Aug 182019
 
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New York Giants Defense (August 16, 2019)

New York Giants Defense – © USA TODAY Sports

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New York Giants 32 – Chicago Bears 13

QUICK RECAP

Week 2 of the preseason brought in a team coming off the “worst-to-first” season. The Bears, who won just 5 games in 2017, took the NFC North in 2018 with 12 victories. Jim Nagy won Coach of the Year, the Bears defense allowed a league low 17 points per game, and QB Mitch Trubisky took a big step in his progression. This had the look of a solid test for where NYG stood at this point. However Nagy, who appears to be anti-preseason football, sat nearly his entire first string on both sides of the ball. The Giants test would have a different outlook, but the game still was to be played.

Eli Manning partook in just one drive for the second week in a row, however this one was much more impressive. He attempted 4 passes, completing all 4 to different targets, the last of which an 8-yard touchdown to Bennie Fowler. It was a smooth and easy grouping of plays for the first string offense.

Chase Daniel started for the Bears, the same Chase Daniel who lost to NYG last December in a 2-interception game. A couple of NYG mistakes enabled them to drive down the field and eventually hit a 41-yard field goal. The score was 7-3 as the end of the first quarter approached and rookie Daniel Jones was ready to take over with the first string offense surrounding him. After three straight completions, the last of which went for 40 yards to Cody Latimer, Jones fumbled a snap and turned the ball over in the red zone.

Quality offensive football took a nap, as the two teams produced 5 straight 3-and-outs, one of which ended with Jones’ second fumble of the night and then a missed CHI field goal attempt. He was able to recover well enough and thanks to quality offensive line play, NYG was able to put another 3 points on the board with a 47-yard field goal. On the ensuing drive, an errant snap produced a safety and a 12-3 lead for NYG. Jones had under 3 minutes left and he finished the half with arguably his best drive of his young career.

With urgency in the no huddle offense, Jones went a perfect 4-4 including a beautiful touch pass to T.J. Jones in the end zone. The 15-yard touchdown gave the Giants a commanding 19-3 lead with a little over 1 minute left in the half. That was enough for the Bears to get themselves back into field goal position with time expiring which they took advantage of, making the score 19-6 at the halfway point.

The full list of backups took over in the second half with Alex Tanney appearing to still have a firm grip on the number three job. His night didn’t begin in ideal fashion, as his offense went 3-and-out on drive number one and the second ended in a poor interception with NYG just one yard away from a touchdown on first down. An under throw, ill-advised decision ended up in the hands of CHI rookie corner Clifton Duck. The Bears turned that in to a touchdown and got within 6 as the fourth quarter got under way. Tanney did bounce back with one more TD-scoring drive, this one by roster-hopeful Ronnie Hilliman, making the score 25-13.

NYG took advantage of poor CHI play that produced penalties and fumbles. With Kyle Lauletta leading the offense at this point, they scored another 6 on a pass to Garrett Dickerson. The Giants had a 32-13 lead and after another Bears turnover, the game was all but over. Not the cleanest win, but NYG improved their record to 2-0.

Giants win 32-13.

QUARTERBACKS

Eli Manning: 4/4 – 42 yards – 1 TD. Manning was on the field for just one drive for the second straight week. It was a smooth and efficient drive with the highlight play being an absolute rope to Latimer over the middle. It was a tight-window throw that traveled 20+ yards in the air. The reports of Manning’s arm being stronger than in years past are credible.

-Daniel Jones: 11/14 – 161 yards – 1 TD. Add 2 lost fumbles to the stats for Jones, something that absolutely needs to be cleaned up. Turnover margin is the ONE stat that correlates to wins and losses more than any other. Besides that, Jones expanded the throw-arsenal in this one. He pushed the ball downfield for a 40-yard gain to Latimer and it was a nicely placed ball. Some will say he should have led Latimer more, but that could have easily resulted in the safety bearing down on the ball and breaking it up. With the cornerback running with his back to Jones, I think that is where the throw was meant to land. Jones’ touchdown pass to T.J. Jones was something we saw in college. Perfect placement, perfect touch, easily catchable. Some pro QBs never fully grasp the ability to alter touch and air under the ball throughout all levels of the passing tree and it looks like it comes so natural to Jones. This was another excellent passing performance by Jones, but the fumbles can’t be overlooked.

-The battle for the number three job between Alex Tanney and Kyle Lauletta appears all but over. Tanney did throw an interception on 1st-and-goal from the 1-yard line, a major mistake, but he still showed more ability to push the ball downfield. Lauletta did end the night with a touchdown and had a solid 15-yard rushing gain. I expect Manning and Jones to get almost all the snaps in week 3, so the last shot in game action will likely come in two weeks.

RUNNING BACKS

-With both Saquon Barkley and Wayne Gallman on the sideline, it was an opportunity to shine for Rod Smith and Paul Perkins. Smith’s size is something these other potential backups don’t bring to the table, he can really push the pile. He finished with 10-42 on the ground and 2-8 via the air. He fumbled once but it was recovered by Nick Gates, the backup NYG left tackle. Perkins, who was a complete dud in week 1, put together arguably his best game-performance in a Giants uniform. 6-35 on the ground and 2 catches for 30 yards. He displayed the quickness, burst, and balance on a couple of occasions that got me originally excited about him years ago. I still think it is unlikely he makes the team if this coaching staff wants to just keep 3 backs on the roster in addition to fullback Elijah Penny.

-Jon Hilliman bounced back after taking a nasty hit and missing a couple days while in concussion protocol last week. He had a team-high 16 carries for 56 yards and a touchdown. Hilliman gets downhill in a hurry and runs with a low pad level. He has always been a solid between the tackles runner but that role on this team won’t be there barring injury to the guys in front of him.

WIDE RECEIVERS

-T.J. Jones continues to impress, whether it be in practice or in a game. He walked away from this one with 3 catches – 32 yards – 1 TD. For a small guy, Jones gets to the ball in contested situations exceptionally well. He is more than just an underneath threat. Great find by the Pro Personnel staff here, because I think Jones is going to be the #3 or #4 on this team while Tate is suspended.

-Cody Latimer was targeted twice and he ended with 2 catches – 60 yards. This is the one guy who can consistently get downfield and with the size/long stride combo, he is going to get plenty of deep looks. You don’t hear much about him in camp reports but I think some are overlooking how solid and reliable he can be. If his health stays in check, I am expecting 65+ catches from him with some big plays in the vertical passing tree.

-Bennie Fowler caught the touchdown from Manning on the first drive. He consistently gets open underneath on the quick slants and hooks. But what may not be obvious to the naked eye is how physical he is. Fowler is 6’1/218 and even looking back at my college scouting report of him, he has always been a guy who can overpower defensive backs. While Tate is suspended those first four weeks, he may be a really important piece to the passing game when those 3-6 yard gains are needed over the middle. He has been proving his worth there so far.

-Nice downfield grabs by Da’Mari Scott (38 yards) and Brittan Golden (27 yards).

TIGHT ENDS

-Evan Engram didn’t play. Rhett Ellison was only on the field for 14 snaps with Scott Simonson only seeing 16 snaps. That left it up to roster hopefuls C.J. Conrad and Garrett Dickerson. Conrad did a nice job blocking with powerful contact and sticky hands while Dickerson showed more in the passing game with 2 catches – 17 yards – 1 TD. They are both interesting players who can, like Ellison, move around to the backfield as a lead blocker, mixing it up in the trenches, and being dependable underneath pass catchers. Simonson had a drop but I think he is firmly in place as the #3 guy.

OFFENSIVE LINE

-The first-string OL got more action in this one, and they did a fine job. No pressures, no sacks, no TFL. I focused on Mike Remmers because of how much that RT spot has hurt the offense in recent years. He is a blue-collar guy who reminds me of a tackle-version of Rich Seubert. Little short on talent and tools but there is a lot of grit, a lot of competitor in him. Center Jon Halapio had a nice game too, very stout and hard to move. When he gets on his target, there is never any movement in the wrong direction. That will be very important.

-Nick Gates is turning into the surprise of the preseason for me personally. He and Chad Wheeler did allow a sack, but other than that Gates was more than solid. There is a lot of twitch and reaction to his game and there is a natural presence about him. The staff is talking about how they are comfortable putting him anywhere along the line and I think he has locked up a spot. Wheeler, on the other hand, is officially on the hot seat. Another sack and pressure again. At some point, there will be a veteran available on the waiver wire who will come in and replace him.

-Don’t sleep on Chad Slade who still has sloppiness about him (1 sack allowed), but he moves guys as well as any of the backups. He, too, brings some inside-out versatility.

-Evan Brown had a holding penalty and was beat badly once on an inside rush, but he is a gritty blocker with quality footwork and balance. I think he has the top inside-backup role locked up other than Spencer Pulley, who I think is a center-only.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES

-The trio of Dalvin Tomlinson, B.J. Hill, and Dexter Lawrence had a better game than week 1, but they still are leaving something to be desired. Nothing to overreact to at all, but there is just too much movement at the point-of-attack against the second string CHI offensive line. Lawrence is going to learn really fast that his size and power won’t do as much for him as it did in college. That alone just isn’t going to cut it if you want to be an every-down guy.

-Olsen Pierre recorded a sack and played with violence at the point-of-attack. He and John Jenkins are going to be a solid backup rotation should someone go down. Jenkins has a nice mix of disruptive and stout based on his playing style and tool set.

-One name that is continuing to jump at me, and this applies to practice as well, is Jake Ceresna. He, against 3rd-string OL, is constantly breaking through the line and shows quality athletic adjustments to the action. He had 2 tackles, one of which was for a loss. Also have to give attention to Terrence Fede, who had a nice week 1 and recovered a fumble along with recording a TFL in this one.

EDGE

-The edge rushers, which I think is, as of right now, the weakest group on the defense, had a quality night. Markus Golden recorded a sack via excellent hand-battling and a short area burst to close in on Chase Daniels. Oshane Ximines recorded the first sack of his pro-career via nice post-engagement footwork and balance. It is pretty easy to see he is still a ways away power-wise though.

-Lorenzo Carter had a pressure via a rush move I didn’t think he could pull off. He dipped completely under the blocker’s chest while turning the corner with complete balance and control. For a guy who has the size and straight-line speed to show that kind of movement is a good sign.

-Kareem Martin, albeit limited as a pass rusher, is a really dependable run defender. He is the most physical guy in the group and his backside pursuit made a difference in two occasions. He comes downhill hard and angry. If this defense ends up exceeding expectations, I bet he is a really important piece of the puzzle.

LINEBACKERS

-With Alec Ogletree nursing the calf, Tae Davis and rookie Ryan Connelly got the start and played 21 snaps. Neither recorded a tackle and while that isn’t the only barometer to be used for this success, I think they both struggled. Davis gets lost in traffic if he doesn’t get the initial jump and while that is common at the position, it happens too often with him. Connelly, on the other hand, made several key reads but was just a step or two too slow and couldn’t close the deal. He will have to adjust his angles a tad, as the speed of the game especially on outside runs isn’t anything close to what he is used to.

-Nate Stupar had a nice game: three tackles and pass break up. He is well thought of by the coaches and his presence with the other players is another check in his box. He has assumed a bit of a leadership role. B.J. Goodson, again, had to wait his turn. But once he got on the field, he made a couple plays, one of which was a nice pursuit and finish to the outside. Personally I really hope he sticks around this year, I think he can make things happen and he deserves a shot. I’m not sold on Connelly getting a higher spot on the depth chart than him just yet.

CORNERBACKS

-Janoris Jenkins and Antonio Hamilton got the start. With Baker out for the time being, which I don’t think will be long, it is interesting to compare these backup corners. I trust Hamilton the most because he seems to make the reads more consistently, whereas Henre’ Toliver was late to notice things and could have been burned deep a couple times had CHI 3rd-stringer Tyler Bray made accurate downfield passes.

-Corey Ballentine and Grant Haley are both very grabby. It is a gamble that, with the way these refs are throwing flags, could end up hurting this defense more than expected. Ballentine, as we talked about last week, has the tools that will make us drool. Haley is a solid nickel presence that has had a knack for making things happen but I get worried about seeing how much they grab.

SAFETIES

-Jabrill Peppers vs. Landon Collins will be a interesting comparison. Peppers actually plays more physical and that was apparent on how forcefully he was filling gaps. The question with him is reactive coverage, more notably zone, as I saw him exposed a couple of times in the all-22 tape. Fortunately it didn’t hurt them, this time.

-Kenny Ladler made another impactful, physical tackle. He continues to impress and it will be important to have another physical guy behind Peppers ready to step in should he go down. Peppers does have a slight injury history dating back to his days at Michigan, although he did play all 16 games in 2018.

SPECIAL TEAMS

-K Aldrick Rosas: 1/1 (Made 47).

-P Riley Dixon: 3 Punts – 40.3 avg / 45.3 net

-T.J. Jones had a 43-yard kick return but also muffed a punt that he ended up recovering himself. The more he can prove to do, the more likely he makes this team and the active game day roster.

3 STUDS

-RB Paul Perkins, OC Jon Halapio, OLB Lorenzo Carter

3 DUDS

-OT Chad Wheeler, TE Scott Simonson, LB Ryan Connelly

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

-This offense is passing the preliminary tests. The main reason? The offensive line is controlling the point-of-attack and sustaining their blocks. While they haven’t been truly tested just yet, they are giving plenty of time and mental security to the passers. We haven’t seen that in preseason in recent years.

