Oct 072013
 
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Damontre Moore, New York Giants (September 29, 2013)

Damontre Moore – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Chicago Bears, October 10, 2013: It’s over now. The game against the Philadelphia Eagles was the last chance for the Giants to salvage the 2013 season. You can hear it in the voices of the head coach and the players. The Giants are well on their way to one of the worst seasons in the franchise’s history. The team has the feel of one that is going to struggle to finish the season with even two or three victories. If true, the Giants haven’t had a season this bad since 1983 when Bill Parcells was almost fired.

What’s weird about all of this is that the Giants shouldn’t be this bad. Even if you account for a rapidly declining talent base, this team still has Eli Manning, good wide receivers, good defensive tackles, and some talent in the secondary. When BBI first started, in 1995 and 1996, the Giants were playing for a lame duck coach (Dan Reeves) and had a terrible quarterback (Dave Brown). The best player on offense was the fullback (Charles Way). The defense was decent, but not overwhelming. Yet those teams still managed five and six wins. The Giants are going to be hard pressed to match those “lofty” win totals. It just doesn’t make sense. But you are what your record says you are. And the Giants can’t blame injuries or bad luck on this mess.

And it is a mess. If the Giants finish with four, three, two, one, or heaven-forbid, no wins, that is the type of season that may lead to dramatic change up and down the organization. It’s been a great run, but it’s over. It’s time to rebuild.

The Giants are going to lose to the Bears on Thursday night and fall to 0-6. So let’s look at the key issues facing the team in preparation for the 2014 NFL season.

Coaching Staff: The #1 immediate question facing ownership and the front office is it time to say goodbye to Tom Coughlin? The terrible season does not erase the fact that we are talking about one of the top three coaches in the history of the franchise. And ¼ of the team’s eight NFL Championships came on his watch with some of the most memorable and fantastic playoff games in team history. Giant fans should be thanking their lucky stars that Tom Coughlin was the head coach of this team.

But has his leadership, philosophy, and interpersonal skills grown stale? Sometimes it just happens. You saw it with even Hall of Famers such as Tom Landry, Don Shula, and Chuck Noll. Tom is 67 years old now. Is he the right man for a rebuilding project at his age? I would hate to see his coaching career end on this note, but I also fear the Giants’ ownership thinking the same thing, and not pulling the plug if this is the best time to do so for the franchise’s sake.

Even if Tom stays, others have to go. Perry Fewell is simply over his head as a defensive coordinator. His defense had a nice little 6-game run in 2011 (thank God), but that was about it. His NYG defenses are some of the worst in franchise history. This is the third year in a row where the regular-season defense has just sucked. Time to go.

Kevin Gilbride has more of a proven track record. Under his influence, the Giants have had some of the most impressive offensive teams in the franchise’s history. But the offense has regressed the last two seasons. He’s 62 and one wonders if the game is starting to pass him by. Again, is he the right guy for a rebuilding job and a franchise quarterback who is also regressing? Perhaps Eli will be reinvigorated with a new offensive approach.

Personnel: It’s time to get younger, cheaper, and most importantly, hungrier. It’s time to fill this roster with passionate, talented football players who hate to lose, and who are afraid of facing their coach if they do so.

The 2013 trading deadline is October 29. I would listen to any and all offers in order to accumulate 2014 NFL Draft picks. If I’m John Mara, I order Jerry Reese to not trade away anymore picks for injured veteran players (see Jon Beason).

First of all, these players will see their contracts expire at the end of this season:

  • Curtis Painter
  • Andre Brown
  • Brandon Jacobs
  • Henry Hynoski
  • Hakeem Nicks
  • Louis Murphy
  • Brandon Myers (voidable)
  • Bear Pascoe
  • David Diehl
  • Kevin Boothe
  • Jim Cordle
  • Justin Tuck
  • Justin Trattou
  • Linval Joseph
  • Shaun Rogers
  • Mike Patterson
  • Jon Beason (voidable)
  • Spencer Paysinger
  • Mark Herzlich
  • Keith Rivers
  • Dan Connor
  • Corey Webster (voidable)
  • Terrell Thomas
  • Aaron Ross
  • Trumaine McBride
  • Stevie Brown
  • Ryan Mundy
  • Josh Brown

I have almost no interest in bringing back the bulk of these players. It’s time to move on. Most are too old, too fragile, too content, too expensive, or simply not that good. Of this group, Nicks and Joseph are still young and talented. I would like for them to be back, but I get the sense that Nicks has his ring and is simply looking for his big pay day. The Giants already spent a 2014 draft pick on Beason (stupid) so I hope they can re-sign him to see if he pans out.

Perhaps some serious playoff contender who needs a veteran presence with championship experience could be lured into trading for Webster or Tuck. Rogers and Patterson might draw some limited interest. The Giants could receive a serious offer for Nicks. I’d listen.

Outside of Eli Manning, let’s also look at the expensive players whose contracts are not yet to expire:

  • Chris Snee
  • David Baas
  • Mathias Kiwanuka
  • Cullen Jenkins
  • Antrel Rolle
  • Steve Weatherford
  • Zak DeOssie

The Giants need to dump Snee (hopefully he’s smart enough to retire). Baas simply cannot stay healthy and makes too much money. Kiwanuka is just a guy who makes a lot of money. Rolle is the highest paid defensive player on the roster yet is not much of a play-maker. Jenkins is on the wrong side of 30. I would listen to any offers for Rolle and Jenkins.

So Eric, you would basically give up on the rest of this season and trade away some talented players? Yes. But I wouldn’t define it as “giving up” but getting ready for 2014 and determining which players want to earn the right to be on a professional football team in 2014. If they can trade away a player or two or three, I would sign young, hungry guys from the Practice Squad who may or may not have a future. But now is the time to find out if they do.

And it’s time to get the younger guys into the line-up.

  • David Wilson and Michael Cox need to get the carries, not Brandon Jacobs.
  • John Conner needs to play fullback, not Bear Pascoe
  • Larry Donnell needs to play tight end, not Brandon Myers
  • David Diehl should sit. James Brewer needs to play. I would strongly consider playing a line of Beatty, Brewer, Boothe, Mosley, and Pugh for the rest of the season.
  • I would move Jason Pierre-Paul to left defensive end and start Damontre Moore at right end. Justin Trattou should see more snaps. Linval Joseph and Johnathan Hankins should start. When he is ready to come off of the PUP, Marcus Kuhn is activated and Rogers or Patterson are released or traded.
  • Beason needs to start at middle linebacker. I still think Paysinger might be decent. But I’d like to get a look at Allen Bradford.
  • If he can get healthy, I would like to see more of Jayron Hosley in order to determine if he has a future in the NFL. Same with Will Hill, Cooper Taylor, and Charles James.

Who has talent? Who is a leader? Who hates losing? Who wants to be here?

What we do know is this. Eli will still be the quarterback in 2014. Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle will be here. Prince Amukamara will be here. Jason Pierre-Paul. Damontre Moore. Johnathan Hankins. Justin Pugh. David Wilson. These will be the players to start building around again.

This sucks, but it can also be a fun and exciting time to watch the next edition of the New York Giants begin to emerge.

The worst thing the Giants can do is play a bunch of older, more sedate veterans, who won’t be here in 2014. If they are going to make mistakes and lose, I want to see the young guys play and fight for a future.

Oct 042013
 
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David Wilson, New York Giants (December 30, 2012)

David Wilson – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Approach to the Game – Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants, October 6, 2013: Because the NFC East is so bad, I’m hesitant to say the season is over if the New York Giants lose this game. After all, if the Broncos beat the Cowboys, and if the Eagles beat the Giants, the Giants will still only be two games out of first place with 11 games to play.

But the Giants will be 0-2 in the division. The Eagles will be 2-0 in the division. And the Cowboys and Eagles will at least temporarily hold the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Most importantly, psychologically, if the Giants lose this game, that may be the final nail in the coffin.

For all intents and purposes, this is basically a playoff game for the Giants. Win and they’ll have a pulse. It may be faint, but it will be there.

As an aside, I hope the veteran Giants players who have been with the team for some time realize the significance of this season. Whether this season is a success, failure, or something in between, this is that last rodeo for this group. Over the course of the last few years, we’ve seen stalwarts like Umenyiora, Bradshaw, Seubert, O’Hara, McKenzie, Smith, Phillips, Cofield, and others depart, not to mention the old crew of Strahan, Pierce, Toomer, Burress, and others. This is likely it for Snee, Tuck, Webster, Diehl, Jacobs, and Ross. It could be for Rolle, Kiwanuka, Boothe, and Baas. And who knows if the Giants will be able to re-sign Nicks and Joseph? These players should be fighting for each other at this point. This is it for them with the New York Giants. These are players that helped the Giants win one or two NFL titles. Go down swinging fellas!

And…if they want to think more selfishly…they should take a long, hard look at how “middle-class” free agents have been priced out of the NFL due to the Collective Bargaining Agreement. There is no guarantee they will find work anywhere again unless they play (get off the damn injury list) and play well. In other words, if you want to play in the NFL in 2014, you had better start making some plays.

New York Giants on Special Teams: I’m starting off with this unit this week because special teams have been a disaster for the Giants and a major reason why the Giants are 0-4. I have no idea what is going on with Steve Weatherford, but he needs to get his head out of his ass and regain his directional punting skills. And the Giants have already given up two punt returns for touchdowns. Josh Brown has missed his last two field goals. That being said, the Eagles have also struggled on special teams and David Wilson and Rueben Randle seem poised for big returns. Damontre Moore has not only blocked two punts (one in the preseason), but he’s flashing on coverage teams. Division games often come down to special teams.

New York Giants on Offense: Eli Manning has to settle down and realize the line is what it is and deal with it. We’ve seen him play in that beast mode before where it didn’t matter how many times he was hit (see the 2011 NFC Championship Game). Find the open man and quickly hit him. Every throw doesn’t have to be a home-run strike. If the Giants are going to get out of this funk, they need Eli to play like the 2011 edition. Be smart and take what is the defense gives you.

That said, Eli needs help. Victor Cruz is doing his job. More was expected and is needed from Hakeem Nicks and Rueben Randle. Both can and should be impact players. Cruz, Nicks, and Randle accrued 300 yards receiving against the Cowboys in the opener. It’s time to get back to that type of production. It’s not a pipe dream – they are all capable of 100-yard receiving games.

I think David Wilson is about to have a big game if the coaches will only feed him the ball. The absence of Da’Rel Scott (waived) should increase his touches, but those might go to Brandon Jacobs. I’d give them to Wilson. He’s been running well between the tackles – he’s not just an outside guy.

The Eagles have been terrible against the run (26th) and pass (31st) on defense. But they are a high-pressure defense that like to confuse its opponent with a variety of looks and blitzes. That could give the Giants’ blockers problems, but the Chiefs may have helped the Giants prepare for that type of helter-skelter assault. Nevertheless, the line has been reshuffled once again, now with David Diehl in at right guard for James Brewer. He will bring passion, experience, and leadership to the line. Hopefully he brings talent too and isn’t too rusty after the long layoff.

The back end of the Eagles defense is a mess. Don’t turn the football over. Get the ball into the hands of your play-makers: Cruz, Nicks, Randle, and Wilson. Everything doesn’t have to be a home run. Get some rhythm going, pick up some first downs, and get into the end zone.

Start off strong and the crowd will get behind you.

New York Giants on Defense: There are a number of challenges this week for a defense that played better last week. On the injury front, the Giants may be without their starting defensive tackles (Cullen Jenkins and Linval Joseph). In addition, corners Corey Webster, Jayron Hosley, and Aaron Ross did not practice this week and are likely out. That means the second-team defensive tackles (Shaun Rogers and Mike Patterson) have to come up big as well as fifth-string tackle Johnathan Hankins. At corner, Trumaine McBride may have to start opposite of Prince Amukamara if Terrell Thomas remains in the slot. Depth will be non-existent unless the Giants activate Charles James from the Practice Squad. In a pinch, Will Hill and Antrel Rolle might be able to play some corner.

The depth issues could be exacerbated by the well-publicized aspects of Chip Kelly’s fast-break offense. The Eagles will go up tempo, attempt to tire out the defense, and prevent substitutions. This type of offense can backfire on the Eagles if (and this is the big if), the Giants can force three-and-outs. Then it will be the Eagles’ defense that gets tired out.

