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.

Nov 302015
 
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monty

Washington Redskins 20 – New York Giants 14

Overview

The eternal football debate when your team loses: did you simply lose to the better team on that day, or did you not match their intensity and beat yourself? The New York Giants insist the latter. They claim they slept walk through three quarters. But that simply could be a coping mechanism. We’ll never really know for sure.

Empirically, all we can go by is what we see on the tape. And it’s not good. The Giants got their butts whipped in the trenches. The Redskins out-rushed the Giants 105 yards to 33 yards. Eli Manning was sacked three times and officially hit eight more times while Kirk Cousins wasn’t sacked and only hit three times. Even though the Giants ran 67 offensive plays, they only held the ball 24 minutes while the Skins ran one fewer play and held it 36 minutes. New York lost the turnover battle 3-0. While none of those turnovers led to Redskins’ points, they did deprive New York of at least one red zone scoring opportunity in the third quarter.

In the end, at least on this particular day, the Washington Redskins were the better team. They played better on offense and defense.

As for the New York Giants, shame on them. Shame on the entire franchise for putting that product on the field in a game of this magnitude. Had the Giants won, they were almost a lock to win the NFC East and return to the playoffs for the first time since 2011. Now they will have to scratch, claw, and pray to make it. Shame on them. They had claimed that the four heart-breaking losses earlier in the season have made them more mentally tough. Bullshit.

Quarterback

Thanks to General Manager Jerry Reese and the team’s unending injury situation year after year, this team lives or dies with its quarterback play. They can’t rely on a defense or running game – both of which are once again among the NFL’s worst. So when Eli Manning and the passing game is clicking, this team has a chance to win any game. If they are not clicking, a loss is inevitable. Manning did not play well on Sunday. The first interception was not on him. Even though the second was tipped into Dwayne Harris’ hands, that was a poor decision on the part of Manning. Fans are debating who was more to blame on the killer red zone interception in the third quarter – Manning or wideout Rueben Randle – but the ball was thrown behind Randle. At other moments, a somewhat rattled Manning threw the ball up for grabs before settling down in the 4th quarter and making some clutch throws, none better than his 4th-and-16 touchdown throw to Randle. He later added a 21-yard strike to Odell Beckham. But it was too little, too late. On a day when the Giants run-to-pass ratio was 13 to 54, the passing game simply did not produce. There were too many misfires and throws into traffic. The Giants’ first 10 drives ended in three interceptions and seven punts. The Giants were 3-of-15 (20 percent) on third down. Manning was also flagged with a delay-of-game penalty on the play before his first interception.

Running Backs

The Giants’ four running backs rushed for 32 yards against the 30th-ranked run defense in the NFL. New York only gained one rushing yard in the entire second half, and that was by wideout Dwayne Harris. Now to be fair, those stats are skewed because the Giants only rushed the ball 13 times despite having 67 offensive snaps (and only rushed the ball three times total in the second half). But the longest run of the day was only eight yards. Despite having six carries, Rashad Jennings only accrued 14 yards (2.3 yards per carry). Orleans Darkwa carried the ball twice for two yards and Andre Williams carried it twice for one yard. Shane Vereen had 15 yards on two carries, but his drop caused the first interception.

The stats are even more alarming when you consider that the Giants actually started the game running the ball well. They gained 24 yards on four carries on their initial possession. In other words, the Giants gained only nine rushing yards on 12 of their 13 offensive possessions.

Wide Receivers

Against an injury-depleted and suspect secondary, more was expected. Once again, Odell Beckham was the headliner with 9 catches for 142 yards and a sensational, one-handed, diving touchdown grab that cut the score to 20-14 with just under five minutes to play. But like against the Patriots, too many of Eli Manning’s throws to Beckham fell incomplete. Against New England, Beckham caught 4-of-12 targets thrown in his direction. Against Washington, Beckham caught 9-of-18 targets. That’s 17 incompletions to one receiver in two games. The Giants are trying to get the ball to Beckham more, but even though he is getting his 100+ yards, the passer-to-target efficiency isn’t there and drives are stalling. If we’re going to be honest, the Redskins’ cornerbacks did a nice job on Beckham most of the game.

With the Redskins rolling their coverage to Beckham, this was a golden opportunity for Rueben Randle to have a big game and he laid an egg. He had one catch in six targets. He didn’t come back for the football on one end zone shot and two plays later drifted backwards on his route, allowing the cornerback to come underneath and pick off the ball. Randle dropped a pass and seemed completely out of sync with Manning. Dwayne Harris also did not produce, catching 2-of-5 targets for 28 yards. Hakeem Nicks got his feet wet catching 1-of-2 passes thrown his way for 4 yards. In the end, Beckham caught 142 yards and the other four active receivers caught 72 yards on a day when Manning dropped back 54 times.

Tight Ends

Will Tye and Jerome Cunningham were the only two right ends active. Tye had a solid day, catching 6-of-8 targets for 74 yards. Tye caught three passes for 52 yards on the Giants’ second TD drive, including a 28 yarder on 4th-and-2. Cunningham was targeted four times, but only caught one pass for 2 yards. Cunningham (and RG Bobby Hart) completely whiffed on their defenders on a running play that lost four yards in the 3rd quarter.

Offensive Line

With both Weston Richburg (ankle) and Justin Pugh (concussion) out, the Giants made the unusual move of switching Geoff Schwartz to left guard, preferring to play John Jerry at right guard. Those plans had to be scrapped before intermission when the injury-prone Schwartz fractured his lower leg. Jerry then moved back to left guard and rookie Bobby Hart was inserted at right guard. It was pretty clear the coaches didn’t really trust the interior trio of Jerry, Dallas Reynolds, and Hart in terms of the ground game as the team only ran the ball three times in the second half, and all three of those runs were outside efforts. Yes, the Giants were down by three scores but they didn’t call any of their usual inside shotgun running plays to Vereen or Jennings. Pass protection also became an issue as Eli Manning was sacked three times, officially hit eight times, and was never really comfortable in the pocket. RT Marshall Newhouse had issues in particular with OLB Ryan Kerrigan, who had two sacks against him. Newhouse also gave up the third sack to DE Chris Baker on a stunt. John Jerry was flagged with holding when the Giants were moving the ball on their third possession, helping to stall a drive when the score was still 0-0. Ereck Flowers had some issues on a couple of outside pass rushes. Reynolds whiffed in pass protection on the end zone shot to Randle where Eli was forced to drift backwards. Given the circumstances, Hart performed better than expected.

Defensive Line

The defensive line was out-played up front. The run defense was decent in the first half, allowing the Skins’ running backs only 30 yards on 11 carries (2.7 yards per carry). But the Washington ground game picked up momentum in the second half, gaining 74 yards in 22 carries (3.4 yards per carry). That’s not stellar productivity for the Redskins, but it was enough to help control the clock and eliminate any chance of a comeback.

The bigger problem was the complete lack of a pass rush. Kirk Cousins was not sacked and only hit three times, two of those by defensive linemen Cullen Jenkins and Robert Ayers. Cousins rarely was under any duress and at times it must have seemed like training camp drills for him. Jay Bromley was flagged with a roughing-the-passer penalty when the Skins were attempting to run out the clock after New York’s first score in the 4th quarter.

Linebackers

The linebackers were fairly active with Devon Kennard (10 tackles), Jasper Brinkley (6 tackles, 1 TFL), and Jonathan Casillas (5 tackles, 1 pass defense) accruing 21 tackles. J.T. Thomas returned to action after missing a few games but did not show up on the stat sheet. A killer play in the game was the 45-yard screen pass to RB Matt Jones late in the first half that helped to set up the touchdown that put the Redskins up 17-0…both Kennard and Brinkley misread the play. Casillas also missed a tackle after a short throw on 3rd-and-22 that helped the Redskins get into more manageable field goal range.

Defensive Backs

Kirk Cousins completed 20-of-29 passes (69 percent) for 302 yards and a 114.4 quarterback rating (Eli’s QBR was 59.4 or half that). Aside from one huge play, the Redskins’ wide receivers did not do much damage. Pierre Garcon was held to 3 catches for 35 yards, Jamison Crowder 2 catches for 12 yards, Ryan Grant 1 catch for 19 yards, and Chris Thompson 1 catch for 9 yards. And Giants-killer DeSean Jackson only had two catches, one of which went for 3 yards. The problem? Jackson’s only other catch went for 63 yards and a touchdown when he badly beat CB Jayron Hosley (who was subbing for the injured Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie) and S Brandon Meriweather. “It was a speed break out the huddle,” Jackson said. “We said we were going to hurry up and hike the ball. We kind of caught the defense off guard.” The next longest completion to a wide receiver was the 19 yarder to Jones. Rodgers-Cromartie dropped what should have been a 64-yard interception for a touchdown in the first quarter when the game was still 0-0.

