Aug 122018
 
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Jalen Simmons, New York Giants (August 9, 2018)

Jalen Simmons – © USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland Browns 20 – New York Giants 10

QUICK RECAP

Live football returned for the first time after one of the worst seasons in franchise history. Week 1 of the preseason is always more about seeing the new guys in the game-uniform and watching real, live football for the first time since winter. The first string (minus Odell Beckham) played for less than a quarter for NYG, while CLE left them in a bit longer.

Thanks to a 39 yard run on rookie Saquon Barkley’s first touch, NYG was able to put 3 quick points up on the board. That lead proved to be the last one for the home team, as Tyrod Taylor, who is competing for the starting gig, made a perfect throw to New Jersey native David Njoku for a 36 yard touchdown. At that point, the night very much became about the backups vying for roster spots and/or rotational roles on the final 53-man roster.

Davis Webb entered the game and struggled. It was the opposite for CLE’s #1 overall pick Baker Mayfield, who owned the night and possibly Week 1 of the NFL’s preseason schedule. Webb looked erratic while Mayfield carved up the Giants defense all over the field. One was a 3rd round pick and the other was a top overall player, but the two didn’t even appear to be in the same league.

Mayfield and the Browns quickly lengthened to lead to 13-3 and the second half then began with a couple of 3 and outs. A potentially game-changing play happened on special teams soon after, as CLE’s C.J. Board fumbled a punt return that was recovered by NYG’s Zak DeOssie on the CLE 14 yard line. A few plays later Jalen Simmons scampered into the end zone on a 5 yard run, bringing the score back to 13-10. Mayfield returned the favor a couple drives later and hooked up with fellow rookie Antonio Callaway on a 54 yard touchdown that was majority run-after-catch. The middle of the pass defense was torched all night and the big plays just never happened on offense following Barkley’s run on the first drive.

The story of the night was Mayfield’s excellent debut and NYG’s struggling backup offense. While it is too early to throw our hands up in the air, there wasn’t a lot of optimism after this one other than the team remaining healthy.

OFFENSE

QUARTERBACKS

Eli Manning: 4/7 – 26 yards – 0 TD/0 INT. Manning played two drives that lasted a combined 16 plays, hardly enough time to get a full evaluation. There isn’t much to report of his night, although his footwork looked crisp and he was decisive with the ball. He went 1 for 1 on 3rd down but was sacked on his second attempt. There was one miscommunication with TE Rhett Ellison up the seam that almost led to an interception and judging by the look of the All-22 tape, it was Ellison that made the wrong read.

Davis Webb: 9/22 – 70 yards – 0 TD/0 INT. Webb has the inside track and winning the backup job by default, but he didn’t strengthen that plan with his play. Webb struggled mightily with simple, basic-level passing. He had a hard time hitting guys in the numbers, as he looked overly flustered and nervous. While I won’t bash him for his play in week 1 of preseason football, he does need to show that he can bounce back next week in Detroit and fix his shortcomings.

Kyle Lauletta: 6/9 – 48 yards – 0 TD/0 INT. If this were an open ended competition, Lauletta walks away from this game with the lead. His footwork and crisp release especially stood out. The knock on Lauletta is a “below average” arm when it comes to power and strength, but he can more than make up for it with how fast he gets rid of the ball. He looked very confident and sure of himself for a 4th round rookie in his first live NFL action.

RUNNING BACKS

-Saquon Barkley: 4 att/43 yards. The anticipation of the 2018 #2 overall pick and what many consider to be one of the top running back prospects ever matched the inaugural play of Barkley’s pro career. An overly impressive 39-yard run that displayed his vision, agility, reaction, and open field burst was a sign of things to come. His night didn’t last long and there were a couple negative runs after, but Barkley’s initial showing with NYG in a game situation was a positive one.

-Jonathan Stewart: 3 att/3 yards – 1 rec/8 yards. Stewart didn’t see a lot of action himself, but he struggled to reach the outside. He looks heavy footed and considering this is his 11th year with 1,700 carries on his resume, one can surely believe he will be a number three back by season’s end. He was also part of a messy miscommunication with the middle of the offensive line on a CLE blitz that led to a sack.

-Wayne Gallman: 3 att/5 yards – 4 rec /33 yards. Gallman looks explosive and sure of himself. He is going to be a great compliment to Barkley and an asset to the passing game both as a pass catcher and blocker, as he picked up a couple blitzes successfully.

The Rest: A couple of impressive runs by both back end backs Jalen Simmons and Robert Martin. They combined for 12 carries / 77 yards against the roster hopefuls of CLE. Simmons was especially assertive and did a nice job of running through contact with good pad level and active feet. Fullback Shane Smith was on the field for 9 plays (12% of the team’s offensive snaps). He does look more confident and sure of his reads than he did at this time last year, but there wasn’t a major difference felt with his presence in the run game.

WIDE RECEIVERS

Sterling Shepard: 2 rec / 9 yards. After being slowed by a training camp ankle injury last year, it was refreshing to see him out there early on. His quickness out of the slot is going to be a factor this year, now if he could only make more happen after the catch and the Giants offense may have a big time weapon.

-Hunter Sharp: 2 rec / 16 yards. Sharp got the early look with the first team offense with Beckham on the sideline. He dropped two passes and showed poor ball skills on one of his receptions, a quick way to get thrown to the back end of the depth chart. He did have a nice kick return, displaying good long stride speed in space.

The Rest: Roger Lewis and Marquis Bundy both came down with big plays late in the game. Lewis’ seems to have been somewhat demoted. I think it mostly has to do with his lack of progression as a route runner and inconsistent ball skills. Kalif Raymond ran a great route but failed to track a nicely thrown ball by Davis Webb which would have resulted in a touchdown. Another long shot to make the roster, Raymond also made a business decision to not extend for a ball over the middle with a safety bearing down on him. Keep an eye out for veteran Russell Shepard, he made a couple of nice grabs and I think the reliability of what he brings to the table is something this coaching staff will be looking in to over the next few weeks. Corey Latimer started on the outside, but didn’t see anything thrown his way.

TIGHT ENDS

-Rhett Ellison and Evan Engram saw the snaps with the first team, but neither had any impact. Ellison seemed to run a wrong route up the seam on an option, nearly resulting in a red zone interception.

-Jerrell Adams: 2 rec / 6 yards. Adams was targeted 5 times and was often the victim of high throws from Webb. While he can’t be blamed for the incompletions, there is a lack of quick twitched-adjustment that I see with him. He is a big, physical player that just struggled to get his head around. Adams is trending towards being a player that has tools, but just isn’t developing the way he needs to. If I were grading his blocking plays, it wouldn’t have been positive.

OFFENSIVE LINE

TACKLES

-Solid debut for Nate Solder in a Giants uniform, albeit it was only 16 plays. After watching Ereck Flowers play with such poor technique and balance for three years, it was refreshing to see a real pro-caliber left tackle in motion. Flowers made his debut at right tackle and had a key block on Barkley’s big run, but continues to struggle with hand placement and proper pad level. Chad Wheeler played both tackle spots and has more power behind his initial hits, but there was too much bending at the waist. He allowed 2 pressures against backups. Nick Becton also played both backup spots and he doesn’t look pretty, but he gets the job done in pass protection. As a run blocker, he struggled to make adjustments. Chris Scott had the most impressive night of all the backups. He showed inside-out versatility and had a key block on the Giants lone touchdown. Looking forward to putting the eyeball on him these next few weeks.

GUARDS/CENTERS

-There was a lot of anticipation building for the debut of rookie Will Hernandez. While 16 plays isn’t nearly enough for a full evaluation, I thought he struggled. He hands were way too wide, as he didn’t adjust to defenders moving laterally very well. The ability is there, its not like he is a poor athlete or anything, I just didn’t see the fluidity. Patrick Omameh got the nod as the starter at right guard. He had a couple of nice, powerful blocks. He can really move guys inside. However, there seemed to be multiple miscommunications inside. He was left searching for defenders to block a couple of times. Jon Halapio needs to improve at both holding his ground and getting everyone on the same page when it comes to assignments. Brett Jones outplayed him in this game, although he was matched up against lower level defenders. John Greco and John Jerry both played half of the team’s snaps and if I had to choose one based on this game’s performance, it would be Greco. Just more pop and adjustment speed.

DEFENSE

DEFENSIVE LINE

Olivier Vernon was in for just 12 plays and didn’t make a difference anywhere. Hopefully history won’t repeat itself, a guy that dominates training camp but doesn’t translate to gameday. The three-headed monster between the tackles, Damon Harrison, Dalvn Tomlinson, and B.J. Hill started off the game. They didn’t play much but they were very stout. That is going to be a very difficult group to move for offensive lines in the running game.

A.J. Francis and Robert Thomas were the standout performers of the night in backup roles. I had a thing for Thomas a year ago, but I think this scheme fits him even better. He is an excellent combination of stout and aggressive. Josh Mauro made his debut with the club. Even though he will be suspended at the start of the regular season, he will be a more-than-solid part of this line. Romeo Okwara continues to flash with his combination of tools, as he recorded a TFL and pursued all over the field hard. This appears to be the strength of the defense.

LINEBACKERS

Alec Ogletree made his debut in a Giants uniform and was beaten badly by CLE tight end David Njoku for a 36 yard touchdown. He took a poor angle considering there was no help over the top. B.J. Goodson was a solid interior run defense presence. If he can stay healthy, this scheme with all of the protection in front of him will be a big deal for him.

Kareem Martin had a pressure, but was otherwise quiet. Connor Barwin looks like shell of his former Eagle self. He doesn’t have nearly the same level of explosion off the ball. Lorenzo Carter had a pressure and QB hit in his pro debut. He can really eat up space in a blink; now it is all about developing the skill set.

Calvin Munson and Ray Ray Armstrong looked very solid in backup roles. Munson plays the instinctive, leader-of-the-defense role. He is a right-place, right-time guy. Armstrong’s speed stood out. In this defense that values attacking on all angles, Armstrong could be a guy who makes a difference. A linebacker with his ability to move with all of those big bodies up front swallowing up blockers is a nice combination to have.

-The darkhorse I think who has a good chance of making this team is speedster Tae Davis. Undersized, yes. But this kid can fly around like a defensive back and he handled blockers very well. He can reach windows that most cannot, and he more than held his own in the power game.

CORNERBACKS

Janoris Jenkins and Eli Apple started. Jenkins lost a 50/50 ball to the newly acquired Jarvis Landry and Apple was beaten badly on a back shoulder throw where his lack of footwork and ball awareness showed up again. Nothing to be overly alarmed about at this point, but these were the takeaways in their limited action.

-The race for the backup spots is on. Leonard Johnson was targeted the most of all the NYG defensive backs. He whiffed on a pass to Antonio Callaway the resulted in a long touchdown, but he had a positive night. He broke up 2 passes and showed tight coverage underneath. For the roles a nickel needs to play, he seems to be the best fit so far. Chris Lewis-Harris has the foot speed and fluid hips, but the ball location wasn’t there on two occasions, one of which resulted in a CLE touchdown. B.W. Webb is a competitor, if nothing else. He plays a fast-reaction type game and he can move with speed. His issues continue to be a lack of size and accurate forecasting. Rookie Grant Haley had a nice tackle for loss.

SAFETIES

-If it weren’t for Landon Collins, this group of NYG safeties could be labeled as one of the worst in the NFL. Even with him, they are bottom tier. The middle of the field was abused all night and there simply isn’t a cause for hope. Darian Thompson looks to be the same guy, an average cover safety that won’t strike any fear in to receivers over the middle. He strained a hamstring.

Andrew Adams led the team with 7 tackles, as he played more snaps than anyone in the group. Michael Thomas was quiet in his debut with the team. Of the roster hopefuls, Orion Stewart made a couple standout plays, disrupting a running play behind the line of scrimmage with aggressive downhill pursuit and had an impressive pass break up. However he badly missed a tackle in the open field that led to a long touchdown. Rookie Sean Chandler struggled in mid-field coverage.

SPECIAL TEAMS

KICKER

Aldrick Rosas: 1/1 – (Made 42). XP – 1/1. Rosas has the inside track at earning the job for the second straight year, but his leash may not be long. It will be essential for him to make these preseason kicks.

PUNTER

Riley Dixon: 10 Punts – 44.2 avg – 39.7 net – 3 inside 20. Solid night for Dixon. He tried to pin CLE inside the 20 four times, three of which worked out.

