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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

San Diego Chargers 37 – New York Giants 14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Will Beatty – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 24 – Washington Redskins 17

by Joey in VA for

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

Scalp ‘em, swamp ‘um

We will take ‘um big score

Read ‘um, Weep ‘um, touchdown

We want heap more

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 This is just fantastic by the Redskins.

The Redskins are ready for prime time action.

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

I think the improvement on this team is noticeable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andre Brown – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Dallas Cowboys 24 – New York Giants 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not good enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jerry Reese and John Mara – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nov 192013
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (November 17, 2013)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 27 – Green Bay Packers 13

by Joey in VA for

Game Review: “The Autumn Wind is a pirate, Blustering in from sea, With a rollicking song, he sweeps along, Swaggering boisterously.” NFL Films legend Steve Sabol penned the legendary (in NFL nerd circles) poem “The Autumn Wind” in 1974, and 39 years after its unveiling it rang eerily true around the league. On a blustery November day that ushered in violent atmospheric upheaval around the country, the Giants continued to sweep along, and may have finally found their swagger in time for a playoff run. Giants head coach Tom Coughlin talked about all three phases needing to play well for this team to continue its upward surge after a head scratching, coach firing, Jerry Reese mocking 0-6 start to this now more interesting 2013 season. It was by no means perfect, there were passing game hiccups, missed blitz assignments and a few too many deep balls allowed but as the Autumn Wind did its worst, the Giants were still standing, ready to face the coming cold.

Andre Brown’s first two carries netted -4 yards, Eli Manning’s 17-yard first down conversion run was negated by a Justin Pugh personal foul, and six plays into their tilt against the visiting Packers, the Giants looked like an 0-6 team again. Right on cue though, the veteran defense manned the wheel and forced a quick three-and-out against a struggling Packer offense. Jump started by Rueben Randle’s ensuing 32-yard punt return, Eli Manning moved his charges 42 yards in five plays and jumped out to a 7-0 lead courtesy of a 26-yard Manning to Randle touchdown pass. Without all world QB Aaron Rodgers, and unable to get rookie RB Eddie Lacy going, the Packers went three-and-out again and handed the ball right back to the home team. Eleven plays later, the lead grew to 10 at the end of a drive that saw Manning convert a 3rd-and-7 to Victor Cruz and a Brandon Jacobs 4th-and-1 plunge that was a portend of the physical style this Giants team is embracing to overpower their opponents.

Unable to move the ball on the ground as the second quarter unfolded, Packer QB Scott Tolzien took to the air and moved his team 70 yards on back-to-back passes to Jordy Nelson and James Jones, who got an inside track on CB Prince Amukamara to get his team to the Giant 12-yard line. Determined to help their young signal caller out, Mike McCarthy’s Pack went back to the ground game and were thumped on consecutive James Starks runs by DE Jason Pierre Paul. JPP’s back-to-back stuffs held the drive at bay, and Mason Crosby put the cheeseheads on the board with a 24-yard boot that cut the Giant lead to 10-3. Looking to extend their lead, the Giants then marched 74 yards in 11 plays, but a poor route by the little used Louis Murphy led to Manning’s 17th INT of the year and a few questions about why WR Hakeem Nicks removed himself from the game. After trading punts, the Pack moved 24 yards in 4 plays and used a 57-yard Crosby moonshot to pull within four at the half. After careful made-up analysis, our team determined that Crosby’s kick would have been good from 157 yards, which may or may not be some kind of record.

As the second half opened, Lacy struggled for two yards on three carries and Tolzien was again forced to wing it. MLB Jon Beason leapt into Tolzien’s passing lane for the interception and charged downfield for a violent 9-yard return. With the rock now at midfield, Manning quickly found Hakeem Nicks for 35 yards and four plays later Josh Brown added a 28-yarder to push the G-Men ahead 13-6. Unable to get Lacy going, the Packers went to a shorter passing game in lieu of running into the teeth of the Giant DL and moved 50 yards in eight plays, stalling out at the Giant 48. After a Louis Murphy penalty on a 4th-and-12 punt, McCarthy rolled the dice with a fake, but LB Spencer Paysinger made a stop just short of the line to gain and with 6:32 left in the third quarter, Eli and the offense began to salt the game away. A 63-yard, 10-play drive that ate up over six minutes was spurred by two big third-down conversions from Manning to Cruz and then TE Brandon Myers. Brandon Jacobs did the clean-up work, pushing over left guard for a 1-yard TD and a 20-6 lead. Tolzien, now down 14, took to the air again and hit Jordy Nelson for 18 and Jarrett Boykin for 52 and 83 yards later the Packers trimmed the lead to just a TD.

Up just seven points as the fourth quarter opened, the Giants did something truly astounding, they gained 12 yards on a screen pass. The drive went just three plays and netted -4 yards but they completed a screen pass. No INT, no fumble, no disaster, actual yardage (I recommend playing the lottery this week if your last name rhymes with Milbride). Mike McCarthy’s goal of ending his second-half offensive drives in every way possible (one INT, one fake punt failure, one TD, one punt and one INT return for a TD) played right into the Giants hands. Up 20-13 and unable to move the ball, the Giants again looked to their defense and it was JPP bailing them out. With the ball at the Green Bay 30, Tolzien dropped back and wound up, JPP read the play, leapt up and snared the ball, rumbling to the end zone and putting the Giants up 27-13. The teams traded punts again and the Packers last gasp was thwarted by who else, S Antrel Rolle, who snatched the third INT of the day and notched a fourth straight win for suddenly rollicking Giants.

