Sep 242014
 
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Victor Cruz, New York Giants (September 21, 2014)

Victor Cruz – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 30 – Houston Texans 17

REVISITING: FOUR DOWNS
During our game preview, we listed ‘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
Can the defense get off of the field on 3rd down?
YES! Houston was held to a paltry 2-of-12 (17 percent) on third down and failed on their one offensive 4th down attempt (they converted on a special teams 4th down play).

Second Down
Can the defense force some turnovers?
YES! Three interceptions. One each by Prince Amukamara, Antrel Rolle, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Amukamara and DRC had shots at other passes as well.

Third Down
Can the Giants finally get the ground game going?
Rashad Jennings played like a man possessed Sunday afternoon, running for a career-high 176 yards on 34 carries including a one-yard touchdown. There will be more on this in the positional breakdown, but Jennings truly is a complete back. He can catch the ball, run the ball, but more importantly, he blocks like an offensive lineman.

Fourth Down
Can Eli Manning build on his positive performance from last week?
This sentence may be repeated quite often as the season goes on, but Eli Manning had his best game in the West Coast offense Sunday afternoon. The two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback keeps getting more comfortable and seems to enjoy the dinking-and-dunking the Giants are now doing to work down the field.

OFFENSIVE OVERVIEW – by Connor Hughes

The Giants scored 30 points Sunday versus the Texans. The Giants could have scored 50.

Ben McAdoo’s West Coast offense was run near perfectly versus Houston as Manning marched the Giants up and down the field with ease on near every possession. Manning had time to throw, the team’s playmakers made plays and, for the first time all year, the Giants established a running game. It was easily the most complete game for the Giants in the short three-game season.

The one noticeable thing that may have had a lot to do with the Giants ability to run the ball were the formations in which they were running the ball out of. The Giants routinely spaced the field with three wide receivers, then ran the ball right up the gut of the Texans defensive line. Since there were three receivers on the field, the Texans couldn’t come out in their base defense. Playing in a nickel and time package, the Giants offensive line took advantage. It was big guys beating up little guys, with a few highlight plays from Jennings.

Granted, this was the Houston Texans, the same team that was selecting first overall in this year’s draft, but it was very promising to see. For the first time in awhile, the Giants dominated from start to finish.

QUARTERBACK – by Connor Hughes

While Manning looked good last week versus the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday may have been the most comfortable he’s looked during a game in quite some time. Manning completed 21-of-28 passes for 234 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He marched the Giants up-and-down the field, rolled out and found open receivers on play action passes.

While Manning went deep down the field just once on the incomplete pass to Randle, he seemed entirely comfortable throwing things underneath and letting his playmakers make plays. Two of the biggest plays Sunday (Victor Cruz’s 26-yard touchdown and 61-yard reception) were both passes of just eight yards that Cruz turned into more.

Once Manning got into his rhythm, he started making Manning throws again. His second touchdown of the game, a nine-yard pass to Daniel Fells, was a thing of beauty:

RUNNING BACKS – by Connor Hughes

One of the more impressive things about Rashad Jennings is his vision, it really is incredible. There were countless plays on Sunday where Jennings started one way, then made a little juke/shimmy/cutback to find another lane on the other side of the field. These are the little things that can’t be measured or seen in any drill, it’s god given.

Maybe the best example of Jennings vision came on a first-down run in the second half. It looked as if the Giants wanted to run a stretch play to the right side of the field. A stretch is a play in which the entire offensive line blocks the defensive line right, and the running back runs that way. The play is designed to get the outside.

Jennings started going this way, and the defense started their pursuit there, too. Jennings saw this, then saw the left side of the field wide open. He reversed his angle and took it the other direction for a first. You just can’t coach that. Jennings played like a man possessed.

But the biggest play Jennings made Sunday wasn’t one that shows up on the stat sheets. In fact, if it wasn’t for his play, Cruz isn’t doing any salsa in any endzone. With the Texans showing blitz in the A gap, Manning took the snap and Jennings stepped up and picked up in the blitzing linebacker. The block gave Manning enough time to fire a pass to Cruz, who then made a defender miss and raced into the endzone.

WIDE RECEIVERS – by Connor Hughes

Victor Cruz caught a lot of flack for his game last week, and for good reason. Cruz asked for the ball more in order for the offense to have success, then dropped three passes when they were thrown his way.

If Cruz had caught two of the three he missed versus Arizona, the Giants probably win the game. Because of one of his catches this week, the Giants did.

It was a classic, old school Victor Cruz performance filled with yards after the catch and ankle-breaking moves. On his touchdown, the move he made to free himself was just unreal.

Cruz seems to have found himself a home in the Giants offense and is beginning to get on the same page as Manning. He’s finding the holes in the defense again.

It’s tough to know exactly what to make of Rueben Randle. He’ll make plays like last week’s one-handed grab that leaves everyone awestruck, but then he’ll play like he did versus Houston which leaves much to be desired. Randle wasn’t bad, he was just blah. The former second-round pick caught five passes for 27 yards.

