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Jerrel Jernigan, New York Giants (December 22, 2013)

Jerrel Jernigan – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 23 – Detroit Lions 20 (Overtime)

Game Overview: I must admit that I have somewhat mixed feelings on this win. My head was telling me that it was best for the Giants to put up a good showing and get a better read on specific players heading into the offseason, but to lose the game in order to gain a higher draft pick. But once the game started, my emotions got the best of me and I was rooting very hard for the Giants to prove doubters wrong and win this game. Winning always makes me feel better and I’ll take it, especially only a few days before Christmas.

That all said, it would be very foolish and potentially dangerous for team management to read too much into this one game. It was an ugly game between two teams that, at times, looked more interested in handing the game to their opponent. A patchwork New York offensive line down to its last backups was clearly overmatched, especially in the second half when the Giants did not pick up their first 1st down of the half until there were three minutes left in the fourth quarter. The defensive score that tied the game was not a great play by the defense but a terrible play by the Detroit offense. Nevertheless, in the end, an undermanned Giants’ team with very little to play for finally showed some toughness and resiliency and came away with a gutty win in overtime.

Offensive Overview: It was a tale of two halves for the Giants. Recognizing that it would be extremely difficult for a patchwork offensive line to generate any kind of consistent yardage on the ground against a very physical and talented Lions’ defensive front, Giants came out throwing. Twenty-one of New York’s 30 first-half offensive plays were pass plays. This was the correct strategy as demonstrated by the fact that New York only had one solid rushing play in the first half: an 11-yard carry by Andre Brown. New York’s other eight carries only picked up six yards. The coaches also did a nice job with the play-calling. In last week’s game review, I mentioned how a moving pocket wasn’t really something Eli Manning was comfortable with, but it worked this week as the coaches tried to keep Detroit’s rushers off balance. There was an emphasis on three-step drops, and a throw-back screen caught the Lions off guard.

“We tried to do a bunch of rollouts,” said Manning. “We did a number of those early on to try and move the pocket and obviously so that defensive line can’t be in sprinter’s stance and rush up the field. We tried to slow them down a bit and so I thought we had a couple first downs…It worked out well for us moving the pocket early on and made some big plays.”

“We just kept it simple with quick-hitters,” said Myers.

The Giants had the ball four times in the first half, and three of those drives resulted in points. Almost as important, the Giants held the football for more than five minutes on two of those drives, not only keeping Detroit’s potentially explosive offense off of the field, but giving the defense a rest. The Giants’ first drive was 15 plays; the third drive was nine plays. By intermission, the Giants had accrued 10 first downs, were 5-of-8 (63 percent) on third down, had no turnovers, and only punted once en route to a 13-3 halftime advantage.

In the second half, that all changed as the play-calling appeared less creative and the Detroit defensive line began to wear more and more on the New York offensive line. On New York’s first five possessions of the second half, the Giants failed to pick up one first down. Worse, they gave up safety. The defense kept the Giants in the game and tied the score. Eli Manning and the Giants had a chance to win the game late in regulation, but bad Eli appeared in the form of a terrible interception at the Lions’ 25-yard line with 23 seconds left.

In overtime, after an excellent kickoff return by RB Michael Cox and a 15-yard pass to TE Brandon Myers, the Giants looked poised to score until Brown fumbled the ball away. The defense held and Manning and his receivers came up big in the end. First there was a 26-yard pass from Manning to WR Rueben Randle on 3rd-and-9. After a holding penalty put the Giants in a 2nd-and-20 situation, Manning completed passes of seven yards to Myers and six yards to Randle. On 4th-and-7 from the Detroit 42-yard line, the Manning found WR Jerrel Jernigan for 15 yards, setting up the game-winning field goal.

Quarterback: It was a mixed bag for Eli Manning, who finished the game 23-of-42 for 256 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception. Absent any ground game whatsoever and behind a shaky offensive line, the Giants had no other option but to throw the football against a defense that knew it. And Manning was forced to do some things he is normally not comfortable in doing such as throwing out of a moving pocket and he did it with decent success. Eli threw the ball 10 times on New York’s first 14 plays, completing five of those passes including key passes on 3rd-and-4, 3rd-and-10, and 3rd-and-10. But he badly overshot Randle on one deep throw and missed a wide open Hakeem Nicks on 2nd-and-8 for what should have been a 23-yard touchdown. The Giants were forced to settle for a field goal.

On New York’s third possession, Eli completed 4-of-5 passes with no support from the ground game (four rushes for two yards). This included a key 14-yard throwback screen to Brown on 3rd-and-13, a 6-yard pass to Randle on 3rd-and-5, and a 20-yard strike to Jernigan for a touchdown on 1st-and-15. The latter pass was Eli’s best of the game. My biggest problem with Eli on this drive was yet another delay-of-game penalty which wiped out a TD throw to Jernigan (thankfully the two connected on the very next snap for a TD). Manning can’t allow that to happen. The Giants got the ball one more time in the first half. Despite a 9-yard sack, Manning got the Giants into position for a successful 52-yard field goal with a 16-yard pass to Nicks and an 11-yard pass to Jernigan.

The third quarter was a disaster for New York. On 3rd-and-4, the Eli took a deep shot to Randle but Randle could only get one hand on the ball (a shorter, higher percentage throw would have been a better option in this situation). On the second series, after a 7-yard pass to Bear Pascoe and a no-gain run by Brown, there was miscommunication between Manning and Jernigan on a 3rd-and-3 throw down the field. Again, a shorter pass would have been wiser. Why did the Giants move away from the quick passing game? On the third series, the Giants lost three yards on two Brown runs. Facing 3rd-and-13, Eli was swarmed under for a safety. The Lions took a 20-13 lead on the ensuing drive after the safety.

In the fourth quarter, the offensive woes continued. After a 5-yard pass, a fumbled handoff and an illegal substitution penalty put the Giants in a 3rd-and-14 situation. A short completion to Jernigan and a punt. The Giants went three-and-out for the fifth time in five second-half possessions as Eli threw deep to a well-covered Nicks. Again, why get away from the quick hitters and moving pocket? Then came the predictable shotgun run on 2nd-and-10. On 3rd-and-8, Eli was under heavy pressure and threw wildly incomplete.

After the defensive score, the Giants’ offense finally showed some signs of life. Brown gained six yards and Eli audibled to a nifty touch pass to Myers that picked up 25 yards and the Giants’ first 1st down of the second half. Nicks dropped a well-thrown pass by Manning. A deep throw to Jernigan fell incomplete. (Deep again!) On 3rd-and-10, Manning was under heavy pressure again and threw too high in the direction of Randle. Punt.

Manning’s worst throw of the day came with 28 seconds left at the Detroit 49-yard line. Eli thought the Detroit defense had jumped and badly overthrew an open Jernigan on a play that might have put the Giants in game-winning field goal position at the end of regulation. The pass was intercepted.

But to Eli’s credit, he kept his composure in overtime even after another turnover (a fumble by Brown). On the game-winning drive, Eli’s 26-yard pass on 3rd-and-9 was huge, as was his 15-yard pass to Jernigan on 4th-and-7 despite heavy pressure. It’s important to note that Eli and his receivers overcame a 2nd-and-20 on this possession.

Wide Receivers: Jerrel Jernigan was targeted 12 times and caught six passes for 80 yards and a touchdown. Four of his catches were critical: his superb 12-yard sideline reception on 3rd-and-10 on the first field-goal drive, his 18-yard reception on 3rd-and-10 on the same drive, his 20-yard touchdown reception in heavy traffic and contact, and his sliding 15-yard reception in overtime that set up the game-winning field goal. Rueben Randle caught 4-of-9 passes in his direction for 40 yards, none bigger than his 26-yard reception on 3rd-and-9 in overtime. He also had a key 6-yard reception on 3rd-and-5 before Jernigan’s touchdown. That said, Randle wasn’t able to make a play on a well-thrown deep ball by Manning. He also didn’t look very quick or instinctive with the ball in his hands on a short WR screen that should have probably picked up more yards. Hakeem Nicks caught 4-of-7 targets for 52 yards. He had a 15-yarder to start the game on the opening field-goal drive, a 12-yarder on the touchdown drive, and a 16-yarder on the field-goal drive right before the half. He wasn’t much of a factor in the second half. Eli did miss him on what should have been a 23-yard TD early in the game, but Nicks also dropped a critical pass late in the 4th quarter that might have helped to end the game early. Louis Murphy, who was in for just five snaps, caught both 5-yard passes thrown in his direction, one being on 3rd-and-4 on the first field-goal drive.

Running Backs: Andre Brown (16 carries for 40 yards) and Michael Cox (2 carries for 1 yard) didn’t have a chance behind that offensive line. Brown’s biggest play was his 14-yard reception on a throw-back screen on 3rd-and-13 on the Giants’ lone offensive touchdown drive. Brown fumbled a handoff from Manning in the third quarter, and Brown’s fumble in overtime ended a promising possession and could have cost the Giants the game. He was apparently concussed on the play – another injury for a guy who can’t seem to stay healthy.

Tight Ends: Brandon Myers’ continues to be a liability blocking. He was flagged for holding too. He did catch 4-of-7 passes thrown in his direction for 53 yards. Bear Pascoe played 24 snaps and caught 1-of-2 passes thrown in his direction for seven yards. Adrien Robinson was activated for his first game and suffered a knee sprain on the opening kickoff and did not return. Larry Donnell only played on special teams.

Offensive Line: It’s important for readers to understand that even veteran players who have not practiced together for a long time as one unit will often struggle because of the lack of chemistry and cohesion between the independent parts. An offensive line must function as one to succeed, and this is particularly obvious in run blocking, and in pass protection when the opposing defense blitzes and stunts. So it was absolutely no surprise whatsoever that Will Beatty, James Brewer, Kevin Boothe, Brandon Mosley, and Justin Pugh struggled, especially when you consider that three of these five players are green and Mosley was lost on the opening possession with a broken right hand. On top of that, the Lions have perhaps the most talented DT combination in football.

The line – as in-cohesive as it currently is – had no chance to run block against Detroit’s defensive front, and it showed. To the coaches’ credit, they didn’t try that much in the first half, calling only nine running plays. But it is extremely difficult to consistently move the ball and generate points when you are one-dimensional, and the inability to run the football finally caught up to the Giants in the second half. Andre Brown and Michael Cox only gained 41 yards on 18 carries (2.3 yards per carry).

The lack of ground game also started to impact the pass protection. The Giants were able to keep Detroit’s pass rush off balance in the first half with the play-calling but in the second half, Eli was under more and more duress. Stunts by the Lions gave the Giants fits. Eli was sacked twice and officially hit five other times, but he was often forced to scramble away from pressure, both real and anticipated/imagined.

I give the Giants up front credit for scrapping by, doing just enough to win, but Detroit did dominate the line of scrimmage. Brandon Mosley played surprisingly well on the first drive until forced to leave the game. His replacement Dallas Reynolds struggled at times both as a run and pass blocker, particularly in pass protection as the game wore on. James Brewer was pretty steady in pass protection, especially considering the level of competition.

Will Beatty continues to alternate good games with bad. Beatty, who seemed to be bull-rushed too easily on a few plays that did not result in sacks, gave up one sack late in the first half. But to be fair, media and fans blame him for the second sack that resulted in a safety completely missed the fact that the defensive end illegally hooked Beatty on a stunt, preventing him from engaging with the looping tackle. There was no way for Beatty to make that block. Beatty was flagged with a holding penalty in overtime on the game-winning drive. That could have been a killer.

Defensive Overview: Coming into this game, one would have expected the Giants to do better against the run than the pass, but the opposite actually occurred. Part of that was due to the game plan as the Giants exclusively with a three safety package (Antrel Rolle, Will Hill, and Ryan Mundy) again. Part of it had to do with some outstanding physical running by Joique Bell who carried the ball 20 times for 91 yards and one touchdown, and also caught 10 passes for 63 yards. Indeed, Bell was the best player on the field for Detroit on Sunday. The more serious perceived threat – Reggie Bush – was held to 34 yards on 12 carries.

