Sep 252018
 
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Odell Beckham, New York Giants (September 23, 2018)

Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports

New York Giants 27 – Houston Texans 22

QUICK RECAP

On paper, this matchup looked as bad as it could get. On the road against a borderline desperate 0-2 team that had high expectations heading into the season. A pass rush that has shown the ability to wreck havoc on even the best of offensive lines. A young, athletic quarterback that has been lights-out in his short career at home against a defense without their top pass rusher and a starting cornerback. NYG has put out some ugly football over the past year-plus and the 0-2 start sucked out whatever confidence existed that this team would turn things around. Well sometimes when you’re pressed up against the wall, that is when the true colors come out.

Head Coach Pat Shurmur made his first big in-season move with the benching of Ereck Flowers for Chad Wheeler. While the talent and ability difference between the two may be non-existent, it was a sign to the team that everyone’s job will be on the line of the performance isn’t there.

The Giants dominated the first half. They controlled the point of attack on both sides of the ball. HOU couldn’t get a ground game going and shot themselves in the foot with 5 penalties. NYG on the other hand brought a balanced approach, scoring 2 touchdowns. The first being a 15 yard run by rookie Saquon Barkley and the second being a pass up the seam from Eli Manning to Rhett Ellison, who was in for the injured Evan Engram. NYG entered halftime with a commanding 20-6 lead.

HOU finally woke up in the second half, as they aggressively threw the ball downfield and applied more pressure to Manning in the pocket. NYG was simply trying to hold on until the clock read 0:00 at the end of the fourth quarter. HOU brought the score to 20-15 in the fourth quarter and at the time, NYG had earned just three second-half first downs. Momentum was being shifted into the home team’s hands but 2 costly turnovers and more HOU penalties helped the Giants.

Manning hit Sterling Shepard with the dagger that put this game out of reach with just over 2 minutes left. It was 27-15 at the time and even though HOU scored one more touchdown, the game was out of reach as there was just 1 second of game time where the score read 27-22.

NYG wins their first road game since October 15, 2017.

QUARTERBACKS

-Eli Manning: 25/29 – 297 yards – 2 TD / 0 INT. Manning finished with a 132.3 QB rating, the 9th best of his 15 year career. After 2 weeks of almost-no breathing room in the pocket, the offensive live elevated its play just enough for Manning to go through a read or two consistently. The results speak for themselves. Manning was quick to get the ball out, was on fire throughout every tier of the passing tree, and was as intense as we’ve seen him in a long time. As I’ve said since draft-time, Eli Manning is far from done and when the offensive line can play just OK, he can lead this team to wins. Plain and simple, really.

RUNNING BACKS

-Saquon Barkley: 17 att – 82 yards – 1 TD – 5 rec/35 yards. In addition to the offensive line upping their game, Barkley’s presence is slowly changing the opposition’s approach more and more. It was notable how the second and third level of the Texans defense were hesitant to drop into their coverage assignments when #26 was out there. Nobody wants to meet this kid in space, thus everyone has the mindset of keeping him squeezed in the tackle box. That alone has opened up more throwing lanes and gave Manning just 1-2 extra seconds in the pocket consistently. His touchdown run was another thing of beauty, as his contact balance, vision, and strength is a trio of traits that doesn’t exist elsewhere in the NFL. His biggest play of the day may have been in the 4th quarter where he lined up out wide. Manning threw him a 21 yard pass up the sideline on 3rd and 2. A few plays later, Manning hit Sterling Shepard for a touchdown that put the game out of reach. Think about everything Barkley does out of the backfield and in arguably the most crucial point of the second half with HOU momentum gaining steam, Barkley splits out wide and hauls in an athletic, wide receiver-caliber catch. He can do it all.

-Wayne Gallman and Jonathan Stewart combined for 8 carries / 33 yards. They were on the field for 18 plays and it’s smart to not overuse Barkley. This team needs him in the fold each and every week of 2018 with little-to-no drop off. Gallman can create on his own enough to warrant not overusing Barkley early on in the year.

WIDE RECEIVERS

-Odell Beckham: 9 rec – 109 yards. Beckham caught 9 of his 10 targets. They kept on peppering the defense with slants via Beckham, and I have to give him credit for the toughness he shows over the middle. That is a dangerous place for receivers and he really shows no hesitation pursuing the ball. HOU had a few moments where momentum was shifting towards their side, but plays by Beckham brought them right back down to earth. He had 3 plays where he beat one on one coverage deep, but Manning didn’t look is way. Nothing to be alarmed about and his time will come.

-Sterling Shepard: 6 rec – 80 yards – 1 TD. You won’t see an overly impressive stat line here, but Shepard played a huge part in the win. Let’s start with the obvious: his touchdown in the 4th quarter. Shepard is such a weapon from the slot when the defense is in zone coverage. He is too smart, too quick, too strong when attacking the ball. The defense stands almost no chance in that situation. He also had 2 key blocks on big gains. If this offense turns around on a consistent basis, Shepard will be a big reason why. That said, the dumb penalties need to stop. Emotion is great, but taunting penalties can really aid a loss.

-Cody Latimer finished with 1 catch for 15 yards. Manning looked his way a few times but Latimer just couldn’t get separation no matter what route it was.

TIGHT ENDS

-Evan Engram went down with a knee injury on a borderline dirty hit by knee-diver Kareem Jackson. On his lone catch of the day, he burst up the sideline showing that elite tight end speed but the hit he took will keep him out 4-6 weeks. Unfortunate blow for this offense.

-Rhett Ellison stepped into a more prominent role and had one of his better games as a Giant. Three catches for 39 yards and the second NYG touchdown of the day. I’ve always said this about Ellison, he is a crafty route runner and pass catcher. There is more to his game than meets the eye and while he doesn’t scare a defense half as much as Engram does, he will make things happen. For what its worth, his blocking grade was sub-par, with 2 pressures and 1 tackle for loss allowed.

-Scott Simonson played a career-high 16 snaps and threw a couple of impressive blocks. That will be his main role in the coming weeks and he has improved since early in the year.

OFFENSIVE TACKLE

-Nate Solder finally saw an uptick in his performance. The highest paid left tackle in the NFL controlled Jadaveon Clowney for most of the game, minus a few hiccups. He did have a holding penalty in addition to one pressure, but Solder threw a couple of key blocks on big gains to the left side. He and Will Hernandez still have some communication issues to fix, but this game was a vast improvement.

-The day finally came. Ereck Flowers was benched, as he stood on the sideline chewing on sunflower seeds for the entire game. Chad Wheeler stepped in for him. As nice as it may have been to see someone other than #74 out there, the result was the same. He allowed 3 sacks, 1 TFL, and 2 pressures. To be honest, if that were Flowers we would be ripping him again. So yes, I’ll say Wheeler was just as bad and that RT spot continues to be a glaring weakness of this offense. However one thing I liked out of him, he consistently hustles downfield to make the extra block. He plays hard, but he was simply outclassed by JJ Watt when left alone against him. And it’s not going to get much easier this week against the Saints’ Cameron Jordan. Curious to see how he, and the blocking game plan, responds.

GUARDS/CENTER

-Best game of the young career for Will Hernandez. As we saw a glimpse of weeks 1 and 2, Hernandez excels when things are in front of him. I think this team is trying to simply get him on an island with a man as much as possible, and he can handle it power wise. There are still struggles with linebackers and stunts, but this was a step in the right direction for the 2nd rounder. Patrick Omameh also played much better than what we’ve seen early in the year. His run blocking was the best of the group and it’s game tapes like this that will get him a job over the next few years. He really was impressive against DL and LB. Another angle to the Flowers benching is that the communication appeared better with Wheeler in the few times HOU tried to stunt and/or delay their blitzes on the right side.

