With all this free time thanks to my recent ACL surgery (that’s right, I don’t just write about sports) I had a chance to look at the Giants game and had some thoughts on their 30-20 victory over the Atlanta Falcons at Metlife stadium.
1. Tale of Two Halves- One of the defining characteristics of that 2011 season in which they won the Super Bowl were the adjustments at the half. Its simple, rather than let Julio Jones run wild across the middle on slants and crosses, the Giants did a better job of keeping more than one eye on him. He just wasn’t the same beast he was in the second half. These are the games and the players that sent the Giants out on the free agent market picking up every available defensive back. Too often last season, they couldn’t get off the field on third down because they didn’t have the personnel. Its apparent that now that the defensive personnel have been upgraded, it trickles down to support the defensive line that has done a great job in run support but has failed to get the kind of pressure they used to get during their super bowl years….
…until the second half on Sunday. On Robert Ayers’ sack, Jonathan Hankins huge 4th and 1, and JPP’s constant pressures, the linemen won individual battles, something we didn’t see last year. The Giants used to be built from the inside out, helping average corners by applying pressure from their defensive line. It seems the Giants are building the other way this time. Who could blame them? These days, teams emphasize to their quarterbacks to get the ball out of their hands quicker. Bubble screens, quick outs, thin crosses neutralize the blitz and force defenses to play more coverage. This of course also helps the running game so you see why teams do this. So its more important for defensive lines to win one on one battles. That’s what made the Giants in 07 with Osi, Tuck, and Strahan so lethal, and what made the Osi, Tuck and JPP line in 2011 so good.
2. Resurgence of Jason Pierre Paul- Remember him? Since that breakout 2011 season, his play was sporadic at best and his ability was hampered by constant injuries, coming into camp overweight and teams game planning to neutralize him by setting chips and double teams on him. During the first half we saw the kind of aloof play that makes Jerry Reese’s life so difficult- When it comes time for extension talks (after this season) do we pay that guy? How much do we pay him? But the second half is what makes teams drool. You can’t teach what JPP has- physical tools that he was born with that make him such a difficult match up even for a young promising LT like Jake Mathews. JPP’s long arms and natural power give him the kind of ability that almost makes one unfairly think- how come he can’t play that way all the time? Its difficult to suggest that JPP isn’t giving it his all on every play- we are allowed to have an opinion. But i lean more toward the second half as the real JPP. When he’s on, without injury, he’s one of the top 5 most dangerous defensive lineman in all of football. You can line him up anywhere and he will have a mismatch. THAT’s the JPP the Giants need if they are going to be successful this year. That’s the JPP who showed up in the second half. It didn’t matter who was lined up across from him, or how many RB’s they sent to chip him, he got to Matt Ryan and disrupted his timing. With the emphasis on short passes meant to neurtalize the rush you need guys to win one on one match ups when teams aren’t blitzing and that’s what JPP did.
3. Rookies looked strong pt 1: Odell Beckham- Giants fans were elated to see Odell Beckham finally see some action in the regular season. Coach Coughlin is a tough coach to play for. If you’re looking for sympathy for hamstring injuries, you probably shouldn’t look for it from Coach Coughlin. He appreciates guys who play through injury and will baby the guys that need babying- all at the expense of their playing time of course. So yes, Beckham likely could’ve played a week earlier, but the Giants wanted to get it right because of the skill you saw this past Sunday. He’s a burner and has huge hands that make him a target Eli Manning will go to, time and again- think Hakeem Nicks, just faster. So when he got his first catch, and you saw the space that the Atlanta corners were giving him, respecting his speed, you knew Eli would take advantage. Beckham’s skill set was on full display when he caught his first touchdown of the season- on a play that he was held as he was trying to create separation- the speed, and the leaping ability to catch the ball at its highest point is the kind of athleticism the Giants scouts saw when they made him a first round pick. There are two areas of concern, one of which will take time- Eli admitted post game that he hasn’t worked with Odell as much as he would have liked and the touchdown route wasn’t even a play they practiced together which tells me that Beckham and Manning may have a natural connection. This can only lead to better things down the road as Eli gets used to his speed and Beckham can know and anticipate when to break off certain routes and go where Eli wants him to go. That takes times. The second area of concern are injuries. When a rookie misses the first four games due to hamstring injuries, the concern is that it becomes a regular occurrence. Let’s hope not. Speed guys are prone to these kind of injuries so it bears watching how the Giants use him. We only saw Odell Beckham cover three punts by my count, so the Giants may not want to use him that often. They may be limiting his snap counts as well, gradually building him up which is probably the wise thing to do. If i were Odell, I would be begging Coughlin to get him out there- don’t want to create the wrong rep as a rookie.
