Oct 212015
 
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Philadelphia Eagles 27 – New York Giants 7

Overview

Hey, you! Get your damn hands off her! Or him, in this case our erstwhile NFC Offensive Player of the Week, Eli Manning. Finger points and weak threats, that’s pretty much all the Giants OL could use to stop a 3-hour long wedgie at the hands of the Eagles’ pass rush. It all started so well too, with the Giants marching down field to an early 7-0 lead thanks to Eli picking his spots underneath the Eagles Cover-2 and hitting Will Tye twice, Rueben Randle once and Larry Donnell once for first downs before dropping in a slant to Odell Beckham Jr. and an air of excitement against a team that has simply dominated the Giants lately. A quick 3-and-out forced by the injury-riddled Giants defense led to Eli and crew marching down to the Eagle 23-yard line and a quick two score lead..until TE Larry Donnell had a pass ripped from his arms. No matter, Steve Spaguolo’s troops were ready yet again, with back-to-back pass breakups by DE Kerry Wynn and S Brandon Meriweather and another 3-and-out…until DE Damontre Moore inexplicably pulled a belly-to-belly to suplex on QB Sam Bradford giving the Eagles 15 yards and a new set of downs. Just plays later the same Meriweather who looked so steady early on was beaten deep by WR Riley Cooper and the game was knotted at 7. At this point I’d like to jump into my DeLorean and hit 88MPH and never look down on this affair again but I’m a giver so let’s see where this all went from 1.21 jigowatts to a 3-3 record and the familiar feeling of, maybe we’re just not that good yet.

From that 7-7 tie, the Giants turned the ball over on downs, threw an interception returned for a TD (Exasperated Author’s Note: I just won’t use that term, I’m sick of it, along with “beast”, “hater” and any form of clever word play like Belicheat, Cowgirls, She-Gals, Foreskins…you get the point), fumbled the ball away, then proceeded to use punter Brad Wing as their own personal hand puppet as the offense just stunk the rest of the night. The Eagles on the other hand, weren’t great, they avoided a 14-0 hole when Donnell couldn’t hang on to the ball, were handed a TD drive on a platter by Damontre Moore, and a FG on a drive extended by a late hit by DT Cullen Jenkins. The teams combined for 5 Interceptions and 5 fumbles on a night both QBs wish they could have back. The difference for the Eagles though, is that a bad QB night is not a death knell as it is for the Giants. With the ability to rush the passer and move the ball on the ground, two former Coughlin staples, the Eagles can win ugly games with Sam Bradford stinking it up. With no running game to speak of (not once has this ground game reached 100 yards in 2015), if Eli isn’t Superman this team is dead in the water.

Eli Manning, New York Giants (October 19, 2015)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Quarterbacks

It works! It works! I finally invent something that works! Well for one and a half drives anyway, OC Ben McAdoo had invented something that worked for his QB and offense, an efficient quick strike offense that ate up the hook zones and medium middle en route to an 8-play, 80-yard drive that staked the Giants to a promising 7-0 lead. Manning was 5-of-5 for 59 yards and a TD on the game’s opening salvo, working the middle of the field with ease and at one point was 10-of-10 before Larry Donnell had the ball wrestled from his mitts. Somehow that game plan was tossed out after TE Larry Donnell’s catch-turned-interception and Eli was under siege Steven Segal-style all night. Manning made one crucial mistake on an interception-turned-TD deep inside the Giants’ own territory, but testing a fast defense on the edges instead of sticking with what was working is squarely on the play caller there. Had WR Rueben Randle not slipped on his pick attempt, the ball probably finds WR Dwayne Harris. But a play reliant on so much to go right deep in your own territory is, simply put, an awful idea. Manning did what he did could with an inconsistent running game and constant pressure from the 2nd quarter on, but he like everyone else was great for stretches and terrible in spurts.

Running Backs

Rashad Jennings started off strong (notice a trend here yet), picking up 16 yards on his first 3 carries and looking decisive and powerful doing so. Jennings gave way early to fellow backs Andre Williams and Shane Vereen and it looks like a big mistake in hindsight. Jennings finished with 63 yards on 13 carries and consistently imposed his will on smaller Eagle DBs. However, Jennings took a false step in following FB Nikita Whitlock on a 4th-and-1 inside Eagles territory and was stuffed for a loss. Had Jennings been more patient, he had plenty of room on the backside to cut inside and get the first down – poor run by #23 on that one. Jennings rebounded with a strong 8-yard run on another promising drive until he coughed up a screen pass that thwarted another potential scoring drive. Inconsistency in this group is really hampering this offense and Jennings’ night was a perfect example of how good and how bad this group has been at times. Andre Williams was dreadful, with 6 yards on 5 carries, consistently stuffed and looking tentative in the hole yet again. Former Patriot Shane Vereen was even worse, with 0 yards on 4 carries and 1 catch for 6 yards. Not good enough again from this group, and I’ll say it again, it may be time to shake things up and see if Orleans Darkwa can give this team a spark on the ground. With the double-coverage thrown at Beckham and teams guarding against the deep pass so fervently, this group simply has to step up for this offense to start to thrive against decent competition.

Odell Beckham, New York Giants (October 19, 2015)

Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Wide Receivers

Rueben Randle took the first Manning pass on a quick slant for 8 yards and a first down and took a quick slant 15 yards for another in the 1st quarter, but only saw the ball 3 more times and finished with a ho hum 44 yards on 5 grabs. Mr. Hamstring, Odell Beckham, Jr., was like everyone else, perfect early on with a 13-yard dig route for a TD on the game’s opening drive. Beckham finished the first half with 61 yards on 7 grabs and a TD but did exactly nothing after halftime. A player that good simply cannot be erased in the second half, no matter what the Eagles threw at him. Myles White dropped his only opportunity and slot wideout Dwayne Harris failed to do much with 18 yards on two catches.

Tight Ends

Will Tye started off like everyone else, hauling in an early first down pass on a waggle play across the Eagles defense for a 17-yard gain and pulled down a 5-yard pass on 2nd-and-4 two plays later for his second first down and then…poof, he was gone. Tye has been forced into action from the Practice Squad following Daniel Fells’ unfortunate MRSA incident and showed up pretty well so far. He just needs more opportunities as evidenced by his early impact in this one. Another wobbly game from Larry Donnell, who one week ago was the hero against the 49ers in a thrilling last-minute victory. Again, great start for the former Grambling QB as he snatched a short middle pass from Manning on a 2nd-and-4 on the game’s opening drive and rumbled 16 yards for the conversion. The game turned on Donnell’s catch-turned-interception at the Eagle 22. After that miscue, Donnell only caught one more ball and simply disappeared. Donnell had a chance to redeem himself on 2nd-and-1 late in the 1st quarter, but he dropped a perfectly-placed ball by Manning inside the ten. This ended up killing any momentum the drive had.

Offensive Line

As with everyone else, good start with an 80-yard scoring drive, paving the way for 16 yards on 3 carries and a clean pocket for Eli to operate in. “I like this offensive line,” stammered Jon Gruden as the game began and he seemed right early on but the effusive praise would prove wrong, because this OL stumbled after the first two series and simply got man-handled up front by a quick, physical Eagle DL. Quick hitters were the balm early, but as the game wore on, the 5 up front just weren’t up to the task. RT Marshall Newhouse was out-fought all night by Connor Barwin and LG Justin Pugh had tons of trouble inside with DT Bennie Logan, killing most runs before they got started. RG Geoff Schwartz got bull-rushed by DL Vinny Curry that resulted in a sack on 3rd down on another failed drive. If there’s a positive here, and this season will test all of us to find those from time to time, it was the exceptional leadership shown by LT Ereck Flowers, the 21-year old rookie who took it upon himself to rally the troops on the sideline. This picture may not be worth 1,000 words, but superstars Odell Beckham Jr. and two-time Super Bowl MVP and team leader Eli Manning are intently listening to the rookie as he pulled his offensive teammates together. If the final tally depresses you, just look to the future of this line and offense in the towering new LT and you’ll find a little hope.

Ereck Flowers, New York Giants (October 19, 2015)

Defensive Line

Broken record alert, the Giants DL started off strong and faded as the evening wore on. DE Kerry Wynn got an early batted ball on the Eagles’ second drive and the front four looked off to the races until Moore’s incredibly stupid late hit on Sam Bradford. That play, which extended the Eagles’ first TD drive after it had been snuffed out in 3 plays, was another game-changer when it appeared the defense had bailed out Larry Donnell. Moore later chipped in with a sack and fumble recovery, another perfect example of the Giants’ night, brilliant one moment, bone-headed the next. DT Cullen Jenkins got involved early, batting down a 3rd down pass from Bradford and forcing a punt, but it was Jenkins’ touch late hit that extended another Eagles’ drive. Another Giant mistake, another Eagle opportunity. The DL had an issue holding the edge, something this front 7 was excelling at before this game. Using an extra TE to down block negated DEs Owa Odighizuwa and Kerry Wynn on several runs. Wynn and Odighizuwa simply need to get wider and hold the point-of-attack better on those plays.

Linebackers

I could almost hear the Bubble Boy taunting our LBs. “How you feeling now Constanza?…Not too good!” Not too good indeed Double B. This group was eaten up by a quick, aggressive running game that slowly but surely imposed its will on the Giants’ middle defenders. Uani ‘Unga led the group with 7 stops, but his MLB counterpart Jon Beason was consistently cut down and erased from the running game. Again, credit the Eagles’ offense here. They recognized that Beason hasn’t been attacking the hole as we pointed out in previous weeks and strung their plays out wide to give their OL time to get the second level and eliminate #52 from making a difference. Discussing who isn’t available seems silly but this group is much much better when Devon Kennard is healthy and able to impose his will in the running game. Jonathan Casillas gave up a gap on the game-sealing TD and looks to be better suited to coverage than run stuffing.

Jayron Hosley, New York Giants (October 19, 2015)

Jayron Hosley – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Defensive Backs

S Brandon Meriweather was confident early, knocking down WR Jordan Matthews to force an incompletion, but he missed a wide-open tackle on WR Josh Huff and followed that up immediately with a late cover on WR Riley Cooper who evened up the game at 7. Meriweather had not been exposed deep yet but credit Sam Bradford and Cooper with exploiting Meriweather’s trouble in deep coverage to tie the game. S Craig Dahl was somewhat impactful with 8 stops, one of which shut down an Eagle drive until Moore’s huge penalty. CB Jayron Hosley notched an early interception with the Giants only down 7 to give Eli and company some life before halftime. On the play, Hosley was playing bail technique, meaning he dropped deep at the snap, essentially acting as a two deep safety as S Landon Collins came down to cover a TE crossing the formation. Bradford’s overthrow fell right into #28’s mitts as Collins was in trail coverage. Credit CB Coach Tim Walton on that one – Hosley has jumped those routes in the past, giving up the deep seam, but he kept his depth, stayed patient and it paid off with a timely turnover. Hosley provided blanket coverage on Riley Cooper a few plays later on a 2nd-and-28, forcing an incompletion and a ridiculously long 3rd down. But he was victimized on a long pass to Cooper as the 2nd half opened. DRC launched himself into a stop on a WR screen but was otherwise not tested much by the Eagles’ offense. S Landon Collins notched his first interception of the year and was strong on the edge in run support, another glimmer of hope in an otherwise dismal night.

Special Teams

Never mind Jon Gruden claiming K Josh Brown hadn’t missed a kick in his recent memory (Brown indeed missed an XP in Buffalo so I assume by memory Gruden means the last 15 minutes or so), Brown was perfect on his lone extra point so he’s got that goin’ for him, which is nice. S Craig Dahl helped on specials with a strong take down of the terrifying Darren Sproles on a punt return late in the first half. P Brad Wing was forced to launch 8 times with a long of 51 and 2 punts dropped inside the 20 but did hit a horrific 27-yarder in the waning moments of the first half that led to an Eagle FG. Good coverage again this week, which is notable given that it’s the Eagles and the irritating (he’s tiny and fast, it’s unnatural) Darren Sproles. The Eagles weree held to 58 yards on 6 punt and kickoff returns.

Coaching

Head-scratching game from Ben McAdoo. The G-Men started off attacking the middle, hitting all 5 passes on the game’s opening drive underneath the Eagles’ safeties and just beyond the LBs. Rashad Jennings was in an early groove as well but gave way to Andre Williams and Shane Vereen on the second possession and never got the chance to keep it going despite running well most of the night. After shredding the Eagles over the middle, McAdoo then tested the edges of the speedy Eagles defense and he paid for it dearly. Eli’s first pick was an out route to Donnell that a drive earlier had been an in route, utilizing the 6’7” TE’s frame as a natural shield. Why you suddenly decide to try the other side of that with a speedy LB able to get to the point before your big TE is beyond me. Testing the edge again, Eli tossed a late out into the flat which CB Nolan Carroll returned for a TD and the rout from there was on. Inexcusable play call that deep in your own zone with reliance on a pick play working. Stupid, stupid football there.

DC Steve Spagnuolo’s group held up well early but eventually got no rest from a totally ineffective Giants’ offense and just got run over as the game wore on. Still without DE Robert Ayers, LB Devon Kennard and the recent loss of CB Prince Amukamara, Spags is working with a depleted group who hung in for over a half but eventually gave up 155 yards on the ground. Simply not good enough when they had to be.

Anatomy of a Run

We’ve heaped praise on DC Steve Spagnuolo and in particular, Jon Beason, Devon Kennard and Kerry Wynn for their stellar play vs. the run. This week, one play stood out as an example of why the Eagles right now are just a better team. With 6:19 left and the game still within reach, DeMarco Murray raced around right end for a 12-yard touchdown, doing something to this defense that no team had yet – dominate the edge. The Eagles ran a double TE BOSS (back-on-strong-safety) play to Murray in which his job was to beat the SS, in this case Brandon Meriweather. At first glance, this looked like a big mistake by #58, but his job in this formation is to one-gap outside the LT and cut down the angle on Murray and he does just that. LB Jonathan Casillas, however, does NOT maintain his depth and gets sucked up inside. Now his gap is empty and S Brandon Meriweather is forced to commit early instead of maintaining outside leverage. The defensive design is to turn Murray back inside, forcing him to deal with Casillas and Meriweather, with Collins holding the edge. Casillas abandons his post, forces Meriweather to commit and Murray strikes the final blow.

DM1The Eagles come out in a double-TE set against a 4-3 over/under combination. [In the under, the S lines up on the line of scrimmage as the SAM as shown above and the DE lines up head up on the tackle. In this formation though, Owa (#58) is shaded outside the TE as you would see in a 4-3 over]. This is an ideal way to shut down the edge run.

dm2At the snap, Owa does his job, attacking the gap outside of the tackle so his LB can slide in to fill the vacated gap (Jonathan Casillas #54). Casillas is in position, as indicated by an excellent red ellipse, but quickly loses depth and fails to maintain gap integrity.

