Cortland Finnegan now mans the nickel spot due to the loss of Bene’ Benwikere.

In short, these guys are damn good.

The Giants are not going to be able to run the football. Right guard John Jerry will not be able to move Lotulelei off of the line of scrimmage and right tackle Marshall Newhouse will likely have trouble with Johnson over his head. Short is having an All-Star year and will probably be the toughest opponent left guard Justin Pugh sees this season. That is, as long as Pugh doesn’t have to shift over to left tackle again with Ereck Flowers struggling with a high ankle sprain. If Pugh has to shift and Dallas Reynolds has to come in and block Short, forget it. At that point, the running backs and Eli Manning will want to check their medical insurance coverage. Allen may be in the twilight of his career, but the savvy veteran will still be a handful for the hurting Flowers.

The only shot the Giants have in this game is to use the quick passing game with an occasional deep shot down the field. They may sprinkle in some shot-gun runs just to keep the rushers honest, but Rashad Jennings and crew simply are not going to be able to do much on the ground. To pull off the upset, Eli will have to play at the level he did against the Dolphins. He doesn’t have to complete 87 percent of his passes, but he has to be able to carry the offense and NOT turn the ball over against a defense that thrives off of interceptions and forced fumbles. The issue here, however, is also match-ups. Norman has erased some of the best receivers in the game including Mike Evans, Dez Bryant, and Julio Jones. For a team that lives or dies based on the performance of Odell Beckham, a sub 8 or 9 catch and 100+ yard performance would be devastating to the Giants chances. Also, the linebackers of the Panthers can cover and take out Shane Vereen and Will Tye. In short, the Giants chances may come down to Eli getting repeatedly hit with no running game and having to rely on Rueben Randle and Dwayne Harris (who is hurt and may not play) getting open and have near 100-yard performances, all while not turning the football over. What are the chances of that? If I’m McAdoo, I move Beckham around all over the place…slot, backfield, put him in motion…find different and unique ways to get the ball in his hands.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
No other team has an offense like Carolina’s. They are the only team in the NFL that runs the ball more than it passes. The Panthers lead the NFL in scoring with over 31 points per game. However, much of that productivity is due to their defense giving their offense the ball in plus territory and having scored a league-high 117 points off of the mistakes from other teams. That said, this is a very physical offense that wears down opponents. They are 11th overall (2nd running and 26th passing). The Panthers are superb in the red zone, being 4th in the NFL.

It all begins and ends with quarterback Cam Newton, who is not only having a career year but an MVP season. He already has a career-high 28 touchdown throws in addition to seven rushing touchdowns. Newton has thrown 20 touchdowns and no interceptions in the red zone. This despite the fact that Newton is only completing 59 percent of his passes and his leading wide receivers are journeymen.

Newton’s leading target is tight end Greg Olsen (65 catches for 969 yards and 6 touchdowns). That’s bad news for a Giants team that has had issues covering tight ends in the middle of the field all season. His leading wide receivers are journeyman Ted Ginn, Jr., who only has 37 catches but is averaging 17.4 yards per catch with 8 of those receptions going for touchdowns. No other receiver on the roster has more than 29 receptions but they do have 14 touchdown receptions to complement the 14 scored by Olsen and Ginn.

The issue for the Giants is Newton’s mobility. The Panthers are the last of the teams to feature the read-option. Newton has an astounding 111 carries, averaging 4.3 yards per carry and the aforementioned seven touchdowns (the Giants only have three rushing touchdowns all season!). Newton is able to handle the pounding because he is so big and strong. This is huge problem for a Giants team that has struggled with the read-option for years, and even just last Monday when Miami’s Ryan Tannehill was running it against them. New York still doesn’t seem to have a feel as to how to defend this type of offensive scheme. Ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Robert Ayers were caught out of position a number of times by Tannehill. Newton’s mobility also causes huge issues in the passing game where he still tends to do more damage outside of the pocket when a play breaks down. Sacks will not be as important this week as pass rush discipline. Keep Newton from scrambling, either to extend a pass play or rushing for yardage. The Giants may want to spy Newton.

The good news for the Giants is that Carolina will be missing their feature running back, Jonathan Stewart. Newton and Stewart have been the ground game for the Panthers all year. Their next leading rusher is their fullback, Mike Tolbert, with 45 carries. No one else on the roster has more than 18 carries this year. So the Giants lucked out or they are going to turn some unknown player into a star this week. The offensive line of the Panthers is really a no-name group that has performed well given their lack of pedigree.

On paper, other teams should not be having as much trouble with the Panthers as they have been. It’s an offense with a running QB, a good tight end and running back, a one-trick pony deep threat at wide receiver, and not much else. But the Panthers rush the football well (2nd in the NFL), don’t turn the football over (only 15 all season), and score in the red zone (4th best). And Cam Newton is playing out of his mind. The Giants are fortunate that Stewart isn’t playing. The keys are obvious: defend the read-option and cover the tight end. But these are two things the Giants are terrible at. If they can somehow, for one game, manage to reverse that, they will have a shot to really slow down the Panthers’ offense.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Punt returner Ted Ginn, Jr. has four career punt touchdown returns, including a 71-yarder against the Giants as a Cardinal last season. But he has also fumbled the ball away 12 times in his career on punt returns. The longest kickoff return Carolina has all season is 33 yards. Place kicker Graham Gano has converted on 84 percent of his field goal attempts and 64 percent of his kickoffs have resulted in touchbacks. Punter Brad Nortman is averaging 45.7 yards per punt with none blocked.

Tom Coughlin never calls for trick plays on special teams. Against this opponent, he may have to in order to keep his team’s playoff chances alive. The Giants also need a special effort from the injured Dwayne Harris, who may not play.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Steve Spagnuolo on defending Cam Newton: “We’ve talked about how dangerous he can be when he gets out(side the pocket). When he gets out, the guys on the back end are in a bind. Do you stay in coverage, and he runs for a number of yards? Or do you come out of coverage and try to tackle? Then he has a tendency to dump the ball off or get it downfield…he does that a lot when he scrambles. Better if we just play the percentages and keep him in the pocket and have some tighter coverage downfield, we think that might be helpful. Now really, keeping him in the pocket means we’d like to finish it and maybe get a sack or a knockdown. Look, the guy’s a quality quarterback. We’ll try to mix it up a little bit and hopefully we’ll get some success on the front end with the pass rush.”

