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Denver Broncos 26 (6-5) – New York Giants 6 (6-5)

by The Hack for

Game Summary: Did anyone bother to tell the New York Giants that the game they played on Thanksgiving was a real game, and not a pick up family and friends game played in the front yard before the turkey is carved and the blessings are given? Certainly, the razzle dazzle, good-natured ribbing, and camaraderie in the annual Gobble Bowl dust up in the muddy back yard is more entertaining than what the Giants showed to a national TV audience on Thanksgiving night.

As the nation stepped away from the table and settled onto the couch, that last piece of pumpkin pie sitting at arms length away, the aroma of roast turkey, dressing, and cranberry sauce still wafting through the house, the Giants also settled onto the couch and watched as the Broncos issued a beating the likes of which New York hasn’t seen since the 2006 Wild Card game against the Carolina Panthers.

No emotion, no passion, no sense of urgency or even desperation late, the Giants went through the motions and lost another winnable game and now their playoff hopes, almost a foregone conclusion just six weeks ago, are in serious jeopardy as they have to somehow win at least three of their last five games to even have a chance to qualify for the tournament.

The Giants came out cold on offense, and when Eli Manning missed a couple of passes that should have converted first downs, the Broncos settled in on defense and dominated the rest of the half and cruised while protecting the lead down the stretch.

As for the Giants defense, the usual suspects were…well…suspect. Once again the Giants could not establish any pressure in the middle of defensive line, generating no push whatsoever. Add in the usual poor linebacker play, mix in some blown coverages and you know what recipe you’re looking at. We all know it by heart now, it tastes yucky, and we’re getting served it way too often these days.

Tale O’ The Tape: The Giants were dominated in every single statistical category. The Giants lost the time of possession battle by more than 11 minutes. They were out gained on the ground 138 yards to 57. The Giants turned the ball over three times (on two fumbles and an interception) and only forced one. Amazingly, Denver completed only 18 of 28 passes, but gained 245 yards for an 8.1 yard average per pass play. Every pass completed seemed to be a big gainer. 11 of the 18 completed passes went for first downs.

The Giants defense did a commendable job on third downs, allowing only four conversions in 13 attempts but then gave up a first down on a crucial fourth and five on the third Denver drive that could have set the tone for the defense had they held. Instead, Denver converted a second field goal and extended their lead.

The Giants defense also did a good job in the red zone and in goal to go situations, holding Denver to two of five in green zone efficiency and one of four in goal to go.

Unfortunately, the Giants offense didn’t do well at all, as they converted only three of 12 third down situations and had to settle for a field goal in their only green zone appearance.

To illustrate how horrid the Giants offense was early on, the New Yorkers mustered up just 38 net yards on 23 offensive plays in the first half. The Giants had six first half possessions, converted just 3 first downs, punted five times and fumbled the ball away on the other (which led to seven points). Their longest drive was just six plays for 20 yards.

The Giants did not cross mid field in the first half. In fact, they didn’t cross their own 40 yard line in the first half, and only crossed it three times all game including the final drive in garbage time.

Offense: The Giants got absolutely nothing going in the first half and precious little in the second until garbage time. Nothing was established on the ground, as once again and almost inexplicably (Denver has a very highly rated passing defense) New York came out throwing the ball.

Of the 11 plays the Giants executed on their first three drives, the Giants passed on eight of them. Eight passes versus just three runs against a defense that the Giants should have been able to manhandle at the point of attack. The Giants offensive line, not to mention their #1 running back, dwarfed the smallish Denver defensive line but were at first unwilling to even try to run the ball, and once Denver gained confidence, they couldn’t run on them. It just doesn’t make sense. On the road in a noisy stadium, instead of trying to establish the running game and some momentum, the Giants threw against a stingy Denver pass defense and never established a single drive in the half.

The Quarterbacks: Eli Manning started off slowly, and it cost the Giants any opportunity to establish momentum or continuity. On the first two drives, Manning missed on passes he should have connected on that would have sustained drives. Nothing changed much later in the first half, as Eli couldn’t connect with any rhythm. Overall, Eli threw 40 times, connecting on 24 for 230 yards, 0 TDs and 1 INT. Once again it was all or nothing for Eli, as his QBR stood at just 65.6 on the day. Eli was also sacked three times for a total loss of 20 yards and committed a fumble that was lost.

Eli threw the ball on first down 14 times on the day, though four of them were on the last drive in garbage time. The trend, however, continues as it seems that week after week the Giants think they’re going to fool the opposition by throwing on first down instead of running the ball. It’s actually comical at this point, but you can just about set your watch to the fact that the Giants will pass the ball on the first play of their first drive and then do it again at least 40% of the time during the game.

