Sep 082017
 
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New York Giants Offense (September 11, 2016)

New York Giants Offense – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Game Preview: New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, September 10, 2017

THE STORYLINE:
The most direct route to make the playoffs is to win your division. And the best way to win your division is to have a winning record against your division opponents, and particularly against those division opponents who represent the biggest threat. Because of all of that, this is a big game whose outcome quite possibly will affect the playoff picture in December.

It is no accident that the NFL has mandated that the Giants play the Cowboys in Dallas for the fourth time in five years. The Giants-Cowboys contest is always a ratings bonnaza for a league that saw its popularity take a big dip in 2016. (The conspiracy theorist in me suspects this is why Ezekiel Elliott is playing despite his 6-game suspension being upheld).

The Cowboys won the NFC East in 2016 with a stellar 13-3 regular-season record. But two of their losses came at the hands of the 11-5 Giants, who swept the Cowboys by a total of four points. Once again, the Cowboys and Giants are expected to be the leading contenders for the NFC East title. This game should be close and come down to the 4th quarter.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • FB Shane Smith (quad – probable)
  • WR Odell Beckham, Jr. (ankle – questionable)
  • WR Tavarres King (ankle – probable)
  • DT Jay Bromley (knee – probable)
  • LB Keenan Robinson (concussion – out)
  • CB Eli Apple (ankle – probable)
  • CB Michael Hunter (concussion)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
Will Odell Beckham, Jr. play? And if he does, how effective will he be? In a game that actually counts, the Giants have yet to prove they can move the football and score without someone other than Beckham making plays. Look no further than last year’s game in the Meadowlands. The difference in that 10-7 game was a 61-yard pass play to Beckham, which unbelievably accounted for 23 percent of the team’s offense in that game. No other play gained more than 19 yards. It truly was a pathetic display of “offense” for the Giants.

The book on defending the Giants is prevent the big play to Beckham, and force the Giants to beat you with their running game and throwing to other players. This will likely remain the book until the Giants hurt teams with their other weapons. Enter Brandon Marshall, Evan Engram, Rhett Ellison, and second-year players Sterling Shepard and Paul Perkins. The expectation is that these players will be effective players in their own right, and make the Giants’ offense less predictable and dependent on Beckham. That remains to be seen.

The largely no-name Dallas defense is a perfect example of a unit whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts. On paper, the Cowboys defense shouldn’t be very good. But unbelievably they were #1 against the run in 2016 and 14th overall. While some of this is due to the fact that the Cowboys controlled the clock and limited opportunities by opponents, don’t underestimate the fact that this is an exceptionally well-coached, cohesive unit that plays hard, hustles to the football, and forces turnovers. They are a scrappy bunch.

Unless both teams play outside their 2016 norms (Cowboys #1 run defense vs. Giants #29th rushing attack), don’t expect New York to be able to consistently run the football. The Giants are not a physical football team. If I’m Dallas, I dare the Giants to beat me with the run and focus on defending the pass (and specifically Beckham if he plays). The good news for the Giants justifiably-maligned offensive line is that the Cowboys really don’t have any consistent pass rushers who scare you. The Cowboys will likely have to scheme their pass rush by using stunts and blitzes, placing stress on both young outside tackles and right guard John Jerry.

On paper, where the Giants should be able to make hay is the passing game. With or without Beckham, the passing game is still the strength of the Giants offense. Much depends on how much Brandon Marshall has in the tank and how much rookie stage-fright Evan Engram has. But Marshall, Engram, Shepard, Ellison, and hopefully Beckham should expose a Cowboys’ secondary that has had issues for years. Look for Dallas to play it conservatively, try to prevent the big play, and force the Giants to nickel-and-dime their way down the football field without making a mistake. This is where Engram comes in. If the Cowboys play a lot of 2-deep coverage, Engram has the athletic ability and speed to exploit the middle of the defense – something the Giants didn’t have last year.

Turnovers. This is always important in closely-fought, divisional games. The team that commits more turnovers will likely lose. Eli Manning must play it safe and throw the ball away or take sacks instead of throwing the ball up for grabs. When sacked, hold onto the football. Same with Paul Perkins running with the football.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The New York Giants defense is the strength of the team. The Giants finished last year 10th in total defense (339.7 yards per game) and 2nd in scoring defense (17.8 points per game). Everyone is striving to exceed last year’s marks. The Giants lost Johnathan Hankins in the offseason, but there are a number of areas where the defense may be stronger. Both defensive ends looked primed to exceed their 2016 play. B.J. Goodson appears to be an upgrade at middle linebacker. Eli Apple – as long as his ankles are OK – should be better. The expectation is that Darian Thompson will be an upgrade over Andrew Adams at free safety. But let’s be clear, the Giants have multiple impact players on their defense in Jason Pierre-Paul, Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison, Janoris Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Landon Collins. They are loaded.

The Cowboys are loaded on offense as well. They finished last year 5th in total offense and 2nd in rushing offense. They are the NFL’s most balanced team with a near equal run-pass ratio. 2016 rookie sensations quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott are now in their second year and should be better.

Coach Ben McAdoo broke them down well: “It all starts up front with them. They are good up front. They lost a couple pieces, but they haven’t missed a beat. They are very talented there with the guys who jumped in to replace their two departures. They are very good, very physical, and they work well as one. Talented in pass protection, as well. They may be the finest unit in the league. There are a couple others that are chasing them, but they are very good. Obviously, Dak does a nice job. Really jumped in with both feet last year. I’m sure he is a lot more confident going into his second year than he was in his first year, and they seem to be putting more on him this year from a mental standpoint. Zeke is one of the better backs in the league. He is a complete back. He is not just a runner. He can play, he can protect, he can play in the pass game, and he’s very explosive and dynamic when he gets into space. The perimeter players, what makes them unique is they all complement each other well. They have a big receiver in Dez (Bryant). They have the quick twitch receiver in (Cole) Beasley, who can get open in a phone booth type guy. They have (tight end Jason) Witten, who is a consistent pro, a future Hall of Famer who can do a variety of things for them, including block, which he doesn’t get a lot of credit for. They have some other role players that come in and do a lot of good things for them. So they are very talented. One of the better offenses in the league.”

That all said, the Giants match-up very well with the Cowboys on this side of the ball. Janoris Jenkins gave Dez Bryant fits in 2016 (only 2 catches for 18 yards and a fumble in two games). Elliott ran for 51 yards in the opener and a “quiet” 107 yards in the second game last year. Witten and Beasley had a greater impact in the opener (17 catches) than the second game (8 catches). The question here is how much will Keenan Robinson be missed in pass coverage? Provided the defensive tackle who lines up next to Damon Harrison does his job, the Giants should continue to be one of the few teams who can keep Elliott in check. If I’m the Cowboys, I use play-action or a trick play early to keep the Giants from being as aggressive against the run. New York needs to be wary of that. Apple needs to keep Terrance Williams quiet and DRC will be challenged by the very quick Beasley.

Up front, Dallas is as good as it gets at left tackle, center, and right guard. But there are changes at left guard and right tackle. The JPP versus La’el Collins match-up will be one to watch. I would expect Steve Spagnuolo to send more than a few defensive back blitzes (including Landon Collins and DRC) as well as B.J. Goodson up the middle. The Giants will have to be disciplined on their pass rush, however, as Prescott can hurt you with his feet.

The Cowboys didn’t turn the ball over much in 2016. Prescott only threw four interceptions during the regular season. And Dallas only had nine fumbles. But three of those turnovers – including two of Dak’s interceptions – came in the second Giants-Cowboys game. (Dallas did not turn the ball over in the first game).