The Giants largely shutdown the Detroit passing game, holding Matthew Stafford to 25-of-42 for just 222 yards, 0 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. Stafford’s quarterback rating was 53.9 for the game.

The Giants gave up one long drive in the first half that ended with a field goal. Detroit’s first touchdown came on a short field (drive started at NYG 30-yard line). The biggest defensive letdown came after the safety as Detroit drove 63 yards in 9 plays for the go-ahead touchdown and 2-point conversion. But the Lions’ last five drives of the fourth quarter and overtime ended with four punts and an interception that was returned four a touchdown. In the previous couple of years, I’ve complained about the inability of Perry Fewell’s defense to hold in clutch situations. His unit did that and more on Sunday with its play in the fourth quarter and overtime.

Defensive Line: The big negative for the defense of course was the 148 yards surrendered on the ground, 133 by the running backs. Ironically, the Giant struggled much more with Joique Bell than Reggie Bush. The standout up front was Mathias Kiwanuka, who led the line with 6 tackles, 2 sacks, and 5 quarterback hits. He also broke up a screen pass and forced a fumble. DE Justin Tuck made an amazing interception to halt a Lions’ threat at the end of the first half and set up the Giants’ 52-yard field goal. None of the other defensive linemen really stood out.

Kiwanuka saw most of the defensive snaps (94 percent) followed by Tuck (85 percent), DT Cullen Jenkins (76 percent), DT Linval Joseph (64 percent), DT Mike Patterson (26 percent), DT Johnathan Hankins (25 percent), and DE Damontre Moore (19 percent). Tuck deserves credit for clearly playing in a lot of discomfort with a stinger and foot injury. Many other veteran players would have tapped out in a relatively meaningless game. Patterson was flagged with an illegal hands-to-the-face penalty.

Linebackers: The Giants went with the three-safety package for the entire game, limiting the snaps of the linebacker. Jon Beason played the entire game and was credited with a team-high 11 tackles. Spencer Paysinger saw 60 percent of the snaps and finished with four tackles. Jacquian Williams got 44 snaps and was credited with 5 tackles, including one for a loss. No other linebacker, including Keith Rivers, played.

Despite the tackle numbers, this was not Beason’s best game. He got handled at the point-of-attack a few times on running plays. And Beason continues to have some issues in coverage. He missed one tackle after a short pass. On the Lions’ first TD drive, on 3rd-and-7, Beason was badly beaten by RB Joique Bell for 14 yards. He was beaten by the TE on the 2-point conversion after the second TD. In overtime, on a play where he fell down, he was very fortunate that the tight end he was supposed to cover dropped the ball on what should have been a big play.

Defensive Backs: Outstanding game by the defensive backs except for the dropped interceptions: two by CB Trumaine McBride and one by CB Prince Amukamara. All-World WR Calvin Johnson was obviously hurting, but Amukamara, for the first time in his pro career, was called upon to follow one single opponent no matter where he lined up. And Johnson was held to a harmless three catches for 43 yards by Amukamara. Detroit receivers only caught 9-of-17 passes thrown in their direction for 98 yards an no touchdowns. Jayron Hosley (3 snaps) and Terrell Thomas (1 snap) barely played.

Safeties Ryan Mundy, Will Hill, and Antrel Rolle played every defensive snap – all 85 plays. Mundy finished with 10 tackles, Hill with 9 tackles, and Rolle with 6 tackles and a fumble recovery. Hill changed the game completely around with his interception and 38-yard return for a touchdown off of a deflected pass. He also flashed with his range and open-field tackling. Mundy made a huge play stuffing the powerful Bell for no gain on 3rd-and-1 late in the fourth quarter.

Special Teams: A mixed bag. DE Damontre Moore jumped offsides on a 4th-and-1 punt, giving the Lions a first down. While the long-snapper may have moved, Moore can’t take that type of chance in such a situation. The Giants also gave up a 50-yard punt return in the third quarter that set up the Lions on the NYG 30-yard line. Eight plays later, the Lions scored their first touchdown, cutting the Giants’ lead to 13-10. Other than that play, CB Charles James stood out as a gunner, forcing fair catches.

Josh Brown had a superb game, kicking field goals of 42, 52, and 45 yards. Two of his six kickoffs went for touchbacks. Kickoff coverage was excellent, holding Detroit’s primary kickoff returner to 51 yards on three kickoffs (17 yard average) with Will Hill, Marcus Dowtin, and Antrel Rolle making tackles.

Steve Weatherford averaged 46.5 yards (38.2 net) on six punts.

RB Michael Cox’s 56-yard kickoff return to begin the overtime period did not lead to points, but it importantly flipped field position, all the more important when you consider that Andre Brown fumbled two plays later.

(Boxscore – New York Giants at Detroit Lions, December 22, 2013)
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Eli Manning, Kevin Gilbride, New York Giants (December 15, 2013)

Eli Manning and Kevin Gilbride – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Seattle Seahawks 23 – New York Giants 0

Game Overview: Most of us did not expect the Giants to win this game. Seattle is clearly the better team, perhaps the best in the NFL. An 11-2 team coming off of a loss, playing at the site of this year’s Super Bowl, and still fighting for playoff positioning, the Seahawks had something meaningful to play for. Pride, self-respect, and job security were the Giants’ only real motivation.

But we see over-matched teams put up a strong fight on a weekly basis in the NFL. And the Giants’ coaches and players correctly approached this game as a measuring stick against the class team in the NFC. In a way, this was New York’s last best chance to make a statement in an otherwise dismal 2013 season. Sadly, but fittingly, the only statement the Giants made was how poor a team they have become.

The Giants’ defense and special teams units did come to play. The offense did not. Indeed, the story of this game was New York’s offensive impotence. Impotence is a harsh word. By definition, it means lacking physical strength, vigor, and power. It implies being weak or helpless. But there is a deeper, darker connotation given the word’s association with the male anatomy, suggesting a lack of manliness.

The Giants did not lose this game because of coaching. They lost it because – man for man – the Seahawk defenders were better than the Giant offensive players. That is difficult for many fans to accept, but it the simple truth. No amount of coaching can overcome a situation where you can’t block your opponent, you can’t run the football, you can’t break loose of coverage, and your quarterback is inaccurate and reckless with the football. More than that, super-talented, tough, and physical defensive teams challenge the manhood of their opponents. They’ll kick sand in your face and laugh so you had better come prepared to fight and get your hands bloody. The offensive line, tight ends, running backs, wide receivers, and quarterback did not. They sadly accepted their beating and went home humiliated.

Offensive Overview: The Giants were in deep trouble as soon as it was clear they could not run the football. Seattle made New York completely one dimensional, holding the Giants to a paltry 25 yards rushing and a 1.8 yards per rush average. It is the goal of every team to make its opponent one-dimensional, but that especially plays into the hands of the Seahawks who have the NFL’s #1 pass defense. Seattle can rush the passer and their back seven is quick, fast, physical, aggressive, and supremely confidant in coverage. With no running game, the only chance the Giants had at generating points is if Eli Manning and his receivers played at an elite level. As has been the case all season, they did not.

The results were atrocious. By halftime, the Giants had only gained 15 yards rushing, 39 yards passing, and two first downs. Manning had thrown three interceptions and had a 22.4 quarterback rating. The Giants did not even cross mid-field until midway through the fourth quarter. With Manning in the game, New York had 13 offensive possessions. Eight ended with punts, five with interceptions. If the game had been twice as long, eight full quarters, the Giants probably still would not have scored.

In re-watching the game, what stood out to me was this: Seattle was not only stouter and more physical at the point of attack, but their overall athleticism was superior. The Seahawk defenders were quicker and faster. The lack of speed and overall athleticism on the Giants’ offense was obvious.

Quarterback: This was perhaps Eli’s worst game in his worst season. Yes, Eli had no running game. Yes, his pass protection was terrible. Yes, his receivers had problems getting open and were too often out-fought for the football, but all five of Eli’s interceptions were poor throws. Two sideline throws should have been more to the outside, the Hail Mary was short of the end zone, a crossing route was thrown behind the receiver, and his last end zone throw was well short of the back pylon. Eli’s mechanics are terrible and he is playing with very little confidence. The Giants had no chance to win this game with him playing like crap. Sometimes the elite, high-paid quarterback has to carry his team. Eli doesn’t do that anymore. Continually challenging CB Richard Sherman also didn’t seem to be a very smart move.

In Eli’s defense, no one on offense helped him out. Not his blockers, not his receivers, not his running backs. It’s hard for one man to beat the NFL’s best defense all by himself.

Wide Receivers: Based on their statements after the game, the coaches and quarterback were clearly annoyed that the receivers did not fight harder for the football and it is hard to argue with them. While the throws were inaccurate, incompletions instead of interceptions may have been the result, had the receivers been able to compete a little harder for the football. At the half, Eli had thrown eight passes to Cruz, Nicks, and Randle. The results? Two completions for 21 yards, a dropped pass by Cruz, and three interceptions. Cruz was knocked out of the game early in the third quarter. Nicks was shut out in the second half and Randle was shut out for the game. The only receiver who did anything was Jerrel Jernigan who had seven catches for 67 yards, all in the second half. He did have one drop, but he also made a heck of a play by staying on his feet after S Kam Chancellor almost beheaded him.

Running Backs: With Seattle completely controlling the line of scrimmage, the Giants’ running game had no chance. Andre Brown was held to an embarrassing 17 yards on 11 carries (1.5 yards per carry). Peyton Hillis, who was forced to leave the game with a concussion, ran the ball three times for eight yards. The Giants’ backs were not a factor in the passing game either. Brown caught four of five passes thrown in his direction for a grand total of nine yards. Hillis caught two passes for 24 yards. Brown failed in blitz protection on two plays where Eli was sacked. Hillis looked like one of the few offensive players willing to put up a fight.

Tight Ends: Brandon Myers continues to see the bulk of the snaps (78 percent) with Bear Pascoe (16 percent), and Larry Donnell (11 percent) pulling up the rear. Run blocking was obviously an issue. Myers did pick up three first downs with three catches for 37 yards. Pascoe was held short of a the first down marker with a 2-yard catch on 3rd-and-3. He had another catch for 10 yards against CB Richard Sherman.

Offensive Line: Just a shit show. An offensive line is truly the sum of its parts. Individual excellence can easily be erased if there are breakdowns by others, including the tight ends, fullback, and even wide receivers blocking on the edge. But there was no individual or group excellence on this day as the Giants’ got their asses kicked all across the board. Seattle absolutely dominated the line of scrimmage. New York was held to 25 yards rushing. Pass protection was very shaky. Eli was constantly under pressure. The coaches tried to adjust with a moving pocket times in order to keep Eli upright, but Eli doesn’t excel in this type of situation. Shorter passes didn’t work either as Seattle quickly closed on the slow running backs and tight ends.

The tone was set from the very first offensive series. DT Red Bryant blew by Kevin Boothe and was immediately in Eli’s face causing an incompletion. On 2nd-and-10, Boothe was shoved back into the backfield on a run that picked up no yards. Then on 3rd-and-10, Eli was swarmed under by three Seahawk defenders for an 8-yard sack.

Like the first half, the tone was set on the first drive of the second half, Boothe was abused by DT Brandon Mebane on a 4-yard loss for Brown. James Brewer missed his trap block on a Brown run that picked up no yards. And then Justin Pugh was beat for a strip sack. By game’s end, Eli had been sacked three times (and Curtis Painter a fourth time) with seven official hits. But the pressure was greater than those numbers indicate. James Brewer was flagged with holding and forced to leave the game with an ankle injury. His replacement, Brandon Mosley, was flagged with a 15-yard face mask penalty. Justin Pugh probably had his worst game, both run and pass blocking. David Diehl looked overmatched, struggling with both power and quickness. Kevin Boothe played terribly, as Bryant and Mebane had their way with him. The best of the bunch was Will Beatty.