When McAdoo imagined the Giants offense, I doubt designing plays for Preston Parker was what he had in mind. Either way, Parker played well filling in for Jerrel Jernigan/Odell Beckham Jr. He dropped the one ball, but made a few other catches and ran a nice route on a comeback.

TIGHT ENDS – by Connor Hughes

The biggest surprise for the Giants has been the emergence of Larry Donnell as the team’s tight end. Addressing this early, I labeled Donnell as a ‘Dud’ following the game after his fumble on the goal line. The ‘Dud’ label was really just a half dud, there really weren’t any full duds coming out of that game.

With that being said, I take it back entirely. The fumble was a perfect hit by the safety who put his helmet right on the ball. Donnell could have moved the ball to the other hand, but it was more just a textbook play by Kendrick Lewis.

Donnell as a receiver continues to impress, even though that’s what he’s known as doing. Sunday, there was one play that stood out more than most. The biggest thing Donnell can develop is chemistry with Manning. To be able to adjust to plays on the fly because he can anticipate what Manning is thinking. There was a glimpse of that beginning to happen.

With Donnell perfectly covered by Daniel Manning, Manning threw a pass just behind Donnell. The tight end had to stop his pattern and jump back to make the grab, but that’s what Manning wanted him to do. Had he led him, it’s an interception. Donnell saw this, too, and made the adjustment on the ball for a helluva catch.

Donnell also took huge strides Sunday blocking. Believe it or not, the Giants let him face off against JJ Watt. Believe it or not, Donnell held his own. If that aspect of his game comes around, the Giants may have something special on their hands.

OFFENSIVE LINE – by Connor Hughes

Get this out of the way now: Sometimes, J.J. Watt does things that only J.J. Watt can do. Like…

Watt is one of the league’s best defensive players, he’s going to make plays no matter who is in front of him. With that being said, the Giants did a remarkable job against him. In particular, Justin Pugh. Pugh went up against Watt more than a few of the other Giants and did very, very well. Sure, he let up a few plays, but not nearly as much as so many others.

Aside from containing Watt, the Giants offensive line played their best game in potentially two years. There were massive holes for Jennings to run through and time for Manning to throw. The player that stood out the most was John Jerry.

When Jerry arrived in New York, he was known primarily as a pass blocker. Sunday, he made some incredible plays pulling in the run game.  During the first two weeks of the season, Brandon Mosley was listed on the game day depth chart as the starting right guard. In a pre-game announcement, a ‘substitution’ of Jerry for Mosley was announced. Sunday, Jerry was listed as the starting right guard and he deserves it.

Sometimes, you don’t need the best offensive linemen to make the best offensive line. What you need is five players playing together. The last two weeks, the Giants have had that.

DEFENSIVE OVERVIEW – by Eric Kennedy

Not playing for the Giants on defense were LB Jon Beason (foot/ankle) and LB Devon Kennard (hamstring).

The New York Giants defense played very well in the first half of the game, but slackened noticeably in the second half. It was a mostly positive performance as the Giants held the Texans to a 17 percent third-down conversion rate, made a key 4th down stop, picked off three passes, and limited the Texans to 17 points.

In the first half, the Giants held the Texans to four first downs, 0-of-7 on third down, and 83 net yards (41 rushing and 42 passing) as Houston was kept off of the scoreboard. However, the Texans gained 16 first downs, 328 net yards (78 rushing and 250 passing), and 17 point in the second half. The Giants also surrendered three plays of over 40 yards in the second half, two of which came on the TD drive where the Texans cut the score to 17-10 at the end of the third quarter. The game got uncomfortably close at this point.

Overall, it was a step in the right direction, but not a complete game.

Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants (September 21, 2014)

Jason Pierre-Paul – © USA TODAY Sports Images

DEFENSIVE LINE – by Eric Kennedy

It was a solid all-around game for the Giants up front. Houston running backs were held to 85 yards rushing on 17 carries. Had the Giants not surrendered a 46-yard run to rookie Alfred Blue in the third quarter, those numbers would have looked even better (39 yards on 16 carries). The only other time the Giants were a bit soft against the run was on Houston’s opening drive when Blue picked up 22 yards on three carries. It was on these few plays where the Texans were able to successfully block DE Jason Pierre-Paul (7 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss, 1 pass defense) and DT Johnathan Hankins (4 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 1 pass defense). The big play by Hankins was stuffing the 4th-and-1 play early in the third quarter (with an assist from DE Mathias Kiwanuka and DT Mike Patterson). Pierre-Paul was very disruptive against the run at times.

