Sep 162020
 
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Andrew Thomas, New York Giants (September 14, 2020)

Andrew Thomas – © USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Steelers 26 – New York  Giants 16

QUICK RECAP

An offseason like no other. A training camp like no other. And now, a regular season like no other. The Covid-19 pandemic has led to empty or near-empty stadiums, a lot of awkward silence, and a bunch of never-heard-before F-Bombs on live television. At one point, or several points, the idea of the NFL playing this year was cloudy at best. However, here we sit, looking back on a full slate of Week 1 games. Excellent job by the NFL and everyone involved. Now onto the good stuff.

The Giants kicked off Monday Night football with a home game against Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Big Ben, in his 17th season, was on the game field in pads for the first time in 364 days following an elbow injury that created the question if he was done, both mentally and physically. He has discussed retirement in the past and not many players are still wearing the helmet at the age 38. He did come back, he is paired with an elite defense, he is behind an elite offensive line, and he is throwing the ball to some of the more exciting young receivers in the league. This was a tall order for the New York Giants and their new Head Coach, Joe Judge, a first time Head Coach on any level.

Judge’s history revolves around special teams and that is exactly where NYG got their first break. A muffed punt by PIT receiver Diontae Johnson gave the Giants the ball on the PIT 3-yard line. However, after 3 plays that derived 1 total yard, they had to settle for a 21-yard chip shot by newly signed kicker Graham Gano. Giants held the initial 3-0 lead. After trading three-and-outs, PIT got on the board with a 41-yard field goal by Chris Boswell at the end of a 13-play drive.

The Giants opened the second quarter with their first touchdown-scoring drive of the season. They were stopped after three plays but they were given new life by a Joe Haden pass interference call on third down. On the very next play, Jones hit Darius Slayton deep down the middle on a post route for a 41-yard score. The Giants’ passing game looked crisp on all levels early on and they had a 10-3 lead. Following another three-and-out by PIT, Jones’s first pass of the ensuing drive resulted in an interception to Defensive Player of the Year candidate T.J. Watt. It was a zone blitz that caught Jones off guard. This gave PIT the ball on the NYG 36-yard to line to start and that resulted in PIT’s first touchdown of the year, a 3rd down, 10-yard loft as NYG tried to bring the heat via a heavy blitz. Boswell missed the extra point, thus NYG still held the lead at 10-9.

From this point, NYG showed their current true color. The true color that has netted them the worst record in the NFL over the past three seasons. The Giants had momentum on their side after a 38-yard gain on a screen pass to Barkley where his elite level burst and speed were on display in space, the place he is most lethal. Evan Engram, who had a game to forget, caught a pass up the seam for a 24-yard gain that put NYG on the PIT 20-yard line. Unfortunately, he was flagged for offensive pass interference. Two plays later, Jones was sacked. They went from 1st-and10 on the PIT 20 to 3rd-and-27 on the NYG 39.

The two offenses traded three-and-outs before the Big Ben and the PIT offense started a 2-minute offense from their own 22. Eight plays, 68 yards later PIT had put up another 7 points stemming from a rub route that put James Washington in the end zone with the ball in his hands. PIT held a 16-10 lead at the half.

Since the start of 2016, there have been 23,518 offensive drives in the NFL. Only 2 of them had more plays (21) than the opening NYG drive of the second half (19). On 2nd-and-3 from the PIT 4-yard line, Jones evaded pressure and foolishly tried to throw against his body’s momentum into what would have been a ton of traffic. He was hit by Bud Dupree, who had a monster night, sending the ball tumbling into the air and into the waiting arms of defensive lineman Cam Heyward, the first of his 10-year career. This was the second time NYG had the ball inside the 5-yard line and it netted them a grand total of 3 points.

The Steelers then scored a combined 10 points on the next two drives, the touchdown being another pitch-and-catch between Roethlisberger to Juju Smith-Schuster via a rub route where James Bradberry got bumped out of position. Down 16 with 5:23 left, Jones and the Giants offense pieced together another long drive, 16 plays, that this time ended with points on the board. Jones hit Slayton for a 7-yard touchdown as the two have clearly brought the connection we saw in 2019 to the table here in their respective sophomore seasons. They failed the two-point attempt, leaving it a two-possession game with just 2:00 left. PIT ran out the clock and that was it.

Giants lose 26-16.

QUARTERBACK

-Daniel Jones: 26-41 / 279 yards / 2 TD-2 INT / 79.2 Rating

Jones added 22 yards on the ground via 4 carries. In his first ever season opener, Jones was matched up against one of the top 5 defenses in the NFL playing behind an offensive line that was playing with two new tackles and a new center. That led to him being pressured more than any quarterback in the NFL week 1. As is the case with most young quarterbacks, Jones was inconsistent. On one hand, he looked poised and tough, something we saw plenty of last year. He made accurate downfield throws, he stayed aggressive, he knew when to pull down and run, and most importantly he did not fumble (although there was a close call). However, the way this position works in this game, he had two major mistakes and that really cost the team. His first interception was against a zone blitz that he did not recognize and the second one, on just second down, was a rookie-level mistake throwing against his body into heavy traffic. One was a lack of recognition; one was a lack of sound decision making. His game wasn’t a bad one, but if he is THE guy, he needs to make sure they walk away with at least 10 points when they are inside the PIT 5 two times, not 3 points.

RUNNING BACK

-Saquon Barkley: 15 att – 6 yards / 6 rec – 60 yards

This was the third time in his 30-game career that Barkley has been held to 10 or less rushing yards, one of the other times being an injury-shortened game in Tampa Bay last year. It was a horrific way to start off the year. Barkley rarely made it two steps with the ball before he had a PIT defender (or several) on top of him. The inside running lanes rarely existed and the PIT defense was too fast for them to handle when they went outside. His lone bright spot was a 38-yard gain on a screen pass where we saw the explosion, speed, and make-you-miss ability on full display. New Offensive Coordinator Jason Garrett needs to fully understand this is a completely different back than Ezekiel Elliot in Dallas. Barkley needs to the ball in space as much as possible, that is where he does damage. This performance is solely on the offensive line, zero question. With that said, Barkley did allow a pressure and a sack. His blocking remains subpar at best.

WIDE RECEIVER

-Darius Slayton: 6 rec – 102 yards / 2 TD

Before the season, I said Slayton was going to end up being the team’s number one receiver this year. That was partially an indictment on the lack of upside Sterling Shepard and Golden Tate bring to the table, but also a level of confidence in Slayton. His routes and long speed looked crisp, he played through contact, and he finished. Excellent start for him. He looks like the real deal and a true keeper.

-Sterling Shepard: 6 rec – 47 yards

It was a “quiet” night for Shepard. He didn’t really factor as much until the second half. He caught all 6 of his targets (not including the 2-point conversion attempt), as he just ran into some bad luck. From my view, it looked like he was the main target three times on plays where the pass protection pressured Jones away from the read. This could have easily been a bigger game for Shepard.

TIGHT END

-Evan Engram: 2 rec / 9 yards

Jason Garrett and Joe Judge may end up having a short leash on the athletic Engram. Neither have used a tight end like this much before and I think they both lean toward a sturdier presence. Engram was tossed around like a rag doll by the Steelers front seven. Simply put, he just does not belong in there trying to block edge defenders. He can hold his own against defensive backs and some inside linebackers, but his lack of blocking had a significant impact on the team mightily struggling on the ground. He allowed a pressure, a TFL, and dropped a pass in the first quarter to boot. Lastly, his offensive pass interference was an absolute killer to the team’s momentum. There are 15 games left, but Engram needs to know he is on the hot seat.

-Kaden Smith and Levine Toilolo played 43% and 35% of the offensive snaps respectively. Having one tight end play that much is expected, but two? I do like the concept of having these three on the field together (NYG played with 13 personnel – 3 TEs – more than every team Week 1), but they have to do what they are supposed to do. Having them on the field allows more support for the running game, at least theoretically. However, they both struggled against the PIT physical front seven, allowing a combined 3 pressures and 1 TFL. They also combined for 3 catches / 30 yards. Hopefully some of the blocking shortcomings had more to do with lack of chemistry than anything, because that is why these guys are on the team.

OFFENSIVE TACKLE

-Perhaps the brightest, or second brightest part of NYG’s week 1 game was the play of rookie Andrew Thomas. He did allow 3 pressures on the night, a number we want to be lower, but it doesn’t get much tougher than Bud Dupree (on an island nonetheless) for a rookie tackle. Thomas was the top graded Giants lineman by far and two of his pressures could be argued against (they are a tad subjective). He played with a wide and strong base, he played patient, and his hands were heavy. I would like to see more running attempts right behind him.

-Cameron Fleming has not produced any confidence that the massacre right tackle has been to this offense in recent years will be any different. He allowed 2 pressures and a sack in pass protection, he allowed 2 TFL, and he was pushed backward multiple times as a run blocker. He was flagged for a false start. I think Matt Peart will be starting by mid-season.

GUARD/CENTER

-The guiltiest culprit of the inside running woes was center Nick Gates. He was toyed with by Tyson Alualu, a solid but unspectacular nose tackle. This is where the lack of offseason may have hurt the Giants the most. Gates was very late with his hands. When you’re late with your hands, especially inside against a powerful player, you’re going to abruptly lose ground. That happened over and over and understandably so, as Gates really doesn’t have a lot of experience snapping the ball and getting his hands up quickly enough. NYG can only hope for improvement here in the coming weeks, but it could easily take longer.

-Kevin Zeitler had a surprisingly awful game. He was the lowest graded blocker of the bunch. He allowed 2 pressures, 2 TFL, and a sack (although one could argue it wasn’t his fault). More than the weak grade, Zeitler looked stiff. Is there something wrong? Is he on the sharp decline? He will be one I watch closely next week in Chicago, another team with really good interior defensive linemen.

-Will Hernandez was quietly solid. He allowed one pressure and was oddly left alone by the PIT defense several times. He was late to help a few times, but not a bad game by him. Again, I want to see more NYG runs to the left side next week.

EDGE

-Lorenzo Carter is going to be a key factor for this team in 2020 and whether or not this defense can take a true step forward. He looks the part, as he always has. He seems to be more powerful than we’ve seen, and he still has the elite speed and burst. I made a couple different notes of physical play and he finished with 7 tackles and 2 pressures including 1 hit on the QB. He is what I call an every-down defender in that he can have a role in any situation. He has the tools but his issues have revolved around consistency and mental quickness. We saw some positives in this game, but he needs to more of a finisher.

-Markus Golden, the team’s leading pass rusher from 2019 and a guy that pretty much nobody in the NFL wanted to bring in, was limited to just 34% of the snaps as he continues to work back into game shape. He was a non-factor.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

-Leonard Williams was the most disruptive and consistent player along the NYG front. He finished with 5 tackles / 1 sack / 2 TFL / 1 pressure. A lot of eyes are going to be on the franchised player who some are still looking down on because he was traded for. If he plays like this, we can seal the deal as a win for the NYG organization.

-Dalvin Tomlinson had a quiet game, not in a good or bad way. He just didn’t impact the defense much in either direction. Dexter Lawrence had a pressure and a sack. In addition, he once again flashed surprisingly solid athletic ability on a couple of nice hustle plays away from his starting point.

LINEBACKER

-Blake Martinez showed quality inside play after receiving a hefty contract from NYG in the offseason. I can easily say this: it was the best true ILB play we have seen in awhile. He led the team with 12 tackles including 1 TFL. There wasn’t anything eye-popping here, but it was notable how fast he reacted to the offense. In addition, he was rarely fooled or caught out of position. This is a legit inside presence at the second level that this defense sorely lacked in recent years.

-Kyler Fackrell and Devante Downs were on the field for less than a half and quarter of the plays respectively. Fackrell brings inside-out versatility, which is nice, but he didn’t show much as a pass rusher in week 1. Downs recovered a fumble on special teams in the first quarter. I am pulling for this kid, great story of perseverance.

