Sep 092019
 
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At Least There Was Something Worth Looking At – © USA TODAY Sports

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Dallas Cowboys 35 – New York Giants 17

QUICK RECAP

For the fourth time in five years, Big Blue traveled to Dallas to kick off the regular season. That in and of itself is exceptionally odd but that can be a discussion for another time. The Giants changed their culture and roster nearly as much as any organization in pro football. Gone is arguably the top play-maker in franchise history, gone is arguably their top pass rusher, and in comes a real offensive line and surrounding cast who supports the kind of team that can revolve around their generational talent at running back, Saquon Barkley. This season has a fresh new feel to it and week 1 was as anticipated as its been in awhile.

That anticipation and dare-I-say optimism was rewarded early. The Giants forced a DAL punt on the first drive and proceeded to march down the field and get in the end zone via just 7 plays. The main-gain was a 59-yard run by Barkley through a wide open hole and speedy scamper down the left sideline. Manning hit Evan Engram for a 1-yard score that gave NYG their first, and last, lead of the game, 7-0.

DAL had a dominant offensive day and the warning signs were present on the very next drive. They converted two straight 3rd-and-4’s via the passing game near or inside the hashmarks, a glaring hole that was exposed all day in the NYG swiss-cheese defense. Dak Prescott hit tight end Blake Jarwin up the middle for a 28-yard touchdown without a defender anywhere near him. The Giants have had issues covering the position for years and most in particular against DAL. Let’s not forget that Jarwin was the no-namer last year that scored 3 touchdowns against NYG in week 17. Funny how some things simply do not change.

The refs didn’t do NYG any favors in this one and perhaps the biggest miss was an intentional grounding called on Eli Manning on the following drive. Manning was clearly hit while throwing by the untouched blitzing linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, which prevented the ball from reaching the line of scrimmage. This penalty took NYG out of field goal range and forced a punt.

DAL opened the 2nd quarter with a 9-play drive that saw Prescott go 7/7 – 95 yards – with a touchdown to Jason Witten. No you aren’t reading a repeat game review from years ago. The 2018 Monday Night Football announcer, in his first game back from retirement, scored his 16th career touchdown against NYG. He doesn’t have 10 total against any other team in the NFL. DAL took a 14-7 lead and they were just getting started. NYG went 3-and-out on the next drive before DAL put together a 13-play, 6:43-game clock drive that ended in Prescott’s third touchdown of the game, this time to Amari Cooper who burned rookie Deandre Baker. All of the sudden halftime was here, DAL was up 14 after having the ball for nearly twice as long as NYG.

The Giants began the second half with the ball and crossed midfield quickly. They were faced with a 4th-and-8 and contrary to what Pat Shurmur opted for in the past, they went for it. That resulted in a conversion via a nice pitch-and-catch to Bennie Fowler but they were unable to create much more. Aldrick Rosas came on to nail his first field goal of the year, a 28-yarder to make the score 21-10.

NYG defense needed to show they could make the halftime adjustment and set the tone. The result? A 45-yard pass to Amari Cooper. A 5-yard run by Ezekiel Elliot. A 25-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb that looked like a practice play on air. “On air” means no defense on the field. Nobody even looked at Cobb running his route up the middle of the field, let alone tried to cover him.

NYG was down by 18, albeit with plenty of time on the clock. They made it to the DAL 8 yard line and it was 3rd-and-2. At this point they were in a go-for-the-touchdown mode no matter what. The play call on 3rd-and-2 was a run to fullback Elijhaa Penny. They gained 1 yard. The 4th-and-1 call was a rollout passing play that resulted in Manning not getting rid of the ball, trying to juke 3 DAL defenders, and getting sacked while fumbling the ball. Barkley didn’t touch the ball on either play.

DAL starting deep in their own territory (89 yards away from the end zone), needed just 7 plays to put another 7 points on the board. Deeply aided by a 62-yard pass to WR Michael Gallup, up the middle yet again, Elliot dragged two NYG defenders into the end zone on a 10-yard touchdown run. It was 35-10 at the end of the 3rd quarter.

The two teams traded a few possessions after that without anything noteworthy taking place. The Giants scored a touchdown via a Wayne Gallman 2-yard run in the classic too-little, too-late situation. Daniel Jones then got his first NFL regular season action on their next drive. He completed 3-of-4 attempts before scrambling and fumbling, a reoccurring theme we saw out of him in preseason. DAL re-took the ball and confirmed their win.

Giants lose 35-17.

QUARTERBACK

  • Eli Manning: 30/44 – 306 yards – 1 TD/0 INT. Manning also lost a fumble on a 4th-and-1 passing attempt, a turnover either way. Manning’s overall performance was not a poor one. He protected the ball and made a few big-time throws to both the intermediate and deep levels. He was sacked just once in this one and for the most part, had a pretty clean pocket to work with. The issues with Manning may not have been obvious in the initial look, but after watching this again he made a few major mistakes. When NYG was down 28-10, there was just a crack-in-the-door left in terms of hope. On that drive, Manning was about to have Barkley run past safety Xavier Woods with no safety help over the top. It would have been an easy, long touchdown pass. Instead, Manning got rid of it too fast and ended up hitting Barkley in the back. Later in the drive, Manning had a 4th-and-1 play-action rollout where there was nothing to lose. The initial read was Sterling Shepard, who was running along the goal line more than open enough. Manning hesitated, again, and held onto the ball with multiple DAL defenders closing in on him. The cement-footed QB did his best version of a juke but it resulted in a sack-fumble. A turnover. He has to know by now that in a situation where you are down 18 in the second half and you are that close to the end zone, you have to throw it. Even a blind, toss-it-up-and-hope-for-the-best throw would have been better than holding onto it. Manning’s reaction time, his sluggish movement on long-developing screen plays, and underlying fear to make things happen are going to get him on the bench at some point.

RUNNING BACK

  • Saquon Barkley: 11 att / 120 yards – 4 rec / 19 yards. Barkley averaged 11 yards per carry, including a 59-yard highlight-reel play on the first drive. His vision, grit, and balance stood out in this one. He did fumble on the first touch of the game, the first fumble of his career, but luckily it did not result in a turnover. Barkley wasn’t used enough and Manning’s misread on the pass that hit him in the back would have likely ended in a long touchdown. More on this team misusing him later on.
  • Wayne Gallman: 2 att / 17 yards / 1 TD – 3 rec / 24 yards. Gallman picked up some garbage stats when DAL was up 35-10 in the 4th quarter. Still a solid showing for the underrated backup.

WIDE RECEIVER

  • Cody Latimer: 3 rec / 74 yards. Latimer was on the receiving end of the longest, and second-longest passing gains of the game for the Giants. His one-handed reception at the beginning of the first half that resulted in 43 yards was yet another reminder that there is something here that NYG has to exploit. The triangle numbers are there and his ball skills continue to improve. At some point, the eyebrow-raising ball skills and propensity to finish need credit. And by credit, I mean a more consistent dosage of opportunities. He was also interfered with twice but the refs opted to keep the flag in their pants
  • Sterling Shepard and Bennie Fowler combined for 11 rec / 84 yards. Fowler made arguably the nicest catch of the night on 4th-and-8 where he fully extended up and out while approaching the sideline, and was able to tap both feet in bounds as he completed the dive towards the ground.