The regime may have changed, but the play-makers are still the same: RB LeSean McCoy, WR DeSean Jackson, and QB Michael Vick. But now they have been inserted into this high-octane offense that is second in the NFL.

McCoy has been a Giant-killer. But again, seeing so much of Jamaal Charles last week should help the Giants prepare for McCoy a bit. He’s dangerous as a runner and receiver, and again the linebackers and safeties will have their hands full. The Eagles will also try to match-up Jackson on the Giants’ weaker corners. They’d love to test Terrell Thomas and Trumaine McBride with Jackson’s quickness and deep speed.

As for Vick, he seems just as fast as ever, and when he’s on, he can throw some amazing passes. But this offense exposes him to a lot of hits and he isn’t the toughest guy in the world. The Giants are going to have to hit him every chance they get. And when the Eagles run read option-type plays, as Joey in VA has been complaining about since last year, the defensive ends must not get suckered into playing the inside run too aggressively. That leaves the outside open for a big run by the quarterback or back. The defensive line is dying to start finally accumulating some sacks, but they have to play smart and disciplined against this offense.

It’s going to be tough. The Giants’ defense will be undermanned and they won’t be able to substitute like they want. They are going to have to suck it up and just realize this is going to be fast-break football. Focus on McCoy and Jackson. Hit Vick. Get off the damn field and make the fast-paced tempo work against Philadelphia.

Again, early success by the defense will get the crowd in your corner.

Oct 032013
 
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Dexter McCluster, Kansas City Chiefs (September 29, 2013)

The Backbreaker – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Kansas City Chiefs 31 – New York Giants 7

Two years ago, the New York Giants were NFL Champions. One year ago, the Giants were 6-4 heading into their bye. They then went 2-1 immediately after the bye with impressive blowout victories against the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints. Since that time, the Giants are 1-6 and have been blown out in five of those six losses. The fall from grace has been so quick and so dramatic that most Giants’ fans are simply left shaking their heads in bewilderment.

The Giants have been outscored 146 to 61 this year. The 146 points is an NFL-high and the Giants have given up 31 or more points in all four losses (though a significant chunk of those points are on the special teams and offense). Meanwhile, the offense has scored only one touchdown in the last two games. In four games, the Giants have turned the ball over an astounding 16 times. Both kickers are in a funk and the Giants have given up two punt return touchdowns.

In other words, the Giants have been terrible on defense, offense, and special teams. It’s no wonder they are 0-4.

Two other key stats, and ones that showed up decisively against the Kansas City Chiefs are third-down offense and defense. The Giants are dead last in the NFL in both offensive and defensive third-down efficiency. In the Kansas City game, the Giants were a dreadful 1-of-14 on third down on offense (7 percent) while the Chiefs were an excellent 9-of-16 on third down (56 percent).

If you can’t convert on third down, you can’t sustain drives. All you can do is rely on the big play and that’s all the Giants’ offense has become: a hope and a prayer. There is no rhythm to the Giants’ offense at all, and as Tom Coughlin admitted to after the game, play-calling has become like “throwing a dart at a board” because of it. And just when the Giants seem to be getting some momentum, an untimely penalty, dropped pass, or just coming up short of the first-down marker derails a drive. The Giants are getting no breaks. But good teams make their own breaks.

On the flip side, the defense did play much better this week. Coming into this game, the Chiefs had not turned the football over. The Giants were able to pick off QB Alex Smith twice and recover a fumble. For three quarters, the defense only gave up one significant drive, but it was a big one: a 98-yarder that resulted in a touchdown. Two things hurt the Giants defensively in this game. One, they often did a great job on first and second down, but then could not get any pass rush on third down. And two, Alex Smith hurt the defense with his feet (seven rushes for 37 yards, including two key runs on the 98-yard drive). Despite that, the defense kept the Giants in the game for three quarters until they broke in the fourth. Eight Chiefs drives ended in punts or turnovers. It’s the only reason why the number of offensive plays for each team was relatively equal (70 to 61).

Special Teams: Special teams cost the Giants dearly in this game. Not only in terms of on-the-field mistakes that led to points for the Chiefs and took points off the board for the Giants, but in terms of overall confidence and momentum. Chief examples:

  • The Chiefs were forced to punt on their first drive. Rueben Randle returns the punt 43 yards to near midfield. Instead an illegal block by DE Justin Trattou puts the Giants’ struggling offense in a very uncomfortable position from their own 8-yard line with the crowd going nuts. The penalty wiped out early psychological momentum.
  • In the second quarter, the Chiefs nail a 51-yard field goal to take a 10-7 lead. QB Eli Manning leads the offense on their second-best drive of the game (54 yards), but PK Josh Brown misses the 44-yard field goal at the end of the half. Again, momentum and any emerging confidence are erased.
  • A combination of excellent blocking and a great move by David Wilson set up what might have been a 105 yard kickoff return for a touchdown to start the third quarter, but for some reason, Wilson cut back inside.
  • Both offenses are struggling mightily in the third quarter. It’s a still a three-point game with less than two minutes to play before the fourth quarter. Steve Weatherford, who seems to have lost all of his directional skill, punts straight down the middle of the field to Dexter McCluster who jukes and jives for 89 yards and the back-breaking touchdown. Bad punt by Weatherford, possibly two illegal blocks by the Chiefs, but also two missed tackles by Keith Rivers and Allen Bradford.
  • The Chiefs salt the game away in the fourth quarter with a marathon, 14-play, nine-minute drive that results in a touchdown. On the possession, the Chiefs are stopped at the NYG 35 and successfully hit a 53-yard goal, giving Kansas City a 13 point lead. However, an illegal formation penalty on the Giants gives the Chiefs a first down and they go on to make it a 17 point game with just under six minutes to play. Any chance of a comeback is gone.

The only positive that came out of this game on specials was Damontre Moore. He partially blocked a punt and was very active on the coverage teams.

Giants on Offense: Fourteen offensive possessions. One touchdown, one missed field goal, one turnover on downs, one interception, two fumbles, and eight punts. The longest “drive” was 74 yards but 69 of those yards came on one play. The next best drive was the 10-play, 54 yard possession that resulted in Brown’s missed field goal. The Giants didn’t gain more than 25 yards on any other single possession until their last drive of the game (43 yards). The Giants had six first downs in the first half (three coming on the missed field goal drive) and no first downs on their first five possessions of the second half. Almost ¼ of the Giants’ offense for the entire game came on one play.

The passing attack was too high risk. There were some manageable down-and-distance situations in this game, but too many passes were low-percentage deep shots down the field. That didn’t make sense for a team struggling to convert on third down as well as with a shaky blocking front (line, tight ends, backs).

Quarterback: I hold Eli Manning to a higher standard. He’s not playing as well as he can. Though it may be understandable given the state of his pass protection (including backs and tight ends), he’s obviously not comfortable in the pocket. Manning’s feel for the pass rush seems off. He’s been behind mediocre pass protection before and simply had a knack of getting rid of the ball quickly, even off his back foot. Now, at times, he seems to be rushing throws when he doesn’t need to, and at other times holding onto the ball too long. On the sack-fumble, he’s just got to get down there and take the sack without risking the turnover. He should have felt that defender.

Eli screwed up at the end of the first half after completing the 4th-and-2 pass to Victor Cruz to the Chiefs’ 28-yard line. Instead of calling a timeout, Manning (and Coughlin) allowed 10 seconds to run off the clock and then hurried a play that only picked up 2 yards. By doing so, Eli lost an opportunity to run perhaps two more plays before the field goal that was missed.

Manning finished the game 18-of-37 for 217 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception. Who was to blame on the pick? Either a bad read by Eli or Rueben Randle.

Wide Receivers: Victor Cruz (10 catches for 164 yards and 1 touchdown) is playing well (though it’s time to ditch the salsa). But Hakeem Nicks (3 catches for 33 yards) and Rueben Randle (1 catch for 7 yards) are not. Eli threw in Nicks direction nine times and Randle four times. That’s 13 attempts with only four completions for 40 yards. Not good enough. Nicks dropped a deep pass that would have been erased due to a holding penalty, but it was still a bad drop. Perhaps it is that injured finger he suffered earlier in the season, but Nicks tried to catch a few attempts with one hand, and that appeared to cost him on another chance where I thought he should have come down with the ball.

Running Backs: Though not great, the Giants actually ran the ball decently, as the backs gained 86 yards on 19 carries (4.5 yards per carry). David Wilson (13 carries for 55 yards, 4.2 yards per carry) ran well. He needs to receive more touches. Da’Rel Scott gained 26 yards on five carries, but dropped a ball on a well set up screen pass and inexcusably fumbled as Eli handed him the football. He was subsequently waived. Brandon Jacobs had one carry for five yards.

Tight Ends: The Giants are carrying four tight ends on their 53-man roster but getting very little production in return. Bear Pascoe is no threat as a receiver and his blocking is often subpar, as it was against the Chiefs. Brandon Myers seems like a journeyman H-Back who can’t block and catches passes only when ignored by the defense. Larry Donnell has tools, but is still a work in progress. And Adrien Robinson’s is having a wasted season with a preseason foot injury that still hasn’t healed.

The tight ends were thrown to twice in the game. Net result was zero catches for zero yards. Worse, their blocking wasn’t good. Pascoe and Myers often get stood up and even driven back. They don’t create movement. Worse, sometimes they don’t make contact. On New York’s next possession after their only touchdown, Pascoe ran right by a linebacker who nailed David Wilson behind the line. The linebacker was the number one threat to disrupting the play and Pascoe should have taken him out. Then when DE Tamba Hali got near Eli on all-out blitz, Pascoe whiffed on making any contact on Hali, leading directly to the sack-fumble. Earlier in the game, Donnell gave up an immediate pass pressure too. The moral of this story is to not always blame the offensive line for blocking issues. (Though that said, hey Giants, next time don’t design a play where Myers has to block a player the quality of Hali one-on-one, which occurred on a play-action pass in the second half).

Offensive Line: From left to right, the Giants started Will Beatty, Kevin Boothe, Jim Cordle, James Brewer, and Justin Pugh. Cordle, Brewer, and Pugh hardly have any starting experience and this lineup had not played together as a unit all season. With that lack of chemistry and cohesion, facing the NFL’s leading sack-masters, I thought the line played fairly well. Giants’ running backs averaged 4.5 yards per carry – though that number was a bit inflated by some draw plays on 3rd-and-long. The Giants are running better between the tackles than outside of the tackles, and the low point in the rushing game was the failed 3rd-and-1 toss in the third quarter.

The Chiefs threw the kitchen sink at the line with a variety of blitzes and stunts and Kansas City did manage to accrue three sacks and six QB hits. Cordle was probably the weak link as he was flagged with a holding call, had a bad miscommunication with Boothe on a sack, and badly missed DT Dontari Poe on another pass rush. Still, he played better than expected. James Brewer played a pretty sound game at right guard as did Justin Pugh at right tackle. Will Beatty did a decent job for most of the game against a very good opponent, but had a couple of second-half mistakes including a holding penalty on a 16-yard completion to Nicks, and he gave up a sack to DE Tamba Hali with less than two minutes to play.

Giants on Defense: Except for one drive, the Giants did a great job against the Chiefs until the fourth quarter. Take away the 11-play, 98-yard drive that included seven first downs, and the Chiefs only picked up seven first downs and three points in their other nine drives in quarters one, two, and three. After the punt return for a touchdown, the Giants defense finally broke in the fourth quarter (aided by an illegal formation penalty on special teams).

One complaint with the defense is a long-standing one. The Giants are a terrible blitzing team. I don’t know if it is talent or schematic or a combination of both, but when the Giants blitz, they never get there. It doesn’t matter if they bring defensive backs or linebackers. It doesn’t work.

Defensive Line: Strong run defense and weak pass rush. RB Jamaal Charles was held to 14 yards rushing on seven carries in the first half. The only other rusher was QB Alex Smith. In the third quarter, the Chiefs only gained three first downs total on four possessions and Charles was held to seven yards on four carries. That means 44 of his 65 rushing yards came in the fourth quarter when the defense began to wear down. The Giants’ defensive tackles were very good against the run.