It’s true against any team, but more so against the Cowboys than anyone else: stop the run, make Dallas one-dimensional, then get after the quarterback.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
I think practically everyone would have gone with Aldrick Rosas as the place kicker, but here is one of the big unknowns of the Giants 2017 season. Rosas could literally sink the Giants season. The pressure on this kid will be immense. Along the same line, the Cowboys will be going with a rookie returner (Ryan Switzer) on both kickoffs and punts. Get down the field, put hats on him, and try to knock the ball loose. We didn’t see much of Dwayne Harris this preseason. Let’s see if he can spark the return game.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Steve Spagnuolo on Ezekiel Elliott: “He’s a premier back. There’s 32 in the world that play that position. There’s 32 teams. There are some really good backs, but he obviously proved last year that he makes an offense go. I know they have a really good offensive line, but he’s able to do all the things you want a great back to do. He has great vision. He can run inside. He bounces it outside. He turns the corner and it’s scary and he runs with power. I mean, he’s not an easy back to take down. He’s become a good pass receiver, too, so we have to worry about that. He’s a guy we have to respect and we have to go out and always be concerned about. When No. 21 is out there, we have to be concerned about it.”

THE FINAL WORD:
I always think too much is made of the first game. This is a big contest and it would really help the Giants if they can beat the Cowboys in their own park to start the season, but this is a game the Giants obviously can afford to lose. That said, the Giants match-up well against the Cowboys. The Giants strengths (passing offense) are the Cowboys weaknesses (passing defense) and the Cowboys strengths (rushing offense) are the Giants strengths (rushing defense). The Giants will be the more one-dimensional team, but the Cowboys are facing the much more talented Giants defense. If the game is close, it will come down to special teams and turnovers – and this is where the Giants could lose the game if they are not good (or careful) enough.

Sep 022017
 
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Roger Lewis and Matt LaCosse, New York Giants (August 31, 2017)

Roger Lewis and Matt LaCosse – © USA TODAY Sports

New York Giants 40 – New England Patriots 38

QUICK RECAP

For the 13th consecutive season, the New York Giants ended their preseason schedule against the New England Patriots. These two have had a couple of epic Super Bowl contests over the past decade and even though multiple starters on both sides did not dress, there is an extra sense of nostalgia seeing the Giants in their “Whites” and the Patriots in their “Blues”. The final preseason contest was less about the starters getting their reps and more about the potential backups battling it out for roster spots.

The Giants jumped out to a commanding 34-14 lead at halftime, clicking on all cylinders offensively. But just like last week against the Jets, the backup defense struggled to hold the lead and ended up losing it completely in the 4th quarter with under a minute left. Rookie Davis Webb then engineered a 7-play drive which ended with a game-winning 48-yard field goal by fellow rookie Aldrick Rosas with no time left on the clock. The Giants improved to 2-2 on the preseason with a 40-38 victory.

QUARTERBACKS

  • The backup job battle between Geno Smith and Josh Johnson was back and forth throughout the entire preseason. Smith, the more talented of the two, was on fire going 10/11 for 111 yards and a TD. He was hitting guys left and right in stride with a nice blend of zip and touch. Johnson entered the game early in the 2nd quarter, getting the majority of the snaps. He responded with his own preseason-best performance, going 11/14 for 135 yards and a TD. At their best, Smith is the better quarterback. There is no debating that but Johnson may be the more secure guy. Who wins this job will come down to which situation they prefer, really. If I had to choose, Smith is the guy.
  • Davis Webb came in during the 4th quarter. He went 8/14 for 103 yards and was a little erratic on his deep throws but continues to show excellent footwork. Webb works on his craft a lot, rollout positioning especially. It came to fruition in the game-winning drive when he evaded pressure from his blind side, rolled out to the left, and completed a nice ball. Hopefully this is the last Webb sees the field against another team until next year. All in all, he had a great preseason process.

RUNNING BACKS

  • Shaun Draughn finally got to show this coaching staff what he can do. It’s been a bumpy ride when it comes to his health and opportunities, but a 14-carry, 54-yard night, including a touchdown and a couple catches, could be enough for him to warrant a roster spot.
  • Orleans Darwka ran hard downhill, showing his physical brand and proving he is the top “pile-pusher” among the NYG backs. He has proven before that when he gets some space allowing him to gain a full head of steam, he can do damage in there. He carried the ball 8 times for 40 yards, including the long of the night, 21 yards.
  • Shane Vereen and Wayne Gallman rounded out the rest of the RB play. Vereen looked physical, especially as a blocker. He is going to be a crucial part to this 3rd down offense. Gallman struggled to break free from initial contact. He probably takes more hits than he should considering his small-ish frame, but can’t blame a back for being a fighter. He enters the season as the team’s most explosive rusher.
  • Shane Smith had his best game of the preseason and it looks like he is getting more used to the speed of the game. He is more assertive and showed a couple of nice adjustments to stick to his man and maintain running lanes.

WIDE RECEIVERS

  • No Beckham, Marshall, Harris, or King. Opportunity for the young guys who want to make this team or practice squad. Travis Rudolph led the position group with 3 catches for 46 yards, including a gutsy extension catch over the middle on a seam route. From day one, he has been the young kid who does everything right from running routes, securing and tucking the ball, and constantly catching the ball. The physical shortcomings aren’t going anywhere, but he has proven he can make plays when the opportunity is given.
  • Jerome Lane continued to impress. The raw, physical receiver showed another pure hands catch on a crossing route. For a guy that spent just one year in college as a wide receiver, the amount of untapped upside warrants a spot on the practice squad.
  • Canaan Severin, Marquis Bundy, and Ed Eagen all had impressive nights in their own respects. Severin appears to be the highest-upsided of them all and could sneak his way onto a roster spot. His ability to adjust to the ball and attack with his hands at 6’2/205 is attractive.

TIGHT ENDS

  • With Rhett Ellison and Evan Engram on the sideline to preserve safety, there were plenty of snaps to go around for Matt LaCosse, Will Tye, and Jerrell Adams.
  • LaCosse, who had as good of a training camp as anyone when it came to making plays, finally got a steady dose of action and ended up with 5 catches for 60 yards and 2 touchdowns. As a blocker, he graded out above average. I think its time this gets on the 53-man roster because he hasn’t stopped making plays since he’s been here.
  • Will Tye opened the game with a fumble on the Giants’ first drive. He continued to look more athletic than he was last season, but there is a sense of “You know what you are getting with him” when it comes to Tye. Limited upside both as a blocker and receiver.
  • Adams has turned into a dominant-level blocker. His ability to stifle, move, and stick to defenders is going to a factor this year. He is still growing into his top-tier frame and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him on the field for 10+ snaps per game.

OFFENSIVE LINE

  • All in all, a very solid performance from the backups. All 5 starters did not play, leaving it up to the back-up players themselves to give one last effort to make this team. The Patriots were very vanilla with their pass rush scheme, so that helped quite a bit.
  • The young tackles, Chad Wheeler and Adam Bisnowaty, continued to show what we have seen all preseason. Wheeler is a gifted athlete with body control and balance, but there are flashes each week that show his lack of true man-strength and lack of experience. Bisnowaty was a major disappointment in his first preseason; there is a lot of work for him to do. No player has ruined more plays by himself than the rookie from Pittsburgh. He did get some action at left guard in the 4th quarter and for what its worth, looked more comfortable there when he wasn’t forced into space.
  • D.J. Fluker excels against defenses like this, vanilla and straight-ahead power rushers. He can handle anyone that is thrown at him in that fashion. There are still a couple of occasions where he ducks his head and reaches when trying to block laterally. Brett Jones had a very solid game, especially in the run game. The team had a lot of success running off either one of his shoulders, I think the backup OC job is his.
  • Jarron Jones, a practice squat candidate, has come along OK with his footwork in comparison to where he was in August. There is no way he can be depended on if an injury were to occur, however. He continued to whiff on defenders and appear three steps behind mentally.

