Nov 252009
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New York Giants 34 (6-4)  – Atlanta Falcons 31 (5-5) (OT)

by The Hack for

Game Summary: After five long weeks, the New York Giants finally got a tally on the left side of the ledger this week as they relied on a strong performance by QB Eli Manning to defeat the Falcons. This game had Wild Card implications as the winner would separate themselves from the loser and also gain a tiebreaker that may come into play. The Giants now have the Falcons in their rear view mirror and can focus on the NFC East again.

It wasn’t the prettiest game the Giants have ever played, and the defense once again wilted late and allowed the Falcons to tie the game with seconds left. Not to be denied, Eli Manning hoisted the team on his shoulders in overtime and bailed out the defense with the final game winning drive.

The game turned into a shootout in the second half after both teams traded mistakes and missed opportunities in the first half before the Giants defense created a turnover that they quickly converted into 7 points just before the half expired.

The way the defense was playing, it appeared that 17 points at half might actually be enough to win the game, as the Giants front four did a very respectable job of getting pressure on Matt Ryan early on. The Giants did allow FB Jason Snelling to run effectively at times, and were caught several times out of their gaps straight up the middle of the field.

At any rate, the Giants remain within striking distance of first place in the NFC East, and if they win their next three games (at DEN, DAL, PHI) they will retake the lead regardless of what the Eagles or Cowboys do during that span. So it’s all out there ahead of them for theirs to take. The question is will the Giants be able to get this defense straightened out, find their lost running game, and return to the disciplined team that doesn’t commit turnovers and penalties in time to do so?

It will be an interesting three weeks, beginning Thanksgiving night in Denver.

Tale O’ The Tape: Statistically, the Giants dominated the Falcons in the first half and with the way they were playing it seemed that they were on their way to a blow out win. The Giants running game did not produce gaudy numbers in the first half, but it was effective. Interestingly, after hearing in the bye week how they were going to return to “Giants Football” and establish the running game they only ran 13 times and dropped back to pass on 24 occasions in the half.

The Falcons were held to just 97 total yards in the half, and the Giants successfully got off the field on third down six out of seven times, though they did allow one fourth down conversion. The Giants forced three three-and-outs (including one recovered fumble) in the first half, but did allow two drives that went for nine and 11 plays.

The second half was a different story, however, as Atlanta scored on all four drives they had in the half: drives of 8, 18, 12, and 12 plays respectively, rolling up better than 19 minutes time of possession. The Giants simply had no answer on defense in the second half, as Atlanta converted eight of ten third downs and another fourth down.  The Giants defense also helped the Atlanta cause by allowing four first downs by penalty, and would have given them two more first downs on penalties but Atlanta made the necessary yardage and declined them.

Thankfully, Eli Manning was up to the task and were able to muster two scoring drives of their own early in the half, but couldn’t effectively run clock late in the fourth quarter while leading by 14 and then 7 points. The Giants ran just 22 second half plays to Atlanta’s 50. When the defense desperately needed a rest following a 12 play Atlanta drive, the Giants ran just five plays and 2:19 off the clock before punting back to the Falcons who then mounted the game-tying drive.

Offense: The Giants offense, especially the passing game, looked crisp and in sync for most of the day. The balance between the running and passing game wasn’t there this week. The Giants ran 26 times and dropped back to pass 40. Granted, Brandon Jacobs was dinged up and missed the 4th quarter. Still, with a ten point lead and then a 14 point lead in the second half, they only rushed the ball 13 times. It seems that with a lead like that, you’d try to establish the running game and continue to build up that time of possession edge and wear out the defense.

A case could be made that the Giants were taking what the Falcons defense was giving (and their defensive backfield was in a VERY giving mood, apparently) and decided to throw more often than usual in the given situation.

At any rate, other than squandering a strong opening drive when David Diehl blew his block, causing Manning to get blasted on a play in which he fumbled for a huge loss, and then followed two plays later by an inexplicable interception thrown by Eli, the Giants offense moved the ball effectively.  The offense was also victimized by another short field goal miss following another successful drive early in the second quarter.

