At the start of the week, New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin said that he would be looking to see if his team shared his excitement about playing another division game.
After a slow start that saw them fall behind 14-0 to the Washington Redskins, the Giants indeed started to show signs of life, proving to themselves and the rest of the NFL that they’re not ready to call it a season.
New York got a one-yard touchdown run by Andre Brown and a 39-yard field goal by Josh Brown, both scores coming in the fourth quarter to close out a 24-17 win over Washington.
Though Washington did threaten on their final drive of the game, safety Will Hill ripped the ball away from receiver Pierre Garcon on a 4th-and-1 at the Washington 45-yard line, ending their chances of coming back.
The Giants (5-7) are still a long shot for the playoffs and have to have a lot more happen if they are to move up the playoff seeding.
Not only do they need to win their remaining four games against San Diego, Seattle, Detroit and Washington, they’re also going to need a lot of help, as Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News outlined in his pregame blog entry.
Washington (3-9) has officially been eliminated from postseason contention and remains firmly entrenched in the NFC East cellar one year after winning the division.
If that wasn’t painful enough, according to the draft tracker at Over the Cap, Washington currently has the third overall pick in the 2014 draft—a pick that they traded to St. Louis in order to get quarterback Robert Griffin III.
Here's a look at this week's unit grades for New York, which is now 2-3 against division foes with one game (vs. Washington) remaining.
After a slow start in which he absorbed a sack for minus nine yards on the very first play from scrimmage, Eli Manning, who finished with eight passing yards on two first-quarter pass attempts, began to settle down.
What helped him was that in the second quarter, the Giants managed to muster up a running game that led to 14 points, including a 23-yard rushing touchdown by Andre Brown and a 22-yard scoring reception by tight end Brandon Myers.
While Manning did have one interception on what was a very poor decision, he also was under pressure for a good part of the game, being sacked three times and hit six others.
He finished 22-of-28 for 235 yards, one touchdown and one interception for what was a respectable 98.7 passer rating, his second highest rating of the season, per the Giants’ postgame press notes.
Unit Grade: B
The final numbers aren’t sexy, but the running game has been moving the chains, so it’s highly unlikely that the Giants care about accumulating gaudy numbers.
The duo of Peyton Hillis, in for Brandon Jacobs, and Andre Brown combined for 80 yards on 23 carries (3.5 average).
Brown did all the scoring for this group, but Hillis, who got 35 of his 45 total rushing yards for the night on one second-quarter series, helped make Brown’s 23-yard touchdown run possible.
Hillis also converted a 3rd-and-1 into an eight-yard gain.
Fullback John Conner had his hands full given the numerous defenders that Washington devoted to stop the Giants' running game.
He led the way on the running game's two longest runs, as well as on Brown's rushing touchdown.
Unit Grade: A
The blocking remains inconsistent, but this week, the tight ends made up for it in the passing game.
By combining to catch seven out of nine targets for 72 yards and one touchdown, the tight ends posted one of their best of the season in the passing game.
Leading the way was Brandon Myers, who had five receptions for 61 yards and the unit’s lone touchdown.
In his last five games, Myers (34 receptions for 397 yards and three touchdowns) has logged 14 catches for 174 yards and two touchdowns.
Bear Pascoe, meanwhile, finished with two catches—which tied a season high—for 11 yards, as he lined up as both an in-line tight end as well as an H-back.
Unit Grade: B
Due to the pass protection being so shoddy, there wasn’t much available deep downfield. As a result, the receivers were shut out of the scoring party and really didn’t have much of an impact.
Victor Cruz, who finished as the receiving leader this week with six catches for 80 yards, failed to come up with a key pass thrown on 3rd-and-2 at the Redskins’ 48-yard line, a play on which he drew a favorable mismatch against a linebacker.
Because Cruz drew extra attention, however, there were a few times when a safety or linebacker cheated over to Cruz’s spot, thus leaving the middle of the field and tight end Brandon Myers literally unaccounted for.
Hakeem Nicks, who was back in action after missing last weekend with an abdominal strain, caught both passes thrown his way for 34 yards.
Rueben Randle, meanwhile, was held to two catches for 20 yards, as the Giants, for whatever reason, didn’t really go after cornerback Josh Wilson, who the 49ers lit up in the previous game.
Unit Grade: B
If there was one glaring negative in this week’s game, it was the play of the offensive line, especially in pass-blocking.
The line, which per Pro Football Focus (subscription required) has yet to get through a game this season without giving up at least one sack, has now allowed 31 sacks for the season.
That’s a career high—and an alarming stat with four games still remaining—for quarterback Eli Manning, per Pro Football Reference.
The biggest culprit in facilitating Washington’s sack parade was left tackle Will Beatty, who had no answers for linebacker Brian Orakpo.
