Dec 162009
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Philadelphia Eagles 45 (9-4) – New York Giants 38 (7-6)

by The Hack for

Game Summary: Apparently, “New York Giants’ Pride” was reserved for just two games against the Cowboys this season.

For the second time this year, the Giants spotted the Eagles with a 14 point lead before the coin toss was completed and had to fight back to make the game competitive. To its credit, New York did just that and for 19 glorious seconds with just over 20 minutes to go in the contest, the Giants held the NFC East lead. Alas, it wasn’t to hold, however, as the defensive lapses continued and on the very next play of the game the Eagles took the lead for good and never looked back.

This offense deserved better, but they are not without blame. The Giants had six dropped passes in the first half and another three in the second half. Yes, the ball was wet and the field was slick but the Eagles didn’t fumble five times and they didn’t drop nine passes. The offense also cost the Giants a minimum of seven points and as much as 14 (Brandon Jacobs’ fumble returned for a touchdown and Eli Manning’s fumble at the Eagles 14 yard line).

Special teams has been a bane to this team all season, and once again on Sunday they let Tom Coughlin down. Not only did they allow a punt return for a touchdown, but the Eagles had good starting field position for much of the night on kickoff returns. To wit, right after the Giants scored to take the lead for the only time in the game, the Eagles got a return out to the 40-yard line. That cannot happen. On the very next play, the Eagles reestablished their 14 point lead.

The defense was certainly a culprit, allowing 31 total points. Interestingly, they held the Eagles to six drives of three plays or less. In the third quarter, on four drives spanning just 4:14 of clock, the Eagles ran only nine plays and still managed to score a touchdown. A lack of consistency in all three phases of the game is what doomed the Giants on Sunday. It wasn’t just the defense on this one, though with the game on the line and with a huge advantage in time of possession, it’s unfathomable that they played like they had nothing left in the tank on Philadelphia’s game clinching 91-yard drive in the fourth quarter.

So the resiliency apparently was reserved solely for the Cowboys. Though not mathematically eliminated from the division race, we all know that the Giants are now relegated to playing for the last Wild Card spot, currently being held by those same Cowboys.

A sobering fact – if the Giants indeed make the playoffs, they very well may do so without beating a single team going to the playoffs in 2009 (Minnesota is their last chance).

Tale O’ The Tape: The Giants’ offense thoroughly dominated the Philadelphia defense. With three minutes gone in the fourth quarter, the Giants had more than twice the time of possession than the Eagles. They had 60 offensive plays to Philadelphia’s 38. They had a sizeable yardage advantage. Even with all that, the Giants were still down by seven points. The Giants did a good job in the green zone, scoring on three of four possessions (missing on Eli’s fumble) and the defense allowed the Eagles to score on three of five trips into the green zone.

The Giants did not allow a third down conversion in the second half (the Eagles were 0-3), but that’s a hollow victory, as the Eagles scored on a one-play drive and again on a 91-yard drive that never saw a third down play.

On offense, the Giants had little trouble converting. They were five of 12 on third down opportunities, but also converted three fourth-down plays.

So with the success the Giants had, certainly on offense and at times on defense, what was the difference in this game? To start, turnovers were a huge problem. The Giants turned the ball over four times on fumbles (two were critical) and Philadelphia only turned it over once (which they subsequently got back on the very next play). The first turnover led to a defensive score, and the second cost the Giants at least three points and most likely seven. Right there, you have a minimum of a 10 point swing.  What else, you ask? The second issue was special teams and the defense both allowing home runs on one play, both to the one guy they vowed to stop: DeSean Jackson.

Three plays. Three plays for 21 points. A returned fumble for a touchdown, a returned punt for a touchdown, and a one-play, 60-yard busted coverage for another touchdown. Frankly, folks, if even one of those three plays does not occur the Giants would probably have won the game.

Offense: It’s hard to knock the Giants’ offensive performance on Sunday night, but I’m going to do it anyway. Even though they scored 38 points and racked up 512 total yards, there were quite a few “coulda, shoulda, woulda” moments.

A few cases in point:

If Kevin Boss holds a perfectly thrown ball at the Eagles 17-yard line on second and five from the 43, the Giants wouldn’t have gone to a draw for no yardage on third and five. Had the Giants scored there, it’s a one point lead again and maybe the defense gets inspired and a drive like the marathon 91-yarder that ensued does not occur.

