Oct 082014
 
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Odell Beckham and Tom Coughlin, New York Giants (October 5, 2014)

Odell Beckham and Tom Coughlin – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 30 – Atlanta Falcons 20

After things looked so bleak following the Giants second consecutive loss to start the season, everything has turned around. The Giants have rattled off three straight victories to hold their first winning record in quite some time. The defense is attacking, the offense is gelling and even the special teams avoided a major let down this week.

Below you will find the complete game review from the Giants 30-20 victory over the Atlanta Falcons.

REVISITING: FOUR DOWNS
During our game preview, we listed ‘Four Downs,’ which took a look at the top four questions surrounding the Giants heading into the game. Now that the game has been played and the film reviewed, it’s time to break it down.

First Down
Who guards whom?
The Falcons moved WR Julio Jones around quite a bit in the first half of the game, and many of the Giants defensive backs had their chances against him. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie seemed to fare the best against Jones, especially in the second half when the pass rush picked up.

Second Down
Time to feast for Giants defensive line?
The defensive line did not feast at all in the first half as a patchwork Atlanta offensive line missing four starters did an admirable job both run and pass blocking. Atlanta managed 14 first downs in the first half, averaged 4.4 yards per run, and completed 17-of-23 passes. Jason Pierre-Paul became a one-man wrecking crew in the second half. Robert Ayers also began to pressure the QB, and Johnathan Hankins made the defensive play of the game with his 4th quarter 4th-and-1 sack with under five minutes to play. Not counting two late meaningless runs, Atlanta was held to 13 rushing yards in the second half. In summary, it was famine in the first half; feasting in the second half.

Third Down
How much can Odell Beckham Jr. play? 
Odell Beckham Jr. appeared to be on the Andre Brown just-got-back-from-an-injury snap count. The wideout played 37 snaps and seemed to get stronger as the game progressed. By the fourth quarter, Beckham was fully involved in the game and making all the plays the Giants had hoped he would when the used the No. 12 pick in the draft on him.

Fourth Down
Will  Osi Umenyiora be a factor?
In the general review of things, no. Umenyiora had his first sack of the season against Eli Manning, but it was more of a coverage sack than anything else. Umenyiora put a nice move on Beatty, but Manning had time to throw, no one was open. Instead of forcing it, Manning ate the sack and lived to fight another down. Aside from that play, it was a very, very quiet game for Umenyiora in his return to MetLife.

OFFENSIVE OVERVIEW by Connor Hughes

For whatever reason, maybe it was the fact the team was looking a week forward to Philadelphia, the Giants offense was a bit slow and iffy to start the game. There wasn’t much in terms of energy, few big plays and, until Beckham ignited a rally, it looked as if the Giants were headed for a disappointing defeat. A nice second half rally led the Giants to their third straight win and lit up the scoreboard a bit, too. For the first time since 2009, the Giants offense has scored 30 or more points in three straight.

QUARTERBACK by Connor Hughes

It wasn’t his flashiest performance, but Eli Manning was consistent. The quarterback completed 19-of-30 passes for 200 yards with two touchdowns with no interceptions. He had a quarterback rating of 104.5. For the first time since 2010, Manning has had a quarterback rating above 100 in three straight games. It’s no surprise why Manning has had success the last three games: he’s had loads of time in the pocket and continues to release the ball at an alarming fast rate (second fastest in the NFL). Nearly every time Manning dropped back, he had time to scan the field.

There were two throws that were a little questionable, one on a curl route to Rueben Randle, and another on a  slant to Randle. Manning felt a little pressure, didn’t have time to set his feet and threw it anyway. Those are the throws that have gotten Manning in trouble in the past, but that didn’t happen this week. From someone who truly questioned his ability to play in a West Coast offense, Manning is looking like the perfect fit.

RUNNING BACKS by Connor Hughes

Rashad Jennings will be missed. Not just for his ability as a running back, but all of the little things he does in a game that sometimes goes unnoticed. Jennings is a pro’s pro, there’s nothing special about him and he doesn’t do anything ‘great.’ What Jennings does do is everything exceptionally well. His football IQ may be one of the highest on the team, and there’s no backing down from anyone. For a player like Andre Williams who is trying to learn the proper way to pass protect, he may have the perfect mentor:

On the play in which Jennings was injured, there was no clear cut sign as to how exactly he got hurt. He got a carry and was being brought down when a safety came in to apply an extra hit. It looked as if when the safety hit Jennings, his body bent a little funky, but no camera angle showed the direction in which his knee went. After the play, Jennings got up, walked over to the sideline and did not return.

It’s been said more times than it needs to, but Sunday simply illustrated it more: the issue with Andre Williams is not his ability to run the ball; he can do that at an extremely high level. His issue is executing in the other two facets of the game – blocking and receiving. After practices, Williams has been working with the jugs machine catching balls, and it showed Sunday. While it certainly wasn’t pretty, Williams caught two passes and turned both into first downs. After his first, he got up quite fired up.

Where Williams has made little progress, and may be a massive issue come Sunday night, is in pass protection. It’s not that Williams can’t block. He has the size and build to match up with blitzing linebackers or chip defensive ends. When he does engage with someone, it’s not as if he’s being tossed around like a rag doll. His issue is knowing who to block.

When Williams checked into the game full time, the Giants play-faked to him in the shotgun formation, then had him run directly into the line. If Williams didn’t do that, he simply ran out on a pass route. Only once that I counted, on all of his snaps, did Williams pass block straight on the snap. It didn’t go well.

Williams stepped up in the pocket, expecting a blitzing linebacker. Instead, a safety came off the edge. Williams was late to recognize this, late to get over, and, as a result, Manning had to rush a pass.

Shortly after this play, the Giants brought Peyton Hillis in. The veteran made an instant impact. Pass blocking is usually a trait running backs need to learn. Again, it’s not that Williams can’t block, it’s just that he is lacking in the experience department. Once it all clicks, he has the ability to be a complete NFL back.

WIDE RECEIVERS - by Connor Hughes

Preston Parker has filled in admirably for Jerrel Jernigan over the past few weeks as the Giants waited for Beckham to get healthy. There’s the good, there’s the bad. What Parker has done well is what his assignment is and when the ball is thrown his way, he doesn’t drop it. As was the case on his long 42-yard reception. On the play, a safety and cornerback were both matched up on Parker, but both were peeking inside at Manning. As a result, Parker got behind both and deep into the secondary. Atlanta had a linebacker playing centerfield, and he bit the wrong way, leaving Parker wide open.

Where Parker had his issues was after he caught the ball and suddenly it was his time to make a play. On one particular play, Parker made a little bit of a questionable decision on what angle to take. On third down, Parker caught the ball and turned up the field. Instead of darting up the field directly, he chose to run towards the sidelines and around Randle. Had he just cut up the field, the play may have resulted in a first down, instead of a fourth and short.

Watching the film, all eyes were on Odell Beckham Jr., and the rookie didn’t disappoint. It may not all come together this season, but Beckham has all the tools to be one of the better receivers in the NFL. He has Hakeem Nicks-like size, where he plays bigger than he is, speed and unbelievable hands. Prior to the game, when the quarterbacks were just throwing to their receivers, Beckham ran a fade route and jumped in the air, then – with his hand facing the quarterback – palmed the ball and brought it down with ease. He makes plays like this on a regular basis. It’s incredible to watch.

In the game, it was obvious the Falcons were respecting his speed. The Giants gave them reason to, running Beckham deep on many of his first patterns. Then, they took advantage of the over-anxious Falcons.

On the play that wasn’t, Manning’s throw-away intended for Beckham, there was an ever-so-slight move Beckham put on that allowed him to get open. It was the slightest movement inside that got the corner to bite. Then, Beckham burst up the field. It’s a shame Manning didn’t see it as it would have been an 82-yard touchdown.

TIGHT ENDS by Connor Hughes

After catching three touchdowns versus Washington, Larry Donnell got some additional attention from the Falcons secondary. Normally, Donnell was matched up with a linebacker, and a safety was overtop. With that attention being given to Donnell, Manning went to work with his wide receivers. The more Donnell develops, the more this is going to happen. It’s a positive for the Giants offense. Something that few thought would be said, the Giants have enough playmakers on the field to make a defensive coordinators job difficult.

On Sunday, Atlanta was focused on Donnell and Victor Cruz, that left Rueben Randle, Preston Parker and Beckham open. When the Giants played Washington last week, that attention was devoted to the receivers, leaving Donnell open. It’s going to be a week-to-week, pick-your-poison for defenses. It’s great for the Giants, bad for fantasy owners. Donnell can go off any week for 30 points, or be down with three – or in this case, zero – the next.

Donnell did make one play that won’t show up on the stat sheet, or help any fantasy team. After a Randle fumble, Donnell was one of the only players to react instantly to the ball on the ground.

OFFENSIVE LINE by Connor Hughes

As has been the case the last three weeks, the Giants offensive line was near perfect versus Atlanta. There was little pressure allowed on Eli Manning, and running lanes were opened up regularly. The one time Atlanta got to Manning, a sack by Osi Umenyiora, it was both a coverage sack, and vintage Umenyiora.

Manning had time to throw, went through his first and second reads, but no one was there. Instead of forcing the ball, he ate the sack. The fact is, if it weren’t for a great move from Umenyiora, Manning may have had six seconds to throw.

It seemed as if every time Manning dropped back to pass, he had time in the pocket. It helped. And it’s helped each week.

DEFENSIVE OVERVIEW – by Eric Kennedy

Overall, the Falcons gained 397 net yards of offense (90 yards rushing and 307 yards passing). But they were only 2-of-13 (15 percent) on third-down conversions and 1-of-2 (50 percent) on fourth-down efforts. The Falcons were also only 1-of-3 (33 percent) in red zone opportunities. The Giants only forced one turnover and that turnover unfortunately was negated by the interceptor fumbling the ball right back to Atlanta.

Aside from one play, it was a tale of two halves for the Giants defense.

In the first half, the Giants allowed 14 first downs. They also allowed 10 points on two long drives, the first covering 80 yards in nine plays and resulting in a touchdown. With 3:40 left before the half, the Falcons drove 73 yards in 11 plays to take a 13-10 halftime lead. The Giants defense did force two first-half punts and successfully held the Falcons to another first-half field goal when Preston Parker fumbled a kickoff return at the Giants 21-yard line.

In the second half, there was only one snafu, but it was a big one: a 74-yard touchdown pass from QB Matt Ryan to RB Antone Smith on 3rd-and-4 in the third quarter. That breakdown allowed the Falcons to go ahead 20-10.

However, the Falcons were limited to six first downs in seven second-half possessions, with three of those harmlessly coming with under two minutes to play with the Giants up 30-20.

DEFENSIVE LINE by Eric Kennedy

The Giants defense started to play better when the defense line started to play better. It really was almost that simple. A patchwork Atlanta Falcons offensive that was missing four starters did an admirable job against New York both run and pass blocking in the first half. Falcons running backs rushed for 50 yards on 11 carries in the first half for a 4.5 yards per carry average. In addition, although there was some sporadic first-half pressure on QB Matt Ryan, he went largely untouched and has a reasonable amount of time given the circumstances.

The line did play well on the first series with DT Cullen Jenkins (nice flow to ball carrier for 1-yard gain), DT Johnathan Hankins (tipped pass), and DE Jason Pierre-Paul (nice pursuit after short completion) all making plays. The second series, when the Falcons marched 80 yards for a touchdown, was not so good. While Hankins and JPP flashed on the pass rush on two back-to-back plays, the rest of the DL play was uninspiring. And RB Stephen Jackson finished off the drive by running in the direction of JPP and Hankins for a 10-yard touchdown. The Falcons continued to push the front around after Preston Parker’s fumble until DT Mike Patterson tackled Jackson for a 2-yard loss on 2nd-and-goal from the 2-yard line. Until that play, Patterson wasn’t looking too good, and DE Mathias Kiwanuka was having issues. The defensive line was seldom heard from on the Falcons long field-goal drive right before halftime too.

Antrel Rolle and Johnathan Hankins, New York Giants (October 5, 2014)

Antrel Rolle and Johnathan Hankins – © USA TODAY Sports Images

In the second half, the defensive tone changed as Pierre-Paul decided enough was enough. Though the stats don’t indicate it, JPP (5 tackles, 2 quarterback hits) was a one-man wrecking crew as he repeatedly pressured Ryan, helped to gum up the running game, tipped a pass, caused a holding penalty, and continued to hustle in pursuit. Two others who made contributions were DE Robert Ayers (2 tackles, 2 quarterback hits), who flashed as a pass rusher, and Hankins (4 tackles, 1 sack, 2 quarterback hits). Hankins made a superb play when he played off a block, pursued down the line, and nailed the ball carrier. Of course, the defensive play of the game was his 4th-and-1 sack of Ryan with just under five minutes to play in the game. Patterson (3 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss) also improved in the second half, and Jenkins (4 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss) also got in on the action.

LINEBACKERS – by Eric Kennedy

Jacquian Williams led the team with 13 tackles. He also had one tackle for a loss and one pass defense. I was not impressed with him early on as he got hung up on blocks on a few of Stephen Jackson’s bigger runs, including an 11-yard gain and the 10-yard touchdown on Atlanta’s first scoring drive. He continued to have issues on the next series, including completely misreading the play and running himself out of position. But as the game wore on, he got better. Williams saved a touchdown on the 3rd-and-goal shovel pass. While he missed a tackle on a short pass to RB Devonta Freeman that turned into a 13-yard gain, he later had good coverage on RB Jacquizz Rodgers on 2nd-and-goal. In the third quarter, he combined with CB Trumaine McBride to nail Freeman for a 1-yard loss after a short pass. In the fourth quarter, Williams made an excellent play in backside pursuit and nailed Jackson for a 2-yard loss.

Jameel McClain started at middle linebacker and finished with seven tackles, one quarterback hit, and two pass defenses. He flashed a couple of times on the blitz, but like Williams, got hung up on some blocks in the first half.

Mark Herzlich played 27 snaps and finished with two tackles.

DEFENSIVE BACKS by Eric Kennedy

Until the pass rush dialed it up in the second half, the Giants had issues with WR Julio Jones, who had eight catches for 88 yards in the first half. The Falcons moved Jones around all over the field and at times he was matched up on various defensive backs. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who was battling some leg issues in the game, seemed to fare better against him than Prince Amukamara. This was not one of Amukamara’s better games. On the first TD drive, Jones got open for 22 yards against Amukamara and SS Antrel Rolle. A few plays later, Prince was flagged for illegal use of hands on a play where Rodgers-Cromartie was covering Jones deep. On 3rd-and-8 on this TD drive, Jones beat CB Trumaine McBride on a crossing pattern for 11 yards. On the very next play, Jackson scored on a 10-yard run on a play where CB Zack Bowman and FS Quintin Demps could not fight off of blocks.

McBride (7 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss, and 1 forced fumble) played reasonably well. And I thought DRC, who only played 49 snaps, did a mostly positive job on the very dangerous Jones. My biggest criticism was Rodgers-Cromartie assuming Antrel Rolle would make the tackle on the 74-yard touchdown pass to RB Antone Smith. Rodgers-Cromartie pulled up and Smith was off to the races. Never assume. DRC should have ended the game with a gimme pick on a Hail Mary too, but dropped the ball.

Amukamara had some issues in coverage in the second quarter. Jones got open easily against him for 14 yards on the late field goal drive. He then played far too soft on back-to-back plays inside the 20-yard line, allowing two easy completions for 17 yards. But on 3rd-and-goal, Amukamara did play tight coverage on WR Roddy White to force Atlanta to settle for the FG. In the third quarter, he was flagged for defensive holding on the play Demps picked off the pass. To his credit, Amukamara made a nice play against WR Devin Hester on 3rd-and-4.

Antrel Rolle had 11 tackles, but his one missed tackle led to a 74-yard touchdown after a short throw to the running back. Quintin Demps (4 tackles, 1 interception) picked off Matt Ryan but promptly fumbled the ball back to the Falcons. He did make a nice play on the speedy and elusive Hester on an end around. Zack Bowman gave up a 22-yard pass to Roddy White.

SPECIAL TEAMS by Eric Kennedy

Special teams continue to be an issue.

First the good. PK Josh Brown was 3-for-3 on field goal attempts including kicks of 49, 50, and 26 yards. The 50-yard field goal – given that it extended the Giants lead to 27-20 with five minutes to go – was particularly clutch. Three of Browns’ kickoffs resulted in touchbacks. Four others were returned, including three by the dangerous Devin Hester. Hester was limited to 60 yards on three kickoff returns with a long of 22 yards. Damontre Moore made a nice stop on one return. Peyton Hillis missed a tackle opportunity on another return.

