Nov 302013
 
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Andre Brown, New York Giants (November 24, 2013)

Andre Brown – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Dallas Cowboys 24 – New York Giants 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not good enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jerry Reese and John Mara – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 27 – Green Bay Packers 13

by Joey in VA for BigBlueInteractive.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New York Giants 24 – Oakland Raiders 20

by Joey in VA for BigBlueInteractive.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rueben Randle – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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

Giants on Offense:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giants on Special Teams:

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

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

Nov 082013
 
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Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants (October 10, 2013)

Jason Pierre-Paul – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Approach to the Game – Oakland Raiders at New York Giants, November 10, 2013: The strategic goal is obvious: win the next two games and improve the overall record to 4-6 in order to play meaningful back-to-back games against the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins. There is no margin for error. The Giants only have themselves to blame for that. But the fact that they are still in the race, despite their record and last-place standing in the NFC East, should give them faith that someone upstairs is willing to give them a second chance. So why not have some fun and run with it? The pressure is not on the Giants, but the Dallas Cowboys.

The Giants could be primed for a second-half run. Aside obviously from the players on Injured Reserve, the Giants should be getting healthier. They have only played two football games in the last 30 days. New York has been playing better football: cutting down turnovers, running the ball better, and most importantly, playing very good defense.

But the Raiders – who have a better record than the Giants – may not be the pushover some think they are. Oakland’s defense looked terrible against the Eagles, but their defense had actually been an improving strength of the team, despite 10 new starters. And mobile running quarterbacks have given the Giants fits. Last but not least, the Giants’ special teams keep giving up scores. In short, this one is no gimme.

New York Giants on Offense: The Giants have clearly adjusted their offense. They are now emphasizing the short-passing game in combination with a no-nonsense straight-ahead running game in order to cut down the all of those 3rd-and-longs and turnovers that were sabotaging the offense. It’s not pretty. After all, the sum total of the Giants’ offensive output two weeks ago was five field goals. But the Giants’ offense did not turn the ball over and dramatically won the time of possession battle. With the way the defense is playing right now, that may enough. At least in the short term.

The running game has improved. There haven’t been any 20+ yard runs, but the Giants are keeping the chains moving. The power running game would be stronger with a more physical, more talented interior trio on the offensive line, but the Giants have to work with what they have. Now is not the time to keep tinkering with the line. There are only eight games left and there is no time for that. There also aren’t many other options. That will have to come in free agency and the draft next year.

David Wilson (neck) is done for the season and Brandon Jacobs (hamstring/knee) won’ t play in this one. So look for a heavy dose of Peyton Hillis with Andre Brown (who is coming off of temporary IR) getting Michael Cox’s former touches. Ground and pound up front behind FB John Conner. It won’t be easy. The Raiders are actually sixth in the NFL in run defense, allowing less than 95 yards per game.

The Giants might want to mix things up early on with the short passing game, especially to Hillis, Brown, and former Raider TE Brandon Myers. Quick passes to Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks may be in order too. Get a Raider defense that is likely to play the run first, to back up some. That said, the Giants may have some opportunities for some big plays down the field, depending on how the Raiders approach this game. Leading up to the Raiders-Eagles game, the Raiders had featured much more blitzing and attacking up front, and that worked well for them. Against the Eagles, the Raiders did not blitz as much, trying to rely on their down linemen to generate pressure and that backfired. Look for the Raiders to emphasize the blitz more this weekend. If they do, Cruz, Nicks, and Rueben Randle will be left in some one-on-one opportunities. And the Raiders had problems defending passes down the field last week. The key? Can the offensive line, tight ends, and backs give Eli enough time to take some shots down the field?  If they can, we may see the return of some explosive big plays from New York’s offense. CB D.J. Hayden of the Raiders had all kinds of issues against the Eagles when the Raiders were in their nickel package.  (Late note: Hayden has been ruled of the game due to injury).

Much also depends on Nicks and Randle. Victor Cruz is getting double teamed by every opponent. Nicks and Randle have to win their one-on-one matchups.

If the Raiders play it safer, and force the Giants to put together long drives, then New York will have to take what the Raiders give them. Run the football, short passing game – just like against the Vikings and Eagles. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot with penalties and turnovers.

New York Giants on Defense: Critics charge the Giants’ defensive improvement is more due to the inept quarterbacks they have played recently. That remains to be seen, but my gut says it’s more than that. Jon Beason has been a tremendous addition both in terms of on-field productivity and leadership. Will Hill has also had a big impact and Antrel Rolle may be playing his best football as a Giant. Combine that with solid cornerback play, stout defensive tackles, and defensive ends who are finally showing some life, then the recipe may be in place for a strong defensive performance for the remainder of the 2013 season.

But… and it’s a big but… (insert Pee Wee Herman joke here)… the Giants are facing one of those dreaded option-type mobile quarterbacks this week in Terrelle Pryor. In fact, Pryor may be the most dangerous quarterback in the NFL when he decides to run it, as evidenced by his 93-yard touchdown against the Steelers. He’s big, he’s strong, and he’s fast. And he’s rushed for almost 500 yards, averaging almost eight yards per carry. The Giants will have to be much more disciplined against him than they were against Robert Griffin in 2012 and Michael Vick before he strained his hamstring this year. It’s not just the ends maintaining outside leverage, but the defensive tackles can’t vacate their rush lanes. The good news is that with Jon Beason and Jacquian Williams starting, the Giants are more athletic now too at the second level, especially if they continue to use their three-safety package.