DM3Casillas loses his depth – a big no-no against a back with Murray’s ability to get outside – and takes himself out of position, forcing S Brandon Meriweather to commit early to cover Casillas’ vacated gap. Meriweather also took a false step inside and gave up outside leverage for a split second, isolating S Landon Collins to hold the edge versus TE Zach Ertz.

dm4The BOSS play design works, isolating Murray on Merriweather, who already gave up his outside leverage and Murray races around Collins for the game-deciding score.

Cram it in your Cramhole Award

A good coach takes the blame and provides cover when his team stinks and this week. I’ll take the award in symbolic unifying fashion. I’m sure I deserve it for my lame thematic reviews and unprofessional writing style but I feel compelled to make a plea with all my loyal readers and more loyal detractors: Calm Down about the debacle this week. Yes we lost 27-7 to our hated I-95 rivals. Yes the offense hocked up loogie after loogy after opening the game so well. Yes we had untimely stupid penalties, turnovers to spare and didn’t capitalize on a dreadful game by Sam Bradford. This is a team coming off of two straight miserable campaigns with new starters across the entire OL, and without the services of Jason Pierre-Paul, Will Beatty, Victor Cruz, Robert Ayers, Prince Amukamara, Devon Kennard, and Daniel Fells. Castoffs like Craig Dahl, Brandon Meriweather, Marshall Newhouse and youngsters like Will Tye, Geremy Davis, Ereck Flowers, Owa Odighizuwa, Landon Collins, and Uani ‘Unga have all been pressed into action sooner than anyone anticipated.

We stand at 3-3 and likely won’t challenge for anything. But treat each game as just that, one game, especially in today’s NFL. My old ball coach once told us before a game that would see us finish the season undefeated, “I’ll never ask you to be the best team anywhere except between those four white lines when the lights go on every week.” It worked every week for 13 weeks and we believed we could win every week. Pardon the Al Bundy flashback, but consider the pace of this game. A mistake or fewer here or there and we could be sitting at 4-2, but it wasn’t to be. Right now the Eagles are simply better, but despite the score, the margin is not as wide as it was one year ago. We’re making progress and more to come. Don’t give up the ship and don’t hop into your DeLorean just yet and fast forward to the draft or anything but our next opponent…the hated Dallas Cowboys. New week, new chance to win. Let’s go boys (and girls if you are not asleep or have not thrown your laptop out the window after all these words).

(New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles, October 19, 2015)
Oct 172015
 
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Odell Beckham, New York Giants (December 28, 2014)

Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles, October 19, 2015

THE STORYLINE:
I’ve talked about it before. If you want to look at the reasons why the Giants missed the playoffs each of the last three seasons, look no farther than the division losses. From 2012-2014, the Giants were 1-5 against the Cowboys and 2-4 against the Eagles. You want to win the NFC East? You have to be able to beat these two teams in addition to the Washington Redskins.

Now within the span of a six days, a once-again banged-up, injury-depleted New York squad will play arguably their two most-important back-to-back games of the season. The Giants were in the same position in 2014. With an overall record of 3-2 with back-to-back games against the Eagles and Cowboys, the Giants fell 27-0 and 31-21 in those two games and didn’t win another contest until December.

Want to continue to remain relevant? Beat the Eagles. Be the more physical football team on offense, defense, and special teams. Win the turnover battle. Make plays against a very beatable opponent.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • WR Odell Beckham (hamstring – questionable)
  • WR Rueben Randle (hamstring – probable)
  • WR Victor Cruz (calf – out)
  • LG Justin Pugh (ankle – probable)
  • OT Will Beatty (pectoral – out)
  • DE Robert Ayers (hamstring – questionable)
  • DE George Selvie (calf – probable)
  • LB Jon Beason (concussion – questionable)
  • LB Devon Kennard (hamstring – out)
  • LB Jonathan Casillas (calf – questionable)
  • CB Prince Amukamara (pectoral – out)
  • CB Trumaine McBride (groin/illness – questionable)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
The Eagles are 23rd in the NFL on defense (26th against the pass, 10th against the run). Statistically, the Eagles are tied with the Giants in run defense in terms of yards-per-carry average (3.5). On the flip side, the Giants are 9th in the NFL on offense (7th passing, 26th running). And the Giants are 28th in yards-per-carry (3.8). Provided Odell Beckham and Rueben Randle play and can play effectively, the way the Giants should attack the Eagles is pretty obvious.

And there is another reason why the Giants should pass, pass, pass. New York will probably have to score a lot of points given the injury situation on defense combined with Giants’ inability to rush the passer. The Eagles’ passing offense may be struggling, but there could be some serious match-up problems for the Giants on that side of the ball. The Giants probably are going to have to score somewhere around 30 points to win. That means touchdowns rather than settling for field goals.

The Eagles can rush the passer. Though technically a 3-4 defense, the Eagles will mix up their fronts and use a variety of pass-rush packages. The best of the bunch is left defensive end Fletcher Cox, who is coming off of a 3-sack, defensive-player-of-the-week performance. Combine him with Pro Bowl outside linebacker Connor Barwin, who gave the Giants fits in Philadelphia last year, those two are going to be an issue for Marshall Newhouse and Geoff Schwartz. Nose tackle Bennie Logan and right defensive end Cedric Thorton can be tough against the run. The other outside linebacker, Brandon Graham (a guy who the Giants made a play for in free agency), can also get after the quarterback as can reserve defensive end Vinny Curry. The Eagles will be missing inside linebackers Kiko Alonso (knee) and Mychal Kendricks (hamstring). But veteran DeMeco Ryans still mans the middle. Given that the outside linebackers are basically ex-defensive ends, it’s a big, physical group up front.

The Eagles have had issues in the secondary. High-priced free agent acquisition cornerback Byron Maxwell has disappointed. The other corner, Nolan Carroll, is an ex-Dolphin who played mainly in a situational role in 2014 for the Eagles. Ex-Giant corner Walter Thurmond was moved to safety by the Eagles and now teams with Malcom Jenkins, who is solid. In a nutshell, the corners are bigger but not great in coverage, and the safeties are somewhat smaller ‘tweeners. Thurmond leads the team with three interceptions in just five games.

You have to figure the Eagles defensive coordinator expects a pass-first game plan, keeps the safeties back, and trusts his front seven to stop any remote threat of a running game. Still, given the fact that the Giants will need to score quite a few points, the Giants will have to accept this challenge and play into this game plan by passing the football. The Eagles will be very wary of Shane Vereen in the passing game, but I’m not sure they have the ability to adequately match-up with him. Those outside linebackers really are ex-ends who can struggle in coverage. The Giants might want to throw the Eagles for a loop too by playing both Vereen and Rashad Jennings – who can also catch the ball – in the backfield at the same time. This could confuse the linebackers and safeties. I wouldn’t use a lot of Andre Williams in this game.

The right-side of the offensive line will have issues with Cox and Barwin, and Flowers could have issues with the likes of Graham and Curry. The Giants should employ the same style of offense – quick, short passing attack. The Eagles have already pretty much said they will play aggressive bump-and-run coverage to disrupt the timing between Eli Manning and his receivers. This is where passes to the backs and tight ends can help. I would also put Beckham in motion quite a bit and play him out of the slot to help prevent the Eagles from getting a hand on him.

Manning needs to take what the defense gives him and not force the issue. Be aggressive, but don’t be stupid with the football.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
Chip Kelly loves to run the football, but the Eagles are not doing it as well this year. They’ve fallen from 9th in the NFL in rushing in 2014 to 22nd. They run it better than the Giants, but not by much. Obviously, with the Giants 2nd in the NFL in run defense, one would expect most of the Eagles success to be in the passing game. That said, the Giants cannot afford to fall asleep in defending the run. They must be the more physical team up front against an offensive line that has had issues at the guard position. Like the Giants, the Eagles employ a three-headed rotation at running back with ex-Cowboy DeMarco Murray, ex-Charger Ryan Matthews, and ex-Saint Darren Sproles. Murray has struggled in Philadelphia, but the Giants are well aware of the damage he can do. Matthews has almost as many carries, is playing better, and is averaging 5 yards per carry. However, he has a groin issue and is questionable for the game. The Eagles will run the ball with Sproles too and he’s a threat to score every time he touches the football. The Giants need their defensive tackles to dominate inside and for the outside defenders – ends and backers – to continue to stalemate offensive tackles and tight ends.

Linebacker Devon Kennard will be missed for his ability to stop the run as well as rush the passer. The worry here is the match-up problems when Mark Herzlich is on the field. Look for Kelly to exploit that with passes to the backs (42 pass receptions by Eagles backs already this year) and tight ends (only 20 receptions but capable of much more). Sproles is basically Philly’s Vereen and I’m not sure the Giants have anyone who can cover him. I would be tempted to keep Jonathan Casillas in the game more over Herzlich, but also keep in mind that Casillas has been hampered by a troubling calf injury. Steve Spagnuolo may decide to go with a three-safety package of Landon Collins, Brandon Meriweather, and Craig Dahl. The Giants also need solid coverage from J.T. Thomas, Jon Beason, and Uani ‘Unga. Eagles tight ends have killed the Giants over the years and both Brent Celek and Zach Ertz can do a lot of damage.

To date, Spagnuolo’s strategy has been basically to load up against the run and not get beat deep in the passing game. He’s been willing to give up the short completions and force the other team to drive the field without making mistakes. At times, it has worked very well. At other times, it has failed miserably. A big problem is the Giants still can’t rush the passer. Hopefully, youngsters Kerry Wynn and Owamagbe Odighizuwa will improve in that department while the return of some veterans such as Robert Ayers (hamstring) and George Selvie (calf) will help – or at the very least keep guys fresher. This might be a good opponent to give Damontre Moore more snaps. If he does, let’s hope he keeps the mental mistakes to a minimum. The good news is that quarterback Sam Bradford is fairly immobile so the Giants can take greater chances with blitzes. Left tackle Jason Peters is still a very good player for the Eagles however.

I expect Chip Kelly and Bradford to attempt to dink-and-dunk their way down the field, in a very fast, no-huddle fashion, with passes to the backs and tight ends. The Eagles have probably noticed the problems the Giants have had covering WR screens. They will likely take an occasional deep shot in the direction of Jayron Hosley and Trevin Wade with Prince Amukamara and possibly Trumaine McBride out. The Eagles’ receivers are a bigger group. Jordan Matthews is probably the most reliable. Rookie Nelson Agholor is the most explosive but he is out with an ankle injury. Riley Cooper, Josh Huff, Miles Austin, and Seyi Ajirotutu round out the receiving corps.

So does Spagnuolo keep with the same strategy and hope that quarterback Sam Bradford makes a mistake somewhere on each drive? My guess is yes. Short at cornerback, the Giants don’t want to give up cheap touchdowns like the Redskins did against the Eagles. Spagnuolo also doesn’t want that Eagles’ ground game to get untracked. So I would expect a frustrating evening with short passing game unless the Giants pass rush miraculously appears, the linebackers and safeties have a monster game in coverage, or Bradford really struggles.

Can the Giants hold the Eagles to under 20 points? 24 points? Turnovers could be decisive. And keep in mind that no lead is safe given the Giants’ fourth-quarter defensive woes plus Bradford has been completing over 70 percent of his passes in the second half of football games this year.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
The Eagles special teams practically carried the team in 2014. And in last year’s regular-season finale, a blocked punt by the Eagles against the Giants was critical in their victory. They are very good at blocking kicks. Darren Sproles is an exceptionally dangerous punt returner who already has returned one punt for a touchdown this year. Josh Huff has averaged 30 yards per kick return the past two seasons.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Offensive Coordinator Ben McAdoo on the Eagles’ Defense: “They’re very good upfront, they have a lot of different guys who can cover in man-to-man, and they’re creative schematically. Good defense. Underrated defense.”

THE FINAL WORD:
The advantage the Giants have is Eli Manning. The advantage the Eagles have is their ability to rush the passer. Much depends on how many of the injured Giants play and how effectively they can play. But I really think this game will come down to which team plays the most physically and turnovers. This game may be the Eagles season. They lose and they will be 0-3 in the NFC East. But it’s almost as big for the Giants, who are currently 1-1 in the division and facing an almost must-win game the following weekend against the Cowboys. Regardless, the Giants need to prepare for the best the Eagles have to offer.

“It’s a one-week season,” said Eagles’ nose tackle Bernie Logan. “We just have to go out here and dominate this game.”

“We’re going to show up and see who can punch harder,” said Eagles’ safety Malcom Jenkins.

Oct 132015
 
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Forrest_Gump_running_alabama_jenny

New York Giants 30 – San Francisco 49ers 27

Superstitious Beginnings

Schmucks like Deion Sanders and Heath Evans may pick on our beloved doofus from the deep South, but like Forrest Gump, Eli Manning usually comes out on top. And those schmucks can’t stand it. They’d rather celebrate some girlfriend beater or dog killer or rapist than the reserved gentleman from Louisiana. (Yes, Gump was from Alabama, but to us Yankees those deep southern states all seem to run together).

So up by four points with 1:45 left to play, sensing a golden opportunity to pull off the upset and save San Francisco’s season, the still-talented and aggressive 49ers defense seethed to crush our Gump. And the countless Eli Manning doubters across the country were sure our Gump would screw it up. These are the same critics who charge Super Bowl XLII and Super Bowl XLVI were flukes, as well as the other 30 fourth-quarter comebacks and the two separate 4-0 playoff runs.

Hanging out while our Gump takes the field.

Hanging out while our Gump takes the field.

First-and-10, 82 yards from the end zone with 1:45 left to play. Cruz, Beckham, and Randle moping together on the sideline. Eli takes off.

You could almost hear Abby yelling, “Run Eli, run!”

So the 11-yard run wasn’t as inspiring as Forrest’s 100-yard kickoff return for Bear Bryant’s Crimson Tide, but it was New York’s longest of the night, and it was the first play of the 8-play, 82-yard drive that won the game in 84 seconds. It set the tone for that dramatic march. Eli didn’t play it safe. He didn’t slide. Eli meant business. And his teammates took notice.

The point of my somewhat painful opening movie tie-in? Not much other than that I’m very superstitious and I feel the need to continue these cheesy movie references in game reviews as long as the Giants are winning.

Game Overview

Stating the obvious, this was a huge win for the Giants. The team’s three-game winning streak puts the Giants in first place in the NFC East after a very tough 0-2 start to the season. The Giants and quarterback Eli Manning also finally regained some of their seemingly long-lost 4th quarter mojo. That’s important for a young team still probably unsure of itself and seeking confidence. To win in such dramatic fashion, in front of a national television audience, will make this a memorable game for the ages.

That all said, we should not lose sight of some negatives. The Giants came darn close to losing at home to a team they were supposed to beat, and almost did so in horrific fashion by giving up a late touchdown drive for the third time in five games. In addition, the Giants appear to have come out of this game very banged up with potentially nagging injuries to both starting wide receivers, the starting middle linebacker, and starting left guard.