Steve Weatherford punted three times. One was returned 25 yards by Hester on play where Weatherford had to make the tackle (both Jameel McClain and Zak DeOssie missed tackles). On the second punt, the Giants got to Hester for a 2-yard loss before he lateraled to a teammate on a play that went nowhere. Weatherford nailed his third punt 67 yards. It only netted 47 with the touchback, but that kept the ball away from Hester.

Kickoff returns were not good. Quintin Demps returned three kickoffs for 60 yards. He only reached the 17, 17, and 19 yard lines on his three returns. The team would have been better off with the touchbacks. Worse, Preston Parker fumbled the ball away at the Giants’ 21-yard line, setting up an easy field goal for the Falcons.

The Giants did not return a punt in the game as Preston Parker fair caught three and Odell Beckham fair caught another. Jason Pierre-Paul hit the punter on 4th-and-4, allowing the Falcons to maintain possession on a drive in the third quarter.

(Atlanta Falcons at New York Giants, October 5, 2014)
Oct 032014
 
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Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants (August 28, 2014)

Jason Pierre-Paul – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Atlanta Falcons at New York Giants, October 5, 2014

The New York Giants look to win their third consecutive game of the season and keep within one game of the NFC East lead entering a matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles next week. The Falcons have the offensive weapons to be one of the most explosive teams in the league, but their offensive line bruised and battered beyond recognition.

What’s to look for in the Giants victory? Find out all that and more in BBI’s game preview:

FOUR DOWNS:

First Down
Who guards whom?
The Atlanta Falcons walk into MetLife Stadium with one of the best receiving corps in the NFL. The Giants, to this point in the NFL season, counter with two of the top 10 cornerbacks in the NFL. So, who gets whom? Will it be Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie versus the athletic Julio Jones? Will Prince Amukamara matched up against Roddy White? Or, will it be reversed. No matter where the Giants cornerbacks line up, the battle will be something to watch throughout Sunday afternoon.

Second Down
Time to feast for Giants defensive line?
One of the more pleasant surprises for the Giants defense this year has been the play of its defensive line. Robert Ayers Jr. has been one of the more underrated free-agent signings this offseason, Jason Pierre-Paul looks to be back to his 2011 form and Damontre Moore is developing into one of the better young defensive ends in the league. The corps, along with Johnathan Hankins, may have a field day against an injury-riddled Falcon front. Atlanta will be without center Joe Hawley, tackle Lamar Holmes and guard Joe Blalock.

Third Down
How much can Odell Beckham Jr. play? 
It’s becoming evidently clear that Giants rookie Odell Beckham Jr. will see his first action of the season this Sunday, but how much action will that be? Will he have an impact? All these questions and more will be answered if the rookie suits up Sunday afternoon.

Osi Umenyiora, New York Giants (December 9, 2012)

Osi Umenyiora – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Fourth Down
Will  Osi Umenyiora be a factor?
For the first time in his career, Osi Umenyiora will suit up and play against the New York Giants. Two years ago, the disgruntled defensive end left east Rutherford in hopes of finding a big contract with another team. When he first signed with the Falcons last year, Umenyiora boasted claims of how he’d be the defensive player of the year and how Atlanta was the most talented team he’d ever been a part of. Those hopes have yet to materialize. Through four games this season, playing in a reduced pass rusher role, Umenyiora has yet to record a sack. But he’ll be amped up to go against New York. Will Sunday be a flash back to the Osi of old? If it is, the defensive end could make it a long day for Eli Manning.

BREAKING DOWN ATLANTA:

OFFENSE – by Eric Kennedy
Strength?
The Falcons are tied with the Colts for the #1 offense in the NFL in terms of yardage (444 yards per game), and #2 in the NFL in scoring (almost 33 points per game). The strength of their offensive team is quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White. With third receiver Harry Douglas out, expect more chances for speedster Devin Hester at wideout. Jones and White may be the best 1-2 combination in the NFL at wide receiver. Jones has Calvin Johnson-like ability and we saw what Johnson did to the Giants. Ryan leads the NFL in pass plays over 20 yards, and when he’s “on”, he is a machine.

Weakness?
The Falcons have been hammered by injuries on the offensive line. The Falcons lost their left tackle in the preseason, forcing rookie Jake Matthews (#6 player taken in the 2014 Draft) to move from right tackle to left tackle. Last Sunday, they lost their starting right tackle and center for the season. In addition, their left guard will miss the game against the Giants. It will be a patch-work line for the Falcons on Sunday. That said, two of the replacements – Peter Konz and Gabe Carini – have started in the NFL. Harland Gunn is likely to start at left guard. He was just signed off of the practice squad.

DEFENSE by Connor Hughes
Strength?
Not much is going right for the Atlanta Falcons defense right now. At all. The lone “bright spot” was the fact the team did a decent job containing the run in two of their four games. Versus the New Orleans Saints, Atlanta held Mark Ingram to 60 yards running and versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it held Bobby Rainey to 41 yards rushing. What about those two other games? Well, Giovani Bernard, Jeremy Hill, Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnnon ran for a combined 377 yards on the ground.

Weakness?
Just about everything. Without Adrien Peterson and with a starting quarterback making his first career start, the Minnesota Vikings exposed the Falcons for what they are: a weak defensive team. There’s little pass rush, little physicality and even less to go by in the secondary. The Vikings scored 41 points, gained 26 first downs and 558 total yards.  The Falcons defense simply isn’t very good, and the Giant should have their way with them.

PLAYER TO WATCH:

Odell Beckham (13) and Zack Bowman (31), New York Giants (June 18, 2014)

Odell Beckham and Zack Bowman – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Connor Hughes –
Odell Beckham Jr.
It may be the easy selection, but my eyes will be glued on No. 13 whenever he’s on the field. With the way the Giants offense has been clicking the last two games, albeit against the Houston Texans and Washington Redskins, the addition of Beckham can only improve the presently surging Giants.

When Beckham was selected, he was considered a player that had the ability to score in three separate ways: receiving, kick return and punt return. Aside from that, he was all but named the starting outside receiver, allowing Victor Cruz to play in the slot. If Beckham can be the player the Giants imagined he would, the offense can take a huge step forward.

I’ll have my eyes on Beckham in how well he knows the offense. Does he zag when Manning wants him to zig? These are the little things that are ironed out by getting reps together. Because of Beckham’s hamstring, he and Manning haven’t had many together.

Eric Kennedy -
Quintin Demps
I was tempted to list Jon Beason as I believe the Falcons will need to try to run the ball quite a bit in order to prevent Matt Ryan from getting killed. But aside from special teams and turnovers, the easiest way for the Giants to lose this game is giving up big pass plays to Jones, White, and Hester. As mentioned above, the Falcons lead the NFL in big plays over 20 yards. They may not be able to sustain long drives with their beat-up offensive line, but they certainly can get cheap touchdowns. And Demps – as the last line of defense – has to be in the right spot and not give up big plays and cheap points.

FROM THE COACHES’ MOUTH:

Tom Coughlin, New York Giants (September 14, 2014)

Tom Coughlin – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Tom Coughlin –  “They’re 2-0 in their division. They started the year off with an outstanding win over New Orleans in the division. They did a very good job in the offseason of acquiring veteran players. They drafted well, they all seem to be contributing very well. All three phases are very skilled, including special teams with Devin Hester.”

Mike Smith - “I think Eli is one of the elite quarterbacks in the league. I think you are only as good as your last game in the NFL. I think that is the world that we live in. I think his body of works speaks for itself. He is a two-time Super Bowl Champion. The last two weeks he has run Coach [Ben] McAdoo’s offense that he brought in almost flawlessly. Everybody wants to jump to conclusions on one game, two games and you have to look at the body of work over a long period of time.”

FINAL WORD:

Connor Hughes - The Giants offense seems to be rolling, the defense is forcing turnovers and the special teams is, well, hanging out for the ride. In the three facets of the game, I believe the Giants offense is better than the Falcons defense, and the Giants defense is better than the Falcons offense with their offensive line issues. Special teams is the one area I believe the Giants are dramatically worse in.

It’s going to be interesting to watch the Giants cornerbacks match up against Atlanta’s receivers, but I’m not sure Matt Ryan will have the time to get them the ball. The offensive line is banged up, the Giants defensive line is playing their best football in years. This one could be over early. Giants 34 – Atlanta 17.

Eric Kennedy - Too much confidence by fans, and I fear, from the Giants this week. This is exactly the type of game the Giants have blown in recent years. Even when winning two NFL titles in 2007 and 2011, there was not a lot of week-by-week consistency by the G-Men except for the 2008 season. The Giants should win this game. But they have to prove to me they have the leadership and maturity to avoid a letdown before playing their two biggest division rivals. And Devin Hester against the Giants special teams? We’ve seen this act before. Giants dominate statistically, but Falcons score on offense, defense, and special teams. Falcons 27 – Giants 10.

Sep 302014
 
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Prince Amukamara, New York Giants (September 25, 2014)

Prince Amukamara – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 45 – Washington Redskins 14

After lethargic and bumbling demonstrations during training camp, the preseason, and the first two regular-season games, the first-team offense of the New York Giants has caught fire. In the matter of five days, the once 0-2 G-Men have righted the ship and find themselves at .500 at the quarter-point of the season. Is it a mirage or the start of something bigger? The next three games before the bye week will be very telling.

As for this particular contest, the Giants humiliated the Redskins on national television on their own home field. Despite giving up some big plays, the defense forced six turnovers and created excellent field position for the offense. The Giants offense was a machine, scoring six touchdowns. All in all, it was an impressive performance across the board.

REVISITING: FOUR DOWNS
During our game preview, we listed ‘Four Downs,’ which took a look at the top four questions surrounding the Giants heading into the game. Now that the game has been played and the film reviewed, it’s time to break it down.

First Down
Who plays free safety?
Quintin Demps was the man who replaced Stevie Brown at free safety and the former Kansas City Chief played so-so. There were highlights, like his bat down of a Kirk Cousins screen pass when he came flying in on a blitz, along with an interception. However, there were also several plays the safety missed. He opened up his hips too much and allowed an easy slant completion to Niles Paul, then also took a bad angle on the Alfred Morris touchdown run. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great for Demps, either.

Second Down
Has the offensive line turned the corner?
For the second game in a row, the offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage. Eli Manning was barely touched and the Giants rushed for 154 yards.

Third Down
Does Andre Williams see an increased workload?
Andre Williams finished the game with the most carries (15) and yards (66). Peyton Hillis saw his first action this year at running back and chipped in with 31 yards on eight carries.

Fourth Down
Can the special teams be special?
There was nothing special about the Giants special teams, but it wasn’t terrible, either. There were no big returns let up by the Giants and few lanes on punt and kick returns. Return wise, there was a nice one by Preston Parker, but it was called back on a holding. Unlike in previous weeks, the special teams didn’t stand out for a glaring mistake, it just didn’t do anything to separate itself with a “great” play, either.

OFFENSIVE OVERVIEW by Eric Kennedy

It is always dangerous to make dramatic and sweeping statements after one or two performances. This is especially true after facing lesser teams with significant injury issues. But it is clear that this offensive system under Ben McAdoo is very different from the previous system under Tom Coughlin and Kevin Gilbride. It’s not just the emphasis on the West Coast-style short-passing game – which obviously makes the offensive line look better and reduces wear-and-tear on Eli Manning. It’s the pace of the offense. In my lifetime, the Giants have never been this quick to run plays. The no-huddle is the base offense. And when it works, it’s impressive. The defense is back on its heels. The offense is dictating, not the defense. Of course, if you don’t pick up first downs, the hurry-up, no-huddle can backfire. But in this particular game, against this particular opponent, Giants fans have rarely been treated to such offensive efficiency.

Daniel Fells and Adrien Robinson, New York Giants (September 25, 2014)

Daniel Fells and Adrien Robinson – © USA TODAY Sports Images

The Giants ran 78 offensive plays. They picked up 31 first downs. They were 11-of-16 (69 percent) on third-down conversions. They gained 449 yards of offense, with 154 yards rushing and 295 net yards passing. There were no fumbles and one fluke interception. The Giants were 6-of-8 (75 percent) in the red zone. They controlled the clock for over 37 minutes.

The downside to the West Coast offense is it is a dink-and-dunk type of scheme. It’s safer, but it relies on an offense to remain relatively mistake free in order to extend drives that often end up being 8-12 plays long. A sack or penalty or negative run can sabotage a drive. For example, on the Giants third possession of the game, a holding call basically stopped the drive in its tracks. But when the offense plays mistake-free, like the Giants largely did against the Redskins, the results are impressive. While there were six pass plays of 20 yards or more, the longest was only 36 yards.

It is also important to note that their is a symbiotic relationship between offense and defense. I’ve been bitching for weeks that the defense has to help the offense by getting the ball back, either by forcing three-and-outs or turnovers. Against the Redskins, when the offense stumbled with a turnover, the Giants got the ball back one play later. Most importantly, the offense started on a short field five times – at the Redskins 24, 21, 35, 22, and 46 yard lines. Four of those drives ended with touchdowns. You cannot divorce the 45-point explosion from that key fact.

My biggest worry now? Ben McAdoo is going to be one hot coaching commodity after this season.

QUARTERBACK by Eric Kennedy

It would appear the stories of Eli Manning’s demise were premature. The two-time Super Bowl MVP has his mojo back. To confirm, he will need to demonstrate some come-from-behind heroics and another playoff run, but let’s focus on this particular game for now.

Manning was near-perfect in the first half, going 20-for-24 (with three drops) for 209 yards and three touchdowns. His first-half QB rating was 142.5. When the Giants were in hurry-up, no-huddle in the first half, Eli was in as much of a “zone” as he has ever been in the NFL. He properly read the defense, scanned the field, made the correct decision, and delivered extremely accurate throws. And he spread the ball around to seven different targets in the first half, including 15 passes to the wide receivers, seven passes to the tight ends, and two passes to the backs.

Rueben Randle, New York Giants (September 25, 2014)

Perfect Pass from Manning to Randle

Manning seems to be regaining his trust in his blockers up front, and with that, he is starting to move around the pocket without worrying about contact. That is a departure from his skittishness from the preseason. My favorite pass of his on the night was the 27-yarder to Rueben Randle where dropped the ball perfectly over the corner and in front of the safety.

My biggest criticism of Manning in this game was while his short to medium throws were mostly spot on, he missed some deep opportunities, including what should have been an easy deep strike to Preston Parker for a 22-yard touchdown and possibly a 56-yarder to Victor Cruz. He also was very lucky on one late sideline throw where the defensive back dropped a sure interception.

By game’s end, Eli was 28-of-39 (with five drops) for 300 yards, four touchdowns, and one interception (on a throw that should have been a touchdown). He also rushed for a fifth touchdown.

RUNNING BACKS by Eric Kennedy

The Giants took control of the game in the first half, when they went up 24-7. Only one-third (13-of-38) of the offensive plays in the first half were runs, with the Giants gaining 3.7 yards per carry and the longest run being only 12 yards. Obviously, Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams were not the focus early on.

Daniel Fells and Adrien Robinson, New York Giants (September 25, 2014)

Peyton Hillis – © USA TODAY Sports Images

In the second half, with the big lead, the Giants began to pound the ball more as Jennings, Williams, Peyton Hillis, and Henry Hynoski finished with 24 more carries. Interestingly, Williams finished with two more carries than Jennings and had the team’s biggest run, 23 yards. Five days after he carried the ball 34 times against the Texans, Jennings carried it only 13 times, affording the Giants’ feature back somewhat of a break. Jennings’ most important run of the night might have been his 1-yard effort on 3rd-and-1 at the Redskins 7-yard line. Jennings picked up the first down basically on his own, allowing the Giants to go up 21-7. The normally sure-handed Jennings did drop a sure touchdown pass; the not sure-handed Williams dropped a pass as well.

WIDE RECEIVERS by Eric Kennedy

As Rueben Randle and Larry Donnell improve, and with Preston Parker being an improvement over Jerrel Jernigan as the third receiver, Victor Cruz seems to be getting his mojo back as well. He’s not quite there yet, as the dropped passes remain an issue (the Giants’ first drive stalled at mid-field when Cruz dropped a 3rd-and-5 pass for a first down and room to run). But Cruz is finally more involved in the offense and he looks slippery after the catch. He caught four passes for 83 yards in the first half, including a 36-yarder (the Giants longest offensive play of the game) on the second touchdown drive, and a 29-yarder with only one second left before halftime to set up the Giants’ lone field goal of the game. Late in the third quarter, he made a very nice play with a 20-yard catch-and-run over the middle down to the Redskins 2-yard line. By game’s end, he was targeted 10 times, with six catches for 108 yards. For those who have not noticed it yet, Cruz sometimes lines up in the backfield before going out on his pattern, an interesting wrinkle from Ben McAdoo.