4. Rookies looked strong pt 2: Andre Williams- The first few times I saw Andre Williams run, I had the same Deion Sanders like reaction: that boy runs like a man. And boy he hasn’t stopped. Williams is a truck. He lowers that shoulder and punishes defenders and he’s smart- he lowers the boom on defensive backs. Some will point to his 2000 yard campaign at Boston College or the fact that Coughlin and the Giants have always preferred Boston College guys, as the reason that Williams was picked in the fourth round (the new sexy round to get running backs) it seems like they have picked wisely. Barring injuries, he should be a work horse back. The kind you can rely on to be a three down back. Rashard Jennings was signed on a short term basis, perhaps based on the fact that the Giants didn’t want to wear the youngster out. But injury invites opportunity and the young man showed why Giants folks love him. He runs angry, much like the former wearer of the #44 jersey. I bring up Ahmad Bradshaw because he was one of my all-time favorite Giants. I remember during that 2007 season when he would get up from a four or five yard carry and just push a guy from the other team after getting up because he was mad that someone tackled him. He always got me just that extra-amount of juiced and every fan has that player on your team that gets you pumped. He may be a vital cog or a guy who gets in for two or three plays. For Packer fans its John Kuhn. For me, it was Bradshaw in 2007. He really played a bigger role as the season wore on but every time he got out there he was a man possessed. Playing like a guy who was angry that he was picked in the late rounds. Angry that somebody dared to tackle him. My favorite memory of Bradshaw was during the Super Bowl against the Patriots when he carried a Patriot defender an extra four yards, got up and pushed the first guy he saw (happened to be a Giants player) and took two pronounced steps as if to say that he was here! Williams runs that way but with controlled aggression. He’s not picking fights with linemen but he won’t go down easily. Teams will now need to bring two or three guys bring him down. Just knowing that the Giants may have a work horse back on the roster, is something worth noting considering he was drafted late and won’t count for much on the salary cap for a few years. That’s huge.
5. The Falcons biggest weakness is their coaching- I watched Hard Knocks. I also have seen some Falcon games over the past few years that Mike Smith has been their head coach and I know this is a backhanded compliment but: Mike Smith is this generation’s Marty Schottenheimer. Marty always wanted to be the tougher and more physical team and had grand visions of playing deep into January and early February but never could get the job done. Because when the going got tough, Marty always overthought everything. Mike Smith is the same way. I reference the two fourth downs that ultimately cost his team a playoff game in 2011 against the Giants at Metlife. Both were run plays, one by Matt Ryan and one by Michael Turner, each turned back for a loss and each its own soul crushing defeat for a team trying to make a statement. Now fast forward to this past Sunday and again, a big fourth and one, and Mike Smith probably thinking back to 2011, decided he wasn’t going to test the run defense of the Giants despite the moderate success he had earlier in the game. Ryan went back to pass and he got sacked by Jonathan Hankins. These are the kind of decisions, with Steven Jackson on the roster mind you, that make you scratch your head and make you wonder WHY you have to overthink it. In the first half, there wasn’t a part of the field that Julio Jones couldn’t get to, or a spot that Matt Ryan couldn’t throw to that Julio Jones couldn’t get to, and yet in anticipation of an adjustment about to be made, the Falcons decided to turn him back into a sideline WR that basically limited his effectiveness the rest of the game. Smith has been a successful regular season coach and he has the personnel on offense to do video game numbers (they are a top 5 offense) but its clear that Smith’s coaching is getting in the way of this team ever reaching its potential- which by the way is difficult to tell what their ceiling is because their defense is so awful (hey Osi!). I think the Mike Smith era needs to come to an end in Atlanta. You need your top guy to be decisive and for me, he’s just not that type with a roster full of good players to help push them forward.
