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

Cody Latimer – © USA TODAY Sports

Dallas Cowboys 36 – New York Giants 35

QUICK RECAP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NYG loses 36-35.

QUARTERBACKS

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

RUNNING BACKS

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

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

WIDE RECEIVERS

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

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

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

TIGHT ENDS

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

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

OFFENSIVE TACKLES

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

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

GUARDS/CENTER

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

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

EDGE

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

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

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

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

DEFENSIVE TACKLES

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

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

LINEBACKERS

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

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

CORNERBACKS

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

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

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

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

SAFETIES

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

SPECIAL TEAMS

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

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

3 STUDS

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

3 DUDS

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

3 THOUGHTS ON DAL

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

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

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

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

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

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

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

Dec 302018
 
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Eli Manning and Pat Shurmur, New York Giants (December 30, 2018)

Giants End Season With Another Loss – © USA TODAY Sports

DALLAS COWBOYS 36 – NEW YORK GIANTS 35…
The New York Giants ended their 2018 season on a losing note, falling to the Dallas Cowboys 36-35 at MetLife Stadium on Sunday afternoon. The Giants were up 35-28 with 2:35 left in the game. But Dallas drove 70 yards in nine plays, scoring on a 32-yard touchdown pass on 4th-and-15 with with just over a minute to play. The successful 2-point conversion gave the Cowboys their game-winning points.

With the loss, the Giants ended the season with a 5-11 overall record (1-5 in the NFC East). The Giants have five losing seasons in the last six years.

The game did not start off well for New York. After a 38-yard kickoff return by wide receiver Corey Coleman, the Giants drove deep into Dallas territory, aided by a 24-yard reception by wide receiver Sterling Shepard and a 26-yard run by running back Saquon Barkley. However, quarterback Eli Manning was picked off in the end zone on 3rd-and-4 from the Dallas 6-yard line.

Dallas gained two first downs on their initial drive and then punted. The Giants picked up three first downs, but on 2-and-10 from the Dallas 43-yard line, Manning was sacked and he fumbled the ball away. The Cowboys drove inside the red zone on the ensuing possession but missed the 34-yard field goal.

After a three-and-out by the Giants, Dallas drove the ball 65 yards in 13 plays, the possession ending with a 13-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Dak Prescott to tight end Blake Jarwin. After another three-and-out by the Giants, the Cowboys went up 14-0 after a 9-play, 75-yard drive ended with a 19-yard touchdown pass from Prescott to Jarwin.

With under two minutes to play before halftime, the Giants finally got on the board with a 10-play, 73-yard possession that ended with a spectacular, one-handed, 21-yard touchdown reception by wide receiver Cody Latimer on 3rd-and-10.

At the half, the Cowboys led 14-7.

The 3rd quarter began with a three-and-out by the Cowboys. Coleman returned the ensuing punt 19 yards. The Giants’ offense was only able to gain 15 yards, but it was enough to set up a successful 48-yard field goal by place kicker Aldrick Rosas. Cowboys 14 – Giants 10.

Dallas appeared to take command of the game again on their second possession of the half, driving 76 yards in eight plays, and capping off the drive with a 39-yard touchdown pass from Prescott to Jarwin. The Cowboys now led 21-10.

The Giants were ignited by a 68-yard run by Barkley on 2nd-and-20. Three plays later, Manning found tight end Evan Engram for a 6-yard touchdown reception and then the 2-point conversion. Cowboys 21 – Giants 18.

The Cowboys gained one first down and punted the ball away early in the 4th quarter. Aided by a 51-yard reception by Evan Engram, the Giants took their first lead of the game when running back Wayne Gallman scored from two yards out. Giants 25 – Cowboys 21.