The Giants had their first drive, which had Jacobs pounding the ball nicely, end in disaster when the Jacobs fumble bounced off a Giants’ lineman’s foot right into the waiting arms of Sheldon Brown who went nearly unnoticed and completely untouched for 60 yards into the end zone for a touchdown.

On their second drive, Mario Manningham was unable to get two feet in bounds for what would have been an otherwise rather easy touchdown and the Giants had to settle for three points.

On another drive later in the half, Steve Smith dropped a third-down pass deep in Eagles territory (tough catch, but certainly makeable) that resulted in the Giants having to punt.

Eli Manning scrambled for a sure first down at the Eagles 14-yard line, but instead of sliding feet first, he slid head first and fumbled the ball away, costing the Giants sure points.

Manningham again was unable to get his feet down for a sure touchdown on the Giants’ last scoring drive, requiring New York to use another minute of clock before scoring. Had Manningham scored there, the Giants would have had two time outs and the two minute warning to stop the clock, negating the need for the onside kick. Provided the Giants defense stopped the Eagles (granted, a big if), they’d have gotten the ball back in relatively good field position with just under two minutes remaining instead of 19 seconds at their own 9.

And I’m not even including all the Hakeem Nicks drops, primarily because each and every one was subsequently overcome and ended up not hurting the team. Still…catch the damned ball, Hakeem!!!

So other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?

The Quarterbacks: Eli Manning played his most complete game of the year. He did fumble twice, and one was costly, but he simply would not allow his team to fold and fought back until the bitter end. He almost single-handedly brought them back from the dead after an unbelievably fortuitous first half for the Eagles staked them to a 14-point lead.

Manning finished the day 27 for 38, gaining 391 yards and three touchdowns against no interceptions. His QBR for the day was 130.5, raising his season average to a very respectable 93. What’s even more eye-opening about those stats is that there were nine dropped passes, of which at least seven were more than likely able to be caught. Eli is 10th in the league in yardage, tied for 6th with 23 touchdown passes, and is completing more than 60% of his passes.

Eli Manning deserved a win on Sunday night.

The Running Backs: For the second week in a row, an early fumble put the Giants in a difficult hole to climb out of, this time by HB Brandon Jacobs. Unfortunately, combined with the other two lightning strikes by Philadelphia, this one was too big to get out of. Jacobs seemed to lose the ball due to the wet rubberized sleeves he was wearing, as he promptly had them cut off.

In another “other than that” moment, Jacobs had his best game on the ground in some time. He hit the holes (which were there for once) hard and plowed over his opponents on several occasions. The Beast finished with 60 yards on 15 carries for a 4.0 ypc average. He performed yeoman’s work, and work well done. Jacobs also caught a pass on a nifty looking screen play that went for nine yards.

As always, my chief complaint was that they spelled Jacobs with HB Ahmad Bradshaw more than I would have liked due to the fact that Jacobs was running so well. Bradshaw also ran fairly well, netting 55 yards on 14 carries, but the majority of his carries went nowhere and he gained most of his yards on three long gainers in the second half. Bradshaw also caught four passes for 46 yards. He gained 31 of those on a broken play where he peeled off his block and Manning shoveled him the ball as he was getting sacked. It was indeed a brilliant play showing great situational awareness on the parts of both players.

FB Madison Hedgecock continued his return to form as he had an excellent day leading the backs through the holes.

The Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: Congratulations to WR Steve Smith for setting the franchise mark for receptions in a season, currently 85, breaking the mark of 82 set by Amani Toomer in 2002. Smith caught 7 passes for 74 yards and now needs 291 yards in his last three games to break Toomer’s single season yardage record, set in the same year. Smith is tied with Larry Fitzgerald for the NFC lead in receptions and is second to just Sidney Rice in yardage, 22 yards behind. Though Smith had a good game, he did have one critical drop.

What can be said of Hakeem Nicks, who is up for “Pepsi Rookie of the Week” honors after catching 4 passes for 110 yards? Obviously the man has a short memory, as on the drive in which he scored his 68 yard touchdown off a beautiful catch and spin move he also dropped two passes right in his hands (one for a walk in touchdown). On the other hand, three drops in a game probably negates some votes. It’s obvious that Nicks has all the tools to be a star in this league. He will put on some muscle, he’ll learn, and he’ll become more in sync with Manning as the years progress.