THE FINAL WORD:
The Giants are still largely a finesse team that has issues with more physical football teams. And the Panthers are the most physical football team in the NFL. The Giants are not going to be able to run the ball so they must move it through the air without making too many mistakes (turnovers, sacks, penalties). It will have to be quick passing with an occasional deep shot. It will be interesting to see how the loss of Stewart impacts the Carolina offense. Pray the Giants don’t turn one of the no-name running backs into a hero. The defense is going to have to reverse its shoddy play against the read-option and covering tight ends to slow down the Panthers’ offense. Keep in mind, the Panthers’ offense has thrived off of good field position provided by their defense. How the Giants’ offense performs could very well impact the play of the defense this week.

Dec 162015
 
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New York Giants 31 – Miami Dolphins 24

Overview

Tubbs: Crockett. James “Sonny” Crockett.

Crockett: Very good, Tubbs. Next week we’ll work on your name.

Tubbs: University of Florida. All-American wide receiver number 88? Am I right or what?

Crockett: Oh, that was a long time ago.

Tubbs: You were sensational. I remember one time I watched you run a screen pass 90 yards with 10 seconds left on the clock, man, for the winning TD against Alabama.

Crockett: It was 92 yards, Tubbs. Six seconds remaining.

Tubbs: Yeah, well, excuse the hell outta me. You know, not that Vice isn’t the most glamorous gig in the world, Crockett, but what happened, huh? I mean, you must have had half the scouts in the NFL on your tail.

Crockett: Traded it all in on two years in the Southeast Asian Conference.

Tubbs: ‘Nam?

Crockett: No, Coney Island.

The dialogue is as sharp as the Giants’ tackling. Just because something airs in prime time doesn’t necessary mean it’s very good. And while a national television audience was treated to a “thriller” with five lead changes, it doesn’t change the fact that these were two mediocre-at-best 5-7 football teams fighting to remain relevant for at least one more week. The good news is it was the Giants who came out on top and extended the significance of their season. Giants’ fans will have a short week to feel better until the Carolina Panthers pummel their team on Sunday. And in the back of all our heads will remain the one constant nagging fact – if the Giants had just taken care of business at the end of just a couple of their heart-breaking, inexcusable losses, they would have walked away with the division.

Odell Beckham, New York Giants (December 15, 2015)

Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Miami Vice’s glitzy music and visual effects drew viewers to an otherwise crappy product. Odell Beckham has the same impact. Many casual fans tune in to watch him, not the New York Football Giants. Why else would the NFL keep putting the Giants in so many prime time games? Under the Monday night lights in Miami, “OBJ” and his quarterback did not disappoint.

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been arguing that if Manning and Beckham don’t play near-perfect games, the Giants don’t have much of a chance to win. Look no farther than this game. Manning and Beckham played at an IMPACT level of play. Manning only threw four incomplete passes and had an off-the-charts quarterback rating of 151.5. Beckham had 166 yards receiving and two touchdowns, including a superlative, toe-dragging effort and an 84-yard game-winner. Yet, despite this near perfection, the Giants only beat a bad Dolphins team – one that has already fired its head coach and both coordinators – by a touchdown. The Giants are a football team with two outstanding players and not much else. And every little mistake made by Manning and Beckham gets accentuated in each game because of it. Simply put, they are held to a higher standard.

Given the historical context of what has transpired late in games with the Giants this year, the real story of this particular contest was what happened after the Giants went up 31-24 with just over 11 minutes left to play. Granted New York was aided by Miami mistakes, but the defense prevented points on two Dolphins’ possessions, including forcing a three-and-out after the Giants’ offense dangerously went three-and-out inside their own 10-yard line. Then, the Giants ran their 4-minute offense to perfection, literally taking 4 minutes and 39 seconds off of the clock to secure the win. That’s the way you end a football game Crockett and Tubbs!

Also credit the Giants for their composure. The Giants had a huge advantage in penalty yardage as the Giants were flagged only three times for 25 yards while the Dolphins were flagged 12 times for 123 yards. The penalty yardage difference was about the full length of a football field.

Quarterback

Eli Manning was as close to perfect as a quarterback can be in a football game. He completed 27-of-31 passes (87 percent) for 337 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions en route to a 151.5 quarterback rating. Manning earned “NFC Offensive Player of the Week” honors for the second time this season because of this performance. For the first time in a month, Manning spread the ball around as not only were eight different receivers targeted, but four of those had five or more passes thrown in their direction. Were the targets better this week or did Manning make more of a conscious effort to get them the ball? Unknown. But the results were promising. He completed his first eight passes and also hit nine in a row in the second half. Manning got rid of the ball very quickly, frustrating the Miami pass rushers.

Rashad Jennings, New York Giants (December 15, 2015)

Rashad Jennings – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Running Backs

It’s important to keep in mind that Miami had the 30th-ranked run defense coming into this game. So better productivity was expected. No Giant broke the 100-yard mark, but for at least one week, Tom Coughlin and Ben McAdoo allowed one back to be the workhorse and the results were better. Rashad Jennings carried the ball 22 times for 81 tough yards (3.7 yards per carry average). He had runs of 21, 11, and 12 yards. But there were also too many no gain and negative yardage plays. The highlights were two back-to-back runs that picked up 30 yards on the first TD drive, the 12-yard run off of the goal line right before Beckham’s 84-yard score, and the 3-yard run on 3rd-and-2 late in the game. Jennings also had a 19-yard reception on the third TD drive. Throughout, Jennings fought hard after contact as most running plays were not particularly well blocked.