TIGHT END

  • Evan Engram: 11 rec / 116 yards / 1 TD. There has been chatter revolving around Engram taking over the #1 pass-catcher role in this offense with Beckham out of the picture. If week 1 is the indicator, be ready for a top-3 season at the position in the NFL. Engram was targeted 14 times on all levels and he looks just as explosive as he ever has. He also made the key block on Barkley’s 59-yard run in the first quarter.
  • Rhett Ellison and Eric Tomlinson played sparingly, with Ellison still holding onto the main number-2 TE role. He made a few nice inside blocks on the move to spring Barkley free from the initial trash at the point-of-attack. Otherwise, a quiet game.

OFFENSIVE LINE

  • Overall, the increase in overall quality of the group was apparent from the beginning. The left side was solid in the run game especially. Nate Solder and Will Hernandez were powerful and effective off the snap. Hernandez got flagged for a hold (the interior pass rush again) but Solder kept the blindside under control for the most part besides one pressure where he lost his balance.
  • Jon Halapio has been highly-touted by Pat Shurmur, a former center himself, for a couple years now. And besides one pressure from a very unorthodox stunt where DE DeMarcus Lawrence looped all the way to the center of the line, he was dominant. Halapio was clearing inside running lanes by himself and perhaps the most impressive block of the entire game came from him 10+ yards downfield near the sideline on a screen-type pass to Engram. He tossed his man multiple yards into the air, which allowed another few yards of gain. He was the highest-graded NYG lineman.
  • The right side was solid inside with Kevin Zeitler, not so much outside with Mike Remmers. The latter allowed 2 pressures, was blown up twice in the running game that ended up causing TFLs, and was flagged for a false start.

DEFENSIVE LINE

  • The trio of Dalvin Tomlinson, B.J. Hill, and Dexter Lawrence is a group to get excited about when it comes to run defense. They occupied multiple blockers all game and they did their part in keeping Ezekiel Elliot under wraps (4.1 yards per carry is under his 4.7 career average). But one thing about the three of them, they didn’t make plays and I wouldn’t expect much more out of them. Hill did break through the line a few times. The trio combined for 7 tackles, 0 pressures, 0 sacks.
  • Olsen Pierre actually played two more snaps than Lawrence. That is likely a result of him knowing the scheme a bit more and he can offer more as a pass rusher. At the same time, perhaps Lawrence hasn’t quite yet earned it or his lack of conditioning is still an issue? Pierre and fellow backup R.J. McIntosh were quiet for the most part.

EDGE

  • Markus Golden and Lorenzo Carter saw the most snaps off the edge. Carter recorded 1 pressure and broke up a pass downfield but was otherwise quiet. Golden saw nearly 80% of the snaps so he was on the field, but he may as well been on the sideline. His attempts at rushing the passer were, to be kind, rusty.
  • Rookie Oshane Ximines saw a decent amount of action in is NFL debut, as Kareem Martin left the game with a knee injury. Ximines got violently introduced to the league by Tyron Smith, who remains in the discussion for the top OT in football. Ximines showed some fight, however, which was nice to see. He lost outside contain on a 3rd-down rushing play, as he just wasn’t able to recover after being fooled by misdirection. It resulted in a first down.

LINEBACKER

  • Maybe Alec Ogletree is still hurt? Maybe he is rusty from all of the practice and preseason action he missed? But the perennial up-and-down player was downright awful in this one. Stats aside (6 tackles and a PD), Ogletree was downright abused by play-action. For the leader of the defense, he sure seemed like he had no idea what DAL was trying to do nor did he show any awareness or reaction to what was going on around him.
  • I like how they swapped Tae Davis and Ryan Connelly in and out. I’m not going to call for a lineup change right now, but those two were the best LBs that NYG had on the field in this one. Davis had 3 tackles and a pressure but still makes aggressive mistakes. I would still rather live with those than the other way around, though. Connelly finished with 2 tackles and a TFL, with the TFL being arguably the best defensive play of the night stemming from instincts, reaction, and closing ability.

CORNERBACK

  • Janoris Jenkins was probably the top NYG defender on the night. He had 5 tackles (3 of which were against the run) and DAL rarely looked his way when passing.
  • The reason for that? Antonio Hamilton and rookie Deandre Baker were on the field. They were absolutely toyed with, torched, beaten…whatever else you want to throw in there…all night. It was ugly and it never got better and there weren’t any positives that came from it. Hamilton was being targeted nearly-non stop but he also missed 3 tackles. One of which was on a 3rd-and-9 pass to Randall Cobb five yards shy of the first down marker. Hamilton had Cobb in front of him, sideline next to him, both hands on, and Cobb barely had to try to get right past him and past the marker. DAL scored a touchdown on the next play to make the score 14-7.
  • Grant Haley, the nickel, was just a hair too late on several occasions no matter where the ball was thrown. The nickel spot is as important as any DB position on the field these days and his feel-good, UDFA-story is wearing off. He isn’t making plays.

SAFETY

  • A sore spot on this defense for a while now. Week 1 didn’t seem any better and if anything, it may have been even worse than what we saw last year. Antoine Bethea has had an overly-impressive career. But the 35-year old who the 20th-ranked IND defense didn’t want after 2013, the 32nd-ranked SF defense didn’t want after 2016, and the 20th-ranked ARI defense didn’t want after 2018 is now starting for NYG. He was fooled, very badly, nearly every time DAL showed misdirection. The play-action fakes had him running in the wrong direction as wide open pass catchers (both tight ends and wide receivers alike) trotted right by him almost as if it was a joke. The worst play of the night was the 62-yard gain to WR Michael Gallup via a short slant pass where Bethea took an awful angle to the action but was still within a yard or two of Gallup when he caught the ball. He simply didn’t have the twitch to just touch him, let alone make a tackle. It was atrocious.
  • Jabrill Peppers and Michael Thomas won’t escape this without blame. They too looked overly stiff and out of position. They are both aggressive, physical defenders but neither showed the ability to forecast and react. By the time they knew what DAL was doing, by the time they were actually moving in the right direction, it was too late. You can be sure future opponents are going to watch this game tape and salivate over their inability to read-and-react.

SPECIAL TEAMS

  • K Aldrick Rosas: 1/1 (Made 28) – 2/2 XP.
  • P Riley Dixon: 4 punts – 41.5 avg – 41.5 net – 3 inside 20

3 STUDS

  • RB Saquon Barkley, OC Jon Halapio, TE Evan Engram

3 DUDS

  • S Antoine Bethea, CB Antonio Hamilton, EDGE Markus Golden

3 THOUGHTS ON DAL

  1. Michael Gallup. The number 1 graded WR on my draft board in 2018. The WR who I said will out-produce Amari Cooper in the coming years starting right now. Be afraid of this kid, guys. His combination of speed, agility/looseness, ball skills, and knack for special awareness can make him a household NFL name.
  1. Should they pay Dak Prescott? Or do they have possibly the best possible situation around him that makes him seem better than he really is? I think a valid argument can be made either way but the truth is simple. This team is 32-16 with him as the starter and there isn’t a position in football that messes with team chemistry more than QB. Maybe Zeke is more responsible for their and his success than anything, maybe it is the OL, maybe it is the improving young defense. But messing around with QB could damn then for a long time. Pay him.
  1. Pretty quiet night for the DAL pass rush. I think that is still the question with this team and whether or not they can make a big push in the postseason. DeMarcus Lawrence is legit, but who else is getting through a quality offensive line? At this moment in time, I don’t see that guy yet. And they won’t be able to purchase anyone in the near future.