In this game, it’s all about stopping the run. RB Darren McFadden (hamstring) may be out, but RB Rashad Jennings is a no-nonsense, between-the-tackles runner who can keep the chains moving. He is also adept at catching the ball out of the backfield.

Up front, the Raider offensive line is a bit of a mess. Like the Giants, there have been a lot of injuries and lot of patchwork with many different lineup combinations. Pryor is not a good passer at this point. The Raiders do have a deep threat in WR Denarious Moore. With issues on the offensive line, look for Pryor to try to get the ball out quickly to the backs and tight ends, then to take off if those targets are covered. If the Giants can stop inside ground game of Jennings and limit Pryor’s damage on the ground, the Giants should have no problem stopping this offense. But to do this, the Giants have to play more disciplined run defense against a mobile quarterback than they have to date.

New York Giants on Special Teams: The Giants’ special teams are responsible for four touchdowns scored against New York already this year. Minus David Wilson, the kickoff return game has not been very productive, and neither has the punt return game. The good news is that both Giants’ kickers to be out of their funks. The Raiders’ returners have struggled this year to produce good field position.

Nov 052013
 
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Brandon Jacobs, New York Giants (October 27, 2013)

Brandon Jacobs – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 15 – Philadelphia Eagles 7

by Joey in VA for BigBlueInteractive.com

Game Review: Determined to let Chip Kelly try his hand at the “Time of possession doesn’t matter” game, the Giants had a very clear plan in Philadelphia in seeking win number 2 of the 2013 campaign. Knowing that Kelly’s Eagles have vacillated between unstoppable and dreadful on offense, Tom Coughlin and company again went to an old formula: Run the ball, protect the football and eat the clock to keep a dangerous offense off the field. Coupled with a stifling defensive effort, the Giants’ offense was just enough to overcome Giant killers LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson…and the Giants’ own version of the failboat, aka the special teams units.

Inside the Game Plan: Seeking to neutralize McCoy, the Giants came out with a coverage scheme designed to keep #25 in green in check. Playing with their usual 4-man front, the Giants deployed Antrel Rolle and Terrell Thomas as almost OLBs, or the Big Nickel Safety, along with LBs Jon Beason and Jacquian Williams. On obvious running situations (almost always on 1st and 2nd down) wherever McCoy went, Rolle and Terrell Thomas followed, each acting as a spy depending on the side of the field McCoy lined up towards. It almost resembled a 4-4 defense at times with both Rolle and Thomas playing at LB depth and staying home until McCoy got up field. The one on the side McCoy didn’t venture to, stayed shallow, causing a lot of traffic for an Eagle passing game that loves to attack the interior of the defense with their WRs/TEs/RBs abilities’ to make yards after the catch. What you ended up with was a modified Cover-2 with S Will Hill playing the joker/rover roll and rolling up on any receiver that went free if Thomas or Rolle had to sneak up into box in run support, or dropping deep if the Eagles emptied the backfield. Credit Perry Fewell with a simple, but very effective, scheme that used Rolle, Thomas and Hill as a LB, S or CB depending on where McCoy was and who came out in pass routes. By using two of the three as boundary defenders against McCoy, no matter what happened behind them, Fewell was able to almost totally neutralize McCoy, holding the former Pitt Panther to 48 yards on 15 carries and only 18 yards on four receptions. Fewell identified, isolated and shut down the opponent’s best player and the rest fell into place defensively.

After an opening three-and-out and a punt designed to keep DeSean Jackson from flashing gang signs on his way to the end zone, the Giants’ defense came up with the first of many stops that would define this afternoon. Rolle picked off a pass as the lone deep safety with man coverage underneath that put the Giants in business at their own 21. Nine plays later, Josh Brown gave the Giants their first lead at 3-0 with a 40-yard field goal. The defense dialed up the heat again, with Antrel Rolle again keying the stop with a sack of Michael Vick to force the first of six Eagle punts on the day. The Giants, spurred by a 27-yard grab by TE Brandon Myers, embarked on a 45-yard, 7-play drive that again ended with only a FG. But the Giants were up 6-0 and slowly taking control of the game. On their next possession, the Eagles would again punt, thanks to good pressure up the gut from DT Linval Joseph and consistent edge push from DE Justin Tuck.

The Giants would take advantage again, scoring on their third straight possession, behind two clutch 3rd down passes from Eli Manning to Victor Cruz and Jerrel Jernigan, respectively. Despite only 48 yards on the drive, the Giants chewed up 5:31 en route to Josh Browns’ 33-yarder that made it a 9-0 bulge. As the 2nd quarter opened, the Giants again stifled Gang Green, limiting the Eagles to a 16-yard drive that ended in the third punt of the day for the home team. Stop me if you’ve heard this, but the Giants threw together another FG drive, their fourth in a row that pushed the lead to 12-0. After QB Mike Vick departed with a hamstring strain, QB Matt Barkley provided a bit of a spark, driving the Eagles 68 yards down to the Giants’ 2-yard line, but it was Terrell Thomas, hustling in pursuit, who came up with a strip sack of Barkley that Jacquian Williams recovered to preserve the 12-0 lead going into the half.