However, a New York defense that has struggled to hold leads all year collapsed in the 4th quarter. On Dallas’ ensuing possession, the Cowboys easily drove 75 yards in five plays to regain the lead 28-25 with just over nine minutes to play. The Giants’ offense impressively responded with a 12-play, 74-yard effort. Latimer came down with a one-handed, 31-yard reception and three plays later Barkley skyed over the Dallas defense from two yards out. Giants 32 – Cowboys 28 with 3:21 left in the game.

New York appeared to pull off the upset on the very next offensive snap. After a short reception, defensive end Kerry Wynn forced a fumble that was recovered by linebacker B.J. Goodson and advanced to the Dallas 18-yard line. The Giants lost two yards on the subsequent possession but kicked a 38-yard field goal to take a 35-28 lead with 2:35 left in the game.

Again, the Giants’ defense could not hold. The Cowboys drove 70 yards 83 seconds, unbelievably scoring on a broken play from 32 yards out on 4th-and-15. The subsequent 2-point conversion gave Dallas their game-winning points.

The Giants did have one final legitimate chance to win the game. Latimer returned the ensuing kickoff 34 yards to the New York 48-yard line. The Giants had the ball near midfield with 65 left in the game and two timeouts. But the contest ended with four straight incompletions by Manning.

Manning finished the game 24-of-41 for 301 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. His leading receiver was Engram, who caught five passes for 81 yards. Latimer, Shepard, and Barkley each had four receptions. Barkley also gained 109 yards rushing and a touchdown on 17 carries.

Defensively, the Giants gave up 419 total net yards, including 368 net yards passing. The Giants accrued four sacks (2.5 by linebacker Olivier Vernon) and forced one fumble.

Video highlights are available at NFL.com.

INACTIVE LIST AND INJURY REPORT…
Inactive for the New York Giants were wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. (quad), wide receiver Russell Shepard (ankle), tight end Rhett Ellison (concussion), defensive end Mario Edwards (calf), linebacker Alec Ogletree (concussion), tight end Garrett Dickerson, and safety Kamrin Moore.

Cornerback Grant Haley (concussion) and wide receiver Corey Coleman (foot) left the game with injuries.

ROSTER MOVES…
The New York Giants placed wide receiver Jawill Davis on Injured Reserve on Saturday after he injured his knee dancing in the locker room on Saturday (no joke). To fill his roster spot, the Giants signed wide receiver Alonzo Russell to the 53-man roster from the team’s Practice Squad.

The Giants signed Russell after he impressed as a tryout player during the May 2018 rookie mini-camp and then signed him to the Practice Squad in September. The 6’3”, 206-pound Russell was originally signed by the Cincinnati Bengals as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2016 NFL Draft. He spent his rookie season on the Bengals’ Practice Squad. The Bengals waived him in September 2017 and he was signed to the Practice Squad of the Arizona Cardinals in November 2017.

POST-GAME REACTION…
Transcripts and video clips of post-game media sessions with Head Coach Pat Shurmur and the following players are available in The Corner Forum and at Giants.com:

WHAT’S UP NEXT…
Head Coach Pat Shurmur and select players will address the media on Monday. General Manager Dave Gettleman will address the media on Wednesday.

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

© USA TODAY Sports

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

THE STORYLINE:

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

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

Some saw it coming, others were more optimistic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE INJURY REPORT:

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

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

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

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

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

Saquon Barkley – © USA TODAY Sports

Indianapolis Colts 28 – New York Giants 27

QUICK RECAP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NYG loses 28-27.

QUARTERBACKS

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

RUNNING BACKS

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

WIDE RECEIVERS

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

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

TIGHT ENDS

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

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

OFFENSIVE TACKLES

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

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

GUARDS/CENTERS

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

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

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

EDGE

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

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

DEFENSIVE TACKLES

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

LINEBACKERS

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

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

CORNERBACKS

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

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

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

SAFETIES

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

SPECIAL TEAMS

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

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

3 STUDS

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

3 DUDS

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

3 THOUGHTS ON IND

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

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

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

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

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

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

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

Dec 232018
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (December 23, 2018)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS 28 – NEW YORK GIANTS 27…
The Indianapolis Colts came from behind to defeat the New York Giants 28-27 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana on Sunday. With the loss, the Giants fell to 5-10 on the season.