Aside from Jackson, the real thorn was tight end Jordan Reed, who caught eight passes for 98 yards, including catches of 26, 20, and 20 yards. The first 20 yarder came on the Redskins’ second TD drive and the the second one came on 3rd-an-5 with 3:29 left on the clock and the Giants trailing by six points. Craig Dahl was beaten on both plays.

Special Teams

Not good enough. Jay Bromley did block a 51-yard field goal effort. And the Redskins longest kickoff return was 25 yards. But Jamison Crowder had two 12-yard punt returns. Dwayne Harris only gained 14 yards on four punt returns and 19 yards on one kickoff return. Harris’ decision to return the last Redskins’ punt inside the 5-yard line was a dumb decision that cost the Giants yards and a few precious seconds. He also muffed a punt that he recovered. Brad Wing had two punts result in touchbacks (though both had a chance to be downed at the 1-yard line) and three downed inside the 20. He averaged 50.4 yards per punt with a net of 41.

Coaching

Offensively, the Giants were hamstrung by the offensive line issues and not having an A-game from Manning his his targets. But this running back-by-committee approach is not working. Stick with one or two guys. The Giants had a nice rhythm running the ball on their first drive. Vereen had back-to-back runs for a total of 15 yards and he never ran the ball again. Dumb.

I hated the defensive play calls after the Giants cut the scored to 20-14. The Giants played it too conservatively, not coming after Cousins. Worse, despite not bringing extra rushers, they left Dahl all alone on Cousins’ go-to guy – Jordan Reed – on 3rd-and-5 with 3:29 left to play. He’s the guy you want to double in that situation. Dumb.

Cram it in your Cramhole Award

Even though Joey couldn’t do the game review this week, I decided to keep this going in his honor. The choice was obvious: the entire New York Giants team. How in the world do you play so poorly with so much at stake? It’s one thing to lose. It’s another be trailing 20-0 in the 4th quarter to the Washington Redskins. The Giants didn’t score a single point on their first 10 offensive possessions. The defense didn’t force a turnover or register a sack. Shame on the players and coaches.

(New York Giants at Washington Redskins, November 29, 2015)
Nov 272015
 
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New York Giants Defense (September 24, 2015)

New York Giants Defense – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants at Washington Redskins, November 29, 2015

THE STORYLINE:
It’s been a roller coaster season filled with ups and downs, bad injury news, and four heart-breaking defeats. But through 10 games with six to play, the Giants find themselves in first place in the NFC East, with two of their primary challengers all but officially dead. As unthinkable as it seemed only a week ago, the Giants can virtually lock up a playoff spot before December if they beat the Washington Redskins on Sunday.

These circumstances make this contest one of the most important the Giants will play in 2015. But as important as the game is to the Giants, it’s Washington’s season. If the Redskins lose, like the Cowboys and Eagles, they are all but officially done. Expect playoff-type intensity from the Redskins at Sunday – a team that is 4-1 at home this year, including wins over two teams (the Eagles and Saints) that have beaten the Giants. The Giants need to match or surpass that intensity to win.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • TE Larry Donnell (neck – out)
  • OC Weston Richburg (ankle – doubtful)
  • LG Justin Pugh (concussion – out)
  • RG Geoff Schwartz (ankle – probable)
  • LB J.T. Thomas (ankle – questionable)
  • LB Mark Herzlich (quad – out)
  • LB Uani ‘Unga (neck – probable)
  • DE Damontre Moore (hamstring – probable)
  • CB Prince Amukamara (pectoral – probable)
  • CB Leon McFadden (groin – probable)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
The Redskins are 22nd in overall defense (12th against the pass and 30th against the run). Those figures suggest the Giants should remain balanced. When the Giants defeated the Redskins at the Meadowlands back in September, the Giants passed the ball 32 times for 279 yards and ran it 31 times for 84 yards. But a few variables have changed since that first meeting. New York’s two best offensive linemen – center Weston Richburg and left guard Justin Pugh – are out. That will put a damper on an already moribund rushing game (26th in the NFL). A good running play is usually a well-choreographed affair where one breakdown can lead to failure. Take out two important cogs, especially two of the team’s best run blockers, and it’s not likely that the Giants will be able to generate much success against a defense that has struggled against the run lately.

The other factor that suggests more emphasis on the pass is that Redskins’ cornerback Chris Culliver tore his ACL and MCL in practice on Thanksgiving, making an already somewhat shaky secondary more vulnerable. That doesn’t mean the Giants should abandon the run, but I would emphasize the short-passing game early in lieu of the run – which is what Ben McAdoo often does anyways in some contests.

Washington only has 17 sacks on the season and outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan (4.5 sacks) remains their best pass rusher. The Redskins will line him on both sides so he will likely battle both starting offensive tackles. Inside linebacker Perry Riley is athletic and flashes at times. 3-4 right defensive end Jason Hatcher has been bothered by a knee issue. Bashaud Breeland is now Washington’s best corner, and he is up and down. The safeties are ordinary at best, and Dashon Goldson has been battling a slew of injuries. Eli Manning and his receivers should be able to do some damage against this group if the injury-depleted offensive line can give him time. Look for Washington to blitz up the middle to test Dallas Reynolds and John Jerry.

This game is too important to get too cute with. Put the ball in the hands of your best play-makers: Eli Manning, Odell Beckham, and Shane Vereen. The week off should have helped Rueben Randle too and I could see him having a big day against Washington as they roll their coverage towards Beckham. Eli has played very well against the Redskins in recent games.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
Kirk Cousins is coming on, but to date, he has really struggled against the Giants. Cousins was named “NFC Offensive Player of the Week” against the Buccaneers and had a perfect 158.3 QB rating against the Saints. He’s completing 68 percent of his passes, and as Tom Coughlin pointed out, 80 percent in his last two home games. Cousins brought his team back from a 24-0 deficit against the Buccaneers – a warning for a New York defense that has demonstrated a startling inability to hold leads.

Former Eagle and Giants-killer DeSean Jackson missed the first Giants-Redskins game with a hamstring injury. He’s an explosive deep threat who can put points on the board quickly. Fellow wideout Pierre Garcon is a savvy playmaker as is tight end Jordan Reed (6 touchdowns). Reed plays more like a wide receiver than tight end and is a match-up problem. Diminutive Jamison Crowder has 43 catches as the slot receiver. The Redskins are far more talented at the skill positions than a lot of fans realize. The Giants could focus more on Garcon and Reed in the first game with Jackson out, but they won’t have that luxury this time around. The good news for the Giants is that Prince Amukamara is back, but the Redskins surely have noticed the issues free safety Landon Collins has had in recent weeks.

The Redskins started off the season running the ball very well, but have struggled more of late. That said, this is big offensive line with quality, physical running backs who are sure to test a Giants’ defensive line missing Johnathan Hankins inside. Hankins wasn’t really missed against the Patriots, but this is a different style of opponent. The Giants will need a strong game from Cullen Jenkins, Jay Bromley, and Markus Kuhn. Trent Williams is one of the better left tackles in football, but Jason Pierre-Paul has given him trouble at times and Williams is battling a knee injury.

The Giants need to stop the run and make the Redskins one-dimensional. That will help take away the play-action pass and put pressure on Cousins to perform against a Giants team that he has turned the ball over against in the last three games between these two teams.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
The Redskins have returned two kickoffs for touchdowns, one against the Giants in Week 3 and the other last week against the Panthers. The Giants have also struggled lately on punt return coverage, with long returns by the Saints and Patriots possibly costing the Giants both games. The Redskins’ kicker has 30 kickoffs resulting in touchbacks and Washington is 2nd in the NFL in kickoff coverage so kickoff returns may be tough this week. Dwayne Harris has yet to break one on a punt return. Keep in mind the Giants blocked a punt against Washington in Week 3.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Tom Coughlin on Kirk Cousins: “I think he’s much more confident. I think the rhythm with which he goes about his business, particularly in the play-action pass game, is outstanding.”

THE FINAL WORD:
The Giants’ 97 wins versus Washington are the most for one team against another in pro football history. And the Giants are 5-0 against Washington in their last five contests. Much of that latter discrepancy has been due to the difference in play between Eli Manning and Kirk Cousins when these two teams have met. But don’t sleep on Washington. Cousins has a very talented group of targets who can present serious match-up issues for the Giants. This game is Washington’s season. Expect their best effort.

