The New York Giants’ win over the Minnesota Vikings might very well have been a case of two struggling teams trying to prove to a national audience that each wasn’t as bad as their respective records said they were.
With that said, there were some positive takeaways to come from the Giants’ first win of the 2013 season.
The biggest one is the psychological boost that Tom Coughlin’s team so desperately needed. With their chances of earning a playoff berth all but gone thanks to their 0-6 start, the win against the Vikings should make the job of Coughlin, the master motivator, a lot easier moving forward.
That’s because he can use this experience and the huge sense of relief in showing his team that, yes, good things can indeed happen to them if they band together and execute.
As for the “ugly win” label that some are attaching to this game, let’s all remember that when the NFL hands out playoff berths and determines the draft order, there is no extra credit given for how a team got there other than what the numbers under the “W-L” columns say.
A win is a win. No, this win wasn’t pretty, but it’s a small step in the right direction for a NFL team that had clearly lost its way.
The fact is that Eli Manning doesn’t have a veteran line in front of him. This is a big reason why his passing numbers, which, this week, were 23-of-39 for 200 yards and one touchdown, have been pedestrian since Week 2.
With that said, Manning—who, by the way, didn’t throw an interception this week—still hasn’t snapped out of his slump.
He missed receiver Hakeem Nicks on the team’s opening drive of the game, a miss that forced the Giants to settle for three points instead of seven.
Speaking of interceptions, Manning got lucky when cornerback Marcus Sherels dropped what should have been an interception of a ball that Manning tried to force while under pressure.
Still, that Manning and the Giants offense managed to win the time of possession battle by keeping the ball for a little over 36 minutes means that the offense, which goes through the quarterback, was doing something right.
Unit Grade: C
Working on just three days of practice in the Giants’ system, Peyton Hillis brought a level of physicality to the game that was feared lost when Brandon Jacobs had to sit this one out due to a hamstring strain.
Hillis only rushed for 36 yards on 18 carries and had the Giants’ lone rushing touchdown. He also caught five out of six targets for 45 yards, the second best total on the team.
Rookie Michael Cox final made his NFL debut on offense and showed the quickness he displayed in the summer wasn’t a mirage.
However, it was still obvious that the young man, who finished with 23 yards on 11 carries, had his struggles with pass protection, which is why his 21 snap count total was significantly less than Hillis’ 48.
Fullback John Conner made the most out of his 29 snaps on offense, delivering one solid lead block after another and contributing three receptions (out of five targets) for 17 yards.
With the Giants running game having evolved back toward more of a smash mouth style, the addition of Conner has helped the Giants running game to slowly re-establish that level of physicality that somehow got lost along the way.
Unit Grade: B+
Victor Cruz continues to be Eli Manning’s "go-to" guy, whether it’s the short pass or the deep ball. Cruz’s 50 receiving yards on five receptions once again led the team in receiving.
Twenty-one of Hakeem Nicks’ 28 receiving yards came on one play, as he only managed to snag two out of 10 balls thrown his way.
Nicks was the target on a Manning throw into the end zone on the Giants’ opening drive of the game, and, while the ball wasn’t thrown well, it was still surprising to see Nicks not get there considering it did just skim off his fingertips.
Rueben Randle as the recipient of the team’s lone passing touchdown, a 24-yard strike from Manning on a play where the quarterback and receiver finally got on the same page. Randle finished by catching all three of the balls thrown his way for 40 yards.
Unit Grade: B
There wasn’t much from this group from a receiving perspective—starter Brandon Myers had 15 yards on two receptions while Bear Pascoe had a four-yard catch.
In the blocking aspect, Myers will never remind Giants fans of Howard Cross or more recently Martellus Bennett, but he did at least slow down Vikings defensive end Jared Allen on a handful of pass rushes.
Pascoe, meanwhile, did most of his work in-line, but for some reason, the play often went away from his side of the field. In pass protection, he did have a blatant whiff against a Vikings defensive end that forced Manning to rush the pass.
Larry Donnell remains a work in progress. Targeted once in the passing game, he lost control of himself and stumbled to the ground, the pass falling incomplete. His blocking was also a bit of a mixed bag in that he often times got in the way, but didn’t really blow anyone off the line with any semblance of power.
