Dec 112018
 
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Saquon Barkley, New York Giants (December 9, 2018)

Saquon Barkley – © USA TODAY Sports

New York Giants 40 – Washington Redskins 16

QUICK RECAP

On October 28, the Giants lost to WAS and the two teams were heading in complete opposite directions. However 5 weeks have passed and in the NFL, that can be an eternity. Since then, WAS has lost its starting quarterback to a horrific leg injury, lost 4 of 5 games, and lost its identity overall. They lead the league in players on the IR after finishing 2nd on that list in 2017 and when we talk about trying to avoid a losing culture, what we see in WAS is exactly what we are talking about.

The Odell Beckham-less Giants offense (a quad injury sidelined him) started off slow. The offensive line was leaky, as they were last time these two teams faced off, and Saquon Barkley dropped a pass that could have been a big gain. The WAS offense was being led by Mark Sanchez, who was signed off of the street following Alex Smith’s injury a few weeks ago, and they weren’t going anywhere fast either. This had the feel of an old school, grind it out NFC East battle.

With just under 3 minutes left in the first quarter, a Sanchez pass was tipped at the line by Kareem Martin and right into the waiting arms of Curtis Riley who could have walked into the end zone. The Giants took control early in a game where it looked like it would be incredibly difficult for WAS to even pass midfield, let alone score points.

The Giants offense gradually woke up in the 2nd quarter. Thanks to a 30-yard, in-the-bucket throw by Eli Manning to Corey Coleman up the left sideline, NYG had a first and goal from the WAS 3-yard line. However their next 2 plays resulted in -14 yards and they settled for a 35-yard field goal by Aldrick Rosas. They were up 10-0 with some momentum churning.

After another 3 and out by the WAS offense, NYG got the ball back and handed the ball to Barkley to get the drive going. Well, that drive lasted that one play, as he burst into the open field and outran the defensive back angles all the way for a 78-yard touchdown. The speed in the open field had that race to the goal line won before he reached the WAS 40-yard line. NYG was up 17-0 and the wind was out of the sails for WAS. It took just 2 plays before Sanchez turned it over a second time, this time a toss to Alec Ogletree, who intercepted his 5th pass of the season. Manning then found a wide open Sterling Shepard in the end zone for maybe the easiest touchdown of the year. It took just 4 minutes of game clock for NYG to extend their lead from 7-0 to 24-0, and they weren’t done yet.

WAS had another 3 and out and on the sixth play of the next NYG drive, Manning found Bennie Fowler in the end zone. 31-0. Felt good to be on this side of a complete and utter blowout. What happened next? You guessed it, another Was 3 and out and NYG strove to get one more drive towards the end zone going. A short pitch and long run by Evan Engram brought the offense all the way down to 5 yard line. They failed to punch it in, but a 23-yard field goal as time expired in the second quarter out NYG ahead 34-0 at halftime.

Even though this game seemed out of reach, the NYG defense needed to squash any idea of a potential comeback. They sacked Sanchez twice on WAS’ opening drive of the second half and then gave Manning’s offense one more opportunity to drive down the field and put more points on the board. A 9-play, 81-yard drive ended with Manning’s third touchdown of the day, this one to Russell Shepard who caught his second touchdown in as many weeks.

WAS then made a QB change to former Giant Josh Johnson, another signal caller they signed off the street just a week ago. Johnson actually put together some sandlot-style football against a Giants defense that knew they had done enough to win the game. They scored two 4th quarter touchdowns while the Giants offensive success came to a halt as rookie Kyle Lauletta took over.

While the game never got close again, WAS did consistently move the ball behind Johnson and NYG failed to cross mid-field besides their final 2 minutes of the game. However no complaints and no bad taste left in their mouths.

Giants win 40-16.

QUARTERBACKS

-Eli Manning: 14/22 – 197 yards – 3 TD / 0 INT. Not much was needed out of Manning. But after a cold start to the day, he and the NYG offense turned into a machine for the 2nd and 3rd quarters. He really spread the ball out well, which was hard considering he only threw the ball 22 times. He fit balls into tight windows on 2 of his touchdowns and connected a couple times downfield. His 2 standout-mistakes were near the end zone, however. He got away with a near-INT at the end of the 1st half thanks to Sterling Shepard playing the role of defensive back. And he also took a huge sack that resulted in a 14-yard loss. He can’t go that far back in his evasion, especially for a guy that simply can’t evade. This was Manning’s 5th game of the year with a 110+ QB rating.

-Kyle Lauletta: 0/5 – 0 yards – 0 TD / 1 INT. Not a big enough sample size to really fairly evaluate Lauletta. But I do hope fans and media-alike saw the gap between what NYG has in Manning and what they could have in a 4th round rookie from Richmond. I don’t want to knock him while he is down, especially in a game like that, but Lauletta didn’t look good. He threw an INT and had another one dropped by a WAS defender.

RUNNING BACKS

-Saquon Barkley: 14 att – 170 yards – 1 TD / 4 rec – 27 yards. The elite-level running back scored on a 78-yard touchdown that displayed the burst, balance, and runaway speed that most backs just don’t have. He had a few other runs that showed how versatile his game is and perhaps the best part about it was that he only touched the ball 18 times. It is not a coincidence that this offense turned it around the instant he broke off the long run.

-Wayne Gallman got a season-high 14 carries and rushed for 38 yards. He got a lot of mop-up time where the defense really keyed in on him, so there isn’t much judgment to be done besides that fact that he ran hard and hungry. Elijah Penny also got 5 carries and gained 21 yards in addition to a 16-yard gain on a screen pass. There is some interesting athletic ability to his game that can be used in a variety of ways.

WIDE RECEIVERS

-Sterling Shepard: 2 rec / 17 yards / 1 TD. Perhaps Shepard’s best play of the afternoon was his pass break-up on a ball that Eli Manning threw right to cornerback Greg Stroman. It could have given WAS some needed momentum heading into halftime. Shepard’s touchdown catch was as easy as it gets in this league but he is a guy who continues to make plays that matter. Not a dynamic downfield threat, but he may be the guy I trust the most when it comes to getting open. And one thing that doesn’t get discussed enough is how impactful he is as a blocker. He threw a key block on Barkley’s long TD run and is always hustling in that department.

-Corey Coleman: 2 rec / 43 yards. With Odell Beckham sidelined, Coleman was the team’s vertical threat. They gave him a couple of deep shots, one of which he came down with in the 2nd quarter.

-Russell Shepard and Bennie Fowler each caught one pass in the end zone. While these two are roster fillers, they have done well in their limited opportunities. They have come up with big/important plays when the team needed them.

TIGHT ENDS

-Evan Engram: 3 rec / 77 yards. After missing last week’s game with a hamstring injury, Engram came back and didn’t have a lot of opportunities. With that said, he made the most of what was given to him. He had two huge gains after the catch, showing off his legit 4.4 caliber speed. Sometimes we forget just how explosive this kid is. His blocking grade was solid, although the team appears to be taking him off the field in run-only situations now.

-Scott Simonson and Rhett Ellison both graded out above average as blockers but did not factor in the passing game.

OFFENSIVE TACKLES

-Solid day for Nate Solder. His name wasn’t called much at all in a negative fashion, as he ended the day with his highest grade of the season. His play has stabilized but I still see him getting walked back a few too many times.

-Chad Wheeler was one of the guilty culprits for the NYG slow start on offense. He was flagged for a holding penalty and allowed a sack. He was solid the rest of the way, though.

GUARDS / CENTERS

-All the talk surrounding Jamon Brown’s presence stabilizing this entire offense is a little overblown. I think that is coincidence more than anything, as he continues to be very up and down (although that is a better performance than what we have seen at RG over the past few years). Brown allowed a sack, a pressure, and was flagged for a false start. While he does make several key blocks in this potent rushing attack, his inconsistencies that led to him being cut by the Rams are popping up weekly.

-Will Hernandez continues to be a rock at LG. Facing off against that interior WAS defensive line is no small task, and he answered the bell. He did allow a TFL but for the most part, he was very solid. He has had a positive grade in all but 2 games this year.

-Spencer Pulley, we know by now, is the weak link to this OL. He allowed both a pressure and a TFL, something we see every week with him. OC will be one of the top priorities for this team in the offseason and fortunately the draft class at that spot may be the best we have seen in awhile.

EDGE

I don’t agree with all of the distaste for Oliver Vernon. I do think he is overpaid when looking at his production, but edge rushers are extremely hard to find. And I think I’ve said this before, but this team’s overall pass rush vastly improved since he came back from injury earlier in the year. He finished with 1.5 sacks and 5 tackles.

-Lorenzo Carter returned to the lineup and had a very disruptive game in his rotational role. He had 5 tackles, 1 pressure, and 1 sack. What stood out to me at Georgia last year in addition to his superb athleticism, was how disciplined he stays within the scheme. Carter played very tight assignment football and it helped get the job done for the defense as a whole.

-Kareem Martin continues his role as a solid role player who can be rotated in and out. He tipped a ball at the line that ended up being intercepted and returned for a TD by Curtis Riley to break the game’s 0-0 tie. He added 2 pressures and a half-sack.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES

-Dalvin Tomlinson , Josh Mauro, and BJ Hill had their best game as a trio since the Damon Harrison trade. They absolutely owned the inside gaps and were active in pursuit against the run and as pass rushers. Their 7 combined tackles don’t even begin to tell the story of how much they dominated. Tomlinson 1 pressure and 1 TFL; Mauro had 1 TFL, 1 pressure, 1 sack; and Hill had 3 pressures and was in the backfield all afternoon.

-Rookie RJ McIntosh is seeing an increase in playing time little by little each week. I like how this defense can bring him along slowly because of how deep and versatile the group is. McIntosh shows impressive speed in pursuit. He made a tackle in space in the 1st quarter where he pursued Chris Thompson across the tackle box and met him at the turn-up point for the takedown. It was an impressive display of athletic ability that I don’t think any of the guys above could have made. He still has a ways to go with is hands and technique, but his upside is on display.

LINEBACKERS

-Alec Ogletree continues his hot streak. He leads NFL linebackers with 5 interceptions after coming down with one in the second quarter. He also added a pass break up in addition to a team leading 8 tackles and 2 TFL. The career up-and-down linebacker has shown stretches like this before and if he can ever keep the bad games away like we saw about a month ago, he can rightfully be considered a top tier linebacker in the NFL.

-BJ Goodson and Tae Davis split duty next to Ogletree but they weren’t on the field much to make a real impact, as the Giants defensive personnel went defensive back-heavy with WAS being so far behind and having to throw often.

CORNERBACKS

-Janoris Jenkins and BW Webb continue to be the two most steady rocks of the secondary, maybe even the entire defense. While they were up against a low-level passing offense from top to bottom, they did what they were supposed to do – dominate. Webb was in lockdown mode all day and Jenkins got tested a couple times deep and won his battles.

-Grant Haley was on the field for nearly every snap and he has been making eye-opening plays weekly. He continued that trend with 5 tackles and a TFL. Despite his size, his physical and aggressive nature really stand out.

SAFETIES

-Michael Thomas stepped in for the injured Landon Collins. He finished with 6 tackles and the game-sealing interception. While he did show some physical limitations in coverage, he played accurate assignment football and brings a physical presence to the back end.

-Curtis Riley had a really productive day: 3 tackles, 1 interception, and 2 pressures paved the way for his most impactful game as a Giant. He also scored the first touchdown of the day on a ball that was deflected right into his hands in the first quarter. The speed and physical style are easily attractive, but he missed 2 tackles on the day and ranks near the lead league in that category.

-Sean Chandler is going to get more and more looks over the next 3 weeks. He responded with 3 tackles, a pass break up, and a sack. The coaching staff has liked his style from day one and I can see why. Very easy mover with good instincts and a nose for the action. I want to see more reliable tackling and more assertive run-reactions.

SPECIAL TEAMS

-K Aldrick Rosas: 2/2 (Made 35, 23). Rosas missed an extra point. There seemed to be a few snap-to-hold exchanges that were delayed. A good, but not perfect day for the Pro Bowl hopeful.

-P Riley Dixon: 6 Punts / 43.0 avg / 43.3 net. Very good day for Dixon who is quietly having a very good year. He pinned one inside the 5 that eventually led to the Giants defensive touchdown.

-PR Jawill Davis had 5 returns for 51 yards, including a 23 yarder. He is a tough dude and he knows that he is only going to stick around showing what he can do on returns. He takes pride in the role and that is all you can ask for.

3 STUDS

-RB Saquon Barkley, LT Nate Solder, LB Alec Ogletree

3 DUDS

-OG Jamon Brown, OC Spencer Pulley, DE Kerry Wynn

3 THOUGHTS ON WAS

-We talk about winning and losing cultures a lot. Some people think it is complete BS, some believe strongly in it. To each their own. However, when watching these two teams that are both more than likely “out of it” play on the same field at the same time, there was an obvious difference in approach. Does that carry over into the future? I think it can. And it makes me think if this is the last we are going to see of Jay Gruden.

-WAS has been the most injury-hurt team in the NFL over the past three years. If at any point you feel like NYG has gotten the short end of the stick there, just go look at what they have had to deal with over the years. Just brutal.

-Is there any reason for optimism in WAS? Alex Smith may be done for good. They have ignored the idea of drafting a young QB in recent years despite long-term question marks. Their best offensive player is a soon-to-be 34-year old running back who will be a free agent in a couple months. It looks bleak. But I’ve said this before about WAS and I will say it again: they are strong in the trenches and that is always the best place to start a rebuild. That process is already complete.

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

-NYG is still playing like they have something to reach. Mathematically they are still in the wild card hunt and even though the odds are stacked against them, it’s important to see how they respond to specific situations. How many times have we seen this team play down to the level of competition on the field in games where they were clearly the better team? NYG took a vulnerable WAS team and stomped on their throats. I don’t care who you are up against in the NFL, that is hard to do.