The other three backs only had seven carries for 13 yards. That doesn’t include Andre Williams’ botched handoff that resulted in turnover. The play punctuated a horrible night for Williams who was benched after the play and finished with three carries for three yards, including two negative-yardage runs. For some reason, the Giants have been unwilling or unable to get the ball to Shane Vereen as a pass receiver. He caught one of only two passes thrown in his direction, his one catch being a fairly well-executed 10-yard screen pass down to the Miami 5-yard line late in the first half.

Wide Receivers

Odell Beckham not only made his typical highlight-reel catches – the superlative, toe-dragging 6-yard catch that tied the game at 24-24 and the 84-yard, game-winning explosion – but he helped to secure the victory with his two catches in the 4-minute drill to end the game. A 5-yard reception on 3rd-and-3 doesn’t look big on the stat sheet, but it was an extremely difficult catch in the clutch that finally allowed the Giants and their fans to breath a sigh of relief at the end of a football game.

As mentioned above, Manning and Beckham finally received some assistance from teammates. Rueben Randle caught 5-of-6 passes thrown in direction for 58 yards and a touchdown. Dwayne Harris caught all five passes thrown at him for 41 yards, including a 12-yarder in the 4-minute drill. Hakeem Nicks (1 catch for 5 yards) has yet to make much of an impact in three games. He did break free deep on one of Manning’s rare misfires.

Will Tye, New York Giants (December 15, 2015)

Will Tye – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Tight Ends

One of the big negatives from this season was Larry Donnell regressing and finishing on IR after his breakout 2014 campaign. One of the positives however has been the emergence of Will Tye as a viable receiving threat at tight end. Indeed, if Tye remains humble and stays focused, he could have a bright future as he is an athletic target who can get down the field. Tye caught all five passes thrown in his direction for a total of 30 yards and a key 5-yard touchdown right before halftime. Nevertheless, despite apparent effort, the blocking by Tye and Jerome Cunningham isn’t very good.

Offensive Line

Overall, the line did a decent job, especially if you consider the quality of the the Dolphins’ defensive line and the Giants’ injury situation. Ereck Flowers is the definition of toughness. He has played on a high ankle sprain all season that he aggravated last week. He gutted it out much of the game, but was clearly limited, and eventually re-injured himself again and was forced to leave in the 4th quarter. Before he left, he gave up some pressures, including a big hit in the end zone. When Flowers left the game, Justin Pugh once again shifted from left guard to left tackle, with Dallas Reynolds coming in at left guard. Both Pugh and right guard John Jerry also suffered burners in the game.

The four Giants’ running backs rushed the ball 29 times for 94 yards. That’s 3.2 yards per carry despite a few runs of over 10 yards. There were too many negative- or zero-yardage carries. And short yardage continues to be a major problem with the Giants not being able to convert on 3rd-and-1. While he didn’t embarrass himself, Jerry had his hand full with defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh who caused issues in run defense most of the night, including a 6-yard loss early in the game. Jerry, who has never been a good run blocker, couldn’t deal with Suh’s power. The two best players remain Pugh and center Weston Richburg, the latter still recovering from his own high ankle sprain. Pugh was hit or miss on his short pulls to the right side. The pass protection looked better than it really was due to Eli Manning’s pocket presence and quick throws, but Manning was not sacked and officially hit only three times. Marshall Newhouse was solid but was also flagged with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty on an extra point attempt. Kudos to Pugh to coming to Manning’s defense after a late hit.

Montori Hughes, New York Giants (December 15, 2015)

Montori Hughes – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Defensive Line

The bad news is that the Giants gave up three touchdown drives of 70, 80, and 61 yards. The good news is that the defense forced four punts on Miami’s last four possessions. Miami had 64 offensive snaps but chose to run the football to their running backs only 17 times (a little over 1/4 of the snaps). Running back Lamar Miller had 12 carries for 89 yards and two touchdowns. Miller’s two touchdown runs covered 52 yards. His other 10 carries gained 37 yards, though one was a key 2-yard carry on 4th-and-1 on the Dolphins’ first TD drive. The Giants also had problems with defending the quarterback on read-option running plays (4 carries for 24 yards). In the pass rush department, the Giants only sacked Ryan Tannehill once (by Robert Ayers) and hit him officially five times (once each by Jason Pierre-Paul, Ayers, George Selvie, Cullen Jenkins, and Nikita Whitlock). Jenkins was flagged with a 5-yard encroachment penalty.

Pierre-Paul recovered a fumble early in the game forced by safety Landon Collins. He also had a good early pass rush on Tannehill, but also continued to show the same problems he did under Perry Fewell in dealing with the read-option. Ayers later had the same problem twice against the read-option – which doesn’t bode well for the upcoming game against the Panthers. Pierre-Paul missed a tackle on the 38-yard touchdown run, but he did a nice job of staying at home on an end around that he completely disrupted. He also started to get more heat on the quarterback in the second half. Jenkins did get a monster hit on Tannehill. Ayers caused a key holding penalty that pushed Miami out of field goal range in the 4th quarter.

Linebackers

It was a pretty quiet game from the linebackers. Jasper Brinkley had six tackles, J.T. Thomas three tackles, Uani ‘Unga three tackles, Jonathan Casillas two tackles, and Mark Herzlich one tackle. While Herzlich did force a fumble, there were no sacks, tackles for a loss, quarterback hits, interceptions, pass defenses, or fumble recoveries. Thomas missed a tackle on Lamar Miller’s 14-yard touchdown run that should have gone for minimal yardage (a blitzing Dahl running around a block didn’t help here either). Unga and Casillas both missed tackles on the 38-yard touchdown run. Casillas also missed a tackle early in the 4th quarter after a short 3rd-and-2 completion for a first down.

