Dec 222020
 
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Sterling Shepard, New York Giants (December 20, 2020)

Sterling Shepard – © USA TODAY Sports

QUICK RECAP

While the modern-day rivalry between the Cleveland Browns and New York Giants isn’t very historical or dramatic, as they only play once every four years and don’t have any championship games against one another, there was some extra spice to this late-season match-up. First, the 2019 CLE Head Coach Freddie Kitchens took over play calling duties for NYG for Jason Garrett, who missed the game because of Covid-19. Second, former CLE starting QB Colt McCoy was starting for the injured Daniel Jones. And third, these two teams traded players and picks with each other two offseasons ago, creating a “revenge” feel for many. Beyond that, the national TV, flexed game was a big one for NYG. Because of a WAS loss earlier in the day, NYG would be back in 1st place if they were able to pull off the upset against CLE, winner of 4 of their last 5.

Following a 48-yard return on the opening kick to midfield by Dion Lewis, NYG was set up nicely to start the game. Thanks to a 22-yard pass from McCoy to Sterling Shepard, NYG quickly had the ball in the red zone. After a failed touchdown pass attempt to Evan Engram, the NYG field goal unit came on for a 25-yard field goal attempt. The trickster in Joe Judge has been getting more and more aggressive, but this next decision took the cake. NYG rushed into an odd formation with everyone split out besides three down linemen. Center Nick Gates, an eligible receiver, snapped the ball then ran into the end zone. Punter Riley Dixon took the snap, dropped back like a quarterback similar to that time he did it in recess a couple decades ago, and lofted a pass to Gates who was surrounded by 3 CLE defenders. The ball fell incomplete, turnover on downs.

CLE then turned the ball over on downs near midfield, giving NYG another strong starting field position. This time, they turned it into 3 points. McCoy hit Darius Slayton for 35 yards on this drive and even though everyone knew points would be tough to come by, it was a good sign this team got into the red zone on both of their first two possessions. They were only up 3-0, however. Baker Mayfield, the #1 pick from the 2018 Draft, looked smooth, confident, and decisive. CLE used that to go up by a score of 7-3 via a 2-yard pass to tight end Austin Hooper.

Once again, NYG drove the ball down the field and breached the red zone. They were faced with a 4th-and-2 from the 6-yard line, enabling Judge to stay aggressive. A rush attempt failed to convert the first down and instead of points, it was a turnover on downs for the second time. NYG has an All-Pro contender at kicker, they have a hard time scoring points, and they now were down 7-3 instead of up 9-7. The seemingly automatic Mayfield continued to complete pass after pass on the next drive. They near-seamlessly put another touchdown on the board on a 2-yard pass to Jarvis Landry. Landry was flagged for taunting, however, pushing the CLE extra point attempt back 15 yards. Kicker Cody Parkey ended up hitting the upright on the PAT attempt, keeping the score at 13-3 as halftime approached. NYG has scored a combined 3 first half points over the previous 3 games.

CLE had the momentum and started the second half with the ball. If NYG wanted any shot at a comeback win, these opening second-half possessions were vital. Dexter Lawrence sacked Mayfield for an 11-yard loss on a 2nd-and-11. This was the play that was supposed to change the flow of the game. However, on the ensuing NYG drive, and after two first downs that brought NYG to midfield, Wayne Gallman was tackled for a 3-yard loss due to a failed attempted block by Engram, a wide receiver who sometimes lines up where a tight end is supposed to. This created a 3rd-and-12, which NYG did not convert.

CLE then went on a 14-play, 8+ minute drive that ended in a 1-yard touchdown by Nick Chubb. It was 20-3 and the NYG offense just couldn’t get anything going from sources like Colt McCoy, Alfred Morris, and a group pass catchers who are among the least-intimidating in football. NYG was able to put 3 more points on the board a couple possessions later to make it 20-6 (rather than 20-12) with 4 minutes left. CLE was done scoring but they did force NYG to burn their timeouts before getting the ball back with a minute left. A few pointless and meaningless gains later, the clock read 0:00 and NYG remained in 2nd place as they lost their second straight.

NYG loses, 20-6.

QUARTERBACK

-Colt McCoy: 19-31 / 221 yards / 0 TD – 0 INT / 82.9 RAT

For the second time in 3 weeks, McCoy got the start for an injured Daniel Jones. Expectations for a 34-yard old career backup are never high and whatever they may be, McCoy met them. He made a couple of really nice throws in the first quarter that led NYG to the red zone, but he couldn’t seal the deal on a couple of opportunities in the end zone. McCoy just didn’t put the ball where he needed to on a few occasions and that is often the difference between good and mediocre at this level. NYG went over 15 years without having to deal with a backup starting the game. We’ve now seen it twice in three weeks. It really is such a limiting factor.

RUNNING BACK

-Alfred Morris led the way with 39 yards on 7 carries while Wayne Gallman added 29 yards on 7 carries. Dion Lewis caught 2 passes for 14 yards and had a 48 yard kick return to start off the game but fumbled later in the game as a returner for the second week in a row. It wasn’t a bad day for the NYG backs, but it lacked impact and Gallman getting stuffed on a 4th-and-2 where he just didn’t have the sheer power to push the pile forward was a killer.

WIDE RECEIVER

-Darius Slayton led the way with 74 yards on 4 catches. He had an awful drop that would have converted a 3rd-and-10 (even if he did, there was a penalty on the offensive line that cancelled the play altogether). Still a really ugly look for Slayton. Those 74 yards were 29 yards more than what he accrued in the previous 3 games combined. However, 2 of those catches and 18 of those yards came in the final minute of the game where pretty much nobody cared.

-Sterling Shepard added 51 yards on 4 catches and Golden Tate caught 2 passes for 13 yards. That is a combined 6 catches for 64 yards. Just over 10 yards per catch, yet again from these two. The more games I see this offense play, the stronger the notion is that this team is starving for playmakers on the outside that scare a defense.

TIGHT END

-Evan Engram had a bad game. He did catch 4 passes for 46 yards but he added another drop to the list and his blocking was poor. He just isn’t a guy that can handle the rigors of blocking in-line. He allowed a TFL and caused both Morris and Gallman alike to alter the running lane on one occasion each. There was a near-touchdown that can’t be called a drop, however both of his hands were on the ball first and it was jarred out by CLE safety Karl Joseph.

-Kaden Smith and Levine Toilolo both deserve a positive write up. Smith was a key blocker on a couple of NYG’s longer runs. They used him as a trap blocker a couple times and he did some serious damage on contact. Toilolo added a catch for 14 yards and recovered the Dion Lewis fumble.

OFFENSIVE TACKLE

-After a horrific match-up against Haason Reddick a week ago, Andrew Thomas bounced back against Myles Garrett. Garrett didn’t look like his old self at points, but I like how Thomas played him. He was really aggressive with his hands and he kept his balance post-contact. He did allow a half-sack late in the game but besides that, he didn’t give anything. 0 Pressures, 0 TFL, 0 penalties.

-Cameron Fleming and Shane Lemieux were poor. Fleming just doesn’t have it snap to snap; he is pretty much always going to get beat eventually within a sustained drive. He allowed 2 pressures, got flagged for a hold, and allowed a half sack. Lemieux allowed 2 pressures and was flagged for a hands-to-the-face penalty which ended up being declined. His issues have more to do with the fact he just isn’t powerful enough yet. I think that will come with time. His twitch, balance, and technique look good.

-Kevin Zeitler allowed a TFL and Nick Gates was pretty quiet. He didn’t get left alone much but still produced quality run blocking with his ability to move guys laterally.

EDGE

-It was a quiet day overall for the group, but Carter Coughlin was the stand out. He had 4 tackles and a pressure. He did get beat badly in coverage by Austin Hooper twice, one of which was for a first down. He isn’t natural in that role because remember, he was purely an edge guy in college. I can remember writing in his scouting report that he had the skill set and intelligence to play a role inside down the road. With the BUCK role being an edge role that can fill in next to the MIKE inside at times in this defense, Coughlin is making a strong case to be considered for that role next year. He just needs to figure out coverage more than anything.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

-NYG held the CLE rushing attack (top 5 in the NFL) to a quiet day on the ground. The 106 yards were the lowest since November 1. The two catalysts? Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams. They were excellent off the line and showed range. They both had 6 tackles and a TFL, Lawrence also had a sack and pass deflection on 3rd down. Williams added 2 pressures and made rookie left tackle Jedrick Wills look like a child in the running game.

-B.J. Hill, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Austin Johnson all continued to rotate and provide solid run defense. None offered much against the pass. Johnson had a TFL.

LINEBACKER

-Blake Martinez looked, moved, and hit better than he did last week when he seemed to be recovering from his back injury. He was back to the level we had gotten so used to all year and it was a great combination with what NYG was working with up front. He had 10 tackles and 2 TFL. Not many guys can stone Kareem Hunt, but Martinez did. He played smart, instinctive, and physical. He is one of the best LBs in the league when it comes to noticing and reacting to the screen.

-Tae Crowder added 6 tackles and a TFL. Devante Downs and David Mayo rotated in but it is as clear as anything that Crowder is the guy there. Downs and Mayo both badly missed tackles in space. Those two need to play less and Crowder needs to be the only inside guy on the field next to Martinez.

CORNERBACK

-With both James Bradberry and Darnay Holmes out, NYG had to get a little creative at cornerback with Julian Love and Logan Ryan, both collegiate corners. Both of them played well in their roles, respectively. Ryan had 9 tackles and Love finished with 6. They both were beat by Jarvis Landry on separate 3rd down conversions and both missed a tackle.

-Isaac Yiadom was expected to step up in this one, and he did not. CLE clearly wanted to go after him and they ended up having a lot of success there. He allowed a touchdown to Landry and allowed two downfield completions to Rashard Higgins. He didn’t have a lot of help in this one and he just did not come through.

SAFETY

-In his first game back against the team that made him a 1st round pick in 2017, Jabrill Peppers was as quiet as we have seen this year. He had 3 tackles and just didn’t seem to make a physical presence known against the strong CLE rushing attack. He got caught over-pursuing two outside runs that I did not count as missed tackles, but it did create more yards for them.

-Rookie Xavier McKinney saw a slight uptick in playing time because of the vacancies at corner. He made 4 tackles and was often playing a preventative deep role in coverage. He didn’t really have an opportunity to display much against the pass.

SPECIAL TEAMS

-K Graham Gano: 2/2 (Made 39 and 37)
-P Riley Dixon: 2 Punts / 34.5 avg / 31.5 net

3 STUDS

-DT Dexter Lawrence, DT Leonard Williams, OT Andrew Thomas

3 DUDS

-OT Cameron Fleming, CB Isaac Yiadom, TE Evan Engram

3 THOUGHTS ON CLE

CLE went a combined 1-31 in 2016/2017. Their last winning season was 2007 (the first Eli Manning Super Bowl). They are now 10-4 and heading toward the playoffs with a big arrow pointing upward. How did they turn it around? Three things. One, they’ve crushed the early draft picks. DE Myles Garrett in 2017, Baker Mayfield and Denzel Ward in 2018, Jedrick Wills in 2020. Two, their Head Coach Kevin Stefanski has created a system on offense that fits his personnel perfectly and he sticks to it. Three, they have created one of the best offensive lines in football.

