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New York Giants Midseason Report Cards for Each Positional Unit

Patricia TrainaContributor IJanuary 2, 2017

New York Giants Midseason Report Cards for Each Positional Unit

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    In the last four seasons, the New York Giants have never finished below .500.

    They've also had a Super Bowl berth (2012) and haven't started out worse than 5-3 in their first eight games in that four-year period.

    While there are teams that would gladly swap places with the Giants to have that kind of record of accomplishment, it wasn't good enough for the team’s general manager, Jerry Reese, who kicked off the annual training camp with some stern words.

     “All I know is we've been in the playoffs one time in the last four years, and that’s really not acceptable for us,” Reese said.

    “That’s not our standard, that’s not what we shoot for and we want to put everyone on notice, myself included. Everybody’s on notice.”

    A lot of good that notice did, as the Giants limp into the midway point of the season with a 2-6 record. While they are just two games out of first place in the division, they still have a lot more digging to do to get themselves out of the hole they're in. 

    Let's look at how the individual units have done at the halfway mark.  

Quarterback

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    The Giants offense is off to one of its worst starts in the last four years regarding ball security, and it all starts with the Man-ning in charge.

    Thus far, they have 16 interceptions, a league-leading 15 of which have been thrown by Eli Manning.

    If that's not enough of a concern, Manning and the offense have scored touchdowns on just nine of their 19 trips inside the red zone.

    How much of the offense’s woes are actually Manning’s fault?

    The quarterback has never been afraid to shoulder the blame for when things go wrong, and he certainly hasn't been blameless in the mess that has been the 2013 Giants season so far.

    However, when a quarterback goes into Week 8 having been sacked 18 times, been under siege on 124 dropback attempts and having 12 drops (per Pro Football Focus, subscription required) by his receivers, then some of the blame has to be placed on his supporting cast.

    Manning can play much better and can make better decisions. The good news is that he finished out the last two weeks of the first half of the season not turning the ball over by trying to force things that weren't there.

    The bad news, though, is that according to NFLGSIS (login required) statistics, Manning tends to let the clock to run down to the nub, and has taken at four delay of game penalties, something that shouldn't be happening this frequently at this point in his career.

    Curtis Painter and Ryan Nassib haven't contributed much to the position—Painter was given some garbage time snaps in Week 3's blowout loss to the Panthers, while Nassib has yet to be active for a game.

     

    Unit Grade: C

     

Running Backs

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    When you look at this unit, the main thing to consider is who’s been missing. 

    Missing from the first eight games is Andre Brown, who broke his leg in the final preseason game, and was placed on Injured Reserve/Designated to Return.

    Without Brown, the Giants lost a back that, in 2012, averaged 5.3 yards per run and 3.4 yards rushing after contact, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Those averages were significantly higher than Ahmad Bradshaw’s 2012 average of 4.6 yards per carry and 2.5 yards after contact.

    Also missing from the unit for the last three games due to a neck injury has been David Wilson, the speedy and explosive first-round draft pick from 2012, whose 3.3 yards per carry is currently second on the team behind leader Brandon Jacobs, who is nursing an injury (hamstring).

    Lastly, because of the season-ending injury to fullback Henry Hynoski, the Giants were forced to play tight end Bear Pascoe at the fullback spot, a position that is not his best one, for a couple of games until John Conner, signed after Week 3, came up to speed on the offense.

    The additions of Jacobs, Peyton Hillis and Conner have shifted a unit that started out as a finesse group to more of a smash-mouth style.

    The results have been encouraging. In Week 6 against a patchwork Bears defensive front, Jacobs ran for 106 yards on 22 carries, the Giants’ first 100-yard rushing performance since Ahmad Bradshaw ran for 107 yards on 16 carries in the 2012 regular season finale against the Eagles.

    In Week 7 against a very good Vikings defensive front, the Giants finished with 64 yards on 32 carries. In Week 8 against the Eagles, they improved that total to 88 yards on 31 carries.

    Those numbers aren't pretty, but they have allowed the Giants' offensive attack to be balanced, which has gone a long way toward helping them win the time of possession battle. 

    With Brown likely back after the bye week to go along with Hillis, rookie Michael Cox and Conner, this unit should be able to continue to improve. If the Giants can get back Jacobs and Wilson as well, the unit that started out as a liability earlier in the season could very well become a strength down the stretch.  

     

    Unit Grade: C+

Tight Ends

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    A year removed from setting career highs in receptions (79) and receiving yards (806) for the Oakland Raiders, Brandon Myers is off to a shaky start in his first season as a Giant.

    Through eight games, Myers has caught 23 out of 37 passes thrown his way for 265 yards (11.5 yards per catch), and one touchdown.  

    According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Myers’ first eight games of 2012 saw him targeted 50 times. He caught 39 of those passes for 442 yards and two touchdowns.

