Nov 042015
 
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New Orleans Saints 52 – New York Giants 49

Overview

What? Over? Did you say “over”? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no! And it ain’t over now. Cause when the goin’ get tough…The tough get goin! Who’s with me? Let’s goooo! That’s how I felt when do-everything CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie laid the wood on WR Willie Snead and Trumaine McBride raced home for a 49-42 lead and finally a glimmer of hope emerged from the Superdome (or Mercedes Benz Bowl or whatever, I don’t care). Down 42-28, the G-Men once again summoned what the legendary Mick Foley would call their testicular fortitude. After a Dwayne Harris TD pulled the visitors to within 7, the Giants’ defense actually appeared for a series, forcing a 3-and-out which Eli Manning and his top WR trio turned into a 3-play, 65-yard game-tying drive.

Once down 14 in the final stanza, the Giants now had life, actual life after Drew Brees, Marques Colston, Ben Watson and Brandin Cooks ran up and down the field with no resistance for 3.5 quarters. Facing a 2nd-and-6 at the Giants’ 43, Brees found Snead on a quick in-route. DRC applied a perfect tackle, the ball popped loose and Trumaine McBride was off to a 63-yard score and a miraculous 49-42 lead. Predictably, the Saints answered with a 14-play, 80-yard drive that left Eli and company 36 seconds to win the game. Ordinarily not much time but in a game that featured 13 TD passes, 36 seconds is a lifetime. Two Manning incompletions sandwiched around a 5-yard pass to RB Shane Vereen and 20 seconds remained. Punter Brad Wing seemingly put the game into overtime with a 46-yard punt. But Marcus Murphy returned the ball 24 yards, coughed it up and Snead grabbed it and was down at the 47-yard line. But a penalty flag lingered. After much consternation, the referees deemed there was no penalty and the ball was to be moved back one yard because a fumble inside of 2 minutes cannot be advanced. But then, as it had all day, disaster struck any chance the Giants had of stealing a win in the Bayou. After another pow-wow, the referees determined (and it was clear) that Wing had winged Snead down by the face, not only frowned upon, but an actual infraction that turned an OT game into a 50-yard Kai Forbath game-winner.

Eli Manning, New York Giants (November 1, 2015)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Quarterbacks

Welcome back to the Big Easy, Easy Eli. His hometown was good to the New Orleans native. The former Ole Miss Rebel torched the Saints to the tune of 350 yards and 6 TDs while completing 73% of his aerials. Eli was nearly perfect, but his now-I-have-it, now-I-don’t-fumble midway through the second quarter was his only real mistake along with possibly an overthrow to Dwayne Harris early in the game down the right sideline. That’s just nitpicking when looking for something bad in a loss. Let’s be honest, if the G-Men pulled this one out, Eli would have been the hero for his 42 points and 6 TDs. Eli was effective on just about everything, short throws to backs, the quick slants and even the broken play when he heaved the ball deep to Odell Beckham Jr. for a TD and found Dwayne Harris in the middle of the end zone on another 4th down scoring play that kept the Giants in the game.

Running Backs

The RB rotation keeps highlighting a different player each game. This time it was #34 Shane Vereen who stole the show with 145 total yards, 8 catches and a TD. Rashad Jennings had the most yardage from scrimmage of the group with 85 total yards and an impressive 5.4 yards per carry. Andre Williams again struggled with 7 yards on 5 carries and it may be time for the former Eagle to take a seat for a few weeks. He’s wasting carries. Orleans Darkwa ripped off a 17-yarder in the first quarter but only saw the rock 4 times total for 23 yards due to an injury.

Odell Beckham, New York Giants (November 1, 2015)

Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Wide Receivers

Rueben Randle opened the team’s first possession with a 19-yard deep-in from Manning and was accosted by penalty-machine and repeat PED-offender Brandon Browner a few plays later with no call. Randle was suplexed later in the first quarter by Mr. PED and Browner cost his team another silly 15 yards. Browner seemingly grabbed on every single play and seems to not fully comprehend the playbook. Browner had a sure INT just plays later but you guessed it, Brandon Browner held Randle in the end zone to get to the ball – just a horrific display. Odell Beckham Jr. seemed to enjoy his return to New Orleans as well, hauling in a team-high 130 yards and 3 TDs on 8 grabs. Beckham cashed in on the Giants’ first drive with an inside rub route on 4th-and-goal, and followed that up with a 50-yard, cross-field, broken-play TD from Manning that shows how dangerous these two are when healthy and focused. In the absence of Victor Cruz, Dwayne Harris has stepped up game after game for the G-Men. Harris made two fourth quarter, red zone TDs and finished with 37 yards on 3 grabs – another impactful effort from the former Cowboy.

Tight Ends

Poor Larry Donnell, at least he doesn’t look like Yaphet Kotto. Donnell set up the Giants’ second TD of the day with a diving 22-yard grab but did not return after injuring his neck. Kotto…err Tye was pressed into a lot of action on Sunday and was up and down. Just in case Rueben Randle was feeling singled out, Browner also illegally pulled Tye to the ground late in the first half to keep a Giants’ TD drive going. Tye then made an athletic grab one play prior to Shane Vereen’s TD grab to showcase his improving ability to contribute when it matters. Tye and Donnell are very different players with different skill sets, but Tye looks to have some promise as a slot weapon. Tye made a long catch that was negated by an Ereck Flowers hold, but it’s something to watch as he progresses. Tye did fumble the ball after a short catch on 3rd-and-16, but expect growing pains with this group as injured as it’s been.

alike

Kotto…or Will Tye???

Offensive Line

42 points is tough to argue with but 3 sacks and early trouble running left with two stuffs inside the 3-yard line may have made things feel little uglier than the final numbers suggest. Manning was dumped on his keister on the Giants’ second drive but that may go to TE Will Tye as opposed to RT Marshall Newhouse – an unblocked LB is usually someone’s fault but it’s never easy to know who. LG Justin Pugh was beaten inside for a sack in the 2nd quarter and was blown up by DT Kevin Williams inside on a goal-line series, but he righted the ship as the game went on. LT Ereck Flowers struggled at times with the tiny speed rushers that Fat Gandalf sent at him, and his hold negated a big completion to TE Will Tye – not the rookie left tackle’s best game. RG Geoff Schwartz was kind enough to get dinged so we could be re-introduced to the most-easily-moved 330lb human being of all time, John Jerry. RT Marshall Newhouse surprisingly pitched a shutout against DE Cameron Jordan.

