Quarterback Eli Manning is counting on a strong performance from one of this week's "5 Players to Watch."
The New York Giants could still make the playoffs, but don't be fooled into thinking that the team is focused solely on this weekend’s game and does not have at least one eye on the organization's future.
Realistically, the Giants' playoff chances are so slim that it would take nothing short of a miracle for them to remain in contention for another week.
Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News outlines the three things that would mathematically eliminate the Giants from a chance at the postseason, one of which is to lose against the San Diego Chargers.
While the players will have their eyes on the Chargers this weekend, the coaches and management will probably be looking ahead, which brings us to the theme of this week’s five Giants to watch.
The list includes three younger players and two veterans whose respective play over these last four games could determine their futures.
Read on to find out who made this week’s list.
If you’ve ever wondered why defensive end Damontre Moore, a promising young player, didn’t get a chance to play sooner, the answer is quite simple.
The player needs to show that he understands and can execute his assignments on the practice field and in the classroom. Once he demonstrates that, he’s going to get an opportunity to play.
Now I know what you must be thinking: “Jason Pierre-Paul has been ruled out this week so why wouldn’t the Giants play Moore?”
Valid question, but remember that Pierre-Paul was also out last week, and yet Moore was only given 17 of the defense’s 69 snaps as part of the rotation at defensive end.
So how did the rookie, who according to the official game book was only credited for one quarterback hit on defense do with his snaps?
“Some good, some bad,” said defensive coordinator Perry Fewell. “It’s good to see him play and it’s good to see him get that game experience. We’d love for him to get more experience, so he’ll take more snaps this week.”
Fewell wouldn’t go into specifics about what Moore did well and what he didn’t nor would he comment on how many additional snaps Moore might see.
Fewell did say, “There’s a lot of things that we want him to improve on because he has a lot of potential as a player.”
One of the things that could be on Fewell’s wish list for Moore’s improvement is his play against the run. Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Moore has been on the field for just 12 defensive snaps against the run, and has been credited with just two assisted tackles.
Given that the Chargers have had more success running to the left side of the formation—per Pro Football Focus, San Diego is averaging 5.0 yards per carry off the left end, 5.8 yards per carry behind the left tackle and 4.2 behind the left guard—the coaches might be a little squeamish about turning Moore loose on rushing downs.
“He’s a complete football player,” Fewell said, avoiding the question about whether he trusted Moore to handle running downs. “He’s got to be able to play the run and the pass. We’ll definitely do that.”
With the Giants missing Corey Webster (ankle) and Trumaine McBride (groin) last week, defensive coordinator Perry Fewell must have been holding his breath as he watched second-year cornerback Jayron Hosley make his first start this season.
The good news is that Hosley stepped up and held his own.
“I was very proud of Jayron with the way he came in and played in the football game,” Fewell said. “On one of the plays he came up to crack support, run support, and (linebacker Jon) Beason was in his way and he knocked the (heck) out of Beason and so he showed me right there that he’s not afraid to hit something.”
What about in coverage?
“He covered well and so he did some things that we saw in the football game that he was ready to come back and play and I thought his quickness matched up with some of the quickness that the receivers have from the Redskins,” Fewell said.
Statistically speaking, it wasn’t a bad game for Hosley, who finished with four tackles (three solo) and one pass breakup.
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Hosley faced receiver Pierre Garcon three of the five times he was targeted by Washington in the passing game, giving up two receptions for 12 yards, but only three yards after the catch.
Hosley also allowed receptions of nine and 10 yards by tight end Logan Paulsen and receiver Josh Morgan respectively.
Last week, Washington threw three pass attempts for 20 or more yards, with none of them being completed.
They also threw three passes in the 10 to 19-yard range, two of those going for completions. Otherwise, everything else was thrown in the zero to nine-yard range.
The Chargers have a somewhat better passing offense, and a quarterback who can make those deeper throws. Philip Rivers has completed 70.2 percent of his pass attempts.
Per the data at Pro Football Focus, approximately 31.2 percent of Rivers’ 304 completions (on 433 attempts for 3,633 yards) have come in—you guessed it—the intermediate to deep areas of the field as follows:
Chargers QB Philip Rivers’ Passes by Distance
10 to 19 yards
17 of 44 for 560 yards
78 of 115 for 1,367 yards
The Chargers will be a nice test for Hosley, who will likely get his second start of the season even though Trumaine McBride (groin) is, at least as of Friday, expected to make the trip out west after being limited this week in practice.
“We really haven’t made that decision yet,” Fewell said regarding who will start. “We’re just glad that he’s practicing right now and we like what Hosley did last week, so we’ll wait and see what they do tomorrow and then we’ll make a decision.”
It’s been a rather odd season for Will Beatty, the Giants’ starting left tackle.
Rewarded with a new multiyear contract this past offseason after finishing as the 11th best offensive tackle in 2012 per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), instead of sticking with what got him to that point, Beatty has admitted to breaking the old idiom, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
“I started off the first few games with way too much pressure on my plate,” Beatty told the B/R last month.