-So maybe we temper the “Kyle Lauletta needs to get starts” talks for now. Again, NYG is still in it, Manning and the offense have more than just stabilized, they are playing very well, and the 4th round rookie looked awful in his limited snaps. There is a possibility, and I will say it is a strong one, that this offense simply needed time to mend together. New players, new coaches, new schemes. If they continue this momentum into the end of the year, you can bet I will be calling for them to remain intact heading into 2019.

-If this defense can get a top-tier edge rusher, and yes I know that is easier said than done, that front line is going to cause a lot of problems for opponents in the coming years. While Tomlinson and Hill aren’t exactly game-wreckers, they are as reliable and consistent as anyone can ask for against both the run and pass. I spoke about Vernon as being a solid player and Carter has the look of a solid rotational player. Keep combining “solid” with a star, and big things can happen to the pass rush. NYG’s will have one available when they are on the clock in the first round next April.

Dec 072018
 
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Evan Engram, New York Giants (October 28, 2018)

Evan Engram – © USA TODAY Sports

Game Preview: New York Giants at Washington Redskins, December 9, 2018

THE STORYLINE:
Some fans won’t agree with my premise that Pat Shurmur’s job was in jeopardy. His pre-bye week 1-7 start was a disaster and included two double-digit losses. The so-called offensive guru “quarterback whisperer” had two of league’s premium players (Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham), but his offense had only cracked the 20-point mark twice in eight games. Factoring in the last year of Ben McAdoo, the team did not seem to be improving with a combined 2017-18 record of 4-20.

An uptick occurred when the Giants beat two of the other dregs in the NFL, the San Francisco 49ers and and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, scoring 65 points in the process (or just seven fewer than the 72 scored in five losses). Then disaster struck. Having dominated the despised Philadelphia Eagles for almost two quarters, and leading 19-3, Pat Shurmur made a number of highly-questionable coaching decisions en route to a devastating 25-22 loss. This ended any realistic chance of a late-season playoff push in a terrible division.

Which brings us to last Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears. I will argue this will end up being one of the most important games in franchise history, for better or worse. Consider this:

  • Had the Giants lost another game in catastrophic fashion: The Giants led by 10 points with 1:49 left in the game. Encumbered by more questionable coaching decisions combined with poor execution, fans watched another late-game meltdown reminiscent of the 1997 playoff loss to the Minnesota Vikings. If the Giants had lost this game, combined with the previous week’s nightmare, the ENTIRE fan base would have been calling for Shurmur’s head.
  • With the Giants winning the game in dramatic fashion: Ownership can now legitimately point to the fact that the team is 3-1 in its last four games (and darn close to 4-0). The Redskins are now reeling and the other final three teams (Titans, Colts, and Cowboys) are not world-beaters. It’s not so far-fetched to believe the Giants could now end up closer to .500 than .250.

My point? If you agree with my premise that Shurmur was on shaky ground, then last week’s game has all but officially ensured that he will be the team’s head coach moving forward. I wrote in last week’s preview:

If the Giants play hard and keep it close, Pat Shurmur will gain respect in my eyes. But if this team starts to tank, John Mara had better reconsider all of his options.

The Giants could have easily tanked after the Eagles’ fiasco. And they could have easily tanked after watching their 10-point lead evaporate in 109 seconds. But they didn’t. That doesn’t mean that Shurmur is the right guy for the job. His game-management issues reared their ugly head again against the Bears. But a still-undermanned team is still listening to him, and playing hard for him.

Assuming Shurmur survives, he ought to send a huge Christmas gift to Saquon Barkley. It was Barkley who turned a 3rd-and-23 into a 57-yard field goal attempt. It was Barkley who ripped off a 29-yard run on the first play of overtime to set up the 44-yard game winner. It reminded me of the end of the 2006 season, when an embattled Tom Coughlin may have been saved by the 234-yard rushing effort by Tiki Barber. Coughlin had watched his 6-2 Giants fall to 7-8. Everyone was calling for Tom’s head (including me). But Tiki saved his ass by practically single-handily destroying the Redskins, and putting the Giants into the playoffs at 8-8.

The storyline(s)? This is Pat Shurmur’s team for another season. And because the team appears to be improving, it would seem that Kyle Lauletta will remain on the bench and Eli Manning will return in 2019 as the starting quarterback. Like I said, the outcome of the game against the Bears had huge implications.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • WR Sterling Shepard (rib – probable)
  • TE Evan Engram (hamstring – probable)
  • LB Lorenzo Carter (hip – probable)
  • LB B.J. Goodson (neck/foot – questionable)
  • LB Tae Davis (ankle – questionable)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:

Lost in the dramatics of last week’s game was the Jekyll and Hyde performance of the offense against a very good Chicago Bears’ defense. Aside from Barkley’s 22-yard run at the end of the half, the offense was a disaster. Up until that point, there were only three first downs, with the results being five punts and one turnover. In the second half, the Giants scored two touchdowns on their first two drives, came close to scoring on their fourth drive, and moved into game-winning field goal position in overtime on their sixth drive.

Why the dramatic improvement? The team was able to consistently run the football. Including his 22-yarder right before halftime, Barkley had carried the football seven times for 43 yards in the first half. In the second half, he carried the ball 17 times for 82 yards. These are not earth-shattering numbers, but the Giants kept the down-and-distance situations manageable and the Bears were not able to tee off on Manning. Just as importantly, in the second half, the Giants looked and felt like the more physical football team. I am going to say this again because this is something that has been lacking since the days of Tom Coughlin: The Giants looked and felt like the more physical football team.

Moving forward, the direction this team should take is obvious: build the offense around the running game. Bring in additional big, strong, physical offensive linemen who can maul defenders. Be the more physical football team. Barkley has the ability to dominate. Give him the supporting cast to do so.

With all that in mind, there are a few offensive guys on this team who I am going to watch very closely the last four games:

  • Evan Engram: One of the biggest disappointments of the season. He is a liability in the running game and has only 23 catches for 257 yards and two touchdowns all season. Is he the right fit for this offense? At the very least, turn him into more of an H-Back/move tight end than traditional 3-point stance, hand-in-the-dirt tight end. The latter isn’t working.
  • Scott Simonson: Talk about Jekyll and Hyde. Last week, his three penalties stood out like a sore thumb. But so did his blocking at the point of attack against Khalil Mack.
  • Elijhaa Penny: Again, I saw some really solid, physical lead blocks from the fullback… something I had not seen in a long time.
  • Both tackles: After a dreadful first half of the season, Nate Solder has dramatically improved. The final four games are huge in order to determine if he is an asset or liability moving forward. On the other hand, Chad Wheeler gives the appearance of a try-hard guy who simply may not be big and strong enough to start in the NFL. I won’t write him off yet. But the clock is ticking.
  • Jamon Brown: He looks the part. Big, powerful, strong. And he can abuse people in the running game. But can he become a consistently solid pass protector? Keep watching.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:

We all saw and felt it last week. The defense (with an assist from the special teams) had let a 10-point lead evaporate. They had already let the Bears convert on a 4th-and-7 in overtime. At this point, James Bettcher had had enough. He brought the kitchen sink on 4th-and-8 and left the defensive backs in 0 coverage (no safety support). Janoris Jenkins saved the day. It was risky as you could get, but Bettcher had had enough.

Moving forward, the defense may need more help than the offense. We’ve discussed the issues ad nauseam: the Giants can’t rush the passer, they can’t cover the middle of the field, and now they are having issues stopping the run.

We should not lose sight on one critical piece of information: during the Giants’ 3-1 uptick, they have played against a series of underwhelming back-up quarterbacks: Nick Mullens, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Chase Daniels. Now comes Mark Sanchez. This is not murderer’s row… and yet the Giants still have had issues with this group. That’s not a good sign.

Again, here are some players who I will be watching closely down the stretch:

  • B.W. Webb: I’m glad Sy’56 had the courage to bring this up, but Webb has been playing very well. He’s looked like an NFL starter. Flash in the pan or is this a career renaissance moment for him?
  • Grant Haley: He has had some down moments, but there is a lot to like his game. Can he become a quality nickel corner on a winning defense?
  • Sean Chandler: The injury to Landon Collins opens the door for a this rookie longshot from Temple. And with Collins’ pending free agent status, who knows?
  • Olivier Vernon: The injury-prone tease drew praise from James Bettcher this week: “I’ll tell you what, when I’m watching him play – number one he’s getting healthier. Came off a tough injury, played well in that first game then was working through all that stuff and I think he’s getting healthier, number one, and number two the guy I saw rushing – he was rushing as the reckless OV that I think we saw in OTAs and preseason. Just staying with his rush plan throughout the game then in the run game just getting off the ball and being physical at the point and I think those are probably the two things. I think he feels better and I’m watching him practice and he’s practicing better during the week these last couple of weeks and I think that’s leading him to play better on Sunday.”
  • B.J. Hill and Dalvin Tomlinson: So much of the defense’s immediate and long-term future depends on these two. Both flashed against the Bears. But their run defense needs to improve.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:

As I mentioned in the YES Network-BBI podcast this week, what we had not seen from Aldrick Rosas thus far was his performance under immense pressure. While the 57 yarder will be remembered as a team record, his 44 yarder in overtime was probably the more impressive kick due to the pressure of the moment. The Giants have a kicker.

THE FINAL WORD:
This is a winnable game. But keep in mind that the offense only scored SIX points against the Redskins until garbage time in the previous game (it was 20-6 with three minutes left). For the Giants to win this game, the offense will have to demonstrate that it is making REAL progress against a defensive unit that had recently shut it down.

Dec 042018
 
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Odell Beckham, Jr., New York Giants (December 2, 2018)

Odell Beckham, Jr. – © USA TODAY Sports

New York Giants 30 – Chicago Bears 27

QUICK RECAP

On a rainy, gloomy afternoon in East Rutherford, the 8-3 Chicago Bears, winners of 5 straight, took on the 3-8 Giants. The Bears were without their starting quarterback, Mitch Trubisky, but were being led by veteran backup Chase Daniel whom led them to a win in Detroit on Thanksgiving 10 days prior.

The tale of the first half was very much about a puttering Giants offense being picked up by the defense that has shown glimpses throughout the year. Eli Manning got off to a rough start, throwing a couple of near-interceptions on the first two drives. On his eighth attempt of the game, his pass did end up in the hands of a CHI defender. Kyle Fuller picked off his 6th pass of the season and this one had the look of a defensive battle.

I say that because Daniel, who started his fourth game in 10 years, gave the Giants 7-0 lead on a pick 6 thrown to Alec Ogletree on their second play from scrimmage. Both teams were forced to fight through poor QB play. All was not lost offensively, however, as both teams were seeing success with their respective ground game.

The dual RB system that CHI has is one of the best in the league. Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen combined for 98 yards on 21 carries, further proving the NYG run defense since the trade of DT Damon Harrison has really been a newfound weakness. The Bears used that rushing attack in combination with a sandlot-type passing game to drive the ball 70 yards on 10 plays to net their first score of the game towards the end of the 1st quarter. Daniel hit backup tight end Adam Shaheen on a 2-yard rollout pass to tie it up at 7.

More consistent gains via the running game and a 30-yard gain via a pass to Allen Robinson to put them inside the NYG 10 with just a few minutes left in the second quarter. Instead of going for a short field goal on 4th and goal from 1-yard line, Head Coach Matt Nagy put the ball in the hands of defensive tackle Akiem Hicks who crossed the goal line for a touchdown, uncovering memories of William Perry’s role as a short yardage back 25+ years ago.

The two struggling offenses exchanged possessions in the final 3 minutes with NYG getting one more shot with about a minute left. Manning was sacked on the first two plays and it appeared they were ready to concede the half but CHI opted to stop the clock with 17 seconds left. This was one of the most overlooked, yet most important moments of the game. CHI simply called a timeout to make NYG punt the ball in rainy weather, which naturally creates more margin for error.

In typical NFL fashion, NYG opted to run a draw play on 3rd and 23. This is where Barkley once again proves his worth. In his typical highlight-reel fashion, he created something out of nothing, broke 2 tackles, missed a couple more, and gained 22 yards on a play where he had no business gaining anything more than a third of that. With just a few seconds left, NYG opted to go for it on 4th and 1 which they converted. That left 1 second on the clock and allowed Aldrick Rosas to come out for a 57 yard attempt. The potential Pro-Bowler nailed it as time expired, setting a new franchise record and giving NYG momentum heading into the locker room.

That momentum was taken to a new level on the first drive of the second half, the most important drive of the game according to a lot of coaches. NYG gained 26 yards on the first 3 plays and opted for a trick play on the 4th. A reverse to Odell Beckham that was designed to be a pass resulted in him tossing a flat-footed ball 50 yards in the air into the waiting arms of Russell Shepard, who was completely alone in front of the end zone. An easy score for the home team put them up 17-14 and NYG had this game by the horns.

After forcing another 3 and out as CHI continued to struggle on 3rd down, NYG used a more traditional approach to net 7 more points on their next possession. A 13-play drive that gave the ball to Barkley seven times ended in a 4th and goal touchdown pass from Manning to Beckham. The Giants had a game-high 10 point lead and they maintained that lead for the first 5 minutes of the 4th quarter.

CHI got within 7 with just under 10 minutes left via a 36-yard field goal. NYG was in a similar position as they were last week. They had a second half lead and a running back that was built for situations like this: to bleed the clock to death. However on the third play of the drive, Barkley went down hard on the football and was in obvious pain. I cannot remember a time where the entire stadium let out a collective, fearful gasp like that. It goes to show just how vital this kid is to not only the offense, but the entire organization. He walked off the field and missed the rest of that drive.

NYG pressed forward, however. They converted two straight 3rd downs but faulted on the next one, as the offensive line started to falter. Manning was sacked for a 9-yard loss from the CHI 30, putting them just out of field goal range and forcing them to give the ball back to the Daniel-led offense. The defense had to step up and make a stop. And make a stop they did.