Defensive Backs

Ryan Tannehill dropped back to pass 42 times. He was sacked once and completed 25-of-41 passes for 236 yards. So the Dolphins averaged 5.8 yards per pass play (as a comparison, the Giants averaged 10.9 yards per pass play). The biggest negative was Prince Amukamara getting beat by wide receiver Kenny Stills for a 47-yard touchdown on 3rd-and-7 in the 3rd quarter (Dahl couldn’t get over in time to help out either). The Dolphins only had one other pass play over 20 yards – a 25-yarder to Jarvis Landry in the 4th quarter also against Amukamara. The only Miami player to do consistent damage against the Giants was Landry, who caught 11-of-18 passes thrown in his direction for 99 yards (9 yards per catch). Tannehill did not target any other receiver more than five times, and did not connect with anyone else more than three times.

Craig Dahl, New York Giants (December 15, 2015)

Craig Dahl – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Giants’ defensive backs broke up seven passes, three by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, two by Trevin Wade, and two by Dahl. DRC gave up a 12-yard completion to Landry on 3rd-and-11. He had perfect deep coverage on the very next snap but couldn’t come down with the pick. Wade was matched up against Landry in the slot for much of the game. While Landry did some damage against Wade, he held his own against Miami’s best player, and made a couple of key pass defenses in the 4th quarter. Wade did miss a tackle after a short catch by the running back that picked up a first down.

Landon Collins forced a fumble that was recovered by Pierre-Paul, but he also missed a tackle in the backfield on a 3rd-and-1 toss that picked up a first down on a drive that ended with a touchdown. Dahl made a nice play of disrupting a 3rd-and-2 pass that led to a punt, and his breakup of a deep pass to the tight end on 3rd-and-20 in the 4th quarter was a huge play. Cooper Taylor did not play much, but made some noise, accruing three defensive tackles and one tackle for a 3-yard loss.

Special Teams

Josh Brown was having a superb season but has now missed two 48-yard field goals in two games. He did hit a 35-yarder early in the game. Two of his six kickoffs resulted in touchbacks, but Miami was able to gain 109 kickoff return yards on four returns, including a 36-yard return by Jarvis Landry. Brad Wing averaged 45 yards on four punts. Landry returned two punts and one was a 20-yard return. Dwayne Harris returned one kickoff for 22 yards (four others resulted in touchbacks). Harris returned two punts for 35 yards, including returns of 20 and 15 yards and could have had a lot more had he not slipped on one return.

Cram it in your Cramhole Award

I have to give to the Buffalo Bills and the Chicago Bears for kicking us in the nuts for their close losses to the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins. It simply is just one of those years.

(New York Giants at Miami Dolphins, December 14, 2015)
Dec 122015
 
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Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants (December 6, 2015)

Jason Pierre-Paul – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants at Miami Dolphins, December 14, 2015

THE STORYLINE:
A month ago, the New York Giants were 5-4. Now they are 5-7. Forget the division race. Win a game.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • LT Ereck Flowers (ankle – questionable)
  • RT Marshall Newhouse (back – probable)
  • DE Robert Ayers (neck – questionable)
  • LB Devon Kennard (hamstring/foot – out)
  • S Brandon Meriweather (knee – questionable)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
The 4-3 defense of the Miami Dolphins has not played as well as expected this year. They are ranked 27th overall (22nd against the pass and 30th against the run). However, there are moments and games when the Dolphins’ defense has played well. High-priced free agent defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh started off slowly but has been playing much better lately. When motivated, he can be a nightmare to block. Right defensive end Olivier Vernon has caught the eye of the Giants and has 6.5 sacks. The Dolphins will want to isolate Suh on John Jerry and/or Bobby Hart. Vernon will battle either the gimpy Ereck Flowers (high ankle sprain) or Justin Pugh, who may have to shift to left tackle if Flowers can’t play.

Safety Reshad Jones, the team’s leading tackler, and cornerback Brent Grimes, the team’s best coverman, lead the secondary. The Giants’ offense has devolved to the Eli Manning-to-Odell Beckham connection. If either doesn’t play a near-perfect game, the Giants are in trouble.

The questions remain: Can anyone other than Odell Beckham make a play for the Giants? Can New York’ 29th-ranked ground game do any consistent damage against Miami’s 30th-ranked run defense? Can one of the four running backs break a tackle or make a tackler miss to make a big play? Wide receiver Rueben Randle has had one game where he had over 100 yards receiving and that was in Week 3. In the last three games, he has averaged only two catches per contest. That’s not going to get it done. Someone at receiver has to pick up some slack, be it Randle, Hakeem Nicks, or Dwayne Harris. All of the other receivers were an embarrassing non-factor against the Jets.

Not to sound like a broken record, the Giants have got to get back to getting the ball to Shane Vereen as a pass receiver. I don’t think it is a coincidence that the offense’s inconsistency has increased since the decline in his productivity. He has caught only 10 passes for 42 yards in the last three losses. Given the lack of talent at wide receiver outside of Beckham, Vereen should be getting at least 5-6 pass receptions per game and arguably more.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
Prevent the big play and finish the game. Miami’s offense has struggled this year (29th overall, 22nd in passing, 23rd rushing). They are also dreadful on 3rd down (31st in the NFL at 28 percent). But the Dolphins are quite capable of making big plays. They are surprisingly tied with the Patriots and Packers with 51 plays of 20 yards or more (42 of those passing plays). The focal point is wide receiver Jarvis Landry (78 catches) but fellow wideouts Rishard Matthews (15.4 yards per catch), Kenny Stills (17.1 yards per catch), and DeVante Parker (17.5 yards per catch) can stretch the field. Matthews has fractured ribs and is not expected to play as the rookie Parker receives more playing time. The Dolphins also surely noted that the Jets had over 100 yards receiving to backs out of the backfield. Running back Lamar Miller has 39 catches this year, including two for touchdowns. Jordan Cameron (26 catches) is the tight end.

Miami’s biggest problem has been the inconsistent quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who has completed 61.4 percent of his passes for 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Tannehill can hurt teams with his feet. In the last two games, the Giants have made mediocre quarterbacks Kirk Cousins and Ryan Fitzpatrick look like world-beaters. Will that trend continue with Tannehill?

Until last week against Baltimore, the Ravens’ ground game has struggled in recent weeks. Miller gained 113 yards against the Ravens, but had not surpassed the 50-yard mark since Week 7.