The Quarterbacks: Eli Manning had another solid afternoon, continuing his resurgence after a few bad weeks in a row. Eli finished the day with 25 completions on 39 attempts for a career-high 384 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception. Eli’s QBR for the day stood at 111.5, his sixth time recording a QBR over 100 this season.

Currently, Eli is ranked 11th in the league with a 92.5 QBR. If not for the three woeful games against New Orleans, Arizona and Philly it would be hard to keep Eli out of any conversation concerning league MVP.

Manning made several pinpoint throws, especially deep, and all three of his touchdown passes were perfectly placed and well timed. Every time the Giants needed a big play, Eli responded. When Atlanta cut the deficit to 7 points early in the third quarter, Manning hit Steve Smith for 51 yards on the first play of the ensuing drive to keep the momentum with the Giants. In overtime, his perfectly placed back shoulder throw to Mario Manningham put the Giants in position to hit the game winning field goal.

As was mentioned on BBI, the only curious decision Eli made on the day was to throw a 14-yard pass into double coverage when he needed more than 22 yards to gain the first down. The resulting interception did not come back to haunt the Giants, but that’s a throw that just shouldn’t be made.

The Running Backs: Although the Giants appeared to set in motion a game plan to exploit the horrid Atlanta pass defense, they did run the ball effectively, if not with big results. The Giants went to Jacobs early and often, feeding him nine times for 33 yards in the first half. Jacobs ended up with 12 carries through the 3rd quarter, but sustained another knee injury on the last play of the 3rd and didn’t return. On the day, he had 12 carries for 39 yards and 1 touchdown. Jacobs also caught two passes for 13 yards.

Where Jacobs was at least effective, Bradshaw once again struggled for most of the day gaining only 34 yards on 12 carries. Danny Ware had a critical 12 yard run off a botched shotgun snap that set up the Giants’ final touchdown.

Danny Ware must have gone to the Tiki Barber School of Blitz Pick Up and graduated with a 4.0 average. With Bradshaw now hurting with his other ankle, it will be interesting to see how much of the slack that Ware picks up on Thursday. There’s no doubt he can be trusted on third down.

The problem with the running game started up front. First, the Giants continue to try to run from the 22 formation (offset I, two TE, 1 WR inside the numbers). By my count, the Giants were in this formation 9 times and gained 8 yards rushing on 8 running plays. The one time they went play action out of this formation, Eli found Boss for 26 yards and a first down. It just doesn’t stand to reason that the Giants continue to shrink the field and clog the middle with this formation. The backs have little room to maneuver and are stopped behind or near the line on nearly every play.

Secondly, the Giants TEs were hit and miss in the blocking game. Out of motion, Darcy Johnson drifts to the FB position but then can’t seem to get off the ball and make a sustained block. Both Johnson and Boss missed blocks on the ends on several running plays and a couple of passing plays.

Madison Hedgecock did have a touchdown reception, but his blocking is also suspect. Keying on him for most of the game, it’s apparent that even when he got to the second level, it was hit or miss on whether he was going to make or sustain a block. When he did, the Giants got positive yards. When he didn’t, the backs were hit in the hole or behind the line. For some reason, continuity seems to be an issue between the line and the TEs and FB. On more than a few plays, the line executed their portion but the edge or lead block just wasn’t there from the TE’s or FB. It appeared that the Giants just missed on at least five running plays going for big, big yardage.

The Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: It’s being bandied about  in The Corner Forum and it appears safe to say that as a whole, this really is the best receiving corps, top to bottom, the Giants have ever had. Shockey and Bavaro in their prime may have been better than Kevin Boss, and Plaxico Burress is clearly the best most of us have ever seen in a Big Blue jersey, but never have they had the quality at all four receiving positions that they now employ. Barring injury, the youth of this group portends a future of greatness if they continue to progress on the path they’ve begun.

