Break up the New York Giants!
After starting out 0-6 this year, the Giants have now won three games in a row, albeit against teams that probably aren't going to be 2013 playoff contenders.
This game wasn't any better. The Giants, who overcame 17 first-half points scored by the Oakland Raiders, whose offense moved the ball just 10 yards on those three scores, got a huge, momentum-turning interception by cornerback Terrell Thomas in the third quarter which set up the go-ahead score, a one-yard touchdown run by Andre Brown to make it 21-20 Giants.
Kicker Josh Brown would put the finishing touches on the Giants' 24-20 win with a 23-yard field goal, capping a day in which the Giants defense once again played stellar ball, limiting Raiders leading rusher, quarterback Terrelle Pryor, to 19 yards on five carries and sacking Pryor four times.
What are some more positives to emerge from this game? The Giants were only flagged once, their lowest total this season. They also posted their second consecutive four-sack game, as the defense played lights-out.
And, as we'll get to later in this presentation, the rushing game, which welcomes back Andre Brown, was simply phenomenal, as for the first time this season, the Giants actually ran the ball more times than they threw it, 38 runs to 22 pass attempts.
Finally, somehow the Giants won the game despite being minus-one in the turnover department. Jerrel Jernigan's fumble on the opening kickoff, running back Peyton Hillis' first-quarter fumble and Eli Manning's second-quarter pick-six accounted for 17 of the Raiders 20 points.
No, it wasn't pretty, and no, the Raiders aren't a team that will be a part of the postseason tournament this coming January. However, a win's a win for the Giants, who are now 7-3 under Tom Coughlin in games played after the bye week and who are still very much alive in the NFC East.
While it is easy to blame the windy conditions for some of Eli Manning’s issues, the fact remains that he’s still having mental hiccups when it comes to some of his decisions.
Take for example his pick-six that gave the Raiders a 17-14 lead. Yes, Manning was under duress when he made that throw, but all he has to do when under pressure is throw the ball away.
It’s hard not to see what Manning is trying to accomplish, but the fact is, if Manning wants people to believe he’s a smart quarterback, he has to know when to throw the ball away, as knowing this will result in fewer mistakes.
Although he didn't throw the ball much—his 22 pass attempts were actually lower than the 38 rushing attempts, the first time this season, per the Giants weekly media packet, New York ran the ball more than it threw it—Manning once again finished below 60 percent in terms of passes completed with a 54.4 percent mark, and spent a lot of time bird-dogging receivers which didn't exactly help his statistics or his team this week.
Unit Grade: C-
In his first regular season game back since Nov. 25, 2012, Andre Brown brought lots of physicality to the mix which resulted in 115 yards on 30 carries.
Brown wasn't used much in the third-down package, where he had excelled in the past, but how nice was it to see him follow his blocking and actually move the chains?
Brown turned numerous runs in which he appeared to be stopped for negative or little yardage into four or five yards by simply moving his feet and pushing his way through the pile.
The only concern with Brown moving forward is whether the heavy workload he was given might be a problem for next week, just as it apparently was for Brandon Jacobs when he played in his first game in over a year during the Week 6 game against the Chicago Bears.
Otherwise, Brown, who should be a strong candidate for NFC Offensive Player of the Week, needs just 39 more yards to lead the Giants in rushing, as Tom Rock of Newsday pointed out.
Peyton Hillis, who in the game two weeks ago was the workhorse for the Giants, didn’t have as strong of an afternoon, running for 21 yards on five carries and, of course, having that fumble in the first quarter that led to a Sebastian Janikowski field goal which made the score 10-7. Hillis also whiffed on a third-down block when he tried to cut his man low.
Fullback John Conner won’t get much mention in the postgame film breakdowns, but his lead blocking has been nothing short of solid. When Conner hits a man, there’s absolutely no question, and he’s done a nice job of finishing off his blocks.
It was curious to see him removed from some obvious running plays and be replaced by tight end Bear Pascoe, who of course, was the team's fullback when starter Henry Hynoski was recovering from knee surgery.
That personnel decision is another example of offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride trying (and failing) to outsmart the other team instead of sticking with what works and letting the opponent try to stop it.
Unit Grade: A-
After having a breakout season for the Raiders last year, Brandon Myers wasn't even a factor in this week’s Giants passing game, as none of Eli Manning’s 22 pass attempts were thrown his way.
In fact, none of the tight ends—Bear Pascoe and Larry Donnell being the other two who were active for the game—were looked at in the receiving game this week.
That leaves their blocking, which remains mediocre at best. Although Myers executed a couple of seal blocks, his head-on attempts were easily shed.
Pascoe, meanwhile, saw a number of snaps out of the fullback spot for some inexplicable reason, and he didn't do much with them.