DEFENSIVE LINE

  • Damon Harrison, Dalvin Tomlinson, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Olivier Vernon didn’t dress for the game while Jay Bromley remains sidelined with a knee injury. The Patriots offense was held to 3.4 yards per carry.
  • Robert Thomas notched a sack along with 3 tackles, proving his multi-down threat. He fought hard to get off blocks, showing quick and strong hands and a relentless engine.
  • Kerry Wynn made the defensive play of the night, tipping a Jacoby Brissett pass to himself and returning it for a 15-yard touchdown in the first quarter. To think about how far he has come in his young four-year career is a proof-is-in-the-pudding development that shows sometimes being patient with these high-upside, high-character young guys can really pay off. He has become an important piece to this potentially dominant defense.
  • Devin Taylor hasn’t showed enough in his short tenure with the club. He is too slow off the ball and struggles to get movement on blockers. Too many plays do I have the “NF” (Non-Factor) next to his name. Same can be said for Stansly Maponga, a hybrid DE/OLB who just doesn’t fit with this scheme nor has he shown the needed athleticism.
  • Rookie Avery Moss was all over the field. Both DE spots, pass rushing OLB, coverage OLB, and pass-rushing DT. The tools are there, he just needs to put his best foot forward in the weight room. He isn’t powerful enough yet but there is a play-maker somewhere in there.
  • Jordan Williams and Josh Banks, both a tad undersized for interior play but too big and slow for the outside, get off the ball well but both were struggling to get off their blocks. They were beat on a few of the Patriots more positive running plays.

LINEBACKERS

  • B.J. Goodson, Devon Kennard, Jonathan Casillas, and Keenan Robinson (injury) did not play. Curtis Grant saw the most action in the group and responded with 8 tackles, the most on the team. He is an excellent interior defender, as he can explode into 3-5 yard creases with power and presence. Very good tackler who makes the effort to wrap up violently. He was exposed in space a few times. Grant is not a poor athlete but he does have trouble reacting laterally and in coverage.
  • Fellow backup and roster hopeful Deontae Skinner added 3 tackles while roster probable Calvin Munson recorded 2. Munson is less physically gifted but he has proven to be the most instinctual backup they have and, when it comes to that position, instincts trump all.
  • J.T. Thomas got the most live action he’s seen in almost a year and he didn’t disappoint. He had 4 tackles a forced a fumble. Thomas showed a physical brand when tackling and filling lanes to meet blockers. He was very impressive against the backups of NE and could end up being the athletic but powerful backup they need on the weak side.

CORNERBACKS

  • Janoris Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Michael Hunter, and Eli Apple all remained on the sideline. This position group has seen as much turnover as any on the team. The top 4 seemed pretty much locked in, thus I think these guys were competing for a practice squad spot or two and the final spot on the 53-man roster.
  • DaShaun Amos has been with the team all offseason and preseason, and his size/speed combination were on display against the Patriots. He is a smooth transition guy, very important for the man coverage scheme.
  • Tim Scott was in on a lot of action. He allowed a few passes to be completed in his direction but he played a physical downhill style. He made an impression on me in his 2 games here. Tay Glover-Wright allowed a touchdown pass, struggling to control his body when locating the ball.
  • Donte Deayon only played early on, but he was beat for a 1st quarter TD matched up against Cody Hollister. It was a play that further exposed Deayon’s glaring weakness, his size. He just doesn’t have a lot of range when attacking the ball against a receiver and he is so easily moved. I think he has an inside track at making this team but he needs to be avoided when it comes to placing these CBs in certain roles.

SAFETIES

  • Darian Thompson got the start, as he simply needs more and more experience. The second year, projected starter next to Landon Collins is still extremely raw when it comes to reading and reacting to NFL offenses.
  • Nat Berhe gave his weekly missed tackle when he tried to take down Austin Carr on his way into the end zone. There is such a thing as a player who is too aggressive, and Berhe is exactly that. The issues that a poor-tackling safety can present could really damn a defense. I respect his presence considering his size, but is this a guy who will hurt the Giants as much as help? More?

SPECIAL TEAMS

  • Kicker Aldrick Rosas went 4-fo- 4, including the game-winning 48-yarder. It was good to see him respond positively to a pressure situation. Even though it was a low-intensity preseason game, the Giants would have lost if he missed. Rosas went 8-for-8 in preseason games and as far as I’m concerned, did everything right to deserve the job.

3 STUDS

  • DE Avery Moss, QB Geno Smith, TE Matt LaCosse

3 DUDS

  • OT Adam Bisnowaty, S Nat Berhe, CB Tay Glover-Wright

3 PATRIOTS TAKEAWAYS

  • What New England does with their backup QB situation is going to be one of the more interesting personnel situations in the league next year. Jacoby Brissett has shown enough in his now two preseasons and the 2016 regular-season to warrant backup duty. If that is the case, teams looking for a starting QB next year could skip the development process by trading a 1st round pick for Jimmy Garoppolo.
  • Two players who I wanted the Giants to draft in the 5th and 6th rounds respectively, were both taken by the Patriots. OT Conor McDermott played a very solid RT and LB Brooks Ellis showed what liked in college (a big and physical guy with enough speed paired with excellent instincts). If either one of these guys shakes loose via roster cuts, NYG should give them a hard look.
  • When a Patriots pass catcher goes down, there is always someone that comes out of nowhere it seems. Austin Carr is a name that my boss at Ourlads was all in on from last fall all the way through the draft process. Austin Carr is the reliable route running, catch-everything no-namer that all of you may be adding to your fantasy roster soon if he can get on that 53-man roster.
Aug 302017
 
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Nat Berhe, New York Giants (September 1, 2016)

Nat Berhe – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Preseason Game Preview: New York Giants at New England Patriots, August 31, 2017

THE STORYLINE:
The New York Giants and New England Patriots have been playing against each other in the 4th preseason game since 2005. Last year was a bit of a roll reversal for each team as it was the Giants who sat most of their starters while New England played their starters, including Tom Brady. The Giants back-ups actually performed admirably well in that game.

We don’t know how Bill Belichick will approach this year’s game, but Ben McAdoo already made it known he will handle the game like he did last year. So aside from the list of injured players below, don’t expect Giants’ stalwarts like Eli Manning, Brandon Marshall, Damon Harrison, Jason Pierre-Paul, Olivier Vernon, Janoris Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Landon Collins to play. We may not eve see guys like Sterling Shepard, Dwayne Harris, Shane Vereen, and Rhett Ellison. Last year, Weston Richburg did not play and the other starters on the offensive line only played a handful of snaps.

Long story short, this is less of a competitive contest than an evaluation period for the bubble players right before Saturday’s massive cut-down deadline.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • WR Odell Beckham, Jr. (ankle)
  • WR Tavarres King (ankle)
  • DT Jay Bromley (knee)
  • LB Keenan Robinson (concussion)
  • LB Mark Herzlich (stinger)
  • CB Eli Apple (ankle)
  • CB Michael Hunter (concussion)
  • S Duke Ihenacho (knee)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
The biggest story line offensively for the Giants will be this is the final audition for the back-up quarterbacks. On Saturday, Geno Smith or Josh Johnson will be cut. And if both struggle against the Patriots, while unlikely, it is not out of the realm of possibility that the Giants cut both. Smith has looked like the more legit NFL quarterback this preseason, but as demonstrated throughout his short NFL career, he has also been guilty of the ugly turnover. Johnson simply has not impressed. At the bottom of the depth chart is Davis Webb, who hasn’t received nearly enough practice and preseason snaps to probably seriously contend for the #2 job. A shot-gun QB in college, he’s still learning the basics of NFL footwork.

Because Shaun Draughn simply was not able to stay healthy, the running back situation is easier to figure out. Paul Perkins will be the starter. Shane Vereen will probably rival him for snaps/playing time. Orleans Darkwa will probably be the short-yardage back. Wayne Gallman is the developmental prospect who will probably struggle to be active on game day.

My guess it the top three tight ends are Evan Engram, Rhett Ellison, and Jerell Adams. Will the Giants carry four? Or will they opt to go with a fullback (Shane Smith)? This is a HUGE game for Smith and tight ends Matt LaCosse and Will Tye.

At wide receiver, the Giants will surely sit Odell Beckham and probably Brandon Marshall and Dwayne Harris. It will be interesting to see if Sterling Shepard plays. Heading into camp, Tavarres King had the inside track to the #5 wide receiver position, but he has missed a lot of time. Is his job safe? Could the Giants only carry five receivers? Roger Lewis and Travis Rudolph are fighting for their NFL lives. Both have been “fortunate” to see many of the other contenders fall by the wayside due to injury (Darius Powe, Keeon Johnson, Kevin Snead, Kevin Norwood).