BW Webb forced a fumble after the catch by Taylor Gabriel that was recovered by Sean Chandler. NYG had a 7 point lead with the ball in their possession with just over 2 minutes left.

A holding penalty by fullback Elijah Penny pushed them back 10 yards and made a game-sealing first down unrealistic, but NYG did get past the 2 minute warning and put another 3 points on the board via a Rosas field goal. It was 27-17 with 1:49 left when CHI took back the ball.

The Bears used some chunk-gains via passes to Robinson and Cohen in addition to a roughing-the-passer penalty by Chandler to get all the way inside the NYG 5-yard line. Chicago opted for the 3 points so that they could take a shot in the dark on an onsides kick, as it was a 2-possession game. That shot in the dark worked out well, as they recovered. The Bears then used every bit of game clock to march down the field. And with 3 seconds left, they ran a reverse to Cohen who threw the ball into the end zone to Anthony Miller for the game-tying score. This one was headed to overtime.

NYG won the toss and took the ball first. They wasted no time giving the ball to their best player. Barkley gained 29 yards on the first play and with a couple completions to Sterling Shepard, who was also playing through pain, NYG took the lead back 30-27. CHI had one more shot.

They made it just shy of midfield but a slippery ball and a productive pass rush put an end to the sloppy-CHI offensive surge. The defense came up with the stop that they needed the most.

NYG wins 30-27.

QUARTERBACKS

-Eli Manning: 19/35 – 170 yards – 1 TD / 1 INT. Now that the offensive line has at last somewhat stabilized, we are starting to get a stronger grasp on what Eli Manning is at this point in his career. In this one, on a somewhat slipper/rainy day, Manning was off. He was horrid in the first half, going 7-17 and an interception in addition to 2-3 more near INTs. He really didn’t connect on difficult passes, although he threw a beautiful ball that should have sealed the win to Sterling Shepard in overtime, but Shepard dropped it. Manning can be trusted when the game is on the line, but his lack of movement away from pressure both in and out of the pocket really limits this offense.

RUNNING BACKS

-Saquon Barkley: 24 att / 125 yards – 3 rec / 21 yards. Chalk up another 100+ total yard performance for the rookie, his 10th of the season. The Giants are now 3-0 when Barkley 20+ carries and as I said last week, that will be as important as a barometer for his team to hit as any in the coming years. His presence in the backfield changes how the defense lines up, plain and simple. There aren’t many backs in the NFL that have that kind of impact. Barkley’s 22-yard run before halftime and 29-yard run to begin overtime were the two biggest offensive plays of the day for NYG. Keep giving this kid the ball guys, it is turning into a no brainer.

WIDE RECEIVERS

-Odell Beckham: 3 rec / 35 yards – 1 pass att / 49 yards – 1 TD. Beckham’s biggest play of the day came on his second pass of the season. 2 passes, 2 touchdowns for OBJ. Beckham also had a few key blocks on the outside and it refreshing to see his effort out there. The onsides kick where he made a business decision to not pursue the ball because of the likelihood he would have been trucked did rightfully bother some. If this were a playoff spot on the line and that happened, everyone would have a right to be enraged. But I will say this, part of the game is avoiding injury and it isn’t too different than Manning falling to the ground as a pass rusher gets near him. So don’t play the double standard game. One more thing regarding Beckham; I would like to see this scheme find more ways to get him the ball. I see so many offenses have no issues getting the ball to their top receivers and it just seems like it is too much of a struggle with Beckham. They need to figure that out.

-Sterling Shepard: 4 rec / 28 yards. Shepard was hurt early, it looked like some sort of abdominal or ribcage strain. He played through the pain but didn’t impact the game from a volume perspective, but did come up with 2 key catches in overtime. He did miss his opportunity at a game winning, overtime catch in the end zone as he just didn’t track the ball while moving vertically, something I have noticed about him a few times.

-Backups Russell Shepard and Bennie Fowler combined for 3 catches / 70 yards. Both had big plays in different fashions. Shepard came up with the 49-yard Beckham TD pass, thus it got more publicity. However, Fowler’s 3rd and 11 catch and tough-earned yards after that netted a first down in the 4th quarter allowed the clock to keep running for what turned out to be another 4+ minutes, which was huge.

TIGHT ENDS

-Rhett Ellison: 4 rec / 42 yards. Ellison was the team’s leading receiver ironically. Since he has stepped in for Evan Engram as the starting tight end, this team’s running game has been more productive and the position’s production in the passing game hasn’t skipped a beat.

-Scott Simonson: 2 rec / 25 yards. While he did come up with a couple key blocks in addition to a tough 3rd down catch that ended up being pretty crucial, he was flagged 3 times on the day. Way too much for anyone, let alone a guy that played under 40% of the snaps.

OFFENSIVE TACKLES

-With the amount that Bears DE Khalil Mack is moved around, both Nate Solder and Chad Wheeler had a tall task placed on their shoulders. Solder responded well finishing with 1 TFL but no sacks or pressures allowed. While he does make Manning rush a bit as he gets walked into the pocket, his overall play has leveled off a bit. Wheeler, on the other hand, had one of his worst games of the season. He allowed 2 sacks, 2 pressures, and a TFL. He really couldn’t sustain his position against power and his balance was off all afternoon. Not a good combination.

GUARDS/CENTER

-Solid day for the guards. Both Will Hernandez and Jamon Brown finished with positive grades. Hernandez was really productive when he pulled. That is where his power/foot speed combination are at its best. He still has work to do as a pass blocker, as he was flagged for a hold, but he continues to be the most consistent OL on this team. Brown was solid in both departments. He finished with the highest grade among the OL in this one. NYG is 3-1 since he has been added to the team.

-Spencer Pulley continues to be the weak point of the middle. He allowed a sack and a TFL, as he was not match for Akiem Hicks, one of the better run defenders in the league.

EDGE

-Very solid, disruptive game from Olivier Vernon. 5 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 pressures, 1 TFL, and 1 forced fumble. That is a stat line that anyone and everyone would gush over if it weren’t Vernon, to be honest. While he remains one of the most up-and-down players on a defense that has been very up-and-down as a whole, his level of play on the outside is on a completely different level than everyone else within the edge group.

-Kareem Martin added 5 tackles and a TFL of his own, as he was very solid in the first half. He, along with Kerry Wynn, had a few key spots in big moments on 3rd down.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES

BJ Hill put in a career game, as I’m not sure he will ever record 3 sacks in a single game again. They were his only 3 tackles of the day, but he displayed top tier technique and punch off the line. He was approaching the “dominant” level in the second half when it came to snap-by-snap impact.

-Dalvin Tomlinson was as active as we’ve seen him all year. He finished with 7 tackles and 2 TFL along with a pressure. He really is a better athlete than some give him credit for and knowing how Bettcher built his defensive line in ARI, it makes sense why he has enough confidence in the second-year pro to take over for Damon Harrison at NT. His range within the tackle box is wide and he really brings a physical presence.

-Josh Mauro, Mario Edwards, and RJ McIntosh essentially split backup snaps. Edwards continues to be the aggressive, up-field penetrator, but this week it got him into trouble. He was flagged twice, one of which was on a 3rd down stop. Mauro continues to be Mr. Stout inside and McIntosh is still getting his feet wet, showing some good athletic ability.

LINEBACKERS

-Alec Ogletree has been getting the rough end of these game reviews for most of the year, but he deserves the game ball in this one. A team-leading 10 tackles in addition to 2 athletic interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown in the 1st quarter, were integral to NYG winning this game. He was active in pursuit and stout between the tackles. Excellent game from him, his best as a Giant.

-Tae Davis and Ukeme Eligwe split snaps next to Ogletree. Davis has been struggling to play between the tackles, as he is almost-woefully undersized and came from a low level of college football. Eligwe flashed a few times. He is more physical, stouter, and showed plus-burst as a blitzer, recording 3 tackles and a pressure.

CORNERBACKS

-Don’t put it in the books yet, but the Janoris Jenkins / BW Webb duo has actually been grading out as one of the top 10 CB duos in the NFL over the past 8 weeks. They have both been flying around all over the field and defending deep routes exceptionally well. Part of what they do well can only be seen on the All-22 tape, but these two are really holding it down in a league where playing corner is almost impossible. Jenkins finished with 3 pass break ups and Webb finished with 1 of his own in addition to a forced fumble that NYG recovered.

-Grant Haley was flying all over the field. He finished with 8 tackles and 2 TFL. I’ve said this before but it keeps happening over and over; Haley may be small but this kid is really tough and physical. His quickness and burst are near top-tier but combining his toughness and knack for ball reactions with them makes him a legit candidate to be a very good player for this defense next year. This is a really important stretch for him.

SAFETIES

Landon Collins continues to factor vs the run, finishing with 5 tackles and a TFL. He continues to get burned in man coverage. This time it was Tarik Cohen not once, but twice. I don’t want to beat a dead horse here.

-Curtis Riley and Michael Thomas are solid role players who get exposed with the more snaps they get. Riley dropped an interception that was essentially thrown right to him. I guess that why he is plays on defense. Thomas got flagged for holding as CHI was making their 4th quarter comeback but he did play Cohen in coverage well a few times.

-Rookie Sean Chandler saw a season high 21 snaps. This coaching staff really likes him and I think with the instability that Riley plays with, we may see more. He recovered the fumble forced by Webb in the 4th quarter but was flagged for a low hit on QB Daniels during the 4th quarter comeback by CHI. They eased Haley into the rotation and now I think Chandler is next.

SPECIAL TEAMS

-K Aldrick Rosas: 3/3 (Made 57-37-44). Rosas is on fire and he was a vital piece to this win. His 57 yarder is a franchise record and his 44 yarder in overtime is as pressure-heavy as it gets. He deserves strong Pro Bowl consideration.

-P Riley Dixon: 7 punts – 44.3 avg – 42.1 net. Dixon was on the field often in this one, a season high 7 punts. That 42.1 net is very solid and he put one inside the 5-yard line.

-Jawill Davis averaged 12 yards per punt return, a very good number and Corey Coleman’s cooled off a bit after a few strong weeks as the team’s KR.

3 STUDS

-LB Alec Ogletree, DT BJ Hill, K Aldrick Rosas

3 DUDS

-OT Chad Wheeler, QB Eli Manning, S Landon Collins

3 THOUGHTS ON CHI

This is a hard team to gauge. They’ve had a few convincing wins and lost 4 games by a combined 14 points (7 of which came against the Patriots). I think their defense is as balanced as any team in the league and happens to host arguably the most dominant edge talent out there. Once Mitch Trubisky comes back, their QB position is stabilized and I think this team is one of 3 contenders for the NFC, the other to being LAR and NO.

-What I don’t like from a consistency standpoint is their OL play. These guys were really beat badly by an average to below average NYG defensive line. If they run into a team that can really get after the passer, that could end up being their undoing.

-Tarik Cohen is one of the most exciting players in the NFL and I think we are only seeing a glimpse of what he will be. He is the only player that I legitimately compared to Darren Sproles when he was coming out of college. Sproles has had a fantastic career, especially when he has played for offensive minds that know how to use him. CHI seems to have figured it out and he could be a guy that ends up having a better career than Sproles in today’s NFL.

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

-This was an interesting game that I think can be looked back on if this core group/coaching staff ever turn it around. The offense struggled in the first half but they were picked up by the defense. Then, in the second half, the defense struggled but they were picked up by the offense. It is amazing how many roller coasters a team can go through in a single game but the ones that stay even keel and take advantage of the opportunities given to them are the winners. This is part of developing a winning culture that I think is so vital to year after year success which is why we should all want this team to win every week.

-The biggest difference this offense will see in the post-Manning era, whenever that is, will be a QB creating on his own under duress. That has never been a strong suit of Eli’s game, but it’s near non-existent at the moment. This offense has a ton more potential with a guy who can move around and is considered a plus-athlete. The options with this personnel are limitless, especially if the OL can be shored up.

-As I get deeper into the scouting process for the 2019 Draft and as I watch more of NYG, the right tackle position may need to be a focal point. Wheeler shows admirable effort and hustle. He has come a long way since being an UDFA, no question. But if this OL needs to be a top 10 unit, maybe even a top 5 unit, Wheeler won’t be a part of it. He just can’t do it week to week. I think his role here is important, however. He can be the backup swing tackle who will be relied on in spurts. But I just don’t think he is going to get over the hump as a weekly starter.

Nov 302018
 
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Bears at Giants in the Polo Grounds (December 6, 1925)

Game Preview: Chicago Bears at New York Giants, December 2, 2018

THE STORYLINE:
With four minutes left before halftime at Lincoln Financial Field last week, New York Giants fans finally had a reason to smile. Winners of two straight, the Giants looked primed to win their third game in a row, with the added benefit of finally running roughshod over the hated Philadelphia Eagles. The defending Super Bowl champions were back on their heels, as Saquon Barkley had just ripped off a spectacular 51-yard touchdown run, his second TD of the day. The Giants led 19-3. The offensive game plan was working. An undermanned defense was holding the Eagles in check. Yet by 4PM, all of those positive thoughts and emotions were gone. And Giants fans were left with yet another painfully disheartening loss in what has becoming an embarrassingly one-sided rivalry.