Inside the Game: Despite giving up 339 yards passing and five plays of over 20 yards, the Giants’ defense again was the catalyst for victory for the second week in a row. And again the LBs were at the heart of the formula. Give JPP credit for his TD, it was a thing of athletic beauty, and yes Justin Tuck, Kiwi, Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson put heat on Scott Tolzien but it was your LB corps that made this formula work again…something NO ONE would have guessed about five weeks ago. Correctly assuming that RB Eddie Lacy would be the way that Packer coach Mike McCarthy would help a struggling offense, Perry Fewell again deployed a defense with the sole intention of sealing Lacy and RB James Starks off and forcing Scott Tolzien to win the game on his own. No funny tricks, no complicated coverages, just “Let’s line up and see who hits harder.” Fewell opened the game again with a 5-2 Okie front, utilizing LB Keith Rivers as his flexed DL as S Will Hill knifed into the backfield to stop rookie RB Eddie Lacy for a 3-yard gain. Starting LBs Rivers, Jon Beason and Jacquian Williams all played with a timing and rhythm that has become the norm during the defense’s resurgence. The improved coordination between those three (and Spencer Paysinger in some sub packages) has been making a huge impact in controlling opponents’ running games. At the snap, keep your eyes on the trio – they move as one laterally as the play unfolds, only attacking upfield when the runner has picked a gap, almost completely eliminating cut-back and second-chance runs that have gashed this defense in the past two years. The trio combined for 17 stops and an interception, but most importantly, filled their run gaps with precision and stifled Eddie Lacy and the Packers running game to 55 total yards and a 2.8 yard per carry average. The second level of this defense, the one most maligned prior to Beason’s arrival, has become the glue between a talented front four and a secondary with more than enough talent to combat just about every passing game this team has faced and will face. I’ve been rough on Fewell, but with Beason’s arrival, he has this defense humming. Credit Beason’s versatility, physicality and just plain high energy for the sudden and impressive resurgence of this once lost group of LBs. All three levels of this defense have impact players now, all three are playing together and it may spell trouble for the NFC East as the wind turns colder.

Quarterbacks: “I’m coming to getcha, I’m coming to getcha, Spittin’ out lyrics, homie I’ll wetcha.” I can’t verify that Eli Manning was quoting “Jump Around” (nor can you disprove it) as he found his bearings, but in four weeks Eli has turned MetLife from a House of Pain to a house of not too shabby. A solid outing (unless you’re in Dallas or Washington and have to face this ornery bunch) for Eli who finished with 279 yards, one TD and another INT. With an improved running attack and creative blocking schemes up front, Manning had more time to get the ball downfield, completing passes of 30, 35 and 26 yards to his big WR trio. His best pass of the day was a rifle shot to Cruz on a 3rd-and-7 that went for 30 yards. No long Cruz or Nicks TDs, but after pulling in the reins for weeks, Manning pushed the envelope more than he has recently, and was able to make up for Andre Brown’s modest 66-yard day against an enormous Packer front seven. Eli did miss a wide open Bear Pascoe, but he had to have been just as shocked as anyone to see Pascoe very slowly running free down the left sideline. You won’t find it on a stat sheet, but Eli just looked more comfortable and threw with more authority than he has in weeks. Credit Kevin Gilbride, TE coach Mike Pope, running back coach Jerald Ingram and OL coach Pat Flaherty with really shoring up the OL with their series of RB and TE chips, motions and blitz pick up schemes. Manning in turn seems more comfortable in the pocket, is stepping into his throws a little more and is slowly starting to trust his move ’em out gang enough to start getting back to doing what he does best, torturing teams with Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks down the field. Slowly but surely the signal caller is returning to form, I wouldn’t be shocked to see this offense explode in the next month.

Running Backs: Tough sledding all day for Andre Brown, who only managed 66 yards on 18 carries, but the threat he presents is forcing defenses to play a little closer to the line of scrimmage which is slowly opening up the downfield passing lanes. Brown missed two catchable passes from Manning on outlet passes, but pass blocked well and did enough to keep the defense honest. Brandon Jacobs notched his 60th career TD and only had nine yards on five carries, but two of those key 4th-and-1 conversions. Again, it’s not something visible on a stat sheet, but Jacobs presence combined with FB John Conner’s knee-buckling lead blocks has added an element of toughness to this running game and this offense that was noticeably absent prior to the arrival of the two big RBs. As has been the theme in this 4-game run, all of the Giant backs have been outstanding on blitz pickups, often staying in to pick up the extra rushers that teams are so eager to send after the turnover-prone Manning.

Wide Receivers: Victor Cruz had his best game in weeks, hauling in eight balls for 110 yards. Cruz had more room to operate than he has in weeks thanks to the shored up OL – stay tuned for a signature long TD. Still no TDs for Hakeem Nicks, but former Tar Heel pitched in with 50 yards on four grabs, including a 35-yarder on the Giants third scoring drive of the day. Rueben Randle hauled in a 26-yard crossing route for the Giants first score, and set up the drive with a 32-yard punt return that was one tackler away from a TD. Randle finished the day with 37 yards on three catches and again found the end zone as teams seek to take away Cruz and Nicks in the red zone.