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

  1. 158.3 – The perfect passer rating. The Giants defense was fully healthy. They had two new safeties. They had a 1st-round pick at corner and a 1st-round pick at DT. They contained the running game for the most part. However Dak Prescott put together one of the best passing performances, maybe even THE best, in DAL franchise history. There are bad games and every defense is allowed to have them. But “bad” doesn’t do just how poor this was. It was an embarrassment and to be honest, DAL shot themselves in the foot via penalties by OG Zack Martin (who rarely commits penalties) and drops. This could have been so much worse, if you have the stomach to imagine that.
  1. 3rd-and1. 3rd-and-2. 4th-and-1. Three situations where NYG was losing and the game was starting to slip out of their grasp. Saquon Barkley, whom ended up averaging over 10 yards per carry (best in the NFL week 1 for backs with 7+ touches), Saquon Barkley, whom is a “generational talent”, Saquon Barkley, whom has this offense built around, did not touch the ball on any of those plays. Two passes and a hand off to the fullback. Those 3 plays resulted in a gain of 1 yard and a turnover. I can understand and respect that you can’t be too predictable, that you need to put other things on tape. But when your struggling offense needs to make things happen and your best player is literally dominating every time he touches the ball, give him the ball. “Keep it simple, stupid.”
  1. You can’t think of many worse ways to start off a year but at least the offense showed the ability to make some plays. Barkley, Engram, and Latimer raised a few eyebrows. The offensive line was stout and consistent. The ship isn’t completely broken but the defensive side of it needs to at least look like a pro unit against BUF next week at home. If something like this happens against Josh Allen and company, let’s start talking 2020 NFL Draft.
Sep 082019
 
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Oompa Loompas

The New York Giants Defense

DALLAS COWBOYS 35 – NEW YORK GIANTS 17…
The New York Giants were clearly outclassed by the Dallas Cowboys 35-17 in the regular-season opener at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas on Sunday. The Giants begin the 2019 season with a divisional loss.

In many ways, the game was even more lopsided than the final score would suggest. The Cowboys scored touchdowns on five straight drives from the 1st quarter to the 3rd quarter, only calling off the dogs in the 4th quarter.

New York actually took the early lead after forcing the Cowboys to punt on their initial possession and followed that up with a 7-play, 89-yard touchdown drive, highlighted by a 59-yard run by running back Saquon Barkley, and ending with a 1-yard touchdown reception by tight end Evan Engram from quarterback Eli Manning. Oddly, despite this early success, Head Coach Pat Shurmur only called 11 carries for Barkley on the day.

After that, the roof caved in on New York as Dallas scored touchdowns on every possession until the 4th quarter. The Giants could not stop the pass as quarterback Dak Prescott registered a perfect quarterback rating (158.3) as he completed 25-of-32 passes for 405 yards and four touchdowns. The Giants pass rush was invisible (no sacks, only two quarterback hits) and the coverage was even worse. Dallas’ five possessions:

  • 11 plays, 75 yards, touchdown
  • 9 plays, 93 yards, touchdown
  • 13 plays, 83 yards, touchdown
  • 3 plays, 75 yards, touchdown
  • 7 plays, 89 yards, touchdown

At that point, the 3rd quarter was ending and the Cowboys were up 35-10.

Meanwhile, the Giants’ offense couldn’t keep pace. After New York’s initial scoring drive, the team’s other three first-half possessions ended with two punts and a turnover on downs on a Hail Mary deep pass at the end of the half. The Giants cut the scored to 21-10 on their initial drive of the 3rd quarter, but Dallas simply responded with another touchdown. On New York’s ensuing possession, the drive ended on 4th-and-1 at the Cowboys’ 7-yard line when Manning was sacked, causing a fumble that was recovered by Dallas. The Cowboys scored for their final time on the subsequent possession.

The third and final score by the Giants came in garbage time with running back Wayne Gallman scoring from two yards out with less than three minutes to play.

Manning finished 30-of-44 for 306 yards and one touchdown. His leading receiver was Engram, who caught 11 passes for 116 yards and a touchdown. Barkley carried the ball 11 times for 120 yards.

The Giants’ defense allowed 494 yards (405 through the air). The Giants did not register a sack, interception, or force a fumble. They only hit the quarterback twice and only had three pass defenses.

Video lowlights are available at Giants.com.

INACTIVES AND INJURY REPORT…
WR Darius Slayton (hamstring), TE Garrett Dickerson (quad), QB Alex Tanney, RB Paul Perkins, OG/OT Chad Slade, and OT Eric Smith were inactive.

Linebacker Kareem Martin injured his knee and did not return.

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

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

GIANTS RESTRUCTURE NATE SOLDER’S CONTRACT…
In order to create more short-term salary cap room, the New York Giants have restructured the contract of left tackle Nate Solder. The Giants reportedly converted $7.5 million of Solder’s 2019 base salary into a fully-guaranteed roster bonus. The Giants had entered the season with the NFL’s least amount of cap space. ESPN is reporting that this revision will create an additional $5 million in immediate cap space but adds $2.5 million to the cap in both 2020 and 2021.

WHAT’S UP NEXT…
Head Coach Pat Shurmur and select players will address the media by conference call on Monday. The players are off on Tuesday and return to practice on Wednesday.

Sep 062019
 
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Cody Latimer, New York Giants (December 30, 2018)

Cody Latimer – © USA TODAY Sports

Game Preview: New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, September 8, 2019

THE STORYLINE:
I’ve been struggling all week with the way to frame this football game. And I think the reasons for my trouble is I am not sure how to frame the 2019 New York Giants. Your individual perspective will influence your expectations about this game, this team, and this season.

For many fans, this is a time to be excited. They still believe in Eli Manning, especially since it looks like he will have a competent offensive line in front of him. The Giants arguably have the most exciting player in the NFL on their roster in Saquon Barkley. A young defense should improve as the season progresses. The Giants seem to be more of a “team” and because of that, more fun to support and root for. In terms of this specific game, the Giants usually play the Cowboys tough in Dallas. The Cowboys don’t score a lot of points and the Giants are poised to shock everyone if a few things fall their way. After all, if you can’t get excited for the season opener, then why the hell are you a fan?

Others will look at this match-up as two teams in very different places. The Cowboys are coming off a division championship and a 10-6 season with the expectations that they will seriously compete for an NFL Championship. They have an experienced and proven coaching staff, a physical grind-you-down offense, one of the best defenses in football, and annually-strong special teams. On the other hand, the Giants have finished last in the NFC East the past two years with an 8-24 record. The pre-2018 roster has been all but completely purged and the team is clearly still in the midst of a mammoth roster rebuild. The coaching staff is unproven, a potentially messy quarterback transition is brewing, and the defense is green and lacks the ability to rush the passer. The Cowboys have won the last four Giants-Cowboys games and 10 of the last 13.