There was a lot to unpack in last Sunday’s loss, including some horrific officiating that DID help to decide the game. But three things stood out to me:

  1. Strongest evidence yet that Pat Shurmur is not cut out to be a head coach. Clock mismanagement has become a serious issue with him. Sitting Barkley after the Eagles had cut the score to 19-14 in the 3rd quarter, and giving the player who was killing the Eagles only five second-half touches, suggests a lack of feel for the game. And his Sunday and Monday post-mortem media sessions were real head-scratchers. I’m a little wary of completely writing the guy off because I can remember a bunch of games that even Giants greats like Bill Parcells and Tom Coughlin blew, but I’m not feeling it with Shurmur. “But John Mara would never fire a coach after just one season!” Probably true. But that doesn’t make it the correct decision.
  2. The run defense, which was supposed to a team strength, has become a problem. As bad as the New York offense was in the second half of last week’s game, the run defense was just as guilty for the loss. Even with the departure of Damon Harrison, guys like Dalvin Tomlinson and B.J. Hill were supposed to be able to hold down the fort. They haven’t. The Eagles knew they were going to win last week once they discovered the Giants couldn’t stop what had been a bottom-tier run offense.
  3. Eli… oh Eli… Two very strong games in a row, including one game where he threw only one incompletion. The early warning signs were there. He badly missed seeing a wide open target on the 2-point conversion. But the real killer was his horrifically dumb and costly interception into double/triple coverage at the end of the first half, ignoring another wide-open target, which cost the Giants certain points. Psychologically, this may have been the biggest mistake of the game. Even at age 37, Eli still makes these head-scratching throws. Once the line play deteriorated in the second half, so did Manning’s play, as New York only generated three second-half points.

So why am I rehashing all of this in what is supposed to be a preview for the Chicago Bears? Because I think the storyline for this game is going to be how competitive the Giants are going to be against one of the best teams in the NFC. If Shurmur is going to lose this team, now is the time after last week’s devastating loss, which not only ended any desperate hope for a late playoff run, but was emotionally draining and open to coaching criticism.

If the Giants play hard and keep it close, Pat Shurmur will gain respect in my eyes. But if this team starts to tank, John Mara had better reconsider all of his options.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • TE Evan Engram (hamstring – out)
  • DE Kerry Wynn (concussion – probable)
  • LB Lorenzo Carter (hip – questionable)
  • LB B.J. Goodson (neck – out)
  • LB Tae Davis (ankle – probable)
  • CB Grant Haley (hamstring – probable)
  • S Curtis Riley (shoulder – probable)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:

This could get ugly. Really ugly. The Chicago Bears are 4th in defense (3rd in scoring defense, 2nd in rushing defense, 11th in passing defense). Chicago has forced a lead-leading 29 turnovers (20 of which are interceptions). They have sacked opposing quarterbacks 34 times (five off of the league-leading Steelers).

To me, much depends on how the offensive line responds. This unit had been playing better for two and a half games before falling apart again in last week’s second half. Not coincidentally, what had been an improving scoring offense went back into a shell. So does the front five rebound or regress? It’s hard to see the Giants scoring more than 13-17 points if the offensive line doesn’t rebound.

So much of New York’s future success or failure depends on what they do at quarterback. Eli is 37 years old and clearly nearing the end. He says he wants to play his entire career with the Giants and has a no-trade clause. He has one year left on his contract and will count about $22 million against the 2019 salary cap. Behind him are journeyman Alex Tanney and rookie Kyle Lauletta. After the Bears game, there are only four games left, and it appears that Lauletta still is not taking 2nd-team snaps during practice. Thus, the Giants will head into the 2019 offseason being forced to assume they will need to draft a QB high in the 2019 NFL Draft. And Eli will probably be back for one last season. This entire thing has the feel of postponing the inevitable and wasting time.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:

The 23rd-ranked (25th in scoring) New York Giants defense can’t stop the run (26th) or pass (18th). They can’t sack the opposing quarterback (14 in 11 games) or force turnovers (13). And with a game on the line, they can’t hold a lead. Besides that, everything is wonderful.

Chicago will be playing their back-up quarterback this week. That’s another kiss of death for the Giants.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:

If it were not for Saquon Barkley’s superlative rookie season, Aldrick Rosas would be the team MVP.

THE FINAL WORD:
The stands will be empty. And the empty gray seats will likely reflect the mood of the day. All of this would be somewhat acceptable if there was a sense that there was a viable rebuilding plan under proper leadership. But I still question whether John Mara has the right people in place. The Giants appear to be living in the past.

Nov 272018
 
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Saquon Barkley, New York Giants (November 25, 2018)

Saquon Barkley – © USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia Eagles 25 – New York Giants 22

QUICK RECAP

The Giants took their annual trip down the Turnpike to Lincoln Financial Field against an Eagles team that NYG has lost 20 out of 30 games to during the Eli Manning era. To say this team has had Big Blue’s number would be a massive understatement. However, if there were ever a game to reverse those fortunes, this would be it. The 3-7 Giants came in winners of 2 straight whereas the defending Super Bowl Champions Eagles came in at 4-6 with injuries mounting and losers of 2 straight.

The Giants newfound fluidity on offense picked up where they left off from last week. They spread the ball around, but rookie Saquon Barkley continued to stomp on the idea that you can’t take a RB high in the draft with 44 total yards capped by a 13-yard middle screen pass where he burst into the end zone untouched despite defenders having the angles. Then came an odd decision by Pat Shurmur. PHI was flagged for 12 men on the field for the PAT attempt, moving the ball up to 1-yard line. That 1 yard made Shurmur spontaneously decide to go for a 2-point conversion in the 1st quarter. I have always believed you take sure-thing points on the road early in games, but to each their own. The attempt left NYG short and with a 6-point lead rather than a 7-point lead.

PHI was quick to give the ball back, running just 4 plays before being forced to punt. NYG chipped away before a 39-yard downfield connection from Manning to Odell Beckham put them inside the 10-yard line. The PHI secondary was without 3 starters and a key backup, thus I expected to see a ton of this throughout. NYG gave three opportunities to Barkley, 2 on the ground and 1 via the air but they only gained 3 yards total. Aldrick Rosas came in and nailed a 25-yard FG to make the lead 9-0.

Carson Wentz and the PHI offense continued to putter, as Mario Edwards ended their drive with a sack and NYG began their third drive of the day on their own 13-yard line. Manning spread the ball out well, hitting Russell Shepard for 29 yards, Beckham for 14 yards, and Rhett Ellison for 18 yards. NYG shot themselves in the foot with three penalties however, and it ended up making them settle on a long field goal attempt by Rosas. He drilled a 51 yarder through the uprights and even though NYG was yearning for more, they had s 12-0 lead in the 2nd quarter.

PHI finally replaced the 0 on the scoreboard with some points, as Jake Elliot hit a 42 yarder at the end of a quick drive highlighted by a 32-yard run by Corey Clement. NYG then made sure everyone knew who had who by the throat. On the third play of the drive, Barkley ran through 2 tacklers before out-unning the PHI defensive backfield to the end zone for a highlight-reel 51-yard touchdown. Remember…you don’t take a RB high in the first round.

NYG was up 19-3 and they sucked their fans back in; this team was inching its way back into legit contention. Wentz and the offense took advantage of a poor-tackling NYG defense, scoring a touchdown on a pass to Zach Ertz. They went for 2 and easily converted, making it an 8-point game with a minute left in the half and PHI starting the 3rd quarter with the ball. NYG opted to make a run at getting more points on the board thanks to yet another long return by Corey Coleman, this one for 46 yards. They got the ball to the 27-yard line and with 17 seconds left, Manning made a poor decision to try and force the ball to Beckham near the end zone, which resulted in an interception by Malcolm Jenkins. NYG, once again, had points available on the road early in the game but they got too aggressive and came up with nothing.

The 2nd half had a different feel to it, almost right away. PHI came out aggressive, hungry, and willing. NYG came out soft, satisfied, and hesitant. The NYG defense was bleeding, getting owned at the point of attack but they did come up with some big plays in key moments. PHI netted 3 points via 3 possessions. They moved the ball well but shot themselves in the foot via penalties and missed blocking assignments that led to sacks. NYG, however, gained just 3 net yards in the 3rd quarter. Even worse than that, Barkley touched the ball twice. The offensive line started to get pushed around and the PHI faithful could smell blood. Never has a 19-14 lead felt so miniscule.

PHI buckled up their helmets and opted to simply run over the Giants to start off the 4th quarter, literally. Running backs Corey Clement and Josh Adams gained a total of 61 yards capped off by the latter trucking into the end zone. On this drive, there was a stretch of 4 plays that, play by play, netted 23-8-15-11 yards. NYG couldn’t stop anything at the point of attack. PHI now held their first lead for the first time in the month of November, 22-19, after Adams successfully converted for 2 points on a, you guessed it, easy rushing attempt.

Manning and the passing game started to find their hot point again, thankfully. He hit Beckham and Ellison on consecutive plays for 48 yards. Shurmur once again forgot to follow his own words of getting Barkley 25+ touches per game. He gave it to him once, resulting in 1 yard, before Manning missed Beckham in the end zone many thanks to a missed pass interference penalty by the PHI secondary. One of their several misses for both sides on the day. Rosas hit his 3rd field goal of the day tying it at 22.

The PHI offense marched back on knowing exactly what to do. They continued to control the point of attack, rely on poor tackling and a weak defensive tackle play in addition to owning the middle of the field via the air attack. NYG did force a 4th and 1. Yet even after a timeout, they were outclassed by the PHI coaching staff. Wentz hit Nelson Agholor who couldn’t have been more wide open in the middle of the field which was as predictable as the sun coming up in the morning. PHI bled the clock out, leaving NYG with no timeouts and under 30 seconds left. Elliot came back out and nailed a 43-yard field goal because, well, opposing kickers don’t miss field goals against NYG.

Manning and the offense had no shot without any timeouts. They ran a couple of plays but nothing deep and time ran out.

NYG loses 25-22.

QUARTERBACKS

-Eli Manning: 26/37 – 297 yards – 1 TD / 1 INT. Manning and the NYG offense came out on fire. The were firing on all cylinders, keeping the PHI defense off balance, and executing with ease. They had a game plan and it was working. However, Manning’s poor decision at the end of the first half to force a ball to Beckham who was double/triple covered that led to an interception rather than 3 points via a field goal was a turning point. Those were big points to not get, as was the missed 2-point conversion on the first touchdown which can be blamed on Manning not throwing to a wide open Rhett Ellison. Manning’s flow wasn’t the same in the second half, as the running game was non-existent and the OL got leaky. Manning just can’t create on his own and when things start to go awry, he doesn’t rise above. Not a bad game for the 15th year pro, but it was limited.

RUNNING BACKS

-Saquon Barkley: 13 att / 101 yards / 1 TD – 7 rec / 41 yards/ 1 TD. What we saw out of Barkley in the first half was a continuation of Barkley further stomping down on the idea that drafting a RB high in round 1 was a bad idea. His level of play is elite on all levels. One thing I’m not sure everyone appreciates enough? 11 games in – 0 fumbles – 0 drops. Running backs are dropping passes weekly and what this kid does when it comes to reliability and consistency is just different level. Once again Shurmur simply underused him. I understand not wanting to give him 40 touches, but this kid needs 25+ as often as possible. Especially when you have a lead like the Giants had in the second half. It is a crime, it is inexcusable, that Barkley had 5 touches total in the second half. Unbelievable.

-Wayne Gallman and Elijah Penny combined for 30 yards on 8 touches. Gallman was solid on the ground, spelling Barkley on a few occasions. He continues to show very good burst upfield, something NYG is still trying to get Barkley to do more consistently.

WIDE RECEIVERS

-Odell Beckham: 5 rec / 85 yards. On a day where the PHI secondary came in depleted, depending on a bunch of backup corners, Beckham wasn’t featured enough. Man, it must really be frustrating for him to see the opportunities that some of the other WRs in this league are getting. Beckham’s came down with a 39-yard gain in the first quarter and I expected to see more and more of it, but they just didn’t seem to look his way enough. 2 of his 9 targets were garbage attempts that had no shot. He likely would have had a TD catch in the 4th quarter on a play where the ref missed a hold as Beckham leapt for the ball.

-Sterling Shepard: 4 rec / 37 yards. Shepard was the victim of 2 missed penalties where the PHI defensive backs held him out of his breaks. Shepard is a next-level route runner with a combination of explosion, balance, and quickness when he is trying to get open. Unfortunate these refs didn’t see him get tugged.

-Russell Shepard and Bennie Fowler combined for 3 catches / 52 yards. Important to know these guys can come down with some big plays when called upon.

TIGHT ENDS

-Rhett Ellison: 4 rec / 77 yards. With Evan Engram out with a hamstring injury suffered in pregame warmups, Ellison got the nod and played all but 7 snaps on offense. He responded with 4 catches for a career-high 77 yards. Ellison was one of the bigger surprises of the day, catching balls up the seams and near the sideline, showing effective ability after the catch to gain extra yards. He did have one drop in the 2nd quarter, however. Ellison also allowed a sack and a pressure and even though most TEs can’t handle NFL defensive ends in pass protection, he continues to underwhelm in that department.

OFFENSIVE TACKLES

-Nate Solder had his best game as a Giant grade-wise. He was very smooth, very consistent, and actually showed some more physical play than what we have been used to this season. He held Brandon Graham in check all afternoon. His false start penalty seemed to be on Manning’s shoulders, who messed up the snap count. Chad Wheeler allowed a half sack and got pushed around a bit in the run game. Michael Bennett is one of the toughest DEs in the game when it comes to cutting him off inside against the run, and that is where he really struggled. His play has been consistently average all year. He is up and down each week.

GUARDS/CENTERS

-Jamon Brown has received some positive attention lately in addition to the NYG offense taking a turn in the right direction. I think too many have been anointing Brown as a catalyst for the change but now that we have seen him for 3 games, I’m not overly optimistic. He has been better than what NYG has trotted out there, but he is still struggling to gain the consistency I want out of a starter. He allowed one TFL, one pressure, a half sack, and was flagged for holding which got declined. Big picture he was OK, but the quickness inside got to him and he was a non-factor at the second level. Just looked a little slow and heavy.

-Will Hernandez had a solid game. He really pushed Fletcher Cox around for most of their match-ups and he truly is one of the best DTs in the game. He got flagged once for a holding penalty on a play where he struggled to adjust his weighty laterally, a theme we have seen with him all year.

-Spencer Pulley is further proving this team needs a new OC in 2019 and it will be near the top of the priority list. He just can’t beat guys one on one and can’t sustain his position on guys. He allowed a TFL and a pressure, a constant every week with him.

