Sep 142018
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (September 9, 2018)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports

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Game Preview: New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, September 16, 2018

THE STORYLINE:
There were significant positives that came out of last week’s loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Giants played a very competitive game against a team that is widely regarded as a Super Bowl contender. Indeed, they had a real shot to steal a victory had a play here or there broken their way. It’s something to build on.

But in the end, sports really is a no-excuse business. You either win or you lose. And win-loss column doesn’t care about the whys and buts. In all the years I’ve followed football, one quote by Phil Simms has always stuck with me: “The difference between 8-8 and 12-4 is winning the close ball games.” If the Giants expect to be winners again anytime soon, they need to start winning close football games.

And they need to start beating teams in their own division. Stating the obvious, the Giants have been losers four of the last five years because they’ve been worse than most of the other teams in the NFL. But what has really fueled their poor W-L record has been their now annually poor performance against the Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, and to a certain extent, the Washington Redskins. And aside from the glaring exception of 2017, these other NFC East teams haven’t been league powerhouses. The Giants keep losing to NFC East teams that are eminently beatable.

The 2018 Dallas Cowboys have the appearance of a typical, mediocre team, with just enough talent to be able to beat anyone in the league, but most likely a franchise that will be hovering around the 8-8 mark. Tony Romo, Jason Witten, and Dez Bryant are all gone. There never really was much of a true mystique around that older team because it never won anything. But those guys were dangerous and had a history of being a pain in the ass for the Giants. Those thorns are gone. It’s well past time for the Giants to stop the bleeding and start beating this team again.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • RB Wayne Gallman (knee – probable)
  • WR Sterling Shepard (back – probable)
  • LB Olivier Vernon (ankle – out)
  • LB Tae Davis (hamstring – questionable)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
In my opinion, the strength of the Dallas Cowboys is an extremely well-coached defense, led by smart, instinctive linebacker Sean Lee. Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli has proven to be one of the best in the NFL. This unit doesn’t give up a lot of big plays and they make opposing offenses work for everything they get. The Cowboys were 8th in defense in 2017 and they’ve started this year off at the #5 position.

Marinelli will play the Giants like he has every year. Have his guys protect against the big play and dare New York to drive the field without making the drive-ending mistake. Wouldn’t you? Once again, the offensive line appears to be the Achilles’ heel for the Giants. They were soundly out-played by an impressive Jacksonville front. So the burning question is are the Giants really that bad up front again? Or did they look worse than they really are because of the quality of their opposition? Punching bag Ereck Flowers will get no respite this weekend as defensive end Demarcus Lawrence has developed into one of the NFL’s most disruptive players (14.5 sacks in 2017).

We can talk X’s and O’x until we are blue in the face, but the real story here is the New York Football Giants have to start playing games where they score more than 20 points per game. If you can’t score 20, 24, 27 points in a contest, you aren’t going to win many games. In a league that makes it easier each year for offense to succeed, the Giants scoreboard impotency has reached the point of absurdity. This is a team that has Eli Manning, Odell Beckham, Saquon Barkley, Evan Engram, and Sterling Shepard! Get the ball into the end zone! No excuses.

So what did we learn from last week? Beckham and Barkley are the best players on this team and two of the best in the NFL. They should touch the ball as much as possible. Engram and Shepard can make big plays, but they have to be far more consistent. Money players don’t keep dropping the ball in key situations. And Eli Manning may still be under too much pass pressure, but he has to hit those open receivers for touchdowns when the play is there.

Pat Shurmur is an X’s and O’s guy, much more so than Ben McAdoo. Work to isolate Beckham and Barkley in one-on-one match-ups in the passing game. With Beckham, you can do that by playing him in the slot. Linebackers in this league (and many safeties) can’t cover Barkley. And as last week showed, keep pounding the ball with Barkley in the running game because when you do, good things happen. In a tight game, don’t sit him for Jonathan Stewart. That’s dumb.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The defense played well enough to win last week. But there were a few troubling issues: (1) the inability to rush the passer (1 sack and not enough pressure), (2) the Jaguars ran the ball too effectively early, (3) a quarterback hurt them again with his feet, and (4) Janoris Jenkins gave up a couple of big plays. But in the end, the Jaguars were held to 13 points. That should have been enough to win.

The defensive game plan is almost identical this week. The strength of the Cowboys’ offense is a ground game centered around running back Ezekiel Elliott. Stop Elliott and you cause problems for Dallas. Quarterback Dak Prescott struggles too much when called upon to move the ball with his arm. But like Blake Bortles last week, he can hurt you with his feet. So the Giants defenders must be very disciplined and treat him almost like a college quarterback.

The good news for the Giants is that Jason Witten has retired and Dez Bryant was let go. Dallas’ top center Travis Frederick is out with an illness. The Cowboys have had issues at left guard. So the weapons and line are not as strong as they once were. Pesky shrimp Cole Beasley is now Dallas’ most dangerous receiving target. This is a team the Giants should be able to shut down as long as Beasley doesn’t eat up nickel corner B.W. Webb, which is possible.

Gang up on Elliott, look out for misdirection with the ball in the hands of the quarterback, and don’t let Beasley consistently hurt you out of the slot, and you should be in good shape.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Knock on wood, but so far the kicking game has been good enough for the Giants. But I felt Shumur made a curious decision in going for the blocked punt last week and not setting up a return with Odell Beckham. Instead, Kaelin Clay muffed the punt. He has now fumbled the ball on four of 45 punt returns (or once in every 11 times he touches the ball). Maybe it’s time to bring Phil McConkey out of retirement.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher on Dallas’ offense: “They’re going to give (Ezekiel Elliott) a bunch of touches, they’re going to find some really creative ways to get him going. They’re going to stretch it hard and cut the ball back, they’re going to give you some gap scheme with some pullers, they’re going to get big personnel on the field, they’re going to run the ball down the field at you. You’re going to get a little bit of everything. They do a nice job with that. Then after that, the boots, the play passes, the taking a shot down the field, some movement stuff to get completions, and try to get you in some one-on-ones on the perimeter and throw the ball down the field.”

THE FINAL WORD:
The Giants are the better team. I wouldn’t trade their roster for ours. This is a game the Giants can and should win. And if the Giants have any hopes of making the playoffs this year, this is a game the team must win. Dallas is well-coached and has a very solid defense and running game. Those three factors mean they can beat any team. But they don’t have enough weapons and they shouldn’t score more than 17 points on the Giants. On the other hand, if the Giants can’t score more than 20 points with Beckham and Barkley on their team, then they have the wrong coaches and/or quarterback. In my mind, this game is on our coaches and Eli Manning. No excuses.

Sep 102018
 
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Janoris Jenkins, New York Giants (September 9, 2018)

Janoris Jenkins – © USA TODAY Sports

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Jacksonville Jaguars 20 – New York Giants 15

QUICK RECAP

Week 1 of the 2018 season brought in an up-and-coming team that was partially constructed by former NYG Head Coach Tom Coughlin. The Jacksonville Jaguars, in their first game since losing to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship, entered MetLife Stadium ready to wreck havoc on a shoddy offensive line.

That they did on the first drive of the game that resulted in a near-safety on two separate occasions. It was a sign of things to come, as the JAC front seven controlled the game and heavily impacted the NYG approach on offense.

The JAC offense is very dependent on Leonard Fournette and their power rushing attack. They hit a groove early on paired with some solid gains on play-action and bootleg passing plays. The misdirection seemed to take advantage of the over-aggressive, new NYG defensive scheme. The two teams traded field goals but JAC took a couple steps forward in the 2nd quarter, scoring 10 straight points which got them a 13-3 lead. However thanks to the grabby-defensive backfield and the fear Odell Beckham strikes in to the opposition, 45 yards worth of penalties put NYG in prime field goal position to net them another 3 points, ending the half down 13-6 but with possession at the start of the second half and JAC without Fournette because of a hamstring strain.

NYG began the third quarter with a back and forth approach. Saquon Barkley, after a quiet first half, started to show why this team made him the 2nd pick of the draft. But mental mistakes by Evan Engram and poor play in the trenches kept on pulling the offense back just enough to make them settle on a field goal. The rest of the 3rd quarter was a back and forth affair that played exactly into what JAC wants: a moving clock paired with a field position battle while in the lead.

The action picked up in the 4th quarter. Manning started to feel some extra urgency and made a throw he shouldn’t have while under pressure. This resulted in a interception by Myles Jack which he easily returned for a touchdown. NYG was down 20-6 with 11 minutes left. The team needed a spark, badly. Enter in Barkley. A couple broken tackles and a sprint down the sideline netted NYG their first touchdown of the year, a 68-yard score by the rookie. They came up 1 foot short on the 2 point conversion, however, leaving them in a touchdown-or bust situation.

The energy was back in the stands and after a 3-and-out by JAC. However, NYG responded with a 3-and out of their own. Their next possession put them into JAC territory after 2 passes to Odell Beckham. But the right side of the offensive line disrupted Manning just enough to misfire on two occasions paired with a drop by Sterling Shepard. They turned the ball over on downs but stopped JAC 3 straight times while burning their final timeouts, leaving them with under 1 minute to score a touchdown from their own territory.

But the effort was never made, as PR Kaelin Clay muffed the punt and JAC recovered.

NYG loses, 20-15.

QUARTERBACKS

Eli Manning: 23/37 – 224 yards – 0 TD/1 INT. Manning started off 11 for 11 despite having the Jacksonville pass rush in his face nearly every time he reached the end of his drop back. Manning delivered a lot of throws under duress. I watched 6 NFL games from yesterday and only Russell Wilson saw more consistent pressure. And Manning’s disadvantage there is that he doesn’t move well anymore in space. Good footwork in the pocket, but he just isn’t a very good athlete. Manning also had two overthrows on potential touchdowns in addition to a poor decision to throw a ball under pressure that ended up being tipped and returned for a pick 6 in the 4th quarter.

RUNNING BACKS

Saquon Barkley: 18 att / 106 yards – 1 TD – 2 rec / 22 yards. A lot can be said about Barkley’s first game against arguably the best front seven in the NFL. His game started off slow, as he was forced into re-routing prior to reaching the line of scrimmage 6 of his first 8 attempts. But once the second half rolled around, he found a groove and we started to see the physical ability shine bright. He looked more confident and decisive. In the second half, Barkley ran the ball 10 times for 94 yards including a 68-yard touchdown that brought the team back to life. That run included 2 broken tackles and an all out sprint to the end zone (thanks to a key block by Sterling Shepard) that outran the entire JAC defense. There aren’t many backs in the league that could have pulled that one off. There were two negatives in his debut and they both centered around Barkley not taking what this defense gave him. Against a front seven like JAC, there needs to be more north-south thought process on runs between the guards.

-Jonathan Stewart and Wayne Gallman spelled Barkley a few times. After a tortoise-like preseason, Stewart actually had a couple of solid 4-yard runs. Nothing to get excited about but after what we saw in August, it is a step in the right direction. This team is going to cap how many touches Barkley gets weekly, especially early in the year, so Stewart needs to give NYG more of those 4-yard runs. Gallman left the game with a knee injury that isn’t expected to be serious. Shane Smith saw limited snaps but he was a factor. With this OL and Engram struggling to get movement at the point of attack, Smith may need to be in the game more often.

WIDE RECEIVERS

-Odell Beckham: 11 rec – 111 yards. I won’t say I forgot how much Beckham changed the outlook of this offense, but it was a refreshing sight to see #13 out there getting open on all levels whenever he wanted to and wrecking havoc on the Jaguars defensive backfield. He also forced 45 yards worth of pass interference penalties that stemmed from him running great routes. He took a couple of big hits in this one and he fired himself right back up and seemed to enjoy it. That is what this offense needs out of him. If Manning had made a better throw, he would have had 33 yard touchdown in the 3rd quarter as he got behind the secondary in a blink.