-Do we need to see Saquon Barkley this preseason? I think we do and yes, the fear of an injury is real. But this is football and I don’t want weeks 1 and 2 to be, in any fashion, players getting “the rust off”. I think it would benefit Barkley to get at least 6-7 touches in against CIN in the third preseason game.

-The emergence of T.J. Jones at receiver is good news for the offense but it has to mean someone may get the boot who we didn’t initially expect. The Tate suspension could end up helping someone stick around but if this team keeps six receivers not including Tate, the likes of Alonzo Russell, Alex Wesley, and Da’Mari Scott are going to be on the outside looking in.

Aug 152019
 
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T.J. Jones, New York Giants (August 8, 2019)

T.J. Jones – © USA TODAY Sports

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Preseason Game Preview: Chicago Bears at New York Giants, August 16, 2019

THE STORYLINE:
In terms of media and fan perspective, the predominant early narrative on the 2019 New York Giants remains the same. Most see a rebuilding team with a potentially yet-to-be-determined and messy quarterback transition. The game against the New York Jets provided some reasons to be optimistic and some causes for concern. Minus their best player (Saquon Barkley), the Giants pretty soundly defeated their cross-town rivals, and looked sharper in doing so than is normally the custom for the first preseason game. Daniel Jones played better than anyone expected and a number of the newcomers on both sides of the ball flashed. It was an entertaining game and the players seemed motivated and excited. On the flip side, the first-team defense and offense struggled on the initial drives. The Giants couldn’t run the ball. But that should change once Barkley is in the line-up. The biggest cause for concern remains the pass rush.

THE INJURY REPORT:
The following players are not likely to play on Friday night:

  • WR Sterling Shepard (thumb)
  • OT Brian Mihalik (burner)
  • OT George Asafo-Adjei (concussion)
  • LB Alec Ogletree (calf)
  • CB Deandre Baker (knee)
  • CB Sam Beal (hamstring)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
Understandably, almost all of the discussion following the first preseason game was centered on the performance of Daniel Jones, who perfectly completed all five of his passes, including a tight 3rd-and-7 sideline throw and a 12-yard touchdown pass. But stormy weather prevented a larger sample size. The good news is that Jones silenced some of his critics in the short-term. The bad news is that expectations may now be unfairly raised. The naysayers are sure to vocally return with the inevitable inconsistencies and growing pains.

While the first game could not have gone better for Jones, it was far from ideal for the actual starting quarterback, Eli Manning. He only had one pass in one series, and on that throw, he checked down to a very short, 3-yard completion when he had another target open farther down the field on the side he rolled to. A strange 3rd-and-8 draw play brought out the boo-birds.  Then Eli got to listen to the fans roar as Daniel Jones easily drove the first-team offense down the field for a touchdown. From a psychological perspective, Manning is in a very tough spot. Everyone knows the transition is only a matter of time. And with every incompletion or (gasp) interception, the calls for Manning to sit will grow and grow. I don’t find it surprising that Manning lit it up in practice this week. My guess is he sees the writing on the wall and his dander is up.

Beyond the quarterback controversy, to be frank, it’s difficult to judge this offense without its best weapon. Saquon Barkley changes the entire offensive dynamic of this team as both a runner and pass receiver. It would be like watching the 1980s Giants’ defense without Lawrence Taylor playing. So what I am primarily looking at are the various component parts. How does the offensive line block? How much trouble are the Giants in at wide receiver with Golden Tate being suspended for four games? Is there a viable back-up running back on this roster who can spell Barkley?

In their very brief, two-drive action last Thursday, the starting offensive line looked sharp protecting the passer. The run blocking needs work. Outside of the penalties (some ticky tack), what was surprising was how well some of the lesser-known back-ups played. The coaches seemed to have noticed too and it looks like Nick Gates and Chad Slade may be pressing for roster spots as both received first-team reps this week at camp. The bad news is that tackles George Asafo-Adjei and Brian Mihalik are missing valuable playing time with injuries.

On paper, the Giants’ receiving corps appears to be one of the worst in the NFL, especially with Golden Tate now officially out one-quarter of the season. But with Saquon Barkley, Sterling Shepard, and Evan Engram sitting on the sidelines last week, the no-names actually had a very good game, racking up 20 catches for 323 yards and three touchdowns. Was that a fluke?

Wayne Gallman, Paul Perkins, and Rod Smith rushed for 34 yards on 15 carries. That’s not getting it done. Barkley is the man, but the Giants need someone else to at least be competent. Perkins in particular had a bad game and if he follows that up with another bad performance, he’s likely out of the picture.

Both Alex Tanney and Kyle Lauletta had a good game. Right now, Tanney appears to still have the advantage with three games to go.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The first defensive series against the Jets would have been far different had Jabrill Peppers finished his excellent coverage by intercepting Sam Darnold’s first pass. But he didn’t. And the Jets then easily drove for a touchdown on the next five plays. Aside from some coverage issues from safety/cornerback Julian Love, what stood out was the lack of pass rush. This could be the team’s Achilles’ heel in 2019. What we do not want to see is teams continually converting on 3rd-and-long because the Giants can’t get to the quarterback.

The starting defense also took a bit of a blow this week when cornerback Deandre Baker sprained his knee. Hopefully, he will be back soon. He needs the reps in advance of the regular-season opener. While Corey Ballentine has flashed both in camp and the first game, Antonio Hamilton received more of the first-team reps opposite of Janoris Jenkins in practice this week. Meanwhile Sam Beal has missed virtually all of training camp with a nagging hamstring injury. This just goes to show you how multiple injuries at one position can change things overnight. Two names to keep an eye on at back-up safety are Sean Chandler and Kenny Ladler. Both have made some noise.

The Giants actually appear to be in good shape on the defensive line. Starters Dalvin Tomlinson, B.J. Hill, and Dexter Lawrence are big, strong linemen with good quickness. They are still very young and will get better with playing time. Chris Slayton and John Jenkins were a bit more disruptive than I expected against the Jets. If Olsen Pierre and R.J. McIntosh can show something, this will be a good group.

Linebacker is the focus. Inside, it’s fascinating to see how rapidly Ryan Connelly has moved up the depth chart. With Alec Ogletree not likely to play, Connelly may even start against the Bears. The coaches also seem to prefer the overall athleticism of Tae Davis over B.J. Goodson, who appears to be falling like a rock on the depth chart. He’s in danger of not making the team with Nate Stupar being a core special teams player. I would not also completely discount Jonathan Anderson.

The top four edge guys are Lorenzo Carter, Markus Golden, Kareem Martin, and Oshane Ximines. You see a hint of potential with all four, but they aren’t getting the job done (yet). Get to the quarterback! In the meantime, one has the sense that the coaches are desperately trying to justify keeping Jake Carlock on the roster.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
There is some concern at punter. Riley Dixon wasn’t very good against the Jets. Ryan Anderson has been cut and Johnny Townsend was claimed off of waivers from the Raiders.

T.J. Jones was sure-handed as a punt returner against the Jets, but he didn’t show much quickness and was tackled far too easily. On the other hand, Corey Ballentine did have a 40-yard kickoff return. It will be interesting to see if Darius Slayton and/or Brittan Golden get any reps as returners.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Head Coach Pat Shurmur on the quarterbacks in this game: “I do plan on playing all four quarterbacks, like I did last week… I’d like to see Eli get a little bit more time. We’ll just see how that plays out. But there’s a chance that (Daniel Jones) could play behind the one (offensive) line.”

THE FINAL WORD:
Pass rush, pass rush, pass rush. Got to get to the quarterback or we’re in for a frustrating year on defense.

Aug 112019
 
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Russell Shepard, New York Giants (August 8, 2019)

Russell Shepard – © USA TODAY Sports

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New York Giants 31 – New York Jets 22

QUICK RECAP

After a busy offseason filled with drama stemming from the trade of star receiver Odell Beckham and the selection of a quarterback at number 6 overall, it was finally time to get down to the important, objective things. Real football against another team. The Giants began their live action against their November 10th opponent, the cross-town rival New York Jets. With several players sitting out because of either protection or injuries or both, this game had a very “backup” feel to it. However these games are the most important part of the evaluation process when it comes to roster decisions. No matter who is on the field or what is going on, there are always multiple players and situations to keep a keen eye on.

The Jets started with the ball and, quite easily, marched down the field for the game’s first score. A Sam Darnold pass to his brand new toy, slot receiver Jamison Crowder, on the drive’s seventh play put Gang Green up 6-0, missing the extra point because of an errant kick by Chandler Catanzaro, his first of two on the night. Eli Manning got one whole drive with the first team offense; a drive that lasted three plays and 4 total yards. The night was clearly planned for the rookie Daniel Jones and his inauguration to NFL game action, and he didn’t disappoint. The first completion of his (preseason) career landed in the hands of Cody Latimer, a simple 5-yard slant to the right side. He then proceeded to fire near-perfect throw after near-perfect throw four more times, the last of which ended up in the hands of Bennie Fowler in the end zone for 6. The night could not have gone better for Jones, albeit in limited action. The storm clouds rolled in and put the game on delay for about an hour, and Head Coach Pat Shurmur decided that Jones had enough for the night.

Alex Tanney came out of the rain delay and hit Russell Shepard on a quick slant to the right and he took it from there. A broken tackle and a foot race, which he won with ease, resulted in a 51-ard touchdown that put the Giants up 14-6. The Jets answered with a touchdown drive of their own, with a Deandre Baker 26-yard pass interference on third down being a key play. Trevor Siemian hit running back Elijah McGuire in the right flat for the score. The two teams traded field goals to end the half and Big Blue led 17-15.

After a shortened halftime (5 minutes), the two teams went scoreless on their first drives respectively. Former Giants 3rd round pick Davis Webb came out for the Jets and threw an interception to, as Pat Shurmur puts it, “the fan favorite within the team” Jake Carlock. Carlock returned it for a 59-yard score and the team absolutely erupted on the sideline like we haven’t seen in quite some time. Webb came back on the next drive and, you guessed it, threw another pick. This time it landed in the arms of Corey Ballentine, the late round draft pick who was shot the same weekend he heard his name called by the Giants. This kid is going to be one of the better stories in the NFL before long, not everyone knows it just yet.

The Giants led 24-15 heading in to the fourth quarter and Kyle Lauletta was now getting his shot to prove he should be the number three guy on the depth chart. He, along with several backup quarterbacks around the league on opening night, put together a solid performance of his own. His highlight of the night was a 31-yard, back-shoulder throw to T.J. Jones for a touchdown. NYG had a commanding 31-15 lead with just over 7:30 left on the clock. Luke Falk, who Adam Gase signed after his former team (MIA) claimed him off waivers last fall, led the longest drive of the night. A 15-play, 7:17 series that ended with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Greg Dortch, one of the hot names coming out of Jets camp. This, too, was a toss and catch to the right flat (the third one of the night, more on that later).

Giants knelt on the ball with just a few seconds left and walked away with victory number one on the season.

Giants win 31-22.

QUARTERBACKS

-Daniel Jones: 5/5 – 67 yards – 1 TD – 0 INT. This all transpired in one drive and while you won’t hear me overreacting to anything in preseason, it couldn’t have started better. Two key things I see with him on the positive side were accurate ball placement and the athletic/quick release. I am not going to get in to comparing him and Manning just yet, but simply there are things a young, quick-twitched thrower can do that a 15-year veteran cannot.

-Alex Tanney: 14/19 – 190 yards – 1 TD – 0 INT. Tanney played over 50% of the team’s offensive snaps. Shurmur has been touting this kid every opportunity he gets and from the two times I have seen him in practice in combination with tonight’s game, there is something to be happy about. Crisp release and a tight ball, Tanney made a couple big time throws. He can really put some zip on it when he needs to.

-Kyle Lauletta: 9/12 – 116 yards – 1 TD – 0 INT. Gun to my head, Lauletta will be the odd man out when all is said and done after the preseason but he isn’t going to make the decision easy. He kept himself in the conversation with a couple of nicely placed balls, showing accuracy short, intermediate, and long. Job well done for him.

RUNNING BACKS

-Wayne Gallman: 5 att – 13 yards. Personally I don’t think there is any intra-team competition going on for the backup job behind Barkley (who didn’t play). Gallman was on the field for under 20% of the snaps and didn’t really have an opportunity to get going.

-Paul Perkins: 4 att – 9 yards / 2 rec – 8 yards / 1 fumble lost. After missing all of 2018 with a pec injury, the forgotten man (who was this team’s number one back at the start of 2017) had a rough first night back. He continued to show a lack of ability to break tackles, he dropped a pass and most importantly, fumbled the ball that eventually resulted in 3 points for the Jets. The one positive was effective pass protection.

-Rod Smith: 6 att – 12 yards. Nothing stood out from Smith in the game. He is a load and can push the pile, but he looks stiff and lethargic in traffic.

-Jon Hilliman: 2 rec – 16 yards. Hilliman took a nasty helmet-to-knee hit that ended his night early. He didn’t get a ton of time but the coaches have touted him after practice a couple times and I have always liked his north-south mentality. He doesn’t waste time and there is some pop behind his pads. I think there is a chance he can win the number three job.