3 STUDS

-DT Robert Thomas, RB Wayne Gallman, OT Chris Scott

3 DUDS

-QB Davis Webb, OG Will Hernandez, S Sean Chandler

3 TAKEAWAYS FOR CLE

-Baker Mayfield excelled in his first NFL action. I was very impressed with his footwork in and out of the pocket and even more so with his consistency with keeping his eyes downfield when evading pressure. That isn’t common in rookie quarterbacks. The accuracy I lauded during the scouting process was on full display. He is going to be a good one.

-With that said, Tyrod Taylor is not going to hand him the job. He is one of the most underrated QBs in the NFL right now and he appears to be well respected by the coaching staff. Much of the attention went to Mayfield’s impressive debut, but don’t overlook that Taylor was a perfect 5/5 for 99 yards and a touchdown.

-This will be the first season since 2007 that Joe Thomas isn’t lining up at left tackle for CLE. Joel Bitonio, a college OT who has played OG for CLE since 2014, now starts at that spot. If Thursday night was any indicator, the move may not be much of a decline in relation to the past couple of years. His footwork and hand power were top tier.

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

-In any direction, it is foolish to have strong reactions to a preseason game unless it has to do with injuries. The Giants appear to have avoided anything catastrophic in that department in week 1. More than anything, that is most important; be healthy heading in to their matchup against JAC.

-That said, Davis Webb is going to need to show improvement throughout the preseason if he wants a strong hold of this backup job all year and the spot first in line once Eli Manning hangs them up. His performance Thursday night is less important than his ability to improve and come back stronger from a poor game.

-The biggest concern I have with this defense, and it is a major one, is the middle of the field against the pass. The pass rush an be created via scheme, but if the safeties and linebackers can’t make plays and/or follow assignments, it is going to be ugly.

Aug 102018
 
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Saquon Barkley, New York Giants (August 9, 2018)

Saquon Barkley – © USA TODAY Sports

CLEVELAND BROWNS 20 – NEW YORK GIANTS 10…
Although the starters did not play long, the New York Giants were clearly out-played in a preseason match-up between the NFL’s two worst teams last season. The Giants fell to the Browns 20-10 on Thursday night at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

The highlight of the night for the Giants came on their very first offensive snap when rookie running back Saquon Barkley broke off a 39-yard run, demonstrating vision, shiftiness, power, and speed. (Barkley’s other four carries picked up a total of four yards before he was pulled for the evening). Despite the big initial gain, the Giants’ first drive stalled at the Cleveland 23-yard line as New York settled for a 42-yard field goal by place kicker Aldrick Rosas.

The Browns responded with a big play of their own, a 32-yard strike from quarterback Tyrod Taylor to wide receiver Jarvis Landry over cornerback Janoris Jenkins. But Landry was flagged for taunting on the play. The defense then held and Cleveland punted.

The Giants’ first-team offense only played one more series (and two overall). The drive ended when with a 10-yard sack on quarterback Eli Manning by a free blitzing linebacker coming up the middle. Manning finished the night 4-of-7 for 26 yards.

Taylor carved up New York’s first-team defense on his second series, completing a 21-yard pass against cornerback Eli Apple and then burning inside linebacker Alec Ogletree on a 36-yard touchdown pass to tight end David Njoku. Browns 7 – Giants 3.

Quarterback Davis Webb entered the game with the second-team offense on the third series and played into the 3rd quarter. The jittery Webb was awful, completing just 9-of-22 passes (41 percent) for 70 yards. The Giants’ offense ground to a halt. In six straight possessions with Webb at the helm, the Giants punted five times and watched the clock expire before halftime at the Cleveland 21-yard line.

Meanwhile, the #1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, quarterback Baker Mayfield entered the game and put on a show, completing 11-of-20 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns, including a second touchdown catch by Njoku (from 10 yards out, 2-point conversion attempt failed). Mayfield also completed a 54-yard catch-and-run score to wide receiver Antonio Callaway, who got away from cornerback Leonard Johnson and safety Orion Stewart, early in the 4th quarter.

The Giants’ only other score in the game came early in the 3rd quarter after defensive end Kerry Wynn forced a fumble on a punt return that was recovered by long snapper Zak DeOssie at the Cleveland 14-yard line. Three plays later, running back Jalen Simmons scored from five yards out. This was Webb’s last possession and his sole contribution here was a 6-yard scramble.

By the 4th quarter, both teams were playing their third and fourth teamers, with both Kyle Lauletta (6-of-9 for48 yards) and Alex Tanney (3-of-7 for 49 yards) seeing time at quarterback for the Giants. Neither team scored after Mayfield’s last pass early in the 4th quarter that went for the 54-yard touchdown.

Overall, the Browns out-gained the Giants in total net yards (372 to 310) and net yards passing (322 to 176) while the Giants were superior in first downs (19 to 15) and net rushing yards (134 to 50). The Giants did not turn the football over. Defensively, nose tackle Robert Thomas accrued New York’s lone sack on the night.

Video highlights are available at Giants.com.

INACTIVE LIST AND INJURY REPORT…
Not playing for the Giants due to injury were wide receiver Travis Rudolph (unknown), tight end Ryan O’Malley (foot/ankle), defensive end R.J. McIntosh (unknown – Active/Non-Football Illness list), linebacker Thurston Armbrister (hamstring), cornerback Donte Deayon (hamstring), safety/cornerback William Gay (hamstring), and cornerback/safety Curtis Riley (hamstring).

Wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. and safety Mike Basile were healthy scratches.

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

GIANTS SIGN SAFETY MIKE BASILE….
The New York Giants have signed undrafted rookie free agent Mike Basile (Monmouth University). The 6’1”, 185-pound Basile lacks ideal speed, but he is a hard-working, tough, smart, and instinctive football player with good foot quickness.

ARTICLES…

WHAT’S UP NEXT…
Head Coach Pat Shurmur will address the media by conference call on Friday. The players are off on Saturday, the same day the team’s summer training camp officially ends. The players will practice on Sunday and Monday (no public access) before traveling to Michigan to practice against the Detroit Lions on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday (open to public).

Aug 082018
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (August 1, 2018)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports

Preseason Game Preview: Cleveland Browns at New York Giants, August 9, 2018

THE STORYLINE:

Hope springs eternal with the advent of each and every NFL season. But make no mistake about it, the NFL and the New York Football Giants appear to be at a crossroads. Both have been terribly mismanaged in recent years and the product has suffered. One thing that would help the NFL as a whole right now is to have a star-studded (Odell Beckham, Saquon Barkley) Giants team regain its footing in the nation’s #1 media market.

The 2017 New York Giants were an abysmal football team. Before we close the book on last year, let us remember that the Giants were so bad that conservative ownership fired both the general manager and head coach before the season was over. The offense, defense, and special teams were train wrecks and by year’s end, the team was arguably the worst in the league. The Giants were not just losing, they were getting embarrassed. It was so bad that diehard Giants fans did something they rarely do: they stopped watching.

Thus the immediate goal is not the playoffs, but to simply field a competitive football team. Baby steps. Don’t be soft; be physical. Focus on fundamentals. Move the football and pick up first downs. Put points on the board. Stop the opponent from moving the ball. Create turnovers. Field a special teams unit that is an asset rather than a liability. Don’t get blown out. Baby steps.

Most importantly, the team’s new leadership has to create a culture/atmosphere of a winner rather than a loser. Old Giants fans who grew up in the 1970s have intimate knowledge about how losing breeds losing. When you expect to lose, you usually do. When you expect to win, you usually do. Team culture is a fragile thing. And the Giants were blessed with coaches like Bill Parcells and Tom Coughlin who knew how to create a winning culture.

Many fans have already made the assumption that the team is in better hands with Dave Gettleman and Pat Shurmur. We won’t know if this is true until we see the product on the field over the course of the next few seasons. Both are hindered by and must deal with the mess Jerry Reese, Marc Ross, and Ben McAdoo left. The team’s draft record over the course of the past decade (exacerbated by bad injury luck) has directly led to a shitty product. Look no further than the offensive line as just one example. So as much as we watch and judge the players during this 2018 preseason, we must also consider the big picture. Did ownership make the right choices at the all-important GM and HC positions?

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • TE Ryan O’Malley (protective boot on right foot/ankle)
  • DE R.J. McIntosh (unknown – Active/Non-Football Illness list)
  • LB Thurston Armbrister (hamstring)
  • CB Donte Deayon (hamstring)

Also, cornerback/safety William Gay (hamstring) and cornerback/safety Curtis Riley (hamstring) who have returned to practice recently could be held out.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:

The New York Giants were 31st in scoring in 2017. The team averaged 15.4 points per game. This is the size of the hole the Giants must climb out of.

For the third time in his 15-year NFL career, the 37-year old Eli Manning must learn a new system. The first time was in 2004 as a rookie. The second time came in 2014 when Ben McAdoo was hired as offensive coordinator. Now Pat Shurmur brings his own offense. As much attention as Odell Beckham, Saquon Barkley, Evan Engram, etc. receive, the offense will ultimately thrive or fail on the ability of Eli Manning to adapt to the new system and hold off Father Time. Fans being honest with themselves see it… regardless of the reasons, Eli has lost his mojo in recent years. He’s looked jumpy in the pocket and has missed too many throws. For many quarterbacks, once they become gun-shy, it’s over. If Eli doesn’t get his mojo back this season, we may be seeing Davis Webb or Kyle Lauletta or someone else leading the team in 2019. That’s why the performance of all three quarterbacks this preseason will be so important to watch. There is a lot more at stake than is normally the case.

The other main area of concern is obviously the offensive line. This unit began to deteriorate even during the team’s last championship season in 2011. Over the course of the next six years, the Giants used both the draft and free agency to attempt to fix the line, but failed miserably. So here we are in 2018 with new starters at each of the five positions: Nate Solder at left tackle, Will Hernandez at left guard, Jon Halapio at center, Patrick Omameh at right guard, and Ereck Flowers now shifting to right tackle from the left side. I think most of us still see this as a two-year rebuilding project. Hopefully, the left side is set, but there are still serious question marks at center and right tackle. Not to mention that it will take time to build chemistry and cohesion. Depth will be an area of focus too. In most recent preseasons, the #2 offensive line for the Giants has been a sieve. Are there any quality back-ups at all in this group? In particular, the Giants need to identify a swing tackle who can play if Solder or Flowers get hurt.

OK, enough gloom. It is quite possible that no team in the NFL fields a more dangerous trio at WR-TE-RB than the New York Giants with Odell Beckham, Jr., Evan Engram, and Saquon Barkley. Throw in Sterling Shepard and this group is going to be a match-up nightmare for other teams. We probably won’t see these four play much on Thursday, and their absence from the line-up dramatically changes the nature of the offense. The Giants are a very top-heavy team, meaning they have a good amount of Pro Bowl-quality players but that quality level drops off rapidly. There is no better example of this than the wide receiver position. After Beckham and Shepard, the next three receivers on the depth chart are Denver Bronco castoffs, including two guys who were street pick-ups who played for the Giants last year. It will be interesting to see if the coaches and Eli can turn around the careers of Cody Latimer, Hunter Sharp, and Kalif Raymond. Are any of these three viable NFL receivers? What happens if Beckham or Shepard get hurt?

Finally, on a personal note, I can’t wait to see Saquon Barkley. Some fans will boo when he doesn’t turn every touch into a 40-gain, but this guy has the tools to become the best running back in franchise history. People will be tuning into the Giants just to see him play.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:

The Giants were 31st in yards allowed in 2017 and 27th in points allowed. Again, this is the size of the hole they must climb out of.

The still under-reported change this offseason is the Giants are shifting back to the 3-4 defense for the first time in 25 years. While it may not be the old 2-gap defense of the 1980s and there will be plenty of hybrid looks, this is a very big deal. It means the linebackers will become the focus of the defense in terms of play-makers. So while the Giants have 1,000 pounds of beef up front with the on-paper imposing wall of Dalvin Tomlinson, Damon Harrison, and B.J. Hill, pressure will be on the likes of Olivier Vernon, Kareem Martin, B.J. Goodson, Alec Ogletree, Connor Barwin, and Lorenzo Carter to make game-changing plays.

What we do know is that this will be a blitz-heavy defense, perhaps the most blitz-oriented defense in recent memory, and perhaps team history. James Bettcher will bring it from all angles. Based on his comments earlier this week, we may even see that in the preseason as he claims they must practice what they intend to employ during the regular season.

Fans love it when they hear a defense blitzes and attacks. The mindset is one where the defense dictates rather than reacts. But with aggressiveness does come risk. A secondary that has arguably gotten weaker on paper will be under tremendous pressure. One mistake could result in a 70-yard score. Because of that, much attention will be on the starting unit and reserves in the secondary. We know Janoris Jenkins and Landon Collins are quality football players. But Eli Apple is coming off a dreadful season and the Giants desperately need him to be at least a so-so NFL corner. And Bettcher freely admits four players are competing for the free safety spot with no one yet pulling ahead in the competition. The nickel corner spot is a de facto starting spot in today’s NFL and who that guy will be also remains unknown at this point. We may see a variety of players being in a variety of roles on a game-to-game basis this year. The good news? At least on the surface, Bettcher doesn’t seemed worried at all. In fact, he appears to be relishing the challenge.