Tight Ends: Brandon Myers pulled in three catches for 32 yards, including a 15-yard third-down conversion from Manning. More importantly, Myers has found his niche blocking, usually from a move TE or H-Back spot where he’s essentially a RB in to pick up blitzers as they come free. Myers’ recognition and reaction has improved weekly, and he is a big big reason that Manning is finding more time to throw and this beleaguered OL is getting by.

Offensive Line: Four sacks allowed and 78 rushing yards at 3.3 per clip is not exactly a great day, but against a 3-4 with B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly, the Giants faced 337, 340 and 325 pounds of starting DL mass. Tough enough sledding, but when the OLBs are 255lb Clay Matthews and 285lb Mike Neal, you have to expect a few issues up front. So with all of that size and talent taken into account, you have to be impressed with how this slightly smaller OL fared against easily the largest and most-talented front seven it will see all year. C Jim Cordle again had a good game, stepping into the breach on Manning’s TD pass to Randle, as the Packers overloaded RG David Diehl’s gap. Great recognition by Cordle there, which gave Manning the pocket space to step up and hit Randle for the score. LT Will Beatty had one whiff, slip miss kinda thing that led to a sack, but overall a good effort against a big nasty front.

Defensive Line: DT Cullen Jenkins blew past G Evan Dietrich-Smith on the defense’s second snap, dropping 230lb bowling ball Eddie Lacy for no gain and immediately setting the tone for the afternoon. Fellow DTs Johnathan Hankins and Mike Patterson did the dirty work inside, not allowing second-level penetration and allowing Giant LBs to flow to the run game all day long. DE Jason Pierre Paul, questionable with a shoulder injury, answered any questions about his health with a leaping interception return and TD run that effectively sealed the deal for the G-Men. DEs Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka both applied consistent pressure outside, keeping Tolzien off balance and setting the edge in defending RB Eddie Lacy. Tuck has been rounding into form – give the old boy credit, he’s fighting through his struggles and starting to make a real impact on the edge.

Linebackers: Aside from the Governor’s return to the Walking Dead, MLB Jon Beason has been the biggest surprise of the fall. Lamented as too injured, too little and too late, Beason has been the 9-volt battery of the defense. Allow me to explain, wait there is no time, let me sum up…you never know that your 9-volts work until they don’t and your smoke detectors beep incessantly for you to change them. Mark Herzlich, Dan Connor, Chase Blackburn…beep…beep…beep and finally Jerry Reese had enough and traded for the 3-time Pro Bowler who has put out the fire on defense. Terrible and annoying analogous nonsense aside, Beason has been the glue that has this defense playing as well as it has since its two recent Super Bowl runs. Beason’s interception and angry 9-yard return of a Tolzien pass are a perfect snap shot of his impact on this team. My second favorite South Florida Bull of all time, Jacquian Williams, continued his return from an injury-plagued 2012 and notched eight stops, tying Beason for the team lead. Williams’ size is simply no longer an issue. His speed, technique and timing more than make up for the 10-15 pounds that would make him a wrecking ball. Deposed starter Spencer Paysinger had two stops, but one on a fake punt and one on a third-down run both had a big impact. I’m not Paysinger’s biggest fan as a starter (I banged the Williams drum all pre-season), but Spitty P always brings it when he gets a shot, and does his job when called upon.

Defensive Backs: S Will Hill had an almost INT on the Packers second drive, and a great stop of RB Eddie Lacy on the game’s first defensive snap. Hill’s emergence has made the loss of Stevie Brown sting a lot less (and made me wonder what Hill, Brown and Rolle could do on the field together). Hill is always around the ball, rarely late in coverage, and he and Rolle seem to be in sync, and most importantly, interchangeable, which gives Perry Fewell the flexibility to disguise coverages without sacrificing run support or deep patrol.

Special Teams: Rueben Randle’s 32-yard punt return, Spencer Paysinger’s fake punt tackle and P Steve Weatherford’s impressive bounce back from a rough week 10 performance added up to a not-so-terrible day for the special teams. That’s it, I’m already bored with this section. Someone wake me when Phil McConkey Jr. plays for the G-Men and takes WWE quality clothesline shots to the face after a 3-yard return and gets up to celebrate like a kid who got lucky on prom night. (I did not).

NFLW (NFL for Women): I did not have the NFL’s express written consent, but NinVA and her Cowboy-loving fiancé took me and Mrs. Joey to Lexington, VA this weekend. Our goal was to peruse wedding venues, taste free wine and taste not-so-free beer, and taste more beer, some Jack Daniels, some more beer, wings and possibly a cheese fry (I detected a hint of faux cheddar on my pants the next day). By game time Sunday, NinVA and Mrs. Joey decided they were too tired to watch the game together (woohoo!), so NinVA headed home, dejected at missing the game. While I did some intestinal yoga, I told NinVA and Mrs. Joey to see if Skype could create a virtual living room for us. Sure enough, Mrs. Joey pulled it off and my shock at her Kip Dynamite level of technology love was instantly bested by her knowledge of the Godfather. “You did this without my help?” I queried, “I’m smaht…not like everyone says, I can do things I’m smaht and I want respect!” Sadly I am now Fredo to the NFL if anyone of legal importance reads this pirated transmission account.