-John Greco, in his first start at OC, was solid. He wasn’t left alone often, but there was talk about how much of a handle he has on blocking schemes and roles with this group. Where this group was last week with communication and assignments compared to this game is night-and-day-different. Much of that could have come from Greco calling the shots.

EDGE

-As much as I think Kareem Martin is still a replacement-level player, he made a few things happen against the struggling HOU offensive line. Only Alec Ogletree played more snaps than Martin among front seven defenders. He had 4 pressures which led the team. It didn’t result in any sacks but he forced Watson into quick decisions a few times. He also broke up a pass.

-Lorenzo Carter finished with 2 tackles, 1 sack, and 1 pressure. His role continues to increase as Olivier Vernon remains sidelined via injury. Carter won’t turn into a savvy or powerful pass rusher this year, but that speed, burst, and pursuit will make things happen throughout the year.

-Connor Barwin has been impressive, especially considering he was signed just a few weeks ago. He added 2 pressures. While he doesn’t make a lot happen for the amount of time he is on the field, I like having him on the team as a backup. The question will be whether or not he stays in front of Carter on the depth chart once Vernon is back.

-Kerry Wynn had, what may have been, his best regular season game as a pro. Last week I called him out, saying his preseason level of play at some point needed to show up in the regular season. He responds with 5 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 pressure, a pass break up, and a forced fumble that was recovered by NYG in the 3rd quarter. He was all over the field and as I said in August, he may be the DL that benefits from this scheme the most. If this guy can play at that level all year, it can’t be said enough how important that can prove to be.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES

-Damon Harrison, a nose tackle, led this team with 7 tackles (2 TFL). Damon Harrison played half of the defensive snaps. The Houston Texans ran the ball (via running backs) just 14 times the entire game. Let those 3 facts sit for a minute. Harrison is such a game changer and there isn’t a nose tackle like him in the game. He isn’t a space eater. He gets off blocks and pursues down the line as fast as everyone in that front seven. Enjoy this NYG fans, it doesn’t get better than him.

-Dalvin Tomlinson’s level of play is starting to catch up. It isn’t fair to compare anyone to Harrison, but Tomlinson was just as disruptive in this one. He was in on 4 tackles (1 for loss) and made a huge stop on the HOU attempt for 2 points in the 4th quarter. His consistency still leaves a little to be desired, but no complaints about the second year pro.

-Rookie BJ Hill saw a dip in playing time thanks to the emergence of Kerry Wynn. However he recorded his first sack on a play where his bull rush put fellow rookie Martinas Rankin on his butt. Big time power and push. I wouldn’t be alarmed by a lack of playing time because remember depth is key in the defensive trenches because at some point, someone(s) will go down.

-Mario Edwards saw an uptick in playing time and also recorded his first sack with NYG. It’s too soon to tell how much of an impact he will make here, but you have to be happy with his disruptive he’s been in limited action. Again, another solid scheme fit for the multi-look front.

LINEBACKERS

-Alec Ogletree turned in his best game of the young season as well. He had 5 tackles against an offense that didn’t run the ball much and when they did, they barely got by Harrison. He was stout and physical inside. He also came up with one of the biggest plays of the game, a 4th quarter interception in the end zone on an underthrown Watson pass to Lamar Miller. Much has been said about his struggles in coverage and he still had a couple of warts show up in this game, but that was a huge play from an inside linebacker that this team simply hasn’t gotten from that position in a long time.

-BJ Goodson and Ray-Ray Armstrong continued to split duties next to Ogletree. The combined for 4 tackles and a pass break up. Armstrong was flagged for a facemask penalty on a play where he sacked Watson, so that sack didn’t show up on the stat sheet. His speed to the edge is outstanding.

CORNERBACKS

-Janoris Jenkins was matched up against DeAndre Hopkins for much of the game, and it didn’t go so well. I wouldn’t put a negative grade next to his name, but he got outclassed across the middle three times and was flagged for a hold on a play where Hopkins blew past him vertically. That said, Hopkins is arguably the top WR in the game.

-No Eli Apple meant a game full of snaps for BW Webb, a late-free agency pickup who has played well here. He finished with 3 tackles and a pass break up. He too struggled against some of the lateral routes HOU ran with their speedsters, but he held his own in the couple times he was matched up on an island against deep routes.

-Donte Deayon finished with 4 tackles and a huge fumble recovery. Call it good luck if you want, but this kid gets around the ball often. I wasn’t surprised to see him being the one to land on the loose ball in the 3rd quarter. The kid is a hustler and has a nose for the action.

SAFETIES

-Landon Collins and Curtis Riley played every snap again. Collins had a solid game with 5 tackles, 1 TFL, and an impressive pass break up in the end zone where he showed outstanding awareness and ball skills. Riley, other than a bad missed tackle in the 3rd quarter, was solid in deep range coverage. He read Watson like a book on the few times he looked downfield.

-Michael Thomas saw extended playing time in passing situations. He is a solid presence to have out there because of how physical he can be against ball carriers on draw plays and/or screens.

SPECIAL TEAMS

-K Aldrick Rosas 2/2 (Made 44, 30). 3/3 XP. Rosas remains perfect on the young season and is putting them right down the middle.

-P Riley Dixon: 4 punts – 49.5 avg / 38.3 net. Not a great net average there, as he may have not been putting enough under the ball. HOU PR Tyler Ervin had too much space between him and the first defender a few times.

-KR/PR Stacy Coley, newly signed, bobbled but recovered his first punt. Quiet game besides that.

3 STUDS

-QB Eli Manning, DL Kerry Wynn, OG Patrick Omameh

3 DUDS

-WR Cody Latimer, OT Chad Wheeler, P Riley Dixon

3 THOUGHTS ON HOU

-Talk about a team that shoots itself in the foot. That has been the theme for HOU for a couple years now, none more so than what we have seen the past 2 weeks. Left tackle Julie’n Davenport and his THREE false starts + 1 holding penalty. Two bad turnovers in the second half when HOU was moving the ball and gaining momentum. The 0-3 Texans are going to be looking for a new head coach this upcoming offseason if this stuff doesn’t change.

-Calais Campbell in week 1. JJ Watt in week 3. These are two defensive linemen who came out of college who many did not know where to peg position-wise. Tall, long, and near-300 pounds with excellent power, bendability, and foot-quickness. They are now both in hybrid-front schemes where they are moved around and their impact is felt on almost every play. If this NYG scheme sticks around, there really is a lot of value on a defender like that. While the NYG defensive line looks promising for the next few years, this is the kind of player this scheme could use to maximum potential. And I already have a couple of prospects in mind for next spring’s draft.

-I am still holding out on calling Deshaun Watson one of the next big QBs in this league. So many were touting him as exactly that prior to this season based on a handful of solid performances in 2017, but I still see what I saw in college. Too many misfires on simple throws and a lack of awareness of what is going on around him in the pocket.

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

-As stated above, Chad Wheeler did not play well in this game. If it were Flowers, we would likely see fans outside of the Giants practice facility protesting his job. However the principle that Shurmur was finally the one to bench him is a welcome sign that this regime will quickly remove a player from the lineup who underperforms despite not having a lock to replace him. Now where do you go from here? Wheeler deserves to show if he can bring his play to another level like any young player, but if NYG continues to win and this spot continues to show weakness, it may be time to look into a trade for a veteran on a losing team. Joe Staley from SF is signed through 2019 and if the Niners season takes a nosedive without their starting QB, a phone call should be placed.

-The injury to Evan Engram is unfortunate. However with the way this team is put together, it may not have much of a negative impact. NYG will now have a true blocking TE in there at all times and as much as they are going to rely on the running game, it may actually be a better fit for the trenches. Considering the RT spot is going to need help, having Ellison or Simonson in there makes it easier to keep that extra blocker on that side. Where as when Engram is in there, the coaches have to feel like he needs to be running routes. My point is, his absence won’t be as negative overall as some are making out to be.