-Sterling Shepard: 5 rec – 48 yards. Shepard had a drop in the 4th quarter that really hurt the team’s attempt at pulling off a major fourth quarter comeback. Otherwise he ran excellent routes and showed the usual toughness in traffic. His downfield block on the Barkley touchdown was vital. He is going to be an important piece because of how consistently he can run himself open underneath. I would like to see more after the catch, however.

-Cory Latimer didn’t receive any targets. For a “starting” wide receiver, many will be disappointed. But on this team, he is the #5 receiving option at best when everyone is healthy. Don’t expect big impact plays on any sort of consistent basis.

TIGHT ENDS

-Evan Engram: 2 rec – 18 yards. Really rough outing for the second year pass catcher who missed some time with a concussion during the preseason. Engram has somewhat struggled with drops in his young career, and he only added to that in this one. He had 2 drops, a pass interference penalty, and allowed a tackle for loss. Engram was mauled at the point of attack against the JAC defensive linemen. His overall blocking grade was the worst he’s had since being a Giant. While I don’t want to bash him considering what he is to this team and who he was matched up against, he simply needs to be better. For a team that will rely on the running game and a team that may need to help the RT up front, Engram can’t just be a receiver. Effort was there, impact was not.

-Rhett Ellison was in to run block and I can’t say he made a major difference. He caught one pass against a prevent defense. Scott Simonson was in for 4 offensive plays and allowed a pressure.

TACKLES

-Nate Solder had a rough first game in blue. While he provides more confidence and security than what NYG has had in recent years, he was outclassed by the JAC defensive line. He allowed 1 TFL, 2 pressures, and committed a holding penalty. He also struggled to get movement as a run blocker. This is the kind of defense that has always given him some trouble, power and size based.

-Ereck Flowers took a step back towards one of the worst grades of his career. 2 penalties, 1 TFL, 3 pressures, and 1 sack. Flowers also failed to reach his assignment on 3 separate down blocks. This would be a damning game for a rookie. The shift to right tackle didn’t hide is ongoing issues of poor footwork and even worse hand placement. The one positive was a very solid block on the Barkley touchdown. It is going to be a long year on the right edge.

-Chad Wheeler saw some action as a blocking tight end. I think we will see more and more of that, although he didn’t perform well. He was in for 3 plays and he too allowed a TFL. And no, he is not a suitable replacement for Flowers.

GUARDS/CENTERS

-Will Hernandez had a couple of “Welcome to the NFL, kid” moments. He allowed a TFL to Malik Jackson on the first drive and sack to Calais Campbell on the fourth drive. He had the most positive grades in the game among the OL, most notably for his ability to move guys at the point of attack. He does a nice job when it is straightforward run blocking but he will need to learn to adjust to the quickness of NFL defensive tackles. Can’t expect much better from him, but you just want to see progress as the year progresses. And I don’t think he will have many, if any, tougher assignments than what JAC presented.

-Patrick Omameh and Jon Halapio didn’t stand out in a negative way. They both allowed 1 pressure each but weren’t on the radar much other than that. The issue was just a lack of difference making movement. The interior of the JAC defense went where they wanted to. It’s pretty bad that these two had the best grades of the OL, because by no means were they above average or even close to it.

EDGE

-With Olivier Vernon out, it meant Connor Barwin and Kareem Martin were going to see the majority snaps. Martin finished with a half-sack and 3 tackles while Barwin had 1 pressure and a big pass deflection in the 4th quarter. But when it came to the situations where a pass rush was really needed, they didn’t come through.

-Kerry Wynn and Lorenzo Carter rotated in and both had a similar impact to the starters in less playing time. Carter had a pressure and pass deflection while Wynn recorded a half-sack. I think this pass rush is better with these two in the fold, as their ability just has more potential. Martin and Barwin will scare nobody on 3rd down.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES

-Damon Harrison played 71% of the snaps, more than I was anticipating. He went down with a minor knee injury in the second half but it didn’t keep him out long. He dominated the inside gaps, finishing with a TFL and 6 tackles. He was in on sure-passing downs more than I expected to see and I like it, his bull rush is as good as anyone’s and it helps the complex blitzing schemes.

-The young sidekicks, B.J. Hill and Dalvin Tomlinson were solid but unspectacular. The combined for a solid 9 tackles and showed good pursuit and effort. But JAC was running the ball with ease in the first half, as they struggled to hold ground on lateral runs. These two are very solid and will be good, but it was notable to see the difference between them and the JAC defensive line. Different class.

-Newly signed Mario Edwards and Jordan Jenkins played sparingly without much impact. Edwards did record 2 tackles on just 6 snaps, however. He looks athletic and rangy for his size.

LINEBACKERS

-New defensive captain Alec Ogletree tied for the team lead 7 tackles. He was solid between the tackles and better in coverage than what we saw in preseason. The middle of the field, however, is still a weakness against the pass and he is a part of it. He allowed a touchdown that was negated by a JAC penalty.

-B.J. Goodson started, but he and Ray-Ray Armstrong split snaps. Goodson struggled to scrape over the top, often late to recognize and putting the blocker in a position to wash him out. Armstrong is a much better athlete and reacts with more speed. Both were fooled by all of the misdirection JAC threw their way, however.

CORNERBACKS

-One of the best overall games we have seen out of Eli Apple in his 3rd-year career. 3 tackles and 2 pass break ups along with some very good deep coverage. While it wasn’t the best air attack he will be matched up against this season, Apple did his job. We haven’t been able to say that in awhile and if this talent-rich first rounder can show consistency, the outlook of this defense is very different.

-Janoris Jenkins was up and down. The playmaker came up with a 1st quarter interception and a very high-level pass break up in the 2nd quarter. He allowed 2 of the 3 biggest gains in the passing game that JAC had. He also had 7 tackles, tied for the team lead.

-B.W. Webb was the nickel back, playing in just over 50% of the snaps. He looked afraid of getting beat deep and allowed too much underneath. He allowed 2 catches for first down on situations where he needed to be up on the receiver more.

SAFETIES

-Landon Collins had an up and down game. I was interested to see his role in this new defense and it actually wasn’t very different than last year. He roams a lot and they trust him to make the right decisions. He had 5 tackles and a high-level pass break up but got lost in traffic on the T.J. Yeldon 15 yard run that brought JAC to the 1-yard line. Collins was also the guilty culprit on Blake Bortles career long 41 yard run on a naked bootleg. That was a designed run and JAC knew Collins would react that way. Not a good sign. That was one of a few situations where his eye discipline was non-existent. He is a high-risk, high-reward player.

-Curtis Riley was solid in his debut after winning the job in camp. He had 5 tackles, 1 of which on special teams, and a couple of fast and physical downhill hits. He also fulfilled his deep coverage responsibilities on two plays where Bortles wanted to go downfield but chose not to. Michael Thomas played sparingly, allowing a catch for first down but also pressuring Bortles and making a big hit on 3rd down that caused a near-fumble.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K Aldrick Rosas: 3/3 (Made 27-31-44). Very solid day for Rosas in both departments.

P Curtis Riley: 5 punts – 49.4 avg / 43.4 net. Solid numbers but his worst punt of the day started off the lone JAC offensive touchdown.

PR Kaelin Clay had a quiet game until the very end, in a bad way. He misjudged the depth of a punt and muffed it, turning the ball over to JAC with under a minute left leaving NYG without a chance at one last attempt to win the game.

3 STUDS

-CB Eli Apple, RB Saquon Barkley, WR Odell Beckham

3 DUDS

-OT Ereck Flowers, OT Nate Solder, TE Evan Engram

3 THOUGHTS ON JAC

-LB Myles Jack was my top graded player in the 2016 NFL Draft. The knee issues bumped him down just a tad, but now that he is in his third year, I think we are looking a potential Defensive Player of the Year candidate. There may not be a faster LB in the game, as he covers WRs in space and ran with Barkley stride for stride on the long touchdown. But at the same time this guy is a terror to deal with between the tackles. His game-leading 10 tackles and pick six don’t even tell the story of how much he impacted this game.

-The JAC defensive line might be the best in football when considering the depth. Only LAR can hang with these guys. It is a good thing knowing NYG won’t be faced off against anything like that again. But guys, when building a team you truly can never have enough talent in the trenches. They change everything. They hide issues elsewhere. And they are more reliable to be there and impacting the game in all weather conditions. That team is built to win from start to finish and it starts right here.

-Is Blake Bortles good enough? You know what? I think he is. I have never seen what so many people hate about this kid. He won’t ever be mistaken for Aaron Rodgers but then again, neither will Eli Manning. He makes a couple head scratching throws each week, but then again so does Eli Manning. I have always liked his moxie and I see improvement each year. The QB of that team needs to be just good enough, and I think he is.

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

-Because NFL fans are the way they are, Saquon Barkley and the fact NYG has made him the highest drafted running back since 2006 will be over-analyzed each week. The baseless theory that RBs cannot be taken that high and the fact some potential franchise QB’s were available when NYG was on the clock only adds to the notion. I spoke about him earlier but what I liked the most, he adjusted his approach during halftime. He looked just a hair-too-hesitant early on but you can tell he took it on himself to change this offense in the second half. He was the one player getting the team fired up prior to the start of the 4th quarter. Usually you want rookies to improve their approach week to week, year 1 to year 2. He did it at halftime and made a big difference in the second half against the best/fastest/most physical defense in the NFL.

-This defense showed a lot of exotic looks and it created stress for the JAC offense in the second half especially. However when all is said and done, they recorded 1 sack and 1 tackle for loss. They need to produce more than that, plain and simple.

-I liked how Shurmur adjusted his pass protection in the second half. Adjustments are a huge part of coaching during games, and he did just that. It still wasn’t pretty, but the NYG offensive line was overmatched badly. There isn’t much you can do there but this offense did catch a flow in the second half much thanks to the blocking scheme being slightly altered.

Sep 072018
 
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Saquon Barkley, New York Giants (August 9, 2018)

Saquon Barkley – © USA TODAY Sports

Game Preview: Jacksonville Jaguars at New York Giants, September 9, 2018

THE STORYLINE:
The prevailing opinion by non-partisan pundits is this game will be a one-sided mismatch. And why wouldn’t they think that? The New York Giants are coming off a 3-13 disaster that saw them battle the Cleveland Browns for title of worst team in the NFL. The Jacksonville Jaguars are a cocky, up-and-coming team that led the New England Patriots 20-10 in the 4th quarter of the 2017 AFC Championship Game.

The good news for the Giants is that in this league, the landscape often changes at the drop of a hat. While the Jaguars are a more fundamentally-sound team because of their strength in the trenches and depth across the board, the Giants appear to have some of the game’s premier game-changers.

This game looks like the classic confrontation of the more staid, methodical, physical team versus the flashy, big-play-capable one. What these types of contests usually come down to is the ability or inability of the flashier team to erase the more physical team’s advantages by quick-strike scoring plays. In other words, Eli Manning, Odell Beckham, and Saquon Barkley have to prove they are worth the huge chunk of salary cap space they are being paid. Jacksonville is the better team across the board, but these three can be the great equalizer.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • LB Olivier Vernon (ankle – out)
  • LB Tae Davis (hamstring – out)
  • LB Lorenzo Carter (illness – probable)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
What is the one thing that all defensive coordinators dream of? The ability to control the line of scrimmage with just your front four. Giants’ fans are well aware of the benefits of this type of defense (see the 2007 defensive front). And that’s the huge advantage that Jacksonville has and the primary reason why they are so good (2nd overall in 2017, 1st against the pass).