Nov 182015
 
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get-smart

New England Patriots 27 – New York Giants 26

Overview

We missed it by THAT much! The keyboard is staring at me, mocking me in its own qwerty way. It knows I slapped it on Sunday afternoon, but it’s not sure why. It wasn’t a hard slap, just a “here we go again” 4th-quarter meltdown-turned-comeback-turned-meltdown slap that let it know “Hey pal, we’re in this together until the end.” Indeed for Tom Coughlin and his band of misfit toys, there was no happy ending this time against the undefeated New England Patriots as Stephen Gostkowski’s 54-yard please-go-wide left kick sailed inside the uprights. It was not a most-gripping victory for the home fans as our own Prince Akeem looked on in street clothes.

Up 20-10 after a 2nd half opening FG drive, the Giants’ defense forced a quick 3-and-out from Tom Brady and the world’s most dangerous group (NWE not NWA now hold that distinction). Four plays later, the Giants let the Patriots off the ropes by surrendering an 82-yard punt return to Danny Amendola that turned into a 3-play, 7-yard TD drive that seemed to wake up the groggy Pats’ offense and cut the home team’s lead to just 3. Eli Manning and company answered on a 45-yard FG drive that pushed the lead to 23-17, but it was the failure to find the end zone that would ultimately doom the G-Men’s chances to pull off a MetLife Miracle and upend the unbeaten Patriots for a second time. MLB Jasper Brinkley was having none of it and came up with a sack strip of Tom Brady to give Eli just 31 yards to put the game out of reach. As they did all afternoon, the Patriots answered the bell, sacking Manning on the drive’s first official play, pushing the ball back to the 44 yard line and forcing a quick 3-and-out when a score could have pushed this game out of reach.

After being bottled up most of the day by journeyman safety Craig Dahl, TE Rob Gronkowski, who was thwarted in Super Bowl 46, got his revenge with a 76-yard catch-and-run that pushed the Pats ahead 24-23. Another punch-less offensive effort by the Giants that force fed the ball to a blanketed Odell Beckham Jr. gave dimple chin the ball and the chance to put the game away. After driving his team 81 yards and seemingly taking a 30-23 lead, a holding call wiped out a LeGarrette Blount TD, Tom Brady did the unthinkable and threw an interception to CB Trumaine McBride at the 1-yard line and suddenly the Giants’ 4th quarter Eli Manning magic looked to be coming back to claim the Patriots. Twelve plays later, he did it; Eli pushed the lead to 29-24 with a 5-yard TD pass to Odell Beckham Jr., who had been held in check since a first quarter TD that ate up 87 yards. Only he didn’t. Replays showed that Beckham got two feet down but failed to make a “football move” in the end zone as CB Malcom Butler swatted the ball out of his hands.

A Josh Brown FG inched the Giants closer to the miracle with a 26-24 lead but clumsy play calling and execution left 1:46 for Tom Brady to pick his way down field. Rookie S Landon Collins then stepped in with the biggest non-play of the season, leaping high for a hurried Brady pass and seemingly ending the game with a clutch interception but it was not to be as the ball squirted out and gave #12 another chance to ruin the day. True to form, Brady came through this time against his nemesis and delivered the ball to the Giants’ 36-yard line. Gostkowski’s boot (he too is perfect on the season) ended the chance for the 2015 Giants to match their 2007 predecessor’s feat of ending the Patriots perfect season. So Mr. Lenovo laptop, you can blame me for the sudden jolt, but really your ire should lay with Tom Coughlin or Eli Manning, or Landon Collins or Odell Beckham or Tom Brady, anyone but me old friend.

Eli Manning, New York Giants (November 15, 2015)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Quarterbacks

So the debate will rage, was Eli great or the goat for the clock mismanagement as the Giants drove to take the lead in the 4th quarter? His heady slide in bounds forced the Patriots to use their final timeout but the inexplicable timeout with 2:06 left and the clock winding down to the 2 minute warning will haunt this game as long as it’s discussed. The timeout seemed to pay off with a TD pass to Beckham, but after the review negated it, the Giants had one more play to run before getting to the 2-minute warning. With 2:01 left, Manning completely missed a wide open Beckham underneath for a sure TD and the ball sailed wide of WR Dwayne Harris. It may be a matter of seconds, but not stopping the clock with 2:06 left may have forced the Patriots to use their final timeout there or at least had the Giants with 1st-and-goal at the 5-yard line with 2 minutes left. At that point, you can safely run the ball even against the Pats 6 DL formation on 1st and 2nd down, forcing the Pats to spend their final timeout and then running the clock down before your 3rd down play. That would have reduced the final time for Brady to less than a minute, but as Coughlin said, he was playing for the TD and rightly so. I posit the argument because that’s what gets discussed ad nauseum but in reality this game was far too close to pin on any one thing.

Late game confusion aside, Eli was again terrific against Tom, piling up 361 yards and two TDs and leading the Giants to six scoring drives, the first of which was a perfectly placed ball to Beckham who split coverage on his way to an 87-yard TD that evened the game at 7 on the Giants’ opening sortie. Manning consistently drove the team down the field but against Belichick’s vaunted umbrella defense that gets tighter to succeed against as you drive inside the 20, FGs were the rule and not TDs. Manning’s first-half 2-minute TD drive was vintage Eli. First was a perfect sideline pass to Rueben Randle, a dime to Harris to keep the drive alive and a seam to Will Tye to get the G-Men to the 1-yard line. The exclamation point was a perfectly-arced fade pass to Dwayne Harris to close out the first half and put the Giants ahead by 7. Manning’s non-TD pass to Beckham was again perfectly placed. But in a game of inches, the ball being slapped away was another in a long line of plays that had they gone the other way, see the Giants to victory. Eli contributed to the Giants’ rushing total with a 10-yard uh, jaunt we’ll call it on the Giants’ opening drive of the second half.

Running Backs

Not a lot of good here when your longest rush of the day comes from your 34-year old QB who’d probably rather watch another Nationwide commercial of his chicken parm-loving brother than take off running. Rashad Jennings “led” the group with 11 carries and 39 yards but the inside trap play that had become this groups bread-and-butter was simply stuffed all day by the Pats. Former Pat Shane Vereen predictably was bottled up by his previous employers, contributing only 26 total yards and really having no statistical impact on the proceedings aside from a 3rd-down conversion early in the 2nd quarter. Vereen’s presence out of the backfield was crucial however, as we will show later in a breakdown of his impact on the Patriots’ coverage schemes. Personal RB favorite Orleans Darkwa had two tough runs for 9 yards but was held to 6 on his other 3 totes.

Myles White, New York Giants (November 15, 2015)

Myles White – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Wide Receivers

WR Odell Beckham Jr. started the day with a bang, knifing through the Patriots’ secondary for an 87-yard TD on the Giants’ second offensive snap. Tough sledding from there on out against Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler including Butler’s quite frankly mean slap away of a TD late in the 4th quarter that could have been the game clincher. Beckham was challenged physically all day by Butler and honestly lost the battle after an opening haymaker. OBJ finished with 104 yards on 4 catches but was targeted a team-high 12 times. Give Butler credit for clamping down on the dynamic sophomore playmaker. Dwayne Harris again came up big for Eli with 82 yards on 6 catches with a TD and consistently providing a safety valve underneath for his QB. Harris just missed a diving pass from Manning on the goal line on the Giants’ game tying drive late in the first half. It was another play and another few inches short of where this team wants to be, truly the story of the afternoon. Myles White contributed one catch but it was a 28-yard sideline beauty that had the Giants in position to score. White also appeared to be interfered with on a Manning pass into the end zone, but in a game that saw plenty of hand fighting in the secondary, it was an understandable no-call given how the game was officiated all day. Rueben Randle again chipped in with a crucial catch to spur a Giant scoring drive as the first half closed. Randle’s impact wasn’t FanDuel great (sorry Fantasy junkies) but his 51 yards on 3 catches was enough to keep the Giants toe to toe with the unbeaten Pats. As with everyone else though, there was a play Randle will want back – when he pushed off to negate a 11-yard gain which would have had the G-Men to the Pats’ 20 up by 6 points and driving. The ensuing play was DE Rob Ninkovich’s sack of Manning which effectively ended any scoring threat.

Tight Ends

Will Tye is starting to assert himself, but like many of the young Giants has some room to improve. Tye pulled down 5 balls for 56 yards but it was the just miss of a potential TD from Manning that will stick in the rookie’s craw as will a flat out drop from Manning as the Giants drove to close out the first half. Tye rebounded quickly to snag a Manning pass that covered 31 yards and got the Giants in possession of a 17-10 halftime lead. Tye’s edge blocking was better. The rookie TE is improving technique wise, keeping a wide base and keeping his feet under him to maintain good leverage in the running game.