More on that offensive line because it deserves its own write up. Baker Mayfield has been sacked just 18 times this year. In 2019, he was sacked 41 times. Kudos to this Front Office for double-dipping at the OT spots by signing Jack Conklin in free agency and then using their 1st-round pick on Jedrick Wills. Those two, in combination with what I consider to be the top trio of interior offensive linemen in the league has instilled so much confidence in Mayfield in addition to paving the way for a top-5 rushing attack.

The CLE offense is better without Odell Beckham. I mean that 100% and I say it without hesitation. This is not a knock on Beckham at all. This has more to do with my thoughts on NYG and whether or not they should pursue a top WR in free agency. They need an uptick in talent there, but you need to tread carefully. An offense works best, in most cases, when the ball is being spread around. Mayfield was forcing the ball to Beckham and it was making him a less effective quarterback, plain and simple.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

There may not be a less effective offense in the NFL than what NYG is working with. Granted, they are working with a backup QB and they are missing the focal point of their offense in Barkley. But 30 points over 3 games (including 13 over the last 2) against three defenses that do not include any top 10 units is just embarrassing. The silver lining here is I would rather go into the offseason trying to fix a bad offense than a bad defense.

How does the 31st ranked offense get fixed? This offensive line needs to become dominant. Not good, they need to be dominant. I think NYG can go into next year with Thomas and Peart at tackle but both of those guys aren’t dominant players. Nick Gates is a keeper at center. The question and opportunity for upgrade will be at the guard spots. Whether it is a high priced free agent (Joe Thuney/NE?) or a 2nd round pick (there are a few), or both, NYG needs to go in that direction. It isn’t sexy, but I feel it is the most efficient and reliable way to go about it.

Two games left and yes, NYG still has a shot at this division crown. The biggest issue? They are matched up against a hot BAL team that, when all things are clicking, can be as hard to stop as anyone. While I am confident in NYG’s ability to stuff a traditional rushing attack like CLE, BAL is simply a different animal. Think about the way ARI was able to pick up chunk gains with Kyler Murray. This will be on the NYG defensive line, yes. But we really need to see that second level (LBs and safeties) step up.

Dec 212020
 
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New York Giants Offense (December 20, 2020)

New York Giants Offense – © USA TODAY Sports

CLEVELAND BROWNS 20 – NEW YORK GIANTS 6…
The Cleveland Browns soundly defeated the New York Giants 20-6 on Sunday night at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. With the loss, the Giants fall to 5-9 and remain one game behind the 6-8 Washington Football Team in the NFC East with two games left to play. The Giants now have had seven losing seasons in the last eight years.

The Giants were minus three key players, including quarterback Daniel Jones (ankle/hamstring), cornerback James Bradberry (COVID-19 issue), and cornerback Darnay Holmes (knee). As you would expect given the final score, Cleveland dominated statistically, out-gaining the Giants in first downs (24 to 14), total net yards (392 to 288), net yards rushing (106 to 74), net yards passing (286 to 214), and time of possession (34:03 to 25:57). Neither team turned the football over and each team only had seven possessions (not counting the Giants kneel down at the end of the first half).

The Giants received the football first with running back Dion Lewis returning the opening kickoff 48 yards to the Cleveland 48-yard line. New York was able to pick up two first downs and reach the 8-yard line. However, instead of kicking the field goal on 4th-and-5, Head Coach Joe Judge called a fake field goal with punter Ron Dixon’s pass intended for center Nick Gates falling incomplete. The Giants turned the football over on downs at the 8-yard line.

On their first possession, the Browns then drove from the 8-yard line to the New York 43-yard line. On 4th-and-2, quarterback Baker Mayfield’s pass was deflected by defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence. Thus, the Browns also turned the football over on downs. The Giants responded with their only scoring drive of the first half. Back-up quarterback Colt McCoy threw a 35-yard pass to wide receiver Darius Slayton on 3rd-and-6 to the Cleveland 18-yard line. However, the Giants could get no closer and settled for a 37-yard field goal to go up 3-0.

Cleveland took the lead for good on their second possession of the game, driving 75 yards in 13 plays, culminating with a 2-yard touchdown pass to a wide open tight end Austin Hooper on 3rd-and-goal. Browns 7 – Giants 3.

Each team had three possessions in the first half. On New York’s third and final possession, the Giants gained 68 yards in 12 plays but were stuffed on 4th-and-2 running play from the Cleveland 6-yard line. On three red zone trips in the first half, the Giants only came away with three points. Worse, Cleveland made the Giants pay by driving 95 yards in 10 plays. Mayfield threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jarvis Landry (the Browns missed the extra point).

The Browns led 13-3 at the half.

The Browns received the ball to start the second half. They picked up one first down and punted (Cleveland’s first punt of the game). The Giants then drove from their own 14-yard line to the Cleveland 44-yard line. Judge decided not to game on 4th-and-4 and Dixon’s punt pinned the Browns at their own 5-yard line. That ended up being moot as Cleveland – for the second time in the game – drove 95 yards for a commanding 20-6 advantage on running back Nick Chubb’s 1-yard run on 3rd-and-goal. The 14-play marathon drive took over eight minutes off of the clock and by the time the Giants got the ball back, there was less than 13 minutes left in the game.

On New York’s second drive of the half, they picked up one first down before stalling. Cleveland also picked up one first down before punting. With 6:25 left in the game, the Giants began their second and final scoring drive, moving 56 yards in nine plays to set up a 39-yard field goal by place kicker Graham Gano. Browns 20 – Giants 6.

The Browns recovered the ensuing onside kick, picked up one first and took three minutes off of the clock before punting. When the Giants go the ball back on their final possession, there was only 65 seconds left on the clock. The Giants ran four more plays before the game ended, 20-6.

The Giants really only had six legitimate possessions in the game. McCoy completed 19-of-31 passes for 221 yards, no touchdowns, and no interceptions. His top targets were Slayton (4 catches for 74 yards), wide receiver Sterling Shepard (4 catches for 51 yards), and tight end Evan Engram (4 catches for 46 yards). Running back Alfred Morris carried the ball seven times for 39 yards and running back Wayne Gallman carried it nine times for 29 yards.

The defense did not force a turnover. Cleveland’s seven possessions resulted in three touchdowns, three punts, and one turnover on downs. Dexter Lawrence had the team’s only sack.

Video highlights are available at Giants.com.

PRACTICE SQUAD ACTIVATION, INACTIVES AND INJURY REPORT…
QB Clayton Thorson (COVID-19 replacement), CB Jarren Williams,and CB Quincy Wilson were activated from the Practice Squad for this game.

Inactive for the game were QB Daniel Jones (hamstring/ankle), CB Darnay Holmes (knee), WR Dante Pettis, OT Jackson Barton, OL Kyle Murphy, DE R.J. McIntosh, and LB T.J. Brunson.

The Giants reported no injuries from the game.

POST-GAME REACTION…
Transcripts and video clips of post-game media sessions with Head Coach Joe Judge and the following players are available in The Corner Forum and at Giants.com:

WHAT’S UP NEXT…
Head Coach Joe Judge and select players will address the media by conference call on Monday.

Dec 182020
 
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THE STORYLINE

The New York Giants have been out of serious contention for so long that many of us forgot how quickly things can change during the roller coaster that is an NFL season. Left for dead, the Giants had scrapped and clawed their way to the top of the NFC East, winning four games in a row, including an impressive beat-down of the then 8-3 Seattle Seahawks. It was assumed that the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers would easily defeat the Washington Football Team on Monday night and the Giants would effectively have a 2-game advantage (owning the tie-breaker) with four to play.

Events began to turn against the Giants on December 7th. Washington came from behind to defeat the Steelers. Then in Week 14, disaster struck. Encumbered by a still clearly gimpy Daniel Jones, the Giants were destroyed by the Arizona Cardinals at home. Making matters much worse, every other team in the NFC East won. With three games left in the season, the Giants now find themselves one game behind Washington and having the much more difficult schedule.

If that wasn’t enough of a kick to the nuts, arguably the Giants best player, James Bradberry, will miss Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns because he came into close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. Offensive Coordinator Jason Garrett also tested positive and the team had to skip practice on Thursday because of it. The Giants also revealed that Daniel Jones suffered an ankle injury against the Cardinals. The Giants now find themselves in a must-win game against a 9-4 Cleveland Browns teams that scored 42 points last Monday in a loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Yikes.

One week ago, Giants fans were dreaming of a division title and a playoff game. Now, once again, they are thinking about the 2021 NFL Draft. What a pisser!

THE INJURY REPORT

  • QB Daniel Jones (hamstring/ankle – questionable)
  • TE Evan Engram (calf – questionable)
  • TE Kaden Smith (knee – questionable)
  • OG Kevin Zeitler (shoulder – probable)
  • CB Darnay Holmes (knee – out)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE

Many fans will say I am excuse-making, but the injuries to Daniel Jones could not have come at a worse time. Before the Seattle game, the Giants had won three games in a row. Jones had not turned the ball over in any of those wins and he was finding his stride and playing better despite the team’s liabilities in the receiving department. Without Jones, a Colt McCoy-led offense did just enough in the second half to pull out a win, relying mostly on the team’s defense. Jones returned in Week 14 against the Cardinals, but it became clear pretty early that the team rushed him back too soon. As I wrote in last week’s game preview, “The big question is will Daniel Jones play? And if he does, how effective will he be and will he not re-aggravate his hamstring injury? It’s not just a matter of the injury limiting his rushing ability, but ability to throw the football forcefully with accuracy and velocity.”

On New York’s first drive, the Giants picked up two first downs, reached mid-field, and then Jones got clobbered by an unblocked Markus Golden. He fumbled the ball in his throwing motion. The tone was set for the day and Jones was ineffective the rest of the contest, being sacked six times and fumbling two more times. Adding injury to insult, Jones now has a bum ankle to go along with his hamstring injury. Just terrible timing for quarterback who was finally coming around in his sophomore season with his team entering the stretch run.

I keep reading comments from Giants’ fans complaining about the offensive coordinator and play-calling. While an argument can be made that the team is not running the ball enough early, for the most part, the Giants’ poor offensive performance (31st in the NFL) is a product of their personnel limitations. I have been yelling this from the roof tops since Saquon Barkley got hurt, but it is still being ignored by those who don’t want to accept reality.

Teams with solid running games and few dynamic threats in the passing game don’t score a lot of points. The Giants were beginning to play much better on offense during their 4-game winning streak, but they were still only averaging 21.5 points per game during those four wins. It was the improved play of the offensive line that was largely responsible for the increased effectiveness of the running game and reduction in turnovers. With the offensive line unfortunately coming up with one of their worst performances of the year against the Cardinals, the result was predictable. The ground game was inconsistent. The quarterbacks got sacked eight times, fumbling four times. And the team scored seven points.