CORNERBACK

The newly signed James Bradberry had a really up-and-down inaugural game in blue. The high-priced corner “allowed” two touchdowns but on both plays, he was the victim of “rub routes”. Basically, the plays were designed to combat man coverage in that two receivers crisscrossed each other close enough that Bradberry collided with his own teammate. He also allowed a big downfield gain to Chase Claypool (who got away with a push off). Overall, Bradberry finished with 4 tackles, 2 pass deflections, and a forced fumble that nearly turned the game around. A second look from the All-22 angle showed quality coverage throughout.

-Rookie Darnay Holmes started at the nickel spot and played 73% of the snaps. If nothing else, he played fast, physical, and aggressive out there. He did miss two tackles on the same drive early in the game, but he can’t be looked down on for that too badly. He just isn’t a very big kid and his first NFL action was against a formidable passing offense. He showed several encouraging signs.

-Corey Ballentine started at the other outside corner spot and I have to say, he may be the key weaknesses to this defense besides the lack of pass rush that stems from four guys. He allowed so much separation, most notably to the smaller/quicker Diontae Johnson. This was something we saw last year when they tried him at nickel, a spot he just couldn’t hang. He doesn’t forecast well and the speed just isn’t there to make up for it.

-Isaac Yiadom was on the field for 5 plays and allowed a touchdown.

SAFETY

-Jabrill Peppers shined as a punt returner, but mightily struggled as a safety. He had 3 tackles and a pass deflection but was beat on 3rd down by Eric Ebron and missed 2 tackles. Every year, Peppers will impress with some workout videos during the offseason. His talent is obvious. He plays hard and physical. But when it comes to reading the game situation and playing with instincts, it just isn’t there. The downhill angle he took on a 4th quarter run was abysmal. It led to 30-yard gain that should have easily been stopped at the 5-yard mark. He needs to step it up, no more fluff.

-Logan Ryan and Julian Love were on the field a lot in respective safety/nickel roles. I like how they can interchange roles on a dime, as it makes things tougher for the opposing quarterback to read and diagnose. They were both solid in coverage, but Ryan offers more as a tackler and physical presence. Love got knocked back a few times on contact with the ball carrier and I considered it a missed tackle on James Washington’s touchdown.

SPECIAL TEAMS

-K Graham Gano: 1/1 (Made 21) / 1/1 XP.

-P Riley Dixon: 5 Punts – 38.6 avg / 36.0 net / 3 inside 20

3 STUDS

-WR Darius Slayton, OT Andrew Thomas, LB Blake Martinez

3 DUDS

-OC Nick Gates, OG Kevin Zeitler, TE Evan Engram

3 THOUGHTS ON PIT

  1. How do you build an elite defense? Continuity, chemistry, scheme, draft quality players. The Steelers have, for pretty much 17 years, made their defense a main priority when it comes to coaching and drafting. In that span, they’ve ranked top 10 in points allowed 12 times and top 5 in points allowed 7 times. It is in their blood. When it comes to personnel, they they rarely miss in the 1st round. Devin Bush, T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, Ryan Shazier, Cam Heyward…all those guys have been drafted since 2011 in round 1 and they all (minus the injured Shazier) are still making an impact on this team in a big way. Add in the trade for Minkah Fitzpatrick and you are looking at 5 elite players at their respective positions and I would say 4 of 20 the league’s Defensive Player of the Year candidates.
  1. Speaking of drafting, I did a team study on the Steelers and their success at drafting skill position players in the middle rounds. In rounds 2-4 since 2017, take a look at these names: JuJu Smith-Schuster (round 2), James Conner (round 4), James Washington (round 2), Diontae Johnson (round 2), Benny Snell (round 4), Chase Claypool (round 2), and a name you will hear about soon enough in Anthony McFarland (round 2). You will have a hard time finding more homegrown skill position talent in the league.
  1. Lastly, this offensive line is likely going to be a make or break for PIT. They were solid against NYG in week 1, yes. However, there are going to be much tougher pass rushers on the schedule coming up and now they are without Zach Banner in addition to David DeCastro. When these guys are at full strength, they are a top-5 group. They have a ton of chemistry in addition to multiple top 10 guys at their respective positions. If they stay healthy enough, this PIT team has final 4 potential in the AFC.

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

  1. The Giants were one of four teams with a new coaching staff during the most difficult offseason any team has ever dealt with from a logistical perspective. Those teams went a combined 1-3 and the other team with a first timer at the Head Coach spot (Cleveland) lost 38-6. I’m not a moral victory guy at all, but I do think that these teams with new coaching staffs and schemes will see more margin between week 1 and week 2 compared to the rest of the league. Not having these guys in a real live situation throughout the preseason does leave a lot of question marks that are only answered via gameplay. NYG has multiple areas to improve and whether or not this coaching staff can make the needed changes will dictate a lot.
  1. When looking at “how to win a game”, you can go down several rabbit holes. I try to keep it as simple as possible. Here is what gets it done more often than not: Win the turnover battle. Win the penalty battle. Win the sack battle. If you can walk away with two of those micro-level wins, the odds of ending up on top are well over 90%. The Giants lost the turnover battle by one, they lost the penalty battle, and they lost the sack battle. Trifecta.
  1. The Giants did impress me in one specific area, and that was on defense. They played really fast and really physical and really smart (minus Peppers). We listened to Joe Judge talk about those three traits the entire offseason and we mostly just swept it under the rug, but that was one thing that stood out to me. The Giants have a defense that plays fast based on both the athletic ability and sureness of their assignments. That, more than anything, is encouraging as we move forward. Now, somebody needs to step up and make plays/create turnovers.
Sep 142020
 
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Darius Slayton, New York Giants (September 14, 2020)

Darius Slayton – © USA TODAY Sports

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PITTSBURGH STEELERS 26 – NEW YORK GIANTS 16…
Despite the game remaining close for three quarters, the Pittsburgh Steelers pulled away in the 4th quarter and soundly defeated the New York Giants on Monday night at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Giants begin the 2020 NFL season 0-1.

What killed the Giants was their inability to run the football combined with two very costly interceptions by quarterback Daniel Jones. The defense also crumbled at inopportune times, including after both turnovers and late in the first half. Running back Saquon Barkley was held to an abysmal six yards on 15 carries. Indeed, Jones was the team’s leading rusher with 22 yards as Giants’ running backs only combined for seven yards rushing.

The Giants received the football to start the game, picked up two first downs, but were then forced to punt. However, New York was handed a golden opportunity when Pittsburgh’s returner muffed the punt and the Giants recovered the loose ball at the Pittsburgh 3-yard line. But the Giants could not get the ball into the endzone after a 1-yard run and two incomplete passes as they settled for a 21-yard field goal.

After both teams exchanged three-and-outs, the Steelers tied the game at 3-3 when their 13-play, 59-yard second drive resulted in a 41-yard field goal. The Giants responded with an impressive 6-play, 75-yard possession that culminated in a 41-yard touchdown pass from Jones to wide receiver Darius Slayton. Early in the second quarter, the Giants led 10-3.

The Giants forced another three-and-out by the Steelers. With momentum clearly in New York’s favor, Jones threw his first bad interception on the first play of the subsequent drive. Linebacker T.J. Watt fooled Jones when he dropped into coverage and the Steelers had the ball at the New York 36-yard line. Six plays later, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw a 10-yard touchdown. Pittsburgh missed the extra point and the Giants led 10-9.

After two punts by the Giants and one by the Steelers, Pittsburgh got the ball back at their own 22-yard line with 1:32 left before halftime. Unfortunately, the New York defense could not prevent the Steelers from easily marching 78 yards in eight plays to take a morale-sapping 16-10 lead into halftime. Roethlisberger threw a 13-yard touchdown pass with just seven seconds left on the clock.

Nevertheless, the Giants were still very much in the game. After the Steelers picked up one first down to start the third quarter, they were forced to punt. The Giants then began a marathon 19-play possession that started at their own 9-yard line. Despite no running game whatsoever, the Giants converted on 3rd-and-14, 3rd-and-1, 4th-and-1, 3rd-and-6, and 3rd-and-3 to keep the drive alive. Disaster struck when on 2nd-and-3 from the Pittsburgh 4-yard line, Jones scrambled to his left, was hit as he threw, and the pass was picked off in the end zone by a defensive lineman for a touchback. The 19-play, 87-yard, almost 9-minute possession resulted in no points. It was a devastating turn of events.

Predictably, the Steelers took advantage of the huge momentum switch as they drove 62 yards in nine plays to set up a 36-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter. The Steelers now led 19-10 and the Giants were clearly in trouble.

The game was all-but-officially decided on the next two series. Despite starting their next possession at their own 40-yard line, the Giants went three-and-out. The Steelers then drove 75 yards in 11 plays to take a commanding 26-10 lead with 5:23 to play. New York drove for a garbage-time touchdown, ending with Slayton’s second touchdown catch on 3rd-and-goal from the 7-yard line with less than two minutes to play. The two-point conversion and subsequent onside kick failed. The Steelers then ran out the clock to preserve the win.

Offensively, the Giants were held to 291 total net yards (29 rushing, 262 passing). The team did convert 8-of-15 times on third down (53 percent) and 1-of-1 on 4th down. Jones completed 26-of-41 passes for 279 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He was the leading rusher with 22 yards on four carries. The leading receivers were Slayton (6 catches for 102 yards and two touchdowns), Barkley (6 catches for 60 yards), and wide receiver Sterling Shepard (6 catches for 47 yards).

Defensively, the Giants allowed 349 total net yards (141 yards rushing, 208 yards passing). Pittsburgh scored on five of their 10 offensive possessions (three touchdowns and two field goals). The Giants did not force a turnover on defense. Defensive linemen Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence each had sacks.

Video highlights are available on Giants.com.

PRACTICE SQUAD ACTIVATIONS, INACTIVES, AND INJURY REPORT…
With teams now allowed to activate two players from the Practice Squad on game day, the Giants activated OL Chad Slade and S Sean Chandler.

Inactive for the game were WR Golden Tate (hamstring), OG Shane Lemieux, OT Jackson Barton, DE R.J. McIntosh, LB T.J. Brunson, LB Cam Brown, and LB Tae Crowder (hamstring).

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 will address the media by conference call on Tuesday afternoon.

Sep 122020
 
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Game Preview: Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Giants, September 14, 2020

THE STORYLINE

On paper, this game looks like an easy win for the Steelers. The third-longest tenured NFL head coach after Bill Belichick and Sean Payton versus the 38-year old rookie head coach who has never served as a the head man at any level. With that comes the understanding that the Steelers know their schemes and coaching staff inside and out, while the Giants are still at the beginning of the learning curve. Furthermore, the Steelers have been one of the toughest, most physical teams in the NFL since the Chuck Noll era. Indeed, the Steelers haven’t had a losing record since 2003 and only three head coaches since 1969. On the other hand, the Giants are on their fourth head coach since 2016 and are averaging four wins per season in the last three years. The overall consensus is that the Pittsburgh Steelers are a legit Super Bowl contender while the extremely young New York Giants will be fortunate to finish anywhere near a .500 record.

What do the Giants have going for them? The element of the unknown. While the Steelers likely studied Jason Garrett in Dallas and Patrick Graham in Miami, Garrett hasn’t called offensive plays since 2012 and Graham most likely didn’t have full control of the defense in Miami with Brian Flores’ defensive background. The Giants are a very young team who may not know they are supposed to be intimidated by the big bad Steelers. And on top of all of this, the COVID-19 issue has prevented all NFL teams from having a normal offseason… no mini-camps, no OTAs, no preseason. Teams that adjusted the best and were more organized should have an advantage even over more talented teams. Joe Judge ran a very organized, physical training camp.

My advice to the Giants? Go into this game like Michael Keaton did in Batman. “You Wanna Get Nuts? Let’s Get Nuts!”