To call the second half boring would be doing a disservice to anything labeled as boring. After the Eagles eschewed common football rules, which Chip Kelly admittedly hates, and went for it on 4th down and failed, the teams traded two three-and-outs a piece (and piling up an impressive 18 yards on four drives) until the Giants finally broke through again after a shanked 29-yard Eagle punt. Much like my reviews, the Giants took far too long to accomplish far too little, capping off a 32-yard, 9-play drive that ate up 5:58 and put the Giants up 15-0. That lead would hold until P Steve Weatherford’s punt that never was, got recovered by the Eagles in the end zone for a TD that tainted the final score at 15-7. The Eagles had another shot to tie late in the game but one of the big three, S Will Hill, intercepted the Eagles at the Giant 38. Win number two, which was as fun as a number two, was in the books.

Quarterbacks: Coming into the week 8 matchup with the Eagles, Eli Manning had thrown 15 interceptions on the season, just over two per game and in that stat alone the Giants’ season to date is crystallized. After a 200-yard and zero-INT day against the Vikings, the former Rebel went without throwing an interception for the second week in a row and the result was a Giant victory. Coincidence? Not by a long shot. Manning finished with 246 yards passing and instead of forcing the ball downfield was again happy with check downs, as noted by his 3.53 yard difference between his yardage per attempt and per completion (more on that later). Manning converted some critical 3rd downs with shorter, safer passes and played smart, safe football all day, something that is becoming a necessity with an inexperienced OL (at least in terms of playing the same five weekly) and a struggling running game. The time to take deep shots simply isn’t there as often as it has been in the past. Credit Manning and Kevin Gilbride for making the adjustments to a safer passing game that is augmenting the run and converting when necessary.

TPRR: For the second week in a row, Manning’s yards per completion were under 9.9. The Giants are 2-0 when that number is less than 9.9 and 0-6 when it’s higher. Perhaps more telling if you dig a little deeper is something I have temporarily anointed TPRR (The Pass Risk Ratio). Completely unscientific, but if you subtract the yards per attempt from yards per completion, a trend appears in our mini-streak. In the previous six games, all painful losses, the Giants’ TPRR ranged from 4.74 to 7.88. While not an earth shattering range here, the games under 4.0 were both wins. These were games in which the Giants led most of the way and were not forced to take shots downfield, or perhaps that was by design given the big disparity in yards per completion. As you can see in my completely fabricated analysis below, when the TPRR is sub 4.0 we win, above and we lose. It’s not a predictor as much as a look at what happened and perhaps why. When the Giants are content with check downs, shorter passes and taking what the defense gives them, they don’t rely on so many dangerous shots downfield, the running game is augmented by the short pass and you have in theory, a more efficient, albeit much less dangerous offense. Given the way this defense has shut down the run this season, this formula will work if that continues and Eli and company continue to play sound football and embark on longer, slower more conservative drives that result in points and punts rather than turnovers.

2013-Giants at Eagles Graphic

Running Backs: Rookie RB Michael “Oh he’s cute” Cox got the starting nod for the G-Men and finished with a 19-yard, 9-carry effort and one reception for 11 yards. 30 yards isn’t a lot to get excited about, but let’s stay positive here: no fumbles, no missed blitz pickups and no damage to his apparently handsome face (more on that later). Cox’s best effort of the day was a well-executed counter that Cox made a decisive move on and cut off tackle for a solid run. HB Peyton Hillis again churned along slowly, proving that for now, the tortoise will beat the hare with this current OL. Hillis cranked out a pedestrian 3.5 yards per carry and toted 20 times for 70 yards, adding 3 grabs for 15. He again provided strong blitz pickups and positive gains on the ground that seem to have steadied this offense. FB John Conner had one catch for 12 yards and was again a load on lead plays, assisting Hillis to his modest but effective total.

Wide Receivers: WR Jerrel Jernigan is first up this week since he made the first catch of the game, a 9-yard doozy on 3rd and 10. Running the route to the stick would have helped and kept the offense on the field; it’s the little things like that keeping Jernigan from being a reliable target. The suddenly maligned Hakeem Nicks seemed to have his timing with Manning back, pulling 7 catches for 51 yards. Victor Cruz was again bottled up deep, but contributed with 86 yards on 7 receptions to pace the Giants’ WR corps. Cruz’s biggest contribution was on a perfect pass from Manning and a perfect route that converted a 3rd-and-5 on the Giants third scoring drive of the day. Rueben Randle was essentially a non-factor the whole game, dropping one crossing route at the Eagles 7-yard line that should have been caught.

Tight Ends: TE Brandon Myers had 42 yards on three grabs, the long of which put the Giants in position for their second FG drive of the day. Larry Donnell got himself open in the end zone, but ran his route too deep and his catch was well out of bounds as the Giants had to settle for a third Josh Brown field goal.

Offensive Line: Another solid day for the OL. Manning was only dropped once and the big five up front led the way to five scoring drives and were able to sustain enough push to make the running game viable, if not dangerous. LT Will Beatty kept DE Trent Cole in check most of the day, only really surrendering an early pressure to another Eagle who gives the Giants fits. As opposed to the oddball way of using T James Brewer against Minnesota, in which Brewer lined up at LT with LT Will Beatty moving to blocking TE, Brewer was used in this game as that big TE and plugged in both sides on obvious running plays. It’s clear that when Hillis is in the game, this unit is playing with a little more attitude and starting to get a lot more push up front to keep this offense slowly moving along.