Mario Manningham is the most improved of the bunch since the beginning of the season, and he’s becoming as dangerous as Steve Smith now. Manningham had several clutch catches amongst his six for 126 yards. Smith managed four grabs for 79 yards and Hakeem Nicks caught five for 65 yards. It is quite clear that Domenik Hixon has fallen to fourth on the depth chart, and that’s quite a story when you consider he started out the season as the #1 receiver.

It’s apparent that the Giants spent some time during the bye to identify how to become more effective in the green zone, and hinted that WR Ramses Barden might be in line for some opportunities. Instead, it appears that the braintrust had a “Eureka!” moment, realizing that they have a six foot six inch monster who goes into traffic, can take a punch from Mike Tyson if need be, and rarely drops the ball, on their roster. Giants green zone problems, meet Kevin Boss. Boss was targeted five times either deep in the green zone or end zone and came away with two touchdowns. He finished the day with 5 catches (targeted 8 times) for 76 total yards.

The Offensive Line: The offensive line, by and large, did a great job protecting Eli and giving him a clean pocket to move around in. David Diehl did let up a pretty easy sack, allowing the defensive end a free run to the inside to hit Manning and dislodge the ball. Jacobs was unable to help on the play because as Diehl tried to recover, he got in Jacobs way and walled him off the play. Later, Diehl “lost his shoe” and left the game, only to come back with a heavily taped “shoe.” On the very next play, he was bull-rushed flat on his back on the play where Eli found Boss in the seam to the 3-yard line prior to the Hedgecock touchdown. One has to wonder if “lost shoe” is really a “sprained ankle or foot.” It bears watching this Thursday.

As mentioned above, the line did an adequate job of opening holes for the backs but they did have trouble getting to the second level and clearing out the second wave. Snee in particular seemed to struggle there.

The Defense: Three things stood out about the defense on Sunday. First, in the first half, the Giants got sustained pressure on Ryan with just four down linemen, allowing the backfield to do its job and cover. The Giants gave up just 45 yards passing and 97 yards total in the first half. Although the Giants did blitz on occasion, it wasn’t really necessary and Blackburn (the chief blitzer) and Michael Boley didn’t get home much (Boley did on the sack that set up the Giants’ second touchdown).  The run defense was adequate, but allowing a back to run basically untouched through the A gap for a 7-yard touchdown was inexcusable. On the play Atlanta was in a 22 package with only one player outside the hashmark but inside the numbers. Before the snap, Michael Johnson left his safety spot and lined up on the left side of the line behind Tuck. On the snap, Tuck bites hard on what he thought was a play action fake and left his contain to chase Ryan, taking himself out of the play. Michael Johnson was stoned and pushed back by the fullback. Blackburn and Boley were engaged and taken out of the play by linemen getting to the second level. Neither defensive lineman got near the play, and Rouse tripped over Blackburn and couldn’t get to Snelling. The last hope, Danny Clark, over-pursued to the right where the TE simply rode him further away from Snelling, who waltzed into the end zone. Other than that play, the team played sound defense for the half, further evidenced by the fact that they held Atlanta to just one 3rd down conversion in six chances.

Secondly, the Giants did not change much up in the second half. The interior of the line clearly got worn down and despite good edge pressure from the ends, there was no push to collapse the pocket and Ryan simply stepped up and made his throws. By my count, the Giants blitzed in one form or another on six plays in the first half and four of them were effective. In the second half, however, when the interior of the line stopped getting pressure, the Giants upped the ante and blitzed 18 times, but only 8 were effective including the near interception by Justin Tuck and the play where they just managed to take down Snelling on a draw. Three times on blitzes, the Giants ended up offsides but only one was accepted.

Thirdly, though they lost the time of possession battle for only the second time this season by a scant minute or so (though they were on the field for 19 minutes in the second half) and coming off a bye week, the Giants defense seemed gassed at times. That was unexpected. The Giants defense also continues to take penalty after penalty. Two more personal fouls were called as well as defensive holding and four offsides penalties.

