The Good, Bad and Ugly of the Giants' First 4 Games of the Season
Through four games this season, the Giants have already experienced some significant ups and downs. They started off the 2012 season on a sour note by falling to the Dallas Cowboys on opening night. They followed that loss up, however, with back-to-back wins over NFC South opponents Tampa Bay and Carolina.
The Giants took another step back, though, when they lost to the Philadelphia Eagles, another division rival, last Sunday night. The setback put their overall record at an even 2-2 at the quarter mark in the season. That isn't terrible, but it will have to improve if New York plans on making it back to the playoffs.
This article will highlight the good, bad and ugly aspects of the New York Giants' season after losing to Philadelphia and falling to .500.
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Ahmad Bradshaw’s Health
People were quick to jump on the Andre Brown bandwagon after his two-touchdown, 113-yard performance against the Panthers. But against the Eagles, Ahmad Bradshaw reminded Giants fans why he has been the team’s featured back for the past few seasons.
Bradshaw didn’t play a monumental role in the Giants’ 17-19 loss to the Eagles, but the veteran running back did show how far a little grit and determination can go. He only managed to compile 39 yards rushing on 13 carries, but he was on the field for 85 percent of the Giants’ offensive snaps.
Bradshaw also added 38 yards receiving on three receptions, and he would have had more rushing production had New York not decided to uncharacteristically abandon the run in the second half. Moving forward, Bradshaw needs to be the clear-cut No. 1 running back in the Giants' backfield. Still, New York should not avoid utilizing Brown as a change-of-pace back.
Kick Return Game
As I predicted in my pregame statistical projections, rookie running back David Wilson made a huge impact in the kick return game. Wilson returned six kicks for a total of 217 yards, which averages out to be an impressive 36.2 yards per return.
Wilson’s explosiveness in the return game consistently provided the Giants’ offense with great starting field position. Unfortunately, for most of the game, they weren’t able to do much with it.
Wilson, who was probably frustrated after failing to make an impact in the Giants’ rushing attack through the first few games of the season, was electric whenever he had the ball in his hands on Sunday night. It looks like the struggling rookie has finally found his niche.
Wilson surely wants to work his way back into the Giants’ offensive backfield. If he’s able to take a return for a touchdown, he may find himself getting another shot.
Reserve Wide Receivers
Last week it was Ramses Barden who stepped up with nine catches for 138 yards in Hakeem Nicks’ absence. With Nicks still nursing a knee/foot injury in Week 4, it was Domenik Hixon’s turn to have a big game.
The six-year veteran, who weathered back-to-back ACL tears in 2010 and 2011, came through in the clutch, hauling in six passes for 114 yards. Against the Eagles, Hixon became the fourth Giants receiver to have at least 100 yards in a game this season.
Although it’s never a good thing to be missing a top receiver, the Giants have shown early this season that they have the ability to overcome significant injuries in the receiving corps. As long as Manning stays healthy, the pass-catchers will all remain interchangeable.
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The Eagles came into the game planning to hit the Giants with a heavy dose of running back LeSean McCoy. Philadelphia stuck to their game plan, and it ended up paying off.
McCoy ripped apart the New York defense for 123 yards on 23 carries on the night. The Giants were able to keep him in check for the entire first half, but the speedy, fourth-year back ran rampant in the second half, leaving the defense searching helplessly for an answer.
McCoy noted after the game that it looked like the Giants’ defensive front got tired as the game wore on. That could be a result of the interior defensive line’s lack of depth. Without Chris Canty, defensive tackles Linval Joseph and Rocky Bernard have been asked to plug up the center and take on double teams.
Given how thin they are on the D-line, New York will have difficulty shutting down premier running backs that are capable of handling the ball more than 20 times a game.
One of the reasons why Philadelphia’s offense was so successful on Sunday night was because it played very efficiently. For the first time all season, it was able to control the ball and not turn it over for a full 60 minutes.