The problem up front was the pass rush. No sacks and only two official quarterback hits (one by Cullen Jenkins and one by Shaun Rogers). The Giants are simply getting almost no pass rush from Jason Pierre-Paul, Mathias Kiwanuka, and Justin Tuck. I spotted one pressure from Kiwi and one hit from JPP. Pierre-Paul is playing patty cake with opposing linemen and is easily single-blocked. Tuck is hustling and playing hard, and he played the run well, but the his pass rush game seems to have vanished. I expect more from Kiwanuka, but he appears to be just another overpaid guy out there.

Linebackers: I thought this was the best I’ve seen from Spencer Paysinger (7 tackles, 1 sack, 1 fumble recovery) and Mark Herzlich (8 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss, 1 pass defense) to date. Each played downhill very well, coming up aggressively against the run. It was more of a mixed bag in pass coverage such as when Herzlich gave up a 25-yard pass against the reserve tight end on 1st-and-25 in the fourth quarter. Paysinger was close to TE Sean McGrath but gave up a 20-yard reception; later, he did a nice job in coverage down the field on Jamaal Charles. Keith Rivers and Jacquian Williams barely saw the field.

Defensive Backs: The Chiefs were not able to do much damage with the outside receivers until Dwayne Bowe’s late 34-yard touchdown. Most of Alex Smith’s passing yardage came on short- to intermediate routes to the reserve tight ends (7 catches for 91 yards), RB Jamaal Charles ( 5 catches for 62 yards), and slot receiver Dexter McCluster (5 catches for 48 yards).

Prince Amukamara played a great game, shutting out his opponent and doing a fantastic job of jumping an inside route to pick off an Alex Smith pass. He also knocked away a pass on a similar play and that was almost intercepted too. That’s as good as it gets in coverage. Aaron Ross, filling in for the oft-injured Corey Webster, was OK. He gave up a few plays on the 98-yard drive including a 16-yard pass interference penalty, a 12-yarder to the tight end, and played too soft for an easy catch when the Giants brought the blitz. Ross later left the game with a back injury. Because the oft-injured Jayron Hosley (hamstring) was unavailable, the Giants had to rely on Trumaine McBride and he performed pretty darn well. Terrell Thomas missed a tackle on RB Jamaal Charles and also gave up a 34-yard touchdown to Bowe late in the game.

I thought the safety play was a little more suspect. Antrel Rolle did come up with an interception on a deflected pass, but he had some issues in coverage. Rolle badly whiffed on an open-field tackle attempt on Jamaal Charles’ 31-yard catch-and-run that helped set up KC’s first touchdown, which came when Rolle was beaten by TE Sean McGrath on 3rd-and-goal. And it was the 23-yarder to McGrath against Rolle that set up the 51-yard field goal.

(Boxscore – New York Giants at Kansas City Chiefs, September 29, 2013)
Sep 272013
 
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Do you ever feel like a plastic bag
Drifting through the wind, wanting to start again?
Do you ever feel, feel so paper thin
Like a house of cards, one blow from caving in?

Do you ever feel already buried deep six feet under?
Scream but no one seems to hear a thing
Do you know that there’s still a chance for you
‘Cause there’s a spark in you?

You just gotta ignite the light and let it shine
Just own the night like the 4th of July

‘Cause, baby, you’re a firework
Come on, show ‘em what you’re worth
Make ‘em go “Oh, oh, oh”
As you shoot across the sky-y-y

Baby, you’re a firework
Come on, let your colors burst
Make ‘em go “Oh, oh, oh”
You’re gonna leave ‘em all in awe, awe, awe

-          Katy Perry, Firework

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Kansas City Chiefs, September 29, 2013:  There are a dozen ways I thought about taking this game preview since there are a lot of things I want to get off my chest, but most of those thoughts will wait for another day.

For now, let’s not address the big picture and the future – the personnel, personnel department, and coaching staff.

It’s still September. The leaves haven’t fallen from the trees yet. There is a lot of football left to played. There is still a chance if the Giants will only ignite

Giants on Offense: It’s time to ignite that light and shoot across the sky. It’s time for Kevin Gilbride to go back to his run-and-shoot days in Houston. Joey in VA talked about it in his game review. Shaun O’Hara alluded to it in his interview with The New York Post.  It’s time to force the defense to react to what you are doing rather than react to what the defense is doing. It’s also time to for the Giants to get their best 11 players on the field.

Eli Manning and Kevin Gilbride, New York Giants (September 8, 2013)

Eli Manning and Kevin Gilbride – © USA TODAY Sports Images

At this point, I don’t play it safe. I am aggressive and I attack. Take the initiative. Go four wide with Nicks, Cruz, Randle, and Murphy. Spread the Kansas City Chiefs out and go no-huddle or hurry-up. Consider letting Eli Manning call the plays. Don’t let the Chiefs collect themselves. Attack!

Is it risky? No doubt. The offensive line will likely be minus Chris Snee and David Baas and therefore green as grass. Even if there is talent in the line (which is questionable), there is little experience and no cohesion. That’s the main reason why I would eschew the run at this point. The line simply hasn’t played together enough to maintain any sort of consistent ground attack. Losing Henry Hynoski at this point may be addition by subtraction. Because he missed so much offseason work, Hynoski was a shadow of his former self. Bear Pascoe is not a threat as a receiver and just a so-so blocker. Having those two guys on the field was almost the equivalent of playing with nine starters as the defense could virtually ignore them. Brandon Myers can’t set the edge in the running game. You can use him as a receiver out of the slot, but I would use Murphy there instead.

The Giants’ are a finesse offense. There is no use trying to make them a physical team right now because they can’t be. They don’t have the horses to be physical. But they can be a damn good finesse team. The Giants can own the night and terrorize the enemy secondary. Attack! This strategy should invigorate the offensive team. It’s fun and will at least make things more interesting.

The huge weakness in this strategy? The bad offensive line has to give Eli at least a couple of seconds. And he is going to take a lot of hits. But you can be aggressive with a quick, short passing game too. Three-step drop or shotgun. Get rid of the ball quickly. Chiefs’ defensive coordinator Bob Sutton comes from the Jets and runs multiple defensive looks. The Chiefs have an NFL-high 15 sacks in three games. For a veteran offensive line, this is a tough scheme. No matter what, the young pups up front will be confused and over-matched. But if the Giants go max-protect, I think they play right into Sutton’s hands. It will take dangerous chess pieces off of the Giants’ chessboard and I’m not sure the Giants will be any less confused or overmatched. Make Sutton react to what the Giants are doing. You want to blitz your defensive backs Bob? Live by the blitz, die by the blitz. The added potential benefit, in the running game, is that by spreading the Chiefs out, the dangerous-in-space David Wilson could have more room to operate.

Play to your strengths New York.  Your strengths offensively are Eli Manning and the wide receiving corps. Attack!

Giants on Defense: The Kansas City offense is not scary. Their biggest strengths are RB Jamaal Charles and the fact that they haven’t turned the football over yet this season. Regarding the latter, that pace is obviously unsustainable and there is no better time than the present for the Giants to finally start winning the turnover battle. Stop Charles and get after the football.

The key with Charles is not only stopping him on running plays, but also focusing on him in coverage in the passing game. He’s their leading receiver. Once again, the Giants’ linebackers will be on the hot seat. Andy Reid will target the Giants’ linebackers in coverage.

A largely unimpressive passer, QB Alex Smith is surprisingly the Chiefs’ second-leading rusher. But you can get to Smith on the pass rush as he will hold onto the football. Wide receivers Dwayne Bowie and Donnie Avery are the main targets outside.

More than anything, the Giants need to bring an enthusiastic, nasty, and physical attitude to the game, “dog” as Antrel Rolle loves to call it. Don’t talk about it, do it. Football is still a violent contact sport. Hit and punish the other team. Get excited. F*ck up your opponent.

Giants on Special Teams: The Giants need a little of that headhunter mentality on special teams too. Let’s go. Make a play. Win the game with forced turnover or big return. Have fun out there.

Sep 252013
 
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Tom Coughlin, New York Giants (September 22, 2013)

A Dejected Tom Coughlin – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Carolina Panthers 38 – New York Giants 0

by Joey in VA for BigBlueInteractive.com

Prologue: If you want an accurate, X’s and O’s analysis of what happened in Charlotte last Sunday go grab a newspaper, an iPad, a Galaxy, or cozy up to some doofus who loves sitting at Starbucks for hours doing nothing but trying to look hip and jump on NFL.com when he abandons his or her laptop to feign interest in the scone selection. You will find no in-depth play-combing search for truth or fundamental errors, you will find here what the Giants gave us, not much to hold on to and plenty to forget. This week’s review will be surly, short, full of bad wisecracks and just plain annoying, think of it as the Sean Avery of game reviews. This week, the Giants should have risen to the challenge of an 0-2 start filled with errors but tinged with promise if those mistakes were eliminated. Unfortunately the 0-3 banes of our existences indeed tossed us down a pit, leaving us wondering what will break first…their spirits, or their bodies.

Game Review: U G L Y you ain’t got no alibi, you’re ugly, hey hey you’re ugly. No BBI faithful, Goldie Hawn isn’t walking through that door and convincing Bubba Gump to play QB while Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson snap each other with towels after another improbable Wildcat win. If only. Ugly simply captures this team’s “performance” last Sunday in Charlotte in a way few other Webster’s entries can.

Ug-ly adjective \ˈə-glē\

1:  frightful, dire, offensive or unpleasant to any sense

2:  a:  likely to cause inconvenience or discomfort <the ugly truth>

b:  surly, quarrelsome <an ugly disposition>

— ug·li·ly  adverb

I will uglily attempt to recap this in a fashion not so offensive or unpleasant to any sense. 38-0. Treinta y Ocho a Cero. Holy sh*t to WTF? It doesn’t matter how you phrase the final score, but that frightful display has the Giants season in dire straits, and now we are all surly and quarrelsome, just waiting for the next shoe to drop. I shan’t waste your time with the bludgeon by bludgeon description of this 3 hour long slap to the face when it can be summed up by glancing really anywhere at the boxscore. Offensive yardage? Panthers 402 Giants 150. First downs? Panthers again, 27 to 10. Sacks? Panthers 7 Giants 1.

At the risk of sounding like an armchair fool because the men I am criticizing have Super Bowl rings and I have a doorbell that barely rings, I am going to weigh in here with what honestly looks to be the issue. The offensive players don’t trust what’s being called and don’t trust the game plan being given to them. Conjecture? Yes. Opinion? Definitely. Do I believe it? 100%. After rushing for a total of 73 yards in two losses, how do the Giants respond? By lining up with two TEs, one of whom can’t block, and a FB who has been brutally bad thus far, and they try slamming it down the Panthers throats.

Kevin Gilbride brings out Bear Pascoe and Henry Hynoski, two players NO ONE has to account for downfield; two players who the Panthers decided to go man against and bring the heat on Eli Manning to the tune of a six-sack first half and seven for the game. This is a QB who went down 20 times last year, already exceeding 1/3 of that in one game! This maddening desire to achieve “Balance” on offense isn’t possible with this group UNTIL you have a lead and can run to lean on the defense. That’s where your balance occurs, NOT by forcing two of your worst offensive players on to the field against a speedy LB corps that easily overmatched Pascoe and Hynoski.

I nearly blew an eye socket yelling at Jason Pierre-Paul to stop reading the dive fake and jumping inside to cover the A gap on three plays in a row that he was just run right past by a Panther player. I have said since the pre-season, our DEs jump inside too quickly, don’t read the QB and we get absolutely gashed on outside runs. Snowshoe Moreno did it twice to break our backs last week and it happened against Cam Newton and DeAngelo Williams to the tune of over 200 yards rushing given up. It was a gutless performance from start to finish.

GET YOUR BEST 11 ON THE FIELD ON OFFENSE!!!! Give Eli the keys to the car, sit down Pascoe and keep Myers in the slot as a big WR option and let’s see who can outscore us. Balance? You want to force balance and David Wilson down our throats while the best players we have block for him and act as very expensive decoys? Have at it folks, and welcome to a top 5 pick if someone doesn’t make that change soon. /rant.