Cram it in your Cramhole Award: I have to give this to CB Tramon Williams for his second quarter high school drama club level of histrionics over a pass interference call. Williams arrived early enough on Manning’s pass to Hakeem Nicks to suggest he’s watching film with Bill Belichick and the spygate bunch. After being flagged, Williams pulled the NFL version of a flop, flapping his arms and looking just befuddled (not Jim Fassel level, but still, befuddled) that he was flagged.

(Boxscore – Green Bay Packers at New York Giants, November 17, 2013)
Nov 142013
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Oakland Raiders at New York Giants (November 10, 2013)

Oakland Raiders at New York Giants – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 24 – Oakland Raiders 20

by Joey in VA for

Game Review: If someone had told you that Cooper, not Peyton or Eli would spur the Giants to a win, you may have slowly backed away from the crazy man. In an ironic twist last Sunday at a blustery MetLife Stadium, it was Cooper (Taylor) playing the hero, Peyton (Hillis) playing the goat and little brother Eli just kind of getting in the way. Heading into week 10, the Giants were on a roll, two in a row, turnover free and slowly stabilizing. With a two game streak, newfound confidence and an antsy home crowd rocking early…the Giants fumbled the opening kickoff, and two plays later the visiting Raiders were up 7-0 on a Terrelle Pryor sneak. Again quickly down 7-0, your Giants took the field on offense with Eli and Peyton in tow, and the two played a game of “who can stink more” on the first possession. Eli missed a wide open Victor Cruz on first down, Hillis genuflected in lieu of a blitz pick up, and our favorite band “The 3 and Outs” were back.

Fortunately for Eli and the “Outs”, the Giants defense pulled on their big boy pants again and stuffed the Raiders’ first possession after 21 yards. Cooper (Taylor) did what Eli and Peyton could not do on the ensuing punt, he found the end zone when he scooped up a Damontre Moore punt block, and sprinted 21 yards to pay dirt, evening the score at 7. The defense again held serve on the next Raiders’ possession, but were back on the field five plays later thanks to a Peyton Hillis fumble on the now dreaded screen pass that gave the Raiduhs the spheroid back at the Giant 21-yard line. Unwilling to let the offense ruin the day, no matter how hard they tried, the Giants’ D rose up again, forcing the Raiders to settle for a 33-yard FG and a 10-7 lead.

After trading punts, the Giants’ offense finally got on track, marching 90 yards in 11 plays with Manning hitting WR Rueben Randle on a 5-yard TD pass and a 14-10 lead. After another hold by the defense, Eli pulled a Peyton and hit CB Tracy Porter in the chest with an INT that was returned for a TD and the Giants trailed 17-14. It was Porter you may recall who sealed a Super Bowl win over Peyton Manning’s Colts with an INT return for a TD. (I refuse to use term Pick Six, Beast Mode or Sick to describe anything football related, unless it makes me physically ill of course). The Raiders opened the second half with the ball and a 3-point lead and embarked on a 74-yard drive that put them at the Giants one-yard line after chewing up half of the 3rd quarter. With a first and goal at the one, the Giants’ defense faced a defining moment and stared their season in the face.

Inside the Game: Down 17-14, facing a Raider first and goal at the 1, the Giants defense may have saved their season. Lining up in an Oklahoma 5-2 (A 4-3 with an OLB lined up in a 2-point DE  stance on the weakside) with Rivers lined up as the elephant, or flex DE, the Giants gambled a bit by keeping safeties Antrel Rolle and Will Hill in with Rivers as the extra DL. Against power back Rashad Jennings, giving up the bulk seemed riskier than using an extra DL and run-stuffing safety Ryan Mundy but DC Perry Fewell once again forced the Raiders’ hand. By keeping Rolle on the strong side and Rivers as the weakside boundary defender, Fewell hedged his bet against Pryor getting to the edge and forced the Raiders to go inside. With Jon Beason manning the middle, Fewell gambled that he’d be able to defeat a lead block and Rivers would hold the edge, forcing Jennings to try his luck against JPP, Tuck, DTs Mike Patterson and Linval Joseph. Check and mate to Mr. Fewell, Beason blew up the A gap, Rivers got inside of LT Khalif Barnes and Tuck cleaned up as Patterson and Joseph got low to take out the Raider interior OL. Fewell’s alignment worked on 2nd and goal, with Rivers eyeing the mesh point (the spot where the QB and RB meet on any type of pass/run option) and forcing Pryor to throw into tight coverage against Antrel Rolle. That speed on the edge kept Pryor in check, and forced the Raiders to earn their $14 dollars…the hard way. LT Khalif Barnes jumped on 3rd and 1 and the Giants forced Pryor into an errant 3rd down throw as Jon Beason, Justin Tuck and Jacquian Williams played with outstanding discipline, not leaving their gaps and hemming Pryor in. Antrel Rolle was again in on the play, with tight coverage in the end zone, and the Raiders went from a potential 10-point lead to a much more manageable 20-14 bulge. Excellent strategy down there by Fewell to negate the Raiders’ best player, limit their options and turn the tide of the game.