Defensive Overview: I am proud of the way the Giants’ defense played. Given no respite by the Giants’ offense and continually placed in difficult field position situations, the defense kept the Giants in this game longer than they should have been. Despite the fact that New York only had 54 yards and two first downs at half, Seattle only led 13-0 at intermission. And Seattle only managed an additional field goal in the third quarter until really putting the game away in the fourth with their second touchdown of the game.

The 23 points given up are even more impressive when you consider the fact that the Seahawks started their five scoring drives from the New York 42, Seattle 38, Seattle 34, New York 45, and New York 16.

RB Marshawn Lynch was held to 47 yards on 16 carries (2.9 yards per carry). QB Russell Wilson only passed for 206 yards and he was sacked four times and picked off once. If it were not for Wilson’s elusiveness as scrambler and thrower, Seattle’s offense really would have struggled. But Wilson made a number of amazing plays to get away from Giants’ pressure.

Defensive Line: A strong game up front, particularly from DE Justin Tuck (6 tackles, 0.5 sacks), DT Linval Joseph (5 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss, 1 sack), and DT Cullen Jenkins (3 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss, 2 quarterback hits, 0.5 sacks). Tuck was more of a factor on the pass rush than his numbers would indicate though he did get embarrassed by a stiff arm from the QB on a run that picked up 16 yards. DE Mathias Kiwanuka was credited with 4 tackles (two for losses) and a quarterback hit. Johnathan Hankins (3 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss) saw more snaps that Mike Patterson. Damontre Moore (2 tackles) received 19 snaps and DT Marcus Kuhn (1 tackle) 10 snaps.

Linebackers: Jon Beason (93 percent of the snaps) and Spencer Paysinger (71 percent of the snaps) saw the bulk of the action as Jacquian Williams (25 percent), Keith Rivers (22 percent), and Mark Herzlich (12 percent) were relegated to lesser roles. Paysinger was the Giants’ leading tackler with eight; Beason finished with seven. Beason had a number of big hits on the physical Lynch, but he also missed a tackle on a 30-yard pick-up by Lynch after a short pass completion. Williams did cause one incompletion by coming free on a blitz. I thought Spencer Paysinger played well.

Defensive Backs: Prince Amukamara, Antrel Rolle, Will Hill, Trumaine McBride, and Ryan Mundy saw the bulk of the action. Interestingly, Mundy was used heavily for the first time in weeks and had a strong game with 6 tackles, 2 tackles for a loss, and 1 sack. Rolle is having his best season as a Giant and picked off his sixth pass of the season. Rolle’s forceful open-field tackles made a difference in the game. In my mind, he’s been the MVP of the team this season. Will Hill had 6 tackles. Terrell Thomas only was in the game for 19 snaps. McBride was the weak link as Seattle successfully targeted him a number of times. McBride was beaten for what should have been a 29-yard touchdown had not WR Golden Tate stepped out of bounds. In the second half, he gave up a couple of easy completions on a field goal drive and was beaten for a TD on 3rd-and-goal from the 12.

Special Teams: The Seahawks have outstanding special teams and while the Giants did not “win” the special teams battle, they did hold their own. Steve Weatherford punted eight times, averaging 47.5 yards per punt (38.4 net). Seattle’s seven punt returns went for 73 yards. That would have been better had the Giants not given up one good return for 22 yards. Seattle had no kickoff return yards as Josh Brown’s lone kickoff was a touchback.

Seattle has been exceptional covering punts all season and Rueben Randle only had once chance that he returned for four yards. Jerrel Jernigan had three chances to return kickoffs and averaged 24.7 yards per return. He had a chance to break a longer return on a 31-yard effort that was exceptionally well blocked by the Giants.

(Boxscore – Seattle Seahawks at New York Giants, December 15, 2013)
Dec 182013
 
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New York Giants Super Bowl Trophies (June 14, 2012)

New York Giants Super Bowl Trophies – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Detroit Lions, December 22, 2013: With the season already over, I will use next week’s game preview to focus on burning roster questions moving forward. But I’d like to use this game preview as an opportunity to look back.

For over a thousand years Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of triumph, a tumultuous parade. In the procession came trumpeteers, musicians and strange animals from conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments. The conquerors rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. Sometimes his children robed in white stood with him in the chariot or rode the trace horses. A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning: That all glory is fleeting.  – General  George C. Patton

The New York Giants have won eight NFL titles. The only teams that have won more are the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears. In terms of Super Bowls, only three teams have won more than the Giants’ four Lombardi trophies: Pittsburgh Steelers, San Francisco 49ers, and Dallas Cowboys. What fans should take away from this is the NFL Championship is a rare and special commodity. Some fans never live to enjoy one, let alone two (if you are a young fan of the Giants), four (if you are older), or more (if you are really old – sorry guys and gals).

For a championship season to take place, there has to be talent, coaching, incredible execution, chemistry, health, and indeed some luck. Each NFL season is fragile and easily broken. So much can – and usually will – go wrong. That’s why it is so special when your team does win it all.

In two magical post-season runs in 2007 and 2011, the New York Giants went 8-0, each time defeating the NFC’s #1 and #2 seeds on the road, and then defeating the AFC’s #1 seed in the Super Bowl. The Dallas Cowboys were supposed to crush the Giants in 2007. The Green Bay Packers were supposed to do likewise in 2007 and 2011. The Giants were supposed to be an asterisk in Patriots’ perfect season as the greatest team ever in football. And Bill Belichick and  Tom Brady were expected by many to get their revenge in the Super Bowl four years later.

So many memories. So much glory. R.W. McQuarters picking off Tony Romo…the look on Jerry Jones’ face…Eli Manning out-dueling Brett Favre at Lambeau…Corey Webster with the pick….Lawrence Tynes with the kick…Justin Tuck & Company knocking the snot out of Tom Brady in Super Bowl XLII…Manning’s two fourth-quarter touchdown drives…Manning to Tyree and then Burress…Manning out-dueling Aaron Rodgers…the war of attrition in San Francisco ending in OT…the re-match in Super Bowl XLVI…Manning to Manningham…Brady’s last desperate heave falling harmlessly to the ground.

Two of the Giants eight NFL Championships and half of their Super Bowl victories have come with Tom Coughlin the head coach; Kevin Gilbride the offensive coordinator; Eli Manning the quarterback; Justin Tuck, Chris Snee, and David Diehl on the lines; and Corey Webster and Aaron Ross in the secondary. Others were only there for the second go-around, but were equally instrumental in that magical and unexpected run.

These men deserve our gratitude. More importantly, they deserve our respect. For if it were not for them, the Giants would still be stuck at six NFL Championships, and we’d be approaching a quarter of a century since the Championship run in 1990. If you can’t thank and root for the men, who were you rooting for? Just the blue uniform? Just the “ny” trademark on the side of the helmet?

Charlie Conerly, Frank Gifford, Kyle Rote, Andy Robustelli, Sam Huff, Em Tunnell, and others became New York Giant legends for what they accomplished in 1956.

Bill Parcells, Phil Simms, Joe Morris, Mark Bavaro, Leonard Marshall, Lawrence Taylor, Harry Carson, and others became New York Giant legends for what they accomplished in 1986.

Tom Coughlin, Eli Manning, Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw, Plaxico Burress, Amani Toomer, Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, Antonio Pierce, and others will become New York Giant legends for what they accomplished in 2007 and/or 2011.

Keep that in mind during this dark time. Don’t tarnish past glory. Glory is indeed fleeting. It does not last. But the memory of it can live forever.

Whatever happens during the course of the next few months, I personally would like to thank Coach Coughlin, Coach Gilbride, Eli Manning, Justin Tuck, and the others for every cherished memory. You’ve made my life happier for what you did on the playing fields. Thank you.

Dec 132013
 
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Justin Tuck, Tom Coughlin, Eli Manning, New York Giants (February 7, 2012)

Justin Tuck, Tom Coughlin, and Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Approach to the Game – Seattle Seahawks at New York Giants, December 15, 2013: When I was on my weekly Thursday bit for Giants.com’s Big Blue Kickoff Live show, co-host Paul Dottino asked me what Giants fans were talking about in terms of this week’s match-up with the Seattle Seahawks. My answer was that Giants fans were not talking about the game, they are already assuming defeat and are more focused already on what this team needs to do in order to rebound in 2014. I don’t think I’ve seen one discussion this week in The Corner Forum on the game, which is very telling and kind of sad. But that’s what happens when your team is 5-8 and already out of the playoff picture with three games (almost 1/5 of the season) left to play.

The reasons for the Giants’ demise have largely been discussed and speculated upon by fans: the “elite” players on the team not playing well, the poor performance of the offensive line, the lack of a pass rush, injuries, instability at running back, horrific special teams, turnovers, etc. Many have argued that the current coaching staff is the issue and that Coach Coughlin’s message has grown stale. There is definitely truth in some, and perhaps all, of these points.

But the heart of the problem may simply be this: the run is over. The core group who won two NFL titles is largely gone or fading fast. That talent and leadership has eroded. Up front, Seubert, O’Hara, and McKenize are gone. Snee and Diehl are next. Bradshaw, Burress, Toomer, Smith, Boss, Ballard, Manningham, Strahan, Umenyiora, Robbins, Cofield, Canty, Pierce, Boley, Blackburn, Madison, McQuarters, Phillips, Grant and other were all key contributors to one or both of those championship teams. Others such as Jacobs, Tuck, Webster, and Ross are nearing the end. In a league set up to ensure parity through the salary cap and free agency, the Giants have suffered with a quarterback that is taking up 1/6 of their cap space, poor drafting, and questionable free agent/salary cap decisions.

Two NFL titles in five years is quite a feat. Most teams can only dream of accomplishing something like that. But it’s time to re-load and attempt to build up another championship core. That can’t be done in one offseason. The gigantic question facing this franchise is should the attempt be made with Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin? Both are two-time NFL champions and possibly future Hall of Famers. But will they be too old by the time the Giants hopefully turn this around again in two or three years?

27 Giants on the current 53-man roster and injured reserve will see their contracts expire shortly. Others may be making too much money to bring back. This roster is about to undergo a massive overhaul, even by today’s standards.

As for the Giants-Seahawks game itself, this contest is a mere road bump for Seattle. That’s not me taking a mean-spirited knock at the Giants, but the the 11-2 Seahawks have bigger fish to fry. They are a legitimate Super Bowl contender, coming off of loss to a hated divisional rival, looking to lock up the NFC West, and preparing for a championship run. And in their heads, because this game will be played at the site of Super Bowl XLVIII, this contest will take on special meaning as a dress rehearsal. The Giants coaches and players can talk about pride and respect, but focus and emotion will all be with Seattle. And more importantly, so will the talent. Seattle is arguably the best and most complete team in football. Across the board, the Seahawks simply have better players than the Giants. The Giants’ offense has struggled all season against some of the worst pass defenses in the NFL. Now they will be facing the league’s #1 pass defense. At best, the game will be close for a while, but talent and motivation will win out.

I suggest Giants’ fans look at this game as they would a preseason game. Who on this field do you want to be a part of the answer in 2014? Who will be playing with intelligence and passion? Who executes the best? Who is a good football player? Who deserves the honor of wearing a New York Giants uniform?

Dec 102013
 
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Keenan Allen, San Diego Chargers (December 8, 2013)

Keenan Allen Beats Terrell Thomas for a TD – © USA TODAY Sports Images

San Diego Chargers 37 – New York Giants 14

Game Overview: The game was over by halftime. The game was also too reminiscent of the 2012 blowout losses to the Bengals, Falcons, and Ravens, and this year’s blowout loss to the Carolina Panthers. To lose is one thing. But to lose this badly, to another 5-7 team, with your playoff hopes (though fleeting) still alive, is disgusting.