6. Rashard Jennings injury- Potentially this is huge. Rashard Jennings has the third heaviest workload of any running back in football and the fourth most yards. Depending on a rookie to automatically pick up that workload is dangerous. For a first year running back, Jennings has done the one thing Coughlin cares about when he considers who gets more playing time: he picks up the blitz well and protects the quarterback. He’s also a physical, in between the tackles type runner that Coughlin loves. He pushes the pile and you get the sense that the entire look of the Giants running game has changed with the backs they kept coming out of camp. Jennings, Williams, Hillis- all punishing, inside the numbers type runners. Meant to wear down defensive lines and thus the emphasis on running the ball has been there. Its important especially for an offensive line that may not be the most talented to have a guy that can create extra yards by just being physical.
7. What happened to Victor Cruz and Larry Donnell? I’m not concerned with the limited production from these two. Donnell’s threat is really in the end zone where his size and general athleticism causes mismatches. Victor Cruz, being the premier receiver, draws attention from the defense’s best cover guy and safety help over the top. Its rare that Cruz gets open looks but Eli normally does a good job reading single coverage on Cruz and gets him the ball. Other than the case of the dropsies in Week 2, Cruz has always been reliable and I credit Eli who’s even keel attitude doesn’t have him abandoning Cruz, but rather continuing to throw to Cruz. New Yorkers have a tendency to be, how shall we say, a tad impatient. But credit Eli who understands better than anyone that it takes time to build an offense and rhythm even while establishing a bunch of new faces into the offense. Donnell is a wild card. Each Super Bowl winning team had a tight end emerge out of nowhere. In 2007, Jeremy Shockey went down and the Giants depended on Kevin Boss, a fifth round draft pick, to come out of nowhere. In 2011, the Giants went to Jake Ballard. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure where I’m going with this. The Giants basically have never tried to spend too much money on tight ends apart from signing Martellus Bennet. The Giants have this philosophy with the linebacking corp as well. They believe their tight ends coaches can create stars from nothing. Yes, the Giants let go of legendary coach Mike Pope, but they believe in the guys they had. Going into training camp, they publicly said that it would be a competition but everyone knew that the team wanted Adrien Robinson, once dubbed the JPP of tight ends by GM Jerry Reese, to win it. Of course, man’s plans are God’s long comedy script and a 3rd year TE that was a former QB with a basketball background won out the job and shocked everyone on Washington’s sideline with his Thursday night 3-TD performance. Donnell is clearly a target in the end zone but more importantly emerging as an option as a possession receiver. That’s something Eli’s tight ends have always been. If Donnell wants to have staying power, he has to make those important third down conversions.
8. The offense is starting to get going- The Giants have scored the sixth most points, ran the fourth most plays, and average the 8th most points in the league. While that may not sound all that impressive, please check the preseason tapes and you tell me how a team that looked so lost running a new system for the first time in over ten years, has looked this good the last few weeks. You can link the improvement to the competition. The Giants faced the Texans, Redskins, and Falcons- teams all with flaws and circumstances that were favorable for the Giants. The Texans were without Arian Foster, and have Ryan Fitzpatrick as quarterback. The Giants caught the Redskins on a Thursday night after a hard fought loss. Finally, the Falcons are awful away from home. All that being said, having had those games to tighten everything are advantageous to a team trying to forge a new identity on offense. Eli seems to have a good understanding of the offense with the quick precision passing. Remember the 70% completion goal? While Eli isn’t lighting it up with his 66% completion percentage, its still 4 percentage points higher than his previous high which counts as progress. The bigger part of Eli’s progress is that he’s not forcing the ball and trying to make things happen which he did far too often last year. It also helps that every week he seemingly gets a new weapon. One week its Larry Donnell, the next its Odell Beckham. The Giants have had the most set of weapons since the days of Tiki, Toomer, Plax and Shockey. They have an emerging offensive line that plays better by the day. I’d say there’s plenty to be optimistic over. But now Eli has to put it together. The mistakes that haunted this team the first two weeks are things that the team looked at and realized could be corrected. The Giants could very well be sitting today at 4-1 or even 5-0 considering that a few mistakes turned the momentum of both games- mistakes they themselves created. Let’s also remember that Corey Washington sits on the bench waiting to get into a game and make an impact. Its very likely the Giants could be on the cusp of having a Green Bay like attack, but it begins with Eli. Its his ship to steer. The Giants won’t go anywhere if he doesn’t play the mistake free football he’s been playing these last few weeks. Here are some of his best stretches of quarterbacking in his career:
||W-L (Team PPG)
|2009 (week 2-5)
||4-0 (32 ppg)
|2009 (week 12-14)
||2-1 (38 ppg)
|2011 (weeks 2-4)
||3-0 (29 ppg)
|2014 (weeks 3-5)
||3-0 (35 ppg)
Eli had been in Kevin Gilbride’s offense five years before he ever began going into a stretch of football like he has been on these last three weeks. Of course its not fair to say that Eli has somehow took to Ben McAdoo’s system quicker than Kevin Gilbride. Eli’s progression as a quarterback took time, as every Giant fan knows. As any Jet fan will tell you, it takes time to create weapons out of what you have on the roster and even if you think you have those weapons, sometimes they aren’t. The fact is, Eli in year 11 is a different quarterback than in year 6 and his understanding of concepts and general quarterbacking is just that much more advanced. Let’s see if Eli can keep playing at this level.
