Grading the New York Giants Positional Units at the 1st-Quarter Mark
The New York Giants have historically started out strong under head coach Tom Coughlin, going no worse than 5-3 in any of the coach’s first nine years at the helm.
In 2013, Coughlin’s 10th season, that has not been the case. His 0-4 Giants are off to one of their worst starts in a nonstrike year since 1979, when they finished 6-10, fourth place in the NFC East.
That's not what Coughlin nor general manager Jerry Reese, who famously put the entire team on notice at the start of training camp, were looking for.
The biggest problem for the Giants has been their inability to get all three phases of the game working in harmony. That is a direct result of some individual players who are not fulfilling their potential or who, due to injuries, have been forced into roles for which they are not an ideal fit.
This quarterly report card examines the key players and their contributions in what has been a very disappointing first quarter of the season for the Giants.
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Eli Manning: C
It’s not Manning’s fault that he’s playing behind an offensive line that, in three of the first four weeks of the season, had a different configuration.
It’s also not his fault that he’s been victimized by dropped passes—nine to be exact per ProFootballFocus.com (subscription required)—nor is it his fault when his receivers don’t run their routes the way the coaches draw them up.
So what is Manning’s fault?
His decision-making has not been as sharp as usual. For example, against the Panthers, he often stepped up into the pass rush rather than trying to avoid it in his quest to make a play.
Some of his interceptions were also his fault, as Manning (85-of-151, 56.3 percent, 1,148 yards, 6 TDs, 9 INTs), tended to try to force things that just weren’t there, such as his three errant throws against Dallas in Week 1, all of which were a result of poor or panicked decisions.
Manning always says that he can play better, make better decisions and make better throws. If the Giants offense is to pull itself out of this rut, it's going to need its quarterback to stop talking about what he needs to do and start doing it.
David Wilson: B-
Things started out rough for the second-year player, who had two big fumbles in Week 1.
With the problem apparently fixed and Wilson (38 rushes, 130 yards, 0 TDs) apparently more comfortable with his new running style, he’s been valuable in gaining yards after contact, with 92 of his 130 rushing yards occurring after that first hit, per ProFootballFocus.com (subscription required).
Wilson’s pass protection still isn’t where it needs to be, as he too often tries to cut guys low. That leads to them hurdling over his attempts and is a big reason why he has 12 missed tackles.
Brandon Jacobs: Incomplete
The Giants reunited with their big bruiser after the Week 1 debacle in Dallas. What Jacobs (11 rushes, 11 yards, 1 TD) brings to the offense is passion, fire and emotion—something that the group has sorely lacked since it jettisoned Ahmad Bradshaw off the roster in the winter.
To be fair, Jacobs hadn’t played football in almost a year, so there was bound to be some rust in his game. Also, given the run blocking is a disaster this season and the Giants constantly being in catch-up mode, there haven’t been many opportunities for the running game to get going.
What is perplexing is why he hasn’t been used much to help pass block, as was the case in Week 4 when the coaches mysteriously opted to give Da’Rel Scott—since cut by the team—27 touches to Jacobs’ five. We may never know the answer to that question.
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Brandon Myers: C+
After a breakout 2012 season as a receiver for the Oakland Raiders, Myers came to the Giants to replace Martellus Bennett, who signed a lucrative multi-year deal with the Chicago Bears in the 2013 offseason.
The problem, though, is that the Giants tend to look for their receivers first in the passing game. While Myers (16 catches, 173 yards, 1 TD) is on pace to finish the 2013 season with 64 receptions for 692 yards and four touchdowns, a closer look at his 2013 numbers shows that in 219 offensive snaps, Myers has only been targeted in the passing game 24 times, or 10 percent of the time.
He has made 16 of those receptions, or six percent of the pass plays intended for him. That is hardly impressive production in a passing offense that through four games is really only getting significant production from one player—receiver Victor Cruz.
