Welcome to the fourth installment of New York Giants Weekend Wrap-Up. Be sure to click through this weekend’s slideshow to catch up on the latest events, quotes and anecdotes about Big Blue.
Last Sunday, the Giants fell to the Pttsburgh Steelers, 24-20, recording their first loss since Week 4 at Philadelphia. The loss halted a four-game winning streak, but New York hopes to rediscover its groove against the Bengals this weekend. The Giants have their bye coming up in Week 11, so a win against Cincinnati is imperative, as the team will not want to go into the bye week coming off back-to-back losses.
This edition of Weekend Wrap-Up will focus on the Giants’ slimming Vegas odds, the A.J. Green versus Antrel Rolle controversy, the offensive line’s lucky stuffed animal and more.
At 6-3, the Giants are not in bad shape—they have three more wins than each of their NFC East rivals—but their performance in recent weeks has certainly caused some to jump off the Super Bowl bandwagon.
Just take a look at the Vegas odds, according to Bovada Online Sportsbook; the Giants are now 9/1 favorites to win the Super Bowl. Bovada lists six teams with greater odds to hoist the Lombardi Trophy at the season’s conclusion: the Green Bay Packers (8/1), Denver Broncos (8/1), Atlanta Falcons (15/2), San Francisco 49ers (6/1), New England Patriots (11/2) and the Houston Texans (5/1).
While the odds don’t mean much to non-bettors, they’re still a good indicator of how Super Bowl-ready a particular team may be.
The team’s recent dip isn’t surprising, as most of the Coughlin-coached Giants squads have weathered a mid- to late-season swoon. As long as New York turns it on before the playoff race, the Vegas odds will remain an afterthought.
The Giants’ passing attack hasn’t been as high-flying as we’ve come to expect, and everyone is trying to diagnose where Eli Manning and his pass-catchers are going wrong. Over the past four weeks, Manning has only broken the 200-yard mark once and has thrown only two touchdowns compared to four interceptions.
Manning denied the notion of a slump in his performance, according to Gary Myers of the New York Daily News. The Giants' $100 million quarterback is confident that the passing game will turn itself around, as Manning explained to Myers:
I don’t feel off-rhythm. I don’t feel like I’m throwing the ball inaccurately, I don’t feel like I’m missing guys, so I think it’s just a matter of getting back offensively to where we’re playing fast, making good decisions, guys are winning and we’ll hit them.
ESPN NFC East blogger Dan Graziano noticed that the Giants’ offense took measures to counter the so-called slump against the Steelers. Veteran tackle David Diehl got the start over Sean Locklear, and, according to Graziano, Victor Cruz was supplanted by promising rookie receiver Rueben Randle in most two-wide out sets.
The changes clearly did not work, as New York’s offense sputtered all day against a stout Pittsburgh defense. But offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride has a plan moving forward: utilize the hurry-up offense (via Tom Rock of Long Island Newsday). Gilbride plans on playing off the team's historical success with the two-minute drill, as he explained to Rock:
Usually what you do to help resolve [struggles] is go back to the things that are at your core . . . We should eliminate any of those mistakes that were made doing some of the things that maybe you designed specifically to beat a particular opponent, which is why we've used the pass so proficiently in the two-minute.
The plan makes sense—Manning plays his best ball when in a time-crunch. Perhaps running a little hurry-up will help establish the rhythm and chemistry that he and his receivers seem to be lacking.
The Bengals’ young, impressive wide receiver, A.J. Green, opened his mouth this week and now he’ll have to keep his head on a swivel this Sunday. According to CBSSports.com, Green said the Giants’ defense has a lot of “holes” that he plans on exploiting in Week 10.
That’s all New York safety Antrel Rolle needed to hear. According to the Daily News’ Ebenezer Samuel, Rolle issued a warning for Green:
You don't worry about it. I'm a deep safety. I'm going to play my responsibility and if I get a chance, I'm coming across. He's a great receiver, though. You can't take anything from A.J. Green . . . The game has to be played on Sunday and we'll play it. I'll let my pads do the talking on Sunday. That's how we approach the game, and if he sees me, he better duck.
Rolle may have taken offense to Green’s comments, but the Cincinnati receiver has a valid point. The Giants’ secondary is allowing an average of 264.3 passing yards per game, ranking them 26th in the NFL. The defense has also given up 38 pass plays of 20 yards or more, nine of which have gone for touchdowns (via CBSSports.com).
Rolle can’t afford to go headhunting this week. Green is one of the league’s most dangerous receiving threats with 735 yards and eight touchdowns on 51 grabs. One false move and things will quickly turn ugly.
It’s hard not to admire Rolle’s attitude, though. New York’s defensive backfield isn’t a particularly tough group—playing with some grit may actually work in the team’s favor.
While just about everyone wants to point the finger at Manning and the Giants’ floundering offense, Paul Schwartz of the New York Post took a step back to re-evaluate the team’s performance as a whole. In Schwartz’s opinion, New York’s defense will have to keep the team afloat until the offense hits its stride.
Defensive end Justin Tuck, who had two sacks against the Steelers, also recognizes the challenge that his defense is faced with. Tuck believes his platoon can win the team some games, as he explained to Schwartz:
We win and lose as a team, so when one area of the team is not playing its best, some other areas have to pick up and account for that. Just like I know for a fact, many games the defense hasn’t played well, but our offense went out and scored 38 points and got us a win. So that’s what we got to do when the offense isn’t clicking the way it’s normally clicking, our defense has to shut some people down and win those 17-14 games or whatever it may be.
Schwartz points out in his article that New York has won four games this season when its defense has given up 23 points or more.
Head Coach Tom Coughlin called his defense’s performance against third-string running back Isaac Redman and the rest of the Steelers’ offense “soft.” Coughlin’s comment spurred responses from his players, as the Post’s Steve Serby quotes linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka:
You see everybody paying more attention to detail throughout the week. You see people practicing harder than they normally do. You see captains getting on people for little things here and there. And you see the coaches stepping their end up too, making sure every I is dotted and every T is crossed. If I had something to say to Coach Coughlin, I would go to him and say it, and I would expect him to do the same to us regardless of how you want to classify our performance. We, in this locker room, without anybody saying anything, know that we have to get better. And that’s what we’re going to do.
It’s encouraging to see the Giants’ key defenders showing signs of life. The championship-defending squad can recognize an urgent situation when it sees one; we’ll see if it can still perform with its back against the wall.
Giants offensive tackle James Brewer is Little Bear's caretaker.
Apparently the Giants’ offensive line has a good luck charm, as The New York Times’ Sam Borden wrote an interesting feature this week on a stuffed bear that the team has held on to since the 2007 Super Bowl-winning season. His name is Little Bear, and according to Borden, second-year tackle James Brewer is his caretaker.
Even though the offensive output has slowed for New York in recent weeks, Little Bear has kept the line’s pass protection in check; Manning has only been sacked a total of four times in the last four games.
Little Bear could show them a thing or two about run blocking, though, as the Giants haven’t rushed for over 4.0 yards per carry as a team since Week 5 versus Cleveland.
“Let’s be honest,” right guard Chris Snee said to Borden about Little Bear’s impact. “He’s critical to what we do. He’s an inspiration.”