Something is wrong. This goes beyond X’s and O’s and the players on the field. The Giants may not be a good team anymore, but they should not be getting their asses kicked like this. Not with the skill position players this team has on offense and not with this defense.

The 2007 and 2011 Giants, with most of the same coaches and many of the same key players, were two of the most mentally-tough and resilient teams I’ve every seen in sports. The source of that toughness and resiliency must be attributed to Tom Coughlin. But the 2012 Giants were not tough or resilient and neither is the 2013 edition. Too often over the course of the last two seasons, quite frankly, this team has not been prepared to play a competitive football game. That’s on the coach. It’s part of the job description.

Quarterback: Yet another poor performance by the passing game. At the half, Manning was 9-of-15 for 148 yards and one interception. Take away the Hail Mary and Manning was 8-of-14 for 105 yards. This against the NFL’s 28th pass defense. The most disturbing element of the Giants’ offensive woes is that they have come against some of the NFL’s worst pass defenses. The Giants continue to average only one TD pass per game. There were two more interceptions in this game, raising Eli Manning’s total to 20. And another delay-of-game penalty. The most important statistic? Points. Zero first-half points, 14 at game’s end.

To be fair to Manning, some of the first-half failures were not on him. On the 3rd-and-2 incomplete pass on the opening drive, TE Brandon Myers should have worked back to quarterback. An easy completion would have been the result. After Manning hit WR Hakeem Nicks for a 51-yard pass play on the second drive, Manning threw slightly behind WR Rueben Randle. The pass bounced off of the defender’s face mask and was intercepted. On the third drive, a 4-yard pass to RB Andre Brown should have picked up more yards, but Brown fell down. On the next play, on 2nd-and-6, LG James Brewer misses a block, and the Giants are in 3rd-and-11. Five-yard completion to Myers, punt. On the fourth drive, Manning did under throw Louis Murphy on a fly route and he slightly threw behind Nicks on 3rd-and-11. The next first-half drive ended with a Brown fumble.

In the second half, Manning found Victor Cruz for five yards on 4th-and-2 on the Giants’ first touchdown drive. On the second TD drive, Eli made a nice play by stepping up into the pocket away from a free blitzer to hit Randle for 18 yards on 3rd-and-4. Manning’s 3rd-and-6 pass was almost intercepted in the end zone, however, as he was bailed out by an illegal contact penalty. Two plays later, he made a heck of a throw, threading the needle to Myers for a touchdown. What probably sticks out most to fans is how the game ended. On the second-to-last drive, down 34-14 with 6:40 to play, and with pressure bearing down on him, Eli’s pass to Cruz should have been intercepted. Then with 2:00 left to play, down 37-14, either miscommunication with Louis Murphy or a poor pass led to an easy interception.

Running Backs: Andre Brown continues to run tough, but at the half, with Brown receiving all of the rushing touches, the Giants had “amassed” only 24 yards on eight carries (3.0 yards per carry). Worse, Brown’s fumble at the Giants’ 39-yard left with 2:35 left before halftime set up the Chargers’ third touchdown of the first half, and essentially sealed the game. The 68 yards gained by Brown and Peyton Hillis in the second half were irrelevant because the defense could not make a stand.

Wide Receivers: Hakeem Nicks (5 catches for 135 yards but 43 of those coming on a harmless Hail Mary) still has not caught a touchdown pass since Week 14 of the 2012 season. Victor Cruz (5 catches for 42 yards) still has not caught a touchdown pass since Week 4. These are the Giants’ two starting wide receivers! Rueben Randle hasn’t caught more than three passes in a game since Week 5. In an NFL where a 4,000-yard passing season is no longer unusual, these facts boggle the mind. Louis Murphy saw the most action he has all season (13 snaps), was thrown at twice, but had no catches, and one led to an interception where one wonders if he was on the wrong page with Eli again. Jerrel Jernigan did not play on offense.

Shaun O’Hara talks about how Randle should have run a crisper route on Eli’s first interception at Giants.com.

What’s becoming more clear to me is this: teams are doubling Victor Cruz, and Hakeem Nicks and Rueben Randle are not getting open against single coverage. Too often against the Chargers, replays showed that Eli didn’t have anyone obviously open down the field. Every throw appeared to be contested.

Tight Ends: With the receivers being shutout in the touchdown department, Brandon Myers has been the beneficiary in recent weeks, catching his third touchdown pass in the last three games. But he was held to a pedestrian 26 yards on four catches. Bear Pascoe had 13 snaps, and caught one pass for 14 yards. Larry Donnell saw two offensive snaps. Adrien Robinson still has not played this season.

Offensive Line: The offensive line could only help to generate 24 first-half rushing yards against the NFL’s 22nd-ranked rushing defense. Pass protection was actually pretty good in the first half, although LG James Brewer allowed one big hit that caused an incompletion. Three plays later, Brewer whiffed on a run block that led to a 5-yard loss and helped to stall a drive. David Diehl gave up a second-half sack on a drive that fortunately ended with a touchdown. On the second-to-last drive, on 4th-and-5, both LT Will Beatty and Brewer were beaten on a sack. (Beatty was flagged for a false start earlier on this drive).

If you didn’t see the game and just read the fan reviews, you would come away with the impression that Brewer was terrible from start to finish. That is not true. He had one very bad series in the first half and he was responsible for a sack in the second half. In total, he had three bad plays that really stood out. Beatty rebounded with a nice game in pass protection and RT Justin Pugh and OC Kevin Boothe were solid in pass protection.

Defensive Overview: In the last seven games, the Giants are 5-0 when facing a sub-standard passing game and 0-2 when facing a respectable offense. One can argue that despite the defensive collapse at the end of the Cowboys’ game, the defense did not deserve the lion’s share of the blame for that loss. That could not be said against the Chargers as San Diego scored on seven-of-nine offensive possessions and only were forced to punt once. Charger scoring drives went for 50 (touchdown), 76 (field goal), 67 (touchdown), 39 (touchdown), 80 (touchdown), 75 (field goal), and 18 yards (field goal). In the first half, the Chargers were an unbelievable 7-of-9 on third down (78 percent); they finished 10-of-15 (67 percent) for the game. Four of San Diego’s drives had 11 plays or more. San Diego racked up 250 first-half yards and rushed for 144 yards overall. QB Philip Rivers finished the game 21-of-28 with three touchdown passes and a QB rating of 137.4. No interceptions, one pass defense, as Rivers completed 75 percent of his passes. Just nauseating. There is no excuse for the Giants’ defense to perform that poorly. None. Shame on the coaches and shame on the players.

Defensive Line: Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka each received 63 snaps (88 percent of the defensive snaps). Damontre Moore saw 15 snaps (21 percent). Tuck and Moore were each flagged for being offsides; Kiwanuka had his third personal foul penalty in three games. Tuck’s offsides gave the Chargers a first down on 3rd-and-4 on a drive that ended with a touchdown. Tuck did have two sacks, another QB hit, and a forced fumble that set up the Giants’ first touchdown. The pass rush early on wasn’t that bad, but Rivers did a great job of getting rid of the ball quickly and the Giants’ coverage was not tight enough to disrupt the rhythm between passer and receivers. However, the Giants’ run defense, which had been a strength most of the season, was poor. San Diego was able to run between the tackles and outside the tackles too consistently all game, especially out of the shotgun. Linval Joseph saw 78 percent of the snaps while Cullen Jenkins saw 64 percent, Mike Patterson 44 percent, and Johnathan Hankins 26 percent. Jenkins jumped offsides too, leading to a free play that picked up 39 yards.

Linebackers: Jon Beason (100 percent of the defensive snaps) had nine tackles. Spencer Paysinger (58 percent) had four tackles, Jacquian Williams (42 percent) four tackles, and Keith Rivers (33 percent) three tackles. But the Chargers rushed for 144 yards. San Diego running backs and tight ends caught 12-of-16 passes thrown in their direction for 147 yards. And the two failures played off of each other. For example, late in the second quarter, a play-action pass by Rivers to Gates led to a 23-yard pickup down to the Giants’ 2-yard line. On this play, both Beason and Williams bit on the fake, leaving Gates wide open. This play worked because the Chargers were running the ball so well.

Paysinger, for some reason, was left all alone with WR Vince Brown and a 36-yard pass interference penalty in the end zone was the result on a 3rd-and-3 deep pass that set up San Diego’s final touchdown of the game. That’s not on Paysinger, but a mental mistake by someone else or shoddy coaching.

Defensive Backs: The life seemed to right out of the Giants early in the game. After Manning’s interception on New York’s second drive of the game, Rivers hit rookie WR Keenan Allen for a 43-yard touchdown on 3rd-and-3. Allen badly beat CB Terrell Thomas on the play. Thomas also later gave up an easy 8-yard out pass to TE Antonio Gates on 3rd-and-4 and missed a tackle on a short completion that picked up another first down.

Antrel Rolle, Prince Amukamara, and Will Hill played virtually every snap. Jayron Hosley seemed to see more time as the game wore on at the expense of Trumaine McBride.

I didn’t understand why Amukamara was playing so far off the ball against an offense that thrives on the short-passing game. He allowed a couple of easy completions because of this, as well as not being in proper position on Allen’s second touchdown on 3rd-and-goal from the 4-yard line. McBride failed to pick up RB Danny Woodhead for a 6-yard touchdown with 19 seconds left before the half. Will Hill did cause one incompletion by successfully defending a pass intended for Gates on 3rd-and-2 on the Chargers’ first drive. Hosley was out-fought by a 5’9” running back on a jump ball that picked up 39 yards.

Special Teams: Steve Weatherford had another strong outing, averaging 47 yards on three punts (46.3 yard net). Punt and kickoff coverage was very good as the Chargers averaged only one yard on two punt returns and 17 yards on two kickoff returns. Rueben Randle never had a chance to field a punt (the Chargers only punted once all day and that went out of bounds).

As Special Teams Coordinator Tom Quinn has mentioned, blocking on kick returns remains a problem. Michael Cox only averaged 18.8 yards per return on six kickoff returns with the long only being 23 yards (and Ryan Mundy was flagged for holding on that return).

CB Charles James handed the Chargers three points in the second quarter. The Chargers missed a 41-yard field goal, but James was offsides and the Chargers made the ensuing 36-yard attempt, giving San Diego a 10-0 advantage.

Coaching: The Giants did not seem mentally prepared to play this game. There were a lot of mental mistakes.

Also, in terms of tactics, Perry Fewell’s decision to rush three on 3rd-and-12 in the second quarter left Rivers with a ton of time and an easy 15-yard completion on a drive that put the Chargers up 17-0. When is Fewell ever going to learn that rushing three in such a situation is a bad idea? Stupid.

Unlike most, I don’t really blame the coaches for not getting another play off before the two-minute warning on Brown’s fumble. First, it wasn’t instantly clear that Brown fumbled. More importantly, the next snap was third-and-10, and trailing 17-0, it was critical for the Giants to call the right play and pick up the first down. If you want to blame anyone, blame Brown for fumbling the football or the run blockers for allowing the defenders to make a play.

I also credit the offensive coaches for not panicking the second half. Some fans didn’t like the fact that the Giants continued to run the football in the third quarter, but that decision did lead to two touchdowns. Had the defense been able to hold at all, the game would have gotten more interesting.

(Boxscore – New York Giants at San Diego Chargers, December 8, 2013)

 

Dec 062013
 
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Will Beatty, New York Giants (November 10, 2013)

Will Beatty – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at San Diego Chargers, December 8, 2013: With a quarter of the regular season still left, unfortunately, it’s time to start thinking about how these games may impact next season.

Whether you agree with it or not, Coach Coughlin will be back. And so will most, if not all, of his staff. So the area of focus should really be on personnel and how the Giants can get better on the playing field.