Lastly, this brings us to the Giants Achilles’ heel: the offensive line. Does McAdoo give the starting five extra time to prepare for the Cowboys? Or does he do what he did last year and only play the starters for about 10 snaps? Media and fans were excited to see Brett Jones replace John Jerry at right guard against the Jets, but Jerry was back at right guard with the first team this week at practice. Really, the questions here for this game is how many back-up offensive linemen do the Giants keep? And who? They will surely be actively scanning the waiver wire for upgrades. Jones may not be safe. He’s probably fighting Jon Halapio for the reserve center/guard spot. Is D.J. Fluker are sure thing? He may not bring a lot of versatility in terms of position interchangeability and he did not appear to seriously challenge Jerry. Undrafted rookie free agent Chad Wheeler has out-performed 6th-round pick Adam Bisnowaty. Do both, one, or none of these two make it?

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The starting defense is ready. Ben McAdoo would be crazy to play his best defensive players, specifically Jason Pierre-Paul, Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison, Janoris Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Landon Collins. Factor in that injured players Eli Apple, Michael Hunter, Jay Bromley, and Keenan Robinson won’t play and Giants fans should not read anything in terms of the team’s defensive performance against the Patriots. Other than possibly Donte Deayon, none of the corners playing in this game will make the team. (Let that sink in before you starting bitching on the game thread about our secondary).

The injury to Jay Bromley complicates things for the Dallas game. Bromley says he will be ready, but players usually are overly optimistic with the press. Dalvin Tomlinson or Robert Thomas may be seeing more snaps in the opener than expected.

At end, we know who the starters are. Kerry Wynn seems to be in the lead for the top reserve defensive end spot, but none of the reserves have really stood out as pass rushers in the preseason. Romeo Okwara, Devin Taylor, and Avery Moss have been quiet. One guy who may have sneaked his way into the picture is DE/DT Jordan Williams. He has flashed. This game is an important contest to all of these players. While the Giants’ sub-par secondary is getting burned, it will be more important for fans to keep an eye up front to who almost gets to the quarterback.

At linebacker, Mark Herzlich has been sidelined for weeks with a neck injury. How serious is it? Might he end up on IR? That would open things up for other reserves and/or waiver wire pick-ups. The sure bets are Devon Kennard, Jonathan Casillas, B.J. Goodson, and Keenan Robinson. There is very little depth here, especially when you consider Robinson is already battling his second concussion of the preseason. J.T. Thomas should be thanking his lucky stars. One guy to watch is Calvin Munson.

At corner, again, I don’t think anyone playing in this game has a legit shot to make the team other than Donte Deayon – and he’s no sure thing either if the Giants see an upgrade on the waiver wire. Don’t fret the CB play on Thursday night. That said, because guys like Nigel Tribune, DaShaun Amos, Tim Scott, Tay Glover-Wright, and Daniel Gray will be running around clueless, it will be tough to get a good read on the back-up safeties. I’ve been disappointed in Nat Berhe’s play this preseason. The Giants may be stuck with him, but again, I’d be checking out that waiver wire. The top three safeties obviously will be Collins, Darian Thompson (how much does he play in this game?), and Andrew Adams. None of the other reserve safeties have impressed (Duke Ihenacho, Ryan Murphy, Eric Pinkins, and Daniel Gray)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
The place-kicker competition this preseason has been as good as I can ever remember. Neither has missed and both have impressively nailed kicks from 50+ yards. This literally may come down to the last kick. Dwayne Harris’ absence has meant we haven’t had a serious look at our return game this preseason.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Ben McAdoo on what he looks for in the 4th preseason game: “We want to give every player who’s on the bubble an opportunity to show what they can do.”

THE FINAL WORD:
I think this is a good football team. But the offensive line, running game, and place kicker could sabotage the season. There are also serious depth concerns at linebacker and safety. The ankle situations for Odell Beckham and Eli Apple could be a problem, at least in the short-term.

But this Giants defense may be the best the team has had since 2007, and maybe better. This is certainly the most talent group of receivers Eli Manning has had since 2011. This is a team that should be a serious Super Bowl contender.

As for this game, the key players to watch are the quarterbacks, place kickers, fullback versus reserve tight ends, defensive ends, and linebackers.

Aug 282017
 
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Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants (August 26, 2017)

Jason Pierre-Paul – © USA TODAY Sports

New York Giants 32 – New York Jets 31

QUICK RECAP

The traditional week 3 match-up of cross-town rivals took place Saturday night at Metlife Stadium. These two franchises are going in completely different directions with the Giants in the midst pursuing at least one more Super Bowl under their long-time quarterback’s leadership and the Jets in a full-blown-rebuild state of mind. Week 3 is the unofficial final dress rehearsal for the starters, as they play more snaps in this game than any other preseason match-up. The Giants were without their two star receivers, Odell Beckham and Brandon Marshall, while the Jets sat veteran quarterback Josh McCown to let young guns Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty continue to battle it out.

The Giants jumped all over the Jets in the first half. They scored their first offensive touchdown of the preseason in the first quarter and added two more in the first-half via-interceptions. With starters playing on both sides of the ball for the first 30 minutes, the Giants walked into the locker room at halftime with a commanding 29-3 lead. The Jets answered back, mainly with Petty at the helm, in the second half and made it close. Close to the point where they were 3 yards and a 2-point conversion away from winning. On that play, rookie running back Elijah McGuire finished just inches short of the goal line, sealing the first Giants victory of the 2017 preseason.

QUARTERBACKS

  • Eli Manning looked sharp for the second straight week. He didn’t quite play the entire first half, but he went 7/14 for 121 yards and an interception that can easily be put on the offensive line. He had Roger Lewis open deep, striding towards the end zone but pressure up the middle cut off his step into the throw, forcing it to fall short and into a Jets defensive back’s hands. There are still signs of his arm lacking life and the hope here has to be it doesn’t fall off too much during the winter months.
  • More of the same from the backup battle between Geno Smith and Josh Johnson. Neither one is taking the bull by the horns. Smith looked very inaccurate and a little more rattled this time around, whereas Johnson just seemed overly pedestrian. Part of me now has the thought that Davis Webb should be given the backup job initially to help the Giants save a roster spot. If Manning were to actually go down in-season, I bet one if not both would still be available on the free agent wire. Speaking of Webb, he got in with about 8 minutes remaining in the game and went 2/4 for 20 yards, including a near interception. He did an excellent job on a pass-rush-forced rollout, keeping his eyes downfield and completing a pass near the sideline.

RUNNING BACKS

  • I discussed how I wanted to see Paul Perkins run more assertively, and that he did. Six carries for 33 yards spelled a good night for the second year back. He juked rookie safety Marcus Maye out of his shoes on a 12-yard dash up the middle, didn’t even get touched in a phone booth.
  • Shane Vereen didn’t see a lot of playing time, as they are likely trying to protect him as much as possible. Also, the 3rd spot is up for grabs between rookie Wayne Gallman and Orleans Darkwa. I think it is likely both make the team, but Gallman is certainly making his case to get touches weekly. His ability to slither through traffic and find extra yards has been apparent each week. Darkwa got the goal-line carry and touchdown in the first quarter and it looks like he may be their short-yardage option early on. In addition, Gallman is having a hard time sustaining his blocks. Shaun Draughn got in for one series but was rocked by a Jets defender and put into the concussion protocol. Tough luck offseason for him and it looks like he will be the odd man out.
  • Shane Smith had a “key” block on Darkwa’s touchdown run. I put that in quotes because it was a very simple block against a CB. Smith is showing more hesitation in traffic than I want to see. Is the game too fast for him? Especially with the amount of zone running the Giants do where he has to move laterally. Keep in mind that for the best runs of the night Smith was not on the field.