Defensive Line

I wanted to leave this entire section blank, along with LBs and DBs, but I love pain I guess. Promising enough start, with DT Jon Hankins and DE Robert Ayers shutting down a Khiry Robinson toss for no gain on the Saints’ first drive of the game. After that, hide yo’ kids. Not once but twice I saw 330lb DT Jon Hankins IN COVERAGE! Yes I get the fire zone concept but using your best DL to waddle backwards and flail helplessly at passes is not the best use of resources. Hankins was in coverage again on Colston’s joke of a TD pass, but it was hardly the big fella’s fault. Overall though, bad, just bad. No pressure, no sacks and the Saints did whatever they wanted all day long. DE Kerry Wynn made the only good play of the day, dropping RB C.J. Spiller for a loss. Yes, a Giant defender not named DRC made a play, but in the words of Bill Parcells…that’s like throwing a deck chair off of the Queen Mary. Whoopdee doo in an otherwise putrid performance.

Linebackers

You’re all worthless and weak! Now drop and give me twenty! If only Niedermeyer was in charge of our LBs instead of Marty Funkhouser, maybe they’d have shown up on Sunday. I must admit, I did see LB Jon Casillas make a stop, but I also saw him flailing helplessly as Saint after Saint tip toed by on the way to the end zone. Uani ‘Unga had a shot at an interception but decided he didn’t want to help either. Jasper Brinkley was pressed into service, and after this game he should be pressed into a cube. He was completely useless in coverage and against the run. The LBs were polite though, leaving plenty of room for Saints’ players to run around and have a good time.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Trumaine McBride, New York Giants (November 1, 2015)

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Trumaine McBride – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Defensive Backs

Thank you sir! May I have another? Why yes, yes you can you can have 7 TD passes thrown against you in one game. Out of this entire gang, only DRC did anything of note with his jarring tackle that fell into the hands of Trumaine McBride and gave the Giants their only glimmer of hope on an otherwise abysmal defensive day. S Landon Collins had his worst game as a pro, often falling flat footed when forced to turn his hips and open up to the outside. Collins bit hard on the Saints’ first TD, taking the few false steps forward on a flea flicker that Drew Brees required to toss the ball over the rookie’s oddly square head. (Have you looked at his head in interviews? It’s like a 4-slice toaster with hair). Trevin Wade got in on the fun with the Saints pinned at their own 4-yard line by losing the ball in the air and giving up a 46-yard completion to TE Ben Watson. Just awful technique, as Wade was stride for stride with Watson down the sideline. Wade got a bird’s eye view on Brandin Cooks first TD, seemingly admiring the 2nd-year WR’s route-running and refusing to get a hand on him. Wade and Collins chipped in again with horrific technique and coverage on Brees’ 4th TD pass of the game. Wade slowly trailed Snead across the formation only to see Collins stand flat-footed again and do nothing to help. Thank God for DRC. His interception and tackle that became a TD were the only bright spots for this defense. In fact, the only non-horrible, stomach-turning why-am-I-watching-this-defense-flop-around-like-armless-babies moment for the defense.

Special Teams

Well, as of this moment, Tom Quinn is on DOUBLE SECRET PROBATION. Yes, the special teams dream weaver finally got his charges to win a game last week. But in true bizarro-season style, the special teams shanked the game away in the waning moments, forever erasing Matt Dodge from our memories. Well maybe not erasing, but at least he has a buddy now that P Brad Wing decided to yank a Saint down by the facemask, putting the home team 15 yards closer to victory. Overall, good kick coverage again as the Saints managed 26 yards on 2 kickoff returns but the 24 yards by Marcus Murphy on the final punt return coupled with Wing’s gaffe was the difference in this game. Quinn’s return game was strong though, with 169 yards on 5 kick returns, the long a 46-yarder by Shane Vereen.

Anatomy of a Busted Coverage

So who to blame on the Marques Colston TD? Sure it’s one play among about 50 you could get ill watching, but this was the most egregious of all the egregiousness we saw on Sunday. The Giants came out in 2-deep coverage, but motion by WR Willie Snead moves S Brandon Meriweather (#22) into the slot. That’s where the breakdown begins. This should now be 3-deep coverage with Collins (#21) covering the deep middle and Hosley (#28) covering the deep third. The slot defenders in this formation are Trevin Wade (#31) and S Brandon Meriweather. The CBs are DRC (#41) and Jayron Hosley. As Snead motions, #22 slides up into slot coverage.

Colston1

Colston 2Collins should have moved off his hash to the deep middle as #22 slides into the slot. Collins stays put though to keep an eye on the TE, which he should not have done.

Colston3How do we know this? Watch up top, as DRC and Trevin Wade correctly play the coverage. DRC stays in the flat and Wade goes deep with his man indicating either man-coverage or Cover-3. Collins keeps eyes on the TE, but LB Uani ‘Unga and DT Jon Hankins drop into the hook zones to defend against the TE and any crossing routes from this formation, which negates the idea that it’s man coverage. That means that Collins should have abandoned the TE, and known by the shift that he was the lone deep safety with Meriweather now underneath. Further evidence is that Meriweather gives Colston an inside release and jams him towards the middle, a clear indication that (1) he knows he has help, and (2) he knows it’s a timing route and he can affect the play with a good jam. It’s possible that #28 should should have run deep in the slot as Wade did up top, but the shift of ‘Unga, Hankins and Meriweather show pretty clearly that they are the LBs in coverage for this formation and they have the short middle. Hosley though doesn’t get any width as Meriweather does, indicating he likely had deep third on his side. Most of the fault lies with Collins, but it appears Hosley read the shift incorrectly and wasn’t able to help by being in a trail position on Colston. The deep third is missing two people and Marques Colston races to pay dirt.

Coaching

Daniel Day Spagnuolo HAS no grade point average. All courses incomplete. That’s honestly as fairly as it can be put, incomplete. I cannot even fail Spags this week because he simply didn’t show up nor did his defense save for DRC on two plays. There was no scheme, there was no plan, there was mayhem for 4 quarters and it was revolting to watch. Drew Brees practically held a 7-on-7 drill for 3 hours. It was as rough to watch the second time as it was in real time and I saw nothing to change our collective opinion that this film should be burned and never spoken of again.

