Romeo Okwara – © USA TODAY Sports Images
Green Bay Packers 38 – New York Giants 13
There was some weird payback karma going on in this one. No, the 2016 New York Giants were not as dominant as the 2011 Green Bay Packers, and the Giants were not expected to beat the Packers and roll to the Super Bowl. But like the Packers in that playoff game five years ago, the Giants were victimized by costly dropped passes and a morale-shaking, end-of-the-half Hail Mary. Every Giants fan in the world must have had a flashback to the Giants Hail Mary at Lambeau Field – it was even in the same end zone! And like that older playoff match-up, a close game rapidly got out of hand in the second half.
The Giants lost by 25 points. This was the team’s most one-sided defeat of the season. And despite the strong start by the defense, this was a total team loss. Offense, defense, and special teams all played poorly. Long story short, when you give up over 30 points in a playoff game and/or you are held under 20 points, you are not going to win. You are also not going to win when your are -2 in turnover differential. Not on the road in the playoffs.
So the Giants go back to the drawing board. They will have to spend the next 12 months to get back to the same position (or better) that they found themselves in this January. While the Giants have a relatively young team with a solid core of players, their most important player is 36 and on the downside of his career. The clock is ticking.
Giants on Offense
It sounds like lazy writing on my part because I keep saying the same things over and over again. But this was the sixth game in a row where the Giants did not break the 20-point barrier. The last time that happened to a Giants team was 1980. The Giants had 13 offensive possessions. The results? One touchdown, two field goals, two turnovers, and eight punts. Four of New York’s 15 first downs came after the score was 38-13 with less than three minutes to play. The Giants managed seven first downs and six points in the first half. Not counting the last meaningless drive, the Giants had four first downs and a touchdown (the entire “drive” coming on one play) in the second half.
The most disturbing element to all of this is that Green Bay isn’t all that good on defense. They were 22nd in the NFL overall (8th against the run, 31st against the pass). The Giants ran for 70 yards against the Packers and 11 of those yards were a scramble by Eli Manning. In other words, Giants backs gained 59 yards. That was not terribly unexpected since the Giants ran for only 43 yards against the Packers in October. But for the second time, the Giants could not take advantage of a terrible Packers pass defense.
And here comes the broken record – once again, the Giants proved they could not score touchdowns by matriculating the ball down the field in small chunks. Not by coincidence, their sole touchdown came on the big pass play. The Giants only had three plays over 20 yards on Sunday: a 26-yard reception by Sterling Shepard that set up the first field goal, a 51-yard pass reception by Will Tye that set up the second field goal, and a 41-yard touchdown reception by Tavarres King. Those three plays were practically the extent of the Giants offense on Sunday – against the 31st-ranked pass defense!
In recent weeks, point production had been poor, but the Giants had emphasized the ground game with a 50/50 run-pass balance or better that had led the Giants to winning the time of possession battle. Not this week. New York called 47 pass plays and 16 runs. Point production did not increase and the Giants got clobbered in the time of possession battle (25:29 to 34:31). Turnovers were not an issue until the game was already decided. The offense only committed two penalties for a total of 10 yards, but both penalties put the Giants in 1st-and-15 holes that contributed to two three-and-outs.
This game was a microcosm of New York Giants offensive futility in 2016. The Giants couldn’t run the ball. Their best scoring drives contained big passing plays. Most damning of all for a team that was in its third year of running a West Coast Offense, the Giants were terrible at the short- to intermediate-passing game. They were a West Coast Offense that sucked running the West Coast Offense. This was a strange development given the team’s top 10 offensive ranking in 2015 in the same scheme with few personnel changes. The most significant changes were moving from the Tom Coughlin/Ben McAdoo dynamic to Ben McAdoo/Mike Sullivan with a number of position coaching switches (quarterback, wide receivers, offensive line).