The offensive line is a work in progress. While it has improved dramatically and at times looked like a top unit, it is still peppered with inexperienced players who are learning to play together as a unit. They took a major step backwards last week. Jones can’t move around and as I feared, the bad wheels are also affecting his ability to set up and throw. But most disappointing of all are the receiving targets. It’s pretty clear now that Evan Engram is who he is… an occasional highlight reel player who comes up small in big moments and often disappears for long stretches of games and the season. He’s not a reliable player. And the Giants should have traded him when there was a decent market for his services. He’s a coach killer. And he and Kaden Smith are “questionable” for the game. Wonderful.

But let’s not let the wideouts off of the hook. Darius Slayton is averaging only three catches and 48 yards per game. Worse, his productivity has worsened as the season has progressed. In the last three games, Slayton has four catches and 45 yards. Once again, Sterling Shepard missed a huge chunk of the season with an injury and only has 416 yards receiving and one touchdown on the year. Golden Tate only has 375 yards. In other words, the team’s top three wideouts have a total of 1,420 yards and six touchdowns. That’s terrible. Let’s cut through the BS. Slayton is having a bad sophomore season, Shepard has never been more than JAG, and Tate is done. They will occasionally make a highlight reel catch, but none are consistently reliable. No one scares the defense.

Why am I painting this same sad picture AGAIN?!? I’m trying to reach you guys. This is an intervention. The New York Giants don’t have the offensive personnel to compete with the big boys right now. You can blame the coaches and the quarterback all you want, but it’s a unit-wide issue. When the offensive line is playing its A-game, the Giants have a chance to pound the rock. But they don’t have the skill players to score enough points. And now with the quarterback situation the way it is, the offense is likely to be really ugly the rest of the way. It is what it is.

As for Cleveland’s defense, there is a bit of an ex-Giant angle here. Linebacker B.J. Goodson is leading the team with 84 tackles and two interceptions. Edge rusher Olivier Vernon is second on the team with seven sacks. The Browns can get after the quarterback too with Myles Garrett (10.5 sacks) and Sheldon Richardson (4.5 sacks).

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE

You want more gloom? I’ve got it for you. One of the team’s best players and one of the major reasons the defense has turned itself around, James Bradberry, is out due to the COVID protocol. (It’s not even clear he has COVID). Just terrible timing again in a must-win situation facing a team that just scored 42 points. Worse, nickel corner Darnay Holmes will miss his second game in a row. Another crucial player, inside linebacker Blake Martinez, is not on the injury report but he did look like himself last week playing with a back injury.

Enter the Cleveland Browns, the NFL’s 12th-ranked offense in terms of yards and 13th-ranked in terms of points scored (27 points per game). The strength of this team is its running game, third in the NFL, averaging 156 yards per game. The Browns have a two-headed monster at running back: Nick Chubb (881 yards, 5.9 yards per carry, 9 touchdowns) and Kareem Hunt (772 yards, 4.4 yards per carry, 5 touchdowns). That’s elite-level productivity. This is a team with a big and effective offensive line and power running game. They will wear you down, old-school style.

Baker Mayfield has his critics. But he’s still has a 23-to-8 TD-to-INT ratio, good enough for a 96.6 QB rating. His favorite target by far is WR Jarvis Landry, with 60 catches but only two touchdowns. Mayfield spreads the ball around with eight players having at least two touchdowns on the roster. Bradberry will be missed in that the Giants could have isolated him on Landry. Now with him and Holmes out, the Giants will have to rely on Isaac Yiadom, Logan Ryan, and Jarren Williams at corner. The Giants may even have to bring up Quincy Wilson. Who? Oh boy.

The Browns run the ball more than they throw it. Stating the obvious, for the Giants to have any chance to win this game, Patrick Graham and his players will have to do what few teams have been able to do this year and that is stop Cleveland from consistently running the football. That’s not just on the defensive line and linebackers, but all 11 players. The defense will have to load up the box and hope the depleted secondary can hold its own.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS

I’m simply going to repeat what I wrote last week: “I’m not sure what is going on with the Giants special teams all of the sudden, but a Giants team that is encumbered with an offense that struggles to score 20 points simply cannot afford to have repeated major breakdowns on special teams.”

The Giants have played three subpar special teams games in a row. They have to turn this around NOW. The problem is that Cleveland has excellent, well-coached special teams.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH

Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham on the Browns’ Offense: “Their offensive line, these guys are big, they’re physical. I’m not trying to diminish the merits of the teams we’ve seen before, but arguably one of the best O-lines we’ve seen all year. It’s going to be a challenge. The tight ends are willing to block. The thing that stands out to me with Chad O’Shea the wide receivers coach and pass game coordinator. These receivers are going to block too… From there, you get the quarterback getting them in the right checks. You can see him really maturing as a signal caller back there… Last but not least, are the backs. You’re talking about guys that don’t go down on first contact. Guys that play tough. (Nick) Chubb…I love his demeanor, I love the way he carries himself… (Kareem) Hunt’s a dynamic player in the run and pass game.”

THE FINAL WORD

A week after tremendous optimism, it is easy to be down on the Giants now given everything that has gone wrong the past seven days. One has to guard against that pessimism and realize that things could bounce in the other direction just as quickly. In other words, don’t fall into the same trap that “expert” prognosticators always fall victim to: only paying attention to the last game and not overall trends.

That said, the injuries to Daniel Jones and one-game loss of James Bradberry come at a terrible time. In hindsight, the two wins against the Washington Football Team look more impressive now. The Giants beat-down of the Seahawks was real. But so was the Cardinals beat-down of the Giants. Which version of New York will we see on Sunday night?

The irony of ironies is that Freddie Kitchens will be calling the offensive plays against his own team. Could he have a few surprises up his sleeve? He doesn’t have much to work with.

Aug 122018
 
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Jalen Simmons, New York Giants (August 9, 2018)

Jalen Simmons – © USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland Browns 20 – New York Giants 10

QUICK RECAP

Live football returned for the first time after one of the worst seasons in franchise history. Week 1 of the preseason is always more about seeing the new guys in the game-uniform and watching real, live football for the first time since winter. The first string (minus Odell Beckham) played for less than a quarter for NYG, while CLE left them in a bit longer.

Thanks to a 39 yard run on rookie Saquon Barkley’s first touch, NYG was able to put 3 quick points up on the board. That lead proved to be the last one for the home team, as Tyrod Taylor, who is competing for the starting gig, made a perfect throw to New Jersey native David Njoku for a 36 yard touchdown. At that point, the night very much became about the backups vying for roster spots and/or rotational roles on the final 53-man roster.

Davis Webb entered the game and struggled. It was the opposite for CLE’s #1 overall pick Baker Mayfield, who owned the night and possibly Week 1 of the NFL’s preseason schedule. Webb looked erratic while Mayfield carved up the Giants defense all over the field. One was a 3rd round pick and the other was a top overall player, but the two didn’t even appear to be in the same league.

Mayfield and the Browns quickly lengthened to lead to 13-3 and the second half then began with a couple of 3 and outs. A potentially game-changing play happened on special teams soon after, as CLE’s C.J. Board fumbled a punt return that was recovered by NYG’s Zak DeOssie on the CLE 14 yard line. A few plays later Jalen Simmons scampered into the end zone on a 5 yard run, bringing the score back to 13-10. Mayfield returned the favor a couple drives later and hooked up with fellow rookie Antonio Callaway on a 54 yard touchdown that was majority run-after-catch. The middle of the pass defense was torched all night and the big plays just never happened on offense following Barkley’s run on the first drive.

The story of the night was Mayfield’s excellent debut and NYG’s struggling backup offense. While it is too early to throw our hands up in the air, there wasn’t a lot of optimism after this one other than the team remaining healthy.

OFFENSE

QUARTERBACKS

Eli Manning: 4/7 – 26 yards – 0 TD/0 INT. Manning played two drives that lasted a combined 16 plays, hardly enough time to get a full evaluation. There isn’t much to report of his night, although his footwork looked crisp and he was decisive with the ball. He went 1 for 1 on 3rd down but was sacked on his second attempt. There was one miscommunication with TE Rhett Ellison up the seam that almost led to an interception and judging by the look of the All-22 tape, it was Ellison that made the wrong read.

Davis Webb: 9/22 – 70 yards – 0 TD/0 INT. Webb has the inside track and winning the backup job by default, but he didn’t strengthen that plan with his play. Webb struggled mightily with simple, basic-level passing. He had a hard time hitting guys in the numbers, as he looked overly flustered and nervous. While I won’t bash him for his play in week 1 of preseason football, he does need to show that he can bounce back next week in Detroit and fix his shortcomings.

Kyle Lauletta: 6/9 – 48 yards – 0 TD/0 INT. If this were an open ended competition, Lauletta walks away from this game with the lead. His footwork and crisp release especially stood out. The knock on Lauletta is a “below average” arm when it comes to power and strength, but he can more than make up for it with how fast he gets rid of the ball. He looked very confident and sure of himself for a 4th round rookie in his first live NFL action.

RUNNING BACKS

-Saquon Barkley: 4 att/43 yards. The anticipation of the 2018 #2 overall pick and what many consider to be one of the top running back prospects ever matched the inaugural play of Barkley’s pro career. An overly impressive 39-yard run that displayed his vision, agility, reaction, and open field burst was a sign of things to come. His night didn’t last long and there were a couple negative runs after, but Barkley’s initial showing with NYG in a game situation was a positive one.

-Jonathan Stewart: 3 att/3 yards – 1 rec/8 yards. Stewart didn’t see a lot of action himself, but he struggled to reach the outside. He looks heavy footed and considering this is his 11th year with 1,700 carries on his resume, one can surely believe he will be a number three back by season’s end. He was also part of a messy miscommunication with the middle of the offensive line on a CLE blitz that led to a sack.

-Wayne Gallman: 3 att/5 yards – 4 rec /33 yards. Gallman looks explosive and sure of himself. He is going to be a great compliment to Barkley and an asset to the passing game both as a pass catcher and blocker, as he picked up a couple blitzes successfully.

The Rest: A couple of impressive runs by both back end backs Jalen Simmons and Robert Martin. They combined for 12 carries / 77 yards against the roster hopefuls of CLE. Simmons was especially assertive and did a nice job of running through contact with good pad level and active feet. Fullback Shane Smith was on the field for 9 plays (12% of the team’s offensive snaps). He does look more confident and sure of his reads than he did at this time last year, but there wasn’t a major difference felt with his presence in the run game.

WIDE RECEIVERS

Sterling Shepard: 2 rec / 9 yards. After being slowed by a training camp ankle injury last year, it was refreshing to see him out there early on. His quickness out of the slot is going to be a factor this year, now if he could only make more happen after the catch and the Giants offense may have a big time weapon.