OC Ben McAdoo again annoyed with his RBBC approach that seems to go by series. But how can you argue with 42 points? Well if you’re the Saints, you argue back with 52, but I digress. I’m still confused by the rigidity of the RB distribution. At some point you have to ride the hot hand and control the clock and the game, but that doesn’t appear to be the approach in any game thus far. McAdoo’s passing game was nearly perfect even after losing starting TE Larry Donnell and playing from behind from the 2nd quarter on. Excellent work with Eli and company this week.

Cram it in your Cramhole Award

The CiiyCA committee had too heated of a debate as to who should win the trophy this week for us to settle on a winner too quickly. Among the nominees: Sean Payton, HC of the Saints for what one staffer said was “His I’m sorta making kissy face but maybe I’m eating lemons face..face, I hate it and I want to punch it but I’m afraid there will be a bounty on us.”  Another potential winner was color man (which quite frankly we find offensive and racist and prefer they be called Former Player American Announcer Guy) Daryl Johnston for taking eons to get out any sentence then the sentence being insignificant because it’s three plays later and usually wrong. He is for all intents a purposes, the Jonathan Casillas of announcers, lots of stuff on the stat sheet, but damned if we know if what it is. If I had a coin I would have flipped it, but during my review, the gem below from Johnston after Orleans Darkwa was stuffed..NOT by Kevin Williams on the goal line cemented the former Cowboy as the winner. Read the following as quickly as possible with a slight lisp, with only pauses at the ellipses, no voice inflection and a hint of incredulity at the first bold section and you’ll hear it all over again in horrible nightmarish fashion.

“Kenny are they still running it right at Kevin Williams are we still running it right at huh uh Kevin Williams that guy was a beast on the opening series when they came down the field…I think they ARE still going right at Kevin Williams number ninety three he doesn’t make the play on that one actually nice job by Justin Pugh but the linebackers fillin’ the hole look at them stop Orleans Darkwa right there you can see all of his momentum going forward just shut down immediately.”

(New York Giants at New Orleans Saints, November 1, 2015)
Oct 302015
 
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Orleans Darkwa, New York Giants (October 25, 2015)

Orleans Darkwa – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants at New Orleans Saints, November 1, 2015

THE STORYLINE:
The victory against the Cowboys may have been the team’s most significant win since 2011. If the Giants had fallen to Dallas, they would have been 1-3 in the NFC East with two losses to the Cowboys. Now at 4-3 overall and 2-2 in the NFC East, the Giants find themselves very much in the hunt for the division title with nine games left to play.

But it’s important to keep in mind that this remains a thus-far seriously-flawed team that has greatly benefited from a weak division. The offense – which was supposed to be the strength of the team – is currently 23rd in the NFL in yards per game (14th in passing and 25th in rushing). And despite the strong initial start in run defense, the once-proud NYG defense doesn’t do anything well except generate turnovers – and that’s a well that can dry up very quickly. The Giants are 29th in defense, having fallen from 1st to 21st in run defense in the span of a few weeks, and 30th in pass defense. The fact that the Giants are one game in first place is a minor miracle.

The good news is that there is potential to improve, especially if the team starts to get some players back and if those players can play at a level anywhere near their previous form (Jason Pierre-Paul, Victor Cruz, Will Beatty). Offensively, the line and running game appear to be slowly improving and the passing game has yet to hit its stride. Eli Manning, Odell Beckham, Rueben Randle, and Dwayne Harris are capable of much more. Defensively, the pass rush will probably remain an issue unless JPP, Robert Ayers, Devon Kennard, and Damontre Moore come on. But the Giants were missing a lot of defensive players in the first half of the season who are getting healthier, including JPP, Ayers, George Selvie, Kennard, Jonathan Casillas, and Amukamara. The more the players become comfortable with Steve Spagnuolo’s new scheme, the better they should play. And the special teams are playing extremely well.

The short-term problem for the Giants is that many of those reinforcements are not quite ready yet. The Giants will have to scrape by for 1-3 more weeks. It’s a bad time for Amukamara to be out. The linebacking corps is beat up with Beason, Thomas, and ‘Unga ailing. The obvious goal is to win two important NFC games in the next two weeks against the improving Saints and Buccaneers. Get to 6-3.

Do not underestimate the Saints. They are 3-4, the Giants 4-3…not much difference. And the two teams are very similar in a lot of ways…winless start to the season, winning 3-out-of-4 of their last four (Giants actually 4-out-of-5), franchise QB, struggling defense, running game showing signs of life. Giants’ fans know the narrative coming into this particular contest. New York has gotten fat by beating the likes of Kirk Cousins, Tyrod Taylor, Colin Kaepernick, and Matt Cassel. Can the the 30th-ranked pass defense not get embarrassed by Drew Brees? Can a Giants’ offense that has scored two touchdowns in two games keep pace?

This is a big game. 5-3 is a lot better than 4-4.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • WR Odell Beckham (hamstring – probable)
  • WR Victor Cruz (calf – out)
  • RG Geoff Schwartz (ankle – probable)
  • OT Will Beatty (pectoral – on PUP/out)
  • DE Jason Pierre-Paul (hand – roster exemption/out)
  • DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa (hamstring – out)
  • LB Jon Beason (ankle/knee – questionable)
  • LB J.T. Thomas (ankle – out)
  • LB Uani ‘Unga (neck – probable)
  • CB Prince Amukamara (pectoral – out)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
After an initial positive start under Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan in 2013 (ironically replacing the then-maligned Steve Spagnuolo), the Saints have struggled on defense for the last season and a half. There was significant turnover on the defensive side of the football in the offseason, and although the defensive unit has played much better in recent games, it still ranks 30th overall (one spot below the Giants’ defense). They are 26th against the pass and 29th against the run.

That all said, the Saints do some things well. They have 11 take-aways this year (4 interceptions, 7 fumble recoveries) and they are tied for 12th in the NFL in sacks (16). The Saints are also very good at third-down defense (33.7 percent – 4th in the NFL).

The Saints like to use a lot of different packages and looks in order to attempt to confuse opposing offenses. “They have a number of exotic schemes that you have to be totally prepared for in terms of how they’re using their people and the numbers game, in terms of the number of defensive linemen on the field and defensive backs on the field,” says Tom Coughlin.