Quarterbacks: It all starts and ends here with QB Eli Manning. As Eli goes, so do the Giants and he went to the ground far too often. Unable to do much, Eli finished 12/23 for 119 yards and 1 interception, and was dumped seven times by Panther pass rushers. (Anyone else hear Art Rooney after about the 3rd or 4th sack?…..niiine times…niiine times). Eli’s best play of the day was a 14 yard run for 10% of the Giants first downs on the day. Eli was harassed all day long, never able to get into a rhythm and not able to rally his troops this time as he was simply running for his life.

Running Backs: RB David Wilson’s first two carries would portend bad things to come, as the Giants tried two poorly thought out plays in a row. First was a two-TE, FB-lead over left tackle that ripped up 2 whole yards. On the next play, the old switcheroo, three WRs and a run up the gut that was snuffed out by the Panthers best player, LB Luke Kuechly. This maddening obsession with testing the defenses best players early on has been nothing short of comic disaster through three games. Wilson finished with 39 yards on 11 carries and again showed plenty of fight when fighting for extra yards but don’t expect much until the FB and extra TE come off the field. Wilson did manage a 17 yard TD run early in the 2nd quarter that was negated by an iffy holding call on LT Will Beatty, just about a perfect nugget of how the day went. An early swing pass to FB Henry Hynoski was the perfect example of what is wrong with this offense right now, you’re reaching for things the opponent may not expect instead of forcing them to stop your best players. Just for funsies, RB Brandon Jacobs declined to block his gap on the Giants first series, opting for an outlet route as Eli ate turf for one of seven times on the day. I think HB Da’Rel Scott tried to block DE Greg Hardy on a 2nd quarter sack, but he may have been looking for a contact lens somewhere near Hardy’s feet.

Wide Receivers: Against a team that lost 3-of-4 starters in the secondary, you may expect a field day. Instead of leaning on our best offensive trio, we go heavy, max-protect and try to hit the long ball against a Cover 2 defense designed to take away just that. With three DBs who are new starters, you have to expect the deep patrol will be fortified. Put the ball in the hands of your best players: Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, and Rueben Randle. Force the depleted secondary to reach down the bench for more DBs to trot out a nickel or dime defense and you’re talking about using the very bottom of the Panther roster to defend your best weapons. Randle, Cruz, and Nicks (bagel for the game) hauled in five catches for 65 yards TOTAL. The trio each had 100 yard receiving games in the opener, which certainly has me convinced that we need to search for “balance” and force a running game that isn’t there. On the plus side, Jerrel Jernigan made a catch to keep on his Sinorice Moss like pace for fewest catches in a career that never was.

Tight Ends: TE Brandon Myers opened the game as the lead blocker on an off-tackle run, after finally shaking off some passing game rust last week and looking like a decent mid-range target. Makes sense to have a tentative blocker start the game out…blocking. Once again, kudos to our offensive staff for completely fooling the Panthers by using yet another player in a role he’s not suited for. NO WAY they saw that coming! TE Bear Pascoe is technically a “move” TE, the same way a clam effortlessly moves along the ocean the floor. Maybe the elder Gilbride read the Tortoise and the Hare to Kevin Jr. the night before the game, and a crazy idea formed in their heads for how to attack the Panthers. It’s really the only explanation that makes ANY sense to me.

Offensive Line: Last week’s 23 yards on the ground look great after the 7 sacks coughed up this week. Just flat out awful all day long by everyone. Most alarmingly, the play of Chris Snee indicated another injury, which, if IR is in his future, would likely be the last game we see #76 play for the Giants. LT Will Beatty’s regression since pre-season has been head-shakingly bad. Beatty was run past on the Giants first possession by the solid but hardly unstoppable DE Greg Hardy, who snuffed out any chance Eli had to convert a manageable 3rd and 5. By the second drive of the Giants day, more of the same: long, slow developing pass plays, zero pass protection and you could almost hear the wheels coming off. Beatty’s pass protection was atrocious, but wait a minute folks, that’s not all. Not only did he get his QB pancaked but Beatty also, in this exclusive offer to the Panthers, held on a David Wilson run that could have knotted the game at 7 early in the 2nd quarter. That’s two, two two big mistakes for one low low price!

Defensive Line: DE Jason Pierre Paul played his worst game as a professional, consistently jumping inside on dive fakes, only to see plays race by his outside shoulder. The only highlight was when JPP clearly heard me yelling me at the TV to attack the mesh point (The QB) when Cam Newton looked to be running the read option. Every other time, he is either being coached incorrectly or simply has head up his ass and doesn’t care to fix it. How’s that for thought provoking analysis?

Early on, the DL was playing fast and playing physically, at least on the first series when DE Mathias Kiwanuka notched an early sack and dropped Cam Newton for a 15-yard loss. The inability to defend the edge showed up on the Panthers second drive, with JPP again jumping the A gap and completely abandoning his edge responsibilities, which is quite frankly the Achilles heel of our run defense going back about a full season and it shows zero signs of being addressed. Teams are running right to JPPs side, knowing he’s going to guess wrong and jump too quickly and leave a huge lane for opposing runners to exploit.

Linebackers: Technically we have them, but when your first four in tackles are a DT, SS, DE and CB, your LBs are not showing up. None of the starting trio made any noise or any impact plays, but then again no one on the roster did either this week.

Defensive Backs: As bad as CB Aaron Ross has been, he redeemed himself a bit with an early interception, jumping and out route to WR Brandon Lafell’s inside shoulder and giving the Giants a first down at the Panther 17. S Ryan Mundy had one of the few bright spots for the team with a picture perfect hit that broke up a Newton pass midway through the 2nd quarter.

Special Teams: Down 7-0, the Giants special teams capitalized on a Giant-like mistake when the Panthers coughed up the ball off the back of backup TE Richie Brockel (that’s a lot of prepositions). Even K Josh Brown got in on the shankfest, badly missing a 38-yarder with the game still technically within reach.

Cram it in your cramhole award: JPP was a popular early choice after being suckered inside on three consecutive runs to his side on the Panthers first scoring drive, but it’s got to go the entire team. You all stunk, stunk for four quarters on offense, defense, special teams, and coaching. The Giants are 0-3 and historically bad so far, looking more like an expansion team than one focused on a Super Bowl in their own backyard.

TWIP Note – Our first TWIP (This week in preview) note is to promise a better review if the Giants decide to shell out some effort against the 3-0 Chiefs in Kansas City. My apologies for the rambling and overly jokey nature, but I simply tuned out after it was 31-0 and re-watching was next to impossible.

(Boxscore – New York Giants at Carolina Panthers, September 22, 2013)
Sep 202013
 
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Justin Tuck, New York Giants (September 20, 2012)

Justin Tuck – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Carolina Panthers, September 22, 2013: First off all, hopefully stating the obvious, the sky is not falling. Yet. The New York Giants are 0-2, but the Dallas Cowboys are 1-1, Washington Redskins 0-2, and Philadelphia Eagles 1-2. There are 14 regular-season games left to play. The Giants will have to make up that loss to the Cowboys in the Meadowlands, but despite being winless, they are very much in the chase for the division title.

The immediate goal is to get that first win this weekend against the Carolina Panthers. Get to 1-2. Then get that second win against the Kansas City Chiefs and get to 2-2. Do that and the Giants will have weathered the early storm.

The problem for the G-Men is that their margin for error right now is very slim. The Giants should beat the Panthers, but on any given Sunday in the NFL, a lesser opponent can beat anyone. And an 0-2 New York Giants team had better not be too blase and it had better take care of business or it will be time to panic.

The negative-nellie will point to the fact that the Giants are 3-7 in their last 10 regular-season games. Eli Manning has regressed. The running attack is dead last in the NFL. The Giants have committed 10 turnovers in two games. The offensive line is not playing well. The defense, while improved, is still not dictating to opponents and the Giants only have two sacks.

The fan wearing rose-colored glasses will point to the belief that the Giants still have the best coaching staff, quarterback, and wide receivers in the division. Believe it or not, the defense may also be the best in the division. Barring injury, the offensive line should improve as it gains cohesion and that in turn should help the running game improve as David Wilson is still lightning in a bottle. The secondary and defensive tackles are playing well and the productivity of the defensive ends should pick up.

This game is not so much about who the Giants are playing but about the Giants themselves. The team needs to stop shooting itself in the foot. Cut out the turnovers and the Giants will be OK. “First you have to stop beating yourself before you expect to go out and beat the opponent,” says Head Coach Tom Coughlin.

New York Giants on Offense: The Panthers have been giving up a lot of yards (over 800) but not a lot of points (36). The Giants are facing a defensive opponent that is far stronger in the front seven than it is in the secondary. The problems for Carolina in the defensive backfield have been exacerbated by injuries.

So the Giants are a far more dangerous passing team and Carolina struggles much more defending the pass. What would your game plan be?

The Panthers know this as well. They’ll probably play a lot two-safety high coverage and dare the Giants to beat them on the ground. That’s what I would do. So the big question is do the Giants take advantage of that and try to get untracked running the ball against a good front seven? Or do they attack through air against a defense expecting it?

I would do the latter. I don’t think the Panthers can cover the Giants’ receivers. But if the Giants go with that strategy, the Giants need to keep Eli upright. RT Justin Pugh will face a tough test against against LDE Charles Johnson. RDE Greg Hardy is no slouch rushing the passer either. LDT Dwan Edwards (bothered by a thigh injury) and first-rounder RDT Star Lotulelei man the inside.

The Giants do need to run the ball some too in order to not put too much pressure on the passing game. They also need Eli to rebound from two disappointing performances.

“There is a balance,” says Coughlin. “One of those balances is run it better so we’re not throwing it 49 times a game. Let’s get this thing back into a reasonable number and then let’s run the ball so the play action passes allow us to have more people open. And then we have to take care of the football and realize, again, that patience is a virtue. Sometimes you’re not going to get the big play, you’re going to be able to get five and seven and eight yards and so on and so forth. And that’s fine, that’s what we want to do. We want to stay within ourselves, take what the defense gives us.”

That seems to suggest Coughlin thinks Eli has been forcing things down the field too much.

The Panthers are solid up front. And they are very strong at linebacker, led by impressive MLB Luke Kuechly. Kuechly is the type of linebacker Giants’ fans currently crave. Jon Beason (bothered by a knee injury) and Thomas Davis round out an athletic group that can hit and tackle. It is tough to run against this group.

“It’s shocking to us when we don’t play well,” says OG Kevin Boothe. “You can’t have zero and negative yard rushing plays and expect your offensive coordinator to continue to call running plays. If we can get positive yards (Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride will have) more incentive to call it, will be more likely to call it. We’re anxious to get out there and give it another shot.”

The Panthers are really beat up and undermanned in the secondary, having to rely on some players who were recently signed off of the street. I’d attack early and often through the air, even if there is an early turnover. Take the wind of the 0-2 Panthers, and then come back later in the contest with the ground game.

New York Giants on Defense: Carolina is not scoring a lot of points, but they can run the football.

“Their offensive team is sixth in rushing,” says Coughlin. “They’re fourth in the league on third down. They’re doing an outstanding job of that. Over the past two seasons, they’ve had the most plays in the league over 20 yards, so they do have that capability as well. They do not beat themselves. They only had seven penalties, two fumbles and an interception in their first two games.”

The three keys on defense are (1) stop RB D’Angelo Williams, (2) keep QB Cam Newton from hurting you on the ground, and (3) don’t allow WR Steve Smith to beat you deep.

The other guy to keep an eye on is TE Greg Olsen, who Newton has been looking for early and often through the first two games.

The #1 goal is really to stop the run. The Panthers probably won’t be able to do much damage between the tackles on the Giants, but they surely noticed the two big outside running plays the Giants gave up last week.

“Our defense was playing so well against the run for so long and (then) giving up two really cheap touchdowns outside,” says Coughlin. “Where were we? Where was the leverage? Where was the contain? Where were the people knifing in?”

The ends have to play far tougher at the point-of-attack, the defensive backs need to come up in run support, and the linebackers need to avoid blocks and flow to the ball carrier. Both in terms of run defense and dealing with Olsen in coverage, this is a big game for the linebackers. If Mark Herzlich struggles, I wouldn’t be surprised to see newcomer Allen Bradford replace him soon.