Daniel Fells and Adrien Robinson, New York Giants (September 25, 2014)

Rueben Randle – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Like Cruz, Randle isn’t quite “there” yet, but he’s improving. He finished as the team’s leading receiver with eight catches on 10 targets for 89 yards. He would have had a bigger night had he been able to hold onto the ball after a hit by the safety in the end zone. It looked like a touchdown regardless, but the officials ruled it wasn’t and the ball was intercepted after coming loose from Randle’s hands. Randle had a 27-yard reception on New York’s third touchdown drive of the first half. He also made an outstanding, leaping 21-yard reception down the right sideline to the 2-yard line in the third quarter. Perhaps the most satisfying play was his 12-yarder on 3rd-and-7. It came on a back-shoulder throw, the type of play Randle hasn’t been on the same page with Eli in the past.

Quietly, Preston Parker is beginning to have an impact as the Giants’ third receiver. He only caught three passes for 29 yards, but one was a clutch 10-yard gain on 3rd-and-9 on New York’s third touchdown drive. Later in the half, he had a 12-yard gain on 3rd-and-4 and drew a 17-yard pass interference penalty on the Giants field goal drive. He also dropped a pass on this possession however. In the second half, he easily got behind the Washington defense on what should have been a 22-yard touchdown but Eli overthrew him.

TIGHT ENDS by Eric Kennedy

So the Giants may not have the worst group of tight ends in the NFL. In fact, the Giants tight ends have quickly become an instrumental part of their offense, something we were clued in on as early as the Organized Team Activity (OTA) practices. At the time, we thought, “Why the heck is Ben McAdoo featuring our tight ends when our tight ends are so dreadful?” Once again, a lesson for us fans to perhaps reserve judgement until the bullets actually start flying.

Larry Donnell, New York Giants (September 25, 2014)

Larry Donnell – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Aside from the overall performance of the offense and the resurgence of Eli Manning, the story of this game has to be the emergence of Larry Donnell. Seven catches for 54 yards sounds fairly modest. But three first-half touchdowns certainly does not. As was pointed out repeatedly on the telecast, Donnell is rapidly becoming a match-up problem for defenses. Donnell got open against linebackers, safeties, and even corners in this game. He is not particularly fast, but he is an athlete with very good overall agility and body control. Combine that with his size and sure hands, and you have an emerging weapon very well suited to this type of offense. If Donnell stays healthy and humble, he could be in store for a huge season. Through four games, it’s clear that Donnell is quite comfortable making the tough, athletic catch despite opposing contact. His size allows him to out-muscle or out-reach defenders, and he is very natural catching the ball away from his large frame. The best news is that Manning is beginning to trust Donnell to make the correct adjustments during the play. On the first touchdown pass, Manning threw the ball away from the defender and Donnell expected Manning to do just that. They were both on the same page in reading how to react to the defender. That chemistry should only build with time.

We should not lose sight of the fact that Daniel Fells is starting to make some noise as the second tight end. Fells only has six catches in four games, but three of those have gone for touchdowns. For a guy who was out of football in 2013, Fells looks like a legitimate NFL contributor as a second tight end. Aside from his 2-yard touchdown, Fells caught an important 6-yard pass on 3rd-and-4 on the third touchdown drive.

The icing on the cake was Adrien Robinson’s first NFL catch. Yes, the 15-yarder came in garbage time, but hey, at this point, we’ll take it.

OFFENSIVE LINE by Eric Kennedy

The Giants offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage. Read that again. Savor it.

Please note that the improvement in Eli, the ground game, the passing game, third-down conversions, time of possession, and points all seem intimately connected to the performance of the offensive line. Duh? Well, it’s surprising how quickly many fans fail to appreciate that point.

To be fair, the Giants were facing a beat-up front seven and the short-passing game does significantly reduce the pressure on linemen to hold their blocks. In other words, the system often makes the line’s performance look better than it really is. That said, the Giants are protecting Manning – something they didn’t do last season – and they are creating running room for the backs – again something they didn’t do last season. Left tackle Will Beatty is regaining his 2012 form. Right tackle Justin Pugh is building on his solid rookie season. And of particular note, the trio of Weston Richburg, J.D. Walton, and John Jerry have been a huge upgrade over their 2013 counterparts. Eli isn’t getting pressure immediately in his face. What I like about this group is they are developing a touch of nastiness to their game. They seem to enjoy punishing defenders.

Though actual hits are often under-reported, according to the official game book, Eli was only hit once in the game. This came on the play where Jerry gave up some immediate pressure and OLB Ryan Kerrigan beat Pugh for the sack. Eli was hardly touched. And the Giants rushed for 154 yards. That’s a nice day at the office. The only other negative notes I had were a holding penalty on Jerry and inside pressure allowed by Walton and Jerry on the play were Manning was almost picked off.

DEFENSIVE OVERVIEW – by Connor Hughes

There is a telling stat that should be provided: Since taking over as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, teams are 3-12 the week after facing Chip Kelly’s team. Actually, make that 3-13 following Thursday night.

The Washington offense looked downright dysfunctional, most of that having to do with Kirk Cousins. The quarterback was throwing passes right at the Giants defensive backs and seemed completely unprepared for the game. During his first two games played this year, Kirk Cousins didn’t face much pressure. He was allowed to sit back in the pocket and wait for his guys to get open. The Giants made a concerted effort to make sure that was not the case, and Cousins didn’t respond. The quarterback was under constant pressure and made bad decisions as a result.

The numbers don’t lie, Washington finished with the following stats: 329 yards (243 passing, 86 rushing), 17 first downs and a whopping six turnovers. The six turnovers are nice, but a bit padded as well. Trumaine McBride, Antrel Rolle and Demps had balls thrown right at them. Mathias Kiwanuka’s sack-fumble and Prince Amukamara’s interception were the two that were truly “forced.” Either way, the Giants defense has gone from turnover-challenged to a turnover machine the last two weeks.

Not bad for a unit without Jon Beason and Devon Kennard.

DEFENSIVE LINE – by Connor Hughes

There’s been a lot of heat thrown Mathias Kiwanuka’s way, and some of it warranted. The veteran is no longer the player he used to be, but he’s still a very, very serviceable player. Kiwanuka set the tone early with a sack-strip-fumble of Kirk Cousins on Washington’s first drive. Kiwanuka did a great job of smacking the offensive lineman’s hands away to get around and apply the hit on Cousins. The scary part of the hit? Cousins had no idea it was coming.

The sacks aren’t there just yet for Jason Pierre-Paul, but the defensive end has been a complete and total force through the first four games of 2014. Pierre-Paul is back playing sideline-to-sideline, playing both the run and pass and seems like he’s a much more mature and intelligent player than he used to be. Pierre-Paul always had the physical attributes to be one of the league’s best, but couple in game smarts? It’s a dangerous, dangerous combination.

Pierre-Paul again made his presence felt and should have had a sack had he not been tackled by Trent Williams.

One of the reasons Cousins struggled as much as he did was the fact his timing clock was messed up from the start. The Giants put an emphasis on pressuring the quarterback as often as they could, and it worked. It didn’t matter who brought the pressure, the pocket was regularly collapsed.

While the defensive backs of the Giants got a lot of credit for the interceptions, much more of it has to go to the defensive line pressuring Cousins into the throws. Two specifically stand out. On Antrel Rolle’s interception, Robert Ayers Jr. blew up his lineman and forced Cousins to throw the ball early.

On Prince’s pick, there wasn’t pressure, but rather a forest Cousins had to throw around.

LINEBACKERS – by Connor Hughes

I understand, in essence, the decision to have Mark Herzlich in the game. Aside from the starters (McClain/Williams), Herzlich is the Giants best linebacker against the run. You put the Boston College product on the field in base formations where you expect the run, he should be able to keep it contained.

That mindset works…when opponents run the ball. When they don’t? It’s not pretty. Not pretty at all.  Three screen-grabs show the complete and total story:

The thing that is completely mind boggling is the fact those second and third photos just above were near identical plays that came on back-to-back series. I do not know how much longer Herzlich can be in the game, because he is a complete liability against the pass. When watching the film, Herzlich simply turns on both plays and runs towards the center of the field. I do not know why he’s running towards the center of the field because others were guarding the area (as you can see in the one, Rolle is there). Against good teams, those plays will cost the Giants. Beason may be back this week, which should signal the end of Herzlich as a starter. If something were to happen that opens up another spot before Devon Kennard returns from injury, I don’t know how Spencer Paysinger is kept off the field.

DEFENSIVE BACKS – by Connor Hughes

Prince Amukamara and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie earned their paychecks, holding Pierre Garćon and DeSean Jackson to just three receptions, but my eye, for the most part, was on Quintin Demps. Stevie Brown lost his spot to Demps for not making the instinctive plays that led to eight interceptions two years ago, would Demps really be a better fit?

The answer, as mentioned in ‘Four Downs,’ was both yes, and no. Things didn’t start great for Demps as he gave up a first down completion to Niles Paul on Washington’s first drive. On a slant, Demps opened his hips allowing Paul to create separation and gain the first down, but he responded well. Two plays especially stand out.

Washington attempted a receiver reverse and the receiver looked to have a lot of room to run, but Demps closed very quickly to negate anything big from happening. On another play, Demps came firing in from the edge on a blitz, leaped in the air and batted down the pass.

The one play that I wasn’t sure if it was Demps, or nickel cornerback Trumaine McBride, was the touchdown throw from Cousins to Andre Roberts. After watching it back, I believe this one has to fall on McBride. Washington came out and spread the defense, then proceeded to run four verticals. Four verticals normally line two wide receivers to the left or right with a tight end, then another receiver on the other side. All four players run streaks, or deep patterns.

In this particular situation, Washington lined up all on the far side of the field. Amukamara matched up on Jackson, McBride on Roberts and Demps, in his safety position, had the deep zone. It looked like Jameel McClain was a little slow on covering Paul, which meant Demps needed to pick up the tight end. For some reason, McBride stuttered at the seven yard line, allowing Roberts to get behind him.

Could Demps have pulled off and covered Roberts with help? Sure, but that would have meant leaving Paul wide open.

SPECIAL TEAMS – by Connor Hughes

As stated in ‘Four Downs,’ it was nothing special for the special teams, but nothing especially bad, either. Washington returned two kickoffs for 33 yards (16.5 average) with a long of 20. The Redskins did not return a punt.

Returning for the Giants, Preston Parker ran back two punts for 11 yards with a long of six. He had a 29-yard return nullified on an illegal block penalty on Nat Behre. Parker returned the Giants only kickoff of the day 34 yards. The biggest special teams screw up of the night was Parker not fielding one punt in the third quarter, allowing the ball to eventually travel 77 yards. Making matters worse was 10-yard penalty on Damontre Moore on the same play. These snafus completely altered the field position battle at the time. Josh Brown went 1-for-1 with a 29-yard field goal. Steve Weatherford punted five times, with three downed inside the 20-yard line. He averaged 45 yards per punt.

(New York Giants at Washington Redskins, September 25, 2014)
Sep 242014
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (December 29, 2013)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants at Washington Redskins, September 25, 2014

The New York Giants (1-2) square off against the Washington Redskins (1-2) Thursday evening in New York’s first NFC East matchup.

Prince Amukamara and Stevie Brown, New York Giants (September 8, 2014)

Prince Amukamara and Stevie Brown – © USA TODAY Sports Images

FOUR DOWNS:

First Down
Who plays free safety?
When the Giants released safety Will Hill, it was assumed that Stevie Brown would fill in at free safety after missing all of last season with a knee injury. The last time Brown saw significant playing time, he tied for the league lead in interceptions with eight. Those hopes of yet to materialize this year as Brown has struggled in coverage and has yet to trust the instincts that made him one of the league’s best ball hawks two years ago. Last week versus Houston, Brown was benched.

When Brown exited the lineup, rookie Nat Berhe took his place. This week in practice, Quintin Demps got the first-team reps at free safety. So who will be out there Thursday night? It’ll be interesting to look who steps on the field first, how that player performs and if there is a role for Brown within the defense as a starter. When Brown had his most success, he was allowed to play the ‘Kenny Phillips’ role. Sit back 15-20 yards from the line of scrimmage, watch the quarterbacks eyes and stop anything that goes deep down the field. Brown could be removed as an everyday starter and used in that position instead. All will be shown in Washington.

Second Down
Has the offensive line turned the corner?
With offensive lines, so many times it’s not so much about having the best players, but the players that play best together. The last two games for the Giants have been some of the best in pass protection, and last Sunday versus Houston may have been the best run blocking the team has provided in well over a year. The question now is centered around if Sunday was a mirage, or is that how the line will play on a regular basis. A good, but banged up, Washington defensive front will be a nice test.

Third Down
Does Andre Williams see an increased workload?
Rashad Jennings ran the ball an awful lot last week with immense success. In a game in which he set career highs, Jennings rushed for 176 yards and touched the ball nearly 40 times. In a short turnaround, Jennings’ body may not be fully healed just yet.

Versus Houston, Williams got a few carrie spelling Jennings, but didn’t seem to have the same success. It wasn’t necessarily a knock on Williams, but rather more attributed to the fact Jennings was playing out of his mind. Through three games, Williams hasn’t experienced the same success he found in the preseason, there’s no denying that, but that could also be due to the fact he hasn’t been allowed to get into a rhythm running the ball. Williams comes off as a player that gets stronger as the game goes on. He may have a chance to do just that tomorrow night.

Steve Weatherford (5), Josh Brown (3), New York Giants (December 22, 2013)

Josh Brown Kicks the Game-Winner in Overtime – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Fourth Down
Can the special teams be special?
For the last several years, few units in the NFL has been as porous as the Giants special teams. Be it poor coverage, poor blocking or poor returns, there’s been nothing ‘special’ about the unit. This offseason, it looked like New York made the right changes to fix the group. Trindon Holliday and Quintin Demps were signed while Odell Beckham Jr. was drafted to address the return game. Bennett Jackson was drafted and Zack Bowman signed to fix the coverage unit. Three games in, it’s the same old, same old.

There’s no explosiveness from the return game as Holliday is on the injured reserve and Beckham is dealing with a hamstring. A training camp foot injury hurt Jackson’s shot of making the roster and he’s on the practice squad. Zack Bowman has missed more special teams tackles than he’s made. A lot of criticism has been given to Tom Quinn, some of it warranted, but more needs to go to the players.

Just like the offense, playmakers need to make plays. Demps and Bowman were brought in to do that, but both have been below average three games in.

BREAKING DOWN WASHINGTON:

OFFENSE - by Connor Hughes
Strength?
As bad as it sounds, Robert Griffin III’s dislocated ankle may have been the best thing to happen to Washington this season. In Jay Gruden’s high-octane, go-deep offense, it looks as if former fourth-round pick Kirk Cousins may be better suited to play the offense, at least it’s looking that way right now. In the two games Cousins has played, the quarterback has completed 52-of-81 passes (64.2 percent) and thrown for 677 yards with five touchdowns and one interception. In fact, Cousins’ 427 passing yards last week versus Philadelphia were more than Griffin has ever thrown for in his 30 games played.

Will Hill, New York Giants (October 27, 2013)

DeSean Jackson is now a member of Washington – © USA TODAY Sports Images

While Cousins’ gaudy numbers haven’t exactly been compiled against the league’s best secondaries (Jacksonville/Philly), they’re impressive none the less. The quarterback seems to be thriving in Gruden’s offense and looks far different than the quarterback that started against the Giants in the final game of last season. Then again, having targets like DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garćon to throw the ball to helps. Last year’s final game of the season, one where Cousins completed just 19-of-49 passes for 169 yards with a pair of interceptions, will certainly be on the quarterback’s mind. The key? New York will have to  pressure Cousins and keep him off balance.

Weakness?
There really isn’t a known weakness across the Redskins offense: The have one of the league’s better running backs in Alfred Morris, two good receivers in Garćon and Jackson and a good offensive line that has allowed Cousins to be pressure on just 19 percent of his drop backs. On Thursday night, the Giants will look to find and exploit a potential hole. That could be putting pressure into the face of Cousins. Versus Philadelphia and Jacksonville, Cousins was allowed to drop back and scan the defense with little pressure heading his way. If the Giants can create pressure, either with their front four or blitzes, Cousins may be forced into mistakes. Cousins has a little bit of a reputation as a player who will take some chances. In the 10 games he’s played in, he’s thrown an interception seven.

DEFENSE -by Eric Kennedy
Strength?
The Redskins operate out of a 3-4 on defense and the strength of their defensive team in in their front seven. The Redskins were terrible defensively in 2013, but they retained defensive coordinator Jim Haslett who has mostly done a fine job during his tenure in Washington. Thus far, the Redskins look much improved on defense in 2014. Up front, ex-Cowboy Jason Hatcher is the best pass rusher at RDE. Hatcher has been bothered by a hamstring injury however. NT Chris Baker is filling for the injured Barry Cofield. Jarvis Jenkins is the LDE. The more dangerous players are at OLB with Brian Orakpo (who is dealing with torn ligaments in his left hand) and Ryan Kerrigan. Both can rush the passer and have caused the Giants problems in the past. ILB Perry Riley is an athletic, 3-down player.