The best defensive players are right defensive end Cameron Jordan (6 sacks), who will face LT Ereck Flowers, and strong safety Kenny Vaccaro, who can blitz, stop the run, and cover. They have a young linebacking corps who Ryan will send after the quarterback. Blitz pick-ups will be key. If the Giants can pick up the blitz, they will have some great opportunities for big plays.

Coming off 132 yards on the ground against the Cowboys, the Giants should be able to run the ball on the Saints. My preference would be for New York to let one or two backs get into a rhythm – let Rashad Jennings and/or Orleans Darkwa receive the bulk of the carries. I also expect a big home coming from receivers Odell Beckham and Rueben Randle. Both who are due for a big game, especially against a team with a suspect secondary with one starting corner (Keenan Lewis – hip) ailing. I would also attack the inexperienced and somewhat banged up linebackers in pass coverage with Shane Vereen. Linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and David Hawthorne have missed practice this week.

The keys? No turnovers, convert on third down against a stingy third-down defense, and convert in the red zone. “We need consistency of scoring in the green zone; when we get there, we’ve got to score,” says Coughlin.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
Fans rightfully are fearful of what Drew Brees can do against the NFL’s 30th-ranked pass defense. The Giants miss Prince Amukamara as Jayron Hosley has been shaky and saved at times by opposing quarterback ineptitude. The safeties have played better than expected, but still have had issues at times as Landon Collins is still learning the pro game. Worse, the Giants have an NFL-low nine sacks. Nine. Give Drew Brees time and he will tear up any secondary, let alone one with the issues the Giants have in covering tight ends and wide receivers.

If we’re being honest, the Saints are going to move the football and they are going to score. Saints’ Head Coach Sean Payton has probably preached all week: don’t turn the ball over against the Giants, that’s the only way they are stopping people.

New Orleans is 6th in the NFL on offense (3rd passing, 22nd rushing). One would think the priority would be to focus on the pass over the run. The problem is the Giants’ run defense has rapidly deteriorated the last few weeks and the Saints’ running game – led by RB Mark Ingram – is starting to kick it into gear. The Giants have to make the Saints one dimensional or they are in real trouble. The Saints have had issues with injuries on the offensive line but the regular starters are expected to play against the Giants. My focus would be to stop the run and cross your fingers against the pass.

Brees has to be salivating at facing a defense that can’t seem to rush the passer and missing Amukamara. He’s completing over 67 percent of his passes and well on pace for another 4,000 yard season despite missing a game. Brees spreads the ball around to a variety of players at wide receiver, tight end, and running back. Five players have over 20 catches: the diminutive but explosive WR Brandin Cooks (35, 444 yards), WR Willie Sneed (29, 461 yards), TE Benjamin Watson (29, 325 yards), RB Mark Ingram (29, 235 yards), and RB C.J. Spiller (21, 181 yards). That doesn’t even include WR Marques Colston (19, 220 yards). While the Saints wide receivers have not been as dangerous as in recent years, they are using their running backs more as Ingram is having a career year as a receiver. Spiller – as his 80-yard game-winning TD in OT against the Cowboys demonstrated – can be a match-up problem for linebackers. Keep in mind Jon Beason is ailing and J.T. Thomas is out. The tight end Watson caught 10 passes in the win over the Falcons.

On paper, this match-up looks like a disaster unless the Giants continue to force turnovers or begin to generate pass pressure. Though Brees has six interceptions on the season, he’s not Cousins, Sam Bradford, or Cassel. I would expect Steve Spagnuolo change things up to make it somewhat challenging for Brees, but Brees is pretty darn smart and I don’t think Spagnuolo will want to give up the cheap play. The Saints lead the NFL with 32 plays over 20 yards. Spagnuolo will try to have his unit stop the run, not get too risky in coverage, and force Brees to drive the field without making a mistake. The problem is the Saints are very good on 3rd down, converting almost 46 percent of the time. The Giants desperately need their defensive line to rebound from an atrocious game, and need big efforts from Ayers, Selvie, Johnathan Hankins, and Cullen Jenkins in particular.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Rookie Marcus Murphy has returned one punt for a 74-yard touchdown this year so punt coverage will obviously be on the spot. He also returns kickoffs, where his long has only been 35 yards. The Saints have had issues at place kicker, now with journeyman Kai Forbath handling field goals and extra points. New Orleans did block a punt for a touchdown against the Falcons.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Tom Coughlin on the pass rush: “Somehow, some way, we’ve got to make the quarterback uncomfortable… We need more pressure on the quarterback, we need to do a better job of that.”

THE FINAL WORD:
The Giants haven’t won in the Super Dome since Phil Simms was the quarterback. That said, this is not a very strong Saints team. This contest features two bad defensive teams that can cause turnovers, and potentially explosive offenses with ground attacks that are starting to come to life. The difference could be special teams.

The match-up issues on defense are scary for the Giants. How much longer can they count on multiple turnover games? The Giants’ offense most likely will need to come up big. New York will probably need to score almost 30 points to win. This would be a good time for Odell Beckham to take over a game.

Oct 282015
 
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no-country-for-old-men-tommy-lee-jones1

New York Giants 27 – Dallas Cowboys 20

Overview

Forty minutes of possession against us, Darren McFadden running like he was at Arkansas, Eli Manning throwing no TDs, 3 interceptions by Matt Cassel, a kickoff return for a TD, a muffed punt to win a woolly contest at MetLife…I don’t know what to make of that. I sure don’t. The games you see now, it’s hard to even take its measure. It’s not that I’m afraid of it. I always knew you had to be willing to write to even do this job. But, I don’t want to push my chips forward and go out and meet something I don’t understand. A man would have to put his soul at hazard. He’d have to say, “O.K., I’ll be part of this world.” And a part of this world we are for now Big Blue Faithful, 4-3, atop the NFC East and a chance to make some noise down the stretch. Not much else you can ask for heading for the midpoint in the season but nothing will be easy and none of it makes any sense.

Down 13-10 at the half, kicking off to the Cowboys with Darren McFadden running wild, things looked bleak for the G-Men and their chance to exorcise the Cowboys’ demon that had haunted them for 5 straight games. That’s when DRC came riding in to save the day with his 58-yard interception return that ignited the Giants and sent them to a 17-13 lead as the Cowboys were working down field to open the second half. Then Brandon Meriweather intercepted Cassel at the 1-yard line. After adding a FG on a drive punctuated by a 44-yard fly to Rueben Randle and a 39-yard scamper by Shane Vereen, DRC snuffed out another Cowboys’ drive and the Giants hard-fought 20-13 lead temporarily stood. Taking the ball out of Cassel’s turnover-prone hands would have seemed wise and the Cowboys indeed turned to Lucky Whitehead, Darren McFadden and former Seahawk Christine Michael (someone listened to a “Boy named Sue” one too many times before naming his kid) for six straight plays. That running game gave Cassel the chance he needed and the veteran tossed 21- and 25-yard deep outs to Terrance Williams and Devin Street to knot the game at 20.