Again, on a personal note, my focus is going to be on Tomlinson, Harrison, and Hill up front. I think this group has a chance to be REALLY good and help set up the linebackers.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:

In 2017, the Giants were dead last or near dead last in field goal percentage, extra point percentage, net punting, kickoff returns, punt returns, and punt coverage. Besides that, every thing was hunky dory. Again, the size of the hole…

I am very uneasy about this spot on the team still. Tom Quinn has more lives than a cat and is still somehow still around. Aldrick Rosas is too. If he falters this preseason, the Giants will have to pick up a kicker quickly. The team has a new punter that the Broncos discarded after two years. And there are no obvious standouts for kick and punt returner. It looks like the ex-Bronco wide receivers will have the first shot there.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:

Head Coach Pat Shurmur on goals this preseason: “I think it’s important that we operate as a staff and getting in and out of the huddle, making sure we’ve got the right people on the field, and there’s a lot to be learned especially between the first and the second preseason game when you’re a new staff working together. We have a blueprint for how we want to do it, and games are uncontrolled settings, and there’s things that happen. So, the more uncontrolled things that happen in the game, the more opportunity you have to learn, and I think that’s what we’re looking for. So, we’re trying to balance getting our team ready to play Jacksonville with doing the final evaluations on the guys that’ll be on our initial 53.”

THE FINAL WORD:

Let’s see physical, fundamentally-sound football first and then move forward from there.

Aug 232017
 
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Olivier Vernon, New York Giants (August 21, 2017)

Olivier Vernon – © USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland Browns 10 – New York Giants 6

QUICK RECAP

In front of a national stage, albeit still a preseason game, the Giants played under the Monday Night lights against the perennial bottom feeders of the NFL. Cleveland, with just one winning season since 2003, looks energized and refreshed with some of the best young talent the franchise has had in a very long time. Eli Manning and Odell Beckham suited up for their first live action of the preseason but it didn’t help get the first “W” next to Big Blue’s name.

In true preseason fashion, it was an ugly exhibition with just 16 total points scored, 5 turnovers (2 of which were QB-RB exchanges), and just two plays of 20 or more yards. The turning point came in the fourth quarter where the Giants were down 10-6 with the ball and “1st-and-goal” distance away not once, but twice. Two opportunities that close to the end zone netted the Giants 0 points and two turnovers. Even worse, the Giants left Cleveland beat up with star receivers Odell Beckham and Brandon Marshall both exiting the game with respective injuries in addition to their position group-mate Tavarres King. The Giants have played eight quarters of preseason football and have yet to cross the goal line with the ball in their hands.

QUARTERBACKS

  • Eli Manning looked solid and in full control of the offense, making several line calls with multiple changes that led to positive plays. He went 10/14 for 80 yards. He nearly threw a touchdown pass to TE Evan Engram but it was tipped away by Browns LB Joe Schobert. Manning spread the ball around well and looked accurate and confident. He was sacked once.
  • Geno Smith was the first signal caller off of the bench, coming into the game for a 2-minute drill towards the end of the first half with just 1:10 remaining. That is always a good time to see what a QB on the fence can do. Smith ended up handing the ball off to Shane Vereen twice, completing two short passes, and getting sacked by 2017’s #1 overall pick, Myles Garrett. Smith ended the night 11/17 for 79 yards and a very bad interception on a 3rd-and-goal play where he didn’t recognize the Browns coverage. More of the same from what Geno Smith’s career has presented so far: a guy who can make all of the throws, look good doing it, but has the knack for game-killing decisions.
  • Josh Johnson saw very limited action, going 2/4 for 6 yards. There wasn’t much to take out of this contest for him.

RUNNING BACKS

  • Paul Perkins had a rough night. He finished with just 10 yards on 6 carries. There can be some blame placed on the offensive line, Bobby Hart in particular, but there were two plays where he didn’t see the lane he was supposed to be running through and instead bounced it outside or to another gap where he got caught up in traffic. Upon further review, it looks like Perkins is approaching the line with too much hesitation and the assumption he needs to create on his own. There needs to be more assertiveness in his play.
  • Shane Vereen, on the field for just 11 plays, appeared to have that quick decision making on both of his runs. He was, however, running in more favorable situations, but as I said in early July, I think a healthy Vereen is just as likely to get the majority of snaps in this offense as Perkins.
  • Wayne Gallman got a lot of action, particularly in the 3rd quarter. He looked explosive, loose hipped, and aggressive. He shoots out of a cannon and sometimes even too quickly for his own good. He has the kind of big-play potential a stagnant offense needs when they hit a dead end. On a 13-play drive early in the 4th quarter, Gallman rushed 5 times for 23 yards (including an explosive 8 yard run that was called back for a hold away from the play) and caught 2 passes for 20 yards. There is a multi-faceted threat here that I think the Giants are going to use more and more as the season progresses.
  • Backup hopefuls Orleans Darkwa and Khalid Abdullah didn’t jump off the screen in their limited reps.
  • Fullback Shane Smith appears to have a strong grip on the fullback job, although I think it is still a coin flip on whether or not they carry one. His play hasn’t been translating to yards.

WIDE RECEIVERS

  • The conversation starts with injured starters Odell Beckham (ankle) and Brandon Marshall (shoulder). Preliminary reports lead us to believe both will be unaffected for week 1 in Dallas. Beckham caught 3 passes for 37 yards, easily getting open against a sub-par Cleveland secondary. Marshall was overthrown by Manning in the first quarter on a go route but it was good to see the big man run by a cornerback so easily. These two absolutely need to stay healthy for this offense to reach even close to it’s potential.
  • Tavarres King, who has the inside track at the #4 spot on the depth chart, re-aggravated an ankle injury. His frame is extremely thin and fragile looking, and he may have a hard time staying on the field consistently.
  • Sterling Shepard caught 3 passes for 9 yards and also fumbled the ball in Cleveland territory. Rough night for him, and for a guy that may be competing for snaps, it wasn’t encouraging. Weird to say something like that about a second-year player who was second among all rookies last season in receiving.
  • Roster hopefuls Travis Rudolph and Roger Lewis went for 2 catches/16 yards and 1 catch/6 yards, respectively. Both made mental errors. Rudolph’s was a concentration drop and Lewis didn’t recognize the coverage on Geno Smith’s interception and was unable to try and break the pass up.

TIGHT ENDS

  • Rhett Ellison and Evan Engram both had good nights. This position group is night and day on another level from what we saw last year. Engram caught 3 passes for 32 yards, while Ellison added 1 catch for 6 yards and made a big impact as blocker. On Paul Perkins’ 16-yard run in the 2nd quarter, Ellison blocked two separate Cleveland defenders on opposite sides of the running lane. It was a big league, high-level play that doesn’t show up in the box score. Both Engram and Ellison were lining up all over the field including a formation where they both started off in the backfield in a wishbone type formation.
  • Will Tye and Matt LaCosse both caught passes in the second half while Jerell Adams missed a quick hot route throw from Josh Johnson on the final play of the game. There is still a chance any of these three tight ends make the team, as they offer completely different packages individually. Tye looks much more athletic and sure of himself than he did in 2016.

OFFENSIVE LINE

  • We all know this group will be under the microscope all year. While they still have plenty of room to improve as a whole, the line held up for the most part. Without the Browns top interior force, Danny Shelton, the Giants first-string line was able to neutralize the Browns pass rush. However, the right side still struggled to get a constant push. Nevertheless, the glass half full approach was that the left side performed well.
  • Ereck Flowers was matched up against 2017 #1 overall pick Myles Garrett all night. Garrett did record a sack, but it was a result of Geno Smith evading pressure from the right side and running into the arms of Garrett, who was being kept outside the pocket well by Flowers. Flowers looked athletic and strong for most of his snaps. Bobby Hart, on the other hand, had a rough night. He was being controlled easily by second-year defensive end Carl Nassib. His poor run blocking led to a couple losses in the run game.
  • John Jerry, better known for his pass blocking than run blocking, was late to see a stunt in the first quarter which led to a sack of Eli Manning. He and Weston Richburg were getting very little-to-no movement at the point of attack. Too often are those two getting knocked backwards.
  • The backups on the left side, notably Chad Wheeler and Jon Halapio, performed well. Halapio was a center in college and got snaps there throughout training camp. He is still in the running for that backup center job.
  • D.J. Fluker graded out better than John Jerry by a wide margin. There will be some thought and discussion surrounding the idea that he should be the starter there, but it’s not happening. Not at this point anyway. The Giants are going to sink or swim with their current starting 5 with the hope that chemistry continues to build and covers some holes in their games individually. We know what Fluker is. He is a powerful, enormous man-mover who will struggle the second he is caught in space against quick defenders. There are severe limitations to his game.
  • Rookie Adam Bisnowaty struggled mightily for the second straight game, showing a lack of ability to react and adjust his weight. He appears to be having a very hard time adjusting to the speed at this level.

DEFENSIVE LINE

  • Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon appear to be in mid-season form already. They combined for a sack and played stellar run defense. Vernon tipped a Brock Osweiler pass in the first quarter than landed in the arms of Pierre-Paul, who covered an unbelievable amount of ground with his gazelle strides before leaping into the air and securing it. It was an extremely rare feat of athletic prowess that most defensive ends couldn’t even think about doing. Vernon made one of the plays of the night in coverage 25 yards downfield where he ran up and across the field with rookie speedster David Njoku. He also had a sack called back because of a defensive holding call away from the action.
  • Jay Bromley and Damon Harrison got the start inside. Bromley is likely in the lead for the week 1 starting job, but he is still having a hard time showing an ability to consistently anchor against double teams. He shows the occasional surge off the ball, however, that leads you to the thought, “What if?”
  • Jordan Williams was in there early in the game with the first string on a 3rd-down sub package. He made a nice tackle on a shovel pass that prevented Cleveland from continuing their drive. I am not going to compare Williams to Justin Tuck as a player, but they are awfully similar in the way they move. Williams has the versatility stemming from his size and speed to be a factor on 3rd downs from the inside. He is certainly in the 53-man roster discussion because of how much he can do.
  • Backup tackles Robert Thomas and Dalvin Tomlison are very active. They shoot off the ball well and will make plays away from the point-of-attack. Tomlinson made a tackle on a passing play seven yards downfield outside the numbers in the second half. How many interior guys do you see do that?  He is still getting pushed back by the power blocks, multiple yards, too easily and often.
  • Kerry Wynn, Romeo Okwara, and Avery Moss were pretty quiet, each only being involved in 1 tackle. Okwara was the first pass rushing DT on the field on 3rd down for what its worth. There was one play where his biggest weakness, lower body stiffness and lack of lateral twitch, was on full display when he tried and whiffed to bring down Deshone Kizer on a designed running play.

LINEBACKERS

  • B.J. Goodson led the way (get used to hearing that) with 7 tackles. For the second straight week, Goodson recorded a sack on a blitz up the middle in which he obliterated Cleveland running back Duke Johnson who tried to simply get in his way. Didn’t work out for him. Goodson continues to be the pace-maker of this physical brand of Giants defense.
  • Calvin Munson and Deontae Skinner both played a lot of snaps, as they might be competing for  the same roster spot. Munson notched 4 tackles and showed plenty of range on a 3rd-quarter physical tackle near the sidelines. Skinner, arguably the top athlete in the entire group, recorded 3 tackles of his own but also missed 2. He and Charles Grant both appear more instinctive and reactive than a year ago, but I’m not sure it’s quite enough yet. Grant is still a liability in coverage, as he was easily beat up the seam by rookie tight end David Njoku but was saved by an overthrow by Deshone Kizer.
  • Jonathan Casillas and Devon Kennard had solid outings in their limited action. Both work through traffic exceptionally well and carry a strong presence to their hits. Kennard had really nice coverage on the athletic Njoku in the first quarter.