Indianapolis received the football to start the game but their first three drives ended with two three-and-outs and an interception by free safety Curtis Riley.

Meanwhile, the Giants jumped on top quickly with their first two drives ending in touchdowns. First, New York went 75 yards in 11 plays, the possession culminating with a 1-yard touchdown run by running back Saquon Barkley. Then the Giants drove 87 yards in nine plays, the big play being a 55-yard strike from quarterback Eli Manning to wide receiver Sterling Shepard. Manning finished this possession with a 3-yard touchdown throw to tight end Scott Simonson.

After New York went three-and-out on their third drive, the Colts responded with a 12-play, 78-yard possession that ended with a 1-yard touchdown run by running back Nyheim Hines with just over four minutes before halftime. The Giants then extended their lead by moving the ball 53 yards in nine plays, setting up a 40-yard field goal by place kicker Aldrick Rosas. The Colts could not get into scoring position on their last possession of the first half.

At the half, the Giants led 17-7.

After picking up one first down on their initial possession of the 3rd quarter, the Giants punted the ball away. The Colts proceeded to cut the score to 17-14 with a 7-play, 85-yard possession that ended with a 2-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Andrew Luck to wide receiver Dontrelle Inman. Luck also completed a 55-yard pass to wide receiver T.Y. Hilton on this drive.

The Giants impressively responded with their own touchdown, moving the ball 85 yards in eight plays, including a 32-yard pass to tight end Evan Engram. Manning finished the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run and the Giants led 24-14.

However, the Giants defense could not hold and the Colts scored their second touchdown on their second possession of the half after a 7-play, 74-yard affair that ended with a 3-yard touchdown run by running back Marlon Mack. At the end of the 3rd quarter, the Giants led 24-21.

The Giants reached the red zone on their ensuing possession but were forced to settle for a 27-yard field goal by Rosas. Both teams then exchanged punts, the Giants being forced to punt out of their own end zone.

Trailing by six points, the Colts’ subsequent possession began at their own 47-yard line with 3:43 left in the game. A 2-yard pass interference penalty on 3rd-and-3 by linebacker Tae Davis gave the Colts their first first down. Luck then scrambled for 14 yards and threw four consecutive passes for a total of 22 yards down to the Giants’ 8-yard line. Cornerback B.W. Webb was then flagged with a 7-yard pass interference penalty. With 59 seconds left in the game, Luck found wide receiver Chester Rogers for the 1-yard, game-winning score.

The Giants began their final desperate drive at their own 25-yard line with 55 seconds left and just one timeout. After completing two short passes for 11 yards, Manning’s deep throw to wide receiver Bennie Fowler was intercepted at the Colts’ 35-yard line with less than 30 seconds to play.

Offensively, Manning finished 25-of-33 for 309 yards, one touchdown, and one interception for a QB rating of 101.7. His leading receivers were Sterling Shepard (6 catches for 113 yards), Engram (6 catches for 87 yards), and Barkley (5 catches for 34 yards). However, Barkley was held to 43 yards rushing and one touchdown on 21 carries.

Defensively, the Giants allowed just 49 yards rushing, but 353 net passing yards. And after holding the Colts to just one score in the first half, the defense allowed three touchdowns in four drives in the second half. Indianapolis was 4-for-4 in red zone opportunities. The Giants forced only one turnover (interception by Riley) and only picked up one sack (by linebacker Tae Davis).

Video highlights are available at Giants.com.

INACTIVE LIST AND INJURY REPORT…
Inactive for the New York Giants were wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. (quad), wide receiver Russell Shepard (ankle), center Spencer Pulley (calf), defensive end Kerry Wynn (finger), linebacker Alec Ogletree (concussion), quarterback Kyle Lauletta, and safety Kamrin Moore.