-Hunter Sharp: 2 rec / 16 yards. Sharp got the early look with the first team offense with Beckham on the sideline. He dropped two passes and showed poor ball skills on one of his receptions, a quick way to get thrown to the back end of the depth chart. He did have a nice kick return, displaying good long stride speed in space.

The Rest: Roger Lewis and Marquis Bundy both came down with big plays late in the game. Lewis’ seems to have been somewhat demoted. I think it mostly has to do with his lack of progression as a route runner and inconsistent ball skills. Kalif Raymond ran a great route but failed to track a nicely thrown ball by Davis Webb which would have resulted in a touchdown. Another long shot to make the roster, Raymond also made a business decision to not extend for a ball over the middle with a safety bearing down on him. Keep an eye out for veteran Russell Shepard, he made a couple of nice grabs and I think the reliability of what he brings to the table is something this coaching staff will be looking in to over the next few weeks. Corey Latimer started on the outside, but didn’t see anything thrown his way.

TIGHT ENDS

-Rhett Ellison and Evan Engram saw the snaps with the first team, but neither had any impact. Ellison seemed to run a wrong route up the seam on an option, nearly resulting in a red zone interception.

-Jerrell Adams: 2 rec / 6 yards. Adams was targeted 5 times and was often the victim of high throws from Webb. While he can’t be blamed for the incompletions, there is a lack of quick twitched-adjustment that I see with him. He is a big, physical player that just struggled to get his head around. Adams is trending towards being a player that has tools, but just isn’t developing the way he needs to. If I were grading his blocking plays, it wouldn’t have been positive.

OFFENSIVE LINE

TACKLES

-Solid debut for Nate Solder in a Giants uniform, albeit it was only 16 plays. After watching Ereck Flowers play with such poor technique and balance for three years, it was refreshing to see a real pro-caliber left tackle in motion. Flowers made his debut at right tackle and had a key block on Barkley’s big run, but continues to struggle with hand placement and proper pad level. Chad Wheeler played both tackle spots and has more power behind his initial hits, but there was too much bending at the waist. He allowed 2 pressures against backups. Nick Becton also played both backup spots and he doesn’t look pretty, but he gets the job done in pass protection. As a run blocker, he struggled to make adjustments. Chris Scott had the most impressive night of all the backups. He showed inside-out versatility and had a key block on the Giants lone touchdown. Looking forward to putting the eyeball on him these next few weeks.

GUARDS/CENTERS

-There was a lot of anticipation building for the debut of rookie Will Hernandez. While 16 plays isn’t nearly enough for a full evaluation, I thought he struggled. He hands were way too wide, as he didn’t adjust to defenders moving laterally very well. The ability is there, its not like he is a poor athlete or anything, I just didn’t see the fluidity. Patrick Omameh got the nod as the starter at right guard. He had a couple of nice, powerful blocks. He can really move guys inside. However, there seemed to be multiple miscommunications inside. He was left searching for defenders to block a couple of times. Jon Halapio needs to improve at both holding his ground and getting everyone on the same page when it comes to assignments. Brett Jones outplayed him in this game, although he was matched up against lower level defenders. John Greco and John Jerry both played half of the team’s snaps and if I had to choose one based on this game’s performance, it would be Greco. Just more pop and adjustment speed.

DEFENSE

DEFENSIVE LINE

Olivier Vernon was in for just 12 plays and didn’t make a difference anywhere. Hopefully history won’t repeat itself, a guy that dominates training camp but doesn’t translate to gameday. The three-headed monster between the tackles, Damon Harrison, Dalvn Tomlinson, and B.J. Hill started off the game. They didn’t play much but they were very stout. That is going to be a very difficult group to move for offensive lines in the running game.

A.J. Francis and Robert Thomas were the standout performers of the night in backup roles. I had a thing for Thomas a year ago, but I think this scheme fits him even better. He is an excellent combination of stout and aggressive. Josh Mauro made his debut with the club. Even though he will be suspended at the start of the regular season, he will be a more-than-solid part of this line. Romeo Okwara continues to flash with his combination of tools, as he recorded a TFL and pursued all over the field hard. This appears to be the strength of the defense.

LINEBACKERS

Alec Ogletree made his debut in a Giants uniform and was beaten badly by CLE tight end David Njoku for a 36 yard touchdown. He took a poor angle considering there was no help over the top. B.J. Goodson was a solid interior run defense presence. If he can stay healthy, this scheme with all of the protection in front of him will be a big deal for him.

Kareem Martin had a pressure, but was otherwise quiet. Connor Barwin looks like shell of his former Eagle self. He doesn’t have nearly the same level of explosion off the ball. Lorenzo Carter had a pressure and QB hit in his pro debut. He can really eat up space in a blink; now it is all about developing the skill set.

Calvin Munson and Ray Ray Armstrong looked very solid in backup roles. Munson plays the instinctive, leader-of-the-defense role. He is a right-place, right-time guy. Armstrong’s speed stood out. In this defense that values attacking on all angles, Armstrong could be a guy who makes a difference. A linebacker with his ability to move with all of those big bodies up front swallowing up blockers is a nice combination to have.

-The darkhorse I think who has a good chance of making this team is speedster Tae Davis. Undersized, yes. But this kid can fly around like a defensive back and he handled blockers very well. He can reach windows that most cannot, and he more than held his own in the power game.

CORNERBACKS

Janoris Jenkins and Eli Apple started. Jenkins lost a 50/50 ball to the newly acquired Jarvis Landry and Apple was beaten badly on a back shoulder throw where his lack of footwork and ball awareness showed up again. Nothing to be overly alarmed about at this point, but these were the takeaways in their limited action.

-The race for the backup spots is on. Leonard Johnson was targeted the most of all the NYG defensive backs. He whiffed on a pass to Antonio Callaway the resulted in a long touchdown, but he had a positive night. He broke up 2 passes and showed tight coverage underneath. For the roles a nickel needs to play, he seems to be the best fit so far. Chris Lewis-Harris has the foot speed and fluid hips, but the ball location wasn’t there on two occasions, one of which resulted in a CLE touchdown. B.W. Webb is a competitor, if nothing else. He plays a fast-reaction type game and he can move with speed. His issues continue to be a lack of size and accurate forecasting. Rookie Grant Haley had a nice tackle for loss.

SAFETIES

-If it weren’t for Landon Collins, this group of NYG safeties could be labeled as one of the worst in the NFL. Even with him, they are bottom tier. The middle of the field was abused all night and there simply isn’t a cause for hope. Darian Thompson looks to be the same guy, an average cover safety that won’t strike any fear in to receivers over the middle. He strained a hamstring.

Andrew Adams led the team with 7 tackles, as he played more snaps than anyone in the group. Michael Thomas was quiet in his debut with the team. Of the roster hopefuls, Orion Stewart made a couple standout plays, disrupting a running play behind the line of scrimmage with aggressive downhill pursuit and had an impressive pass break up. However he badly missed a tackle in the open field that led to a long touchdown. Rookie Sean Chandler struggled in mid-field coverage.

SPECIAL TEAMS

KICKER

Aldrick Rosas: 1/1 – (Made 42). XP – 1/1. Rosas has the inside track at earning the job for the second straight year, but his leash may not be long. It will be essential for him to make these preseason kicks.

PUNTER

Riley Dixon: 10 Punts – 44.2 avg – 39.7 net – 3 inside 20. Solid night for Dixon. He tried to pin CLE inside the 20 four times, three of which worked out.

3 STUDS

-DT Robert Thomas, RB Wayne Gallman, OT Chris Scott

3 DUDS

-QB Davis Webb, OG Will Hernandez, S Sean Chandler

3 TAKEAWAYS FOR CLE

-Baker Mayfield excelled in his first NFL action. I was very impressed with his footwork in and out of the pocket and even more so with his consistency with keeping his eyes downfield when evading pressure. That isn’t common in rookie quarterbacks. The accuracy I lauded during the scouting process was on full display. He is going to be a good one.

-With that said, Tyrod Taylor is not going to hand him the job. He is one of the most underrated QBs in the NFL right now and he appears to be well respected by the coaching staff. Much of the attention went to Mayfield’s impressive debut, but don’t overlook that Taylor was a perfect 5/5 for 99 yards and a touchdown.

-This will be the first season since 2007 that Joe Thomas isn’t lining up at left tackle for CLE. Joel Bitonio, a college OT who has played OG for CLE since 2014, now starts at that spot. If Thursday night was any indicator, the move may not be much of a decline in relation to the past couple of years. His footwork and hand power were top tier.

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

-In any direction, it is foolish to have strong reactions to a preseason game unless it has to do with injuries. The Giants appear to have avoided anything catastrophic in that department in week 1. More than anything, that is most important; be healthy heading in to their matchup against JAC.

-That said, Davis Webb is going to need to show improvement throughout the preseason if he wants a strong hold of this backup job all year and the spot first in line once Eli Manning hangs them up. His performance Thursday night is less important than his ability to improve and come back stronger from a poor game.

-The biggest concern I have with this defense, and it is a major one, is the middle of the field against the pass. The pass rush an be created via scheme, but if the safeties and linebackers can’t make plays and/or follow assignments, it is going to be ugly.

Aug 102018
 
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Saquon Barkley, New York Giants (August 9, 2018)

Saquon Barkley – © USA TODAY Sports

CLEVELAND BROWNS 20 – NEW YORK GIANTS 10…
Although the starters did not play long, the New York Giants were clearly out-played in a preseason match-up between the NFL’s two worst teams last season. The Giants fell to the Browns 20-10 on Thursday night at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

The highlight of the night for the Giants came on their very first offensive snap when rookie running back Saquon Barkley broke off a 39-yard run, demonstrating vision, shiftiness, power, and speed. (Barkley’s other four carries picked up a total of four yards before he was pulled for the evening). Despite the big initial gain, the Giants’ first drive stalled at the Cleveland 23-yard line as New York settled for a 42-yard field goal by place kicker Aldrick Rosas.

The Browns responded with a big play of their own, a 32-yard strike from quarterback Tyrod Taylor to wide receiver Jarvis Landry over cornerback Janoris Jenkins. But Landry was flagged for taunting on the play. The defense then held and Cleveland punted.

The Giants’ first-team offense only played one more series (and two overall). The drive ended when with a 10-yard sack on quarterback Eli Manning by a free blitzing linebacker coming up the middle. Manning finished the night 4-of-7 for 26 yards.

Taylor carved up New York’s first-team defense on his second series, completing a 21-yard pass against cornerback Eli Apple and then burning inside linebacker Alec Ogletree on a 36-yard touchdown pass to tight end David Njoku. Browns 7 – Giants 3.

Quarterback Davis Webb entered the game with the second-team offense on the third series and played into the 3rd quarter. The jittery Webb was awful, completing just 9-of-22 passes (41 percent) for 70 yards. The Giants’ offense ground to a halt. In six straight possessions with Webb at the helm, the Giants punted five times and watched the clock expire before halftime at the Cleveland 21-yard line.