EDGE

-Overall, a very quiet day from the NYG edge defenders. Olivier Vernon had 2 pressures and 2 tackles, with Lorenzo Carter finishing with 1 pressure and 2 tackles. Neither could consistently beat their man one on one. Vernon’s 2019 status is going to very much depend on how he finishes this year. On one hand, the team’s pass rush went from non-existent to at least sometimes-effective when he came back form injury. On the other hand, he isn’t worth the money he is being paid if he is gonna net under 8 sacks a year with average run defense.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES

-The middle of the NYG defense was pounded, pushed around, and toyed with. While it wasn’t all on the shoulders of the tackles, Dalvin Tomlinson and BJ Hill need to be better. If not, add nose tackle to the team-needs list. Hill had his most up and down game of his rookie season, finishing with 3 tackles, 1 TFL, and a pass break up. He also had a missed tackle and an offsides penalty in addition to just not holding his ground against lone and double blockers alike. Both are solid and active, but neither scare anyone.

-Mario Edwards finished with a sack and a pressure in his limited action. Have to be careful wanting more playing time with him, however, because he is a real tweener. He isn’t stout against the run and he needs specific match-ups to be an effective pass rusher. Solid role player that I want to see here in 2019.

-Josh Mauro had a couple of subtle but important missed tackles on the day. He isn’t known for dynamic playmaking ability, we know that. But he can’t miss tackles the way he did against running backs that weight 70 pounds less than him.

-RJ McIntosh made his debut with the club. Just 12 plays total, but he looked small and weak compared to what I saw out of him at Miami last year. He appears to be on his way back still and I expect to see him get looks each week from here on out. I liked him a lot during the pre-draft process.

LINEBACKERS

-Maybe the worst overall performance we have seen out of this position group all year. On the stat sheet, Alec Ogletree had a solid game. 4 tackles, 1 sack, and a pass break up. But if you really dive in to the all 22 game tape, he was arguably the biggest reason why PHI ran wild on this defense. Poor angles, inability to get off blocks, and late reactions were present the entire game. Is this guy a winning player? Does he create on his own? To me, it seems like opposing offenses can’t wait to attack him whether it be via the run or pass.

-Tae Davis out-snapped BJ Goodson by a comfortable margin. He finished with 3 tackles and a sack but proved he just isn’t physically ready for the NFL trenches. Goodson needs to continue to dominate the snap count, as I trust him to make the tackles and not get run over.

CORNERBACKS

-Lost in the emotion of this game was a very solid overall performance by Janoris Jenkins. He kept Alshon Jeffrey in check throughout most of their 1 on 1 battles. On the coverage sacks, Wentz was looking in his direction and his coverage couldn’t have been better. He still has that top 10 CB in him.

-BW Webb and Grant Haley both had solid games. Webb was flagged for a hold and also missed a tackle, but he finished with 3 tackles and a TFL. His coverage on the outside was solid. Haley almost had 2 interceptions for the second week in a row. He is going to come down with one at some point, I almost-guarantee it. He is making quick and correct reads but I can tell there isn’t that full-bore confidence in himself yet. That will come with time and NYG could have their slot corner set up going in to the offseason.

SAFETIES

-More of the same from Landon Collins. Once again he led the team with 9 tackles, 2 TFL, and added a pressure. He was active near the line of scrimmage and made a few impressive tackles. However he added 2 missed tackles and was outclassed in man coverage twice. If he can’t stick with tight ends underneath and he can’t be trusted in deep coverage, is he really a safety you want to build around? His highlight reel is impressive, I will give him that. But the other 90% of the plays leave a lot to be desired.

-Curtis Riley and Michael Thomas are both aggressive, physical players. They combined for 9 tackles but also combined for 3 missed tackles and are writing the book on how not to pursue ball carriers. Their angles were terrible.

SPECIAL TEAMS

-K Aldrick Rosas: 3/3 (Made 25-51-29). Rosas is now 23/24 and may be heading towards a Pro-Bowl spot if he can keep this up. Glad to see this staff is getting him more long FG looks than what we saw last year.

-P Riley Dixon: 3 att / 44.3 avg / 43.0 net. Solid bounce back performance overall, but he did duff one which gave PHI prime field position in the 3rd quarter (the defense saved him on that drive).

-KR Corey Coleman averaged 33.7 yards and has been the most dangerous KR in the league over the past 3 weeks. He did drop one in the passing game, but the value he is showing in this role alone can keep him in NY. PR Quadree Henderson took a nasty hit and will be out the rest of the year. Curious to see if they give Coleman a look at PR although that is a very different role.

3 STUDS

-RB Saquon Barkley, LT Nate Solder, CB Janoris Jenkins

3 DUDS

-LB Alec Ogletree, DL Dalvin Tomlinson, RT Chad Wheeler

3 THOUGHTS ON PHI

-Because I tend to be stubborn, I am sticking to my pick of PHI winning the division when all is said and done. I said it before the year and I said it after their rough start to the season. They aren’t overly impressive but I think there is some winning DNA in their culture. As bad as NYG handled that second half, PHI seemed to have confidence the entire game that they were still going to win. They made adjustments and trusted them. I think they end up 9-7 and win the NFC East.

-What is the strength of this PHI team? To me, it’s an easy answer. They walk into almost every weekly match-up with advantages in the trenches. Their OL is elite, maybe the best in the NFL. Their DL is not on the same level but they are deep and more dependable. I’ll say this all offseason…the OL and DL need to be the main priority of this team from a personnel perspective. You never have enough there, ever.

-I usually wait 3 seasons to evaluate a QB. Wentz is coming up on that mark with a few missed games due to the knee injury. Initially I had a mid to late 1st round grade on him coming out. Good, not great. You can build around him, he can win plenty of games. But looking at him and some of the other young QBs in this league, I don’t see elite.

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

-More on Landon Collins, as I think this will be one of the most important personnel decisions on the team among players who are currently on the roster. I have seen a lot of Vikings game in recent years and the one standout of that defense is Harrison Smith. He does everything and maybe more against the run that Collins does, but is head and shoulders above him in coverage. Smith’s cap number is $10 million. With a growing cap each year, I still don’t think Collins’ number can be within $2 million of that. On a team with holes all over the place, I am leaning more and more towards letting him walk or maybe a franchise tag, as the funds may not be needed in 2019, especially if Manning is off the books.

-I hear this from people I respect all the time. “By Thanksgiving, real football is being played because teams have now established their identity”. Here we are, entering week 13 and I truly think Pat Shurmur has yet to establish the identity of this team, namely on offense. They have an elite back who takes care of the ball as well as anyone. He can be effective inside, outside, rushing, receiving. Yet they just can’t seem to get him the ball enough even though each week he states they need to get him more touches. Taking a few weeks to get that going, I get it. 12 weeks in and it still isn’t set up? That’s on you coach.

-The weekly debate will be when to start a new QB over Eli Manning. It is going to get annoying to listen to but as much as I like Manning and believe he has gotten the short end of the stick, Lauletta needs to get 3+ starts. This team has 5 games left. You can’t make the sentimental-based decision here with Manning. He’s been paid very well, he’s been starting for a decade and a half. It’s time to get a better idea how to best approach the 2019 offseason because I’m not sure how much the NYG fan base can handle this low-level product.

Nov 232018
 
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Sterling Shepard, New York Giants (September 24, 2017)

Sterling Shepard – © USA TODAY Sports

Game Preview: New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles, November 25, 2018

THE STORYLINE:
December 2016 was the last time the Giants won two games in a row. And it seems like it was longer ago than even that. With much justification, critics will charge that the victories came against two bad football teams. But given that the Giants have been one of the very worst teams in football the past two seasons, this is measurable progress. Now comes the ultimate litmus test for the New York Giants – their long-time nemesis, the team that has treated them like little bitches since 2007.

In last week’s preview, I raised the following five questions:

  1. Is Pat Shurmur the right coach to turn this thing around?
  2. Is Dave Gettleman the right general manager?
  3. Who will quarterback this team in 2019?
  4. How do we improve the pass rush?
  5. Is the team getting better?

The jury is still out on Shurmur. To his credit, the team has not quit on him and what had been a pathetic offense has showed some signs of life the past two weeks. However, each week there seems to be in-game coaching issues, and that bears watching.

Dave Gettleman’s initial free agent period with the Giants was a disaster, while his draft class appears strong. Gettleman was roundly criticized for taking Saquon Barkley, but thus far, Barkley has lived up to the hype. Gettleman has also done a nice job in picking up a couple of players in-season that were cut loose by other teams such as Jamon Brown and Corey Coleman. This roster needs a ton of work however.

Just when many were ready to bury him for good, Eli Manning plays two strong, back-to-back games. These are the kind of games many of us expected from Eli entering the 2018 season. Can he keep it up? His loyal advocates continue to assert that if you give Eli time, he will play well. (That is true of most viable NFL quarterbacks). But he also may be at the stage of his career when he does better limiting his passing attempts (only 18 last week). Regardless, after a very rough first-half of the season, it is a safe bet that if Manning finishes 2018 on a high note, John Mara and Dave Gettleman are far more likely to hitch their wagon to him for another season.

The Giants continue to average a sack per game. This is a major problem that simply must be addressed in the offseason.

It feels like the team is getting better. Winning – even against bad teams – does that for you. The offense is clearly improving as the Giants have broken the 27 offensive point mark the past two games. The defense feels like a patch job holding on for dear life. Again, the truer litmus test will be on Sunday. Will the team regress back to its old form or will they begin to get that green monkey off of their back?

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • DE Kerry Wynn (concussion – out)

Even counting the players on Injured Reserve, this is the healthiest the Giants have been in memory.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:

The last time these two teams played in October, the Giants only scored 13 points, the touchdown coming when the game was already out-of-hand at 31-6. Once again, the Eagles’ defensive front abused the Giants’ offensive line. Saquon Barkley played well with 130 rushing yards and 99 receiving yards. But Eli Manning was terrible and threw a killer interception right off the bat. Odell Beckham was limited to 44 yards and Sterling Shepard to 37 yards.

The Eagles secondary is a mess with their top five corners are nursing injuries. On paper, Beckham and Shepard should eat this group alive. However, the primary issue remains. The Giants’ offensive front can’t seem to block the Eagles. Nate Solder, Chad Wheeler, John Greco (now benched), and Patrick Omameh (since cut) struggled in October. Hopefully, the presence of Jamon Brown will continue to improve the line, but both tackles need to play far better against the Eagles’ outside pass rushers.

So the key question here is do the Giants get away from worked so well against Tampa Bay and start throwing the ball more to take advantage of the Eagles’ secondary, while at the same time exposing Eli to hits and negative plays? Or do they minimize the passing attempts and rely on Saquon Barkley to carry the load?

Right or wrong, my guess is Pat Shurmur will be too tempted to throw the football more than he did last week. I hope he at least keeps some degree of balance because the Giants and Eli have gotten into trouble most times they start winging the ball all over the place. At this stage of his career, and during a season where he has already been sacked 36 times, relying on the run seems to settle Eli down.

The Eagles will undoubtedly double Odell. Sterling Shepard may be primed for a big game.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:

As Sy’56 discussed in his last game review, the Giants’ run defense has clearly deteriorated since the team traded away Damon Harrison. And covering anyone over the middle of the field continues to be a major problem. As discussed above, the Giants simply are unable to rush the passer with any degree of consistency.

The Eagles are struggling to run the football this year, falling to 25th in the NFL. They are 14th in passing. What remains interesting with them is their passing game appears almost exclusively focused on tight end Zach Ertz (an incredible 77 receptions, 5 touchdowns), wide receiver Nelson Agholor (46 catches, 1 touchdown), and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (37 catches, 4 touchdowns). No other target has more than 18 catches.

As much as Jeffery and Agholor can cause issues, most fans recognize that Ertz and fellow tight end Dallas Goedert (3 touchdowns) are the two most likely to feast on the Giants’ piss poor pass defense over the middle. The team also can’t ignore the backs despite the fact they haven’t been a major factor in the Philly pass attack in 2018.

The Giants need a good game by Janoris Jenkins from start to finish against Jeffery, and hope that B.W. Webb has another solid performance. Landon Collins did not play well the last time these two teams met.

The weaknesses are obvious. Put yourself in the shoes of an opposing offensive coordinator. He knows the Giants safeties and linebackers can’t cover. And the Giants can’t get any heat on the quarterback. Ertz has to be salivating.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:

The Giants gave up a 23-yard punt return to the Eagles in October that helped to set up a touchdown. Aldrick Rosas had his only miss on the season too, from 52 yards out.

THE FINAL WORD:
The Eagles are most likely going to score more than 20 points against the Giants’ defense. So the Giants’ offense is going to have to keep up, and score touchdowns in the red zone. We are about to get a much better read on Eli Manning. He’s got to accept the fact that he is going to get hit in the mouth, and still make plays for his team to win.

Nov 212018
 
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Odell Beckham, New York Giants (November 18, 2018)

Odell Beckham, Jr. – © USA TODAY Sports

New York Giants 38 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers 35

QUICK RECAP

Following the Giants Monday night victory in San Francisco, the 2-7 NFC East bottom-feeders took the long trek home and were forced to take on the struggling Tampa Bay Buccaneers on short rest. However, the newfound “8 game season” that this team has taken on as its mantra created a sense of confidence and “challenge accepted” approach.

NYG put together its easiest, borderline most fluid drive of the season right off the bat. A 6 play-63 yard drive that featured Saquon Barkley 5 times ended in an easy touchdown pass from Eli Manning to the rookie. Tampa Bay, led by the 35-year old Ryan Fitzpatrick, looked off from the beginning. They were using broken plays and some miscues by the Giants front seven to gain yards rather than a fluid offensive system. Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter opted to go for it on 4th and 1 from the NYG 5-yard line despite being on the road, down 7, in the first quarter. The NYG front line created a wall that Fitzpatrick couldn’t get through and NY forced its first de facto turnover on the day.