WIDE RECEIVERS

-The competition for the backup spots will really be something to watch. Alonzo Russell (1 rec – 39 yards) looks like he is the best of the bunch. The sizable, long-strider got behind the defense a couple times but keeps on double-catching the ball. A possession receiver needs to have reliable hands and I am not sold on that aspect of his game yet. Local kid Reggie White, Jr. caught all 4 of his targets for 60 yards, including the best catch of the night where he dove near the sidelines and fully extended for the ball. He has my attention.

-Coaches love veterans because of how reliable they are when it comes to decision-making. Russell Shepard is a step below when it comes to talent compared to some of the younger guys, but his routes are crisp and he rarely drops the ball. His 59-yard touchdown was all him, as he broke up field the instant he grabbed the ball which gave him the angle advantage to burst upfield and outrun the Jets secondary. Cody Latimer and Bennie Fowler also offer the veteran presence this team may need at some point. They combined for 4 catches – 56 yards – 1 TD.

-However the name that is continuing to appear on the positive side of the reports is T.J. Jones. He was targeted 6 times and ended with 6 catches for 72 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown pass where he made a great adjustment to the back shoulder with 2 defenders bearing down on him. Jones is playing hungry. The fact he handled all 3 punt returns for NYG strengthens the notion he is a likely candidate to make this team.

TIGHT ENDS

-With Evan Engram on the sideline, Scott Simonson and Rhett Ellison ran with the first and second string. Simonson made solid contact as a blocker. I can tell he added some power to the arsenal. Ellison continued his important, but quiet role with the team. He knows what he is doing out there and plays good assignment football.

-I am interested to see this C.J. Conrad vs. Garrett Dickerson competition should NYG want to keep a fourth tight end. Conrad caught a couple short passes, continuing his “easy hands” outlook and Dickerson caught one himself. There is more speed and twitch to his game.

OFFENSIVE LINE

-Nate Solder and Mike Remmers started on the outside with Will Hernandez, Jon Halapio, and Kevin Zeitler manning the inside. That will be the starting five week 1 and it is going to be the best group they have had in a long time. They were on the field for just 11 plays. Solder got pushed around by NYJ linemen Quinnen Williams and Nate Shepherd on a couple of occasions, but other than that I don’t have anything negative to say. I look forward to seeing their snaps increase in the coming weeks.

-Backup tackles Nick Gates and Victor Salako got a lot of playing time, as the second stringers (Chad Wheeler and Brian Mihalik) were sideline with minor injuries.. Gates had a rough night, as he allowed 1 pressure, 1 TFL, and was penalized two times. He is a hustler downfield and plays with a violent style though, but I think he is best suited inside. Salako’s length is a weapon he continues to learn how to use, notably in pass protection. The footwork and balance looks choppy but he had a quiet night, in a good way.

-The interior backups struggled to get a push in the running game. Center Spencer Pulley allowed a TFL, 2 pressures, and was constantly making the backs adjust their initial rushing plans. I don’t think there is a competition for the OC job, Halapio is head and shoulders better. Evan Brown and Chad Slade stood out in pass protection when it came to their anchor in the ground and sticking with their assignments on deep drop backs.

EDGE

-Lorenzo Carter seems to have jumped over Kareem Martin on the depth chart. He and Markus Golden were on the field for 13 snaps. Carter’s offseason of bulk addition while maintaining his speed and explosion is something I discussed last week and I think he is the one guy that could bring this pass rush to the next level. He recorded a TFL. I will be looking for some improvement on post-engagement work from Golden next week.

-Jake Carlock, this year’s energizer bunny, intercepted a pass a returned it for a touchdown. He also recorded 2 tackles and a sack in just 13 plays. He is fighting an uphill battle to make this team but I’ll say this, multiple coaches are going out of their way to praise him, the teammates visibly feed off his energy, and now he is making plays. The pass-rush skill set still has a ways to go when it comes to his technique, but keep on eye on him.

-Oshane Ximines is going to be a part of the edge-rushing arsenal as a rookie, no question. I question the power and pure burst to the edge, but he knows what to do. He can get off contact and his ability to play low while turning the edge can give some blockers a handful. I don’t see big production coming right away, but he can hang.

DEFENSIVE LINE

-Dexter Lawrence started off as an inside defender. On two occasions he was washed out by a blocker coming from his outside shoulder. In college he was big and powerful enough to take those unexpected hits and still hold his ground. Not up here. He will need to work on play-reading and awareness. However, in his limited action, it is easy to see how much space he is going to free up for others. Dalvin Tomlinson and B.J. Hill saw a handful of snaps and got into the backfield a couple times. Tomlinson looked quick and assertive, I think we are going to see more attacking-style football from him.

-John Jenkins had a solid game. His pad level gets sloppy but he makes plays and disrupts action at the point-of-attack. He batted a pass down and recorded a TFL.

-Roster hopefuls Terrence Fede and R.J. McIntosh were athletic and aggressive. Fede recorded a sack and McIntosh was pursuing in space like an oversized defensive end. 2018 was a washout for him because of medical reasons. I am glad to see him out there and able to work on the skill set because his tools are there.

-7th rounder Chris Slayton is going to be a factor in 2019. The crowded DL will make it tough for him to get on the field initially, but I think his ability to penetrate and locate the action is a weapon. He recorded a TFL.

LINEBACKERS

-Alec Ogletree started with Tae Davis. Davis is never going to win a lot of battles with the OL, but his speed and quickness created a lot in this game. He recorded 5 tackles, including 1 TFL where he snuck through a window and cut the angle of the back to the line beautifully.

-The most competition he has for snaps inside? Rookie Ryan Connelly, who may have had the most impressive night of all the team’s defenders. He finished with 5 tackles and was solid in coverage. When you look for quality LB play, most of it comes from instincts and being around the action. That is what I saw out of Connelly all night. Nothing seemed too fast for him. Looking forward to seeing more.

-B.J. Goodson was in with the 3rd stringers. Him and Jonathan Anderson are stout and physical. The question stems from ability in coverage and the ability to stay healthy. They combined for 7 tackles with Anderson also forcing a fumble. Goodson lost a match-up with slot WR Greg Dortch near the end zone which resulted in a touchdown.

CORNERBACKS

-Rookie Deandre Baker started along with Janoris Jenkins. Baker looks like a pro right now, as I think the learning curve with him is going to be minimal. Shurmur uses the word “gamer” when describing him and I couldn’t agree more, as I used that same description in his college scouting report. He was flagged for a deep pass interference, however.

-The main focus of the position was Corey Ballentine. After seeing him in practice a few times and just being impressed by the tool set, I wanted to see what carried over in to the game. While he did get flagged for a downfield pass interference, the ability is still jumping off the screen. He had a wide receiver-caliber interception at the hands of Davis Webb. He attacked the ball with his hands and came down with it. Really impressive play.

SAFETIES

-Jabrill Peppers dropped an interception on the first drive of the game. It was a great defensive play with a solid read and the catch would have been highlight-reel caliber.

-Julian Love started and ranked 3rd on the team in snaps played. He is playing a hybrid nickel/safety role it looks like. He finished with 3 tackles and a pass break up. He lost leverage on the first NYJ touchdown and one could make the argument that the result was on him.

-Kenny Ladler is making his presence felt with a physical presence coming downfield. He made three really nice hits that jarred the ball carrier backward. That is one barometer I look for in a tackler when determining how physical they are; can they knock them back? Ladler passed that test multiple times.

-I watched the All-22, the view from the end zone, and the safeties were solid in deep coverage all night.

SPECIAL TEAMS

-Aldrick Rosas hit a chip shot 23 yard field goal. Punters Riley Dixon and Ryan Anderson shared punting duties.

-Ballentine returned a kick for 40 yards, yet another avenue to get this kid on the active game day roster. T.J. Jones handled 3 punts and totaled 6 yards in return.

3 STUDS

-QB Daniel Jones, OLB Jake Carlock, WR T.J. Jones

3 DUDS

-OC Spencer Pulley, OT Nick Gates, RB Paul Perkins

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

-One of the most common plays teams around the league will use when near the end zone is stacking multiple receivers on one side, use an unofficial pick-play, and quickly throw the ball in to the flat. Very hard play to defend. Misdirection combined with quick releases can make it look impossible for defenses to communicate quickly enough. NYJ scored all three of their touchdowns on similar patterns. With the inexperience at CB with Baker and S with Love, you can bet that will be noted by future opponents.

-Obviously coaches need to be guarded with what they say to the media. But I do find it odd that Shurmur will not openly commit to Manning being the number one guy when it comes to regular season play. This guy’s livelihood is on the line and there is a part of me that thinks Jones can be in the mix for week 1 more than some think. Odds are Eli is the guy, I know. But I don’t think the 100% commitment has been made yet.

-I was hoping to see more out of Nate Solder. He got a bit of a pass with me in 2018 because of the ongoing neck issue that quietly hampered him. However he doesn’t play nearly as powerful as he looks. It almost looks like the natural leverage disadvantage he has with his height is enabling him to get pushed around. The OL looks to be much improved, but we’ve seen around the league that if the LT is a weak link, it can destroy a passing game.

Aug 072019
 
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Evan Engram, New York Giants (December 30, 2018)

Evan Engram – © USA TODAY Sports

Preseason Game Preview: New York Jets at New York Giants, August 8, 2019

THE STORYLINE:
A year ago, it was just becoming more transparent that Dave Gettleman and Pat Shurmur intended to completely overturn the roster. But the level of roster gutting and transformation in just a year and a half has been truly startling. Even “foundation” draft picks such as Odell Beckham, Jr., Landon Collins, Eli Apple, and Ereck Flowers are gone as well as expensive free agent acquisitions Damon Harrison and Olivier Vernon. Hardly anyone is left from just two seasons ago.

What’s clear is that Gettleman and Shurmur didn’t like the way the old team was put together, both in terms of talent (or lack thereof) and personality. On paper, the Giants have gotten bigger and more physical up front on both sides of the ball. For the first time in almost a decade, there is an air of competency on the offensive line with the veteran additions of Nate Solder, Kevin Zeitler, and Mike Remmers, plus the drafting of Will Hernandez. While there remain concerns about the pass rush, few teams can field an imposing trio on the defensive line such as B.J. Hill, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Dexter Lawrence. Aside from B.J. Goodson and Janoris Jenkins, the linebacking corps and secondary has been completely replaced.

The Giants are going old school. They will run the football and stop the run. The passing game is likely to focus on play-action and the short- to intermediate-game. The defense will be young and will have to grow up quickly for the team to surprise.

We all know what the last element to the complete transition will be: the handing off of the reins to Daniel Jones. As long as the Giants remain in the playoff hunt, Eli Manning is likely to remain the starter. But if this team falls out of contention again by October or November, it won’t make much sense to prolong the inevitable.

THE INJURY REPORT:
The following players are not likely to play on Thursday night:

  • WR Sterling Shepard (thumb)
  • WR Darius Slayton (hamstring)
  • WR Brittan Golden (groin)
  • OT Chad Wheeler (back)
  • OT Brian Mihalik (burner)
  • OT George Asafo-Adjei (concussion)
  • LB Avery Moss (unknown)
  • CB Grant Haley (shoulder)
  • CB Sam Beal (hamstring)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
I say the same thing every year: the first preseason game is usually nothing more than a glorified scrimmage. Don’t place too much emphasis – either bad or good – on the outcome. Some starters will not play, and those that do won’t play long. Personally, I wouldn’t even dress Saquon Barkley. And this team is a much different animal without Saquon in the lineup. The Giants have been easing both offensive tackles, Nate Solder and Mike Remmers, into service since both are coming off of offseason surgery. The bad news for the entire back-up offense is that the top two-back tackles – Brian Mihalik and Chad Wheeler – are out. So is George Asafo-Adjei, who is probably the next best guy. The Jets should feast on third teamers much of the night. I’d be shocked if the offense looks sharp. Daniel Jones will probably have flashbacks to his University of Duke days, running for his life. New York Jets’ Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams tends treat the preseason like the playoffs and will probably be gunning for bear.

All eyes will be on Jones. I hope the back-up line can give him something of a ground game and buy him some time, but I doubt it. The Giants will be forced to play some second- and third-string guards at tackle. What I will be looking at is his presence, poise, and arm strength, particularly on throws outside the hashmarks. If it is a constant jailbreak up front, it will be difficult to get a good read on him. Alex Tanney and Kyle Lauletta may be in the same boat. I will tell you this… I’d be tempted to sit Eli Manning in the first game just so Daniel Jones can have his initial reps behind the starting unit. Eli doesn’t really need to play in this game.

Giants’ fans know the top two wide receivers will be Sterling Shepard (broken thumb) and Golden Tate (possible 4-game suspension). It is assumed by most that Bennie Fowler, Cody Latimer, Russell Shepard, Alonzo Russell, T.J. Jones, and Da’Mari Scott are journeymen and castoffs on one of the worst wide-receiving units in the NFL. They may be right. At the same time, each of these guys has flashed during practices. Could a guy like Fowler or Jones surprise everyone? Rookie Darius Slayton won’t play, but Reggie White, Jr. has flashed at times.

The Giants need Evan Engram to stay healthy and produce this year like he did late last season. Behind him, Rhett Ellison is steady but unspectacular. Much of my focus will be on Scott Simonson and C.J. Conrad since both may be better suited as true tight ends in a run-first offense. I still think the Giants will carry four tight ends this year.

Given the state of the back-up offensive line, the back-up running backs will probably suffer a similar fate as the back-up quarterbacks in this game. That said, there is a good battle brewing behind Saquon Barkley between Wayne Gallman, Paul Perkins, and Rod Smith. All three are not guaranteed to make the roster and all are fighting to be the primary back-up.