Weakness?
It’s the secondary. And it’s weaker now that the Redskins have lost CB DeAngelo Hall – who has caused problems for Eli in the past – for the season. He will be replaced at left corner by rookie Bashaud Breeland. RCB David Amerson has struggled at times. E.J. Biggers is the nickel corner and Victor Cruz should do well against him. The safeties – Brandon Meriweather and Ryan Clark – are veterans who are on the downside of their respective careers.

Larry Donnell, New York Giants (September 14, 2014)

Larry Donnell – © USA TODAY Sports Images

PLAYER TO WATCH:

Connor Hughes –
Larry Donnell
Quickly, Larry Donnell is establishing himself as the complete package at tight end for the Giants. It was always known that Donnell had the ability to be a receiver, but blocking was a huge work in progress. It looks like Donnell, and positional coach Kevin Gilbride, have put in the time to fine-tune Donnell’s craft in that aspect. He took a huge step forward in that area versus Houston and Washington will provide another tough test. Tom Coughlin was hoping someone would step up at the position, someone has.

Eric Kennedy -
Prince Amukamara and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
These two have the most important match-up battles against Pierre Garçon and DeSean Jackson. With the free safety spot shaky right now, it is critical that both Amakamara and DRC  play well against Washington’s two most explosive play-makers.

FROM THE COACHES’ MOUTH:

Tom Coughlin - (On Kirk Cousins) “All you have to do is put the tape on. Forty-five points, two games. He’s thrown the ball very well – the deep ball, the percentage passes, all kinds of yardage. They’ve done a very nice job in terms of adjusting their style of play and he’s played well.”

Eli Manning, New York Giants (September 21, 2014)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Jay Gruden - (On an improved Eli Manning) “Yeah, I think so. That is just my impression of just watching them for the last 23 hours. I would say my impression coming in playing the Giants from playing them a couple years ago and studying them now, I think it is totally different.”

FINAL WORD:

Connor Hughes – 
As good as last week’s win was, it came against the same team that was selecting No. 1 overall in this year’s draft. With that being said, it’s extremely encouraging to see the rate at which the offense is picking up Ben McAdoo’s scheme. Comparing the dysfunctional unit that was on display for four quarters in Detroit, to the way the team has played the last eight, it’s an entirely different unit.

It’s not going to be easy against Washington, but just like the Giants, call the last two games what they are. Kirk Cousins has torched the Jacksonville Jaguars and Philadelphia Eagles. For any that have watched Philly this year, the defense is far from anything close to a dominant force. As for Jacksonville? Well, it’s the same old Jaguars.

The Giants defense will be the toughest Cousins has faced, and with the way the pass rush has faired this season, I think Cousins could be in for a very long day. Not only is the Giants secondary vastly improved, but so to is the pass rush. Damontre Moore looks to be a budding super star, Jason Pierre-Paul is back and Robert Ayers Jr. has been one of the best and most underrated free agent signings. If that pass rush can get into the face of Cousins and force some throws, I wouldn’t be surprised to see another two-to-three interceptions.

The game is going to come down to who turns the ball over, when those turnovers come and who makes less. If Eli Manning is good Eli, the Giants can win this one running away. It’s going to come down to who makes the fewest mistakes. I think that team will be the Giants.
New York 23 – Washington 13

Eric Kennedy – The Giants have to stop the run and make Washington one-dimensional. Offensively, the Giants should be able to do damage against this secondary if they can keep the pass rushers off of Manning. I’m 0-3 on predictions this year. Let’s keep it going.
Redskins 42 – Giants 0

Sep 242014
 
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Victor Cruz, New York Giants (September 21, 2014)

Victor Cruz – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 30 – Houston Texans 17

REVISITING: FOUR DOWNS
During our game preview, we listed ‘Four Downs,’ which took a look at the top four questions surrounding the Giants heading into the game. Now that the game has been played and the film reviewed, it’s time to break it down.

First Down
Can the defense get off of the field on 3rd down?
YES! Houston was held to a paltry 2-of-12 (17 percent) on third down and failed on their one offensive 4th down attempt (they converted on a special teams 4th down play).

Second Down
Can the defense force some turnovers?
YES! Three interceptions. One each by Prince Amukamara, Antrel Rolle, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Amukamara and DRC had shots at other passes as well.

Third Down
Can the Giants finally get the ground game going?
Rashad Jennings played like a man possessed Sunday afternoon, running for a career-high 176 yards on 34 carries including a one-yard touchdown. There will be more on this in the positional breakdown, but Jennings truly is a complete back. He can catch the ball, run the ball, but more importantly, he blocks like an offensive lineman.

Fourth Down
Can Eli Manning build on his positive performance from last week?
This sentence may be repeated quite often as the season goes on, but Eli Manning had his best game in the West Coast offense Sunday afternoon. The two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback keeps getting more comfortable and seems to enjoy the dinking-and-dunking the Giants are now doing to work down the field.

OFFENSIVE OVERVIEW by Connor Hughes

The Giants scored 30 points Sunday versus the Texans. The Giants could have scored 50.

Ben McAdoo’s West Coast offense was run near perfectly versus Houston as Manning marched the Giants up and down the field with ease on near every possession. Manning had time to throw, the team’s playmakers made plays and, for the first time all year, the Giants established a running game. It was easily the most complete game for the Giants in the short three-game season.

The one noticeable thing that may have had a lot to do with the Giants ability to run the ball were the formations in which they were running the ball out of. The Giants routinely spaced the field with three wide receivers, then ran the ball right up the gut of the Texans defensive line. Since there were three receivers on the field, the Texans couldn’t come out in their base defense. Playing in a nickel and time package, the Giants offensive line took advantage. It was big guys beating up little guys, with a few highlight plays from Jennings.

Granted, this was the Houston Texans, the same team that was selecting first overall in this year’s draft, but it was very promising to see. For the first time in awhile, the Giants dominated from start to finish.

QUARTERBACK by Connor Hughes

While Manning looked good last week versus the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday may have been the most comfortable he’s looked during a game in quite some time. Manning completed 21-of-28 passes for 234 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He marched the Giants up-and-down the field, rolled out and found open receivers on play action passes.

While Manning went deep down the field just once on the incomplete pass to Randle, he seemed entirely comfortable throwing things underneath and letting his playmakers make plays. Two of the biggest plays Sunday (Victor Cruz’s 26-yard touchdown and 61-yard reception) were both passes of just eight yards that Cruz turned into more.

Once Manning got into his rhythm, he started making Manning throws again. His second touchdown of the game, a nine-yard pass to Daniel Fells, was a thing of beauty:

RUNNING BACKS by Connor Hughes

One of the more impressive things about Rashad Jennings is his vision, it really is incredible. There were countless plays on Sunday where Jennings started one way, then made a little juke/shimmy/cutback to find another lane on the other side of the field. These are the little things that can’t be measured or seen in any drill, it’s god given.

Maybe the best example of Jennings vision came on a first-down run in the second half. It looked as if the Giants wanted to run a stretch play to the right side of the field. A stretch is a play in which the entire offensive line blocks the defensive line right, and the running back runs that way. The play is designed to get the outside.

Jennings started going this way, and the defense started their pursuit there, too. Jennings saw this, then saw the left side of the field wide open. He reversed his angle and took it the other direction for a first. You just can’t coach that. Jennings played like a man possessed.

But the biggest play Jennings made Sunday wasn’t one that shows up on the stat sheets. In fact, if it wasn’t for his play, Cruz isn’t doing any salsa in any endzone. With the Texans showing blitz in the A gap, Manning took the snap and Jennings stepped up and picked up in the blitzing linebacker. The block gave Manning enough time to fire a pass to Cruz, who then made a defender miss and raced into the endzone.

WIDE RECEIVERS by Connor Hughes

Victor Cruz caught a lot of flack for his game last week, and for good reason. Cruz asked for the ball more in order for the offense to have success, then dropped three passes when they were thrown his way.

If Cruz had caught two of the three he missed versus Arizona, the Giants probably win the game. Because of one of his catches this week, the Giants did.

It was a classic, old school Victor Cruz performance filled with yards after the catch and ankle-breaking moves. On his touchdown, the move he made to free himself was just unreal.

Cruz seems to have found himself a home in the Giants offense and is beginning to get on the same page as Manning. He’s finding the holes in the defense again.

It’s tough to know exactly what to make of Rueben Randle. He’ll make plays like last week’s one-handed grab that leaves everyone awestruck, but then he’ll play like he did versus Houston which leaves much to be desired. Randle wasn’t bad, he was just blah. The former second-round pick caught five passes for 27 yards.

When McAdoo imagined the Giants offense, I doubt designing plays for Preston Parker was what he had in mind. Either way, Parker played well filling in for Jerrel Jernigan/Odell Beckham Jr. He dropped the one ball, but made a few other catches and ran a nice route on a comeback.

TIGHT ENDS by Connor Hughes

The biggest surprise for the Giants has been the emergence of Larry Donnell as the team’s tight end. Addressing this early, I labeled Donnell as a ‘Dud’ following the game after his fumble on the goal line. The ‘Dud’ label was really just a half dud, there really weren’t any full duds coming out of that game.

With that being said, I take it back entirely. The fumble was a perfect hit by the safety who put his helmet right on the ball. Donnell could have moved the ball to the other hand, but it was more just a textbook play by Kendrick Lewis.

Donnell as a receiver continues to impress, even though that’s what he’s known as doing. Sunday, there was one play that stood out more than most. The biggest thing Donnell can develop is chemistry with Manning. To be able to adjust to plays on the fly because he can anticipate what Manning is thinking. There was a glimpse of that beginning to happen.

With Donnell perfectly covered by Daniel Manning, Manning threw a pass just behind Donnell. The tight end had to stop his pattern and jump back to make the grab, but that’s what Manning wanted him to do. Had he led him, it’s an interception. Donnell saw this, too, and made the adjustment on the ball for a helluva catch.

Donnell also took huge strides Sunday blocking. Believe it or not, the Giants let him face off against JJ Watt. Believe it or not, Donnell held his own. If that aspect of his game comes around, the Giants may have something special on their hands.

OFFENSIVE LINE by Connor Hughes

Get this out of the way now: Sometimes, J.J. Watt does things that only J.J. Watt can do. Like…

Watt is one of the league’s best defensive players, he’s going to make plays no matter who is in front of him. With that being said, the Giants did a remarkable job against him. In particular, Justin Pugh. Pugh went up against Watt more than a few of the other Giants and did very, very well. Sure, he let up a few plays, but not nearly as much as so many others.

Aside from containing Watt, the Giants offensive line played their best game in potentially two years. There were massive holes for Jennings to run through and time for Manning to throw. The player that stood out the most was John Jerry.

When Jerry arrived in New York, he was known primarily as a pass blocker. Sunday, he made some incredible plays pulling in the run game.  During the first two weeks of the season, Brandon Mosley was listed on the game day depth chart as the starting right guard. In a pre-game announcement, a ‘substitution’ of Jerry for Mosley was announced. Sunday, Jerry was listed as the starting right guard and he deserves it.

Sometimes, you don’t need the best offensive linemen to make the best offensive line. What you need is five players playing together. The last two weeks, the Giants have had that.

DEFENSIVE OVERVIEW – by Eric Kennedy

Not playing for the Giants on defense were LB Jon Beason (foot/ankle) and LB Devon Kennard (hamstring).

The New York Giants defense played very well in the first half of the game, but slackened noticeably in the second half. It was a mostly positive performance as the Giants held the Texans to a 17 percent third-down conversion rate, made a key 4th down stop, picked off three passes, and limited the Texans to 17 points.

In the first half, the Giants held the Texans to four first downs, 0-of-7 on third down, and 83 net yards (41 rushing and 42 passing) as Houston was kept off of the scoreboard. However, the Texans gained 16 first downs, 328 net yards (78 rushing and 250 passing), and 17 point in the second half. The Giants also surrendered three plays of over 40 yards in the second half, two of which came on the TD drive where the Texans cut the score to 17-10 at the end of the third quarter. The game got uncomfortably close at this point.

Overall, it was a step in the right direction, but not a complete game.

Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants (September 21, 2014)

Jason Pierre-Paul – © USA TODAY Sports Images

DEFENSIVE LINE – by Eric Kennedy

It was a solid all-around game for the Giants up front. Houston running backs were held to 85 yards rushing on 17 carries. Had the Giants not surrendered a 46-yard run to rookie Alfred Blue in the third quarter, those numbers would have looked even better (39 yards on 16 carries). The only other time the Giants were a bit soft against the run was on Houston’s opening drive when Blue picked up 22 yards on three carries. It was on these few plays where the Texans were able to successfully block DE Jason Pierre-Paul (7 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss, 1 pass defense) and DT Johnathan Hankins (4 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 1 pass defense). The big play by Hankins was stuffing the 4th-and-1 play early in the third quarter (with an assist from DE Mathias Kiwanuka and DT Mike Patterson). Pierre-Paul was very disruptive against the run at times.

The Giants only had two sacks. Among the defensive linemen, only Hankins received partial credit for a sack. But those numbers do not tell the full story. The Giants got good pressure much of the day from all four starters at different points of the contest. Pierre-Paul made his presence felt as a pass rusher and Kiwanuka and DT Cullen Jenkins (4 tackles, 1 pass defense) flashed at times. JPP caused the first interception with his hit on the Houston QB as he was throwing the ball. In addition, I really the way JPP has been hustling all over the field. When he doesn’t get to the QB, he chases and pursues the ball carrier.

Robert Ayers caught my attention several times as a pass rusher from the defensive tackle position, and Damontre Moore had a couple of quality pass rushes. Ayers helped to cause the second interception. The Giants tipped three passes and would have had more sacks had they been able to wrap up QB Ryan Fitzpatrick on a number of occasions.

Jameel McClain, New York Giants (September 14, 2014)

Jameel McClain – © USA TODAY Sports Images

LINEBACKERS – by Eric Kennedy

Without Jon Beason playing, the fear was this unit would be a major liability in this game. It wasn’t. There was the one big 46-yard run where both Jameel McClain and Jacquian Williams were blocked (along with Hankins and Pierre-Paul), but for the most part the linebackers did their job agains the run. McClain finished the game with a team-high 11 tackles, plus 0.5 sacks and one tackle for a loss. He flashed on the blitz a couple of times. Williams (5 tackles) was far more physical against the run this week and flashed on a play where he stunted with JPP and helped to cause an incompletion on third down. But both McClain and Williams also missed sacks on the elusive Fitzpatrick. Mark Herzlich (4 tackles and 1 tackle for a loss) played on the weakside (strongside in Fewell’s defense).

Oddly, the Texans never really went after the linebackers in pass coverage until the third quarter when they experienced a moderate amount of success over the middle to TE Garrett Graham and crossing routes to the slot receiver.

DEFENSIVE BACKS – by Eric Kennedy

The defensive backs played pretty well for the most part, but they did give up some big plays. The best news was the turnovers. Three interceptions, two of which led to 10 points. CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (3 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss, 1 interception, 2 pass defenses) was sharp. He got his first interception as a Giant and almost a second. DRC also stood out in run defense on one play, nailing the back for a 2-yard loss. He was often lined up against perenial Pro Bowler Andre Johnson, who was limited to 24 yards on four catches. Rodgers-Cromartie was flagged with a defensive holding penalty.

Prince Amukamara, New York Giants (September 14, 2014)New York Giants (September 14, 2014)

Prince Amukamara – © USA TODAY Sports Images

CB Prince Amukamara (5 tackles, 1 interception, 2 pass defenses) also had a interception and almost came down with two more. But he also was beat by WR DeAndre Hopkins a couple of times (a 17-yard comeback route and a 49 yard deep pass). He was also flagged for a bogus pass interference penalty that gave the Texans a 1st-and-goal from the 1-yard line.

SS Antrel Rolle gave the Giants a huge lift right before halftime with an interception and 25 yard return down to the Houston 2-yard line, setting up a score and a 14-0 halftime advantage. FS Stevie Brown and CB Trumaine McBride got burned on Hopkins’ 44-yard touchdown pass that cut the score to 17-10. This is the second time this season Brown has given up a long touchdown by not properly covering the deep half of the field. Other than that play, McBride wasn’t noticed so it appears he did a good job in replacing Walter Thurmond for at least one week.

SPECIAL TEAMS – by Eric Kennedy

There were two huge mistakes early that originally appeared would cost the Giants dearly. First, the Giants were unprepared for a fake punt that resulted in an easy 10-yard completion and a first down on Houston’s first offensive possession (thankfully, the defense saved the special teams here). Second, early in the second quarter, Zak DeOssie’s bad snap on a 30-yard field goal effort not only resulted in no points, but also gave Houston the ball at the 41-yard line.