Tight end Rhett Ellison (concussion) and defensive end Mario Edwards (calf) left the game with injuries and did not return.

POST-GAME REACTION…
Video clips of post-game media sessions with Head Coach Pat Shurmur and the following players are available at Giants.com:

  • Head Coach Pat Shurmur (Video)
  • QB Eli Manning (Video)

WHAT’S UP NEXT…
Head Coach Pat Shurmur and select players will address the media on Monday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE INJURY REPORT:

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

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:

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

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

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

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

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:

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

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

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

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee Titans 17 – New York Giants 0

QUICK RECAP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NYG loses 17-0.

QUARTERBACKS

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

RUNNING BACKS

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

WIDE RECEIVERS

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

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

TIGHT ENDS

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

OFFENSIVE TACKLES

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

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

GUARDS/CENTERS

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

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

EDGE

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

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

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

DEFENSIVE TACKLES

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

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

LINEBACKERS

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

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

CORNERBACKS

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

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

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

SAFETIES

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

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

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

SPECIAL TEAMS

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

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

3 STUDS

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

3 DUDS

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

3 THOUGHTS ON TEN

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

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

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

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

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

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

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

Dec 162018
 
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Evan Engram, Saquon Barkley, Eli Manning; New York Giants (December 16, 2018)

A Disappointing Day for the Offense – © USA TODAY Sports

TENNESSEE TITANS 17 – NEW YORK GIANTS 0…
The New York Giants saw their slim playoff hopes evaporate on Sunday as the team was shut out 17-0 by the Tennessee Titans at a rainy MetLife Stadium. The Giants are now officially out of the playoff hunt. With the loss, the Giants fell to 5-9, guaranteeing their fifth losing season in the past six years.

While Tennessee only passed the ball for 86 net yards, the Titans out-gained the Giants in first downs (22 to 15), total net yards (301 to 260), net yards rushing (215 to 47), and time of possession (35:21 to 24:39).

The Giants’ five first-half possessions ended with four punts and a sack as time expired. Yet only trailing 7-0 at halftime, quarterback Eli Manning had two killer turnovers to start the second half, including a bad interception and fumble. The Giants survived the first, but not the second as Tennessee’s second touchdown near the end of the third quarter all but officially sealed the game. The Titans added another field goal in the fourth quarter as the Giants punted two more times. Until New York’s last drive, the closest the Giants got to the end zone was the Tennessee 29-yard line. The Giants reached the 4-yard line on their final possession but turned the ball over on downs.

Manning finished the game 21-of-44 for 229 yards, no touchdowns, and one interception. He was also sacked three times. His leading receiver was tight end Evan Engram (8 catches for 75 yards). Running back Saquon Barkley was held to 31 yards on 14 carries.

The defense kept the Giants in the game until late in the third quarter, but they did not create a turnover and only had one sack (by safety Michael Thomas).

Video lowlights are available at Giants.com.

INACTIVE LIST AND INJURY REPORT…
Inactive for the New York Giants were wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. (quad), quarterback Kyle Lauletta, tight end Garrett Dickerson, center Evan Brown, nose tackle John Jenkins, cornerback Tony Lippett, and safety Kamrin Moore.

Center Spencer Pulley (calf) and cornerback Antonio Hamilton (quad) both left the game with injuries and did not return. Defensive end Kerry Wynn (unknown) had post-game x-rays taken.

POST-GAME REACTION…
Transcripts and video clips of post-game media sessions with Head Coach Pat Shurmur and the following players are available in The Corner Forum and at Giants.com:

WHAT’S UP NEXT…
Head Coach Pat Shurmur and select players will address the media on Monday.

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

Pat Shurmur – © USA TODAY Sports

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

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

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

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

THE INJURY REPORT:

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

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:

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

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

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

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

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

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:

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

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

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

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

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:

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

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

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.