Meanwhile, the #1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, quarterback Baker Mayfield entered the game and put on a show, completing 11-of-20 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns, including a second touchdown catch by Njoku (from 10 yards out, 2-point conversion attempt failed). Mayfield also completed a 54-yard catch-and-run score to wide receiver Antonio Callaway, who got away from cornerback Leonard Johnson and safety Orion Stewart, early in the 4th quarter.

The Giants’ only other score in the game came early in the 3rd quarter after defensive end Kerry Wynn forced a fumble on a punt return that was recovered by long snapper Zak DeOssie at the Cleveland 14-yard line. Three plays later, running back Jalen Simmons scored from five yards out. This was Webb’s last possession and his sole contribution here was a 6-yard scramble.

By the 4th quarter, both teams were playing their third and fourth teamers, with both Kyle Lauletta (6-of-9 for48 yards) and Alex Tanney (3-of-7 for 49 yards) seeing time at quarterback for the Giants. Neither team scored after Mayfield’s last pass early in the 4th quarter that went for the 54-yard touchdown.

Overall, the Browns out-gained the Giants in total net yards (372 to 310) and net yards passing (322 to 176) while the Giants were superior in first downs (19 to 15) and net rushing yards (134 to 50). The Giants did not turn the football over. Defensively, nose tackle Robert Thomas accrued New York’s lone sack on the night.

Video highlights are available at Giants.com.

INACTIVE LIST AND INJURY REPORT…
Not playing for the Giants due to injury were wide receiver Travis Rudolph (unknown), tight end Ryan O’Malley (foot/ankle), defensive end R.J. McIntosh (unknown – Active/Non-Football Illness list), linebacker Thurston Armbrister (hamstring), cornerback Donte Deayon (hamstring), safety/cornerback William Gay (hamstring), and cornerback/safety Curtis Riley (hamstring).

Wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. and safety Mike Basile were healthy scratches.

POST-GAME REACTION…
Video clips of post-game media sessions with Head Coach Pat Shurmur and the following players are available at Giants.com:

GIANTS SIGN SAFETY MIKE BASILE….
The New York Giants have signed undrafted rookie free agent Mike Basile (Monmouth University). The 6’1”, 185-pound Basile lacks ideal speed, but he is a hard-working, tough, smart, and instinctive football player with good foot quickness.

ARTICLES…

WHAT’S UP NEXT…
Head Coach Pat Shurmur will address the media by conference call on Friday. The players are off on Saturday, the same day the team’s summer training camp officially ends. The players will practice on Sunday and Monday (no public access) before traveling to Michigan to practice against the Detroit Lions on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday (open to public).

Aug 082018
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (August 1, 2018)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports

Preseason Game Preview: Cleveland Browns at New York Giants, August 9, 2018

THE STORYLINE:

Hope springs eternal with the advent of each and every NFL season. But make no mistake about it, the NFL and the New York Football Giants appear to be at a crossroads. Both have been terribly mismanaged in recent years and the product has suffered. One thing that would help the NFL as a whole right now is to have a star-studded (Odell Beckham, Saquon Barkley) Giants team regain its footing in the nation’s #1 media market.

The 2017 New York Giants were an abysmal football team. Before we close the book on last year, let us remember that the Giants were so bad that conservative ownership fired both the general manager and head coach before the season was over. The offense, defense, and special teams were train wrecks and by year’s end, the team was arguably the worst in the league. The Giants were not just losing, they were getting embarrassed. It was so bad that diehard Giants fans did something they rarely do: they stopped watching.

Thus the immediate goal is not the playoffs, but to simply field a competitive football team. Baby steps. Don’t be soft; be physical. Focus on fundamentals. Move the football and pick up first downs. Put points on the board. Stop the opponent from moving the ball. Create turnovers. Field a special teams unit that is an asset rather than a liability. Don’t get blown out. Baby steps.

Most importantly, the team’s new leadership has to create a culture/atmosphere of a winner rather than a loser. Old Giants fans who grew up in the 1970s have intimate knowledge about how losing breeds losing. When you expect to lose, you usually do. When you expect to win, you usually do. Team culture is a fragile thing. And the Giants were blessed with coaches like Bill Parcells and Tom Coughlin who knew how to create a winning culture.

Many fans have already made the assumption that the team is in better hands with Dave Gettleman and Pat Shurmur. We won’t know if this is true until we see the product on the field over the course of the next few seasons. Both are hindered by and must deal with the mess Jerry Reese, Marc Ross, and Ben McAdoo left. The team’s draft record over the course of the past decade (exacerbated by bad injury luck) has directly led to a shitty product. Look no further than the offensive line as just one example. So as much as we watch and judge the players during this 2018 preseason, we must also consider the big picture. Did ownership make the right choices at the all-important GM and HC positions?

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • TE Ryan O’Malley (protective boot on right foot/ankle)
  • DE R.J. McIntosh (unknown – Active/Non-Football Illness list)
  • LB Thurston Armbrister (hamstring)
  • CB Donte Deayon (hamstring)

Also, cornerback/safety William Gay (hamstring) and cornerback/safety Curtis Riley (hamstring) who have returned to practice recently could be held out.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:

The New York Giants were 31st in scoring in 2017. The team averaged 15.4 points per game. This is the size of the hole the Giants must climb out of.

For the third time in his 15-year NFL career, the 37-year old Eli Manning must learn a new system. The first time was in 2004 as a rookie. The second time came in 2014 when Ben McAdoo was hired as offensive coordinator. Now Pat Shurmur brings his own offense. As much attention as Odell Beckham, Saquon Barkley, Evan Engram, etc. receive, the offense will ultimately thrive or fail on the ability of Eli Manning to adapt to the new system and hold off Father Time. Fans being honest with themselves see it… regardless of the reasons, Eli has lost his mojo in recent years. He’s looked jumpy in the pocket and has missed too many throws. For many quarterbacks, once they become gun-shy, it’s over. If Eli doesn’t get his mojo back this season, we may be seeing Davis Webb or Kyle Lauletta or someone else leading the team in 2019. That’s why the performance of all three quarterbacks this preseason will be so important to watch. There is a lot more at stake than is normally the case.

The other main area of concern is obviously the offensive line. This unit began to deteriorate even during the team’s last championship season in 2011. Over the course of the next six years, the Giants used both the draft and free agency to attempt to fix the line, but failed miserably. So here we are in 2018 with new starters at each of the five positions: Nate Solder at left tackle, Will Hernandez at left guard, Jon Halapio at center, Patrick Omameh at right guard, and Ereck Flowers now shifting to right tackle from the left side. I think most of us still see this as a two-year rebuilding project. Hopefully, the left side is set, but there are still serious question marks at center and right tackle. Not to mention that it will take time to build chemistry and cohesion. Depth will be an area of focus too. In most recent preseasons, the #2 offensive line for the Giants has been a sieve. Are there any quality back-ups at all in this group? In particular, the Giants need to identify a swing tackle who can play if Solder or Flowers get hurt.

OK, enough gloom. It is quite possible that no team in the NFL fields a more dangerous trio at WR-TE-RB than the New York Giants with Odell Beckham, Jr., Evan Engram, and Saquon Barkley. Throw in Sterling Shepard and this group is going to be a match-up nightmare for other teams. We probably won’t see these four play much on Thursday, and their absence from the line-up dramatically changes the nature of the offense. The Giants are a very top-heavy team, meaning they have a good amount of Pro Bowl-quality players but that quality level drops off rapidly. There is no better example of this than the wide receiver position. After Beckham and Shepard, the next three receivers on the depth chart are Denver Bronco castoffs, including two guys who were street pick-ups who played for the Giants last year. It will be interesting to see if the coaches and Eli can turn around the careers of Cody Latimer, Hunter Sharp, and Kalif Raymond. Are any of these three viable NFL receivers? What happens if Beckham or Shepard get hurt?

Finally, on a personal note, I can’t wait to see Saquon Barkley. Some fans will boo when he doesn’t turn every touch into a 40-gain, but this guy has the tools to become the best running back in franchise history. People will be tuning into the Giants just to see him play.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:

The Giants were 31st in yards allowed in 2017 and 27th in points allowed. Again, this is the size of the hole they must climb out of.

The still under-reported change this offseason is the Giants are shifting back to the 3-4 defense for the first time in 25 years. While it may not be the old 2-gap defense of the 1980s and there will be plenty of hybrid looks, this is a very big deal. It means the linebackers will become the focus of the defense in terms of play-makers. So while the Giants have 1,000 pounds of beef up front with the on-paper imposing wall of Dalvin Tomlinson, Damon Harrison, and B.J. Hill, pressure will be on the likes of Olivier Vernon, Kareem Martin, B.J. Goodson, Alec Ogletree, Connor Barwin, and Lorenzo Carter to make game-changing plays.

What we do know is that this will be a blitz-heavy defense, perhaps the most blitz-oriented defense in recent memory, and perhaps team history. James Bettcher will bring it from all angles. Based on his comments earlier this week, we may even see that in the preseason as he claims they must practice what they intend to employ during the regular season.

Fans love it when they hear a defense blitzes and attacks. The mindset is one where the defense dictates rather than reacts. But with aggressiveness does come risk. A secondary that has arguably gotten weaker on paper will be under tremendous pressure. One mistake could result in a 70-yard score. Because of that, much attention will be on the starting unit and reserves in the secondary. We know Janoris Jenkins and Landon Collins are quality football players. But Eli Apple is coming off a dreadful season and the Giants desperately need him to be at least a so-so NFL corner. And Bettcher freely admits four players are competing for the free safety spot with no one yet pulling ahead in the competition. The nickel corner spot is a de facto starting spot in today’s NFL and who that guy will be also remains unknown at this point. We may see a variety of players being in a variety of roles on a game-to-game basis this year. The good news? At least on the surface, Bettcher doesn’t seemed worried at all. In fact, he appears to be relishing the challenge.

Again, on a personal note, my focus is going to be on Tomlinson, Harrison, and Hill up front. I think this group has a chance to be REALLY good and help set up the linebackers.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:

In 2017, the Giants were dead last or near dead last in field goal percentage, extra point percentage, net punting, kickoff returns, punt returns, and punt coverage. Besides that, every thing was hunky dory. Again, the size of the hole…

I am very uneasy about this spot on the team still. Tom Quinn has more lives than a cat and is still somehow still around. Aldrick Rosas is too. If he falters this preseason, the Giants will have to pick up a kicker quickly. The team has a new punter that the Broncos discarded after two years. And there are no obvious standouts for kick and punt returner. It looks like the ex-Bronco wide receivers will have the first shot there.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:

Head Coach Pat Shurmur on goals this preseason: “I think it’s important that we operate as a staff and getting in and out of the huddle, making sure we’ve got the right people on the field, and there’s a lot to be learned especially between the first and the second preseason game when you’re a new staff working together. We have a blueprint for how we want to do it, and games are uncontrolled settings, and there’s things that happen. So, the more uncontrolled things that happen in the game, the more opportunity you have to learn, and I think that’s what we’re looking for. So, we’re trying to balance getting our team ready to play Jacksonville with doing the final evaluations on the guys that’ll be on our initial 53.”