As a blocker, Myers has been a significant drop-off from what the Giants have had in the past at the position. Per ProFootballFocus.com (subscription required), Myers received negative grades for his overall blocking in both the running and passing games in two of the first four games.
Bear Pascoe: Incomplete
Because of the injury to fullback Henry Hynoski, Pascoe (3 receptions for 14 yards, 0 TDs, 1 drop) has had to bounce back and forth between tight end and fullback, the latter position not being his best and also the one where his blocking has taken a hit in terms of quality.
Larry Donnell: B-
Primarily used in garbage time, Donnell (3 receptions, 31 yards) has shown quite a bit of promise as an inline blocker, where he is the best of the Giants’ current bunch.
Donnell has quietly seen his snaps increase and is an intriguing candidate as an H-back and receiver, and it could be just a matter of time before he starts to cut into Pascoe’s snaps. As a receiver, he has caught all three passes thrown his way and is averaging 10.3 yards per catch.
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Victor Cruz: A
Despite his springtime absence while waiting for a new contract, Cruz (26 catches, 425 yards, 4 TDs) came back in great physical shape, determined to show people that he was worthy of the new five-year $45.879 million extension he received.
He hasn’t disappointed. Per ProfootballFocus.com, Cruz has caught 63.4 percent of the passes thrown his way and has posted only two dropped balls. Of his 425 receiving yards, 129 have come after the catch, as Cruz continues to show a knack for separating from defenders after making the reception.
Hakeem Nicks: C-
Considering he's in a contract year, Nicks (12 catches, 230 yards, 0 TDs) is off to his worst start as a pro. This is the first time in his career that he has gone four games without at least one touchdown. Also per ProfootballFocus.com, he's had a dropped pass and was the target on one of Eli Manning’s nine interceptions in the first quarter of the season.
Nicks is supposedly healthy, yet it seems like he’s taken a long time to get on the same page with Manning. It also hasn’t helped that he has been unable to separate with any regularity, which could be why his opportunities are down. He is still a first-round talent, but he needs to start playing like one if he wants his big payday.
Rueben Randle: D-
For all the excitement over Randle’s progress made in the spring and summer, this second-year receiver has disappeared from the radar following a strong Week 1 performance in which he caught five of six passes for 101 yards.
Since then, Randle (11 catches 162 yards, 0 TDs) has had six receptions for 61 yards in Weeks 2 through 4 and two drops. Moreover, his yards-after-the-catch total dropped from 34 that first week to six in Weeks 2 through 4.
If that wasn’t bad enough, Randle has been the target on four of Manning’s interceptions. On three of those picks, a legitimate argument pointing the blame at the receiver for either not running the correct route or cutting his route off too soon can be made.
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Justin Pugh: B
Pugh (2 sacks allowed, 2 quarterback hits, 18 hurries) started out the season on a positive note, but in Week 3 against Carolina and Week 4 against Kansas City, he had more than his fair share off struggles against the pass rush.
As a run-blocker, Pugh did a nice job in Week 4 against the Kansas City Chiefs as most of the runs went to his side of the field. As a pass-blocker, he has also done a good job of staying with his man on the pass block, using acceptable technique to square up and gain the necessary leverage.
He’s going to have a few more bumps as he goes through his rookie year, but Pugh is the least of the problems on the Giants offensive line right now.
Will Beatty: D-
With the exception of Week 2, Beatty’s season is not what the Giants wanted to see from the man to whom they gave a five-year deal worth a reported $38.75 million—with $19 million guaranteed.
The problem with Beatty (4 sacks allowed, 4 quarterback hits, 16 hurries) these last two games in particular seems to be his technique. As I touched upon in my article analyzing the Giants' pass-protection problems, he is taking a half step forward before dropping back in retreat in the pass block.
The result is he’s being caught off balance, unable to adjust to the pass-rusher’s charge. Until he cleans up his technique, he’s going to continue to struggle.