-This was one of the best versions of Eli Manning we have seen in a couple years. He played with some extra emotion, extra urgency, extra confidence. Offensive lines around the league rely on chemistry so much and the fact this group communicated much better in HOU was a very positive sign. If they can continue their upswing, this offense is incredibly dangerous.

Sep 232018
 
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Rhett Ellison, New York Giants (September 23, 2018)

Rhett Ellison – © USA TODAY Sports

NEW YORK GIANTS 27 – HOUSTON TEXANS 22…
The New York Giants may have saved their season on Sunday with a 27-22 victory over the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium in Houston. It was the team’s first win on the season and the Giants are now 1-2.

Some drama began before the game was even played as it was revealed that the Giants had benched right tackle Ereck Flowers for Chad Wheeler. The Giants will also have to hold their breath as tight end Evan Engram left the game with a knee injury and he will undergo an MRI on Monday.

Statistically, the game was pretty even. The Texans out-gained the Giants in total net yards 427 to 379 and both teams accrued 21 first downs. But the Giants won the turnover battle 2-0 and were 3-of-4 (75 percent) in red zone opportunities. The Giants also held the ball 10 minutes more than the Texans as the Giants out-gained them in rushing yards 114 to 59.

The Texans received the ball to start the game. They drove the ball 69 yards in 11 plays to set up a 23-yard field goal. To the defense’s credit, they held Houston to three points after they had set up a 1st-and-goal from the 5-yard line.

The Giants responded with a 10-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a 15-yard touchdown run by running back Saquon Barkley. Quarterback Eli Manning kept the possession alive with two 3rd-down conversions to his wideouts. The Giants forced a three-and-out on the Texans’ second possession and the Giants added to their lead with a 44-yard field goal by place kicker Aldrick Rosas after a 9-play, 58-yard drive. Giants 10 – Texans 3.

The Giants’ defense kept up the pressure on the Texans’ third possession, causing another three-and-out. The Giants then had their third scoring drive in a row by driving 64 yards in 10 plays to set up Rosas from 30 yards out. Big plays on the drive included a 19-yard catch by tight end Evan Engram and a 24-yard run by Saquon Barkley. Houston again went three-and-out and the Giants appeared to take firm control of the game with a 6-play, 71-yard drive that included a 17-yard pass to wide receiver Sterling Shepard, a 30-yard pass to wide receiver Odell Beckham, and a 16-yard touchdown pass to tight end Rhett Ellison. Giants 20 – Texans 3 with the Giants scoring on all four of their first-half possessions.

The Texans did manage to add three points right before halftime by driving the ball 65 yards in nine plays to set up a 28-yard field goal with no time left on the clock.

At the half, the Giants led 20-6.

The game got uncomfortably tight in the second half as the Giants’ offense was shut down for most of the rest of the game. The Giants were held to three first downs and 30 yards on their first four drives of the half, all ending with punts. Houston also cut into the lead again on their first possession in the 3rd quarter with a 54-yard field goal.

New York’s defense kept the game from getting tighter by forcing two turnovers. Defensive end Kerry Wynn forced a fumble that was recovered by cornerback Donte Deayon at the Giants’ 25-yard line. But Houston drove the ball deep again on their subsequent possession, reaching the Giants’ 8-yard line before a penalty and sack by defensive end B.J. Hill pushed the ball back to the 25-yard line. Then inside linebacker Alex Ogletree made an athletic interception in the end zone, resulting in a touchback.

After yet another three-and-out by the Giants, Houston drove 67 yards in seven plays with quarterback Deshaun Watson throwing a 6-yard touchdown pass with under eight minutes to play. The Texans failed on their 2-point conversion and the Giants led 20-15.

At this critical moment in the ball game, the New York offense finally came back to life. Manning threw a 23-yard pass to Shepard, a 17-yard pass to Ellison, and a 21-yard pass to Barkley. Three plays later, on 3rd-and-goal, Manning found Shepard over the middle for a 7-yard touchdown. The Giants now led 27-15 with just over two minutes to play. The Texans did make the game appear tighter than it was late by scoring one final touchdown with one second left.

Offensively, Manning finished the game 25-of-29 for 297 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions for a 132.3 quarterback rating. His top targets were Beckham (9 catches for 109 yards) and Shepard (7 catches for 80 yards and a touchdown). Barkley gained 82 rushing yards and one touchdown on 17 carries and also caught three passes for 35 yards.

Defensively, the Giants held what had been the League’s #1 rushing attack to 59 yards, with Houston running backs only gaining 23 yards on 14 carries (the other 36 yards were by the quarterback). The Giants also picked up three sacks, one each by Hill, linebacker Lorenzo Carter, and defensive lineman Mario Edwards. Wynn had a strong game with five tackles, a tackle for a loss, a pass defense, and a forced fumble.

Video highlights are available at Giants.com.

INACTIVE LIST AND INJURY REPORT…
Inactive for the New York Giants were linebacker Olivier Vernon (ankle), cornerback Eli Apple (groin), wide receiver Kaelin Clay (ankle), quarterback Kyle Lauletta, center Evan Brown, cornerback Michael Jordan, and safety Kamrin Moore.

Tight end Evan Engram left the game with a knee injury and did not return. He was wearing a knee brace after the game will undergo an MRI on his knee on Monday. “We don’t know how bad it is yet,” said Head Coach Pat Shurmur. “We’ll just have to see.”

Running back Saquon Barkley (knee) left the game but returned.

Cornerback Antonio Hamilton injured his groin in warm-ups.

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)
  • WR Odell Beckham, Jr. (Video)
  • WR Sterling Shepard (Video)
  • TE Rhett Ellison (Video)
  • LG Will Hernandez (Video)
  • LB Alec Ogletree (Video)
  • S Landon Collins (Video)
Sep 212018
 
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Evan Engram, New York Giants (September 9, 2018)

Evan Engram – © USA TODAY Sports

Game Preview: New York Giants at Houston Texans, September 23, 2018

THE STORYLINE:
Dramatic mood swings by football pundits, media, and fans are as old as the game itself. One minute the sky is falling; the next “we’re going to the Super Bowl!” So I’m a little wary about making definitive judgments about an 0-2 team with a new general manager, new coaching staff, new offensive and defensive systems, and massive roster turnover. After all, this team was never going to seriously challenge for a title run in 2018. The best that could be expected of a what had been an atrocious 3-13 team is that it improved to the 9-7 range. Expecting more than that was simply unrealistic.

But I’m worried. The first game against the Jaguars was a “respectable loss,” but the second game was a huge red flag. The Cowboys are not a good team. And yet they dominated the Giants. Thus far, this team looks no different than the 3-13 mess from 2017. The Giants not only can’t score 30 points in a game, they can’t score a total of 30 points in two games. And this is on the team with the highest-paid wide receiver in NFL history and the highest-paid rookie running back in NFL history? The Giants have the look of a car with a souped-up engine but rusted-out chassis.

It’s beginning to dawn on fans what some warned about in the offseason: that ownership made a massive strategic mistake in ONCE AGAIN believing this team only needing a bit of tweaking in order to contend. Firing Ben McAdoo, Jerry Reese, and Marc Ross were the right moves, but did the Giants hire the right replacements or simply “yes men” who would not rock the boat and re-evaluate EVERYTHING in how the team was being run? Did John Mara draw the wrong conclusions in not understanding that fans were upset HOW Eli Manning was benched rather than WHY? Did he foolishly bow to fan pressure and decide that Eli was untouchable moving forward?

Let’s take a step back here and look at the big picture. The Giants are not going to the playoffs in 2018. Eli Manning will be entering the last year of his current contract in 2019 at the age of 38. The guy Reese and McAdoo drafted to replace him in the 3rd round of the 2017 draft was cut this month. Unless you have a tremendous amount of confidence and faith in the future Alex Tanny or Kyle Lauletta, the Giants are in deep shit at the quarterback position. Will it surprise anyone if they draft a QB with a top-5 pick in April? I would argue now that it is to be expected. So is 2019 now also going to be a “wasted” season, Eli’s farewell tour, while his 1st-round replacement sits for a year? Shouldn’t that have been done this year?