THE INJURY REPORT

  • WR Golden Tate (hamstring – questionable)
  • TE Levine Toilolo (hamstring – questionable)
  • LB Markus Golden (illness)
  • LB Tae Crowder (hamstring – questionable)
  • S Adrian Colbert (illness)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE

This is a bad opponent for the New York Giants’ offense to begin the season with. The Steelers have one of the toughest defenses in the NFL and will put tremendous mental and physical pressure on the yet-to-gel offensive line and 2nd-year quarterback trying to overcome a fumbling problem.

The Steelers are loaded at all three levels of the defense. DE Cameron Heyward (2x All-Pro, 3x Pro Bowl) is one of the best in the business up front. Outside linebackers T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree are double-digit sack artists, and Watt is a legit “Defensive Player of the Year” candidate. Inside linebacker Devin Bush is a rising star. Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick is coming off an All-Pro season and CB Joe Haden a Pro Bowl season. These are the headliners but the entire unit is well-coached, tough, and physical. They intimidate their opponents. The Steeler defense is quite capable of winning a game on its own.

Enter a promising New York Giants offensive line that has yet to play an actual game together. Rookie left tackle Andrew Thomas has yet to play against NFL talent at full speed contact, and his first opponent are going to be the Steelers superb outside rushers. This will be Nick Gates’ first real game at center and he is going to have to deal with the Steelers’ complicated blitz schemes. RT Cam Fleming will probably have issues with Pittsburgh’s outside rushers as well.

The game plan seems fairly obvious. Try to establish Saquon Barkley on the ground, thereby protecting the offensive line somewhat until it can get its feet wet. Use the short passing game to backs Barkley and Dion Lewis, and tight ends Evan Engram and Kaden Smith. Get the ball out of Daniel Jones’ hands fast and keep the chains moving. Try not to expose Jones to a lot of hits. The last thing the Giants can afford is for that fumbling issue to continue. You can’t win games that way, and there is a risk to Jones’ long-term confidence.

Don’t expect the Giants’ offense to perform well. This is one of the toughest defenses in the NFL. “Wins” in this game will come from NOT making negative plays, NOT turning the ball over, and flipping field position. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot!

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE

The expectation by many Giants fans and pundits is that the team’s defense will struggle again in 2020. I’m not so sure. I do have a big worry about the secondary. The Giants were counting on Deandre Baker and Xavier McKinney, and to a lesser extent Sam Beal. But adding Logan Ryan should help. I’m still not convinced that Ryan is going to be used exclusively at safety. It would not shock me to see him lining up at outside cornerback against the Steelers (in fact, this is what I would do…either that or play Darnay Holmes outside and Ryan at inside corner).

The other worry from fans is the pass rush. Call me a naive optimist but I think a big part of the problem with the team’s defense last year was that it was simply poorly coached. I believe Dexter Lawrence, Dalvin  Tomlinson, and Leonard Williams are better-than-average 3-4 pass rushers and potentially more than that. I also think that Patrick Graham and Bret Bielema are going to have a positive influence on Lorenzo Carter, Oshane Ximines, Markus Golden, and Kyler Fackrell. The issue for these guys in this particular game is the Steelers see better every day in practice.

Opinions on the Steelers’ offense varies. But there are a number of question marks, starting with QB Ben Roethlisberger, who is nearing the end and missed most of 2019 with an elbow issue. How much gas does he still have in the tank? Do his teammates still consider him their field general? Pittsburgh’s primary back, James Conner, has been injury-prone. The offensive line has size and experience, but appears to be fraying a bit at the edges and guard David DeCastro is not expected to play against the Giants.

As for the receiving targets, the Steelers two tight ends (Vance McDonald, Eric Ebron) can present match-up problems. Patrick Graham also says the Giants are worried about the Steelers’ backs in the receiving game. WR JuJu Smith-Schuster has been a bit of a frustrating player for Pittsburgh, at times looking like an impact player (monster 2018 season) and at other times not living up to expectations (disappointing 2019 season). But how much was that due to Big Ben being out of the lineup? The Steelers have high hopes for WR Diontae Johnson, and WR James Washington is solid. On paper, the match-up Giants fans worry about is Corey Ballentine against anyone, until proven otherwise. Or do the Giants surprise the Steelers and play Logan Ryan or Darnay Holmes outside?

Cutting to the chase, the defense has to keep this game close for the Giants to have a chance. The Giants’ offense simply is not going to score that much.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS

Here is a huge wild card the Giants all season. Joe Judge was so impressive as special teams coach that he was hired as an NFL coach despite having no head coaching experience at any level. “I’ve learned more football in the last six months probably than I have learned in the last 10 years,” said long-time NFL and current Giants special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey earlier this week.

The Giants look very solid in the kicking department with Graham Gano, Riley Dixon, and Casey Kreiter. No worries there. Losing gunner Cody Core this summer was a big blow. Someone needs to step up and replace him as much as possible. “We have to put guys out there and see who is going to make plays,” said McGaughey. “The hard part about it is you haven’t been able to cover any live punts (this summer). You won’t know until you get out there and see it done live. That’s the hard part of our situation.”

Pittsburgh changed punters and are going with the old guy, left-footed Dustin Colquitt. Place kicker Chris Boswell was solid in 2019, but had issues in 2018.

It’s not absolutely clear who will be primarily returning punts and kickoffs for both teams. Right now, the Giants list Darnay Holmes as the primary kickoff returner and Golden Tate as the primary punt returner. I would not be surprised if we see other players performing each duty. Note that Jabrill Peppers was name a special teams captain alongside Nate Ebner.

Could Joe Judge have a special teams trick or two up his sleeve for Pittsburgh in this game?

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH

Head Coach Joe Judge on the Pittsburgh Steelers: “To play the Steelers, it’s important for our players and coaches to understand the tradition and the culture that’s in their DNA. They’re a tough team from a tough city. They have a blue-collar mentality. This defense is very talented, they’re experienced, they play together, they’re tough, they’re opportunistic, they make plays up front and take advantage in the backend on the mistakes you make. This offense is heavily explosive. Obviously, they have one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. They have a tremendous collection of receivers, tight ends and running backs, all of which can change the game on any play. They’re only a few plays away from the end zone at any point in time. We have to respect everything they do. They run the ball very effectively, they throw the ball at will, and they can extend plays. Ben (Roethlisberger) is obviously one of the best in getting the ball out of his hand fast. They give you enough to work on on both sides of the ball. In the kicking game, it all starts with the specialists. They have two big leg guys in (Chris) Boswell and (Dustin) Colquitt. Obviously, that was a big addition bringing Dustin in, a left-footed punter. That’s always kind of a novelty to some people, but this guy has been tremendous throughout the duration of his career. We have a lot of respect for him having gone against him in the past on other teams. Then starting with the returns, love to see what they do on kickoff returns and punt returns. Whether it’s (Ray-Ray) McCloud, whether it’s (Diontae) Johnson, both guys are very explosive with the ball in their hands. We have to do a tremendous job in space of playing with leverage in tackling.”

THE FINAL WORD

It makes no sense to pick the Giants to win this game, just from the impact of the abbreviated offseason alone. The Steelers have an inherent advantage given the long-standing nature of their coaching staff and schemes. Throw on top of that the perceived talent gap, and the Giants will be “lucky” to stay within a touchdown.

That all said, crazy things happen on opening day. The Steelers don’t always start off strong. And the complete lack of a normal offseason could have unforeseen consequences. In other words, some crazy shit could happen. Let’s get nuts!

Aug 132017
 
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Davis Webb, New York Giants (August 11, 2017)

Davis Webb – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Pittsburgh Steelers 20 – New York Giants 12

QUICK RECAP

If this were a regular season game, the pregame hype would have been enormous, as some of the most game-breaking talents reside on each roster respectively. However, as often is the case, the stars were not on the field for any game snaps in the first week of preseason. Notable Steelers Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, and Ben Roethlisberger along with the Giants’ Eli Manning and Odell Beckham watched from the sidelines. The Steelers gave the start to  2017 4th-round pick Josh Dobbs, and the Giants opted to go with Josh Johnson, whom is in a open competition with Geno Smith for the team’s backup quarterback job.

Both teams forced multiple turnovers that provided their offenses with good field position, but PIT turned a NYG special teams fumble into a touchdown at the end of the first half, and an interception into a field goal in the 3rd quarter for a total of 10 points. NYG turned their two turnovers into 6 points, having to settle for field goals both times. NYG did have a possession late in the game down 8 points, leaving them with a chance to tie the game. Davis Webb led the offense into PIT territory with 2 minutes left, but didn’t make it past the 39-yard line.

QUARTERBACKS

  • Josh Johnson went 5/10 for 31 yards. He struggled to smoothly go through progressions after his initial target was covered. He was sacked three times in the 1st quarter, 2 of which he had more than enough time to get rid of the ball. He failed to locate the receivers that were open.
  • Geno Smith had the better night of the two, going 10/16 for 114 yards, although he did throw an interception (and had another one called back because of a PIT penalty). Smith showed off his strong arm and hit targets on the move. He also did a much better job of keeping his eyes downfield while scrambling.
  • Rookie Davis Webb looked solid-enough for a pro debut. He was getting the ball out fast but was wild-high a couple times. Webb also rushed a throw when he didn’t need to, showing a lack of awareness in the pocket. He looked comfortable with his footwork and working under center, two of his holes coming out of college.

RUNNING BACKS

  • Paul Perkins and Shane Vereen didn’t see a lot of action, combining 6 attempts for 8 yards. Neither made any catches or were given the opportunity to really get into a groove.
  • Rookies Wayne Gallman and Khalid Abdullah combined for 21 yards on 9 carries. Gallman had a nice blitz pickup in pass protection and a 4-yard catch while Abdullah missed his blocking assignment on a play late in the game. He also had a drop and showed slow/delayed decision making with the ball in his hands.
  • FB Shane Smith had the better night of the two fullbacks competing for a roster spot. He created running room on the few plays he played in the backfield and added a nice catch and run in the flat for a 9-yard gain. Jacob Huesman had a very blatant missed block on a 3rd-down running attempt.

WIDE RECEIVERS

  • The position as a whole didn’t stand out. They had a hard time getting open, forcing NYG into some cover sacks. Darius Powe showed excellent hands and ball skills on his 15-yard reception, with his easy catch-and-run ability. Undrafted rookies Jerome Lane and Keeon Johnson flashed in limited opportunities, showing physical yards-after-the-catch and toughness in traffic.
  • Roger Lewis got a lot of playing time early, but failed to capitalize on two separate end zone opportunities. The first one he came down with the ball but it was after he ran out of the end zone, making him an ineligible receiver on a play where he was the primary target. The second attempt, he had CB Ross Cockrell attached to his outside hip, but still had a clear, uninterrupted attempt to catch the ball on his inside shoulder. He did not make the most of his opportunities.
  • Brandon Marshall and Dwayne Harris saw a very limited amount of snaps.
  • Rookie Travis Rudolph got into the game early in the 2nd quarter. This coaching staff wants to give him every opportunity to make an impression. He made a nice catch up and away from his body in the 4th quarter. His lack of long speed and strength against defensive backs stood out, however.

TIGHT ENDS

  • Rhett Ellison, Evan Engram, Jerell Adams, and Matt LaCosse all saw snaps where they lined up in the backfield. I think there is still a strong chance this team avoids the fullbacks on the roster and leaves it up to this position to fill the role when needed.
  • Ellison’s role as a receiver will be more this season than it has ever been for him. He averaged 10 catches per season over his first 5 years in the NFL and if Friday night was any indication, he may be at 10 catches within the first 2 weeks in 2017.
  • Engram’s first pro catch went for 11 yards on a play-action pass where he showed explosive turn and run ability. He also graded out positively as a blocker.
  • Jerell Adams had a night, leading the team with both 3 catches and 28 yards. He made catches away from his body, showing off his enormous wing span. Athletically he played fast, twitchy, and without hesitation. It looks like things are clicking for him and if he reaches the upside I discussed he had after NYG drafted him, watch out. His blocking was also top tier, a strength we already knew he had.