But the Giants are 3-2, in first place, with 11 regular-season games to play. Now comes perhaps the most important two-game stretch with back-to-back games against the Eagles and Cowboys.

Offense

The Giants had the ball for only nine offensive possessions, but had six scoring drives (three long touchdown drives and three long field goal drives) for a total of 30 points. Two drives ended with punts and another long drive ended with an interception.

The Giants racked up 30 first downs and 525 total yards of offense, including 441 passing yards. The team was 9-of-14 (64 percent) on 3rd-down conversion attempts and held the football for 31:58. On the downside, the team only rushed for 84 yards (though averaged a respectable 4 yards per rush) and was 3-of-6 (50 percent) in red zone of opportunities, including one bad interception and settling for two very short field goals.

Eli Manning, New York Giants (October 11, 2015)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Quarterback

What was once believed to be impossible by many, Eli Manning has successfully transitioned from a vertical thrower to one of the best short-game, high-percentage West Coast Offense passers in the NFL. He is no longer “the other Manning.” Against the 49ers, Manning played one of the best games of his career, finishing 41-of-54 (both career highs) for 441 yards (third-highest total in his career), 3 touchdowns, and 1 interception. Manning completed a career-high 15 consecutive passes over three series spanning the third and fourth quarters. He finished with a QB rating of 110.2. All of this despite a few dropped passes from his receivers. On top of the impressive statistics, fans will long remember how Manning rallied his team late to win a game that looked like another devastating loss with a ragamuffin cast of receiving targets. Manning targeted nine different receivers in the game. Although he was not sacked, Manning did a great job of moving around in the pocket despite some good pressure from the 49ers. Like the 2011 version of Eli, he carried his team to victory. Ironically, the dramatic victory was the 102nd of Manning’s career, setting a new franchise record. The obvious downside was the poorly-thrown ball at the end of the first half that resulted in an interception and three other throws intended for WR Myles White that Eli was lucky that were not picked off.

Running Backs

The Giants running game is not “bad” but we are still waiting for that breakout performance. However, the Giants running backs only carried the ball 19 times (as opposed to the 54 pass attempts). Rashad Jennings gained 46 yards on 11 carries (4.2 yards per carry), Shane Vereen 24 yards on 5 carries (4.8 yards per carry), and Andre Williams 0 yards on three carries (0.0 yards per carry). The longest run of the night was by Eli Manning (11 yards). So much of the ground game now is based out of the shotgun formation, even on 1st and 2nd down. And like a true West Coast Offense, the Giants often appear to be using the short passing game in lieu of the ground game, especially in this contest. Vereen was a far bigger factor in the passing game, catching all eight of the passes thrown in his direction for 88 yards. Not only did he catch a 2-yard touchdown pass on 3rd-and-goal, but he was a major component on the game-winning drive with three catches for 51 yards, including a critical 24-yard screen on 3rd-and-10. Jennings also caught all four passes thrown in his direction for 21 yards. Nikita Whitlock only played a couple of snaps at fullback but couldn’t create much movement as a blocker in short yardage.

Odell Beckham, New York Giants (October 11, 2015)

Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Wide Receivers

Before he left the game with a hamstring injury near the end of the third quarter, Odell Beckham had caught 7-of-11 passes thrown in direction for 121 yards and a touchdown. He had critical receptions of 49 yards on the first field goal drive, 31 yards on 3rd-and-7 on the first touchdown drive (out of the slot), and the 17-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown. Beckham returned to the game at the end of the final game-winning touchdown drive, drawing an 8-yard pass interference penalty. Dwayne Harris was the next most productive wideout, catching 6-of-8 passes thrown his way for 72 yards. He did drop two passes, including on a 3rd-and-4 play and the Giants were forced to settle for a field goal. His most important catch was probably his 9-yard reception despite a big hit on 3rd-and-2 right before Beckham’s touchdown. He also had another 9-yard catch on 3rd-and-2 on the last field goal drive. Rueben Randle, who caught 5-of-6 passes thrown his way for 42 yards, was quieter this week, even before leaving the game late with a hamstring injury too. Three of his five receptions came on the second field goal drive (including a 4-yard reception on 3rd-and-3). His other two catches came on the last field goal drive. Due to injuries, Geremy Davis (23 snaps) and Myles White (13 snaps) played more than anticipated. Davis caught a 16-yard pass on 3rd-and-1 during the fourth quarter field goal drive. White was targeted four times but did not have a catch and three of those passes were almost picked off.

Larry Donnell, New York Giants (October 11, 2015)

Larry Donnell – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Tight Ends

With Daniel Fells done for the season and Jerome Cunningham on the inactive list, the Giants went into the game with only Larry Donnell and Will Tye for the second week in a row. Donnell caught 6-of-7 passes thrown at him for 35 yards, none bigger than his superb 12-yard reception for the game-winning touchdown with 21 seconds left, despite heavy contact from 49er defenders. He also had a hard-fought 5-yard catch on 3rd-and-4 on the first touchdown drive. Tye played 25 snaps and was surprisingly productive by catching all four of his targets for 48 yards. On his first NFL reception, he even showed some nice wiggle after the catch for additional yardage.

Offensive Line

The offensive line did not allow a sack (and Manning has only been sacked four times all year). That said, Manning saw more heat from the edges this week, especially from outside linebacker Aaron Lynch, who officially hit Manning five times. Both Ereck Flowers and Marshall Newhouse had serious trouble at times protecting Manning. And Newhouse was flagged with two second-half holding penalties, including one that wiped out a 20-yard reception by Jennings. The run blocking was just OK as running backs gained 70 yards on 19 carries (3.7 yards per carry). The blockers did not create a lot of room even when the 49ers played both their safeties back. In addition, the Giants continue to have problems out of traditional (non-shotgun) running formations in short-yardage situations (see the failed 3rd-and-1 effort from the 3-yard line on the first drive where Newhouse missed a block). Left guard made a nice pulling block on Shane Vereen’s 10-yard run in the second quarter. Center Weston Richburg has an excellent block in space on Shane Vereen’s 24-yard screen pass on the game-winning drive.

One side note complaint on my part, on the play where Manning was almost picked off on the game-winning drive, Eli was hit as he threw when Pugh’s man illegally shoved Pugh’s head back to get to Manning. But no flag was thrown on the obvious penalty. Fortunately the interception was dropped. (You can also see that Flowers gave up pressure on this play).

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 1.43.54 PM

Illegal hands-to-the-face not called leading to hit on Manning.

Defense

Decent in the first half. Terrible in the second half. The 49ers had four drives in the first half. Two ended with punts after picking up one first down on each drive. Two other drives (55 and 76 yards) were of the bend-but-don’t-break variety as they ended with field goals rather than touchdowns. The 49ers gained 34 yards rushing and 115 net yards passing in the first half.

In the second half, not counting the last 3-play drive with 21 seconds left, the 49ers had the ball four times and scored touchdowns after long marches of 88, 80, and 80 yards. The defense failed to hold three different leads, including a 23-20 advantage with 4:29 left to play. The 49ers finished the game with 124 yards rushing. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick completed 23-of-35 passes for 262 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions for a 107.1 QB rating. The 49ers were 8-of-14 (57 percent) on third down conversion chances and 3-of-4 (75 percent) in red zone opportunities. The defense did not force a turnover.

If not for the offense saving the day, this would have been the third defensive collapse to lose a game in five games this year. The problem? The Giants are missing too many defensive players on an already thin unit, and the team simply can’t rush the passer.

Defensive Line

The Giants entered the game minus starters Robert Ayers (hamstring) and George Selvie (calf) at defensive end. Because of that, Cullen Jenkins (53 snaps, 2 tackles) was moved back to end (right side this time), where he isn’t much of a threat to rush the passer. Jay Bromley (34 snaps, 3 tackles) started next to Johnathan Hankins (47 snaps, 3 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss) inside. The guy who saw the heaviest workload was Kerry Wynn (66 snaps, 4 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss, 1 QB hit). Owamagbe Odighizuwa (39 snaps, 1 tackle), Markus Kuhn (19 snaps, 2 tackles), and Damontre Moore (17 snaps, 3 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 tackle for a loss, 1 QB hit, 1 forced fumble) all spelled the starters.

The run defense was strong in the first half, holding the 49ers to 34 yards on 12 carries (2.8 yards per rush) with 23 of those yards coming on two scrambles by the quarterback and a kneel down. In other words, the 49ers backs were held to 11 yards on nine carries. That changed after halftime when Carlos Hyde gained 81 yards on 13 carries (6.2 yards per carry) with Jarryd Hayne chipping in with nine more yards on two carries. Early on, the defensive tackles were playing well. Bromley has really improved as a run defender. Kuhn and Hankins did a nice job too. Wynn at defensive end continues to shine in run defense, but he seemed to wear down in the second half.

Hyde’s biggest run of the night came on the 49ers first drive of the second half, which resulted in a touchdown. Hyde picked up 22 yards when Damontre Moore was successfully blocked on the backside by the fullback and safety Landon Collins charged too far up field, leaving a huge hole in the defense.

Big hole left by Moore and Collins.

Big hole left by Moore and Collins.

Odighizuwa made a nice play against Hyde on a cutback run for no gain near the end of the third quarter, but he bit on a play-action fake on the next snap which led to an easy 6-yard completion and was easily blocked by the tight end for an 8-yard gain on the 49ers last TD drive.

The pass rush was virtually non-existent. In limited playing time, Moore made the most noise with two “sacks” and one hit. But those sacks were credited when Moore chased Kaepernick out of bounds. On the first of these, Wynn and Jenkins got decent pressure and forced the QB in Moore’s direction. Wynn was the only other player to officially hit Kaepernick. Nikita Whitlock played only four snaps on defense but got good pressure two plays, including drawing a holding penalty. I spotted Bromley with one good rush.

Linebackers

The Giants were without two of their best linebackers in Devon Kennard (hamstring) and Jonathan Casillas (calf) and quickly lost Jon Beason (concussion). Short-handed, Uani ‘Unga (65 snaps, 7 tackles, 2 tackles for a loss) and J.T. Thomas (64 snaps, 2 tackles) received the most playing time. Mark Herzlich started in Kennard’s place but saw less action (38 snaps, 5 tackles 1 tackle for a loss). Jasper Brinkley saw a handful of plays (5 snaps, 1 tackle).

Again, run defense was fine in the first half but seriously waned in the second half. Herzlich had issues staying with Hyde on one outside run, but did a nice job at the point-of-attack on other occasions. He also pressured Kaepernick on his incomplete 3rd-and-1 pass at the 4-yard line late in the first half.

In the second half, Herzlich couldn’t bring down Hyde after penetrating into the backfield and Hyde reversed his field to pick up four yards. But he latter successfully strung out another play. On the next snap, both Wynn and Mark Herzlich got handled at the point-of-attack and ‘Unga failed to make a play in the hole on an 8-yard run by the back-up running back down to the 4-yard line. Hyde picked up 13 yards down to the 2-yard line in the 4th quarter when the 49ers ran at Odighizuwa and Herzlich, and Amukamara failed to recognize the run and come up in time. Thomas was largely invisible in run defense and missed a couple of tackles. Both ‘Unga and Thomas (along with Jenkins and Hankins) couldn’t make the play on Hyde’s 19-yard run down to the 2-yard line late in the game.

Jenkins, Hankins, 'Unga, and Thomas couldn't make play.

Jenkins, Hankins, ‘Unga, and Thomas couldn’t make the play.

Minus Vernon Davis, the productivity of the San Francisco tight ends (6 catches for 41 yards) was limited. Backs caught three passes for 27 yards, with the longest being a 19-yard gain by fullback Bruce Miller. But ‘Unga got faked out badly on tight end Garrett Celek’s 5-yard touchdown catch on 3rd-and-goal.

Defensive Backs

The issue wasn’t so much starting cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, but the nickel corners struggled with 35-year old veteran Anquan Boldin (8 catches for 107 yards and one touchdown). The other 49er wide receivers were limited to six catches for 87 yards. However, two of those receptions gained 55 yards off of WR screens, which the Giants played poorly except one time. Prince Amukamara, Trumaine McBride, and Trevin Wade all had issues fighting off of blocks.

In the second quarter, Rodgers-Cromartie (57 snaps, 6 tackles, 1 pass defense, 1 forced fumble) did a nice job of reading a short pass to WR Quinton Patton on 3rd-and-1, but he failed to make the tackle for a loss and a first down was the result. Late in the quarter, he recognized another WR screen and impressively jumped the play to break it up. DRC was flagged with a costly defensive holding penalty on 2nd-and-goal from the 4-yard late in the game. The 49ers scored the go-ahead TD two plays later.

Other than one defensive holding call, Amukamara (63 snaps, 6 tackles, 1 pass defense) did a nice job most of the night except for defending the WR screens.

McBride (13 snaps, 2 tackles) got beat by Boldin for 37 yards on 3rd-and-2 on the 49ers first TD drive. He was later replaced by Wade (12 snaps, 3 tackles, 1 pass defense) who got beat by Boldin deep for 26 yards on the 49ers last TD drive. Wade did make a nice play on a WR sweep in the third quarter. Jayron Hosley, who suffered a concussion against the Bills, surprisingly saw the least amount of action (9 snaps, 0 tackles) despite being cleared to play.

Landon Collins (64 snaps, 6 tackles, 1 pass defense) played mostly well, but was flagged with a borderline 28-yard pass interference on the drive that tied the game at 20-20. He also later dropped a sure interception in the end zone that would have sealed the game. Early in the game, he helped to stuff a Hyde carry with a run blitz. Collins also did a great job of reading a play where the 49ers tried to sneak the tight end out across the formation. He made a sure tackle for only a 3-yard gain. When he reads a play correctly, Collins closes very quickly for a big man.

Brandon Merriweather (57 snaps, 6 tackles) injured his knee, but returned and made a nice play for 3-yard loss on the goal line in the fourth quarter. Craig Dahl (19 snaps, 2 tackles) saw more playing time when Merriweather came out.

Special Teams

Place kicker Josh Brown was 3-for-3 on field goal attempts (22, 41, and 24 yards). Not counting his squib kick at the end of the game, 5-of-6 of his kickoffs resulted in touchbacks. The 49ers returned one kickoff for 22 yards.

Brad Wing only punted twice with one punt traveling 55 yards and the other 35 yards, being fair caught at the 12-yard line. The 55-yard punt was returned for 16 yards however.

Four of San Francisco’s six kickoffs resulted in touchbacks. Shane Vereen returned the other two kickoffs, one for 24 yards and the other for 20. Dwayne Harris returned three punts for 31 yards, averaging a respectable 10.3 yards per return. Geremy Davis was flagged with an illegal block on a punt return.