Defensive Line: Despite the fact that two of the Giants officially credited four sacks came from DBs, the font four played another strong game. By staying disciplined in their rush lanes, the Giants’ DL mates were able to prevent any big creases and cut back lanes that the Eagles have tortured the Giants with in recent years. DT Linval Joseph was a load up front, with several pressures and a sack. He was held sackless again, but DE Justin Tuck was consistently getting pressure and playing with an edge that was not there in the first six weeks.

Linebackers: A relatively quiet day for the LBs, but that was a good thing, with Rolle and Thomas essentially playing OLBs on a lot of plays. LB Jacquian Williams did an outstanding job in coverage all day, consistently shutting down whoever he ran downfield with and coming up with a huge fumble recovery to snuff out the Eagles after they had driven to the Giant 2-yard line. Williams also snuffed out an Eagle drive with a great pass breakup at the first down marker. Jon Beason again led the bunch four stops, and combined with Williams, were able to limit any real damage after the catch most of the day.

Defensive Backs: For the second week in a row, S Antrel Rolle made some noise, with an early INT and sack of Michael Vick on back-to-back drives. Rolle finished with five stops, a sack, INT and forced fumble. Fewell’s utilization of Rolle, S Will Hill and CB Terrell Thomas was simple as noted in my game summary: they boxed in LeSean McCoy on both sides, abandoning any coverage behind them when McCoy was in the game and looking to run, and the result was the Eagles HB being shut down all day long. Thomas, who pulled in the “NFC’s Defensive Player of the Week” award, finished with 11 stops, and a strip sack of QB Matt Barkley that snuffed out the Eagles’ best drive of the day. Thomas is being deployed to do what he does best: make open field tackles, limit long gains and provide a safety net between the CBs and safeties. Thomas’ comeback from his litany of injuries is a testament to his hard work, determination and very evident talent on the football field. S Will Hill sealed the game with an INT and chipped in with five tackles, again proving very strong in run support and just as adept at deep coverage.

Special Teams: Tough day for LS Zak (I keep typing Steve) DeOssie, who was flagged for an illegal snap on a FG attempt and launched a punt over P Steve Weatherford’s head for the Eagles only score of the day. Weatherford was outstanding, twice pinning the Eagles inside their 5, dropping 3 inside the 20 and negating DeSean Jackson with accurate directional punts. A long of 68 contributed to a 43.8 yard per punt average for the ex-Jet, as #5 continues to rebound from his early season hiccups. K Josh Brown did all the scoring, going 5-for-5 on FGs.

NFLW (NFL for Women): This week I am adding a possibly regular feature known as NFL for women. It’s not a guide to football watching, anything pink with a Giant logo or a suggestion that women play football. Simply put, it’s funny to watch games with my Giant-backing female family members because one of them always says something ridiculous, hilarious or both. My wife and niece watch faithfully each week, both outfitted in Giants’ gear and excited for about 15 minutes until they re-discover their shared love for all things Celebrity Gossip, E! and HGTV along with what J. Crew has that is “so cute” this season. Both were saddened by the departure last year of DJ Ware and this year’s shuttling of David Carr in favor of Curtis Painter “ew, he’s like Jude Law with a smushed head.” Luckily the Giants heard the outcry and drafted the chiseled countenance of RB Michael Cox who spawned my favorite quote of this disastrous season. After his picture was found on Giants.com, one of them said “I hope we get to see a lot more Cox today”…I won’t say who out of respect.

Cram it in your Cramhole Award: I’m giving this one to Chip Kelly for ignoring the fact that time of possession does matter in the NFL when your talent is essentially even week to week. Kelly’s desire to run such an up tempo offense wore his defense out, and his running game’s inability to get started doomed his team’s chances. Kelly’s whiz bang offense amassed a pathetic 200 yards and held the ball for only 21 minutes and 55 seconds. I’m not a guy who roots for failure, but when a college coach who is sure he’s reinvented the game gets clobbered, it’s simply more satisfying. That and it’s the Eagles, who I loathe more than words can explain.

(Boxscore – New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles, October 27, 2013)
Oct 252013
 
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Justin Tuck, New York Giants (October 6, 2013)

Justin Tuck – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles, October 27, 2013: In 1994, the Giants started the season 3-0. The team then lost seven games in a row. At 3-7, the season looked over. But with Dave Brown at quarterback, a decent running game, and an improving defense, the Giants won their final six games and just barely missed the playoffs. And the game that started them off on that winning streak was an ugly, ugly 13-10 win against a lowly Houston Oilers team.

The good news is that the Giants are not dead. And even counting the losses to the Eagles and Bears, the team is clearly playing better. The Giants are playing more physically on both sides of the football and new additions John Conner, Jon Beason, and Peyton Hillis have helped. The defensive line showed signs of coming out of its funk against the Vikings.

The bad news is the Giants no longer have any room for error. Simply put, the Eagles game is as “must” a game as one can get. We all thought the same thing heading into each of the four previous losses, and yet those games were all losses. The Vikings game proved that if the Giants can win the turnover battle, they can win the game, but they got lucky too, with two lucky bounces on fumbles and a dropped pick-6. And Josh Freeman was horrible.

But like the game against the Oilers in 1994, the Giants may just have needed a win, no matter how ugly it was, to start turning things around. False hope? We shall soon find out.