Damontre Moore, New York Giants (September 14, 2014)

Damontre Moore blocks a punt – © USA TODAY Sports Images

On the positive side, Damontre Moore’s punt block in the 4th quarter set the Giants’ offensive up on the Houston 29-yard line, helping the Giants to extend their lead to 27-10.

PK Josh Brown was 3-for-3 on his field goal efforts (from 39, 29, and 31 yards out). Of his seven kickoffs, four went for touchbacks while three were returned for a total of 67 yards, the longest being a return of 31 yards.

Steve Weatherford punted four times with an average of 39.8 yards per punt. The only punt returned by Houston went for three yards.

Quintin Demps had one kickoff return for 17 yards. Preston Parker returned one punt for 12 yards and had another 12-yard called back due to a holding penalty on Damontre Moore. Larry Donnell recovered an onside kick.

(Boxscore – Houston Texans at New York Giants, September 21, 2014)
Sep 192014
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (August 16, 2014)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Houston Texans at New York Giants, September 21, 2014

It’s normally ridiculous to talk about “must win” games in September, but the 0-2 Giants find themselves in that situation against the Houston Texans on Sunday. An 0-3 hole would be extremely difficult to overcome if this team has any serious playoff aspirations. The problem for the Giants is that while the passing game did look sharper last week, the lack of overall talent at wide receiver (as demonstrated by the fact that Preston Parker and Julian Talley are now the #3 and #4 receivers on the depth chart), continued issues on the offensive line, and key injuries on defense (Jon Beason, Walter Thurmond) may sabotage the season.

FOUR DOWNS:

First Down
Can the defense get off of the field on 3rd down?
Everyone knew the Giants offense would struggle early this year. What everyone was counting on was for the defense to step up and carry the team while the offense adjusted to the new system. While the defense hasn’t been “bad,” it certainly hasn’t been “good” either. The biggest issue is defense can’t get off of the field on third down. The Lions were 67 percent on 3rd down against the Giants. Against the Cardinals, the New York offense only had the ball three times in the first half as the Giants defense allowed Arizona to maintain possession on drives of 11, 10, and 8 plays.

Second Down
Can the defense force some turnovers?
Somewhat related to our “first down” point, even better than forcing three-and-outs, force some turnovers. The Giants defense was supposed to thrive on turnovers this season. They have none in two games. Create a short field for the offense, or better yet, score some points of your own.

Third Down
Can the Giants finally get the ground game going?
The Giants have not been able to run the football yet this season against two very good defensive lines. This has made the Giants dangerously one-dimensional, something completely contrary to Tom Coughlin’s desires.

Fourth Down
Can Eli Manning build on his positive performance from last week?
Eli Manning played well enough for the Giants to win last week. The key now is to keep it going and build off of last week’s positive performance. Consistency is the key.

BREAKING DOWN THE TEXANS:

OFFENSE - Eric Kennedy
Strength?
The Texans can run the football. Arian Foster is a big, physical productive football player. He already has 241 yards on 55 carries in just two games. Foster can also catch the ball. And he is helped by a very solid offensive line, anchored by Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown. The offensive line has not given up a sack this season.  WR Andre Johnson, though older and affected by injury issues in recent years, is still a stud.

Weakness?
It’s tough to call a quarterback with 118.4 quarterback rating a weakness. But Ryan Fitzpatrick is with his fifth NFL team for a reason – historically-speaking, he’s been a very average to below-average historically in this league. If the Giants can shut down the Texans’ running game, the pressure will be on Fitzpatrick to make plays in the clutch. Fitzpatrick has not thrown an interception yet. He’s due.

DEFENSE - Connor Hughes
Strength?
There are things the Houston Texans do well defensively, but it starts entirely with J.J. Watt. The NFL’s newest $100 million man is a force against the run, the pass and just about everything in between. One of the things that makes him so difficult to defend is the fact he can overpower near anyone that gets in front of him.

This season, Watt is tied with Jurrell Casey as the No. 2 ranked 3-4 defensive end by Pro Football Focus, grading out with a positive 7.2 score. Rushing the passer, Watt is ranked No. 1 despite only bringing the quarterback down once. On 76 passing snaps, Watt has hit the quarterback eight times and hurried him six others. Group that with his one sack and he himself has applied pressure on 15.1 percent of an opponent’s pass plays.

During his four-year NFL career, Watt has never faced the Giants. Back in 2012, he faced the Green Bay Packers when Giants offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo was the team’s quarterback coach. Watt recorded six tackles and two sacks in that game.

Weakness?
One of the bigger weaknesses for the Texans defense over the last several years as been its secondary. That hasn’t change in 2014.

Through the first two games of the season, Houston’s two starting cornerbacks (Johnathan Joseph, Kareem Jackson) are ranked No. 104 and No. 67 respectively by Pro Football Focus. Joseph has been thrown at 12 times, 10 of which were caught by the opponent’s receiver gaining 116 yards. A quarterback’s rating when testing Joseph is a staggering 106.9. Jackson has been thrown at 14 times, allowing seven completions for 63 yards. He intercepted his first pass of the season last week.

The safety position hasn’t been much better. Starter D.J. Swearinger is the No. 46 ranked safety.

If the Giants are able to slow down J.J. Watt, there are plays to be made in the secondary. The key is going to be giving Eli Manning enough time to throw the ball.

PLAYER TO WATCH:

Connor Hughes –
Corey Washington
There was one constant throughout the entire preseason, and his name was Corey Washington. The game-winning touching-catching machine reached the hype and myth level of Jonas Seawright during his first year with the team. On Sunday, there’s a good chance he’s given the opportunity to transition his training camp play onto the game field.

With Odell Beckham Jr. still sidelined with a hamstring injury and Jerrel Jernigan on the IR, there’s just one player ahead of Washington on the depth chart to see significant playing time. In fact, it could take just one hit for Washington to suddenly become a starter. Whether he’s the first on the field in a three-wide set, there’s a very good chance Washington sees meaningful snaps as a receiver.

If those snaps come, and Washington plays well, he could supplant Preston Parker as the Giants No. 3 receiver until Beckham returns from injury.

Eric Kennedy -
Antrel Rolle
The highest-paid member of the defense has been far too quiet. Rolle has been playing his “natural” position – a position that was supposed to lead to more impact plays. That hasn’t happened. Rolle called a player’s only meeting on defense this week and challenged his teammates to play with more aggressiveness and confidence. He wants them to make plays. Rolle needs to lead by example.

FROM THE COACHES’ MOUTH:

Tom Coughlin - “(The Texans) have led in their two games six of the eight quarters. Ryan Fitzpatrick has played very well, managed the game extremely well for his team. As you know, three touchdowns, no interceptions, he has a quarterback rating of 118 and he’s played very, very well. They run the ball extremely well. Arian Foster has 55 carries for 241 for 4.4 with a long of 40. He’s an exceptional runner, plus the offensive line has given up one sack throughout the course of the two games. Their defense is a physical front eight. Versus Oakland they did provide the ball for their offensive team at the plus-21 and plus-28 with turnovers, one fumble and one interception. Against Washington, Niles Paul had a 48-yard catch, run after the catch, was stripped, lost the ball inside the 10. Their defense provided, again, the Houston defense provided the ball, turned it over inside their own 10-yard line twice in that particular game.”

Bill O’Brien - (On if the Giants are a trap game for 2-0 Houston) “Absolutely not. I was just saying something to someone downstairs here, every week is a big challenge in this league. There are great coaches and great players on the other side that we have to be prepared for. Every week is a different matchup. Houston versus Oakland is a lot different than Houston versus New York. New York versus Arizona is a lot different than Houston versus New York. It is a matchup that is very difficult because of all the players that they have and the schemes that they run. It is a very difficult challenge for us on the road.”

FINAL WORD:

Connor Hughes – I took a leap of faith last week that the Giants would pull out a victory over the Arizona Cardinals despite everything telling me the wouldn’t.

Despite Arizona starting a quarterback that hadn’t played since I graduated high school, the Giant still managed to find a way to give away the game. With 10 minutes left, the Giants led by four points. When the game ended, the Giants lost by 11 despite allowing the Cardinals to gain just 37 yards offense those final 10 minutes.

Despite the fact the Houston Texans were the worst team in the league last year, they’re talented. They have J.J. Watt, one of the best receivers (Andre Johnson) in the game and a running back that is a threat both running and out of the backfield. Last year, the Texans simply quit on their head coach. The team wasn’t drafting No. 1 for lack of talent.

If the Giants want a chance in this game, they’re going to have to avoid the turnovers, get after Ryan Fitzpatrick and force turnover. If they do all three, they have a chance at winning. Offensively, I don’t think it’s going to be pretty, but if they can avoid the turnovers, the Giants still have a shot at the victory.

With that being said, I took a leap of faith last week and fell flat. Despite Antrel Rolle’s pleas to fans, I think the Giants drop to 0-3. Texans: 21 – Giants: 13.

Eric Kennedy - Until proven otherwise, the Giants simply are not a very good football team. The offense is averaging 14 points per game and can’t seem to run the ball. There are not a lot of weapons in the passing game. Defensively, the losses of Walter Thurmond (for the season) and Jon Beason (for at least this game) are going to hurt. The defense flashes, but can’t finish. Special teams continue to remain a sore spot. It’s going to be a long season. Texans 28 – Giants 14.

Sep 172014
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (September 14, 2014)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Arizona Cardinals 25 – New York Giants 14

REVISITING: FOUR DOWNS
During our game preview, we listed ‘Four Downs,’ which took a look at the top four questions surrounding the Giants heading into the game. Now that the game has been played and the film reviewed, it’s time to break it down.

First Down
Rueben Randle
Randle had decent game against a top-flight opponent, including a spectacular, one-handed touchdown grab. But his four catches all came in the first half and he dropped a deep pass late in the fourth quarter when the Giants were desperately trying to tie the game.

Second Down
Throw me the ball
Victor Cruz made some plays on both touchdown drives, but his 3rd-and-6 drop right after the Cardinals had cut the lead to 14-13 was a major reason why the Giants lost this game. That set up the ensuing 9-point swing caused by the two special teams disasters.

Third Down
J.D. Walton
He was OK in pass protection although there was one holding call on an inside blitz. As most centers do, he struggled with NT Dan Williams, one of the best in the business, on running plays.

Fourth Down
Prince Amukamara
I saw one mistake from Prince Amukamara, but other than that, he was his normal, solid self. It helped that he, and the rest of the secondary, were playing a quarterback that hadn’t seen action in four years. The one play where Amukamara got beat was on the first play of the game. Michael Floyd ran a comeback, Amukamara played streak. Those plays happen from time-to-time.

Aside from that, the physicality Amukamara has been playing with this year is noticeably impressive. The cornerback has crept up to the line countless times and stuck his head in to make plays on the running back. Amukamara  spoke of how he wanted to take his game to another level this year, he’s done that in Weeks 1 and 2.

OFFENSIVE OVERVIEW by Eric Kennedy

The good news is that Eli Manning looked sharper and more comfortable against one of the NFL’s best secondaries. The offensive line looked better in pass protection, albeit against a defense that was missing its best pass rusher. At wide receiver, Rueben Randle and Victor Cruz were more involved. And the Giants may have found a tight end in Larry Donnell.

The bad news is the Giants have really struggled to run the ball in back-to-back games against two of the NFL’s better run defenses. The Giants are still losing the turnover battle and teams that do that usually lose. Victor Cruz came up small in this game. Most importantly, the Giants are averaging 14 points per game. You can’t win by scoring only 14 points per contest.

The defense is not helping out the offense. They have forced no turnovers and they have problems getting off of the field on third down. The Giants moved the ball well in the first half of the game against the Cardinals, but they only had three possessions to work with. They drove 48 yards on their first drive until turning the ball over, drove 30 before a third-down sack ended a drive, and finished off of the half with an impressive 13-play, 90-yard effort. One got the sense had the offense had more opportunities, they would have done more damage.

The second half was frustrating. A phantom personal foul call stopped the first drive before it started. The Giants drove 42 yards on their second drive before taking two deep shots that they were unable to connect on. They followed that up with an impressive 8-play, 74-yard touchdown drive. In the fourth quarter, with the Giants up 14-13, Cruz dropped a perfect pass from Manning on 3rd-and-6, leading to a punt and the two special teams disasters. When the Giants got the ball back with nine minutes to go in the game and trailing by 8 points, Eli and Company easily moved the ball down field until an unforced turnover by Rashad Jennings basically ended the game. The Giants had one more late shot, but two more dropped passes sealed their fate.

QUARTERBACK by Eric Kennedy

Was Eli perfect? No. But this is the best he’s looked in a long time, perhaps pre-Hurricane Sandy. And he’s starting to look comfortable in this offense. Now he has to work on the consistency. He finished the game 26-of-39 for 277 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. However, had it not been for several dropped passes, he would have been in the 30-of-39 neighborhood with perhaps 350 yards or more.

Eli Manning, New York Giants (September 14, 2014)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Most importantly, he looked comfortable and in command. He looked more like the Eli of old.

Eli started off the game strong, connecting on his first four passes for 43 yards. His costliest mistake came on 3rd-and-8 from the Arizona 30-yard line. Pressured immediately by three defenders, including two unblocked blitzers, Manning fired a pass to “hot” receiver Victor Cruz, who stumbled coming over the middle. Whether the stumble caused Eli to second-guess himself or not as he was delivering the ball, the pass was low, bounced off of the shoulder pads of a lineman, and was intercepted off of the deflection. After two completions and two Arizona penalties, the second drive ended prematurely after two short runs and a sack. On the third and last drive of the first half, Manning was 6-of-7 for 72 yards and a touchdown.

Manning only missed two throws in the first half, going 12-of-14 for 135 yards. It was a near-perfect performance.

As mentioned, the second half was frustrating. A bogus personal foul penalty put the Giants in a 3rd-and-17 before the drive even really started. Eli never attempted a pass on this possession. On the second drive of the half, after completing two passes for 34 yards, Eli couldn’t connect on two deep shots. Other than a late throw to Donnell, these were probably his two poorest throws of the game. But he followed that up by going a perfect 4-of-4 for 43 yards and a touchdown on the next possession, not counting the 25-yard pass interference penalty his throw to Victor Cruz caused. At this point in the game, Eli was 19-of-23 with only four incompletions!

The Giants defense then allowed the Cardinals to drive the field and cut the score to 14-13. After two Rashad Jennings runs, Manning threw a perfect pass to Victor Cruz who dropped the ball. Punt return for TD. Fumbled kickoff. Nine point swing. Nothing to do with Eli.

Trailing by eight points with nine minutes to play, Manning drove his team 65 yards in 12 plays only to have the drive end with an unforced fumble by Jennings. There was another drop by Cruz on this possession. But Eli completed 5-of-9 passes for 46 yards before the turnover.

New York got the ball back at their own 15-yard line with 3:19 to play, still trailing by eight points. After a short completion, there were two more drops. On 4th-and-6, Eli threw behind Larry Donnell. Game over after Arizona took 1:23 off of the clock and went up 25-14 with 1:13 to play.

Last note: Dumb coaching decision to keep Eli in the game on last meaningless possession. Not because of the stat-packing interception but because of the injury risk poised to your franchise quarterback in such a no-win situation.

RUNNING BACKS by Eric Kennedy

Andre Williams, New York Giants (September 14, 2014)

Andre Williams – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Even against good offensive lines, the Cardinals are extremely difficult to run against, and try as they might, the Giants simply could not generate a consistent ground attack against Arizona. It wasn’t that the running backs did poorly on their rushing efforts; there just wasn’t much room to run. The Giants finished the first half with only 31 yards on 13 rushing attempts with a long run of seven yards. They finished with 81 yards on 27 attempts (3 yards per carry) but even this was inflated by a late 13-yard run, down by 11 points with 30 seconds to play.

Rashad Jennings finished with 64 yards on 13 carries (3.6 yards per carry) and Andre Williams with 12 yards on 8 carries (1.5 yards per carry). Jennings did run tough and generated yards on his own. He also looked sharp as a receiver, catching 4 passes for 45 yards. Jennings had an 11-yard run where he broke three tackles and a 19-yard reception on a play where he broke two tackles. (He even blocked a punt in this game). That said, Jennings badly missed his block on a blitzing defender on Eli’s first-half interception, and his unforced fumble in the 4th quarter sealed the game when it looked like the Giants had a good shot to tie the game.

Williams, who never caught a pass his final year in college, caught 2-of-4 passes thrown in his direction for 7 yards. In a move I assume was designed to “punish” Jennings for fumbling the ball, Williams was placed in the game with the Giants needing to drive 85 yards with 3:19 left, down by 8 points. Williams, who is not a natural pass receiver, caught one pass but dropped the next. This seemed like an odd time to make a statement.

Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle, New York Giants (September 14, 2014)

Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle – © USA TODAY Sports Images

WIDE RECEIVERS by Eric Kennedy

The good news is that Rueben Randle finally got involved and while the numbers don’t look superlative (4 catches for 39 yards and a touchdown), it was a step in the right direction against a top-flight opponent in CB Patrick Peterson. His touchdown catch was a superb one-handed grab. The bad news is that Randle dropped a well-thrown ball by Manning on their last real chance to tie the game. Yes, there was contact between him and the corner, but he has to make that play in that situation.

For brief portions of the game, Victor Cruz had a positive impact. He really came on during the first touchdown drive, catching 3 passes for 41 yards, including a pass thrown behind him. He was also a factor on the second TD drive with a 14 yard catch and then drawing a 25-yard pass interference penalty. He finished the game with 5 catches for 60 yards. However, Cruz came up small in the 4th quarter and his dropped pass on 3rd-and-6 was a major reason why the Giants lost this game. If he catches that ball, the drive continues and the sequence of events that led to a 9-point turnaround don’t happen. Then, with the Giants trailing by 8 and the team desperately trying to tie the game, he dropped another pass. He’s been paid big bucks to a positive difference maker, not a negative one. Cruz also stumbled on his crossing pattern on Eli’s first interception – it’s unknown whether that caused Eli to hesitate on his delivery.

Jerrel Jernigan caught two passes for 15 yards and left the game with a season-ending foot injury. Preston Parker caught one pass for 29 yards. But he also lost his footing in the end zone on a throw from Manning that fell incomplete. Unfortunately, this came on the play right before Jennings’ fumble.

TIGHT ENDS by Eric Kennedy

Larry Donnell has now been the leading Giants’ receiver for two games in a row. Two games do not make a trend, but it is a very positive sign. It’s not just the amount of catches, but the quality of catches. Donnell looks athletic down the field, he is adjusting to the ball well, and he is making difficult catches in traffic. Now if he can just work on his run-after-the-catch skills, we may really have found something. Donnell was targeted nine times, catching seven passes for 81 yards. He also had another catch wiped out due to a penalty. His blocking is not as bad as some fans think. Donnell received 58 offensive snaps while Daniel Fells received 20. Fells caught a 1-yard touchdown pass to put the G-Men ahead 14-10.

OFFENSIVE LINE by Eric Kennedy

Bottom line is the pass protection was much better this week but the run blocking wasn’t very good. Much of that had to do with the opponent. Arizona is VERY tough to run the ball on. RDE Calais Campbell and NT Dan Williams in particular gave the Giants fits, but these two give all of their opponents fits. Also, since LB John Abraham did not play, the Cardinals pass rush was not at its best. Also, like Eli of old, I think he did a good job of making the line look better in pass protection at times by getting rid of the ball quickly. This was the specific intention of Ben McAdoo’s new offense as well.

The two linemen who had the most problems were LG Weston Richburg and OC J.D. Walton. But these two also faced the toughest opponents in Campbell and Williams. #93 and #92 for the Cardinals were all over the field on Sunday, unfortunately for the Giants. Richburg gave up two sacks to Campbell, one that was wiped out due to a questionable penalty on the Cardinals. A few plays later, the right side of the offensive line, Justin Pugh, John Jerry, and Walton seemed to be confused by a stunt as Eli was sacked on 3rd-and-7. This is not unusual for a line that has hardly played together. Walton was flagged with a holding call in the third quarter on an inside blitz. Other than that, the line pass protected fairly well. Will Beatty, Pugh, and Jerry did not suffer any significant breakdowns (Beatty did give up some pressure on the first pick).

Run blocking was another story. The Cardinals front seven is just really, really good in run defense and against an offensive line that has very little playing time together, they pretty much dominated up front. The Giants could not handle Campbell and Williams, and those two allowed the Cardinals linebackers to run cleanly to the ball carriers. It really was that simple.

DEFENSIVE OVERVIEW – by Connor Hughes

The Giants defense wasn’t without much Sunday afternoon. Linebacker Devon Kennard, defensive end Kerry Wynn and defensive tackle Markus Kuhn were the only defensive players to miss Sunday’s game.

It was strange watching Sunday’s game film, it truly was. In fact, following the conclusion of the game, I was still a bit puzzled on how the film I watched was that of a loss, not a win. The Giants rushed the passer, contained – when they had to – the run and played solid coverage. In fact, if it wasn’t for penalties, it would have been a near perfect game.

But still, it was a loss. It wasn’t as if the reason was hidden, the Giants turned the ball over four times, but it was surprising none the less.

DEFENSIVE LINE – by Connor Hughes

Start with the most glaring observation from watching the film: Jason Pierre-Paul is back. Be it 2011 JPP, or a new-and-improved 2013 one, Pierre-Paul showed Sunday that he has put the last two seasons of injury-related struggles very far in his rear view mirror. Pierre-Paul stuffed the run and rushed the passer, but there was one play that stood out more than any: His sack.

Obviously, it was a sack, so it’s going to stand out. But this one stuck out for a different reason. On the play, the Cardinals tried their best to take advantage of Pierre-Paul’s aggressiveness. Drew Stanton dropped back, and waited slightly before turning to look at his tight end. What the Cardinals wanted to do was have the tight end chip JPP, then let him go and have Stanton throw the ball right over JPP’s head. The only issue? Pierre-Paul didn’t bite.

At all.

Pierre-Paul stuck with the tight end causing Stanton to hold on to the ball. It wasn’t until the play broke down and Stanton went to run that Pierre-Paul left the tight end’s side. it was great play recognition by the former All-Pro.

Through the first two games of the season, Pierre-Paul is ranked as the league’s best run stopper as a 4-3 defensive end. Here’s a pretty accurate description of how he’s gotten those praises.

Pierre-Paul is starting to play as his mouth has indicated he would throughout the entire offseason. Those incredible plays Pierre-Paul used to make on an every-Sunday basis are beginning to return. Even when he doesn’t reach the quarterback, he’s disrupting the play. Pierre-Paul, by my count, had two bat-downs of passes. Here’s a clip of one I’m still not sure how he hit.

Another player who had a pretty good game as a defensive end was Robert Ayers Jr. During the preseason, Ayers was one of the unsung heroes who quietly played very well when in the game. It could have been a favorable match-up, but when Ayers came off the edge, he reached the quarterback with ease. Ayers had one sack clean, then one nullified by a penalty. The most impressive part of both of them was the jump he got off the ball.

When Johnathan Hankins was drafted by the Giants, it was as a big run stuffer. Two games into the season, it looks like run-stopper is just one of the many labels that will be given to Hankins. While it’s still early, the Giants may have the complete package at the defensive tackle position, something they haven’t been able to take claim to in quite some time. Hankins routinely collapsed the pocket on Stanton, running over whomever the offense put in front of him. His play progression on his first career sack was a thing of beauty:

Damontre Moore has yet to get his first career sack. Matt Stafford juked him out last week. Stanton climbed the pocket and fell into the arms of Mathias Kiwanuka/Jason Pierre-Paul this week. While he’s yet to bring the quarterback down himself, Moore still continues to flash. He got double the reps as last week and made it count. It may only be a matter of time before he supplants Kiwanuka as the Giants starting defensive end opposite Pierre-Paul.

LINEBACKERS – by Connor Hughes

Jordan Raanan of NJ.com had a great breakdown of the Jon Beason injury with a near frame-by-frame look at how the Giants captain was injured. When he was replaced by Mark Herzlich, it wasn’t pretty.

After signing with the Giants as an undrafted free agent, it appeared as if Herzlich was on the fast track to take over as the Giants middle linebacker of the future. The team gave him every shot to grab hold of the position, Herzlich just isn’t a starting middle linebacker in the NFL. He’s a fine special teams player, but defensively he’s a liability.

Another player who didn’t have a spectacular game was Jameel McClain. McClain got himself in position to make plays, he just didn’t. There were two counts that I saw where he had contain on the outside, but failed to shed his block and make the tackle. The result of both runs were first downs.

Jacquian Williams didn’t stand out for any negative reasons. He made a few nice plays on the run, and never should have been in pass coverage against a wide receiver.

DEFENSIVE BACKS – by Connor Hughes

Prince Amukamara continues to impress, as was outlined in the four downs section at the top. The physicality in which he has brought to the table this year is far more than in year’s past. There was a lot of talk last week on Amukamara being ‘better’ than Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, but Rodgers-Cromartie had himself a game. There was tight coverage and physicality. He looked every bit as good as what New York hoped he’d be when it signed him to a mega deal this offseason.

Stevie Brown struggled versus the Lions, but played much better on Sunday. There was one play though he needs to make. Monday afternoon, Tom Coughlin was irate at the fact his defense has yet to force a turnover. It’s not for lack of opportunities. Similar to the offense, the playmakers need to make plays. Brown had a golden opportunity to haul in an interception and just dropped it.

The Giants are going to miss Walter Thurmond III this year. The nickel cornerback, who tore his pectoral muscle on Sunday, flashed several times the physicality the Giants were hoping he’d bring to the secondary. Thurmond loves to hit, something he clearly brought over from Seattle, and closes extremely quick on wide receivers who make catches at the line of scrimmage.

SPECIAL TEAMS – by Connor Hughes

The good first: Rashad Jennings perfectly fits what New York wants in a running back. He’s tough, he’s physical and he goes 100 percent on every single play. Doesn’t matter if he’s rushing, blocking, receiving… or playing punt team. Jennings went all out in an attempt to get a punt block and actually tipped it.

Zack Bowman caught a lot of flak for the missed tackle on Ted Ginn Jr. and it was warranted, he has to make that tackle. With that being said, he’s hardly the only one at fault:

(Boxscore – Arizona Cardinals at New York Giants, September 14, 2014)
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (September 8, 2014)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Arizona Cardinals at New York Giants, September 14, 2014

Stats and analysis courtesy of Pro Football Focus

Earlier this week, New York Giants offensive coordinator  Ben McAdoo said one of the things that he was encouraged by when watching the film of the debacle in Detroit, was the mistakes his offense made weren’t the same ones, but different.

While NJ.com’s Jordan Raanan pointed out the contrary, there was no denying that Monday featured plays to be made, the Giants simply didn’t make them. Versus Arizona this Sunday at 1:00 PM, the Giants hope to change that and get their first win of the season.

In fact, after starting last season 0-6 last year, there’s been a different feel around the locker room this week in practice. The Giants know that in order to keep those 0-6 thoughts out of their minds, they need to win a game. 1-1 looks a lot better than 0-2.

Rueben Randle, New York Giants (September 8, 2014)

Rueben Randle – © USA TODAY Sports Images

FOUR DOWNS:

First Down
Rueben Randle
It wasn’t pretty for Rueben Randle last week in Detroit. Maybe not because of Randle himself, but because he wasn’t targeted by Eli Manning. The former second-round pick caught just two passes for one yard on three targets. Comparing that to tight end Larry Donnell making his first start, the big-bodied end was thrown at eight times.

A lack of targets this week to Randle may not be because the Giants don’t want to get him the ball, but can’t. The Cardinals have one of the better cornerback tandems in the league in Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie. Last week versus the San Diego Chargers, the two combined to allow only four catches for 32 yards.

Second Down
Throw me the ball
Victor Cruz did a very un-Victor Cruz like thing this week when he stated the key to the offense’s success was, well, throwing him the ball. The only issue with Cruz’s statement…he was thrown the ball last week.

He just didn’t make the plays.

According to Pro Football Focus, Cruz rated out -1.9 score, the worst of any Giants receiver. He was target six times, but managed only two receptions and dropped two passes, second most in the NFL.

It’s time Cruz backs up his talk with his play. But Monday’s lack-of-production was not because the ball wasn’t send the former Pro Bowler’s way.

Third Down
J.D. Walton
No one of the Giants offensive line played particularly well Monday night in Detroit, but Walton stood out as visually struggling the most. Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh made a mockery of the Giants center, regularly sending him yards into the backfield.

Versus Arizona, Walton won’t be facing the likes of Suh and Fairley. Instead, he’ll see an awful lot of Dan Williams and Paul Soliai. Versus the Chargers last week, the two combined for three quarterback hurries and two tackles.

Prince Amukamara, New York Giants (August 18, 2014)

Prince Amukamara – Photo by Connor Hughes

Fourth Down
Prince Amukamara
One of the brightest spots for the New York Giants on Monday was the play of Prince Amukamara. The former first-round pick played as just that and showed he may in fact be New York’s best cornerback.

Sunday afternoon will be a great test for Amukamara, no matter whom he faces. The Arizona Cardinals bring to the table two very good outside receivers in Michael Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald. After only being thrown at four times last week and catching only one pass, Fitzgerald will be eager to put a terrible season opener behind him.

If it’s Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie who draws Fitzgerald, that means Amukamara will get Michael Floyd. The former first-round pick caught five of the seven passes thrown his way last week for 119 yards. He gained 27 yards after contact, including a 63-yard bomb from quarterback Carson Palmer.

BREAKING DOWN THE CARDINALS:

OFFENSE - Eric Kennedy
Strength?
The strength of the Cardinals’ offense is obvious…it’s their outstanding receiving corps. The Giants faced Detroit’s Calvin Johnson in the opener, now they face another of the game’s best in Larry Fitzgerald who is coming off a sub par game (1 catch) and looking to rebound. Michael Floyd meanwhile picked up the slack with 5 catches for 119 yards. Both are big, physical targets who can make big plays and help out their inconsistent quarterback. The guy who has really impressed me is rookie John Brown, who looks like a third-round steal. Ted Ginn has game-breaking speed, but is inconsistent. Combine that with an underrated group of tight ends, led by John Carlson.

The Giants have invested a lot of resources in a secondary that did not play well on Monday night. They need big rebound game. Calvin Johnson may be the best receiver in football, but Arizona’s receiving corps is more talented overall.

Weakness?
It used to be the offensive line, but the Cardinals signed LT Jared Veldheer in the offseason and that has improved the overall state of the unit. Still, the offensive line is a bit shaky. The Cardinals still are not that impressive up front and defensive tackles Johnathan Hankins and Cullen Jenkins (as long as hip is not too much of a problem) could present a lot of problems for Arizona. The bigger overall weakness for the Cardinals – and this is related to their offensive line – is their running game. The Cardinals were 23rd in rushing in 2013 and they might not be much more improved this year. RB Andre Ellington can break the big play but he is undersized and hurt his left foot last week. Former Steeler Jonathan Dwyer is ordinary. The Giants should be able to take away the Cardinals running game and make them one dimensional. If they don’t, then it will be difficult to win this game.

DEFENSE - Connor Hughes
Strength?
There’s no doubt where the strength of the Cardinals defense lies, Antonio Cromartie and Patrick Peterson are two of the most physically gifted cornerbacks in the NFL. The two are fast, tall and play the ball in the air exceptionally well. As hard as it will be for Manning, if he starts forcing the ball against the two, things won’t turn out well.

I’d expect the Giants to try to attack the slot and seam more than the outside. Last year, Patrick Peterson played just 69 snaps in nickel and Cromartie 15. If that same trend holds true on Sunday, Cruz should be matched up against Jerraud Powers, who played 31 snaps in the nickel defense last week. That’s a matchup worth testing. Not Jerrel Jernigan/Randle on the outside versus Peterson and Cromartie.

Weakness?
The defensive line for the Cardinals has been ravaged by injured taking into consideration the loss of Darnell Docket, then the fact John Abraham may never play another snap. The Giants aren’t facing Ansah/Suh/Fairley this week. Manning should have additional time in the pocket. Then again, last week he was only pressured 31 precent of the times (Ryan Tannehill and Matt Ryan were pressure more).

Last week versus San Diego, the Cardinals outside linebackers (Sam Acho, Matt Shaughnessy, Thomas Keiser) combined for zero sacks, zero hurries and zero total pressure on Phillip Rivers.

Eli Manning, New York Giants (August 28, 2014)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

PLAYER TO WATCH:
Connor Hughes –
Eli Manning

The one thing that has gotten Eli Manning in trouble in years past is that Brett Favre gun-slinger mentality. Where some quarterbacks will see a situtation and say, “Eh, probably shouldn’t throw there,” Manning will see the same scenario and say, “Eh, I may be able to get it there.” This was evidently apparent on the Victor Cruz interception versus Detroit.

As Manning rolled out, Cruz was open. Had Manning planted his feet, got underneath it and led Cruz, it’s probably a touchdown. But Manning didn’t. He threw off his back foot, the pass was underthrown, jumped and intercepted.

Manning can’t make those plays versus the Cardinals. The days of the Giants offense gaining 400 yards, at least at this point, are over. Manning needs to realize that punting the ball and letting the defense play defense in a field position game is a win. If he throws another two interceptions, the Giants have no shot.