Down 20-14, Eli again missed Cruz twice, forcing another three-and-out but never fear the defense is here. CB Terrell Thomas continued his game-changing play, intercepting Pryor and rumbling down to the 5 to set the G-Men up for a 1-yard TD plunge by Andre Brown. With a one-point lead, the Giants’ defense forced another three-and-out thanks to another Justin Tuck pressure and errant Pryor pass. After the defense’s goal-line stand, Eli dusted himself off and led the Giants on a 70-yard, 13-play drive that ate up 6:56 and pushed the margin to 24-20 on a 23-yarder by K Josh Brown. Manning hit Hakeem Nicks on a perfectly placed sideline route that got the offense out of a 2nd-and-14 hole, and spurred the offense on its final scoring drive. Up 24-20, the Giants’ defense held yet again (I am NOT getting tired of typing it, seeing it and saying it) and gave the offense the ball at the Raider 44, with a chance to end the game. But that’s not fun enough for Eli and the Outs, and their opening act, the Unspecial Teamers. Defensive heroics be damned, the offense went a pathetic three-and-out (including ANOTHER failed screen pass) and not to be outdone, the special teams gave up a punt block to give the Raiders one more shot to steal a win. Say it with me now….and the defense came up with another big stop, as Mathias Kiwanuka stripped Terrell Pryor, Cullen Jenkins belly flopped on it, and the day was saved despite the offense and special teams’ dogged determination to flub the game away.

Quarterbacks: Ugly stat line, ugly game. 12-of-22 for 140 yards, one TD and one INT. Not quite worth $14 million or whatever he’s being paid, but a win is a win during this head-scratching campaign. Eli Manning again struggled, misfiring on some easy throws that the vet usually hits. Manning badly, badly missed a wide open Peyton Hillis on a 3rd-and-9 and overthrew Cruz on the game’s first throw. In both cases, Manning did the same thing – he threw without getting his plant foot set, didn’t get his hips through the throw and sent both passes sailing. Eli’s 90-yard scoring drive, was in the words of our pal Bruce (BBI’s resident optimist), “vintage Manning.”  Manning mixed in play action, hitting all three of his top WRs for 10 plus yard gains and finding Randle on a perfectly placed 3rd-and-goal TD pass. Just as he was feeling good after a 25 yarder on 3rd-and-11, Eli threw a head-scratching pick to CB Tracy Porter who waltzed into the end zone, erasing the Giants’ 90-yard effort with just one errant toss. Eli threw a few darts when he had to, one to Nicks on the Giants’ final drive, the perfect fade to Randle for a TD, a 3rd-and-5 to Cruz and a 3rd-and-1 dump-off to Brown that kept a drive alive. Eli missed badly on a few too, notably a wide-open Cruz on a quick out from the Raiders’ 5 that would have been an easy six points. A few good throws, some very bad and inconsistent mechanics all day long. Good enough for a win though, and right now that’s all that matters.

Running Backs: RB Peyton Hillis, the steadying force of the past two weeks had a rough day. He gave up a safety blitz for a sack on the Giants third play of the day and quite honestly looked like he was checking for a logo on Usama Young’s shoe instead of blocking him. Hillis then coughed up a screen pass and RB Andre Brown took the reins for the day in his return from a broken fibula. Clearly rested, Brown racked up 115 yards and a TD on 30 carries. Brown ran with good power between the tackles, and breathed life into the Giants’ trademark play-action offense. Brown played well, but in reviewing, could have played better with a few quicker reads. But after the layoff, a damn good effort by Brown and another sign of good things to come for this offense that has to find its bearings to be relevant in the NFC East. FB John Conner was again a thumper, leading the way for Brown’s big day with crushing lead after crushing lead. This is the best lead fullback blocking this team has had since Mo Carthon’s reign of terror in the mid-80s. Conner’s blast of CB Charles Woodson gave Brown a wide open lane to dash into the end zone and give the Giants a 21-20 lead they would not relinquish.

Wide Receivers: Rueben Randle led the WRs with 50 yards on three grabs and a TD, including an impressive 25 yarder on a 3rd-and-11 that got the Giants out of the shadow of their own end zone. Hakeem Nicks chipped in with four catches and 49 yards and drawing a pass interference penalty that inched the ball closer on the Giants’ lead-taking drive in the fourth quarter. Nicks’ 25-yarder on the Giants final scoring drive was a tip-toe effort that got the Giants out of a 2nd-and-14 hole, outstanding effort and focus by Nicks with a safety bearing down on him. Victor Cruz was quiet with only 37 yards on three catches, the result of oodles of Cover 2 designed to hem in the Giants’ downfield passing game. The offense is taking fewer shots downfield, the WRs numbers are dipping, but it’s working for now. Before this season ends, the dangerous duo will have to make some game-changing plays if this team hopes to make any noise in the NFC.

Tight Ends: No catches, no yards, no problem. Brandon Myers, Bear Pascoe and Larry Donnell were used as extra FBs, downfield blockers when lined up in the slot and out wide, and decoys that gave Andre Brown just enough room on off-tackle runs to keep the chains moving. Pascoe had an outstanding edge-sealing block on Brown’s TD, and did his usual dirty work on the edge.