The good news for the Giants is that the Panthers’ offensive line is a bit shaky with additional injury issues and Newton will hold onto the football. So the pass rush should finally emerge this weekend as long as the Giants get the Panthers into obvious passing situations. Given Newton’s mobility, however, the first responsibility is to contain him. LT Jordan Gross is probably the steadiest of the group.

Stop the run. Contain Newton. Don’t let Smith beat you deep.

(Late Note: CB Corey Webster is “doubtful” for the game with a hip flexor injury).

New York Giants on Special Teams: Ted Ginn is a dangerous punt and kickoff returner. Steve Weatherford needs to bounce back from probably his worst performance as a Giant.

Sep 192013
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (September 15, 2013)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Denver Broncos 41 – New York Giants 23

by Joey in VA for BigBlueInteractive.com

Game Review: Zero point zero. If Dean Wormer walked into the Giants meetings this week, he’d likely hand out his lowest of GPA’s, but it wasn’t over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor and it ain’t over now. The Giants were right there, right there, just as they were in Dallas a week ago…within range, a chance to compete and win a football game and they once again imploded when it mattered the most. After a Brandon Jacobs 1 yard plunge in the 3rd quarter that brought the Giants within a single point of their Super Bowl XXI opponent, the Denver Broncos scored 21 unanswered points and sent the Giants home with a lopsided 41-23 drubbing that put the G-men in an 0-2 hole. The pre-season sluggishness this team exhibited on offense has yet to be shaken off, not a very good sign for a team with so much veteran talent at key spots.

The Giants defense started with a thump and ended flat on its back after watching Eli Manning toss four back breaking interceptions. After a Justin Tuck thumping of RB Knowshon Moreno on the game’s opening play, Peyton Manning and his mates marched easily to the Giants six yard line, until the DL rose up again this time in the form of DT Cullen Jenkins, who knocked the ball free from rookie RB Montee Ball and gave Eli and company a chance to start with some momentum. Right on cue, Eli fed off the turnover and dropped a perfect 51 yard post into the outstretched arms of WR Victor Cruz and the Giants seemed to be shaking off the rust that plagued them a week ago in Big D.

After Jenkins’ strip, the defense found its bearings and had the elder Manning working for every completion, before the wheels came off in the 3rd quarter after more costly Giant turnovers. For most of the afternoon, the Giants were going toe to toe with a Bronco passing attack that had Baltimoreans drowning their sorrows in Natty Bo after a 7 touchdown thrashing on opening night. It wasn’t until a Knowshon Moreno 20 yard run over right end early in the 2nd quarter that the Broncos had their first end zone visit of the day. Red zone frustrations kept the Giants from doing much scoring, but they did manage three Josh Brown field goals in the first half while limiting the Broncos to 10 points and an all too familiar 10-9 halftime score.

After a first half in which each defense dared the other to run, John Fox and the Broncos finally accepted. Nineteen of the Broncos 53 yard scoring drive came on the edges yet again as Giant DEs were victimized on back to back to runs to open the second half. With Giant DBs now inching up to support the run on the outside, Peyton Manning finally found a crack in the armor (I would have said chink if I worked for ESPN but I’m smrt!) (sic). Manning worked the edges of the defense, first running Moreno then passes to WR Eric Decker before Wes Welker was suddenly the forgotten man and was left alone for an easy TD to start the second half.

Eli answered yet again, taking the Giants 81 yards to the end zone in nine plays, capped off by the odd sight of Brandon Jacobs wearing #34 and plunging up the gut for six. Manning took advantage of a very handsy Bronco defense, that was flagged for two pass interference and one defensive holding penalty on the drive. With a slim 17-16 edge, Peyton and company got lucky on a Demarius Thomas fumble that was recovered by Moreno and ended up with a 17 yard gain after Prince Amukamara jarred the ball loose and the Giants had a shot at a turnover. Manning quickly set his team and snapped the ball, giving the Giants no chance to review the play. Seven plays 63 yards later, Moreno found the goal line again, racing around right end for a 25 yard TD and a 24-16 Denver lead that would not be threatened again.

The Giants coughed up the ball on a bad Manning pass that glanced off the foot of WR Rueben Randle, and 5 plays later, Manning hit TE Julius Thomas for an 11 yard TD and a 31-16 lead. With a chance to climb back in it, the Giants offense stalled and was forced to punt to the 5’5” Trindon Holliday, who did his best DeSean Jackson impression and blew right through the Giants coverage team on the way to a 38-16 lead that ended up turning a solidly played three quarters into a 4th quarter disaster and an ominous 0-2 start for the boys in blue.

Quarterbacks: After hitting everybody’s favorite dancer with a 51 yard strike to start the game, Eli Manning had another forgettable afternoon. Manning had a few solid throws in a row as the Giants opened the 2nd quarter but was victimized by Hakeem Nicks and his middle finger on a big 3rd and 6 as the Giants were starting to heat up through the air. Eli contributed to the teams red zone woes by over shooting WR Victor Cruz on a play action pass in the end zone, and #10 then fired over TE Brandon Myers’ finger tips and the Giants were forced to settle for 3 yet again. With just 43 seconds in the first half, I’m sure I wasn’t alone in begging the Giants to sit on the ball at their own 15 yard line and go in down by one. After badly overthrowing Myers in the slot, Eli played Dr. Jekyll to his Mr. Hyde, hitting Hakeem Nicks on another deep in (dig) route for 34 yards. Knowing the Broncos were playing a lot of bump and run and trying to knock the Giants off of their routes, Eli didn’t stop working the ball downfield and it paid off with a 21-yard penalty on the heels of Nicks big gain. Unfortunately Mr. Hyde returned on the very next play and Eli badly overshot Hakeem Nicks and was intercepted by another 3 named Bronco, costing the Giants a chance to take the halftime lead. Never one to get down though, Eli drove the Giants to within a point of the Broncos, orchestrating a solid drive at the outset of the third quarter, taking advantage of a very aggressive and penalty-prone Broncos defensive backfield. Down 24-16 though, the dagger may have been another odd miscue, as Mannings pass for Rueben Randle ricocheted off the WRs shoe into the hands of a Bronco defender. Eli wasn’t awful, but 4 interceptions, despite one being a late first half heave and one flying off of a shoe, is not going to get it done when your team simply cannot run the football or hold on to it. The daring that makes Eli so great when it counts is the same daring that makes him maddening when the game is not on the line. We know what we have here, it’s just a matter of those around him doing more so he can do a little less.

Running Backs: RB David Wilson’s first carry was a solid 5 yard effort on a counter to the left, which was followed up with a 5 yard power by old and new Giant Brandon Jacobs and it looked like the running game may be coming to life. Jacobs displayed solid burst on his initial tote, falling forward for a first down, but followed that up with a ball bouncing off of his hands in the flat for an ugly incompletion that reminded me of oh so many reviews of days past. Idiotic TD dances aside, Jacobs’ return was much of the same before he left, a lot of noise, not much production and the announcers marveling at how tall he looked in practice. Give the big fella a pass this week, his OL did him no favors and he’s been out of the game for about for a year. Before this season ends, I promise you Jacobs does a few things to win a game. It may have been a 2-yard run, but David Wilson’s acrobatic Barry Sanders like hand spin late in the first half was the best 6 feet I’ve seen since the first time I saw a party sized sub. Da’Rel Scott chipped in a garbage time TD, but otherwise not much from the former Terp.

Wide Receivers: WR Victor Cruz opened the Giants afternoon with a 51 yard deep post that was perfectly thrown and ended the day with 8 grabs for 118 yards. Jerrel Jernigan may just never get it. On a 3rd and 13 inside the Giants 10, Manning set up outside and delivered a solid ball to Jernigan, who instead of going for the ball and fighting for what should be his, started to slide towards the ball which gave CB Antonio Rodgers whatever (I’m really sick of all of these stupid names, someone has to take a stand) the space he needed to reach over Jernigan and knock the ball away. Hakeem Nicks dropped a wide open dig route on a 3rd and 6 to kill a promising Giant drive, but a dislocated middle finger on the play gives him an out. Nicks did return and ended up with 83 yards on 4 catches but most of his damage was done underneath in the seam areas. Give the Broncos credit, they kept Nicks in check and in front of them for the most part, but that amount of attention should show anyone watching who teams fear the most, and it is Nicks. WR Rueben Randle appeared to have scored after Myers’ catch and fall, but as is the blue print, if you’re a Giant with the football just give it away somehow. Randle finished with only 3 grabs for 14 yards after posting 101 in the opening loss to Dallas.

Tight Ends: TE Brandon Myers seems to be waking up a bit. After a miserable pre-season, Myers seems to be getting his footing, with 6 grabs for 74 yards and a noticeable improvement in blocking effort. Perhaps footing is a bit generous as Myers took what could have been an easy TD and stumbled forward for a 27 yard gain instead of a TD. TE Larry Donnell finished with 31 yards and 3 grabs, but again, mostly after the game had been decided. Give Donnell credit for an athletic penalty on the Giants onside kick that ultimately failed, #84 looked great doing it, but as with most of the effort in this game, it came up a bit short.

Offensive Line: Twenty-Three Yards. Say that to yourself a few times, let it sink in. Twenty-three yards on the ground with a team that forces its opponent to match up with 3 and 4 WR sets and defend the deep ball to keep WRs Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks from eviscerating their defenses. Look no further than the Giants first play on their second possession in which C David Baas seems to forget that it’s a football game and watches as DT Kevin Vickerson blows past him to drop David Wilson for a 3-yard loss. And in case you’re wondering yes, THAT Kevin Vickerson…you know the guy on his 3rd team in 9 years with a total of 62 games played out of a possible 144. (That would be a .430 batting average, not too shabby). You mean the Kevin Vickerson who once made 14 tackles in a single season for the Tennessee Titans, the same one who returned an interception 4 yards once in 2010? Yeah, try blocking that guy! RT Justin Pugh didn’t fare much better against the unstoppable Robert Ayers, who tossed Pugh aside and dropped Brandon Jacobs for another 3 yard loss on the first play of the Giants 3rd possession. In Pugh’s defense, it’s not fair to ask a rookie 1st rounder to take on another .420+ hitter. In Ayers first four seasons he has ripped off 24 starts in a 64 game stretch….pretty…pretty….pretty good. Against players in their 30s who routinely start 40% of their teams’ games, you can only sit back and hope your OL is alive by night’s end. Perhaps more impressive than Ayers ability to start, was his White Goodman like celebration after dropping Brandon Jacobs like it was the Dodgeball Regional Semifinals. For good measure, Baas let Terrence Knighton throw him aside to make a stuff on David Wilson on the Giants’ first drive of the second half.

Overall, solid pass protection, abysmal run blocking against a cast of veritable super stars that the Broncos line up at DT.

Defensive Line: DL Justin Tuck started week two off by knifing in on the game’s first play from the DT spot and dropping K (no more stupid names just letters from now on) Moreno for a 3 yard loss. Tuck’s pass rush was mostly neutralized by the repeated bear hugs from Denver RT Orlando Franklin, but the vet still finished with 8 stops. I won’t blame Gene Steratore, mostly because I think he may have me whacked, but Franklin was using the Hillbilly Jim bear hug as his go to pass blocking move. On the Broncos first scoring drive, DE Mathias Kiwanuka had a bead on Manning, only to be suplexed out of the way by Franklin as Steratore’s crew stood by presumably oblivious to the Giants frustration and possibly ignoring a foreign object. It must be noted though, that the DL seems content to whine about being held instead of trying to create separation with some hand punch and keeping the OL from getting so far inside. Tuck was absolutely the culprit though on K Moreno’s first TD as he allowed, once again, the OL to get inside his pads and keep him from extending his arms down the line of scrimmage to push the play wide enough for help to arrive. This is fundamentally bad football on that play, Tuck simply has to be more aware of where he is and what his job is as the play side DE and he looked quite frankly bored on the play as Moreno scampered by. Franklin was later seen spooning Tuck on a pass rush as Manning misfired on a 3rd down late in the 2nd half.