Eli Manning did not play poorly. And he was victimized by dropped passes (at least six), a couple of breakdowns in pass protection, and no running game. But on a day the Giants passed the ball 47 times in 63 snaps (or 3x the number of running plays) against the 31st ranked pass defense, more was hoped for and expected. Thirteen points and 15 first downs (four of which were meaningless) are not good enough. The Giants had five three-and-outs. Three other drives also resulted in punts. Eli’s fumble and interception – while not to be excused – came when the game was already decided. Manning finished the game 23-of-44 (disappointing 52 percent) for 299 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception. Almost 40 percent of his yardage production came on just three pass plays.
Coming into this game, the question was would the Giants continue to try to force feed the ground game or would they try to take advantage of Green Bay’s poor pass defense? In the first half, the Giants passed twice as much as they ran (22 pass plays, 12 runs). Paul Perkins received the bulk of those snaps but he could not deliver with just 12 yards on seven carries (1.7 yards per rush). Rashad Jennings actually had more success four carries for 25 yards (6.3 yards per carry). Perhaps the most questionable decision of the first half was calling on Bobby Rainey to run the ball on 3rd-and-1 with less than two minutes to go before halftime. Rainey was stuffed on his only carry of the day. The Giants punted and a 7-6 game turned into a 14-6 nightmare when the Packers converted on their Hail Mary.
The Giants only ran the football four times in the second half of the game for a total of 22 yards. In all, Perkins (3 catches in 5 targets for 27 yards, one drop), Rainey (1 catch for 8 yards), and Jennings (1 catch for 4 yards) were targeted seven times, with five catches for 39 yards – but most of this pass-receiving action came after the score was 38-13. Perkins screwed the pooch by not falling on Manning’s fumble (the whistle had not blown).
Whether by design or by Manning’s decisions, the overwhelming majority of the passes were targeted at the wide receivers. Thirty of Manning’s 44 pass attempts were directed at the wideouts. However, the results were mostly extremely disappointing:
- Odell Beckham caught 4 of 11 targets for 28 yards with three drops, including one dropped TD
- Sterling Shepard caught 4 of 9 targets for 63 yards with two drops, including one dropped TD
- Victor Cruz caught 3 of 4 targets for 30 yards
- Tavarres King caught 3 of 6 targets for 63 yards with one 41-yard touchdown
In other words, these 30 pass attempts to wideouts resulted in 14 catches for 194 yards, just one touchdown, and 16 incompletions. Most disappointing was the play of Odell Beckham. It was hoped that “playoff Beckham” would reach even greater heights of excellence. Instead, Beckham laid a major egg. He was all but invisible against a terrible pass defense, and hurt his team with those three key drops. He dropped a 3rd-and-5 pass inside the 30-yard line on the promising opening drive. On the ensuing possession, he dropped what should have been a 28-yard touchdown pass. When the Giants were desperate, down 24-13 early in the 4th quarter, a wide-open Beckham dropped a deep pass on 3rd-and-11. The Giants punted and quickly found themselves trailing 31-13.
Victor Cruz’s career with the Giants may be over, and if it is, he went out with a whimper. The highlight of the game for New York was King’s 41-yard touchdown reception. One wonders if King should have replaced Cruz long ago. Shepard had a 26-yard reception on the first field goal drive, but three plays later could not come down with what should have been a 15-yard TD and then dropped a 3rd-and-3 pass.
Jerell Adams was a somewhat surprising scratch as the Giants decided to go with more experience and activate Larry Donnell, who was not targeted in the game. Will Tye caught four of seven passes thrown in his direction for 66 yards, including the team’s longest play of the game and Tye’s longest catch of his career – a 51-yard reception that set up the second field goal. That said, a good tight end should have feasted on the defense the Packers were running. Tye just doesn’t have the size to muscle up against linebackers and come down with closely-contested passes.