Unit Grade: C
It’s hard to keep track of the different combinations that this one-time strength has had this season—it’s probably up to seven by now—but the revolving door can’t be helping the communication among this very important group of five players tasked with protecting the franchise quarterback.
Individually, left tackle Will Beatty, who looked as though he picked up his level of play the last two weeks, reverted back to his subpar technique. This week, he consistently struggled to neutralize defensive end Jared Allen.
Right tackle Justin Pugh had his share of struggles this week as well as his lack of NFL-quality strength resulted in him being pushed back into the pocket on several occasions. Still, he continued to fight until the whistle, in the end allowing one hit against his quarterback.
Left guard Kevin Boothe struggled to keep up with the Vikings speed. He allowed several inside pressures in pass blocking, though as a run blocker, Boothe had a slightly better showing.
Right guard David Diehl’s performance was almost the opposite of Boothe’s – passable in pass blocking, poor in run blocking. Diehl held his own against Vikings defensive tackle Kevin Williams without any help, but he, along with the center and other guard, just couldn’t manage to keep the double blitzes the Vikings were running on nearly every passing down.
Center David Baas’ return from a three-week absence due to a neck injury was short lived, as on the opening drive, he injured his left knee and was not heard from again in the game.
His replacement, Jim Cordle, battled hard, but the sad truth is that the offensive interior took a turn for the worst, as he struggled against the double A-gap blitzes that were repeatedly thrown his way.
James Brewer received some snaps as the jumbo tight end, but on one play, he was no match for Allen, who zipped past a lunging Brewer on a third down play that went nowhere.
Unit Grade: C-
Looking like the Justin Tuck of old, the Giants defensive co-captain was involved in numerous significant plays, most notably against the run where he had not one, but two tackles for a loss against Adrian Peterson.
In pass defense, Tuck produced the defense’s only sack, this one coming from the defensive end position rather than inside at tackle, where he has traditionally generated most of his sacks.
He was also instrumental in crashing down on the pocket, which resulted in 13 hits against quarterback Josh Freeman and countless pressures.
Finally starting to look like his old self, Jason Pierre-Paul overcame a midweek illness and had a few solid plays, most notably a hit against quarterback Josh Freeman and a solid burst into the backfield to drop running back Adrian Peterson for no gain.
Matthias Kiwanuka had a quiet game considering he was given a generous amount of pass-rushing attempts. Kiwanuka doesn’t seem to have the foot speed or the strength any more to be effective in an attack mode.
Rookie Damontre Moore received eight late-game snaps. Already possessing good speed off the edge, Moore also started to show fight against blockers, which helped him crash into the offensive backfield.
Unit Grade: B+
Taking away the inside rushing lanes that Adrian Peterson tends to exploit, this Giants defensive unit continues to be a team strength each week, and it’s not even close.
All that really needs to be said is this: Peterson recorded 28 rushing yards on 13 carries. That’s his lowest total production on the ground this season., and the first time he’s been held to less than 30 yards since Nov. 20, 2011 when he ran six times for 26 yards.
Linval Joseph did an exceptional job of absorbing double team blocks and creating congestion on the inside, as he’s done all year.
Cullen Jenkins also did a tremendous job of drawing double teams and disrupting things inside. In the pass rush, Jenkins isn’t getting home but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been disruptive.
This week he managed to get a hit against Josh Freeman to force one of the quarterback’s 33 incomplete pass attempts.
Shaun Rogers was the catalyst whose play forced Freeman’s third-quarter interception deep in Giants territory.
Rogers blew past the Vikings center and the sight of his 300-plus pound body was just enough to force Freeman into making a panic throw that went straight to safety Antrel Rolle.
Mike Patterson continues to make most of his contributions against the run, where he mucks up the inside rushing lanes by staying on his feet and battling hard.
Unit Grade: A
For the second week in a row, middle linebacker Jon Beason, who, this week, was given the radio helmet so he could make the defensive calls and orchestrate getting everyone lined up, led his team in tackles. Again, these are tackles that are mostly not coming several yards down the field.
Beason was also a big presence when Adrian Peterson attempted to bounce a couple of runs to the outside.
