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New York Giants 30 – San Francisco 49ers 27

Superstitious Beginnings

Schmucks like Deion Sanders and Heath Evans may pick on our beloved doofus from the deep South, but like Forrest Gump, Eli Manning usually comes out on top. And those schmucks can’t stand it. They’d rather celebrate some girlfriend beater or dog killer or rapist than the reserved gentleman from Louisiana. (Yes, Gump was from Alabama, but to us Yankees those deep southern states all seem to run together).

So up by four points with 1:45 left to play, sensing a golden opportunity to pull off the upset and save San Francisco’s season, the still-talented and aggressive 49ers defense seethed to crush our Gump. And the countless Eli Manning doubters across the country were sure our Gump would screw it up. These are the same critics who charge Super Bowl XLII and Super Bowl XLVI were flukes, as well as the other 30 fourth-quarter comebacks and the two separate 4-0 playoff runs.

Hanging out while our Gump takes the field.

Hanging out while our Gump takes the field.

First-and-10, 82 yards from the end zone with 1:45 left to play. Cruz, Beckham, and Randle moping together on the sideline. Eli takes off.

You could almost hear Abby yelling, “Run Eli, run!”

So the 11-yard run wasn’t as inspiring as Forrest’s 100-yard kickoff return for Bear Bryant’s Crimson Tide, but it was New York’s longest of the night, and it was the first play of the 8-play, 82-yard drive that won the game in 84 seconds. It set the tone for that dramatic march. Eli didn’t play it safe. He didn’t slide. Eli meant business. And his teammates took notice.

The point of my somewhat painful opening movie tie-in? Not much other than that I’m very superstitious and I feel the need to continue these cheesy movie references in game reviews as long as the Giants are winning.

Game Overview

Stating the obvious, this was a huge win for the Giants. The team’s three-game winning streak puts the Giants in first place in the NFC East after a very tough 0-2 start to the season. The Giants and quarterback Eli Manning also finally regained some of their seemingly long-lost 4th quarter mojo. That’s important for a young team still probably unsure of itself and seeking confidence. To win in such dramatic fashion, in front of a national television audience, will make this a memorable game for the ages.

That all said, we should not lose sight of some negatives. The Giants came darn close to losing at home to a team they were supposed to beat, and almost did so in horrific fashion by giving up a late touchdown drive for the third time in five games. In addition, the Giants appear to have come out of this game very banged up with potentially nagging injuries to both starting wide receivers, the starting middle linebacker, and starting left guard.

But the Giants are 3-2, in first place, with 11 regular-season games to play. Now comes perhaps the most important two-game stretch with back-to-back games against the Eagles and Cowboys.

Offense

The Giants had the ball for only nine offensive possessions, but had six scoring drives (three long touchdown drives and three long field goal drives) for a total of 30 points. Two drives ended with punts and another long drive ended with an interception.

The Giants racked up 30 first downs and 525 total yards of offense, including 441 passing yards. The team was 9-of-14 (64 percent) on 3rd-down conversion attempts and held the football for 31:58. On the downside, the team only rushed for 84 yards (though averaged a respectable 4 yards per rush) and was 3-of-6 (50 percent) in red zone of opportunities, including one bad interception and settling for two very short field goals.

Eli Manning, New York Giants (October 11, 2015)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Quarterback

What was once believed to be impossible by many, Eli Manning has successfully transitioned from a vertical thrower to one of the best short-game, high-percentage West Coast Offense passers in the NFL. He is no longer “the other Manning.” Against the 49ers, Manning played one of the best games of his career, finishing 41-of-54 (both career highs) for 441 yards (third-highest total in his career), 3 touchdowns, and 1 interception. Manning completed a career-high 15 consecutive passes over three series spanning the third and fourth quarters. He finished with a QB rating of 110.2. All of this despite a few dropped passes from his receivers. On top of the impressive statistics, fans will long remember how Manning rallied his team late to win a game that looked like another devastating loss with a ragamuffin cast of receiving targets. Manning targeted nine different receivers in the game. Although he was not sacked, Manning did a great job of moving around in the pocket despite some good pressure from the 49ers. Like the 2011 version of Eli, he carried his team to victory. Ironically, the dramatic victory was the 102nd of Manning’s career, setting a new franchise record. The obvious downside was the poorly-thrown ball at the end of the first half that resulted in an interception and three other throws intended for WR Myles White that Eli was lucky that were not picked off.