WIDE RECEIVERS

  • With Odell Beckham, Brandon Marshall and Dwayne Harris out, it was a night of opportunity for Roger Lewis and Travis Rudolph. Both took advantage of it. Lewis, as he was all of camp, was up and down. Lewis dropped a touchdown pass, albeit it was a tough play, but responded with a tough reception in traffic on 4th down right after. He also ran himself open earlier in the game on a play that could have resulted in a touchdown, but the forced under throw took away the opportunity.
  • Rudolph had one of the nicest plays of the night, snaring a poor Josh Johnson pass over the defender and completing the Giants longest play of preseason, 57 yards. He is the reliable route runner and pass catcher that quarterbacks love to work with. His value on special teams may be the final feather in his cap to make the squad.
  • Sterling Shepard showed off impressive ball skills in the 1st quarter, twisting his body to adjust to a slightly inaccurate throw, coming down with Manning’s longest pass of the night (31 yards).

TIGHT ENDS

  • Rookie Evan Engram continues to strengthen my notion of him being a big time weapon in this offense. During the scouting process last year I kept on writing down the names Aaron Hernandez and Jordan Reed. And one of my bold predictions for this Giants team is going to be….he will be better than both of them in their respective rookie seasons by a long shot (Reed 45-499-3 in 9 games and Hernandez 45-563-6). In addition to that, I like Engram’s long-term potential better than both because of his athleticism and intangibles. And one more for you, I graded Engram out almost perfect on his blocking assignments Saturday night. Watch out for this kid, a legit “Offensive Rookie of the Year” candidate.
  • Matt LaCosse, a favorite of mine during camp, finally got more involved in the passing game. Only 2 catches for 8 yards but he showed really good breaks and quick-area burst. Someone is going to scoop this guy up and if he gets his chances, he will make something happen. He was no slouch as a blocker. I would certainly take him over Will Tye if the Giants keep 4 tight ends.
  • Rhett Ellison was a non-factor in the passing game, but I mean it when I say he is a better run blocker than our tackles. He is so technically sound, his hands are incredibly strong, and he simply wants it. If you focus on him, it’s hard not to love what he brings to the table.

OFFENSIVE LINE

  • Overall, very solid night from the tackles. Ereck Flowers did allow a sack and had a false start penalty, however. Flowers’ sack was on a stunt from his inside shoulder that he didn’t see fast enough. When he commits, he doesn’t adjust well and you can bet defensive coordinators are going to attack that. He performed very well within his 1-on-1 match-ups, as this is the kind of defense he match-ups up well against. Straight-ahead bull rushers with minimal quick twitch laterally won’t win often against him. Bobby Hart had a relatively quiet night, in a good way. He is showing quicker feet and more balance. I still like him better at guard but I guess it’s time for me to put that argument away.
  • John Jerry had an ugly night, mainly because of the play that forced the Manning interception. Jerry simply lost his anchor and was pushed onto his back deep in the pocket. He has had as rough a preseason as anyone when it comes to the game action. Weston Richburg continues to a nice job hustling, playing through the whistle, making the line calls…etc. However, he just isn’t a guy who can sustain blocks against power defenders. Too many times he get stossed to the side or driven back.
  • Justin Pugh is playing better than I’ve ever seen him, and I have thought he was a Pro Bowl caliber guy over the past 2-3 years. The ability he showed to keep his balance, power, hand position, and leverage is exactly what I look for when scouting interior guys. He played excellent.
  • The disappointing backups were Brett Jones and, once again, Adam Bisnowaty. Jones is struggling with his shotgun snaps, a major no-no for centers. And while I admire his grit and hustle, he gets walked back into the pocket repeatedly by bull rushers. He does a nice job of staying on them, but he is a guy who can ruin a QB’s pocket presence because he’s always creeping in, making it smaller and smaller. I’m not sure he is the guy to make this roster as a backup OC. Bisnowaty just can’t seem to lock anyone up; he spends way too much time trying to regain his balance.
  • D.J. Fluker and Jon Halapio are my two favorite backups for the interior. Fluker is limited in space, that’s been heavily confirmed. But he consistently moves guys as a run blocker. Halapio has OC experience and I simply trust him more head up on a bull rusher. There is lower body stiffness that can get him in trouble on the move, but he plays a mean game and can get a push. Backup offensive lineman are hard to find, so you can’t kill anyone for this group being hard to watch.

DEFENSIVE LINE

  • Jason Pierre Paul is looking better than ever. Three tackles, a sack, a tipped pass, and a tackle for loss that led to a safety. He was all over the field and the Jets’ line simply had no answer for him. He is turning into a leader as well. When Romeo Okwara was getting cheap shot-ed by Jets OG James Carpenter, it was JPP who was the first to come to his defense. I have a bold prediction for him coming soon.
  • The backup DE situation is coming into picture. The Giants are rotating these guys inside/outside more than I can ever remember. Romeo Okwara showed enough stout-ness against run blockers, but he struggled to get off blocks. He continues to flash for one play, then get badly beat on the next 3-4. Kerry Wynn is the most consistent force among the backups and he is a staple on special teams. Avery Moss got a lot of playing time, even some of it earlier than usual, but failed to make an impression. And I think the writing is on the wall for Owa Odighizuwa via his play. There just isn’t enough effort or impact for him to warrant a spot here.
  • Jay Bromley’s mild knee sprain will more than likely keep him out Thursday night. This could be the beginning of an opportunity for Dalvin Tomlinson to prove his potential as the man next to Damon Harrison. Bromley gets pushed backwards too often and while the rookie 2nd rounder hasn’t been overly stout himself, he makes better adjustments. Tomlinson is a better athlete with more range and can take advantage of the fact Harrison demands so much attention because of it. Tomlinson had a quiet night Saturday but he still flashed speed and quickness within the tackle box that Bromley just doesn’t have.
  • Robert Thomas was in for a long time. I think he is a lock for the 53-man roster, but what kind of role should he play? They let him loose a little bit, got him moving up field in space and it didn’t end well. He spent a lot of time on the ground and just didn’t have the length to get off blocks. There isn’t a lot of creativity to his game, thus I think he is best suited for a stay at home, run defender-type role.

LINEBACKERS

  • Good to see B.J. Goodson show improving movement and instincts in coverage. There were two plays where Goodson called out the intended direction of the pass play pre-snap. Looks like Antonio Pierce is rubbing off on him. The same can’t be said for rookie Calvin Munson, who was the main culprit on the Jets 85-yard touchdown pass and run to Bilal Powell. In his defense, that is a tough match-up for any LB. Munson did end up with 5 tackles and continues to show solid interior run defense.
  • Jonathan Casillas recorded 2 tackles and a sack. He is excelling at gap protection with his hard-nosed, stuff-the-lane approach. The Giants defense is one of the more physical in the league now and he is a major reason why. Devon Kennard continues to show his versatility. He is pursuing guys to the sideline, rushing the passer from a DT position, and showing solid man coverage.
  • Curtis Grant got a lot of playing time and was in on 5 tackles. He is such a good looking straight-line athlete but I’m afraid the quickness of the game is just too much for him. He had a horrible missed tackle in the 4th quarter on Jets RB Elijah McGuire. Subtle change of direction and Grant whiffed in a phone booth.

CORNERBACKS

  • Hopefully these ankle injuries aren’t going to linger for Eli Apple. He is looking very good and sure of himself, especially when defending the run and short passing game. He did get away with a blatant deep pass interference call in the 2nd quarter though. And remember, those penalties are an absolute killer. He needs to trust himself more and stop grabbing.
  • Janoris Jenkins…how many cornerbacks his size can hit the way he does? He made one of hits of the night that immediately jarred the ball loose and into the hands of Donte Deayon, which resulted in a pick 6. Jenkins is at the top of his game right now; I don’t think I have ever seen him play better.
  • Speaking of Deayon, I think he is playing his way onto the roster. His pick 6 was partial luck, but this kid has always been a playmaker. Some defensive backs simply have a knack for finding the ball and making things happen. The one caveat however, he is a liability in the run game. He does show toughness as a tackler, but receivers are having a very easy time washing him out of plays when blocking.
  • Nigel Tribune had a rough night. He fell on ArDarius Stewart’s first touchdown of the night when trying to track the ball and also had a deep pass interference late in the game in the midst of the Jets monster comeback. In addition, he completely whiffed on a press attempt that led to a Chad Hansen 2-point conversion.