But while the disciplined play of the Eagles certainly played a large role, the undisciplined play of the Giants’ defense facilitated the Eagles’ victory just as much.
New York’s usually stellar defensive ends were the main culprits. They failed to set the edge throughout the night, allowing the Eagles to beat them with their speed. Both McCoy and quarterback Michael Vick were able to consistently break plays to the outside and turn them into huge gains.
Their long, successful plays to the outside were a result of superior game-planning. Eagles head coach Andy Reid knew that the Giants’ underperforming defensive ends would be hungry to get after the quarterback. He was able to play off the D-ends' over-aggressiveness, drawing them in just before bouncing the play right around them. The Giants' over-pursuit came back to bite them and ultimately cost them the game.
Weakness Over the Middle
For the most part, New York's secondary held up on the outside. Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson was able to get open for a few long gains, including a 19-yard touchdown catch, but for most of the game, New York successfully neutralized the Eagles’ deep threats.
But with everything outside the numbers taken away, the middle of the field was left wide open. It didn’t take long for the Eagles to figure out the Giants’ defensive game plan and effectively take advantage of it.
New York’s linebackers were not quick enough to close some of the gaps in their zone. Vick was able to recognize this and hit targets like tight end Brent Celek for big plays over the middle as a result. The defense will have to play faster in the coming weeks if it wants to avoid future quarterbacks picking apart its zone.
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Injuries in Secondary
The play of New York’s defensive backfield has been inconsistent, but that is due in part to the number of injuries the unit has sustained so far this season. Strong safety Kenny Phillips is the most recent member of the secondary to go down with an injury. He will be re-evaluated each week with a sprained MCL.
Free safety Antrel Rolle will take over Phillips’ responsibilities despite having a knee injury himself. Rolle was a game-time decision this past Sunday after colliding with a camera on the sideline during the Panthers game. Reserves Will Hill and Stevie Brown, as well as Tyler Sash, who returns from his four-game suspension next week, will be called on to step up in spot duty.
The cornerbacks are also dealing with multiple injuries. After breaking his hand in the Panthers game, Corey Webster has been forced to play with a cast. Opposite him, Prince Amukama is working his way back into the lineup after missing the first two weeks of the season with a high ankle sprain. Nickel cornerback Jayron Hosley and back-up corner Michael Coe have also had to deal with lingering hamstring issues.
A patchwork group in the secondary will have to hold things down until the unit gets healthy.
Normally, when faced with a one-possession deficit with less than two minutes to play, there’s no better quarterback to have than Eli Manning. But for some reason, the Giants’ offense resembled a train wreck in the final two minutes of the Eagles game.
New York started its final drive on its own 35-yard line and only needed a field goal to win. The drive featured only one completed pass, but the Giants still made it into field-goal range thanks to two helpful pass interference calls. Ironically, it was also a pass interference call—on Ramses Barden—that moved the team back out of field-goal range.
There was some confusion surrounding the clock management in the game’s final seconds, but the Giants ultimately settled on a 54-yard field goal attempt from Lawrence Tynes. The kick fell short, which wasn’t surprising given the fact that Tynes’ career long is only 53 yards.
Manning has mastered closing out games, but for some reason he and his offense slipped up against the Eagles. The veteran quarterback is usually motivated by his own shortcomings though, so expect the two-time Super Bowl MVP to bounce right back.
The Giants are undefeated outside of the division, but they are 0-2 when facing NFC East opponents. The last time New York had a 0-2 divisional record was in 1996 under Dan Reeves.
After losing to the Cowboys in Week 1 and now the Eagles, the Giants have dug themselves in a bit of a hole. The NFC East, as it has in recent years, is sure to have a close finish. Now, New York’s Week 8 matchup with Dallas and Week 17 matchup with Philadelphia have become must-wins just to split the season series and level the playing field. If they lose to either of these teams again, they run the risk of losing their advantage in a tiebreaker.