Rough game for DE Mathias Kiwanuka who was brushed aside all too easily on Moreno’s 2nd TD of the day and was victimized repeatedly on edge runs right at him. Reportedly Jason Pierre-Paul played, but I saw no signs of it. Give credit again to Giant big men, DT Shaun Rogers, Linval Joseph and Mike Patterson. The big three made it tough sledding inside for the Broncos, forcing the Broncos to go wide if they had any designs on ground yardage. Rogers had a 3 play stint in the 3rd quarter with two QB hurries, two hits and one bear paw swatting of Moreno who fell forward after being pawed by the Sumo sized Rogers. Sumo..that gives me an idea…maybe I’ll bring that up next week but it involves hockey and guaranteed shutouts.

Linebackers: LBs Spencer Paysinger and Jacquian Williams started as the only two backers against the Broncos pass happy attack and in those roles both played well. Paysinger and Williams combined for 14 stops and had decent coverage, keeping TE Julius Thomas in check for the most part with 47 yards and limiting Wes Welker’s damage over the middle to 39 yards on only 3 catches. Williams and Paysinger however both got completely swallowed on both of Moreno’s TD runs and once again, it looked like a glaring lack of effort on their part. Both play well in spurts but those edge runs, all afternoon, just had the Giants defenders looking like they were beaten before the play started, color me confused. Mark Herzlich managed to look like Bambi on a frozen pond as Holliday zoom zoom zoomed (damn you Mazda jingles) right past the former Eagle to pay dirt.

Defensive Backs: The Giant DBs have to get a lot of credit here, they came to play with another big challenge. Miscommunication is simply killing this secondary. On the game’s opening drive, Prince Amukamara seemed to be sinking in a Cover 2, ready to leave the deep half for S Ryan Mundy, who hesitated and jumped inside to follow TE Julius Thomas. The problem was, that WR Andre Caldwell AND Thomas were both open, allowing Caldwell to haul in a 36 yard gain down to the Giants 6 yard line on the game’s opening drive. Essentially Mundy covered no one, Amukamara covered no one and the Broncos were in business as the Giants failed to execute a simple coverage switch. Fortunately for the Giants, Prince was able to knock away a deep pass to WR Eric Decker in one on one coverage on an identical play, the difference is, the Giants blitzed and #20 expected no help, and didn’t need any.

Overall, despite the final score, a workman-like effort by Antrel Rolle, Ryan Mundy and Terrell Thomas, who totaled 19 stops and kept the Broncos trio in front of them for the most of the day.

Special Teams: Trindon Holliday is fast, Josh Brown kicks real good. Give LS Zak DeOssie credit, he must have been praying to…well nothing he’s an atheist, that he’d nab a shoelace on Holliday as the former LSU sprinter was racing to a back breaking TD. Outstanding effort by the Giant long snapper, despite the horrific result.

Cram it in your cramhole award: I mentioned to our fearless Editor Eric Kennedy how often I now have to look up names of the players while I am writing these diatribes. This week’s award was close, I almost gave it to Antonio Rodgers-Cromartie because for farts’ sake, enough with the hyphens and no more Cromarties! The winner though is the heretofore known as Snowshoe Moreno. I have renamed him Snowshoe because every time I typed his name, Microsoft Word squiggly red underlined it and suggested the following words instead: Know Shon, Knows On, Knowhow, Know-how or Snowshoe. I think you’ll agree with my choice.

(Boxscore – Denver Broncos at New York Giants, September 15, 2013)
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Linval Joseph, New York Giants (September 8, 2013)

Linval Joseph – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Approach to the Game – Denver Broncos at New York Giants, September 15, 2013: Being 0-1 and playing a home game in Week 2 has a familiar feel to it for Giants’ fans. After all, that’s the way the last three seasons have started. But this time the Giants are not facing the lowly St. Louis Rams (2011) or Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2012) in Week 2, but the Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos who are coming off a 49-point explosion against the NFL Champions.

The Giants will be 0-2 if they don’t play extremely well on offense, defense, and special teams on Sunday. Given the apparent state of the NFC East, that would not be a catastrophic start, but it would reduce the Giants’ margin of error in the upcoming road games.

My gut tells me the Giants are better than they looked against the Cowboys and the Broncos are not as good as they looked against the Ravens. I expect a close game. Hopefully, the Giants will channel some of those ghosts of the past when the heavily-favored Denver Broncos were upset by the Giants in the Meadowlands in 1998 and 2005, the latter being one of Eli Manning’s early dramatic come-from-behind victories.

Giants on Offense: Brandon Jacobs returns. His presence will likely pump up the fans and his teammates. Given his familiarity with the Giants’ offensive system, unlike most players signed right off of the street, he may play right away. It will be interesting to see how he performs. When the Giants released him in March 2012, he was a declining player. Jacobs barely played last year and missed all of training camp and the preseason this year. Fans should remember a couple of things: (1) despite his size, Brandon has never really been a good short-yardage runner, and (2) due to his lack of initial quickness, he’s the kind of guy who needs a play to be well-blocked in order to get going. Once he picks up a head of steam, he’s dangerous, but the line, tight ends, and fullback need to give him the room to pick up that steam.

For obvious reasons, the focus of much of this past week has been on David Wilson. I am in no way, shape, or form excusing Wilson, but he’s not the only reason why the Giants lost last Sunday night. Wilson wasn’t “careless” with the ball on either of his fumbles. But Dallas made a concentrated effort to rip the ball out of his hands and now he’s a marked man. The only way you overcome that is by holding onto the football. Also, a lot of focus has been on Wilson not blocking DE George Selvie on the goal line. As Joey in VA pointed out in his game review, the bigger issue was Henry Hynoski not chipping on Selvie. If your play design is counting on a 205 pound halfback to block a 270 pound defensive end, then the play is likely to fail.

Where am I going with this? By far, David Wilson remains the best running back on this team. Fans need to get behind him and support him. He has the skillset to change the way a defense plays the Giants. No other back on this roster does. Hopefully the fans won’t turn against Wilson and recognize that we need him.

David Wilson’s issues also overshadowed the fact that Eli Manning, despite mostly playing a stellar game last week, threw three interceptions. Two came on screen passes.

“One was a play action screen and you hope that the defensive end goes one way, while he ended up coming underneath,” said Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride. “We have some inexperienced backs who are just learning how to play the game so they didn’t float out. Should have just thrown it into the ground. The other one, the back just turned in when he should have just stayed where he was. The first one might have gone to the house, but it is what it is. We threw two interceptions on two screens, which is maybe the first time in 25 years in the National Football League. It wasn’t very encouraging. Think of it, when you’re throwing a ball, that’s an integral and very complimentary part of what you’re trying to do. We have to get the screen game going.”

On the first play, the defensive end wasn’t blocked correctly and Wilson may not have been in the correct position, but Manning can’t throw that pass. His second interception simply looked like a bad throw. And on his last pick, the back was in the wrong spot, but Manning also put too much mustard on that throw. My point? The Giants need Eli to play at an “elite” level (there’s that damn word again) and in order to do that, he’s got to cut out the 2-3 brain farts. 450 yards and three touchdowns might not matter if you throw three interceptions.

Up front, Chris Snee needs to play better. David Baas (MCL) may return to the starting lineup at center this week and Kevin Boothe may return to his left guard position. Justin Pugh is developing. But Snee is not playing up to his contract. I also hope Baas isn’t rushing it. He’s another guy who hasn’t played well when hurt (which seems to be all of the time). When you take into account the constant line-up changes on the offensive line, combined with Hynoski’s injury and the subpar blocking at tight end, it’s no wonder the running game is struggling.

Which brings us to something that is going to haunt the Giants all season if they don’t get it fixed: short-yardage. Once again, the Giants couldn’t gain the single yard they needed last week (the play right after Ryan Mundy’s interception). I don’t care if the opposing defense is geared up to stop the run. At any level of football, you have to get one yard when you need it, even if the other team expects the play to be coming. These short-yardage struggles will end drives and lead to punts and field goals instead of touchdowns. You want to be a tough, physical football team and not a bunch of pussies? Then get a yard when you need it.

As for the Broncos, with LB Von Miller (suspension) out, they are a bit of a no-name defense, but use multiple fronts, are fast and quick, and hustle to the football. The four sacks the Broncos had last week are a little misleading as the Broncos had problems in the first half getting pressure on the quarterback. The bigger danger is the confusing fronts leading to pass protection breakdowns. If the Giants play smart up front, Eli should have time to throw the football. The Broncos have an impressive array of blitz packages (Perry Fewell could learn something here). The fact that Denver likes to blitz a lot, we may see Brandon Jacobs having more of an impact as a pass protector.

The Broncos do have a couple of big bodies inside at defensive tackle. Terrance Knighton (335 pounds) and Kevin Vickerson (328 pounds) can be difficult to move out. With Miller out, the best pass rusher now may be reserve DE/LB Shaun Phillips (ex-Chargers). Champ Bailey (foot) may not play, but the Denver has some talent in the secondary. From what I could tell from watching them last weekend, they run very well. Their best defender is probably MLB Wesley Woodyard.

Giants on Defense: Peyton Manning will always get a defense’s attention. But the fact that he’s coming off of one of his best games ever, and an NFL-record tying seven touchdown passes, you know what the focus will be.

The strength of Denver’s offense is obviously their passing game and the temptation must be there for Fewell to play pass first. He did that against Peyton Manning and the Colts in 2010 and his defense got clobbered as a poor rushing team ran up and down the field on New York. Fewell says he won’t do that again.

“There were some things we prepared for and that we did that I wouldn’t do again,” said Fewell. “I felt like, from a planning standpoint, that we planned properly but it was not the best plan we could have come up with. Without trying to reveal a lot of things I learned, I would just say that we’re doing it differently. We’re doing it much differently because there’s some things that when you go into a contest and you have a plan against a guy like that and you come out and make some notes and try to improve on those notes that you made so when you take that test again you got your cheat sheet and you hope you’re much better.”

I don’t know about you, but that didn’t fill me with a lot of confidence. Neither does the idea of Mark Herzlich trying to cover the short-to-intermediate passing threats. I would play this game with only two linebackers on the field, and the linebackers I would use are Keith Rivers and Jacquian Williams. Terrell Thomas would be my third “linebacker.” Yes, that makes you vulnerable to the run (just like 2010), but I think the more linebackers the Giants have on the field on Sunday, the worse it will get for them. To be frank, Jerry Reese did a horrible job at this position in the offseason and it’s going to cost New York all season.

Peyton is going to play those mind games with the defense, and to be honest, I wouldn’t get caught up in that chess match. No Giant defender is going to out-think Peyton. Just line up and play aggressive, physical, and fast. Think too much and that will take away from your game.

“You need poise, you need to make sure that you’re aligned properly, that the communication is good, that you’re ready to go,” said Head Coach Tom Coughlin. “(Peyton is)  looking for a weakness, but if you’re lined up properly and ready, then there’s no apparent weakness. It’s going to give you at least a pre-snap opportunity to be in the right spot. If you’re running around like a crazy person and expending all this nervous energy, not poised, not lined up, wondering, ‘What’s the signal,’ then he has the advantage.”

Peyton’s go-to guy is slot-receiver Wes Welker, who fortunately, the Giants are very familiar with. He runs the same option routes that Cruz does that gives defenses trouble. He’s going to get his catches. You have to make sure they are not down the field and you come up and tackle him right away. WR Demaryius Thomas is a Pro Bowler with an excellent combination of size and speed. WR Eric Decker is solid and TE Julius Thomas had a huge game last week with over 100 yards receiving and two touchdowns. In short, Peyton has a tremendous array of talent to throw to. Hopefully, CB Prince Amukamara (concussion) will play as he would likely face Thomas. The big match-up issue will be Welker. Thomas usually plays the slot and will likely be the one covering Welker, but Thomas isn’t the quickest guy in the world and could have problems with Welker’s quickness.

To state the obvious, much will depend on the Giants’ defensive line. Denver’s offensive line is very good, led by Pro Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady and Pro Bowl left guard Zane Beadles. Jason Pierre-Paul/Kiwanuka and Cullen Jenkins will be hard-pressed to make much noise against these two. The Giants need big games out of Justin Tuck and Linval Joseph. A few timely blitzes could help, but blitzing Peyton is risky business. Perhaps just as important as the pass rush, if the Giants do play more defensive backs, there will be a greater burden on the defensive line to stop the run more on its own. If the Giants can make the Broncos more one-dimensional while keeping more defensive backs on the field, then they have a greater shot at causing problems for Peyton.