CORNERBACKS

  • With Eli Apple out, Michael Hunter got some extra looks in the Giants nickel defense. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who also saw some snaps at safety, shifted inside to the nickel position. Hunter covered very well but lost outside contain on a running play by Duke Johnson. Fortunately it was called back due to a hold away from the action. Both Rodgers-Cromartie and Janoris Jenkins were strong in coverage and physical in the run game.
  • Valentino Blake got on the field a lot considering he is very involved on special teams. He is tough and physical, two prerequisites for Special Teams Coach Tom Quinn and we all know how much this era of Giants leadership values the specials. Blake still gives up too much yardage as a cover man, however.
  • Undrafted rookie Deshaun Amos stood out to me on a couple of occasions. He made a couple of very physical hits and showed excellent technique in man coverage.
  • Donte Deayon bounced back after a rough outing against Pittsburgh. He handled all of his allotted returns, stuck to his receivers in coverage with ease, and intercepted a pass that showed off high-level ball skills. Unfortunately it was called back due to penalty that had nothing to do with the play’s result. Deayon, as we know, is on the VERY small side and it continues to show up when he is trying to defend the run. He was rendered completely useless on a few outside runs by physical receivers.

SAFETIES

  • Landon Collins recorded a tackle and showed plenty of range against the run. He is heading for a 100+ tackle season for the third straight year.
  • Nat Berhe led the team in snaps played. He recorded 6 tackles but missed another bad one in the fourth quarter on a backup tight end. Through two games he has graded out very poorly as a tackler, something that just can’t happen from that position.
  • Darian Thompson and Andrew Adams continued to be right place, right time-type defenders without a big impact. Eric Pinkins and Duke Ihenacho did not get a ton of opportunity to display much of anything.

SPECIAL TEAMS

  • Veteran Mike Nugent got the first look on the field goal unit, nailing a 38 yarder. Rookie Aldrick Rosas hit one from 47 yards later on, but it didn’t have a ton of room left on it.
  • Brad Wing punted the ball 3 times for a poor average net (36.3 yards) due to poor coverage, mainly by Shane Smith and Orleans Darkwa.
  • The return game was quiet, with Donte Deayon, Travis Rudolph, and Orleans Darwka handling duties but all were fair catches and touchbacks.

3 STUDS

  • DE Jason Pierre Paul, DE Olivier Vernon, TE Evan Engram

3 DUDS

  • RB Paul Perkins, RT Bobby Hart, RT Adam Bisnowaty

3 TAKEAWAYS FOR CLE

  • There is a serious amount of young talent on the Browns, I think more than we have ever seen since their rebirth into the league. The upside of this team is huge if they can finally find their QB.
  • Rookie left tackle Roderick Johnson played pretty well considering he is a 5th-round pick and was up against Vernon. With Joe Thomas sitting out, Johnson’s experience in these games is huge for the long-term development of this team. He was also a high upside prospect and if he can figure it out before his name is called when Thomas retires, CLE may not skip a beat when the best left tackle of all time is no longer there.
  • Deshone Kizer was my second rated QB of the 2017 class. A weak class overall, but I still thought Kizer was a guy that could start and win plenty of games for a team. He has talent that very good QBs in this league don’t have. He was off on a couple throws but I was impressed by the quick release and easy footwork. If this kid puts his best foot forward, he has as much of a chance at being THE guy that turns this franchise around as anyone before him. And there is an offensive line there that rivals some of the best in football, which is huge for a young QB’s development.
Aug 222017
 
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Eli Manning and Odell Beckham, New York Giants (August 21, 2017)

Odell Beckham walks off of the field after ankle injury – © USA TODAY Sports

CLEVELAND BROWNS 10 – NEW YORK GIANTS 6…
The New York Giants’ offense continued to struggle in the second preseason game as the Giants fell to the Cleveland Browns 10-6 on Monday night at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland. But the more alarming news for New York was on the injury front as wide receiver Odell Beckham (ankle), wide receiver Brandon Marshall (shoulder), wide receiver Tavarres King (ankle), and cornerback Michael Hunter (concussion) were all forced to leave the game. X-rays on Beckham’s ankle were negative, but he will undergo further evaluations on Tuesday. The Giants did not provide an update on Marshall after the game. King, who has missed a couple of weeks with an ankle injury, appears to have re-injured it. And Hunter will now enter the NFL’s concussion protocol.

For the second game in a row, the Giants failed to score a touchdown. Quarterback Eli Manning was a respectable 10-of-14 for 80 yards, but the offensive line again had issues pass and run blocking. Despite accruing 16 yards on one run, starting halfback Paul Perkins finished the night with 10 yards on six carries. Overall, the Giants were held to an embarrassing 212 total net yards (147 yards passing, 65 yards rushing) and 13 first downs. The offense also turned the football over three times, including an interception by quarterback Geno Smith and fumbles by wide receiver Sterling Shepard and running back Wayne Gallman. The Giants were 3-of-12 on third down and 0-for-2 in red zone opportunities.

On the positive side, the Giants’ defense continues to play well. The Browns were held to 242 total net yards (134 yards passing, 108 yards rushing) and 18 first downs. Defensive end Olivier Vernon tipped one pass that defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul intercepted. Both ends also split a sack. Linebacker B.J. Goodson also picked up his second sack in two preseason games.

Video highlights/lowlights are available at Giants.com.

INJURY REPORT…
Wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. left the game with an ankle injury. X-rays were negative, but the Giants said he will undergo further evaluation. Beckham was also evaluated for a possible concussion, but cleared.

Wide receiver Brandon Marshall injured his shoulder in the game. Cornerback Michael Hunter left the game in the 3rd quarter with a concussion. Wide receiver Tavarres King left the game early with an ankle injury.

Not playing in the game were running back Shaun Draughn (ankle), wide receiver Dwayne Harris (upper body), wide receiver Darius Powe (hamstring), wide receiver Andrew Turzilli (hamstring), offensive lineman Adam Gettis (eye), offensive lineman Michael Bowie (arrest warrant), linebacker J.T. Thomas (knee), linebacker Keenan Robinson (concussion protocol), and linebacker Mark Herzlich (stinger).

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

  • Head Coach Ben McAdoo (Video)
  • QB Eli Manning (Video)
  • WR Odell Beckham, Jr. (Video)
  • LG Justin Pugh (Video)
  • S Landon Collins (Video)

ARTICLES…

Aug 192017
 
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Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants (November 27, 2016)

Jason Pierre-Paul – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Preseason Game Preview: New York Giants at Cleveland Browns, August 21, 2017

THE STORYLINE:
The second preseason game is a much more serious affair than the first. All of the team’s healthy starters should play, providing a better indication of where this team is at and potential trouble spots. You may or may not think it is premature to worry about aspects of the team, but there are early indications that the offensive line and running game could be issues once again. Defensively, the team looks strong but there are concerns about depth in the secondary. Of course, many eyes will be on Aldrick Rosas and whether or not he can be relied upon.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • RB Shaun Draughn (ankle)
  • WR Dwayne Harris (upper body)
  • WR Darius Powe (hamstring)
  • LB Keenan Robinson (concussion)
  • LB Mark Herzlich (stinger)
  • LB J.T. Thomas (knee)
  • CB Eli Apple (ankle)
  • S Duke Ihenacho (hamstring)
  • S Ryan Murphy (lower body)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
The blocking up front remains a concern. Against the Steelers, center Weston Richburg and right guard John Jerry did not have good games. And tackles Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart have been inconsistent in practice. The running game against the Steelers was putrid despite Ben McAdoo’s desire to focus on that aspect of the offense. There are still questions about whether or not Paul Perkins is a legitimate NFL starter.

We should get our first look at the real first-team offense with Eli Manning at quarterback and Odell Beckham, Brandon Marshall, and Sterling Shepard at wide receiver. Much attention will be on how the offensive line protects Eli and opens up holes for Perkins. Can the line provide Manning with enough time to utilize all of his dangerous weapons? Can the running game keep him out of 2nd-and-10 and 3rd-and-9 situations? When this offense is in true regular-season mode, Shane Vereen is the third-down back and a feature in the passing game. We’ll probably get a good indication on how seriously the Giants are taking this game by how much Vereen plays (Vereen tends to get nicked up so the Giants probably won’t play him all that much). It will be interesting to see if the Giants also send tight end Evan Engram on more vertical routes or whether the team is “hiding” that for the regular season. Up front, now is the time for D.J. Fluker to make a serious push for playing time. Jerry has opened the door for him. Jerry is the better pass protector and Fluker the better run blocker.

In terms of competition for roster spots, Geno Smith seemed to take the lead in the quarterback battle over Josh Johnson, but Smith made a stupid killer mistake in the Steelers game. Smith can solidify his chances with a sound game. If Johnson out-plays Smith in Cleveland, things will start to get a bit dicey. It will be interesting to see if Davis Webb plays in the second or third preseason games. Snaps are limited.

Among the tight ends and receivers, Matt LaCosse has been a camp all-star again, but we need to see it in games. Right now, it looks like Rhett Ellison, Evan Engram, and Jerell Adams are the locks with LaCosse and Will Tye on the bubble. Things are more cloudy at wide receiver once you get past the top four of Beckham, Marshall, Shepard, and Dwayne Harris. Tavarres King was a favorite at one point, but he has missed a lot of time due to an ankle injury. Roger Lewis is coming off a bad game and remains inconsistent. Darius Powe now has a hamstring issue. Travis Rudolph just may not have enough athletic ability. Could someone like Jerome Lane now sneak into the picture? On the line, much attention will be focused on back-up tackles Adam Bisnowaty and Chad Wheeler again. Both had rough moments against Pittsburgh.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The starters looked good against the Steelers, but keep in mind that Pittsburgh also sat their starting quarterback and best weapons. The Giants appear to be in good shape with multiple all-stars on the defensive line and in the secondary. But depth at safety (3rd and 4th safeties) and cornerback (5th corner) remain areas of concern. The linebacking unit has also been a bit nicked up.

Up front, the concerns about the defensive tackle spot alongside Damon Harrison appears to be diminishing with the strong efforts of Jay Bromley and Dalvin Tomlinson. Robert Thomas missed the first preseason game and should now get a chance to show his wares. Jason Pierre-Paul also did not play against the Steelers. Olivier Vernon looks set for a big year. But again, is there a back-up pass rusher on this team? Kerry Wynn had a strong game last week. Can he build upon it?

At linebacker, B.J. Goodson was a bit inconsistent, but he looks much more athletic this preseason. Combine that with his physical, aggressive nature and the Giants are willing to live with some growing pains there. What is interesting is that Calvin Munson appears to be making a serious push for a roster spot.

Landon Collins was all over the field against the Steelers. He’s one of those guys you want to get out of the game as soon as possible. He’s ready. Darian Thompson will be the other starter. Regardless of his upside, Andrew Adams is the primary back-up here. Nat Berhe is coming off a rough game and time may be running out on him. If Eric Pinkins makes it, it may be solely for special teams. I’m not sure the 4th safety is on this team yet. And I’m not sure the Giants really want Adams being the primary back-up. At corner, the big story is the emergence of Michael Hunter as a viable NFL cornerback. If he truly pans out, the Giants are in very good shape and ideally only need to find that 5th corner in case injuries start piling up. Valentino Blake and DaShaun Amos are coming off a rough game. The coaches seem to like Donte Deayon but he doesn’t offer and special teams value.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Both Aldrick Rosas and Mike Nugent went 2-for-2 last week and both hit long field goals, though Rosas was more impressive with his 52 yarder in the rain. In the event of a tie, one would think the Giants would go with youth over the fading veteran. But we shall see. The Giants did not use Dwayne Harris last week. Will they continue to keep him in bubble wrap in the preseason? (He had the hell beat out of him last year).

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Ben McAdoo on the second preseason game: “We want to stack some success with the way the game management went last week. We had 11 guys on the field each play, and that is easier said than done in the first preseason game. And just keep continuing to build. Go good to great on defense. Offense, be more productive. We are going to have everybody in the mix there and special teams, continue to improve.”

THE FINAL WORD:
My focus will be on pass protection and the running game on offense. I’m starting to get worried about both these areas again. Defensively, can Jay Bromley and Kerry Wynn string together two good games? What do the Giants have in Robert Thomas? How worried should we be about the back-up safeties? Of course, the field goal battle is a primary focal point. This is actually one of those games where you may want to see drives stall in enemy territory so you can get a better read on Rosas.

Nov 282016
 
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Odell Beckham, New York Giants (November 27, 2016)

Odell Beckham Celebrates His TD Against the Cleveland Browns – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 27 – Cleveland Browns 13

Overview

The New York Giants won their eighth game of the season, their sixth in a row, and by their largest point margin of the season by defeating the winless Cleveland Browns on the last weekend in November. Despite Cleveland’s record, this was a very dangerous spot for the Giants against an opponent they could have easily overlooked. With the offense and special teams playing at a mostly subpar level, the defense once again carried the day for New York. Good defense will almost always keep you in a game. The Giants had entered the game as the least penalized in the NFL but were flagged with nine infractions for 100 yards against the Browns. As expected, the turnover and sack numbers are beginning to favor the Giants.