And then, Dwayne Harris happened. The former Cowboy, signed to a 5-year, $17 million contract in the offseason cashed in with a 100-yard kickoff return with 7 minutes left in the contest to put the Giants ahead for good and give Tom Coughlin an actual good special teams memory to hold on to. Dallas gave it a go, driving to the Giants 30, but Brandon Meriweather swatted a Cassel offering and a gang of Giants finished off TE James Hanna to kill the threat. After forcing a Giant punt with 1:36 left, the Cowboys had one more chance, but Cole Beasley bobbled the punt and it was pounced on by Myles White and the special teams saved the day for Tom Coughlin and his 100th victory as head coach of the New York Giants.

Quarterbacks

As Eli goes, so go the G-Men. A two-game slump since the 441-yard masterpiece against the Niners, but this week his teammates found a way when Eli was hemmed in. The positives are zero turnovers and Greg Hardy did not in fact in kill, maim, fold, spindle or mutilate your aw shucks signal caller. Manning was dumped twice, and completed just 13 passes for 170 yards against a defense that has struggled to stop the pass all year save for its two contests with the Giants. Manning misfired on a crossing route to Beckham to end the Giants’ second possession with another punt, and flirted with disaster as an errant pass glanced off Shane Vereen and appeared to be picked off by Byron Jones deep in Giants’ territory until a review mercifully saw the ball bounce off of the turf. Manning, as he is wont to do, followed that near-mistake with a rifle shot to Dwayne Harris on a 38-yard catch-and-run that got the Giants into field goal range. Manning had two more great passes, a 44-yarder to Rueben Randle and a drop by the same Randle on a perfectly-thrown post as the Giants were trying to add to their lead.

Running Backs

“How many of those things you got now?” – “Running Backs? Several. Well, depends on what you mean by got. Some are half-wild and some are just outlaws.” Orleans Darkwa, welcome to outlaw status. Castoff running backs seem to find a home in New York and our new outlaw fits the mold. After weeks of a certain big-mouth “writer” calling for him, Tom Coughlin dusted off #26 and lo and behold, a running game emerged. It took 25 totes but the mercurial 4 racked up a season-high 132 yards on the ground, with Darkwa bulling his way to the end zone for the group’s lone score. In true head-scratching style though, no one got more than 8 carries and it appears this rotation may just work as long as Darkwa’s role remains. Darkwa endeared himself to Greg Hardy haters everywhere by leveling the loud-mouthed DE and rumbling forward for a 10-yard gain, and then simply bulling his way to a 15-yard TD run. Shane Vereen actually led all rushers with 56 yards, ripping off a game-long 39-yarder on a Giants’ FG drive in the 3rd quarter. Rashad Jennings’ first two carries went for 8 and 6 yards, then he vanished, finishing the game with 5 more yards on 3 more carries. Andre Williams was again mostly a no-show with 13 yards on 4 carries but his 5-yard run right into Rolando McClain’s kitchen was a thing of beauty. Once a game, Williams seems to deliver a phlegm-loosening hit on some defender, perfect tonic for cold and flu season.

Wide Receivers

Odell Beckham Jr. opened the account for the WRs with a 10-yard grab on the Giants’ second possession, and I have to say, an odd reaction as he got up and shook himself at CB Brandon Carr. I like the fire, but once in a while ODB does something that looks like a hissy fit. At some point, he needs to be more composed. It wasn’t until the Giants were able to establish the run that ODB was able to do some damage and the second-year phenom had another shot at a miracle catch against Carr but wasn’t able to replicate the magic of his previous catch at MetLife. Rueben Randle was the most effective target Eli had, despite only getting his hands on 2 balls, which is fine if you’re giving a physical but not for an NFL receiver. Randle turned his head and coughed enough to haul in a beautiful arcing pass from Manning that covered 44 yards with the Giants in the shadow of their own end zone. Randle pulled in the 3rd-and-5 pass with one hand and gave the Giants life enough to push ahead to a 20-13 lead. But in a game of weird plays, Randle just dropped a ball right in his hands on a perfectly-thrown post by Manning that could have been a TD or led to a TD.

Tight Ends

Larry Donnell got started early, picking up a first down on the second play of the game, and another two plays later. Then he simply disappeared like most Giant aerial targets did and finished with 4 grabs for 18 yards on 5 targets. Donnell did have a great block on Vereen’s 39-yard scamper, getting good position and holding his block long enough to spring the diminutive back. Will Tye wasn’t able to handle his first target on a Manning pass on 3rd-and-4, killing the Giants’ first drive. And that was it for the rookie TE.

Offensive Line

Does anyone else kinda miss Will Beatty? The combo of Geoff Schwartz and Marshall Newhouse killed a TD chance by getting blown past by Greg Hardy and Tyrone Crawford. Newhouse again struggled at times, giving up an early near-sack to DE Jeremy Mincey that was mercifully called an incompletion. Other than those two hiccups, a much better day than most had anticipated against the suddenly healthy and dangerous Cowboys’ DL spearheaded by Greg Hardy, who wasn’t exactly Anton Chigurh as many had anticipated going into this tilt. This group bounced back exactly how you’d hoped they would after the debacle in Philadelphia, a great sign going forward that this group is going to fight no matter who’s in front of them. The big boys up front paved the way for their first 100 yarder of the year. They may have found their staple running play, an inside trap that Jennings got 8 and 6 yards on early, and Darkwa utilized for the big gain below:

darkwa2At the snap, LG Justin Pugh pulls, OC Weston Richburg blocks down and RG Geoff Schwartz and RT Marshall Newhouse double the DT opposite of Richburg, creating an A Gap hole. The problem is LBs Rolando McClain and Sean Lee sit in wait to maintain their gaps.

darkwa3Pugh pulling entices Lee and McClain to follow him and Darkwa has a decision to make, follow his lead guard on a trap off tackle or hit the A gap. Darkwa makes a sudden head fake towards Pugh, Lee commits and McClain takes too long to react.

darkwa4The head fake buys Darkwa the time to burst through the A gap and pick up 9 yards as Pugh’s pulling draws the LBs attention. Credit to Richburg for an outstanding power block on the play.