OFFENSIVE LINE

  • The group did not play well early. NYG QB’s were sacked 7 times, although they were not all at the hands of the line.
  • LT Ereck Flowers looked powerful and aggressive. His footwork was very solid, although his knee bend and hand placement were inconsistent. He did allow a sack to rookie T.J. Watt, but it was mainly a result of pressure up the middle allowed by C Weston Richburg that made Josh Johnson run into Watt.
  • LG Justin Pugh played a solid game, getting movement in the run game and sticking to his man in pass protection.
  • RG John Jerry played terrible. Steelers DE Cameron Heyward was tossing him around like a 220-pound tight end. Javon Hargrave also out-quicked him on a play to Jerry’s inside shoulder, forcing a TFL.
  • The rookie tackles struggled mightily. Welcome to the NFL, I suppose. LT Chad Wheeler allowed two sacks to veteran pass rusher Arthur Moats. He had a hard time sealing the edge. Wheeler also got his exposure to the PIT defensive style when Heyward bull-rushed him onto his back. In addition to a false start, RT Adam Bisnowaty was having a hard time locking onto his man.
  • LG Adam Gettis doesn’t look sexy out there, but he did a solid job of sticking to his man and getting some movement in the run game. OC Brett Jones showed a lack of awareness, failing to see the play clock on a couple plays and also threw a grounder to Josh Johnson on a shotgun snap in the red zone.

DEFENSIVE LINE

  • This night was mostly about the backups getting snaps and the competition for the starting spot next to DT Damon Harrison. DTs Jay Bromley and rookie Dalvin Tomlinson both played well with their respective styles. Bromley made an early TFL, showing power and burst out of his stance, beating well-respected Ramon Foster. Tomlinson was showing outstanding athletic ability in pursuit. He is much more twitchy, agile, and athletic than I anticipated. He still struggled to maintain his ground against the double team, being pushed back 3+ yards on a few occasions.
  • DE Devin Taylor had one of the biggest plays of the night, intercepting a Dobbs pass in the 2nd quarter on a zone blitz. It was an easy play, as Dobbs literally threw it right to him unaware that Taylor had dropped into coverage, but still it was a big play for Taylor and his chances of making the team.
  • Third year DE Owa Odighizuwa was in the game early, as I think he is a guy on the bubble who this coaching staff wants to see play a lot throughout preseason. At the very least, he showed a strong presence against the run. He is a powerful player.
  • DE Kerry Wynn made 3 tackles and recorded a sack in addition to his special teams prowess. He has developed nicely since making this team as an UDFA 2 years ago. I think he has an inside track at making the roster because of his versatility, which was in full display in this game. Athletic, rangy, and aggressive at all times.
  • DE Jordan Williams stood out athletically and also recorded a sack along with 3 tackles. His sack was a blown assignment by the PIT offensive line where he was untouched to the QB.

LINEBACKERS

  • Roster hopefuls Deontae Skinner and Calvin Munson got plenty of snaps. Skinner showed range to the sidelines and good athleticism in coverage, while Munson was confident in his calls at the line and played physical. He did show some poor angles in pursuit, proving he may not be ready for the speed of the NFL just yet.
  • B.J. Goodson played physical and fast. He was a tad late on decision making and reads, however. A half-second late and that could be the difference on a lot of running plays. His quickness in a phone booth showed up on a 2nd quarter sack. Goodson was an excellent and productive blitzer in college.

CORNERBACKS

  • Valentino Blake saw a lot of playing time, starting off high and ending low. His 1st quarter interception put NYG in position to take the early lead. It was, however, a terrible throw by the rookie Dobbs that was nowhere near any PIT receiver. Blake later allowed the lone passing TD to Cobi Hamilton and fortunately had another one called back by a PIT penalty. Overall he struggled.
  • Donte Deayon got the early look as the team’s starting nickel corner with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie sitting out for the night. He showed quality movement but a lack of instincts. His lack of physical presence is obvious.
  • Michael Hunter had a solid game, showing good coverage on a NYG sack. He also showed off his long speed, sticking to Darius Heyward-Bey’s hip pocket on a deep fly route. Heyward-Bey is one of the fastest WRs in the game (don’t worry, we didn’t see the slight hold of his jersey you had in your hand).

SAFETIES

  • Landon Collins appears to be in mid-season form, and I’m not surprised. He didn’t play much but still led the team with 5 tackles including a few hits you could hear from the last row.
  • Nat Berhe had a rough night. After making a physical downhill take-down of PIT TE Jesse James, he missed two tackles. One was QB Josh Dobbs in space that resulted in a few extra yards. Dobbs was a solid but far from spectacular runner in college. His next missed tackle was on a 3rd-and-10 play where he went high on the receiver, missed, and it resulted in a PIT first down. He also lost his footing a couple times in coverage and the question needs to be asked, is he too aggressive for his own good?
  • Second-year safety Darian Thompson only played in 2 games last season, thus 2017 can be considered an extension of his rookie year. He played a lot. He showed good movement but there isn’t a lot of presence about him when he comes in contact with ball carriers and blockers. He does have quality range in deep coverage, though.
  • Eric Pinkins got some playing time late, showing off exactly what we have discussed. Physical play and straight-line ability but lateral stiffness and overall hesitation. He is still trying to figure the game out mentally.

SPECIAL TEAMS

  • K Aldrick Rosas and Mike Nugent both went 2-for-2, respectively. Rosas hit one from 52 yards out with about 6-7 yards to spare, while Nugent’s longest was from 45 yards. Rosas showed more distance on his kickoffs.
  • Brad Wing punted 4 times with a long of 52 and pinned PIT inside the 20 once.
  • CB Donte Deayon muffed a punt late in the 2nd quarter that led to a PIT TD. Not good for him, as he will need the special teams box checked off if he intends on making the team.
  • WR Travis Rudolph also fumbled after being popped on a kick return, but NYG fortunately fell on it. He did return a kick for 31 yards later on, the longest of the night for both sides.

3 STUDS

  • TE Jerell Adams, S Landon Collins, K Aldrick Rosas

3 DUDS

  • RG John Jerry, RB Kahlid Abdullah, DB Donte Deayon

3 TAKEAWAYS FOR PIT

  • Rookie OLB T.J. Watt is going to be a player in that system, he fits like a glove. He plays hard, physical, and mechanically sound. PIT knows what to do with those guys.
  • Tip of the cap to QB Josh Dobbs in his first NFL game experience. He started off poorly but maintained his composure and finished strong. With the PIT backup Landry Jones possibly in line to take over starting duties if the Big Ben retirement is coming soon like he says, Dobbs needs to impress over the next 2 years to secure a long-term spot on this team.
  • RB Le’veon Bell may very well be the most important player on that team now. The RB talent behind him is scary bad. PIT may have taken for granted what DeAngelo Williams provided.
Aug 122017
 
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Geno Smith, New York Giants (August 11, 2017)

Geno Smith – © USA TODAY Sports Images

PITTSBURGH STEELERS 20 – NEW YORK GIANTS 12…
In what amounted to not much more than a glorified scrimmage, the New York Giants fell to the Pittsburgh Steelers 20-12 in the preseason opener for both teams at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey on Friday night. The Giants chose to sit quarterback Eli Manning, wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr., defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. The Steelers also did not play quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Aside for a a couple of breakdowns in the secondary, the Giants defense played well for most of the game, but the offense struggled for most of the night. Pass blocking up front was very shaky and the Giants were unable to consistently run the ball. The Giants gave up seven sacks, while sacking Pittsburgh quarterbacks three times.

The Giants were held to 242 total net yards (73 rushing, 169 passing) and 19 first downs. The Steelers were held to 226 total net yards (124 rushing, 102 passing) and 10 first downs. Seventy-two of the Steelers 102 passing yards came on two plays, with wide receiver Cobi Hamilton beating cornerback Valentino Blake deep, including once for a touchdown.

The Giants also had issues in the red zone (0-for-2) and all of team’s scoring came on field goals. Aldrick Rosas converted on kicks of 27 and 52 yards while Mike Nugent converted on kicks of 30 and 45 yards. Cornerback Donte Deayon muffed a punt, leading to one Steelers’ touchdown right before halftime.

All three quarterbacks behind Manning played, including Josh Johnson (5-of-10 for 31 yards), Geno Smith (10-of-16 for 114 yards and one interception), and Davis Webb (8-of-16 for 67 yards). Tight end Jerell Adams was the leading pass receiver with three catches for 28 yards. Running back Orleans Darkwa (3 carries for 18 yards) was the leading rusher.

Defensively, safety Landon Collins (5 tackles), defensive tackle Jay Bromley (3 tackles including one short-yardage stop), defensive end Kerry Wynn (3 tackles, 1 sack), and defensive end Delvin Taylor (one interception) all flashed.

Video highlights/lowlights are available at Giants.com.

INJURY REPORT…
Not playing in the game were running back Shaun Draughn (PUP – ankle), linebacker J.T. Thomas (PUP- knee), wide receiver Sterling Shepard (ankle), wide receiver Tavarres King (ankle), wide receiver Kevin Snead (lower body), defensive tackle Robert Thomas (“sore”), linebacker Keenan Robinson (concussion protocol), linebacker Mark Herzlich (stinger), and safety Ryan Murphy (lower body).

The only player who appeared to get hurt in the game was safety Duke Ihenacho (hamstring).

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

ARTICLES…

Aug 092017
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (December 4, 2016)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Preseason Game Preview: Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Giants, August 11, 2017

THE STORYLINE:
Expectations are high. Many expect the 2017 New York Giants to make a Super Bowl run. However, since 1990, the Giants historically tend to under-perform when expectations are high and over-perform when expectations are low. But Ben McAdoo is not Ray Handley, Dan Reeves, Jim Fassel, or Tom Coughlin. We don’t know yet how HIS teams will respond under the microscope.

Football fans everywhere are dying for football to begin. But the casual fan usually over-reacts to the preseason, and particularly to the first preseason game, which is little more than a controlled scrimmage. Starters usually don’t play long, players are rusty and not yet used to the increased intensity and physicality. Sixty-minute football stamina isn’t there yet. There are often special teams breakdowns as young players are rotated in to see who has the ST chops to make the team. So take things with a grain of salt.

That all said, the Pittsburgh Steelers are a very good opponent for any team to play in the preseason. They are a perennial playoff contender, always well-coached, and always VERY physical and fundamentally sound. The Steelers still play football the way it was meant to be played: hit the other guy in the mouth and make him quit. If the Giants want to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender and be considered a tough, physical team, then they will have to show they can match Pittsburgh’s intensity level.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • RB Shaun Draughn (ankle – on the PUP)
  • LB J.T. Thomas (knee – on the PUP)
  • WR Sterling Shepard (ankle)
  • WR Tavarres King (ankle)
  • WR Kevin Snead (lower body)
  • DT Robert Thomas (“sore”)
  • LB Keenan Robinson (concussion)
  • LB Mark Herzlich (stinger)
  • CB Mykkele Thompson (quad)
  • S Ryan Murphy (lower body)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
It’s been discussed ad nauseam. The New York Giants were an incredibly disappointing 25th in total offense in 2016, and an embarrassing 29th in rushing. But even the passing game let the team down, falling to 17th overall. Opposing game plans were easy to predict but effective: take away Odell Beckham and make the running game or someone else in the passing game beat you. The Giants rarely met this challenge. If they didn’t hit the big play, drives usually stalled. Only the 49ers scored less points.

So in the offseason, the Giants said good-bye to players such as Victor Cruz, Rashad Jennings, and Larry Donnell. The team added Brandon Marshall, Evan Engram, and Rhett Ellison. Second-year and largely unproven Paul Perkins has been handed the starting running back job. Shane Vereen is back after missing most of 2016. The offensive line is exactly the same. Eli Manning is a year older and entering the twilight of his career. Now comes the real test: can someone besides Odell Beckham hurt the opponent? On paper, Brandon Marshall, Evan Engram, and Sterling Shepard should. Is Paul Perkins a legitimate starter? Can the oft-criticized offensive line improve its pass and run blocking? Tackles Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart will be in the spotlight. The Steelers 3-4 defense can make you look silly on offense if you are not physically and mentally prepared.