Eric Kennedy -
The Offensive Line
OK..so this is really five players…sue me. To me, the key to this game for the Giants is their ground game. They need to be able to run the ball against a beat up Cardinals front seven. It’s time to get back to old-fashioned Giants’ football and pound Arizona for four quarters. I expect the Cardinals to play eight in the box and dare the Giants to beat them with the pass. But I’d still stick with the run and use my two big backs to play some smash-mouth football. That should help settle down the line. But consistency will be key. Keep mistakes to a minimum…don’t miss blocks…don’t get penalized. Power football.

FROM THE COACHES’ MOUTH:

Tom Coughlin - In studying the Arizona Cardinals, they are a good team and they certainly did emerge last year, a team that beat Seattle late in the season and just barely lost to San Francisco. (A) 10-6 football team that is a very, very aggressive, physical, defensive team. Very good upfront, runs the ball. In Carson Palmer they have found the quarter that Bruce Arians indicated that he was looking for and take advantage of an outstanding receiving group and can throw the ball down the field. They do have a nice group of running backs that have played well in that system. They are a good team, and we look forward to playing them Sunday.

Bruce Arians - (On how his secondary is coming together) I was really pleased the other night. We put them in situations where Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie were on islands, but we also put our young safeties in that same situation because we do like to pressure a lot. They handled themselves extremely well. They did get behind us a couple times and we were able to get pressure on Philip Rivers and they did not complete some balls, but that is going to happen the way we played defense.

FINAL WORD:

Connor Hughes – Everything says the Giants shouldn’t win this game. In fact, if anything, the Arizona Cardinals are actually a better team than the Detroit Lions are right now. Their defense is better, their offense (aside from the Calvin Johnson/Matt Stafford factor) is overall better and the team is battled tested playing in the – oh what a difference a few years make – toughest division in professional football.

With all that being said.. I think the Giants pull this one out. On Monday night in Detroit, the Giants had plays that could have been made, they just didn’t make them. Will those same plays be there against a much more talented Arizona secondary? Probably not.

Eli Manning, New York Giants (August 9, 2014)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

The Giants need to stay away from turnovers and need to get after Carson Palmer. Last year, Palmer completed just 49 percent of his passes when pressured. According to Pro Football Focus, when feeling the rush, Palmer threw 15 interceptions to just three touchdowns. If the Giants can do both of those things, I think they win. New York 20 – Arizona- 10.

Eric Kennedy – Coming into the season, I thought the Giants would beat the Lions but lose to the Cardinals. Arizona is a good football team, and if they were healthy, they are a better football team than the Giants. But they are beat up. QB Carson Palmer has issues with his shoulder. Their offensive line and running game are still shaky. But most importantly, they have been slammed with injuries up front. The strength of the Cardinals is their secondary and receiving corps. Both the Giants and Cardinals are coming off of short weeks and the Cardinals are traveling across country. If the Giants can get their ground game going – and they should – I think the Giants can win this game. But Eli must protect the football better. When the Giants win the turnover battle, they usually win. Giants 20 – Cardinals 16.

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Eli Manning, New York Giants (September 8, 2014)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Detroit Lions 35 – New York Giants 14

REVISITING: FOUR DOWNS
During our game preview, we listed ‘Four Downs,’ which took a look at the top four questions surrounding the Giants heading into the game. Now that the game has been played and the film reviewed, it’s time to break it down.

First Down
Can John Jerry, J.D. Walton and Weston Richburg contain Ndamukong Suh?
To answer bluntly, no. Ndamukong Suh made a mockery of both Walton, who was three yards deep in the backfield nearly every play and New York’s running game suffered as a result. Suh seldom went head-to-head with Richburg.

Second Down
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie vs Calvin Johnson
This match-up did not go as well as hoped for the Giants. While the 67-yard touchdown to start the game was more on Damontre Moore and Stevie Brown, DRC gave up several key completions to Johnson. More was hoped for and expected.

Third Down
Reggie Bush
Reggie Bush gave the Giants problems early on in the game as a receiver, particularly on the first two drives. Bush beat LB Jacquian Williams twice for 18 yards on the first touchdown drive, and then beat Stevie Brown for 24 yards on the second touchdown drive. He was held to just seven yards on three more catches after that. Bush was a non-factor in the running game, carrying the ball nine times for 15 yards (1.7 yards per carry).

Fourth Down
Walter Thurmond III vs Golden Tate
Walter Thurmond played well. Golden Tate did have six catches for 93 yards but that damage did not occur against Thurmond. Tate’s biggest play was his 44-yard reception where there was another busted coverage in the Giants zone defense with Stevie Brown likely being the guilty party.

OFFENSIVE OVERVIEW – by Connor Hughes
The New York Giants were without a few of their offensive pieces Monday night in Detroit. Not suiting up for New York were: WR Odell Beckham Jr., OT Charles Brown, OT James Brewer, and OG Adam Snyder. 

From the outside perspective, things weren’t pretty Monday night in Detroit. With just a few minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Giants had mustered 91 yards on 40 plays. When the game concluded, the offense managed two touchdowns, quarterback Eli Manning was turning the ball over and the offensive line wasn’t blocking. The receivers were dropping passes and creating little separation. The running game was ineffective.

It appeared as if everything went wrong for the Giants and that Manning had continued to regress. It seemed there was little-to-no hope for the team.

And you know what? That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Following an intensive film breakdown, the Giants offense performed much better than expected. No, it wasn’t great, and certainly wasn’t good, but it wasn’t as hopeless as originally anticipated. In fact, the best way to describe it, there is hope for the Giants offense. The players just need to make the plays. The passes were there to be caught. There were ways to extend drives. The Giants were inches away from making them. There was progress.

The nuts and bolts don’t tell the complete story: 197 total yards (144 passing, 53 rushing). Two sacks for 19 yards. 3-for-13 on third downs. Two-for-three on fourth downs. 16 total first downs accumulated (four rushing, eight passing).

QUARTERBACK – by Connor Hughes
There was a very strong and glaring realization when analyzing the game film from Monday night: Eli Manning didn’t play poorly. In fact, he was one of the offense’s bright spots. Sure, some of his passes could have been a little more accurate, but that criticism can be given to three-to-four Manning throws a game every since he entered the league a decade ago.

Knocking out the one glaring mistake early, Manning never should have thrown the ball to Victor Cruz during his second interception. The play was a dud from the beginning when Nick Fairley blew past J.D. Walton.

I get Manning’s thought process: Victor Cruz was open and behind the defense with little safety help. In fact, had the play been on the opposite side of the field, where Manning could have rolled out to his right and thrown with his body as opposed to against, it very well may have been a touchdown.

The interception was a bit of the gun-slinger in Manning coming out. He believes he can make any throw, this was one he couldn’t. With the Giants down and needing a play, Manning tried to put some life into the team. Unfortunately, it should have been a situation where the offense lived to fight another down.

The first interception Manning threw, Manning also took blame for. Although, looking at the tape, I don’t see it as his fault. Now, there is no way to know the exact play call or what Larry Donnell was thinking, but this much is true. Manning and Donnell made direct eye contact before the play and Donnell noted he saw it. Donnell could have gotten a seam route call, Manning could have seen the blitz and expected Donnell to change on the fly. That’s probable, too. Either way, it’s a miscommunication.

The facts remained, when Manning had time, he made nice throws down the field. Whether his receivers caught them was another issue. On the first third down of the game, Manning went to Jernigan, who was open and should have caught the ball for a first down. Had he not gone to Jernigan, both Rueben Randle and Victor Cruz had run double-curls on the opposite side of the field, but were a yard or two short of the first. Jernigan was there for the first.

There was a play down the seam later in the game where Manning went to Victor Cruz. The result? Another drop. There were plays to be made, the playmakers on the Giants just didn’t make them. Can’t blame Manning for that.

There were a few “bad” throws from Manning on the night, but on many, Manning didn’t have a clean pocket. As was the case on his first “bad” throw to Donnell. Donnell was open on an out route, Manning released the ball, but was unable to step into the throw due to pressure. Had Manning had a little more time, it’s a six-yard completion.

There were many glaring take-aways from Monday’s game. The regression of Manning was not one of them. Should he have thrown that ball down the sideline across his body to Cruz? No. Was he the team’s biggest issue? No.

RUNNING BACKS – by Connor Hughes
There really isn’t anything ‘special’ about Rashad Jennings. He doesn’t have elite speed. He isn’t the toughest player in the world to bring down. He doesn’t do anything ‘great.’

What Jennings does do, is everything very, very well. There were little running lanes for Jennings to work with, much of that had to do with Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. Where Jennings made his presence felt was his ability to react to the early pressure up the middle from Suh and Co., and find the cutback lane.

On Jennings’ longest run of the night, the Lions immediately pushed the Giants offensive line into the backfield. Jennings began running to the left, then cutback and around Suh to turn what appeared to be a non-gain into a pretty nice pickup.

Jennings also truly stands out – and did again Monday – with his pass blocking. I didn’t catch a play where Jennings made the “wrong” decision on whom to pick up. He made the correct blocks and chips.

It’s been awhile since the Giants had an every-down back, but Jennings appears to be it. He’s a good runner, blocker and receiver, and the Giants used him in all areas Monday. Not many running backs in the NFL can take claim to that.

The lone other Giant to get a carry Monday was Andre Williams, who continues to be the same player the Giants thought he was in the preseason. Williams is a very good runner, but isn’t there just yet as a blocker or receiver. He’s a good change of pace back, and once he gets more comfortable in his other two roles, he should see an increase in playing time. The issue the Giants have right now is that when Williams checks into the game, opponent’s know he’s a one-trick pony at this point in his career.

WIDE RECEIVERS – by Connor Hughes
Throughout the Giants game with the Lions, the Giants played with primarily three wide receivers, with Corey Washington getting a couple snaps near the goal line. Actually… I take that back… a fifth ‘wide receiver’ actually got a snap:

One of the receivers who caught some of the most flack was Rueben Randle. The former second-round pick was targeted just three times and caught two passes for one yard. He did have a completion that was nullified by a defensive penalty.

There are a lot of questions on whether Randle was struggling to get ‘open.’ Watching the film, that wasn’t readily apparent. Instead, it looked as if the Giants just simply weren’t looking to get him the ball.

It could have been because Manning was looking to get rid of the ball quickly, and not going to his second, third, fourth reads. Either way, Manning was not looking in Randle’s direction. Period. It wasn’t as if Manning was looking to Randle, he wasn’t open, then he was taking a sack, or throwing to someone else. Manning just wasn’t going there. It was almost as if Randle wasn’t in this week’s game plan.

Jerrel Jernigan, on the other hand, was targeted and continues to leave much to be desired. It started with a case of the “alligator” arms on the first series of the game. Manning made the right read, Jernigan was open and he just short-armed it. The safety was coming up to apply a hit, and it looked like Jernigan knew that. The entire approach to the ball was awkward. The route was a bit lazy, too.

Manning didn’t take many deep shots in the game, but he did go down the field to Jernigan on one play and Jernigan had a step. Manning didn’t have a clean pocket and as a result couldn’t put it out directly in front, but Jernigan adjusted to the ball and turned around. From the film, it looked like the ball hit Jernigan’s hands and bounced out. Again, these are plays that are there to be made, and the Giants playmakers aren’t making them.

Victor Cruz made a public cry to have the ball thrown to him more. In the first half of Monday’s game, he probably should have. In the second half, he needs to catch some passes. You can’t complain about needing the ball more, but then when the ball is thrown to you…

The reason the Giants drafted Odell Beckham Jr. was to take some of the pressure off Cruz. Cruz benefits more when he has someone else on offense who demands that coverage shadow. If Cruz’s numbers drop a bit because he is the No. 1 option, that’s understandable. But drops? These are the types of plays that aren’t on Manning. If these passes are caught, Monday is a different game.

For whatever reason, early on, Cruz was simply not targeted by Manning. The Giants offense is predicated on getting the ball out of Manning’s hands fast, which may have been why Manning didn’t go through his reads as much. The ball was out of his hands before he could survey the field. Still, it was a bit puzzling why those quick reads were to Jernigan and Donnell, not Cruz and Randle.

Corey Washington’s main rep came in the red zone with Eli Manning throwing the high fade to the 6-4 target. It was the right decision, Washington has the height advantage. The biggest question mark was if the Giants planned on using Washington in the red zone…why not try to get Manning and Washington some reps together in the preseason?

TIGHT ENDS – by Connor Hughes
Larry Donnell saw almost all of the Giants reps at tight end, with the score potentially being a reason for that. Donnell isn’t the Giants strongest blocker, but he is their best receiver, and he showed that Monday.

Donnell ran some nice routes, and his two fade routes near the goal line showed the potential he has. On his first fade, Donnell came a big toe away from getting his first touchdown. On his second, it was a touchdown.

The thing that impressed me most with Donnell on the two fades were the positioning he got.

Where Donnell struggled is the same place Donnell has always struggled: Blocking. There was one play that particularly stood out. On the Jerrel Jernigan end-around that lost two yards, Will Beatty had whiffed a bit on the block and allowed LB DeAndre Levy to run free to Jernigan. While Beatty’s block on the play was dismal, Donnell ran right past Levy, allowing him to make the play. Had Donnell even just chipped him, it’s a potentially big play.

OFFENSIVE LINE – by Connor Hughes
Collectively as a unit, it wasn’t pretty. That’s how it should be, though. If one offensive lineman has a bad day and allows pressure on the quarterback, things aren’t going to go well.

That was situation on Monday night. Were all five of the Giants offensive linemen bad? No. Were most of them bad at different points in time? Yes. Were some worse than others? Yes.

With this unit being such a deep area of concern, I tried to spend as much time as I could looking at each unit individually to grade them out and see how they performed.

Before getting to the offensive linemen, a compliment to Suh. Prior to the game, I talked extensively to Weston Richburg about what makes Suh so special. The No. 1 thing he talked about was the defensive tackle’s ability to jump the count. Emphasizing that, one play stood out to me more than anything else. With this, there simply isn’t anything you can do as a lineman. Look below where Suh is, compared to the rest of his defensive linemen.

Will Beatty
No, it really wasn’t as bad as originally anticipated. Did Beatty miss a few blocks? Yes. Was the failed cut attempt as ugly as a block attempt can be? Yes. Did Beatty stand up well against Ansah for a large portion of the night? Yes.

Overall, Beatty didn’t perform that poorly and was far from the weakest link on the offensive line. You can see when Manning had a clean pocket, Beatty had a lot to do with it:

With that being said, he whiffed on a block that had the potential to be a touchdown. On the end-around, Beatty missed the initial block on Levy who came flying in to make tackle on Jernigan for a two-yard loss. Had he made that tackle, and Donnell continued down the field, there was a lot of room to run.

My biggest question mark with Beatty came strictly on the cut block. Not the technique, or the fact the cut failed, but why? Normally, offensive linemen will go with a cut block on third- or second-and-short situations. The objective is to get the lineman quickly on the ground and their hands down so that the quarterback can throw a quick pass over their head. It’s designed to prevent bat downs.

When Beatty went with his cut-block attempt, it was third-and-nine. Watching the film, Manning didn’t look like he was trying to hit any quick pass. It was a longer developing play. I don’t understand why exactly Beatty went with a cut block. To me, it didn’t make sense in that situation.

Weston Richburg
Playing the first game of his professional career, it was impressive the way Richburg handled himself in Detroit. In fact, Richburg may have been the Giants best offensive linemen. The rookie routinely made his way to the second level, sealed on a few runs and performed well in pass protection.

J.D. Walton
Walton, and right guard John Jerry, drew the short straw and faced Suh throughout the course of the night. Neither fared well at all, but Walton performed poorly no matter who he went up against. The center was knocked back into the backfield multiple times on running plays, was blown past by Fairley on Manning’s second interception and was over-matched by most he faced. It wasn’t pretty for the Giants center.

Walton didn’t have the best preseason for the Giants, either, and the question now comes up on if he could be close to losing his starting position when Geoff Schwartz returns. If either Brandon Mosley, Adam Snyder or John Jerry prove they can perform at right guard, it would allow Weston Richburg to slide in at center.

John Jerry
It’s tough to grade out or break down John Jerry’s film because he went up against Suh the majority of the night. The biggest take away from the film was that Suh simply beat Jerry off the ball too many times and caught him off guard. Did Jerry look bad Monday night? Yes. But he was going up against arguably the best defensive tackle in the NFL. Unlike Jerry, Walton was brought in to start. Jerry was meant to “compete” for a starting position, but the Giants wanted Snee, Richburg or Mosley at that right guard position. He showed some promise on running plays, but he was overpowered by Suh on far to many occasions.

Justin Pugh
Quietly, Justin Pugh had a nice game Monday night. He seldom allowed any pressure around his right side and didn’t jump out on the film for any negative reason. Of each of the offensive linemen I looked at, I struggled finding anything negative to write about in regards to Pugh. Did he overpower anyone? Not really, but he didn’t perform poorly, either. At this point, the Giants will take that day in, and day out.