It was not a strong effort by the Giants up front. The Packers are no slouches against the run (8th in the NFL) or rushing the passer (40 sacks). Both showed as the Giants running backs were held to 59 yards on 16 carries (3.7 yards per carry) and Eli Manning was sacked twice with three quarterback hits. The Giants were only penalized twice on offense, but false starts by Ereck Flowers and Marshall Newhouse on 1st-and-10 stymied drives before they got started and led to two three-and-outs. The interior trio did not distinguish themselves with their run blocking as each had breakdowns that disrupted running plays, including the killer failed 3rd-and-1 effort late in the first half. The Giants could not run the ball despite the fact that the Packers played both safeties deep (cover 2). Julius Peppers got the first sack against Ereck Flowers, but that was a bit of a coverage sack where Eli ran into Peppers. Flowers later gave up a pressure by Peppers on 3rd-and-6 early in the 3rd quarter leading to a punt. On the second and last sack, Flowers was cleanly beaten by LB Clay Matthews, who stripped the ball from Manning for the final nail in the coffin. Marshall gave up one big hit on Manning late in the game.
Giants on Defense
To win this game, the Giants needed a dominating performance on defense. They didn’t get it. Tragically, it was the defense’s worst performance of the season, allowing five touchdowns (four through the air) and a field goal. The Giants did not force single turnover and allowed a close game in the 3rd quarter slip away with four consecutive scoring drives. Green Bay was 3-of-4 (75 percent) in the red zone and controlled the ball for over 34 minutes.
All of this despite the fact that the Giants defense started the game as well as could be hoped for (except for the lack of turnovers). The Packers first five possessions of the game resulted in four first downs and five punts. Green Bay was held scoreless until late in the second quarter. But then disaster struck. After poor punt, Green Bay got the ball on the Giants 31-yard line. Three plays later, they scored to take a 7-6 lead with 2:20 left on the clock. Then after a quick three-and-out, with 1:38 left on the clock, the Packers drove 80 yards in eight plays to take a heart-breaking 14-6 lead into the half when Aaron Rodgers completed a 42-yard Hail Mary pass that should have been easily knocked down.
The defense appeared to regain its composure in the 3rd quarter by first forcing a three-and-out and then holding on 4th-and-1 on the Green Bay side of the field. This turnover on downs spurred the offense to its only TD of the game and the Giants were within one point (14-13) with 5:16 to go in the 3rd quarter. It’s at this point the roof collapsed as Green Bay scored 24 unanswered points on their next four possessions. Despite accruing five sacks in the game, Aaron Rodgers had far too much time to throw. And with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie out of the lineup after the first series, the secondary did not play as well as had been anticipated.
The defense was only flagged once.
The run defense was respectable as Green Bay backs were held to 75 yards on 23 carries (3.3 yards per carry) with a long run of 10 yards. Indeed, there were only two drives where the Packers ran the ball remotely well, the main one being their last TD possession when the contest was all but decided.
The problem was the pass rush where it was feast or famine. The five sacks (three by the defensive line) were a bit misleading as Aaron Rodgers had an eternity to throw on some plays – including plays that resulted in big gains or touchdowns. It was clear that the Giants were trying to stay disciplined in their rush lanes and not allow Rodgers to hurt them outside the pocket, but they simply gave him too much time. The most disappointing player was DE Oliver Vernon (1 tackle) who was all but shut out. Defensive ends Romeo Okwara and Kerry Wynn each had a sack but combined for a total of two tackles. Defensive tackles Damon Harrison (5 tackles) and Johnathan Hankins (3 tackles, 1 sack, 1 tackle for a loss) had strong games. Reserve defensive tackles Jay Bromley and Robert Thomas each chipped in with one tackle each, including one impressive stop by Bromley.