“It starts with the guys up front,” said Offensive Coordinator Mike Shula on Thursday. “They can be very disruptive up front in both the run game and the pass game. They’ve had a bunch of sacks last year just with rushing four people, and then everything else fits off that. They’re very talented in the back seven as well – guys that can cover man to man, they’re fast when they’re in zone, they get to the ball very fast, and there’s a lot of guys that can get to the ball quickly. They’re really good. There’s a reason why they went as far as they did last year.”

Eli Manning, Odell Beckham, Saquon Barkley, Evan Engram, and Sterling Shepard. That’s some arsenal. But those guys may not be able to do their thing if the Jacksonville front four eats the lunch of a completely rebuilt offensive line. That offensive line struggled in the preseason to create room for running backs and had enough mental and physical breakdowns in pass protection to cause some to wonder how much a problem is this unit going to be yet again?

The Jaguars are very good and deep across the entire front, but the match-up between DE Calais Campbell (14.5 sacks in 2017) and RT Ereck Flowers has to be particularly alarming. Jacksonville’s coaches also undoubtedly noted the issues New York had in picking up stunts and blitzes up the middle in the preseason. But again, the Jaguars probably won’t have to blitz much. Defensive tackles Malik Jackson (8 sacks) and Marcell Dareus are quite capable enough of presenting problems straight up for Will Hernandez, Jon Halapio, and former Jaguar Patrick Omameh. What about the left side? Even Nate Solder will have his hands full with defensive end Yannick Ngakoue (12 sacks). Jacksonville accrued 55 sacks as a team in 2017 (twice as many as the Giants).

So if you’re Jacksonville, your game plan is pretty obvious: count on your front four to win their match-ups with the Giants’ offensive front, and have your back seven concentrate on Beckham, Engram, Shepard, and Barkley out of the backfield. What makes matters worse for the Giants is that Jacksonville has arguably the top corner in football in Jalen Ramsey – a guy who believes he can take Beckham out all by himself. What about Jacksonville’s linebacking unit? Weakside linebacker Telvin Smith was an All-Pro in 2017. They are strong at all three levels. One of the reasons they are so good is they get teams in 3rd-and-long, and then they are near tops in the NFL in 3rd-down defense.

So what do the Giants do? I would run, run, run the ball with Barkley. Jacksonville may have been 2nd in defense and 1st in pass defense in 2017, but they were also 21st in run defense and 23rd in yards per carry allowed (4.3). Running the ball will do a number of things for New York: (1) help keep Eli Manning clean and calm, (2) take pressure off of the offensive line, (3) keep the clock moving, (5) make 3rd-down situations more tolerable, and (6) enable Barkley – the guy the Giants passed over a number of quarterbacks for – to do his thing. Jacksonville had so little tape on Barkley that they had to go back and watch Penn State highlights. Run the ball. When you do pass, start off with the short- to intermediate-passing game to Barkley, Engram, and Shepard. Let Odell be the decoy early. Keep the chains moving and hope Barkley can break some big runs or catches (keep an eye on that wheel route). Most importantly, don’t turn the ball over. Jacksonville was 2nd in the NFL in 2017 in forcing turnovers (21 interceptions and 12 fumble recoveries). But at some point, if the Giants are going to win this game, Odell has to do his thing – either a big run after a short catch or a deep ball. The Giants will need a big-play score or two to win this game as they are not likely to consistently drive the field against this defense.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
This another easy breakdown. Everyone knows Jacksonville’s strengths and weaknesses on offense. It all starts and ends with stopping the run. Jacksonville was the NFL’s #1 running team in 2017 with over 140 yards per game. Workhouse running back Leonard Fournette’s stats are good (1,040 yards rushing in 13 games), but his yards-per-carry (3.9) doesn’t stand out. The thing is that Jacksonville sticks with the run. They attempt (and often succeed) in grinding you down by simply keeping at it. They literally run the ball half of all snaps – that’s as old school as you can get in today’s league. And just when you think you have a drive stopped, their quarterback Blake Bortles (322 yards rushing) will keep drives alive with his feet.

The good news for the Giants is that their strength is stopping the run. Jacksonville is big and talented up front. And better than last year as they swapped out Patrick Omameh for the guard the Giants heavily pursued in free agency (left guard Andrew Norwell). But the Giants are big and strong up front too. The Giants must, absolutely must, stop the run and put Bortles in difficult down-and-distance situations. Because the weakness is the quarterback throwing the ball. Note Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher’s emphasis on defending the screen pass (the #4 and #5 leading receivers on the team in 2017 were running backs):

“We’ve got a great opponent this week, a team that can run the football, as we all know – 141-ish yards a game a year ago, a team that will max protect and take some shots down the field,” said Bettcher on Thursday. “They’re going to get (Bortles) on the perimeter with some boots and some movement passes. Then, the thing we’ve got to do a great job of is the screen game. We’ve got to be aware of when the screens are coming, whether it’s first (down), second down, third down, and be aware of some of the set-ups for some of those things. With the receiver (Marquis Lee) out, it’s going to be – whether it’s (Dede Westbrook), (Donte Moncrief), whoever it is that’s their guy that they’re going to try to hit down the field, those are the guys that we’re going to have to be aware of and just adjust during the first part of the game.”

The Jaguars won’t go away from what got them so far last year. They will run the ball. If New York can get them in 3rd-and-5 or longer, the the pressure will be on Bortles to pick up the first down with his feet or arm. Containment – something of an issue for Giants’ defenses in recent years – will be critically important. Keep Bortles in the pocket. Bortles probably will avoid Janoris Jenkins and focus his efforts against the Giants’ linebackers in coverage and Eli Apple. Bettcher can and will attempt to unnerve Bortles by bringing the kitchen sink after him. In response, the Jaguars will max protect and take their shots against Apple and the nickel corner. This year, the Giants will live and die by the blitz. Not having Olivier Vernon, the team’s best pass rusher, available will hurt.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Oh boy! Who knows what we will get here? The special teams coordinator has cancer so Tom Quinn still is in the picture. The return game looked decent in the preseason but both returners were cut and Kaelin Clay was just picked off of waivers. And Shurmur is making noise that he won’t be afraid to have Odell Beckham and Saquon Barkley return punts and kickoffs, respectively. Misdirection or will Shurmur take more chances? Aldrick Rosas had a strong preseason but now has to prove he can keep it up when it counts.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Head Coach Pat Shurmur on the state of his team: “It’s a journey. This first game is the first game in that journey. We’ve done a lot of work, there’s a lot of water under the bridge. We feel good about our roster, we feel good about the coaches, the interaction with player personnel and administration, the communication and the way we communicate behind the scenes. We want to put a product on the field that our fans are proud to root for.”

THE FINAL WORD:
The problem in truly evaluating this game or this season is we really don’t know the mettle and true abilities of this Giants’ coaching staff and roster. This could be a very bad, average, or maybe even good team. Anyone who says he or she knows for sure is just bloviating at this point. Coaching makes a huge difference in today’s NFL. Shurmur is a retread who was fired in Cleveland, but many don’t believe he got a fair shake there. Is he the real deal or just another placeholder? Does Eli Manning – who is coming off two down seasons – still have it? Odell Beckham is a walking highlight reel but so far that hasn’t translated into many wins. Was Saquon Barkley really worth the #2 pick in the draft? Will the offensive line once again be the team’s Achilles’ heel? Can Bettcher really trust guys like Eli Apple, Curtis Riley, and B.W. Webb enough to bring the kitchen sink? The Giants’ special teams were undoubtedly the worst in the NFL last year across the board. Can they at least reach middle-of-the-pack status? So many questions.

As for this game, the Giants can steal a win here if they protect the football and Beckham and Barkley can hit the home run. But this is a very difficult opponent to start the season with.

Sep 012018
 
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Donte Deayon, New York Giants (August 30, 2018)

Donte Deayon – © USA TODAY Sports

New England Patriots 17 – New York Giants 12

QUICK RECAP

This game was very little about winning or losing and more about giving the roster bubble guys one last shot to showcase the potential. The coaching staff kept pretty much every starter on the bench for this one.

Kyle Lauletta got the start and showed that he has a ways to go when it comes to developing his NFL passing ability. He was comfortable on simple read throws underneath, but struggled to get the ball downfield accurately. It led to 2 interceptions.

NYG forced three turnovers themselves, hopefully a sign of things to come, but they also allowed an 86 yard touchdown late that put the game out of reach after a back-and-forth defensive battle. NYG lost the game 17-12 and paved the way for the roster cut down. Major injuries were avoided for the 4th week in a row. Bring on Week 1.

QUARTERBACKS

Kyle Lauletta: 8/19 – 118 yards – 1 TD/2 INT. With both Eli Manning and Davis Webb on the sideline for this one, we got our first extended look at the 4th round rookie. Two things I have liked about his game showed up again in this one, his release and footwork. He is further along than some of the QBs that were taken ahead of him in this 2018 class. He made a few aggressive throws downfield and failed to connect on all of them. He just under threw most of them and the lack of arm power that was discussed in his scouting report definitely showed up. His targets had a step or two in their defenders but the ball just didn’t get there. Both of his interceptions were poor downfield passes. Overall, it was a rough night for the rookie and now it will be back to holding the clipboard while trying to learn the game as much as one can from the sidelines.

Alex Tanney: 13/23 – 92 yards – 1 TD/0 INT. Tanney took over toward the beginning of the 3rd quarter. He never really had a shot at making this roster barring injury, but they still gave him a decent amount of playing time as Lauletta struggled and also started to get banged around by the Patriots pass rush. His final drive resulted in the second NYG touchdown of the night thanks to three NE penalties (one of which nullified a pick 6).

RUNNING BACKS

-This was one of the roster competitions to keep an eye on. If NYG ends up keeping a fourth RB on the team, it will come down to one of Jalen Simmons, Robert Martin, and Jhurell Pressley. Simmons seems to have the inside track, as he saw the most playing time and carries. His footwork and vision seem to be a notch or two higher than the others. He works his way through traffic with a low pad level and showed enough burst. Pressley and Martin have had their moments here, but now that Simmons is healthy again, I think he won the role if they do keep a fourth RB.

WIDE RECEIVERS

-Just like the RB position, it seems there may be one more WR spot up for grabs. Kalif Raymond was featured a few times, finishing with a team high 7 targets but only brought in 1 reception. He was the victim of a couple bad deep balls from Lauletta despite impressive releases off the line. Amba Etta-Tawo had the play of the night with a 41 yard touchdown that was 37 yards after the catch. His impressive burst and long stride speed jumped off the screen in a game full of backups. His hot start to training camp simmered down but he finished with a bang. He did drop a ball later in the game, however.

-Travis Rudolph, a popular player at this time last year, caught all 3 targets that were thrown his way. I am surprised he hasn’t been given more looks with this regime. He, along with Roger Lewis (who had another quiet night), seem to be heading elsewhere this season. Alonzo Russell is an interesting guy. He flashed a couple times in games and at 6’4/210, that kind of size might be something to work with on the practice squad.

TIGHT ENDS

-No Evan Engram or Rhett Ellison in this one. Jerell Adams, Garrett Dickerson, and Scott Simonson saw the majority of the snaps. As much as Adams has been up and down this preseason, I think he gets the nod for the number three role. He added a couple more catches and actually had a very solid night blocking the edge. Simonson brings similar presence to the trenches but he just doesn’t have the catch radius that Adams does.

OFFENSIVE LINE

-Sticking with the theme of the night, it was a night full of backups. John Greco and Chad Wheeler both allowed sacks but it appears both are going to be primary backups for at least the start of 2018. What I don’t like about Wheeler is the lack of progress he has made with technique. There was a play where he was pass blocking while facing the quarterback trying to box the defender out. He gets turned around and caught off balance way too often. Greco offers the versatility inside you want on game day. He can play OC and both OG spots. His strong preseason play combined with his strong finish in 2017 provides security.