Getting back to Giants Football, indeed…

The Running Backs: There were two running backs and a fullback on the field quite a bit for the Giants on Thanksgiving. What their roles were has yet to be established. Brandon Jacobs carried just 11 times for 27 yards. His longest run on the day was just seven yards. It wasn’t all his fault, but Jacobs did make a couple odd cuts that cost him some yardage. Jacobs was targeted out of the backfield five times and ended up catching three passes for 20 yards. He also had one key drop in the third quarter on a dump off that at the least would have put the Giants in manageable distance on third down. Other than that, Jacobs played a glorified left tackle, but combined with David Diehl to allow one sack and also allowed a couple other pressures. It wasn’t Jacobs’ best effort against the blitz this week.

As for HB D.J. (don’t call him DANNY anymore) Ware, his coming out party due to the injury to Ahmad Bradshaw was roundly a bust. Getting his chance on the Giants’ first drive of the second quarter down 6-0, Ware ran twice for 5 yards, and following a defensive penalty on Denver which gave the Giants a first down, Ware ripped off an eight yard gain off right tackle out of the shotgun. Unfortunately, he fumbled the ball and the resulting turnover was turned into seven points for Denver and the rout was basically on. Ware didn’t get into the game again until there were just about four minutes left in the third quarter and finished the day with 27 yards on just four carries. He also had one completion for minus four yards. (Incidentally, on that particular play, Eli Manning had Kevin Boss clearing about ten yards ahead of Ware and should have hit him for what would have been a huge gain. Instead, he continued his check down to Ware despite the fact that S Brian Dawkins had already chipped him off his route and far into the backfield.)

On the day, the Giants rushed the ball just 16 times. Does anyone remember last season when they’d rush 16 times in just over a quarter? Again, against a very decent pass defense like Denver, it defies logic as to why the Giants didn’t adopt a smash-mouth straight-ahead running attack against their smallish front seven. It truly reminds me of the scene in “Airplane!” when Johnny asks “Shouldn’t we turn on the runway lights?” to which Rex Kramer replies, “No…that’s just what they’ll be expecting us to do!”

RUN THE DAMNED BALL!!!! DOWNHILL!!! BOTH WAYS!!! Enough is enough, gents. Get over this obsession with trying to ‘fool’ the opposition by passing on first freakin’ down!

FB Madison Hedgecock continued his up and down play. On one play he’s leading the play perfectly through the hole, maintaining his block, and getting good push. Then on the next, he isn’t able to seal the DE or OLB and create a hole. Hedgecock is not the hammer most thought he would be, and when you combine his erratic play with the erratic play of the blocking TEs, it’s easy to see why this offensive line is struggling so mightily in the running game.

The Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: Generally, the Giants WRs were singled up all game and yet it seemed that they were having a lot of trouble getting away from Denver’s defensive backs (who are very good). Mario Manningham and Steve Smith both had drops that hurt drives. Manningham had a shot in the end zone, and though he was interfered with and received no call, he sort of ‘mugged’ for the call instead of fighting through and making the reception on a very catchable ball. That’s a lesson; hopefully he learns not to play for the flag but for the ball.

The Giants’ wideouts combined for only 17 catches on 30 balls thrown their way. Inexplicably, Manning once again forgot about his TE Kevin Boss, who had just two balls (one in garbage time) thrown his way, catching both for 20 yards.

TE Darcy Johnson also caught one pass. That play was ridiculous. The Giants had just gotten great field position at the DEN 35-yard line due to a personal foul on the Denver kick off team. On first and 10, the Giants went to a 22 package – 2-TE, HB, RB offset I with Smith in motion towards the line of scrimmage from just outside the hash. Johnson flared off his set to the right flat and off play action (with 11 men in the box for Denver) Manning hit him for three yards before S Brian Dawkins blew him up, causing a fumble and a loss of eight yards as Kevin Boss got over to save a Bronco’s recovery.

The play just doesn’t make sense. On the goal line, I like that call. On first and 10 with momentum, no way do I want my primary receiver, no, let’s make that my only receiving option, to be Darcy Johnson against Brian Dawkins.

The Offensive Line: It’s hard to say that this unit played well after giving up three sacks and only paving the way for less than 50 rushing yards. As pointed out repeatedly by Matt Millen and Bob Papa on the NFL Network broadcast, the line was consistently being blown a yard or two backwards on every single play. They got very little push in the running game and failed repeatedly to pick up simple looking blitz packages in the passing game. David Diehl and Rich Suebert had particularly rough games. At this point, the left side of the line is a liability.