What I’m trying to get at is that a franchise that “wasted” the last 7-8 years of Eli’s career in New York is now wasting Odell Beckham’s first 7-8 years. And will we be having the same conversation about Saquon Barkley in five years? Where is this franchise going? What’s the plan? I don’t see it.

I hate writing this shit. I hate being 0-2 again. I hate looking at the prospect of the season being over by October again. I’m tired of it. This isn’t fun. If the team were building towards something, it would be more tolerable. But as I posted on the site earlier this week, this has the feel of a movie we’ve seen before. If the team keeps losing, watch the injury list begin to grow.

The Giants desperately need a win. To stop the bleeding. To give the team and its fans some confidence. To inspire some hope and belief that there is some direction and this team can still make some noise in the current season. There is a world of difference between 1-2 and 0-3. The season is on the brink.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • WR Kaelin Clay (ankle – probable)
  • TE Evan Engram (ankle – probable)
  • LB Olivier Vernon (ankle – out)
  • LB Connor Barwin (knee – probable)
  • CB Eli Apple (groin – out)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a team with so many credible weapons be so inept. The Giants are doing the impossible. A team with Odell Beckham, Saquon Barkley, Evan Engram, and Sterling Shepard can only score one touchdown per game. (Even more startling when you consider that the first TD came off one play, and the second was a garbage-time affair). Most of us understood that the offensive line would be the Achilles’ heal of offense again, but not to this extent. These guys look worse than last year’s train wreck. Worse, there is absolutely NOTHING behind the five struggling starters. The cupboard is bare and there are no reinforcements walking around out there on the street. Enter J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and Whitney Mercilus. Yikes.

As is ALWAYS the case when a team struggles, the quarterback has become the lightning rod. That will never change. And it comes with the job description so both the quarterback and his hyper-sensitive supporters need to get over it. I love Eli. He’s the best QB in franchise history. But he’s been a losing QB now for four of the last five years in a league filled with mediocre teams and quarterbacks. His defenders will charge that no quarterback could operate behind this line (and they could be 100 percent correct), while his critics will assert that the Giants have hooked their wagon to a QB who has to have everything perfect in order to succeed. The truth most likely lays somewhere in the middle. What we do know is that outcomes are not pretty and Eli’s career is ending in a very ugly fashion.

There are those who claim it can’t get worse. Imagine Eli being carted off of the field and Alex Tanney hurriedly warming up on the sidelines.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
With some justification, many will say the Giants’ defense hasn’t been a problem. After all, they held the Jaguars to 13 offensive points and the Cowboys to 20. Unlike the offense, the defense has been respectable. But they need to do more. They need to create more game-changing plays: tackles for losses, sacks, forced fumbles and fumble recoveries, interceptions. Create superior field position for a struggling offense. For the second week in a row, we saw some disappointing trends developing: lack of game-changing plays, run defense that hasn’t been as good as expected, and costly breakdowns by their #1 corner. Olivier Vernon is still out. And now Eli Apple is hurt. This team still hasn’t faced a truly dynamic offense yet, one that can seriously test what is likely a weak secondary.

For the third week in a row, the Giants will be challenged by an elite-level running game (averaging almost 160 yards rushing) and a quarterback who can hurt you with his feet. But quarterback Deshaun Watson can also hurt you with his arm. And he has wideout DeAndre Hopkins to throw to. Janoris Jenkins had better get his early-game struggles out of his system because Hopkins can embarrass him. And with Eli Apple out, the match-up of B.W. Webb or Donte Deayon against Will Fuller looks problematic.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Knock on wood for the second week in a row, but the special teams have being holding up their end of the bargain. The next step forward would be to make a game-changing play: a blocked kick, a converted fake, a return for a score.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Head Coach Pat Shurmur on the offensive struggles: “We just have to make sure we get the ball in the end zone in the first half, that’s just it. We find a way to drive the ball a little bit, get stalled out on third down – we have to make sure we can’t get stopped third and inches, fourth and inches. We have to get the first down, keep the drive alive, and then find a way to get some big plays.”

THE FINAL WORD:
Well, I was as wrong as could be with last week’s prediction. That Dallas loss took the wind out of my sails. Until they prove otherwise, I don’t trust this team. The offense is still a dysfunctional mess. The line can’t run or pass block so Odell and Saquon are literally being wasted. The secondary has the feel of a house of cards that has been protected thus far by the lack of quality of the opposition. If this team goes 0-3, the media and fans will quickly turn on team management.

Sep 242014
 
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Victor Cruz, New York Giants (September 21, 2014)

Victor Cruz – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 30 – Houston Texans 17

REVISITING: FOUR DOWNS
During our game preview, we listed ‘Four Downs,’ which took a look at the top four questions surrounding the Giants heading into the game. Now that the game has been played and the film reviewed, it’s time to break it down.

First Down
Can the defense get off of the field on 3rd down?
YES! Houston was held to a paltry 2-of-12 (17 percent) on third down and failed on their one offensive 4th down attempt (they converted on a special teams 4th down play).

Second Down
Can the defense force some turnovers?
YES! Three interceptions. One each by Prince Amukamara, Antrel Rolle, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Amukamara and DRC had shots at other passes as well.

Third Down
Can the Giants finally get the ground game going?
Rashad Jennings played like a man possessed Sunday afternoon, running for a career-high 176 yards on 34 carries including a one-yard touchdown. There will be more on this in the positional breakdown, but Jennings truly is a complete back. He can catch the ball, run the ball, but more importantly, he blocks like an offensive lineman.

Fourth Down
Can Eli Manning build on his positive performance from last week?
This sentence may be repeated quite often as the season goes on, but Eli Manning had his best game in the West Coast offense Sunday afternoon. The two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback keeps getting more comfortable and seems to enjoy the dinking-and-dunking the Giants are now doing to work down the field.

OFFENSIVE OVERVIEW – by Connor Hughes

The Giants scored 30 points Sunday versus the Texans. The Giants could have scored 50.

Ben McAdoo’s West Coast offense was run near perfectly versus Houston as Manning marched the Giants up and down the field with ease on near every possession. Manning had time to throw, the team’s playmakers made plays and, for the first time all year, the Giants established a running game. It was easily the most complete game for the Giants in the short three-game season.

The one noticeable thing that may have had a lot to do with the Giants ability to run the ball were the formations in which they were running the ball out of. The Giants routinely spaced the field with three wide receivers, then ran the ball right up the gut of the Texans defensive line. Since there were three receivers on the field, the Texans couldn’t come out in their base defense. Playing in a nickel and time package, the Giants offensive line took advantage. It was big guys beating up little guys, with a few highlight plays from Jennings.

Granted, this was the Houston Texans, the same team that was selecting first overall in this year’s draft, but it was very promising to see. For the first time in awhile, the Giants dominated from start to finish.

QUARTERBACK – by Connor Hughes

While Manning looked good last week versus the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday may have been the most comfortable he’s looked during a game in quite some time. Manning completed 21-of-28 passes for 234 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He marched the Giants up-and-down the field, rolled out and found open receivers on play action passes.

While Manning went deep down the field just once on the incomplete pass to Randle, he seemed entirely comfortable throwing things underneath and letting his playmakers make plays. Two of the biggest plays Sunday (Victor Cruz’s 26-yard touchdown and 61-yard reception) were both passes of just eight yards that Cruz turned into more.

Once Manning got into his rhythm, he started making Manning throws again. His second touchdown of the game, a nine-yard pass to Daniel Fells, was a thing of beauty:

RUNNING BACKS – by Connor Hughes

One of the more impressive things about Rashad Jennings is his vision, it really is incredible. There were countless plays on Sunday where Jennings started one way, then made a little juke/shimmy/cutback to find another lane on the other side of the field. These are the little things that can’t be measured or seen in any drill, it’s god given.