Offensive Line: Rough start for the rookie RT Justin Pugh, giving up an early sack on the Giants’ second possession, but Pugh steadied himself and helped pave the way for Andre Brown’s big day. LT Will Beatty gave up an early pressure as well, forcing a Manning underthrow, but like Pugh, he held his own the rest of the day. Despite three sacks, the OL played pretty well, paving the way for a big day on the ground but their blitz recognition was below average on all of the sacks, an unfortunate result of a unit that has not played long enough together. My hat goes off to Jim Cordle again, he’s not pancaking anyone, but he kept rhino-sized DT Pat Sims from getting in Eli’s face and helped lead the way to Andre Brown’s big day. Cordle is by far the player who has improved the most from his first game. He’s gone from liability to steady presence, and has been a pleasant surprise.

Defensive Line: DE Justin Tuck had an uneven day, firing off for several clean shots at Pryor and missing, but forcing enough hurried passes to make up for his maddening run defense. DE Jason Pierre-Paul notched his second sack of the year, but was injured early as he dove to grab Pryor and landed awkwardly on his shoulder. Stay tuned for that injury, because JPP was starting to heat up. And with Shaun Rogers now on IR, the DL is suddenly down two key elements. DT Cullen Jenkins finished with five stops and harassed Pryor inside all day long. Jenkins’ ability to force Pryor to move sooner than he wanted to was a big reason that Pryor struggled throwing all game. He simply had no time to get set thanks to the front seven. With RGIII on the menu twice, the Giants’ DEs had better learn to stop jumping the A gaps when the QB is a running threat. Fortunately for the G-Men, Terrelle Pryor was hobbled a bit. Nevertheless, both Tuck and JPP jumped inside repeatedly on dive fakes only to see Pryor sprint to where they were. It’s been going on for two years now, it’s on film, and it’s easily correctable but for some reason it remains a big, big concern when facing a QB who can get to the edge. Minus DT Shaun Rogers, the Giants gave up one long run inside, but for the most part, Mike Patterson, Linval Joseph and Johnathan Hankins held serve, holding the Raiders to 213 yards of total offense. Not to be forgotten, DE Mathias Kiwanuka attacked the mesh point on a 1st-and-10, dumping Pryor for a 2-yard loss.

Linebackers: Keith Rivers made a big impact, seeing his most action in weeks, responding with 8 tackles and a fourth-quarter sack. Rivers badly missed his gap assignment on the Raiders’ second drive, allowing Pryor to rumble by for a 9-yard gain and a first down, but followed with a great open-field stop on RB Rashad Jennings on the very next play. Rivers had good containment on Pryor on 3rd-and-1 early in the second quarter to force a Raider punt, and applied pressure off the edge to force Pryor into an intentional grounding that put the Raiders in a 2nd-and-30. Yes, I said thirty. Rivers just missed a sack on Pryor that would have ended the Raiders third- quarter scoring drive. But good hustle again from the former Trojan who provided good edge containment for the most part. LB Jacquian Williams had two stops, but one was a big open-field stop of Jennings that dropped the Raiders for a 3-yard loss. For good measure Williams made a perfect read on a fourth-quarter Pryor throw that was nearly an interception – a great read and jump on the ball. Jon Beason only had three stops, but did an excellent job inside taking on lead blocks to allow Rivers and Rolle to flow to the ball and combine for 20 stops.

Defensive Backs: CB Trumaine McBride has been an emergency fill-in at CB during Corey Webster’s injury struggles, and has played well enough to not be noticed – which is the idea for boxing referees and CBs in coverage. CB Prince Amukamara had one gaffe, giving up a long pass to WR Denarius Moore after Pryor was nearly sacked. S Antrel Rolle’s tackle of Rashad Jennings prior to the Giants’ goal-line stand was the biggest play of the day for the former Hurricane on a day filled with them. Rolle dragged Jennings down short of the end zone, and the Raiders had to settle for three, making one Giant TD all that was needed for a victory. Rolle dumped Terrell Pryor on 3rd-and-7 midway through the fourth quarter to snuff out another Raider drive. CB Terrell Thomas came up with a game-changing INT, taking a Pryor pass to the Raider 5-yard line and setting up the go ahead score. There is no player to be more proud of on this team than T2, his resurgence has been nothing short of storybook-ending good. S Will Hill gave up the punt block, sort of, but I’m not asking a 210 lb safety to be the personal protector on the punt team…ever. Bad move by Quinn putting the smallish Hill in there.

Special Teams: Aaaahh mannn..OH MAN!  WTH? Ho-boy. That’s a Jernigan fumble, a Moore block and Taylor TD, an inexplicable Rueben Randle punt fielded at the 2-yard line, and some wobbly Steve Weatherford punting. We’re down, we’re up, and we’re down, pretty much the story of the Giants’ special teams this season. Before I rip into that handsome devil Tom Quinn, let it be said that special teams play league wide is atrocious. I refuse to do any real statistical analysis (Google schmoogle), but in watching every Thursday, Sunday and Monday Night games, I have seen an alarming number of STs miscues league wide. If I had to blame anyone, I’d point to the new friendly CBA that severely limits practice time and is reducing the quality of play overall league-wide. DE Damontre Moore’s block was a thing of beauty and Cooper’s quick scoop-and-score gave Giant fans a glimpse of the size-and-speed specimens the two rookies are. Mark Herzlich made the cardinal sin on the punt gaffe, by not starting his progression from the inside out, allowing a huge hole for the Raiders to exploit on an almost disastrous play.