Kevin Boothe: B+
Like the rest of his linemates, Boothe has had his struggles, especially in the run-blocking game. He’s been asked to execute pulls, which is not one of his strengths given his subpar foot speed.
In pass blocking, ProfootballFocus.com notes that Boothe has allowed one sack, one quarterback hit and three hurries.
He retreats well and matches power with power, but he was slowed down a bit in Week 4 on combo blocks that had to be made with new center Jim Cordle.
James Brewer: C-
Brewer started the season at left guard before moving to right guard in Weeks 3 and 4. Right guard is presumably where he is most comfortable, and it showed with his pass blocking as Brewer only allowed one hurry in two games at right guard.
His run blocking is a different story because Brewer had trouble holding his block long enough, failing to play a physical game. He isn’t much in the way of a power guard just yet, and he probably doesn’t have the athleticism to become one.
David Baas: D
Having played two games—one each against Denver and Carolina—Baas’ first-quarter performance was mixed.
Against Denver, his first game back after missing almost a month with a sprained MCL, he allowed one sack and two hurries as the Broncos repeatedly found success rushing up the gut.
Against Carolina, Baas, who suffered a neck injury that is threatening to keep him sidelined indefinitely, did a much better job in keeping the pocket clean for Eli Manning, allowing just one hit.
Chris Snee: D
When the news came out that Snee’s other hip was ailing to the point that he could barely move and was considering surgery, it certainly explained his inability to pull, as he used to do with ease in his prime.
Per ProfootballFocus.com (subscription required), Snee’s pass blocking has been well below expectations, this again due to his hip ailment, which has made movement for him difficult.
Give credit to Snee for trying to gut it out, but there has to be a point where a player must realize that he’s hurting his team if he is not close to where he needs to be physically.
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Justin Tuck: D
Tuck (19 tackles, 3 tackles for a loss, 2 quarterback hits, 0.5 sacks) is as healthy as can be given the wear and tear on his body, but the sacks just aren’t coming his way. Tuck, who usually lines up inside at defensive tackle on pass-rushing situations, has struggled with beating a solo block.
When he’s on the outside, he no longer seems to warrant having a defender throw a chip block his way as a tight end or offensive tackle has virtually no trouble stopping any penetration attempts that used to be routine for the Giants defensive co-captain.
Jason Pierre-Paul: C
Common sense would dictate that Pierre-Paul (12 tackles, 1 QB hit, 1 sack) be graded on a curve, considering he's coming back from offseason back surgery.
However, Pierre-Paul, who has been frank with the media about his recovery and how he's felt, has kept insisting that his back is no longer an issue. Despite that, he has yet to regain that quick first step he used to have. He also struggles with shedding blocks the way he used to, and thus is no longer the threat to the edge that he once was.
Mathias Kiwanuka: C
Having filled in for Pierre-Paul in the starting lineup, Kiwanuka’s pass-rush moves have become predictable to the point where opposing tackles have no trouble stopping him in his tracks. Give credit to Kiwanuka for trying to fight his way through blocks. Still, all he has to show for his efforts are one measly sack and nine tackles.
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Linval Joseph: A
In the Giants' scheme, the defensive tackles are asked to create congestion along the interior offensive line and take away the cutback lanes for the opposing running game.
They are also asked to push the pocket in order to force the quarterback to make an errant throw or to scramble into the waiting arms of another defender.
This is exactly what Joseph has done. His big body oftentimes eats up two blockers, which should theoretically allow for a pass rush to hit home—except the Giants very rarely send a fifth man in on a blitz.
Joseph leads his unit with 19 tackles, three of which are for negative yardage. He also shares a half sack with defensive end Justin Tuck.
Cullen Jenkins: B+
Jenkins' first three games were solid in that he did a nice job of pushing the pocket.
However, against the Chiefs in Week 4, he was guilty of giving up the inside contain, which allowed quarterback Alex Smith to break the pocket and run for yards up the gut.