The NYG offense proved that the first drive wasn’t a fluke and that they may have actually found a rhythm that carried over from the previous week. Head Coach Pat Shurmur had a sit down with Barkley during the week and wanted to create more urgency, a more north/south approach to Barkley’s efforts when the game called for it. Barkley accepted that challenge and more, as he was gashing the depleted TB front seven with the most aggressive running style we have seen out of him yet. A 12-play drive that gave him the ball on half the snaps resulted in another NYG touchdown, this one a 5-yard run up the middle.

Down 14-0, TB found themselves in a 4th and goal situation from the NYG 10-yard line. Koetter opted to go for it yet again and things looked bleak post-snap. A broken play led to Fitzpatrick scrambling for his life but he somehow managed to find a running lane to the outside and dove his way into the end zone for a touchdown.

The Giants offense puttered for the rest of the half, shooting themselves in the foot with poor blocking, penalties, and simple mishaps. TB was gaining momentum thanks to something I may have never seen before. Defensive end Olivier Vernon was flagged for a roughing the passer penalty and then 2 straight offsides penalties. 25 yards back-to-back-to-back. Three plays later, Fitzpatrick threw an interception to safety Michael Thomas on a pass intended for OJ Howard up the seam. NYG opted for the safe approach and took the lead into halftime, 14-7.

Anyone who has followed Fitzpatrick’s career knows that he is one of the more up-and-down, Jekyll-and-Hyde quarterbacks in the league. We saw the ugly side of him in this one, mostly in the second half. On TB’s first possession, he threw a pick six that was deflected by Janoris Jenkins and into the arms of Alec Ogletree. Then, on the next possession, Fitzpatrick lofted a ball, almost Hail Mary-style, into the end zone at the end of a solid drive which NYG safety Curtis Riley came down with. NYG then put themselves into field goal position and Aldrick Rosas booted a 52 yarder though the uprights. They had a commanding 24-7 lead and Fitzpatrick was benched in favor of Jameis Winston, the former #1 overall pick.

Winston has begun his career on a record-setting turnover pace, but TB gave him a shot to bring this team back. He did exactly that. TB scored touchdowns on their next 4 possessions. Yes, 4 straight touchdown scores for the anemic Bucs offense. Thankfully, the NYG offense continued to stay hot via a balanced attack. Manning hit Odell Beckham on an 8-yard touchdown and Barkley crossed the goal line for a third time on a 2-yard run.

It was a back-and-forth affair that turned into the NYG faithful simply hoping for the clock to run out because TB kept creeping closer and closer, making it a 3 point game at one point with over 2 minutes left.

NYG was able to run the clock down to under 30 seconds, but Winston and the offense did come out for one final possession, no timeouts in hand. On the first play, Winston heaved a desperate ball downfield that was intercepted by BW Webb, and that sealed NYG’s 3rd win of the season.

Giants win, 38-35.

QUARTERBACKS

-Eli Manning: 17/18 – 231 yards – 2 TD / 0 INT. Manning finished with a 110+ QB rating for the 3rd time in 4 games. It is amazing, but not surprising, how much better Manning and this offense looks now that the offensive line has stabilized. Don’t look now, but he is trending towards career highs in both completion percentage and QB rating despite being sacked a league-leading 36 times. Nobody is going to mistake Manning for one of the elite signal callers in the NFL, but he is finally finding the comfort zone within this uber-talented offense. Give this guy enough time to read the defense and enough time for the receivers to actually run their routes and we will see more performances like this.

RUNNING BACKS

-Saquon Barkley: 27 att / 142 yards / 2 TD – 2 rec / 10 yards / 1 TD. There was a different version of Barkley on the field against TB. One we had yet to see and it seems to have stemmed from some hard-truth coaching from Pat Shurmur. Barkley’s lone negative in his scouting report last spring was a little too much dancing behind the line of scrimmage, neglecting what the defense gives him too often. Barkley took it to heart and ran harder between the tackles time after time than I have ever seen, college days included. He was constantly finishing runs, falling forward, and gaining yards after initial contact. This is the kind of running style that, if Barkley can turn on and off based on game situations and the opposing defensive approach, can take his game to the next level. His 3 scores proved that he, and this offense, are much more than big-play dependent.

-Wayne Gallman and Elihjaa Penny deserve mention. They combined for 39 yards on 6 touches. Penny has made a couple of athletic catches in recent weeks and while he won’t ever be a feature of the passing game, it is a nice outlet to have. Gallman’s opportunities are so limited, but his quick speed will make a big play at some point.

WIDE RECEIVERS

Odell Beckham: 4 rec / 74 yards / 1 TD. Six days after Beckham went for 4 catches – 73 yards, he put out a similar performance. His touchdown catch was a thing of beauty, one that many could not have made. The ball was well on its way before he turned around and he had to make an backwards adjustment to the pass. He is in a nice groove right now despite seeing a ton of attention from opposing secondaries.

-It was a spread out day for the rest of the WR group. Sterling Shepard had 2 catches for 22 yards and both Bennie Fowler and Corey Coleman each snared a pass. Coleman’s role here seems locked in as he is performing so well as a kick returner whereas Fowler will only make an impact if someone gets hurt.

TIGHT ENDS

-Evan Engram: 2 rec 66 yards. Similar to last week, Engram’s impact on the game wasn’t really felt until the 4th quarter. When TB’s offense kept the game close and within striking distance, Manning hit Engram on a short pass, but Engram’s burst and speed created a 54-yard gain on the play that put them near the end zone that eventually led to a touchdown. What was notable about this day, however, was the fact Engram played just 32% of the snaps, less than half the snaps of Rhett Ellison and even less snaps that Scott Simonson. Is he in the doghouse? Not necessarily. However as I said a couple weeks ago, this team runs the ball better with Engram not on the line. If this offense wants to continue to be run-dominant, I expect to see snap totals like this from Engram.

-With that said, Ellison had an up-and-down game as a blocker. He allowed a TFL and a sack. While you can’t expect him to sustain blocks against a DE like Jason Pierre-Paul, he has constantly been a very inconsistent presence in the trenches. Simonson wasn’t a factor that often as a blocker, but his footwork has come a long way since the start of the year. Curious to see if he can carve a long-term role here for himself as a presence in the trenches.

OFFENSIVE TACKLES

-Nate Solder had the responsibility of facing off against former Giant DE Jason Pierre-Paul. The motivated JPP finished with 7 tackles and 1.5 sacks. One of the sacks came through Rhett Ellison, but Solder was still being handled pretty badly. His staying power just isn’t there. The fact Manning only dropped back 23 times helped Solder not get exposed as often as he has been, but I still view him as a major liability to this offense.

-Chad Wheeler had a solid game as a run blocker. His initial contact was violent and he got downfield a handful of times making a difference. I love the hustle this kid plays with. He allowed 1 TFL and had a bonehead personal foul penalty on a PAT late in the game. Otherwise, very solid game for him.

GUARDS/CENTERS

-This is the best combo-guard play we have seen out of NYG in quite some time. Rookie Will Hernandez had the highest grade of the group, as he neutralized and moved All Pro Gerald McCoy all afternoon. He did allow 1 TFL early in the game where his lack of foot-adjustment showed up again, but he was a steady force from there on out. Brown had some of the most dominant run blocks against both DTs and LBs that I saw all weekend. Now that he knows the scheme one more week, he moved with more confidence. I don’t want to celebrate yet, but NYG may have found their RG.

-Spencer Pulley was the one negative of the group and I think that is simply what we are going to have to deal with the rest of the way. You can hide poor OC play if the guards play at a high level. Pulley allowed a sack and had a false start penalty.

EDGE

-Kareem Martin, ever since his days at North Carolina, has a game every now and then that makes evaluators get excited. Well, this was that game. He finished with 7 tackles, 1 sack, and 2 TFL. He was a factor in both traffic and in space, but I will say some of his bigger plays were a product of the action being washed his way. But hey, he got it done. Good game for him.

-Lorenzo Carter continues to show subtle but obvious improvement across the board. He had 2 pressures, 1 of which led to a sack by Martin. Get this guy in pursuit and he can chase down any QB and force him into an early throw.

-Olivier Vernon and Kerry Wynn both had quiet games, although the loudest hit of the day may have been by Wynn on special teams. Vernon had an odd stretch of roughing the passer-offsides-offsides on three straight snaps. That is the kind of thing that makes a fan say “trade him” but let’s not forget guys, this pass rush did improve as a whole when he came back from injury.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES

-The lack of Damon Harrison’s presence has been apparent these past two weeks. Dalvin Tomlinson and BJ Hill were getting moved off the ball way too much, way too often. The TB running game had wide open running lanes inside for most of the day and while some of that was on the LBs, Hill and Tomlinson weren’t stout enough. They need to be better.

-Josh Mauro and Mario Edwards on the other hand, who both played 37% of the snaps, were exceptional in their backup duty. Mauro had a TFL and a pressure while Edwards had 2 pressures and a forced fumble. Mauro’s pressure was the reason Fitzpatrick threw his final interception. The ball was lofted into the air because he had Mauro creeping up into his face as he threw. That was an overlooked aspect of that key play. Both of these guys play really physical and make a difference at the point of attack.

LINEBACKERS

Another weak showing from the inside linebackers in this one. Alec Ogletree and Tae Davis were not filling lanes against the TB rushing attack. They were a step slow and too late to make reads, giving the TB blockers the proper angles to wash them out. And when TB did use the middle of the field in the passing game, they once again couldn’t get it done. Nice job by Ogletree to come up with the pick six on a Janoris Jenkins tipped pass, but these guys need to play better.

CORNERBACKS

-Speaking of Jenkins, he had a strong game for the most part. The one weak moment came late in the game where he was beat off the ball and for a 44-yard touchdown to Mike Evans. He broke up a pass that ended up turning into a defensive touchdown for NYG. His play has leveled off in a good way in recent weeks. One thing I didn’t like, and we have seen this before out of him, was the fact he made a business decision to not tackle a downhill Peyton Barber near the goal line. Can’t have that.

-BW Webb came down with an interception on a final desperation attempt-type throw on TB’s last drive. This was his best game of the season, as he shut down DeSean Jackson. He finished with 7 tackles and 2 pass break ups as well. Webb has had me thinking the past few weeks that he may have earned his way into a contract next year; he has been consistent.

-Grant Haley played the nickel role again and appears to be getting more and more confident. He dropped a interception and did allow a touchdown late to Adam Humphries, but I think his performance these past 2 weeks warrants a continued role in the nickel. He doesn’t have the physical presence to work through receivers to the ball, but he is reacting fast and getting his hands on the ball.

SAFETIES

-Best game of the season to date for Michael Thomas. He was only on the field for about a third of the plays, but he came up with a key interception in the red zone in addition to a couple of key tackles late in the game. Thomas is the best tackler on this team and I have a feeling the team will give him a hard look if Landon Collins prices him out of this town via free agency in the winter.

-Landon Collins led the team with 11 tackles and was again a solid force in the box. He did recognize running plays late a few times that led to lengthy gains, but he was solid. The glaring issue with Collins arose late in the game when TB obviously had to make a play deep. He was late to give help on a vertical route and it resulted in a touchdown. I’ll say this again, if you can’t send this guy deep ever, he isn’t a safety. Something to think about. Nice interception and return for Curtis Riley but he did miss more tackles and is among the NFL’s league leaders in that department. Not a list you want a safety to be on.

SPECIAL TEAMS

-K Aldrick Rosas: 1/1 (Made 52). In a year where kickers are just failing left and right, Rosas continues to be one of the most steady ones in the league.

-P Riley Dixon: 4 Punts – 41.5 avg / 34.0 net. Nothing notable from Dixon in this one; he had a couple opportunities to pin TB close to their own end zone but overshot one, undershot the other.

-KR/PR: Corey Coleman added another 40 yard return early. He has what I call aggressive speed and he is a major weapon if the blocking is good enough. He is close to taking one to the house.

3 STUDS

-RB Saquon Barkley, S Michael Thomas, OG Will Hernandez

3 DUDS

-LB Tae Davis, OT Nate Solder, DE Olivier Vernon

3 THOUGHTS ON TB

-This is maybe one of 3 or 4 teams in this league that just lack direction. They have a recent #1 pick whom has had some success and a 35-year old journeyman going back and forth at QB. Their offensive line is inconsistent with both tackles, neither of which deserve big money, heading towards free agency. Their best defenders have a hard time staying healthy. And their Head Coach seems to be in over his head on a near-weekly basis. Lastly, they just spent a ton of money on free agents this past offseason. Very odd situation going on down there, it’s been built the wrong way.

-Jameis Winston may, or may not be available this offseason. Crazy prediction, I know. But if he is made available, I know at least some NYG fans will throw his name out there. I’ve watched him plenty over the years and I do think he has some special talents and intangibles. The problem is, they are grouped with off-field red flags that never seem to go away, and a lack of ball discipline. He was lucky that Mike Evans fell on his fumble in the end zone on his first drive of the second half. Like I feel about Sam Darnold, some guys just don’t protect the ball enough in key situations. Winston is who he is and I don’t want him in a Giants uniform. It wouldn’t work here in a high-pressure market.

-This goes to show guys….”winning” in free agency doesn’t get you anywhere. Acquiring expensive veterans as the main catalyst for a turnaround just doesn’t work. Jason Pierre-Paul, Vinny Curry, Ryan Jensen, Beau Allen combine for about $36 million in cap space with all of them locked up for another 2-4 years. And this team is going nowhere fast.

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

-Does NYG have momentum? Well they beat 2 teams on the down slope that have a combined 5 wins through 11 weeks. But just like you don’t get any credit for losing to a good team, NYG deserves credit for 2 wins no matter who they come against. As we see every week in the NFL, there is no such thing as an easy W.