(San Francisco 49ers at New York Giants, October 11, 2015)
Oct 092015
 
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Artwork by Chris in Philly

Artwork by Chris in Philly

San Francisco 49ers at New York Giants, October 11, 2015

THE STORYLINE:
We are already 1/4 through the 2015 regular season. And through four games, the division is at a virtual dead heat with 12 games to go. The marathon hasn’t yet become a sprint, but the pace is about to pick up. The Giants have two absolutely critical games against the Eagles and Cowboys in October. But the San Fransisco 49ers come first and the Giants can ill-afford to drop what many consider a very winnable game before the two back-to-back games against division rivals.

In case you haven’t noticed it, the New York Giants are in the midst of a fairly dramatic personality transformation. The 2012-14 “finesse” Giants are dead. The 2015 Giants will hurt you. They are tough, physical, relentless, and selfless. Despite the continued wussification of the League by Roger Goodell & Associates, this game is still about physical violence. The 2015 Giants have their holes. But they are not getting pushed around anymore. And they are beating people up. Keep your nickel. They’ll fight you for free in the parking lot.

Now comes an interesting test for the young pups. Can they handle their recent success and maintain their focus and intensity against a supposedly lesser opponent? Can they compartmentalize the MRSA distraction? The defense will be short-handed due to injuries. This is a must game for the desperate 49ers. The Giants are not good enough to take anyone lightly. This contest will be a good litmus test for the team’s maturity.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • WR Victor Cruz (calf – out)
  • OT Will Beatty (pectoral – on PUP and will not play)
  • TE Jerome Cunningham (knee – probable)
  • LT Ereck Flowers (ankle – probable)
  • DE Robert Ayers (hamstring – out)
  • DE George Selvie (calf – out)
  • DT Markus Kuhn (knee – probable)
  • LB Devon Kennard (hamstring – out)
  • LB Jonathan Casillas (calf – questionable)
  • CB Jayron Hosley (concussion – questionable)
  • CB Trumaine McBride (groin – questionable)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
Despite their 23rd ranking and the departure of some key components in the offseason, the 49ers 3-4 defense is still the strength of the team and a tough, physical group. But they have struggled at times against both the run and the pass. The defensive line is pretty non-descript although nose tackle Ian Williams has caught Coach Coughlin’s eye. “He’s very quick, very evasive,” said Coughlin. The job of the down linemen is to keep the still-strong linebacking corps free. However, the 49ers will be missing one of their best players, outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks (death of his sister). (Late Note: The 49ers have officially listed Brooks as “doubtful” so there is a chance that he might play). He will be replaced by a rookie 3rd rounder Eli Harold. The other outside linebacker, Aaron Lynch, is coming off of a 2-sack performance against the Green Bay Packers and could give LT Ereck Flowers trouble on the pass rush. Inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman is coming off an ACL injury but one of the best in the game when healthy.

The strength of the secondary are the safeties – Antoine Bethea and Eric Reid – who are very good. And 2014 1st round safety/nickelback Jimmie Ward is coming off of a good game against WR Randall Cobb. Starting corners Tramaine Brock and Kenneth Acker are more suspect however. This could be a game where Odell Beckham puts up some big numbers. If the 49ers focus the bulk of their attention on Beckham, then hopefully Rueben Randle and Dwayne Harris will make the 49ers pay just like they did against the Bills.

The 49ers do have one advantage in this game. They just played the Packers who run a very similar offense to what the Giants run. And the 49ers defense kept the game close last week against a very explosive offense. Turnovers can be a great equalizer. The Giants need to keep protecting the football (only two turnovers in four games).

I’d like to see the Giants get on top of the 49ers early with some shots down the field to the wideouts, and then come back to a heavier dose of the run once the G-Men have sucked the life out of San Francisco.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The advantage the Giants have on defense is they are also playing a very similar team this week. Like the Bills, the 49ers are a run-first team with a mobile quarterback. The game plan is the same. Stuff the run. Keep the mobile quarterback (Colin Kaepernick) in the pocket at the expense of the pass rush. He usually can do more harm with his legs than arm. And like last week, the opponent has a dangerous tight end (Vernon Davis) who can hurt you. (Late Note: Vernon Davis will not play due to his knee injury).

The downside for the Giants are the injuries. The team will be without Robert Ayers again. That is exacerbated by the loss of George Selvie, who had been starting at RDE, this week too. The Giants could expand the role of Owamagbe Odighizuwa, but don’t be surprised if they move Cullen Jenkins back to defensive end and start Markus Kuhn, who has been out since the opener, inside again at defensive tackle. The Giants will also be missing one of their best young defenders and pass rushers in Devon Kennard. He will be replaced by a committee that will depend on what defensive package the Giants have in the game. We might see more of Mark Herzlich or even Jasper Brinkley. Keep in mind that Jonathan Casillas is also ailing.

For years, the 49ers have been rock solid up front on the offensive line, but this year they are struggling. And their two best players – left tackle Joe Staley (knee) and left guard Alex Boone (shoulder and ankle) are battling injury issues. The key is stopping San Francisco’s best offensive player: running back Carlos Hyde, who is averaging 4.5 yards per carry. Hyde is a big, physical, cutback runner. Reggie Bush is back from injury and he can do damage as a receiver. But the ground game is basically Hyde (62 carries for 282 yards) and Kaepernick (33 carries for 195 yards). Run defense discipline – including against the read option – is critical.

Vernon Davis (knee) returns this week. He’s not the same player he was a few years ago but the Giants always seem to have issues covering the tight end. The ageless Anquan Boldin leads the 49ers in receptions (15), followed by tight end Garrett Celek (11), and deep threat wide receiver Torey Smith (9).

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
For the second week in a row, don’t expect much out of the kickoff return game. 85 percent of Bradley Pinion’s kickoffs are not returned (12 touchbacks total already). The 49ers are very good at punt and kickoff coverage to boot. It may be a better strategy for the Giants to come after the punter with a heavy punt block rush.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Tom Coughlin on the San Francisco 49ers Offense: “They want to run the ball, they want to play action pass, they want to put the quarterback on the perimeter.”

THE FINAL WORD:
Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning remain the thread of continuity, but this is a different New York Giants team. The warriors of 2007 and 2011 are virtually all gone. And the weak-kneed players who populated the roster of the last few years have been weeded out. But with change comes the unknown. How will this team respond to success and being heavy favorites? This season can still go in two different directions. We’re about to find out another piece of their psychological makeup.

Oct 062015
 
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the-big-lebowski

New York Giants 24 – Buffalo Bills 10

Gratuitous Introduction

OVER THE LINE! Huh? I’m sorry Rexy, you were over the line, that’s a foul. Rexy, this is not ‘Nam. This is football. There are rules. In true Rex Ryan fashion, a big bad boasting team with a putrid QB faced a team with an actual QB and lost, badly, and apparently the NFL rule book didn’t make it in the moving van boxes from Florham Park to wherever the hell the Bills practice. 17 penalties for the Bills, habitual line steppers all of them but that was only the late story. The Bills were completely out-played from whistle-to-whistle by a suddenly solid and confident Giants team.

Luckily for Giants Head Coach Tom Coughlin, he has The Dude, who even in the face of Nihilists who don’t believe in penalties, always keeps ‘er easy. Eli was classic Dude on Sunday, changing plays, running the hurry-up to limit substitutions and marching his team down the field to the tune of 24 points against a defense he wasn’t supposed to be able to dent. Oops. The 24 points were more than enough for this no-name, all-game defense that absolutely clobbered 243lb rookie sensation Karlos Williams to the tune of 40 yards on 18 carries and held speedy QB Tyrod Taylor to 15 yards on 6 attempts.

Another close 4th quarter, another pull-away win. That’s two in a row kids and you have to know The Dude abides. I don’t know about you, but I take comfort in that. It’s good knowin’ he’s out there. The Dude. Takin’ ‘er easy for all us sinners. Shoosh. I sure hope he makes the finals.

Eli Manning, New York Giants (October 4, 2015)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Quarterbacks

I only mention it because sometimes there’s a man… I won’t say a hero, ’cause, what’s a hero? But sometimes, there’s a man. And I’m talkin’ about the Dude here. Sometimes, there’s a man, well, he’s the man for his time and place. He fits right in there. And that’s the Dude, in New York. The best QB this franchise has ever had has directed his team to two straight wins and again proven his mettle when this team has needed him the most. Facing a tremendously insipid train horn pre-snap, and a big, physical and unpredictable Buffalo front 7, Eli was his usual cool self, evenly distributing the ball, changing plays and keeping the Bills on their heels (calm down Rex) all day long. Five Giant players had at least 2 catches and TDs went to three different players, a definitive sign that this offense is coming along and that even when Pre-madonna (sic) WR Odell Beckham Jr. is held in check, Eli can hurt you with just about anyone else. Eli’s late INT was the only real blemish on the day, and while 20-35 for 212 yards is pretty pedestrian these days, it was Eli’s ability to get his team lined up quickly and use as much of the play clock as he could to get the Bills to show their hand up front that made the difference for this team offensively.

Running Backs

The best output by the Giants RBs this year, their ability to be physical and keep gaining positive yardage kept the Bills guessing all day on defense. Following a 2-play, 32-yard drive of passes to Dwayne Harris, the Giants backs then took the reins and started to wear down the vaunted Bills DL. Up 9-3, this group led a 10-play, 76-yard march that put the Giants up 16-3 and may have salted the game away with the way the defense was throttling the Bills most of the day. Andre Williams and Rashad Jennings averaged 7.2 yards on 5 combined carries on the drive, and set the tone for the rest of the day. RB Shane Vereen had a nifty 27-yard screen play called back by a Geoff Schwartz penalty. Jennings was unceremoniously dumped on his melon by DE Mario Williams as the 3rd quarter wound down, but Jennings would have the final say. Snagging an Eli Manning flare pass and racing 51 yards, Jennings threw S Bacarri Rambo aside like a sack of dirty undies en route to the game-sealing TD and a 24-10 lead.

Odell Beckham, New York Giants (October 4, 2015)

Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Wide Receivers

Dwayne Harris is officially a Giant now, hauling in his first TD in Blue and gathering in 5 passes for 51 yards in 6 targets. Harris is starting to become a reliable threat from the slot, and his toughness is showing each week as he takes shot after shot on special teams and over the middle as a WR. Rueben Randle again came up big, running a well-timed slant early in the 2nd quarter for an 11-yard score and a 16-3 Giant lead. Odell Beckham Jr. had a head-scratching Sunday, several times drawing Eli’s ire for an incorrect route adjustment and constantly barking at the Bills. ODB finished with just 38 yards on 5 catches and was hemmed in well by the Bills. Credit CB Ronald Darby for playing aggressively and keeping the reigning Rookie of the Year in check. It’s Beckham’s presence though, that draws so much attention it opens up the field for Manning to use his other weapons.

Tight Ends

TE Larry Donnell had another meh outing, pulling in 38 yards on 5 grabs and again falling prey to a false start penalty. Newly-signed Will Tye dropped the only ball fired his way.

Offensive Line

Just call LT Ereck Flowers “Iron Balls McGinty” from here on out. Flowers, playing on a gimpy ankle, came out after one offensive play but strapped his big boy shoes back on and pitched a shutout against dynamic DE Jerry Hughes. The Giants OL may have just arrived, stubbornly plowing forward for 92 yards on 28 carries, which against the front led by the massive duo of 330lb Marcel Dareus and the 6’7” Mario Williams is a solid day’s work. This game was this young OLs biggest test and 24 points, 1 sack allowed and a sound victory against a very good defense is something for this group to build on. Rookie Bobby Hart notably got some snaps in jumbo formations, something to watch down the line. It may have been due to the dearth of TEs but the big rookie looked OK.

Kerry Wynn, New York Giants (October 4, 2015)

Kerry Wynn – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Defensive Line

DE Kerry Wynn again stole the show on the DL in the absence of Robert Ayers Jr., notching what is becoming a very familiar sight, a backside cut-back lane tackle for little or no gain. Nothing flashy about 72, but he is never out of position and plays as soundly as a DE can against the run and he tallied another 8 stops from his DE spot. Wynn, lined up at DT on a 3rd-and-12 late in the 3rd quarter, alertly recognized a screen, got depth and helped snuff the play out deep in Giants territory. Wynn’s play is a huge reason this run defense is the best in the NFL right now. Owa Odighizuwa made his long-awaited debut and promptly dropped Tyrod Taylor on a zone run to his side, a play that a year ago would have gone for a huge chunk of yardage with a DE flying upfield and losing containment. On the same play, FINALLY, DL Cullen Jenkins also wrapped up the dive fake to Karlos Williams, something Giant fans have been waiting to see since our run defense was embarrassed last year. You attack the read option inside and read it outside, just like the offense is designed to make the play work. Instead of DEs attacking the edges, you sit and read and make a play and #58 did just that in his maiden voyage. Owa chipped in with 2 stops and did a solid job holding the edge when asked. DT Jay Bromley absolutely blew past RG Craig Urbik on what appeared to be a Tyrod Taylor TD run (say that three times fast, or don’t – I don’t really care), which forced the desperate OG to pull Bromley down and negate the run. Bromley followed that play up with another hurry of Taylor, which caused an incompletion. FB/DT and all-around neat guy Nikita Whitlock notched a sack in the 4th quarter, making the memory of the Hynoceros dance just a little less painful. DTs Cullen Jenkins and Jon Hankins did what they do – they owned the A gaps and kept their play-makers clean. The duo combined for 5 tackles and a sack and spearheaded the stifling of the Bills rushing attack.

Linebackers

LB Devon Kennard is becoming a problem. You can’t throw on him, you can’t run on him and he loves him a little contact. Defensive head honcho Steve Spagnuolo has deployed Kennard everywhere and the dynamic second-year LB is delivering, breaking up 3 passes intended for TE Charles Clay, one of which was intercepted  late in the 1st quarter as the LB was lined up one-on-one against Clay down the sideline. The field position resulted in an easy 2-play, 32-yard TD drive. Kennard was back at it on the next series, rushing up the A gap to knock down a Tyrod Taylor offering at the line of scrimmage and forcing a punt. Kennard did get beaten on a TD pass by RB Karlos Williams on the same route he picked off earlier in the game, but #59 stopped 3 drives on his own early. J.T. Thomas chipped in with 4 tackles, had some coverage issues on a long pass play to TE Charles Clay but it was the former Mountaineer who was there on a 4th-and-goal tackle to snuff out a Bills drive. Jonathan Casillas officially had 9 stops, but I officially didn’t notice, even watching this game not once not twice but thrice.

Prince Amukamara, New York Giants (October 4, 2015)

Prince Amukamara – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Defensive Backs

If you looked at the box score and saw 274 yards from Tyrod Taylor, you might have cringed. S Landon Collins and CB Prince Amukamara combined for 12 stops and 3 passes defended. Collins had two great diving breakups and a pressure on Taylor on a Bills drive that ended with a missed FG late in the 3rd quarter. The Prince ripped the ball out of WR Robert Woods’ hands with the game all but sealed, but he and Collins wanted that ball and they got it to put one more nail in the coffin. S Craig Dahl nearly came away with a sack on a blitz right up the A gap on the left side, just missing Taylor in the end zone. CB Jayron Hosley isn’t as good as ST ace Jayron Hosley. #28 was victimized by Percy Harvin and drew a bad pass interference penalty as the Bills were trying to claw back into the game. CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had little to do with Greg Roman’s caveman like offense bumbling around all day, but DRC made a goal line stop in tandem with LB J.T. Thomas that kept the Bills out of the end zone on a 4th-and-goal from the 2.