Inside the Game

Exploiting a tendency. Notice on TE Will Tye’s 31-yard rumble down to the Patriot 1, Offensive Coordinator Ben McAdoo spotted a weakness two plays earlier on a formation that saw Beckham, Vereen and Tye on the play side. Knowing that Belichick is committed to shading or doubling an opponent’s best weapon(s), the Giants tried Beckham down the right sideline with Vereen coming out of the backfield to see what type of coverage they would get. Two plays later, that tendency to shade to Beckham and Vereen cost the Patriots down the field.

_tye1Note the formation, with Vereen offset on Beckham and Tye’s side.

_tye2Vereen and Beckham are essentially doubled down the field with intermediate coverage watching Vereen short and Beckham in the slant area with a FS over the top to keep Beckham from getting too deep. Note the keying from the FS and the split from the intermediate defender to react to either Vereen or Beckham. The result is TE Will Tye (circled) singled up in the seam.

_tye3Flip the formation and again Vereen is watched by middle coverage, Harris is drawing LB attention and Beckham is again spied by the deep safety play side leaving Tye (circled in the middle) one on one. The three blue circles are all shading to cover two Giant players, leaving Tye to exploit the match-up.

_tye4The giant hideous circle shows four Pat defenders who were accounting for Vereen, Harris and Beckham. And the adorable little circle is a deep safety who was guarding against Beckham deep and who left a huge hole for Tye and Manning to exploit en route to a 17-10 Giants’ halftime lead. Credit Ben McAdoo and Eli Manning for recognizing the intermediate, short and deep help to hem in Beckham and Vereen and deploying Tye into the hole it created. In a game of counter-punching, McAdoo and company won this battle against a Pats’ defense that has a history of taking out a team’s two biggest threats. (Remember…”This is still a Nicks and Cruz game” from SB 46 when Mario Manningham popped open?)

Offensive Line

Just like the rest of this team, some good and some bad from this group. Playing without LG Justin Pugh and losing C Weston Richburg for a half, the group probably out-performed expectations. But the success running inside was completely thwarted by a well-prepared Patriots team. LG John Jerry and C Dallas Reynolds filled in capably, but there was an absence of any running game. LT Ereck Flowers gave up the second-biggest sack of the game with Giants driving in the 2nd quarter. DE Chandler Jones went low and outside, got perfect leverage on the 330lber and knocked the ball out of Manning’s hand to force a fumble, killing an excellent chance for points in the 2nd quarter. LG John Jerry did the job pass blocking, but the difference in quickness between his pulling and Pugh’s pulling may have been just enough to keep the Giants’ favorite running plays from working as planned. RT Marshall Newhouse gave up the sack to Ninkovich that killed a Giant drive that could have salted the game away or at least increased the 4th-quarter lead to 9 points at the least.

Jason Pierre-Paul and Robert Ayers, New York Giants (November 15, 2015)

Jason Pierre-Paul and Robert Ayers – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Defensive Line

Once again it seems the BBI review team has inspired another Giant to pick himself up by the Lederhosen, this time German import DT Markus Kuhn. Much maligned just about everywhere except 1925 Giants Drive in East Rutherford, the veteran DT came to play finally. Kuhn chipped in with 4 stops but it was his ability to finally hold up against double teams inside that spearheaded the defense to the tune of surrendering only 77 yards rushing on 23 carries. Kuhn’s Bavarian locks were flowing again on a fumble return caused by Brinkley’s sack and strip of Brady. Credit the return of JPP to the improved play inside. The constant double teams he faced allowed Kuhn and fellow DT Cullen Jenkins to see less traffic inside and hold the point-of-attack much better than they had in recent weeks. After coming out with a funky glove, JPP went back to the Martha Stewart oven mitt line and quickly swatted a Brady pass to make his kitchen ware work for him and forced an errant pass on the Patriots’ sickening game-winning drive. Overall a good effort by the DL, even putting enough pressure on Brady to force an errant throw that should have ended the game, and coming with 3 whole sacks in one game (though only 1 went to a DL).

Linebackers

Jasper Brinkley did his best to will his defense to victory with 12 tackles and a sack, but it wasn’t enough to keep the best offense in the NFL from ultimately winning this battle. Brinkley was again powerful inside getting good penetration on several runs to keep huge HB LeGarrette Blount in check. And it was #53’s throw down of Julian Edelman that broke the WR’s foot and took a key playmaker off of the field for 3 quarters. Brinkley’s 4th-quarter sack and strip of Brady was all the veteran could do to hand his team the game but it was not to be. Devon Kennard again played well on the edge, ending a screen play Antonio Pierce style late in the first quarter and piling up 6 stops overall. Jonathan Casillas was active with 7 stops but was late covering on Brady’s 4th-down pass and game-saving completion by – you guessed it – just inches. He also took a terrible angle on the game’s final offensive snap allowing WR Danny Amendola the space to cut inside and make it into field goal territory.

Trumaine McBride, New York Giants (November 15, 2015)

Trumaine McBride – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Defensive Backs

It’s tough to knock these guys considering the opponent and how well they played for 3 quarters, but Tom Brady exploded for 200 yards in the second half and ultimately won the game through the air. S Landon Collins’ rocky season continued as the rookie failed to seal the game with an interception-turned-drop on the Pats’ final drive. He also failed to play with inside leverage against TE Scott Chandler on the Pats’ first TD of the game. This group simply couldn’t get stops on 3rd and 4th down on the game’s alpha and omega drives and it cost them dearly. Credit S Craig Dahl with playing Gronkowski as well as he could for 3 quarters until the All Pro ultimately burned him for a 76-yard TD catch-and-run. Dahl was aggressive all day long, separating Chandler from the ball deep inside G-Men territory and hopping on Tom Brady for a sack that forced a Patriots FG. Dahl just missed on Gronkowski’s long TD which again put a bad ending on an otherwise strong game from the once and former Giant. Jayron Hosley filled in solidly at times, knocking away a 2nd-down Brady pass as the first half wound down and knifing inside to drag down Gronkowski to force a FG in the first. It was Hosley though who completely whiffed on a Brandon LaFell’s 54-yard catch that put the Pats in scoring range. CB Trumaine McBride was flagged for a pass interference penalty in the end zone but redeemed himself on the Pats’ next foray, picking off Brady and preventing a potential 31-23 deficit that became a 26-24 Giant lead.

Special Teams

Penalties on returns and Amendola’s 82-yard escape on a punt return brought the once-maligned group back to the fore of the “where did it go wrong?” discussion. Josh Brown was perfect again, hitting all four FGs and both XPs. P Brad Wing was in no way to blame for Amendola’s long punt return, it was a perfectly-placed sideline shot that Amendola simply made a great play on. Harris averaged a modest 19 yards on 2 kick returns and a solid 10-yard average on 4 punt returns. Kick coverage was again good, but that punt coverage, oy vey.

Coaching

Against the league’s best offense, the Giants played a strong 3 quarters but finally caved in in the 4th. Steve Spagnuolo’s charges kept Brady in check with a combination of man and zone coverages that focused on shutting down do-everything TE Rob Gronkwoski. Holding this offense to 4 punts and a respectable 27 points is an accomplishment that seemed impossible coming into this game but again it wasn’t quite enough when you rely on a rookie safety and two 10-year plus vets as your deep patrol. As much as it would be nice to give tons of credit to Spags and his defense for 3.5 quarters, the failure to stop another game-clinching drive undid all of the good will. The result wasn’t satisfying, but again the effort and fight was, as his 32-ranked defense gave the Patriots all they could handle for 3.5 quarters.

Ben McAdoo’s offense was good, but not good enough. McAdoo’s gang notched 6 scoring drives, but only scored 2 TDs in a game decided by one point. McAdoo again kept to the running game despite its ineffectiveness and it provided Eli with enough balance to power to another 300-yard plus day. Inches here and inches there and we’re celebrating an improbable win, so I won’t kill any of the coordinators for this one. They both had their groups ready to play.

Cram it in your Cramhole Award

In a game full of lead changes, big plays and ultimately a depressing ending, I just can’t give out the award to anyone on that field on Sunday. Love him or hate him, Tom Coughlin and his guys were ready despite the 4th-quarter head-scratchers again. It’s been covered relentlessly since it happened and it may have no place in a silly football redux, but I really want to cram this award in ISIS’ or ISIL’s faces and then down their collective throats for the horrific attacks in Paris last week. It’s not often that world events creep into the reviews but this was a doozy, and on a day that we were all a little deflated, keep in mind that we were peacefully watching a football game between millionaires that didn’t go our way. It sucked to be sure, but as I age and keep getting fatter (get in mah belly ISIS), I have a hard time cramming things like football when a band of misguided nitwits seek to murder innocents. So ISIS, ISIL, jerkfaces of the highest order, cram it in your suicide-vest-laden cramholes.

