Sep 142011
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Washington Redskins 28 (1-0) – New York Giants 14 (0-1)

by rnargi for

Game Summary: The depleted New York Giants limped into Washington to open their season against the Redskins last Sunday and left with a loss and more injuries.  Statistically, the game was a relative dead heat as time of possession was close, rushing yards were near exact, and passing yards were close.  Turnovers were equal, as were sacks.   Two major statistical differences existed on the day.  The first was that the Redskins converted on 33% of their 3rd downs (5 of 15) as well as converting a 4th and 5 which led to their first touchdown of the game. On the other side of the ledger, the Giants converted just one 3rd down all day (1 of 10), and none in the second half.  The Giants also failed to convert a 4th and 1, turning the ball over on downs.  The second statistical difference that mattered was Washington converted their turnover into 7 points while the Giants converted theirs into a blocked field goal attempt.

The Giants were missing four starters on defense: DE Osi Umenyiora, DE Justin Tuck, MLB Jonathan Goff, and CB Terrell Thomas.  In their place, Dave Tollefson and Jason Pierre-Paul started on the outside, rookie Greg Jones started at MIKE linebacker and veteran Aaron Ross was in place of Thomas.  Rookies LB Jacquian Williams (LB), Spencer Paysinger (LB) and Tyler Sash (S) also figured into the game on defense.

On offense, the Giants were only missing one starter, TE Travis Beckum, but they had up to six players playing in new spots or starting for the first time.  FB Henry Hynoski got his first start in the NFL.  TE Jake Ballard started for the injured Beckum, Victor Cruz got the first look as the new slot receiver, Will Beatty got his first regular season start at LT, David Diehl was moved to left guard and C David Baas started his first regular season with the Giants.

Even with all the turnover and raw talent on the field, the Giants were a few plays from winning this game going away.  Mistakes were made, but some were made by the veterans and leaders whom you wouldn’t expect it from.  Many of the errors are mental and correctable, like the 8 penalties and improper handling of kickoffs.

Eric from BBI has been in several discussions on BBI arguing that this is a team in “transition.”  Some agree with, and some oppose, this notion. Whatever transition means, one thing we should all be able to agree on is that this is not the team that the Giants envisioned bringing out of training camp and preseason into the first week of the year.

The Giants expected to have Steve Smith and Kevin Boss back.  They expected to be able to get reps early from their 1st and 2nd draft choices.  They expected Terrell Thomas to have a Pro-Bowl caliber year.  They expected Jonathan Goff to step up to the next level and become a more instinctive, impact middle linebacker.  You can go on down the line and lament the injuries and therefore lost expectations from guys like Travis Beckum, Clint Sintim, and Ramses Barden, but that’s just a mind play.  The facts are facts.  The Giants broke from preseason with 11 rookies on the 53 man roster.  That equates to over 20% of the team having never played an NFL down in a regular season game.  So are the Giants in transition?  I think after all the injuries and movement at key positions, it’s certainly plausible.  No matter what you want to label this season, it’s not crazy to have diminished, yet realistic, expectations due to the circumstances that have befallen this team.  It’s been a protracted avalanche of small doses of bad luck that have collectively left them reeling.  It’s still possible for this team to make the playoffs if some of the people who are now out can come back and play at expected levels.  If they are playing hurt all year, or re-injure themselves, then all bets are off and it could quickly become a long season for this year’s version of the New York Giants.

Offense: The Giants had 5 drives and a kneel down in the first half, and an argument can be made that they played well.  The longest drive was just 8 plays, but it resulted in a touchdown.  On their first drive, the Giants ran 4 times for a total of 14 yards, but a dropped 3rd down pass by Victor Cruz stopped what looked like a promising drive.  Though the drop was huge, two key plays in the drive were a 1st  and 10 in which Manning attempted to check down to a swing a pass out wide to Bradshaw that never had a chance and then on 2nd down LG David Diehl fell down and missed getting to the MIKE linebacker who stopped Bradshaw for a 2 yard gain.  Had Diehl managed to get to his man, the play had legs.