C Weston Richburg had his best game of the year, consistently turning his man out of the hole to lead the way for the Giants rushing attack. Richburg had the key block on Darkwa’s TD run and 9-yard jaunt just moments earlier. LT Ereck Flowers had no trouble with anyone this time out and is fast becoming a rock on the OL. RG Geoff Schwartz gave up the sack to Hardy, who I loathe, so Schwartz gets the gas face. LG Justin Pugh was solid and his leads on the traps did their job – a solid day for the former Syracuse man.

Defensive Line

Horrible, just horrible. 233 yards to a one-dimensional team with no one at RB is abysmal. Not one player on this DL looked like anything but a small bump on a putt-putt course, the one that kinda gets in the way but ultimately doesn’t hinder you on your way to mini-golf glory. The edge containment was non-existent and BBI favorite, DE Kerry Wynn, was downright putrid, first biting inside on a Joseph Randle run on the Cowboys’ first possession and then completely losing contain on his side while simply being erased on a McFadden run on the Cowboys’ first TD drive. Wynn wasn’t alone in his crapitude. DT Markus Kuhn stood straight up and got himself taken out of the hole and pushed backwards on a McFadden 9-yard run. Not to be outdone, DE Robert Ayers gave up his lane and inexplicably chased Matt Cassel as McFadden scooted by as evidenced by this nauseating sequence. The circles indicate where Kuhn and Ayers SHOULD be; they do not make it so.

Kuhn1Kuhn starts in the A (between center and guard) gap, with DE Robert Ayers seemingly responsible for the C gap (outside the OT).

kuhn2Kuhn spots a penny on the turf (and OG Zach Martin peeks over his shoulder for a look see), instead of staying home to take on the block from TE Jason Witten and create some traffic for McFadden…

kuhn3Ayers completely abandons his gap, preferring to see what type of shoe Matt Cassel has on in lieu of taking down a ball carrier. Kuhn goes from zero to blocked faster than any DT I can remember. It has to be the fine German engineering that enables such raw speed. And there is no penny, just a gaping hole for McFadden to exploit.

DT Jay Bromley didn’t fare much better, consistently getting turned out of the hole and giving up leverage far too easily. And naturally it was Kuhn being destroyed on the Cowboys’ first TD of the game. The middle of this defense simply struggles when #78 is on the field. I have no idea how not one coach sees this. Ayers flat out missed on an easy interception chance that Cassel threw right at him, and didn’t have much impact in his first action in weeks. DE George Selvie was solid in spots as was Jon Hankins and Cullen Jenkins, but as a unit, no pressure and 233 yards rushing means you all get an F.

Linebackers

When your starting trio of LBs racks up 24 tackles, something ain’t stirring the Kool-Aid Ace. J.T. Thomas got caught for a late hit on the Cowboys’ first TD drive, just a bad error when the Giants were struggling to stop anything. But the call was iffy at best. The former Mountaineer finished with 6 stops. For the most part, this group was jumping on and dragging down anything that ambled past our DL and that was pretty much everyone with a star on their helmet. Really very little impact despite all of the tackle numbers. I guess it’s good they tackled? Jon Casillas again chipped in with 7 stops, but for the life of me, I can’t remember any of them. Veteran Jon Beason did a lot of dirty work in between the big guys, piling up 11 stops in a game that had to feel like a game of bumper pool for former Cane, with Beason playing the role of the ball. Tough day all around for the defense’s second level against the running game. They were consistently dealing with 300 pounders bearing down them as the DL failed to do anything to slow the tide.

Defensive Backs

DRC, take a bow. Hell take two or three, just don’t pull anything or you’ll be on IR by Saturday. The highly-paid and highly-productive CB was sensational despite a very iffy holding call that gave the Boys a first down as the first half wound down. DRC nearly had a first-half TD by jumping Cole Beasley’s out route. He jumped the exact same route on the Cowboys’ first possession of the second half and catapulted the Giants to a 17-13 lead. DRC wasn’t done, snatching another Cassel pass over the middle as the 4th quarter opened with the Cowboys again driving. S Brandon Meriweather took advantage of an awful Cassel pass midway through the third quarter and gave the G-Men the ball back at their own one-foot line. The former Cane did get bowled over by Darren McFadden on the Cowboys’ next possession, but Meriweather notched 7 tackles and a pick and was counted on heavily to shore up the back end of a fragile defense. And he did just that with a swat of a 3rd down pass late in the 4th quarter that helped snuff out the Cowboys’ final shot to score. CB Jayron Hosley wasn’t good at all. Hosley gave up big gains to Terrence Williams and got out-worked on a Brice Butler reception. If not for a bad Cassel pass, he was beaten badly on Meriweather’s interception. S Landon Collins notched 9 stops but he was slow in reacting to WR Devin Street and gave up the game-tying TD. Collins continued his rugged work against the run, spending plenty of time in the box, but he too shoulders some of the blame for the 233-yard mashing.

Special Teams

Special, neato, super, competent. None of these would describe the Giants’ special teams units under blackmail specialist Tom Quinn for several years, until now. Clearly Quinn’s 9-year plan is finally coming to fruition, he knew it all along. ST ace Dwayne Harris started the day with a drag down of Cole Beasley on P Brad Wing’s second punt and finished in style with a 100-yard, stadium-rocking kickoff return that punctuated an odd afternoon of weird statistics, big plays and Greg Hardy tirades. Credit LB Jonathan Casillas with an outstanding lead on Harris’ return. The coverage units were again outstanding, holding the Cowboys to 73 total return yards. Josh Brown, the cyborg kicker, again made all of his kicks.