Giants on Offense

The good news is that the offense scored three touchdowns and was 2-of-2 in the red zone. The offense did not turn the football over.

The bad news is that the Giants ran only 53 offensive plays (not counting the two kneel downs) and punted nine times. The offense was limited to 13 first downs, 296 total net yards (192 net yards passing), and 26:09 time of possession. The 104 yards rushing was inflated by a 22-yard end around by a wide receiver. The Giants were 4-of-13 (31 percent) on 3rd down and QB Eli Manning only completed 15 passes. The Giants began both the first and second half with four punts in a row. This all against a defense that had been 31st in the NFL.

In terms of pass/run ratio, the Giants had one of their most “balanced” games of the season. On the 53 offensive snaps, the Giants passed 28 times (one sack) and ran the ball 25 times.

Quarterback

Strange game for Eli Manning. He only completed 15 passes (15-of-27 or 56 percent). But he averaged almost 13 yards per completion, threw three touchdown passes and no interceptions, and finished the game with a 115.4 QB rating. On the first four drives of the first half, Manning was 8-of-12 for 49 yards, and was also sacked once. He missed an open Odell Beckham deep on the first possession on what could have been a 58-yard score. Manning also was way off on two other down-field shots to Beckham in the 1st quarter. On the the first four drives of the second half, Manning was 1-of-6 for no yards. But on the three touchdown drives, Manning was 6-of-9 for 145 yards and 3 touchdowns. Three of Manning’s passes gained 110 yards. And the throws to Dwayne Harris and Victor Cruz were picture-perfect. As I’ve said all year long, the Giants offense largely lives and dies by the big passing play.

Running Backs

Not a terribly productive game against what had been the 31st-ranked run defense in the NFL. If you take away the 22-yard end around by Sterling Shepard, Rashad Jennings and Paul Perkins carried the ball 24 times for 84 yards (3.5 yards per carry). One drive was stopped when Jennings was stuffed on 3rd-and-1. Jennings and Perkins were relatively unproductive in the passing game too, catching four passes for 18 yards. Perkins was flagged with a false start.

Wide Receivers

Odell Beckham was targeted 11 times. He caught six of those passes for 96 yards and two touchdowns. His three highlights included his 32-yard catch-and-run touchdown, his 41-yard reception that set up the final touchdown, and his 4-yard touchdown on 3rd-and-goal that sealed the game. Beckham simply is playing at a different speed than the other players on the field.

Oddly, Sterling Shepard was never targeted in the game. His 22-yard end around helped to set up the final score. Dwayne Harris was targeted once, and it resulted in the first touchdown of the game, a 13-yard score. Victor Cruz (1-of-5) and Roger Lewis (1-of-4) were targeted nine times, resulting in only two catches for 55 yards. Lewis’ 18-yard catch came on the first TD drive while Cruz’s 37-yard catch came on the second. Cruz seems to struggle to create any kind of vertical separation from defenders, but oddly the Giants take repeated deep shots in his direction. Manning repeatedly tried to his Lewis deep, but his throws were off the mark.

Tight Ends

Will Tye caught both passes thrown his way for a total of 12 yards on back-to-back plays in the first half. That was the extent of the tight end “productivity” in the passing game. Jerell Adams was not targeted but flashed as a blocker.

Offensive Line

The good news is that despite being down to their fourth-string left guard, the Giants won the game and Eli Manning survived. Manning was officially hit four times and sacked once (coverage sack). The running backs only averaged 3.5 yards per carry however against the 31st-ranked run defense. Despite outstanding starting field position at midfield, one drive was sabotaged by back-to-back penalties, the first a holding penalty on LT Ereck Flowers and then a false start on RT Bobby Hart. The first penalty wiped out a 19-yard gain. Flowers allowed a few pressures, but the Giants took more deep shots this week and the pass protection was reasonable.

Giants on Defense

The bad news is the Giants allowed the NFL’s 29th-ranked offense to accrue 343 total net yards with quarterback Josh McCown throwing for 322 yards and wide receiver Terrell Pryor catching six passes for 131 yards. The defense was also flagged three times for 55 yards.

The good news was just about everything else. The Giants defense was credited with seven sacks, eight tackles for losses, 11 quarterback hits, five pass defenses, three forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries. The Browns were 3-of-14 (21 percent) on 3rd down and 1-of-2 (50 percent) on 4th down. Fifteen offensive drives resulted in one touchdown, two field goals, three turnovers, one turnover on downs, and eight punts. The Browns were not only held to 13 points, but the Giants defense also scored. Giants defenders of the past would be very proud.

Defensive Line

As a unit, the defensive line had a monster game and everyone got into the act:

  • Jason Pierre-Paul: 7 tackles, 3 sacks, 3 QB hits, 3 tackles for losses, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery for a TD.
  • Olivier Vernon: 4 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 tackles for losses, 5 QB hits.
  • Damon Harrison: Team-high 9 tackles, 1 forced fumble.
  • Johnathan Hankins: 3 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 QB hits, 1 forced fumble.

Even reserves such as Romeo Okwara (2 tackles, 1 pass defense) and Kerry Wynn (1 fumble recovery) got into the act. In total, the line was responsible for 25 tackles, 6 sacks, 5 tackles for losses, 10 QB hits, 1 pass defense, 3 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, and one touchdown. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Linebackers

The defensive line, linebackers, and secondary limited the Browns to 58 yards on 21 carries. The 2.8 yards-per-carry average was far below what running backs Isaiah Crowell (4.3) and Duke Johnson (5.0) had been averaging. One of the Browns main targets – tight end Gary Barnidge – was held to one catch for 11 yards. Back-up tight end Seth DeValve caught three passes for 39 yards late in the game. Cleveland loves to throw to their backs and Crowell, Johnson, and Danny Vitale caught 10 passes for 69 yards. Keenan Robinson was credited with five tackles; Jonathan Casillas four tackles; and Devon Kennard three tackles. Robinson was flagged with a 15-yard penalty on a 19-yard completion on the Browns only touchdown drive of the game. Kennard nailed Crowell for a 1-yard loss after a quick throw and recovered the first fumble. Kelvin Sheppard did not show on the stat sheet, but he had good coverage on an incomplete pass in the red zone.

Defensive Backs

Terrelle Pryor caught six of 12 passes thrown in his direction for 131 yards. Fifty-four of those yards came on one pass play against CB Eli Apple, who also was flagged for a 35-yard pass interference penalty against Pryor on a FG drive. Apple came darn close to intercepting a pass on the very next play but his foot was barely out-of-bounds. The two bad plays stick out, but Apple played well otherwise.

The other three Browns receivers were limited to five catches on 11 targets for 72 yards. Janoris Jenkins was credited with 5 tackles, 1 sack, 2 tackles for losses, and 2 pass defenses. He gave up a 14-yard completion to Pryor late in the first half but then knocked away an end zone pass to the taller Pryor, forcing a field goal. Jenkins was beaten by WR Corey Coleman for a 21-yard touchdown in the second half. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie expertly defended a late 3rd-and-19 pass and Jenkins followed that up by almost intercepting the 4th-and-19 incompletion.

CB Trevin Wade had issues on back-to-back plays late in the 2nd quarter that allowed the Browns to set up a field goal. First he was beat for 22 yards by Pryor on 2nd-and-30. On the following play, Wade was flagged with a holding penalty on a 3rd-and-8 incomplete pass, keeping the drive alive. Landon Collins had seven tackles, but uncharacteristically missed a few tackles. Nat Berhe suffered another concussion, putting his season in doubt. Andrew Adams made a very nice pass breakup on 3rd-and-8 to force a punt.

Giants on Special Teams

The special teams star for the Giants was Brad Wing, who punted nine times, averaging 47.4 yards per punt (44.7 net) with five punts downed inside the 20 and three downed inside the 10-yard line. He had one touchback. Punt coverage was outstanding as the Browns only returned three punts for five yards. Roger Lewis made a fantastic play by downing one ball at the 4-yard line.

Three of Robbie Gould’s five kickoffs resulted in touchbacks. Kickoff coverage was solid as the Browns two kickoff returns went for 24 and 21 yards. Gould missed yet another extra point however.

Subbing for the injured Dwayne Harris, Bobby Rainey disappointed. His two kickoff returns went for 26 and 25 yards. His three punt returns resulted in seven yards and a muffed punt that set up Cleveland’s first scoring drive. He also was flagged with an invalid fair-catch signal.

Rainey was replaced by Odell Beckham, who had a 59-yard punt return for a touchdown wiped out by a holding penalty on Mark Herzlich and a 28-yard return wiped out by illegal block penalties on Eli Apple and Paul Perkins. His other return went for 12 yards.

(New York Giants at Cleveland Browns, November 27, 2016)
Nov 272016
 
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Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants (November 27, 2016)

Jason Pierre-Paul – © USA TODAY Sports Images

NEW YORK GIANTS 27 – CLEVELAND BROWNS 13…
The New York Giants won their sixth game in a row on Sunday by defeating the winless Cleveland Browns 27-13 at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland. With the victory, the Giants improved their overall record to 8-3, two games behind the first-place Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East.

In a game that was close until the 4th quarter, the Browns out-gained the Giants in first downs (21 to 13), total net yards (343 to 296), net yards passing (285 to 192), and time of possession (33:51 to 26:09). But the Giants out-rushed the Browns (104 to 58) won the turnover battle (3 to 1), and scored on defense. And while Cleveland was 1-of-3 (33 percent) in red zone opportunities, the Giants were a perfect 2-of-2 (100 percent). The Giants did commit nine penalties for 100 yards.

Both teams struggled offensively for much of the first half as the score remained 0-0 until midway through the 2nd quarter. The Giants first four possessions resulted in five first downs, 65 net yards, and four punts. Meanwhile, the Browns first four possessions resulted in three first downs, 58 net yards, three punts, and a fumble. Defensive tackle Damon Harrison forced running back Isaiah Crowell to fumble, and the loose ball was recovered by linebacker Devon Kennard at the Browns 31-yard line. After an 18-yard pass from quarterback Eli Manning to wide receiver Roger Lewis, Manning then found wide receiver Dwayne Harris for a 13-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.

The Giants defense forced a three-and-out on the ensuing Browns possession but Cleveland got the ball right back when running back Bobby Rainey muffed the punt, giving the Browns the ball at the New York 30-yard line. Despite allowing Cleveland to convert on 4th-and-1 and to drive to the 2-yard line, the defense held and the Browns were forced to settle for a 20-yard field goal.

The Giants extended their lead to 14-3 late in the 2nd quarter as New York drove 69 yards in four plays and just 30 seconds. While two passing plays resulted in incompletions, Manning found wide receivers Victor Cruz for 37 yards and Odell Beckham for 32 yards and the score on the other two plays. However, with 1:13 to go before halftime, the Browns responded with an 8-play, 68 yard drive to set up a 25-yard field goal as time expired. At the half, the Giants led 14-6.

Like the start of the game, both teams struggled offensive at the start of the second half. New York’s first four possessions resulted in one first down, 32 net yards, and four punts. (Beckham had a 59-yard punt return for a touchdown erased by a holding penalty on linebacker Mark Herzlich). Cleveland’s first five possessions resulted in four first downs, 89 net yards, four punts, and a fumble. With just over 11 minutes to go in the game, defensive tackle Jonathan Hankins sacked quarterback Josh McCown, forcing a fumble that was returned 43 yards for a touchdown by defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. Place kicker Robbie Gould missed the extra point attempt and the Giants led 20-6.

Cleveland quickly tightened the game again by driving 75 yards in five plays. McCown found wide receiver Corey Coleman for a 21-yard touchdown to cut the score to 20-13 with 8:17 left to play.

The Giants pulled away on their ensuing possession. A 41-yard pass from Manning to Beckham followed by a 22-yard gain on an end-around by wideout Sterling Shepard moved the ball to the Browns 6-yard line. Three plays later, Manning hit Beckham on 3rd-and-goal for a 4-yard touchdown.

The final two Browns drives ended with a turnover on downs at the Giants 40-yard line and a fumble forced by Pierre-Paul on a sack. Defensive end Kerry Wynn recovered the fumble to seal the game.

Offensively, Manning completed 15-of-27 passes for 194 yards, 3 touchdowns, and no interceptions. Odell Beckham was the only player to catch more than two passes, as he had six receptions for 96 yards and two touchdowns. Rashad Jennings rushed for 55 yards on 15 carries and Paul Perkins rushed for 29 yards on nine carries.