Jenkins hasn't made very many tackles—he has six so far. He does, however, have one tackle for a loss in his total.
Shaun Rogers: B+
Rogers has been a rock in the middle, especially down at the goal line where he helps to eat up space in between the tackles.
For the majority of the time, Rogers is stout and plays extremely well for a man of his size. However, there have been instances where he doesn't get the proper leverage and loses his balance, which renders him useless.
Mike Patterson: B+
Patterson is another big body who has been a key component in taking away the cutback lanes that were routinely exploited by opposing offenses in years past.
He does a nice job of reading the keys and holding his contain for as long as possible; once he has diagnosed where the play is going, he has the quickness to get into position to help make the stop.
Patterson's 10 tackles are second among the Giants’ defensive tackles, behind Joseph's 19.
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Spencer Paysinger: B+
Paysinger has been the best of the linebackers. He’s been so good with his assignments and with knowing what to do that defensive coordinator Perry Fewell has given the third-year veteran the radio in his helmet so he can make the defensive calls.
Fourth on the team in tackles, Paysinger, who is also part of the team’s nickel package, is the only one of the linebackers to record a sack so far this season. He also has four quarterback hits and one hurry.
On the negative side, Paysinger still tends to react too quickly when playing backside contain, as was evident in both Week 3 and Week 4. With a little more patience, he can bring his game up a notch or two.
Mark Herzlich: C
The team leader in tackles with 26, Herzlich’s stats are somewhat deceiving because many of his tackles come several yards down the field.
In pass coverage, Herzlich remains a liability. He’s still struggling a bit against play action, and his foot speed is a concern in space.
The good news, though, is that Herzlich seems to have obtained a feel for playing the run, correctly picking out the gaps to defend and then crashing down to make stops, as he did in Week 4.
While he still tends to get caught up in the wash, once he breaks free, he shows good hustle in getting to the ball-carrier to make the stop.
Keith Rivers: D
Rivers is perhaps the most frustrating of the linebackers because for every good play he makes, he comes up with a bad one.
Where he excels, most of the time, is playing contain against the run—he’s usually not going to be beaten by a running back for a huge gain because he plays his angles so well.
Against the pass is another story, as he tends to see things much too late. An example of this was in Week 1 against Dallas on a third-down play. Rivers failed to spot the running back cheating into the linebacker’s assigned zone, with the ensuing reception converting the third-down attempt.
Jacquian Williams: C-
The most frustrating thing about Williams, the team’s nickel linebacker, is that his decision-making is still unreliable.
Take for instance Week 3 against the Carolina Panthers. Deployed as the spy against quarterback Cam Newton, Williams' hesitation led to him being passive in his attack against the quarterback.
With Williams not showing a good feel for angles, he continues to do too much gambling, which does not always pay off.
While one needs to consider that Williams missed a large chunk of last season and most of the spring and part of summer with a knee injury (which has recently flared up again), he still needs to play a smarter game, especially in coverage, where he has the tools to be a major asset for his team.
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Prince Amukamara: A
The ruler supreme of the Giants' defensive backfield, Amukamara has allowed 16 of 24 passes to be completed for 169 yards.
What ProfootballFocus.com’s sixth-best cornerback through four games has really done well is limit the yards after the catch to 32 and shut out opponents from scoring against him. With five pass breakups and an interception so far, Amukamara is well on his way to achieving his preseason goal of becoming the best cornerback in the NFL.
Corey Webster: C-
Hoping to end what is likely his final season as a Giant on an good note, Webster has been slowed down by a groin injury that developed in the preseason and which continued to linger into the regular season.
Because of his injury, he is unable to open up his hips to keep up with receivers. That’s a big reason why so far he has allowed an average of 9.7 yards per pass to be completed.
Aaron Ross: B-
Bouncing back from a subpar showing in Week 1, Ross has been solid in coverage since then. Per ProfootballFocus.com (subscription required), he’s allowed seven of 16 passes to be completed for 116 yards and has given up 15 yards after the catch, allowing one touchdown. He is tied with Amukamara for the team lead in pass breakups with five and has one interception.