Jonathan Casillas (11 tackles) and Keenan Robinson (6 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss on a screen pass, 1 pass defense) were active. Casillas had one of his better games against the run, and was a factor on the failed 4th-and-1 effort by Green Bay. He did give up a couple of receptions to TE Jared Cook however. The other linebackers were largely invisible. Devon Kennard was credited with one tackle. Run defense was solid. Aaron Rodgers only targeted seven seven receivers, three of whom were Cook (5 catches in 9 targets for 48 yards), RB/WR Ty Montgomery (3 catches in 4 targets for 41 yards), and FB Aaron Ripkowski (2 catches for 11 yards). But 34 of Montgomery’s yards came on a 3rd-and-10 play against the secondary (not linebackers) as a wide receiver when the Packers ran a pick play.
Losing Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie early due to injury was huge. As the game wore on, the Aaron Rodgers and the Packers exploited match-ups in the slot against Trevin Wade in particular. Eli Apple (4 tackles, 1 pass defense on 3rd-and-8) also had some issues outside and finished a promising season on a down note. Janoris Jenkins (1 tackle) did a nice job except for the team’s only defensive penalty – a 32-yard pass interference flag in the 1st quarter. Coty Sensabaugh had six tackles, a sack, one tackle for a loss, and one pass defense on a 3rd-and-10 shot into the end zone to WR Randall Cobb.
Landon Collins was very active with nine tackles, one sack, and two pass breakups – including a 3rd-and-2 deep pass to TE Jared Cook. Collins had an amazing series midway through the 3rd quarter when he clobbered the fullback short of the first down after a short pass, helped to stuff the 3rd-and-1 run, and then did the same on 4th-and-1. Leon Hall started at free safety (over Andrew Adams) and accrued five tackles and broke WR Jordy Nelson’s ribs on a deep pass breakup. He did whiff on a sack opportunity that Hankins cleaned up on.
The only wideouts to do any real damage were Randall Cobb and Davante Adams, but these two wrecked the Giants secondary to the tune of 13 catches for 241 yards and four touchdowns. Three of Cobb’s five catches were for scores. Adams beat Apple deep for 31 yards and two plays later – after Rodgers had an eternity to throw – Adams beat Sensabaugh for a touchdown despite tight coverage. Then came the devastating 42-yard Hail Mary where none of the Giants defenders got enough depth or seemed to jump for the ball. Apple had the best shot at the ball, but Collins and Hall were back there too. This was one spot where DRC was really missed too with his height and leaping ability.
In the second half, Cobb beat Wade for 20 yards out the slot and then beat him against for the 30-yard touchdown on the very next play (Landon Collins also ran himself out of a chance to tackle Cobb short of the goal line). In the 4th quarter, Adams beat Sensabaugh out of the slot for 12 yards on 3rd-and-9. Three plays later, Apple was beat in the end zone for a 16-yard score by Cobb.
Giants on Special Teams
The Giants needed a strong game out of their special teams to win and they didn’t get it. The good news is that Robbie Gould made both of his field goal efforts (from 26 and 40 yards out) in very cold conditions. But Brad Wing self-admittedly had his worst day of the season with eight punts for 39 yards per punt (and a terrible 32.8 net). Not only were hist punts short, but there were a number of line drives. Wing did have one punt downed at the 6-yard line and another fair caught at the 10-yard line.
None of Gould’s four kickoffs resulted in touchbacks and the Packers returned two kickoff over 30 yards. Green Bay also returned a punt 23 yards, which set up a short field on the Packers field goal drive.
The Giants return game was a disaster. Dwayne Harris returned three punts for four yards (1.3 yards per return). Odell Beckham did not return a punt and the Giants came close to turning the ball over by accidentally touching a punt yet to be downed. While Harris did have a 31-yard kickoff return, Bobby Rainey may have sealed the Giants fate with his boneheaded decision to field a kickoff that was headed out of bounds or into the end zone. Instead, he stepped out of bounds at the 3-yard line after the Packers had gone up 21-13. The atrocious field position contributed to a three-and-out and easy Packers score after the 23-yard punt return. Odell Beckham returned two kickoffs for the first time in his career, with both returns picking up 24 yards each.