Donnell also received a small smidgen of snaps, but he was not a factor either way.
The bottom line is that the Giants did rush for 133 yards on 38 carries, so it’s hard to criticize the run blocking. However, New York just isn’t getting a strong return on investment form this position this year.
Unit Grade: C (based on blocking)
Victor Cruz, who turns 27 on Monday, finished by catching three of the 10 passes thrown his way for 37 yards, his second-lowest total this season per the Giants weekly media notes. (Cruz had 25 receiving yards in Week 3 at Carolina).
Cruz was actually bracketed most of the game by a corner and safety, which could explain why he didn’t catch more passes.
There was one pass, though, in the fourth quarter in which Cruz got open in the flat and was waiting for the ball. It was thrown his way, but the pass wasn’t on target, and the pass fell incomplete.
Hakeem Nicks was only targeted four times, catching all four, and his 49 receiving yards led the team this week.
Nicks found himself tightly covered throughout most of the afternoon, as the Raiders seemed intent on taking away the pass, and instead, giving up the run and the underneath stuff.
It also didn’t help the passing game that the winds were particularly fierce this week.
Rueben Randle also caught all of the passes thrown his way—three of them to be exact. He finished second on the team with 50 yards and the lone receiving touchdown on a fade route. Credit Randle for getting both feet in bounds before his momentum carried him out of bounds.
Unit Grade: C+
Statistically speaking, it wasn’t a good day for the offensive line, which, while blocking for a running game that had 133 yards on 38 carries, also allowed a whopping seven tackles for a loss and two forced fumbles.
Toss in the struggles with the pass blocking, which included three sacks for minus-22 yards, five quarterback hits, and countless pressures, and you have a big reason why this game was as close as it was.
Left tackle Will Beatty had an early-game hiccup in which he got too cute with his technique and ended up being beaten for a rush that nearly resulted in a sack. His run blocking, though, was solid.
Interestingly, Beatty, who was lined up across from defensive end Lamarr Houston, seemed to be given most of the chip-blocking help on passing downs whereas Justin Pugh was left on his own.
Along the interior, left guard Kevin Boothe deserves a hat tip for his run blocking, which included several effective pulls of which running back Andre Brown took advantage.
The negative, though, is that Boothe appeared to be the guilty party who let a Raider pass-rusher free to force Eli Manning’s interception.
David Diehl was also solid with his run blocking this week, showing decent mobility in getting to the second level.
Center Jim Cordle continues to struggle with finding a base that prevents him from being pushed back into the pocket. Cordle’s approach just seems to get in the way, and the Giants hope he can be enough of a nuisance for the play to take shape.
James Brewer continues to fill the jumbo tight end role, and he just isn’t consistent enough with his blocking.
Part of the problem is he’s slow in getting out of his stance to handle speed rushers. He’s also not really a physical player in the trenches, which is mystifying considering he has the build and the bulk to stand up to that kind of punishment.
Unit Grade: C-
Justin Tuck finished with two tackles and one pass breakup, beating rookie Menelik Watson a handful of times only to just miss getting a hand on Terrelle Pryor.
Jason Pierre-Paul, who suffered what was described as a stinger in his right shoulder during the game—X-rays were negative—recorded his first sack since Week 1, showing quickness and burst that, for a moment, had one convinced they were watching the 2011 version of this young pass-rusher.
Want more evidence that the old Pierre-Paul is starting to come back? He was doubled and chipped a lot this week, just like in that 2011 season.
He’s still not as explosive off the snap as he was prior to his back surgery, and he does not seem to have the strength to fight through some of these double-team blocks, but the progress he’s made from Week 1 to now has been noticeable.
Mathias Kiwanuka finished with four tackles, but he had some big plays in this week’s game, such as a major tackle for a loss against the quarterback, a sack and a forced fumble.
Unit Grade: B+
Linval Joseph finished with six tackles, the third-most on the Giants this week.
When the defensive tackles are up there in tackles on the stat sheet, that shows they’re shutting down the running lanes and crashing through to keep runners from getting too far.
Finishing fourth in the team in tackles with five, Cullen Jenkins was a disruptive force who repeatedly crashed down on the pocket to create havoc for Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
On occasion, Jenkins lined up at defensive end where he had a few effective edge rushes, including one which forced Pryor into committing an intentional-grounding penalty.
To top off his strong showing, Jenkins recovered the fumble forced by defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka.
Mike Patterson was the guilty party who committed the Giants’ lone penalty this week, but other than that, he turned in a physical effort against the run. He didn't record any tackles, but he did a nice job of creating congestion up front.
Johnathan Hankins flashed into several plays but was most effective between the tackles, where he too created numerous piles that clogged the inside rushing lanes. He was credited with one assisted tackle.