Running Backs

The Giants running game is not “bad” but we are still waiting for that breakout performance. However, the Giants running backs only carried the ball 19 times (as opposed to the 54 pass attempts). Rashad Jennings gained 46 yards on 11 carries (4.2 yards per carry), Shane Vereen 24 yards on 5 carries (4.8 yards per carry), and Andre Williams 0 yards on three carries (0.0 yards per carry). The longest run of the night was by Eli Manning (11 yards). So much of the ground game now is based out of the shotgun formation, even on 1st and 2nd down. And like a true West Coast Offense, the Giants often appear to be using the short passing game in lieu of the ground game, especially in this contest. Vereen was a far bigger factor in the passing game, catching all eight of the passes thrown in his direction for 88 yards. Not only did he catch a 2-yard touchdown pass on 3rd-and-goal, but he was a major component on the game-winning drive with three catches for 51 yards, including a critical 24-yard screen on 3rd-and-10. Jennings also caught all four passes thrown in his direction for 21 yards. Nikita Whitlock only played a couple of snaps at fullback but couldn’t create much movement as a blocker in short yardage.

Odell Beckham, New York Giants (October 11, 2015)

Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Wide Receivers

Before he left the game with a hamstring injury near the end of the third quarter, Odell Beckham had caught 7-of-11 passes thrown in direction for 121 yards and a touchdown. He had critical receptions of 49 yards on the first field goal drive, 31 yards on 3rd-and-7 on the first touchdown drive (out of the slot), and the 17-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown. Beckham returned to the game at the end of the final game-winning touchdown drive, drawing an 8-yard pass interference penalty. Dwayne Harris was the next most productive wideout, catching 6-of-8 passes thrown his way for 72 yards. He did drop two passes, including on a 3rd-and-4 play and the Giants were forced to settle for a field goal. His most important catch was probably his 9-yard reception despite a big hit on 3rd-and-2 right before Beckham’s touchdown. He also had another 9-yard catch on 3rd-and-2 on the last field goal drive. Rueben Randle, who caught 5-of-6 passes thrown his way for 42 yards, was quieter this week, even before leaving the game late with a hamstring injury too. Three of his five receptions came on the second field goal drive (including a 4-yard reception on 3rd-and-3). His other two catches came on the last field goal drive. Due to injuries, Geremy Davis (23 snaps) and Myles White (13 snaps) played more than anticipated. Davis caught a 16-yard pass on 3rd-and-1 during the fourth quarter field goal drive. White was targeted four times but did not have a catch and three of those passes were almost picked off.

Larry Donnell, New York Giants (October 11, 2015)

Larry Donnell – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Tight Ends

With Daniel Fells done for the season and Jerome Cunningham on the inactive list, the Giants went into the game with only Larry Donnell and Will Tye for the second week in a row. Donnell caught 6-of-7 passes thrown at him for 35 yards, none bigger than his superb 12-yard reception for the game-winning touchdown with 21 seconds left, despite heavy contact from 49er defenders. He also had a hard-fought 5-yard catch on 3rd-and-4 on the first touchdown drive. Tye played 25 snaps and was surprisingly productive by catching all four of his targets for 48 yards. On his first NFL reception, he even showed some nice wiggle after the catch for additional yardage.

Offensive Line

The offensive line did not allow a sack (and Manning has only been sacked four times all year). That said, Manning saw more heat from the edges this week, especially from outside linebacker Aaron Lynch, who officially hit Manning five times. Both Ereck Flowers and Marshall Newhouse had serious trouble at times protecting Manning. And Newhouse was flagged with two second-half holding penalties, including one that wiped out a 20-yard reception by Jennings. The run blocking was just OK as running backs gained 70 yards on 19 carries (3.7 yards per carry). The blockers did not create a lot of room even when the 49ers played both their safeties back. In addition, the Giants continue to have problems out of traditional (non-shotgun) running formations in short-yardage situations (see the failed 3rd-and-1 effort from the 3-yard line on the first drive where Newhouse missed a block). Left guard made a nice pulling block on Shane Vereen’s 10-yard run in the second quarter. Center Weston Richburg has an excellent block in space on Shane Vereen’s 24-yard screen pass on the game-winning drive.

One side note complaint on my part, on the play where Manning was almost picked off on the game-winning drive, Eli was hit as he threw when Pugh’s man illegally shoved Pugh’s head back to get to Manning. But no flag was thrown on the obvious penalty. Fortunately the interception was dropped. (You can also see that Flowers gave up pressure on this play).