Defensively, the Giants accrued seven sacks, 11 quarterback hits, eight tackles for losses, five pass defenses, three forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries. Damon Harrison led the team with nine tackles, and also forced a fumble. Jason Pierre-Paul had seven tackles, three sacks, three tackles for losses, a forced fumble, and a fumble returned for a touchdown. Defensive end Olivier Vernon was credited with four tackles, 1.5 sacks, five quarterback hits, and two tackles for losses. Johnathan Hankins had three tackles, 1.5 sacks, two quarterback hits, and forced one fumble. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins had five tackles, one sack, two tackles for losses, and two pass defenses. Devon Kennard and Kerry Wynn recovered fumbles.

Video highlights/lowlights are available at Giants.com.

INACTIVE LIST AND INJURY REPORT…
Inactive for the game were left guard Justin Pugh (knee), offensive lineman Brett Jones (calf), offensive lineman Marshall Newhouse (knee), wide receiver Tavarres King, quarterback Josh Johnson, defensive tackle Jay Bromley, and cornerback Leon Hall.

Safety Nat Berhe and linebacker Mark Herzlich both suffered concussions in the game. This is the second time Berhe has suffered a concussion this year. Wide receiver Odell Beckham (thumb), defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa (knee), and cornerback Janoris Jenkins (unknown) all left the game with injuries but returned. Cornerback Eli Apple suffered from cramps.

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

  • Head Coach Ben McAdoo (Video)
  • QB Eli Manning (Video)
  • RB Rashad Jennings (Video)
  • WR Odell Beckham, Jr. (Video)
  • WR Dwayne Harris (Video)
  • DE Jason Pierre-Paul (Video)
  • LB Jonathan Casillas (Video)

ARTICLES…

Nov 252016
 
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Victor Cruz, New York Giants (November 20, 2016)

Victor Cruz – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Game Preview: New York Giants at Cleveland Browns, November 27, 2016

THE STORYLINE:
This is the last “easy” game on the schedule and the last game of November. Everyone is thinking the same thing: beat the Browns, get to 8-3, and then concentrate all efforts on a December run leading up to the regular-season finale on New Year’s Day. But make no mistake about it, if the Giants take the Cleveland Browns lightly, they will lose. The Browns are not without talent. And the odds that they will go winless in 2016 are not good. They will beat someone. A New York Giants team that has beaten seven teams by a combined 27 points had better be on their game.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • RB Orleans Darkwa (lower leg) – questionable
  • WR Dwayne Harris (wrist) – probable
  • WR Roger Lewis, Jr. (concussion) – questionable
  • OG Justin Pugh (knee) – out
  • OL Brett Jones (calf) – out
  • OL Marshall Newhouse (knee) – out
  • OL Adam Gettis (calf) – questionable
  • DE Jason Pierre-Paul (knee) – questionable

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
The 3-4 defense of the Cleveland Browns is 31st in the NFL (31st against the run, 22nd against the pass). They don’t rush the passer very well as they only have 16 team sacks on the year. That said, they do have some players who can present problems. Rookie defensive end/linebacker Emmanuel Ogbah (3 sacks) is beginning to flash as a pass rusher. Nose tackle Danny Shelton is a 335-pound load in the middle of the defense who could present problems for center Weston Richburg. Ex-Patriot outside linebacker Jamie Collins is an athletic play-maker. Two-time Pro Bowler cornerback Joe Haden has three interceptions and is one of the NFL’s best covermen. He will line up against Odell Beckham, Jr.

What hurts the Giants coming into this game is the situation at left guard. The Giants are down to 4th stringer Adam Gettis starting and that’s a bit scary. And Gettis is also playing hurt with a calf injury. Heaven help the Giants if someone else gets injured on the offensive line on Sunday – depth is nil with only Will Beatty and Shane McDermott in reserve.

Given that Cleveland is 31st against the run, there may be a temptation to force the run and really get the ground game going. The Giants have to be careful not to play it too conservatively and allow the Browns to hang around. I would suggest using the passing game to get a two-score lead and then focus more on the ground game. Amazingly, Beckham has not cracked the 100-yard mark since his 222-yard performance against the Ravens on October 16th. The Giants have to do a better job of moving him around to defeat double-team coverage and get him more involved.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The Browns are 29th in the NFL in offense (25th rushing, 27th passing). Much of the failure of the Browns franchise for decades has been the inability to to acquire a true franchise quarterback. Five different quarterbacks have played for the Browns this year alone. Due to injuries to other players, Josh McCown will get his third start of the season on Sunday. The 37-year old McCown has played in four games this year and only completed 53.3 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and six interceptions. McCown is a journeyman who has played for seven teams. But he is an experienced veteran with 59 regular-season starts. The Giants should not take him lightly. In the two games he started (against the Ravens and Jets), the Browns moved the ball and had a good chance to win both games.

Despite their offensive rankings, the Browns actually have some offensive talent. Ex-quarterback wide receiver Terrelle Pryor is a big, athletic target with 56 catches and four touchdowns. While he has struggled somewhat during his rookie year (only 17 catches), wide receiver Corey Coleman is a 1st rounder who is very capable of breaking a game open. Fellow wideout Andrew Hawkins has three touchdowns. That all said, the Giants secondary matches up pretty well with this group. The primary concern will be tight end Gary Barnidge (39 receptions) as the Giants have had issues covering athletic, pass-receiving tight ends. Running backs Duke Johnson (42 catches) and Isaiah Crowell (26 catches) are also both factors in the passing game. The Giants linebackers and safeties will be on the spot given the Browns tendencies.

And while the Browns are 25th in rushing, Crowell (4.3 yards-per-carry) and Johnson (5.0 yards-per-carry) are productive when they get a chance. The Giants must also be wary of the trick play, especially since Pryor is a former quarterback.

I would put the onus on the corners to handle the wideouts and focus my coverage attention more towards Barnidge and the two running backs. McCown’s game is better suited to the short-passing attack rather than taking shots down the field. Obviously, the Giants must keep the ground attack under control. That will help to mute play-action – something the Giants linebackers had issues with against the Bears.

The injury issue on this side of the ball is Jason Pierre-Paul (knee) is “questionable” although he says he will play. The elite player on the offensive line for the Browns is left tackle Joe Thomas.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
The Browns haven’t been very good in kickoff returns (long of 24 yards) and punt returns (long of 18 yards). Undermanned teams such as the Browns are always capable of rolling the dice and using a fake field goal or punt, or an onside kick.

It’s a bit unnerving to not know what kind of kicker the Giants have yet in Robbie Gould. The weather was a factor in his missed extra points last week, but the Giants obviously need Gould to produce better.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Offensive Coordinator Mike Sullivan on Odell Beckham, Jr.: “When it comes to Odell, obviously we all know he is a dynamic play maker. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the more we give him the ball, the higher our chances are of winning. He is seventh in the NFL right now, I mean, he’s got 98 targets, so we’re trying, and that’s always a big part of our plan. I think the thing that is important to realize when it comes to that is really two things; number one, based upon where he’s aligned, in formation, often times that can create some other opportunities in terms of the run game; shifting the front, getting some things that have created some openings that have helped us the past two weeks. Secondly, opportunities for other guys. There is no more revealing clip or picture to have all of you guys take a look at, than the touchdown of Sterling Shepard. We put Odell in a specific spot and if you go back and look at that clip, the safety who was aligned to his side, it was a two high configuration, his eyes are right on Odell. Had he not done that, then it’s one-on-one and he’s got a touchdown in the end zone, and we can all see him enjoy the celebration. But, because of his commitment to him and the corners commitment to him, that opens up the middle of the field and that created a touchdown for Sterling. There are certain by-products, if you will, based upon his alignment. While he may be not getting the ball, it certainly creates those opportunities. We definitely would like to get the ball in his hands as much as possible and want to be good coaches and know that what makes us good coaches is getting the ball and what helps us win.”

THE FINAL WORD:
Playing a winless team this late in the season scares the bejesus out of me because the opponent is due for a win. The Giants had better take the Browns seriously.

Jan 222014
 
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Roosevelt Brown, New York Giants (October 31, 1954)

Roosevelt Brown, New York Giants (October 31, 1954)

New York Giants – Cleveland Browns 1950-1959 (Part II)

by Larry Schmitt for BigBlueInteractive.com

(Part I)

Innovation via Delegation

The New York Giants first sought Army Black Knight Head Coach Earl “Red” Blaik as the replacement for Owen. After he declined the offer, assistant coach and former end Jim Lee Howell accepted the job, but only on the condition that he would be able to hire a staff consisting of coordinators on both sides of the ball – a unique idea at that time. Howell said, “Before the war, they didn’t specialize in coaches. One coach taught everybody everything.” Yet Howell foresaw a structure where the coordinators would handle their own sides of the ball, studying film, drawing up game plans, and grading their players while he oversaw the operation in more of an administrative role.

Landry had already served in a player-coach role under Owen, which not only would continue but expand. Instead of merely teaching Owen’s concepts to his teammates, Landry, who was regarded as an introspective genius by his peers, would be counted on to conceive his own game plans, a task he relished with aplomb. While playing in the Umbrella, he was already thinking ahead, visualizing a strong line that covered all possible gaps, linebackers who flowed to the point-of-attack, and a defensive backfield that covered zones on the field. Howell said, “Landry was brilliant, very, very smart. He could size up a situation very quickly and get it right.”

Sensing the defense was in good hands, Howell went outside the organization to fix the broken offense. Blaik suggested to the Giants his backfield coach, who badly yearned to coach in the NFL. Vince Lombardi (who went by Vinnie) had been a very successful high school coach at St. Cecilia’s in New Jersey before serving his five-year apprenticeship under Blaik at West Point. Among the things he picked up from one of the nation’s highest-regarded coaches was organization of practices, film study (still a relatively new idea at the time and not widely used), and an emphasis on unit execution rather than deception.

Working from Blaik’s dynamic power T-Formation, Lombardi saw many possibilities, which included implementing Single Wing blocking techniques for the offensive line (i.e. pulling guards) that he had learned while playing at Fordham. Howell liked what he saw in this burgeoning coach, “Lombardi teaches the style of football I like and believe in. Vinnie is daring and he is brainy. He knew what he could do with the players. His was very basic in his thinking. He was just a fine coach.”

The basic tenet of Lombardi’s philosophy was that players need condensed, uncomplicated information. “A few men working closely together in a spirit of discipline, singleness of purpose, and a commitment to excellence could succeed no matter the odds.” This was distilled to perfection with his signature play, the sweep.

Giants had been last in rushing in 1953. That would not be the case in 1954. Gifford teamed with new fullbacks Alex Webster and Mel Triplett. Left tackle Rosey Brown blocked and pulled. And the Giants plowed their way through the eight-man defensive fronts that were predominant of that period. Lombardi’s wider line splits made the defensive middle guard (today referred to as the nose tackle) vulnerable to double-teams.

The concert of destruction that took place at the snap was a choreographed framework that allowed for improvisation in accordance with how the defense reacted. The guards pulled. The lead guard blocked the defensive halfback and the offside guard blocked either the inside or outside linebacker. The center blocked back on defensive tackle. The onside offensive tackle chipped the defensive end, and then sealed the outside linebacker. The fullback or halfback blocked the defensive end, and then led the ball carrier into the hole, while the tight end influence-blocked the defensive end away from the point-of-attack. The reads of the ball carrier and his blocker (a halfback or fullback) was to determine the edge blocking, and the runner would decide whether to cut inside or take play to the edge.

Over time, Gifford would also have the added option of throwing the football. If Gifford made the proper read and a big play was available, he would pull up and loft a pass over rolled up defensive backs.

Lombardi humbly stated of his soon-to-be legendary sweep, “There is nothing spectacular about it. It’s just a yard gainer. It’s my number one play because it requires all eleven men to play as one to make it succeed, and that’s what ‘team’ means.”

The players noticed the differences immediately when they met at camp that summer. Halfback Kyle Rote noted, “When Howell took over in 1954 we started to have separate offensive and defensive meetings. Before, we all met in one big room. But the offense and defense became separate and definitive units under Jim Lee.”

Eagle Defense, Power T-Formation

Howell had traveled to Mississippi that off-season and promised Conerly if he came back he would be better protected. To make the existence of his reluctant quarterback more comfortable, the A-Formation was discarded, the T-Formation fully installed, terminology simplified, and a system of automatics that enabled Conerly to change the play at the line was developed.

Lombardi was also a breath of fresh air to Gifford. At the first practice the coach told the player, “We’re through fooling around with you. You’re a back now.” The stronger line would take time to gel, but players like Brown, Jack Stroud, and Ray Wietecha were soon to become stalwarts in the newly renamed Eastern Conference, and they gave the Giants a new attitude.