On the line, I’m not sure what the Giants will do after the starters leave the game. Undrafted rookie Paul Adams may see the bulk of the action at left tackle. With three other back-up tackles out, no-name guards will have to be shifted outside. Giants fans will be saying to themselves, “Who the heck are Victor Salako, Evan Brown, Nick Gates, and Chad Slade?!?”

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
For good reason, the Giants’ hierarchy has blown up the team’s defense. Not only did the team shift to a completely different 3-4 scheme in 2018, but almost all of the pre-2018 players are gone. All three levels of the defense have been almost completely revamped. The main challenge here is the learning curve. This is a very young defense with many new component parts. Cohesion and chemistry will be lacking. In a league where one mental mistake can easily lead to a long touchdown, the Giants will need the youth to grow up quickly.

On the defensive line, it was assumed that Dexter Lawrence would be the team’s new nose tackle. While Lawrence may see snaps at that spot, it appears James Bettcher would prefer to have B.J. Hill and Lawrence outside in the 3- and 5-technique spots with Dalvin Tomlinson playing the nose. Teams should have trouble running on these three as long as the linebackers and defensive backs maintain their gap responsibilities. Hill surprised with his pass rush last year and if he can build upon that, that would be huge in terms of addressing pass rush concerns. What will be fascinating to see is if Dexter Lawrence can provide any sort of pass-rush presence. He’s probably the only 340-pound “defensive end” in the League. There is not much depth behind these three with only six other players on the current training camp roster. I will be focusing much attention on back-ups R.J. McIntosh and Olsen Pierre. The Giants also need to decide if John Jenkins or Chris Slayton is the better back-up nose tackle candidate. Overall, my hope is that Lawrence-Tomlinson-Hill provide more inside bull-rush/quickness pressure than most teams are accustomed to and press the pocket up the gut and/or free others to take advantage of the chaos they cause.

All eyes will be focused on the outside edge rushers, particularly Lorenzo Carter, Markus Golden, and Oshane Ximines. If the Giants can’t get a pass rush out of two or three of these guys, they will likely be in trouble. Golden has done it before, but has to prove he is past his torn ACL. Carter has earned good reviews in camp, but he has to prove it when the games count. Ximines is the wild card. Inside, it appears that Bettcher has officially delineated between a typical “inside linebacker” and “money backer” – with both being formally identified on the team’s depth chart. The starting insider linebacker is Alec Ogletree with B.J. Goodson backing him up. Bettcher wants more of a linebacker/safety hybrid at the other spot, hence Tae Davis appears to have the starting nod with rookie Ryan Connelly backing him up. Whatever they decide to do, the Giants have been unable to cover tight ends down the middle for almost a decade now. And that’s scary considering Philadelphia is still in the division. Enough is enough.

Wow, did the Giants change the secondary in the offseason! Last year, it was Janoris Jenkins, Landon Collins, and a host of journeymen no-names. Enter Deandre Baker, Julian Love, Corey Ballentine, Jabrill Peppers, and Antoine Bethea. Also factor in Sam Beal, who spent his rookie season on IR. Now the Giants have three new starters, including both safeties. One gets the sense that Bettcher wants Peppers to be the centerpiece of his defense. The coaches quickly gave Baker the starting job in the spring. Love has been spending time both at back-up nickel corner and safety. One of the stars of training camp is Ballentine, who may press for serious playing time. This unit has mix of veterans (Jenkins, Bethea, and Thomas) and green-as-grass youth. It will be interesting to see them develop. Potentially, the Giants could be set in the secondary for many years. But 2019 will likely be a year of growing pains.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
We’ve heard virtually nothing about how Pro Bowl kicker Aldrick Rosas has done in training camp. Let’s hope that 2018 was the start of a wonderful career and not a fluke. Riley Dixon is facing competition from Ryan Anderson. Is it serious?

Losing Corey Coleman for the year was a big blow to the return game. Right now, Cody Latimer, T.J. Jones, and Corey Ballentine are listed as the kickoff returners. Ballentine had success in college returning kickoffs.

In two NFL seasons, Jabrill Peppers has returned 55 punts with seven fumbles (a fumble every eight times he touches the ball). He had better clean that up if Shurmur really wants him to be the primary punt returner. In addition, while his 7.3 yards per return is respectable, I’m not sure it justifies the risk of having him return punts unless he starts breaking more. Golden Tate and T.J. Jones are also both listed as punt returners. Jones has averaged 9.2 yards per punt return in four seasons. Tate really hasn’t done much punt returning since 2015.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Head Coach Pat Shurmur on the first preseason game: “The guys that are playing in this game, we want to see them block, tackle, run, throw, catch, all of the things. It’s going to be less about match-ups and more about execution from that standpoint… There are some healthy guys that have been practicing that you may not see Thursday. ”

THE FINAL WORD:
I think this team will be more fun to watch this year. I just don’t think we’ll see it on Thursday night.

Jan 042019
 
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Cody Latimer, New York Giants (December 30, 2018)

Cody Latimer – © USA TODAY Sports

Dallas Cowboys 36 – New York Giants 35

QUICK RECAP

For the second straight year, week 17 couldn’t come soon enough. The Giants-Cowboys matchup was one of the less interesting games on the NFL schedule. NYG was far out of contention and neither a win or loss would alter the DAL playoff situation. They won the division and were locked into their home playoff game Wild Card weekend. That said, there have been rumors that Eli Manning may be done in NY as a result of him retiring or NYG finally cutting him loose with the final year of his contact coming up in 2019. Nothing has been confirmed on that front, so yes, there really wasn’t a lot of buzz to this game. DAL sat RB Ezekiel Elliott, OG Zack Martin, and OT Tyron Smith. NYG was without Odell Beckham for the fourth straight game and Alec Ogletree for the second. The weather was pleasantly cool without any notable wind. A rather nice day for the end of December.

Manning and the offense put together a nice opening drive after a 38-yard kick return by Corey Coleman, both promising trends from the season. They were inside the 10-yard line of DAL after just 4 plays, but on the 5th Manning under threw his target in the end zone and the ball was picked off by second-year corner Chidobe Awuzie.

NYG got the ball soon after and once again got into DAL territory rather easily. The time, on the 7th play, Manning was sacked and ended up fumbling the ball right in\ to the waiting hands of DAL defensive tackle Antwaun Woods. Two drives, two turnovers. Exactly how the Eli naysayers wanted it to start, and a nightmare for the Eli supporters.

DAL ended up missing a 34-yard FG on their next drive but the NYG offense continued to struggle, this time with 2 false start penalties and a 3 and out. DAL then got their act together offensively and scored touchdowns on consecutive drives. Both were touchdown passes to the unknown TE Blake Jarwin on 3rd down. Both capped long drives that took a combined 12 minutes of play clock. Both were the result of poor safety coverage and tackling, something we have literally seen all year.

Manning got the ball back with just under 2 minutes left and, like always, showed a different side of himself in one game. He took them 73 yards on 10 plays in just 1:35 of game clock, capping it all with a touchdown pass to Cody Latimer who made a spectacular one handed catch with a defender draped all over him while tight roping the sideline. NYG went into the half down 14-7.

NYG forced a 3 and out on the opening drive and then added 3 points to their score via a 48-yard FG by the Pro Bowl Kicker Aldrick Rosas. DAL then surged back and connected on yet another Prescott-to-Jarwin touchdown, number three on the day. It was almost hard to believe but then the memory light clicked on; NYG has been one of the worst at defending the middle of the field for years and this season hasn’t been much different.

The NYG offense seemed to find a flow but they needed a big play. Look no further than #26, as rookie Saquon Barkley gained 68 yards and brought NYG into the red zone. That run put Barkley over the 2,000 total yards mark, only the 3rd time in NFL history by a rookie and it gave him his 7th 100+ yard rushing performance of the season, tied for the league lead with Elliott. Manning then found the resurgent Evan Engram for a solid pitch-and-catch touchdown. They went for 2 and Manning connected with the versatile athlete Engram one more time to make it a 3-point game.

After a defensive stop, NYG got the ball back and kept the momentum on their side. Engram had the highlight play of the drive with a 51-yard gain that brought NYG to the DAL 14-yard line. A few plays later, Wayne Gallman crossed the goal line and gave NYG their first lead of the day, 25-21 with under 11 minutes left in the 4th quarter.

The lead didn’t last long, as DAL backup RB Rod Smith, who had 3 touchdowns at MetLife Stadium over his previous 2 visits, crossed the goal line at the end of a 5 play, 75 yard drive. Both defenses were just getting man-handled.

Manning and the offense, once again, kept their surge going, mainly via the passing game. They took their 4-point lead back with a Barkley 2-yard touchdown and on the first play of the following DAL possession, Kerry Wynn forced a fumble that was recovered by BJ Goodson. NYG started with the ball at the DAL 18 yard line and ended up netting 3 more points via the trustworthy leg of Rosas. They had a 7 -oint lead with just over 2 minutes of game clock left.

This task was taken on by Dak Prescott, who played every snap, head on. He easily drove the DAL defense all the way down field, but a 4th and 15 form the NYG 32 yard line faced him. This was likely the end of the game but as he did so well all afternoon and all season, he hit Cole Beasley in the end zone while on the move with an unbelievably accurate ball. The original ruling was that Beasley landed out of bounds but after review, it was reversed and DAL was back within one.

They opted to go for 2 since nobody wanted any part of overtime and just as the NYG defense did all year, they didn’t come up with a key stop. Prescott hit rookie Michael Gallup in the end zone and they were all of the sudden up by 1.

Manning did get a shot to come out and lead NYG downfield against DAL in a December home game very much like he did as a rookie back in 2004. But this result wasn’t a positive one. Four straight incompletions, not one hand off to Barkley, and NYG was handed their 11th loss of the season.

NYG loses 36-35.

QUARTERBACKS

-Eli Manning: 24/41 – 301 yards – 2 TD – 1 INT. Manning also lost a fumble, his 4th of the year. The game couldn’t have started worse for Manning in what may have been his last start as a Giants’ quarterback. In typical Eli fashion, he bounced back and had a solid game but as we’ve seen all year, he just didn’t have the same ability to close out a game. He had opportunities on the last drive, and throughout the game, to come up with the big throw and he just couldn’t pull it off consistently enough. Manning can still make all the throws but there is too much he can’t seem to do anymore. Too many misses. Too many limitations. If the rest of the roster was structured to the point where the QB could “manage” more than make plays, maybe it could be different. But the truth is, this roster isn’t good enough to hide his limitations and if you put a gun to my head, I think that was it in New York for Manning.

RUNNING BACKS

Saquon Barkley: 17 att / 109 yards – 1 TD – 4 rec / 33 yards. Overall, it was a quiet day for the Rookie of the Year candidate. 94 of his yards came on 2 carries, meaning the other 15 carries produced 15 yards. He didn’t have much room to work with but there were a couple plays he was late to see the lanes. Barkley capped off the year by passing the 2,000 total yards mark which was just the 3rd time in NFL history that has ever been done by a rookie. His elite talent and ability flashed all year and when this kid improves his decision making and gets a real offensive line in front of him, we are looking at a legit year in, year out MVP candidate.

-Wayne Gallman had 6 carries for 23 yards and a touchdown. Really strong end to the season for a back who won’t get enough credit playing in the shadow of Barkley. This kid can play and it was a solid year for him. He impressed me with his ability to break through contact despite not having a ton of size under those pads. Even though this is the Barkley show, Gallman will be an important piece.

WIDE RECEIVERS

-Cody Latimer: 4 rec / 72 yards / 1 TD. Better late than never for Latimer. It was the best game of the year for the 26-year old who was supposed to bring a vertical threat to the NYG offense. He made two spectacular, high-level catches in this one. Was it enough to keep him around? That remains to be seen but he did show enough in the 6 games that he played this year to at least compete for a spot moving forward.

-Sterling Shepard: 4 rec / 67 yards. Shepard led the team with 9 targets. He had a drop on a downfield pass and after 3 years, it appears evident he just isn’t going to be a guy that can get vertical and make plays on the ball consistently. There is still a ton of value in his game, but there are limitations and it is something to consider as his unrestricted free agency will be here in 2020.

-Corey Coleman was a pleasant surprise throughout the second half of the season as a kick returner. I think he needs to be back here because of how consistent he was I getting the ball past the 30 yard line. Field position is crucial and the ability to break one is even more important when there is so much instability at the QB position.

TIGHT ENDS

-Evan Engram: 5 rec / 81 yards / 1 TD. Engram may have had the strongest finish to the season on the entire team. It appeared to be a wash that stemmed from a knee injury sustained week 3 against HOU, but credit to him for coming back and really putting his best foot forward. He made a 51-yard gain on a play that was mostly yards after catch. The speed he has shown in space lately has really stood out. His drops lessened and the scheme put him in some favorable spots. I expect him to be one of the most important pieces of the offense in 2019.

-Scott Simonson added 2 catches for 14 yards. He struggled as a blocker, allowing a sack and a few tackles right at the point of attack. He will likely be back in 2019 because there is an every-down threat in his potential. Not a definite for the 2019 roster spot, but he will be able to compete for it.

OFFENSIVE TACKLES

-Nate Solder finished out his much improved second half with a solid game. He allowed one pressure and came up with a few key blocks on the outside. While I wouldn’t call his performance dominant by any means, it was one of his better games.