How a team performs in the final stages of one season can impact the next season. For example, the early warning signs of the 0-6 start were probably there for all to see when the Giants got walloped by the Bengals, Falcons, and Ravens last season. Good teams don’t get shellacked like that, not three times in a six-game period.

The Giants are 5-1 in their last six games. Granted that record was gained against questionable competition, but New York has begun to right the ship. For the sake of the 2014 season, I think it is important to keep the momentum going in the final four games. There are a lot of players on this current roster who were not around in 2011. They have no direct personal connection to the two Super Bowl titles and the culture and expectation of winning that was created. Winning breeds confidence which breeds more winning.

When you put on that New York Giants uniform, you are expected to win.

Giants on Offense: The most important goal of the final four games and the upcoming offseason is to get Eli Manning back on track. If they don’t, then the next few years will be very similar to the 2012 and 2013 seasons…hovering around .500 with maybe a shot at the post-season if things fall your way.

How do you get Manning back on track? That’s the million dollar question. Some say fix the offensive line. Some say get a better quarterback coach for him to work with. Some say surround him with better weapons. Is family life distracting him? Is he still hungry? Was 2011 simply his career year?

It’s up to the New York Giants organization to successfully identify the problem and fix it. Everything depends on this.

Now, like the Giants’ recent six-game stretch, Eli has been better. Not great, but better. In the first six games of the season, he had a 9-to-15 touchdown-to-interception ratio. In the last six games, his touchdown-to-interception ratio was 6-to-3. His mistakes (or the mistakes of his teammates – i.e., bad routes) have significantly dropped. But he’s not making a lot of big plays in the passing game. He’s averaging one touchdown pass per game. That’s not elite. That’s not difference-making. The Giants need Eli to be a difference-maker. He’s being paid to be that ($20 million cap number in both 2013 and 2014). So now that the mistakes have diminished, it is time to get back to making big plays.

Intimately connected to Eli’s lack of big-play production is the same lack of big-play production from the wide receivers. For Christ sake, Hakeem Nicks hasn’t had a touchdown since Week 14 last season. Victor Cruz hasn’t had a touchdown since Week 4 this year. Three of his four TDs came on opening night. Where’s the salsa? Rueben Randle has six touchdowns, but really more was expected from him this year. He hasn’t had more than three receptions in a game since Week 5. If Nicks is gone after this season, like most expect, is Randle an adequate replacement? These last four games will be important in helping to determine the answer to that question. Louis Murphy and Jerrel Jernigan don’t offer much. If Nicks goes, the Giants will need more help here as the Giants keep botching draft picks at the position (Sinorice Moss, Ramses Barden, Jerrel Jernigan).

Brandon Myers has played better at tight end and perhaps the Giants will re-sign him in the offseason, but he seems like just a guy to me. He has no outstanding physical traits (size, speed, overall athleticism) and certainly doesn’t scare opposing defenses with his blocking or receiving. Hopefully, Adrien Robinson and Larry Donnell surprise in 2014, but can the Giants really count on that? Both have a very nice combination of size and overall athleticism, but both have been non-factors this year. I’d like to get a better read on both during the next four games. I hope the Giants want that too.

Running back has been a patchwork this offseason. Andre Brown is productive when he plays but he can’t seem to stay healthy. He will also be a free agent. Will David Wilson be able to play football again? And if so, is he the right match for this team? Brandon Jacobs is done. Does Peyton Hillis have an NFL future? Michael Cox has some ability, but we won’t see him again at running back this year unless people start getting hurt again. There are a lot of questions at running back.

Fullback is set. Hopefully they recognize that John Conner is simply a huge upgrade over Henry Hynoski, who is also a good player.

This brings us to the biggest concern on the offensive side of the football other than Eli Manning: the offensive line. A good offensive line makes everyone better. If you can’t block, you won’t win a lot of football games. Justin Pugh will be a fixture at tackle, the only question in my mind is will it be at right or left tackle. He’ll stay at right tackle if Will Beatty gets his head out of his ass and starts playing consistent, quality football. Beatty ($7 million 2014 cap number) admitted this week that the pressure of living up to his contract has gotten to him. The honesty is admirable, but that’s a red flag. Can they count on Beatty in pressure situations? The way he finishes out the 2013 season is incredibly important in helping to determine the makeup up the 2014 offensive line.

David Baas ($8 million 2014 cap number) did help the Giants to win a Super Bowl, but he hasn’t been the player the Giants had hoped when they signed him because he simply can’t stay healthy. Jerry Reese compounded the salary-cap problem by re-structuring him twice. If you could guarantee that he would stay healthy, then you would want to keep him and have him start in 2014. But should the Giants really do that? Even if they part ways, because of the re-structures, it’s not going to help the Giants salary-cap wise. But it may be better simply to shed the unreliable, injury-prone player and move on.

David Diehl (free agent) and Chris Snee ($12 million 2014 cap number) are done. I will fondly remember them as two of the Giants who were around for both NFL titles. They are blue-collar tough guys, but it’s time. Kevin Boothe is Kevin Boothe. You could do better; you could do worse. Jim Cordle will be back and we don’t really know what the organization thinks of his ability.

Unfortunately, we don’t have a good read, and won’t have a good read, on Brandon Mosley, Stephen Goodin, and Eric Herman. But we will get a better read on James Brewer in these last four games. If you want to focus on anyone in the last games, watch Beatty and Brewer. Regardless, the Giants need an infusion of talent on the line.

Giants on Defense: It’s too bad that a decent defensive season like the Giants have put together has been wasted by bad offense and special teams. Perry Fewell will surely be back. But a lot of current defenders won’t be.

The San Diego Chargers will provide a good litmus test for the Giants’ defense. The Chargers are fourth in overall and passing offense, and they are incredibly tough to get off of the field (NFL’s second best on third down). QB Philips Rivers is completing an astounding 70 percent of his passes. RB Danny Woodhead is a tiny pain-in-the-ass, especially as a receiver. TE Antonio Gates is not the same player he once was, but he’s still catching a ton of passes.

Linval Joseph will be a free agent. Will the Giants be able to re-sign him? If they do, with Joseph, Cullen Jenkins, and Johnathan Hankins, New York will be in good shape at defensive tackle. If they can somehow bring back Mike Patterson in a Rocky Bernard-type role, they will be even stronger. But they may want to go with Markus Kuhn there instead.

Outside is where the question marks lie. Jason Pierre-Paul is under contract one more season. But he didn’t have a single sack in the last seven games of the 2012 season and only has two this year. Will he ever regain his 2011 form? He’ll get one more year to prove that he can. In camp, it sounded like Damontre Moore was going develop into a special player. He hasn’t thus far so we will have to see. The shoulder injury obviously set him back big time.

What to do about Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka? Tuck will be a free agent and, despite his four-sack outburst against the Redskins, has been just a guy for three seasons now. At 30, he’s not old, but he’s not a difference maker. I’d offer not much more than a veteran-minimum type deal, but I’m not sure Tuck would be able to swallow his pride and accept that. Kiwanuka just never developed into the player hoped. He’s making way too much money ($7 million 2014 cap number).

Jon Beason has been a God-send at linebacker, but will be a free agent. It sounds like he really wants to be here so I expect him to be re-signed unless his contract demands are unreasonable. Jacquian Williams is under contract one more season but everyone else will be a free agent. Beason’s presence has made Williams, Spencer Paysinger, and Keith Rivers better. They may be back too with minimum-type deals. The Giants still need to bring in and develop talent, however. They can’t just rely on Beason, who has a serious injury history.

The Giants will be in great shape at safety if they can afford to keep Antrel Rolle ($9 million 2014 cap number) and if Stevie Brown (torn ACL) can come back healthy. Those two, along with Will Hill and Cooper Taylor, form a good nucleus.

Prince Amukamara will man one starting corner spot. I can’t imagine Corey Webster and Aaron Ross will be back. Will the Giants be able to bring back Terrell Thomas at a reasonable contract? He’s still a walking medical risk. Others in the picture who may still have a future here include Trumaine McBride (free agent), Jayron Hosley, and Charles James. Adding a top-notch corner here would make the secondary a real strength.

Giants on Special Teams: Steve Weatherford has had a crazy year. He’s been terrible at times and absolutely outstanding at other times. Josh Brown actually has performed well except for a couple of games. He will be a free agent. If David Wilson plays football again, it may be best to use him as a return man and offensive role player (like the Saints use Darren Sproles).

Dec 052013
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (December 1, 2013)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 24 – Washington Redskins 17

by Joey in VA for BigBlueInteractive.com

Game Review: The ever annoying “Redskin” name controversy will not dominate this attempt to re-cap, but in case anyone forgot the original lyrical part that was changed because it was…too offensive, I present the honorable, Native American heritage-honoring fight song of the very politically-aware Washington Redskins, who I will refer to as the potatoes, as in Redskin potatoes. Typing that word repeatedly stirs every ounce of dark-side hatred that I possess, and I fear it will be too much strain. It’s not an attempt at humor – it’s a sobering reminder of how much disdain that team deserves.

Scalp ‘em, swamp ‘um

We will take ‘um big score

Read ‘um, Weep ‘um, touchdown

We want heap more

I got a heap more for you, but it’s in a joyous recap of the Giants 24-17 vanquishing of the mighty Potatoes and the Chris Collinsworth’s new man-crush RGIII. Early on RGIII looked as good as Collinsworth slobbered about, leading the Potatoes to a 14-0 lead on the heels of an up-tempo attack aimed at negating the Giants’ pass rush and exposing a MASH unit masquerading as the Giants left cornerback spot. The approach caught the Giants flat footed as the Potatoes, for the first time all year, scored on their opening possession on a 14-play 73-yard drive that ended with an Alfred Morris 1-yard TD plunge. Eli Manning got his first crack at answering the bell but a Brian Orakpo (The MS Word Dictionary’s suggestion for Orakpo is Crapo, just in case you were wondering) sack forced an ugly three-and-out. After exchanging punts, the Potatoes doubled their lead to 14-0 on a 19-yard pass from Griffin to the Brawny Paper Towel guy (Logan Paulsen – it even sounds woodsy) to wrap up a 59-yard march that ate just over 4 minutes of clock.

As the second quarter unfolded, Peyton Hillis was dusted off and the bruising former Razorback ran twice, for 8 and 27 yards on back-to-back runs to get the G-Men to the Potato 30. Andre Brown covered the final 30 yards in two plays, and just like that the Giants were awake and ready to respond. Two Potato and one Giant punts later, Eli Manning awoke from a season-long slumber, going 6-fo- 6 on a 9-play, 81-yard drive that tied the score at 14 going into the second half.

After trading punts yet again, the Potatoes caught a break when Eli Manning tossed interception number 18 on the year to S Brandon Meriweather, whose 32-yard return had the Potatoes knocking on the door again with a 1st-and-10 from the 12-yard line. As they have all year, the Giant defense tightened up, pushing the Potato drive back three yards and forcing RGIII and company to settle for a Kai Forbath field goal and a 17-14 edge. The teams again traded three-and-outs, but a Sav Rocca fumble and subsequent 18-yard punt put the G-Men in business at the Tater 46. Four plays later, Andre Brown gave the Giants a 21-17 lead that they would not relinquish. Josh Brown would add to that lead on the heels of a 40-yard drive late in the fourth quarter, but at 24-17 the Potatoes had life until S Will Hill stripped WR Pierre Garcon and sealed the victory for the visitors. The controversy surrounding the final plays have been beaten to a pulp, and the bottom line is that Will Hill stole the football and the Giants won the game, regardless of what down it was, should-have-been or would-have-been.