SAFETIES

  • Do we sound like Giants’ homers when we say Landon Collins looks like a guy that could contend for “Defensive Player of the Year”?  This guy is all over the field and it looks like the coaching staff knows exactly how to use him in his 3rd year. His 1st-quarter interception for a touchdown and several of his tackles were a result of top notch instincts. We are now seeing this every time he is on the field, whether it is practice or a game. He is the real deal.
  • Darian Thompson made an impact play, sacking Christian Hackenberg and showed good coverage in his deep third. I am still wondering if Andrew Adams is quietly in the running for the starting job. He got in there pretty early Saturday night and plays more physically with just as much range in coverage.
  • Nat Berhe and Duke Ihenacho are both overly aggressive to a fault. They launch themselves towards the action and yes, the occasional big hit is made, but they are missing too many tackles. When safeties miss tackles, bad things happen. Berhe also showed his lack of long speed in his pursuit of Powell on the long TD.
  • Eric Pinkins may have made the worst coverage-based mistake of the night on ArDarius Stewart’s second touchdown. He completely let him slip by and past, got fooled by Hackenberg looking in the opposite direction, and left Stewart literally standing all alone in the end zone waiting for the eventual touchdown pass. It was an ugly, ugly look for Pinkins who got a very limited amount of snaps.

SPECIAL TEAMS

  • The kicking battle has reached its highest point of competition. Mike Nugent was 2/2 including a 54 yarder that had some room left on it. Aldrick Rosas hit a 24 yarder on his only attempt. Neither one has missed one in any of the preseason games, a good sign. This is a tough call to make.
  • Newcomer Ed Eagen, a wide receiver, showed a quick burst on his returns but he is highly unlikely to make the team. No other notable returns.

3 STUDS

  • DE Jason Pierre-Paul, S Landon Collins, LG Justin Pugh

3 DUDS

  • CB Nigel Tribune, S Eric Pinkins, OC Brett Jones

3 TAKEAWAYS FOR NYJ

  • I bet nobody is talking about this guy, but OG Ben Braden caught my eye all night and in the re-watch. Talk about a guy who can athletically AND powerfully move guys. I think NYJ has a keeper in him.
  • This QB situation is worse than I even thought. Hackenberg may not be in the league in 2-3 years and while I like Petty’s grit, he can’t be called a starter. We all know what the deal is with McCown. Jets are clearly heading towards a top 3 pick in the 2018 Draft.
  • I loved the 2017 Draft class for NYJ, notably WRs Chad Hansen and ArDarius Stewart. I had much higher grades on them than what was out there and if Bilal Powell can prove to be a steady long term contributor in the backfield, this NYJ team will be a very friendly spot for their first-round QB next year. The turnaround may be a quick one here.
Aug 252017
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (December 6, 2015)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Preseason Game Preview: New York Jets at New York Giants, August 26, 2017

THE STORYLINE:
From a fan and media perspective, it is clear this preseason is not going as hoped for the New York Giants. The offense – which struggled to score points in 2016 – has not yet scored a touchdown. The same weak spots in 2016 appear to still be weak spots this preseason, specifically the blocking up front and the inability to generate yards on the ground. And while the Giants have not had any devastating injuries (knock on wood), they have suffered a plethora of nagging injuries that have sabotaged practice time or caused the team to churn the bottom of the roster just in order to have enough players to practice and play in the preseason without exposing starters to unnecessary risk.

The good news? Most fans – including this one – couldn’t possibly tell you what the team’s preseason records in previous years. For most Giants fans, preseason memories are limited to who got hurt (Jason Sehorn) and the occasional breakout performance (Victor Cruz) or bizarre ending (Jack Golden). A year from now, most fans won’t remember a darn thing from the 2017 preseason. What is important is for the team to physically and mentally get ready for the Dallas Cowboys on opening day.

This third preseason game has always been a bitch for the Giants. The Jets and their fans always take this game way too seriously and this is the one game where both teams have been hit by devastating injuries in the past (yes, past performance is no guarantee of future results but I’m superstitious so lay off).

What do we want to see? Stay healthy. See SOME improvement in the running game. Score a touchdown or two.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • WR Odell Beckham, Jr. (ankle)
  • WR Brandon Marshall (shoulder)
  • WR Dwayne Harris (upper body)
  • WR Tavarres King (ankle)
  • LB Keenan Robinson (concussion)
  • LB Mark Herzlich (stinger)
  • LB J.T. Thomas (knee)
  • CB Eli Apple (ankle)
  • CB Michael Hunter (concussion)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
The red flags are there. It appears that the offensive line is still an issue. And the Giants simply cannot run the football. With respect to the line, the alarming thing is that it is not just the tackles who are inconsistent, but the interior of the line has been a problem as well. One of the greatest compliments you can give an offensive line and a coach is that the whole exceeds the sum of the parts. Well with the Giants, it appears the whole is LESS than the sum of the parts. Or perhaps, the Giants really screwed up in their evaluation of the parts. To the point, EVERYONE on the offensive line has to play better. At different points, Ereck Flowers, Bobby Hart, John Jerry, and Weston Richburg have struggled to create holes for the running backs and protect the quarterbacks. They are NOT getting the job done. And worse, the Giants have no fallback plan. The only realistic option to replace Flowers is Justin Pugh, but Pugh has not taken snaps at left tackle. D.J. Fluker has received most of his practice snaps at right guard and does not appear to be a threat to unseat Bobby Hart at all. And Fluker has not received first-team reps at right guard. Brett Jones has not worked with the first team at center, but did receive some first-team reps at right guard in practice this week. The two back-up tackles are green rookies. For better or worse (and right now it is looking like worse), the Giants are pretty much stuck with Flowers-Pugh-Richburg-Jerry-Hart again.

We cannot let Paul Perkins off of the hook either. Yes, he hasn’t had much room to operate. But he also is not creating on his own or running with a great deal of instinctiveness. There has been hesitation to his play. Right now, it is fair to wonder if the Giants truly have a legitimate NFL-quality starting running back on the roster.

So right now, we’re looking at another year of a finesse, pass-first West Coast Offense that has to rely on the short passing game in order to protect Eli Manning and which has trouble even picking up one yard on 3rd-and-1. This is not a physical offense. The Giants will have to cross their fingers that Eli rebounds with a stronger season and that Odell Beckham, Brandon Marshall, Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram, Rhett Ellison, and Shane Vereen can provide match-up problems in the passing game. Yards after the catch will be key.

With four of arguably the Giants five best wide receivers out of this game, don’t expect the offense to look sharp against the Jets.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
Right now, it looks like the Giants are going to sink or swim in 2017 based on the play of their defense. The good news is that the Giants may have an emerging force at linebacker in B.J. Goodson. The guy does something other Giants linebackers haven’t done in years: make plays. If everyone stays relatively healthy (a big if), the addition of a mobile, physical middle linebacker who makes plays to this defense is huge. There will still be growing pains with Goodson, but the arrow is definitely pointing up with him. Now if Darian Thompson can take hold of the free safety position, the Giants will be in great shape on defense.

The biggest worry here is the fact that Keenan Robinson is back in the concussion protocol. He clearly suffered a setback and if he concussed himself again, who knows how long he will be out?  He’s always been an injury-prone player, but he was an underrated performer for the Giants last year in pass coverage. Also keep your fingers crossed that Michael Hunter won’t be out long at cornerback. He has developed nicely and looks to be a serious upgrade over Trevin Wade and Coty Sensabaugh. That 4th cornerback spot is much more important than fans realize, especially with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Eli Apple having a history of missing time.

Ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon seem poised for a big season. I hope the Giants don’t risk them much more this preseason. Same with Damon Harrison, Janoris Jenkins, and Landon Collins. I don’t care if the Jets move the ball against our back-ups in a preseason game.

It’s been pointed out by others on BBI, but keep an eye on a couple of relative unknown players who are flying under the radar: DE/DT Jordan Williams and LB Calvin Munson.