Hakeem also had the crucial block to spring Hixon on the final 25 yards or so of his long touchdown catch. (Blocking downfield must be a sense of pride for the receiving corps, as all of them do it and all of them do it well.)

Nicks is currently fourth among rookies with 38 catches, but he’s first overall in yardage (685), first in average gain per catch (18 yards), and tied for first in touchdowns (6). It’s safe to say that Nicks is in the hunt for offensive rookie of the year.

Mario Manningham had a rough game, not being able to get his feet down on two potential touchdown throws by Eli Manning. There is some merit to discussion suggesting Manning led Manningham too close to the sidelines, but Manningham didn’t help out Manning very much (at least on the first throw), as he did not give the slant portion of the slant and go a very good sell, leaving a smallish window for Manning to fit the ball into.

Domenik Hixon made the most of his one look, taking a 15-yard pitch and catch from Manning and turning into his punt returner mode, breaking tackles on the way to a 61-yard touchdown. Hixon was also seen on the sidelines, just after Nicks’ back to back drops, pumping him up and getting him to move on. Nicks scored on the very next play he got back into the game.

Kevin Boss was a beast on Sunday night, and finally also had a pretty good game blocking for the running backs. Boss caught 7 or 8 passes thrown his way for a total of 70 yards, including one off a botched interception that gave the Giants a first and goal at the nine yard line. Unfortunately, his only drop was huge, as noted above. The Eagles are the worst team in the NFL at allowing catches to the tight end. Guess who’s second? At any rate, Boss did about as much as he could do, and it’s too bad he couldn’t do just a little bit more.

The Offensive Line: The Giants lost RT Kareem McKenzie late in the second quarter, and he will be missing some time. OT William Beatty stepped in and played well in his stead, and will start for the next couple of weeks. As a whole, the line played a very good game, opening up holes all along the Eagles line for good gains. The Giants ran straight ahead, something they haven’t done much lately.

The Defense: There’s been a lot of press and a lot of Corner Forum discussion regarding the Giants’ defensive play on Sunday night. There were some major gaffs, for sure. But you have to look at their play as a whole.

First, they allow the Eagles to go right downfield on just 6 plays (including an offsides penalty that results in an Eagles first down) for a touchdown. The drive covered 67 yards in just 3:32 and the Eagles never faced a third down. That’s not the only time that happened, either. Then, on the Eagles’ second drive, they force a three and out. Following the first Giants touchdown to get the team within four points, the defense stiffened inside the green zone after a long Philly drive, forcing them to settle for a field goal.

Finally, after the Giants succeeded in answering the DeSean Jackson punt return touchdown, the defense once again fell apart. A potential interception for a touchdown by Michael Boley was dropped, then ruled a fumble, but no one on the Giants picked up the ball. To add insult to injury, on the ensuing third and 20 play, the Giants allowed DeSean Jackson to get deep for a 44-yard gain and that was it, the Eagles rolled to another touchdown before the half.

The second half started off much more promisingly as the defense forced a turnover that the offense gave right back, then forced a three and out, allowing the Giants offense to take the lead.

Inexplicably, however, on the very next play from scrimmage (after more poor kickoff coverage), the defense gave the lead right back on a 60-yard pass play to an all alone DeSean Jackson in which McNabb had five seconds to throw the ball and had more time if he’d wanted it.

The offense wasn’t able to come back, twice, sandwiched around another three and out from the Giants defense, and then the roof caved in again as the Eagles marched 91 yards on 12 plays eating up more than 7 minutes of fourth quarter time for another touchdown. The ensuing two-point conversion restored the 14-point lead. Most embarrassing is the fact that once again, the Eagles never had third down on the drive.

Finally, they forced another three and out after the Giants scored their final touchdown, giving the Giants a final chance to tie.

This Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde defense doomed the Giants. It almost appeared that the defense would hold JUST long enough for the offense to get close, then let the Eagles to get out ahead a little bit, then hold JUST a enough again to let the offense get close…repeat as nauseam.

The Front Seven: The Giants tried a variety of different looks, including putting back up DE Dave Tollefson at DT at times, going with a four DE set. It didn’t work. It especially didn’t work when they’d drop both Tollefson AND Umenyiora into coverage while bringing LB Danny Clark and others on a blitz.