    His blocking has also been a disappointment. Myers tries, but he just doesn't seem to have a taste for getting down and dirty in the trenches.  

    Bear Pascoe has once again been forced to bounce back and forth between tight end, his best position, and fullback, his worst position. 

    Since returning to tight end two weeks ago, Pascoe has been more solid in the running game, earning a 2.6 grade from Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Pascoe has also done a good job in pass protection, allowing just one sacks and one hurry.

    While not a primary receiving option, he has caught five out of nine passes for 32 yards, 30 of which have come after the catch.  

    Larry Donnell has shown flashes of being able to handle the dirty work that comes with being a blocker, but he’s still very much a raw prospect who also needs to work on his body control when running pass routes.

    Donnell has three receptions for 31 yards so far, but keeping his footing has been a challenge.

    Adrien Robinson, who sprained his foot in the preseason finale, has yet to see the field.

    The coaches must see something in Robinson to think that he can help this unit out, given that he hasn't been placed on season-ending injured reserves despite there being some weeks where he’s been unable to practice.

     

    Unit Grade: C-

Wide Receivers

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    The dry spell continues for Hakeem Nicks, the Giants No. 1 receiver who has yet to record a touchdown reception this season.

    Nicks has caught 34 of the 64 passes  (53.1 percent) for 521 yards, and has two 100-yard receiving games in the first half, against Dallas in Week 1 and in Week 5 against the Eagles.

    Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Nicks was leading the Giants receivers with six drops, as per seven games worth of data.   

    Victor Cruz leads the Giants receivers at the halfway mark with 677 yards on 47 catches, an average of 14.4 yards per reception. 

    Cruz, who has just six receptions of 20-plus yards this season, has just two drops, the fewest of the Giants receivers with at least 10 receptions.

    He is also tied with Rueben Randle for the team lead in touchdowns with four. 

    Speaking of Randle, who was only targeted once in the Week 8 game against the Eagles, he hasn't fared that much better than Nicks in terms of his reception percentage.

    Out of 45 targets, Randle has caught 23 (51.1 percent) for 373 yards, though he does have the four touchdowns. He has also been the target on six of Manning’s 15 interceptions this season, per Pro Football Focus.

    Louis Murphy Jr, who was supposed to bring the ability to stretch the field, seems to have fallen behind Jerrel Jernigan on the depth chart.

    Murphy has just one reception for eight yards, and that's from Week 3. Jernigan, meanwhile, has six catches for 47 yards.

     

    Unit Grade: B-

Offensive Line

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    Because of injuries, the Giants' offensive line has been in a state of flux, which has made it hard for the five starters to develop any sort of cohesion in their communication.

    The good news is that the current configuration of rookie Justin Pugh at right tackle, David Diehl at right guard, Jim Cordle at center, Kevin Boothe at left guard and Will Beatty at left tackle has now had almost five games together and appears to have settled down.

    After giving up 14 sacks in the first four games of the season, the offensive line has cut that number down to five in the last four games.  

    According to data drawn from Pro Football Reference and the current NFL game book, the Giants are also five of five in short yardage runs since the current offensive line configuration was put together.  That means they're getting good push up front. 

    Pugh, the Giants’ first-round draft pick this year, has probably been the most consistent of the bunch. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he has given up just two sacks and two hits.

    While his 28 quarterback hurries (as of seven games) is high, Pugh has shown good balance and fight when squaring up against his man.  

    Boothe, one of two carryovers from the 2012 starting lineup, has also been solid at left guard. He’s allowed one sack and two huts, and his eight quarterback hurries is the lowest of the starting five based on eight starts. 

    Cordle, the newcomer of the group, doesn't have ideal power or mobility, and he quite often can be seen on the ground after falling off his blocks.

    He revealed last week that he’s not even making the offensive line calls, this revelation coming when he was asked how Diehl and Boothe have helped him progress.

    “They go ahead and make the calls, which I can, but they like to do that,” Cordle said.

    Speaking of Diehl, since returning to the starting lineup in Week 5, he has not allowed a quarterback sack.

    Unfortunately, he’s no longer able to keep up with quickness, and while he fights until the whistle, age has most certainly caught up to this one-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman.

    Beatty, the other carryover from 2012, has been the most disappointing of the bunch. In the first year of a new contract extension, Pro Football Focus has him giving up the most sacks to date (5.0), the most quarterback hits (six) and the most hurries.

    That’s a far cry from the season before, when Pro Football Focus ranked Beatty as the 11th best left tackle in the NFL.

     

    Unit Grade: C

Defensive Ends

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    It’s not hard to see why former Patriots' defensive back turned analyst Rodney Harrison thinks that Justin Tuck has probably seen better days. This is because Tuck’s sack total has decreased every year since 2010 as follows:

     

    Year

    No. of Sacks 

    2010

        11.5

    2011

         5.0

    2012

         4.0 

    2013

        1.5 

     

    What Harrison apparently failed to look at when analyzing Tuck’s performance is the big picture.