Nevertheless, the starters for both teams are not likely to play long, and the game will quickly turn into auditions for the 53-man roster for lesser-known players. Many fans get bored when the back-ups enter the game. Others love analyzing the prospects behind the starters. These are some key areas to watch:

  • Does Brandon Marshall still have “it”? He had a stellar 2015 campaign and declined in 2016 on a bad Jets team. He’s 33-years old and playing in his second-to-last season. If Marshall can approach anywhere near his 2015 level of play, the Giants passing offense should be deadly.
  • Can Evan Engram really make an impact as a rookie? Engram has been coming on at camp as he develops chemistry with Eli Manning. The TE/WR hybrid should be a tough match-up for defenses that could afford to ignore the Giants’ tight ends in recent years.
  • Can the Giants run the football? As much as it pains me to say this, the Giants have been a finesse offense that has lacked toughness and physicality in the running game in recent years. All are to blame – backs and blockers. Short-yardage and goal-line situations have been particularly painful. Can Paul Perkins be “the man”? How much of an impact will tight end Rhett Ellison have as a blocker? Can an offensive line that failed to get the job done in 2016 redeem itself in 2017? Will the Giants even attempt to use a fullback (Shane Smith or Jacob Huesman) as a lead blocker in the preseason?
  • Battles for back-up positions: Will Geno Smith or Josh Johnson earn the #2 spot this preseason? Is Orleans Darkwa the #3 running back? Who are the #5 and #6 receivers after Odell Beckham, Brandon Marshall, Sterling Shepard, and Dwayne Harris? How will the two rookie tackles (Chad Wheeler and Adam Bisnowaty) perform? After Evan Engram and Rhett Ellison, which tight ends will make the team? (Jerell Adams, Matt LaCosse, and Will Tye may be fighting for only one or two spots).

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The likelihood that the New York Giants were going to improve from dead-last (and one of the worst in NFL history) on defense in 2015 to a top-10 defense in 2016 was not good at all. But that’s exactly what the Giants did after going on a free agent spending spree that added impact players Damon Harrison, Olivier Vernon, and Janoris Jenkins. Those moves, combined by the breakout season by Landon Collins, changed everything. Now the challenge is to at least remain one of the best defenses in the NFL and, ideally, improve. In terms of personnel, the biggest offseason loss was defensive tackle Jonathan Hankins. He was a very solid player and it is not known yet who will fill that void. The Giants have also handed over the starting middle linebacker position to a very green and unproven second-year player (B.J. Goodson). Here are some key areas to watch against Pittsburgh:

  • Who will start at defensive tackle alongside Damon Harrison and how will he perform? The candidates are Robert Thomas, Jay Bromley, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Corbin Bryant.
  • Will anyone step up at defensive end after Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon? JPP and OV played far too many defensive snaps in 2016. And their back-ups could not consistently pressure the passer. Will this once again be an area of weakness?
  • Is B.J. Goodson really ready to take over the middle linebacker position? He better be. There really isn’t a fallback option.
  • Depth is a concern at linebacker after Goodson, Jonathan Casillas, Keenan Robinson, and Devon Kennard. Do the Giants have ANY viable back-ups? The linebacker position was largely ignored during the offseason.
  • Barring injury, the top three corners are as good as anyone in the NFL. But the Giants need depth (see the playoff game). Keep an eye on Michael Hunter, Valentino Blake, Mykkele Thompson, and Donte Deayon.
  • Still green and unproven Darian Thompson has been handed the starting free safety job. He has to prove he can stay healthy and perform in a very talented secondary. Depth is even a bigger concern here as question marks abound with Andrew Adams, Nat Berhe, Eric Pinkins, and others. If Landon Collins were to get hurt, things could get scary back here.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
All eyes will be on the place-kicking battle. It’s a classic potential versus stability decision. Aldrick Rosas has the big leg but he is completely unproven. He’s been very good at camp, but now we’re getting closer to when the games really count and come down to made/missed field goals and extra points. Mike Nugent is the reliable, aging veteran, but he did have issues with extra points in his final year in Cincinnati.

The best way for a bubble player to make the 53-man roster? Kick ass on special teams as a blocker for or head hunter against the return game.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Ben McAdoo’s advice to those on players on the bubble: “We talked about that the other day. There is a lot of competition in camp, so the more competition, the more guys are on the bubble. If you don’t know if you are on the bubble, then you are on the bubble. We talked about how your fears can lead to your greatness, your greatness lies within your fears, so embrace them and compete your tail off on Friday night.”

THE FINAL WORD:
The #1 concern is always coming out of the preseason healthy. But it’s important that we someone else besides Odell Beckham step up on the offensive side of the football. Steve Spagnuolo and the entire defense needs to prove that 2016 was not an aberration but the start of new era of strong NYG defense. Second-year players B.J. Goodson and Darian Thompson could make a strong unit even better. The Giants need to fill the void left by Johnathan Hankins. Finally, place kicker may be the biggest question mark on the team right now.

Dec 052016
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (December 4, 2016)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Pittsburgh Steelers 24 – New York Giants 14

Overview

The knee-jerk overreaction to wins and losses by NFL fans and the media is annoying, but it’s the time we live in. The New York Giants are 8-4 with a good chance to make the playoffs. Don’t lose sight of that fact.

This loss was significant because it all-but-ended any hopes the Giants had to catch the Dallas Cowboys for the division title. But if you were going to pick one game for the Giants to lose among the last five, this was the game – the sole remaining AFC opponent on the regular-season schedule.

Give the Pittsburgh Steelers credit because they soundly beat the Giants. But there were a number of plays in this game that had a dramatic impact on the outcome. Yes, you can say that about virtually any NFL game, but there were some key swings in this contest. For example:

  • With the game tied 0-0, late in the 1st quarter, facing a 3rd-and-14 from their own 5-yard line, QB Eli Manning hit WR Odell Beckham for a 15-yard gain. But a holding penalty was called on Ereck Flowers in the end zone. Not only did Pittsburgh go up 2-0, but they got the ball right back at their own 36-yard line on the free kick. They only needed 38 yards to set up a field goal and go up 5-0. Keep in mind that the thing that set all of this up was the questionable offensive pass interference call on Odell Beckham before the safety.
  • On the Giants ensuing possession, they drove to the Steelers 9-yard line. It appeared at worst the Giants would cut the score to 5-3 and at best go ahead 7-5. On 2nd-and-4, Manning’s pass is picked off and returned 58 yards to the NYG 40-yard line. Three plays later, the Steelers are up 11-0. In hindsight, this interception was probably the key play of the game.
  • Late in the first half, the Steelers are at the NYG 42-yard line facing a 3rd-and-17. QB Ben Roethisberger throws a short WR screen to Eli Rogers, who frustratingly picks up 18 yards on his only catch of the game. This enables the Steelers to go up 14-0 at the half.
  • Despite earlier season success on 4th down, the Giants were 0-for-3 on 4th down attempts in the second half, including a failed 4th-and-1 from the 3-yard line and a 4th-and-9 sack from the 24-yard line. In both cases, the Steelers came darn close to being penalized (pass interference and unnecessary roughness).

While I don’t like to blame officials for losses, poor officiating was a factor in this game. Some reporters have discounted this by saying the Giants dramatically won the penalty aspect of the game. The Giants were flagged only four times for 24 yards while the Steelers were flagged 12 times for 115 yards. However, that does not erase the fact that there were a number of critical non-calls at key points of the game. These were non-calls that changed the complexion of the contest.

My point in all of this? A play here or there, and a call here or there, and this game could easily have had a different outcome. With as much that went wrong on offense, defense, and officiating, this game was still just 14-7 with 6:30 left in the 3rd quarter. How frustrating was this game? On four Giants drives that reached the Steelers 9-, 3-, 30-, and 24-yard lines, the Giants came away with ZERO points.

Giants on Offense

One game doesn’t make a trend, but 12 do. The Giants are obviously struggling on offense in 2016. This was not supposed to be the case. And it’s the same issue it has been virtually all season: if the Giants can’t make big plays in the passing game, they struggle to move the football. The team can’t run the ball. It struggles on 3rd down. Receivers not named Odell Beckham have not made enough plays. The offensive line has not advanced as expected. While Eli Manning has had a decent year, he hasn’t elevated this offense.

Why are the Giants struggling on offense? Everyone has their own primary theory, but it’s the old coaching versus talent debate when things are not going well. We heard it last year on the defensive side of the ball. We are hearing it now on the offensive side. Some argue it is the players. Others argue that Tom Coughlin made Ben McAdoo look better than he is. Others blame the offensive coordinator and say Ben McAdoo has too much on his plate with the play calling. Regardless, the results are not pretty.

In all-too-common statistical theme, look at these numbers against Pittsburgh: the Giants ran 55 plays (one was a kneel down) for 234 total net yards (178 passing, 56 rushing). That’s embarrassing. New York was 4-of-11 (36 percent) on 3rd down and 0-of-3 (0 percent) on 4th down. The Giants were shut out in the first half and only scored their second touchdown with 26 seconds left in the game.

The Giants passed the ball 41 times and only ran it 13 times – a 3-to-1 ratio. But those 41 pass attempts only resulted in 178 net passing yards, or 4.3 yards per pass play. New York’s longest play of the game was for only 25 yards. The Giants had one drive over 57 yards and that resulted in an interception. Eight of New York’s 12 possessions gained 18 yards or less. Another only gained 28 yards.

Quarterback

Playing in a hostile environment against an upgrade in competition, the Giants needed Eli Manning to play well. He didn’t. The Giants were shut out in the first half as Manning completed 9-of-14 passes for 70 yards. Oddly, Manning and the Giants offensive braintrust only targeted Odell Beckham once in the first half with 47 of the passing yards being accrued by Rashad Jennings and Will Tye. Perhaps the back-breaking play of the game was Manning’s interception deep in Pittsburgh territory. The Giants trailed 5-0 and looked poised to either cut into that lead or go ahead. Instead the interception was returned 58 yards, setting up the Steelers first touchdown of the game. It was a 9- to 13-point swing (the Steelers went for two but failed). Manning was 15-of-25 for 125 yards and two touchdowns in the second half, but the first TD was set up by a fumble recovery deep in Steelers territory. And the last scoring drive came with under two minutes to go with the Giants trailing 24-7. Manning seems jumpy and he is having trouble connecting with receivers down the field – not a good combination.

Running Backs

The Giants running game is not functional. Schematically, the almost-exclusive reliance on running out of the shotgun formation simply is not working. The Giants only ran the football 13 times, and that is not going to get it done. Paul Perkins carried the ball seven times for 38 yards, with 18 of those yards coming on one carry. Rashad Jennings carried the ball six times for 19 yards. Jennings caught all six of his targets for 34 yards and a touchdown, but four of those receptions only netted a total of ONE yard. Perkins was not targeted. Jennings gave up the Giants first sack with an embarrassing attempted blitz pick-up. (Side Note: I have no idea who designed the play where Jennings lined up behind Beckham and was promptly tackled for a 4-yard loss, but that one needs to come out of the playbook).

Wide Receivers

In the last nine games, Sterling Shepard has averaged 29 yards receiving per game. Victor Cruz is averaging 42 yards per game in the 11 games he has played this year. In a WR-centric offense whose base is the 3-WR set, that’s not going to get it done. Cruz was shut out in this game with no targets. Shepard caught 4-of-8 targets for a grand total of 21 yards and one meaningless late game touchdown. Roger Lewis caught one pass for eight yards. So once again, Manning was left with the double-teamed Odell Beckham, who was targeted an exceptionally-high number of 16 times, but only one of those came in the first half. Beckham finished the game with 10 catches for 100 yards, and the team’s two longest gains (25 and 23 yards). There was a lot of contact on Beckham in this game that was not called and could have kept drives alive. I just didn’t care for the way the Giants called the game with respect to Beckham. One target in the first half and 15 targets in the second half? It’s almost as if they knew they screwed up and tried to overcompensate.