(New England Patriots at New York Giants, November 15, 2015)
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (February 5, 2012)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New England Patriots at New York Giants, November 15, 2015

THE STORYLINE:
The diehard optimistic fan can wax poetic about why the Patriots are overrated and why the Giants will beat them on Sunday. But the facts are that the defending Super Bowl Champs, a team that hasn’t won fewer than 12 regular-season games in the last five years, and which has a legitimate shot at going undefeated in 2015 is playing a Giants team that has cumulatively hovered around .500 during the same time period, including this season.

The Patriots have the top-scoring offense in the NFL and a top-5 scoring defense. They have arguably the best coaching staff and quarterback in football. The Giants have the 21st-ranked offense and 32nd-ranked defense. While the Giants have a very good quarterback and solid coaching staff, they are clearly a club in transition with yet another injury-depleted and thin roster.

In all likelihood, the Giants are going to get spanked on Sunday.

That all said, any outstanding NFL team is beatable if you catch them on an off day while you are playing good football. The Giants don’t have to be perfect to beat the Patriots. That’s a mindset that too many of their opponents take and they psyche themselves out by doing so. Play sound, fundamental football and keep mistakes to a minimum. But you don’t have to be perfect. And don’t be something that you are not.

tve37790-3-1365“The only hope you have is to accept the fact that you’re already dead. The sooner you accept that, the sooner you’ll be able to function as a soldier is supposed to function: without mercy, without compassion, without remorse. All war depends upon it.” – Ronald Spiers, Band of Brothers

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • WR Victor Cruz (calf – out)
  • TE Larry Donnell (neck – out)
  • LG Justin Pugh (illness – probable)
  • RG Geoff Schwartz (ankle – probable)
  • LB J.T. Thomas (ankle – out)
  • LB Uani ‘Unga (neck – out)
  • CB Prince Amukamara (pectoral – out)
  • CB Leon McFadden (groin – questionable)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
There are two basic and probably overly-simplistic schools of thought on how to approach this game offensively. The traditional mindset would be to play ball control, eat up the clock, and keep the ball out of Tom Brady’s hands for as long as possible. At the other end of the spectrum is the acceptance that it will be a shootout and you need to be aggressive and score as many points as you can as quickly as you can.

On Wednesday, Coughlin hinted that you can do both. “No, we will do what we do,” said Coughlin. “(Keeping the ball away is) always a consideration but the thing you have to realize, again, is that although we do have a relatively fast pace (offense) as the league goes percentage-wise, we are out over the ball quite extensively. And the reason for that is obvious, the quarterback has an opportunity to evaluate what the defense is doing and that’s important to us.”

My interpretation of that statement is that while the Giants are a no-huddle offense, that doesn’t mean they snap the ball quickly. They get up to the line, force the defense to set, and then Eli takes his time to read what the defense is doing. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking. And the Giants’ West Coast Offense has not been predicated on the quick-strike, deep ball this season. The focus has been on Eli getting rid of the ball quickly, out of the shotgun or with 3-step drops, easing the burden on the offensive line, with an emphasis on short- to medium-range passes. My guess is that most of the Giants’ long scoring drives this season have been 8-12 play affairs. Even in the offensive “explosion” against the Saints, the plays per touchdown drive were: 10, 9, 10, 4, 11, and 3.

So my expectation for the Giants’ offense against the Patriots? Don’t do anything different. Be what you are and focus on what you do well. Don’t try to become a heavy ball-control, smash-mouth running attack. It’s not the Giants’ style and it most likely won’t generate enough points. You can move the football, control the clock, and still score with a short-to-intermediate passing game. The Giants have the offense do do all three.

Brandon Jacobs, New York Giants (February 5, 2012)

Brandon Jacobs – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Giants’ fans know all about Bill Belichick’s prowess as a defensive coach. The Patriots are currently 8th in total defense based on yards and 5th in scoring defense. They are 3rd in run defense and 16th in pass defense. While the pass defense is middle-of-the-pack, the Patriots have gotten after the quarterback, being tied for 2nd in the NFL in sacks with 27. The main sack men have been DE Chandler Jones (9.5 sacks), reserve specialist DE Jabaal Sheard (4 sacks), LB Jamie Collins (4.5 sacks), and LB Dont’a Hightower (3.5 sacks). “They do mix pressures in, but primarily they get after it with their rush group,” said Tom Coughlin.

Jones is a major disrupter and the Patriots will move him around the line. He will likely test both Ereck Flowers and Marshall Newhouse. Collins has been bothered by serious illness for two weeks and may not play. He’s a super-athletic talent who will be missed by the Patriots if he can’t go. Sheard has also been bothered by an ankle issue.

The Patriots’ secondary really hasn’t been tested much this season as New England hasn’t played many of the game’s better quarterbacks. Gone is Darrelle Revis at corner. Super Bowl hero Malcom Butler is listed as the left corner but will often stick with the opponent’s best receiver. Logan Ryan starts opposite of him. Both are steady, but not really standouts. The third corner – Justin Coleman – is a rookie. New England does have a very strong safety duo in Devin McCourty (who the Giants heavily pursued in free agency) and Patrick Chung.

The Patriots’ 3rd-rated run defense is probably a bit overrated as most of their opponents feel the need to abandon the running game. The Patriots do give up 4.1 yards per rush (tied for 15th in the NFL). So I would expect Tom Coughlin and Ben McAdoo to still mix in the run with the pass. But you also have to figure that they know they have to score points out of the passing game. You can just hear Belichick now, “This is still a Beckham and Vereen game. Make them throw it to Randle, Harris, and Tye.”

So the questions are can Coughlin and McAdoo out-scheme Belichick to get Odell Beckham and Shane Vereen viable opportunities in space? And if not, can Rueben Randle, Dwayne Harris, and Will Tye make the Patriots pay on a consistent basis throughout the game? If Collins is out, it may open up things for Vereen although you have to figure Belichick will scheme for him, perhaps with a third corner or safety.

As is the case with any game, but particularly against an elite team like the Patriots, ball security is crucial. Don’t turn the football over. Don’t beat yourself.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The problem is that, on paper, the Patriots’ offense versus the Giants’ defense is a huge mismatch. Not just statistically, #2 offense (#1 scoring offense) verus the #32 defense, but the strength of the Patriots’ passing attack is the way they attack the short-to-medium parts of the field against the nickel corner, the safeties, and the linebackers – all areas of weakness on the Giants. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have undoubtedly seen the struggles of free safety Landon Collins. They know middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley is really a run-down player. And Belichick let strong safety Brandon Meriweather and outside linebacker Jonathan Casillas depart New England – he knows their strengths and weaknesses. Throw in Brady versus Jayron Hosley and Trevin Wade, combined with a pass rush that has generated nine sacks in nine games, and this one looks ugly, ugly, ugly.

Brady has been in the same system for 16 years. He knows how to read a defense and he is as good as it gets in terms of getting rid of the ball quickly to the right man in an accurate fashion. “He knows exactly where he wants to go with the ball for each different look that a defense gives him,” said defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins.

While the Patriots will take an occasional deep shot, they really are not a vertical offense. They dink and dunk you to death, and are the NFL’s top offense in converting on 3rd down (almost 50 percent of the time). Opponents that count on them to make a mistake to sabotage drives are usually left disappointed. Brady has a TD-to-INT ratio of 22-to-2 and the Patriots have only lost three fumbles all year. They are tops in the NFL with only five giveaways. They also don’t shoot themselves in the foot with dumb penalties.

The bizarre but amazing element of their offense is they don’t hang their hat on one thing. One week, the will put the ball up 50 times in the air and ignore the ground game, the next they will pound the ball between the tackles. NFL analyst Greg Cosell said it best, “The Patriots don’t have a system, really. They’ll just figure out what you don’t do well, and win by attacking it.”

Chase Blackburn, New York Giants (February 5, 2012)

Chase Blackburn – © USA TODAY Sports Image

While there is no one go-to guy, Brady certainly has his favorites, this year being WR Julian Edelman (who is very dangerous out of the slot, especially on 3rd down), All-World TE Rob Gronkowski, and pesky WR Danny Amendola. Edelman and Amendola beat you with quickness while Gronkowski’s combination of size and overall athleticism is a match-up problem. The big loss was RB Dion Lewis (Shane Vereen’s replacement) who was lost last week for the season. He was a big factor in the Patriots’ passing and running game with his speed and quickness. WR Brandon LaFell has a big game against the Redskins with over 100 receiving yards.