THE FINAL WORD:

Let’s see physical, fundamentally-sound football first and then move forward from there.

Aug 232017
 
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Olivier Vernon, New York Giants (August 21, 2017)

Olivier Vernon – © USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland Browns 10 – New York Giants 6

QUICK RECAP

In front of a national stage, albeit still a preseason game, the Giants played under the Monday Night lights against the perennial bottom feeders of the NFL. Cleveland, with just one winning season since 2003, looks energized and refreshed with some of the best young talent the franchise has had in a very long time. Eli Manning and Odell Beckham suited up for their first live action of the preseason but it didn’t help get the first “W” next to Big Blue’s name.

In true preseason fashion, it was an ugly exhibition with just 16 total points scored, 5 turnovers (2 of which were QB-RB exchanges), and just two plays of 20 or more yards. The turning point came in the fourth quarter where the Giants were down 10-6 with the ball and “1st-and-goal” distance away not once, but twice. Two opportunities that close to the end zone netted the Giants 0 points and two turnovers. Even worse, the Giants left Cleveland beat up with star receivers Odell Beckham and Brandon Marshall both exiting the game with respective injuries in addition to their position group-mate Tavarres King. The Giants have played eight quarters of preseason football and have yet to cross the goal line with the ball in their hands.

QUARTERBACKS

  • Eli Manning looked solid and in full control of the offense, making several line calls with multiple changes that led to positive plays. He went 10/14 for 80 yards. He nearly threw a touchdown pass to TE Evan Engram but it was tipped away by Browns LB Joe Schobert. Manning spread the ball around well and looked accurate and confident. He was sacked once.
  • Geno Smith was the first signal caller off of the bench, coming into the game for a 2-minute drill towards the end of the first half with just 1:10 remaining. That is always a good time to see what a QB on the fence can do. Smith ended up handing the ball off to Shane Vereen twice, completing two short passes, and getting sacked by 2017’s #1 overall pick, Myles Garrett. Smith ended the night 11/17 for 79 yards and a very bad interception on a 3rd-and-goal play where he didn’t recognize the Browns coverage. More of the same from what Geno Smith’s career has presented so far: a guy who can make all of the throws, look good doing it, but has the knack for game-killing decisions.
  • Josh Johnson saw very limited action, going 2/4 for 6 yards. There wasn’t much to take out of this contest for him.

RUNNING BACKS

  • Paul Perkins had a rough night. He finished with just 10 yards on 6 carries. There can be some blame placed on the offensive line, Bobby Hart in particular, but there were two plays where he didn’t see the lane he was supposed to be running through and instead bounced it outside or to another gap where he got caught up in traffic. Upon further review, it looks like Perkins is approaching the line with too much hesitation and the assumption he needs to create on his own. There needs to be more assertiveness in his play.
  • Shane Vereen, on the field for just 11 plays, appeared to have that quick decision making on both of his runs. He was, however, running in more favorable situations, but as I said in early July, I think a healthy Vereen is just as likely to get the majority of snaps in this offense as Perkins.
  • Wayne Gallman got a lot of action, particularly in the 3rd quarter. He looked explosive, loose hipped, and aggressive. He shoots out of a cannon and sometimes even too quickly for his own good. He has the kind of big-play potential a stagnant offense needs when they hit a dead end. On a 13-play drive early in the 4th quarter, Gallman rushed 5 times for 23 yards (including an explosive 8 yard run that was called back for a hold away from the play) and caught 2 passes for 20 yards. There is a multi-faceted threat here that I think the Giants are going to use more and more as the season progresses.
  • Backup hopefuls Orleans Darkwa and Khalid Abdullah didn’t jump off the screen in their limited reps.
  • Fullback Shane Smith appears to have a strong grip on the fullback job, although I think it is still a coin flip on whether or not they carry one. His play hasn’t been translating to yards.

WIDE RECEIVERS

  • The conversation starts with injured starters Odell Beckham (ankle) and Brandon Marshall (shoulder). Preliminary reports lead us to believe both will be unaffected for week 1 in Dallas. Beckham caught 3 passes for 37 yards, easily getting open against a sub-par Cleveland secondary. Marshall was overthrown by Manning in the first quarter on a go route but it was good to see the big man run by a cornerback so easily. These two absolutely need to stay healthy for this offense to reach even close to it’s potential.
  • Tavarres King, who has the inside track at the #4 spot on the depth chart, re-aggravated an ankle injury. His frame is extremely thin and fragile looking, and he may have a hard time staying on the field consistently.
  • Sterling Shepard caught 3 passes for 9 yards and also fumbled the ball in Cleveland territory. Rough night for him, and for a guy that may be competing for snaps, it wasn’t encouraging. Weird to say something like that about a second-year player who was second among all rookies last season in receiving.
  • Roster hopefuls Travis Rudolph and Roger Lewis went for 2 catches/16 yards and 1 catch/6 yards, respectively. Both made mental errors. Rudolph’s was a concentration drop and Lewis didn’t recognize the coverage on Geno Smith’s interception and was unable to try and break the pass up.

TIGHT ENDS

  • Rhett Ellison and Evan Engram both had good nights. This position group is night and day on another level from what we saw last year. Engram caught 3 passes for 32 yards, while Ellison added 1 catch for 6 yards and made a big impact as blocker. On Paul Perkins’ 16-yard run in the 2nd quarter, Ellison blocked two separate Cleveland defenders on opposite sides of the running lane. It was a big league, high-level play that doesn’t show up in the box score. Both Engram and Ellison were lining up all over the field including a formation where they both started off in the backfield in a wishbone type formation.
  • Will Tye and Matt LaCosse both caught passes in the second half while Jerell Adams missed a quick hot route throw from Josh Johnson on the final play of the game. There is still a chance any of these three tight ends make the team, as they offer completely different packages individually. Tye looks much more athletic and sure of himself than he did in 2016.

OFFENSIVE LINE

  • We all know this group will be under the microscope all year. While they still have plenty of room to improve as a whole, the line held up for the most part. Without the Browns top interior force, Danny Shelton, the Giants first-string line was able to neutralize the Browns pass rush. However, the right side still struggled to get a constant push. Nevertheless, the glass half full approach was that the left side performed well.
  • Ereck Flowers was matched up against 2017 #1 overall pick Myles Garrett all night. Garrett did record a sack, but it was a result of Geno Smith evading pressure from the right side and running into the arms of Garrett, who was being kept outside the pocket well by Flowers. Flowers looked athletic and strong for most of his snaps. Bobby Hart, on the other hand, had a rough night. He was being controlled easily by second-year defensive end Carl Nassib. His poor run blocking led to a couple losses in the run game.
  • John Jerry, better known for his pass blocking than run blocking, was late to see a stunt in the first quarter which led to a sack of Eli Manning. He and Weston Richburg were getting very little-to-no movement at the point of attack. Too often are those two getting knocked backwards.
  • The backups on the left side, notably Chad Wheeler and Jon Halapio, performed well. Halapio was a center in college and got snaps there throughout training camp. He is still in the running for that backup center job.
  • D.J. Fluker graded out better than John Jerry by a wide margin. There will be some thought and discussion surrounding the idea that he should be the starter there, but it’s not happening. Not at this point anyway. The Giants are going to sink or swim with their current starting 5 with the hope that chemistry continues to build and covers some holes in their games individually. We know what Fluker is. He is a powerful, enormous man-mover who will struggle the second he is caught in space against quick defenders. There are severe limitations to his game.
  • Rookie Adam Bisnowaty struggled mightily for the second straight game, showing a lack of ability to react and adjust his weight. He appears to be having a very hard time adjusting to the speed at this level.

DEFENSIVE LINE

  • Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon appear to be in mid-season form already. They combined for a sack and played stellar run defense. Vernon tipped a Brock Osweiler pass in the first quarter than landed in the arms of Pierre-Paul, who covered an unbelievable amount of ground with his gazelle strides before leaping into the air and securing it. It was an extremely rare feat of athletic prowess that most defensive ends couldn’t even think about doing. Vernon made one of the plays of the night in coverage 25 yards downfield where he ran up and across the field with rookie speedster David Njoku. He also had a sack called back because of a defensive holding call away from the action.
  • Jay Bromley and Damon Harrison got the start inside. Bromley is likely in the lead for the week 1 starting job, but he is still having a hard time showing an ability to consistently anchor against double teams. He shows the occasional surge off the ball, however, that leads you to the thought, “What if?”
  • Jordan Williams was in there early in the game with the first string on a 3rd-down sub package. He made a nice tackle on a shovel pass that prevented Cleveland from continuing their drive. I am not going to compare Williams to Justin Tuck as a player, but they are awfully similar in the way they move. Williams has the versatility stemming from his size and speed to be a factor on 3rd downs from the inside. He is certainly in the 53-man roster discussion because of how much he can do.
  • Backup tackles Robert Thomas and Dalvin Tomlison are very active. They shoot off the ball well and will make plays away from the point-of-attack. Tomlinson made a tackle on a passing play seven yards downfield outside the numbers in the second half. How many interior guys do you see do that?  He is still getting pushed back by the power blocks, multiple yards, too easily and often.
  • Kerry Wynn, Romeo Okwara, and Avery Moss were pretty quiet, each only being involved in 1 tackle. Okwara was the first pass rushing DT on the field on 3rd down for what its worth. There was one play where his biggest weakness, lower body stiffness and lack of lateral twitch, was on full display when he tried and whiffed to bring down Deshone Kizer on a designed running play.

LINEBACKERS

  • B.J. Goodson led the way (get used to hearing that) with 7 tackles. For the second straight week, Goodson recorded a sack on a blitz up the middle in which he obliterated Cleveland running back Duke Johnson who tried to simply get in his way. Didn’t work out for him. Goodson continues to be the pace-maker of this physical brand of Giants defense.
  • Calvin Munson and Deontae Skinner both played a lot of snaps, as they might be competing for  the same roster spot. Munson notched 4 tackles and showed plenty of range on a 3rd-quarter physical tackle near the sidelines. Skinner, arguably the top athlete in the entire group, recorded 3 tackles of his own but also missed 2. He and Charles Grant both appear more instinctive and reactive than a year ago, but I’m not sure it’s quite enough yet. Grant is still a liability in coverage, as he was easily beat up the seam by rookie tight end David Njoku but was saved by an overthrow by Deshone Kizer.
  • Jonathan Casillas and Devon Kennard had solid outings in their limited action. Both work through traffic exceptionally well and carry a strong presence to their hits. Kennard had really nice coverage on the athletic Njoku in the first quarter.