Maybe the best example of Jennings vision came on a first-down run in the second half. It looked as if the Giants wanted to run a stretch play to the right side of the field. A stretch is a play in which the entire offensive line blocks the defensive line right, and the running back runs that way. The play is designed to get the outside.

Jennings started going this way, and the defense started their pursuit there, too. Jennings saw this, then saw the left side of the field wide open. He reversed his angle and took it the other direction for a first. You just can’t coach that. Jennings played like a man possessed.

But the biggest play Jennings made Sunday wasn’t one that shows up on the stat sheets. In fact, if it wasn’t for his play, Cruz isn’t doing any salsa in any endzone. With the Texans showing blitz in the A gap, Manning took the snap and Jennings stepped up and picked up in the blitzing linebacker. The block gave Manning enough time to fire a pass to Cruz, who then made a defender miss and raced into the endzone.

WIDE RECEIVERS – by Connor Hughes

Victor Cruz caught a lot of flack for his game last week, and for good reason. Cruz asked for the ball more in order for the offense to have success, then dropped three passes when they were thrown his way.

If Cruz had caught two of the three he missed versus Arizona, the Giants probably win the game. Because of one of his catches this week, the Giants did.

It was a classic, old school Victor Cruz performance filled with yards after the catch and ankle-breaking moves. On his touchdown, the move he made to free himself was just unreal.

Cruz seems to have found himself a home in the Giants offense and is beginning to get on the same page as Manning. He’s finding the holes in the defense again.

It’s tough to know exactly what to make of Rueben Randle. He’ll make plays like last week’s one-handed grab that leaves everyone awestruck, but then he’ll play like he did versus Houston which leaves much to be desired. Randle wasn’t bad, he was just blah. The former second-round pick caught five passes for 27 yards.

When McAdoo imagined the Giants offense, I doubt designing plays for Preston Parker was what he had in mind. Either way, Parker played well filling in for Jerrel Jernigan/Odell Beckham Jr. He dropped the one ball, but made a few other catches and ran a nice route on a comeback.

TIGHT ENDS – by Connor Hughes

The biggest surprise for the Giants has been the emergence of Larry Donnell as the team’s tight end. Addressing this early, I labeled Donnell as a ‘Dud’ following the game after his fumble on the goal line. The ‘Dud’ label was really just a half dud, there really weren’t any full duds coming out of that game.

With that being said, I take it back entirely. The fumble was a perfect hit by the safety who put his helmet right on the ball. Donnell could have moved the ball to the other hand, but it was more just a textbook play by Kendrick Lewis.

Donnell as a receiver continues to impress, even though that’s what he’s known as doing. Sunday, there was one play that stood out more than most. The biggest thing Donnell can develop is chemistry with Manning. To be able to adjust to plays on the fly because he can anticipate what Manning is thinking. There was a glimpse of that beginning to happen.

With Donnell perfectly covered by Daniel Manning, Manning threw a pass just behind Donnell. The tight end had to stop his pattern and jump back to make the grab, but that’s what Manning wanted him to do. Had he led him, it’s an interception. Donnell saw this, too, and made the adjustment on the ball for a helluva catch.

Donnell also took huge strides Sunday blocking. Believe it or not, the Giants let him face off against JJ Watt. Believe it or not, Donnell held his own. If that aspect of his game comes around, the Giants may have something special on their hands.

OFFENSIVE LINE – by Connor Hughes

Get this out of the way now: Sometimes, J.J. Watt does things that only J.J. Watt can do. Like…

Watt is one of the league’s best defensive players, he’s going to make plays no matter who is in front of him. With that being said, the Giants did a remarkable job against him. In particular, Justin Pugh. Pugh went up against Watt more than a few of the other Giants and did very, very well. Sure, he let up a few plays, but not nearly as much as so many others.

Aside from containing Watt, the Giants offensive line played their best game in potentially two years. There were massive holes for Jennings to run through and time for Manning to throw. The player that stood out the most was John Jerry.

When Jerry arrived in New York, he was known primarily as a pass blocker. Sunday, he made some incredible plays pulling in the run game.  During the first two weeks of the season, Brandon Mosley was listed on the game day depth chart as the starting right guard. In a pre-game announcement, a ‘substitution’ of Jerry for Mosley was announced. Sunday, Jerry was listed as the starting right guard and he deserves it.

Sometimes, you don’t need the best offensive linemen to make the best offensive line. What you need is five players playing together. The last two weeks, the Giants have had that.

DEFENSIVE OVERVIEW – by Eric Kennedy

Not playing for the Giants on defense were LB Jon Beason (foot/ankle) and LB Devon Kennard (hamstring).

The New York Giants defense played very well in the first half of the game, but slackened noticeably in the second half. It was a mostly positive performance as the Giants held the Texans to a 17 percent third-down conversion rate, made a key 4th down stop, picked off three passes, and limited the Texans to 17 points.

In the first half, the Giants held the Texans to four first downs, 0-of-7 on third down, and 83 net yards (41 rushing and 42 passing) as Houston was kept off of the scoreboard. However, the Texans gained 16 first downs, 328 net yards (78 rushing and 250 passing), and 17 point in the second half. The Giants also surrendered three plays of over 40 yards in the second half, two of which came on the TD drive where the Texans cut the score to 17-10 at the end of the third quarter. The game got uncomfortably close at this point.

Overall, it was a step in the right direction, but not a complete game.

Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants (September 21, 2014)

Jason Pierre-Paul – © USA TODAY Sports Images

DEFENSIVE LINE – by Eric Kennedy

It was a solid all-around game for the Giants up front. Houston running backs were held to 85 yards rushing on 17 carries. Had the Giants not surrendered a 46-yard run to rookie Alfred Blue in the third quarter, those numbers would have looked even better (39 yards on 16 carries). The only other time the Giants were a bit soft against the run was on Houston’s opening drive when Blue picked up 22 yards on three carries. It was on these few plays where the Texans were able to successfully block DE Jason Pierre-Paul (7 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss, 1 pass defense) and DT Johnathan Hankins (4 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 1 pass defense). The big play by Hankins was stuffing the 4th-and-1 play early in the third quarter (with an assist from DE Mathias Kiwanuka and DT Mike Patterson). Pierre-Paul was very disruptive against the run at times.

The Giants only had two sacks. Among the defensive linemen, only Hankins received partial credit for a sack. But those numbers do not tell the full story. The Giants got good pressure much of the day from all four starters at different points of the contest. Pierre-Paul made his presence felt as a pass rusher and Kiwanuka and DT Cullen Jenkins (4 tackles, 1 pass defense) flashed at times. JPP caused the first interception with his hit on the Houston QB as he was throwing the ball. In addition, I really the way JPP has been hustling all over the field. When he doesn’t get to the QB, he chases and pursues the ball carrier.

Robert Ayers caught my attention several times as a pass rusher from the defensive tackle position, and Damontre Moore had a couple of quality pass rushes. Ayers helped to cause the second interception. The Giants tipped three passes and would have had more sacks had they been able to wrap up QB Ryan Fitzpatrick on a number of occasions.

Jameel McClain, New York Giants (September 14, 2014)

Jameel McClain – © USA TODAY Sports Images

LINEBACKERS – by Eric Kennedy

Without Jon Beason playing, the fear was this unit would be a major liability in this game. It wasn’t. There was the one big 46-yard run where both Jameel McClain and Jacquian Williams were blocked (along with Hankins and Pierre-Paul), but for the most part the linebackers did their job agains the run. McClain finished the game with a team-high 11 tackles, plus 0.5 sacks and one tackle for a loss. He flashed on the blitz a couple of times. Williams (5 tackles) was far more physical against the run this week and flashed on a play where he stunted with JPP and helped to cause an incompletion on third down. But both McClain and Williams also missed sacks on the elusive Fitzpatrick. Mark Herzlich (4 tackles and 1 tackle for a loss) played on the weakside (strongside in Fewell’s defense).