-John Jerry may be an expensive backup and he too has some awful looking technique at times, but he can still get plenty of movement in the run game as a straight ahead blocker. He had some nice pops at he point of attack. Perhaps the most impressive young lineman on this team is Chris Scott. He, too, provides versatile depth inside and he graded out in a positive manner for the fourth week in a row, the only linemen on the team to do so.

EDGE

-This was a night for Lorenzo Carter to show what he’s got, and he shined. The rookie recorded 2 pressures and a sack in just 18 snaps played. With the status of Olivier Vernon up in the air, Carter’s role is going to be an important one whether he is ready or not. He showed excellent hand usage, easy leverage, and the well-known speed in space. Avery Moss finished with 5 tackles but failed to make a difference in the pass game. He has continued to struggle to show any sort of physical progression in year two.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

-The most crowded/deep position group on this roster. Robert Thomas appears to be entrenched as the primary backup at NT. He recorded a sack and 3 tackles. Thomas is going to benefit greatly from this scheme because it allows him to do what he does best, attack up field. He carries a lot of power when he moves north and consistently creates a new line of scrimmage.

-A.J. Francis led the group in snaps but was inconsistent. The one glaring hole in his game and this dates back to college, is the pad level. He gets too upright and will get easily moved. Izaah Lunsford had a pressure and flashed some nice athletic ability, but he is a sloppy player.

LINEBACKER

-One of the more interesting position battles on this roster may have very well came down to this game. Calvin Munson was a feel good story at this time last year, but he really hasn’t burst into the top 3 or 4 inside linebacker rotation. He doesn’t have the speed or coverage ability for this scheme and his presence between the tackles seems to get lost. Tae Davis, while undersized, has been displaying the opposite. He finished with 6 tackles and factors more on special teams with his speed. He plays bigger than his size but he has had at least 1 missed tackle in each game, including this one.

-Ray-Ray Armstrong has developed more and more with each week. He has picked up this scheme as well as anyone on the team and matched with his skill set, he is going to be a factor. The former safety covered well up the seam and also laid the wood on a QB hit early, probably the hardest hit of the night.

CORNERBACK

-A lot of competition in this group. I wouldn’t say it is a strong group of corners. They are competing for the spots on the bottom of the depth chart. With that said, Donte Deayon had his breakout performance with 2 interceptions and 2 pass breakups. His size is always going to limit him in certain situations, but he has the knack for the ball that you want to see in a CB. Great reaction time and the anticipation is improving.

-Chris Lewis-Harris had a solid night with 2 pass break ups. He did a nice job of keeping himself in the right position. I think he has shown enough to make the roster but he may get caught on the wrong side of the numbers game. I like his ability to cover moreso than William Gay, but Gay’s experience and versatility may get him the nod. Leonard Johnson is still a guy I would like to keep around as well. He had a couple of physical tackles and he plays with the short memory and aggression I want.

SAFETIES

-Andrew Adams, starter of 17 games over the past 2 seasons, got plenty of time to show his worth. He had a couple of nice tackles, one of which was for a loss, where he showed the needed range and physicality. But similar to what we have seen out of him in the past, he missed 2 tackles and was way too late on deep coverage responsibilities. He just doesn’t show the instincts you need back there. Michael Thomas, a guy this staff may want to keep around for locker room reasons, finished with 5 tackles and played like a hard-nosed linebacker at times. He plays big and may be the ideal backup to Landon Collins.

-Sean Chandler got playing time late and showed quality movement in coverage, but he is too much of a non factor against the run.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K Marshall Koehn: 0/0 and 0/1 XP. Koehn missed his lone extra point attempt. He really has no shot at making this roster anyway.

P Riley Dixon: 6 Punts – 45.2 avg / 43.5 net. Very good net average there. 4 of his 6 punts were pinned inside the 20.

3 STUDS

-CB Donte Deayon, LB Lorenzo Carter, DT Robert Thomas

3 DUDS

-OT Chad Wheeler, QB Kyle Lauletta, S Andrew Adams

3 THOUGHTS ON NE

-The Patriots know what they are doing when it comes to scouting and developing QBs. That’s why I am still scratching my head with their selection of Danny Etling. He is a plus athlete with a strong arm, but he is very erratic from a release and overall accuracy standpoint. I can’t imagine he is their long term plan at QB for the post-Brady era.

-Another spot NE has done overly well with when it comes to the draft is linebacker. I’m sure some of it is scheme based, but I would keep a close eye on whoever they cut there. They have a surplus of young talent that produce on multiple fronts.

-The Achilles’ heal of this team is going to be the OL. I don’t think they were upset about losing Nate Solder for the contract he got, but this group is very thin on the edges. Brady can overcome it to an extent, but their floor at the position has been getting lower and lower each year.

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

-The biggest victory for NYG this preseason is the fact they enter the year with no major injuries. No, Darian Thompson’s hamstring injury is not major and I’m not sold he will make the team anyway.

-If Donte Deayon proves to be a capable playmaker as the #3 or #4 corner on this team, he could prove to be the unsung hero of this defense. NYG has had issues creating turnovers over the years and we know this scheme can force QBs into throwing balls that they don’t want to. That is where the playmakers need to rise up and make things happen.

-As we enter the one week away window, the three biggest concerns on this team are: lack of balance and stability on the OL, minimal pass rush without over-blitzing, and no playmaker at free safety.

Aug 292018
 
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Davis Webb, New York Giants (August 24, 2018)

Davis Webb – © USA TODAY Sports

Preseason Game Preview: New England Patriots at New York Giants, August 30, 2018

THE STORYLINE:

As the New York Giants wrap up the 2018 preseason, what have we learned? On paper – and based on limited on-field performance through three preseason contests – it appears the Giants will be a more competitive and better coached team. But given the abysmal, non-competitive 3-13 season the Giants are coming off of, that’s not saying much. How much better is the real question.

Defensively, because of their line, the Giants should be very stout against the run. But pass defense could be a problem as the team’s sole pass rusher with any kind of a resume is the oft-injured Olivier Vernon. Even more concerning is the corner position outside of Janoris Jenkins, the free safety position, and ability of the linebackers to cover backs and tight ends.

Offensively, the Giants have a set of skill position players that few – if any – teams in the NFL can employ. But questions remain about the team’s 37-year old quarterback and offensive line. Manning can still throw the football when he feels safe, but he’s got to prove he can still win football games after being hit in the mouth. The left tackle position has been upgraded, but how much of a problem will the center, right guard, and right tackle spots be? Will Saquon Barkley be dancing to find holes or will the line be able to consistently help him out? How much help will the Giants need to Ereck Flowers in pass protection?

On special teams, the Giants are going to roll the dice with Aldrick Rosas again. The return game could give us heartburn as the chief candidates have ball security issues.

Overall, this team has the feel of one that will regularly emphasized on highlight shows. We’ll see Odell Beckham, Saquon Barkley, Evan Engram, and Sterling Shepard make big, flashy plays. But will the team make enough of the less glamorous, consistent ones to win games? The defense will probably live and die by the blitz. We could see a lot of flashy big plays, but also long scores going in the other direction. The special teams still don’t seem special.

Taken together, that’s a recipe for an 8-8-type season. In a watered-down NFL filled with teams with poor fundamentals that can’t practice and spoiled millennials, that could be enough to sneak into the playoffs, especially if the Giants can steal a game or two. Much will also depend on how good or ordinary the coaching will be.

As for this game, I would not expect the starters to play much, if at all. Throughout the league, this final game has basically become a contest between back-ups, with coaches looking to avoid injuries to front-line starters while also making final evaluations on the lower third of the roster.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • TE Evan Engram (concussion)
  • OG Nick Gates (foot)
  • DE R.J. McIntosh (unknown)
  • LB Olivier Vernon (ankle)
  • LB Connor Barwin (knee)
  • LB Calvin Munson (concussion)
  • S Darian Thompson (hamstring)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:

As I mentioned last week, I was surprised by the way Pat Shurmur handled Eli Manning this offseason. This is the third time in his career that Manning had to adjust to a new offensive system, but Shurmur handled Manning like he’s been in it for years. For better or worse, it’s clear Shurmur trusts Manning, who was basically only given half a preseason game (Jets) and two drives (Browns) to get ready for 2018. On top of all of that, arguably New York’s two best players – Odell Beckham and Saquon Barkley – didn’t play or barely played this preseason, albeit for different reasons. In a nutshell, the band hasn’t played together yet. That is a little unnerving, but it is also building anticipation for what this offense might be.

The offensive line hasn’t improved as much as hoped (yet?). The first-team unit has not been able to run the football with issues in the middle and right side of the line. This sounds hauntingly familiar. I think most fans correctly understand that the offensive line is the critical element in how good this offense can be. If Eli feels protected, he can still play. If the Giants don’t have to simply rely on the big play to score and maintain possession of the ball to keep drives alive, that gives more touches to Barkley, Beckham, Engram, and Shepard. More touches = more points. But the team has to be able to pick up first downs.

As for the back-ups:

Quarterback: For better or worse, Davis Webb will be the #2 guy and Kyle Lauletta #3. Webb may be the future, but if Eli goes down, the season is over in 2018. (No different than most teams).

Running Back: Wayne Gallman has clearly out-played Jonathan Stewart and should be the #2 back. If he isn’t, that’s a bad sign about the coaching staff. Some fans don’t think Stewart should be on this team, but it sounds like the coaching staff still wants him here. That leaves Jalen Simmons, Robert Martin, and Jhurell Pressley probably fighting for one roster spot. This game will probably decide it.

Wide Receiver: Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard, and Cody Latimer will be the top three. I may be wrong, but I think all signs point to the Giants keep both Hunter Sharp and Kalif Raymond, as well as Russell Sheppard. Of course, someone coming free on the waiver wire could change that. Don’t be shocked if the Giants pick someone up here, especially if he has return ability.

Tight Ends: Obviously, Evan Engram and Rhett Ellison are the top two guys. And with Shurmur likely to run a plethora of 2-tight end sets, both are de facto starters. That would suggest the Giants might even keep four tight ends. However, Shumur could decide to carry three plus a fullback. This is a big game for Jerell Adams, Scott Simonson, and Shane Smith. Again, they are not just competing against themselves but the waiver wire.

Offensive Line: Trading away Brett Jones clarifies things a little. John Greco is now the primary center/guard swingman. John Jerry probably makes it unless a cheaper vet shakes loose somewhere else. Chad Wheeler has not progressed as hoped and is battling Nick Becton and the waiver wire for swing tackle. (Giants should seriously scan the waiver wire here).

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:

When you are keeping your fingers crossed that Eli Apple doesn’t get hurt, you know you are scary thin at cornerback. If Janoris Jenkins were go down, this unit would immediately become the worst in the NFL. It’s also concerning that Olivier Vernon is hurt yet again. The range and cover ability of the linebackers and safeties remain issues until proven otherwise.

The good news? The Giants are big and strong up front. That’s the first place you want to start when building a defense.

Back-ups:

Defensive Line: This unit is pretty much set. The starters are damn good and there is good depth with Josh Mauro, Robert Thomas, Kerry Wynn, and A.J. Francis. Mauro will start the year on a 4-game suspension. Unfortunately, 2018 will be a red shirt year for R.J. McIntosh. The real wild card here is Wynn. Another preseason tease or will 2018 be a breakout year for him as a situational player? Giants will have to make a decision after Mauro is eligible to come back.