So should fans be optimistic or pessimistic about this game, this team, and this season? It depends on you.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • WR Darius Slayton (hamstring – out)
  • TE Garrett Dickerson (quad – out)
  • RT Mike Remmers (illness/back – probable)
  • CB Antonio Hamilton (adductor – probable)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
“(Dallas’) speed and quickness,” said Offensive Coordinator Mike Shula. “They’re built for speed. They’ve always been. They get to the ball fast. They fly around, and because they get to the ball so quickly, they’ve created a lot of turnovers. Their scheme allows them to play really, really fast and they’ve drafted guys within that scheme that can be very disruptive.”

“They’re a very active defense, and they’re active at all three levels,” said Head Coach Pat Shurmur. “The defensive line moves around quite a bit, so blocking moving is going to be important. Their linebackers do a good job of running downhill, but more impressively, sideline-to-sideline. Then in the secondary, when they play man, they can match up really well. They obviously do a good job when they play most of their three deep zone. It presents a challenge. There are good players at every level. We just have to go out and try to out-execute them.”

Dallas is exceptionally well-coached on the defensive side of the football under Rod Marinelli. On top of that, the Cowboys have some of the best defensive players in football. Led by defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence (10.5 sacks, 39 QB pressures), their defensive line is still underrated and disruptive. The starting trio of linebackers of Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith, and Sean Lee are arguably the best in football. Byron Jones is one of the best corners in the League. Overall, the Cowboys play smart defense, usually forcing the opponent to make a mistake before they do.

While Giants can create match-up problems with Saquon Barkley and Evan Engram against any linebacker or safety, the Giants really don’t have any wide receiver who will scare defenses deep, especially fast defenses like the Dallas Cowboys. The way to beat a fast, quick defense is not to try to run away from them, but to run right at them. The Giants are going to have to matriculate the ball down the football field with a heavy dose of Barkley behind a hopefully much-improved offensive line, short- and intermediate-passing, and an occasional deep shot to Barkley and Engram. To keep the chains moving, the Giants need to limit penalties, stay out of bad down-and-distance situations, and obviously convert on 3rd down. The Cowboys will focus their attention on Barkley and Engram, and dare Sterling Shepard, Cody Latimer, and Bennie Fowler to beat them. Barkley can’t get cute and try to break the big play on every run. He has to take what is there and get those 3, 4, and 5 yard runs. With the Dallas defense focused on Barkley from the get-go, if Shurmur wants to cross the Cowboys up early, Eli Manning must connect on those short passes. Incompletions will lead to 2nd- and 3rd-and-long.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The national media spends so much time fellating the Cowboys that you don’t need me to cover too deeply what the Giants are up against. After holding out all summer, Ezekiel Elliott is now the highest-paid running back in football history and is raring to go against the Giants. He operates behind a somewhat overrated, but still very physical offensive line. Elliott has already led the league twice in rushing (to put that in perspective, the last time a Giant did that was in 1951). And he is a dangerous receiver out of the backfield (led the Cowboys in receptions with 77). Giant-killer Cole Beasley is gone, but super-Giant killer Jason Witten is somehow back to torment us. Amari Cooper highlights the receiving corps. The divisive figure for fans is quarterback Dak Prescott. Some people love him, others think he is overrated. But the guy is built like a tank, is hard to tackle, keeps plays and drives alive with his feet, and can make clutch plays in tough situations.

The Cowboys are a run-heavy team. Despite all of the changes on the Giants’ defense during the past two years, this team still needs to prove it can be a good run defense. The results in the preseason were mixed. Dalvin Tomlinson, B.J. Hill, Dexter Lawrence, Alec Ogletree, Tae Davis, Lorenzo Carter, and Markus Golden have to hold the point-of-attack. Because that line and Elliott are going to punch them in the mouth. The Cowboys want 2nd-and-5 and 3rd-and-1 situations. They want to wear you down and then break you in the 4th quarter. The good news for the Giants? This ground-control attack is not conducive to a lot of scoring. The bad news? It tends to win football games, especially when combined with good defense and special teams.

And when the Giants do get into those 3rd-down situations, be it 3rd-and-7 or 3rd-and-2, they need to get off of the football field. This – along with and hand-in-hand with the team’s inability to cover the middle of the football field – is what has killed New York’s defense for the bulk of the past decade. Who will get to the quarterback? Will they even contain Prescott within the pocket? Will the tight ends run wide open over the middle? Ogletree, Davis, Jabrill Peppers, and Antoine Bethea will all be under the spot light. And Elliott is a MAJOR threat out of the backfield. It also appears that Antonio Hamilton and Deandre Baker will split time opposite of Janoris Jenkins. Both Hamilton and Baker will be tested.

As for the pass rush, we’ll just have to wait and see. Even the coach doesn’t know. “I think initially it’s going to be a group effort,” said Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher. “I can’t tell you 100 percent as we sit here today who’s going to be the sack leader, the disruptive player. To me, I kind of like that, because there is a little bit of unknown for people that are prepping for us. There’s a lot of guys that have something to go play and prove and establish themselves. I think it’s going to be exciting for me as I watch it from my position to see how it unfolds.”

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
For better or worse, the starting strong safety will be returning punts for the Giants on Sunday. Cody Latimer will be the kick returner. The Giants have a lot of defensive backs and linebackers on the roster… that should translate to solid special teams coverage.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Head Coach Pat Shurmur on his team: “They’ve come together as a team. Now we’ll galvanize ourselves as we go through the season. I’m looking forward to this group, as you go through the ups and downs of a season, because I think it’s a really good group and I think they care about one another. I’m looking forward to watching them work.”

THE FINAL WORD:
My heart says “Screw the Cowboys! We can beat the media darlings!” My head says these two teams are in vastly different places right now. The Giants may have a respectable year, but their first win is not likely to be on opening day. If the Giants do lose, Eli Manning will immediately be feeling the heat.

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

Cody Latimer – © USA TODAY Sports

Dallas Cowboys 36 – New York Giants 35

QUICK RECAP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NYG loses 36-35.

QUARTERBACKS

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

RUNNING BACKS

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

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

WIDE RECEIVERS

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

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

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

TIGHT ENDS

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

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

OFFENSIVE TACKLES

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

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

GUARDS/CENTER

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

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

EDGE

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

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

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

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

DEFENSIVE TACKLES

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

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

LINEBACKERS

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

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

CORNERBACKS

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

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

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

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

SAFETIES

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

SPECIAL TEAMS

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

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

3 STUDS

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

3 DUDS

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

3 THOUGHTS ON DAL

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

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

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

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

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

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

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

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

Giants End Season With Another Loss – © USA TODAY Sports

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

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

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

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

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

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

At the half, the Cowboys led 14-7.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Video highlights are available at NFL.com.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© USA TODAY Sports

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

THE STORYLINE:

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

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

Some saw it coming, others were more optimistic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE INJURY REPORT:

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

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

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

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

Sep 182018
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (September 16, 2018)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports

Dallas Cowboys 20 – New York Giants 13

QUICK RECAP

Two 0-1 teams entered Sunday night on the same day where the two other NFC East teams lost to even their records at 1-1. Whomever left AT&T Stadium would have a share of 1st place early in this 2018 season.