What we do know is this – something has to give. The Eagles have lost nine home games in a row, the last victory being – you guessed it – against the New York Giants. At the same time, the once “road warrior” Giants have lost eight away games in a row. Both teams have issues. But when these two teams get together, there are usually some interesting fireworks.

Giants on Offense: It’s about the turnovers. If the Giants don’t turn over the ball, they probably win. There were no offensive turnovers against Minnesota, but as mentioned, the Giants got a bit lucky too. What was interesting was the strong commitment to the running game, despite the lack of overall productivity (two yards per carry), and even more importantly, the focus on the short passing game to the running backs and fullback. Given the chaotic state of the offensive line, where has the latter been all year? Will that continue? Hillis may lack wiggle, but he seems to have a knack for being a factor in the passing game, as was demonstrated in Cleveland as well. If the Eagles focus most of their attention on the wide receivers, Hillis could continue to do some damage catching the football.

A key question is will Brandon Jacobs (hamstring) be able to play? And if he does, how effective will he be? He had an inspirational game against the Bears and it would be better for the Giants to have his veteran presence in the lineup in the hostile Philly environment rather than the inexperienced Michael Cox. John Conner has been a tremendous addition to the Giants and Conner, Jacobs, and Hillis bring a physicality to the offense that was missing earlier in the season. Eagle defenders have talked about it themselves this week. Jacobs is officially doubtful for the game. If I’m the Giants, I play him. If the Giants lose this game, the season is over. If they lose Jacobs, Andre Brown will be back after the bye week.

The Eagles’ defense was atrocious to start the year, but has played much better since – yup – the Giants game. Their best game of the season was last week against the Cowboys, even though Dallas ended up winning that game. Philadelphia is aggressive and chaotic up front, and they dare you to beat their big corners outside, who play tight, aggressive coverage. In the last Giants-Eagles game, the Giants receivers were doing some damage against the Eagles secondary with quicker passes, then the Giants, for some reason, moved away from that. The temptation will be there to use the deep ball – the 7-step drop and go for the throat. And I do think the Giants should take a couple of shots. But a steady diet of shorter drops, quicker throws did work, is better suited for a shaky offensive line. It’s up to the wide receivers to win those one-on-one match-ups. If they do, and Eli takes care of the football, they will be able to move the ball. The Eagles seem to bring out the best in Rueben Randle, and Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz are due for big games.

Obviously, much depends on the offensive line. Cordle is now the center for the remainder of the year. He’s actually been decent, but teams have been testing the Giants’ center and guards with inside pressure. This is another reason to get rid of the ball more quickly. The Eagles are going to try to confuse and intimidate the front. They will want to stuff the running game and make the Giants one-dimensional. The Giants must, absolutely must, stay out of third-and-long situations.

The big dilemma is this: can the Giants afford to be patient with the running game early against a defense that is likely to stack against the run? If they were playing the Vikings, yes because the Vikings couldn’t move the ball. But I don’t think they can do that against the Eagles unless the Giants simply can out-man them across the board up front. But I don’t have that much confidence that the offensive line and tight ends will be able to do that on a consistent basis early. It would be great if the Giants could simply out-power and run over the Eagles, but I’m not sure I would take that chance. I would come out throwing quickly to the backs and receivers, and then come back hard with the running game once the Eagles are more back on their heels. Unlike the Vikings, the Eagles are going to score; the Giants must keep pace.

Giants on Defense: Not to sound like a broken record, but it’s about defending LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, and Michael Vick – and in that order. Also, watch out for those tight ends, including Brent Celek who has a history of making that one play that hurts New York, and the emerging Zach Ertz, who has become a security blanket for Eagles’ quarterbacks.

The Giants did an excellent job of McCoy in the first game, but still lost the game. That would seem to suggest he isn’t the most important cog. I would vehemently disagree with that. McCoy is still the straw that stirs the Eagles’ offense, both as a runner (leading the NFL in rushing) and receiver (third-leading receiver on team). If you keep McCoy in check, your chances of winning the game improve dramatically.

Jackson had a big game against the Giants in Week 5 with seven catches for 132 yards and one touchdown as he was covered by both Trumaine McBride and Prince Amukamara. Both will probably be on the spot again. McBride had a chance to pick off a pass last time against Jackson, but the ball went through his hands on a 56-yard reception. He obviously is the explosive, deep-play guy you have to keep in check.

Vick (hamstring) returns for the first time since – yup – the Giants game. He hurt New York more with his feet than his passing. And it wasn’t so much about getting to the edges and the defensive ends not containing, but it was the defensive tackles who allowed him to scramble up the middle. Will the hamstring impact his ability to scramble? Regardless, pocket discipline by the line is probably more important than sacks this week. I’m sure fans don’t want to hear that, but you can’t allow Vick to run for 20-yard chunks or you are going to lose the game. DT Shaun Rogers (knee) is doubtful so pressure will be on Mike Patterson and Johnathan Hankins to perform as reserves.

Giants on Special Teams: Obviously the special teams coverage units are really hurting the Giants right now. The Giants have given up three long touchdowns on punt returns and they almost gave up a 109-yard kickoff return against the Vikings in addition to the 86-yard punt return.

The Giants’ return game has been anemic. Could Eagle-killer Randle finally break one here?

One area where the Giants have been flashing is rushing the punter. They seem to come close to blocking a punt almost every week.