Inside the Game: Hands, it’s that simple. Proper hand placement and keeping their legs free from the cut-blocking Redskin zone-blocking scheme, was the difference for the Giants’ defensive line. After being gutted by Alfred Morris last year, the Giants’ DL simply had to do one thing to slow down the Redskins’ running game, keep the offensive line from creating lanes and getting to the second level. What makes the zone-blocking scheme that the ironically red-faced Mike Shanahan employs so successful is its ability to create cut-back lanes as opposed to trying to create one hole the defense can focus on. As the zone runs unfold, the offensive linemen move in unison laterally, and use the DL’s own momentum against them to quickly create running lanes. The way to stop it from a technique standpoint is to “play big”. Defensive linemen often want to play skinny, twisting and turning to knife between blockers to get into the backfield, but against the zone runs, that plays right into the offense’s hands. To play big, you extend your arms and keep a wide base, using your hands to keep the OL at arm’s length as you move laterally, taking up as much room as you can in your assigned gap. Controlling those gaps is essential to slowing down the zone runs, and the Giants’ DL did an exceptional job all night of playing big, staying square and maintaining gap integrity, giving the DBs and LBs clean lanes to fill in run support. Credit DL Coach Robert Nunn and Defensive Coordinator Perry Fewell for fixing what didn’t work against Morris in 2012, and completely stuffing the rushing champ from a year ago. 

Quarterbacks: Eli Manning was like a Phoenix…rising from Arizona. Manning’s clunker of a season was a thing of the past on Sunday, as the vet cobbled together a 22-for-28 day passing for 235 yards, 1 TD and of course 1 INT just to keep things interesting. The Giant signal caller was again harassed all game, mostly by OLB Brian Orakpo, and the offense started slowly, but Manning caught fire (not literally, that would be rather dangerous) late in the 2nd quarter, going 6-for-6 on an 81-yard drive that tied the game at 14. Eli just missed Victor Cruz on a deep option-route that had a shot to go the distance, but give credit to LB Perry Riley, who had solid coverage and slowed Cruz just enough to prevent the big play. Manning’s interception came with five minutes left in the 3rd quarter; the ball glanced off of WR Rueben Randle’s fingertips and into the arms of Mr. Cheapshot, Brandon Meriweather. Manning never had room to step into the throw with Orakpo bearing down on him, chalk that one up to Will Beatty, not Manning. As he is wont to do, Manning shrugged it off and led his team to two more scoring drives in the second half, zipping the ball to Myers and Cruz en route to a 21-17 lead, and eventually a 24-17 victory.

Running Backs: RB Peyton Hillis gave the running game a little shot in the arm, with 45 yards on six carries, including a 27-yard run that looked like the play that gave the Giants life. Hillis bulled over Brandon Meriweather and rumbled past picture-perfect blocks by TE Brandon Myers and RT Justin Pugh and it ignited the entire offense. Andre Brown followed suit, rumbling right for a 23-yard TD run behind another bone crunching lead block by FB John Conner. Hillis and Brown only piled up 20 carries between them for 80 yards, but both had long runs that woke up the offense and kept the defense honest enough for Eli and company to come away with a win.

Wide Receivers: WR Hakeem Nicks made a drive-saving catch on the Giants’ game-tying drive, but was mostly quiet with only 34 yards on two grabs. Victor Cruz, who has fricasseed the Potatoes regularly, was clearly bracketed and held to 80 yards on six catches. But Cruz was able to give the Giants solid intermediate yardage and a reliable target when the defense was hell bent on preventing the deep ball. Cruz was instrumental in the Giants’ lead-taking drive as the 4th quarter opened, hauling in a 19-yarder that put the G-Men at the Potato 1-yard line.

Tight Ends: TE Brandon Myers continues to play better every week, in both phases of the game. Myers nabbed five Manning offerings for 61 yards and a touchdown, and is consistently holding his ground in the running game after a very poor start to the season in the blocking department. Myers’ 22-yard grab on a perfectly run seam route knotted the score at 14. Myers’ ability to make teams pay down the middle for selling out to stop Cruz has been a big difference in the past few weeks. With Nicks struggling and Randle still battling inconsistency on occasion, Myers’ ability to make plays and be that other threat will have to play a big role if the Giants make anything of this head scratching 2013 campaign.

Offensive Line: LT Will Beatty’s Jekyll-and-Hyde season continued. Beatty was beaten cleanly on the Giants’ first play and made it a habit most of the night. Manning’s struggles, a few errant passes and his lone INT were 100% the result of just flat out bad play by Beatty. Putrid game for Beatty, and quite frankly unacceptable given his age, experience and shiny new contract. The right-side tandem of Justin Pugh and David Diehl appear to have figured out how to operate a little better, leading the way on the Giants’ biggest runs of the night by Hillis and Brown. The reliability of the right side in the running game is giving the Giants a go-to play when things are not going well, and for the third week in a row they have given opponents fits on outside runs. C Kevin Boothe, moving in for the injured Jim Cordle, had a strong game and helped pave the way on Hillis’ 27-yard run and Browns’ 23-yard TD scoot. LG James Brewer had a solid outing as well, no big hiccups and solid run blocking most of the night.

Defensive Line: When you hold the league’s leading ball carrier to 26 yards on 11 plays on the #1 rushing team in football, you’re clearly doing plenty right. As they have all season, the Giants’ DL, simply put, owned the line of scrimmage and imposed their will on the Potato running game, even without the resurgent Jason Pierre-Paul who was sidelined with a shoulder injury. DE Justin Tuck tallied four sacks and was an anchor against the run all night long. Tuck’s trademark stack-and-shedding was back in full force, as the former Golden Domer controlled his side of the field with picture perfect run technique, shoulders square, outside arm free and moving laterally until the runner commits. Hats off to #91, who has been criticized here when he looked disinterested, but on Sunday night, Tuck clearly was at his best. Tuck’s sack from DT late in the 3rd quarter was a thing of beauty as he dipped his shoulder, leaned outside and forced G Chris Chester to follow. Tuck redirected and blew past him, dropping Collinsworth’s new girlfriend on 3rd down. DE Mathias Kiwanuka chased the dive fake all game long, giving RGIII a free running lane seemingly all night long. Not a read-option went by without #94 jumping the A gap as RGIII dashed past him. It has to be by design, no one simply misplays the option that many times without being told to do so. DTs Linval Joseph, Cullen Jenkins, Mike Patterson and Jonathan Hankins were superb play in and play out. The quartet had one mission, keep the LBs clean, control your gap and force the Potatoes to beat them with someone other than RB Alfred Morris. Rookie DE Damontre Moore wasn’t as bad as initially thought, a few decent pressures, but not much to write home about yet for the former Aggie.

Linebackers:  Jon Beason started the game with a thump, launching RGIII about five yards backwards on a 4th and 1 that shockingly got a good spot for the home team. Beason was again a tackling machine, finishing with 17 stops and making life miserable for anyone who ventured near him. Spencer Paysinger got the nod over Jacquian Williams, which I think was silly honestly. Granted Paysinger is a bigger body in there against the run, but Williams has been playing well in both phases and he certainly hasn’t looked like a liability in the running game. Paysinger played solidly though, not a knock on him starting at all, but sitting Williams is a head-scratcher. Keith Rivers, you no longer stink, I apologize for being mean earlier in the year, please be my friend again. The former Trojan chipped in again with seven stops, often lining up in the 5-2 as the flex DL, in an effort to hem in the running game which again worked to perfection.

Defensive Backs: A bit of a struggle against the no huddle, and with Giant LBs focusing on shutting down the run, the DBs were challenged all night. Minus CBs Corey Webster, Aaron Ross and Trumaine McBride, the Giants turned to the little-used, oft-injured CB Jayron Hosley who responded with a strong outing. S Antrel Rolle got in on the Griffin launching, knocking the whiny QB off his feet as he tried to block on a reverse early in the game. Rolle planted TE Fred Davis early in the second quarter to prevent a 2nd down gain from potentially going much farther had Rolle not come up and made the stop. It was a very physical game from the former Hurricane, who also shot into the backfield to drop Morris for a 3-yard loss midway through the 2nd quarter. S Will Hill finished with five stops, but most importantly, one strip of Pierre Garcon that sealed the game. Hill and Rolle have quietly become as good a safety tandem as the Giants have maybe ever had. Hill’s ability to erase the deep ball, come up in run support and be a physical presence all over the field have been a big part of this defense’s surge. Jon Beason certainly gets all the attention, but don’t discount the fact that since Hill came back, this defense has made a huge jump. CB Prince Amukamara just missed an INT in the end zone, and generally played well, nothing majorly good or bad out of the former Husker.

Special Teams: Nothing to complain about from this bunch, P Steve Weatherford again punted well, averaging 42 yards (net) with a booming long of 62 yards.

NFLW (NFL for Women): I changed up the routine and watched with the man who forced me into Giant fandom, Dad in VA. Mrs. Joey got the night off and NinVA was busy celebrating a birthday so I made my way to the folks’ house for free food, a TV that was way too loud and an array of comments that simply cannot be reprinted on a family website. The head-scratching quote of the game was courtesy of Dad in VA, who after hearing me praise Zak DeOssie for years of dependable long snapping replied…”Well he’s not as good as Hostetler was.”  At what, I’m not sure, I’m assuming he means at QB but it was late and the booze was flowing so who knows.

Cram it in your Cramhole Award:  I will simply let the quotes from NBC color man Chris Collinsworth stand on their own merit, no need to explain why he gets the award. The following will illustrate just how well-deserved it was this week.

 This is just fantastic by the Redskins.

The Redskins are ready for prime time action.

He deserves to get up from something like that after the week he’s had.

I think the improvement on this team is noticeable.

RGIII looks like he’s having a flashback to Baylor, this has just been absolutely brilliant and they’re doing it without TE Jordan Reed.

How good has RGIII been, he’s been absolutely perfect, it has been something special.

Never a doubt about RGIII and that arm strength. He uncorked a few 80 yarders in practice.

I’m really seeing a calm in the pocket, I’m telling you on almost every play so far he’s going to one, two three looks, that’s what Tom Brady and Peyton Manning do.

His greatness has not been captured yet. He’s been brilliant and my favorite part about it is watching him scan the field, look around and find who’s open.

(Boxscore – New York Giants at Washington Redskins, December 1, 2013)
Nov 302013
 
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Andre Brown, New York Giants (November 24, 2013)

Andre Brown – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Dallas Cowboys 24 – New York Giants 21

Game Overview: This loss hurt. A victory would have thrust the Giants solidly back into the playoff hunt; a loss would effectively end their season. With everything on the line, the Giants came up short. Again. Being swept by the Dallas Cowboys, and losing to that team for the third time in the last four contests.

Fans and media can discuss and debate how a play here or there decided this game, as I will attempt to do in this column. But it would be a mistake for team management to think that the outcome of this season was simply a product of injuries and bad luck. For while luck can certainly affect the outcome of an entire season (see Tony Romo’s overthrow of Miles Austin in 2011), good teams usually make their own good fortune.

And no one should be under false pretenses. While this Giants-Cowboys game was a critically important game, it was a contest between two very imperfect, mediocre teams. It is highly unlikely the winner of this game – in this case the Dallas Cowboys – will go onto achieve playoff glory because both teams are seriously flawed.

Ultimately, the reason the Giants lost this game is the fact that they are not good enough. They are currently 1-3 in a bad division and 4-7 in watered-down League.