While the Giants’ pass rush has slightly improved, the defense is still not finishing games either by stopping game-winning drives or preventing the other team from running out the clock. Since the Giants appear incapable of blowing out another team, the defense will most likely once again be under the spotlight late in the game on Monday. Will history repeat itself or will the Giants’ 31st-ranked defense finally stop the opposition with the game on the line?

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Jarvis Landry is averaging 9.3 yards per punt return and has returned one punt 69 yards for a touchdown. Miami’s kickoff coverage is solid, being 12th in the NFL. In the last two seasons, the Dolphins have blocked four punts and two field goals. Keep in mind that New York has new long snapper this week and that could be a factor on punts and field goals.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Tom Coughlin on his team: “We will win as soon as we deserve to win. And the deserving to win part of it, obviously it comes from being able to finish on a stronger basis than we have. And as you look around, you can find a million reasons why one play has cost us games, and if that’s the case, then each one of us—coaches, players—examine your own conscience, come up with those things that are necessary for us to make improvement, and let’s get it done now.”

THE FINAL WORD:
Two bad 5-7 football teams battle on Prime Time. Flip a coin as to who will win. A Giants’ loss will end any pretense of possibly winning the atrocious NFC East. A Giants’ win will likely only prolong the torture, but all we can really do is hope for the best.

Dec 072015
 
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New York Jets 23 – New York Giants 20 (OT)

Overview

If coincidences are just coincidences, why do they feel so contrived? – Fox Mulder

We need to take a step back and look at the big picture. The specifics of what transpired in this particular game are not as important as the fact that they keep happening. Structurally, this team is broken. And until those structural problems are rectified, I find it doubtful that this team will achieve the type of status that all fans hope for: perennial playoff contender.

Though technically still alive for the playoffs, we all know this season isn’t going to end well. Five unbelievable, late-game, heart-breaking losses have left this team shell-shocked. They are still fighting and competing (credit the coaching staff and the character of the players) but they are finding novel and painful ways to lose each week (blame the coaching staff and quality of the players). Despite what they say publicly, this team lacks confidence. They expect to lose. It was almost a given that the 4th-and-2 play would fail, that the offense would not run out the clock, that the defense would collapse, and that the kicker who had not missed all year would miss. A culture of losing is very difficult to eradicate. To do so often requires drastic measures.

The Giants are on their way to their third losing season in a row and fourth non-playoff season in a league and division populated with bad and mediocre football teams. With the demise of the Cowboys and Eagles, the Giants were all but handed the NFC East. They refused to take it despite multiple opportunities. In the last four seasons, the Giants are 9-7, 7-9, 6-10, and now 5-7 with four games to play. This team is not getting better. At best, it’s treading water in some areas; but in many ways, it’s getting worse. For a team that has unofficially been “rebuilding” for the last 2-3 years, that’s disturbing.

Look, it’s not a shock that the Giants have a losing record with four games left to play. Before the season, many fans felt this was an 8-8 team at best and many predicted a 6-10 or 7-9 season. Fans recognized the defense was devoid of talent and it would take time to learn the new defensive system. The offensive line was in transition. They knew the offseason injuries to Will Beatty and Jason Pierre-Paul would have an impact. But what fans did not expect was a team that would be among the league’s most injured for the sixth year in a row, a defense that would once again be dead last in the NFL, a running game that would remain among the NFL’s worst, and an offense that would be relegated to the Eli Manning-to-Odell Beckham connection. The fans did not also know what opportunity would be handed to the Giants in the division. Had you told New York fans that the Giants could all but wrap up the NFC East by beating the Redskins at the end of November, they would have gladly signed up for that scenario. Instead the Giants found themselves trailing a mediocre Redskins 20-0 in the 4th quarter.

Something is wrong.

The first instinct among many fans when their team fails is to fire everyone. Fire the coach. Fire the general manager. Dump the players. Usually this is an overreaction and often it is unrealistic. It’s part of the blame culture that we now find ourselves in. If my Sundays are going to suck, heads must roll and damn the real-life human cost. But after four disappointing and at times excruciatingly painful seasons, with the oldest head coach in the league, with injury-riddled rosters year after year, and a talent-acquisition process that appears to be malfunctioning, the time has come to make some sweeping changes. Professional football is entertainment. The product the Giants have put on the field is not remotely entertaining. An Odell Beckham one-handed highlight does not compensate for yet another loss.

Coaching Staff

They all need to be fired. I feel badly for them and their families. But it’s time. Tom Coughlin is easily one of the top three head coaches in franchise history. He won two NFL titles (1/4 of the franchise’s championships) with teams that only had a handful of impact players. Both playoff runs were miraculous. And his talent- and injury-depleted 2015 team has remained competitive in EVERY game this year except one. Six of the team’s seven losses have been by a total of 18 points. Coughlin has no agenda other than making sure the New York Giants are winners. It’s the only thing that drives him. He may end up in the Hall of Fame someday.

But Coughlin turns 70 next year. This team does not appear close. Very questionable game-management decisions have been an issue in almost every one of the team’s close defeats. As cruel as it sounds, one must question if his mental faculties are slipping. His mantra has been “Finish” but he himself has let his team down by not “finishing” the game with smart coaching decisions. With under 9 minutes to play, you kick the field goal. You make Ryan Fitzpatrick score 14 points. Keep in mind the Jets had only managed 10 points on offense at this point. It doesn’t matter if the Giants would have lost too had they kicked the field goal, you have to play the percentages. These type of questionable goal line and running-out-the-clock play calls have plagued New York all season. Even in the opener, Eli took the blame for telling Rashad Jennings not to score. However, it’s incumbent on the coach to remind his quarterback what the situation is and what needs to be done. That didn’t happen.