Unit Grade: A
Don’t look now, but this one-time weak spot on the Giants defense actually had a strong showing this week.
The star of the unit was strong-side linebacker Keith Rivers, who met power with power against Oakland’s running game, to finish with seven very strong tackles.
Rivers was also instrumental in pressuring the quarterback and really putting his athleticism to good use this week by contributing to the 15 incomplete passes thrown by Raiders quarterback Terrell Pryor.
Jon Beason finished with just three tackles, as the Raiders, like many others will likely do the rest of the season, schemed to try to neutralize Beason’s effect on the game. The good news for the Giants is that because the interior defensive line was so strong this week, Beason still managed to fill holes with force.
Since Beason’s arrival, Spencer Paysinger has had some of his responsibilities reduced, most notably having the radio-helmet responsibilities removed from his plate, and it’s actually made him a better player.
Paysinger is not only playing faster, he’s also been stout against the run. He flies into holes and attacks his assigned gaps with a level of physicality that has helped to hold some of the league’s leading rushers to less than 100 yards.
Jacquian Williams, who seems to have quietly slipped past Paysinger on the depth chart—Williams was given the start at weak-side linebacker—had a quiet day as, again, the Raiders really didn't do much with their passing game. Williams finished with two tackles, including one for a loss and one pass breakup.
Unit Grade: B+
Recording his first interception since 2010 when he had five, Terrell Thomas continues to play like his pre-injury self. His third-quarter interception easily swung the momentum back to the Giants' side for good, as it set up their go-ahead score.
“It was a big play for us,” he said after the game.
“We needed it. It was a route that they run a lot, and I was waiting on it all game. They run two-by-two slants and Coach (Perry Fewell) put us in a great position, and I was just happy to make a play for our defense.”
Trumaine McBride, whom defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said this week is the starter until further notice, continues to amaze by playing like a man who isn’t diminutive in stature.
Not only does McBride get his hands on receivers to jam them, he also somehow manages to stay stride-for-stride with them down the field.
Finishing with a pass breakup on Terrelle Pryor’s only other deep pass attempt, McBride did a nice job of taking away the slant pattern.
Prince Amukamara didn’t appear to have many chances to impact the game, as the Raiders weren't throwing much down the field. Amukamara did finish with four tackles .
Unit Grade: A
Antrel Rolle ended up leading the team in tackles with nine, as defensive coordinator Perry Fewell deployed Rolle up in the box to provide run support against Raiders quarterback Terrell Pryor, a quarterback who struggles to throw deep passes.
Rolle also added a big fourth-quarter sack and had a tackle for a loss and a forced fumble in what was another strong showing.
As the deep safety, Ryan Mundy had an easy afternoon, as Oakland only threw the ball deep twice, with one pass being completed for 23 yards.
Will Hill was heavily involved with sub-packages in which he played closer to the action and finished with three tackles as a run-support specialist this week.
Unit Grade: A
The players can sit and talk about how great their schemes are all they want, but the bottom line is that the Giants special teams unit appears to be making the same mistakes in coverage, and that can be tied to technique, which in turn ties into coaching.
We’ll start with the terrible job done by punter Steve Weatherford. Granted, his punt return team was allowing pressure up the middle to where it was only a matter of time before someone got a hand on one of his punts, which happened in the fourth quarter.
Weatherford didn't help himself with some poorly struck punts that contributed to his second-lowest net punting average of the season, 30.5, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
In fact, Weatherford’s net has been less than 40.0 yards in six of the team’s first nine games this season.
Then there is the poor decision-making process of punt returner Rueben Randle, who on one first-half punt decided to field a ball at his 3 instead of letting it bounce into the end zone for the touchback. Instead, Randle managed just 12 return yards, costing his team five yards of field position.
Kickoff returner Jerrel Jernigan’s opening fumble resulted in a Raiders score that was literally gift-wrapped. While the Giants punt coverage team held Oakland to just minus-one return yards, kickoff returner Taiwan Jones finished with a respectable 38.5 average on two kickoffs, including a long of 41 yards.
You could make an argument for kicker Josh Brown being the lone bright spot, considering he made his lone field-goal attempt, and he put three of his five kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks.
It’s the two that were returned for 77 yards, including a long of 41 yards, that are head-scratchers as with Brown’s big leg, why opponents are still getting chances to bring kickoffs out, is a mystery.
You could also make a case for the blocked punt by Damontre Moore that was recovered and returned for a touchdown by rookie Cooper Taylor as being another bright spot.
The bottom line is that the Giants special teams units are not winning the field-position battle, and this week was no different, as according to the official game book, the Raiders average starting field position was their 41 while the Giants’ was their 31.
Unit Grade: D-