Oct 252013
 
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Peyton Hillis, New York Giants (October 21, 2013)

Peyton Hillis Celebrates His Touchdown – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 23 – Minnesota Vikings 7

by Joey in VA for BigBlueInteractive.com

Game Review: The New World. Within a week of the most ridiculous of Federal holidays, Columbus Day, the Giants got a taste of what it must have been like back in fourteen hundred and ninety two when Columbus sailed the ocean blue and landed…here instead of his intended India. A monumental discovery no doubt, but in his infinite wisdom Columbus thought he HAD landed in India, named the natives Indians and was the impetus for a dizzying array of highly offensive sports nicknames and the eventual dislodging of America’s native peoples in a not so nice way. I know what certain BBI contributors are thinking “Another Fozzie Bear type review from a hack comedian”, but in this intro I have a point, albeit not a strong one. The Giants discovered their own new world, Victory and like Columbus before them, they stumbled and bumbled their way through it, but it may be the day that we all point to as a day the Giants vanquished the ignominious O fer in their O for 6 record. Is it what the crown (The Mara Family) intended when they funded this journey (the 2013 season)? Not quite, but like Columbus in his day there is no reason the Giants can’t pull a Pee-Wee Herman and say “I meant to do that”.

In a game rife with mistakes, the Giants made fewer, and that’s really the crux of this game and sadly the season to date. With David Wilson, Andre Brown, Da’Rel Scott and Brandon Jacobs either injured or sitting home the Giants turned to 7th round pick Michael Cox and former Madden Cover Boy Peyton Hillis to save their spiraling season. From the opening gun, which should have been used to put viewers down humanely, the Giants had one plan and one plan only; to control the clock, shorten the game and limit mistakes. It worked during two recent Super Bowl runs and it was again the formula for victory despite its ugly appearance. The Giants embarked on a trail of tears type of drive as the game opened, grinding out a 17-play, 68-yard drive that ate up 9:36 and resulted in a 35-yard Josh Brown FG and a 3-0 lead. Despite little running room, the Giants remained patient on the ground, didn’t force anything down field and put together a solid, if unspectacular opening drive. That’s lead as in being ahead, not the dangerous paint additive that insulates one against nuclear fallout, though it felt like nuclear winter for much of the night.

The 3-0 lead was short lived sadly, as the Giants unspecial teams gave up an all-too-easy 86-yard punt return to CB Marcus Sherels who barely had to break stride en route to the end zone. At some point, Tom Quinn has to be held accountable for the awful special teams’ performance this year. After trading punts, the Giants put together a 7-play, 82-yard scoring drive highlighted by a 23-yard pass interference penalty against Nicks by rookie CB Xavier Rhodes. One play later, Manning found WR Rueben Randle on a back shoulder throw down the left sideline for a 24-yard TD and a 10-7 lead that was outrageously safe with new Viking QB Josh Freeman simply giving the Minnesota offense no chance to succeed. Freeman’s best sequence was back-to-back completions on the Vikings next drive, hitting Adrian Peterson and Kyle Rudolph for 22 and 21 yards respectively. The drive failed after the Giants completely stifled Adrian Peterson on back-to-back runs and Freeman failed to convert a 3rd and 8 that led to a missed 53-yard field goal and the Vikings last real threat of the evening. The teams traded four more punts to end the first half with a 10-3 Giant lead.

Naturally as the 3rd quarter unfolded, catastrophe struck again after the Giants forced another three-and-out and the Vikings were forced to punt to Rueben Randle. Randle, of course since this is our unlucky 2013 season and it is special teams, fumbled the punt away at the Giant 31-yard line and disaster appeared ready yet again. Fortunately for Randle, S Antrel Rolle picked off Freeman at the Giant 5-yard line two plays later to grant Special Teams Coordinator Tom Quinn yet another escape that would have Rasputin asking him for survival tips. At some point those nudies of Coughlin that Quinn clearly has will stop working and he’ll be shown the door but until then it’s punt return TDs for EVERYONE!!! The repeated failures on special teams are nothing short of sickening. Three more awful drives later, the Giants special teams recovered a mishandled punt at the Viking 3-yard line, and Peyton Hillis punched it in two plays later for a 17-3 lead that would hold up all evening with two more Josh Brown field goals tossed in for a merciful end to the losing streak and this abysmal game. Giants win….that’s right WIN 23-7. Uglier than my first girlfriend, but just as satisfying that we finally got it done.

Quarterbacks: Eli Manning essentially got his drive train back to neutral, nothing great, but more importantly nothing disastrous en route to a 200 yard 1-TD and zero-interception performance. The worst thing the Giants captain and signal caller did was look like a baby calf at a rodeo as he was hauled down by one meaty paw of Vikings DE Jared Allen. Manning was able to convert the Giants first first down with an ungainly 6-yard gallop on 3rd and 5 in keeping with the ugly theme of the night. Manning almost short circuited the Giants’ opening drive on a misfire to TE Larry Donnell, who was eaten by an apparent turf monster on his way to running a post. Manning converted two 3rd and 3 opportunities on the opening drive, but just missed hitting a wide open Hakeem Nicks on another in the end zone that should have been a 7-0 lead. Manning misfired badly again on a Hillis safety valve route that could have easily gone for 20+ yards but Eli hurried the throw, didn’t set his feet and fired too hard and too high again. Two drives, two wide open misses for absolutely no reason. Manning did however trust RB Peyton Hillis enough to wisely use him as a checkdown option instead of forcing too many deep throws and it was simply enough to win which for the two-time Lombardi Winner has to feel pretty good at this point. Give Eli credit, he was patient and methodical, leading the Giants on 16- and 17-play scoring drives, both of which combined to eat up 18:07 of game clock. When all else fails, ball control to the rescue.