    In the last two games, Tuck has improved with his contain reads on the edge. While his pass rushes aren't always getting home, they have been more disruptive in terms of creating pressure against the quarterback.

    What doesn't get a lot of mention, but which needs to be acknowledged, is that Tuck dealt with a burner that he suffered in Week 4 vs. Kansas City, an injury that happened a few weeks after he had some temporary back issues during the summer.

    Tuck appears now to have rid himself of those injuries and it has shown in his play these last three weeks.

    Jason Pierre-Paul created some concern when he came clean with reporters on his physical struggles.

    “I see, to be honest, it’s a whole different player from now," he said when asked what he sees when he watches himself on tape from 2011.

    “I’m going back, looking at film, I’m not trying to tweak my game so much that I lose focus of who I am but as of right now I’m just getting better.”

    With one sack and nine tackles so far, Pierre-Paul admitted that he probably won’t be 100 percent again until next year after having back surgery in June.

    That surgery appears to have robbed him of his explosion and burst that were so important to his game in 2011.

    That’s also a big reason why he no longer draws the double teams that he once did, which helped the Giants' pass rush. 

    Mathias Kiwanuka has been the most consistent pass rusher in an otherwise inconsistent group, recording 2.5 sacks to lead the defensive ends.

    According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he’s also recorded at least one hurry against the quarterback in each game, leading the defensive ends with 10 through the first eight weeks of the season. 

    Damontre Moore is a very intriguing pass rusher who has dealt with shoulder and hamstring injuries that defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said has stunted the young man’s development.

    “He missed some time in the preseason, so everything that you try to do developing a player and bringing him along to be that role player that you want him to be gets pushed back,” Fewell said.

    Fewell hasn’t given up that Moore won’t develop into a more frequent contributor to the pass rush this season. 

    “It just all depends if the light switch comes on,” Fewell said.

    “Damontre is a very talented young man, (but) when does the light switch come on for a rookie?  (In) JPP’s first year, we brought him along very slowly.  When the light switch came on, it was like, ‘Wow, where did this guy come from?’  We’re hoping we can do the same thing with (Moore).” 

     

    Unit Grade: C

Defensive Tackles

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    The defensive tackles have been the biggest strength on the Giants team in the first half, and it hasn't even been close.

    All one needs to do is look at the job this unit has done in shutting down the running lanes between the tackles against some of the NFL’s top rushers:

    Player

    Attempts-Rushing Yards

    Week 4: Jamaal Charles (Kansas City)

    18-65

    Week 5: LeSean McCoy (Philadelphia)

    20-46

    Week 6: Matt Forte (Chicago)

    19-67

    Week 7: Adrian Peterson* (Minnesota)

    13-28

    Week 8: LeSean McCoy* (Philadelphia)

    15-48

    * NFL rushing leader going into game vs. NYG

     

    That’s a 2.9 yards per carry by some of the most recognized running backs in the league.

    There has only been one running back to rush for more than 100 yards against the Giants this season, and that was DeAngelo Williams of the Carolina Panthers, who had 120 yards on 23 carries during Week 3.

    Linval Joseph is currently leading the way with 26 tackles, 1.5 sacks and 1 forced fumble. His four tackles for a loss (TFL) are second on the team, behind defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul’s five.

    Cullen Jenkins doesn't have the numbers to show for it—he has just 10 tackles and a half sack, but he has done a nice job of pushing the pocket to help create pressure against opposing quarterbacks.

    The same can be said of Mike Patterson and Shaun Rogers, both of whom are part of that interior rotation. They have combined for 22 tackles and six quarterback hits.

    Even rookie Johnathan Hankins has gotten in on the party, contributing five tackles, one tackle for a loss and one quarterback hit in his only significant playing time to date, that coming in the first matchup against the Eagles.

     

    Unit Grade: A+

Linebackers

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    After starting the season with perhaps the worst linebacker unit in the NFL, the Giants acquired middle linebacker Jon Beason, who lost his starting job to former Giants linebacker Chase Blackburn, in a trade with Carolina that will cost them a 2014 seventh-round draft pick.

    Beason’s arrival has been just what the doctor ordered. Through eight games, Beason has 25 tackles, many of which have been made closer to the point of attack rather than several yards down field.

    He’s shown an ability to move from sideline to sideline, which has been a plus to an already stout run defense.  

    If that’s not enough, defensive coordinator Perry Fewell rewarded Beason’s leadership by giving him the helmet radio, meaning that Beason is now responsible for getting the defense lined up.

    “He’s got a nice voice and when I say voice, he has good command,” Fewell said.