-If NYG is going to keep this offensive flow going (25 + points in consecutive games for the first time since October 2015), the actual devotion to the running game and play-action passing needs to be the staple. Manning has always been at his best from under center in a play-action-heavy routine. I’m glad to see Shurmur, for the first time, stick to a running game throughout all 4 quarters. If he can keep this approach, NYG will continue to score points like this.

-How can NYG fix this defense in-season? It does look like they are trying to spread some snaps out among the front seven with different personnel combinations each week. Credit to them for continuing to try new things. Perhaps the quality of talent isn’t there to defend the middle of the field, but this coaching staff needs to find something. Their toughest test will be this weekend as Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert may very well be the best TE combination in the NFL when it comes to catching the football.

Nov 162018
 
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John Mara and Dave Gettleman, New York Giants (May 11, 2018)

John Mara and Dave Gettleman – © USA TODAY Sports

Game Preview: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New York Giants, November 18, 2018

THE STORYLINE:
The New York Football Giants have won eight NFL championships. They have appeared in 19 NFL championship games. And because they won on Monday night, they are now 5-20 in their last 25 football games. You have to go back to the 1970s to witness a stretch this bad in team history.

The Giants have a decent chance to win two in a row. The 3-6 Tampa Bay Buccaneers are another bad football team. But win or lose, the question is are the Giants getting better? The win over the 49ers was dramatic and raised the morale of a fan base sick of losing. But aside from the 4th quarter dramatics, objectively speaking, it was clearly a contest between two bad football teams. And the game-winning drive was kept alive by two killer San Francisco penalties.

As I watch the Giants now, the same questions keep entering my head:

  1. Is Pat Shurmur the right coach to turn this thing around?
  2. Is Dave Gettleman the right general manager?
  3. Who will quarterback this team in 2019?
  4. How do we improve the pass rush?
  5. Is the team getting better?

The good news is the Giants haven’t quit. They are still playing hard. But the answers to those five aforementioned questions still very much concern me.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • FB Eli Penny (back – probable)
  • RG Jamon Brown (ankle – probable)
  • LB Alec Ogletree (ribs – probable)
  • CB Antonio Hamilton (hip – probable)
  • FS Curtis Riley (shoulder – probable)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:

The Giants benched John Greco for recently-claimed Jamon Brown at right guard, and the offensive line play went from “dog shit” to “below average.” It was an improvement so we’ll take it. Brown had his down moments, but he looks the part. He’s a mammoth man and demonstrated the mental wherewithal to adjust and pick up stunts. Brown’s contract expires at the end of the season, but if he is a viable NFL starter and the Giants can re-sign him to an appropriate contract, that will be one less hole to fill in the offseason.

Brown may be the #1 guy to keep your eyes on. Will Hernandez and Jamon Brown are young, big, and strong. They are mauling types who fit in well with Saquon Barkley. Between the two is Spencer Pulley, who struggled against the 49ers. Unless he starts playing better, and unless the Giants have a diamond in the rough in Evan Brown, the Giants still need to acquire a center this offseason.

The tackle situation is also very unsettled. When Gettleman signed Nate Solder and Patrick Omameh, he probably felt he had locked in two starters for the next 2-3 years. Omameh has already been cut. Solder has been a disaster, but may have played his best game against the 49ers. Can he build upon that the last seven games and give the team reason to hope he still can be an asset rather than a liability in 2019? Chad Wheeler is receiving invaluable playing experience. Young tackles often struggle and then it sometimes just clicks for them. Is Wheeler simply a placeholder or does he have a future in this league? Cutting to the chase, is he getting better?

Not to toot my own horn, but I called it last week with respect to Eli:

Eli Manning is due for one of those games where his most loyal supporters can claim he still has “it.” But as discussed ad nauseam, those good games have become too infrequent.

I think a lot of readers of this site think I have it in for Eli. Nothing could be further from the truth. He’s one of my all-time favorites. But my loyalty to him does not supercede my loyalty to the team. And regardless of the reasons, Eli’s play has been a roller coaster for the last few years with more down moments than up. Can Eli play well against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, or are we going to see a game where he makes the killer mistake or two? Recent history says the latter. I hope not. Until the game-winning drive, what bothered me about his play against the 49ers were the mental breakdowns on his part. If that part of his game is deteriorating now too, look out.

Some other quick thoughts:

  • Despite the losing and missed opportunities, Odell Beckham is still playing hard. He is maturing.
  • Evan Engram really has disappointed this year. I expected him to be one of the top receiving tight ends in the league. He only has 21 catches for only 191 yards.
  • Rhett Ellison has also been a big disappointment. His blocking has sucked.
  • Corey Coleman is a guy to keep an eye on. The Giants still need a third receiver. Could he become that player?

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:

Before the trade deadline, the New York Giants defense was the stronger unit on the team. But that doesn’t mean it was playing particularly well. So it is not surprising that the defense has weakened since the departure of Damon Harrison and Eli Apple.

Somewhat surprisingly, the issue hasn’t been the corners. While Janoris Jenkins hasn’t been on top of his game, and while the other corners are mostly journeymen, they have all done a respectable job. My hat is off to guys like B.W. Webb and Grant Haley for playing above expectation level.

The most glaring weaknesses have been:

  1. Perhaps the most inept NYG pass rush in memory. Through nine games, the Giants have TEN sacks. TEN!!! In the offseason, we were told how James Bettcher would be able to create situations where the team’s new 3-4 defense would be able to attack the quarterback from all angles. Through nine games, Bettcher’s schemes don’t appear to be particularly effective, and the team’s personnel doesn’t appear able to beat their opponent in one-on-one pass-rush situations. Kareem Martin and Connor Barwin have been duds. Olivier Vernon got hurt again, and upon his return, remains the player he has been: someone who teases every now and then but simply doesn’t do enough. Perhaps the Giants should play more 4-3 again. They appear to lack the linebacker talent to make the 3-4 work.
  2. The Giants can’t cover the middle of the field. This has been an issue for years. And while the coaches and players have changed, the reasons haven’t: the Giants don’t have linebackers or safeties who can cover. Dave Gettleman made big mistakes acquiring Alec Olgetree (for 2 draft picks), Kareem Martin, and Connor Barwin. Not trading away Olivier Vernon is looking like a mistake. The Giants have no viable free safety. And Landon Collins is simply too up-and-down. (Again, they may rue the day they didn’t trade him as he is a pending free agent).

So when you combined (1) and (2), you get opposing QBs who have time to scan the field, and inevitably find an open target over the middle of the field. This is why the team’s third-down defense is so bad.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:

While the special teams are still making mistakes (i.e., kickoff out of bounds, usually allowing one decent return per game), the unit appears to be improving. Aldrick Rosas has been a pleasant surprise. Riley Dixon has been consistent. And the Giants now have a couple of returners on the team – Corey Coleman and Quadree Henderson – who have made some noise the past couple of games.

THE FINAL WORD:
The Giants have scored more than 20 points in three games this year. They won two of those games. The Giants have scored 20 or few points in six games this year. They have lost all of those games. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure this out.

Against Tampa, can the Giants put more than 20-24 points up on the board? If they do, they probably win. If not, they will probably lose.

Nov 142018
 
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Odell Beckham, New York Giants (November 12, 2018)

Odell Beckham, Jr. – © USA TODAY Sports

New York Giants 27 – San Francisco 49ers 23

QUICK RECAP

A rough week in California with wildfires destroying homes at a record pace put this game in question, as the air quality reached “dangerous” levels and was creeping towards the league re-locating the Monday night match-up. The 1-7 Giants ended up taking on the 2-7 Niners as scheduled.

The Giants came out of the bye week with yet another starting right guard, this time the newly-signed Jamon Brown who was recently released by the Rams. The Niners, who underwent everyone’s worst nightmare early in the year, losing their starting QB to a season-ending injury, gave the start to 2017 undrafted free agent Nick Mullens who was impressive in his debut the week prior against OAK.

The Niners took an early 3-0 lead as the NYG offense continued to show ineptitude on their first two possessions stemming from poor blocking and a nervous Eli Manning. However the Big Blue defense came up big, taking advantage of the green Mullens as he misfired on a pass across the field which was tipped/broke up by Janoris Jenkins and right into the lap of BJ Goodson. The Giants began their third possession on the SF 12-yard line and on 3rd and 8, Manning stood strong in the pocket and found a wide open Odell Beckham in the end zone. The Niners had three defenders in the area and none of them tracked the Giants most explosive pass catcher. Giants led 7-3.

The Niners didn’t let the lead last long, as tight end George Kittle and running back Matt Breida torched the Giants back seven on the next drive, as they did for the entire night. They combined for 6 touches and 51 yards, the last one being a 3-yard touchdown run by Breida up the middle at the start of the 2nd quarter.

After trading possessions, NYG put together their longest drive of the night: 14 plays, including 2 penalties worth 25 yards charged against SF, landed NYG inside the 10-yard line with a fresh set of downs. Pat Shurmur, who has been stating there needs to be more devotion to the running game since September, gave Saquon Barkley three shots at the end zone. It left them 2 yards shy and NYG had to settle on a 20-yard field goal to tie the game at 10.

Mullens and the Niners offense then rattled off 11 plays in under 2 minutes to consistent chunk-gains via the middle of the field. They were able to respond with a field goal of their own which gave them a 3 point lead heading into halftime.

SF opened the half at their own 40-yard line thanks to a kickoff out of bounds by Aldrick Rosas. The Mullens-Breida connection continued to move the ball and successfully convert on 3rd downs, the third of which resulted in a touchdown pass at the mercy of Ogletree for what seemed to be the hundredth time. SF was up 20-10 on their home turf against an offense that has been struggling all year.

The newly-signed Corey Coleman then gave the Giants a solid boost with a team season-long, 51-yard kick return. Manning then found Beckham for a 30-yard gain and all of the sudden NYG was back in the red zone. The Manning-to-Beckham duo stayed hot, as they ran replica plays back-to-back, the latter ending in an easy 20-yard touchdown as Beckham outclassed second-year corner Ahkello Witherspoon.

The Giants were down by 3 and then forced SF in to a 3-and-out, giving them the ball back with all of the momentum. Rosas nailed his third field goal of the night, this one for 31 yards, which tied it up at 20. Nick Mullens trotted onto the field and started to look flustered as the NYG pass rush was, at least, breaking through what seemed to be a red wall also known as the SF offensive line.

Mullens misfired on a pass intended for Marquis Goodwin and it, once again, bounced right in to Goodson’s hands for his second interception of the night. The Giants had the Niners by the throat. However a quick 3-and-out forced by the SF defense gave the Niners the ball back. The two offenses struggled to take control back but eventually the Niners put together a time-consuming, 11-play drive the resulted in Robbie Gould’s third field goal of the night. NYG had just 2:46 left to get this game tied up or in their favor.

There was a different feel to this one. There was confidence that the NYG offense was going to get this done. For the most part, the offensive line was having a good night collectively and Manning was hitting most of his targets. The SF defense, in addition, was nothing to be overly scared about. Manning hit Evan Engram, who previously had 1 target in the game, for a 31-yard gain, the longest play of the night for NYG. He then came down with another 6-yard catch the play after.

Then came the ugliest portion of the game and a clear sign that the two teams on the field had a combined 3 wins in week 10 of the 2018 season. Four penalties, two on NYG and two on SF, were committed and called in the next 20 seconds of game clock. The final one was an 18-yard pass interference on Witherspoon, when the Giants were in the middle of a 2nd and 20 situation from midfield, way out of field goal range. The next big play came from Barkley, a 23-yard catch-and-run that landed NYG at the 12-yard line. A couple plays later, Manning hit Sterling Shepard, who also was very quiet in the game until this drive, for a 3-yard touchdown. NYG did leave about a minute left on the clock for Mullens and company.

The Niners got the ball near midfield quickly but they had to burn their final timeout because of a false start by rookie tackle Mike McGlinchey. It can rightfully be questioned if that was a right decision by Niners coach Kyle Shanahan because they could have lost 10 seconds of game clock but held on to a timeout. Mullens was able to get the ball to the 21-yard line and spiked the ball with 1 second remaining.

Instead of sitting back, the NYG defense came with a full force blitz that made Mullens rush his throw. He sailed it past the end zone and the game was over.

NYG wins, 27-23.

QUARTERBACKS

-Eli Manning: 19/31 – 188 yards – 3 TD / 0 INT. Manning shook off a rusty start and played an overall solid game. His performance late was something we saw for years but not so much lately. He appeared more aggressive and braver in the pocket. He was certainly aided by the offensive line keeping it together for the most part and whether anyone thinks he should be here or not, Manning proved he can still get it done on multiple levels. He did have 2 poor under throws on plays where Beckham and Barkley beat their man deep, respectively. That power just isn’t there downfield anymore. In addition, Manning missed the fact that Beckham was left uncovered near the end zone on Barkley’s third straight rushing attempt near the end zone, which resulted in no touchdown. It was a rare mental miss by Manning.

RUNNING BACKS

-Saquon Barkley: 20 att / 67 yards – 4 rec / 33 yards. Overall a quiet night for Barkley on a play-to-play basis. He had issues with his footing early on, leading to an in-game footwear alteration. Barkley just didn’t have nay room inside to run and the tight ends were horrific on the edge. His 23-yard gain on the final touchdown drive was one of the bigger plays of the game. I often hear that he is too prone to bounce runs to the outside and I can see the argument, but some of his biggest plays this season were a result of that approach. Is there room for improvement as a decision maker? Sure. I wrote that in my scouting report of him last spring. But you have take the good with the bad with the understanding that the rewards of him running like that will usually outweigh the risks.

WIDE RECEIVERS

-Odell Beckham: 4 rec / 73 yards / 2 TD. The night didn’t start well, as Beckham let the first pass of the game slip right between his hands, for his first of 2 drops on the night. However he and the Giants offense turned things around. His volume of catches wasn’t high, but he came down with 2 touchdowns and “could have” had 2 more if Manning hit his mark. Most important here is that Beckham continues to play as hard as any WR in the league. His production and thus his attitude is so much-based on the offensive line giving Manning time. Hopefully they can keep this up.