As for the specifics in this particular game, a closely-fought affair was ultimately decided by the following factors:

  • The Giants spotted the Cowboys a touchdown when WR Victor Cruz foolishly fought for extra yardage in a situation where he should have simply gone to the ground. It was the ninth return touchdown the Giants have given up in 11 games – three of them against Dallas.
  • The Giants were 1-of-3 (33 percent) in the red zone, being forced to settle for short field goals after facing 1st-and-goal from the 9-yard line and 1st-and-goal from the 4-yard line. In a game decided by three points, those opportunities for another eight points loom large.
  • While I tend to shy away from criticizing play calling because I find such an exercise to be speculative at best and self-deceit for poor execution at worst, one does get the sense that the Giants should have stuck with a running game that accrued over 200 yards even more than they did. The Giants averaged 6.7 yards per carry and there were situations in the game where the Giants had gouged the Cowboys on a back-to-back runs only to go back to the pass. “We’re a balanced team. We play for balance,” said Tom Coughlin after the game.
  • Fans and media would not be criticizing that attempt for balance had those efforts been successful. Hindsight is easy after a loss but the Giants only managed to accrue 154 net yards passing against the NFL’s worst pass defense. The Giants only averaged 4.8 yards per pass play (in other words, the Giants averaged almost two more yards per run than pass). $21 million Eli Manning, Victor Cruz, and Rueben Randle could barely dent the League’s worst pass defense while castoffs Andre Brown and Brandon Jacobs ran wild.
  • Poor discipline. The Giants committed 11 penalties, including three personal foul penalties. And one of these erased a Cowboys’ turnover on a drive that ended with a Dallas touchdown. Also, while there is debate over whether the pre-game trash talking ultimately impacted the game or not, it certainly did not help. And it does reflect poorly on the organization and a team that had little reason to crow coming into this game. “They talked and they talked and they talked,” Dallas CB Orlando Scandrick said after shutting down Cruz. “I’ve never in my life heard a team that was 4-6 talk like that. We were 5-5, and we knew we had no room to talk…They have a great coach. I don’t have any earthly idea why he let them talk like that.” It’s hard to argue with Scandrick, who took care of business on the field.
  • Finally, while the defense held the Cowboys to just 17 points and 4-of-11 on third-down conversions, three of those third-down conversions came on the game-winning drive on the last possession of the game: a 19-yard gain to WR Dez Bryant on 3rd-and-7, an 8-yard gain by Bryant on 3rd-and-5, and a 13-yard gain by WR Cole Beasley on 3rd-and-10. With the game on the line, the defense came up short in crunch time.

So there you have it. If Cruz doesn’t hand the Cowboys seven points… if the Giants score on one more red zone opportunity… if the Giants ran the ball more… if the passing game wasn’t so impotent against the NFL’s worst pass defense… if the Dallas turnover isn’t erased by a personal foul penalty… if the defense had forced a punt or turnover on the last drive… if…if…if…

Not good enough.

Quarterback: 16-of-30 for 174 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. No killer mistakes. But not good enough. Not against this defense. Eli continues to force the ball to Victor Cruz, such as the failed 4th-and-6 play, when Cruz isn’t open. Eli didn’t lose this game, but did he do enough to win it?

Wide Receivers: Against this defense, a major disappointment. No one had more than three catches. Victor Cruz foolishly handed the Cowboys seven points and was invisible for most of the contest, struggling to get open against Orlando Scandrick. Cruz caught only two passes for 27 yards. Rueben Randle was targeted seven times, but only came down with three receptions for 64 yards.

Then there is the saga of Hakeem Nicks. Before the game, Nicks said he would play. After the game, Nicks said he could have played. But he didn’t…in the biggest game of the year…and he was missed. If Coughlin was trying to protect Nicks or punish him, he picked a bad spot. Jerrel Jernigan saw 33-of-62 offense snaps. He was thrown at seven times, but only caught two passes for 24 yards. Nicks was missed. Jernigan had a tremendous opportunity to make a statement and came up small, looking like another poor draft decision by Jerry Reese.

Louis Murphy made a nice adjustment on his 4-yard touchdown reception.

Running Backs: The irony is that the strength of the offensive football team in the biggest game of the season was a running back who has been waived/released eight times in his career and was coming off of a broken leg, and another whose knee is so bad he is having trouble playing back-to-back games. But Andre Brown (21 carries for a career-high 127 yards) and Brandon Jacobs (nine carries for 75 yards) ran roughshod over a Cowboys’ defense that seemed to want no part of them. FB John Conner abused Cowboys’ linebackers with his lead blocking.

Tight Ends: Brandon Myers had 56 offensive snaps, Bear Pascoe 17, Larry Donnell 1, and Adrien Robinson has yet to play in a game this season. Myers caught three passes for 39 yards, none bigger than his 27-yard touchdown on 4th-and-3 when two Cowboy defenders allowed him to get up and run into the end zone. I didn’t care for the play call on 1st-and-goal from the 9-yard line where the Giants, including Manning, flowed to the right and the Giants hoped to catch the Cowboys’ napping on a throw back to Myers on the left. I thought this was the wrong time to get cute. I also didn’t care for the formation where the Giants got stuffed on 3rd-and-1 in the fourth quarter. Instead of Myers being in a down position, tight to the right tackle, he had to attempt to block the linebacker, standing up, from a wider split. The linebacker shot past Myers to help disrupt the play.

Offensive Line: The offensive line did a reasonable job, especially considering the fact that OC Jim Cordle was forced to leave the game with a season-ending knee injury. Kevin Boothe shifted seamlessly to center and James Brewer was inserted into the lineup at left guard. The Giants rushed for over 200 yards. Eli was sacked twice and officially hit only three times. David Diehl, although he gave up a sack to DT Jason Hatcher, had probably his best game of the season and mauled the Cowboys on a number of short pulls to the weakside. Both tackles played well. James Brewer held up well, especially in pass protection. He did whiff on his man on the failed 3rd-and-1 attempt.

Defensive Line: It’s hard to be too hard on a defense that held the potentially explosive Cowboys’ offense to just 17 points. But the Giants played their worst run defense in weeks, allowing Cowboys running backs to gain 106 yards on 17 carries for 6.2 yards per carry. The defensive line did sack Tony Romo four times: two by Cullen Jenkins, one by Justin Tuck, and a shared sack between Mathias Kiwanuka and Linval Joseph. Kiwanuka’s roughing-the-passer penalty on Romo that erased a turnover was one of the deciding plays of the game. I’m sure everyone has their own opinion on the play, but I thought it was ticky-tack call.

Jason Pierre-Paul only played 27 snaps and was a non-factor as Tom Coughlin said his shoulder injury was clearly an issue. It’s that type of season for the Giants – just as JPP started to look like his old self against the Raiders, he hurts himself falling to the ground a play later and now seems destined to remain a non-factor for the remainder of the season.

The bulk of the snaps went to Kiwanuka (61), Tuck (59), Jenkins (43), and Joseph (42). Mike Patterson had 17 snaps, Johnathan Hankins 10, and Damontre Moore none.

Linebackers: Jon Beason (65 snaps, 4 tackles) picked the wrong time to have a quiet game. He missed some plays against the run and was victimized on occasion in the passing game by both Jason Witten and DeMarco Murray. Jacquian Williams tied for the most snap counts (65) but only had four tackles and no impact plays. Keith Rivers only had 17 snaps and one tackle. TE Jason Witten only had four catches for 37 yards, but two of those were for touchdowns. Witten had four touchdowns in two games against the Giants this season. Running backs DeMarco Murray and Lance Dunbar hurt the Giants with five pass receptions for 66 yards.

Defensive Backs: The defensive backs performed pretty well for most of the game. In the first half, the only wide receiver to gain any yards was Dez Bryant, who had three catches for 50 yards. The rest of the receptions were to the Witten, Murray, and Dunbar. S Antrel Rolle had a nice interception on a dropped pass by Bryant (Rolle’s fifth interception on the season). Witten did get free of Terrell Thomas on his 20-yard touchdown reception, however. Early in the third quarter, Thomas forced WR Cole Beasley to fumble. Will Hill recovered the loose ball, but the play was wiped out by Kiwanuka’s roughing-the-passer penalty. Two plays later, Rolle committed another borderline personal foul penalty, setting Dallas up on the 6-yard line. Three plays later, on 3rd-and-2, Witten scored to make the game 21-6. Dallas did nothing until the last drive of the game.

Thus, up until the last drive, the defensive backs really had done a very nice job on the Cowboys. But when CB Trumaine McBride (groin) left the game with an injury, the Giants moved Terrell Thomas outside from nickel back and moved Rolle to nickel. The Cowboys instantly began to attack Rolle with success, converting on three third-down situations and moving into easy field goal range. One wonders how the game might have gone had McBride not gotten hurt. C’est la vie.

Special Teams: The special teams unit performed very well against one of the best special teams units in the NFL. In windy conditions, Steve Weatherford had a 51.6-yard net average on five punts. That was the highest net average for a Giant with at least five punts since the NFL began tracking net average in 1976. He had punts of 68 and 67 yards. Josh Brown hit his two short field goals and Dallas was limited to 21.7 yards per kickoff return and 3.8 yards per punt return – well below Dallas’ averages.

Rueben Randle returned a punt 16 yards on his only opportunity. Michael Cox averaged 23.3 yards per return on three returns, including a long of 30. Jerrel Jernigan had one kickoff return for 15 yards.

In a nutshell, the Giants out-played the Cowboys on special teams.

(Boxscore – Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants, November 24, 2013)
Nov 272013
 
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Jerry Reese and John Mara, New York Giants (October 6, 2013)

Jerry Reese and John Mara – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Washington Redskins, December 1, 2013: The New York Giants are not officially dead, but they are on life support. Their only chance to win the NFC East now is to run the table and hope the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles each lose three of their remaining five games.

I give the Giants’ coaching staff and players credit for not quitting despite the 0-6 start. They fought hard to get to 4-6 against some questionable competition to set up the most meaningful game of the season for them last Sunday against the Cowboys. But with everything on the line, the Giants came up short. There were swept by the Cowboys. We can only take away one thing from that fact: the Giants simply are not good enough.

Before we look at the problems, we need to compartmentalize the past. If the only highlights of the Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning era are the two Super Bowls, that era will be still considered a magnificent time in the team’s history. Two of the team’s eight NFL titles occurred on their watch. Years from now, fans will fondly remember the two unlikely and inspired playoff runs in 2007 and 2011. Nothing that happened before or since will ever erase that glory. Those teams did not win by accident or luck. They went 8-0 in the playoffs, defeated the NFC’s #1 and #2 seeds (twice) and the AFC’s #1 seed twice. Who will ever forget both NFC and NFL Championship Games?

But, the last thing team ownership and team management should do is delude themselves about the declining state of this team. And it is declining. The Giants have missed the playoffs four times in the last five seasons. The one exception was the 2011 team that just squeaked into the playoffs at 9-7. Since 2009, the Giants are 40-35 in the regular season despite playing in a terrible division in a watered-down NFL.

Who is to blame? Everyone. It’s not black-and-white issue. Jerry Reese and the front office have botched a number of drafts in a row and made a number of bad free agent and salary cap moves. The Giants are mediocre or subpar at just about every position, and particularly on the offensive line, at tight end, and linebacker. The running backs are ordinary at best. A lot has been invested on the defensive line and in the secondary, but due to age and injuries, production has not matched expectation. And most of the Giants’ impact players – Eli Manning, Jason Pierre-Paul, Hakeem Nicks – no longer play like impact players. The Giants have good defensive tackles, safeties, and Victor Cruz (and the latter helped to throw the away the Cowboy game). Eli Manning – who is taking up almost $21 million in cap space – is playing like a mediocre quarterback. He is not carrying the team like he did in 2011. Eli should be in his prime, but he has clearly gotten worse.

So you have an average talent base with an aging and injury-prone core, supposedly elite players who really are not, and only a trickle of new talent coming in. So why are we shocked?

I don’t think this is going to be a quick fix for the Giants and I think ownership and the front office will be terribly mistaken if they think it is. The Giants will only have six draft picks in the upcoming draft. You can only do so much in free agency. The team has to rebuild the offensive line, find a starting caliber tight end, probably replace Hakeem Nicks, figure out who their starting running back is, find another starting cornerback, address talent issues at linebacker, and figure out what they are going to do at defensive end. And on top of all of that, unless the figure out why Eli Manning has regressed since 2011, none of that may matter.