On the next possession, the Giants tried to stretch the field twice unsuccessfully before Manning hit Nicks for a 68 yard completion that led to a 2 yard scamper for a touchdown.  Interestingly, the Giants did not attempt to run the ball with either of their backs, and in fact faked it to Jacobs on the touchdown on a play that appeared to be set to go to Ballard.

The Giants opened their 3rd drive with a nice 5 yard run by Jacobs but again abandoned the run and that drive was undone by an intentional grounding call on Manning two plays later.

The 4th drive again saw the Giants try to mix the pass in despite success on the ground.  After throwing incomplete on 1st down, Bradshaw gained 7 yards before attempting another pass on a short 3rd and 3 that went incomplete.

On the final drive, the Giants ran late and scored the touchdown by running for 20 yards on their final 2 plays – 14 from Jacobs then 6 for Bradshaw.

All in all, the Giants were successful on the ground when they ran in the first half, but seemed to go away from the success they were having and instead tried to hit the Redskins with deep out routes.  Why they kept going away from a running game that gained 5.25 yards per carry on 12 carries is puzzling.

The Giants only converted 1 third down in the entire half, and though they lost the time of possession battle and the score was tied, there was a feeling that this could’ve been a blow out early if not for mistakes and questionable play calling.

The second half was essentially a complete disaster for the offense.  The Giants gained just 92 total net yards, managed just 4 first downs, and rushed only 7 times for a total of 12 yards.  Six of the seven second half drives started at their own 20 or worse which didn’t help matters as penalties and good Washington punting kept the Giants pinned deep.  Only 2 drives in the second half started with a run.

It appeared that once the Redskins took the lead, the Giants completely abandoned the run and were trying to play catch up instead of establishing a rhythm and momentum on offense.  This was true even of their most promising drive of the half in which they advanced from their own 9 yard line to the Washington 31 before the failed 4th down attempt.  On the drive, the Giants passed 5 times and rushed once prior to the fateful 4th down attempt.

Even more puzzling is that on two critical plays, the 4th down attempt for 1 yard and later the 3rd down attempt for 1 yard, the Giants had Bradshaw in the game and not Brandon Jacobs.  In fact, Jacobs got just 1 carry in the second half.  I’m not one to normally questioning the play calling, but I was left scratching my head more than once.

Quarterback: Despite a ton of blame assigned to Eli Manning, he did not play a poor game.  After starting the game just 3 of 11, he finished 15 for 21.  On the day Manning completed 18 of 32 passes for 268 yards, 0 touchdowns and 1 interception.  Manning’s only glaring mistake on the day was taking a delay of game penalty following an incomplete pass on 1st down early in the 4th quarter.  It’s impossible to determine how many plays Manning changed at the line of scrimmage, but often times even when the Giants got to the line early, his calls resulted in the play clock running dangerously low.  It’s been pointed out that the defense also knows how much time is on the play clock and when it gets down to just a couple of seconds left it’s easier for them to get off the ball and apply pressure.

As for the interception, frankly I’m not a fan of that play and never have been.  I especially hate it at that position on the field.  Though they haven’t been victimized on it before and it had worked a couple of times earlier in the game, it seems the quick outs and bubble screens to the wide receivers are always a disaster waiting to happen and on Sunday the disaster occurred.  While many are blaming Manning, a quick look at the play shows that Manning was going there right off the snap and expected McKenzie to have his man engaged or on the ground.  Manning trusted his big lineman and this time he wasn’t rewarded.

Though many are complaining that Manning wasn’t checking down or going to his tight end, he went to his backs and TE 8 times (25% of the time) on the day completing 5 of them for a total of 76 yards.

Running Backs: As reported above, it’s puzzling that the Giants didn’t stick with the running game after a successful first half which probably should have seen more action even then.  Ahmad Bradshaw started the game and got the ‘bulk’ of the carries, finishing with 13 for 44 yards and a nifty 6 yard touchdown run.  Bradshaw’s long was only 7, but his average suffered when he was stuffed on the 2 carries in which he lost 2 yards in short yardage.  Bradshaw was targeted twice in the passing game, catching one ball for 10 yards.