NFLW (NFL for Women): Congratulations to my niece, who recently got engaged, albeit to a Cowboys’ fan. But I will let it slide for now. We’ll call her Niece in VA (NinVA) from now on. NinVA and my wife, Mrs. Joey were NOT talking alternative uniform pants; they were discussing wedding dresses over my strained cries for gap integrity from Justin Tuck. So in true NinVA and Mrs. Joey form, the game was minutes old and they were knee deep in wedding magazines and excessive maid of honor celebrations (I threw a flag for excessive hugging). As I ignored them and tried to watch this debacle, NinVA jumped up and exclaimed…”I just got taco (expletive) on my leggings!”  In honor of Richie Incognito’s slur-filled voice mail, I erred on the side of discretion by using expletive instead of the actual word, which may shock my tiny disloyal following. Hint, it rhymes with biz and tacos can’t technically do it.

Cram it in your Cramhole Award: This week’s CiiyCA goes to me for being a day late and way long-winded with this review. The game stunk live, stunk more on DVR and still stinks moments after I deleted it. 

(Boxscore – Oakland Raiders at New York Giants, November 10, 2013)
Nov 142013
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Rueben Randle, New York Giants (November 25, 2012)

Rueben Randle – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Approach to the Game – Green Bay Packers at New York Giants, November 17, 2013: Despite the three-game winning streak, the 0-6 hole the Giants dug themselves in is so large and daunting that if one were to rationally focus on it, hope would quickly dissipate. So the goal – and challenge – for this team and its fans is to simply focus on one game at a time. Each victory brings a new lease on life. The specter of a loss is too grim to contemplate. Just win and get to 4-6. Live to fight another day.

Giants on Offense:

More games are lost in this league than are won. We must eliminate turnovers. You’re not going to beat anybody with [a turnover ratio of] minus-16. (Tom Coughlin, inaugural press conference, January 2004)

(The Giants’ turnover ratio currently stands at -13 with 17 interceptions and 11 fumbles for a total of 28 turnovers in nine games).

What the heck is wrong with Eli Manning? Everyone has an opinion. Some point to the offensive line… some to quarterback and receivers not being on the same page… some to the offensive scheme/play-calling… some say it’s just Manning playing like crap. There is probably truth in all of these explanations (excuses) and probably more. But the simple truth is the longer this sub-par quarterback play continues, the increased likelihood that the final season-ending loss will result. The Giants can only ride their defense and resurgent running game so far. In today’s game, your quarterback almost always has to out-play the opponent’s quarterback for you to win.

Eli Manning said something very interesting in his weekly WFAN radio interview. He said the Raiders continued to keep both safeties deep to play the pass, despite Andre Brown running for 115 yards (and the Giants running for 133 yards as a team). That strongly suggests that teams – at least the Raiders – still fear the Giants’ passing game more than their running game. That could change if Andre Brown and the other backs continue to be productive, but there is a certain logic in opponents using this strategy. For one, the Giants’ offensive line and tight ends are still shaky at best. How consistent can the Giants’ ground attack be in sustaining drives given the state of the offensive line and tight ends? And even if the Giants were more adequate in terms of talent and experience up front, in today’s NFL, the top offenses usually rely on big plays in the passing game to generate points. Ground and pound can win, but you usually won’t score a lot of points, and your defense and special teams have to be playing well to complement that style of football.

So the Giants face a bit of a dilemma. The emphasis on the running game and short-passing game has worked in recent weeks. But barely. And against sub-par opponents. And while the ground game seems to be improving, Eli & Company just don’t seem to be particularly adept at the short-passing game. Eli can’t throw a screen pass to save his life (literally and figuratively). He has little touch on short throws. The tight ends rarely seem to be a part of the game plan or at least targeted by Eli. Replays have shown that the Giants are missing golden opportunities for big pass plays on short throws to their backs and tight ends simply because they can’t execute these plays. Is it coaching? A fatal flaw in Eli’s game? Can it be fixed? If it can’t, then the Giants – for better or worse – are going to have to start putting more pressure on Beatty, Boothe, Cordle, Diehl, and Pugh to maintain their pass protection longer up front. And Eli has to start trusting receivers not named Victor Cruz more. Hakeem Nicks has to be a part of the solution. So does Rueben Randle and Brandon Myers. He can’t just throw to the double-covered Cruz when he is in desperate or in trouble. And when in doubt, take the sack.

My gut tells me that the Giants will only keep this winning streak going if Eli gets his head out of his ass and Cruz, Nicks, and Randle start becoming big play targets once again. That does not mean abandoning the running game. Balance the downfield passing game with the run. And it does not mean that the passing game has to center completely on deep shots way down the field. Cruz, Nicks, and Randle can all do damage after the catch. I would also still use Andre Brown and Peyton Hillis as receivers on a few plays. They have just missed on some huge plays to Hillis.