Running Backs: One week after Brandon Jacobs bulled his way to 106 yards, the Giants leading rusher was Chief, Brown and Buccaneer castoff Peyton Hillis who slowly churned to 36 yards on 18 agonizing carries. Hillis wasn’t great, but per the theme of this evening he wasn’t terrible either which was enough. Hillis’ main contribution was as a reliable check down option in which he managed 45 yards on five catches and provided Manning with an outlet when his makeshift OL was unable to slow down the Vikings pass rush. Hillis was able to do what Giant backs have yet to master, check for unblocked rushers and leak out down field to provide an option for Eli Manning. Credit Hillis’ time in former Giant QB coach Mike Sullivan’s offense in Tampa Bay for his ability to come in and contribute solid minutes after just days on the team. Rookie Michael Cox had little room to operate and was only capable of 23 yards on 11 carries but again, no major gaffes and more importantly no turnovers. Cox showed some burst on his first run that went for seven yards, but was hemmed in most of night by a Viking front that was rarely fooled by the Giants running game. At first glance, it looked as if Cox had an OK night, taking some short dive plays early for positive yardage, but his late game negative runs skewed the box score a bit in the Vikings’ favor. Cox definitely showed the ability to hit the hole quickly and grind ahead for positive yards; his big losses came on more ill-advised wide running plays that don’t play to Cox’s strength. FB John Conner chipped in with 17 yards on three outlet catches and again showed some burst from the lead back slot, slamming ahead to clear the way for Hillis’ 1-yard 3rd quarter TD plunge. If you do one thing watching these games, pay attention to Conner when he’s the lead on any ISO plays. It is a treat to watch his short area explosiveness in the running game.

Wide Receivers: WR Rueben Randle was the only Giant WR who got on the board, hauling in a 24-yard back shoulder fade from Manning in the 2nd quarter in which he swooped over his defender and made a catch good enough to make you forget his unforced route errors the previous few weeks. Randle finished with 40 yards and only three catches, but he made his longest one count and his first grab was a key 3rd and 3 conversion on a well-run curl route just inside of LB Chad Greenway. Randle, unlike in previous weeks, read the outside coverage correctly and wisely cut his route inside to pick up the first down. It was only eights yards, but a good sign for the second-year wide out that he’s cleaning up the little route misreads he’s made that have resulted in some ugly turnovers. Victor Cruz was again bottled up deep, with the Vikings keenly aware that he has thus far been the Giants only true scoring threat. Cruz’s long was only 13 yards en route to a 50-yard, 5-grab outing. But again, it was enough. Hakeem Nicks, perhaps not wanting to capitalize on a free agent opportunity, let two easy slants bounce right off his foam finger sized hands and saw a sure TD glance off his fingertips on the Giants opening salvo. The 12-15 yard Dig (deep in) route that used to be the staple of this offense when it was pass blocking better has been replaced by the slant and it’s imperative that Nicks pulls those in; it’s becomes the focal point of the offense and opens up the rest of field IF executed well. That repeated failure to secure the ball is killing drives, his free agent bonanza and the final few hair follicles who have the courage to still be on my head. Nicks finished with a very quiet 28 yards on only two catches and just looked plain bad.

Tight Ends: Despite a paucity of talent, the Giants used all three TEs extensively, mostly as extra blockers to slow down the Vikings all-too-predictable and Jon Gruden-belabored A-gap pressures. Give credit to Brandon Myers – he stonewalled DE Jared Allen one-on-one on Eli’s 6-yard first down run early in the game, but finished with only 15 yards on two grabs. Myers did have a key 3rd down conversion on 3rd and 3 on the Giants’ opening drive. Myers was again used in short motion, often up the A-gap to aid the Giants’ struggling interior OL and again it seemed to help Eli have just enough time to make the throws he needed to keep this team alive during the game. Larry Donnell did make a sneaky move downfield as I predicted, but he decided to fall down on an inside route that almost caused an INT on the Giants’ opening drive. Solid edge blocking by Donnell again, and Myers has improved to just below marginal as an in line blocker. Figure Myers to hover around the in-line blocking Mendoza line, if there was such a thing. TE Bear Pascoe had visions of Renaldo Nehemiah, trying to hurdle a defender on his lone reception, but a well-timed helmet to the nether regions brought the former Bulldog down to Earth and down a few octaves from the look of it.

Offensive Line: Hope sprung a tad with C David Baas finally returning to action but a knee injury sidelined the former Wolverine early in the game and his season has mercifully ended this week after another week-in and week-out battle with any joint that dared to pick a fight with Ronnie Barnes and the training staff. C Jim Cordle again acquitted himself pretty well and seems to be settling in a bit at the pivot. Most of the inside pressure was honestly from guards Kevin Boothe and David Diehl simply not getting their hands on their Viking counterparts quickly enough. Cordle more than held his own inside against massive DT Kevin Williams. Despite the hilarious and humiliating one-handed rodeo yank down of Eli Manning, DE Jared Allen was held in check by LT Will Beatty. Beatty wasn’t given much help against the All-Pro DE and he did a great job, that head-shaking sack aside. RT Justin Pugh was so-so, and gave up a few outside pressures, but it was against some seven, eight and nine man fronts that seemed to give the Giants some communication issues up front all night. I have no idea why, but Beatty was lined up at TE next to Pugh on a Michael Cox run that lost five yards behind James Brewer at LT. If that’s not telegraphing a running play…stop…I don’t know what it is…stop. Bad design and awful play, let’s hope Gilbride puts that in his hope chest and never takes it back out.