Brandon Jacobs had a terrific first half in which he ran 5 times for 28 yards, but only saw the ball once in the second half.  It’s just odd that he was basically ignored for the entire second half, and particularly in both short yardage attempts that were critical in keeping drives alive.

D.J. Ware didn’t get a carry in the game, but he did have an impact on the game.  On a 3rd and 18 play from the Redskins’ 2 yard line, the Giants caught them flatfooted on a screen in which McKenzie, Baas and Diehl were all alone in front of him, but Ware could not shake CB DeAngelo Hall and ended up gaining just 3 yards.  That play very likely would have made the first down and may have gone for a touchdown had Ware been able to shake Hall or if McKenzie had peeled back and took him out.  One would expect Ware to be able to shake that tackle.

Undrafted rookie Henry Hynoski had an up and down game.  His second down catch in the flat looked like a sure 1st down but he went down rather easily after turning up field with the ball.  As for his blocking, he continues to be a work in progress but still seems to be a good fit for the type of running game the Giants employ.  On the play in which Manning was called for intentional grounding, Hynoski for some reason gave up his assignment just before Hakeem Nicks came open across the middle, causing Manning to move to avoid the sack and unload the ball outside.  Had Hynoski simply stayed engaged, it would have resulted in a completion of more than 20 yards.

Wide Receivers: The Giants are obviously struggling to find someone to take over the reins for Steve Smith at the slot position.  Victor Cruz has the first shot, and with his early drop costing the Giants a first down, Manning threw to him just once the rest of the day.  The Giants often deployed Ballard or Pascoe in the slot, and their speed isn’t going to scare anyone over the middle.  By the time the game was out of hand, Manning again tried to get the ball over the middle to Domenik Hixon (2 catches on 4 looks for 21 yards) and Cruz (no catches on the day on 2 looks).

WRs Mario Manningham and Hakeem Nicks got the bulk of the looks, 18 total.  Manningham once again just seems to have a mental mistake here or there that results in an incompletion.  On Sunday, Manning looked for him deep outside on one play in which Manningham turned inside and sat down in the zone.  The ball was overthrown by 20 yards. Manningham ended up with 4 catches on 7 looks for 49 yards.

Hakeem Nicks had a solid day catching the ball, reeling in 7 balls on 11 thrown his way for 122 yards.  Nicks got deep one and set up the Giants’ first touchdown with a 68 yard grab on which he nearly scored.

Last week I referred to Jake Ballard as “Kevin Boss light,” and he came out and produced on Sunday.  Although Manning only threw to him 3 times, he caught 2 and the biggest one was a beautiful seam route that went for 41 yards and got the Giants off their goal line.  Ballard is still a work in progress both in the passing game and blocking but he’s steady and getting better.

Offensive Line: Interestingly enough, there hasn’t been much press about how the offensive line played on Sunday afternoon, but most over in The Corner Forum believe they were horrible.  It’s hard to understand how people can completely forget that 3/5 of the line has been revamped and they were playing against a fairly stout front 7.  Remember, DT Barry Cofield practiced extensively against 4 of these guys and he knows their strengths and weaknesses.  There are reports that he tipped off the play that resulted in an interception return for a touchdown so you can safely assume he knew other plays were coming.

The only play being discussed by the beat writers is the 4th-and-1 where David Diehl was unable to get to MLB Rocky McIntosh causing no gain by Bradshaw.  After reading they were putting the blame on Baas I took a second look and after several views of the play, even if there was a communication issue and Baas took the wrong man, if Diehl just maintains his balance he would have cleared McIntosh.

The only other plays that seemed like the offensive line could have done more was on the failed screen to Ware and the error by McKenzie in not knocking LOLB Ryan Kerrigen off his feet on the ill fated quick out to Nicks.