It’s easy and popular to blame the coaching staff – and they do deserve some of the blame – but fans need to realize that the lack of talent is the primary reason the team is struggling. You can’t really scheme around poor quarterback and offensive line play. There are not many coaches actively coaching in this game that have the skins on the wall that Tom Coughlin has. Sometimes we lose sight of that fact. As you look around at the other 32 teams and the coaching staffs on those teams, there really is not a lot to choose from. And roughly a third of them each year seem to be getting fired or on the verge of getting fired.

That said, there are legitimate questions surrounding the coaching staff. As BBI poster “blueblood” pointed out this week, have the message and messengers gotten stale? Tom Coughlin and Kevin Gilbride have choreographed some of the most explosive and productive offenses in New York Giants’ history, but red flags continue pop up: inability of quarterback and receivers to get on the same page, red zone issues, predictability, stubbornness, and unwavering loyalty to veteran players who might be better replaced. To be frank, almost all coaches in the NFL face similar allegations from media and fans. But there is curiosity about how Eli Manning would perform in a more quarterback- and receiver-friendly system, and one that uses slightly more imagination. As Joey in VA points out, the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) has dramatically cut back on practice time. Perhaps the Giants’ offense is too complicated in this new NFL environment. There is also concern that the Giants’ competition – particularly within the division – has figured out how to defend the Coughlin/Gilbride offense. Coughlin is 67; Gilbride is 62. With age comes wisdom. But a fresh approach can stimulate and excite. Keep in mind, however, there is no guarantee that change will automatically lead to improvement. We sometimes have to be careful what we wish for.

On the defensive side of the ball, Perry Fewell’s defense has actually improved this year after two extremely poor regular seasons in a row. But there were suggestions again from players that the improvement came when Fewell simplified the defense. If that’s true, why does he continue to complicate it each offseason, especially when the CBA has dramatically cut back on practice time? There is a feeling that the Giants’ defense never out-smarts or out-schemes opponents for the easy sack. In tight games, Fewell seems to play scared and get too conservative. That all said, there is no denying the fact that Fewell’s star has risen with fans once he was given better players (i.e., at defensive tackle, middle linebacker, and safety)…once again suggesting that good players make coaches look good.

On special teams, Tom Quinn’s unit has been a chaotic mess all season and arguably the league’s worst.

I think the Giants are at a crossroads. Eli Manning probably has another good 5-6 years left in this league. Is he capable of reverting back to 2011 form, or was that his career year? That’s key question #1. If the cap-killing quarterback can revert back to form, the Giants need to quickly rebuild around him through the draft and free agency. Is this the right coaching to do so? This is key question #2. Will Coughlin still want to coach in three years? And relatedly, if the Giants make coordinator changes, do you want the 67-year old Coughlin, who has an inconsistent track record of picking good coordinators, making those decisions?

The Giants are a conservative organization. My guess is they retain Manning and Coughlin. And Coughlin retains his coordinators unless the organization forces Tom’s hand like it did after the 2006 season when they “encouraged” him to let go of John Hufnagel and Tim Lewis. If Coughlin and the coaching staff are retained, then the onus is even great on Jerry Reese and his staff to hit a home run in the draft and free agency. If they don’t, then we’re going to continue to see 7-9, 8-8, and 9-7 football or worse as the talent base continues to erode.

The Coughlin-Manning Super Bowls were not that long ago. But it’s time to stop living off of those laurels. It’s a bad division in watered-down NFL. The competition is not as tough as some would lead you to believe. A truly well-run organization with a good quarterback should be a perennial contender in this environment.

Nov 222013
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants; Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys (September 8, 2013)

Who will play better in the rematch? – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Approach to the Game – Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants, November 24, 2013: After losing six straight to start the season, the New York Giants have won four in a row. Through hard work and perseverance, they have gone from a totally hopeless situation to an incredibly desperate one. But it is an improvement and we’ll take it. During the 4-game winning streak, the goal was always the same, just get to 4-6, hope the rest of the division falters a bit, and make the Week 12 game against the Cowboys and Week 13 game against the Redskins matter. Well, the team has achieved that once-considered unlikely goal. They have made this contest against Dallas incredibly relevant for both teams.

If the Giants lose this game, their season is officially over. But I think it is Dallas that is facing more pressure. A few weeks ago they were at 4-3 and seemed the class of the division despite tough losses to the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos. Now the Cowboys are 5-5 (3-0 in the NFC East) and have fallen behind the Philadelphia Eagles. The Giants? They weren’t even supposed to be able to get back into this thing. There is an incredible amount of pressure on Dallas to win this game to prevent charges of another late-season Cowboys’ collapse.

The hole is still gigantic for the G-Men. They could win the next two games and still easily miss the playoffs. They almost have to run the table. But just take it one game at a time and see where the chips fall. One thing is clear: football is fun again, at least for one more weekend. This game has a playoff atmosphere to it. Who would have thought that after the Giants fell to 0-6?

Giants on Offense: Eli took a step in the right direction last weekend against the Green Bay Packers. He looked more comfortable in the pocket and more assertive on the playing field despite still shaky pass protection. But Eli has to play the hand he has been dealt. It’s a six-game season at this point and every game is a playoff game.

Truth be told, though many of us don’t want to fully recognize it, Tony Romo has dramatically out-played Eli Manning this season. And it’s not even close. Romo doesn’t have much of a running game and his pass protection has been shaky as well (Romo has been sacked only four fewer times than Manning). But Tony has a 22-6 TD-to-INT ratio while Eli has a 12-to-17 TD-to-INT ratio. Ouch. Romo is also completing 65 percent of his throws while Manning is completing only 57 percent.

I say it all of the time: this is a passing league and in most contests, the team whose quarterback plays better usually wins. With the stakes as high as they are in this game, Eli must out-play Tony or the Giants don’t win this game. Eli has to play smart, not force the football, and throw it away or take sacks when necessary. But he also has to make big plays at big moments in the game.

Dallas’ 4-3 defense has struggled and they will miss MLB Sean Lee (hamstring), arguably their best defensive player and a Giant-killer. But with the bye week, DE DeMarcus Ware (thigh) has had two weeks to recover and DT Jason Hatcher (neck), a formidable opponent, returns. I expect the Cowboys’ defense to be sharper against a well-known divisional opponent that has struggled on offense. That said, the Cowboys continue to have issues in the secondary, and with Lee missing, the Giants should be able to make hay both running and throwing the football. Dallas is dead last in the NFL in pass defense and 29th in run defense.

Obviously, much depends on the offensive line. Everyone needs to play more consistently, especially veterans Will Beatty, Kevin Boothe, and David Diehl. Beatty versus Ware (5 sacks) is one of the key match-ups of the game. And Boothe will be facing Hatcher (7 sacks), who can also be very disruptive. Diehl seems to struggle now against most opponents and will battle Nick Hayden. Don’t forget LDE George Selvie (6 sacks) who will line up over RT Justin Pugh. Veteran journeyman Ernie Sims is expected to start at middle linebacker. SLB Justin Durant (hamstring) is out and rookie DeVonte Holloman will replace him (Late note: Holloman is also out with a neck injury). WLB Bruce Carter is now the best of the bunch at linebacker.

Aside from Manning and the offensive line, what is really hurting the Giants’ offense right now is the inability or unwillingness to get Hakeem Nicks more involved in the passing game. As The Star-Ledger points out, Nicks is getting open, but Manning isn’t always looking his way. And Nicks’ level of frustration is now beginning to boil over. Disconcerting was Nicks’ statement on Thursday that his agent suggested he get his abdominal issue checked out on Wednesday. Are we “all in” Hakeem? The Giants need each of their “Big 3” to get involved (Cruz, Nicks, and Randle). Those are the key guys who scare opponents in the passing game. And Dallas’ secondary will not be up to the challenge if all three are involved. See the first Giants-Cowboys game on opening day where all three had 100+ receiving yards. But Nicks has to not sulk and play well, and Eli has to be willing to throw him the football. In the secondary, LCB Brandon Carr and nickel back Orlando Scandrick are solid. RCB Morris Claiborne has been limited with a hamstring injury. And the safety spot has remained a problem for Dallas for years.

It’s going to be cold and windy. Expect a big dose of Andre Brown and Brandon Jacobs behind John Conner. Eli needs to handle the wind better than he did two weeks ago against the Raiders. Don’t turn the football over and the Giants will win this game. People are pointing to Dallas’ 22 turnovers this year, but more than a quarter of those came in the opener against the Giants.

Giants on Defense: I don’t think there is any question that the Giants right now have the best defense in the defense-poor NFC East. But what we don’t know is how good the unit really has become due to the lowly quarterbacks they have faced in the last four games. Well that all changes this week with Tony Romo on deck, plus targets such as WR Dez Bryant, WR Miles Austin (who returns from injury), and Giant-killer TE Jason Witten. Speedster Terrance Williams (17 yards per catch and 5 touchdowns) also adds more firepower.

What fans are curious to see is how the additions of Jon Beason and Will Hill, the promotion of Jacquian Williams, and the surge in play from the defensive ends and Antrel Rolle have truly changed the dynamic of the defense since the first meeting on opening day. In that game, Austin caught 10 passes, Witten caught eight and two touchdowns, and RB DeMarco Murray surprisingly caught eight passes as the Cowboys really went after the Giants’ linebackers and safeties. The Giants did a good job on Bryant in that first meeting, holding him to four catches and 22 yards. Expect the Cowboys to take more shots down the field to Bryant in this game. I would expect Prince Amukamara to be on the spot there. But so will Trumaine McBride, who the Cowboys will probably really test, especially deep. McBride has been beaten deep a couple of times in recent weeks. The Dallas receivers versus McBride is the matchup that scares me the most. I doubt Corey Webster (high ankle sprain) will be sharp enough to contribute much, even if he is active.

Obviously, a huge factor in this game will be the ability or inability for the Giants to cover Witten. The Giants are now much more athletic at linebacker with the Williams-Beason-Keith Rivers trio. And Rolle is playing at a Pro Bowl level right now and Will Hill’s aggressiveness and athleticism will come in handy.

Of course, Romo may not have a lot of time to throw deep if the Giants’ defensive line continues its upward ascendancy on the pass rush. DE Jason Pierre-Paul squares off against Dallas’ best lineman, LT Tyron Smith. The Giants need a stellar effort (not just talk) from JPP plus strong games from ends Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka. The rest of the Cowboy line is not so strong, though the center Travis Frederick appears to have a bright future. The defensive line should and needs to control the line of scrimmage.

The Cowboys are tied with the Giants in rushing, 28th in the NFL. But the Giants have been getting stronger running the ball, Dallas continues to putter along. That said, Murray is a guy who is capable of a breakout game, and he has hurt the Giants in the past (see the 2012 season opener). He’s also averaging almost five yards per carry despite Dallas’ overall anemic rushing numbers. Obviously the focus should be more on the passing game, but the Giants simply can’t afford to ignore Murray and let the Cowboys’ ground game get untracked.

If the defense wants to truly be considered a top defense, this is the kind of opponent and game where it needs to dominate. Get the Cowboys off of the field, force turnovers, create a short field for your offense, and hold Dallas to under 20 points.

Giants on Special Teams: Praise be, the Giants’ special teams actually helped to win a game last week. First and foremost, the Giants need the Week 11 Steve Weatherford in this game, not the Week 10 version who struggled mightily in the wind. After a rough couple of games, Josh Brown has been kicking very well. Rueben Randle has been threatening to break one and finally gave the Giants’ offense a big spark last week with a 32-yard return. Let’s hope that continues. Now if only the Giants could get the kickoff return game going.

Dwayne Harris returns both punts and kickoffs for Dallas and he is putting up very strong numbers in both areas, averaging over 15 yards per punt return and 32 yards per kickoff return. The Giants ability to limit those numbers is one of the keys to this game. Harris and ex-Giant Kyle Bosworth are the leading tacklers on Dallas’ special teams coverage units.

The Giants continue to threaten opposing punters with potential punt blocks.