-Chad Wheeler, on the other hand, continued to show his low-level 2018 play. He really didn’t show any improvement throughout the year. He allowed 2 pressures and had 2 penalties. His adjustment speed and footwork were poor, as they were all year. This is one spot that absolutely needs improvement in 2019.

GUARDS/CENTER

-Rookie Will Hernandez, after a rough start to the season, finished strong. He allowed 1 TFL but it had more to do with Barkley slipping in the backfield than him getting beat. Hernandez has the LG spot locked up for the next few years, so we can cross that off the needs-list. His pass protection doesn’t always look pretty, but his presence and power can make up for it.

-Spencer Pulley and Jamon Brown both finished with negative grades. I don’t need to keep saying it, but I’m not so sure these guys should be back. Brown has proven to be a penalty-heavy player with some solid stretches of run blocking. While I do think he can be in the running for the RG job next year, by no means does he deserve a big contract. Pulley has never been very good, so I don’t expect him back. This is a very solid OC draft, thus I think NYG would be smart to go after one early day 3. Value will be there.

EDGE

Olivier Vernon finished with 2.5 sacks, the most in a single game for him as a Giant. Just as everyone started to write him off, Vernon finished with 6 sacks over his final 5 games. After missing the first 5 weeks of the season with an injury, Vernon may have done enough to keep his roster spot especially considering the edge spots are pretty bare to begin with. While he may never be a top tier guy, he is probably better than what most perceive him to be.

-Rookie Lorenzo Carter recorded a sack, his 4th of the season. He was exactly what I thought he would be for the Giants in 2018. A tools-rich, raw edge defender who can make plays with his legs but still has a ways to go with his hands and technique. He will be in the running for a starting spot in 2019 but even if someone takes it, he will be an important piece. The skill set is versatile.

-Kareem Martin finished the season strong. The plus-locker room presence struggled when his playing time was high, but as he got put into a more rotational role, he stood out. Martin recorded 5 tackles and 1 TFL. He was really stout against the run.

-Kerry Wynn, “Mr. Preseason”, saw his playing time diminish more and more throughout the year. He did end up with a huge forced fumble in this one, however.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES

-Solid game for Dalvin Tomlinson. He settled into the 1-technique position really well after the Damon Harrison trade. Although the run defense as a whole did take a hit with him in there in contrast to Snacks, I do think it is his best role. The twitch and range he shows makes this defense a little more versatile which, in the long run, fits in better with what they want the scheme to be.

-Rookie BJ Hill recorded a half sack, giving him 5.5 on the season. That was the highest among all interior defenders from the 2018 Draft class and 4th overall among rookies. Not bad for a 3rd rounder. I discussed Hill as an immediate contributor at this time last year, and that he was. Hill’s upside is limited but he will be a building block for the defense. A defense that really needs to step it up.

LINEBACKERS

-With Alec Ogletree out, BJ Goodson was the main man in the middle. And I’ll tell you what, Goodson was as impressive and consistent as any LB on this team over the final 4 weeks. His playing time and injury status has been back and forth over his three years in blue, but I still want this guy on the field as much as possible. His run defense is borderline elite with his ability to reach the sidelines, deal with traffic, and deliver violent blows to ball carriers. His weaknesses in coverage are apparent, but he is a guy who plays with the hustle and intensity I want.

-Tae Davis, an undrafted free agent rookie, made some impressive plays and his speed stands out. But he really didn’t figure out how to avoid over-pursuing and missing tackles. He’s missed tackles, including 2 in this one, every week he saw serious playing time. In addition, his coverage wasn’t on the level you want out of a package defender. He will compete for a spot in 2019, but by no means is a definite.

CORNERBACKS

-Janoris Jenkins had one of his best games of the season, as he was the main reason why Amari Cooper had a quiet game. He also led the team with 8 tackles and two pass breakups. Jenkins isn’t always the most physical guy out there and there is still a lot of gambling in his game, but this is an expensive player who needs to stay here. Good cornerbacks are really hard to find and he is one of them.

-BW Webb saw his play go south over the final quarter of the season. He was flagged for another long pass interference which eventually led to a DAL touchdown. Webb really had a solid year overall considering he was a street free agent who was signed after the draft. He is limited and likely best suited for a #3 or #4 role if they want to bring him back.

-Grant Haley ended his rookie season with a lot of promise. The undersized, but quick and aggressive undrafted free agent showed he can hang in the slot. He is a weapon as a blitzer, which this scheme needs from that spot and he can hold his own against bigger receivers. He shouldn’t be a guy who the front office cements into the role next year, but he will be here to compete and develop.

-Tony Lippett was a college wide receiver who made a move to CB in the NFL and actually showed promise early in his career. He never got over the hump with Miami but I was excited to see NYG bring him in. He was on the field for 21 snaps in this game and got burned for a long play by Allen Hurns. I am curious to see if NYG keeps him for the offseason because I still think there is something to work with here.

SAFETIES

-Curtis Riley and Michael Thomas were absolutely torched in this one and there is no way around it. The 3 touchdowns to TE Blake Jarwin can largely be blamed on these two and it’s been a nightmare all season at the position. Thomas is a locker room presence and solid special teamer who makes the occasional play against the run, but he is stiff in coverage. I’m not sure the good outweighs the bad here. Riley just can’t be a starter. He misses too many tackles and lacks anticipation. He has tools but they don’t translate play to play.

SPECIAL TEAMS

-K Aldrick Rosas: 2/2 (Made 48,38). The best year we have ever seen out of a NYG kicker. Rosas, a Pro Bowler, finishes with the highest percentage of combined field goals and extra points. Kickers as a whole have gone south in terms of consistently in recent years, and Rosas was as rock solid as it gets.

-P Riley Dixon: 2 Punts – 47.0 avg / 47.0 net. Really solid year for the punter who was traded for. He is a keeper. He finished 7th in the NFL in net average but could use more work with hang time and getting the ball pinned inside the 10. He will be back next year.

3 STUDS

-DE Olivier Vernon, TE Evan Engram, CB Janoris Jenkins

3 DUDS

-OT Chad Wheeler, S Curtis Riley, CB BW Webb

3 THOUGHTS ON DAL

-All the talk surrounding the NFC playoffs seems to be revolving around the Rams and Saints, naturally. The top 2 seeds with the best 2 offenses will be tough to beat but if there is one team I don’t want to play right now, it’s Dallas. I think they have the best and highest-ceiling defense combined with a running game that can control the game. And there seems to still be debate surrounding Dak Prescott, which I just don’t get. He has been BETTER than Russell Wilson was over the first 3 years of their respective careers. Maybe it’s past failure? Maybe it’s Garrett? I don’t know but I really wouldn’t want to play these guys in the playoffs.

-The one thing that could really come back and bite them is the lack of consistent health along their OL. Are Zack Martin and Tyron Smith completely healthy? If those guys aren’t near 100%, it could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

-As much as it may pain NYG faithful to accept this, the model that DAL used to get where they are is within grasp for NYG. Get a young QB who can do well enough to manage the game. Use the elite running back as much as possible. Build the offensive line with multiple early picks. Make sure you hit on edge rushers and defensive backs in the draft. Don’t overlook the potential importance of young, fast, physical linebackers.

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

-So here we are. A 5-11 final record that saw a 1-7 start. The majority of the wins were against backup quarterbacks, there is a huge question mark at QB, and the offense seemed to be more than fine without Odell Beckham. Year one of the Gettleman/Shurmur era is over and this upcoming offseason will be about more than just changing the culture. It’s now time to take the holes, fill them, and create the on-field identity on both sides of the ball. This is a tall task for anyone, as there is still a mixture of “This team is close to competing” and “This team has way too many holes”.

-Offensively, has there ever been a better gathering of talent at skill positions? TE Engram. WRs Beckham and Shepard. RB Barkley. Look around the league and you can debate those three positions have more talent than any team in the league. However the instability at QB and the porous offensive line prevents the upside from being reached. What is more important? Can a better OL give enough improvement to Manning? Is there a better option out there than #10? My priority is to bring in a new QB if the value is there but not at the expense of reaching and neglecting better value at OL.

-Defensively this team needs a pass rush. It hides issues elsewhere and I think it is more dependable. Even if you improve personnel at safety, if the pass rush doesn’t get there it won’t matter that much. This draft is loaded with pass rush talent and I think this is the time to pull the trigger on getting an elite talent there.

Dec 282018
 
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New York Giants Fans (October 11, 2018)

© USA TODAY Sports

Game Preview: Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants, December 30, 2018

THE STORYLINE:

When I woke up this morning, I said to my wife, “Ugh, I’ve got to write the game review.” Her response was, “Tell them they are going to lose and go spend time with their families.”

It’s been another one of those years. The fifth losing season in the last six.

Some saw it coming, others were more optimistic.

Let’s recap. The Giants may have experienced the most roster turnover since the 1984 season. The Jaguars outbid the Giants for free agent guard Andrew Norwell. The Giants responded by drastically overpaying Nate Solder and Patrick Omameh, which reeked of desperation even though many didn’t say so at the time. In fact, most of the Giants’ almost 40 free agent signings really didn’t work out (Kareem Martin, Curtis Riley, Cody Latimer, Connor Barwin, Jonathan Stewart, etc., but most long forgotten). The Giants also cut ties with Justin Pugh, Weston Richburg, Jay Bromley, Nat Berhe, Orleans Darkwa, Shane Vereen, Jonathan Casillas, Devon Kennard, Keenan Robinson, and others.

Then came the draft and the endless debate of the quarterback versus Saquon Barkley. Whether you supported the move or not, in a widely criticized decision, Dave Gettleman selected Barkley. The early returns on the 2018 NFL Draft are good for the Giants, but the next few years will tell the real story. The most curious pick remains weak-armed Kyle Lauletta.

An early red flag came on September 2, 2018. On that day, the Giants claimed six players off of waivers, representing 11 percent of the roster alone.

Many fans didn’t expect miracles in 2018 but they anticipated the offense and defense being significantly better and the special teams possibly worse. The opposite occurred. During the 1-7 start to the season, an offense equipped with Odell Beckham and Saquon Barkley failed to score more than 18 points five times. A new 3-4 defense couldn’t rush the passer or force turnovers. While the Giants remained the healthiest they’ve been in years, Olivier Vernon was hurt yet again. The Giants began parting ways with Ereck Flowers, Eli Apple, and Damon Harrison, and listened to offers for Landon Collins and probably others.

At this point, most Giants fans were confident the team would have a shot at the #1 pick in the draft.

After the bye, the team started playing better. This, combined with the fact that the Giants were fortunate enough to face losing teams playing with back-up quarterbacks, led to a 4-1 “surge.” Perhaps the two most important games of the season were the devastating 25-22 loss to the Eagles, followed immediately by 30-27 overtime win against the Chicago Bears. The latter game came close to being an even bigger disaster than than the Eagles’ game, and had Shurmur lost both, the bulk of the fan base probably would have turned on him for good.

The “feel good” game of the season came on December 9th, the 40-16 ass-whipping of the Washington Redskins. But the Giants quickly were bitch-slapped back into reality with their 17-0 loss to the Tennessee Titans (which felt more like 35-0). The Giants blew an early 14-0 lead last week to the Colts and lost 28-27. They now stand at 5-10.

So where does this leave us? Trying to be objective as possible, personnel-wise, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen the Giants’ defense in such bad shape. During my fan years, I watched defenses with the likes of Harry Carson, Lawrence Taylor, Leonard Marshall, Keith Hamilton, Jessie Armstead, Michael Strahan, Jason Sehorn, Antonio Pierce, Justin Tuck, and many, many others – too countless to name. Look at this defensive roster and tell me when the defensive personnel has been worse in the last 30 years.

Offensively, the Giants have two superstar players at the skill positions, Barkley and Beckham, but they still have problems scoring points. The offensive line remains a mess. Most of the moves Gettleman made there during the offseason didn’t work. The Giants still have question marks at center, right guard, right tackle, and maybe even left tackle. Eli Manning turns 38 next week. He doesn’t play like a $23 million player but he will be back for another year in 2019. In some ways, Eli had a good year (completion percentage, only 10 interceptions); in others, he did not (touchdowns, wins).

Many question whether Pat Shurmur is the right guy to turn this around, or simply another place-holder. How long will 67-year old Dave Gettleman, who battled cancer this year, want to do this job? And is he the right man for the rebuilding effort? When and how do the Giants make the transition to Eli’s successor? These are no small questions.

I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but the bottom line here is this: Are the Giants getting better? Worse? Or stuck in neutral?

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • WR Odell Beckham (quad – out)
  • WR Sterling Shepard (hip)
  • WR Russell Shepard (ankle – out)
  • TE Rhett Ellison (concussion – out)
  • OC Spencer Pulley (calf)
  • DE Kerry Wynn (thumb)
  • DE Mario Edwards (calf – out)
  • LB Alec Ogletree (concussion – out)
  • LB B.J. Goodson (foot)

THE FINAL WORD:
This game means nothing to the Dallas Cowboys. In my mind, a win here for the Giants is virtually meaningless in terms of creating that mystical “winning culture.” After all, my guess is at least 1/3 of the players on the current roster will be gone by early September. And heaven help us if we are claiming six players off of waivers again.

But it is a big game in one sense – the Giants could lose a lot of ground in draft slotting. So “just lose” baby (with some dignity).