Oddly, the Texans never really went after the linebackers in pass coverage until the third quarter when they experienced a moderate amount of success over the middle to TE Garrett Graham and crossing routes to the slot receiver.

DEFENSIVE BACKS – by Eric Kennedy

The defensive backs played pretty well for the most part, but they did give up some big plays. The best news was the turnovers. Three interceptions, two of which led to 10 points. CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (3 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss, 1 interception, 2 pass defenses) was sharp. He got his first interception as a Giant and almost a second. DRC also stood out in run defense on one play, nailing the back for a 2-yard loss. He was often lined up against perenial Pro Bowler Andre Johnson, who was limited to 24 yards on four catches. Rodgers-Cromartie was flagged with a defensive holding penalty.

Prince Amukamara, New York Giants (September 14, 2014)New York Giants (September 14, 2014)

Prince Amukamara – © USA TODAY Sports Images

CB Prince Amukamara (5 tackles, 1 interception, 2 pass defenses) also had a interception and almost came down with two more. But he also was beat by WR DeAndre Hopkins a couple of times (a 17-yard comeback route and a 49 yard deep pass). He was also flagged for a bogus pass interference penalty that gave the Texans a 1st-and-goal from the 1-yard line.

SS Antrel Rolle gave the Giants a huge lift right before halftime with an interception and 25 yard return down to the Houston 2-yard line, setting up a score and a 14-0 halftime advantage. FS Stevie Brown and CB Trumaine McBride got burned on Hopkins’ 44-yard touchdown pass that cut the score to 17-10. This is the second time this season Brown has given up a long touchdown by not properly covering the deep half of the field. Other than that play, McBride wasn’t noticed so it appears he did a good job in replacing Walter Thurmond for at least one week.

SPECIAL TEAMS – by Eric Kennedy

There were two huge mistakes early that originally appeared would cost the Giants dearly. First, the Giants were unprepared for a fake punt that resulted in an easy 10-yard completion and a first down on Houston’s first offensive possession (thankfully, the defense saved the special teams here). Second, early in the second quarter, Zak DeOssie’s bad snap on a 30-yard field goal effort not only resulted in no points, but also gave Houston the ball at the 41-yard line.

Damontre Moore, New York Giants (September 14, 2014)

Damontre Moore blocks a punt – © USA TODAY Sports Images

On the positive side, Damontre Moore’s punt block in the 4th quarter set the Giants’ offensive up on the Houston 29-yard line, helping the Giants to extend their lead to 27-10.

PK Josh Brown was 3-for-3 on his field goal efforts (from 39, 29, and 31 yards out). Of his seven kickoffs, four went for touchbacks while three were returned for a total of 67 yards, the longest being a return of 31 yards.

Steve Weatherford punted four times with an average of 39.8 yards per punt. The only punt returned by Houston went for three yards.

Quintin Demps had one kickoff return for 17 yards. Preston Parker returned one punt for 12 yards and had another 12-yard called back due to a holding penalty on Damontre Moore. Larry Donnell recovered an onside kick.

(Boxscore – Houston Texans at New York Giants, September 21, 2014)
Sep 212014
 
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Jameel McClain, New York Giants (September 14, 2014)

Jameel McClain – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Rashad Jennings, New York Giants (September 21, 2014)

Rashad Jennings – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Rashad Jennings kept reliving one play in the days leading up to the Giants match-up with the Houston Texans.

A week prior versus the Arizona Cardinals, Jennings caught a swing pass in the fourth quarter with the Giants trailing. As he put his foot in the ground and cut up field, Jennings slipped and fell to the turf. The ball fell out of his hands and rolled away, with it the Giants hopes of a victory.

Jennings replayed the moment over and over in his mind. There was only one way to get it out. Sunday afternoon would be the perfect eraser.

Versus the Texans, Jennings rushed for a career-high 176 yards on 34 carries and a touchdown as the Giants defeated Houston, 30-17, in East Rutherford.

“I took that play to heart,” Jennings said. “That’s something you’ve gotta move forward from. You need to wash it out of your memory and continue to move. I just prepared this week, like I do every single week, and try to understand the defense inside and out.”

New York’s offensive line dominated the Texans front from start to finish. The team rushed for a combined 193 yards, averaged 4.6 yards per carry and kept quarterback Eli Manning upright for the majority of the contest. Houston All-Pro defensive end J.J. Watt was contained as the Giants limited him to just seven tackles and one sack.

“All week long, we were asked, ‘How badly is he gonna hurt you guys?’” Giants offensive tackle Justin Pugh said. “We didn’t wanna hear that. We didn’t wanna answer those questions. Obviously, we let up the sack, but we came back, we fought and we showed the mentality of this offense.”

Despite dominating in the first quarter of Sunday’s game, the Giants, early on, appeared to have reverted back to their old ways. At the Texans 7-yard line in the first quarter, Manning found tight end Larry Donnell open at the four. As Donnell turned to cut up the field, he fumbled the ball and Houston recovered.

Victor Cruz, New York Giants (September 21, 2014)

Victor Cruz – © USA TODAY Sports Images

A series later, New York again drove deep into Texans territory before the drive stalled at the Houston 12. The field goal unit trotted on, but a bad snap scooted past holder Steve Weatherford. Again, New York came up empty handed.

“We said we just had to finish,” Manning said. “We said to keep doing what we were doing, they hadn’t stopped us, they were getting tired, just keep going.”

After punting on their next series, the Giants finally punched it in the end zone. Facing a first and 10 at the Texans 26 yard line, Manning found Victor Cruz over the middle. The wide receiver caught the ball, made a defender miss and then darted into the end zone for a touchdown.

“It feels good to get the salsa back going again,” Cruz said. “It was deactivated for awhile, but now it’s back in full swing.”

Cruz caught five passes for 107 yards on the afternoon. After dropping two passes in each of the first two games, Cruz didn’t allow any that hit his hands, to hit the ground.

In the days leading up to the Giants match-up with Houston, coach Tom Coughlin preached the need for the team’s defense to force turnovers. On Sunday, the defense answered.

Antrel Rolle, New York Giants (September 21, 2014)

Antrel Rolle – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Against a Houston offense that was without running back Arian Foster, the Giants shut down the run and forced quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to air the ball out. New York’s highly-touted secondary then recorded three interceptions: one by Prince Amukamara, one by Antrel Rolle and a third by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. The interceptions by Rolle and Rodgers-Cromartie’s led to 10 points for the Giants.

“Coach really challenged us to get turnovers,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “He put up a category and showed we had no turnovers and said we needed to be Zack Bowman-ish, who’s the turnover king with punching balls out and getting picks. I think we rose to the challenge.”

While the Giants built a 17-3 lead, Houston made it a one-possession game on a miscommunication in the Giants secondary in the third quarter. On first and 10 from the Giants 45, Fitzpatrick found Damaris Johnson for a score. Cornerback Trumaine McBride let Johnson go expecting safety help from Stevie Brown. Brown never came over and Johnson got behind the defense.

On the Giants next possession, Manning marched the team down the field for a field goal. On Houston’s next drive. Damontre Moore blocked a punt setting up a nine-yard touchdown pass from Manning to Fells. The score all but iced the game.

Manning finished 21-of-28 for 234 yards with two scores.

Daniel Fells, New York Giants (September 14, 2014)

Daniel Fells – © USA TODAY Sports Images

“Nice to win. Nice to win, nice to do a lot of good things in the process,” Coughlin said. “A lot of guys played. I’m looking forward to looking at this tape.”

The Giants will have a short week before traveling to Washington to face the Washington Football Team on Thursday night.