Although the Giants’ offensive system was largely ground-based and built around Gifford, the passing game was also vastly improved. End Bob Schnelker was the deep threat while Kyle Rote ran clever patterns underneath. Whether the pass was coming from Conerly or Gifford was the defense’s guess. Lombardi said, “Two intangibles make Gifford great – his versatility and his alertness. He gives the opposition fits by keeping it off balance. If the secondary comes up fast to check his run, he’ll heave the ball downfield; if the defense holds back, Frank’ll keep on running.”

The changes were evident early during the regular season. The Giants started the season 4-0, with point totals of 41, 51, and 31 in impressive wins. Week 6 brought a 24-14 loss at Cleveland, but the Giants bounced back with romps over Philadelphia and Washington.

Disaster struck in back-to-back games at the Polo Grounds at the end of November. Gifford injured his knee during a 17-16 loss to the Rams, and Conerly injured his knee on the first play of the rematch with Cleveland, which the Giants lost 17-6. The Browns went on to defeat Detroit for the NFL title.

Emlen Tunnell (45), New York Giants (November 28, 1954)

Emlen Tunnell (45), New York Giants (November 28, 1954)

Despite the third-place finish, the Giants carried optimism into the offseason. Lombardi’s sweep proved to be a success – Gifford’s 5.6 yards per carry led the Eastern Conference. The passing game’s efficiency improved exponentially – in 1953 the Giants’ ends caught a total of three touchdown passes; in 1954 they scored 20. There was a feeling of improvement, accomplishment, and a belief in the new systems being taught by the staff.

Motley left the Browns after the season, but Cleveland made it six consecutive conference titles in 1955 regardless. The Giants started the season slowly and sputtered to a 2-5 record after a physically-tough loss at Cleveland. But they would not lose again. The highlight of their 6-5-1 season was a 35-35 tie with the Browns in the final Giants’ football game at the Polo Grounds (although nobody knew that at the time).

This game marked the first time Howell started Don Heinrich at quarterback, ostensibly to allow Conerly to “spot flaws in the Browns from the bench.” Not all Giants players liked this sometimes controversial strategy, including the supposed number one quarterback himself. Conerly said years later, “You can’t see a damn thing from the bench. It’s the worst seat in the place. I don’t know why they did that.”

The crowd of 49,699 for the game billed as the “grudge match” was the largest in New York that year. Two future NFL head coaches started for Cleveland at linebacker: Walt Michaels and Chuck Noll. The running game by committee for the Browns was Curley Morrison and Ed Modzelewski (whose brother Dick would join the Giants in 1956). On occasion, Brown would deploy five wide receiver sets to confound Landry’s growingly versatile 6-1-4 defense.

The early advantage in the coaching chess game went to Howell as Heinrich staked New York to an early 14-0 lead. However, Graham calmly led his team back and Cleveland took the lead 21-14 late in the third quarter. The Giants, now led by Conerly, immediately tied the game 21-21 on a disputed play. Price was seemingly on his way to a 20-yard touchdown run, but was hit and fumbled at the goal line. New York’s Bob Schnelker came out of the fracas with the ball. When the Giants were awarded a touchdown, the Cleveland bench erupted in protest.

The Giants’ defensive front harassed Graham on the ensuing possession, and forced a Cleveland punt. Conerly engineered a 65-yard drive that he capped off with a 16-yard touchdown pass to Rote in the back of the end zone. Graham responded with a precision drive of his own, tying the game 28-28. Noll gave the Browns the lead when he intercepted a Conerly pass and returned it 14 yards for the score. The Giants took over on their own 15-yard line, and Conerly drove the Giants 85 yards for the touchdown, converting several third downs along the way. The decisive play was a pass completion to Gifford at the Cleveland 15, where he broke a tackle and raced into the end zone for the 23-yard score. Ben Agajanian’s point after knotted the game 35-35.

Graham was the original master of the yet-to-be-named two-minute drill. All opposing defenses and coaches feared his prowess when there was little time left on the clock. He rarely made a bad read, extended plays with his feet, and would run for yardage when necessary. The three minutes left on the clock probably felt like an eternity to player-coach Landry after the kickoff.

Graham opened the proceedings on his own 27-yard line with a bootleg to the New York 45. Just like that, the Browns were nearing the edge of Groza’s field goal range. Two Morrison rushes pushed the ball down to the Giants’ 19-yard line, and Modzelewski plunged to the 14. Groza came on for a 21-yard attempt with 0:25 on the clock, but Phil Knight leapt high from the line and blocked the kick. New York recovered the loose ball while the Polo Grounds crowd rocked in bedlam. Conerly had time left for one desperation pass, which was completed to the middle of the field as time expired. Regardless, the New York fans gave the Giants a standing ovation as they exited the Polo Grounds. Cleveland went on to their sixth consecutive championship game appearance after the season, and sent Graham off to retirement with a 38-14 win over Sid Gillman’s Los Angeles Rams.

Coordination and the Man in the Middle

Significant changes took place for both teams prior to the 1956 season. Brown was frustrated with finding a suitable signal caller for his offense and rotated Tommy O’Connell, George Ratterman, and Babe Parilli under center. The Giants, on the other hand, found a quarterback for their defense. Landry retired as a player and was now a full-time, fedora-wearing coach on the sideline. As a player, Landry knew his own physical limitations, so he had dedicated himself to being the smarter player. He was always aware not only of his own responsibilities on the field but also those of his teammates. In the burgeoning days of Owen’s Umbrella, while Landry coordinated the secondary, he envisioned all 11 players operating in a similar fashion. As he grew into the responsibilities of coaching, Landry began to teach his teammates the concept of reading offensive tendencies, which he called “keys” during film study.

Landry’s central theory was that an offense’s possibilities were limited once its personnel were on the field and a pre-snap formation was aligned. Post-snap, the defense would then read each offensive player’s first step to see where the play would go. Landry distilled it down to a science. For example, the weight a guard had on his front hand could predict whether he was going to drive block or pull on a run, or drop back to protect on a pass. Landry wanted a smart player like himself to realize the defense’s potential.

Sam Huff came to camp as a guard, but was converted to middle linebacker, a new position that evolved from watching film of Bill Willis on the Browns. On some occasions, Willis would be a half-yard back from the line of scrimmage, either in a three-point or two-point stance. But Landry used Huff as a fully declared linebacker, a full yard back from the center, always in a two-point stance, which allowed him to read the offensive backfield. Landry said, “Sam was a very disciplined player. The thing that made him so good was that he would listen, and he would do what was necessary to operate our defense. The effectiveness of the 4-3 depends on the defensive team recognizing a formation, knowing what plays can be run from that formation, and then recognizing keys that tell them the likely play or plays to expect.” Huff attributed the success to his teammates, “We played as a team on that Giants’ squad. I had help. The defense was set up so the defensive linemen actually kept the blockers off me.”

When the two 1-1 teams met in Week 3 at Cleveland, the strain of lacking an on-field leader had already worn on Brown. Always way ahead of his time, he conceived of radio communication between himself and the quarterback to get the plays called. The Giants were onto him early, and designated rookie end Bob Topp to sit on the end of the bench and decipher the Browns’ plays with a receiver tuned in to Cleveland’s frequency. Brown eventually reverted to his rotating guard system to send the calls in, but the Giants rolled to their first win over the Browns in three years, 21-9, behind the strength of a rushing attack that compiled 256 yards. On Monday, The New York Times declared “the Giants handled the Browns the in the manner the Browns used to handle the Giants.” On Tuesday,NFL Commissioner Bell barred electronic coaching devices on game day.

The Giants flexed their muscles with four more wins over Eastern Conference opponents, three of which took place on their new home field at venerable Yankee Stadium, just across the Macomb Dam Bridge from the Polo Grounds. When the Giants and Browns met in Week 11 for their rematch, 4-6 Cleveland was in the unfamiliar position of looking up in the standings at 7-2-1 New York. Brown must have used that as motivation, as the Browns defied expectations and manhandled the Giants in the rain and snow on the muddy field in a 24-7 romp.

The Giants clinched the Eastern Conference the following week with a win at Philadelphia, then won their first NFL Title since 1938 when they defeated the Chicago Bears at Yankee Stadium 47-7. Gifford had a season for the ages. He led team in both rushing yards and pass receptions, for the first of four consecutive seasons, and led the NFL with 1,422 total yards from scrimmage (819 rushing, 603 receiving). Gifford scored nine total touchdowns, five rushing and four receiving, and added two more scoring passes from his option role on the sweep. He also had 161 total yards and a touchdown in the championship game against the Bears. His receiving the NFL MVP award was almost anti-climactic.

The Browns made good use of their draft position following their first losing season in team history, taking fullback Jim Brown from Syracuse. The quarterback situation was still somewhat unsettled, as Brown split starts between O’Connell and Milt Plum, but the effects were minimal as their greatest success came when they were handing off to Brown, who led the NFL as a rookie with 942 yards and nine touchdowns. Brown would lead the NFL in rushing eight of his nine seasons, and this was the only one in which he did not go over 1,000 yards. He would also grow into a receiving threat over time, and lead the NFL in total yards from scrimmage six times.

Umbrella Defense, Split T-Formation, Wing-T Formation

The Giants opened the season at Cleveland in what would be a tense defensive battle. Brown rushed for 89 yards on 21 carries, but neither team accumulated 200 total yards of offense. Cleveland won on a Groza kick at 0:23, 6-3. The Giants rebounded to win seven of their next eight games, fueled in part by another Landry defensive innovation: a linebacker “red dog” in which at the snap of the ball, Huff or one of the outside linebackers would immediately attack the backfield.

When the calendar turned to December, the 7-2 Giants were just a half game behind the 7-1-1 Browns. New York dropped games against San Francisco and Pittsburgh, rendering the finale against Cleveland meaningless in regards to the Eastern Conference standings. However, the Giants-Browns rivalry had achieved Yankees-Red Sox status, and the advance ticket sales for the game were 50,000 and the turnstile count for the game was 54,292, the Giants’ largest home crowd for the season.

This was the first game where Landry assigned Huff the explicit responsibility of keying solely on Brown. Landry said, “Our defense was not designed specifically for Sam Huff to stop Jim Brown, our defense was designed to stop the offense we were working against. Our defense was based on coordination. Sam was just one of the 11 people who were coordinated. Specifically, the front seven was coordinated against the run. He was just one element in that group. But he got great recognition, which he deserved, because in this particular defense he was stopping Jim Brown, who is almost unstoppable. ” Huff versus Brown almost became a rivalry within a rivalry.

The Giants’ offense played well. Heinrich and Conerly combined for 282 passing yards and Gifford scored two touchdowns, one rushing and one receiving. New York led 28-27 with under 7:00 left on the clock, but Plum lead Cleveland to the winning score as Graham had done so many times before. Brown had another strong outing for Cleveland, rushing for 78 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown in the 34-28 victory. Cleveland returned to the championship game but lost again to Detroit.

Reckoning and Recognition

The Football Giants’ ascension in New York’s consciousness came at just the right time. Following the 1957 season, both the Baseball Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers left town for California. Yankee Stadium was the fulcrum of professional sports in New York for all of 1958.

The first meeting between the two Eastern Conference stalwarts did not take place until the first week of November when the 5-0 Browns hosted the 3-2 Giants. A raucous crowd of 78,404, the fourth largest in Cleveland professional football history to-date, packed Cleveland Stadium but went home disappointed after a second-half come-from-behind effort by New York.

New York Giants at Cleveland Browns (November 2, 1958)

New York Giants at Cleveland Browns (November 2, 1958)

Brown looked unstoppable for Cleveland in the first half, rushing for a 58-yard touchdown (his 15th of the season in just his sixth game!) but the aerial game struggled. Plum completed only four passes for the entire game and was intercepted twice by Jimmy Patton.

The Giants’ attack was balanced. Conerly tossed three scoring passes, two to Webster in the second half, the last of which came with less than three minutes remaining. They brought Conerly’s career touchdown pass total to 140, which placed him second all-time behind Sammy Baugh’s 187. The unlikely hero was Triplett, who outrushed Brown on the day 116 yards to 113 (which was 50 yards below Brown’s season average). It would be the sole 100-yard effort in Triplett’s career.

Landry’s coordinated defense truly came into its own in the second half. He had noticed keys on Cleveland’s formations that tipped off when Brown was getting the ball, and when he was being used as a decoy and the ball would go instead to Bobby Mitchell. Huff’s reads of Brown were nearly flawless, as Cleveland had only 23 plays from scrimmage in the second half, gained only two first downs, and never crossed the 50-yard line. Cleveland’s 17 points were far below the 35 they had averaged over their first five games.