What about the assistant coaches? First, if you bring in a new head coach, you should allow him to pick his own staff. Everyone. Don’t encumber him with someone else’s assistants. Second, while Ben McAdoo has been a godsend in revitalizing Eli Manning’s career, he doesn’t appear to be a very good offensive coordinator. I expected him to grow and improve as a play caller and he hasn’t. McAdoo has yet to manufacture a viable running game. And the efficiency of his West Coast short passing offense seems to be regressing. Steve Spagnuolo? The Giants are dead last in defense. The fact that started under Perry Fewell and has continued under Spagnuolo suggests an obvious talent issue, but dead last is dead last. And this defense simply cannot stop even mediocre offenses from driving the field late in games. It’s been an issue in every close loss. In the last three Jets’ drives on Sunday, the defense gave up 212 yards of offense. To Ryan Fitzpatrick. To be blunt, these guys aren’t out-coaching anyone. Teams seem to know what the Giants are doing on offense and defense.

Really, the only two strong arguments for not firing this coaching staff are (1) is there anyone out there who is obviously more qualified?, and (2) the clock is ticking on the franchise quarterback. These are both valid concerns. But do they outweigh the other negatives at this point?

Players

Due to quality of the player, draft investment, and/or salary cap considerations, the only ones who are safe are Eli Manning, Odell Beckham, Dwayne Harris, Shane Vereen, Ereck Flowers, Justin Pugh, Weston Richburg, Owamagbe Odighizuwa, Johnathan Hankins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Landon Collins, and Brad Wing. Even with a new coaching staff, Jay Bromley and Devon Kennard probably get another shot. Maybe Robert Ayers. There is absolutely no guarantee that Jason Pierre-Paul and Prince Amukamara will be back. The cupboard isn’t bare, but it’s not looking so hot either.

And because player personnel is an issue, this goes hand in hand with the opportunity to change the entire coaching staff. A new coaching staff won’t necessarily be stuck with a lot of players from the past regime. Indeed, on the defensive side of the ball, for the first time in over 20 years, the team can actually consider if it wants to shift back to the 3-4 defense.

Training/Medical Staff

The never-ending debate: Are the Giants’ training/medical personnel partly responsible for the team’s poor run of bad luck on the injury front? On the surface, it sounds like more scapegoating. But the fact remains that the Giants are statistically one of the most injury-prone teams for the sixth year in a row despite radical roster transition. The team has readily admitted publicly that it has a problem. The Giants have changed their practice schedule and adopted new training and monitoring techniques to no avail. Both young and old players are getting hurt at an alarming rate with calf injuries, torn pectoral muscles, hamstrings, and knee and ankle issues. There was a case of staph infection that ended a career of a tight end, and a starter on the offensive line who was lost for the year due to a weight lifting accident. Two players who were said to have minor calf injuries never played due to season-ending surgeries. Is it simply year after year bad luck? The strength and conditioning program? Poor diagnosis and treatment? We keep saying the injury luck is bound to change but it never does.

The Giants are an incredibly loyal operation. But if coaches and players can be fired, why not training and medical staff? They should be evaluated on their performance as well. Time may have passed by Tom Coughlin, but it may also have passed by Senior Vice President of Medical Services Ronnie Barnes who has been with the team for decades.

General Manager, Player Personnel, and Scouting

The Giants have suffered from a lot of bad luck in the injury department. A plethora of career-ending and career-impacting injuries to many of the team’s best young talent has wrecked the roster. But General Manager Jerry Reese, Senior Vice President of Player Personnel Chris Mara, Vice President of Player Evaluation Marc Ross, Director of Pro Personnel Ken Sternfeld, and their staffs have done a horrible job of constructing this roster. There are a bunch of players starting or playing vital roles on this team that wouldn’t even make other teams as backups. There are holes all over the place on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. And the holes seem to be increasing rather than diminishing. The new narrative has been that the Giants are finally drafting better now. Not that much better. Odell Beckham has been the only impact player this team has acquired via the draft in recent years. You can fire coach after coach, but if you don’t acquire and retain good players, you won’t win. Period.

The problem with firing the General Manager and the rest of the player personnel staff is that if you do that in conjunction with firing the coaching staff, there is very little structure and continuity left in place. It would be a monumental organizational and cultural change for the Giants to start from scratch here. It is very unlikely. That said, will the results really change all that much on the playing field if those in charge of acquiring the players are not very good at their job? Also, the Giants have gotten into the nasty habit of making changes a year or two too late. They should have fired Perry Fewell earlier than they did. If Tom Coughlin is let go, they waited too long there as well. What if Jerry Reese’s job performance doesn’t improve, but he is allowed to hire a new coach? Then the next general manager is left with someone else’s coaching staff or having to fire that staff. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on a 35+ year old quarterback who you can’t trade.

Conclusion

The bye was supposed to be the panacea for the 6-game sprint to the finish. A win over the Redskins would have all but given the Giants the division. Now, barring a miracle finish, it’s hard to see the team retaining a 70-year old coach who has missed the playoffs four years in a row and who has suddenly turned into one of the poorest game managers in the game. Public relations plays a role here too. The mob is seeking blood and the easiest head to serve up is the head coach. They’ve already fired the offensive and defensive coordinators in recent years. There are no more scapegoats. But – to be blunt – despite the great job Coughlin has done to keep this team competitive, he has dug his own grave this year. It’s a bottom line business and he’s made the wrong decision time and time again.

It’s very doubtful the Giants will make any changes to their training/medical and player acquisition staffs. But they should. They have failed miserably. If you are going to hold coaches and players accountable, then you should hold front office staff members accountable as well. The problems in both of these areas has been ongoing for most of this decade.

Quarterback

Not good enough. Eli Manning was out-played by another mediocre quarterback for the second week in a row. The offense only really generated 10 points on the last two drives of the second quarter. That was it. For all intents and purposes, the Giants offense amounted to a 72-yard pass to Odell Beckham and a 45-yard pass to Will Tye. It may be unfair that Eli has to carry this team, but he has to. The Giants were 0-for-3 in the red zone and 4-of-15 on 3rd down.

Running Back

Not good enough. The head coach and offensive coordinator continue to insist on getting everyone involved yet no one stands out. It is beyond comprehension why this team has stopped trying to get the ball more to Shane Vereen (4 rushes for 13 yards, 2 catches for 7 yards).