Orakpo recorded two of the three sacks with inside moves against Beatty. By allowing the inside moves, Manning couldn’t step up into the pocket and escape from the rush.
After the game, Beatty owned up to his poor performance and his rocky season, the first season under his five-year, $38 million contract extension that he signed this past offseason.
“I believe this year more than any year, I had (Eli Manning’s) jersey dirty. It’s not me,” Beatty told Dave Hutchinson of the Star-Ledger after the game.
“You have good games and you have bad games," he said. "I have to string the good games together and eliminate the bad ones.”
In addition to giving up the sacks, Beatty was called twice for holding, one of which was declined.
Justin Pugh’s lack of bulk was, at times, a bit of an issue this week against linebacker Ryan Kerrigan; however, credit the rookie for keeping Kerrigan off the stat sheet as far as sacks and hits against the quarterback.
While David Diehl is always true to his assignments, he continues to show week after week that he can no longer hold up to the physical confrontations as he did in his prime.
Diehl will fight and scrap until the whistle, but his pass-blocking wasn’t always a pretty sight. He was, however, better in run-blocking, where he executed a few short pulls.
Center Kevin Boothe struggled against former Giants nose tackle Barry Cofield, and as a result, the running game had issues trying to attack the interior.
Boothe’s replacement at left guard, James Brewer, was perhaps the best of the bunch this week, as he did a good job walling off his man in the pass block and blowing open holes on two of Peyton Hillis’ second-quarter runs.
Brewer’s game wasn’t perfect, as he failed to pick up an inside blitz that resulted in a sack against Manning by Josh Wilson, but overall he put forth a solid effort.
Unit Grade: D+
Count ‘em, Giants fans: five sacks this week, four by Justin Tuck, who should get the NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.
Those five sacks, by the way, are a single-game season high for this defense’s pass rush, which has now posted multiple sacks in four of its last five games, a period in which it has 17 of its 23 sacks for the season.
Tuck, who joins Lawrence Taylor (twice), Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora as the only Giants defenders to have four or more sacks in a game, posted his single-game career high in the second half of the game.
After RG3 completed 16 of 17 passes for 149 yards in the first half, he was held to just eight more completions in the game’s final 30 minutes.
Tuck, whose early season numbers didn't reflect his production and ability to disrupt things, is finally starting to reap the rewards of his efforts.
"Justin is off to an outstanding start,” Giants defensive line coach Robert Nunn told Matt Ehalt of ESPN last month. “He's healthy. He's playing really well against the run."
Tuck now has 5.0 sacks in his last two games.
Mathias Kiwanuka, starting for Jason Pierre-Paul, managed to record just three tackles—one solo—but he also managed to get a hit on RG3.
More importantly, Kiwanuka cleaned up the aggression penalties that sullied his game last week.
Rookie Damontre Moore, who was part of the defensive end rotation, didn’t record any tackles, but he did get a hit on RG3 in his 17 snaps played.
Unit Grade: A
Another week, another top-rated running back shut down by the Giants’ exceptional run defense.
The focus on stopping Morris and not RG3 was apparently by design.
Per Jordan Raanan of NJ.com, linebacker Jon Beason said that the defense thought Morris would be the "cowbell."
"You look at when he has a big game versus when he doesn't have a big game, even when RG3 has a big game, they don't do too well,” Beason told Raanan. “He’s the guy that makes them go."
As for RG3, who finished as the team’s rushing leader with 88 yards on 12 carries, defensive end Justin Tuck shared some very frank insight into how little the quarterback scared the Giants' defense.
“We didn’t think RG was going to be as good as he was in the first half," Tuck told Raanan. "Second half we came in and did some adjustments and were able to stop that a little bit.”
The defensive interior was also solid in the pass rush. Cullen Jenkins, who recorded a sack this week, now has three sacks in his last two games.
He also had a tackle for a loss and a quarterback hit, as he did a nice job helping collapse the pocket.
Linval Joseph also played another quietly effective game inside, handling the dirty work. Joseph won’t get the big numbers, but by drawing double-team blocks, he helped open things up for the rest of the front seven.
Unit Grade: A
When three of a team’s top four leaders in tackles are the linebackers, you know that the unit did a good job keeping plays from reaching beyond the second level.
Such was the case this week, as Jon Beason (17), Spencer Paysinger (8) and Keith Rivers (7) filled holes and played solid contain, rarely giving up an inch to Washington’s dangerous two-headed running game of RG3 and Alfred Morris.
Beason, who last week played perhaps his quietest game as a Giant, was all over the field this week. He showed good quickness in getting to the sideline to prevent Morris and RG3 from turning upfield.
Rivers' seven total tackles, which tied safety Antrel Rolle's production in that category, was his best effort since he posted eight tackles three weeks ago versus Oakland.
He has quietly improved in recent weeks, and his solid contain game is a big reason why the Giants continue to have success in shutting down opposing rushing attacks.