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Illegal hands-to-the-face not called leading to hit on Manning.

Defense

Decent in the first half. Terrible in the second half. The 49ers had four drives in the first half. Two ended with punts after picking up one first down on each drive. Two other drives (55 and 76 yards) were of the bend-but-don’t-break variety as they ended with field goals rather than touchdowns. The 49ers gained 34 yards rushing and 115 net yards passing in the first half.

In the second half, not counting the last 3-play drive with 21 seconds left, the 49ers had the ball four times and scored touchdowns after long marches of 88, 80, and 80 yards. The defense failed to hold three different leads, including a 23-20 advantage with 4:29 left to play. The 49ers finished the game with 124 yards rushing. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick completed 23-of-35 passes for 262 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions for a 107.1 QB rating. The 49ers were 8-of-14 (57 percent) on third down conversion chances and 3-of-4 (75 percent) in red zone opportunities. The defense did not force a turnover.

If not for the offense saving the day, this would have been the third defensive collapse to lose a game in five games this year. The problem? The Giants are missing too many defensive players on an already thin unit, and the team simply can’t rush the passer.

Defensive Line

The Giants entered the game minus starters Robert Ayers (hamstring) and George Selvie (calf) at defensive end. Because of that, Cullen Jenkins (53 snaps, 2 tackles) was moved back to end (right side this time), where he isn’t much of a threat to rush the passer. Jay Bromley (34 snaps, 3 tackles) started next to Johnathan Hankins (47 snaps, 3 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss) inside. The guy who saw the heaviest workload was Kerry Wynn (66 snaps, 4 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss, 1 QB hit). Owamagbe Odighizuwa (39 snaps, 1 tackle), Markus Kuhn (19 snaps, 2 tackles), and Damontre Moore (17 snaps, 3 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 tackle for a loss, 1 QB hit, 1 forced fumble) all spelled the starters.

The run defense was strong in the first half, holding the 49ers to 34 yards on 12 carries (2.8 yards per rush) with 23 of those yards coming on two scrambles by the quarterback and a kneel down. In other words, the 49ers backs were held to 11 yards on nine carries. That changed after halftime when Carlos Hyde gained 81 yards on 13 carries (6.2 yards per carry) with Jarryd Hayne chipping in with nine more yards on two carries. Early on, the defensive tackles were playing well. Bromley has really improved as a run defender. Kuhn and Hankins did a nice job too. Wynn at defensive end continues to shine in run defense, but he seemed to wear down in the second half.

Hyde’s biggest run of the night came on the 49ers first drive of the second half, which resulted in a touchdown. Hyde picked up 22 yards when Damontre Moore was successfully blocked on the backside by the fullback and safety Landon Collins charged too far up field, leaving a huge hole in the defense.

Big hole left by Moore and Collins.

Big hole left by Moore and Collins.

Odighizuwa made a nice play against Hyde on a cutback run for no gain near the end of the third quarter, but he bit on a play-action fake on the next snap which led to an easy 6-yard completion and was easily blocked by the tight end for an 8-yard gain on the 49ers last TD drive.

The pass rush was virtually non-existent. In limited playing time, Moore made the most noise with two “sacks” and one hit. But those sacks were credited when Moore chased Kaepernick out of bounds. On the first of these, Wynn and Jenkins got decent pressure and forced the QB in Moore’s direction. Wynn was the only other player to officially hit Kaepernick. Nikita Whitlock played only four snaps on defense but got good pressure two plays, including drawing a holding penalty. I spotted Bromley with one good rush.

Linebackers

The Giants were without two of their best linebackers in Devon Kennard (hamstring) and Jonathan Casillas (calf) and quickly lost Jon Beason (concussion). Short-handed, Uani ‘Unga (65 snaps, 7 tackles, 2 tackles for a loss) and J.T. Thomas (64 snaps, 2 tackles) received the most playing time. Mark Herzlich started in Kennard’s place but saw less action (38 snaps, 5 tackles 1 tackle for a loss). Jasper Brinkley saw a handful of plays (5 snaps, 1 tackle).

Again, run defense was fine in the first half but seriously waned in the second half. Herzlich had issues staying with Hyde on one outside run, but did a nice job at the point-of-attack on other occasions. He also pressured Kaepernick on his incomplete 3rd-and-1 pass at the 4-yard line late in the first half.