DEFENSIVE OVERVIEW – by Eric Kennedy
For at least the first half of the 2014 season, we knew a defense that had received an infusion of talent in the offseason would have to carry the team while the offense sputtered. That did not happen on Monday night. The back seven, particularly the secondary, was supposed to be the strength of the defense but the Giants gave up 341 net passing yards to the Lions.  QB Matt Stafford completed 22-of-32 passes for 346 yards and two touchdowns for a QB rating of 125.3. That tremendous offensive productivity was from a team with a completely new coaching staff and offensive scheme.

Some very disturbing notes:

  • While the Giants stopped the run until the fourth quarter, they simply could not get off of the field on third down, including third-and-long. Detroit was 10-of-15 (67 percent) on third down.  Detroit was able to overcome terrible down-and-distance situations throughout the night. On the first TD drive, the touchdown came on 3rd-an-9 after Detroit had faced a 2nd-and-15. On the second TD drive, they overcame 2nd-and-18 and a 3rd-and-13. On the first FG drive, they overcame a 3rd-and-11.
  • The Giants allowed six pass plays of 20 or more yards, including passes of 67 and 44 yards.
  • The Giants got burned at least three times when Perry Fewell decided to drop 1 or 2 defensive linemen into coverage instead of having them rush the passer. These plays failed miserably. Though the numbers don’t indicate it, the Giants did apply some decent pressure on Stafford at times throughout the game. The Giants got burned on the 3rd-and-13 play that ended with a 16-yard touchdown (3 man rush, CB blitz), the 44-yard gain on 3rd-and-11 (3 man rush with Cullen Jenkins dropping), and the 22-yard gain on 3rd-and-7 on the last TD drive (2-man rush with Mathias Kiwanuka and Robert Ayers dropping. Great, now we’re dropping two defensive linemen.
  • There was also a dumbfounding (to me) call where on 3rd-and-25 from the Giants’ 38-yard line, Fewell basically called a prevent defense in a situation where the Giants had to prevent the Lions from getting into field goal range. There was hardly a Giant DB in the picture. Stafford completed a dart over the middle in traffic but he could have just as easily dumped the ball off short. There were two completely uncovered receivers with no defender within 15 yards.  Luckily, the Lions missed the field goal, but they should not have. Bad defensive call.
  • A constant theme during Perry Fewell’s tenure with the Giants has been confusion in the secondary that leads to big plays. That happened again on Monday night. Too often in zone coverage the other team’s wide receivers seem to be wide open in critical situations.  The troubling thing is that the mistakes are also being made by players who have been with Fewell for more than one offseason.
  • Damontre Moore did screw up by not keeping under control and preventing Stafford from launching his 67-yard touchdown pass. But he was basically benched after that play and the Giants could have used him. Other Giant defenders screwed up and weren’t benched. I don’t understand that move.
  • The Giants defense utterly gave up in the fourth quarter. It was embarrassing. You can say they wore down or whatever. The Lions ran 63 offensive plays…that’s not a terribly high number. A defense that wants to think of itself as a “top 5” defense doesn’t lie down like that.

Overall, a defense that was supposed to carry this team failed miserably. They surrendered two touchdowns on Detroit’s two first possessions, immediately putting the Giants in a 14-0 hole. They gave up another decent drive in the first half that thankfully ended in a missed field goal. In the second half, while the defense did a good job of limiting the Lions to a field goal after Eli Manning’s first interception, Detroit scored an additional 17 points on their next three possessions, including drives of 66 and 80 yards. There was one sack (player unblocked) and no turnovers forced.

DEFENSIVE LINE – by Eric Kennedy
The defensive line played pretty well. They were outstanding against the run – until the fourth quarter.  Johnathan Hankins (5 tackles) was a rock inside against the run and even flashed on occasion on the pass rush. Cullen Jenkins (2 tackles) was not as noticeable but he looked good a times against both the run and the pass. Jason Pierre-Paul (4 tackles), suffered a neck stinger, but he was very good against the run and the most consistent pass rusher the Giants had on the field. He came close a few times, and he also hustled on plays down the field. It was a mixed bag for Mathias Kiwanuka (1 tackle), who started off the game strongly but faded as the game wore on; hence, my objection to keeping Damontre Moore on the bench because of his early miscue. Kiwanuka’s pass rush became weaker as the night progressed and the Lions ran quite successfully at him and Mike Patterson (1 tackle) in the second half. Robert Ayers (1 tackle, 1 sack) played both end and tackle and flashed on occasion at both spots. My overall takeaway on the defensive line was this: good against the run, decent but not game-changing rushing the passer, and kind of gave up late in the game.

LINEBACKERS – by Eric Kennedy
Improved play was expected from this group, but the early returns were more of the same. Jon Beason, as could be expected after missing all of camp and the preseason, looked rusty. While he did a good job of reading plays and helping his teammates do a stellar job against the run (again until the 4th quarter), he was only in on four tackles and actually missed a tackle. Jameel McClain was also only in on four tackles. He flashed on a couple of plays, but it wasn’t enough. And he looked terrible down on the goal line on the Lions’ last score. Jacquian Williams (7 tackles) was dreadful. While the strength of his game is pass coverage, he did not do a good job against RB Reggie Bush early in the game, including badly missing a tackle. Bush had Williams leaning the wrong way on another reception. Williams was flagged with defensive holding too. In the third quarter, Williams’ missed tackle on the tight end turned a short gain into a 26-yard pass play. But what bothered me the most was his lack of physicality against the run, particularly in the second half of the game. He just seems like a player who doesn’t like contact…and that’s kind of a bad thing for a football player. The final kicker was his indecision on Stafford’s 3rd-and-5 touchdown run. Make the play!

DEFENSIVE BACKS – by Eric Kennedy
Much more was expected from this group. I do think part of it is scheme. There is a lot talent at cornerback with this group, and Perry Fewell has to learn to trust them by playing more man coverage and less zone. That said, there were instances in the game where the players did not engender such faith. The play that sticks out to me is the 24-yard reception by WR Calvin Johnson on 3rd-and-4 in the second quarter. Dominique-Rodgers Cromartie (4 tackles, 2 pass defenses) is locked up one-on-one with Johnson in press man coverage, but DRC allows Johnson an easy release to the inside for the big play on the slant. Given the caliber of competition (Johnson), Rodgers Cromartie didn’t have a “bad” game, but much more was expected from him. He had his share of nice plays but he also gave up a few (and was lucky Prince Amukamara saved his ass on a deep post route). Speaking of Amukamara (8 tackles, 2 pass defenses), he played well both against the run and in pass coverage. He made a nice play on the TE in the end zone to save a touchdown. Walter Thurmond wasn’t noticed. That’s good in that he usually kept his man quiet, but a game-changing play by him – or one of his teammates in the secondary – would have been nice. That was the hope coming into this season by this defensive back group.

Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions (September 8, 2014)

Calvin Johnson – © USA TODAY Sports Images

The bigger problem was at safety. It’s clear that Stevie Brown (9 tackles) is a major step down from Will Hill. Brown was actually very good against the run, far more active than the linebackers. That is an area where he really has improved since 2012. But Brown was too often a liability in coverage. He really screwed up on the 67-yard touchdown pass. As the last line of defense as a free safety, and facing the NFL’s best wide receiver, Brown simply must be in better position to keep that play from turning from a decent-sized 3rd-down completion into a long touchdown. He was out of position and worse, failed to make the tackle. Brown was burned badly by Reggie Bush (and looked slow in the process) on a 24-yard gain on the next possession. A safety has to be able to cover a back better than that. Later on this drive, Brown should have been beaten for an easy score by the tight end, but the ball was underthrown. I wonder if Stevie Brown should be playing strong safety and Antrel Rolle should be playing free safety. Rolle (4 tackles) was pretty quiet except for forcing one fumble that was recovered by the Lions. More is expected from him. As a unit, the secondary only had four pass defenses on the night and no interceptions.

SPECIAL TEAMS – by Eric Kennedy
The Giants need their special teams to excel this year too while the offense struggles. And Tom Quinn’s unit once again came up short. The Giants had one punt blocked and had two others almost blocked. In the process, Steve Weatherford was hammered and suffered ligament damage to his left ankle. Weatherford punted five times for an average of 40.2 yards per punt. The Lions were held to 11 yards on three punt returns.

Josh Brown attempted no field goals and all three of his kickoffs resulted in touchbacks.

Quintin Demps returned one kickoff for 14 yards to the 16-yard line. Not good. Preston Parker made a big mistake by fielding a punt inside the 5-yard line. He did have one return that picked up 18 yards.

(Boxscore – New York Giants at Detroit Lions, September 8, 2014)
Sep 062014
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (August 16, 2014)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants at Detroit Lions, September 8, 2014

THE STORYLINE:
The New York Giants injury-riddled offensive line limps on to Ford Field in Detroit and prepares to face the vaunted Lion defensive front. As many questions surrounding the receivers, quarterback Eli Manning and tight end position, more than double are placed around the offensive line.

Is Will Beatty 100 percent? Is Weston Richburg ready to be a starter? Who starts at right guard? Can Geoff Schwartz be 100 percent again this year? Will Justin Pugh avoid a sophomore slump? The list goes on and on.

The simple fact remains: It doesn’t matter when Odell Beckham returns, or how quickly Manning picks up the West Coast scheme. If the Giants offensive line isn’t vastly improved from a year ago, it’ll more of the same for New York.

FOUR DOWNS:
First Down
Can John Jerry, J.D. Walton and Weston Richburg contain Ndamukong Suh?
It won’t take long for the Giants offensive line to get their first test. Monday night, the team will face one of the top defensive tackles in the NFL in Suh. The former first-round picks brings a rare combination of size, speed and strength to the interior of the Lions defensive line and is a handful for any all-pro guard. Jerry, Walton and Richburg will have their hands full.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Walter Thurmond, New York Giants (August 9, 2014)

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Walter Thurmond – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Second Down
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie vs Calvin Johnson
The two have matched up several times before in their careers, and Rodgers-Cromartie may be one of the few corners in the NFL who is athletically gifted enough to stick with a healthy Megatron one-on-one. Last year, the Giants contained Johnson, albeit while the receiver was injured. Lions quarterback Matt Stafford will most definitely take a few shots in Johnson’s direction. Who wins the jump ball when it’s at its highest point?

Third Down
Reggie Bush
There’s been a lot of talk surrounding Calvin Johnson versus the Giants secondary, but what may be the biggest difference maker in Monday’s game is if the Giants can contain Reggie Bush, both as a runner and receiver. The fact is, if the Giants give up 100 yards and a touchdown to Johnson, the team can still win the game. If Bush goes off against the Giants nickel defense which is so focused on stopping the pass? It could be a very, very long night. Bush is a shifty player who has shown that he’s much more than a third down back since leaving New Orleans. The Giants need to keep him from getting to the second level.

Fourth Down
Walter Thurmond III vs Golden Tate
Two of the few subtractions from last year’s Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks team will match up Monday night in Thurmond and Tate. Thurmond is the Giants nickel corner, Tate the Lions slot receiver. Thurmond seemed excited to face his former teammate after the two went at it every day in practice a year ago. It’ll be a nice battle within the battle to watch.

PLAYER TO WATCH:
Connor Hughes – Eli Manning
It seems like the easy option to take, but I’ll have both of my eyes fixed squarely on Eli Manning Monday night. I’ve been critical of the signal caller this year with how uncomfortable he’s looked in the West Coast scheme this year. The excused have been dropped by the Giants of “We aren’t game planning for the preseason” and “It’s just the preseason” and “We’ll be ready for Detroit.” Well, it’s Detroit, are the Giants ready?

Manning is one of the smartest quarterbacks in the NFL, but when he has been the most successful is when he’s been allowed to cock back and throw the ball deep. That’s not really this offense anymore. Can Eli make it work in a West Coast offense?

Then again, I digress. If the offensive line doesn’t get it going, it doesn’t matter if Joe Montana, Steve Young, Peyton Manning or Tom Brady lined up behind center. Manning needs time to throw, no matter the scheme. Can the depleted line give him that?

Rueben Randle, New York Giants (October 21, 2013)

Rueben Randle Scores from 24 Yards Out – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Eric Kennedy – Any Other Receiver Besides Victor Cruz
While I share Connor’s concern about the offensive line, particularly if there is another injury, my greater fear right now is Eli will have no other receiver who he trusts to run the right route, get open, and catch the football. And very much related to this, is there a wide receiver or tight end on this team who really concerns the other team? If I’m Detroit or any other team, I load up against the run, and double Victor Cruz. I dare Rueben Randle, Jerrel Jernigan, and Larry Donnell/Daniel Fells to beat me. If Rueben Randle doesn’t begin to CONSISTENTLY make other teams pay for focusing too much attention on Cruz, then the Giants’ passing offense will be in deep trouble. Manning will get blamed, but he has to have guys to throw the football to.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • Jon Beason (foot)
  • Odell Beckham Jr. (hamstring)
  • James Brewer (back)
  • Charles Brown (shoulder)
  • Markus Kuhn (ankle)
  • Brandon Mosley (back)

FROM THE COACHES MOUTH:
Tom Coughlin (NYG) – The Detroit Lions had a good preseason; they were 3-1, they played three very good, close games, which is good. Again, indicating the depth is there. They have a new coach, Jim Caldwell, at the helm in Detroit and with new coaches, new coordinators, we have spent a lot of time trying to study and predict, but here we go. So we’re excited about it.

Jim Caldwell (DET) on what he sees in Eli Manning – What I see is a very talented guy who certainly has unique abilities to move his team and score, which no matter what the stats might say, this guy is dangerous, and I think he has proven that over time. You don’t win two Super Bowls without having an unusual skill set. I happen to know a bit about his family. I know one thing, and that is you better prepare for him just like you would anybody else that is as talented as him. He can hurt you.

Mathias Kiwanuka, New York Giants (December 22, 2013)

Mathias Kiwanuka – © USA TODAY Sports Images

THE FINAL WORD:
Connor Hughes - From watching the team every day in practice for the last two months, there truly is little optimism surrounding the squad. I am not saying that it’s impossible to turn this thing around, but just going on what I’ve seen thus far.

If the offense takes even miniature strides, I could see them being a 10-6, 11-5 team, because the defense is that good. Completely ignoring the present lack-of playmakers, questions at the tight end position and Manning’s early struggles in the West Coast offense, my biggest red flag is the offensive line.

The Giants did do their best to fix up the “broken” unit that took the field for 16 games last year, but I’m not sold on if the changes made are truly going to make that big of a difference. Are the Giants better up front than a year ago? Absolutely. Is it good enough? I just don’t know.

J.D. Walton is a huge question at center. So are Richburg, Jerry and Mosley at guard. Pugh is solid, but what is there to expect from Beatty? It’s often forgotten that before Beatty’s injury, he was hardly playing like the franchise left tackle the Giants paid him to be.

In my opinion, Detroit has one of the top defensive lines in the NFL. It’s going to be tough for the Giants to get anything going against them. Is it impossible? I’d never put anything past Tom Coughlin, but I see it as unlikely the Giants establish much on the offensive side of the ball. Countering that, as vastly improved as the Giants defense is, it won’t be able to keep with Detroit if the offense turns in three-and-out after three-and-out.

The Giants could easily win this game if the offense takes a jump from the preseason. But again, going off what I’ve seen each day in camp, I don’t see that happening. Detroit 28 – Giants 13.

Eric Kennedy - While it appears the Giants have solid special teams (kicking game) and perhaps a very good defense, my head tells me the Giants are a deeply flawed offensive team. In 2013, the Giants had one good wide receiver and arguably the worst group of tight ends, running backs, and offensive linemen in the NFL. Fast forward to September 2014. It appears the Giants still only have one good wide receiver, the worst group of tight ends in the NFL, and a very shaky offensive line with no depth. That’s not on Tom Coughlin, Ben McAdoo, or Eli Manning. That’s on Jerry Reese. It’s his job to procure talent and to be frank, he didn’t do enough this offseason despite all of the free agent activity. Many think I’m picking on Mr. Reese. I’m not. I’m just calling it like I see it. How does a team that has converted to a tight end-centric offense go into the season with Larry Donnell or Daniel Fells as their starter? The offensive line is literally a house of cards. One more injury and it will be a disaster.

For all his fast starts, Tom Coughlin’s Giants have lost three openers in a row. On the other hand, Coughlin’s Giants are 8-4 on Monday night.

I’m not going with my head on this game but my heart. New York is a flawed team, but so is Detroit. If the Giants play it close to the vest, combining a good running game and defense with solid special teams, I think Detroit will shoot itself in the foot. I like the character of this team. Team leadership – with captains like Manning, Cruz, Rolle, Beason, and DeOssie – is strong. And Tom Coughlin is still one of the best coaches in the NFL. My shot in the dark, wild card predictions are the NYG defense scores in this game and the Giants block a punt. Giants 27 – Lions 20.