Inactive for the Giants were wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (hamstring), linebacker Jon Beason (foot/ankle), linebacker Devon Kennard (hamstring), offensive tackle Charles Brown (shoulder), defensive end Kerry Wynn, offensive tackle James Brewer (back) and defensive tackle Jay Bromley.

With Beason and Kennard out, Jameel McClain started at middle linebacker for the Giants and recorded 11 tackles and a half sack. Mark Herzlich started at strong-side linebacker.

Jason Pierre-Paul, Mathias Kiwanuka and Amukamara all came off the field at various points in time with apparent injuries. None appeared to be serious. Stevie Brown missed time in the fourth quarter. Rookie Nat Berhe filled in in his place.

Inactive for the Houston Texans were quarterback Tom Savage, wide receiver DeVier Posey, running back Arian Foster, safety Shiloh Keo, offensive tackle Jeff Adams, linebacker Jadeveon Clowney and nose tackle Louis Nix.

Alfred Blue started in place of Foster and rushed for 78 yards on 13 carries, highlighted by a 46-yard run in the third quarter.

The Giants improved their record to 1-2. The Texans dropped to 2-1.

Tom Coughlin’s Post-Game Press Conference: The transcript and video of Head Coach Tom Coughin’s post-game press conference are available at Giants.com.

Player Post-Game Media Q&A’s: Transcripts and audio of the post-game media sessions with the following players are available at Giants.com:

Video highlights are also available at Giants.com.

 

Sep 212014
 
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Antrel Rolle, New York Giants (September 21, 2014)

Antrel Rolle – © USA TODAY Sports Images

On Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium, the New York Giants defeated the Houston Texans, 30-17. Below you will find some of the best, and worst, performances from the Giants first victory of the season. Please note, these observations are made from an initial reaction and not after reviewing film. These are the gut reactions gathered from watching the game live, not with the use of instant replay.

THE STUDS:

Eli Manning
This is how it was all supposed to look. There was Manning dropping back, firing passes underneath to Victor Cruz, who then made people miss to gain extra yards. There was enough time in the pocket for Manning to go through his reads, scan the field and find the open receiver. There weren’t many ‘questionable’ decisions from Manning, aside from a deep shot down the field to Rueben Randle. In fact, it may have been the quarterback’s most efficient outing in Ben McAdoo’s West Coast offense. The numbers tell the story: 21-of-28, 234 yards, two touchdowns, zero interceptions.

Rashad Jennings, New York Giants (September 21, 2014)

Rashad Jennings – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Rashad Jennings
After Friday afternoon’s practice, Rashad Jennings spoke to reporters about how his fumble against the Arizona Cardinals was still in his mind. It was interesting to hear a player admit that, especially because so often players preach about letting plays go and moving on to the next play. It was a human aspect that Jennings let out. He showed he did care and that it was very much still in his mind.

Jennings played like a man possessed Sunday, rushing for 176 yards on 34 carries and a score. He continues to show that he’s one of the more underrated players in the NFL and a running back who is capable of doing it all. Not only can he run, but he can catch the ball out of the backfield and block like a lineman. On Manning’s touchdown to Cruz, the Texans brought pressure and Jennings stepped up to pick it up and given Eli enough time to deliver a pass.

Jennings is that bring-your-lunch-box-to-work kind of guy. He doesn’t talk much, but his play speaks volumes. He does everything without asking for the fame or glamour. He deserves every bit of the praise he gets on a week-to-week basis.

Victor Cruz
Few players caught more flack this week than Victor Cruz, and it was a bit deserved. Cruz complained about not having the ball thrown to him, then dropped three passes. Versus Houston, Cruz got back to being the Cruz of old.

There were the yards after the catch, the big plays down the field and, finally, a salsa endzone celebration. He caught five passes for 107 yards and a score and looked to find a home in McAdoo’s offense. The biggest thing? He didn’t drop a pass.

Offensive Line
After the game, right tackle Justin Pugh talked about how annoyed he and the rest of his offensive linemates were that the only questions asked to them in the days leading up the game were how bad they were going to get beat by J.J. Watt. On Sunday, it was the offensive line that did the beating.

Not only did the Giants run for 193 yards on the ground, but Manning was only sacked once. Watt recorded seven tackles and that one sack, but was contained throughout the majority of the game. Every player on the line deserves a kudos for their play. It was very, very impressive.

Mathias Kiwanuka, New York Giants (September 21, 2014)

Mathias Kiwanuka – © USA TODAY Sports Images

The Pass Rush
The Giants NASCAR package of Robert Ayers Jr., Mathias Kiwanuka, Damontre Moore and Jason Pierre-Paul may be their best front since 2007. While he was only sacked twice, Houston quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was under constant duress. Credit him for a few very shifty escapes because New York had the chance to bring him down on at least five other occasions. The pleasing thing about the way the front played was that the Giants didn’t have to blitz to get pressure. The Giants dropped back seven and rushed just four on numerous occasions with success.

Prince Amukamara
The former first-round pick is beginning to develop into quite the player for the Giants and it’s something to watch. His physicality has taken a step to the next level this year and versus Houston so did his coverage. Amukamara made a great adjustment to record his first interception of the year, then nearly picked off two others. There’s been talk that he’s better than Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, but as DRC displayed himself Sunday, that’s a pretty nice compliment.

THE DUDS:

Larry Donnell
It’s actually tough to find any from the victory. The score was 30-17, but the Giants had the potential to put up 50. One of the reasons they didn’t were mistakes. One of those mistakes was by Larry Donnell.

As good as Donnell has been, he made a big no-no near the goal line. With the Giants deep in Cardinal territory, Manning found Donnell open at the four yard line. After catching the ball, Donnell fumbled. He made several nice catches afterwards, but it doesn’t excuse the mess up. Making mistakes against teams like the Texans won’t cost you the game. Making those errors against a team like the San Francisco 49ers or Philadelphia Eagles? That’s another story.

Damontre Moore, New York Giants (September 14, 2014)

Damontre Moore blocks a punt – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Zak DeOssie/The Special Teams
Same reasons as Donnell, it’s one uh-oh in a game that was filled with so few. DeOssie’s snap on the missed field goal was not pretty, and he can’t make that happen. It didn’t cost the Giants the game, but down the road against a better team it may.

Sticking with the same theme, on a five-yard return in the third quarter, Texans punt returner Damaris Johnson made about four Giants miss before getting tripped up. Had he not been brought now by a shoe string tackle, he was gone. Similarly, on a kick return, there was a huge lane for Johnson to run through.

There are things, like a botched snap, that a special teams coordinator should not take the blame for, but constant missed tackles and open lanes on returns? That they do. Maybe it’s the players, maybe it’s the coach, but how many more games are the Giants special teams going to cost them before a change is made?

They escaped Sunday, but this may not be the case next time.

Trumaine McBride/Stevie Brown
Not sure there’s another team in the NFL that has as many secondary miscommunications as the Giants. Again versus the Houston, there was another “I thought, he thought” meltdown.

On the deep touchdown from Fitzpatrick to Johnson, McBride appeared to let the wideout go and release him to Brown. The issue was Brown didn’t get the memo. This issue, similar to the special teams, didn’t cost the Giants on Sunday, but against a better team it will. These things just seem to happen once or twice a week, every week.

Sep 192014
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (August 16, 2014)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Houston Texans at New York Giants, September 21, 2014

It’s normally ridiculous to talk about “must win” games in September, but the 0-2 Giants find themselves in that situation against the Houston Texans on Sunday. An 0-3 hole would be extremely difficult to overcome if this team has any serious playoff aspirations. The problem for the Giants is that while the passing game did look sharper last week, the lack of overall talent at wide receiver (as demonstrated by the fact that Preston Parker and Julian Talley are now the #3 and #4 receivers on the depth chart), continued issues on the offensive line, and key injuries on defense (Jon Beason, Walter Thurmond) may sabotage the season.