Pessimists will charge that the offensive line can’t do it. And/or they will say that Eli is playing scared and forcing throws because the unit’s previous and anticipated inability to protect him. If they are right… if the line can’t improve… if Eli’s psyche is too damaged this season… then the Giants are toast. But… if…just if… the line can improve steadily… and Eli accepts the hand he’s been dealt and focuses on the job that needs to be done and starts to carry this team again like he did in 2011, then Giants have a shot. Keep in mind, the offensive line wasn’t very good in 2011 either, and the rushing attack was terrible. So was the defense for much of the 2011 season. Eli has a better defense now and what is looking to be a better ground game. He just needs to get back to being the old Eli.

As for the Packers, a 3-4 defense, they are tougher up front than they are in the secondary. The corners are decent, but their safeties have given up some big plays. The one big pass rusher remains LB Clay Mathews, despite playing with a cast on his hand. LB A.J. Hawk is having an excellent season. The defensive line is big and talented, but a bit beat up. Dom Capers is still the defensive coordinator and he will send the blitz from all angles, as indicated by the fact that the Packers’ 23 sacks are spread out throughout the defensive unit. With that comes risk and opportunity. The Packers are going to take some chances on Sunday. Can Eli, his blockers, and receivers make them pay?

Giants on Defense: As I said, this unit looks stronger to me than the 2011 version. It’s becoming sounder, more consistent. What’s missing is the 2011 version of Jason Pierre-Paul to put it over the top. JPP looked ready to break out against the Raiders before he hurt his shoulder. If his shoulder injury is serious, or if he starts to sulk and let it get to him mentally, then the defense probably can’t take that next step. Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka are playing better, but they are not difference makers. JPP can be the difference maker up front. It is uncertain if JPP will be able to play against the Packers, and even if he does, how effective he will be?

The game plan against the Packers is obvious. Stop rookie RB Eddie Lacy. He’s a big, powerful back with good instincts and he has given the Packers a running game that they have lacked in recent years. Last week against the Raiders, with the outside threat QB Terrelle Pryor represented, the Giants looked much softer in the middle of the defense against RB Rashad Jennings. What is worrisome is Lacy and Jennings are similar in style. However, I anticipate the Giants’ run defense to rebound strongly as QB Scott Tolzien isn’t the threat Pryor was to run the ball, so the Giants can focus more completely on Lacy. I also don’t think it sat well with Beason & Company to see Jennings do as well as he did last week.

Defensively, to me this game comes down to the Giants’ ability or inability to ground the Packers’ passing attack. We Giants fans know not to take any back-up quarterback lightly. Tolzien is not the kind of guy you want starting in this league. He’s not big, he’s not mobile, he lacks a strong arm… but he is very smart, he really studies, he’s mentally and physically tough, and he’s very confident in his ability to lead an offensive team. Plus, he’s in the right system for a quarterback that lacks a canon for an arm and with the right coaching staff who likely will game-plan around his strengths. In short, Tolzien is no Aaron Rodgers, but the Giants would be foolish to take him lightly. Reports out of Green Bay say he has having a sharp week in practice. With the Giants gearing up to stop Lacy, play-action could be a problem for New York. The pressure will be on the linebackers and safeties to make good decisions.

The good news is that Tolzien is small and immobile. The Giants should be able to bring the heat and not worry about him scrambling with the football. And though Tolzien is very smart and studies hard, Perry Fewell may be able to confuse him with different looks. Because of his style of game (lack of strong arm) and concerns about the Giants’ pass rush, look for quick passes to the backs and tight ends. I’d be very wary about the screen game. And it would not shock me if the Packers have a trick play in their back pocket. When Tolzien throws down the field, he has a number of good targets, but none more dangerous than Jordy Nelson, who is having a great season. I’d like to keep Prince Amukamara on Nelson. This is the kind of opponent who Amukamara can really make a name for himself if he covers Nelson well. But James Jones and Jarrett Boykin are no slouches either, and like Nelson, they are averaging over 15 yards per catch. With or without Rodgers, this is still a dangerous passing attack.

The Packers are a bit banged up on the offensive line, but their injured players are expected to play this week. They are a big and physical group, but they can be vulnerable on the pass rush.

So the number one challenge is to stop Lacy. Be wary of play-action and the short-passing game, especially screens. The Giants need to play physical against the run, but they have to play smart against the pass.

Giants on Special Teams:

Special teams and winning the battle for field position must become our catalyst for victory and not our Achilles’ heel. (Tom Coughlin, inaugural press conference, January 2004)

The Giants are arguably the worst special teams unit in the NFL. Just when you think it can’t get worse, some new hole appears. The kickers seemed to be getting back on track until Steve Weatherford had probably his worst day as a Giant, averaging only 30 yards per punt. I’m not sure anymore why Jerrel Jernigan is on the team. He certainly isn’t a reliable kick returner. Rueben Randle flashes as a punt returner, but continues to make poor decisions on when to field punts (especially inside the 10-yard line). As we all know, the Giants have given up three punt returns for touchdowns this year. This week they face Micah Hyde, who is third in the NFL in punt returns, averaging over 15 yards per return. Watch out for a trick play on special teams if the Packers’ offense struggles (fake punt or field goal, onsides kick, etc.).