Coaching

DC Steve Spagnuolo had no answers for a Cowboys’ running game that pounded out 233 yards. In their first 4 games, the Giants had the #1 rush defense in the league, giving up 279 yards and 69.75 ypg. In their last 3, the G-Men have surrendered 515 yards or 171.6 per game. That’s a full 100 yards per game MORE over our last 3 contests. That simply has to improve. Spags’ maddening decision to use DT Markus Kuhn extensively is reaching Tom Quinn-like proportions. What does Kuhn know and how does he know it? How is he using it to force his way onto the field and who if anyone can stop the big German? I’ll give Spags credit for dialing up a lot of pressure to force 3 interceptions. But I have to ask, what in the H E double hockey sticks is this? 3rd-and-4 and Kerry Wynn, Robert Ayers, Cullen Jenkins and George Selvie line up tight to put pressure on Matt Cassel…dun dun dunn or do they???

zoneb

zone2Yeah that’s right, 3 DL drop into coverage, Cassel misfires outside and DRC almost takes it to the house….a portend of things to come? Has ANYONE ever seen 3 DL drop into coverage???? This has to be a first for Spags.

When the Giants did use a 3-4 front with Ayers and Kennard at OLB, they fared much better against the Cowboys edge-heavy running game. But the Giants routinely returned to the 4-3 and the trampling continued for most of the contest. Credit Spags though for thoroughly confusing the veteran Cassel which led to 2 of the 3 interceptions the Giants used to pull this game out.

OC Ben McAdoo, I don’t know what to make of again. Darkwa explodes for 41 yards on 4 carries and then gets sprinkled in 4 more times total. Odell Beckham Jr. did very little and Eli Manning really only took two shots, one caught and one dropped. However, the running game worked better than it has all season with the addition of Darkwa. Credit McAdoo for adding in the former Tulane star; it paid off with 132 yards on the ground. So Mr. McAdoo, you stress balance in distributing the ball and you don’t like to threaten teams deep very often and it’s resulted in back-to-back poor output by your franchise QB and talented WRs. A win in this campaign though is a win even if your offense only managed 13 points against an outfit that surrendered 39 to the Falcons, 30 to the Patriots and 335 passing yards to the ghost of Drew Brees.

Cram it in your Cramhole Award

Greg Hardy, you sir may cram it in your cramhole. By it, I mean everything you can find – guns, clipboards, horrible rap CDs with your nails-on-a-chalkboard voice on them. Hardy simply didn’t show for practice last Thursday, slapped his ST Coach’s clip board out of his hand, continued going apey for several minutes and he wasn’t even listening to the Soggy Bottom Boys. Even Dez Bryant looked sane in comparison during the duos heated exchange following Harris’ TD return. We were able to contact Daniel in MI, who unofficially didn’t give us any audio that is not certainly accurate. But here’s what we found when reading the lips of Bryant and Hardy…or at least we had the clip running on the laptop while we decided on what to have for dinner. And the results are shocking and probably fabricated.

Dez Bryant: Y’all gettin’ any rain up your way?
Greg Hardy: What way would that be?
Dez Bryant: I seen you was from Dallas.
Greg Hardy: What business is it of yours where I’m from, friendo?
Dez Bryant: I didn’t mean nothin’ by it.
Greg Hardy: Didn’t mean nothin’.
Dez Bryant: I was just passin’ the time. If you don’t wanna accept that I don’t know what else to do for you. Will there be something else?
Greg Hardy: I don’t know. Will there?
Dez Bryant: Is somethin’ wrong?
Greg Hardy: With what?
Dez Bryant: With anything?
Greg Hardy: Is that what you’re asking me? Is there something wrong with anything?
Dez Bryant: Will there be anything else?
Greg Hardy: You already asked me that.
Dez Bryant: Well… I need to see about closin’.
Greg Hardy: See about closing.
Dez Bryant: Yessir.
Greg Hardy: What time do you close?
Dez Bryant: Now. We close now.
Greg Hardy: Now is not a time. What time do you close?

(Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants, October 25, 2015)
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New York Giants (December 16, 1962)

New York Giants (December 16, 1962)

Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants, October 25, 2015

THE STORYLINE:
We’re six games into the season with 10 regular-season games left to go. Everyone in the NFC East is still bunched together. At 0-2, the Giants looked dead in the water. But then Tony Romo and Dez Bryant got hurt in Dallas. And the Eagles, with their quarterback in particular, have looked mediocre at best. The Giants went on a three-game winning streak and unbelievably found themselves in first place in the division. They did so by playing hard and being more physical than their opponents.

That all changed last Monday night when the Giants continually shot themselves in the foot against the Eagles. Losing a football game because you make more mistakes than the other team is no great sin. But getting punched in the face by a division rival that has now beaten you 12 time in the last 15 games and rolling over is. The game was very much within reach still in the 3rd quarter, but the offense – which is supposed to be carry the team – went into a shell and for all intents and purposes, quit. A Philadelphia team that simply isn’t all that good bullied them into submission. The Giants were supposed to be past these type of uncompetitive blowouts.

“We just didn’t play the way we’ve been playing and, quite frankly, I was shocked by it,” said Tom Coughlin. “Where do these things come from and why at that point in time?…You keep moping along doing nothing…You can’t play like that. It’s too important…Do we remind them? We remind them so much they may be sick and tired of hearing about it.”

“We’ve got to be able to handle the big games,” said Coughlin. “The games where things don’t go our way, we’ve got to handle them better. You’ve got handle those situations better.”

So now the Giants find themselves at 3-3. Not great, but not bad. The problem is they are now 1-2 in a division that likely will not have a Wild Card playoff team. They now face the other team in the division that has owned them in recent years, as the Cowboys have won five in a row against the Giants and were a finger-tip away from winning seven in a row.

Ever since the Cowboys lost Romo and Bryant, Dallas’ strategy was simply to stay afloat until those two return. The Cowboys are close to succeeding despite their three-game losing streak because the division is so bad. The 2-3 Cowboys are 2-0 in the NFC East while the 3-3 Giants and 3-3 Eagles are 1-2 in the division. Bryant is on the verge of returning, and Romo may be back next month. Dallas has the best offensive line and defense in the division. If Dallas sweeps the Giants for the third year in a row, they have to like their chances of running away with NFC East.

On the other hand, if the Giants don’t win this game, they may be out of the division race before November for the third year in a row. Given the state of the NFC East (and the NFL) the last few years, that’s a very disturbing trend. But more may be at stake here than simply another lost season.

The Giants went into Philadelphia against a team that had not been playing well, and one that turned the football over four times in the game, and still lost by 20 points. The head coach of the Giants readily admits he was shocked and confused by the performance. Now the Giants will face the Romo-less Cowboys at home. If the Giants with $100 million franchise QB Eli Manning cannot beat either the Sam Bradford-led Eagles or Matt Cassel-led Cowboys in back-to-back weeks with the season on the line, then something is wrong and will have to change. There is no excuse for the Cowboys and Eagles dominating the Giants so completely in recent years. The new contract the Giants gave Manning in September guarantees they cannot trade or cut him in 2016. But everyone else is on the chopping block, including the coaching staff.