For the most part, the run blocking was above average, particularly in the first half.  As for the pass blocking there were some breakdowns and LT Will Beatty was beaten by All Pro ROLB Brian Orakpo on a couple of occasions.  What one needs to keep in mind, however, is that Eli was getting the play off late in the play clock, was holding the ball longer to get his receivers that he trusted to clear, and in the second half the Giants had all but abandoned the running game allowing the Skins to tee off.  Manning and Grossman were under similar pressure all day, but the difference was that Grossman had unusually wide open targets where Eli didn’t.  It doesn’t seem fair to put all the blame on an offensive line that played pretty well for only being together for just over a month.  They need time to gel, and it would be good to remember that the combination of Diehl, Seubert, O’Hara, Snee and McKenzie weren’t exactly world beaters at the start of their tenure together.

Defense: It’s hard to fault the defense for this loss, but there were several significant breakdowns, particularly on Washington’s final drive of the first half, that hurt the team badly.  The team only gave up 21 points, held Washington on 66% of their third down conversion attempts, and basically shut down the Redskins running game save for one long run.

Without their two starting defensive ends and their starting MIKE linebacker, the Giants held the Skins to just 2.8 yards per carry.  That is an impressive stat.  On the day, Washington rushed 26 times for just 74 yards with 22 of those coming on one play.  Again, impressive.

The problem on defense was that DC Perry Fewell was forced to play much more zone than he normally would due to the need to start a rookie middle linebacker and work around a depleted secondary.  Time and again, despite solid pressure (although the stat sheet says Grossman was hit 7 times Bob Papa reported that the total was actually 14), the Redskins found soft spots in the zone for solid yardage and first downs.  In essence, Washington was patient and took what the Giants were giving them and the accumulation of these jab-like strikes finished off the Giants.

As mentioned, the numbers weren’t awful, but although they shut down the Washington ground game, the Giants were picked apart by the short passing game.  They could not contain the Washington TEs who caught a combined 8 passes for 126 yards.  They hit Grossman often and sacked him 4 times for a total of 47 yards lost and a lost fumble.

The defining drive of the game came with 2:48 to go in the first half just after the Giants had regained the lead.  The Giants allowed 5 straight completions allowing the Skins to march 80 yards for the touchdown in just over 2 minutes.  Had the Giants been able to get the Skins off the field and come back with the ball to start the second half this game may have easily gone the other way.  The key plays on the drive were a 39 yard completion in which CB Aaron Ross was beaten off the line badly as he was looking for the curl in.  Later, he was in perfect position on WR Anthony Armstrong but never saw the ball as it went over his shoulder and into Armstrong’s hands for the touchdown.

The Redskins also were able to convert a critical 4th down earlier in the day in which they spread the Giants wide and out of the slot WR Santana Moss settled into the soft zone for an easy conversion of the 5 yards needed on a drive that resulted in a touchdown.

In the second half, the Giants defense only gave up one sustained drive, which also resulted in a touchdown.  The Giants had Washington stopped on that drive, but an unnecessary roughness call on S Antrel Rolle extended the drive.

So say what you will, the Redskins were able to combine opportunistic play and a little luck to extend 2 of their 3 touchdown drives.

Front 7: The defense line had a very good day despite missing 2 key starters in Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora.  Plugger Dave Tollefson had a two tackles, a sack, and 2 QB hits.  DT Chris Canty was outstanding, recording a sack, recording 3 solo tackles, and another QB hit.  DT Linval Joseph also had 3 tackles and a QB hit.  Justin Trattou, Jimmy Kennedy and Rocky Bernard also recorded tackles.  That leaves second year man Jason Pierre-Paul who outdid them all with 5 solo tackles (6 total), 2 sacks, another QB hit and a forced fumble.  Pierre-Paul’s monster game is still raw, and in time this man is going to be one of the best DEs, if not THE best DE in football.  For more on the day that JPP had, read Corner Forum contributor KWALL’s post here.

The linebackers to start the game were Michael Boley at WILL, rookie Greg Jones at MIKE, and Mathais Kiwanuka at SAM.  Kiwanuka is still very raw at linebacker.  He managed 5 tackles (4 solo) and 2 QB hits but he just didn’t appear to have a big impact on the game.