Special Teams

Jayron Hosley, take a bow, then get real low because one BBI denizen wishes death up on you. The former VPI man was relentless on special teams, spearheading a coverage unit that stifled the Bills return game to the tune of 88 yards on 9 touches. Dare we say it the Giants coverage teams are now a strength and not a gaping hole of sadness? K Josh Brown missed a 38-yard XP and looked like a one-man gaping hole of sadness afterwards.

Coaching

Hell I like Steve Spagnuolo, he can come over to my house and…well Gunnery Sgt. Hartmann’s words are not quite appropriate in this space (just barely) but you get the idea. Spags has resurrected defense in NY with TEAM FIRST play, nothing more. This team, no matter who is in or what formation they are in, flies to the ball on every single snap. That’s a sign of a team that believes in itself and its coordinator.

I mean say what you want about the tenets of the West Coast Offense, Dude, at least it’s an ethos. Unlike Bills play-butcherer Greg Roman, whose ethos seems to be throw far to TE guy…if not, let QB run fast. OC Ben McAdoo has his offense starting to round in to form. The running game isn’t going to scare anyone, unless it’s like a team of 8-year olds (no way would they tackle Andre Williams), BUT it’s working well enough in chunks to keep the defense honest and let Eli do his thing. Credit McAdoo with spreading the ball out wide on the Giants the first few drives, then counter punching with inside counters and traps on the Giants 2nd TD drive. The plan to wear down the Bills huge front 7 worked and they were off balance all day.

Inside the Backside (don’t be gross)

Against an aggressive front, and make no mistake this defense attacks all day, several keys exist to slow down a pass rush. Most readers of this site are savvy enough to know that draws, screens, hard counts, motions and misdirection plays are all geared to slow down a big-time pass rush. The G-Men currently lack that killer pass rush, but the #1 rushing defense in the league is being noticed and teams are trying to negate the Giants ability to penetrate in the ground game as well. The concept and idea is the same – if a team is disruptive and crashing gaps to blow up a running game, let them crash, let them over-pursue and you’ll see holes open up. In the sequence below, watch MLB Jon Beason and DE Kerry Wynn stay disciplined and be in position to make a stop. Specifically, watch how Beason’s depth never changes until he sees the play starting to unfold, keeping him from getting blocked by an OL or the FB, and Wynn flattens down the LOS to contain the backside run.

cutback1

On the game’s opening play, the Bills try just that, with a counter to the weakside. Note Kerry Wynn crudely highlighted at LDE and the lead FB and OL all moving squarely left while MLB Jon Beason, maintains his depth and finds the ball carrier.

cutback2

First, Wynn uses a swim move to keep RT Seantrel Henderson from getting inside his shoulders. And he flattens down the line, not flying into a hole or looking for the big play, but playing smart, sound fundamental DE by maintaining outside leverage and tracking the play laterally rather than getting too far up field. A big cutback lane is evident here as 5 of the Giants front 7 are now backside, not play-side as the Bills had hoped. Beason, however, still square to the line of scrimmage, still with good depth, is not caught up in the wash.

cutback3

Wynn, still parallel to the line of scrimmage, begins to close down the hole, again, not shooting up field, but by keeping outside leverage (45 degrees with the ball carrier to your inside, it’s all about technique) and moving down the line. MLB Jon Beason, who stayed patient, now recognizes the cut back and it’s a race to close down the gap.

cutback4

Beason and Wynn, both of whom read their keys and allowed the play to develop before attacking, close down RB Karlos Williams for no gain. Credit DTs Jon Hankins and Cullen Jenkins along with DE George Selvie for doing the dirty work and not allowing the OL to get to Beason. This is team run defense at its most basic and its fundamental best.

Cram it in your Cramhole Award

I’ll need the trophy store to really crank out a big order this week, for the entire Buffalo Bills organization, down to each dopey fan gets the CCA. Rex Ryan’s incessant boasting, Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman trying to use TE Charles Clay like he’s Vernon Davis, the front office for assaulting our QB senses with Tyrod Taylor and for that damn train horn that played while the G-Men had the ball. Gamesmanship, home field advantage, yeah yeah we get it, but this is supposed to be a professional game played by highly-paid men who sacrifice their bodies for our entertainment (and their giant paychecks) and you choose a train horn to throw off a QB who beat an 18-0 Patriots team in the Super Bowl? That’s the proverbial knife-to-the-gun-fight, you dolts. Then you incite your rube fans to chant the chant-of-the-stupid between honks? At least we can be sure that the denizens of whatever-it’s-called-now stadium have mastered one of the five vowels. Bully. The poor White Stripes, they could have never known their ditty would be used in such a Neolithic manner. Head referee John Hussey gets a runners-up badge for his President Skroob like moustache.

(New York Giants at Buffalo Bills, October 4, 2015)
Oct 022015
 
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Mark Herzlich (58) and Jay Bromley (96), New York Giants (August 3, 2014)

Mark Herzlich and Jay Bromley – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants at Buffalo Bills, October 4, 2015

THE STORYLINE:
At the very least, the New York Giants temporarily saved their season with their 32-21 victory over the Washington Redskins in Week 3. But the 1-win G-Men are obviously not out of the woods yet and a loss to the Buffalo Bills would once again significantly reduce their margin for error, especially if the Cowboys defeat the Saints on Sunday night.

The Giants also received another kick to the nuts this past week when Victor Cruz suffered an injury setback. The addition of a healthy Cruz would have emotionally lifted the team and possibly taken the offense to a different level. Now the Giants will have to get by with what they have for the foreseeable future, not knowing if Cruz will even be a factor in 2015. “Next man up” remains the mantra. As Tom Coughlin said on Thursday, “It is what it is” and the Giants will have to get by with what they have. Will it be enough?

The Bills are clearly an up-and-coming team that leads the NFL in rushing (152.7 yards per game) and run defense (74 yards per game). Teams like that are very difficult to beat. Throw in an exceptionally mobile quarterback who is completing over 74 percent of his passes, and this will be a tough game.

Tom Coughlin said something very interesting this week. “The fact of the matter is, in our league, 75 percent of the games are decided in the fourth quarter,” said Coughlin. “They either end up with a two-minute drill on offense or a two-minute drill on defense, and we’ve got to get better in those areas to expect to be able to finish these games against very good people we’re playing.”

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • RB Orleans Darkwa (knee – probable)
  • WR Victor Cruz (calf – out)
  • OT Will Beatty (pectoral – on PUP and will not play)
  • TE Daniel Fells (ankle – questionable)
  • TE Jerome Cunningham (knee – out)
  • LT Ereck Flowers (ankle – questionable)
  • DE Robert Ayers (hamstring – out)
  • DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa (foot – probable)
  • DT Markus Kuhn (knee – out)
  • CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromarties (concussion – probable)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
For the second game in a row, the Giants will be playing a top-5 run defense. But what makes the Bills defense even more dangerous than the Redskins defense is their ability to rush the passer. And can do so with just their front four up front as well as Rex Ryan’s complicated blitz packages.

The conventional wisdom for this game is that the Giants should not even bother trying to run the football against the NFL’s #1-ranked run defense, and the team should focus on the quick, 3-step passing game. It’s hard to argue with that approach other than the fact that is probably what Rex Ryan is expecting the Giants to do. Also, there is worry about the Giants offensive tackles, the gimpy Ereck Flowers and the journeyman Marshall Newhouse, being able to hold up against defensive ends Jerry Hughes and Mario Williams, two of the most dangerous pass rushers in football. Defensive tackles Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams are also two of the best defensive tackles in the game. It’s an line full of Pro Bowlers.

I am going to go against conventional wisdom and argue that the Giants should attempt to run the football against the Bills, especially running behind Ereck Flowers and Justin Pugh in the direction of the undersized Hughes, if for no other reason to prevent him from teeing off on Flowers on the pass rush. I also don’t want Newhouse having to fend off Williams on play after play. I would mix in the short passing game with quick throws to Shane Vereen, Odell Beckham, Rueben Randle, and the tight ends. The counter-argument would be to do what the Patriots did and that is pass 50 times, eschewing the ground game completely. I don’t think that strategy fits New York. I also think it is one that is prone to mistakes and turnovers.

Perhaps it is wishful thinking, but despite New York’s poor yards-per-rush stats against the tough Redskins run defense, I felt the commitment to the run in that game had an impact on the contest and wore down Washington. The Giants need to keep the down-and-distance situations manageable. That doesn’t mean don’t pass on first down, but I would run the football, including on third down. What you don’t want are holding penalties, sacks, and turnovers coming out of the passing game.

Vereen and Beckham could be match-up problems for the Bills, but someone else needs to step up too as Buffalo’s weaker linebackers and defensive backs will likely concentrate on these two. New York needs another strong game out of Randle with solid contributions from Larry Donnell and the gimpy Daniel Fells as well. Will Dwayne Harris finally make a big play in the passing game? Like against the Redskins, the Giants will have to selectively pick their deep shots as Manning will not have much time set up deep in the pocket and wing the ball down the field. I think a real key here will be the ability or inability of the interior trio on the offensive line to keep Dareus and Williams out of Manning’s face.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
Again, this is a bit similar to Washington in that the Bills are one of the top rushing attacks in football. That bodes somewhat well for New York in that the Giants are currently #2 in the NFL in run defense. But why Buffalo appears more dangerous is the mobility of their surprise quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who can hurt teams with designed running plays as well as improvisation when a play breaks down. New York has yet to face a dangerous mobile quarterback, and the Bills will likely test the young defensive line’s discipline with misdirection. This was always a problem under Perry Fewell’s defense and we’ll get our first feedback on whether it will improve under Steve Spagnuolo.

“(Taylor) doesn’t play like this is his first time being a full-time starter,” said DE Robert Ayers, who unfortunately will not play on Sunday. “He’s smart. He’s not just running, he’s not just doing one read, not seeing it and taking off running like a lot of mobile quarterbacks do. He’s going through progressions and making smart decisions. He impressed me.”

And Taylor is not just mobile. He’s a legit 4.5 athlete who can make a huge play with his feet. More startling is he is completing almost 75 percent of his passes. But Taylor is still inexperienced. He has only started three NFL games despite being in the NFL for four season with Baltimore. Clearly, the game plan is to keep the shorter (6’1”), mobile QB in the pocket with a disciplined rush that is more interested in containment than generating immediate pass pressure. The rushers must stay in their pass rush lanes. This will make it tough to sack Taylor, but it is necessary. Spagnuolo will mix and match coverages, using zone-blitz schemes, to confuse Taylor and encourage him to make an ill-advised throw. The Giants probably can’t play too much man coverage, however, as that style of defense is always vulnerable to the quarterback-turned-runner.

The Bills will be severely limited by the absence of two of their most dangerous play-makers: wide receiver Sammy Watkins and ex-Eagle and Giant-killer running back LeSean McCoy. The main weapons now become deep-threat wide receiver Percy Harvin and receiving tight end Charles Clay. The Giants have to particularly careful of Clay off of play-action, including bootlegs, and Harvin on end arounds.

But the primary area of focus must be stopping rookie running back sensation Karlos Williams, who is averaging almost eight yards per carry. Williams is a big, physical north-south, down-hill runner who can break the big play with fine speed. The Giants must play stout at the point-of-attack and limit the ground game.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Marcus Thigpen has two career punt returns for touchdowns. Percy Harvin has five career kickoff returns for touchdowns. Obviously, both are dangerous. Place kicker Dan Carpenter has been shaky recently. The Bills employ a kickoff specialist (already 12 touchbacks) so don’t anticipate much help from Dwayne Harris on kickoff returns.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Tom Coughlin on the Buffalo Bills Offense: “They’re going to run the ball. They’re going to run. They want to run, they want to play action pass, they want to move the quarterback, they want to bootleg. They started the game last week with two bootlegs for good plays. That’s what they want to do. They’re going to try and pound it. What they do is they pop up and throw the deep ball, (QB Tyrod Taylor) is good at the deep ball. If it’s a rhythmic throw, he’s right on the money. That’s where they balance it off.”

THE FINAL WORD:
I must admit I got foolish caught up in the Victor “Return” hoopla and had visions of him tearing Rex Ryan’s heart out again. Now this game becomes harder to gauge. Defensively, if the Giants can stop the run and contain Taylor in the pocket, they should be alright. But those are two big “ifs”. Look for the Bills to use misdirection and play-action to confuse the young defenders of the Giants. Offensively, the line of scrimmage looks like a big mismatch with a huge advantage for Buffalo. Do the Giants try to run the ball? Or are those simply wasted plays? Fans may get upset with the short passing attack and being more conservative, but this may be one of those games where the team that makes the fewer mistakes comes out on top.

As Tom Coughlin pointed out, the Giants are going to have to learn how to win tight football games in the fourth quarter by either driving the football in the final minutes or stopping the opposing drive in the final minutes. This could be one of those games.

Sep 272015
 
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princess_bride_280

New York Giants 32 – Washington Redskins 21

Confusing Intro

Two 4th quarter leads blown, 0-2 and playing without your starting LT, best cover corner and best DL against a suddenly revitalized Washington Redskins (161 and 182 yards on the ground to open the year against two of the best defensive fronts in the league in St. Louis and Miami) team that vows to “Break the man in front of you”, were the Giants already dead in week three?  Whoo-hoo-hoo, look who knows so much. It just so happens that your team here is only MOSTLY dead. There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead, well, with all dead there’s usually only one thing you can do.

It turns out the Giants did learn from their first two weeks, not taking their collective feet off the gas in a 32-21 win over the Washington Redskins. Staked to an early 9-0 bulge thanks to a Prince Amukamara INT and Rashad Jennings blocked punt for a safety, the Giants were never really threatened in this one despite a 101-yard kickoff return in the 4th quarter that cut a 32-14 lead to 32-21 and had to make some Giant fans wonder, are we going to cough up the lead again? Never fear, Kirk Cousins is here, and the former Spartan was again generous throwing 2 costly INTs, one inside his own 20 and another when it appeared the Skins were finally gaining some footing on offense. Questions will be raised about Tom Coughlin’s sanity again though, because with under 2 minutes left in the game he inexplicably chose to throw the ball on a 3rd-and-10, essentially gifting his opponent about 40 seconds of clock time late in the game for the second time in three weeks. Fortunately this was Kirk Cousins and not Matt Ryan or Tony Romo and the Skins final effort was an 8-play, 64-yard clunker that ended on a 26-yard garbage time run as time expired. The Giants are not quite dead, which means we can’t yet go through their pockets and look for loose change but we just might get a miracle if the teams in the NFC East keep losing players and we start to get some back next week against the Buffalo Bills.