Outside Linebacker: Broken record time…Olivier Vernon looks primed for big season but gets hurt early. This had better not be another one of those “nagging” injury issues with him that contributes to just another 6-7 sack season. The Giants need a 12-14 sack season out him. Kareem Martin will start opposite of him. He probably was a little nervous when the Giants signed Connor Barwin, but Barwin has missed almost all of the preseason with a knee injury. Lorenzo Carter is still learning the game, but flashes at times. It’s doubtful the Giants can keep both Romeo Okwara (who received 1st team reps this week at practice) and Avery Moss, unless the Giants cut Barwin. Huge game for both against the Patriots.

Inside Linebacker: Alec Ogletree and B.J. Goodson are the starters, but Ray-Ray Armstrong is making a hard push for playing time. As I’ve stated before, Mark Herzlich has always been better suited for a 3-4 defense. Beat writers keep talking about Tae Davis. This is a big game for him.

Cornerback: Outside of Janoris Jenkins, this position is a mess. Eli Apple will start because there are no better options. Donte Deayon is a walking injury. The others are castoffs who other teams will abuse all day long. Help wanted sign is out here.

Safety: Landon Collins is probably overrated by some fans and underrated by others. He would be even better if he were teamed with a true, athletic free safety. That kind of guy isn’t on this team and won’t be in 2018. So James Bettcher will have to play mad scientist and mix-and-match at the position all year long. As of now, Curtis Riley has won the job by default because Darian Thompson can’t stay out of the infirmary. You have to wonder if the Giants will simply cut bait with him at this point. Michael Thomas and William Gay are plugins who you don’t want starting. Watch waiver wire here too.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:

Aldrick Rosas has had a very good preseason. It makes complete sense for the Giants to roll the dice with him again. But you know everyone will be holding their breath with him when the games count. If Hunter Sharp and Kalif Raymond didn’t put the ball on the ground so much, the return game would be in decent shape. But they do. Bill Parcells wouldn’t even have them out there.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:

Head Coach Pat Shurmur on his team as it approaches the start of the regular season: “I feel like we’ve done a lot of good things (this offseason). I think we’re on the right path. We’ve certainly got a lot of work to do between now and first week and then teams improve as the season goes along… It’s really a journey for a team to try to get enough wins to be in the playoffs and as you go through it, you hope as a team you stay healthy and then continue to improve.”

THE FINAL WORD:

This game is going to be big for guys like Jalen Simmons, Robert Martin, Jhurell Pressley, Jerell Adams, Scott Simonson, Chad Wheeler, Nick Becton, Romeo Okwara, and Avery Moss.

In reality, watching the cuts on Saturday will be more interesting.

Aug 282018
 
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Ray-Ray Armstrong, New York Giants (August 24, 2018)

Ray-Ray Armstrong – © USA TODAY Sports

New York Giants 22 – New York Jets 16

QUICK RECAP

Week 3 of the preseason is usually perceived to be the closest thing to a real game as we will see before kickoff weekend. Eli Manning was back on the field and played preseason-high 34 snaps, but his star playmakers Odell Beckham and Saquon Barkley remained on the sidelines. The Jets on the other hand, sent out their shiny new toy, rookie Sam Darnold, as the starting quarterback as the team tries to figure out what to do at the position week 1.

The Jets took control of the game early, using an 11-play drive to put up their first 7 points of the night via a Bilal Powell touchdown run. After a back and forth exchange that left with NYG winning the field position battle, Hunter Sharp returned a punt for a 55 yard touchdown. It was a precursor for how poorly the Jets’ special teams would play the rest of the night, an ongoing problem for the team so far this preseason.

The Jets then took the lead back early in the second quarter on a Darnold pass to newly signed Terrelle Pryor. This was after a red zone fumble by NYG veteran Jonathan Stewart, whom has had a nightmare-ish start to his career with Big Blue. NYG then settled down and scored on their next four drives, all field goals off the foot of Aldrick Rosas, the clear front-runner for the job. The Jets continued to shoot themselves in the foot with penalties and mental mistakes. NYG took a 19-13 lead into halftime.

Backups dominated the playing time from there on out, as the two teams struggled to string together long drives. It wasn’t until halfway through the fourth quarter where the Jets had a 7+ play drive, as Teddy Bridgewater continued to impress. They were able to get it within 6, but the Giants held off their cross-town rivals 22-16 for the win.

QUARTERBACKS

Eli Manning: 17/23 – 188 yards – 0 TD/0 INT. After sitting out last week in Detroit, Manning was back on the field for what is likely to be his last full dress rehearsal. It was the best version of Manning we have seen in quite some time. Comfortable and confident in the pocket, accurate on all levels, and able to spread it around. The lack of Jets pass rush ability helped, but Manning made some big throws that gave me assurance for this year. He still has it. He did under throw the deep balls a tad, but nothing to be alarmed about. He really does remind me of his brother, Peyton, late in his career with DEN. He may not be able to adjust quickly on the move and he won’t drive the ball downfield like he used to, but he is more than capable of getting the job done.

Davis Webb: 5/11 – 73 yards – 0 TD/0 INT. Webb was in for about a third of the offensive plays. He did get some action against the first team Jets defense. He didn’t do anything to hurt or help himself too much. Very nice touch throw to Russell Shepard on a 3rd and 12 but he also held onto the ball too long in the pocket which resulted in a sack. When Webb has everything lined up, he really is an attractive thrower. It could be much worse when it comes to the backup QBs in this league.

RUNNING BACKS

Jonathan Stewart: 3 att – -7 yards – 0 TD. That isn’t a typo, Stewart finished with negative seven yards. He also fumbled inside the NYJ 10-yard line that Leonard Williams almost returned for a touchdown. I don’t want to write him off after poor preseason performances (10 carries for -5 yards) but he is moving like he has cinderblocks attached to his feet. Lethargic and unable.

Wayne Gallman: 11 att – 23 yards / 4 rec – 19 yards. Gallman continues to impress with his quickness, vision, and explosion. He also had a couple nice blitz pickups in pass protection. There was a stretch in the 3rd quarter where he touched the ball 7 out of 8 plays. He really does have the versatility to be a factor in any kind of situation. Some backup RBs in the league are valuable in only specific situations, but Gallman can bring a lot of options to this offense in any situation.

Juhrell Pressley – 13 att / 71 yards. Signed earlier in the week, Pressley stepped on the field in a NYG uniform for the first time and impressed. I think there is one, maybe even two, spots on the depth chart available at RB. Pressley runs bigger than his size and showed impressive vision and decision making in his debut. I expect him to get a lot of touches in week 4.

WIDE RECEIVERS

-Sterling Shepard: 7 rec / 78 yards. I’ll say this right now. If Shepard stays healthy this year, he is going to produce, big time. The attention to detail he shows as a route runner combined with his top-tier quick twitch and stop/go explosion is as dangerous as any slot receiver in the NFL. And yes, I mean that. He made a couple of high-level catches, showing improved ball skills and ability in traffic.

-Cody Latimer: 1 Rec / 54 yards. Latimer hasn’t been used much in preseason, but he took in the longest play of the night via a deep ball from Manning. He really blew by Morris Claiborne and if Eli put that just a little further downfield, it would have been a TD.

-I am still holding onto the idea that Russell Shepard is going to make this team as the number four or five receiver. His experience in the slot and outside gives him the needed versatility and he is a factor on special teams as gunner. In addition, he made another tough catch for a first down in the 3rd quarter that I simply don’t think the other potential backups could have made. Hunter Sharp continues to struggle with drops and despite impressive athletic and return ability; he may be playing his way out of a job. He did return a punt for a touchdown though. Alonzo Russell brought in a 47 yard catch, displaying size and strength. Roger Lewis continues to show why he is near the bottom of the depth chart.

TIGHT END

-Evan Engram: 3 rec / 23 yards. His night was short, as on the 5th drive he was sandwiched between two Jets defenders and was popped in the head. He left the game with a concussion for the second year in a row. Like Shepard, Engram is going to be as tough a matchup as there is at the position on 3rd downs. Losing him for any time would be devastating.

-Rhett Ellison also left the game early with migraine issues, opening the door for Jerell Adams and Scott Simonson. Adams was the second most targeted receiver on the night, finishing with 3 catches and 12 yards. Simonson’s avenue to make this team is via blocking, but he didn’t grade out well in this one. He allowed a sack and two tackles. Adams may get this number three spot by default unless someone shakes free during cut down period around the league.

OFFENSIVE LINE

-Great night for the left side of the line, especially in pass protection. Nate Solder neutralized everything that was sent his way. Will Hernandez had quiet night (other than a holding penalty) in a good way and looks more comfortable than he did the previous two weeks. With a rookie that is likely to start week 1, that is all you can ask for.

-Ereck Flowers wasn’t matched up against any plus-pass rushers but he did a fine job. He allowed 1 pressure. Patrick Omameh continues to struggle, he just seems heavy and delayed off the snap. He struggled moving to his left, allowing 2 pressures and a tackle for loss. I haven’t seen anything that makes me think he deserves the starting job hands down other than a lack of intra-team competition.

-Another position that may need further examining is center. Brett Jones outplayed Jon Halapio, more notably in the run game. We know that Jones struggles in pass protection and he isn’t one of the new regime’s “guys”, but I trust him more than Halapio. Better movement off the ball and a more consistent level of play. (Note: This was written PRIOR to the trade).

-Chad Wheeler has not taken a step forward this year. His footwork is very poor even though he carries plus-athleticism. He is playing way too off balanced and top heavy. Nick Becton, on the other hand, continues to progress.

EDGE

-Kerry Wynn continues to be the MVP of preseason football. He recorded another sack, a tackle for loss, and 2 QB pressures. He is bringing the heat from all angles against different kinds of blockers. The versatility he brings is huge.

-Olivier Vernon and Kareem Martin both had quiet nights despite playing half the snaps. Martin needs to be a rotational player and if he ends up being one of the feature guys, this pass rush is in trouble. He doesn’t jump the snap and his adjustments take too long.

-Lorenzo Carter doesn’t seem ready for impact play, but I do like how disciplined he is with his techniques and the mental side of the game. It’s important players follow the progression of learning the scheme, consistently do things right, then catch up to the speed of the game. His athleticism is there, but it is going to take time for him to play fast and strong. He finished with a half-sack and 2 assisted tackles.

-Are Avery Moss and Romeo Okwara competing for a last edge spot on this team? If so, I think Okwara wins because he has more inside-outside versatility and brings more upside to the table as an athlete. Moss moved well post-snap, but he doesn’t adjust to blockers with enough power. Weak hands and gets pushed back against the run too easily.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES

-Damon Harrison pushed the Jets’ interior blockers where he wanted. He has been shutting down the opposing running games each week and I expect to see more of the same. Not only does he have superior physical presence, but he plays smart. His first step post-snap are almost always productive in that he reads the action instantly.

-Fellow starters Dalvin Tomlinson and rookie B.J. Hill had solid nights as well. More of the same from these two. Tomlinson was a little more active, finishing with a TFL and knockdown. If he is going to be more than a solid player, his pass rush repertoire needs to lengthen. Not looking down on him at all here; he is going to be a part of a very stout run defense. But what he does against the pass right now is limited.

-Josh Mauro had an active night. He has looked better and better each week and it will be adding fuel to the fire on this defensive line when he comes back after his suspension. He finished with 4 tackles, a half sack, and a knockdown. I can’t say this enough, he along with fellow backup Robert Thomas are going to make this defensive front one of the best run defending groups in the league.

LINEBACKERS

-Alec Ogletree finished with 3 tackles, 1 for a loss. He wasn’t tested in coverage much. B.J. Goodson was, however, and he just can’t hang in space with receivers that are crossing the field. I don’t expect him to run with those guys, but he hasn’t showed the anticipation that is needed.