Terrell Thomas: C
Settled comfortably in his role as the nickel back, Thomas doesn’t quite have the speed or the explosive burst he once had two ACL surgeries ago.
According to ProfootballFocus.com (subscription required), Thomas has allowed 69.2 percent of the passes thrown against him to go for completions for 169 yards. He’s only broken up one of those passes and has allowed three touchdowns, the most allowed by the cornerbacks group.
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Antrel Rolle: C
Rolle’s strength remains playing in the box, where he has the instincts to anticipate and minimize plays coming out of the backfield. He is currently fifth on the team with 21 tackles, five behind team leader Mark Herzlich.
In coverage, Rolle tends to bite on play actions and is oftentimes an easy target if a team wants to complete a pass. Per ProfootballFocus.com (subscription required), opposing offenses have completed 10 of the 11 passes against him for 96 yards, 46 of which have come after the catch.
He was also burned for one touchdown in Week 4 against the Kansas City Chiefs, against whom he also had his first interception of the season.
Ryan Mundy: B-
Mundy has been very effective against the run and is second on the team with 25 tackles. Against the pass, he’s not quite the ball hawk that Brown is, but not just in terms of interceptions.
According to ProfootballFocus.com (subscription required), Mundy has allowed nine of 11 passes to be completed against him for 76 yards, 37 of which have come after the catch. He’s also given up two touchdowns.
Steve Weatherford and Josh Brown
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Punter, Steve Weatherford: C
Weatherford had a strong preseason punting-wise, which in retrospect might be the reason why he has struggled through the first quarter of the season.
Weatherford, a known fitness buff, does everything he can to keep his body in top shape, but even a fitness enthusiast is prone to developing bad technique that can sometimes be a result of a tired leg.
According to ProfootballFocus.com (subscription required), the average maximum heights of Weatherford’s regular-season punts have decreased each week, from 5.00 in Week 1 to 4.50 in Week 4. Out of 22 punts, three have gone for touchbacks, two have gone out of bounds, five were placed inside of the 20 and one was downed.
Returners have called for a fair catch on four of his punts, and twice he’s been burned for 100 or more return yards this season, with two punt returners going the distance for touchdowns.
Weatherford obviously can’t cover his punts by himself, but he hurt his cause by not kicking the ball outside of the numbers like his head coach prefers. He also hasn't helped by punting low line drives, which gave his coverage team little time to get downfield into position.
Place-Kicker Josh Brown: F
Brown came to the Giants with a reputation for having a big leg, yet in two situations where a long field goal might have altered the game's flow, he came up woefully small.
What has been his problem? Technique.
"His head came up. You see how he followed through," said special teams coordinator Tom Quinn. "He wasn’t getting through it. He just has to trust himself to get through it."
With kickoffs not as important as they once were given all the touchbacks, scoring has become the primary job for place-kickers in the NFL. Brown has to do a better job at that because right now, he's not looking like the upgrade that general manager Jerry Reese thought he was getting when he signed Brown to replace Lawrence Tynes this past offseason.
Punt Returner, Rueben Randle: C+
Randle’s numbers—11 returns for 68 yards (6.2 average)—aren’t a true representation of what he’s tried to bring to this role, as he’s had a couple of nice returns wiped away by penalties.
Randle still doesn’t look completely comfortable fielding punts just yet, but if he gets the ball and has a 3-4 yard “pocket” with which to work, he can generally come up with a nice return.
Kickoff Returner, David Wilson: B-
Since being given the kickoff return duties in Week 2, Wilson has looked tentative and, at times, unsure of his blocking.
That might just be a matter of shaking off rust in that role, as he certainly has shown the speed and vision that made him so right for the job a year ago.
With more and more kickers booting the ball deep into the end zone, there are fewer chances to return kickoffs than there were last year.