The Defense: Once again, the Giants glaring weaknesses on the day were a lack of push by the interior of the defensive line and the absolutely horrid play of the linebackers – particularly Chase Blackburn and Danny Clark. The Giants did, however, throw a few new wrinkles that actually worked in the second half, and then inexplicably went back to the base defense that was getting whipped all game.

To illustrate just how bad the base defense is playing right now, let’s just look at one play that really says it all. On the Broncos first play from scrimmage in the second half from the 21 yard line, Denver lines up with two receivers split wide with a slot receiver on the short side, single back, and bring the TE in motion to Orton’s right. The Giants counter with four down linemen, three linebackers and the safeties in a cover two shell. On the snap, the Broncos pitch left to Knowshon Moreno, away from the TE motion. Tuck is negated by the tight end who was in motion, and the right tackle takes Boley out of the play, also on the opposite side of the action. The left tackle pulls around the slot receiver, who takes out Umenyiora. At this point, both safeties are still 15 yards out of the play, 10 yards deep off the line of scrimmage. Blackburn, after moving a couple yards forwards, shifts and begins to cross the field on the same plane as the running back. Danny Clark is five yards off the line and in perfect position to shoot the gap and get into the play. Instead, he retreats and goes towards the sideline, where he engages the outside receiver and continues to block him towards the sideline while Moreno runs right past his back. Blackburn, meanwhile, somehow gets himself into the wash of the center who’s busy pushing Rockey Bernard back seven yards and out of the play. Blackburn completely nullified himself. Not to be out done, Fred Robbins was blown completely out of the play by the right guard who rode him outside and downfield about five yards. Both corners are out of the play from the outset, as the pulling left tackle walls Webster out of the play and the off receiver effectively kept Thomas from joining the play from the far side. This left only the two safeties, 15 yards out of the play, with any chance. C.C. Brown, the safety on the side of the field the play is run to, looped around Clark and the outside receiver and was absolutely nowhere near the play. To his credit, Michael Boley got back into the play and is the first Giant to touch Moreno after he’s already gained seven yards and momentum. Aaron Rouse finally gets in the play and Moreno, with a full head of steam at this point, rumbles for a total of 12 yards.  With Blackburn and Clark on the field, this happens again, and again, and again.

As stated above, the Giants did try to change some things up. Later in the same drive, on the play resulting in the Thomas interception, the Giants took both Clark and Blackburn off the field and went with four down linemen and S C.C. Brown on the line of scrimmage lined up over the bunch formation to Orton’s left, Bruce Johnson in the normal SAM position to Boley’s right, Rouse and Ross as the safeties playing a modified cover with Webster, Bruce Johnson, and Terrell Thomas and Corey Webster singled up on the Bronco receivers. This set worked. The Giants sent Ross and Boley on the blitz, and Orton threw it right to Thomas. On the next drive, the Giants again threw this wrinkle at the Bronco’s. They lined up C.C. Brown at SAM a couple of times, and also brought in Kiwanuka at SAM.

For whatever reason, these formations confused Denver and the Giants closed the gap to 16 – 6 going into the fourth quarter, when Sheridan went back to his base defense and instantly got shredded for 23 yards on two Moreno runs and Denver was back on track. At the end of the drive, the Giants had the odd package on the field as Boley, the only player in the middle, tried to blitz and let Brandon Stokely cross Orton’s face unimpeded for the easy pitch and catch. It appeared that Ross blew the coverage, as pre-snap he moved towards the middle of the field but then at the snap reversed and went to help cover Marshall on the outside leaving the middle completely open. All other DBs were singled up on a player during the play. It will be interesting to see if the Giants continue to use these odd packages in order to get both Clark and Blackburn off the field. To be truthful, however, it seems absolutely crazy that Chris Sintim, Jonathan Goff, and Brian Kehl cannot manage to wrestle any playing time for those two cement legged speedbumps.

The Front Seven: Nobody along the defensive line played a good game. Granted, Justin Tuck had five tackles, but not a single one was an impact play. The line was completely blown off the ball by Denver’s offensive line and tight ends, particularly Daniel Graham who had a fantastic game. Rocky Bernard, Fred Robbins, Chris Canty, and Barry Cofield combined for just 4 tackles total. Granted, the Broncos ran wide more often than inside the tackles, but the only man who did anything at all from the inside on his limited snaps there was Mathias Kiwanuka.