With top edge rusher Oliver Vernon still injured, Kerry Wynn started on the NYG 4 man front. DAL didn’t waste time as Dak Prescott connected with Tavon Austin for a 64 yard touchdown pass up the sideline on a blown coverage by Janoris Jenkins and Curtis Riley. After a 6 play drive, DAL had the ball back in their possession and gained 12-19-15-15 yards on their first 4 plays. This set them up for another 3 points and NYG was down 10-0 before the rhythm of the game even started.

The two sub-par offenses traded possessions a few times without gaining much of a field position advantage. NYG was force feeding the ball to Saquon Barkley who, if nothing else, was breaking tackles left and right every time he touched the ball. Manning was getting the ball out quickly because of the porous offensive line yet again and the DAL secondary was adamant about not letting Odell Beckham wreck the game.

One interesting observation from the early NYG offensive drives. When they were down 7-0, Pat Shurmur did not want to go for it on 4th and inches at midfield. For an offense that struggles to put together drives, an offense that struggles to even reach midfield, it was a puzzling decision. However when NYG was down 10-0, Shurmur opted to go for it on 4th and inches two times in a row despite being at a lesser field position. Not a big deal but it just screams lack of identity to me. 4th and inches at midfield for this offense needs to almost-always be a go-for-it situation.

With that said, NYG didn’t have one play on the DAL side of the field in the first half. They went in to halftime down 10-0.

On the fourth play of the second half, Manning was sacked for the 5th time by untouched blitzing linebacker Damien Wilson, forcing a fumble that was recovered by DAL. This was a trend that started early and continued on for the entire game. Stunts and blitzes, both basic and complex, confused the anemic offensive line. Lack of talent, lack of chemistry, and a lack of adjustment made this a painful game to watch.

DAL turned the turnover in to 3 points, giving them a 13-0 lead which probably felt like a 30-0 lead knowing who was on the other sideline.

Just when you thought NYG was completely out, in typical Eli Manning-era fashion, they showed life right after their darkest moment. Barkley continued to show elite-level yards after contact ability, Manning hit Cody Latimer for a game-high 37 yard gain, and Barkley gained 18 yards on a dump off pass that included moves I don’t see any RB in the NFL making. They were 1st and goal at the 3 yard line just to be brought back by a holding penalty and two consecutive pass plays where pressure was on Manning before he could make two reads. Also on this drive, NYG lost center Jon Halapio to a broken ankle and leg; he is done for the year. NYG did get on the board, making it 13-3.

The DAL offense started to create some hope too, as they just couldn’t move the ball, guilty of 2 straight holding penalties, and quickly putting the ball back in to NYG’s hands. There was a slight momentum shift at this point late in the 3rd quarter. NYG then responded with a 3 and out that was capped off by the 6th DAL sack of the night. Opportunity missed.

DAL then responded with a 14 play, 8+ minute, touchdown-scoring drive. Prescott controlled the drive, going 5/6 for 35 yards and rushing for 19 yards on 3 attempts. The score was by Ezekiel Elliott who barreled in to the end zone breaking though Kareem Martin for a 6 yard touchdown. DAL led 20-3 with under 6 minutes remaining in the game.

Manning and the NYG offense took advantage of a less-aggressive DAL defense, scoring their lone touchdown of the night on an 11 play drive capped off by a wide-open pass to Evan Engram in the end zone. NYG then recovered an onsides kick, recovered by Michael Thomas. They quickly gained another 27 yards and opted to kick a field goal to make it a one-possession game. It was their only hope. Rosas hit the field goal, making a 20-13 score but they failed to convert the second onsides kick.

Dallas wins, 20-13.

QUARTERBACKS

Eli Manning: 33/44 – 279 yards – 1 TD / 0 INT. Manning also added 3 rushing attempts for a total of 4 yards, two of which were successful 4th and 1 QB sneak conversions. Once again, Manning saw either the worst, or one of the worst amounts of protection from the OL in the league. There is going to be a weekly debate regarding whether or not Manning is done or not. My stance remains the same. The most athletic QB in the league wouldn’t be able to deal with this amount of pressure and lack of assurance from this OL group. Manning can’t step up in the pocket. He can barely even step into throws. 3 step, 5 step, 7 step drops….it doesn’t matter. Manning does deserve some blame, however. The limited shots he is getting downfield, he hasn’t capitalized on enough. In addition, his hoppy-footwork and occasional too-quick of a release has contributed to the poor offensive play. Call me stubborn, but I watch almost every NFL game every week, and nobody is dealing with this outside of Russell Wilson in SEA.

RUNNING BACKS

Saquon Barkley: 11 att / 28 yards – 14 rec / 80 yards. The run blocking was no better. I haven’t seen an NFL offense yet where the RB is getting hit earlier than what NYG is dealing with. Barkley was running into traffic and untouched defenders repeatedly. But because of his superior receiving skills, his impact on the game was strong. He set a franchise record with his 14 catches, most of which were dump offs, and he broke more tackles than any NYG running back has in a game since it’s been recorded. What he was able to do with the ball in his hands was just a glimpse of what we are going to see. Imagine he was playing behind a good group of blockers. The options and upside with him are endless.

-Wayne Gallman and Jonathan Stewart played a combine 13% of the snaps and gained a combined 4 yards. You can tell this coaching staff really wanted this win and they wanted no part in taking Barkley out.

-Really poor game by Shane Smith. He allowed 2 sacks against the blitz-happy Dallas defense. He was on the field for 4 plays. He allowed 2 sacks. If he can’t block, there is no point in him being on this team.

WIDE RECEIVERS

-Odell Beckham: 4 rec / 51 yards. Beckham recorded his second catch with 6 minutes left in the first quarter. His next catch wasn’t until the 4:22 mark in the fourth quarter. He wasn’t a factor for the majority of the game. They gave him two credible downfield shots, both were overthrown by Manning. I watched the All-22 and assumed he was being double teamed non stop, but that wasn’t the case. On the plays he had one on one coverage deep, the pass protection simply wasn’t there. Manning was forced to get rid of the ball before Beckham made his move. Timed well by the DAL defense.

-Sterling Shepard and Cody Latimer caught 2 passes each. Shepard also dropped one in the second quarter. Latimer’s first catch as a Giant was a nicely thrown deep ball where Latimer had minimal to no separation, but the lengthy and strong receiver showed nice ball skills to come down with it. One thing I see a lot with him is a lack of separation, as there isn’t a ton of twitch to his game, but he does have some long stride speed if Manning can ever get enough time.

TIGHT ENDS

Evan Engram: 7 rec / 67 yards – 1 TD. Engram caught all of the passes thrown in his direction. I think it may be time for Manning to look his way more often, especially with the need for such quick releases. He gets open consistently and he is so dangerous after the catch with his rare combination of size and speed. He had two clean looks at the end zone that Manning didn’t see. Safeties cannot cover him. One thing he hasn’t consistently done well yet is find the windows/lanes against zone coverage. The best receiving tight ends make an art of that; he isn’t close yet. As a blocker, he had another sub-par game. He allowed a tackle for loss and a sack in addition to getting drilled backwards a few times, making Barkley alter his path.

-Rhett Ellison saw 35% of the snaps and disappointed as a blocker. For a guy that has a role to aid the poor OL play, he sure hasn’t done it these first 2 weeks. He, too, was getting pushed backwards, creating a new point of attack.