As for Greg Jones, he made a great instinctive play on the first drive to come around the defensive line and drop RB Tim Hightower for a short gain.  That type of play shows he can play this game.  He was substituted for on 3rd down of the second Washington series by Jacquian Williams.  Williams had underneath zone coverage on Anthony Armstrong and it was an easy pitch and catch for  conversion when Kiwanuka was unable to get home on a blitz attempt.  Though Jones had his successes, he was also manhandled at times and looked lost in coverage when Washington passed on early downs.  On Hightower’s 22 yard run, Jones had the angle on him towards the sideline for what would have been a short game but he couldn’t go through Redskin FB Darrel Young.

Michael Boley is playing like the guy the Giants signed in the 2008 offseason.  Boley was solid all day, registering 4 tackles and calling the defense.  The Redskins rarely threw underneath to his side, picking on S Deon Grant much more often.

Overall, once this unit gets some time to gel, they will go back to more of their man to man looks and progress.  It’s hard to argue not leaving this group of linebackers one on one with the athletic tight ends of the Redskins.  It didn’t always work, but the Giants didn’t get beaten deep which was most likely a major concern.

Secondary: If it was the Giants’ plan to limit the damage outside by playing a soft cover 2, it failed because Aaron Ross was unable to cover his receiver.  When a corner is playing well, you usually see 1 or 2 tackles on his stat sheet.  On Sunday, Ross had to make 7 tackles.  He did not have a pass defensed.  As mentioned above, he was victimized twice for a total of 48 yards and a touchdown on the Washington drive that tied the score just before halftime.  On the other side, Webster was relatively untested, but was beat for the Redskins last touchdown.

The middle of the field and quick outs against the linebackers and safeties (specifically Antrel Rolle,Tyler Sash and Deon Grant) was where the Giants gave up most of their yardage on the day.  Typically, most people want to call out Rolle for having a rough day but if you look at the scheme and how Washington attacked it, it’s impossible to put all the blame on him.  Rolle had 7 tackles underneath on Sunday and on the 4th down play, he was flanked by Tyler Sash and Michael Coe.  The Skins sent just 4 receivers into the route and the Giants sent just 3 men against Grossman.  Rolle had no back end help as Sash was rolling to help on coverage with Webster so he had to play it honestly in fear of Moss goes right by him for a touchdown.  If anything, Sash should have left Webster and crashed down on Moss when he flattened the route towards the sideline.

As for the other safeties, Kenny Phillips was in on a ton of tackles (9) but did not have an impact play on the day.  Again, the Redskins only tried to attack the deep middle once all day so he wasn’t in position to make a lot of impact plays.  Tyler Sash didn’t flash in the game.

I think it’s important to remember that it appeared that the Giants were looking to take away the big passing play. Washington to took what they were given and unfortunately the Skins were more successful than they normally would have been.  Sometimes you have to credit the other team for executing.

Special Teams: Get rid of the penalties and the Giants were fine other than a weird bounce on a kickoff that luckily was covered by Devin Thomas and the blocked field goal that was completely on K Lawrence Tynes.

The coverage teams were solid, allowing just one decent run back.  As for the return teams, the return of Domenik Hixon was a welcome sight.  There were no muffed punts and again if not for a couple of untimely penalties there would have been lots to be happy about.

Devin Thomas doesn’t seem to read the holes correctly and tends to turn into the pile.  On his only attempt, he returned one that he maybe shouldn’t have.

Coaching: It’s hard to argue with what appeared to be the defensive game plan; it just didn’t work.  It’s going to take time for this group to come together due to the injuries and all the new faces.  As for the offensive game plan, it just didn’t seem to make a lot of sense to abandon the running game so soon, and on top of that, not to keep the momentum they had going early.  Too many times incomplete passes on early downs put the Giants in a 2nd or 3rd and long and it showed up on the stat sheet as a 1-of-10 on third down conversions.

Final Thoughts: It was one game.  Granted, if it had been against the Packers or Eagles this one could’ve been down right ugly.  That said, it wasn’t and they have another week to come together before they face the Eagles.  The Giants can ill afford to go into that game 0-2, so it will be on the coaches to figure a way to pull out a win with this bunch anyway they can.  It’s not time to panic, but as Eric has said, it’s more and more looking like a transition season due more to unfortunate circumstances than anything else.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Washington Redskins, September 11, 2011)
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