Defensive Line: Holding MVP Adrian Peterson to 28 yards on 13 carries is something to hang your hat on, but the Giants again came up short in the sack department. Again, credit the DT group of Cullen Jenkins, Mike Patterson, Linval Joseph and Shaun Rogers, they simply collapsed the middle and didn’t allow Peterson even a glimpse of an opening all evening. With little threat from the passing game, the job was no doubt easier, but stifling Peterson to that extent is impressive no matter how you slice it. It was pressure by Shaun Rogers that forced Freeman into his lone interception; it was also Freeman’s tremendous level of suck but give Rogers the nod here. DE Justin Tuck showed up early with a great inside move to stuff Peterson on the Vikings’ opening drive and pressuring Freeman on a 3rd down one play later. Tuck was active all night, finishing with four stops and a sack, but more importantly, looking motivated and playing with a lot more fire than he has all season.

He’s baaaack..sorta. DE Jason Pierre-Paul again played a little bit better this week, and his trademark hustle appears to be coming back. Lining up mostly at RDE, JPP was stout and active against the run, knifing inside on a dive away from him to bring down Adrian Peterson at the line of scrimmage. Just a play later, JPP helped chase down WR Cordarrelle Patterson and combine with Will Hill to snuff out a 3rd down again just short of the marker. Keep in mind, despite the outcry over JPP’s labanza and his low sack totals, back surgery takes physical and mental hurdles to clear and JPP appears to be on his way to clearing both. It will likely be 2014 before his real ability but each week the former Bull pushes a little bit closer to his old form.

Linebackers: Keith Rivers still stinks, but MLB Jon Beason again provided the fireworks with nine stops and a ton of added energy to the Giants defense. Beason saw fewer snaps on 3rd down than he did a week ago, giving way to Jacquian Williams on occasion and Williams responded with solid coverage and five solo stops of his own. Beason simply injects an energy into this group and the whole defense that has been missing since late in 2012. And no loyal readers (if there are any this week), you aren’t the only one watching and thinking “So THAT’S what a LB looks like”. For good measure Beason tried his own rodeo move, impressively hauling down Adrian Peterson by the wing after it looked like Peterson may have broken through finally. During his time at Oregon, Spencer Paysinger, blah blah blah, I don’t like him.

Defensive Backs: For anyone looking at Antrel Rolle’s cap number and assuming he’s a cap casualty, please picture this deep patrol without his leadership. Rolle was all over the field, finishing with five tackles, a one-handed INT and one near INT on a perfect read of an out route. For good measure, Rolle prevented a Cordarrelle Patterson TD after the former Vol had sprinted to a 69-yard kick return and an almost sure TD until Rolle knocked him off course. S Will Hill chipped in with four stops and was again aggressive, chopping down TE Kyle Rudolph in the open field on a 3rd and 8 that snuffed out a Viking drive 1-yard short of the marker. Hill did it again to whatshisname Patterson a few drives later that again closed out a Viking drive. CB Prince Amukamara threw in five stops and quite frankly was never in any real danger with Josh Freeman at the helm.

Special Teams: Special Teams clearly got sick of giving them the poop stick each week, giving up a punt return TD, fumbling away a punt deep in our own territory and recovering a punt deep inside Vikings territory. P Steve Weatherford was much improved again and appears to be on point again but his directional punt clearly flummoxed the coverage team as almost no one came close to Sherels on his TD return. For good measure Cordarrelle (Ok that’s the third time I’ve had type that ridiculous name…I hate typing that name, try it…it may be THE new leading cause of carpal tunnel syndrome…thanks Mrs. Patterson, name your next kid Max or something) almost returned a kickoff 109 yards. For good measure the Giants’ return teams racked up 50 yards total for the game, or less than Cor (no effing way I’m typing it again)…Patterson’s longest kickoff return. Tom Quinn, your feathered and lethal haircut has run out of cache, you need to go immediately.

Cram it in your Cramhole Award: It has to go to DE Jared Allen for having the nerve to use one oven mitt to drag Eli Manning to the turf around the body of LT Will Beatty. Eli tried to wiggle free a la Super Bowl XLVII, but Virginia Hillbilly Tip of the week…don’t shake hands with a bow hunter or try to escape his grasp in a football game. I don’t know if it’s sitting in a tree blind at 4 a.m. in the freezing cold or hauling their kills by the antlers, but every bow hunter I’ve ever met could crush your hand Robo-Cop style, so go for the high five, or the fist bump, if you don’t mind a hand smelling of deer urine. But please…please don’t shake their hands unless you’re the Six Million Dollar Man, The Terminator or Bob Dole. Honorable Mention to Mrs. Patterson for producing the most un-typable first name in half-baked Giant review history.

(Boxscore – Minnesota Vikings at New York Giants, October 21, 2013)