OFFENSIVE TACKLES

-Nate Solder, the highest paid left tackle in the game, was physically overmatched in this one for the second week in a row. He allowed one tackle for loss and was flagged for a hold (which was declined) in addition to 2 pressures.. The one thing Solder does well compared to the rest of the OL is, even when he is beat, he stays on his man. The balance and athleticism helps him there. I also think he is a small victim of playing next to the rookie Hernandez, who is having a very hard time picking up this blocking scheme.

-Ereck Flowers had another below average performance. He allowed 3 pressures, struggled at the second level as a run blocker, and appears to have no clue what he is doing on stunts. He did have 4 “plus” pass blocks one on one against Demarcus Lawrence if you are looking for any glimpse of positive.

GUARDS/CENTERS

-The two guards were nightmares, it was the worst combined grade from the guards I have seen in 2+ years. Patrick Omameh was responsible for 2 pressures and 1 sack. He wasn’t able to sustain blocks. He has a decent punch at the line, but his man is off free within 1-2 seconds almost every time. Will Hernandez looks lost mentally. Again, the base-level athleticism is there, but it doesn’t show up because he is too slow to react. He allowed 1 pressure and 2 sacks. The first of which was about as bad as it gets. Hernandez was also completely whiffing at the second level as a run blocker. He continues to get a pass here and there for being a rookie, but there were moments where he didn’t even look competitive.

-Center Jon Halapio was having a decent game, but he broke both his ankle and leg during the 3rd quarter. John Greco came in to replace him. He allowed a pressure in his limited duty. He is likely to be the starting OC from here on out and I have been impressed with him in his short tenure with NYG. I don’t think this will have any negative impact on NYG.

EDGE

-With Olivier Vernon out again, Kareem Martin and Connor Barwin dominated the snaps. They are both journeymen caliber players. Barwin did have a solid game, as his short area pop is still there and he is feisty. He had a pressure and pass break up. Martin looks like a complete non factor. His contact balance is poor, he can’t get off blocks as a pass rusher, and the speed off the edge is non-existent. He had 3 missed tackles and finished with 1 pressure.

-Lorenzo Carter’s speed and athleticism showed up. He had 2 pressures on the same drive. When he sees a consistent stretch of plays, his level of play improves. As the year progresses, we should see him on the field more. He missed outside contain twice but his speed to the sideline made up for one of them. He really does have rare athleticism. Kerry Wynn had 2 tackles, one of which was for a loss. Hate to see him not make much of an impact as a pass rusher after a strong preseason yet again. This team needs him to step up.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES

-Damon Harrison controlled the two inside gaps like he always does. DAL had a lot of success on the ground, but it wasn’t any fault of Harrison’s. It’s amazing how, when he is single teamed against a running play between the tackles, he is always in on the tackle. Every time. He also recorded a pressure.

-Dalvin Tomlinson and B.J. Hill received average grades. Hill was quiet but pursued well and held his ground. One thing they both struggled with was getting off blocks in time at running plays in their direction. They were just a step too slow a few times. Hill was also taken off the field in passing situations.

LINEBACKERS

-Really poor game by Alec Ogletree. Yes, he led the team with 6 tackles and a couple of them were an impressive blend of speed and power. He missed 2 tackles and was really late to recognize on a few others. When that happens, the blocker gets the angle and makes it nearly impossible to fill the lane in time. B.J. Goodson recorded 1 tackle despite playing more than 50% of the snaps. He, too, missed a tackle. If it’s not between the tackles, Goodson has looked very pedestrian so far.

-Ray Ray Armstrong didn’t impact the running game, but he excelled in coverage. On three occasions he completely took out Prescott’s intended target with perfect coverage. He adds an element none of the other LBs do.

CORNERBACKS

-For the second week in a row, Janoris Jenkins was beat on a vertical route early. This time, it resulted in an early touchdown by Tavon Austin. He completely whiffed at the point of attack and couldn’t catch up. The question may need to be asked at some point, are his off-field struggles impacting his play? He was solid from there on out, as he wasn’t tested much.

-Eli Apple with another excellent game. What I have always wanted to see with him, dating back to his college days, is more play with his feet and less with his hands in coverage. 2 weeks in o 2018, he appears to be clicking there. His All-22 tape was the best of the DB group.

-B.W. Webb was tested often. He was on the field for 77% of the snaps. He was flagged once and allowed a few catches but overall he was solid. Donte Deayon didn’t play much, but almost came up with a red zone interception in the 4th quarter.

SAFETIES

-Landon Collins has been very hit or miss since his All-Pro 2016 season and that trend continued Sunday night, with more lean towards the miss-side. He missed two tackles and was fooled badly twice on run plays. The misdirection has been giving him a lot of trouble and when he isn’t on, big gains are created.

-Curtis Riley had a bad night. He was late and took a bad angle on the Austin TD in the first quarter and had a bad missed tackle that led to a big gain by Ezekiel Elliot.

SPECIAL TEAMS

-K Aldrick Rosas: 2/2 (Made 28,38). Rosas remains perfect on the season. He also created a successful onsides kick in the 4th quarter.

-P Riley Dixon – 6 Punts – 43.3 avg / 40.0 net. Solid margin there and he landed 3 inside the 20.

-KR/PR: Cody Latimer had two impressive kick returns; he is fast in space and runs through initial contact consistently. Kaelin Clay had another near turnover as a PR.

3 STUDS

-RB Saquon Barkley, CB Eli Apple, DT Damon Harrison

3 DUDS

-OG Will Hernandez, OG Patrick Omameh, LB Alec Ogletree

3 THOUGHTS ON DAL

-I’ve seen every snap of DAL over the first 2 weeks and I still don’t think this will be a .500 team. The offense is abysmal. Overly reliant on the running game with an OL that is not nearly as dominant as it was 2 years ago. Prescott threw for 96 yards on 23 attempts beyond the TD pass to Austin where Jenkins had a rare whiff at the line of scrimmage.

-Get to know the name Chidobe Awuzie. DAL second year CB is going to be considered one of the best in the game within a year or two. He matched Beckham step for step several times in coverage on all levels, both laterally and vertically. He is great at making adjustments to the ball and he is one of the most physical tacklers in the league at the position.

-Jaylon Smith, now another year removed from his scary knee injury, now may be the best LB on this team. His 10 tackles and 1 for loss were impressive, as he fills the lane with no hesitation and lets you know he is there. And his most impressive play of the night? Deep coverage against….Odell Beckham.

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

-Losing a tight game to JAC was one thing, but this loss to an average-at-best DAL team has created a strong thought that this will be a 5-6 win season at best. We discussed throughout the offseason that filling all these holes in just a few months was borderline impossible. You can’t say its over yet, but the issues on this roster are awfully high in volume.

-What can be done with this OL? They are going to be a poor unit all year, but is there anything that can be done that can give the offense at least some hope consistently? The one hope is that Hernandez, a rookie that didn’t play against NFL prospects in college, improves on a normal rookie scale. Also, this line is playing together for the first time so one could say chemistry will be developed in time. If those two things don’t happen, I really don’t see any hope here and that’s a shame because this group of playmakers is among the best in the NFL.

-Just how good is Landon Collins? I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but he is probably next up on long term contract talks. He is an unrestricted free agent next year and I have a hard time accepting he deserves top tier safety money. His 2016 season (which was All-Pro caliber) may be impacting everyone’s view on him too much. I do think he is good, he is 24 years old, and he does play hard. But 2017 was underwhelming and he has been bad these first 2 weeks. Missed tackles, fooled badly, and minimal impact on passing plays. He needs to play better and there is no way around it. This defense sorely needs a playmaker.