9. Look Ahead- The interesting portion of the schedule begins for the Giants beginning Sunday night against the Eagles. I try not to qualify a Week 6 matchup as a must win but if you had to bet, one of the two wild cards will likely come from the East, a division that looked like the worst in the NFC. Now with the Cowboys, and Eagles sitting at 4-1, and the Giants nipping at their heels, the next two weeks will either push the Giants forcefully into the race or push the Giants way outside looking in. Looking immediately to next week the Giants face an Eagles team not totally hitting on all cylinders. Its also an Eagles team who hasn’t played its best game yet. One area where the Eagles are strong are special teams, an area that the Giants have struggled with. Nick Foles has predictably regressed to the norm and isn’t continuing his ridiculous 27:2 TD:INT ratio. Its not to say that he’s not a good quarterback. He was making better decisions last year when there was such a limited scouting report on him. But now that there are actual expectations, teams are figuring out ways to get him into making mistakes. The Giants will have the guys to cover, now its about winning those one on one match ups on the line. Speaking of people who aren’t playing up to their potential, LeSean McCoy hasn’t had a 100 yard game rushing yet. To put that in perspective, McCoy didn’t go three games last year without recording a 100 yard rushing day. His offensive line is still really good, but McCoy’s effectiveness has been limited by injury and especially the concussion he suffered two weeks ago. He’s expected to play, but expect the Giants, with the 11th best rush defense in the league to be ready for the challenge. If McCoy isn’t up to go, the threat of the run may not be as effective, and in Chip Kelly’s system its very important to have that threat in order to suck the defense in to open up routes for his speedy receivers. Look for Chip to try and get LeSean going early. I’m expecting a high scoring game with the team that has the ball last winning. How’s that prediction for you?
10. Other stories around the league- Do I care that Geno Smith went to the movies and missed a meeting? Even if the movie was, “San Diego Chargers playbook for Sunday” he wouldn’t have been able to do anything on Sunday. Movie or not, the fact is, Idzik and the front office have NOT surrounded Geno with the kind of weapons he needs to be successful. Also, it doesn’t help that he overthrows everything like America invading a third world country. And I hope Jets fans got to see Michael Vick in action. His performance had to basically suck the life out of any future “We want Vick chants”. The only Vick the Jets need are to help soothe the aches and pains of another less than stellar campaign. How did no one see that Tom Brady performance coming? It was the Bengals after all. He was up against Andy Dalton. Come on! Biggest surprise has to be the way the Saints have absolutely under performed. Maybe someday, teams will stop giving Rob Ryan the kind of control he wants. Its not the players Rob, its you. As much as we love seeing an overweight hippie get all worked up, actually we don’t. Please censor that next time national broadcasting network, or at least give us a warning. Peyton Manning had four touchdowns while throwing two interceptions and ho-humed his way to 41 points, while Tom Brady chills in the poor house of open receivers with Danny Amendola. One day the story will be told of the wealthy, gets everything he wants country boy that competed against the pretty boy woe-begotten employee of a ruthless hooded monster of a man- oh who to root for? Tony Romo’s spin out of a JJ Watt sack is the exact kind of play that sucks in Cowboys fans every year. I can’t wait!