FOUR DOWNS:

First Down
Can the defense get off of the field on 3rd down?
Everyone knew the Giants offense would struggle early this year. What everyone was counting on was for the defense to step up and carry the team while the offense adjusted to the new system. While the defense hasn’t been “bad,” it certainly hasn’t been “good” either. The biggest issue is defense can’t get off of the field on third down. The Lions were 67 percent on 3rd down against the Giants. Against the Cardinals, the New York offense only had the ball three times in the first half as the Giants defense allowed Arizona to maintain possession on drives of 11, 10, and 8 plays.

Second Down
Can the defense force some turnovers?
Somewhat related to our “first down” point, even better than forcing three-and-outs, force some turnovers. The Giants defense was supposed to thrive on turnovers this season. They have none in two games. Create a short field for the offense, or better yet, score some points of your own.

Third Down
Can the Giants finally get the ground game going?
The Giants have not been able to run the football yet this season against two very good defensive lines. This has made the Giants dangerously one-dimensional, something completely contrary to Tom Coughlin’s desires.

Fourth Down
Can Eli Manning build on his positive performance from last week?
Eli Manning played well enough for the Giants to win last week. The key now is to keep it going and build off of last week’s positive performance. Consistency is the key.

BREAKING DOWN THE TEXANS:

OFFENSE – Eric Kennedy
Strength?
The Texans can run the football. Arian Foster is a big, physical productive football player. He already has 241 yards on 55 carries in just two games. Foster can also catch the ball. And he is helped by a very solid offensive line, anchored by Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown. The offensive line has not given up a sack this season.  WR Andre Johnson, though older and affected by injury issues in recent years, is still a stud.

Weakness?
It’s tough to call a quarterback with 118.4 quarterback rating a weakness. But Ryan Fitzpatrick is with his fifth NFL team for a reason – historically-speaking, he’s been a very average to below-average historically in this league. If the Giants can shut down the Texans’ running game, the pressure will be on Fitzpatrick to make plays in the clutch. Fitzpatrick has not thrown an interception yet. He’s due.

DEFENSE  Connor Hughes
Strength?
There are things the Houston Texans do well defensively, but it starts entirely with J.J. Watt. The NFL’s newest $100 million man is a force against the run, the pass and just about everything in between. One of the things that makes him so difficult to defend is the fact he can overpower near anyone that gets in front of him.

This season, Watt is tied with Jurrell Casey as the No. 2 ranked 3-4 defensive end by Pro Football Focus, grading out with a positive 7.2 score. Rushing the passer, Watt is ranked No. 1 despite only bringing the quarterback down once. On 76 passing snaps, Watt has hit the quarterback eight times and hurried him six others. Group that with his one sack and he himself has applied pressure on 15.1 percent of an opponent’s pass plays.

During his four-year NFL career, Watt has never faced the Giants. Back in 2012, he faced the Green Bay Packers when Giants offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo was the team’s quarterback coach. Watt recorded six tackles and two sacks in that game.

Weakness?
One of the bigger weaknesses for the Texans defense over the last several years as been its secondary. That hasn’t change in 2014.

Through the first two games of the season, Houston’s two starting cornerbacks (Johnathan Joseph, Kareem Jackson) are ranked No. 104 and No. 67 respectively by Pro Football Focus. Joseph has been thrown at 12 times, 10 of which were caught by the opponent’s receiver gaining 116 yards. A quarterback’s rating when testing Joseph is a staggering 106.9. Jackson has been thrown at 14 times, allowing seven completions for 63 yards. He intercepted his first pass of the season last week.

The safety position hasn’t been much better. Starter D.J. Swearinger is the No. 46 ranked safety.

If the Giants are able to slow down J.J. Watt, there are plays to be made in the secondary. The key is going to be giving Eli Manning enough time to throw the ball.

PLAYER TO WATCH:

Connor Hughes –
Corey Washington
There was one constant throughout the entire preseason, and his name was Corey Washington. The game-winning touching-catching machine reached the hype and myth level of Jonas Seawright during his first year with the team. On Sunday, there’s a good chance he’s given the opportunity to transition his training camp play onto the game field.

With Odell Beckham Jr. still sidelined with a hamstring injury and Jerrel Jernigan on the IR, there’s just one player ahead of Washington on the depth chart to see significant playing time. In fact, it could take just one hit for Washington to suddenly become a starter. Whether he’s the first on the field in a three-wide set, there’s a very good chance Washington sees meaningful snaps as a receiver.

If those snaps come, and Washington plays well, he could supplant Preston Parker as the Giants No. 3 receiver until Beckham returns from injury.

Eric Kennedy –
Antrel Rolle
The highest-paid member of the defense has been far too quiet. Rolle has been playing his “natural” position – a position that was supposed to lead to more impact plays. That hasn’t happened. Rolle called a player’s only meeting on defense this week and challenged his teammates to play with more aggressiveness and confidence. He wants them to make plays. Rolle needs to lead by example.

FROM THE COACHES’ MOUTH:

Tom Coughlin – “(The Texans) have led in their two games six of the eight quarters. Ryan Fitzpatrick has played very well, managed the game extremely well for his team. As you know, three touchdowns, no interceptions, he has a quarterback rating of 118 and he’s played very, very well. They run the ball extremely well. Arian Foster has 55 carries for 241 for 4.4 with a long of 40. He’s an exceptional runner, plus the offensive line has given up one sack throughout the course of the two games. Their defense is a physical front eight. Versus Oakland they did provide the ball for their offensive team at the plus-21 and plus-28 with turnovers, one fumble and one interception. Against Washington, Niles Paul had a 48-yard catch, run after the catch, was stripped, lost the ball inside the 10. Their defense provided, again, the Houston defense provided the ball, turned it over inside their own 10-yard line twice in that particular game.”

Bill O’Brien – (On if the Giants are a trap game for 2-0 Houston) “Absolutely not. I was just saying something to someone downstairs here, every week is a big challenge in this league. There are great coaches and great players on the other side that we have to be prepared for. Every week is a different matchup. Houston versus Oakland is a lot different than Houston versus New York. New York versus Arizona is a lot different than Houston versus New York. It is a matchup that is very difficult because of all the players that they have and the schemes that they run. It is a very difficult challenge for us on the road.”

FINAL WORD:

Connor Hughes – I took a leap of faith last week that the Giants would pull out a victory over the Arizona Cardinals despite everything telling me the wouldn’t.

Despite Arizona starting a quarterback that hadn’t played since I graduated high school, the Giant still managed to find a way to give away the game. With 10 minutes left, the Giants led by four points. When the game ended, the Giants lost by 11 despite allowing the Cardinals to gain just 37 yards offense those final 10 minutes.

Despite the fact the Houston Texans were the worst team in the league last year, they’re talented. They have J.J. Watt, one of the best receivers (Andre Johnson) in the game and a running back that is a threat both running and out of the backfield. Last year, the Texans simply quit on their head coach. The team wasn’t drafting No. 1 for lack of talent.

If the Giants want a chance in this game, they’re going to have to avoid the turnovers, get after Ryan Fitzpatrick and force turnover. If they do all three, they have a chance at winning. Offensively, I don’t think it’s going to be pretty, but if they can avoid the turnovers, the Giants still have a shot at the victory.

With that being said, I took a leap of faith last week and fell flat. Despite Antrel Rolle’s pleas to fans, I think the Giants drop to 0-3. Texans: 21 – Giants: 13.

Eric Kennedy – Until proven otherwise, the Giants simply are not a very good football team. The offense is averaging 14 points per game and can’t seem to run the ball. There are not a lot of weapons in the passing game. Defensively, the losses of Walter Thurmond (for the season) and Jon Beason (for at least this game) are going to hurt. The defense flashes, but can’t finish. Special teams continue to remain a sore spot. It’s going to be a long season. Texans 28 – Giants 14.