The other issue for the Patriots is that their offensive line is a mess due to various injuries. Thus far, it hasn’t hurt them as Brady is able to get rid of the ball in about two seconds on passing plays. And teams more geared up to defend the pass and all of Brady’s weapons have made themselves more vulnerable to the run. You saw that last week when the Patriots’ big power back, LeGarrette Blount, ran for 129 yards against the Redskins despite a patchwork offensive line that at one point had a tight end playing right tackle. Their top three tackles are either out or ailing and they also have issues inside at guard. The Patriots really have done it up front with smoke and mirrors. That all said, no one has really feared the Giants’ defensive line this year. Jason Pierre-Paul may be back, but Johnathan Hankins is now done for the season.

Can Steve Spagnuolo really switch things up enough to confuse Tom Brady in his 16th season? And does he want to do too much of that with a rookie at free safety and a relative newbie at middle linebacker? In other words, it may backfire. And do you really want to blitz Brady – a QB adept as anyone at reading what defenses are doing – all that much? Keep in mind that two of your top corners are Trevin Wade and Jayron Hosley.

“With any quarterback that gets it out that quick, the best way to defend is to affect the guys he’s throwing to,” said Spagnuolo. “So we’ve got to find ways to cover better and maybe mix and change things up a little bit. But if you’re an offensive lineman, you probably want to play – I mean everybody wants to play with Tom Brady, right? But if you’re an offensive lineman, he can really make you look good.”

Contrary to what I said about the offense not breaking away from who and what they are, I might do some things differently in this game against this opponent on the defensive side of the ball. As crazy as it sounds, I would give Nikita Whitlock more snaps at defensive tackle. I would really vary my fronts, employing my ends more often at tackle too. Now Blount and the other reserve backs may exploit this, but I’ll take my chances with a better pass rush and hits on Brady than the Patriots’ ground game. I would not blitz much…only an occasional linebacker or safety blitz. The important thing is to get pressure on Brady up the gut, in his face. And when he does complete those short passes, run to the football and gang tackle. The Patriots do a lot of damage with yards after the catch.

Ultimately, I’m not sure the Giants have an answer to Edelman in the slot and Gronkowski at tight end. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie seems wasted trying to cover the outside guys while all of the damage is being done between the hashmarks. Might Spagnuolo employ DRC in some sort of unique capacity?

“We have to cover better,” said Spagnuolo. “We’ll mix the coverages up a little bit, and maybe get a couple of knockdowns. There’s no secret to it. He’s back there in the gun and he’s going to throw it. We have to find a way on the back end to play a little bit tighter.”

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
The Giants have played against a number of quality special teams units this season and New England is no exception. The Patriots are 3rd in the NFL in covering punts and 10th in the NFL in covering kickoffs so the blockers and returners (Dwayne Harris and possibly Shane Vereen) will have their work cut out for them. Place kicker Stephen Gostkowski hasn’t missed a field goal or PAT all year, and leads the NFL in touchbacks with 42 (another problem for the NYG return game). Danny Amendola is the primary kickoff and punt returner. He’s steady, but usually does not break one. Julian Edelman will sometimes return punts, however, and he has four career punt returns for touchdowns.

Zak DeOssie, New York Giants (February 5, 2012)

Zak DeOssie – © USA TODAY Sports Images

The Giants’ special teams will likely have to make an impact play for the team to upset the Patriots, either with a return or blocked kick. Keep in mind that Patriots will run trick plays on special teams at unusual times. For example, they successfully kicked an onside kick after scoring on their opening possession against the Redskins.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Tom Coughlin on getting pressure on QB Tom Brady: “Oh, it’s difficult. He’s the quickest in the league getting rid of the ball, that’s a fact. But you have to try. Whether you try with four, five, six, whatever…at certain points of the game you got to try. ”

THE FINAL WORD:
No one except some diehard Giants’ fans expect the Giants to win this game. And because this is an out-of-conference opponent, you’d pick to lose this game instead of one of the four NFC games the Giants have remaining on their schedule. That all said, the problem is the Philadelphia Eagles, who are 4-4 and favored to win against the Miami Dolphins at home on Sunday. The odds are that the Eagles will be 5-4 and the Giants 5-5 at the end of the day.

If the Giants can somehow pull off the upset, it would be a huge boost for their chances to win the division. Hopefully, they play loose but also play smart, physical football. New England’s offensive line is really beat up. And losing Dion Lewis was a big loss. If the Giants somehow catch Brady on a bit of an off day, they have a shot.

Nov 112015
 
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Ron Swanson

New York Giants 32 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers 18

Overview

It’s said that possession is 9/10ths of the law, something Tom Coughlin and his charges clearly believed in on Sunday afternoon in Tampa Bay. Despite being out-gained 385 to 327, the Boys in Blue held serve for 34:55 and won the turnover battle 3-2 en route to an odd victory over the horribly-clad Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Fashion critique aside (as I pen this, I’m clad a taco-stained t-shirt and gym pants that have never seen the inside of an actual gym), the Bucs kept the afternoon interesting with big plays, dropped passes and ultimately a desperation-heave-turned-Giants-touchdown to seal the win. Bucs WR Mike Evans tried to be a WR, then a QB on the game’s final play, but in the words of the immortal Ron Swanson, “Never half ass two things, whole ass one thing.” With that said, you have my whole ass for this week’s recap.

Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin, New York Giants (November 8, 2015)

Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin – © USA TODAY Sports Images

It’s not how you start but how you finish and the Giants started horribly, tossing the ball back to the Bucs at their own 13-yard line just 9 seconds into the game. Buoyed by the return of digitally-challenged DE Jason Pierre-Paul, the Giants’ defense went from gossamer to at least cheese cloth this week, and held the Bucs out of the end zone despite the short field. The teams then traded field goals until a Rueben Randle from Eli Manning pass put the G-Men up 10-6. Then the Bucs began to simply self-destruct like an Imperial Probe Droid, fumbling on their next possession to hand the Giants an easy 28-yard field and a 17-6 lead. After a few more boring field goals (seriously I hate them and I don’t know why), the Giants led 20-12 until Captain Irresponsible, Jameis Winston, showed off his athletic ability on a 10-yard TD run to cut the margin to 2.

Two more boring, rainy wet field goals pushed the visitors ahead 26-18, still one a one possession game but with 18 seconds and no timeouts, the Bucs turned to desperation and trickeration when Winston hit \Evans on a short pass which Evans then heaved backwards to G Logan Mankins who…well he’s a guard, he didn’t catch it…Trevin Wade swooped in for the scoop-and-score and the Jints were just above .500 again, sitting at 5-4 alone in first place in the hideous NFC East. For Mankins, it must pain him to see the Giants after Justin Tuck used him like an old hanky in the Super Bowl and he clumsily coughed up a game-sealing TD years later.

Quarterbacks

After peppering the Saints with 6 TDS, Eli’s follow up game started horribly. Manning’s first pass hit Odell Beckham Jr. in the hands, albeit a tad behind him, and the ensuing deflection was picked off by DB Sterling Moore. Eli came right back and led the team down the field for a tying field goal, going 4-of-7, rhythmically firing to Randle, Beckham and Vereen. Eli came back on the next drive going a perfect 7-of-7 for 46 yards and a TD to Randle, as he stepped up into a clean pocket and delivered a strike to one of his former LSU pass catchers. Eli came right back on the Giants next drive, firing another dart to RB Shane Vereen for his second TD and a 17-6 lead. Manning did throw an untimely pick as the Giants were driving up 20-12, which led to Odell’s heinous assault on Harry Carson’s favorite prop. Manning was pressured a little more in the second half, but the Alterraun Verner interception aside, he was able to lead his team on two FG drives and ended with a modest 213 yards on 26-of-40 passing. Most importantly though, Manning directed the offense efficiently and got his team into position to score 6 times and hold the ball for over 35 minutes.

Andre Williams, New York Giants (November 8, 2015)

Andre Williams – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Running Backs

Clearly Andre Williams has taken umbrage with my criticism, so you’re welcome Andre. The Poughkeepsie native bulled his way to 30 yards on 7 carries, nothing big but his 4.3ypc average is a huge improvement over the 2.7 ypc average he dragged Sisyphus-style into this game. Shane Vereen catches the ball out of the backfield as cleanly as any RB this team may have ever had. Vereen doesn’t break stride, catches cleanly, tucks and runs with no loss of speed or balance. Vereen struggled on the ground with only 14 yards on 6 carries but his 29 yards and TD receiving added a needed dimension to the Giants’ ball control attack. Rashad Jennings got the heavy work load on the ground, carrying 13 times for a modest 3.7 ypc average and 48 total yards, but the grinding of the ground game played a huge role in a contest where the heat and humidity were high and possession was crucial.