Eli Manning, New York Giants (September 24, 2015)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Quarterbacks

My name is Eli Manning, you killed my first two games, prepare to die. Eli Manning started the game 8-of-8, looking sharp and decisive with the ball, seeming to involve Rueben Randle early to get the 4th-year pro in a groove to help this offense. Manning found Odell Beckham on a 4th-and-1 conversion on a simply perfect pass low and outside where only his WR could make the catch and again Beckham was on the receiving end of a perfectly-placed toss into the end zone to the high post. Despite the first two games and non-stop criticism, Eli stepped onto the big stage and did what Eli does, he played to win the game and he did just that. That is the Eli we want, that is the Eli we expect and with another makeshift OL, no real slot WR and a frustrating TE situation the Big E came up huge when he had to. Up 25 to 14, instead of going into a shell, Eli and company fired the dagger with a back shoulder pass to Rueben Randle that DB Bashaud Breeland (can someone name a kid Bill or Ted or something, ffs this is getting out of control) tipped, but Randle gathered it and went in for the score. Manning finished the day with 279 yards, 2 TDs and again no interceptions.

Running Backs

Andre Williams gets the first nod for his bruising TD run over left guard following a Prince Amukamara INT to stake the G-men to a 9-0 lead. Late in the 3rd quarter, Williams did his best Brandon Jacobs, in trucking FS Trenton Robinson on a 5-yard run that had to make Skins fans shudder at the memory of old #27 obliterating S LaRon Landry. Other than that, a pretty poor night for the backs again, with a paltry 2.7 ypc average with 11 yards as the long run of the night. This mix and match zone runs and power runs has the OL and backs tied up and simply not performing well at all. It may be time to see what Orleans Darkwa can do because this running game is dead in the water. FB Nikita Whitlock didn’t play many snaps on offense. RB Shane Vereen was held catchless and only touched the ball 6 times but his alert onside recovery saved what could have turned into another late game meltdown.

Rueben Randle, New York Giants (September 24, 2015)

Rueben Randle – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Wide Receivers

Someone must have threatened to put Rueben Randle’s hand in warm water the next time he falls asleep if he didn’t show up this week, because the 4th-year former Bayou Bengal came out punching and didn’t let up. Randle ran a great DIG route on a 3rd-and-8 early in the 3rd to pick up a key conversion. To top things off, Randle pulled in a 3rd-and-10 with the Giants up 11 and only 3:33 left, and raced home for the game-clinching TD. Great night for Randle who finished with 116 yards on 7 grabs and the game-clinching TD. Superlatives simply don’t work anymore when discussing Odell Beckham Jr. He finished with a pedestrian (for him) 79 yards on 7 catches but his 4th-and-1 snag of a low slider from Eli and his effortless grab of a post in the end zone that was high and near a defender just shows how composed he is with the ball in the air and how much his QB trusts him.

Tight Ends

Washington-killer TE Larry Donnell killed a Giants drive midway through the 2nd quarter. An easy 3rd-and-7 conversion fell right through the 6’6” Donnell’s hands killing a drive that ended in a FG. The head scratcher? Donnell seemed to somersault just because he can on a 22-yard catch from Manning as the 4th quarter opened. I mean he didn’t fumble so that’s great but the non-induced gymnastics need to go. Every time he plays, Daniel Fells seems to have a big catch down the seam. Manning found Fells on a seam route on a Giants scoring drive midway through the second quarter. Fells deked LB Keenan Robinson with a jab step outside, got inside leverage and ran a perfect seam route for a 23-yard gain. He’s not flashy, but Fells is as fundamentally sound a TE as this team has had for some time.

Offensive Line

Without starting LT Ereck Flowers, things appeared to be grim against a Washington front that gave the Dolphins and Rams fits. Overall, not a bad job really, though at times RT Marshall Newhouse tried out his new skates when Ryan Kerrigan lined up over him. Newhouse did gave up some pressures, but kept a clean sheet and against a player of Kerrigan’s caliber that’s worth a pat on the backside. Not from me of course, that would be weird. The signal caller was kept clean all game and with few exceptions the pocket was fairly well-formed and stable most of the night. There was definitely pressure at times, but credit C Weston Richburg for keeping slight pressures from becoming drive-killing sacks by helping and switching to double team when needed. LT Justin Pugh acquitted himself well in rookie tough guy Flowers’ absence, and dare I say it, LG John Jerry played a pretty solid game, using his considerable backside to anchor well against a very big and very physical Washington front 7. Against bigger, physical lines, the 680 lb guard tandem of Geoff Schwartz and Jerry will actually be a big plus. C Weston Richburg largely goes unnoticed but ask Eli how much he appreciates room to step up into the pocket and the ability to dump off a screen pass and have his agile pivot man get out in front of the play and actually give it a shot. Another unsung improvement who won’t be on Sports Center or make the Daily News’ goofy headlines, but rest assured our 2nd year center is becoming exactly what this offense needs, a steady sturdy leader who can captain this young and now promising OL.

New York Giants Defense (September 24, 2015)

New York Giants Defense – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Defensive Line

Kerry Wynn made his mark early, knifing through on a 3rd down to drop Matt Jones for a loss and force punt #2. Wynn finished with 8 stops and a QB hit, and in case that doesn’t tell the story clearly, that would be a 128-tackle season for a DL. As a point of reference, Hall of Famer Michael Strahan’s best year was 2005 when he finished with 81 stops. Am I inducting Kerry Wynn into the Hall of Fame because he went to school in Virginia? Yes, yes I am. Wynn likely won’t ever make a Pro Bowl or spit pieces of a PBJ on a reporter, but make no mistake, #72 was a difference-maker all night against what was a vaunted Washington running game. Consistent backside tackles and an ability to hold the edge made Wynn a force all night. His linemates didn’t fill up the stat sheet, but play after play, the Giants DL played with outstanding technique, not allowing cut-back lanes, shutting off the edge and forcing bruising RBs Matt Jones and Alfred Morris to churn out yards inside. The G-Men held the W’s to 88 yards, 26 of it on a last-second run that can easily be tossed out to show how dominant this group was all night. Cool moment of the night: FB/DT Nikita Whitlock had an impressive 360 spin to get in Cousins face from the NT spot and force an incompletion. With the Skins down 19 entering the 4th quarter, it was pin your ears back time and the Giants DL didn’t get much in the way of sacks, though Kerry Wynn and Jay Bromley each chipped in with a couple of QB hurries. That lack of pressure may come back to bite this group eventually but we’ll take this one week at a time and worry about that when and if it happens.

Linebackers

OLB Devon Kennard just keeps making play after play. The 2nd-year former Trojan LOVES contact and it shows. Kennard’s ability to shock with his hands is something this team hasn’t seen since Carl Banks roamed the Meadowlands. What made Banks such a dynamic run and edge defender was his ability to stay square and “shock” or jolt the man blocking him violently with his hands, holding the vaunted edge and controlling the running game. Kennard does the same thing when asked in 3-4 sets, and he gets better every week at it. It’s not glamorous, it’s not cool but key on #59 a few times and watch how violent his hands are and how aggressively he defeats blocks of 300lb lineman with ease. It’s a beautiful thing. LB Jonathan Casillas may have had the whiff of the game when he was handed a perfect blitz and clean shot at Kirk Cousins and he ran right past the QB. It was coincidentally the same fake-blitz-that-becomes-a-blitz that LB Kawika Mitchell executed in Super Bowl 42 to hurry a Tom Brady throw. At the snap, Casillas takes a drop step into his zone, then zips inside a lane created by the DL, only to miss a chance at a sack. Casillas was almost victimized by TE Jordan Reed who had flown past the LB into the end zone but Kirk Cousined it and the Skins were forced to kick the oblong pigskin for points. LB Jon Beason returned from his latest injury room vacation but didn’t register a tackle or have really any impact in limited action. He did avoid a season-ending injury so let’s call that a win. Beason’s understudy (hoping to make the journey from Milan to Minsk) Uani’ Unga picked off a Cousins’ pass with the Skins driving and the G-Men up 12. And with the Giants scoring on the ensuing possession, that INT turned out to be a huge moment in the game. It was of course tipped by Devon Kennard who had perfect coverage on the play and batted the ball into the air, so just get used to 59 making things happen seemingly all over the field. Unga could be blamed on Chris Thompson’s TD catch late in the 4th quarter as the old-young rookie failed to get sufficient depth in his drop, opening a small window for the Cousins pass.

Landon Collins, New York Giants (September 24, 2015)

Landon Collins – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Defensive Backs

Prince Amukamara, victimized by Julio Jones and the Falcons game-winning drive, redeemed himself instantly with an INT inside Washington territory that led to an early and easy TD. The Prince batted away a pass to a seemingly-open Pierre Garcon. S Landon Collins looks like he’s rounding into form, making a key breakup early in the 2nd quarter against athletic TE Jordan Reed. Collins had Reed in man coverage all the way and Collins looked to be beaten but he closed down quickly, read Reed’s eyes and turned to find the ball and knock it away at the last second. The ball could have been thrown a bit better, but credit Collins with one of those little smart football things (watching a WRs eyes when running with him to find the ball) that don’t get enough credit. Heady play by the rookie. I bemoaned the signing of S Brandon Meriweather, but thus far #22 has been a solidifying force in the secondary. His strong effort around the line of scrimmage and ability to support the run game have been critical in this defense’s ability to limit ground yardage. Everyone’s favorite punching bag now that Markus Kuhn is on the pine, is undoubtedly CB Jayron Hosley, but the former weird giant turkey mascot school product was solid save for a pass interference call in what was probably his best game as a Giant in coverage.

Special Teams

Finally, finally something special! Rashad Jennings of all people, called for a running into the kicker play that was wiped out by offsetting penalties, came back on the re-do and blocked P Tress Way’s offering into the end zone for an early safety and a silly looking 2-0 lead. I’ll be honest, I really wanted the game to end 2-0. Rueben Randle tried his best to be Chris Calloway as the Redskins last ditch onside kick glanced off the WR’s..well his everything, but Shave Vereen corralled the ball and finally put the team at ease that a victory was within reach, almost. After Rueben Randle’s TD put the G-men up 32-14, disaster struck again as a 101-yard kickoff return for a TD put the game AGAIN on edge but the ensuing onside kick flashed through Randle’s hands, not making contact and the Giants could finally breathe easy.

Coaching

Two simply head scratching calls on 3rd downs from Ben McAdoo. One was an out to TE Daniel Fells, not even close to the first down. And the other was the EXACT same play late in the 3rd that tied up Larry Donnell like a young Bruce Wayne finding all those bats in that hole. Swatting, panicking, falling, Donnell looked awful, but even if caught, he’s 5 yards short. With the best WR in…I would say NFL, most would call me nuts so let’s go best WR in the stadium…and a 6’2” slot WR at your disposal, you decide that slow, sessile TEs should get the ball 5 yards shy of the first down marker because they are so very fast? Mind numbing play calls. That said, McAdoo kept at the run despite it not working to keep the defense honest and eventually it broke the game open as the G-Men erupted for 32 points against a thus far stingy Washington defense that had held the Dolphins and Rams in check.

Nobody gets ‘em ready like old Tommy C. Think about this for a moment. 0-2, he’s too old, his eyes seem more beady than usual (according to me only but seriously they are way beadier now), no Ereck Flowers, no Victor Cruz, no DRC, no Robert Ayers, on short rest against a confident and physical Washington team. The Giants came out and again fought from whistle to whistle, scrapping on defense, specials and offense wire to wire. It’s too early to know what this season will hold, but give Tom an A+++ for game preparation this week with an undermanned squad and tons of pressure, his charges came out swinging. That said, the throw on 3rd down with Washington out of time outs was another late-game head scratcher. My guess is he wanted to be aggressive and get the first down and ice the game since being conservative has led to blowing two 10-point 4th-quarter leads. Not the worst idea given that Randle scored on a similar play a drive earlier, but you have to bleed the clock in that situation, take the extra 40 seconds off and don’t risk stopping the clock there.

By now you all know how I feel about Spags. I love the way he attacks and I love the confidence and speed his teams play with. He has a rookie and a has-been at safety who have had rough patches but overall have acquitted themselves well. He has LBs who can’t cover and LBs who can’t play the run and he actually uses them according to their strengths. This is a team devoid of difference makers on defense. But the speed and aggression they play proves that the whole is better than the sum of its parts and team defense can keep you in games if everyone believes. And this group does.

Inside the Game 

So how are the Giants thus far throttling teams on the ground with the same cast of characters that former DC Perry Fewell led to a 30th-place finish in rushing yards allowed with a whopping 135.1 yards per game against, and dead last in yards-per-attempt at 4.9 yards per carry? FOUR POINT NINE yards per carry, let that sink in for a moment; it means if you run the ball twice you’re looking at 3rd and 7.2 inches to go on average. Through three games, admittedly a small sample size, Steve Spagnuolo’s group is 2nd in yards, giving up 74.7 yards per game and tied for 4th in yards per attempt at 3.4 yards per carry. So what’s been the one big difference? It’s been discussed before, but here it is: the 4-3 shift to a Base 50 or Oklahoma 5-2 front utilizing OLB Devon Kennard as the edge setting run weapon and utilizing 320lb DT Jonathan Hankins as a true nose tackle who can alter the game from that spot. (Captions below pics).

4-3

Notice in this frame, the Skins come out with 3 WRs, 1 TE and one RB, and motion the WR across the formation to get the Giants to shift to the backside of the play, presumably to open up a hole outside the TE and up the field on the right. The Skins had drummed the vaunted Rams front to the tune of 182 rushing yards with similar plays that hemmed in the Rams DEs and neutralized speedy and disruptive DT Aaron Donald.

5-2

As the WR goes in motion, so too does LB Devon Kennard, who shifts to his OLB role, creating what is now a 5-2 front. This shift to get Kennard up to the LOS had worked well in weeks 1 and 2, but the Skins are ready and are running AWAY from Kennard on the play.

OH

DE George Selvie gets hooked initially and a big lane opens up. But the shift by the Redskins – designed to get safety Brandon Meriweather to slide inside as a true FS as safety Landon Collins is forced to follow the WR in motion and play in the slot, and isolate CB Jayron Hosley on the edge – play side doesn’t work. A big hole develops as you can see above. RB Alfred Morris now has a huge lane to run in, but S Brandon Meriweather, instead of shifting inside to safety to cover for S Landon Colllins, moved up to play CB and take on the block of the WR, as CB Jayron Hosley sat back to put a body in the hole and allow his teammates to “screw down” or move their blockers down the LOS to collapse a running lane. Had Hosley moved to the WR and Meriweather slid back to FS, this play could potentially go for a score or at least a very long gain but Spagnuolo’s trust (or gamble) in leaving CB Prince Amukamara and S Landon Collins in man coverage on the backside means the priority is stifling the ground game.

ch

Hosley’s presence and Meriweather’s physicality in fighting off the WR’s block cause Morris to stutter step in the hole and cost himself the advantage his TE and RT had initially created. The play goes for 6 yards, a win for the offense usually, but this was a home run-type of running play a year ago. But because the focus on stopping the ground game is clearly a priority, Spags was ready with a smart non-backside play shift that kept a bigger more physical safety to take on a wide receiver’s block and two DEs outside of the NT to help screw down and close the hole after Morris was forced to hesitate. That hesitation cost Morris a huge gain and showed precisely how this team is more prepared and willing to sell out to stop the run. The Skins shift does get Kennard up on the line and moves him away from the play, but it does NOT get Meriweather to slide inside, which would have left Hosley on an island. Chalk one up to the Giants on that one for seeing a tendency, seeming to play into it but having a plan to counter on the backside.