Sep 172018
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (September 16, 2018)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports

DALLAS COWBOYS 20 – NEW YORK GIANTS 13…
In a game that was not as close as the final score would indicate, the New York Giants got their asses whipped on Sunday night, falling 20-13 to the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Giants may have also suffered a significant injury as starting center Jon Halapio was carted off the field with his right leg in an aircast.

The offense of the Giants was a train wreck:

  • The Giants could not run the ball (35 yards on 17 carries, with four of those yards and three of those carries coming from quarterback Eli Manning).
  • The Giants could not protect the quarterback as Manning was sacked six times.
  • The Giants punted all five times they had the ball in the first half, only picking up a total of six first downs, 79 net yards, and never crossing midfield.
  • The Giants began the 3rd quarter by turning the ball over at their own 27-yard line when Manning was sacked and he fumbled the ball away, and leading to a Dallas field goal.
  • Down 13-0, the Giants finally entered Dallas territory halfway through the 3rd quarter on an 11-play, 66-yard possession that ended with a 28-yard field goal. The Giants lost nine yards on their next possession in the 4th quarter, at this point only having accrued only 135 net yards.
  • The team’s final 108 offensive yards and 10 points came in garbage time, after the team was trailing 20-3 with less than six minutes left to play.

The New York defense only played a little better:

  • Dallas scored on a 64-yard passing play on the third play of the game as cornerback Janoris Jenkins and free safety Curtis Riley were badly beaten by wide receiver Tavon Austin.
  • The Cowboys went up 10-0 as the Giants’ defense then allowed an 8-play, 64-yard drive on their second possession, resulting in a 37-yard field goal.
  • The Cowboys salted the game away in the 4th quarter with a marathon, 14-play, 82-yard drive that ended with a 6-yard touchdown run by running back Ezekiel Elliott.
  • The defense finished the night with no sacks, no tackles for a loss, only two pass defenses, and no turnovers.

Video lowlights are available at Giants.com.

INACTIVE LIST AND INJURY REPORT – JON HALAPIO SERIOUSLY INJURED…
Inactive for the New York Giants were linebacker Olivier Vernon (ankle), linebacker Tae Davis (hamstring), quarterback Kyle Lauletta, center Evan Brown, center/guard Spencer Pulley, cornerback Michael Jordan, and safety Kamrin Moore.

Center Jon Halapio left the game with what appeared to be a broken right ankle or leg. Cornerback Eli Apple left the game with a groin injury. Linebacker Kareem Martin and wide receiver/punt returner Kaelin Clay both left the game with an ankle injuries but later returned.

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

  • Head Coach Pat Shurmur (Video)
  • QB Eli Manning (Video)
  • RB Saquon Barkley (Video)
  • WR Odell Beckham, Jr. (Video)
  • WR Sterling Shepard (Video)
  • LT Nate Solder (Video)
  • CB Janoris Jenkins (Video)
  • S Landon Collins (Video)

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

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

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports

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

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

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

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

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

THE INJURY REPORT:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dec 132017
 
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Rhett Ellison, New York Giants (December 10, 2017)

Rhett Ellison – © USA TODAY Sports

Dallas Cowboys 30 – New York Giants 10

RECAP

A 2-10 team could not have had more attention than what the Giants had coming into their home, week 14 match-up against the middle-of-the-pack Dallas Cowboys. Eli Manning made his first start back after a one-week hiatus for the first time since 2004. This was the result after ownership opted to fire Ben McAdoo and Jerry Reese which was inevitable but possibly accelerated because of how they handled the Manning benching. With the NYG throwback uniforms being worn and a crowd that was fully behind Manning at the start, the game had an intense feel to it for the first time in months.

There was an odd, uncommon start to the game. Both teams put together marathon drives, 16 plays for DAL and 17 for NYG. They both resulted in 3 points respectively and before we knew it, the game was into the 2nd quarter. Dallas was shooting themselves in the foot with multiple offsides penalties by their defensive line and failure to capitalize on two NYG fumbles.

Spurred by a 35-yard pass to Evan Engram, NYG marched down to the goal line on their 3rd drive of the game. In true calm, cool, and almost relaxed fashion, Manning hit Rhett Ellison for a 1-yard touchdown on a play-action rollout to the right. NYG led 10-3 against a Cowboys team that has been mightily struggling to find their offensive identity without their suspended running back Ezekiel Elliot.

The sparse NYG crowd came to life but it was short lived. Dak Prescott hit Dez Bryant on a short slant and an aggressive mistake by cornerback Brandon Dixon, who went all in on trying to deflect the pass, led to Bryant spinning free post-reception with nothing but green in front of him. It was a 50-yard touchdown that evened the game at 10 with under 2 minutes left in the half and that ended up being the score at halftime.

The 3rd quarter saw DAL and NYG trade possessions a few times, with Damon Harrison dominating the Cowboys offensive line and Sean Lee impacting the game on every possible level against the Giants’ offense. The most accurate kicker in NFL history, Dan Bailey, missed his second in three chances as the end of the quarter came to a close. On 3rd-and-2 near midfield on the ensuing NYG possession, Sterling Shepard dropped a pass (adding the NYG first place ranking in that category). After forcing a 3 and out, NYG had 3rd-and-2 again approaching midfield and this time it was Roger Lewis who came up with the drop. The NYG receivers helped to set up what ended up being one of the ugliest quarters of the 2017 season.

Prescott hit Giants killer Jason Witten for a 20-yard touchdown up the – you guessed – middle of the defense with 7:45 left. All was not lost and NYG was still very much in it. Poor play calling and execution led to an NYG punt despite being in DAL territory. DAL faced a 3rd-and-3 and even though their thought process was to get the clock to 0:00, they went with an empty backfield approach. One quick slant later to RB Rod Smith and the NYG defense was trying to catch him from behind but to no avail. DAL took the commanding 23-10 lead (failed extra point).

As if that wasn’t enough, Manning threw his first of two interceptions into the waiting arms of Sean Lee. DAL was able to put the ball in the end zone one more time, shoving the knife a little deeper, via a 15-yard run by Smith. DAL keeps their playoff hopes alive and NYG falls to 2-11.

QUARTERBACKS

  • Eli Manning: 31/46 – 228 yards – 1 TD/2 INT. The two interceptions at the end of the game have an asterisk next to them. It was desperation time and he had to force things. The drops by Shepard and Lewis were killers and, at this point, both inexcusable but expected, ironically. Manning didn’t have a lot of “minus” throws and he just doesn’t have time to go through a lot of reads. This truly has become the worst situation in the league for any QB to work with from what I have seen.

RUNNING BACKS

  • Wayne Gallman: 12 att/59 yards, 7 rec/40 yards. Career high in rushing attempts, rushing yards, catches, and receiving yards for the rookie. I think he needs to be the feature backfield presence on this team from here on out. His vision and decision-making, combined with his athletic ability, make him a big-play threat this backfield hasn’t had in years. He did fumble early but it was luckily recovered by the offense.
  • Orleans Darkwa: 10 att/29 yards – 2 rec/15 yards. Darkwa had 2 poorly graded blocks and also fumbled early in the game, with his teammates falling on it. His presence as a tough inside runner was still there and he didn’t drop any passes, so good for him there.
  • Shane Vereen: 6 att/23 yards – 3 rec/24 yards. A lot of Vereen’s production comes in garbage time and/or on rushing plays when the NYG offense is facing 3rd and 10+. It is clear he won’t be a part of the picture after 2017.