-This brings me to a thought I have had for a couple weeks. After another impressive showing by Ray-Ray Armstrong, is there a chance he takes a hold of that starting spot at some point? He is a much better athlete and his progress as a run defender continues to stand out. He has been making good reads and working his way through traffic, two things he struggled with last year. I think there is more flexibility with Armstrong than there is with Goodson. Something to look for.

-Mark Herzlich and Tae Davis got a lot of action in the second half. Herzlich has been quietly effective. He does a lot of dirty work but he has also been covering a lot of ground in coverage. He was excellent in zone defense.

CORNERBACKS

-Eli Apple saw a lot of playing time, leading the team in snaps. He had an up and down night, recording a pass break up but also getting flagged for holding. The handsy-corner has been showing more of the same. Impressive ability and interesting potential but he just can’t seem to put together a quality game from start to finish. B.W. Webb allowed the Jets touchdown pass on a crossing route to Terrelle Pryor. Just late to read and couldn’t catch up.

-Donte Deayon saw his first action of the preseason. He finished with 4 tackles but also missed one in space. I like the heart he plays with, but he just gets pushed around too much and I think he will be a liability as a tackler. In an aggressive scheme where you will see a lot of 1-on-1 matchups with the corners, that worries me.

SAFETIES

-Landon Collins is playing with great lateral range. Think of this run defense clogging the middle with their line then Collins going unblocked to the sidelines. Just another reason why I think this defense will be elite against the run which will be important in this division.

-Curtis Riley appears to have the spot locked up next to Collins. The hamstring injury to Darian Thompson continues to keep him off the field and Andrew Adams doesn’t appear to be in the running. Michael Thomas is a fine rotational player who will be a factor on special teams. He is tough and productive in the box. Do any of these guys make plays against deep passing? That is another fear I have with this defense that lacks a superior pass rush.

SPECIALISTS

-K Aldrick Rosas: 4/4 (Made 48, 40, 27, 21). Rosas has been getting the opportunities and passing with flying colors. If he can maintain his consistency, I bet he ends up being one of the highest scoring kickers in the league.

-K Marshall Koehn: 1/1 (Made 44). Nice security blanket to have but as long as Rosas is kicking them straight, Koehn won’t be here in a couple weeks.

-P Riley Dixon: 5 punts – 41.0 avg / 33.3 net. Had a few opportunities to pin them tight but he put 2 in the end zone.

3 STUDS

-WR Sterling Shepard, DE Kerry Wynn, K Aldrick Rosas

3 DUDS

-OG Patrick Omameh, OLB Kareem Martin, RB Jonathan Stewart

3 THOUGHTS ON NYJ

-The commentators said this a couple time on Friday and I am sure a few more will repeat it during the season. The Darnold vs. Barkley debate is going to be a thing for their entire careers respectively. I hate that, personally. Two different systems and situations. Two different positions. Regardless, Darnold has gotten a lot of playing time in these first 3 weeks of preseason and nothing has made me think he would have been a better pick than Barkley.

-The Jets may be historically bad when it comes to the pass rush. I’m not only judging their preseason performance here, either. Their personnel, or lack thereof, really stands out. Combine that with a scheme that is overly reliant on blitzing to bring 5+ defenders to the passer, it is just a recipe for a disaster.

-When QB Teddy Bridgewater was coming out of Louisville, I didn’t have the franchise QB grade on him. Good college player and a great intangibles kid, but I didn’t see it. To me, the glaring weakness was a lack of physical presence and a body type that screamed injuries. I still feel that way even though he has had a few nice preseason performances against backups. I think he is an easy kid to root for, thus it sways the overall view on him as a QB.

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

-Speaking of the poor NYJ pass rush, I was really pleased with the pocket Eli Manning had to work with. When his confidence and assurance is there, he looks like he has more than enough left in the tank. Give him this Shurmur offense that can take advantage of Manning’s mental capacity and pass-versatility, I think this is going to be the best NYG offense we have seen in a long time.

-Three weeks of preseason football and I still think the OC/RG situation has a ways to go in terms of being figured out. The trading of Brett Jones to MIN has all but handed the job to Halapio with John Greco as the primary backup, but as previously mentioned I think that job should still be very much up in the air. And we may have to go back to John Jerry at RG if Omameh doesn’t step it up.

-The next biggest worry of this team resides in the defensive backfield. If the pass rush doesn’t generate a lot of pressure to a point where the QB needs to rush through progressions, I’m just not confident this team can cover. The LBs have been getting torched in the middle of the field, Eli Apple appears to the same thing we have watched in recent years, and the group of below average cover men behind him won’t scare anyone.

Aug 232018
 
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Donte Deayon, New York Giants (August 26, 2017)

Donte Deayon – © USA TODAY Sports

Preseason Game Preview: New York Giants at New York Jets, August 24, 2018

THE STORYLINE:

The media-driven storyline for this game will undoubtedly be “should the Giants have drafted Sam Darnold instead of Saquon Barkley?” which will be partially deflected by the fact that Barkley won’t be playing due to his hamstring strain. That is a valid question from a long-term strategic sense, but not in terms of the immediate, short-term implications of this game. But that won’t stop the media so ignore them.

Folks who have read this site for a long time know I usually downplay the importance of the preseason. Not this year with the new regime and the potentially fragile state of mind of team coming off of disastrous season. I believe the win over the Detroit Lions last week was very important, not just because of the final score board, but the convincing fashion in which the Giants out-played the Lions without three of their most important players playing. So now we have one bad performance against the Cleveland Browns and one good one against the Lions. Can the Giants build upon their success or will they regress in the third preseason game? The third game is universally considered the main test run for the regular season.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • RB Saquon Barkley (hamstring)
  • RB Jalen Simmons (concussion)
  • DE R.J. McIntosh (unknown – Active/Non-Football Illness list)
  • LB Connor Barwin (knee)
  • LB Calvin Munson (concussion)
  • S Darian Thompson (hamstring)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:

Pat Shumur made a very unusual decision last week to not play Eli Manning in the second game. Coaches will sometimes sit old, established veterans in the first and fourth preseason games, but not often the second or third. This is especially true for a quarterback like Eli who is learning a new offensive system with new terminology. Right or wrong, Shurmur must think Manning doesn’t need much live game work before September 9th. Factoring into this situation is the decision to sit Odell Beckham, Jr. for probably a couple of different reasons (contract, previous injury) and Saquon Barkley’s hamstring issue. It’s appears that these big three will enter the 2018 regular-season with very little live-game preparation. That’s a bit unnerving.

Other than possibly a drive or two against the Patriots in the preseason finale, this will probably be Eli’s preseason action. The passing game against the Browns with him at the helm was not a well-oiled machine. It would be encouraging to see Eli – with or without Odell – being more productive in keeping the chains moving and putting points up on the scoreboard. I’d be very surprised if he doesn’t play at least a half. Stating the obvious, what we don’t want to see is him under duress, looking uncomfortable in the pocket with legitimate or phantom pressure, and being inaccurate.

The first-string offensive line also needs the work. Remember, these are five new starters at five new positions. It’s impossible for them to have enough chemistry and cohesion after about 20 practices together. Picking up stunts and blitzes is complicated business. Same with coordinating your blocks in the running game. We’ve already seen some potential red flags with pressure coming free up the middle and continued shakiness from Ereck Flowers.

At receiver, the same question remains: other than Odell Beckham, Jr., do the Giants have enough weapons outside to concern the opposing defense? Sterling Shepard is one of those guys who teases, but can he become a consistently productive player game-in and game-out? Can he make plays DOWN the field? Is Cody Latimer ready for a breakout season or is he just a special teams player? Can the Giants REALLY rely on Hunter Sharp and Kalif Raymond to make plays in the regular season with the game on the line? What we do not want to see is the Giants’ first-string offense stall against the Jets with Eli not being able to connect with any of these guys. That’s what happened against the Browns.

I don’t know if this is true or not, but one gets the sense that the Giants are not overly concerned with Saquon Barkley not getting any preseason action other than the few snaps he saw against the Browns. I hope they are right. Rookies need real-game practice time. If Barkley is a major factor from the get-go on September 9th, he truly is a special player. Regardless, without Barkley, the first-team offense did not run the ball very well against the Lions. It appears that Wayne Gallman should be ahead of Jonathan Stewart on the depth chart and this game will provide another indication on whether or not that should be the case. This is also a big game for Robert Martin, especially with Jalen Simmons out.

Lastly, it will be interesting to see how Davis Webb plays after examples of the previous two extremes.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:

Take away the two big passing plays to David Njoku and Theo Riddick against Alec Ogletree and most fans would be very pleased about the play of the starting defense. To Ogletree’s defense, those are very tough match-ups for any linebacker. But his play in coverage may be the #1 issue Giants’ fans are watching in this game. It’s interesting to note that Ray-Ray Amstrong was promoted this week to first-team nickel defense, not to replace Ogletree, but B.J. Goodson. So let’s see how that plays out.

The pass rush showed signs of life last week too, but we still do not have enough of a sample size. Perhaps the #1 highlight last week was Olivier Vernon looking LT-like in beating three men to the quarterback on one play. Kareem Martin and Lorenzo Carter also flashed as Connor Barwin continues to sit with a knee issue. The Giants are likely to get a good push inside from Dalvin Tomlinson, Damon Harrison, and B.J. Hill, who have also been stalwarts against the run. The Browns and Lions simply couldn’t move them. Heading into camp, I thought Kerry Wynn would be the odd man out, being a bit of ‘tweener in this defense. Wynn has a history of playing well in the preseason and then disappearing in the regular season, but this year may be different. He’s been all over the field, including on special teams.

Like Ereck Flowers on offense, Eli Apple continues to make Giants’ fans nervous on defense. Both players are so up and down. But as of now, the Giants have little option but to play them unless either completely falls apart. For the second week in a row, Curtis Riley will start at free safety with the injury-prone Darian Thompson continuing to disappoint. Focus on him as well as William Gay, B.W. Webb, and the injury-prone Donte Deayon. These three players may be critical to the defense this year.

My guess is even with the heavy blitzing we’ve seen at times in the preseason, James Bettcher is not showing his cards yet. So take some of what you see with the front seven with a grain of salt. But I’m not sure he can scheme enough to protect the secondary so that’s where my focus will be in this game.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:

The 55-yard field goal from Aldrick Rosas was very encouraging. But we always knew he had the leg. What we need is the consistency. Don’t miss the 35 yarder. It might not be a bad thing for a drive to stall in field goal range in this game. We need a better read on Rosas.

Hunter Sharp muffed a punt return last week. Kalif Raymond has an issue with fumbles. The return game still appears very unsettled.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:

Head Coach Pat Shurmur on how he handles the players after each game: “They’ll come in (after the game), we’ll watch the tape, settle all debts. That way if they are a little angry with me they can go home on their off day, simmer down and come back.”

THE FINAL WORD:

Obviously, the Giants want to come out this game healthy, but the things I’ll be focusing on are the play of (1) Eli Manning, (2) the starting offensive line, and (3) the secondary.

Aug 202018
 
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Wayne Gallman, New York Giants (August 17, 2018)

Wayne Gallman – © USA TODAY Sports

New York Giants 30 – Detroit Lions 17

QUICK RECAP

After a few days of practice in Detroit with the Lions, the two teams faced off in week 2 of the preseason. Eli Manning and Odell Beckham were close to full participants in practice, however both stayed on the sidelines during game action. Darian Thompson also missed the game with his hamstring injury along with Saquon Barkley.

Davis Webb got the starting nod and really turned around the overall outlook on him after a rough week 1. He engineered a beautiful 17-play drive that ended with a touchdown pass to Wayne Gallman. Davis converted two 3rd downs and one 4th down on the drive that included a couple high level throws.