Some say the Giants have become the old Cleveland Browns. Perhaps. But they definitely have become the old St. Louis Cardinals – that team in the NFC East that the other teams in the division used to fatten their records against. The Cowboys and Eagles love playing the Giants.

Dec 262018
 
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Saquon Barkley, New York Giants (December 23, 2018)

Saquon Barkley – © USA TODAY Sports

Indianapolis Colts 28 – New York Giants 27

QUICK RECAP

The last time Eli Manning and the Giants played in Indianapolis, it was against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI. Fast forward almost 7 years later and Eli Manning is still the quarterback, the lone representative from that Super Bowl winning team still on the roster. Two new coaching staffs, a new General Manager, and countless players have gone through the revolving door since that night in early February. It almost seems like that game against Tom Brady and the Patriots was a lifetime ago, as a lot has changed since then, mostly for the worst.

Their opponent was the team that plays its home games there, the near-playoff bound Colts. This organization hasn’t finished above .500 since 2014, saw their franchise QB go down with a serious throwing shoulder injury, and got nixed at the last second by Josh McDaniels in a coaching search. But 2018 has been a year to remember, as they came in winners of 7 of their last 8.

After a lackluster loss to TEN, the Giants came out firing on all cylinders. They quickly jumped out to a 14-0 lead thanks to a balanced offensive approach that saw Eli Manning spread the ball out across the board. Saquon Barkley’s 1 yard run and Manning’s 3 yard pass to Scott Simonson were the early scores. Combined with 5 pre-snap penalties by IND in the first quarter, this one had domination written all over it.

IND started to pick up chunk gains via the passing game but Andrew Luck tried to do a bit too much as they approached the red zone. He aimlessly threw the ball near the end zone without a Colts receiver in the same zip code. Safety Curtis Riley came down with it for his 4th interception of the season. The Giants offense began to sputter, however, as the IND defense crowded the box and prevented the running game from taking off.

IND put together a 12-play drive that took up most of the remaining time in the 2nd quarter. They spread the ball out, attacking the NYG linebackers in coverage and eventually got into the end zone via an easy 1-yard touchdown by rookie RB Nyheim Hines. NYG took the ball back and marched down the field to get 3 more points on the board. They went in to halftime possessing a commanding 17-7 lead and due to get the ball back after halftime.

The NYG offense continued to struggle early in the second half. They punted the ball to IND following their first drive and Luck led the offense right back downfield. It took just 7 plays to gain 85 yards, capped by a 2-yard pass to Dontrelle Inman to bring IND within 3. They often say the first 2 possessions of the second half go a long way in determining the outcome of a game. IND, despite being down 3, clearly had the momentum.

This is where Manning stepped up and showed, once again, there is enough left in the tank. He went 5/5 for 79 yards, connecting with four different receivers. He got the ball down to the goal line and took a QB sneak past the goal line for the Giants’ first touchdown since their second drive of the game. They took back a 10-point lead.

The IND offense continued to stay hot, as they picked up chunk gain after chunk gain. The NYG pass rush was struggling to disrupt Luck and the back seven couldn’t stick to anyone in coverage. It took just a 7 play drive for them to get back within 3, this time via a 3-yard touchdown run by Marlon Mack. Two plays prior to that score, an Olivier Vernon sack-fumble that was recovered by BJ Hill was negated by a Janoris Jenkins hold in coverage. Even though NYG led the entire game, it had a close-to definite feel that Luck and Colts were in control.

The 4th quarter started off with a 12-play NYG drive that saw them get inside the 10-yard line, but had to settle for a 27-yard field goal by Pro Bowl kicker Aldrick Rosas. The two teams then traded possessions with the margin at 6. With IND starting a drive near midfield with under 4 minutes left, Luck led them piece by piece all the way inside the 5. A 1-yard pass to Chester Rogers put them ahead for the first time with under a minute left.

On Manning’s third pass of their last-ditch attempt to get in field goal range, he threw a deep pass into double coverage that was intercepted by safety Malik Hooker. That was all she wrote.

NYG loses 28-27.

QUARTERBACKS

-Eli Manning: 25/33 – 309 yards – 1 TD/1 INT. Manning also scored a 1-yard touchdown on the ground. Manning, up against a red-hot defense that had a lot to play for, came up with one of his better games on the year without his top target, Odell Beckham. He spread the ball out. He was accurate short, intermediate, and deep. And he was completing a lot of passes on the move. A very solid game for a guy who will be debated all offseason long in relation to his future with the team. I’ll say it now. Unless NYG trades for an established QB, Manning will be the opening game starter next year. He has earned it.

RUNNING BACKS

-Saquon Barkley: 21 att / 43 yards – 5 rec / 34 yards. The IND defense came into today with one focus; do not let Barkley beat them. They had 8 defenders in the box more often than not on 1st and 2nd down, something we haven’t seen yet this year. In addition to that, their run defense has been one of the best all year. Barkley just couldn’t get going and the interior offensive linemen didn’t do him any favors. He did drop a pass and there were two runs where he chose the wrong running lane. The past two weeks have been the least productive we’ve seen in his rookie year and it could end up really hurting his Rookie of the Year chances if it trickles into the finale.

WIDE RECEIVERS

-Sterling Shepard: 6 rec / 113 yards. With Odell Beckham out for 3 games, it’s been an opportunity for Shepard to show he more than a complimentary asset. The previous 2 did not work out well for him, as he combined for 4 catches / 51 yards. However in this one, he stepped up big time. 5 of his 6 catches were in the first half when the NYG offense was really flowing, but he was quiet in the second half. Those 5 catches all resulted in first downs and that is one of his strongest attributes to his game. He finds the chains and stays tough in traffic. Very hard guy to cover short and intermediate but I do think there is some untapped upside with him that won’t be seen unless he is with a better quarterback.

-Bennie Fowler and Cory Latimer, two veterans who bring quality size and speed to the table, each had a catch for a first down. Fowler’s resulted in 26 yards, and when I see plays like that, it makes me think he may be worth bringing back for 2019. He can do some things.

TIGHT ENDS

-Evan Engram: 6 rec / 87 yards – 2 att / 26 yards. Engram has really broken out these past 2 weeks and reminded everyone what he can do if given enough opportunities. I’m still not sold on him being an every down tight end, as he once again finished with a below average grade as a blocker, but the speed/burst/agility he has with the ball is downright scary for opponents. He is one of the main reasons why I think this offense has a ton of potential in 2019 as a whole.

-Scott Simonson and Rhett Ellison were both on the field equally. They struggled to impact the running game, as they both finished with below average grades as blockers. However, they combined for 5 catches on 5 targets for 35 yards. Simonson scored his first touchdown of his career on a short rollout pass from Manning in the 1st quarter.

OFFENSIVE TACKLES

-Nate Solder, who’s play has stabilized in recent weeks, graded out as the best OL in this game. He allowed 1 pressure and was the cause for a TFL, but otherwise he did a nice job neutralizing the blindside pressure. He still doesn’t get a good enough push as a run blocker, especially when he has to move laterally. Not a big deal, but I did find it noteworthy he was getting moved back when Barkley was trying to hit his gaps.

-Chad Wheeler has steadily been below average throughout the second half of the season. I really hoped he would go in the other direction but I think his tape is going to lead the team to looking for a new right tackle. He allowed 2 TFL and a pressure in this one.

GUARDS/CENTERS

-Really rough day for this trio. Rookie Will Hernandez, who has been the best lineman on this team all year, had his first negative grade since early in the year. Denico Autry and Margus Hunt really gave him problems with their oversized frames combined with fast feet, similar to Calais Campbell in week 1. He allowed 2 pressures and didn’t sustain his blocks long enough in the running game.

-Jamon Brown, who is being proclaimed as a savior the line, had his worst game in a Giants uniform. He allowed 2 pressures, 1 TFL, and was penalized twice. While I do think he can be considered for the starting RG spot in 2019, he has not by any means cemented his name there. When he’s on, he is certainly a difference maker. But the inconsistency he shows game to game is exactly what made the Rams toss him onto the road.

-OC John Greco got the start with Spence Pulley missing the game with a bad calf. His lack of ability is still there. Greco graded out as the second worst blocker of the day, allowing a pressure, a TFL, and recording a block-in-the-back penalty.

EDGE

-Olivier Vernon, a name that will be debated in the coming months when it comes to his status with the team, was very active. He didn’t blow up the stat sheet but he made a couple lateral-hustle tackles against the run in addition to 2 pressures. He also had a sack-fumble negated by a Janoris Jenkins hold.

-Kareem Martin and Lorenzo Carter split snaps at the other edge spot. Neither were very effective but Carter did record 2 pressures. It’s been exactly what I expected out of Carter for his rookie season. He makes plays that stem from his length and speed, but there isn’t enough power or skill to his game just yet. This offseason will be huge for him when it comes to physical and mental development.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES

-Dalvin Tomlinson and BJ Hill has a solid showing against the interior of the IND offensive line. They were both stout for most of the game, although they were completely taken out of the picture on both of IND’s goal line rushing touchdowns. Tomlinson added a pressure and a TFL and Hill had a pressure as well. These two are solid pieces to the puzzle that will be important moving forward. The question still remains, however. Do they need a more capable run defender between them on first and second down?

LINEBACKERS

-With Alec Ogletree out, BJ Goodson was given the opportunity to be the leader of the defense. He responded with one of his best games of the season. He finished with 6 tackles and 2 TFL. Nothing special there but considering IND ran the ball just 16 times, you can’t expect a ton from a middle linebacker. The reason I called this a standout performance by Goodson was his range in man coverage against the pass and his blitz-production. Goodson made a few plays on crossing-route passes where his speed and reaction stood out. He had 2 pressures and his ability to impact the game on multiple levels stood out here. I still think there is a high ceiling left with this kid.

-Tae Davis got the start again. He led the team with 7 tackles and he recorded the lone sack of the game for NYG. Impressive game for the UDFA. He has certainly taken his rookie lumps and this game was no different. Luck attacked Davis in coverage all afternoon and the IND ball carriers took advantage of his over-pursuit. He missed 2 tackles on the day and was neutralized on running plays.

CORNERBACKS

-Janoris Jenkins leveled off his play after a rough game a week ago. He broke up a pass but was also flagged for a hold on a play where the Giants pass rush forced a fumble.

-BW Webb, whom has exceeded expectations as the team’s starting corner this year, had his worst game of the year in this one. In his few matchups against TY Hilton, he got torched downfield. He couldn’t get enough contact at the point of attack and he just couldn’t keep up downfield speed-wise. He was also flagged for pass interference in the end zone that eventually led to an IND touchdown.

-Grant Haley played nearly every snap in the nickel role with IND throwing the ball so much. He continues to struggle against receivers that have a significant size advantage but his hustle and quickness can make things happen. He has been a pleasant surprise for the past 2 months and has a nice base to build off of this upcoming offseason.

SAFETIES

-Curtis Riley came down with his 4th interception of the year. Looking at his numbers on paper, there will be some who see him as a definite for this roster in 2019. While I do like the speed and aggression he brings to the table, he has shown on more than enough occasions he isn’t the guy you want protecting the back side of the field. Michael Thomas, however, has been a solid strong safety since Landon Collins went down. He did miss 2 tackles in this one, but I trust him to get the job done. He made a couple of smart read-and-react plays that don’t show up on stat sheets.

SPECIAL TEAMS

-K Aldrick Rosas :2/2 (Made 40, 27). 18 consecutive made FGs for the Pro Bowler. I was really hoping he would get a shot at a 55+ yarder to win the game. That could have capped what has likely been the best season by NYG kicker in franchise history.

-P Riley Dixon: 3 Punts – 48.3 avg / 47.3 net. Not many know this, but Dixon has been one of the top 7-8 punters in the NFL this year. His net average is a very solid 41.7 yards on the year.

3 STUDS

-QB Eli Manning, WR Sterling Shepard, LB BJ Goodson

3 DUDS

-OG Jamon Brown, OC John Greco, CB BW Webb

3 THOUGHTS ON IND

-The Colts offensive line went from bottom 5 to top 10 in a matter of a year. The two main reasons? Two rookies. 1st rounder Quenton Nelson and 2nd rounder Braden Smith. These two, ironically, were the top 2 OL on my board in the 2018 Draft. They have been steady improving each week and even though they took some rookie hits early in the year, this OL has the look of a dominant group in the coming years.

-Darius Leonard, a LB I graded to be a top 10 overall prospect in the 2018 class, has been nothing short of dominant all year. This is the new age LB who is hard to find, but they are out there. Height, length, speed, an ability to impact plays on all three downs. He has all the range you can ask for, coverage ability of a safety, pass rush capabilities via short area burst, and enough stoutness against inside run blockers. Does NYG need to find one of these guys in the draft? Well they may already have him: Landon Collins.

-All the talk about Patrick Mahomes, Jared Goff, Carson Wentz….etc. Who is the next top dog in the NFL at the QB position? It’s Andrew Luck then everyone else. I mean it. This guy is the best combination of throwing power, accuracy, and decision making. He makes plays with his legs. He is tough to take down in the pocket. And he stays mentally stable as good as anyone I have seen. He plays within the system, he takes what the defense gives. Now that Luck has a formidable offensive line, he should have an easier time staying on the field. Luck is about to take over the league.