-Sterling Shepard: 2 rec / 9 yards / 1 TD – 1 att / 27 yards. Shepard was quiet for the majority of the night. He was thrown to just 3 times but the final target of the night resulted in a 3-yard touchdown. He has always had a knack for those short-yardage, get-open-at-any-cost type situations and he stood up when the team needed him.

-Corey Colman deserves a mention. He came down with his lone target of the night, which was an essential 3rd down conversion. He also provided a spark to the kick return game. A couple of nice returns were called back via holding penalties, but his 51-yard gain set up NYG for their third touchdown of the night. This is a kid with all of the talent in the world and nobody has ever denied that. His issues have stemmed from inconsistency and complacency. Could NYG be the pace that gets turned around? It’s worth a shot.

TIGHT ENDS

-Evan Engram: 4 rec / 46 yards. With 2:43 left in the 4th quarter, Engram had 1 target, 1 catch, 1 yard. Fair to say he had little-to-no impact on this game until the end. He, along with Shepard, are dangerous weapons who can break off a big play at any moment. I think he is still getting his groove back after coming back from injury and if he starts making plays like he did on the final drive, this offense will break out. His blocking grade was slightly below the average mark again.

-Rhett Ellison played a poor, poor game. Especially upon my review/re-watch, his blocking grade was the worst we have seen out of him since he signed with NYG. DE Arik Armstead overpowered him with ease on multiple occasions. He allowed 2 TFL and a pressure in addition to be driven backwards off the snap multiple times despite playing just about half the snaps. If NYG is going to be a run-first team in the coming years, they need more presence at TE from a blocking standpoint.

OFFENSIVE TACKLES

-Nate Solder and Chad Wheeler both had their best games of the season, respectively. Solder looked very nimble and light, keeping his assignment in front of him with great footwork. SF doesn’t exactly bring the heat off the edge with superior talent, but after what we have seen this year from Solder, it was a step in the right direction. Wheeler was quiet in a good way. He never looks pretty for the most part, but I saw an improvement with his footwork, consistency, balance in this one. His performance over these next 7 weeks will say a lot in terms of how NYG approaches the offseason in relation to the OL. I still think there is a shot he can be the guy at RT for the future.

GUARDS/CENTERS

-All eyes were on the newly acquired Jamon Brown at right guard. That position has been a revolving door and a major source of weakness within this offense for years. Brown, the new flavor of the month, didn’t grade out well. I do think he showed more that Patrick Omameh when it comes to picking up stunts and twists, something opposing defenses have been torching this OL with. However, at the end of the night Brown was the lowest graded OL with 1 TFL allowed, 1 pressure allowed, 1 sack allowed, and a holding penalty. Ouch.

-Spencer Pulley was the next-worst grade along the OL. His lack of performance didn’t pop up on the stat sheet as much, as he allowed 1 sack and that’s about it. However Pulley was the main culprit for no inside running game. He simply just couldn’t hold his ground, too much time spent being drilled back. Pulley is a guy that is almost always in recovery mode.

-Will Hernandez continues to put in solid, positive game grades at LG. He excelled at sticking to his man, hands on and inside, with good balance and presence. He had an ill-timed false start late in the game that could have really shot this offense in the foot, but his teammates picked him up. One thing I see about him that I just don’t like is the lack of ability in space to make a difference. On screens or even outside runs, Hernandez too often whiffs, doesn’t even touch a defender. He is a better athlete than that, but his adjustments just haven’t caught up to the speed of the NFL yet.

EDGE

-Olivier Vernon and Lorenzo Carter were the 2 main edge rushers in this game. Neither recorded a sack and overall, both of them were outplayed by the SF tackles. They each finished with 2 pressures but Carter actually finished with a team-leading 3 TFL. This was arguably his best game as a pro and he played about half of the snaps. His talent stands out and he looks like he is thinking less, reacting more.

-Kerry Wynn and Kareem Martin were basically non-existent on the field. Wynn was out there for about 50% of the snaps whereas Martin saw his playing time take a nosedive. I expect to see more of that with Carter being the main beneficiary.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES

-The Niners ground game was a steady force all night long. Part of that can be rightfully blamed on the linebackers and Landon Collins, but BJ Hill and Dalvin Tomlinson were struggling to maintain ground against double teams, Hill more so. Tomlinson had a couple solid, rangy plays in addition to a TFL. Hard to expect either one of these guys to play on the same level as the traded Damon Harrison.

-Backups Josh Mauro and Mario Edwards both played well in their roles. Mauro had the most active game of his season, finishing with 5 tackles and 1 TFL.

LINEBACKERS

-The middle of the field was torched by the Niners passing game and Matt Breida averaged just under 6 yards per carry. Alec Ogletree was a culprit in both, as he just doesn’t have the quickness in his hips to hang with pass catching tight ends or backs that go out into a route.

-BJ Goodson ended up with 2 interceptions off of tipped balls. The first one led to the first NYG score of the night. While both of those plays were mostly right-place, right time results, Goodson played a very solid game. He was the most physical NYG defender on the field and he made several good reads post-snap that put him in the right position to make a play. He finished with 6 tackles and a TFL.

-Nate Stupar gets a few snaps here and there in addition to his special teams presence. He was flagged for a face mask penalty and a hold. Lately he has been on the wrong side of these evaluations.

CORNERBACKS

-Quietly, a very effective game for both Janoris Jenkins and BW Webb. They both kept the SF wide receivers in check, in particular the speedster Marquis Goodwin, whom they sent deep numerous times. They weren’t challenged much but they were still active. Jenkins broke up a pass that ended up being tipped into the hands of linebacker BJ Goodson for his first of 2 interceptions.

-Grant Haley saw the bulk of nickel snaps and even though he was beat on 3rd down a couple times, I thought he played well. The undrafted rookie made a key 3rd down tackle on the Niners second-to-last drive to force the try for a field goal rather than bleed the clock out. Haley is a more physical version of Donte Deayon, who just couldn’t hack it with the size and strength of the NFL. Haley has a nice opportunity to show what he’s got these next 7 weeks.

SAFETIES

-Even though Landon Collins led the team with 9 tackles, it was an off night for the up-and-down safety. He was torched in the intermediate passing game over the middle where his lack of agility and reaction showed. His game is very all-or-nothing and when he doesn’t seem on, he can really hurt this defense. There is a lot to like about Collins, but one of the hardest decisions of the offseason will revolve around his contract offer. It is a hard sell to pay him like a top 5 safety in the league.

-Curtis Riley missed 2 more tackles on the night, one resulted in a touchdown and the other was a long run by Breida. There isn’t anyone behind him that can play at a higher level, but man this guy is hard to watch.

SPECIAL TEAMS

-K Aldrick Rosas – 2/2 (Made 20, 21). Rosas wasn’t challenged with any long kicks, but he continues to be perfect on the road this year in one of the worst-kicking seasons the NFL has ever seen. He did knock a kickoff out of bounds for the second time this year, however.

-P Riley Dixon – 5 Punts / 47.6 avg / 42.8 net. Other than the first punt where Richie James had a 21-yard return, Dixon pinned SF well. He is on a nice streak right now. For the record, he is 4th in the NFL in net average.

3 STUDS

-LB BJ Goodson, WR Odell Beckham, OT Nate Solder

3 DUDS

-LB Alec Ogletree, S Landon Collins, RG Jamon Brown

3 THOUGHTS ON SF

-Watching every snap of Nick Mullens in his 2 starts gives some confidence to the notion that the next franchise QB may be easier to find than some are thinking. He isn’t overly talented. He wasn’t a stud in college. But he is quick to see, quick to react, and confident in his throws. The NFL is changing more each year and perhaps the process of finding the next QB won’t be as difficult as some think? We have never had a league with this kind of young-QB success and I don’t think it is their talent.

-Jimmie Ward is the SF starting safety that has seen starts at FS, SS, nickel CB, and outside CB. He will be a free agent in 2019 and I’ve talked to some who are confident SF is going to let him walk, as they just spent a ton of money at QB and RB this past offseason and DeForest Buckner has a payday looming. If Landon Collins prices himself out of NYG, Ward is a guy I would take a hard look at. He has been nicked up a few times, but I think his skill set fits in well with today’s NFL more than Collins. Just a thought.

-The next few years in the NFC West will be all about LAR and SF. The most common denominator in my opinion? The two head coaches. Young, fresh, innovative, energetic. Again I think Pat Shurmur deserves his shot here to see if he can turn things around, but at some point NYG needs to bring in a new-look-type coach.

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

-The best part of this game was simple. NYG played really, really hard. Offensively and defensively, they hustled and played like they were still in it. I am old school in that I think winning culture is as vital to sustained success as the personnel. Sure, everyone wants a top 5 pick in the draft but winning games provides value as well, value that can translate to success in 2019. This whole “8 game season” they are talking about is important.

-It is amazing how one overlooked-play could have very well changed the entire tone of the game. A play I don’t see anyone talking about. On the Giants second possession of the game with SF up 3-0, Manning threw a quick, inaccurate pass that deflected off of Saquon Barkley. The ball was floating in the air, about to be intercepted by SF K’Wuan Williams. But center Spencer Pulley comes out of nowhere and makes a catch that some of our tight end wouldn’t even have come down with. They both had control of the ball and in situations like that, the offense wins. If that ended up being an interception, I can almost guarantee this would have been a loss.

-The Giants are now looking at a pretty bad TB team before a division matchup with PHI. The win created a sense of euphoria with these guys and I am as confident as I have been all year that NYG is going to win this game. TB is in trouble next Sunday, watch.

Nov 102018
 
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Game Preview: New York Giants at San Francisco 49ers, November 12, 2018

THE STORYLINE:
Is there anybody out there still reading these game previews?

During the bye week, I took my family on vacation to Florida. To protect my ever more exposed scalp from the Florida sun, I donned my New York Giants cap. Each day I was stopped by folks in the service industry, other tourists, and folks living in Florida. “Hey, another Giants fan! Go Giants!” Some were men, some were women. The ages varied. There was no embarrassment over, or hiding from, the current 1-7 season. Just a recognition that the team we love is going through some hard times and will hopefully be back someday soon. It got to the point where even my kids said to me with a bit of a look of astonishment, “There are a lot of Giants fans!” I responded with a smile and said, “Yes there are.”

For the second season in a row, the Giants are 1-7 at the midway point of the season. Despite changing general managers and coaching staffs, there does not appear to be any marked improvement in the team’s performance from last year. The quarterback also appears to be done with no obvious replacement.

I highlighted my concerns with how the team is being run in my last game preview. In my mind, it is not the players so much on trial during the last eight games but the coaching staff, and by extension Dave Gettleman. For if Pat Shurmur and his assistants are not the ones to lead the team out of the darkness, then Gettleman, who completely botched the free agency period, must also share a lion’s share of the blame for hiring the wrong coaches. Many fans will rightly point to ownership, but they aren’t going anywhere.

Giants fans are a loyal bunch. But we’d prefer to see things moving in the right direction.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • WR Jawill Davis (concussion – probable)
  • OT Chad Wheeler (ankle – probable)
  • LB Alec Ogletree (hamstring – probable)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:

Eli Manning is due for one of those games where his most loyal supporters can claim he still has “it.” But as discussed ad nauseam, those good games have become too infrequent. Most of us know that Manning is done. The question is does John Mara know it, and is he too afraid to pull the plug based on last year’s fan reaction. (Again, I would contend that fans were more upset with how Eli was benched last year rather than the actual benching).

The focal point of the New York Giants offseason must be on (1) finding a viable replacement for Eli, and (2) yet another attempt to put together a competent offensive line. Neither will be easy. Very few teams are fortunate enough to make a transition from a Joe Montana to Steve Young, or Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers. After Phil Simms was cut, the Giants went from Dave Brown to Danny Kanell to Kent Graham to Kerry Collins. The Giants will likely have a very high draft pick in April, but will there be a true franchise quarterback available?

On the offensive line, we have to pray the Will Hernandez is the real deal. Now the Giants also have eight games to get good read on waiver-wire pick-up Jamon Brown. But the “help wanted” sign is clearly out on the offensive line. The Giants need to replace both tackles and the center. That’s a tall task for one offseason.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:

After trading away Damon Harrison and Eli Apple, expectations were high that the team was also likely to deal Janoris Jenkins, Olivier Vernon, and maybe even Landon Collins. They did not. Let’s hope the team does not rue the day that it did not receive at least something in return for players who may or may not be here when the team does become a contender again.

The last eight games must be spent on evaluating who will be the team’s primary pass rushers in 2019. Do the Giants rely on Olivier Vernon again? Does Lorenzo Carter have a future as an NFL starter? Based on who may be available, would the Giants be better off spending their top 2019 NFL draft pick on an elite pass rusher?

The Giants will also need to address the secondary. Screwing up top-10 picks in back-to-back drafts, including the selection of Eli Apple, was a disaster for the team. Jenkins turns 31 next year and the Giants have no one else at cornerback. The team also seems prepared to make Landon Collins – who is limited to the strong safety position – one of the highest paid defensive backs in football. But there is nothing else at safety.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:

The Giants finally appear to have found a returner in Quadree Henderson. He was just re-signed to the 53-man roster after he was surprisingly cut on Tuesday.

THE FINAL WORD:
These previews have ceased to be previews. I apologize for that fact, but I don’t really see the point of getting into X’s and O’s and match-ups. The Giants can’t score. They don’t have a QB and they don’t have an offensive line. Pat Shurmur also appears to be yet another “up and coming” offensive coordinator who can’t handle being a head coach.

So on Monday night, we’ll be treated to the 1-7 Giants battling the 2-7 49ers. And everyone knows the outcome only matters to both teams in terms of draft-pick positioning.

Is there anybody out there?