The teams traded multiple 3-and-outs back and forth trying to win the field position battle. Aldrick Rosas was given an opportunity at a 55-yard field goal which he drilled through the uprights with ease. NYG entered halftime with a 10-3 lead as the defense seems to be coming together nicely.

Kyle Lauletta started the 2nd half. After a three-and-out on drive one, DET backup Matt Cassel was intercepted off a deflection. Two plays later, Lauletta juked and cutback his way into the end zone via a rollout. A signal caller that isn’t known for his athletic ability got the Giants a 17-3 lead.

Detroit drove the ball downfield but instead of going for their second field goal of the night, they sent LeGarrette Blount up the middle on 4th and 2 and he was stuffed by a dominating inside run defense. The Giants lengthened their lead to 24-3 early in the 4th quarter with another Gallman touchdown. The backup defenses let up quite a bit, as NYG scored another touchdown on the ground, and DET scored two more themselves. It was a sloppy end to an otherwise well played game.

Giants win 30-17.

QUARTERBACKS

Davis Webb: 14/20 – 140 yards – 1 TD/0 INT. Webb got the start in this week 2 matchup, as Eli Manning received the night off after an intense practice week. This game was very much about Webb’s ability to bounce back from a shaky week 1 outing, and that he did. This was a completely different quarterback in contrast to what we saw a week ago. He had multiple high-level throws from the pocket and on the move in multiple directions. He had better touch, better footwork, and seemed more confident in his reads and progressions. He still threw a couple of high balls on urgent throws, however. That is one reoccurring weakness that I see.

Kyle Lauletta: 2/5 – 27 yards – 0 TD/0 INT. Lauletta added 13 yards and a touchdown on the ground. While he didn’t get a lot of opportunities to throw in this game, he didn’t capitalize on his two downfield throws. His touchdown run showed surprising cutback ability and while he won’t ever be mistaken for Russell Wilson in space, there is a lot of “football player” in him. I am still intrigued by the advanced footwork, release, and decision making.

RUNNING BACKS

Wayne Gallman: 5 att – 26 yards – 1 TD / 2 rec – 9 yards – 1 TD. With Saquon Barkley on the sidelines for this one, Gallman took over the lead role. He ran an outstanding route on his touchdown. This kid really poses as a threat with the ball in his hands and as a route runner. He will be an important piece to this 2018 offense.

Jonathan Stewart: 4 att – (-1) yard. Very uneventful night for the veteran, who was in for just 11 plays. He didn’t have any room in this contest and obviously didn’t play enough to get into a groove, but one can’t help but notice heavy feet and tight hips. Stewart’s value may be as an extra player-coach type more so than a backup to Barkley, especially with Gallman looking as good as he does.

Jalen Simmons and Robert Martin both had impressive performances again. Simmons left the game after a perceived concussion, thus Martin got a few extra late looks and he impressed. If he can show some special teams contribution, I think he has a strong chance at making this roster. Fullback Shane Smith played just 14% of the snaps.

WIDE RECEIVERS

-With Odell Beckham on the sidelines again, Sterling Shepard and Cory Latimer got the starts. Shepard brought in an over-the-shoulder catch near the sideline on a great route, while Latimer made high-level reception across the middle where he laid out and extended himself. Both were out of the game early in the second quarter, and most importantly, are healthy.

Hunter Sharp continues to receive an opportunity to display his ability, leading the group in snaps played. He muffed one of his punt return attempts and dropped a pass. The tools are intriguing but he needs to show a more consistent skill set. Just like I said last week, Russell Shepard is an under-the-radar name to look out for. He made a big time catch on a 50/50 ball downfield from Webb. I think a roster spot is going to come down to Roger Lewis or Kalif Raymond. They are different kinds of players, where Lewis again showed some big play ability with a 31-yard catch but Raymond offers more return ability.

TIGHT ENDS

Evan Engram: 2 rec – 13 yards. It’s hard to believe this, but Engram looks even faster and more explosive than he did a year ago. Because of the position he plays and all of the attention devoted to Beckham and Barkley, he is going to see a ton of 1-on-1 matchups. Nobody will be able to stay with him on crossing routes and he has made a couple of impressive adjustment-catches so far. I think he is going to have a huge year.

Jerell Adams did have 3 catches for 31 yards, but he struggled again. He was getting beaten off the ball as a blocker and had a couple of mental mistakes. Unreliable is the word that comes to mind here and in year 3, that could lead to him getting cut. Matt Simonson on the other hand does a lot of little things right and makes a difference on special teams.

TACKLES

-Very impressive night by Nate Solder, who was up against one of the best defensive ends in the game in Ezekiel Ansah. He has shown a couple struggles when it comes to getting off the ball quickly, but his balance and technique are very consistent. Ereck Flowers allowed a tackle for loss and 2 pressures early, but bounced back and ended with a solid run. Once again, he doesn’t play the game with his feet enough, being too reliant on hands, which are often inaccurate.

Chad Wheeler struggled. It was actually one of the worst performances I have seen out of him in his two years here. He is over-committing to his initial read, getting too top heavy and lunging for his man. Nick Becton has been impressive and I think there is a chance he could grab the number three tackle spot. His run blocking as been exceptional.

GUARDS/CENTERS

-There is a very alarming trend occurring with the guys inside. They are letting blitzers through the A/B gaps go untouched. Delayed, not delayed, whichever. Will Hernandez and Jon Halapio both had terrible misses. Late to see, slow to react. It blew up a couple of running plays. At this time last year, I wrote about how poorly the NYG OL was dealing with stunts to the outside and it definitely made its way into regular season play. Let’s hope these guys get this figured out over the next two weeks. Patrick Omameh had a quiet game, not necessarily in a good way. He got beaten off the ball a few times that blew up running plays inside and right side.

-John Greco is the dark horse to win the OC job at some point. He has seen some snaps there in practice, and he was my highest graded backup Friday night. John Jerry and Brett Jones got good movement in the running game as well.

DEFENSIVE ENDS

-Good to see Olivier Vernon produce some game results in week 2. He really is a different kind of edge rusher. Not overly big, this guy plays with tremendous knee bend and derives a lot of power from his base. He doesn’t always make it look right, but the late and subtle movements in traffic can get him the proper angles to the QB. He finished with a sack and was very close on another. He beat 3 separate blockers on his sack.

Kerry Wynn has been one of the most impressive defenders on this team through 2 games. While we have been impressed with him in preseason before just to be let down when the games count, I see a guy that is going to fit like a glove in this scheme. He finished with a sack, two hurries, and a couple athletic looking special teams tackles. He is a great example for guys trying to make a team. Keep the engine on high and contribute in different ways. Same can be said for the gifted Romeo Okwara who also finished with a sack and a hurry. If these two can perform during the season, the outlook for this defense totally changes.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES

-Once again, the strong point of this team. Damon Harrison could make a “how to” for young DTs when it comes to playing the run. He simply creates a new line of scrimmage routinely. He pushed the DET interior linemen all over the place. B.J. Hill and Dalvin Tomlinson made plays in the backfield. Hill looks very athletic and light footed while Tomlinson has progressed nicely with his hand location. DET averaged 3 yards per carry and these guys were the main reasons why.

Josh Mauro had a nice game off the bench. He demands the double team consistently and knows how to crowd the running lanes. He also had a hurry and pass deflection. Robert Thomas and A.J. Francis are showing to be on a different level than the counterpart backups. Good signs for a scheme that will likely need to rest Harrison for a few stretches each week.

LINEBACKERS

-The whipping boy of this defense may be the newly signed Alec Ogletree. Two weeks, two times he has been exposed in space,  covering man-to-man. Last week he did a poor job against tight end David Njoku but I will say I don’t think there is a LB in football that would have stopped Theo Riddick on his 42-yard reception. He is the best receiving RB in the NFL and as we saw on the Webb-to-Gallman TD, that route is incredibly difficult to defend. He and B.J. Goodson simply haven’t played enough to really lean one way or another.

Ray Ray Armstrong continues to show he can be a player in this scheme with a couple tackles, a pass break up, and an interception. He is a very cheap version of ARI’s Deone Bucannon. I don’t see him breaking into a starting lineup unless there is an injury, but I do think he can be a piece to the puzzle. He has a very unique skill set and he looks like he really understands this scheme.

I think a roster spot may come down to Calvin Munson or Mark Herzlich. Both are one dimensional and I think there is room on this roster for one of them, not both. I could be wrong though. Herzlich led the team with 7 tackles and I think he has more range and better instincts. Not to mention he just bring more intensity and presence to the defense when he is out there.

CORNERBACKS

-I can understand the effort to keep Janoris Jenkins healthy by limiting his snaps, but I wish we could have seen more of Eli Apple. He is still very much an unknown. He seems to be struggling with some of the basic, must-have traits to the position in this scheme. Not enough footwork, too late on anticipation and reaction.

B.W. Webb and Leonard Johnson both lack the desired size but these guys compete hard. Webb did get flagged for a pass interference penalty, but I thought he did a fine job when covering the outside receivers who were much bigger than him. Johnson had one of the most physical hits of the game.

Grant Haley shows admirable footwork and quickness, but he just can’t handle the physical side of the game yet. He was tossed to the ground by T.J. Jones on a 4th quarter touchdown. He simply looked over-matched on that play and others.

SAFETIES

Landon Collins started along side Curtis Riley in this one. Neither were really tested. Collins still has that tendency to lose his angles on outside running plays and screen passes. He is the least of this team’s concern though. I hope to see Riley tested more often with Darian Thompson injured.

-Impressed with backup Michael Thomas. He had a really nice TFL on a play where he stood a tight end up at the point of attack, shed him, and made a physical tackle behind the line of scrimmage. He also had a near INT in the end zone. Andrew Adams had a couple of physical showings as well. Both guys can handle backup duty to Collins, but neither show the range needed to play next to him.

KICKERS/PUNTERS

Aldrick Rosas: 1/1 (55) – 1/1 XP. Impressive career-long kick for Rosas who put the ball through halfway up from that distance. All this after a bad snap and somewhat delayed approach. Wow.

-Marshall Koehn: 0/0 – 2/3 XP. Missing extra points is a quick way to get the boot.

-Riley Dixon: 3 punts – 43.3 avg – 40.7 net.

3 STUDS

-QB Davis Webb, RB Wayne Gallman, DE Kerry Wynn

3 DUDS

-OC Jon Halapio, CB Grant Haley, TE Jerell Adams

3 TAKEAWAYS FOR DET

-The make or break for this team will be the offensive line. Stafford is as close to the top tier QBs in this league of anyone that isn’t quite there. The weapons are there. The defense is improving and they have a brilliant mind calling the shots on that side of the ball. But the OL is a concern and it is time some of their recent draft picks pony up.

-Darius Slay might be in the discussion for top CB in the league. It is a tough position to evaluate when comparing teams and schemes. But I might put this kid up there with anyone, if not above everyone, when it comes to playing on an island 1-on-1 with any kind of WR in the league.

-LB and former Giant Devon Kennard appears to be a better fit for the Matt Patricia scheme than what he was with the Giants. Get him rushing the edge over and over will result in more sexy stats for him obviously, but I think his results are more than that. The inside-out versatility wasn’t used often enough during his NYG tenure.

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

-We discussed last week how looking too deep into one week of preseason performance is foolish. However it happens every year. Those that wrote off Webb after the CLE game look silly now. That was the best we have seen out of him since he was under an NYG contract. Now, can he build off it? His next appearance will be very telling on where he’s at, much more so than the previous 2 weeks.