Cram it in your Cramhole Award

It has to go to the Washington team for having the unmitigated gall to hire Perry Fewell. I still have sleepless nights thinking about the Seahawks running for 875 yards against us (dramatization, may have been fewer) and they not only hire the dolt but SHOW HIM ON TV! OK, technically it’s CBS’ fault for showing him but I firmly believe that I speak for all Giant fans, DO NOT SHOW PERRY FEWELL ON TV. Not now…not ever. Just don’t do it. Thankfully Fewell learned nothing in his time here and was totally unable to slow down a passing offense he saw in person every single day. Don’t ever change Perry, you stink and we love you for it…now that you’re gone of course.

(Washington Redskins at New York Giants, September 24, 2015)
Sep 232015
 
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Tuffy Leemans, New York Giants (October 1, 1939)

Tuffy Leemans with ball, New York Giants at Washington Redskins (October 1, 1939)

Washington Redskins at New York Giants, September 24, 2015

THE STORYLINE:
Who are the 2015 New York Giants? On paper, they are a young team led by the oldest and most experienced head coach in the NFL and a 34-year old, two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback. They currently only have one offensive weapon – Odell Beckham – who really scares the opposition in the passing game. The running game remains too unproductive and inconsistent. Defensively, the Giants appear to be a spunky group that lacks any impact player. They can’t rush the passer and they can’t close the deal in the 4th quarter. And once again, it’s a team that simply can’t stay healthy (8 players on Injured Reserve, 13 on the injury report).

The Giants should have stolen the game from the Cowboys, and not the other way around. They had the Falcons on the ropes until another 4th quarter meltdown. Is it a lack of talent? Bad coaching decisions at the wrong moments? Lack of confidence and expecting the worst to happen? Probably a combination of all of the above.

The issue now is that for the third season in a row, the Giants find themselves in a very bad 0-2 hole and risk making themselves irrelevant once again before November. Their saving grace is the state of the rest of the NFC East. It’s almost as if they’ve been given one final second chance. Don’t blow it Giants.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • WR Victor Cruz (calf – out)
  • OT Will Beatty (pectoral – on PUP and will not play)
  • TE Daniel Fells (foot – probable)
  • TE Jerome Cunningham (knee – out)
  • LT Ereck Flowers (ankle – doubtful)
  • RG Geoff Schwartz (illness – probable)
  • DE Robert Ayers (hamstring – questionable)
  • DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa (foot – out)
  • DE/DT Cullen Jenkins (hamstring – probable)
  • DT Markus Kuhn (knee – out)
  • DT Jay Bromley (knee – probable)
  • LB Jon Beason (knee – probable)
  • CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromarties (concussion – out)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
Through two games, the Washington Redskins have the NFL’s #1 defense. It is #4 against the run and #2 against the pass. Part of that is due to having faced two offensively-challenged teams in the Miami Dolphins and St. Louis Rams. But the Redskins also shut down a Rams team that had just beaten the NFC Champions.

The Redskins operate a 3-4 defense under new defensive coordinator Joe Barry. The defensive line was largely rebuilt in free agency with the additions of nose tackle Terrance Knighton and left defensive end Stephen Paea. Ex-Cowboy Jason Hatcher still mans the right defensive end position. Their job is to keep the Redskins talented and active linebackers free. Outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan is an aggressive, physical football player who can rush the passer. The other outside linebacker – Trent Murphy – is similar in style and a former 2nd round pick. Inside linebackers Keenan Robinson and Perry Riley make a lot of tackles. (Riley has been bothered by a calf injury).

Despite Washington’s #2 ranking against the pass, the Redskins could still be vulnerable in the secondary. They imported cornerback Chris Culliver and safety Dashon Goldson in the offseason from the 49ers and Buccaneers, respectively, to go along with cornerback DeAngelo Hall and safety Trenton Robinson. They really haven’t been tested yet by a serious passing game.

The Giants did the right thing in cutting Preston Parker. Unless he gets his head out of his ass quickly, I would be tempted to do the same with Rueben Randle. I’d rather take my chances with no-names like Geremy Davis and Julian Talley who at least look like they are giving an effort.

The Giants need to get the God-damn running game going. No excuses. You have four backs who you have invested a lot of resources in. Use them. Put Daniel Fells in at tight end and Nikita Whitlock at fullback and run the football. When throwing the football, look to Odell Beckham and Shane Vereen. Perhaps the site of Burgundy and Gold will inspire Larry Donnell to re-visit his three-TD game against the Redskins from last season.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The game plan is simple. Stop the run. Make the Redskins one dimensional and force Kirk Cousins to beat you. It’s easier said than done as ex-Cowboys offensive line coach Bill Callahan appears to be doing marvelous job with a group that really struggled in the preseason. The Redskins are the #1 rushing team in the NFL despite facing two teams with very talented defensive lines. Trent Williams is one of the more talented (but sometimes inconsistent) left tackles in the NFL and the Redskins have high draft picks – Brandon Scherff at guard and Morgan Moses at tackle – manning the reinvigorated right side of the line. The two-head monster at tailback is Alfred Morris and rookie Matt Jones – both big, physical backs. This is old school football. The Redskins are going to attempt to pound the Giants right at the point-of-attack. Washington will challenge the toughness and manhood of Big Blue.

The good news for the Giants is that WR DeSean Jackson (hamstring) will not play. The two main threats in the passing game are WR Pierre Garcon and TE Jordan Reed (who is more of a dynamic H-Back). These are Kirk Cousins’ two go-to guys. Cousins is an up-and-down quarterback. Right now he is incredibly completing 76 percent of his passes but he will make the bone-headed turnover.

This is a game where the Giants front seven and secondary will have to play very tough, physical football for a full 60 minutes against the run. Defending the ground attack will be more important than rushing the passer in this game. The Giants will have to play their big boys up front. Do that and cover Garcon and Reed.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
The Giants are much better on special teams than the Redskins. This is an opponent where the team’s offseason additions could finally have a game-altering impact.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Tom Coughlin on the Washington Redskins: “Kirk Cousins, their quarterback, his percentage of completions is at 75 percent. They’re the number one rush team in the league, they’re the number two time of possession team in the league – almost 38 minutes a game. The opponent just doesn’t have the ball. Defensively, they’re number one in the league, fourth against the rush, second against the pass.”

THE FINAL WORD:
Through two games, the Redskins have proven to be a very fundamentally-sound football team. They are the #1 rushing team and the #1 defense in the NFL. The big worry here is stopping the Redskins ground game. That’s the key to the game.

For the last few years, we’ve heard the coaches and players say, “There’s still time to turn this around.” For the last few years, they’ve been dead wrong. It’s put up or shut up time right now. Or the empty seats will start appearing at MetLife in October, and that’s just plain sad. Play the run. Hit. Tackle. Run the football. Get the ball to Beckham and Vereen in the passing game. Make plays on special teams.

Most importantly, to paraphrase Ulysses S. Grant, stop worrying about what other teams are going to do to you and make them worry about what you are going to do to them!

This game has some deja vu qualities to it to 2007. That 0-2 Giants team, with a new defensive coordinator named Steve Spagnuolo, won a nail-biter against the Redskins in week three. It was a win that propelled the Giants to a 6-game winning streak and much more significant results. It doesn’t have to be pretty. Just win. Then get Victor Cruz back and start making some hay.

Sep 212015
 
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quint-jaws

Atlanta Falcons 24 – New York Giants 20

Gruesome Introduction

Y’all know me. Know how I earn a livin’. I’ll write this review for you, but it ain’t gonna be easy. Bad team. Not like going down the playoffs chasin’ Packers and Patriots. This season, swallow you whole. Little shakin’, little tenderizin’, an’ down you go. And we gotta do it quick, that’ll bring back your fans, put all your businesses on a payin’ basis. But it’s not gonna be pleasant. I value my neck a lot more than 2 Super Bowls in 9 years, chief. I’ll write it for free, but I’ll catch him, and kill him, for ten. But you’ve gotta make up your minds. If you want to stay alive, then read up. If you want to play it cheap, be on welfare the whole winter. I don’t want no volunteers, I don’t want no mates, there’s just too many coaches on this team. $10,000 for me by myself. For that you get the head, the tail, the whole damn thing.

Game Overview

Just like Quint, old Tommy Coughlin has no fear. He faces the doubters and the beat writers just as he does every week but just like our foul mouthed hero from the 1975 film classic Jaws, he may be eaten before the final credits roll. His half-assed astronaut Eli Manning needs to clean up and clean up fast. On the heels of an $84 million dollar extension, the 34-year old signal caller has blown two games all by himself. Blame the defense, blame the secondary, and blame inexperienced kids Uani’ Unga and Landon Collins if you want to, but with the game in his hands for the second week in a row, Eli just coughed up the game. Up 20-10 and driving deep into Falcons territory to put the game on ice, Easy E held and held and held the ball just long enough to cough it up and let the Falcons take possession and march to a 20-17 deficit. Driving midway through the fourth, Eli fumbled the ball forward only to have TE Larry Donnell save him with a miracle 1st down recovery. Fast forward to the undermanned defense coming up with a Robert Ayers sack, Landon Collins shot on WR Julio Jones and Brandon Merriweather of all people breaking up a 3rd and 3. Giants ball, time to ice the game and on 3rd and 7, Manning and his $84 million fail to get a snap off in time, turning a 3rd and 7 into an impossible 3rd and 12 and a Giant punt. Eli had one more chance to rescue the day, with 1:14 left and one of the most dynamic players in the NFL at his disposal, and he failed again. A big overthrow to a wide open, jumping and 6’6” Larry Donnell was followed by a sloppy pass to the inexplicably utilized WR Preston Parker and a 4th and 10 became an underthrow, a drop and another 4th quarter 10 point collapse.

Eli Manning, New York Giants (September 20, 2015)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Quarterbacks

Show me the way to go home, Eli’s tired and he wants to go to bed. At this point, it’s all on Eli. No Victor Cruz, a hobbled and disinterested Rueben Randle, a useless Preston Parker and only one decent target in Odell Beckham Jr. and this offense is squarely on the shoulders of the “franchise” QB and he has failed two weeks in a row. Give him credit I suppose for staking the team to a 20-10 lead, but the boneheaded sack and fumble, near disastrous forward fumble, overthrow to Donnell, delay of game on 3rd down and just flat out awful pass due to…shocking…poor mechanics on a 4th and 10 and yes, Eli Manning gets the goat horns for week #2. Eli’s 292 yards, two TDs and no INTs all went for naught because when the game was on the line, he flat out failed his team, his franchise and his Quint, who will likely be eaten whole in about 15 weeks. Put the blame on Eli too for WR Dwayne Harris’ false start that negated a 4th down conversion deep in Falcons territory. Manning waited too long to get the team to the line, motioned too late and put Harris in an impossible position. Twelve years in, you know what you have, brilliant one minute, head shakingly stupid the next.

Running Backs

Earth, Wind and Fire have returned! Rashad Jennings moves like the Earth (mud, specifically, old dried up mud, not at the 1,000 mph that our beloved blue planet zips around the sun), Andre Williams is as unpredictable as fire and well I guess Shane Vereen can be wind when it’s not whipping tiny rocks at your face. Williams led the Giants backs with a whopping 43 yards on 6 carries (35 of it on one impressive run) and again looked hesitant and confused at times toting the rock. I’ve been a believer in his talent but in year 2 of this offense, Williams still looks wildly inconsistent and unsure of himself. Rashad Jennings had a couple of early runs that looked solid, but he seemed to slow down in the second half, could be something injury wise that bears watching. That said, Jennings’ and his 12 yards on 9 carries would be stellar if he played for Chip Kelly, but #23 looked slow, tentative and just plain bad after halftime on Sunday. Weapon X appears to be Shane Vereen, who nabbed 8 balls for 76 yards receiving but did little to nothing on the ground with 57 on 6 carries. Yes feet. It looks much more impressive and with this horror movie offense that leaves you screaming to watch out for the blitzer behind the door, we need something positive. Vereen gives the team a horizontal dimension that is absolutely critical for the West Coast Offense to operate effectively. If LBs and DBs have to stay wide and contain Vereen out the backfield, that’s less deep help to apply to #13 and company.

Odell Beckham, New York Giants (September 20, 2015)

Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Wide Receivers

Odell Beckham Jr., is still pretty good. Beckham took a slant from Manning in the 2nd quarter and sprinted 67 yards to pay dirt to tie the game at 10, showing why this team will have a chance as long as #13 is vertical. Beckham had another spectacular-but-looks-routine catch on the Giants first scoring drive, he’s simply that good and ended the day with 7 grabs for 146 yards and a touchdown. Mr. Parker…zero point zero. Wide open drop on an out route with the first half winding down and a 4th and 10 miss to seal the loss. If I’m Tom Coughlin, I suddenly wonder why I’m so old and how my hair grew back and what am I doing with all this money? Then I cut Preston Parker. Rueben Randle, at age 24 simply doesn’t seem to care, get it or he’s in danger of losing a leg which on this team is entirely possible. We’ll drink to his legs..for now. One catch for 5 yards and a sloppy drop do nothing to provide any confidence that #82 is a part of this team’s future. Randle did have an outstanding down field block on Vereen’s 37 yard scamper early in the 3rd quarter. I thought it was a jaunt, maybe a dash, but upon further review, definitely a scamper.

Tight Ends

Larry Donnell absolutely blew a block on a key 3rd down play, not even knowing who to block and ending a drive but Donnell did redeem himself on a well-run DIG route that ended in a 10 yard scoring pass from his blockhead QB. Donnell set up the DB with a subtle head fake, worked inside and used his body to keep the defender at bay. That type of play shows just how far the former Grambling QB has come as a receiver, but he’s still light years away from being more than a liability as a blocker.