Tight Ends

If Beckham is doubled and the other wide receivers are not producing, one would think the tight ends would be heavily contributing to the passing game. Wrong. Will Tye, Jerell Adams, and Larry Donnell were targeted eight times. The results? Three catches for 32 yards. Worse, Donnell and Tye were involved in probably the offense’s two worst moments of the game: Manning’s first interception that completely shifted momentum back to the Steelers and the failed 4th-and-1 effort at the 3-yard line. Since Tye became the starting tight end after the bye week, he’s only averaging 26 yards per game with only one touchdown. Manning took a shot deep to Adams early in the game, but Adams completely misjudged the ball. Tye had a 16-yard gain on 2nd-and-21, but he got tripped up far too easily on a play that he might have scored on. A few plays later, Manning was picked off.

Offensive Line

Giants backs actually averaged 4.4 yards per carry against a top-10 run defense, but the team only ran the ball 13 times. Believe it or not, Manning was only officially hit three times. But two of these were sacks and Eli hasn’t looked comfortable behind this line all year. John Jerry was flagged with a holding call that wiped out a 21-yard pass reception. Ereck Flowers was flagged with a holding call that caused a safety and a false start. Flowers allowed too much pressure throughout the game, including the 4th-and-13 pass that was intercepted and the 4th-and-9 sack (Marshall Newhouse and Weston Richburg didn’t handle the inside pressure on the latter either). Jerry’s failure to pick up the blitz on the 4th-and-1 incomplete pass came at a bad time.

Fans keep saying Jerry Reese has to address the line. But the Giants have spent two #1 and a #2 draft pick on the offensive line in recent years. The truth of the matter is the Giants are not getting the production out of Flowers, Justin Pugh (who missed his fourth game in a row), and Richburg that they expected. The problem was supposed to be the right side of the line. Flowers has been too inconsistent at left tackle – allowing too much pressure and being flagged too much. But you also have to wonder about the Giants personnel acquisition versus scheme. For example, Flowers’ strength is his run blocking. He can muscle and maul as good as anyone in the NFL (think Jumbo Elliott when he played left tackle for the Giants). But the Giants run a pass-centric, finesse offense that runs the ball as more of after-thought out of the shotgun. Imagine Flowers playing left tackle for the Steelers. I bet you he would be a heck of a player in their scheme.

Giants on Defense

Given the Giants defense only gave up two drives longer than 48 yards, it is hard to blame it for this loss. But I’m not willing to let it completely off of the hook. The Steelers offense scored five times (two touchdowns, three field goals) and accrued almost 400 net yards of offense (272 passing, 117 rushing). The Steelers were 7-of-15 (47 percent) on 3rd down and 1-of-1 (100 percent) on 4th down. While the Giants defense forced two punts to start the game, this was only after the Steelers were able to move the ball and thereby pin the Giants back inside the 20 on their first two possessions. The defense only forced one three-and-out all game and Pittsburgh was able to control the clock and keep the Giants offense off of the field.

To me, the lowlights were:

  • Allowing the quick 3-play, 40-yard touchdown strike after Eli Manning’s first interception. That was too easy.
  • Allowing the Steelers to convert on 3rd-and-17 on their last field goal drive before halftime.
  • Allowing the Steelers to drive 88 yards in seven plays right after the Giants had cut the score to 14-7 late in the 3rd quarter.
  • Allowing the Steelers to salt the game away with their 11-play, 48-yard field goal drive that took 5:17 off of the clock.

The Steelers scored on 3-of-5 possessions in the first half. The defense performed better with two forced turnovers and two punts in the second half. But that 88-yard drive was a killer.

Defensive Line

It was a mixed bag for the defensive line. The Giants held running back Le’Veon Bell to 31 yards rushing on 11 carries (2.8 yards per carry) in the first half. However, after Jason Pierre-Paul was lost to injury, and as the Steelers began to wear down the Giants defense, that changed in the second half. Bell’s final 17 carries picked up 87 yards (5.1 yards per carry). Ben Roethlisberger has been difficult to sack all season, with just 14 sacks coming into this game. Olivier Vernon sacked him twice. He was also credited with two tackles for losses. However, no other defensive lineman hit the quarterback. Damon Harrison has been amazingly productive as a tackler. He had nine more in this game and now is third on the team with 72 tackles on the season. Johnathan Hankins was fairly quiet with two tackles. Reserves Kerry Wynn (2 tackles), Romeo Okwara (2 tackles), Jay Bromley (1 tackle), and Robert Thomas (no tackles) did not stand out. I will make one note that sounds like a cop-out – there was a lot of jersey-grabbing by Pittsburgh blockers.

Linebackers

Like the defensive line, better in the first half against the run then significantly worse in the second half. Though the defensive backs deserve some of the blame on the tight end coverage, Pittsburgh’s backs and tight ends were far too productive in this game. And it could have been worse if not for a few dropped passes. Tight end Ladarius Green had six catches for 110 yards and a touchdown. Tight end Jesse James had three more catches for 32 yards. And running back Le’Veon Bell had six catches for 64 yards. In other words, all but nine of Roesthlisberger’s completions went to these three players, who were also responsible for 206 of the 289 passing yards. Four of Pittsburgh’s five longest completions went to Bell (37 and 21 yards) and Green (33 and 20 yards). Jonathan Casillas and Keenan Robinson seemed late to react in coverage and Casillas missed some open-field tackles. Cassilas’ effort on Bells’ 19-yard run late in the game was embarrassing.

The linebackers were in on a lot of tackles (26). Casillas and Kelvin Sheppard each had eight tackles (tied for second on the team). Casillas also forced a fumble that set up the Giants first touchdown. Robinson had six tackles. Devon Kennard had four plus the team’s only other QB hit (aside from the two sacks by Olivier Vernon).

Defensive Backs

Pittsburgh’s wideouts only caught nine passes for 83 yards. And six of those went to All-Pro Antonio Brown, who was limited to 54 yards (9 yards per catch). But his outstanding 22-yard reception over corner Janoris Jenkins hurt (though much of the blame here goes to Leon Hall who was playing safety and ran himself out of coverage). So did Eli Rogers’ 18-yard bubble screen gain on 3rd-and-17, which led to a field goal. Landon Collins also gambled and lost on a 3rd-and-4 pass to tight end Ladarius Green for a killer 20-yard score late in the 3rd quarter. Otherwise, Collins played well and was credited with seven tackles and three pass defenses. Eli Apple had a big game with five tackles, one tackle for a loss, one interception, two pass defenses, and one fumble recovery. Apple did give a 12-yard completion on 3rd-and-6 on a field goal drive. His pick was the first of his career and impressive as he took the ball away from the intended wideout. Apple also knocked away a 3rd-and-3 pass in the 4th quarter. Jenkins made a really nice play by tackling Brown for a 1-yard loss on a WR screen.

Giants on Special Teams

Brad Wing punted four times with a 44.3 yards-per-punt average (39.3 yard net). One punt resulted in a touchback and none were downed inside the 20. The always-dangerous Antonio Brown did not return a single punt. The Steelers returned two kickoffs – one for 24 yards and one for 23 yards.

Robbie Gould made both of his extra points (hooray for small victories!). Only one of his three kickoffs resulted in a touchback. The Giants were not able to recover his onside kick at the end of the game.

Dwayne Harris has been battling a variety injuries all year. He was forced to leave the game early with an ankle issue. Before he departed, Harris returned one punt for one yard, and two kickoffs for a total of 40 yards (22 and 18 yard returns). Bobby Rainey had a 38-yard return late in the game.

(New York Giants at Pittsburgh Steelers, December 4, 2016)
Dec 042016
 
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Janoris Jenkins, New York Giants (December 4, 2016)

Janoris Jenkins beaten for TD – © USA TODAY Sports Images

PITTSBURGH STEELERS 24 – NEW YORK GIANTS 14…
The New York Giants were soundly beaten by the Pittsburgh Steelers 24-14 on Sunday at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. With the loss, the Giants record fell to 8-4. The defeat all but officially ended the Giants division title hopes.

The problem for the Giants remains an offense that has struggled to score points all season. The Giants were shutout in the first half and scored a garbage touchdown very late in the game to make the score look more respectable than it actually was.

The Steelers out-gained the Giants in first downs (20 to 16), total net yards (389 to 234), net yards rushing (117 to 56), net yards passing (272 to 178), and time of possession (34:08 to 25:52). The Giants offense turned the football over twice and continued to struggle on third down (3-of-11, 36 percent). The Giants were also 0-for-3 on 4th down.

Not counting a kneel-down before intermission, the Giants had four offensive possessions in the first half. They resulted in a safety, interception, and two punts with the Giants only picking up five first downs and 91 net yards of offense. Meanwhile, the Steelers punted twice and managed three scoring drives (one touchdown and two field goals) in the first half.

Pittsburgh got on the board late in the 1st quarter when left tackle Ereck Flowers was called for a holding call in the end zone, resulting in a safety. After the free kick, the Steelers drove 38 yards in seven plays to set up a 44-yard field goal to go up 5-0.

A big turning point in the game came on the Giants third possession. New York had driven from their own 29-yard line to the Steelers 9-yard line. On 2nd-and-4, quarterback Eli Manning’s pass intended for tight end Larry Donnell was intercepted at the 2-yard line and returned 58 yards to the Giants 40-yard line. Three plays later, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger found wide receiver Antonio Brown for a 22-yard score. (The Steelers 2-point conversion attempt failed). The dramatic swing led to the Steelers now being up 11-0.

After a three-and-out by the Giants on their fourth, the Steelers ate up the rest of the first half with a 15-play, 64-yard drive that resulted in a 34-yard field goal. The Steelers converted on 3rd-and-17 on this possession. At the half, Pittsburgh led 14-0.

After both teams exchanged punts to start the 3rd quarter, the Giants drove deep into Steelers territory on their second possession of the second half. But Manning’s 4th-and-1 pass from the Steelers 3-yard line intended for tight end Will Tye was incomplete, and the Giants turned the football over on downs. Nevertheless, the Giants got the ball right back when linebacker Jonathan Casillas forced a fumble that cornerback Eli Apple recovered at the Steelers 17-yard line. Two plays later, Manning hit running back Rashad Jennings for a 13-yard touchdown pass. Despite everything that had gone wrong up to this point, the Giants found themselves only trailing 14-7.

Unfortunately, it was at this point that the defense gave up their longest drive of the game. Pittsburgh drove 88 yards in seven plays to take a 21-7 lead when Roethlisberger threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to tight end Ladarius Green. The Giants went three-and-out on their ensuing possession but got the ball back late in the 3rd quarter when Apple intercepted Roethlisberger at the Giants 47-yard line. New York could not take advantage as Manning’s 4th-and-13 pass from the Steelers 35-yard line intended for wide receiver Sterling Shepard was intercepted at the 6-yard line.

The Steelers picked up one first down and punted. The Giants got the ball at midfield but again could not take advantage. Manning was sacked on 4th-and-9 from the Steelers 24-yard line. The Giants were now 0-for-3 on 4th down conversion attempts in the second half.

Pittsburgh ate up 5:17 on the ensuing possession, driving 48 yards in 11 plays to set up a 38-yard field goal with 1:39 left to play. After a 38-yard kickoff return by running back Bobby Rainey, the Giants drove 52 yards in five plays to put up a late touchdown on the scoreboard. Manning hit Shepard for the 1-yard score and a more respectable, but misleading, 24-14 final result.