-I’ve seen all but 5 preseason games from around the league. And you know what? The backup OL here is outperforming most of the league’s backups. They are getting a lot of movement at the point-of-attack and providing more time in pass protection. Preseason football is often ugly late in games because of poor OL play. NYG has had 2 solid weeks in a row in comparison. Is it scheme based? Coaching? I don’t know yet. But it is a good thing, that’s for sure.

-I really do enjoy watching James Bettcher coach. It will take more time to really see the scheme and trends, but I am speaking more along the lines of his emotion and involvement on the sidelines. He is all in with these guys and yes, I do think it makes a difference with the players.

Aug 162018
 
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Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham, New York Giants (August 9, 2018)

Can someone other than these two make a play? – © USA TODAY Sports

Preseason Game Preview: New York Giants at Detroit Lions, August 17, 2018

THE STORYLINE:

Most fans know that it is unwise to make too much out of preseason game, let alone the first preseason game. That said, other than the ground game, the New York Giants were clearly out-played by an 0-16 (albeit improving) Cleveland Browns team in the opener. Even though these are practice games, there is a psychological component involved here. The Giants were 3-13 last year. They are 0-1 in the preseason. It would be a nice psychological boost for the team to experience a winning locker room again. (It would also be nice for the fans). One could legitimately argue that, based off one game, the Giants still look like a rebuilding ball club that has hitched it’s wagon to a 37-year old quarterback while passing on a number of potential franchise quarterbacks in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Pat Shurmur has to be thrilled with the quantity and quality of the work accomplished this week in the three practices against the Detroit Lions. And the team came out of these practices with no serious injury issues. The best way to cap this week would be a solid performance on Friday night against the Lions and have that proverbial arrow moving up rather than down.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • RB Saquon Barkley (hamstring)
  • WR Travis Rudolph (quad)
  • TE Ryan O’Malley (ankle)
  • DE R.J. McIntosh (unknown – Active/Non-Football Illness list)
  • LB Connor Barwin (“soreness”)
  • LB Thurston Armbrister (hamstring)
  • CB Donte Deayon (hamstring)
  • S Darian Thompson (hamstring)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:

The only real highlights to come out of last week’s game was the ground attack. Saquon Barkley’s first run was a real eye-opener, not so much for the big gain but the series of moves he strung together in order to break out into the open field. Unfortunately, he will not play on Friday. This will provide an opportunity for Jonathan Stewart and Wayne Gallman to make their respective cases for #2 back. Neither was particularly productive against the Browns on the ground (combined eight yards on six carries) but Gallman was more of  factor in the passing game (4 catches for 33 yards). He looks quicker and faster. There should also be more opportunities for guys who were pretty much regarded as “camp fodder” players, but who played well last week: Jalen Simmons (7 carries for 38 yards and a touchdown) and Robert Martin (5 carries for 39 yards). Could one of these two force their way onto the 53-man roster?

Overall, last week the Giants had 134 net yards rushing and averaged almost six yards per rush. That’s a good sign and a step forward for what has become a finesse team in recent years. The offensive line is still clearly a work in process, but it’s a start. At least the Giants were more physical.

Now to negative. I’ll keep saying it until the Giants prove me wrong: unless the Giants break a big play, they have problems sustaining drives. In recent years, the only big plays came from Odell Beckham. At least now they’ve added another big-play weapon in Saquon Barkley. But outside of Barkley’s 39-yard run, the first-team offense wasn’t good against the Browns. That bears watching moving forward. Can this offense string together four, five, six first downs and get the ball into the end zone? Forget breaking the 30-point barrier, even 20 points still seems to be an issue. With Barkley not playing against the Lions, and possibly Beckham, others need to step up and demonstrate they are legitimate first-string NFL talent. All of the positive plays in practice by Cody Latimer, Hunter Sharp, Kalif Raymond, etc. mean nothing unless it translates to actual games. Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram have to make more plays too. And Eli has to be more accurate, especially on screen passes.

Perhaps the biggest subplot this week is how Davis Webb responds to an atrocious performance against the Browns. Webb didn’t even look like a viable back-up, let alone potential future starter. Jumpy, nervous quarterbacks are worthless. He had better get that out of his system quickly. I would not be shocked to see the Giants cut him if this crap continues. This new regime has no ties to him.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:

We’ll start with the good news first again. Every defensive coordinator in football will tell you their #1 priority is stopping the run. Last week, the Giants held Cleveland to paltry 50 yards rushing (15 of which came from the QBs) and 1.5 yards per rush. The Giants were clearly the more physical team up front. That’s a positive start for a Giants defense that was 27th against the run in the NFL in 2017. As hoped and expected, the Giants defensive line is very tough to move out and the team looks to have some decent depth.

The bad news were the pass rush and pass coverage – which go hand-in-hand. The Giants only accrued one sack (by reserve Robert Thomas) and three quarterback hits last week. More was expected, particularly by the starting and reserve outside linebackers. By all accounts, Olivier Vernon has had a great camp. But it didn’t translate to the playing field last week. Same story with Connor Barwin, who is now not playing due to “soreness.” Lorenzo Carter and Kareem Martin were too quiet. If the Giants’ outside backers aren’t effective rushing the passer, this defense is going to have issues stopping opposing quarterbacks.

This brings us to pass coverage. Last year the Giants were 31st in pass defense. In a limited number of snaps, the Browns were successfully able to attack both Janoris Jenkins and Eli Apple outside the hashmarks. Both played the man rather than the ball and got burned. Folks have been saying Jenkins has had a strong camp, but I keep noticing big plays against him in practice too where he isn’t turning to play the ball. And we’ve all know this has been an ongoing issue with Apple. The scary news is that despite this, these are two guys the Giants simply can’t afford to lose right now because they team has zero depth behind them. The loss of Sam Beal is looking bigger by the day. And like the offensive line, the secondary still has the appearance of a 2-year rebuilding project.

That all said, the pass coverage over the middle remains the primary liability of the New York Giants defense. It’s been a problem for years and it was a problem last week. Sy’56 correctly harped on it in his game review. Alec Ogletree was supposed to add athleticism to the inside linebacking spot, but he was burned for a long touchdown against the Browns and had issues in practice this week when covering tight ends. With Curtis Riley out last week, Darian Thompson started at free safety and he did not distinguish himself. Now he’s hurt and Riley is back so let’s see if Riley – a former cornerback – is an improvement. If the Giants are going to compete against a team like the Philadelphia Eagles, they need to be able to cover tight ends and running backs better.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:

Through one week of preseason action, 45 punters have punted. Riley Dixon has punted a league-high 10 times, but is only 21st in average (44.2 yards per punt) and 26th in net average (39.7 yards per punt). Aldrick Rosas did make a 42-yard field goal.

Kalif Raymond did have a 14 yard punt return and Hunter Sharp a 42-yard kickoff return. Kickoff coverage wasn’t good as the Browns had two kickoff returns of 30 yards or more.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:

Head Coach Pat Shurmur on Davis Webb against the Lions: “I think young players tend to improve. It was his first time in our system (last week), playing really in a new system. So yeah, I certainly hope he’s better (this week).”

THE FINAL WORD:

As long as I’ve been a fan, I’ve never come to a definitive conclusion about the importance of the preseason. But I do know that I will become increasingly nervous if the Giants lay another egg this week. The offense needs to demonstrate an ability to sustain drives and get the ball into the end zone. The defense needs to get the other team off of the field and stop giving up big passing plays.

Aug 152018
 
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Lorenzo Carter, New York Giants (August 9, 2018)

Lorenzo Carter – © USA TODAY Sports

AUGUST 15, 2018 NEW YORK GIANTS TRAINING CAMP REPORT…
While the last official training camp practice for the New York Giants was held on August 7th, the team is holding joint public practices with the Detroit Lions on August 14-16.

“Alright, day two here,” said Head Coach Pat Shurmur after practice. “Competitive. You could tell the guys were grinding through that, but again, we didn’t have any injuries to speak of, a couple nagging things I’m sure, but for the most part I was proud of the professionalism that our guys showed. It gets a little chippy sometimes. Detroit did a great job and I think because we set the ground rules for this thing at least until this point, really both teams have gotten a lot of really good work. I think that’s part of being a pro, is being able to do things in different settings and get a lot out of it.”

INJURY REPORT…
Not practicing on Wednesday due to injury were wide running back Saquon Barkley (hamstring), receiver Travis Rudolph (quad), tight end Ryan O’Malley (ankle), defensive end R.J. McIntosh (unknown – Active/Non-Football Illness list), linebacker Connor Barwin (“soreness”), linebacker Thurston Armbrister (hamstring), cornerback Donte Deayon (hamstring), and safety Darian Thompson (hamstring).

PRACTICE NOTES…
Some snippets from various media sources:

  • Curtis Riley remained the starting free safety.
  • In 7-on-7 drills, wide receiver Cody Latimer made a leaping catch over cornerback Darius Slay in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown.
  • Wide receiver Hunter Sharp made a “spectacular” leaping catch in the back of the end zone for a touchdown.
  • Quarterback Davis Webb threw a precise pass in the end zone to tight end Scott Simonson for a touchdown.
  • Quarterback Kyle Lauletta threw a dart to wide receiver Roger Lewis, Jr. for a score.
  • Off a rollout, quarterback Eli Manning threw to wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. in the back of the end zone for a touchdown.
  • In 7-on-7 drills, tight end Evan Engram made a very nice catch of a quarterback Eli Manning pass that was thrown low and behind of him.
  • Quarterback Eli Manning fired a pass between two defenders to wide receiver Hunter Sharp who made a nice catch for a touchdown.
  • Quarterback Davis Webb hit wide receiver Roger Lewis, Jr. in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown. Webb then threw a nice back-shoulder pass to tight end Rhett Ellison for another score. Ellison had three scores in red zone drills.
  • In 11-on-11 redzone drills, linebacker Olivier Vernon blew through the line of scrimmage and nailed the back for a 3-yard loss. Vernon had at least two “sacks” and another tackle for a loss during drills.
  • Defensive end B.J. Hill “sacked” the quarterback and defensive end Dalvin Tomlinson made a couple of plays in the backfield.
  • Nose tackle Robert Thomas continues to impress, flashing throughout practice.
  • Defensive end Ziggy Ansah badly beat right tackle Ereck Flowers on a pass rush, leading to a “sack” by former Giant linebacker Devon Kennard.
  • Wide receiver Sterling Shepard drew a pass interference penalty. Then quarterback Eli Manning hit tight end Evan Engram for a touchdown against safety Glover Quin.
  • In 11-on-11 drills, quarterback Davis Webb rolled out and threw a touchdown pass off his back foot.
  • Linebacker Lorenzo Carter “sacked” the quarterback in redzone drills. He gave left tackle Tyrell Crosby problems.
  • Linebacker Alec Ogletree was having problems covering Detroit’s tight ends. Hakeem Valles and Levine Toilolo both scored against him. Ogletree did pick up one “sack” and a tackle for a loss during 11-on-11 drills.
  • Wide receiver Chris Lacy made a leaping catch over cornerback Eli Apple in the back of the endzone for a touchdown.
  • In the 2-minute drill, after committing a pass interference penalty, cornerback Eli Apple picked off a pass from quarterback Jake Rudock intended for wide receiver Marvin Jones and returned it for a touchdown.
  • In 2-point conversion attempts, the Lions were 3-for-3 while the Giants were 0-for-3.

HEAD COACH PAT SHURMUR…
The transcript of Pat Shurmur’s press conference on Wednesday is available in The Corner Forum while the video is available at Giants.com.

THE PLAYERS SPEAK…
Transcripts and video clips of the media sessions with the following players are available in The Corner Forum and at Giants.com:

ARTICLES…

WHAT’S UP NEXT…
The Giants will practice against the Detroit Lions in Michigan on Thursday (open to public). The two teams face off on Friday night at Ford Field.