Offensive Line

Decent effort by the move ‘em out…or in this case, kind of try to shove them back a little gang. LT Ereck Flowers had a rocky day, picking up an early false start on the Giants opening drive and looking like he was fighting off Vic  Beasley on several occasions but the big rookie held his own on a bum ankle. Big Flowers is another cog that will be a key piece for this team to build on. Flowers did not return for long after halftime, with LG Justin Pugh sliding out to LT and BBI punching bag John Jerry in at LG. No terrifying moments really, 97 yards rushing and 2 sacks in a way tell the story. Not so bad, but just not good enough yet with so many other units making game crushing mistakes. The OL is however not a disaster, and appears to be on the way up assuming Flowers’ ankle injury isn’t season long. The biggest difference from a year ago, is that C Weston Richburg isn’t being tossed crash test dummy style into Eli’s lap about 5 times a game as his predecessor was prone to doing. A clean pocket will be essential to building this team as the year unfolds and so far Richburg and LG Justin Pugh are holding serve. RG Geoff Schwartz was solid, with the exception of a run play that he was absolutely blown past by DT Jonathan Babineaux.

Defensive Line

John Lynch’s awkward man crush on Robert Ayers Jr. aside, #91 was the best defender on the field, swatting down 3 passes from the DT spot on key 3rd downs. Ayers is not being asked to play the run as much by Steve Spagnuolo and it’s having a big impact on Ayers’ ability to be fresh to rush the passer. I’ve been critical of Ayers because his run fits give me fits, but credit where it’s due, Ayers played one hell of a game on Sunday. The rest of DL was strong against the run, often using pure 3-4 looks with Robert Ayers and Devon Kennard as the OLBs. It’s a one-gapping 3-4 or Base 50, or shaded Oklahoma 5-2 (that all depends on how old you are) that refuses to give up the edge and uses penetration in an A gap to force runs wide and shut off the backside cut lanes. DT Cullen Jenkins had what appeared to be a key sack, an Jonathan Hankins was a handful inside for the Falcons, fighting off double teams on nearly every play.

Linebackers

Another year, another blah group of LBs who just can’t seem to find anyone when in pass coverage. As least Uani’ Unga seems to have something (all of his fingers and two working knees) that most key Giant defenders who are missing lack. Unga gets turned around way too easily in coverage and loses his place on the field leading to way too many pass catchers wide open down the seams of this defense. BUT, he’s a gamer, he plays with effort and again, he’s not in a full body cast so I’m encouraged that Unga can grow into a serviceable MLB if he doesn’t lose a limb in practice or some bizarre holiday accident. In fact, I’m going on the record here, I want ZERO Giant defenders carving Jack-O-Lanterns, slicing turkey, trying to break a wish bone or putting an angel on a tree as we embark on Holiday season. No exterior illumination efforts, no champagne uncorking, and for God’s sake no shoveling or de-icing. The bright spot for this LB corps (yes corps, like the Marine Corps, it’s a group) is 2nd year LB Devon Kennard who led the team with 9 stops and was a force against the run and while pass rushing. Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is using Kennard all over the field and most importantly not asking him to do much coverage wise, instead opting for speedy LB Jonathan Casillas on obvious passing downs. J.T. Thomas had 7 stops, but I honestly can’t recall one, too much drag down tackling and not enough attacking thus far for the former Mountaineer.

Defensive Backs

S Landon Collins is having his rookie moments, but as will be a theme this year, watch him grow and play full speed and by the end of this campaign we should have a core (Yes core as in apple, center of it, not corps like Marine Corps. Learn the difference or I will..well I’ll do nothing but it’s annoying that the two are so often flubbed) DB to count on. DRC plays, he gets hurt every time he does anything but unlike some firework happy players who shall remain namelessjpp, DRC comes with it on every play. Rodgers-Cromartie hurt his shoulder and his brain making high effort tackles against the screen happy and quite frankly annoying Falcons offense. It’s good to see the referees throw in the towel when DRC got up wobblier than Apollo Creed on the heels of Ivan Drago’s murderpunch. CB Prince Amukamara gave up the game’s biggest play, but this defense is going to gamble and the CBs have to hold up. Prince played well but with the game on the line he simply got beat by Julio Jones and there’s not a ton to say about that. Give DB coach David Merritt credit, he has been destroyed by injuries to an already so-so safety group and he has 32-year old S Brandon Merriweather playing solid football. It may not last all season, but Merriweather has been a pleasant plus with a little bit of force at S with no real big mistakes.

Special Teams

Butthead said it best while watching a lackluster video with his good pal Beavis “These effects aren’t very special” and neither are these teams but it’s Tom Quinn and his envelope full of nudes vs. other competent ST coaches and as usual we did nothing special. Despite tossing $17 million at Dwayne Harris and his festive hairdo, the Giants apparently can’t find shoes that can grip their turf, with Harris wiping out on nearly every return that showed promise. Brad Wing is a punter, he punted, and I don’t care. He didn’t Dodge anything up and that’s enough for me.

Tom Coughlin, New York Giants (September 20, 2015)

Tom Coughlin – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Coaching Staff

Too many mistakes to give Quint a lot of credit this week. Give the headman some due, he took the blame, got his team ready and had a 20-10 lead in the 4th quarter until it all fell apart like anything made in Detroit in the mid-1980s. Back-to-back false starts by Odell Beckham and Ereck Flowers, an inexcusable false start by a WR on a converted 4th down, along with dropped passes and more Manning brain toots mean TC may have to be more Grumpy Old Men then Grandpa Simpson if he wants to right this ship.

Ben McAdoo better get his synapses firing and find a way to utilize more than 2 people or this team may not win a game. Beckham hauls in ONE pass after half time, that’s not good enough no matter what coverage is rolled his way. McAdoo is doing a solid job, but he has to be more creative. McAdoo did something I did like a great deal on two occasions. On TE Larry Donnell’s TD in the 3rd quarter, McAdoo ran the same play two times in a row because it was open. The first attempt Donnell was held and it wasn’t called; the very next play he did it again and it resulted in a 20-10 lead. McAdoo did the same thing in the 4th quarter on Rueben Randle’s lone grab a play after Randle just dropped the exact same ball. McAdoo isn’t shying away from what works and he’ll keep going to the well if something works.

The Fire Zone Explained

FZ1

Why do I love Steve Spagnuolo? He loves the fire zone and the fire zone loves him. On the line you see a modified “Bear” front with a true NT (Hankins), a 3-technique (Cullen Jenkins), two 5s (Selvie and Ayers), a LB in a shaded 4 (Unga) and two wide 9s (Kennard and Thomas). Throw in Landon Collins playing the Elephant or Flex (the key to the old Double Eagle Flex of U of Arizona’s Desert Swarm fame) and you have 8 people who have to be accounted for by 5 OL and one TE.

FZ2

On the snap, Hankins games right, taking the OC and LG with him. Ayers hesitates, to keep the LT in outside leverage, unable to help the LG, and DT Cullen Jenkins knifes in easily in the gap to sack Matt Ryan. No Strahan, no Osi, No Tuck, no Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle hand and Spags finds a way to get heat with scheme and technique.

Cram it in your Cramhole Award

Yes it’s back, the CIIYCA because I still love Dodgeball. This week it should go to Eli Manning but in a surprise twist, it goes to Kyle Shanahan who will eventually get Julio Jones killed. Granted Jones won the game with his 4th quarter catch against Prince Akeem from Zamunda, but 135 yards on 13 catches and more bubble screens than an elite WR should be forced to endure is just not the best of use this amazing talent. Jones took a shot or laid out every time he touched the ball because Shanahan loves to wear out unique talents (Obertray Riffingay) with way too much punishment. Jones got whacked by Brandon Merriweather, dragged down violently by S Landon Collins and blasted again by Collins. Atlanta’s best player won’t last the season if he’s being beaten up 10-15 times a game.

(Atlanta Falcons at New York Giants, September 20, 2015)
Sep 182015
 
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Rashad Jennings, New York Giants (October 5, 2014)

Rashad Jennings – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Atlanta Falcons at New York Giants, September 20, 2015

THE STORYLINE:
The Atlanta Falcons are an odd football team. At times, they can look like world beaters. At other times, they look terrible. They have a new regime under former Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and they won their home opener in an impressive performance against the Philadelphia Eagles. Historically speaking, the Falcons don’t play as well on the road as they do at home.

But this game is more about how the Giants respond to their devastating loss to the Cowboys. Have they mentally put that game past them? Can they harness their anger and focus it against the Falcons? Because if they can’t do those things, the match-ups and game plans won’t really matter. The Giants need to win this football game. They need to even their record at 1-1.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • WR Victor Cruz (calf – out)
  • OT Will Beatty (pectoral – on PUP and will not play)
  • TE Daniel Fells (foot – out)
  • LT Ereck Flowers (ankle – probable)
  • DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa (foot – out)
  • DT Markus Kuhn (knee – out)
  • LB Jon Beason (knee – doubtful)
  • LB Uani’ Unga (knee – probable)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
Somewhat lost in the drama of this past week is the fact that the highly-touted passing offense of the New York Giants laid a huge egg in Dallas. Eli Manning passed for less than 200 yards and the wide receiving corps had fewer than 100 yards. If that doesn’t change – and fast – the Giants are going to be terrible this year.

Based on what coaches and players are telling us, the opposition is playing a lot of two deep coverage, doubling Odell Beckham, and daring the Giants to beat them by running the football or targeting other receivers. Wouldn’t you? This is the type of defensive game plan the Giants are going to face all year until (1) Victor Cruz comes back and proves he can still play at a high level, and/or (2) the Giants can demonstrate they can consistently run the football.

Picture any opposing defensive coordinator repeating, “We’re not going to let Beckham beat us deep!”

So what should the Giants do? First, I’m a firm believer of coaches putting their best players in position to make plays and win football games. It’s hard to double Beckham if you keep moving him around. Put him in motion. Have him play out of the slot, the backfield, split out wide. Force the defense to adjust. Keep in mind this is a new defensive system for the Falcons too and they may be prone to mental mistakes.

Second, if you were facing the Giants, aside from Beckham, who would scare you the most? Probably not Larry Donnell. Certainly not Preston Parker. “Make them throw to Donnell and Parker to beat us!”  I would get the ball into the hands of my running backs more, both running the football behind Ereck Flowers and Justin Pugh, as well as Shane Vereen in space in the passing game.

Which brings us to Rueben Randle, who exploded in his last two games of 2014 but was practically a non-factor on Sunday night. The Giants need him to be a viable #2 receiver right now – a guy who can put up 100 yards receiving and not just 20 or 30. His game is the vertical game and making big plays down the field, particularly on post routes where he can use his size and athleticism.

As for the Atlanta defense, based on a limited sample size of just one game, they are much more physical and aggressive than they were just a year ago. Their new head coach has brought Seahawks’ defensive scheme with him. Quinn doesn’t have Richard Sherman at cornerback but he does have Desmond Trufant, who is one of the best in the business. Trufant will be looking to make headlines by taking Beckham out of the game. Odell has to elevate his game, like he did against Sherman last year. The other Atlanta corners are not as good or are inexperienced. If Randle and Parker can’t make plays against Robert Alford, it’s time to worry. The Falcons use big safety Will Moore near the line of scrimmage, almost like an extra linebacker. He’s a big hitter and can be a problem in the run game. Fellow safety Ricardo Allen is tiny, but good in coverage. They will likely use him to help out on Beckham.

The Falcons have good defensive line depth. Rookie 1st rounder Vic Beasley is very small, but exceptionally quick and fast. The Falcons like to move him around. Beasley could be a serious match-up problem for the tackles in pass protection. Want to take the edge off of him? Have Flowers maul the shit out him in the run game. The two starting defensive tackles (Ra’Shede Hageman and Paul Soliai) and other starting end (Tyson Jackson) are big and tough against the run. Reserve Jonathan Babineaux is disruptive. The linebackers are probably the weak spot on the defense although O’Brien Schofield can rush the passer.

My game plan would be to run the football, especially to the left. I would try to match-up Shane Vereen and reserve tight end Jerome Cunningham against the linebackers as receivers. Move Beckham around and try to prevent the opposition from doubling him. Take a few deep shots to Randle against the lesser corners. The Giants need their offensive line to have a strong game against an underrated defensive line.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The Falcons obviously have some dangerous weapons on offense, headlined by all-world Julio Jones who will be looking to outshine national media darling Odell Beckham. The deal with the Falcons really is this: you don’t know what version of Matt Ryan you’re going to get. Sometimes he looks like one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL; at other times, he looks very ordinary and makes some terrible decisions.

Jones can certainly take over a game, but I like the Giants corners against him provided there is some semblance of a pass rush. Jones has also been dealing with a sore hamstring. The other starting receiver, Roddy White, is super-productive but he has been declining in recent years. Still, you can’t sleep on him. White always seems to get his yardage and keep the chains moving. Ex-Redskin Leonard Hankerson can make plays down the field as well.

Listening to Tom Coughlin this week, it’s pretty apparent that he mostly fears Atlanta’s play-action passing game. Steve Spagnuolo has probably been drilling into the heads of Landon Collins and Brandon Meriweather all week not to come up too quickly against the run and expose the defense to the big play. Of course the best way to defeat the play-action threat is make it moot by stuffing the run. Rookie Tevin Coleman (who BBI Draft expert Sy’56 really likes) is a physical north-south runner with good speed. The Giants need to bottle him up.

The Falcons will throw the ball to reserve running back Devonta Freeman and undersized journeyman tight end Jacob Tamme as ex-Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan does incorporate has a West Coast Offense background. The Falcons may take note of how linebacker Unai’ Unga struggled in coverage last week.

The good news for the Giants is the Atlanta offensive line isn’t the Dallas offensive line. The Giants did alright against the Cowboys ground game, but as Steve Spagnuolo pointed out this week, Dallas still had the advantage of too many very manageable down-and-distance situations because of 4- and 5-yard gains. Stop the run first. Then get after the passer. And we’ll start finding out how good or bad the Giants’ pass rush is this weekend. Tony Romo was barely touched. If the Giants can’t get to Matt Ryan, it doesn’t bode well for the rest of the season. I would like to see the Giants blitz a lot to put the rookie running back on the spot in terms of pass protection.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Except for the return game, the Giants played well against a very good Dallas special teams unit on Sunday night. They had no chance on kickoff returns (all touchbacks). Getting the punt and kickoff return game going this week will be tough as punter Matt Bosher is one of the best punters (both distance and direction) in the business as well as a very good kickoff specialist (seven touchbacks against the Eagles). Former Giant Matt Bryant is very consistent and rarely misses under 50 yards. Devin Hester has been battling a toe injury. If he plays, we all know how dangerous he can be as both a kickoff and punt returner. (Late note, Hester will not play).

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Ben McAdoo on Atlanta’s defense: “Versus Philadelphia, every snap was single-high (coverage), but that was the way they chose to play Philadelphia. I imagine that they’re going to roll some things at us, some different shells, some different coverage types and probably have a plan for Odell that way. We’ll have to take a look at it and adjust as the game goes on.”

THE FINAL WORD:
This is very, very close to a “must” game. The Giants are a young team and that was an extremely tough loss last weekend. Their confidence could be teetering. It will be interesting to see how the team responds and how mentally tough they are. With the game on the line, players on offense, defense, and special teams need to make plays in the 4th quarter. Not wilt under pressure. The Giants need Eli Manning to regain his mojo.