As if failing miserably to either make a tackle or at least keep the Denver linemen off the linebackers and safeties wasn’t enough, the interior of the line also made sure to fail just as spectacularly at getting any push whatsoever in the passing game. Even when Umenyiora or Tuck would get penetration around the edge, Orton always had a clean pocket to step in to. Speaking of Umenyiora, he was nearly invisible as he registered just one QB pressure on the day and not a single tackle.

I’ve beaten up the play of linebackers Danny Clark and Chase Blackburn for weeks now. It is absolutely comical to watch these two players consistently overrun plays, engage a blocker on their own, actually initiating contact, while the running back simply cuts to their vacated spot and picks up huge chunks of yardage. Blackburn gets overpowered every single time any player can single him up squarely. He has no power to play through a block, his only hope is to go around or slip the initial engagement. As for Clark, he gets pushed all over the field. It’s like he’s playing on roller skates out there. Countless times, he’s pushed around the field like a wheelbarrow. It happens over and over and over again, and yet the linebackers drafted in the early rounds over the last two years continue to collect paychecks for playing on 10 kicking plays a game.

Michael Boley did not have a good game, but to be honest, he had no help on Thursday. He looked his best when there was no other linebacker on the field.

The Secondary: Once again, CB/Nickel Back Kevin Dockery was a healthy scratch. Though the secondary didn’t have its best day, they got absolutely no help from the defensive line as Orton had all day to survey the field and find the open man.

Corey Webster drew the unenviable task of trying to take Brandon Marshall out of the game and alas that didn’t happen. Twice, despite good coverage, Marshall simply made outstanding plays. Webster was burned much more often than normal, but again, giving Orton five or six full seconds to find an open receiver kills defensive backs.

Much-maligned safety C.C. Brown had a solid game in both run support and in the defensive backfield. He lined up in some interesting alignments at linebacker and was successful as he ran down one running play for a loss and played solidly in coverage underneath the safeties. This may be the best way to employ the hard hitting safety with questionable coverage skills. He certainly keeps himself in the play and avoids blockers much better than linebacker Danny Clark.

Terrell Thomas had a nice interception on a poorly thrown pass by Kyle Orton to open up the second half but the Giants offense wasn’t able to capitalize on the gift, settling for a field goal.

Aaron Rouse is rounding into form. He’s starting to understand his role in the defense and he’s reacting to plays much more quickly than he had in the past. He’s still a liability in coverage, but the liability is becoming less and less. Rouse will never be an elite safety, and debate will continue as to whether he’ll even be a serviceable starter. But, with Aaron Ross beginning to take more snaps at safety Rouse can be an adequate backup. Speaking of Ross, it was his blown coverage that led to the final Denver touchdown, but he’s still rounding back into form and that’s expected.

Once again, safety Michael Johnson had a little impact in the game, as he had the most invisible six tackles any safety has ever had. Johnson also made one of the most head scratching plays of the day on the flea flicker to Brandon Marshall. Despite fairly good coverage on Marshall by Webster (who got called for a ticky-tack late hit call on the play), Johnson flat out blasted Marshall at least 20 yards down the field for a blatant illegal contact penalty. It’s stunning how far from grace Michael Johnson has fallen.

Special Teams: Lawrence Tynes made two field goals in the rarified air of Denver, including a 52 yarder. Even with the thin air, however, he was unable to register a touchback. To illustrate the difference in special teams coverage, however, both teams returned kicks from five yards deep in their end zones. The Broncos were able to get to the 35 yard line whereas the Giants only got to the 15. Story of the year on specials in 2009. On two other occasions, the Giants got good field position off kickoffs and did nothing with the ball.

Coaching: It’s hard to understand why Defensive Coordinator didn’t stick with what was working when his unique scheme was able to shut the Broncos down for the entire third quarter. It certainly seems there is enough of a body of evidence to suggest that Clark, Blackburn, and Michael Johnson should see less playing time, yet it’s not happening. The buck actually stops with Head Coach Tom Coughlin, whose responsibility is to get the best players on the field and overrule his assistants when things are not going well. It’s not happening, and there’s been no questions asked at the post game press conferences as to why a shake up isn’t happening. As such, we’re left to scratch our heads and wonder for ourselves.

Offensive Player of the Game: Steve Smith was the best of a bunch of mediocre players on the day.

Defensive Player of the Game: Aaron Rouse was around the ball all day and made 8 tackles, including several near the line of scrimmage and one behind the line. Honorable mention to Mathias Kiwanuka who was the only defensive lineman who looked like he gave a crap on Thanksgiving.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Denver Broncos, November 26, 2009)
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