WIDE RECEIVERS

  • Roger Lewis: 7 rec/46 yards. I knew Lewis was going to get more and more opportunities from Manning after their big play a few weeks ago. He led the team with 11 targets, the next leading target count among WRs was 3. His drop was a big one and he continues to show what I talked about in August, solid tools but minimal skills.
  • Sterling Shepard: 2 rec/16 yards. His impact on the game was never really felt, as he was only targeted 3 times. Shepard had a huge drop on 3rd down that took the wind out of the NYG sails.It was really disappointing to see him have trouble getting open against single coverage. He has not capitalized or risen to the occasion since Beckham and Marshall have been injured.

TIGHT ENDS

  • Evan Engram: 4 rec/54 yards. Watching the all 22 tape, this was the most double coverage Engram has seen all year. They were often bracketing him, a move I am surprised defenses didn’t do earlier in the season. He had the biggest play of the day for NYG, a 35-yard reception where DAL completely forgot about him in deep coverage. Engram added a drop and is among the league leaders in that category.
  • Rhett Ellison: 4 rec/20 yards – 1 TD. Ellison continues to be Mr. Reliable when targeted, as he has been all year. His 1-yard touchdown catch was actually pretty high-difficulty and impressive.

OFFENSIVE LINE

  • Tackles: Ereck Flowers righted the ship after a rough game last week in Oakland. He was the highest graded NYG blocker, well above the average mark. One encouraging sign other than simply not getting beat as often in pass protection, is he has really limited the penalties. His technique is still very shaky but it doesn’t always have to look pretty. Bobby Hart was back in the stating lineup, as Chad Wheeler was out with a concussion. He received a lot of help against Demarcus Lawrence. I wouldn’t call this a good game for Hart, but he only allowed 1 pressure and didn’t make any major mistakes that we were used to seeing.
  • Interior: Brett Jones and Jon Halapio both took a step back against the very average Cowboys DTs. Jones mightily struggled in pass protection when left alone for the second straight week, and Halapio allowed 3 pressures and was flagged for a hold. John Jerry didn’t get a lot of push in the run, and was inaccurate on trap blocks, missing his target twice. He hasn’t been good at making adjustments on the fly all year and that is a part of the job that is becoming more and more essential in the NFL.

DEFENSIVE LINE

  • Tackles: The glaring positive of this entire team over the course of the year is Damon Harrison. We are getting a treat in watching this guy play – the top DT in the game. His dominance against the inside run is almost assumed now but what stood out Sunday were the hustle plays he made near the sideline and down the field. You simply don’t see the big guys like him with that much range. Having him around is absolutely huge for the future of this team. Dalvin Tomlinson and Jay Bromley split duties next to him and both had quietly effective games.
  • Ends: Jason Pierre Paul had 5 tackles and a pressure. His impact on the game remains woefully inconsistent and near non-existent on 3rd downs. Olivier Vernon was outclassed by Tyron Smith, the top OT in the game. He finished with 1 tackle and a foolish roughing-the-passer penalty. When he can’t out-quick the blocker, his hand game just isn’t good enough to give a guy like Smith a problem.

LINEBACKERS

  • Kelvin Shepard and Calvin Munson were #1 and #2 in tackles on the day (10 and 9) but both had really bad beats on multiple occasions. Shepard is a between-the-tackles run defender only, as seen when he was assigned to cover RB Rod Smith in the 4th quarter on 3rd down and couldn’t stay within 3 yards of him on a quick slant. Munson has been improving as the year goes, but he hasn’t been getting off blocks at all. He really struggles there. Both of them and Devon Kennard had negative grades in coverage, with the glaring mishaps coming from Shepard (mentioned above) and Devon Kennard on Witten’s touchdown.

CORNERBACKS

  • Ross Cockrell and Brandon Dixon continue to dominate the playing time, as both were in for every snap. Cockrell continues to look better and better each week. I think this guy needs to be in the long-term picture. He had two very high-level PDs. Dixon added 2 PDs of his own, showing physical and aggressive play. He got a little too aggressive on the 50-yard TD pass to Bryant, however.
  • Darryl Morris and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie were each on the field less than half the plays but were very solid when they were in.
  • Eli Apple remained inactive, and his hole is being dug deeper and deeper.

SAFETIES

  • Landon Collins and Darian Thompson both graded out as average. Collins had a nice impact on the running game, notching a TFL and forcing the DAL ball carriers to re-direct. His feel through traffic is outstanding, excellent instincts. Thompson missed 2 tackles, neither of which were overly complicated. His lack of long speed was put on display a couple times as well.

SPECIAL TEAMS

  • K Aldrick Rosas: 1/1 – Made 39. Rosas only had one shot in this game, and he came through. He really hasn’t had a full dose of action to give NYG a real idea if he should be here long term or not.
  • P Brad Wing: 8 Punts – 43.4 avg/33.9 net. Wing wasn’t sailing the ball high enough and it gave DAL a few clean returns. He leads the NFL in punts this year and has appeared to take a step down in terms of quality.

3 STUDS

  • DT Damon Harrison, CB Ross Cockrell, RB Wayne Gallman

3 DUDS

  • OC Brett Jones, OG Jon Halapio, DE Olivier Vernon

3 THOUGHTS ON DAL

  • I said something similar after the week 1 matchup, but the impact a LB like Sean Lee has on the game week in, week out is as strong as any top-tier defender in the league, and I mean that. This guy impacts the game in so many ways, in so many situations. And the thing about having a LB like this is that it is incredibly hard for an offense to avoid him. He is everywhere. Take notes and apply, new front office.
  • This was a major confidence booster for the DAL offense. Their numbers without Ezekiel Elliot vs. their numbers with him have been atrocious but Rod Smith has been getting discussed for awhile now. It looks like he has things figured out and the talent is taking over. This team has the capability of getting hot from here on out and doing damage if they can sneak into the playoffs.
  • I was very high on the DAL draft this past year and two main reasons for that were CBs Jourdan Lewis and Chidobe Awuzie. Those guys can ball. Their impact on the game will be very strong for the next few years.

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

  • I am working on a list of coaches who I think NYG will be looking hard at. One common thing I am looking for is a guy who players really respond to, get behind, and will bleed for. I think that has been a major missing link with this team in recent years. Look at how PIT players play for Tomlin among other things. Vikings for Zimmer, Seahawks for Caroll…etc.
  • Get the ball to Gallman as much as possible over these next 3 weeks. I think it is important to get as much information on him as a player as possible. Saquon Barkley is going to be available when NYG is on the clock and unless you fall in love with a QB in the process, he has to be in the picture at least. If Gallman can be the guy, then that idea lessens. But you need to know.
  • I really do think NYG has something in Cockrell. I have watched every one of his snaps from the All-22 tape over the past few games and he’s been steady and impressive on all levels. There is a lot he does well, very little that he doesn’t do well.