CORNERBACKS

  • With Eli Apple out, Michael Hunter got some extra looks in the Giants nickel defense. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who also saw some snaps at safety, shifted inside to the nickel position. Hunter covered very well but lost outside contain on a running play by Duke Johnson. Fortunately it was called back due to a hold away from the action. Both Rodgers-Cromartie and Janoris Jenkins were strong in coverage and physical in the run game.
  • Valentino Blake got on the field a lot considering he is very involved on special teams. He is tough and physical, two prerequisites for Special Teams Coach Tom Quinn and we all know how much this era of Giants leadership values the specials. Blake still gives up too much yardage as a cover man, however.
  • Undrafted rookie Deshaun Amos stood out to me on a couple of occasions. He made a couple of very physical hits and showed excellent technique in man coverage.
  • Donte Deayon bounced back after a rough outing against Pittsburgh. He handled all of his allotted returns, stuck to his receivers in coverage with ease, and intercepted a pass that showed off high-level ball skills. Unfortunately it was called back due to penalty that had nothing to do with the play’s result. Deayon, as we know, is on the VERY small side and it continues to show up when he is trying to defend the run. He was rendered completely useless on a few outside runs by physical receivers.

SAFETIES

  • Landon Collins recorded a tackle and showed plenty of range against the run. He is heading for a 100+ tackle season for the third straight year.
  • Nat Berhe led the team in snaps played. He recorded 6 tackles but missed another bad one in the fourth quarter on a backup tight end. Through two games he has graded out very poorly as a tackler, something that just can’t happen from that position.
  • Darian Thompson and Andrew Adams continued to be right place, right time-type defenders without a big impact. Eric Pinkins and Duke Ihenacho did not get a ton of opportunity to display much of anything.

SPECIAL TEAMS

  • Veteran Mike Nugent got the first look on the field goal unit, nailing a 38 yarder. Rookie Aldrick Rosas hit one from 47 yards later on, but it didn’t have a ton of room left on it.
  • Brad Wing punted the ball 3 times for a poor average net (36.3 yards) due to poor coverage, mainly by Shane Smith and Orleans Darkwa.
  • The return game was quiet, with Donte Deayon, Travis Rudolph, and Orleans Darwka handling duties but all were fair catches and touchbacks.

3 STUDS

  • DE Jason Pierre Paul, DE Olivier Vernon, TE Evan Engram

3 DUDS

  • RB Paul Perkins, RT Bobby Hart, RT Adam Bisnowaty

3 TAKEAWAYS FOR CLE

  • There is a serious amount of young talent on the Browns, I think more than we have ever seen since their rebirth into the league. The upside of this team is huge if they can finally find their QB.
  • Rookie left tackle Roderick Johnson played pretty well considering he is a 5th-round pick and was up against Vernon. With Joe Thomas sitting out, Johnson’s experience in these games is huge for the long-term development of this team. He was also a high upside prospect and if he can figure it out before his name is called when Thomas retires, CLE may not skip a beat when the best left tackle of all time is no longer there.
  • Deshone Kizer was my second rated QB of the 2017 class. A weak class overall, but I still thought Kizer was a guy that could start and win plenty of games for a team. He has talent that very good QBs in this league don’t have. He was off on a couple throws but I was impressed by the quick release and easy footwork. If this kid puts his best foot forward, he has as much of a chance at being THE guy that turns this franchise around as anyone before him. And there is an offensive line there that rivals some of the best in football, which is huge for a young QB’s development.
Aug 222017
 
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Eli Manning and Odell Beckham, New York Giants (August 21, 2017)

Odell Beckham walks off of the field after ankle injury – © USA TODAY Sports

CLEVELAND BROWNS 10 – NEW YORK GIANTS 6…
The New York Giants’ offense continued to struggle in the second preseason game as the Giants fell to the Cleveland Browns 10-6 on Monday night at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland. But the more alarming news for New York was on the injury front as wide receiver Odell Beckham (ankle), wide receiver Brandon Marshall (shoulder), wide receiver Tavarres King (ankle), and cornerback Michael Hunter (concussion) were all forced to leave the game. X-rays on Beckham’s ankle were negative, but he will undergo further evaluations on Tuesday. The Giants did not provide an update on Marshall after the game. King, who has missed a couple of weeks with an ankle injury, appears to have re-injured it. And Hunter will now enter the NFL’s concussion protocol.

For the second game in a row, the Giants failed to score a touchdown. Quarterback Eli Manning was a respectable 10-of-14 for 80 yards, but the offensive line again had issues pass and run blocking. Despite accruing 16 yards on one run, starting halfback Paul Perkins finished the night with 10 yards on six carries. Overall, the Giants were held to an embarrassing 212 total net yards (147 yards passing, 65 yards rushing) and 13 first downs. The offense also turned the football over three times, including an interception by quarterback Geno Smith and fumbles by wide receiver Sterling Shepard and running back Wayne Gallman. The Giants were 3-of-12 on third down and 0-for-2 in red zone opportunities.

On the positive side, the Giants’ defense continues to play well. The Browns were held to 242 total net yards (134 yards passing, 108 yards rushing) and 18 first downs. Defensive end Olivier Vernon tipped one pass that defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul intercepted. Both ends also split a sack. Linebacker B.J. Goodson also picked up his second sack in two preseason games.

Video highlights/lowlights are available at Giants.com.

INJURY REPORT…
Wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. left the game with an ankle injury. X-rays were negative, but the Giants said he will undergo further evaluation. Beckham was also evaluated for a possible concussion, but cleared.

Wide receiver Brandon Marshall injured his shoulder in the game. Cornerback Michael Hunter left the game in the 3rd quarter with a concussion. Wide receiver Tavarres King left the game early with an ankle injury.

Not playing in the game were running back Shaun Draughn (ankle), wide receiver Dwayne Harris (upper body), wide receiver Darius Powe (hamstring), wide receiver Andrew Turzilli (hamstring), offensive lineman Adam Gettis (eye), offensive lineman Michael Bowie (arrest warrant), linebacker J.T. Thomas (knee), linebacker Keenan Robinson (concussion protocol), and linebacker Mark Herzlich (stinger).

POST-GAME REACTION…
Video clips of post-game media sessions with Head Coach Ben McAdoo and the following players are available at Giants.com:

  • Head Coach Ben McAdoo (Video)
  • QB Eli Manning (Video)
  • WR Odell Beckham, Jr. (Video)
  • LG Justin Pugh (Video)
  • S Landon Collins (Video)

ARTICLES…

Aug 192017
 
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Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants (November 27, 2016)

Jason Pierre-Paul – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Preseason Game Preview: New York Giants at Cleveland Browns, August 21, 2017

THE STORYLINE:
The second preseason game is a much more serious affair than the first. All of the team’s healthy starters should play, providing a better indication of where this team is at and potential trouble spots. You may or may not think it is premature to worry about aspects of the team, but there are early indications that the offensive line and running game could be issues once again. Defensively, the team looks strong but there are concerns about depth in the secondary. Of course, many eyes will be on Aldrick Rosas and whether or not he can be relied upon.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • RB Shaun Draughn (ankle)
  • WR Dwayne Harris (upper body)
  • WR Darius Powe (hamstring)
  • LB Keenan Robinson (concussion)
  • LB Mark Herzlich (stinger)
  • LB J.T. Thomas (knee)
  • CB Eli Apple (ankle)
  • S Duke Ihenacho (hamstring)
  • S Ryan Murphy (lower body)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
The blocking up front remains a concern. Against the Steelers, center Weston Richburg and right guard John Jerry did not have good games. And tackles Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart have been inconsistent in practice. The running game against the Steelers was putrid despite Ben McAdoo’s desire to focus on that aspect of the offense. There are still questions about whether or not Paul Perkins is a legitimate NFL starter.

We should get our first look at the real first-team offense with Eli Manning at quarterback and Odell Beckham, Brandon Marshall, and Sterling Shepard at wide receiver. Much attention will be on how the offensive line protects Eli and opens up holes for Perkins. Can the line provide Manning with enough time to utilize all of his dangerous weapons? Can the running game keep him out of 2nd-and-10 and 3rd-and-9 situations? When this offense is in true regular-season mode, Shane Vereen is the third-down back and a feature in the passing game. We’ll probably get a good indication on how seriously the Giants are taking this game by how much Vereen plays (Vereen tends to get nicked up so the Giants probably won’t play him all that much). It will be interesting to see if the Giants also send tight end Evan Engram on more vertical routes or whether the team is “hiding” that for the regular season. Up front, now is the time for D.J. Fluker to make a serious push for playing time. Jerry has opened the door for him. Jerry is the better pass protector and Fluker the better run blocker.

In terms of competition for roster spots, Geno Smith seemed to take the lead in the quarterback battle over Josh Johnson, but Smith made a stupid killer mistake in the Steelers game. Smith can solidify his chances with a sound game. If Johnson out-plays Smith in Cleveland, things will start to get a bit dicey. It will be interesting to see if Davis Webb plays in the second or third preseason games. Snaps are limited.

Among the tight ends and receivers, Matt LaCosse has been a camp all-star again, but we need to see it in games. Right now, it looks like Rhett Ellison, Evan Engram, and Jerell Adams are the locks with LaCosse and Will Tye on the bubble. Things are more cloudy at wide receiver once you get past the top four of Beckham, Marshall, Shepard, and Dwayne Harris. Tavarres King was a favorite at one point, but he has missed a lot of time due to an ankle injury. Roger Lewis is coming off a bad game and remains inconsistent. Darius Powe now has a hamstring issue. Travis Rudolph just may not have enough athletic ability. Could someone like Jerome Lane now sneak into the picture? On the line, much attention will be focused on back-up tackles Adam Bisnowaty and Chad Wheeler again. Both had rough moments against Pittsburgh.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The starters looked good against the Steelers, but keep in mind that Pittsburgh also sat their starting quarterback and best weapons. The Giants appear to be in good shape with multiple all-stars on the defensive line and in the secondary. But depth at safety (3rd and 4th safeties) and cornerback (5th corner) remain areas of concern. The linebacking unit has also been a bit nicked up.

Up front, the concerns about the defensive tackle spot alongside Damon Harrison appears to be diminishing with the strong efforts of Jay Bromley and Dalvin Tomlinson. Robert Thomas missed the first preseason game and should now get a chance to show his wares. Jason Pierre-Paul also did not play against the Steelers. Olivier Vernon looks set for a big year. But again, is there a back-up pass rusher on this team? Kerry Wynn had a strong game last week. Can he build upon it?

At linebacker, B.J. Goodson was a bit inconsistent, but he looks much more athletic this preseason. Combine that with his physical, aggressive nature and the Giants are willing to live with some growing pains there. What is interesting is that Calvin Munson appears to be making a serious push for a roster spot.