“I’m still the same guy, but I was trying to change the technique, trying to do better, trying to do things that took me away from what I did well. So I’m thinking back then, ‘OK, now I’m here so I’m going to do something different.’”
Here’s the odd thing about Beatty’s 2013 season. After starting out with poor grades from Pro Football Focus in three of his first four games in which he allowed four sacks, four quarterback hits, and 16 hurries.
In Weeks 5 through 11,Beatty trimmed those numbers back to three sacks, three hits, and 11 hurries en route to earning positive overall grades for his performance over that stretch.
In the last two games, though, some of those technique issues appear to have crept back into his game, resulting in two sacks and six hurries.
"It's all footwork, sitting low in my stance. It's a leverage game," Beatty told reporters on Wednesday. "Me being tall, I've got to make sure I stay low in my stance. I've got to make sure I'm eye-to-eye or lower all the time."
If confession is good for the soul, then the Giants better hope that now that Beatty has come clean about stressing over proving that he is worthy of the contract, that he can let go and play more like the 2012 version.
Dan Graziano of ESPN pointed out that Beatty’s response to his poor game last week against Washington could be something of which to take note:
Watch closely over the next three games to see whether Beatty can pull that off. If on Sunday he still looks like he's got too much in his head and is still upset over a bad Week 13 game, then you'll have a right to worry about his long-term ability to handle the psychological rigors of his job.
Head coach Tom Coughlin responded affirmatively when asked if the weak-side linebacker role was being split between Spencer Paysinger, who typically plays against the run, and Jacquian Williams, who plays against the pass.
“That’s the way it’s been,” Coughlin said, adding, “I really don’t see any reason to change that. They both play in all situations.”
Last week, Paysinger got the start against Washington’s run-heavy offense, playing in 38 of the defense’s 72 snaps. Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Paysinger finished with a 1.7 overall grade, and a 1.3 grade against the run, his second highest ratings this season.
Against Washington, Williams took four fewer snaps than Paysinger, finishing with two tackles (one solo).
This weekend, Williams could be in line for more snaps than Paysinger against a Chargers offense that, this season, has passed 55.2 percent of their 785 snaps.
Rivers, whose targets include tight ends Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green, and receiver Keenan Allen, poses a unique challenge for the Giants given his accuracy and his quick decisiveness.
“He knows where he wants to go with the football. He’s taking advantage of either man coverage, zone coverage, double coverage,” defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said.
“We saw some people, Kansas City double (Antonio) Gates and then hits another, so he’s got some good weapons that he uses and really he’s a smart quarterback.”
With Williams set to enter a contract year in 2014, at some point the Giants will need to find out if he can be an every down, every situation type of linebacker who can handle both the run and pass coverage.
That might not come until next season, but it's something to keep an eye on as Williams continues to receive playing opportunities in these last four games.
Ever since he was taken in the first round of the 2006 draft, defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka has been a selfless player willing to play whatever position is asked of him for the benefit of the team.
So when it became official that this year he would play exclusively at defensive end, his native position, Kiwanuka was happy and hoping to dominate at the position this season.
Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case. Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Kiwanuka has posted negative grades in nine games this season, fur of which have seen him struggle against both the pass and the run.
In addition, he’s been struggling in his last two games, which have seen him earn his worst grades of the season from Pro Football Focus.
It’s not known if Kiwanuka is playing with any sort of injury that’s hindered his play this season, but he no longer has a burst off the edge in the passing game and has been reduced to more of a containing role against the run instead of being on the attack.
Circling back to his last two games, in which Pro Football Focus graded him a -5.1 and -3.7 overall, Kiwanuka played in 64 of the 68 snaps against Dallas and all 72 snaps against Washington, the increased reps no doubt a result of the shoulder injury that has limited Jason Pierre-Paul.
Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell defended Kiwanuka when a reporter asked about the lack of sacks and pressures that Kiwanuka has been able to generate, especially over the last two games, which include one sack and seven pressures.
“He’s doing a hell of a job in playing the run game. The word ‘sack’ is a way for us to knock a guy when they don’t get on the board, but he might be playing and doing a hell of a job like Justin Tuck is doing, in the run game.
“Kiwi finished the game for us against the Raiders with a sack-caused fumble and so Tuck was able to come and do that last week. I think they’re going to complement each other and you’ll see Kiwi come back and have a strong game, if not this game, the next game.”
While we love Fewell’s optimism, a bigger picture to consider is that Kiwanuka, who accepted a contract restructuring this past offseason, has a cap number of $7.05 million next season, according to Overthecap.com.
That number includes a $4.375 million base salary, which would seem to be high for a player whose production has clearly dropped off.
With Justin Tuck making a strong case for another contract (though not at an exorbitant salary), Kiwanuka’s play could force the Giants into making a difficult decision regarding his contract, of which he has two years remaining.
If New York does opt to part ways with Kiwanuka, the Giants would take a hefty $5.25 million cap hit next year. If Kiwanuka is designated as a post-June 1 cap move, the Giants would receive a $2.625 million cap credit after June 1.
Then again, maybe Kiwanuka finishes the season strong, to where that decision doesn’t have to be made.