The defense-first trend continued for the Giants throughout the season. The 1958 Giants would end up being the lowest-scoring team of Howell’s tenure with 20.5 points per game. But the New York fans not only didn’t mind this brand of football, they relished it. Landry recalled, “We knew we were something special in New York. The city was just on fire. It was amazing the way they supported the Giants, and the defense. This was a brand new thing in pro football, because no one even knew when you played defense until the late fifties.”

Cleveland and New York met for the final game of the regular season at Yankee Stadium with the Eastern Conference crown on the line. The 9-2 Browns stunned the 63,192 in attendance on the first play from scrimmage. Brown galloped through the middle of the Giants’ 4-3 front untouched and outran the secondary for a 65-yard touchdown. It was all defense for the remainder of the half as Pat Summerall and Groza exchanged field goals for the 10-3 halftime score. The Summerall field goal came after an uncharacteristic Cleveland fumble, which was recovered by Jim Katkavage on Cleveland’s 39-yard line.

As the snow fell during the scoreless third quarter, the Browns’ confidence increased. Their opening possession of the third quarter took a full 12 minutes off the clock, but the drive ended without points as the Giants thwarted a fake field goal attempt. Conerly’s unit was unable to move the ball and punted as the period came to a close. The big play to start the game loomed as the possible difference in a trip to the NFL Championship. This game took on the feel of a stare-down between two rugged defensive outfits.

Early in the fourth quarter the unthinkable happened as Cleveland turned the ball over in their own territory a second time. Poise and precision had always been hallmarks of Paul Brown’s team, which had committed just 12 turnovers in their first 11 games. Plum fumbled on his own 47-yard line and Andy Robustelli recovered for New York at the 45. Stymied by Cleveland’s defense all day, Lombardi’s unit seized the sudden change in momentum and struck quickly on his signature sweep/option. On first down, Conerly faked to Webster and handed off to Gifford who ran toward the right sideline. As he neared the boundary, Gifford spotted Rote coming open behind the defense. He pulled up and lofted a deep pass for a 39-yard advance to the Browns’ six-yard line. After a rush for a loss and incomplete pass by Conerly, Gifford completed a touchdown pass to Schnelker between two defenders on another sweep/option to tie the game 10-10 with just over 10 minutes to play.

Bob Schnelker (85), New York Giants (December 14, 1958)

Bob Schnelker (85), New York Giants (December 14, 1958)

The Giants’ defense forced a punt after two sacks of Plum by Rosey Grier. But the offense failed to capitalize despite favorable field position when Summerall’s 33-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left. The kicker remembered, “I’d have liked to have gone anywhere but back to the bench. But four or five of the guys came over and told me to forget it, that they’d get me another chance.”

Summerall did get another chance. The New York defense forced another three-and-out. The Giants fielded a short punt near mid-field (the exact yard line was impossible to determine on the now snow-covered field). Three incomplete passes left the Giants’ last hope hanging in the balance on fourth down and 2:07 on the clock, with a tie as good as a victory for Cleveland. Confidence was lacking for a Giants’ offense that had struggled all day. On third down they had missed a sure touchdown connection between Conerly (who was only 10-for-27 on the day) and Webster. “I had (the defender) beat pretty good, five or six yards. But the ball came out of the snow – I know that’s no excuse – and it went right through my hands and I dropped it on the five-yard line.” Webster said, “It would have been an easy six points.”

Howell took the unusual step of overruling his offensive coordinator Lombardi, who wanted to call another pass play, and sent Summerall on to the field for a desperation kick attempt. Summerall said, “I couldn’t believe that Jim Lee was asking me to that. That was the longest attempt I’d ever made for the Giants. It was a bad field and it was so unrealistic. Most of the fellows on the bench couldn’t believe it either.” Wellington Mara shared the popular belief, “That Summerall kick was the most vivid play I remember. I was (up in the press box) sitting next to Ken Kavanaugh and Walt Yowarsky and we all said, ‘He can’t kick it that far. What are we doing?’”

The attempt was logged officially from 49 yards, but some believe it was further. Summerall said, “No one knows how far it had to go. You couldn’t see the yard markers. The snow had obliterated them. But it was more than 50 I’ll tell you that.” Rote supported that theory. He remembered standing on the 50-yard line and said that Conerly spotted the ball, “two yards past me.”

Pat Summerall (88) and Charlie Conerly (42), New York Giants (December 14, 1958)

Pat Summerall (88) and Charlie Conerly (42), New York Giants (December 14, 1958)

Regardless of the actual distance, any kick on that snow-covered field in the wind was going to be a formidable task. As Conerly cleared a spot for the placement, he heard Cleveland players shouting “stay onsides!” to one another. The snap, spot, and hold were perfect as could be, but the ball’s trajectory was not.

Summerall described the kick’s near wayward flight, “I knew as soon as I touched it that it was going to be far enough. My only thought was that sometime you hit a ball too close to the center and it behaves like a knuckleball, breaking from side to side. It was weaving out. But when it got to the 10 I could see it breaking back to the inside.” Conerly felt a little better about it, “I looked up as soon as Pat hit the ball. It looked real good and it made me feel real good. There was a lot of guilt riding on that one.”

Pat Summerall's Field Goal is Good, Cleveland Browns at New York Giants (December 14, 1958)

Pat Summerall’s Field Goal is Good, Cleveland Browns at New York Giants (December 14, 1958)

Summerall was mobbed by teammates as Yankee Stadium erupted in delirium. Plum moved Cleveland near mid-field where Summerall’s counterpart Groza attempted what was thought to be a 55-yard field goal, but it fell well short of the cross bar. The Giants survived 13-10 and had forced a playoff for the right to face the Baltimore Colts for the NFL Championship.

The perfectionist Paul Brown blamed himself for the loss. He stayed up that night and re-watched the game film. He concluded he made a tactical error by running the ball too much, perhaps caused by overconfidence from the game’s first play. After that 65-yard touchdown run, Brown was held to just 83 yards on 25 carries.

Brown was not the only one looking back; history was not on the Giants’ side. The Giants were 0-2 in the franchise’s two previous standings tie-breakers. The 1950 loss at Cleveland lingered in recent memory, but another from the past resonated as well. After the 1943 season, New York was tied atop the Eastern Division with Washington 6-3-1. The Giants forced the playoff by defeating the Redskins not only once, but twice, to close the season. However, despite the playoff being held within the friendly confines of the Polo Grounds, Sammy Baugh and his teammates exacted thorough revenge by whipping the Giants 28-0. Defeating the same team three times in the same season was believed to be an unrealistic expectation by most observers.

The players did not seem to notice the doubters however. Practices at Yankee Stadium were unusually spirited throughout the week, crisp and hard-hitting. The enthusiasm carried over to the game on a bright but bitterly cold 20-degree Sunday in front of 62,742 eager fans.

Jim Brown received the opening kickoff and advanced it 45 yards. Plum completed a pass before Brown fumbled on a hit by Katkavage that was recovered by Grier. Heinrich returned the favor however and threw an interception of his own. After a Cleveland punt, Heinrich threw a second interception. The New York defense held again. And Conerly took the field and crafted a 12-play, 84-yard drive, mixing runs and passes. The final play of the drive was a bit of razzle-dazzle drawn up by Lombardi earlier that week.

The play started out as a simple sweep left by Webster on the Cleveland 18-yard line. Webster then handed off to a reversing Gifford sprinting right. Gifford cut through a hole behind the right guard. Racing up field, Gifford juked a safety then surprised everybody when he lateralled to a trailing Conerly. The old quarterback was hit at the goal line but fell into the end zone for what would be the game’s lone touchdown. Conerly said, “It was something new we put in this week. The lateral on the end was optional.”

The Browns responded with another drive into Giants’ territory, but Groza’s 46-yard field goal attempt was wide left and short. Conerly engineered another drive that Summerall capped with a three-pointer to give the Giants a 10-0 lead at the half. Cleveland managed one more scoring threat late in the third quarter when Don Maynard lost a fumble returning a punt. Plum moved the Browns to the New York six-yard line, but following two sacks, Huff intercepted a pass on the first play of the fourth quarter. Cleveland never threatened again. After a quick exchange of punts the Giants ground away the clock with their power running game and controlled the ball 10 of the final 11 minutes.

Pat Summerall (88), New York Giants, Eastern Division Playoff (December 21, 1958)

Pat Summerall (88), New York Giants, Eastern Division Playoff (December 21, 1958)

The furiously-fought game’s stars were the magnificent front four, who wrecked Cleveland’s blocking schemes. Robustelli, Katkavage, Grier, and Modzelewski kept Huff free from interference and harassed Plum and Jim Ninowski every single snap. Brown endured the worst showing of his otherwise sterling career with eight yards on seven rushes. Taking into account Brown’s 20-yard run in the third quarter, it means Brown lost 12 yards on his other six carries! Huff said, “Cleveland likes to run its plays to perfection. As long as they run the play perfect, they figure your mistakes will beat you. Well, here I was knowing Jimmy would run and just where he would run. I wasn’t about to make any mistakes.”

The fans in attendance helped fuel the inspired front four’s engine, roaring their appreciation every time the defense held and the Cleveland offense trudged to the sideline. Brown said, “They just played even harder than last week, more determined.” Cleveland was held to a meager 86 yards of offense and seven first downs. The Giants had two times as many plays from scrimmage, 80 to 40, and they controlled the pace with 211 yards on 53 rushes. This was only the second time the Browns were held scoreless in nine NFL seasons, and it was the first in 114 games. The last occurrence was the very first meeting between the two teams in 1950. Howell acknowledged the impressive performance, “They played the best defensive ball I ever saw a club play against a real good team.” Katkavage succinctly stated, “We just played better under pressure.”

The Giants hosted the Baltimore Colts the following week in what became known as “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” Giants’ fans would probably disagree as their team lost the first overtime game in NFL history, 23-17. But the stage had been set for professional football to capture the nation’s imagination. After the season, Lombardi moved on to Green Bay. The Giants repeated as Eastern Conference champions in 1959, this time on the arm of NFL MVP Charlie Conerly who blossomed under the tutelage of new offensive coordinator Allie Sherman. The clinching-game was on a Yankee Stadium field flooded by delirious fans who were probably somewhat in disbelief of the one-sided 48-7 score over Brown’s Cleveland team.

By the end of the next decade, football not only surpassed baseball as the National Pastime, it had become a national obsession, dominating television ratings in season while commanding headlines throughout the offseason. This was a far cry from the game’s humble stature at the opening of the decade when NFL box scores were fortunate to receive a few paragraphs of type while being buried on the sports pages alongside the previous day’s finishers in the money at the local race track.

The two teams represented the American / Eastern Conference in all 10 NFL Title games in the 1950’s, with the Browns winning three (’50, ’54 & ’55) and the Giants one (‘56.) Each franchise is well represented from the era at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Frank Gifford (16), New York Giants (December 6, 1959)

Frank Gifford (16), New York Giants (December 6, 1959)

Cleveland: Paul Brown, Otto Graham, Marion Motley, Bill Willis, Dante Lavelli, Len Ford, Frank Gatski, Lou Groza, Doug Atkins, Mike McCormack, Jim Brown, Henry Jordan, Willie Davis, Gene Hickerson, Bobby Mitchell

New York: Steve Owen, Emlen Tunnell, Arnie Weinmeister, Tom Landry, Frank Gifford, Roosevelt Brown, Vince Lombardi, Andy Robustelli, Sam Huff

The head-to-head outcomes were remarkably even, with Cleveland holding a 10-9-1 regular-season advantage, and both teams winning a conference tie-breaker.

New York Giants vs. Cleveland Browns (1950's)

10/1/50New York 6 at Cleveland 0
10/22/50New York 17 vs Cleveland 13
12/17/50New York 3 at Cleveland 8 (American Conference Playoff)
10/28/51New York 13 at Cleveland 14
11/18/51New York 0 vs Cleveland 10
10/12/52New York 17 at Cleveland 9
12/14/52 New York 37 vs Cleveland 34
10/25/53 New York 0 vs Cleveland 7
12/6/53New York 14 at Cleveland 62
10/31/54 New York 14 at Cleveland 24
11/28/54 New York 7 vs Cleveland 16
11/6/55 New York 14 at Cleveland 24
11/27/55New York 35 vs Cleveland 35
10/14/56New York 21 at Cleveland 9
12/9/56 New York 7 vs Cleveland 24
9/29/57 New York 3 at Cleveland 6
12/15/57New York 28 vs Cleveland 34
11/2/58New York 21 at Cleveland 17
12/14/58New York 13 vs Cleveland 10
12/21/58 New York 10 vs Cleveland 0 (Eastern Conference Playoff)
10/11/59 New York 10 at Cleveland 6
12/6/59New York 48 vs Cleveland 7
The Rivalry That Changed Professional Football: New York Giants – Cleveland Browns 1950-1959 (Part I)