Giants on Special Teams: Diminutive Trindon Holliday is exceptionally dangerous on both kickoff and punt returns.

“He’s very dangerous,” said Special Teams Coordinator Tom Quinn. “We’ll try to not let him touch the ball, which is easier said than done. We’ve got to be very disciplined in coverage. Every guy has got to do their job. You do have to attack him at some point. You can’t play on your heels. So it’s a huge, huge challenge for both our punt coverage and our kickoff coverage.”

If the Giants expect to give Brandon Jacobs some serious playing time, the Giants may want to consider allowing David Wilson to return kickoffs in this game.

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Victor Cruz, New York Giants (September 8, 2013)

Victor Cruz – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Dallas Cowboys 36 – New York Giants 31

by Joey in VA for BigBlueInteractive.com

Game Review: Apoplexy at AT&T – Like most of you, I would love to chalk this one up to some bad bounces, tough breaks and a summer of Eli Manning and his WRs not having the time to practice but I simply can’t. Since taking over the play calling and installing his downfield heavy but still run and shoot offense, I have rarely been critical of offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride. Three NFC East titles, two super bowl wins and offensive records obliterated will do that to a fan of this team, especially one who appreciates Gilbride’s ability to adjust in-game and give his QB the blue print to victory more often than not. What we witnessed on the evening is simply mind boggling from an offense with a 10 year veteran QB with 2 Pro Bowl caliber WRs, a dynamic HB and a third WR on the verge of becoming a bona fide threat. Simply put, Kevin Gilbride failed in the New York Giants season opening debacle in Dallas and his QB, while game as always, and proved that he’s still prone to silly mistakes, poor mechanics and game killing plays.

Against former Cowboy defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s attacking, multiple look 3-4, I would expect an early screen pass to slow down the overweight Gandalf’s aggressive schemes. The key with Ryan has always been slowing down the rush, and keeping the front 7 honest but the Tampa 2 is a different animal. Inexplicably, Gilbride planned to attack a sound conservative Tampa 2 with an array of head scratching play calls. From the first snap, it was clear that Gilbride either hadn’t watched film of Monte Kiffin and his base 4-3, or decided that he was smarter than everyone in the building. With a young OL starting two new players in LG James Brewer and RT Justin Pugh, Gildbride decided that slowing down a 4-3 base defense meant fooling all everything DE DeMarcus Ware instead of attacking the woefully thin Cowboy interior that was without anchor Jay Ratliff and was using the 254lb Ware as a rush end from the right side. Instantly, Ware proved why he is the best defender in the division by reading a poorly executed screen and picking off an ill-advised Eli Manning screen pass to HB David Wilson. One screen play down, one disaster – check.

Eli and company appeared to have cleared the first hurdle, with Hakeem Nicks cutting underneath the 2 Deep zone for a 57 yard gain but four plays later, on a 1st and goal from the 8 yard line, David Wilson was in the middle of mistake number 2, coughing up the ball and killing a chance to take the lead on a night when momentum would swing wildly both ways. The beefed up Giants defense stepped into the breach again though, forcing a 3 and out and giving Eli and company a new set of downs from the Giant 38 only down by 3 after the 2 big mishaps. Manning must have been getting football on his phone, and not wanting to miss a minute, so he allowed his defensive mates another chance to take the field by tossing the ball right to S Will Allen. Still refusing to let the offense down, the Giants D again rose up, with ex-Steeler Ryan Mundy channeling his inner Stevie Brown on a deflected interception, only to channel his inner James Brown 91 yards later and flail to the ground short of the goal line.

With the score knotted at 3-3, Dallas finally got its bearings on offense, chewing up 7 minutes over a 14 play drive that ended with a second Dan Bailey FG and a narrow 6-3 lead. The mistakes just kept on coming with FB Henry Hynoski dooming the Giants next drive with an illegal shift penalty on first down that resulted in a 4-play 3-and-out and another failed series. Nine plays later the Giants defense finally broke on a 9 play 71 yard drive that put the home team up 13-3. Eli and company would not go quietly after three early turnovers and a stout defensive effort. Three plays after falling behind by 10, Manning found his favorite deep target Victor Cruz alone on a 70 yard bomb that pulled the G-men within 13-10, where it remained until after halftime.

After a Cowboy three and out, you could almost hear a chorus of “I’m rubber you’re glue, bounces off me and sticks to you” being sung by David Wilson, Da’Rel Scott and Trumaine McBride. The three combined to cough up the ball 3 more times, leading to 21 more easy Cowboy points and a late rally that fell short despite another desperate fourth quarter charge by Eli and Victor Cruz. With 8:47 to go in the contest and down just 30-24 after falling behind by 17, the Giants defense rallied to stifle the Dallas Cowboys on consecutive drives and you could almost hear the oddly tight skin on Jerry Jones’ neck cracking under the pressure of another Giant miracle right in his big backyard. Fortunately for anyone within 10 feet of the 87 year old bodied, 40 year old brained and 1,000 year old skinned Cowboy owner, the Giants rally fell short as a screen pass (two screens and two disasters, check and check) bounced off of the arms of reserve RB Da’Rel Scott into the arms CB Brandon Carr who returned the ball 49 yards and pushed the Big D bulge to 36-24, effectively ending the “Apoplexy at AT&T”.

Quarterback: Two Super Bowl MVPs and numerous fourth quarter rallies will always endear Eli Manning to the Big Blue Faithful, but it’s his maddening ability to make boneheaded plays early in the game must have remotes flying in more TV rooms than just mine. After a so so pre-season in which Eli seemed off, his first play from scrimmage was a nightmare, dumping the ball to DE DeMarcus Ware and putting the G-Men in a 3-0 hole just minutes into their opener. As he is wont to do though, Eli eventually overcame another turnover of his own and two by David Wilson to get the Giants within 6 with just under 9 minutes to play. As ugly as this game got for the former Rebel, it was sprinkled with some hope in the form of a few haymakers to Victor Cruz, a 57 yard crossing route to Hakeem Nicks and even a 100 yard game from 3rd WR Rueben Randle. The killer though, despite 4 TDs and 450 yards is that game ended and began on the same play against the precise type of defense you DON’T want to run that play on. Despite the heroics to make it a game, Eli has to be smarter with the ball, especially on screens to RBs who not yet demonstrated any capacity to step up in a real game. His final pick to Carr could have been avoided if he had not thrown it so quickly and to Scott’s outside shoulder with a traditional cover 2 press behind it in which the CBs play the short third and are in prime position to make those plays.

I have to put those two screen failures directly at his feet, despite my agitation with the screen passes against this defense. Eli simply made two very careless plays that led directly to 10 points and ultimately the difference in the game. You can lay this at Wilson’s feet, Coughlin’s red face, McBride’s surprisingly springy humerus or bury it somewhere in the push broom that Gilbride manicures so precisely but in the end, when you’re the leader, the highest paid player and have appeared with a Banana in place of your manhood on SNL you make the plays when it counts.

Running Backs: Blessed with world class speed and athletic ability, HB David Wilson can somehow engage his body to launch his 205lb frame into the air for a standing somersault but cannot call upon that power to hold on to a 15 oz. football. Wilson finished his first game as a starter the same way he started his first game last year, on the bench lamenting turnovers and watching his team lose a very winnable game. He doesn’t care about us according to the Twitterverse so why waste any time on him?

FB Henry Hynoski missed most of OTAs and camp with a knee (presumably he has two) and it showed in the opener. Not to absolve David Wilson, but his first fumble came on the heels of a badly missed Hynoski block. Shortly after missing a block, Hyno looked like a legendary strong man on his first reception attempt, with the football playing the role of the cannonball. Apparently, Gilbride decided he hadn’t gone to the Hynoski well enough. After Mundy’s INT, at the Cowboy 8, Hynoski ran an what appeared to be FB pass disguised as a dive, but he didn’t touch DE George Selvie on his way out to sell the fake and Selvie ran down Eli Manning and pushed the Giants further from the goal line yet again. David Wilson whiffed on Selvie for good measure, but inside the 5 yard line, I am not asking my 205 HB to take out a 270LB DE in a phone booth as my FB skips past unaware. This is another example of why this team bogs down in the red zone, poor execution from plays that don’t play to our strengths.

HB Da’Rel Scoti was a gamer, pressed into action after Wilson coughed up fumble #2, but Scott’s failure to catch an Eli Manning screen play ended the game on an ugly note.

Wide Receivers: WR Hakeem Nicks is back. On the Giants second possession, the former Tar Heel took a quick slant 57 yards to the Cowboys 23 yard line. Nicks took advantage of the soft cover 2 and was able to race through it untouched, setting up the Giants after a miserable opening drive. Victor Cruz’s new contract comes with renewed expectations and #80 made his money with 3 TDs and 118 yards on only 5 catches. Cruz ignited the Giants finally with 1:05 left in the first half by running a go route right between the hash marks where CB Morris Claiborne bailed expecting safety help and his safety incorrectly assumed Cruz was headed down the sideline. Great route, great play call and great throw by Manning there to keep the Giants in the game going into the half. WR Rueben Randle also had a 100 yard game, which has you fantasy nerds digging up your waiver wires but three 100 yard WR efforts and 0-1 isn’t a result I’d be too happy with.

Tight Ends: New TE Brandon Myers didn’t sit down in the zone on his first target from Eli, causing an early misfire in the red zone but made up for on a 3rd and 11 with a terrific catch from Manning that fell 2 yards short of a TD. Myers ended the game with some garbage time yardage ended up with 66 yards and TD but his blocking was woeful, an ordinary effort from an ordinary player.

Offensive Line: Do I have to? Really? I praise LT Will Beatty all pre-season for his heads up play and he makes the cardinal sin of the screen pass from an OL standpoint on play one. Generally, the screen is run between defenders, the key being that the 1st defender on the edge has to be taken wide to create a throwing lane before the OL can release downfield to block. You can almost see Beatty realize that as he scuffled back to try to slow down DE DeMarcus Ware as he was shooting the B gap right into Eli’s lap but that small lapse doomed the entire play. LG James Brewer got his first start and allowed penetration on David Wilson’s first fumble, again not an absolution of Wilson but the margin for error on our red zone plays is razor thin and we saw a domino effect of Brewer, Hynoski and Wilson all botching the play. Not wanting anyone to feel too sad, C Kevin Boothe also botched his block on Wilson’s ill-fated fumble. With no one over his nose, Booth had to scrape off the DT and get to the second level to seal pursuit from the DBs and LBs, but inexplicably Boothe sort of amoebaed around until three defenders shot past him, realizing he was just there to say hi and not actually make a block. Brewer also gave up a quick pressure to DL Jason Hatcher that doomed a 3rd down play, but the new LG was adequate enough, albeit against a slew of backups at DT. Overall not a terrible effort by the OL, but it’s clear the timing isn’t there on running plays just yet and this group needs time to gel. RT Justin Pugh played solidly, not great, but I expect more from the right side in the coming weeks.

Defensive Line: Subway pitch man Justin Tuck put down his 5 dollar foot long (the sandwich you sickos) long enough to disrupt Tony Romo on the game’s first defensive series. Tuck lined up at LDT and tossed RG Mackenzy Bernadeau aside to rush the throw and hold the Cowboys to a field goal after starting on the Giant 15. The defensive line wasn’t able to get a lot of shots on Romo, but it appeared the plan was to contain him in the pocket and play disciplined gaps up front. There were a handful of stunts, but for the most part the front 4 were there to contain the edges and disrupt the pocket where possible. Give Romo and his mates credit though, 49 passes and only 2 sacks resulted from an abundance of shotgun formations and 3 step drops designed to get the ball out quickly and not let the Giants talented front take over the game. Overall the DL acquitted itself well, holding Romo to 263 yards and Murray to a very tough 86 on the ground. My biggest gripe is that I saw very little of our 6-5 and plus DEs getting their hands in the air when it was clear they were playing to contain Romo in the pocket and not let him have the edge to sprint out and extend plays.