On one such play, Beason, showing no signs of having had past knee issues, not only kept up with Peterson in the footrace, he single-handedly dragged the big, powerful running back down to the ground in what was a minimal gain.
Spencer Paysinger looked to be the man at fault on a 22-yard pass completion to Peterson out of the backfield.
On the play, Peterson crept out into the flat, but Paysinger was late to react and Peterson exploited the opportunity.
After last week’s forgettable performance, Keith Rivers turned in a solid edge contain game. He also did well to hurry quarterback Josh Freeman into throwing the ball before he was ready, the results being incomplete passes.
Jacquian Williams had a solid showing on coverage, nearly coming up with an interception in the process. He was also asked to blitz a couple of times, but one such attempt was picked up by Peterson.
Unit Grade: B+
Although he’s not the tallest cornerback, 5’9” Trumaine McBride plays with an aggression level often found in larger cornerbacks.
McBride has proven to be fearless in getting his hands on receivers and tight ends to disrupt their pass patterns, and never stops fighting until the play is over.
A perfect example was a third quarter deep pass attempt from Josh Freeman to Jerome Simpson. Simpson appeared to have McBride beaten, but at the last minute, McBride made up the ground and stuck his hand in there to break up the pass.
McBride also opened a few eyes when on the ensuing play, he shed a block and made an impressive solo tackle against Adrian Peterson.
Prince Amukamara, who finished with five solo tackles, one tackle for a loss, and one pass breakup, drew an iffy pass interference call on a ball that didn’t’ seem to be within anyone’s reach.
Other than that play and an early game, third-down matchup against Jerome Simpson that Amukamara lost, he played well.
Terrell Thomas, who returned to the slot cornerback role, only received 14 snaps in the game while Corey Webster, in his first action back in a month after healing from a groin injury, received just three snaps, the lowest of any Giants defender this week.
Unit Grade: B+
With the Vikings not trying very many deep passes, the safeties didn’t have much to do from a coverage perspective. Where they instead made their mark was closer to the line of scrimmage.
Starting with Will Hill, who has established himself as the third safety and a future starter, Hill did a nice job to sniff out a reverse that the Viking were trying to execute with Cordarrelle Patterson.
Hill also delivered several solid tackles on short passing attempts, limiting any yards gained to the minimum.
Ryan Mundy spent most of his time this week ensuring that Adrian Peterson would not beat the Giants with his legs. Mundy did just that, contributing five solid tackles , most of which came at the second level.
Besides his big interception that nullified an earlier Giants turnover, Antrel Rolle mostly had a solid game as well, finishing with five tackles.
He was flagged for a personal foul after it appeared that he led with his helmet on a second-quarter tackle, but the penalty didn’t really hurt the Giants as far as the game flow went.
Unit Grade: A-
This week’s special teams performance was a “Jekyll and Hyde” showing.
The coverage on Marcus Sherels’ 86-yard punt return for a touchdown and Cordarrelle Patterson’s 69-yard kickoff return was poor, no two ways about it.
Sherels, who became the third player this season to return a punt for a touchdown against the Giants, did so thanks to two issues that have continued to dog the Giants coverage team.
These included guys not getting off blocks and guys diving at returners’ legs instead of trying to wrap them up. It sure looks like speed remains an issue on the Giants coverage teams.
Also registering in the negative column was punt returner Rueben Randle’s early third quarter fumble that was recovered by the Vikings on the Giants 31.
Fortunately, the Vikings turned the ball over on the ensuing drive, quarterback Josh Freeman’s pass being picked off by safety Antrel Rolle, but that doesn’t excuse Randle for his gaffe.
On the plus side, the special teams did come up with a huge second-half play that turned the tide of the game. Steve Weatherford’s 57-yard punt to the Vikings 13 was fumbled by Sherels, the loose ball being recovered by long snapper Zak DeOssie at the Vikings’ 4-yard line.
Two plays later, the Giants were up 17-7, never to look back.
Kicker Josh Brown, whose last successful field goal was four games ago, converted all three of his attempts this week. However, three of his six kickoffs were returnable, going for 90 yards, including the aforementioned 69-yard return by Patterson.
Unit Grade: C-