    “I've talked to you guys in the past about a ‘Mike’ (line)backer being able to command that front and being able to make them get down, put their hand in the dirt, listen to the call and when he commands them they know that he’s giving the right command."

    “He’s a very smart football player too. He can visualize plays. When you talk to him he understands concepts and so I think that’s a nice addition to have on your football team.”

    Beason replaced third-year linebacker Mark Herzlich, who despite showing the heart and intelligence to play the game, hasn't shown the athleticism to keep up with today’s offensive skill positions.  

    Spencer Paysinger, the third-year linebacker who seemed to come out of nowhere to grab a starting position, as well as the radio helmet prior to the arrival of Beason, has been a solid contributor.

    However, Paysinger, who lacks foot speed and athleticism, could see his snaps reduced in the coming weeks given the continued development of Jacquian Williams this season.

    Williams is far more athletic with better speed, and he has looked like the playmaking dynamo he was as a rookie before a PCL injury slowed him down in his second season last year.

    Keith Rivers, who is uniquely talented and athletic, has been inconsistent in he mental part of the game. When he’s good, he reminds people of why he is a former top-10 draft pick.

    However, he’s far too inconsistent, and has seen his snaps reduced in recent weeks, largely due to the arrival of Beason, who is now an every down linebacker.

    Rivers currently has 16 tackles and one pass defensed through eight games.

     

    Unit Grade: C+

Safeties

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    The return of Will Hill was just what the doctor ordered for this unit after it lost starter Stevie Brown to a torn ACL in the preseason.

    Hill, a physical enforcer with excellent quickness and speed, already has 25 tackles in just four games after serving a four-game, league-imposed suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on substance abuse.

    Against the Eagles in Week 8, Hill recorded five tackles, all solo, and came up with his first career interception. Interestingly, he took the majority of snaps in place of veteran Ryan Mundy, perhaps a sign of what’s to come as the younger, more aggressive Hill has defined himself as a playmaker.

    Starter Antrel Rolle might not have eye-popping statistics—he’s recorded 40 tackles and three interceptions in the first half of the seasonbut his versatility in being able to play in the slot, in deep coverage and in the box makes the Giants defensive co-captain one of the most underrated members of the secondary.

    A hamstring and shoulder injury has set rookie Cooper Taylor back in his development, but he could start to see more opportunities in the second half of the season.

     

    Unit Grade: B+

Cornerbacks

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    Going into the Week 8 game against the Eagles, the Giants' corners allowed opponents to complete just 59 percent of their pass attempts, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required) data.

    Of the 113 pass attempts thrown their way, only five, or one every 22.6 pass completions, has gone for a touchdown.

    Leading the unit is Prince Amukamara, with 40 total tackles. This third-year player has given up just one touchdown thought the first eight games, per Pro Football Focus.  

    Terrell Thomas, who vowed to return after having three ACL surgeries, has done just that thanks to having his practice reps managed.

    While Thomas, who began the season in the slot, hasn't looked quite as explosive as he did before in 2010 and has given up four touchdown passes, he’s nonetheless played a very aggressive and physical game.

    Trumaine McBride might be just 5’9”, but he has played as if he’s 6’3”, showing good closing speed to make up ground against receivers that initially get a step against him.

    McBride, who’s started three games in the first half of the season, has allowed just 40.9 percent of the passes thrown at him to be completed (as per seen weeks of data).

     

    Unit Grade: B+

Special Teams

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    Giants special teams coordinator Tom Quinn's unit has been the Achilles heel for the Giants lately..
    Giants special teams coordinator Tom Quinn's unit has been the Achilles heel for the Giants lately..

    To borrow a worn-out pun, there hasn't been anything special about the Giants special teams unit so far this season.

    This is a group that has allowed a league-high four punt returns for touchdowns, including three in a row, which is simply inexcusable.

    As for the specialists, they've had better showings. Punter Steve Weatherford certainly can’t be faulted for the breakdowns in coverage, but he hasn't punted consistently this year.

    Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he’s placed just 12 of his 46 punts inside of the opponent’s 20, a stat that puts him in the middle of the pack league-wide.

    Kicker Josh Brown got off to a sluggish start that included a four-week stretch in which he didn’t have a successful field-goal conversion. Over the last two weeks, he’s made all eight of his attempts.

    Punt returner Rueben Randle has 17 returns for 110 yards, a 6.47 yards per return average. He also has one muffed punt, as he seems hesitant to run into the teeth of the coverage.

    Michael Cox and Jerrel Jernigan have handled kickoff returns while David Wilson has been out with a neck injury. Neither player has shown explosiveness or vision on those kickoffs that have been returnable. 

     

    Unit Grade: F

     

    Patricia Traina is the senior editor for Inside Football. All quotes and information obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Follow Patricia on Twitter,@Patricia_Traina.

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