Offensively, Eli Manning finished the game 24-of-39 for 195 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. He was sacked twice. His top target was Odell Beckham who caught 10 passes for 100 yards. No other player had more than 34 yards receiving. Running backs Paul Perkins and Rashad Jennings only rushed for 57 yards on 13 carries.

Defensively, the Giants allowed running back Le’Veon to rush for 118 yards and catch another 64 yards. Tight end Ladarius Green caught six passes for 110 yards. The Steelers had five scoring drives (two touchdowns and three field goals). Defensive tackle Damon Harrison led the team with nine tackles. Jonathan Casillas forced a fumble that Eli Apple recovered. Apple also had the team’s sole interception. Defensive end Olivier Vernon had both of the Giants two sacks and also had two tackles for losses. Safety Landon Collins defensed three passes.

Video highlights/lowlights are available at Giants.com.

INACTIVE LIST AND INJURY REPORT…
Inactive for the game were left guard Justin Pugh (knee), safety Nat Berhe (concussion), linebacker Mark Herzlich (concussion), defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa (knee), offensive lineman Adam Gettis, wide receiver Tavarres King, and quarterback Josh Johnson.

Injured in the game were defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (groin), defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins (bruised thigh), cornerback Coty Sensabaugh (ribs), and wide receiver/returner Dwayne Harris (ankle). Hankins returned to the game. Pierre-Paul will have an MRI on Monday.

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)
  • DE Jason Pierre-Paul (Video)
  • CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Video)

ROSTER MOVES…
On Saturday, the New York Giants signed linebacker Deontae Skinner to the 53-man roster from the Practice Squad. To make room for Skinner, the team waived center Shane McDermott.

Skinner has spent time on both the Giants 53-man roster and Practice Squad this year. Skinner was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the New England Patriots after the 2014 NFL Draft. He has spent time with the Patriots (2014-2015) and Eagles (2015-2016), the latter waiving him in August.

McDermott has spent two stints on the team’s Practice Squad and was signed to the 53-man roster in November. McDermott originally signed by the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2015 NFL Draft, but the Cowboys cut him in September that year. After a brief stint on the Panthers Practice Squad, the Giants signed McDermott to the Practice Squad in November 2015.

ARTICLES…

Dec 022016
 
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Rashad Jennings, New York Giants (August 9, 2014)

Rashad Jennings – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Game Preview: New York Giants at Pittsburgh Steelers, December 4, 2016

THE STORYLINE:
I get the sense that many Giants fans are not enjoying this season. They see the Giants as a flawed team and that the roof will eventually collapse. These fans are disappointed that the offense has fallen from top 10 in 2015 to now 21st in the NFL. The running game is 31st in the NFL. Every game is a nail-biter. The Giants have fattened their win total against weak teams. All of these facts or impressions are correct.

But every team has its flaws. And the Giants are a legitimate 8-3 team with a franchise quarterback who is playing decently but has yet to hit his stride, arguably the best wide receiver in football, and a physical defense that can stop the run and the pass and is continuing to improve. The Giants are capable of losing to any team but they are also very capable of beating any team. The Giants are about to enter the toughest part of their schedule – the part that will ultimately define their season – but they should not fear anyone who they are about to play.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are a perennial tough out. They have their own franchise QB, arguably the best wide receiver in football, a two-way threat at running back, and a tough, prideful defense. And the Steelers become all that much more difficult to defeat when they are playing at home. That said, the Giants should be insulted that the Steelers are a solid touchdown favorite in this game.

This is a big game for the Giants. Win and their division title/#1 seed hopes are still alive and well. Lose and the Giants will be relegated to fighting for a Wild Card spot.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • WR/Returner Dwayne Harris (wrist) – probable
  • OG Justin Pugh (knee) – out
  • OL Brett Jones (calf) – questionable
  • OL Marshall Newhouse (knee) – questionable
  • DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa (knee) – out
  • LB Mark Herzlich (concussion) – out
  • S Nat Berhe (concussion) – out

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
It seems like the Steelers have been playing their trademark 3-4 defense forever. However, while Pittsburgh’s defense has played better in recent weeks against offensively-challenged opponents, they have fallen to 19th in the NFL this season (9th against the run, 23rd against the pass). The Steelers are middle-of-the pack in sacks (24) with no premiere pass-rushing threats. The heart and soul of the defensive team remains the linebacking corps. These are the run stoppers and pass-rushers on the team. You have to be ready for any of them to come after the quarterback. They are fundamentally sound, tough, physical players who play with a lot of pride. This is what makes their defense tough.

Inside, Lawrence Timmons is in his 10th season, but is still leading the team in tackles. Next to him in the middle is Ryan Shazier – the pup in his third year – who is coming on. Outside linebackers Arthur Moats (3.5 sacks), Jarvis Jones, and James Harrison (4 sacks – yes he’s still around) will challenge the Giants offensive tackles.

While the Steelers defense has given up yardage this year, they toughen up near the goal line and are currently the toughest red zone defense in the league. The Giants are 13th in red zone offense and have been hit or miss in this area, though better in recent weeks. Obviously, finishing drives will be important but don’t be surprised if the Giants bog down offensively as they get closer to the end zone.

The game plan seems fairly obvious. While the Giants don’t want to become too one-dimensional in order to keep the Steelers honest, the Giants 31st-ranked running game versus the Steelers 9th-ranked run defense suggests the Giants should attack primarily through the air. Keep in mind the short passing game – a trademark of the West Coast Offense – is often considered equivalent to a running play. That’s how you can view a 4- or 5-yard pass to Rashad Jennings or Paul Perkins.

On the flip side is New York’s 12th-ranked passing game versus Pittsburgh’s 23rd-ranked pass defense. The Steelers can be exposed through the air and they only have seven interceptions as a team. I feel the key to this game is composure. Pittsburgh is a tough place to play. Some teams get intimidated by mystique and crowd noise. Eli Manning has to keep his teammates calm. Don’t make stupid penalties (i.e., false starts) or force the issue and turn the ball over. Again, the Steelers are 19th in defense. The Giants can move the ball against these guys. If New York finishes their drives, the Giants will win this game.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
While the Giants and Steelers may not currently have top-10 offenses, what makes both so dangerous are they both have 2-time Super Bowl winning quarterbacks who can carry their team, and also bring their teams from behind in the clutch. Both offenses have a superb wide receiver. But the added plus for Pittsburgh is their running game. The Steelers have the NFL’s 12th-ranked offense (18th in rushing, 8th in passing). While 18th is middle-of-the-pack, running back Le’Veon Bell, who missed the first three games of the season, has exploded the last two weeks with 266 yards rushing. He also is a featured target in the Pittsburgh passing game with an astonishing 57 receptions. So as much attention as wide receiver Antonio Brown rightly receives, I feel the key to this game defensively is controlling Bell as a rusher and receiver.

Led by center Maurkice Pouney and right guard David DeCastro, the Steelers are capable of controlling the line of scrimmage. This is going to be out-right war at the line of scrimmage between the tackles. Here is where we truly find out how good defensive tackles Damon Harrison and Johnathan Hankins are. Ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon are also going to have to hold their ground on the edge. The linebackers have to get off of blocks and gang-tackle the big, powerful Bell.

In many ways, it is the Giants linebackers who will be on the spot in this game. The bulk of the Steelers offense runs through their three-headed monster of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Brown, and Bell. Not only do the linebackers have to be physical against the run, but they will have to keep Bell in check as a receiver. The Steelers don’t feature the tight end, but when they get close to the end zone, they do have four TDs on the year. Kelvin Sheppard, Jonathan Casillas, Devon Kennard, and Keenan Robinson must come to play.

Then there is Antonio Brown. If there is anyone better than Beckham, it may be Brown. He has 82 catches for almost 1,000 yards and 10 TDs through 11 games despite being the focal point of everyone’s pass defense. The good news for the Giants is that the man covering him in this game – Janoris Jenkins – practiced against Beckham on a daily basis in training camp. That level of competition will help Jenkins against a receiver with a similar skill set. Obviously, as much as the Giants don’t want Bell to nickel-and-dime the Giants to death, New York doesn’t want Brown to blow the game wide open on cheap plays either.

Teams are not getting to Roethlisberger. The Steelers have given up only 14 sacks all year (just over one per game). Part of that is the blocking up front, but Roethlisberger gets rid of the ball quickly and he is a big guy who is hard to tackle and capable of running with the football when in trouble. TACKLING – tackling Roethlisberger, Bell, and Brown – will be HUGE in this game.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Do the Giants have a place kicking problem? Robbie Gould has now missed three extra points in two weeks. It’s unnerving to be entering the final stretch, and the toughest stretch, with a big question mark at kicker.

The Steelers use Antonio Brown as their primary punt returner. He has only 14 returns all year because teams try to kick away from him. He obviously is a threat every time he touches the football (four career TDs as a punt returner). Brad Wing’s placement will be key as will be the work of the gunners. And the Giants will be a bit short-handed on special teams this week with Mark Herzlich out.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo on the Steelers offense: “You try to take one thing away and they will open up a hole somewhere else. But they have been good for a long time. The quarterback makes it all go and when you have a skill guy like Antonio Brown outside and a back like (Le’Veon) Bell that can do the things that he can do inside, it is going to make it difficult for our guys. Everybody just has to do their job, is what it comes down to. Hopefully we will have enough things to change it up to take away what they do really well. Ben (Roethlisberger) is good enough that he is going to figure out what you are taking away and then go use his other tools, so it will be that kind of game all day long. We are going to need a couple of breaks here and there and need some turnovers and our guys need to play fast and relentless and hopefully something good happens.”

THE FINAL WORD:
Football is often a game about match-ups and I like the match-ups in the game for the Giants. I think Janoris Jenkins can handle Antonio Brown. I think the Giants defense can hold Le’Veon Bell under 100 yards rushing. Pittsburgh does not have the dynamic tight end. I do worry about Bell as a pass receiver. And the Giants need to be careful of the gadget play involving Brown. On the flip side, the Giants can attack through the air and the Steelers have issues stopping the pass. Obviously, the offensive tackles need to do a reasonable job of keeping blitzing linebackers off of Eli. Much of the pass protection will be mental – picking up stunts, late dogs, etc. Red zone offense versus red zone defense is another key. What I don’t want to see is this game coming down to Robbie Gould.

Aug 132014
 
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Rashad Jennings, New York Giants (August 9, 2014)

Rashad Jennings – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 20 – Pittsburgh Steelers 16

REVISITING: FOUR DOWNS
During our game preview, we listed a new segment, ‘Four Downs,’ which took a look at the top four questions surrounding the Giants heading into the game. Now that the game has been played and the film reviewed, it’s time to break it down.

First Down
Who’s the Giants’ No. 2 running back?
Following the Giants matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers, this question simply got murkier as each back provides a “pick your poison” approach. Andre Williams is the team’s best option as a ‘running’ back, but can’t catch out of the backfield or block (this was very evident). The coaches seem to trust Kendall Gaskins more than Michael Cox, but Gaskins isn’t a dynamic runner and has been inconsistent in pass protection.

Second Down
Can Charles James II handle punt return duties?
Charles James has been spending some extra time with special teams coordinator Tom Quinn after muffing the punt versus the Steelers, but the job most likely isn’t his. He should get some more reps with Odell Beckham Jr. still nursing the hamstring injury, but we’ll see.

Third Down
Will the first-team offensive line and tight end be able to generate running room for Rashad Jennings?
On one play, yes. On most others, no. Various factors contributed to a lack of running room. There wasn’t one specific thing the Giants did wrong, just different things on different plays.

Fourth Down
Can the first-team defensive line generate a pass rush?
Finally, Jason Pierre-Paul made an appearance getting after Bruce Gradkowski. It was tough to gauge the quality of the pass rush simply because the Steelers starting offense wasn’t on the field long, but there was definitely promise shown.

Victor Cruz, New York Giants (August 9, 2014)

Victor Cruz – © USA TODAY Sports Images

OFFENSIVE OVERVIEW – by Connor Hughes

After watching the game initially, I don’t think many felt as negatively about the offense as I did. After watching the film, it still didn’t improve my overall perception much, but there were some positives.