Paysinger, who lost his starting weak-side linebacker job to Jacquian Williams, was called up this week, with the Giants focused on shutting down the read option.
He didn't disappoint, playing smart angles and doing a nice job of wrapping up the ball carriers.
Williams, who is better in coverage, received five fewer snaps than Paysinger because of the game plan. When he did get on the field, Williams was solid.
Unit Grade: A-
With the Redskins not taking many shots deep down the field, Hill, the free safety, didn’t have much to do this week.
When he did get involved, though, boy, was his impact felt.
Finishing with five tackles (four solo), his big-time forced fumble and fumble recovery on Washington’s final pass of the game—a ball intended for receiver Pierre Garcon on 4th-and-1 at the Washington 45-yard line—was huge.
On the play, Hill stubbornly fought Garcon for the ball, successfully ripping it out of the receiver’s hands and coming up with the huge turnover that ended any chance the driving Redskins had of tying the game.
Actually, credit Hill for alertly spotting a mistake made by Garcon on that play.
According to Conor Orr of The Star-Ledger, Garcon was careless in how he held onto the ball, which Hill alertly took advantage of to strip the ball away from the receiver.
Antrel Rolle, who finished tied for third on the team with seven tackles (four solo), played another smart and alert game.
One of his biggest plays was made on a first-quarter reverse in which everyone was fooled except Rolle, who limited the Redskins to just 10 yards on that play.
Rolle also dropped Alfred Morris for a loss on a running play and broke up a pass to tight end Fred Davis over the middle late in the game.
Unit Grade: A
There weren’t too many deep passes thrown downfield, but there was a pass that should have been picked off by Prince Amukamara.
The Giants’ top cornerback had the ball in his hands in the end zone but couldn’t find the handle. As a result, the pass was ruled incomplete, and the drive ended with Washington kicking a field goal to break a 14-14 deadlock in the third quarter.
Jayron Hosley, the second-year corner who received the start with Trumaine McBride (groin) and Corey Webster (ankle) sidelined, did okay in his 67 (out of 69) defensive snaps.
On his first opportunity, he missed an open-field tackle on an out route that resulted in a first down. After that, he settled down in his role and didn’t do anything to embarrass himself.
Terrell Thomas, who finished with three tackles, was solid, but his biggest contribution might have been drawing not one but two penalties—both committed by receiver Santana Moss—on the same play.
The infractions happened in the third quarter. Robert Griffin III had just completed a 13-yard pass to tight end Logan Paulsen on a 2nd-and-16. After Paulsen was pushed out of bounds by linebacker Jon Beason, Moss, who had been blocking Thomas on the play, was flagged for holding and lost his cool. He drew another flag for a 15-yard personal foul that the Giants accepted.
Unit Grade: B
At the risk of jinxing this unit, it seems as though its days of being a liability are over.
Punter Steve Weatherford didn’t come close to putting up the numbers he did last week, but he was still effective. Of his six punts, two landed inside of the 20, with two going for a fair catch. He also had solid coverage, as Santana Moss’ best return of the night went for 14 yards.
Kicker Josh Brown had five kickoffs, two of which went for touchbacks, while one was a short “mortar” kick collected by one of the up men.
The thinking there might have been the Giants hoping that, by kicking to someone who doesn’t normally handle the ball and thus tends to be uncomfortable doing so, there might have been a turnover. That’s not a bad strategy in a close game.
Brown also made a 39-yard field goal in the fourth quarter that swelled the Giants’ lead to seven points. The clutch field goal was his 14th in a row.
The Giants’ two return men, Rueben Randle on punts and Michael Cox on kickoffs, were of little help this week.
Randle has never really looked comfortable in that role, his decision-making being comical at times. For example, there was one punt in which he waved everyone off and then, because the ball bounced to him, he decided to field it and try to gain yardage.
That kind of uncertainty is ultimately going to cost the Giants. With 11 men coming at you on a hard charge, you have to have a plan, which Randle rarely seems to have.
Cox, meanwhile, muffed one of his four kickoff returns, which no doubt caused special teams coordinator Tom Quinn’s heart to stop momentarily. Cox also never made it past the 27-yard line, ending with a 17.3 average for the night.
There are some other special teams' performances worth noting.
Mark Herzlich Jr., who gracefully handled his demotion from the starting middle linebacker spot by making special teams his calling card, finished the night with a team-high two tackles on specials, both of which were solo.
Damontre Moore continued to be “DaMonsta” on special teams. On Washington’s bad punt, a result of a poor snap, Moore not only drew a hold, but he also appeared to have gotten a hand on the ball, which resulted in the Giants’ best starting field position of the night.
Opponents have started to take note of how disruptive Moore has become on the punt return team, and they have started to scheme accordingly to keep him under control.
Unit Grade: B+