With Hunter and possibly Eli Apple out, and Valentino Blake leaving the team, this will be a great opportunity for Donte Deayon to make a push for a roster spot. But since he is such a liability against the run and on specials, he will have to excel in pass coverage. If he doesn’t, the Giants will be keeping an eye on the waiver wire on September 2, and not just at corner, but at safety where the play of Nat Berhe remains a cause for concern.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Not receiving a lot of press is the fact that while Aldrick Rosas has been perfect this preseason, he has begun to miss more kicks in practice, going 3-for-4 a number of times recently. Stating the obvious, this position is far from settled yet. Dwayne Harris was limited all of 2016 with various injury problems. What is a bit disconcerting is that he has been sidelined for a couple of weeks now with an unidentified “upper body” issue. The Giants not only need him on the field in the return game, but they need him close to 100 percent. Who knows what is wrong with him?

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Ben McAdoo on what he is looking for from an offense missing key components for this game: “I am looking for getting in a little bit of a rhythm. We want to take care of the ball. That’s important to us. We want to play with some physicality, complete the ball and just get a little bit better. Find a way to make some gains this week.”

THE FINAL WORD:
I don’t expect a performance by the Giants that will leave fans feeling terribly good about the state of the team. Too many of the top receivers will be out. The Giants should struggle to run the football against this defense. I’ll feel better when the preseason is past us.

Aug 232017
 
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Olivier Vernon, New York Giants (August 21, 2017)

Olivier Vernon – © USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland Browns 10 – New York Giants 6

QUICK RECAP

In front of a national stage, albeit still a preseason game, the Giants played under the Monday Night lights against the perennial bottom feeders of the NFL. Cleveland, with just one winning season since 2003, looks energized and refreshed with some of the best young talent the franchise has had in a very long time. Eli Manning and Odell Beckham suited up for their first live action of the preseason but it didn’t help get the first “W” next to Big Blue’s name.

In true preseason fashion, it was an ugly exhibition with just 16 total points scored, 5 turnovers (2 of which were QB-RB exchanges), and just two plays of 20 or more yards. The turning point came in the fourth quarter where the Giants were down 10-6 with the ball and “1st-and-goal” distance away not once, but twice. Two opportunities that close to the end zone netted the Giants 0 points and two turnovers. Even worse, the Giants left Cleveland beat up with star receivers Odell Beckham and Brandon Marshall both exiting the game with respective injuries in addition to their position group-mate Tavarres King. The Giants have played eight quarters of preseason football and have yet to cross the goal line with the ball in their hands.

QUARTERBACKS

  • Eli Manning looked solid and in full control of the offense, making several line calls with multiple changes that led to positive plays. He went 10/14 for 80 yards. He nearly threw a touchdown pass to TE Evan Engram but it was tipped away by Browns LB Joe Schobert. Manning spread the ball around well and looked accurate and confident. He was sacked once.
  • Geno Smith was the first signal caller off of the bench, coming into the game for a 2-minute drill towards the end of the first half with just 1:10 remaining. That is always a good time to see what a QB on the fence can do. Smith ended up handing the ball off to Shane Vereen twice, completing two short passes, and getting sacked by 2017’s #1 overall pick, Myles Garrett. Smith ended the night 11/17 for 79 yards and a very bad interception on a 3rd-and-goal play where he didn’t recognize the Browns coverage. More of the same from what Geno Smith’s career has presented so far: a guy who can make all of the throws, look good doing it, but has the knack for game-killing decisions.
  • Josh Johnson saw very limited action, going 2/4 for 6 yards. There wasn’t much to take out of this contest for him.

RUNNING BACKS

  • Paul Perkins had a rough night. He finished with just 10 yards on 6 carries. There can be some blame placed on the offensive line, Bobby Hart in particular, but there were two plays where he didn’t see the lane he was supposed to be running through and instead bounced it outside or to another gap where he got caught up in traffic. Upon further review, it looks like Perkins is approaching the line with too much hesitation and the assumption he needs to create on his own. There needs to be more assertiveness in his play.
  • Shane Vereen, on the field for just 11 plays, appeared to have that quick decision making on both of his runs. He was, however, running in more favorable situations, but as I said in early July, I think a healthy Vereen is just as likely to get the majority of snaps in this offense as Perkins.
  • Wayne Gallman got a lot of action, particularly in the 3rd quarter. He looked explosive, loose hipped, and aggressive. He shoots out of a cannon and sometimes even too quickly for his own good. He has the kind of big-play potential a stagnant offense needs when they hit a dead end. On a 13-play drive early in the 4th quarter, Gallman rushed 5 times for 23 yards (including an explosive 8 yard run that was called back for a hold away from the play) and caught 2 passes for 20 yards. There is a multi-faceted threat here that I think the Giants are going to use more and more as the season progresses.
  • Backup hopefuls Orleans Darkwa and Khalid Abdullah didn’t jump off the screen in their limited reps.
  • Fullback Shane Smith appears to have a strong grip on the fullback job, although I think it is still a coin flip on whether or not they carry one. His play hasn’t been translating to yards.

WIDE RECEIVERS

  • The conversation starts with injured starters Odell Beckham (ankle) and Brandon Marshall (shoulder). Preliminary reports lead us to believe both will be unaffected for week 1 in Dallas. Beckham caught 3 passes for 37 yards, easily getting open against a sub-par Cleveland secondary. Marshall was overthrown by Manning in the first quarter on a go route but it was good to see the big man run by a cornerback so easily. These two absolutely need to stay healthy for this offense to reach even close to it’s potential.
  • Tavarres King, who has the inside track at the #4 spot on the depth chart, re-aggravated an ankle injury. His frame is extremely thin and fragile looking, and he may have a hard time staying on the field consistently.
  • Sterling Shepard caught 3 passes for 9 yards and also fumbled the ball in Cleveland territory. Rough night for him, and for a guy that may be competing for snaps, it wasn’t encouraging. Weird to say something like that about a second-year player who was second among all rookies last season in receiving.
  • Roster hopefuls Travis Rudolph and Roger Lewis went for 2 catches/16 yards and 1 catch/6 yards, respectively. Both made mental errors. Rudolph’s was a concentration drop and Lewis didn’t recognize the coverage on Geno Smith’s interception and was unable to try and break the pass up.

TIGHT ENDS

  • Rhett Ellison and Evan Engram both had good nights. This position group is night and day on another level from what we saw last year. Engram caught 3 passes for 32 yards, while Ellison added 1 catch for 6 yards and made a big impact as blocker. On Paul Perkins’ 16-yard run in the 2nd quarter, Ellison blocked two separate Cleveland defenders on opposite sides of the running lane. It was a big league, high-level play that doesn’t show up in the box score. Both Engram and Ellison were lining up all over the field including a formation where they both started off in the backfield in a wishbone type formation.
  • Will Tye and Matt LaCosse both caught passes in the second half while Jerell Adams missed a quick hot route throw from Josh Johnson on the final play of the game. There is still a chance any of these three tight ends make the team, as they offer completely different packages individually. Tye looks much more athletic and sure of himself than he did in 2016.

OFFENSIVE LINE

  • We all know this group will be under the microscope all year. While they still have plenty of room to improve as a whole, the line held up for the most part. Without the Browns top interior force, Danny Shelton, the Giants first-string line was able to neutralize the Browns pass rush. However, the right side still struggled to get a constant push. Nevertheless, the glass half full approach was that the left side performed well.
  • Ereck Flowers was matched up against 2017 #1 overall pick Myles Garrett all night. Garrett did record a sack, but it was a result of Geno Smith evading pressure from the right side and running into the arms of Garrett, who was being kept outside the pocket well by Flowers. Flowers looked athletic and strong for most of his snaps. Bobby Hart, on the other hand, had a rough night. He was being controlled easily by second-year defensive end Carl Nassib. His poor run blocking led to a couple losses in the run game.
  • John Jerry, better known for his pass blocking than run blocking, was late to see a stunt in the first quarter which led to a sack of Eli Manning. He and Weston Richburg were getting very little-to-no movement at the point of attack. Too often are those two getting knocked backwards.
  • The backups on the left side, notably Chad Wheeler and Jon Halapio, performed well. Halapio was a center in college and got snaps there throughout training camp. He is still in the running for that backup center job.
  • D.J. Fluker graded out better than John Jerry by a wide margin. There will be some thought and discussion surrounding the idea that he should be the starter there, but it’s not happening. Not at this point anyway. The Giants are going to sink or swim with their current starting 5 with the hope that chemistry continues to build and covers some holes in their games individually. We know what Fluker is. He is a powerful, enormous man-mover who will struggle the second he is caught in space against quick defenders. There are severe limitations to his game.
  • Rookie Adam Bisnowaty struggled mightily for the second straight game, showing a lack of ability to react and adjust his weight. He appears to be having a very hard time adjusting to the speed at this level.