In the second half, Herzlich couldn’t bring down Hyde after penetrating into the backfield and Hyde reversed his field to pick up four yards. But he latter successfully strung out another play. On the next snap, both Wynn and Mark Herzlich got handled at the point-of-attack and ‘Unga failed to make a play in the hole on an 8-yard run by the back-up running back down to the 4-yard line. Hyde picked up 13 yards down to the 2-yard line in the 4th quarter when the 49ers ran at Odighizuwa and Herzlich, and Amukamara failed to recognize the run and come up in time. Thomas was largely invisible in run defense and missed a couple of tackles. Both ‘Unga and Thomas (along with Jenkins and Hankins) couldn’t make the play on Hyde’s 19-yard run down to the 2-yard line late in the game.

Jenkins, Hankins, 'Unga, and Thomas couldn't make play.

Jenkins, Hankins, ‘Unga, and Thomas couldn’t make the play.

Minus Vernon Davis, the productivity of the San Francisco tight ends (6 catches for 41 yards) was limited. Backs caught three passes for 27 yards, with the longest being a 19-yard gain by fullback Bruce Miller. But ‘Unga got faked out badly on tight end Garrett Celek’s 5-yard touchdown catch on 3rd-and-goal.

Defensive Backs

The issue wasn’t so much starting cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, but the nickel corners struggled with 35-year old veteran Anquan Boldin (8 catches for 107 yards and one touchdown). The other 49er wide receivers were limited to six catches for 87 yards. However, two of those receptions gained 55 yards off of WR screens, which the Giants played poorly except one time. Prince Amukamara, Trumaine McBride, and Trevin Wade all had issues fighting off of blocks.

In the second quarter, Rodgers-Cromartie (57 snaps, 6 tackles, 1 pass defense, 1 forced fumble) did a nice job of reading a short pass to WR Quinton Patton on 3rd-and-1, but he failed to make the tackle for a loss and a first down was the result. Late in the quarter, he recognized another WR screen and impressively jumped the play to break it up. DRC was flagged with a costly defensive holding penalty on 2nd-and-goal from the 4-yard late in the game. The 49ers scored the go-ahead TD two plays later.

Other than one defensive holding call, Amukamara (63 snaps, 6 tackles, 1 pass defense) did a nice job most of the night except for defending the WR screens.

McBride (13 snaps, 2 tackles) got beat by Boldin for 37 yards on 3rd-and-2 on the 49ers first TD drive. He was later replaced by Wade (12 snaps, 3 tackles, 1 pass defense) who got beat by Boldin deep for 26 yards on the 49ers last TD drive. Wade did make a nice play on a WR sweep in the third quarter. Jayron Hosley, who suffered a concussion against the Bills, surprisingly saw the least amount of action (9 snaps, 0 tackles) despite being cleared to play.

Landon Collins (64 snaps, 6 tackles, 1 pass defense) played mostly well, but was flagged with a borderline 28-yard pass interference on the drive that tied the game at 20-20. He also later dropped a sure interception in the end zone that would have sealed the game. Early in the game, he helped to stuff a Hyde carry with a run blitz. Collins also did a great job of reading a play where the 49ers tried to sneak the tight end out across the formation. He made a sure tackle for only a 3-yard gain. When he reads a play correctly, Collins closes very quickly for a big man.

Brandon Merriweather (57 snaps, 6 tackles) injured his knee, but returned and made a nice play for 3-yard loss on the goal line in the fourth quarter. Craig Dahl (19 snaps, 2 tackles) saw more playing time when Merriweather came out.

Special Teams

Place kicker Josh Brown was 3-for-3 on field goal attempts (22, 41, and 24 yards). Not counting his squib kick at the end of the game, 5-of-6 of his kickoffs resulted in touchbacks. The 49ers returned one kickoff for 22 yards.

Brad Wing only punted twice with one punt traveling 55 yards and the other 35 yards, being fair caught at the 12-yard line. The 55-yard punt was returned for 16 yards however.

Four of San Francisco’s six kickoffs resulted in touchbacks. Shane Vereen returned the other two kickoffs, one for 24 yards and the other for 20. Dwayne Harris returned three punts for 31 yards, averaging a respectable 10.3 yards per return. Geremy Davis was flagged with an illegal block on a punt return.

(San Francisco 49ers at New York Giants, October 11, 2015)
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Eric Kennedy

Eric Kennedy is Editor-in-Chief of BigBlueInteractive.com, a publication of Big Blue Interactive, LLC. Follow @BigBlueInteract on Twitter.

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