Win and arrow is pointing up. Lose, and the Giants will need a miracle to stay relevant despite being given a second chance this season. Ownership, management, coaches, medical/training staff, and players have no one to blame but themselves for the position they find themselves in. Team officials listed in the media guide other than the coaching staff should also be on notice here. Everyone’s gotten far too comfortable with the status quo.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • WR Odell Beckham (hamstring – questionable)
  • WR Rueben Randle (hamstring – probable)
  • WR Victor Cruz (calf – out)
  • OT Will Beatty (pectoral – on PUP/out)
  • DE Robert Ayers (hamstring – probable)
  • DT Johnathan Hankins (calf – probable)
  • LB Devon Kennard (hamstring – probable)
  • LB Jonathan Casillas (neck – questionable)
  • LB Jon Beason (knee – probable)
  • LB Uani ‘Unga (neck – questionable)
  • CB Prince Amukamara (pectoral – out)
  • CB Trumaine McBride (groin – questionable)
  • CB Trevin Wade (concussion – probable)
  • CB Brandon McGee (back – questionable)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
The Giants have a $100 million quarterback. They have invested two #1 draft picks, a #2 draft pick, and spent $17 million on a free agent offensive guard. They have arguably a top-5 wide receiver and one of the best pass-receiving backs in football. There is enough talent here to score more than 10 points in a game against your division rivals. Everything can’t be “perfect” for Eli Manning to carry this team. If it has to be perfect, than he really isn’t a franchise QB. The Giants’ defense was responsible for 17 of the 26 points scored in the first match-up against Dallas. And the Giants offense scored only 7 points against the Eagles. That’s 16 total offensive points in two games against the Cowboys and Eagles.

Dallas’ defense held the Giants to less than 300 yards of offense in the first game, and that was without two of their very best defensive players – DE Greg Hardy and LB Rolando McClain. Both players have given the Giants fits in the past (Hardy with the Panthers). The Cowboys now have the makings of a very, very good front seven with good players across the defensive line and at linebacker. The Cowboys will no doubt see what we saw on tape against the Eagles: they will focus on the Giants short passing game because they will trust their front seven to stuff the run, and trust their pass rush to get to Manning on any deeper passing attempts. More than anything, Dallas will simply expect to be the more physical football team since they saw what happened when Philly got rough with them.

Strategy will be important, but this game will be more about attitude. Are Ereck Flowers, Justin Pugh, Weston Richburg, Geoff Schwartz, Marshall Newhouse, the tight ends, and fullback tough enough? Can they generate room for the running backs and protect Eli Manning? Will “good” Eli show up against the Cowboys? The answers to those questions will determine the game.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
Though banged up, the Giants should have everyone on defense except for Prince Amukamara. If I’m Jason Garrett, I simply rely on my running game and defense to win this game. Matt Cassel is an upgrade over Brandon Weeden as he has started 72 regular-season games in this league. He just has to manage the game. So the game-plan is pretty clear for New York. Stuff the run and don’t let all-time Giants-killer Jason Witten beat you. Make Cassel and his wide receivers beat you. A huge match-up in this game will be the nickel back (McBride or Wade) against Cole Beasley. The Giants also need a strong performance out of Jayron Hosley, who will be filling in for Amukamara for the second game in a row. The Cowboys sometimes will cross the Giants up too by passing to the back-up tight ends. Get off of the field on third down and get the ball back for the offense in good field position. Running game, Witten, Beasley…those are the three keys.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
The Cowboys special teams have taken a step back this year. The Giants need to come up big here not only in coverage, but in the return game.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Tom Coughlin: “We’ve got to be able to handle the big games.”

THE FINAL WORD:
This is as big as it gets during the regular season. The Giants attempted to remain relevant in must-win games against the Dallas Cowboys at MetLife Stadium in each of the last two seasons and came up short. Ominously, they find themselves in the same position again, this time against a back-up quarterback and a team missing its top offensive weapon. If the third time isn’t the charm, then something is seriously wrong. I don’t want to be talking draft in November for the third year in a row.

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Philadelphia Eagles 27 – New York Giants 7

Overview

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

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

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

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Quarterbacks

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

Running Backs

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

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

Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Wide Receivers

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

Tight Ends

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

Offensive Line

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

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

Defensive Line

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

Linebackers

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

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

Jayron Hosley – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Defensive Backs

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

Special Teams

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

Coaching

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

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

Anatomy of a Run

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

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

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

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

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

Cram it in your Cramhole Award

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

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

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

Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles, October 19, 2015

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

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

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

THE INJURY REPORT:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oct 132015
 
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Forrest_Gump_running_alabama_jenny

New York Giants 30 – San Francisco 49ers 27

Superstitious Beginnings

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

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

Hanging out while our Gump takes the field.

Hanging out while our Gump takes the field.

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

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

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

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

Game Overview

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

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

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

Offense

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

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

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

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Quarterback

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

Running Backs

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

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

Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Wide Receivers

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

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

Larry Donnell – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Tight Ends

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

Offensive Line

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

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

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 1.43.54 PM

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

Defense

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

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

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

Defensive Line

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

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

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

Big hole left by Moore and Collins.

Big hole left by Moore and Collins.

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

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

Linebackers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defensive Backs

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

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

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

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

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

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

Special Teams

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

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

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

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

Artwork by Chris in Philly

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

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

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

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

THE INJURY REPORT:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oct 062015
 
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the-big-lebowski

New York Giants 24 – Buffalo Bills 10

Gratuitous Introduction

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

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

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

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

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Quarterbacks

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

Running Backs

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

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

Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Wide Receivers

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

Tight Ends

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

Offensive Line

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

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

Kerry Wynn – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Defensive Line

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

Linebackers

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

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

Prince Amukamara – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Defensive Backs

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

Special Teams

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

Coaching

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

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

Inside the Backside (don’t be gross)

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

cutback1

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

cutback2

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

cutback3

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

cutback4

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

Cram it in your Cramhole Award

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

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

Mark Herzlich and Jay Bromley – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants at Buffalo Bills, October 4, 2015

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

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

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

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

THE INJURY REPORT:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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