DEFENSIVE LINE

  • Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon appear to be in mid-season form already. They combined for a sack and played stellar run defense. Vernon tipped a Brock Osweiler pass in the first quarter than landed in the arms of Pierre-Paul, who covered an unbelievable amount of ground with his gazelle strides before leaping into the air and securing it. It was an extremely rare feat of athletic prowess that most defensive ends couldn’t even think about doing. Vernon made one of the plays of the night in coverage 25 yards downfield where he ran up and across the field with rookie speedster David Njoku. He also had a sack called back because of a defensive holding call away from the action.
  • Jay Bromley and Damon Harrison got the start inside. Bromley is likely in the lead for the week 1 starting job, but he is still having a hard time showing an ability to consistently anchor against double teams. He shows the occasional surge off the ball, however, that leads you to the thought, “What if?”
  • Jordan Williams was in there early in the game with the first string on a 3rd-down sub package. He made a nice tackle on a shovel pass that prevented Cleveland from continuing their drive. I am not going to compare Williams to Justin Tuck as a player, but they are awfully similar in the way they move. Williams has the versatility stemming from his size and speed to be a factor on 3rd downs from the inside. He is certainly in the 53-man roster discussion because of how much he can do.
  • Backup tackles Robert Thomas and Dalvin Tomlison are very active. They shoot off the ball well and will make plays away from the point-of-attack. Tomlinson made a tackle on a passing play seven yards downfield outside the numbers in the second half. How many interior guys do you see do that?  He is still getting pushed back by the power blocks, multiple yards, too easily and often.
  • Kerry Wynn, Romeo Okwara, and Avery Moss were pretty quiet, each only being involved in 1 tackle. Okwara was the first pass rushing DT on the field on 3rd down for what its worth. There was one play where his biggest weakness, lower body stiffness and lack of lateral twitch, was on full display when he tried and whiffed to bring down Deshone Kizer on a designed running play.

LINEBACKERS

  • B.J. Goodson led the way (get used to hearing that) with 7 tackles. For the second straight week, Goodson recorded a sack on a blitz up the middle in which he obliterated Cleveland running back Duke Johnson who tried to simply get in his way. Didn’t work out for him. Goodson continues to be the pace-maker of this physical brand of Giants defense.
  • Calvin Munson and Deontae Skinner both played a lot of snaps, as they might be competing for  the same roster spot. Munson notched 4 tackles and showed plenty of range on a 3rd-quarter physical tackle near the sidelines. Skinner, arguably the top athlete in the entire group, recorded 3 tackles of his own but also missed 2. He and Charles Grant both appear more instinctive and reactive than a year ago, but I’m not sure it’s quite enough yet. Grant is still a liability in coverage, as he was easily beat up the seam by rookie tight end David Njoku but was saved by an overthrow by Deshone Kizer.
  • Jonathan Casillas and Devon Kennard had solid outings in their limited action. Both work through traffic exceptionally well and carry a strong presence to their hits. Kennard had really nice coverage on the athletic Njoku in the first quarter.

CORNERBACKS

  • With Eli Apple out, Michael Hunter got some extra looks in the Giants nickel defense. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who also saw some snaps at safety, shifted inside to the nickel position. Hunter covered very well but lost outside contain on a running play by Duke Johnson. Fortunately it was called back due to a hold away from the action. Both Rodgers-Cromartie and Janoris Jenkins were strong in coverage and physical in the run game.
  • Valentino Blake got on the field a lot considering he is very involved on special teams. He is tough and physical, two prerequisites for Special Teams Coach Tom Quinn and we all know how much this era of Giants leadership values the specials. Blake still gives up too much yardage as a cover man, however.
  • Undrafted rookie Deshaun Amos stood out to me on a couple of occasions. He made a couple of very physical hits and showed excellent technique in man coverage.
  • Donte Deayon bounced back after a rough outing against Pittsburgh. He handled all of his allotted returns, stuck to his receivers in coverage with ease, and intercepted a pass that showed off high-level ball skills. Unfortunately it was called back due to penalty that had nothing to do with the play’s result. Deayon, as we know, is on the VERY small side and it continues to show up when he is trying to defend the run. He was rendered completely useless on a few outside runs by physical receivers.

SAFETIES

  • Landon Collins recorded a tackle and showed plenty of range against the run. He is heading for a 100+ tackle season for the third straight year.
  • Nat Berhe led the team in snaps played. He recorded 6 tackles but missed another bad one in the fourth quarter on a backup tight end. Through two games he has graded out very poorly as a tackler, something that just can’t happen from that position.
  • Darian Thompson and Andrew Adams continued to be right place, right time-type defenders without a big impact. Eric Pinkins and Duke Ihenacho did not get a ton of opportunity to display much of anything.

SPECIAL TEAMS

  • Veteran Mike Nugent got the first look on the field goal unit, nailing a 38 yarder. Rookie Aldrick Rosas hit one from 47 yards later on, but it didn’t have a ton of room left on it.
  • Brad Wing punted the ball 3 times for a poor average net (36.3 yards) due to poor coverage, mainly by Shane Smith and Orleans Darkwa.
  • The return game was quiet, with Donte Deayon, Travis Rudolph, and Orleans Darwka handling duties but all were fair catches and touchbacks.

3 STUDS

  • DE Jason Pierre Paul, DE Olivier Vernon, TE Evan Engram

3 DUDS

  • RB Paul Perkins, RT Bobby Hart, RT Adam Bisnowaty

3 TAKEAWAYS FOR CLE

  • There is a serious amount of young talent on the Browns, I think more than we have ever seen since their rebirth into the league. The upside of this team is huge if they can finally find their QB.
  • Rookie left tackle Roderick Johnson played pretty well considering he is a 5th-round pick and was up against Vernon. With Joe Thomas sitting out, Johnson’s experience in these games is huge for the long-term development of this team. He was also a high upside prospect and if he can figure it out before his name is called when Thomas retires, CLE may not skip a beat when the best left tackle of all time is no longer there.
  • Deshone Kizer was my second rated QB of the 2017 class. A weak class overall, but I still thought Kizer was a guy that could start and win plenty of games for a team. He has talent that very good QBs in this league don’t have. He was off on a couple throws but I was impressed by the quick release and easy footwork. If this kid puts his best foot forward, he has as much of a chance at being THE guy that turns this franchise around as anyone before him. And there is an offensive line there that rivals some of the best in football, which is huge for a young QB’s development.
Aug 192017
 
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Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants (November 27, 2016)

Jason Pierre-Paul – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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

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

THE INJURY REPORT:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Davis Webb – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Pittsburgh Steelers 20 – New York Giants 12

QUICK RECAP

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

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

QUARTERBACKS

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

RUNNING BACKS

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

WIDE RECEIVERS

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

TIGHT ENDS

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

OFFENSIVE LINE

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

DEFENSIVE LINE

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

LINEBACKERS

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

CORNERBACKS

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

SAFETIES

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

SPECIAL TEAMS

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

3 STUDS

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

3 DUDS

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

3 TAKEAWAYS FOR PIT

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

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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

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

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

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

THE INJURY REPORT:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Romeo Okwara – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Green Bay Packers 38 – New York Giants 13

Overview

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

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

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

Giants on Offense

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

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

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

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

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

Quarterback

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

Running Backs

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

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

Wide Receivers

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

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

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

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

Tight Ends

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

Offensive Line

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

Giants on Defense

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

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

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

The defense was only flagged once.

Defensive Line

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

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

Linebackers

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

Defensive Backs

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

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

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

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

Giants on Special Teams

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

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

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

(New York Giants at Green Bay Packers, January 8, 2017)