The Giants only had two sacks. Among the defensive linemen, only Hankins received partial credit for a sack. But those numbers do not tell the full story. The Giants got good pressure much of the day from all four starters at different points of the contest. Pierre-Paul made his presence felt as a pass rusher and Kiwanuka and DT Cullen Jenkins (4 tackles, 1 pass defense) flashed at times. JPP caused the first interception with his hit on the Houston QB as he was throwing the ball. In addition, I really the way JPP has been hustling all over the field. When he doesn’t get to the QB, he chases and pursues the ball carrier.

Robert Ayers caught my attention several times as a pass rusher from the defensive tackle position, and Damontre Moore had a couple of quality pass rushes. Ayers helped to cause the second interception. The Giants tipped three passes and would have had more sacks had they been able to wrap up QB Ryan Fitzpatrick on a number of occasions.

Jameel McClain, New York Giants (September 14, 2014)

Jameel McClain – © USA TODAY Sports Images

LINEBACKERS – by Eric Kennedy

Without Jon Beason playing, the fear was this unit would be a major liability in this game. It wasn’t. There was the one big 46-yard run where both Jameel McClain and Jacquian Williams were blocked (along with Hankins and Pierre-Paul), but for the most part the linebackers did their job agains the run. McClain finished the game with a team-high 11 tackles, plus 0.5 sacks and one tackle for a loss. He flashed on the blitz a couple of times. Williams (5 tackles) was far more physical against the run this week and flashed on a play where he stunted with JPP and helped to cause an incompletion on third down. But both McClain and Williams also missed sacks on the elusive Fitzpatrick. Mark Herzlich (4 tackles and 1 tackle for a loss) played on the weakside (strongside in Fewell’s defense).

Oddly, the Texans never really went after the linebackers in pass coverage until the third quarter when they experienced a moderate amount of success over the middle to TE Garrett Graham and crossing routes to the slot receiver.

DEFENSIVE BACKS – by Eric Kennedy

The defensive backs played pretty well for the most part, but they did give up some big plays. The best news was the turnovers. Three interceptions, two of which led to 10 points. CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (3 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss, 1 interception, 2 pass defenses) was sharp. He got his first interception as a Giant and almost a second. DRC also stood out in run defense on one play, nailing the back for a 2-yard loss. He was often lined up against perenial Pro Bowler Andre Johnson, who was limited to 24 yards on four catches. Rodgers-Cromartie was flagged with a defensive holding penalty.

Prince Amukamara, New York Giants (September 14, 2014)New York Giants (September 14, 2014)

Prince Amukamara – © USA TODAY Sports Images

CB Prince Amukamara (5 tackles, 1 interception, 2 pass defenses) also had a interception and almost came down with two more. But he also was beat by WR DeAndre Hopkins a couple of times (a 17-yard comeback route and a 49 yard deep pass). He was also flagged for a bogus pass interference penalty that gave the Texans a 1st-and-goal from the 1-yard line.

SS Antrel Rolle gave the Giants a huge lift right before halftime with an interception and 25 yard return down to the Houston 2-yard line, setting up a score and a 14-0 halftime advantage. FS Stevie Brown and CB Trumaine McBride got burned on Hopkins’ 44-yard touchdown pass that cut the score to 17-10. This is the second time this season Brown has given up a long touchdown by not properly covering the deep half of the field. Other than that play, McBride wasn’t noticed so it appears he did a good job in replacing Walter Thurmond for at least one week.

SPECIAL TEAMS – by Eric Kennedy

There were two huge mistakes early that originally appeared would cost the Giants dearly. First, the Giants were unprepared for a fake punt that resulted in an easy 10-yard completion and a first down on Houston’s first offensive possession (thankfully, the defense saved the special teams here). Second, early in the second quarter, Zak DeOssie’s bad snap on a 30-yard field goal effort not only resulted in no points, but also gave Houston the ball at the 41-yard line.

Damontre Moore, New York Giants (September 14, 2014)

Damontre Moore blocks a punt – © USA TODAY Sports Images

On the positive side, Damontre Moore’s punt block in the 4th quarter set the Giants’ offensive up on the Houston 29-yard line, helping the Giants to extend their lead to 27-10.

PK Josh Brown was 3-for-3 on his field goal efforts (from 39, 29, and 31 yards out). Of his seven kickoffs, four went for touchbacks while three were returned for a total of 67 yards, the longest being a return of 31 yards.

Steve Weatherford punted four times with an average of 39.8 yards per punt. The only punt returned by Houston went for three yards.

Quintin Demps had one kickoff return for 17 yards. Preston Parker returned one punt for 12 yards and had another 12-yard called back due to a holding penalty on Damontre Moore. Larry Donnell recovered an onside kick.

(Boxscore – Houston Texans at New York Giants, September 21, 2014)
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Connor Hughes/BBI

Connor Hughes has been working in both the broadcasting and journalism fields for the last seven years. His work has been heard on WMCX, WBZC and Lenape District Television, while read on the pages of The Star-Ledger and The Burlington County Times. Connor can be reached via email (Connor_Hughes@bigblueinteractive.com) or on twitter (@Connor_J_Hughes)

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