Curtis Painter looked very, very good. The offensive line showed some signs of improvement and Larry Donnell impressed me with his blocking. All that and more below.

QUARTERBACKS  by Connor Hughes

There’s only so much dissecting one can do on a quarterback that throws two passes. It’s tough, very tough, but I do want to take some of the blame off Eli Manning for both of the incompletions. On the first, it appears as if Rashad Jennings missed a block. The running back looked like he was expecting a blitz up the middle, except the blitz came off the outside. Manning then had to rush a pass and it didn’t look like Jerrel Jernigan was ready for it.

On his second incompletion, another intended for Jernigan on a roll out, I love the call. Manning rolled out of the pocket and it was supposed to be a bang-bang play. Give credit to the defense, they simply covered it perfectly and Manning made the right call throwing it away.

The most alarming thing I believe I found when watching Ryan Nassib play was the fact he – like many young quarterbacks – loves to stare down his intended receiver. Once, it cost him badly. On the incomplete wheel route he threw to Marcus Harris, had he just looked directly in front of him he would have seen a wide open Julian Talley running at the first down marker on a drag. Talley was going to pick up the first down…he just missed him and forced the ball instead. It’s things like this Nassib can’t do. He foregoes the easy ones, electing to force passes into tight windows instead.

The biggest difference between Curtis Painter and Nassib? Painter can make several reads. While Nassib tends to stare down his target, Painter doesn’t. Several times he went through a few reads. Also, of all of the quarterbacks, he seemed to have the best grasp of the playbook. As bad as Painter has looked at times in his career, he looked pretty good Saturday night.

Andre Williams, New York Giants (August 9, 2014)

Andre Williams – © USA TODAY Sports Images

RUNNING BACKS  by Connor Hughes

Andre Williams may be the best ‘running’ back the Giants have on their roster right now. The issue is that Williams can’t do it at this point in time. The back was a huge liability as a blocker, whiffing twice, and has yet to show he can catch the ball consistently. I have a hard time believing he’ll see extensive playing time during the season unless he can iron out both of those issues.

Michael Cox continues to impress me with the little things he’s doing. There were two times where he gave Curtis Painter a few extra seconds with a chip block and cut, then made an impressive grab on a screen pass to pick up a first down.

WIDE RECEIVERS by Connor Hughes

A lot has been made of the fact Victor Cruz has gone catchless in the team’s first two preseason games. I wanted to see if there was ever a time when the receiver should have gotten the ball and the answer was simple: Yes. On the very first pass of the game, an incompletion to Jerrel Jernigan, Cruz was open on a curl on the other side of the field. The issue was the fact Rashad Jennings missed a block that made Eli Manning rush a throw. Similar to Cruz, there were a few plays where Marcus Harris was open, too. The issue was the fact Nassib never made his read over to Harris’ side.

Corey Washington got a lot of attention on his game-winning touchdown pass, but the more I watch the film, the more I realize it was an absolutely perfect pass from Curtis Painter. Sure, Washington fought off a defender, but the ball was placed right in his outstretched hands.

TIGHT ENDS by Connor Hughes

Eli Manning, New York Giants (August 9, 2014)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Larry Donnell quietly had a very, very good game run blocking. There was one mishap, where he had two guys in front of him on a cutback and didn’t block either, but there were several seals, too. He did a good job getting in front of the defender and setting up a running back seal. Donnell has all the potential, just need to build consistency.

The more I watch Adrien Robinson, the more I truly believe he won’t be on this team’s final 53-man roster. He’s the last tight end on the field and very rarely flashes. He made a few nice blocks against the third team Steelers defensive line, but shouldn’t that be expected? Not to mention, that drop on an out-route cannot happen. The Giants don’t have faith in Robinson and he has done nothing to give it to them.

When the Giants travel to Detroit to kickoff the season versus the Lions, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kellen Davis is the team’s No. 2 tight end. From watching the film he reminds me of one of those guys that does everything well, just not one thing great. He has some good hands, runs good routes and can block.

OFFENSIVE LINE – by Connor Hughes

One player jumped out to me more than any other when reviewing the film: John Jerry. The offensive guard was solid pass blocking, made a few huge blocks in the run and showed some good speed getting to the second level. On one particular play, he began blocking with center Weston Richburg, then pulled off and got to the second level to block a middle linebacker.

There were a few mess ups, but Brandon Mosley had a good game, too. He showed power, made a huge block on the long Rashad Jennings touchdown.

Geoff Schwartz made a great cut block and a few other power seals which was impressive considering he’d been dealing with a knee issue. J.D. Walton made a couple nice blocks, also. The offensive line appears to be coming together pretty well. Charles Brown had issues at left tackle, giving up one sack and another big pressure.

DEFENSIVE OVERVIEW – by Eric Kennedy

Four defensive players did not play, including DT Mike Patterson (shoulder), DT Kelcy Quarles (ankle), LB Jon Beason (foot), and CB Trumaine McBride (hip).

Not counting the two plays run right before the half, the Steelers had 11 legitimate offensive possessions. Pittsburgh did not score an offensive touchdown and was held to three field goals (and they missed a 38-yard field goal). The Steelers punted six times and the Giants forced one turnover. Pittsburgh was limited to 59 plays, 14 first downs, 251 total net yards (70 yards rushing, 181 yards passing), a 14 percent 3rd down conversion rate (2-of-14).

The biggest defensive negative was probably the easy the Giants’ first-team defense allowed Pittsburgh to drive 70 yards in seven plays on the opening drive. Not only did the Steelers gouge the Giants with a 46-yard screen pass, but the run defense allowed 24 yards on four carries (6 yards per rush). But on 3rd-and-3 from the Giants’ 7-yard line, the defense held and forced a field goal.

DEFENSIVE LINE – by Eric Kennedy

Mathias Kiwanuka, New York Giants (August 9, 2014)

Mathias Kiwanuka – © USA TODAY Sports Images

The Steelers were able to run up the gut on the Giants on their first possession. Johnathan Hankins missed a tackle in the backfield on a play that gained 9 yards. He’s a big, strong presence but he wasn’t as effective as he was last week against the Bills. In the 2nd quarter, he flashed on one pass rush. The Steelers picked up 8 more yards running at Hankins and Jason Pierre-Paul on the next play. After that series, the run defense stiffened up. JPP played much stronger at the point-of-attack. He got fooled on an end around but showed great hustle chasing down the receiver. On the next play, Pierre-Paul smashed the quarterback just as he released the ball. On 3rd-and-15 in the 1st quarter, both Mathias Kiwanuka and Pierre-Paul put tremendous pressure on the QB, causing an incomplete pass. JPP was flagged with an illegal use of hands penalty earlier on this drive. It’s interesting to note that the Giants’ third-down pass rush package had Robert Ayers at defensive tackle. He flashed on one play, forcing a quick throw. However, he was also flagged with a neutral zone infraction.Markus Kuhn cleaned up with a sack off a blitz from Quintin Demps.

In the second half, the initial defensive line of Israel Idonije, Markus Kuhn, Jay Bromley, and Robert Ayers gave the Pittsburgh reserves fits. Ayers and Idonije flashed on the pass rush, and then Damontre Moore and Ayers nailed the running back for a 2-yard loss on a 3rd-and-10 draw. On the next series, Moore again blew by his man to force an incompletion on 3rd-and-4. After the muffed punt by Charles James, Jay Bromley dominated the next series with two strong pass rushes (the first also causing a holding penalty). Moore also flashed on the rush on this series. Later in the quarter, Bromley stuffed the run and Moore then hustled back to stop a screen play on 3rd-and-9.

In the 4th quarter, I thought Kerry Wynn looked pretty good at times rushing from the strongside end spot. Jordan Stanton came up with a sack and forced fumble on a play where defensive holding was caused.

LINEBACKERS – by Eric Kennedy

Like the defensive line, it wasn’t particularly pretty on the first drive but the starters improved after that. Jameel McClain seemed to be getting blocked fairly easily. He did make one strong  play agains the run late in the 1st quarter. The only solid run defense on the first drive came when Devon Kennard held his ground at the point-of-attack and Jacquian Williams cleaned up from the backside. On the next drive, Williams had excellent coverage on TE Heath Miller on 3rd-and-five. McClain was apparently flagged for defensive holding, but that looked like a bogus call to me.

Spencer Paysinger made a really nice play against the run where he avoided the block and tackle the back for no gain. He then hit the quarterback on a blitz. He did not look as strong in coverage however and was lucky he did not get beat for a touchdown on a 3rd-and-8 play from the Giants’ 20-yard line. Earlier on this drive, Kennard and Mark Herzlich failed to make the play on a 7-yard run around right end.

Mark Herzlich made some noise in the second half. He made a nice play on the back in the hole, stuffing him for a 1-yard loss. He followed that up by expertly sniffing out and disrupting a screen pass. Later he made a nice sure tackle after a short pass reception. On the next play, Paysinger failed to bring the back down short of the sticks on 3rd-and-8. Terrell Manning recovered the fumble late in the game to preserve the win for the Giants.

DEFENSIVE BACKS – by Eric Kennedy

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Walter Thurmond, New York Giants (August 9, 2014)

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Walter Thurmond – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Interestingly, Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers didn’t even test the defensive backs on the first drive until 3rd-and-3 on the final offensive play of the possession, and that ended with textbook coverage by Walter Thurmond to force a field goal. I wonder if we will see more teams shy away from the defensive backs and throw more at the tight ends this year. Thus far this preseason, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is completely shutting down his side of the field. Nice hustle by Prince Amukamara on this drive to track down the uber-speedy Dri Archer on the 46-yard screen. On the next series, Amukamara made a nice sure tackle just short of the sticks on 3rd-and-8. Amukamara was flagged with an illegal contact penalty before this play, Antrel Rolle made a textbook open-field tackle for a 1-yard loss after a short pass to the tight end.

In the 2nd quarter, Quintin Demps flashed a blitz, causing a sack. Zack Bowman was flagged for illegal contact on a play where it looked like the defensive back just ran right into him. Strange call. Later on this drive, Bowman was beat on a 28-yard gain on 3rd-and-2.

The story line in the secondary in the second half was the continued struggles of Jayron Hosley, who doesn’t seem to know that he needs to turn around to play the football in order not to get flagged for pass interference. Hosley was first flagged for PI on a 3rd-and-6 incomplete pass. Early in the 4th quarter, he failed to turn around again on a 47-yard PI call that set up Pittsburgh at the Giants’ 18-yard line. To his credit, he did have two nice plays on the rest of this series to help force a field goal (but again, on one of these plays, he didn’t look back for the ball).

Ross Weaver had nice coverage on one deep pass. Bennett Jackson was flagged with defensive holding, wiping out a sack/fumble. C.J. Barnett finished the game by forcing a fumble that was recovered by the Giants.

SPECIAL TEAMS – by Eric Kennedy

Both place kickers did an excellent job. The Giants did not allow a kickoff return with five touchbacks (2 by Josh Brown, 3 by Brandon McManus). Brown hit a 45-yard field goal and McManus a 46-yard field goal.

The Giants returned four kickoffs, with Quintin Demps returning two for 46 yards (both 23-yard returns). Preston Parker returned the other two for 37 yards (for 20 and 17 yards).

Preston Parker returned one punt for 12 yards and fair caught two more. Charles James muffed  his only chance, giving the ball back to the Steelers at the Giants’ 21-yard line and leading to a field goal.

Steve Weatherford averaged 47.2 yards on six punts (45.8 yard net). Punt return coverage was excellent with the Steelers being held to eight yards on four returns (the long return being only four yards). Marcus Harris flashed as a gunner on one play causing a fair catch. Zak DeOssie smashed the returner after only a 1-yard gain on another. Later in the game, he was the first guy downfield again making the tackle.

(Boxscore – Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Giants, August 9 , 2014)