Wide Receiver

Not good enough. It’s the Odell Beckham show and nothing else. Yet despite his 6 catches for 149 yards, Beckham could have done more against a secondary that was missing two of its top corners. He dropped two potentially game-deciding catches. They would have been tough, but like Manning, the team needs him to make those plays. Even Tom Coughlin admitted on Monday he has no idea what is going on with Rueben Randle (2 catches for 22 yards), who messed up on the poorly-executed 4th-and-2 play. The other three receiver had 3 catches for 20 yards.

Tight End

Not good enough. Undrafted rookie free agent Will Tye (3 catches for 70 yards) is progressing and his 45-yarder late in the 2nd quarter led to the Giants’ last offensive points of the day. He also had a 25-yarder early in the 3rd quarter, but that was the end of his productivity for the game as a receiver.

Offensive Line

Not good enough. Cohesion is a problem as players keep leaving the line-up due to injury. Marshall Newhouse missed the game and Ereck Flowers was forced out due to a high ankle sprain. He had issues in pass protection before he left. Justin Pugh, who just returned from a concussion, had to shift to left tackle and Dallas Reynolds came off of the bench to play left guard. Rookie Bobby Hart started at right tackle, John Jerry at right guard, and the still-gimpy Weston Richburg (high ankle sprain) at center. The interior trio struggled run blocking, and the pressure Reynolds allowed on the 4th-and-2 play was a big factor in the play’s failure. Hart and Pugh were OK given the circumstances and the quality of the opposition.

Defensive Line

Not good enough. While Jason Pierre-Paul (6 tackles, 2 tackles for a loss, 2 QB hits, 1 pass defense, and 1 fumble recovery) and Robert Ayers (5 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 QB hits, and 1 pass defense) had their best games of the season, the line and the entire defense failed to rise to the occasion on each of the last three drives. Cullen Jenkins also had a sack. The 15-yard scramble by Fitzpatrick on 4th-and-6 was a killer.

Linebackers

Not good enough. The Jets killed the Giants with passes to the running backs out of the backfield with 13 receptions for 113 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown on 3rd-and-15. Jasper Brinkley did force the only turnover of the day for the Giants. But Chris Ivory also gained 47 rushing yards on just 10 carries.

Defensive Backs

Not good enough. The Giants were counting on cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Prince Amukamara to shut down the Jets’ only two consistent receiving threats: Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. Instead, Marshall and Decker caught 20-of-25 passes thrown in their direction for 232 yards. Amukamara, who seemed to be pointing fingers at others after the game, should have looked at himself for dropping a sure interception and then giving up the game-tying touchdown with 27 seconds left in regulation.

Special Teams

Not good enough. Tragically. Despite Dwayne Harris’ 80-yard punt return for a touchdown and 43-yard kickoff return in overtime, what will be remembered is place kicker Josh Brown missing his only field goal attempt of the season to date in overtime.

Cram it in your Cramhole Award

I love the man, but it’s got to be Tom Coughlin. Your offense has possessed the ball for 11 minutes and 21 seconds. There is less than 9 minutes in the game. The opposition only has generated 10 points. You kick the field goal and go up 13 points. He also sent the wrong message to his defense that had been doing alright up to that point.

(New York Jets at New York Giants, December 6, 2015)
Dec 042015
 
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Odell Beckham and Rashad Jennings, New York Giants (August 29, 2015)

Odell Beckham and Rashad Jennings – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Jets at New York Giants, December 6, 2015

THE STORYLINE:
I’d like to say the Giants are out of rope and this is a must-win game, but if the Cowboys beat the Redskins on Monday and the Patriots beat the Eagles, New York would still be in first place at 5-7. But I’d prefer not go there at this moment even though that scenario is certainly possible.

For their own self-confidence and well being, the Giants need to win on Sunday and improve their record to 6-6. It will not be easy because the Jets are a tough, physical football team on both sides of the ball. And they are also facing a must-win scenario. That all said, on paper, there are areas where this is good match-up for the G-Men.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • TE Larry Donnell (neck – out)
  • OC Weston Richburg (ankle – questionable)
  • LG Justin Pugh (concussion – probable)
  • RT Marshall Newhouse (back – questionable)
  • LB Devon Kennard (hamstring/foot – out)
  • DE Jason Pierre-Paul (hand – probable)
  • DE Robert Ayers (toe – probable)
  • S Brandon Meriweather (knee – out)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
The Jets are bit of a throwback 3-4 defense. They are 3rd overall on defense (12th against the pass and 1st against the run). Opposing offenses are only averaging 17.5 first downs per game against the Jets and the Jets’ red zone defense is the best in the NFL (38.5 percent). The Jets also have forced 22 turnovers, 3rd highest in the NFL.

While their linebackers, led by ILB David Harris, are solid, the heart of the defense is their line. Nose tackle Damon Harrison (6’4”, 350lbs) and defensive ends Muhammad Wilkerson (6’4”, 315lbs), Sheldon Richardson (6’3”, 294lbs), and Leonard Williams (6’5”, 302lbs) are big, physical, athletic, and a handful for any offensive line. Much of this game’s focus will be the ability or inability of the Giants’ beat up offensive line to deal with these four.

Harrison will be handful for gimpy Weston Richburg (high ankle sprain) or journeyman Dallas Reynolds. Wilkerson is having an outstanding year as a run defender and pass rusher (8 sacks). He will line up over Ereck Flowers and whomever plays left guard. Reserve ex-Giant Leger Douzable is no slouch either. Whomever plays on the right side will have to deal with Richardson and high #1 draft pick Williams. We really don’t know the make-up of the line as right tackle Marshall Newhouse (back) is questionable too. Justin Pugh (concussion) could play at left guard, or right tackle if Newhouse can’t go. Rookie Bobby Hart could make his first NFL start at right tackle or right guard. John Jerry will start at one of the guard spots.