Wide Receivers

Gatorade bucket assaults aside, Odell Beckham Jr. came to play on Sunday but had a very up and down afternoon. The 2nd-year phenom pulled down 105 yards on 9 grabs and was visibly irate after being somewhat responsible for both of Manning’s picks. After having his route jumped by CB Alterraun Verner, Beckham slapped a bear hug on Verner and rode him a few yards before suplexing him to the ground in disgust. OBJ dropped another easy pass from Manning on the Giants second drive, but followed that up with a long reception and drew an unnecessary roughness against LB Lavonte David after the play. Rueben Randle seemed to just sit 12 yards down the field on the left and catch the ball, wonky hamstring and all. Randle finished with 40 yards on 5 grabs and pulled in one of Manning’s two TD passes. Dwayne Harris victimized David again on a crossing route as the former Husker LB decided to drop Harris about 12 yards downfield on a crossing route, but only netted one yard on one catch on the afternoon.

Tight Ends

What was once Larry Donnell and Daniel Fells is now Will Tye and Jerome Cunningham. Tye had a chance for early glory with a well-run seam route that was just knocked down in the end zone. Tye finished with 2 catches for 19 yards and was serviceable blocking in-line. New TE call-up Jerome Cunningham pitched in with 2 catches and 10 yards, one of them coming on a 3rd-and-3 on the Giants’ second TD drive of the game.

Offensive Line

Another clean sheet for the big dudes, but it wasn’t always pretty. Pretty though isn’t this team’s blueprint but tough certainly is. The big guys paved the way for 114 yards on the ground and once again C Weston Richburg was outstanding, consistently thwarting inside pressure while handling line calls from his play-changing QB. It’s not talked about, but Manning’s ability to step up into a clean pocket to deliver downfield is Richburg’s responsibility and the second-year pivot did it nearly perfectly on Sunday. LT Ereck Flowers was called for a hold that wiped out Vereen’s long run but replay after replay showed nothing. RT Marshall Newhouse played his best game in blue, and LG Justin Pugh was his usual active, pulling self, helping the inside run game to its ball controlling afternoon.

Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants (November 8, 2015)

Jason Pierre-Paul – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Defensive Line

After a bye-week-quality outing in New Orleans, the Giants’ DL was lively on Sunday with the return of oven-mitted DE Jason Pierre-Paul. JPP made an impact early, extending his arms and jolting LT Donovan Smith to hold the edge and stop the Bucs cold on the home team’s first drive. Pierre-Paul got close to Winston on several plays, and hustled on every snap. His presence will be a much-needed jolt after the pass rush’s disappearance thus far in 2015. DT Johnathan Hankins ripped the ball out Doug Martin’s hand as the 2nd quarter opened but tore his pectoral in the process, landing the big run-stuffer on season-ending IR. Cullen Jenkins had the wack of the day on WR Mike Evans after he bounced off of DRC, just planting the 6-5 former Aggie into the turf. DE Damontre Moore was able to do his usual thing, show up for a play and commit a stupid penalty.

Linebackers

Criticize a guy, and he proves you wrong (Donald Trump will never send me a million dollars, the selfish jerkface). It happened with new Giant LB Jasper Brinkley. Brinkley played much faster than he did in the Bayou, leading the team in tackles. Brinkley shot inside to drop RB Doug Martin for a one-yard loss, and two plays later pounced on a Martin fumble to give the Giants possession deep in Bucs’ territory. Brinkley was aggressive and powerful inside, providing some much needed pop in the center of the defense. Devon Kennard seems to be over his injury woes, chipping in with 6 stops and continually forcing the issue in the running game. Jonathan Casillas was again doing everything on Sunday, covering down field and helping in the running game, but again not many big plays. Overall a steady day for the former Patriot who collected 6 stops.

Defensive Backs

Trevin Wade turned in his best day as a Giant on Sunday, blanketing WR Mike Evans on the Bucs’ first possession to hold Tampa Bay to a FG after starting their drive on the Giants’ 13-yard line and finishing the game with a scoop-and-score after Evans heaved the rock to G Logan Mankins. Wade also managed to recover a fumble early in the 2nd half after a Charles Sims fumble that bounced down the field like a spastic chicken. Clearly Wade can now catch greased lightning, but it will be some time before he eats lightning and craps thunder and becomes a greasy-fast Eyetalian (sp) tank. Wade then showed off his greasy-fastness by running down RB Charles Sims on the heels of a 59-yard jaunt. S Landon Collins flat out missed on Mike Evans 68-yard catch-and-run in the first quarter. Teams are starting to exploit the rookie S down the field. S Brandon Meriweather was a victim of an awful personal foul midway through the 2nd quarter, launching his 197lbs into 307lb center Joe Hawley. Meriweather’s reputation may have elicited the flag because it was neither late nor unnecessary from where I sit. Number 22 also appeared to briefly kill DE Robert Ayers as the two combined to bring down RB Charles Sims, and chipped in with a 3rd-down stop on Jameis Winston to force a Bucs’ FG try. DRC was at it again, popping WR Mike Evans and being right on top of the big receiver on two of Evans’ many drops. Call it what you want, but DRC’s shot early in the game may have contributed to Evans’ inability to hang on when #41 was lurking nearby.

Brad Wing and Josh Brown, New York Giants (November 8, 2015)

Brad Wing and Josh Brown – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Special Teams

K Josh Brown was perfect on field goals, going 4-for-4 and hitting both of his extra points. Brown has not missed in 23 FG attempts. P Brad Wing only had one punt but it was a 64-yard bomb, and the coverage units were again solid, surrendering only 88 total return yards. Dwayne Harris picked up 54 yards on 2 kick returns to round out a solid but not very notable day for the specials.

Coaching

Ben McAdoo’s offense was clicking down the field for the most of game, and his plan to attack the edges and soft spots in the cover 2 (slant and deep seam areas) with his array of pass catchers was enough to propel his offense to a nearly 10-minute edge in time of possession and a performance that was enough to keep the Bucs off balance all day. Without a great running attack, McAdoo is utilizing short passes to Shane Vereen on the edges like short runs and they are keeping defenses honest and mostly unable to double any WR downfield for too long. McAdoo, in true West Coast offense style, is stretching the field horizontally first, then attacking downfield. Credit McAdoo as well for integrating Will Tye and Jerome Cunningham into the game plan after losing his top two TEs.

Steve Spagnuolo’s charges were humbled a week ago, lost their best DT as the 2nd quarter opened and inserted the 3rd MLB of the year into the starting lineup. Sprinkle in some JPP and a breakout-game from his new Mike LB and the defense was back on its feet. Of note throughout the game was JPP at RDE, but in plenty of those sets he was lined up as a rush LB in a hybrid 3-4 front which created favorable match-ups for the talented DE. The defense was again like a neutered dog (sackless). But there was more pressure and few near-misses from Pierre-Paul, that with a few more games under his belt should result in some much-needed QB heat as this team heads into the 2nd half of the season.

How good is Weston Richburg? Sure it’s a 5-yard run. But after double-teaming DT Gerald McCoy with LG Geoff Schwartz for a 9-yard gain on the previous play, Richburg then gets singled up on DT Akeem Spence and it does not go well for the 307 lb DT. Most of the Giants’ rushing yards came inside, and it was the play of Richburg that created most of those opportunities.

richburg1Notice where Spence starts the play, and where he ends up 4 frames later.

Richburg2At the snap, notice that everyone is still in their stance and Richburg is already engaged with DT Akeem Spence, moving his feet to get position on the 307 lbs run-stuffer.

richburg3With LG Justin Pugh pulling, and Schwartz and Newhouse double-teaming DT Gerald McCoy, Richburg already has Spence 3 yards in the backfield and turned out of the hole with outstanding footwork, hand placement and power.

richburg4Darkwa follows Pugh outside of McCoy, but the size of the hole Richburg creates causes LB Lavonte David to hesitate in pursuit instead of abandoning his run fit now that Spence is completely blocked into the backfield and turned completely around. The lower circle shows where Spence started and you can see where Richburg took him, impressive power and technique from the 2nd year center.

NFLW (NFL for Women)

For one week only, the NFL for Women is back. The Joey family dinner coincided with the Giants 4PM start and my quasi-Giants fan sister caught a glimpse of JPP’s oven mitt being wrapped mummy style on the sideline.