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

-The Giants have one game left, at home, against a team that won’t be in all-out mode. Is this the perfect opportunity to get a start for Kyle Lauletta under his belt before entering an offseason that will be filled with long-term QB debate? The knee jerk answer is yes. But like I said when he was drafted, is Lauletta the guy that is going to determine how NYG handles the position? No. I think this guy is a career backup. Is there a chance he is more? Sure. But you can say that about every young backup QB in the league. Lauletta getting a start may be more about fans wanting something fresh more than him actually being capable.

-At this time last year, the Giants were just praying for the season to be over. There was nothing to be excited about. There was nothing to watch, really. However here we are in a similar, no-shot-at-the-playoffs type situation while division rivals are gearing up for postseason play. But we can all agree this team is indeed better than a year ago with more long-term potential than a year ago. The offensive line is better. The playmaking on offense has shown more. The schemes seem to have more dependability. There are several holes to be filled but we knew that would be the case anyway.

-This may be the last we see of a few of the higher paid players. Olivier Vernon and Janoris Jenkins come to mind first. Should NYG keep these two? Well if there is any thought of them competing in 2019, I say you keep them. They may be overpaid, but I still think they are better than what you are going to find on the market. Let’s not forget one thing – the NYG pass rush improved as a whole once Vernon came back. My vote is to keep him here.

Dec 212018
 
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Game Preview: New York Giants at Indianapolis Colts, December 23, 2018

THE STORYLINE:
A few steps forward, one Giant step backwards. Last weekend’s loss to the Tennessee Titans was a real eye-opener. The Giants were 4-1 in their last five contests heading into that game with momentum building. While still immensely flawed, they were still playing hard and showing some signs of becoming a more physical football team. Then a slightly-above-.500 Tennessee Titans team bitch-slapped them back to reality. The Titans dominated both lines of scrimmage and the score never felt as close as the 17-0 end result. The defeat also officially ended any faint hopes of a playoff spot.

I think the final two games of the 2018 season are fairly important for this franchise. What direction is this team heading? Is the arrow pointed up, down, stuck in neutral? How do the Giants respond this week? With another dud? Do they rebound?

The glass-half-empty crowd will lament Pat Shurmur and Eli Manning have done just enough to encourage ownership to mistakenly keep both around another year. The question remains is this team better or worse off bringing both back in 2019, or is the team merely postponing their inevitable departure in January 2020?

The glass-half-full crowd will argue that this was a team clearly in transition that played better in the second half of the season than it did in the first half. They will argue that you need to give Shurmur and his staff more than one season, and that firing the coaching staff will simply lead to more chaos. They also will argue that there is no clear better alternative to Eli Manning in 2019.

What we don’t want is the team being stuck in neutral, ensconced in the basement of a bad division for the foreseeable future.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • WR Odell Beckham (quad – out)
  • WR Russell Shepard (ankle – out)
  • WR Jawill Davis (hamstring – probable)
  • OC Spencer Pulley (calf – out)
  • DE Kerry Wynn (thumb – questionable)
  • LB Alec Ogletree (concussion – out)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:

Though not all of the points were generated by the offense, there was a clear belief and feeling that the offense was finally turning the corner based on point production. During the 1-7 start, the Giants had averaged less than 19 points per game. During the 4-1 turnaround, the team averaged over 31 points per game. Then the Giants had their worst day of the season last Sunday, not even reaching the red zone until the end of the game.

It was no coincidence that the offense line regressed terribly in the game, both run and pass blocking. Or that receivers dropped a lot of passes. Or that Eli Manning once again showed a still-too-frequent tendency to make really bad decisions/turnovers. When you can’t block up front, you are going to have major issues on offense. If you can’t handle the basics, like catching the football, your punter is going to have a busy day. If your quarterback makes a bone-headed play in a still-tight game, you’re going to lose.

Offensively, the most alarming red flags were the offensive line and Manning seriously regressing again. Once again, we are now left with the questions: (1) how many starters do the Giants need to replace on the OL, and (2) is Eli Manning capable of being a consistent game-manager at this stage of his career? Nate Solder is up and down. Spencer Pulley, who is now hurt and may not play the final two games, looks like a clear liability. Jamon Brown flashes in the run game but also is too inconsistent, especially in pass protection. Chad Wheeler tries hard, but he’s just not getting it done.

Manning hasn’t thrown for a lot of touchdowns this year (18). He’s immobile. And he no longer appears to be able to elevate the level of play by those around him. But he is completing the highest percentage of passes in his career (66 percent), hasn’t turned the ball over much (just nine interceptions; though he does have six fumbles), and has played five games this year with a QBR over 100. With the Giants relying more on Saquon Barkley in recent games, Manning and – not coincidentally – the entire offense were playing better. Then came last Sunday. Still in a one-score game late in the 3rd quarter, Manning’s two boneheaded turnovers proved to be the back-breakers. If you are going to become a “game manager”, you can’t kill your team like that.

The prevailing opinion is that – for better or worse – the Giants are “stuck” with Manning for one more year. He has a no-trade clause. It is difficult to see him walking away from the $17 million dollars (salary, roster bonus, workout bonus) he is due in 2019. Ownership/management appears excessively loyal to him, perhaps out of guilt knowing that they never really gave him a reasonable offensive line in the last third of his career. Fans will feel better if Eli plays well in these last two games. But if he doesn’t, it could be a long and very grumpy offseason.

One last comment. Last week should put to rest that this team is “better off without Odell Beckham.” Now, one can argue that the team may be better off with a draft bonanza by trading him away. But you don’t take one of the NFL’s best players off of your active roster and become a better team.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:

As much criticism as the offense has received this year, the long-term outlook on the defense is equally alarming. Teams are running over the Giants. And if you can’t stop the run, you can’t win. The Giants don’t maintain their gaps well and they don’t tackle well. And when the other team does pass the football, though there have been some signs of life in recent games, the Giants still have serious issues rushing the passer and covering the middle of the football field. The Giants desperate personnel needs on defense in addition to their huge needs list on offense.

My biased view is that the team’s best pass rusher, Olivier Vernon, is a loser. He’s a guy who will tease but never be a winning football player. The linebacking corps as a unit is still so devoid of talent that I now question the strategic decision to shift this team from the 4-3 to the 3-4. Simply put, outside of Alec Ogletree’s recent interception fest, the linebackers are not making plays. They aren’t getting the quarterback. They aren’t stopping the run. They aren’t covering. The Giants may have one keeper in Lorenzo Carter, but he’s a guy who could also play at DE in a 4-3.

The secondary is also close to being a mess. Landon Collins being voted to the Pro Bowl is a joke, and will only contribute to his desire for a big pay day. Janoris Jenkins is a top-notch cover guy, but I get the feeling that he’s one of those guys who Bill Parcells or Bill Belichick would immediately get rid of. Whether you want to call it a “business decision” or a lack of physicality, his lack of willingness to “stick his head in there” leaves one with a bad taste in their mouth. The Giants have no free safety and no up-and-coming players at corner unless Sam Beal turns out to be good player.

And I can’t get a good read on James Bettcher. Is he worse, better, or the same as the disappointing Steve Spagnuolo? He doesn’t have a lot to work with, but at the same time, declining fundamentals such as tackling and gap responsibility are very concerning.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:

Believe it or not, the strong part of the 2018 New York Giants ended up being their special teams unit, including both kickers, kick and punt coverage, and the return game.

THE FINAL WORD:
Most NFL teams have bad days like the Giants did last Sunday. Even the 2007 and 2011 New York Giants did. Was that a blip on the radar or a real sign that the 4-1 “turnaround” was a mirage? We’ll know more by the end of the game on Sunday.

Dec 182018
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (December 16, 2018)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee Titans 17 – New York Giants 0

QUICK RECAP

With the Giants playoff hopes still alive, barely, the feisty Tennessee Titans came to town as they are on the post-season bubble in the AFC. The rain was coming down hard and it showed no signs of slowing down all afternoon. Without Odell Beckham, this Giants team headed into their 14th game of the season in the midst of changing their losing culture. Yet another shot to play against a team that was simply at a higher level than themselves. A nice “prove it” opportunity.

With the rain coming down hard, this had defensive battle written all over it especially considering the lack of firepower on both offenses. TEN dominated the ball early on with drives of 10 and 15 plays, respectively. They sandwiched a Giants’ 3 and out drive. On TEN’s second possession, they scored a touchdown that ended up being the only points on the board until the end of the third quarter.

Derrick Henry, who had a career game a week earlier against the sinking Jaguars, picked up where he left off. He scored that first quarter touchdown on a 4th and goal from the 1-yard line. The oversized back was running with a downhill force that reminded me of a young Brandon Jacobs. His force and power created hesitation among most Giants defenders, as it appeared to be a business decision when it came down to trying to tackle him or not. He constantly pushed piles forward, broke several tackles, and simply wore the entire defense in the ground. He had 127 yards on 21 carries in the first half.

As one-sided as the game felt heading into halftime, the TEN lead was only 7 points and we’ve seen this NYG offense pick up steam in recent weeks. We knew it was at least possible to change the tone in the second half. They did exactly that on the first drive of the 3rd quarter, as Manning found Sterling Shepard for NYG’s longest gain of the day, 38 yards. They were in TEN territory with a first down. Thanks to a couple Manning to Engram connections, they were in the red zone with a fresh 1st and 10. But after a penalty and a loss of 1 yard on a pass to Shepard, they were staring at 3rd and 20 from the TEN 29 yard line. They simply needed a few yards so the field goal attempt in the rain wouldn’t be too high-risk. Manning dropped back and made an uncharacteristic, overly aggressive throw into traffic which ended up being intercepted by TEN safety Kevin Byard. It was a turning point in the game that completely took the wind out of the sails for NYG.

TEN was content with their lead and they didn’t deter from their game plan. Run the ball hard and often, taking advantage of the poor tackling back seven of NYG. When you hear coaches talk about “wearing down a defense”, well this is exactly what they mean. NYG’s effort and passion certainly could have been better, but at the end of the day these guys were just getting beat at the point of attack over and over with a 235 pounder coming downhill hard and fast. At some point, defenders start to lose desire and hope, and that is exactly what happened in this one.

Manning turned the ball over again via a fumble on the next NYG drive, setting up TEN on the NYG 14-yard line. Six plays later, Henry stampeded into the end zone to make the lead 14-0, but it might as well have read 31-0.

The rest of the game consisted of NYG struggling to put together drives and TEN simply but effectively chewing up the clock. It was such a simple equation that it almost became maddening to watch. This was the closest we’ve seen this team to completely mailing it in well before the game clock expired as the Titans stayed hungry and assertive on both sides of the ball. This one couldn’t be over soon enough. TEN lengthened their lead to 17-0 in the 4th quarter and NYG was able to get the ball to the TEN 4 yard line, but they failed to convert. Too little, too late, anyway.

NYG loses 17-0.

QUARTERBACKS

-Eli Manning: 21/44 – 229 yards – 0 TD / 1 INT. Manning also lost a fumble in this one, giving him 12 turnovers on the year. Twelve is a career low in that department. Thus as tough as this season has been offensively, the turnovers haven’t been the issue. Manning’s biggest deficiency is he simply just can’t create anything on his own. He can make the throws when the time is there, but his mobility is worsening weekly it seems. And at the end of the day, this league is all about adjusting and creativity. With Manning, there is a deficit in both.

RUNNING BACKS

-Saquon Barkley: 14 att – 31 yards / 4 rec / 25 yards. The TEN defense did an outstanding job defending Barkley. It was the best job I’ve seen all year when it comes to a defense maintaining gap integrity. They were stout, they filled lanes, and they swarmed to the ball after keeping Barkley contained to small windows. TEN isn’t a sexy team, but they do things the right way and they play together. Barkley still had a couple runs that showed off his impressive balance and burst, but arguably the league’s top back was held in check all afternoon.

WIDE RECEIVERS

-Sterling Shepard: 2 rec – 37 yards. This is the kind of game where you can really notice the fact that Shepard is a complimentary player, not a focal point. Without Beckham on the field, Shepard just can’t get enough done on his own. Manning threw him a 50/50 ball where Shepard actually had the initial positional advantage, but he wasn’t close to coming down with it. That is simply not his game. He also had 2 drops in the rainy weather.

-The combination of Bennie Fowler, Corey Coleman, Jawill Davis, and Russell Shepard combined for 7 catches – 92 yards. I’m not sure any of these guys will be in the picture in 2019, but they have these next couple of weeks to leave a good taste in the coaches’ mouths. Davis is interesting, as he ran some good routes and has proven to be effective with the ball in his hands.

TIGHT ENDS

-Evan Engram: 8 rec – 75 yards. It was nice to see Engram back in his former role before his string of injuries this year. The explosive, dangerous weapon made couple of big 3rd down catches and gained a good amount of yards after the catch. He is at his best when he runs crossing routes in space so he can really gear up for after-catch yards. He was Manning’s go-to target in this one and I expect to see more of the same these next 2 weeks. When he’s on and involved often, it’s hard not to get excited about what he can be.

OFFENSIVE TACKLES

-Even with Brian Orakpo out, Chad Wheeler was overmatched from start to finish. It was one of his worst 3 performances of the season. The former undrafted free agent was flagged twice, allowed 1 TFL, and 1 sack. Something you don’t see on paper was his inability to get off combo blocks to the next man up. Part of that can be attributed to quality defensive line play by TEN, but Wheeler showed a lack of power presence in this one.