The Front Seven: The guys up front were hit or miss all day. Both Tuck and Chris Canty were fooled badly into believing Matt Ryan hadn’t handed the ball off and took themselves out of the play and chased him instead. On the other hand, Tuck had four tackles, a forced fumble, a pass defensed, a sack, and another QB hit. Barry Cofield had a good day registering pressure early,  but got gassed late and provided little if any interior pressure in the fourth quarter. Osi Umenyiora and Mathias Kiwanuka registered QB hits, but did little in support of the run game. Fred Robbins was nearly invisible the entire game, along with Rocky Bernard, who is providing very little after coming in as a free agent this season.

Chase Blackburn is a gamer, plain and simply. How can anyone not like this classic overachiever? He did an adequate job filling in for injured Antonio Pierce, but too many times he was ridden out of plays or took bad angles or gaps that resulted in big gains in both the running and passing games. On three plays on the last two drives by Atlanta, Blackburn chipped on Gonzalez who was still able to get out into his pattern and make a catch. Blackburn simply wasn’t aggressive enough.

As for Danny Clark, it’s a puzzlement as to why he’s on the field. He is never in a play unless it’s because it’s being run over him. He cannot blitz. He was sent on at least 10 blitzes on Sunday and did not even register a QB hit, let alone a sack or half a sack. The plan to ease Sintim into the game seems to evaporated with the Pierce injury.

Michael Boley was all over the field on Sunday. That’s not to say he was absolved from all the bad things that happened as Gonzalez, who had only three catches into the 4th quarter, abused him late for a number of huge catches. Gonzo caught 5 passes down the stretch, including the game-tying touchdown. To be fair, Boley didn’t have a lot of help from the safeties and, as mentioned, Blackburn gave him free release into the patterns too often. By the end of the game, Boley had 13 tackles, a sack, two QB hits and two plays in which he stopped the back behind the line of scrimmage.  For his efforts, Boley was named the “NFC Defensive Player of the Week.”

The Secondary: After his rough game against San Diego, CB/Nickel Back Kevin Dockery was a healthy scratch and CB Aaron Ross was activated. Overall, the secondary played a solid game. Corey Webster shut down WR Roddy White and safety Aaron Rouse played well both in coverage and run support.

Aaron Ross got time at CB and safety, but rust was evident. He made no glaring mistakes but made no big plays either. Terrell Thomas had an up and down day against WR Michael Jenkins, but mostly up. The two whipping boy this week are Michael Johnson, who continues to be nowhere near the play most of the time in coverage, consistently guesses wrong when he does have a chance to make a play, and is horrible on blitzes and run support, and Bruce Johnson, who was absolutely abused all fourth quarter by WR Michael Jenkins.

Bruce Johnson is an undrafted rookie who’s learning on the job and for the most part has held his own. He needs time and the benefit of the doubt. Not so with Michael Johnson. At this moment, he’s as much a liability on the field as C.C. Brown was. It’s amazing how so many people had this guy picked for making a big step up this year and how wrong we all were.

Special Teams: Lawrence Tynes hit the game-winning 39-yard field goal in overtime. That’s about the only thing good that can be said for the struggling kicker. The average starting field position after Tynes kicked off was the Atlanta 33-yard line. It wasn’t the coverage, either, as four of Tynes’ kickoffs LANDED between the 20 and 30 yard line. Unacceptable, period.

Feagles did a good job punting, coverages were adequate, and the return team is getting better and is certainly acceptable with Hixon returning kicks again.

Coaching: Much debate is ongoing in The Corner Forum regarding Defensive Coordinator Bill Sheridan and whether he’s in over his head. It appears he cannot get the communication issues that have been plaguing this teams since week one fixed. Everyone knows how loyal Head Coach Tom Coughlin is to his people, so don’t expect any changes soon. Sheridan is who they have, like it or not.

Offensive Player of the Game: Eli Manning. For the second week in a row, Eli put the team on his back and was allowed to get the Giants the win this time despite the wilting defense.

Defensive Player of the Game: Michael Boley. Hopefully his impassioned and effective play will inspire some others around him to raise their games.

(Box Score – Atlanta Falcons at New York Giants, November 22, 2009)
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