Sister: “What happened to his hand?”

Me: “That’s JPP, he blew off 1.5 fingers shooting off fireworks like an idiot”

Sister: “How can he play like that? What does he play?”

Me: “Defensive End, how do you not know this??”

Sister: “Oh you don’t need no hands for defense.”…Yes my sister was born in New Jersey like all of us siblings but the time spent living in Kentucky and Virginia (and possibly a little vino but that’s just hearsay and rumor as she emphatically reminded me) seems to have dulled her grammatical edge. As for possibly imbibing during the game and forgetting who JPP was, I will again invoke my fictional hero Ron Swanson. “Son, there is no wrong way to consume alcohol.”

Cram it in your Cramhole Award

This week’s award goes to almost all of us Giant fans for the silly conjecture and wild speculation after JPP’s hand-altering Independence Day mishap. People from BBI far and wide wanted him cut, wondered why he wasn’t talking to anyone after the Giants dispatched Jessie Armstead and Ronnie Barnes to evaluate the wreckage, and generally wrung our collective hands for months on end about what would become of our Pro Bowl end. It was only one week, but JPP playing with kitchen wear on his damaged mitt, was about as good as one could have expected given his injury and time away from the team. If I knew JPP, and he knew of our illustrious award, I’m sure he’d tell us all to cram it in our cramholes, and I think I speak (or type) for everyone when I say I’m happy to cram this one.

(New York Giants at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, November 8, 2015)
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Shane Vereen, New York Giants (November 1, 2015)

Shane Vereen – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, November 8, 2015

THE STORYLINE:
One gets the sense that someone is toying with our emotions with this team. On the negative side, the team has once again been sabotaged by injuries – some bizarre – that have directly contributed to the inconsistent product on the field. Will Beatty tears his pectoral muscle lifting weights in May, JPP blows his hand up in July, the Giants place four safeties on IR before the season even starts, Victor Cruz recovers impressively from his knee injury but is lost for three months due to a “calf strain”, Daniel Fells contracts MRSA, Prince Amukamara injures his pectoral muscle during a critical stretch of games, Odell Beckham and Rueben Randle are hampered by nagging hamstring injuries, and Jon Beason proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is made of glass. Then you throw in three losses where the Giants held the lead by a touchdown or more in the 4th quarter and lost, including two games in painfully bizarre fashion (Eli telling Rashad not to score in Dallas; the series of events leading up to the 50-yard game-winning field goal in New Orleans). It’s like fate is working against the Giants.

But… the NFC East is still a mess and the Giants at .500 still find themselves in first place at the midway point of the season. Despite the morale-sapping setbacks, the team is still competing and has just as good a chance as the Eagles, Redskins, and Cowboys to win the division. Some reinforcements seem about ready to return. The sense is if the Giants can just get to the bye week at 5-5, they can make a run at it.

The loss to New Orleans was bad. Given the prevailing assumption that the team will lose to the Patriots on November 15, the Giants find themselves in another apparent “must-win” situation this weekend. It’s the third time this has already happened this year: 0-2 facing the Redskins, 1-2 in the division and facing the Cowboys, and now this game. If the Giants lose, they will probably be 4-6 at the bye week with almost zero room for error in the final six games. The Giants must win this game to remain relevant.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • WR Rueben Randle (hamstring – questionable)
  • WR Victor Cruz (calf – out)
  • RB Orleans Darkwa (back – probable)
  • TE Larry Donnell (neck – out)
  • RG Geoff Schwartz (ankle – probable)
  • OT Will Beatty (pectoral – on PUP/most likely out)
  • DE Jason Pierre-Paul (hand – roster exemption/most likely will play)
  • LB Jon Beason (ankle/knee – out)
  • LB J.T. Thomas (ankle – out)
  • LB Uani ‘Unga (neck – questionable)
  • CB Prince Amukamara (pectoral – out)
  • CB Leon McFadden (groin – questionable)
  • S Craig Dahl (neck – probable)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
Was the offensive explosion against the Saints more of mirage given the state of New Orleans’ defense or an indication that Eli Manning and the offense is about to reach a new level? Keep in mind that the offense only scored two touchdowns in two games before the contest against the Saints. The Buccaneers are a middle-of-the-pack defense (16th overall, 17th against run, 15th against pass) that had been adept at forcing fumbles (9 fumble recoveries in addition to only 4 interceptions). It’s 4-3 defense, anchored by left defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (4.5 sacks), who unfortunately will be playing against New York’s weak link up front, Geoff Schwartz. But both McCoy (shoulder) and right defensive tackle Tony McDaniel (groin) have been limited this week in practice. Leading sacker, right defensive end Jacquies Smith (5 sacks), has missed practice with an ankle injury (Late Note: Smith has been ruled “out” of the game). Left defensive end William Gholston (knee) has been limited. So the defensive front is a bit beat up.

Typical of a Lovie Smith style of defense, what the Buccaneers do well is run to the ball. “They run very well, they’re very quick, they’re penetrators, the linebacker level is very fast, they do an outstanding job of pressuring the quarterback even with four defenders,” says Head Coach Tom Coughlin.

Linebackers Lavonte David, rookie Kwon Alexander, and Danny Lansanah are undersized, but all are good athletes who make plays. David in particular is a fine all-around play-maker. Alexander is coming off a “NFC Defensive Player of the Week” performance against the Falcons. On the other hand, Tampa Bay’s defensive backs are a pretty non-descript group.

Ben McAdoo knows Lovie Smith well from both of their time in the NFC North. If the Giants can handle McCoy (a big “if”), they should be able to do some damage on the ground as well as deep shots down the field. I would run the ball between the tackles and off tackle against a beat-up defensive line and an undersized linebacking corps – don’t run laterally against their quickness. Passes to the inexperienced tight ends and Shane Vereen could be more problematic this weekend given the athleticism of the linebackers. This is another opponent where Odell Beckham could make a lot of noise against a somewhat shaky secondary.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
Tampa Bay may have a rookie quarterback and some injury issues on offense, but they have some dangerous weapons who should be licking their chops against one of the NFL’s all-time worst defenses (at least statistically). Of course, all eyes will be on Jason Pierre-Paul, but he can’t do it alone. The Giants need someone else besides Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to show up and make plays.

The Buccaneers are actually 11th in overall offense – 4th rushing the ball and 23rd passing the ball. As the stats suggest, the absolute defensive emphasis should be on stopping the run and halfback Doug Martin who is averaging 4.6 yards per carry. Martin is the key. He’s a tough, instinctive runner helped by two fine guards in ex-Patriot Logan Mankins and rookie Ali Marpet. The left tackle, Donovan Smith, is also a rookie. It’s a very big line that can punish a defense run blocking.

At the same time, don’t sleep on the passing game. Rookie #1 pick Jameis Winston has been coming on. In the last three games, he has thrown for 683 yards, four touchdowns, 0 interceptions and completed almost 65 percent of his passes. The Buccaneers have completed 25 passes of 20 yards more already this year – it’s a passing offense predicated on the big play.

Second-year wide receiver Mike Evans is a mammoth player for his position who makes plays down the field with his size and overall athleticism. But the Bucs are hurting at the position due to injures to Vincent Jackson (knee – out) and former Giant Louis Murphy (out for the season). The tight ends are Austin Seferian-Jenkins (who has been troubled by a shoulder injury) and former Giant Brandon Myers. Winston will dump the ball off to the backs (Martin and Charles Sims – 34 catches and 3 touchdowns).

Stop the run, roll coverage towards Evans, and don’t let Winston hurt you with his feet. “Because of the strength of their running game, their play action is very good and he has the opportunity to isolate one-on-one with Evans or whoever on the outside,” said Coughlin. “(Winston) throws the go ball, the deep ball, the post ball, all the deep over routes, the (rollout throws), all of those types of routes he does very well. And if you signify by opening the middle of the field up for him, then he’ll run.”

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Tom Coughlin provided a very good scouting report on Tampa Bay’s special teams: “They’re fourth in the league in punt return, second in the league in kickoff return, fifth in the league allowing only 4.7 yards per punt return, opponent punt return. Their outstanding punt returner and kickoff returner is Bobby Rainey. They have speed and quickness in their special teams unit.”

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Tom Coughlin on the Tampa Bay offense: “You have to stop the run. Everything, the play action, all of those good things that they do, it’s all based on that. You have to realize, you have the young quarterback, and he’s done an outstanding job. But the running game is preventing a lot of issues. His third downs are less, you have less yardage to accomplish the majority of the time. All those things fit the young quarterback.”

THE FINAL WORD:
This is a must-win game. No excuses. No late-game collapses. No questionable coaching decisions.