-Nate Solder didn’t fair much better. He continues to have multiple peaks and valleys within each game and it can be maddening considering he protects the blind side. He allowed 2 pressures, 1 sack, and was flagged for a false start. This year can’t over soon enough for the NFL’s highest paid offensive lineman.

GUARDS/CENTERS

-It wasn’t a pretty day for the interior run blocking. Will Hernandez, once again, graded out as the best NYG blocker but even he barely scratched above the average mark. He allowed a pressure early in the game but settled in nicely after outside of some miscommunications between him in OC Spencer Pulley. Pulley continues to be a weakness, as he allowed a sack and a pressure in addition to being tossed around in the running game.

-Jamon Brown is playing for a starting role, whether it be here or for another team, next season. As I said last week, his play has been very up and down. He and Pulley also showed confusion against inside stunts and delayed blitzes. I feel like I have seen enough out of Brown to say he isn’t the long term answer at RG for a team that is going to need a plus-group up front in 2019. He is better than what they’ve had, but he is very limited.

EDGE

-Olivier Vernon was overmatched by Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan. He finished with 3 tackles and a pressure in this one which isn’t terrible considering TEN threw the ball just 20 times. However his performance as a run defender was low-level. He gets good initial contact at the point of attack but he simply couldn’t free himself.

-Kareem Martin had one of his busier days as a Giant, finishing with a season high 9 tackles. TEN was running the ball early and often, thus the spike in his production. I will say this about Martin, it seemed like he was the only defender on this team that wasn’t intimidated by Derrick Henry. He is very stout in the trenches, but won’t offer much other than backup-caliber edge rushing ability.

-Kerry Wynn and Lorenzo Carter combined for 6 tackles on the day. Neither of which were standout in any area.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES

-In a scheme where the defensive approach is about penetration, both Dalvin Tomlinson and BJ Hill are good fits inside. They got off the ball well and made the TEN rushing attack alter their approach. The problem that comes with that penetration is the fact that new windows and lanes are created. A back with good vision and good downhill force can take advantage of that in a big way, much like Henry did all afternoon and the week prior against JAC. Tomlinson and Hill did not play poorly, but this was certainly a game where Damon Harrison was missed. They combined for 8 tackles and 2 pressures, but when a team runs the ball 45 times for 215 yards at a consistent rate, the guys inside need to shoulder a big part of the blame.

-Josh Mauro had a very loud game. 6 tackles and 2 TFL are very impressive for a rotational player along the defensive line. However he was flagged twice, one of which was on a 3rd down stop that would put TEN on the 7 yard line. The facemask resulted in a fresh set of downs for TEN, which they used to score their second touchdown of the game. Mauro has been a solid player for NYG but his aggression has hurt them a few times.

LINEBACKERS

-Alec Ogletree, another peaks and valleys player who was brought in this offseason, finished with 7 tackles and a TFL. He missed 1 tackle on the day, which wasn’t bad compared to what else we saw against Henry. He was physical from start to finish but just didn’t win his one on one battles with blockers.

-BJ Goodson led the team with 9 tackles, as expected because he is the team’s best inside run defender. One thing Goodson does well is come downhill with a lot of force. He doesn’t adjust well, as that was the cause for both of his missed tackles, but he is a good enforcer in the middle. I think it is important this team keeps him here and keeps getting him more playing time.

CORNERBACKS

We’ve seen this out of Janoris Jenkins a few times since he singed with the team. Lack of inspiration, inconsistent effort. On multiple occasions he made a business decision to not pursue Henry carrying the ball downhill. While I do understand the fact there is a 50+ pound difference between the two and nobody wants to see Jenkins get hurt, it is a hard thing to watch. You really have to take the good with the bad when it comes to Jenkins, their best DB by a long shot.

-BW Webb also missed 2 tackles on the day and was beat on 3rd down a couple times by lackluster wide receivers. While I don’t see less effort in his game, he does scream inconsistent against the run. Not the worst thing in the world in today’s NFL, but still enough to bother me.

-Grant Haley saw a slight downtick in snaps but that wasn’t a result of his play. TEN was all-in on trying to run the ball, so getting bigger personnel in there was important. He continues to impress in the slot coverage game.

SAFETIES

-Curtis Riley was back to his normal ways, missing 3 tackles and looking lost in coverage when Mariota rolled out in either direction. When I watched the All-22 angle, it was blatantly obvious he had no idea what to do when Mariota was moving. Again, I’ll give him that he has fast and physical, but it is almost too much for his own good.

-Michael Thomas had a solid game. He finished with 7 tackles and a sack. He has been exactly as advertised since coming over from MIA. Good locker room presence, a leader on the field, and stout run defender. However he did miss 2 tackles on the day.

-Sean Chandler didn’t play much, but he was crucial on the Thomas-sack. He delayed his blitz perfectly and snuck through the action up front right as Mariota went to his second read. He has made a few “knack” plays, meaning things you don’t teach but simply come from feel. Very important for a safety.

SPECIAL TEAMS

-P Riley Dixon – 6 punts – 39.5 avg / 38.2 net. He pinned TEN inside the 5 once and inside the 20 another time. He also ran for a first down on a fake punt on a well timed decision by the coaching staff. TEN had no idea it was coming.

-Quiet day for the returners Jawill Davis and Corey Coleman.

3 STUDS

-S Michael Thomas, TE Evan Engram, LB BJ Goodson

3 DUDS

-CB Janoris Jenkins, OT Chad Wheeler, QB Eli Manning

3 THOUGHTS ON TEN

-It is refreshing to see a team like TEN win games. They’ve lost some big ones this year, too. They are very-throwback in that they love to run the ball, they play good defense, and they don’t shoot themselves in the foot. I think even the strongest of NFL fans can’t name more than 10 Titans players. In this era of gaudy stats and spread attacks, give me a team like TEN that can play in any conditions, any time of year, at any stadium.

-Is Marcus Mariota the answer for that team? I’ve been asking myself that for a couple years now and I still don’t know. I’ve seen a lot of this team since the start of 2016 and I haven’t seen him improve much, if at all. Yes, you can obviously win with him, he has proven that. But when NYG go into QB-fantasy land and just cant wait to get their hands on a fresh, new, young to replace Manning, all I will say is I hope that guy is better than Mariota.

-I can remember writing Derrick Henry’s scouting report a few years ago. I had so many game notes with the word “freak” next to his name. He really is a rare player and I’m not just noting it because of his performance the past 2 weeks. When he hits a groove, he is as tough to play against as some of the top backs. His issue is that he won’t do much without space and his running style will likely keep his success short-lived if he is getting 25+ carries per game. TEN did the right thing by signing Dion Lewis this past offseason but even then, I think he is going to have a Brandon Jacobs type ending to his career.

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

-I’ve given Pat Shurmur a lot of credit for keeping this team from dwindling down the toilet. They have played hard, tried to win games, and shown a lot of “want-to”. Well, something happened to completely reverse that approach when TEN came to down. Was it the rain? Was it Derrick Henry? Is there some drama going on with Beckham’s mysterious mystery and how he is talking about it publicly? One thing I will be looking for IND is a return to their former-hustling ways against a team that has a lot to play for. I am not sold on him being the guy in 2019 just yet.

-Almost every team has a loss like this throughout the 16 game season. Ugly, lacking passion, boring, hopeless. Because of that, I somewhat give them a pass but I just hate this seems to always happen at home every year. NYG’s home record just doesn’t scream home-field advantage. In 2017 they lost by 34 to the Rams, in 2016 the lost by 14 to the Vikings, in 2015 they 32 to the Vikings, in 2014 the lost by 16 to the Colts, in 2013 they lost by 23 to the Seahawks….all at home. Is this a coincidence? Is there someone to blame? Fans? Owners? Coaches. Just a very frustrating fact that Big Blue does NOT play any better at home.

-The final 2 weeks could be the best shot for NYG to see if there is anything to work with when it comes to Kyle Lauletta. With that said, we don’t get to see practice so it could be already known he simply isn’t ready. His short stint against WAS didn’t exactly strengthen his case. But I will say, it would be nice to see what he can do before we head into the offseason which is just a couple weeks away. Manning has shown his limitations and even though I think he has a good shot at being the guy in 2019, I don’t think we need to see him play anymore this season. The damage has been done and nothing will reverse his 2018 performance.

Dec 142018
 
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Pat Shurmur, New York Giants (August 17, 2018)

Pat Shurmur – © USA TODAY Sports

Game Preview: Tennessee Titans at New York Giants, December 16, 2018

THE STORYLINE:
The storyline? Somehow the once 1-7 New York Giants are still alive for playoff spot with three games left to play. And had the now 5-8 Giants, still in last place in the NFC East, not blown their most recent game against the Philadelphia Eagles, they would actually have a serious shot at making the post-season.

The 4-1 run over the last five games is a testament to the continued fighting spirit of a still undermanned and patchwork team, as well as an indictment of the quality of their recent opponents (or more specifically, the quality of their opponents’ quarterbacks). But is it improvement. The Giants are actually beating teams. And as I pointed out last week, they are actually beating up on teams.

It is not likely the Giants will make the playoffs. Their destiny is only partially within their own hands. But you can only control what you can control, and the next task is to beat the Tennessee Titans. This is the type of physical opponent who has given the Giants problems in recent years. The Titans will be a far better litmus test to evaluate how much progress the 2018 New York Giants have truly made.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • WR Odell Beckham (quad – out)
  • TE Rhett Ellison (ankle – probable)
  • LT Nate Solder (abdomen – probable)
  • S Curtis Riley (wrist – probable)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:

The Giants will be facing a tough 3-4 defense. Tennessee is 9th in the NFL in yards allowed and 4th in scoring defense (less than 20 points per game). The Titans are also 6th in pass defense in the entire NFL. Most notable is that the Titans have the #1 redzone defense. Because Tennessee isn’t a big media market, many fans have not heard of their best players. Defensive lineman Jurrell Casey (7 sacks) is one of the best in the business. The back seven linebackers and defensive backs are tough and active. Aside from Casey, most of the pass rush comes from their linebackers.

Eli Manning’s press conferences are routinely boring affairs. But he made some very interesting comments this week. Eli said the Giants’ offense is still figuring out its path.  When asked what he meant by that, Manning responded, “Just our identity and being able to run the ball. I think that’s been the biggest difference since the bye. Just an emphasis on running the ball, the play-action. A lot more under center. Not as much shotgun. Not as much seven-step drop. Just having everything build off the run game.”

A myth has developed around Manning’s career that he was only good when he had the benefit of a good running game and defense. Nothing could have been more opposite from the truth during his career-season in 2011. But with age and the unending beatings he has taken over the past six years, Manning has morphed into that type of quarterback. I wouldn’t call him a “game manager” because he’s still capable of big-time games and big-time throws. But even he himself seems to recognize that he is at the point of his career where relying on the run is better for him and the offense as a unit.

The coaching staff and the players now seem to fully understand that the centerpiece of this offense is not Eli Manning. And it’s not Odell Beckham. It is a 21-year old kid from Penn State who has only played in 13 professional football games. The more Saquon Barkley touches the ball, the more likely the New York Giants will win the football game. Overly simplistic and sophomoric analysis? Perhaps. But when the kid gets his 20 touches, good things happen.

It will also be important for Evan Engram to build upon last week’s game. For the first time in 2018, Engram looked like the player many of us expected him to be. His two long, run-after-the-catch plays against Washington were difference makers. The Giants need more of that.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:

The game plan is easy to identify but harder to implement: stop the run. The Titans are 11th in the NFL in rushing. But they are #3 in rushing attempts. In a pass-happy NFL, almost half of their offensive snaps are rushing attempts. And it’s a three-headed monster:

  1. Derrick Henry is the 6’3”, 247-pound, powerful punisher. Henry is averaging 4.9 yards per carry and has nine rushing touchdowns. (Though note his 712 rushing yards is inflated by last week’s 99-yard run in which Pop Warner teams have tackled better).
  2. The much smaller (5’8”, 195 pounds), but quicker Dion Lewis who has 50 receptions out of the backfield in addition to his 477 rushing yards. Keep in mind, the Giants don’t have a good track record covering backs.
  3. Quarterback Marcus Mariota has rushed for 339 yards and two touchdowns this year. The Giants have struggled with mobile quarterbacks, including Josh Johnson last week.

When the Titans do put the ball up, aside from Lewis catching the ball out of the backfield, wide receiver Corey Davis (54 receptions) is the main target. Mariota is completing 69 percent of his passes, but only has 11 touchdown throws. The Titans also have allowed 43 sacks (tied with the Giants for 3rd worst in the NFL).

Interestingly, 10 of New York’s 24 sacks have come in the last two games. Olivier Vernon is starting to tease again. But containing Mariota on the ground will be one of the biggest keys to this game. The Giants must maintain disciplined pass rush lanes. And they need to cover Lewis. Linebacker coverage has been a sore spot.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:

The Giants face a major test this week in kickoff return specialist Darius Jennings who is averaging over 34 yards per return, including a 94 yarder. Adoree’ Jackson is also a dangerous punt returner.

THE FINAL WORD:
The Titans are a tough, physical 7-6 football team that plays outstanding defense and can rush the football. This is the type of team that has given the Giants fits during the 2012-17 period. But the Giants are starting to show their own brand of toughness. This will be a good test for them. The Titans don’t score much, but other teams don’t score much on them either. Give Barkley 20 touches or more, stop the run, and prevent the big return on special teams. Get to 6-8 and live to fight another day.