The strength of this group is obviously stopping the run. While they are not as adept at rushing the passer, they can get heat on the quarterback, especially when they know their opponent can’t run the ball. All this week, Tom Coughlin and Ben McAdoo have talked about offensive balance…that the Giants have to run the ball more than the 13 times than they did against the Redskins. After all, the Giants did have good success on the ground against Washington on their first drive and then got away from it. The question is does running the football with the #28 rushing attack against the NFL’s #1 run defense equal wasted snaps? Or by not running the football are you playing directly into the Jets’ hands? It’s important to note that aside from the Bills, the Jets have played a bunch of teams with statistically poor running attacks.

The Giants should not ignore the run, but when they do, I would suggest doing so in more unconventional ways such as spreading the Jets out with multiple receiver sets and running out of the shotgun with Shane Vereen and Rashad Jennings. This is not the type of opponent you even want to waste a few snaps with Andre Williams and Orleans Darkwa. I would also use the short passing game in lieu of the run. The Giants are not going to regularly be able to blast this line and Harris off of the ball.

The primary offensive focus should be the passing attack. The Jets will be without star CB Darrelle Revis (concussion) and likely without solid reserve CB Marcus Williams (knee – officially “doubtful”). Antonio Cromartie has struggled at times this year at corner while Buster Skrine has been serviceable as a nickel corner. A real difference maker has been SS Calvin Pryor, who is an intimidating presence against the pass and the run.

It appears the Giants are going to live or die with the Eli Manning to Odell Beckham connection. In the last two games, Manning has thrown to Beckham an astounding 30 times. Unfortunately, only 13 of those passes have been completed. That efficiency has to increase or more drives will stall. I’d like to say the Giants need more out of Rueben Randle, but that ship apparently has sailed. And based on comments from the coaches this week, Hakeem Nicks is still not familiar enough with the offense to make a real impact (unfortunately one of the real downsides on waiting for Victor Cruz for so long). Dwayne Harris’ production fell off from 6 catches for 82 yards against the Patriots to 2 catches for 28 yards against the Redskins. The Giants need more of the former. They also need to get the ball more in the hands of Vereen as a receiver (only 10 catches total in the last three games).

Last week, Kirk Cousins out-played Eli Manning. Manning has to be the better quarterback in the field on Sunday for the Giants to win.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The Jets are ranked 14th on offense (20th passing and 13th running). Their obvious focus is to run the ball (2nd in the NFL in rushing attempts), stay balanced, and keep pressure off of journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. While Fitzpatrick is only completing 58.5 percent of his passes, he has thrown 20 touchdowns against 11 interceptions. He’s an up-and-down thrower, who can look sharp at times and downright horrible at other moments. The Jets lead the NFL in red zone touchdown percentage (73 percent).

Though they have had some injury issue, the Jets’ offensive line has done solid work this year as Chris Ivory has rushed for 766 yards (4.1 yards per carry) and seven touchdowns. Even better, Jets’ quarterbacks have only been sacked an NFL-low 14 times all season – not a good sign for a Giants’ defense that is on pace for the franchise’s worst sack performance in memory. Obviously, the focal point has to be stopping the run – for all four quarters. The Giants’ run defense started off strong against Washington but wilted in the second half. The Jets surely noticed that and will look to wear the G-Men down.

If the Giants can stop the run, they could be in decent shape as the Jets really only have three consistent offensive play-makers: Ivory at running back and wideouts Brandon Marshall (71 catches for 931 yards and 9 touchdowns) and Eric Decker (51 catches for 700 yards and 8 touchdowns). The Jets’ next highest targets are running backs Bilal Powell (22 catches) and Ivory (19 catches). Jets’ tight ends have only six catches all year. The Giants desperately need Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (DRC) to play the entire game and handle Marshall while Prince Amukamara handles Decker. With Brandon Meriweather (knee) out, Craig Dahl will start alongside Landon Collins. One or both will be needed to cheat up more against the run.

The Giants have to stop the run. Period. They will surely miss LB Devon Kennard (hamstring/toe). J.T. Thomas and Jonathan Casiallas have to pick up the slack. There will be a lot of pressure on Jasper Brinkley to perform but this is his kind of game – facing a run-based offense without a scary threat at tight end. The final question is can the Giants get any pressure on Fitzpatrick and force him into mistakes? The pass rush simply has been missing in action this year.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
The Jets are 16th in kickoff coverage and 29th in punt coverage. If the Giants can’t get Dwayne Harris going on punt returns this week, it ain’t happening and it will once again throw into question Tom Quinn’s coaching on setting up punt returns. In the three seasons before coming to the Giants, Harris was averaging 12.3 yards per punt return. With the Giants, he’s averaging 7.5. Jets punt returner Jeremy Kerley is averaging a respectable 9.3 yards per punt return.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Tom Coughlin on the Jets’ Offense: “They can open up and go from being a two-tight end running game to then going empty with three and four wide receivers and their running back. They do force you under the circumstances of their combinations of personnel to be able to adjust to them. They have weapons, they have some outstanding weapons. So you’re always in that position, because not only are they good, they’re big. Your match-ups are a big deal. Hopefully with DRC and with Prince, we can match-up better.”

THE FINAL WORD:
On paper, it looks like the Giants will be one dimensional offensively against the Jets with an inability to run the football. However, the injury issues at cornerback could be a problem for the Jets. If the Giants can increase their passer efficiency on Manning-to-Beckham passes, as well as get Vereen more involved in the passing game, the Giants may be able to hit some big plays against a very stingy defense that excels in the red zone. Defensively, the Giants must stop the run. The good news there is the Giants should match-up well with the Jets’ receiving targets. Both teams thrive on forcing turnovers (Giants 2nd in NFL, Jets 3rd in NFL). Ball security will be paramount. Eli needs to protect the football.

Keep in mind that while the Jets are 6-5, four of their wins have come against bad football teams (Dolphins twice, Jaguars, and Browns). They also beat the Colts early in the year when Indianapolis was really struggling and the Redskins. The Giants and Jets are two mediocre teams fighting for a playoff spot.