It’s natural to want to show a different look to a team that’s familiar with you and your tendencies. But some of the looks the Giants gave McNabb had to make him laugh out loud, thinking “You’re really going to try to pull this off?”

Chris Canty fell back to earth this week after a solid showing against his old team, Dallas, last week. On the very first play of the game, Canty got cleared out completely by the left guard and center. It looked like a freight train had hit him. It was a precursor of things to come, as the defensive line got extremely little push from anyone they put into the mix in the DT positions, and whoever ended up at the DE positions got rounded out of the play as McNabb consistently stepped up into a clean pocket.

Several times, however, the Giants were able to get McNabb on the move and harass him into poor throws. It just wasn’t consistent enough to force any big mistakes save the one interception, but that looked like Celek broke off his route too early leaving Goff in perfect position for the interception.

The line did a respectable job against the run for the majority of the game, but every now and again would give up a solid run. Again, consistency was lacking.

Bryan Kehl and Jonathan Goff got extended looks at linebacker and didn’t play too badly. Kehl needs to learn to look back for the ball, as he had a sure interception whizz right past him on a throw to Celek. Michael Boley was extremely active – in on 12 tackles. The linebackers combined for four passes defensed.

The Secondary: Once again, amazingly, the entire secondary seemed to be playing sandlot ball, completely unaware of either their or their teammates’ assignments on particular plays. The only member of the secondary who made a play on any ball in the air was S Aaron Rouse (2).

Other than that it was business as usual, players running free all over the field (especially Jackson).

To illustrate just how confusing things seem to be out there, Michael Johnson actually left his spot as cover 2 safety on the right side of the field to cover a TE who had two catches on the year and in doing so allowed DeSean Jackson to exploit the vacated spot for a 60-yard touchdown.

That’s not all, and maybe not even the worst of it. During the field-goal drive that extended the Eagles’ lead to 17 -10, on second and four from the NYG 10-yard line, Donovan McNabb stepped back two yards and swung a pass to a wide open HB LeSean McCoy for a first down to the NYG 2-yard line. I bring it up because as the Eagles approached the line, Michael Boley points out McCoy to S Aaron Ross, who seems to acknowledge Boley. Boley turns, looks at Ross, still pointing at McCoy as the ball is snapped. McCoy flashes to his left along the line of scrimmage, Boley reacts a full second late at the snap and drops into his zone, and Ross just stands there at the goal line, never making a move to attack McCoy. Easy, peasy, lemon squeezy, first and goal at the two for the Eagles.

The Giants were consistently late getting into their coverages all night, reacting late to the snap and not getting into position. Patting heads, touching shoulders, pointing, jumping up and down, in and out, switching coverages…the defense looks like it’s playing “Simon Says” out there.

All that said the Giants did indeed get the Eagles off the field on three and outs four times, and forced a turnover on a fifth drive of just two plays.

Special Teams: Last week against Dallas, the Giants won the game due in large part to a punt return for a touchdown. This week, the roles were reversed. Kickoffs were largely good, and Tynes (after 12 weeks) looks like he’s finally hitting the ball well. Unfortunately, the coverage teams do not have his back as each and every week there are several returns beyond the 30-yard line. It’s unacceptable, and again after 13 weeks you have got to call out the coaches on this one. If the guys you have doing it can’t get it done, get guys in there that can. If that means Bradshaw, Webster, whomever, just do it already. What’s there to lose?

Coaching: Kevin Gilbride called a great game. Some question the draw on 3rd and 5, but don’t take into account that it never should have had to be called. And frankly, it looked like a good call at the time as Bradshaw got trapped by his leg by a lineman on the ground. If he could’ve gotten out of that, he had room to run. Sometimes the other team just makes a play.

Bill Sheridan has got to be part of the problem. There is no way, after 20 weeks of football, a full training camp, and mini-camp that players like Michael Johnson and Aaron Ross don’t understand the calls. Too many times, the Giants defensive players are standing along the sidelines, palms up, wondering who’s supposed to be in the game and what the call is. Too many times, four players are running off the field while four more are running on while the opposition is already breaking the huddle. The Giants are reacting, and slowly, to the snap and trying to get into position after the play has begun.

Offensive Player of the Game: Eli Manning with honorable mention to Steve Smith for his record setting day.

Defensive Player of the Game: Michael Boley had 12 tackles and seemed to be doing everything he could to get the Giants into the right alignments.

(Box Score – Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants, December 13, 2009)
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