Landon Collins was all over the field against the Steelers. He’s one of those guys you want to get out of the game as soon as possible. He’s ready. Darian Thompson will be the other starter. Regardless of his upside, Andrew Adams is the primary back-up here. Nat Berhe is coming off a rough game and time may be running out on him. If Eric Pinkins makes it, it may be solely for special teams. I’m not sure the 4th safety is on this team yet. And I’m not sure the Giants really want Adams being the primary back-up. At corner, the big story is the emergence of Michael Hunter as a viable NFL cornerback. If he truly pans out, the Giants are in very good shape and ideally only need to find that 5th corner in case injuries start piling up. Valentino Blake and DaShaun Amos are coming off a rough game. The coaches seem to like Donte Deayon but he doesn’t offer and special teams value.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Both Aldrick Rosas and Mike Nugent went 2-for-2 last week and both hit long field goals, though Rosas was more impressive with his 52 yarder in the rain. In the event of a tie, one would think the Giants would go with youth over the fading veteran. But we shall see. The Giants did not use Dwayne Harris last week. Will they continue to keep him in bubble wrap in the preseason? (He had the hell beat out of him last year).

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Ben McAdoo on the second preseason game: “We want to stack some success with the way the game management went last week. We had 11 guys on the field each play, and that is easier said than done in the first preseason game. And just keep continuing to build. Go good to great on defense. Offense, be more productive. We are going to have everybody in the mix there and special teams, continue to improve.”

THE FINAL WORD:
My focus will be on pass protection and the running game on offense. I’m starting to get worried about both these areas again. Defensively, can Jay Bromley and Kerry Wynn string together two good games? What do the Giants have in Robert Thomas? How worried should we be about the back-up safeties? Of course, the field goal battle is a primary focal point. This is actually one of those games where you may want to see drives stall in enemy territory so you can get a better read on Rosas.

Nov 282016
 
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Odell Beckham, New York Giants (November 27, 2016)

Odell Beckham Celebrates His TD Against the Cleveland Browns – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 27 – Cleveland Browns 13

Overview

The New York Giants won their eighth game of the season, their sixth in a row, and by their largest point margin of the season by defeating the winless Cleveland Browns on the last weekend in November. Despite Cleveland’s record, this was a very dangerous spot for the Giants against an opponent they could have easily overlooked. With the offense and special teams playing at a mostly subpar level, the defense once again carried the day for New York. Good defense will almost always keep you in a game. The Giants had entered the game as the least penalized in the NFL but were flagged with nine infractions for 100 yards against the Browns. As expected, the turnover and sack numbers are beginning to favor the Giants.

Giants on Offense

The good news is that the offense scored three touchdowns and was 2-of-2 in the red zone. The offense did not turn the football over.

The bad news is that the Giants ran only 53 offensive plays (not counting the two kneel downs) and punted nine times. The offense was limited to 13 first downs, 296 total net yards (192 net yards passing), and 26:09 time of possession. The 104 yards rushing was inflated by a 22-yard end around by a wide receiver. The Giants were 4-of-13 (31 percent) on 3rd down and QB Eli Manning only completed 15 passes. The Giants began both the first and second half with four punts in a row. This all against a defense that had been 31st in the NFL.

In terms of pass/run ratio, the Giants had one of their most “balanced” games of the season. On the 53 offensive snaps, the Giants passed 28 times (one sack) and ran the ball 25 times.

Quarterback

Strange game for Eli Manning. He only completed 15 passes (15-of-27 or 56 percent). But he averaged almost 13 yards per completion, threw three touchdown passes and no interceptions, and finished the game with a 115.4 QB rating. On the first four drives of the first half, Manning was 8-of-12 for 49 yards, and was also sacked once. He missed an open Odell Beckham deep on the first possession on what could have been a 58-yard score. Manning also was way off on two other down-field shots to Beckham in the 1st quarter. On the the first four drives of the second half, Manning was 1-of-6 for no yards. But on the three touchdown drives, Manning was 6-of-9 for 145 yards and 3 touchdowns. Three of Manning’s passes gained 110 yards. And the throws to Dwayne Harris and Victor Cruz were picture-perfect. As I’ve said all year long, the Giants offense largely lives and dies by the big passing play.

Running Backs

Not a terribly productive game against what had been the 31st-ranked run defense in the NFL. If you take away the 22-yard end around by Sterling Shepard, Rashad Jennings and Paul Perkins carried the ball 24 times for 84 yards (3.5 yards per carry). One drive was stopped when Jennings was stuffed on 3rd-and-1. Jennings and Perkins were relatively unproductive in the passing game too, catching four passes for 18 yards. Perkins was flagged with a false start.

Wide Receivers

Odell Beckham was targeted 11 times. He caught six of those passes for 96 yards and two touchdowns. His three highlights included his 32-yard catch-and-run touchdown, his 41-yard reception that set up the final touchdown, and his 4-yard touchdown on 3rd-and-goal that sealed the game. Beckham simply is playing at a different speed than the other players on the field.

Oddly, Sterling Shepard was never targeted in the game. His 22-yard end around helped to set up the final score. Dwayne Harris was targeted once, and it resulted in the first touchdown of the game, a 13-yard score. Victor Cruz (1-of-5) and Roger Lewis (1-of-4) were targeted nine times, resulting in only two catches for 55 yards. Lewis’ 18-yard catch came on the first TD drive while Cruz’s 37-yard catch came on the second. Cruz seems to struggle to create any kind of vertical separation from defenders, but oddly the Giants take repeated deep shots in his direction. Manning repeatedly tried to his Lewis deep, but his throws were off the mark.

Tight Ends

Will Tye caught both passes thrown his way for a total of 12 yards on back-to-back plays in the first half. That was the extent of the tight end “productivity” in the passing game. Jerell Adams was not targeted but flashed as a blocker.

Offensive Line

The good news is that despite being down to their fourth-string left guard, the Giants won the game and Eli Manning survived. Manning was officially hit four times and sacked once (coverage sack). The running backs only averaged 3.5 yards per carry however against the 31st-ranked run defense. Despite outstanding starting field position at midfield, one drive was sabotaged by back-to-back penalties, the first a holding penalty on LT Ereck Flowers and then a false start on RT Bobby Hart. The first penalty wiped out a 19-yard gain. Flowers allowed a few pressures, but the Giants took more deep shots this week and the pass protection was reasonable.

Giants on Defense

The bad news is the Giants allowed the NFL’s 29th-ranked offense to accrue 343 total net yards with quarterback Josh McCown throwing for 322 yards and wide receiver Terrell Pryor catching six passes for 131 yards. The defense was also flagged three times for 55 yards.

The good news was just about everything else. The Giants defense was credited with seven sacks, eight tackles for losses, 11 quarterback hits, five pass defenses, three forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries. The Browns were 3-of-14 (21 percent) on 3rd down and 1-of-2 (50 percent) on 4th down. Fifteen offensive drives resulted in one touchdown, two field goals, three turnovers, one turnover on downs, and eight punts. The Browns were not only held to 13 points, but the Giants defense also scored. Giants defenders of the past would be very proud.

Defensive Line

As a unit, the defensive line had a monster game and everyone got into the act:

  • Jason Pierre-Paul: 7 tackles, 3 sacks, 3 QB hits, 3 tackles for losses, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery for a TD.
  • Olivier Vernon: 4 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 tackles for losses, 5 QB hits.
  • Damon Harrison: Team-high 9 tackles, 1 forced fumble.
  • Johnathan Hankins: 3 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 QB hits, 1 forced fumble.

Even reserves such as Romeo Okwara (2 tackles, 1 pass defense) and Kerry Wynn (1 fumble recovery) got into the act. In total, the line was responsible for 25 tackles, 6 sacks, 5 tackles for losses, 10 QB hits, 1 pass defense, 3 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, and one touchdown. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Linebackers

The defensive line, linebackers, and secondary limited the Browns to 58 yards on 21 carries. The 2.8 yards-per-carry average was far below what running backs Isaiah Crowell (4.3) and Duke Johnson (5.0) had been averaging. One of the Browns main targets – tight end Gary Barnidge – was held to one catch for 11 yards. Back-up tight end Seth DeValve caught three passes for 39 yards late in the game. Cleveland loves to throw to their backs and Crowell, Johnson, and Danny Vitale caught 10 passes for 69 yards. Keenan Robinson was credited with five tackles; Jonathan Casillas four tackles; and Devon Kennard three tackles. Robinson was flagged with a 15-yard penalty on a 19-yard completion on the Browns only touchdown drive of the game. Kennard nailed Crowell for a 1-yard loss after a quick throw and recovered the first fumble. Kelvin Sheppard did not show on the stat sheet, but he had good coverage on an incomplete pass in the red zone.

Defensive Backs

Terrelle Pryor caught six of 12 passes thrown in his direction for 131 yards. Fifty-four of those yards came on one pass play against CB Eli Apple, who also was flagged for a 35-yard pass interference penalty against Pryor on a FG drive. Apple came darn close to intercepting a pass on the very next play but his foot was barely out-of-bounds. The two bad plays stick out, but Apple played well otherwise.

The other three Browns receivers were limited to five catches on 11 targets for 72 yards. Janoris Jenkins was credited with 5 tackles, 1 sack, 2 tackles for losses, and 2 pass defenses. He gave up a 14-yard completion to Pryor late in the first half but then knocked away an end zone pass to the taller Pryor, forcing a field goal. Jenkins was beaten by WR Corey Coleman for a 21-yard touchdown in the second half. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie expertly defended a late 3rd-and-19 pass and Jenkins followed that up by almost intercepting the 4th-and-19 incompletion.

CB Trevin Wade had issues on back-to-back plays late in the 2nd quarter that allowed the Browns to set up a field goal. First he was beat for 22 yards by Pryor on 2nd-and-30. On the following play, Wade was flagged with a holding penalty on a 3rd-and-8 incomplete pass, keeping the drive alive. Landon Collins had seven tackles, but uncharacteristically missed a few tackles. Nat Berhe suffered another concussion, putting his season in doubt. Andrew Adams made a very nice pass breakup on 3rd-and-8 to force a punt.

Giants on Special Teams

The special teams star for the Giants was Brad Wing, who punted nine times, averaging 47.4 yards per punt (44.7 net) with five punts downed inside the 20 and three downed inside the 10-yard line. He had one touchback. Punt coverage was outstanding as the Browns only returned three punts for five yards. Roger Lewis made a fantastic play by downing one ball at the 4-yard line.

Three of Robbie Gould’s five kickoffs resulted in touchbacks. Kickoff coverage was solid as the Browns two kickoff returns went for 24 and 21 yards. Gould missed yet another extra point however.

Subbing for the injured Dwayne Harris, Bobby Rainey disappointed. His two kickoff returns went for 26 and 25 yards. His three punt returns resulted in seven yards and a muffed punt that set up Cleveland’s first scoring drive. He also was flagged with an invalid fair-catch signal.

Rainey was replaced by Odell Beckham, who had a 59-yard punt return for a touchdown wiped out by a holding penalty on Mark Herzlich and a 28-yard return wiped out by illegal block penalties on Eli Apple and Paul Perkins. His other return went for 12 yards.

(New York Giants at Cleveland Browns, November 27, 2016)