The long awaited return of JPP didn’t bear fruit until a 4th quarter sack of Tony Romo, as Cowboy LT Tyron Smith was able to neutralize the former all pro single-handedly most of the evening. Again, it appeared that the play side DEs were instructed to hold the pocket and keep Romo in it, but even on those plays, Smith was adept enough to negate JPPs reach simply by getting his hands outside of Pierre-Paul’s shoulder pads and keeping him from using his wingspan to cut down Romo’s passing lanes. Credit Smith and his OL coach for that going on most of the evening, it’s not easy to keep rangy DEs like JPP and Mathias Kiwanuka from batting down there share of balls, when it’s clearly in their plan of attack to do so. Tom Brady’s throwing through a forest comment in Super Bowl 46 must have reached someone’s ears in Dallas. I don’t do it often, but hell of a job scouting what our DEs to well and making a point to almost totally negate it through the game. The bigger DTs made it tougher sledding for Cowboy backs, but no real impact plays from the trio of Joseph, Patterson and Rogers save for a late sack.

Linebackers: The Giants LB corps just reminds me of a party that no one really hated or no one really liked. You show up, see a few people, make note of some guys wearing jerseys in the 50s who just kind of hang around for 2.5 hours. That’s real football science for you kids! All terrible analogies aside, I see no impact at LB, not in the running game, and with a few Jacquian Willams passes defended aside nothing in the passing game. New MLB Dan Connor didn’t do much before bowing out with a stinger. Give Williams credit on the Romo Malachi Crunch that gave the Cowboy QB an apparent boo boo that had his wife upset, Jerry Jones frantic and NJ Governor and now traitor Chris Christie looking very heavy and overly tan for a man of his corpulence. Number 57 launched himself at RT Doug Free (who coincidentally looks like a Dave Attell on steroids) and gave Kiwi a clean shot at Tony Romo. Replacement Mark Herzlich led the front 7 in stops but it was his lax coverage on TE Jason Witten that allowed the Cowboys first TD.

Defensive Backs: Give credit where credit is due, and as a unit the Giants much maligned secondary played on hell of a game on Sunday night. Even without turnover machine Stevie Brown, the DBs were able to slow down the Cowboys fast break offense that features four legitimate game breakers who can beat you if you stop any of the others. Holding Dez Bryant to 22 yards on 4 catches and keeping Miles Austin to a 7.2 yard average is an impressive performance especially when coupled with the Giants inability to hold on to the football. Starting safety Antrel Rolle may have saved an early TD with an outstanding open field tackle on DeMarco Murray after the Giants blitz left him all alone in the flat against the dangerous ex-Sooner. Rolle has been vocal all off season about improving this defense and backed it up on Sunday night with 5 stops and generally sound coverage all night on a dangerous Dallas receiving corps. Rolle did however badly miss an open field stop on TE Jason Witten on a 3rd and 11 that allowed the Cowboys to convert but don’t forget that the other guys get paid too. New S Ryan Mundy started off with a bang, getting plowed by HB DeMarco Murray after a punishing 11 yard run, but made up for it with a 91 yard interception return and collapse.

CB Prince Amukamara played a little too soft on WR Miles Austin, allowing an early slant and first down, but Amukamara did a great job of re-routing a Cowboy WR, tipping the ball into the waiting arms of Ryan Mundy who apparently can only run 91 yards without oxygen. Nickel Back Terrell Thomas returned from a 2 year absence and almost took one to the house, jumping between Romo and his intended target to knock the ball harmlessly away. Thomas tackled well and competed all night, if he stays healthy it will be a huge boost to this group. CB Corey Webster presumably flipped a coin, it landed on heads and he decided this year he’d be good. Had it been tails like last year, there’s no telling which #23 we would see. Lined up over Bryant a good portion of the night, C-Web was smart, physical and sound, not missing tackles and staying in Bryant’s back pocket most of the night.

Special Teams: CB Trumaine McBride had the biggest special teams play of the night. Not big as in, “My that’s a big engagement ring”, more like “I remember thinkin to myself. Wow, that’s O.J. Simpson, he has a big f#*&in head man” (Charlie Murphy). Not even a melon like OJs is enough to make you get over the football bouncing off of McBride’s arm like it was an ejector seat from the old G.I. Joe cartoons. Kicker kicked, punter punted whoopee, we lost – I hate special teams when we lose.

Cram it in your cramhole award: Each week I will make fun of an opposing player, coach, owner, fan or all of the above depending on how much I’ve had to drink while writing this. This week, the award goes to…“He’s faking…hey ref..he’s faking..see he’s faking” – Cowboys idiot Jason Witten after DL Cullen Jenkins got his arm stepped on and had to leave with a burner. Maybe Cullen was faking it, but maybe you looked like the dork in class who rats out someone on the playground for putting dirt down your shorts instead of getting even. For record, I have not once put dirt down anyone’s shorts (that anyone can prove here, at Aquinas Catholic School or otherwise).

(Boxscore – New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, September 8, 2013)
Sep 062013
 
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Keith Rivers, New York Giants (October 28, 2012)

The Linebackers Must Cover Witten – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, September 8, 2013: For true football fans, the start of football season each September has become one way in which we measure time, especially for those of us who are older. There are birthdays and holidays and other significant dates such as the start and end of school each year, but the football clock has its own special meaning to many of us. It symbolizes the end of summer and coming of cooler weather – football weather. And it inaugurates a new weekly routines and rituals that culminate on game day. To some of us, specific years not only mark time, but represent happy or sad memories from a specific NFL season. The years 1986, 1990, 2007, and 2011 have a vastly different meaning to a Giants’ fan.

So starts the 2013 NFL Campaign.  At least 16 individual game-day dramas are about to unfold for us.  I can’t predict the outcome, but I can tell you without doubt that the ride will be a rollercoaster. There will be ups and downs, misery and joy. One week we will feel like kings of the world and the next our co-workers won’t want to be around us on Monday. Each NFL season is quite an adventure, and like that overused quote from Forrest Gump, you’re never sure what you’re going to get.

Division games are so critically important. Last season, the Redskins went 5-1 in the NFC East. Meanwhile, the Giants split their divisional games with each opponent, finishing 3-3 in the NFC East. Each of those losses was a tight but ultimately disappointing affair that ended up costing the Giants the division and a playoff spot. Because there are so few games, each contest on the 16-game schedule matters, but none more so than division games.

Needless to say, the Giants-Cowboys opener is a huge game for both teams.

Giants on Offense: Dallas’ defense has completely changed. They have shifted from the 3-4 to the 4-3 defense. Such a dramatic transition can normally cause problems but the Cowboys are helped by the very experienced Monte Kiffin, who is now Dallas’ defensive coordinator. Kiffin ran Tampa Bay’s tough defense from 1996-2008, and he is joined in Dallas by his old compatriot, Rod Marinelli, one of the best defensive line coaches in the NFL.

Kiffin’s system is different than his predecessor’s.  It’s a bit more conservative but fundamentally sound, designed to prevent big plays. The Giants might have to be more patient against it, but growing pains to the 4-3 and some injury issues on Dallas’ defense could still present some big-play opportunities for the Giants.

Like most teams, the Cowboys have some strengths and weaknesses on defense. The heart of the unit remains play-makers RDE DeMarcus Ware and MLB Sean Lee, two of the very best at their respective positions in the NFL. Ware, who has now shifted from linebacker to defensive end, has 111 career sacks. And Lee is a hard-hitting, instinctive, play-making tackling machine. It will be critically important for the Giants to get a hat on both and sustain those blocks. The likely absence of FB Henry Hynoski (knee) could hurt with Lee.

Ware would normally line up over Will Beatty but it will be interesting to see if Kiffin has him challenge the rookie Justin Pugh. Dallas is also sure to test LG James Brewer with blitzes and stunts in an effort to confuse the big but inexperienced player.

That all said, Dallas is a bit banged up on the defensive line. LDE Anthony Spencer (knee) and DT Jay Ratliff (hamstring) won’t play. Their back-ups, DE George Selvie and DT Nick Hayden will start. That should help the Giants.  DT Jason Hatcher is tough however.

Led by Lee, the linebacking unit is probably the strength of the defense right now. WLB Bruce Carter and SLB Justin Durrant are athletic, the type of linebackers that Kiffin likes to employ in his Tampa-2 system.

The faces change, but as has been the case for years, the Dallas safeties are the weak spot in the secondary with Barry Church and Will Allen now starting. RCB Morris Claiborne, Dallas’ 2012 first-rounder, has not practiced or played all preseason. The Giants are sure to test him. LCB Brandon Carr is very solid. Orlando Scandrick is the nickel back. The corners are more naturally suited to press coverage, but Kiffin tends to employ more conservative zone coverage. It will be interesting to see if this leads to opportunities for Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle, and Louis Murphy.

The big concerns for the Giants remain: can the revamped offensive line with two inexperienced players protect Eli Manning and provide running room for David Wilson? With Andre Brown (fractured leg) out, can David Wilson handle a bigger load? Can Da’Rel Scott adequately spell him as a runner, receiver, and pass protector? Ball security for both will be critical. The absence of Brown exacerbates the Giants’ woeful short-yardage and red zone offense. Can the Giants convert on third-and-short and score touchdowns in the red zone, especially against Kiffin’s bend-but-don’t-break defense?

The Giants will need Eli Manning to get out of his preseason funk, and to be frank, out-play Tony Romo.

Giants on Defense: The Dallas offense is similar to the Giants in that they have a lot of talent at the skill positions, but there are huge question marks on the offensive line.

It looks like Doug Free will still start at right tackle despite the Cowboys wanting to move him inside to guard. Inside, the Cowboys have a rookie center and two guards with questionable ability. LT Tyron Smith is their best player. It is absolutely critical for the self-acclaimed Giants’ defensive line to control the line of scrimmage, stuff the run, and get after Romo. If they don’t, the shaky back seven of the Giants’ defense could be exposed by a very talented group of receivers.

The first key will be stopping the run. It is believed that Offensive Coordinator Bill Callahan, the new play-caller, will operate a more balanced offense with an increased emphasis on the run. DeMarco Murray has given the Giants problems in the past and if he gets it going, it will be a long night. The Cowboys also have some decent backups in Lance Dunbar and Phillip Tanner (Late Note: Dunbar will not play due to foot injury). It’s imperative that Linval Joseph, Cullen Jenkins, Shaun Rogers, and Mike Patterson dominate the Cowboys’ interior trio, while Justin Tuck, Mathias Kiwanuka, and maybe Jason Pierre-Paul (back) hold the edges. Obviously, the linebackers must be strong at the point-of-attack, while at the same time being cognizant of misdirection, something the Giants’ defense has been vulnerable to for quite some time.

If the Giants are able to limit Dallas’ ground game, the danger is not over. Guys like Tuck, Kiwanuka, and Jenkins are going to have to get heat on Tony Romo. Fans love to criticize Romo, but he is one of the most productive quarterbacks in the game and he has burned the Giants quite a bit over the years. Like all quarterbacks, the key is to get in his face and rattle him. Inside pressure in his face will help tremendously, but the Giants have to bring him down and not let him improvise. He’s at his best when improvising. I’ll say it again – bring him down!

WR Dez Bryant is one of the most dangerous receivers in football. He’s a size-speed match-up problem. Prince Amukamara will probably cover him for the bulk of the game. Do the Giants help out Prince? Don’t lose sight of the other guy who isn’t getting nearly enough press: WR Miles Austin. Austin has had a very strong summer and Romo likes to throw to him. Moreover, Austin has given the Giants’ fits over the years. He will be a very tough test for Corey Webster. Throw into this mix TE Jason Witten, still a very dangerous and reliable target for Romo. He’s Romo’s security blanket. He caught 18 passes in one game against the Giants last season. Dallas is sure to test the Giants’ linebackers and safeties in coverage with passes to the tight ends and backs. Wouldn’t you?

Giants on Special Teams: Dwayne Harris returns punts and kickoffs for the Cowboys, but obviously they will use Dez Bryant on punt returns in critical situations. As for the Giants, ball security by punt returner Rueben Randle and kick returner Michael Cox is concern #1. The rookie Cox could have first-game jitters.

Series Notes: The Cowboys lead the regular-season series, 57-42-2.

The Giants are 7-11 in prime time against the Cowboys.

The Giants are 0-5 in season-opening games vs. the Cowboys (1965, 1986, 1995, 2007, and 2012). They won the Super Bowl in two of those seasons (1986 and 2007).