Taking Stock of New York Giants Ahead of Week 11 Bye

Patricia Traina@Patricia_TrainaFeatured Columnist IVNovember 18, 2015

Taking Stock of New York Giants Ahead of Week 11 Bye

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    The New York Giants bye week is underway, with the players having scattered around to catch up with family and friends. The coaches remain behind to do a little self-scouting, so that when the players return from their break, the coaches not only have a game plan in place but also an idea of how to improve areas of the team that have underperformed.

    Come next week, the media will get its first opportunity at what the team has honed in on regarding improvement—and at 5-5, the Giants have much to improve.

    Until then, let’s run down a list of areas that could well be atop the to-do list.

Pass Rush

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    For those who thought defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul’s return would bring with it an influx of sacks, that hasn’t quite been the case. In his two games (against Tampa and New England), the Giants have three sacks, with all of those coming last week against Tom Brady.

    However, the sacks might just be a matter of sooner than later. According to Pro Football Focus, the Giants logged a combined 27 quarterback pressures, hits and sacks against the Patriots, an increase from the 19 they logged the week before against the Bucs.

    Based on the law of averages, the more pressures they get, the better the chance of some of them turning into sacks.

    What Pierre-Paul’s return has done for the pass rush is allow defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to be edgier regarding blitzes. The Giants blitzed Brady 11 times, with the result being 4.2 yards per pass attempt. They also sacked him three times—both numbers were an improvement over the previous week’s stats.

    As the Giants gear up for the final six games of the seasons, if they really need to get hot in one area, the pass rush would be it.

Pass Coverage

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    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    It took opposing offenses a while to catch on, but the Giants defensive secondary has been ripe for the picking since Week 1.

    And why not? The Giants have a young, inexperienced, albeit promising rookie in Landon Collins back there, a player who is showing more and more that he’s probably better off as a box safety than he is in coverage, as Joe Giglio of NJ Advance Media pointed out.

    They also have a veteran in Brandon Meriweather who has allowed 14 of 26 pass targets to be completed for 302 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions, with just one pass target broken up (in Week 2) and a 101.8 NFL Rating, per Pro Football Focus.

    Of their 15 pass plays of 30 or more yards allowed, 10 have come in the last five weeks and seven in the last three games.

    The pass rush is only part of the solution, but if the safeties are late with the deep help, taking poor angles or dropping interceptions, they'll need to clean that up moving forward.

Run Defense

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Last week the Patriots ran for 77 yards on 23 carries, failing to become the sixth straight opponent to rush for more than 100 yards against the Giants.

    However, it wasn’t so much because of what the Giants did as it was the fact that the Patriots game plan led them to attempt almost twice as many passes (42) as runs.

    According to Football Outsiders, the Giants defensive front is ranked 26th in the league against the run. They have stuffed 18 percent of run attempts, which is below the 21 percent league average, and they’re allowing 4.18 yards per rushing attempt to opponents.

    Perhaps the most telling stat of the league’s 18th-ranked overall run defense is that the top two leading tacklers are the safeties, Collins and Meriweather, which, when taken into consideration with the average yards gained per run (4.18), means that runs are getting to the second level and beyond.

    Speaking of the second level, Football Outsiders ranks the Giants 21st in average yards gained. Simply put, they need to do a better job up front of getting off blocks and filling holes to force runners to the outside, where the linebackers at least have a chance at stringing things out.

Passing Offense

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    Gary Hershorn/Associated Press

    In case you haven’t noticed, quarterback Eli Manning has gone from averaging 253.7 yards in his first seven games of the season to averaging 308 yards per game in his last three performances. Ten of his 21 touchdowns to date have come over that three-week span as well.

    The reason for that might surprise you.

    Naturally, many people might suggest that Manning’s connection with Odell Beckham Jr. is the reason for that surge in the passing game, but statistically, that’s just not true.

    According to the various NFL game books, in that three-game period, Beckham has been targeted 38 times and has caught 21 passes for 339 yards and four touchdowns, which is impressive production; however, as we saw in the Patriots game where Beckham only came up with four catches out of 12 pass targets, Manning has done a better job of spreading the ball around.

    That means that instead of locking in on Beckham, Manning is trusting his receivers much more than he might have earlier in the season. He’s also identifying the right matchups and exploiting them accordingly. All of that combined has helped the Giants passing game, currently ranked 10th in the NFL, emerge as the strength of the team.

    So what can the passing game do better after the bye? First and foremost, the receivers need to stop dropping passes. Per Pro Football Focus, Manning is tied with Blake Bortles of Jacksonville for third-most dropped passes (22).

    With the Giants not having much of a running game, every pass thrown has to count for something if this team is to finish the season on a high note.

Running Game

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    Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

    Memo to the coaches. Memo to the coaches. Memo to the coaches.

    The four-man committee approach is not working.

    That’s right, the Giants rushing offense is ranked 26th in the NFL, averaging just 95 yards per game. They have yet to have a single running back exceed 65 yards—starter Rashad Jennings came the closest, rushing for 63 yards in Week 6 versus the Philadelphia Eagles.

    And they have only rushed for more than 100 yards twice in their first 10 games (against Dallas and at Tampa Bay).

    Before you point a finger at the offensive line, that’s not the primary problem. According to Football Outsiders, the offensive line is ranked 16th overall in run blocking.

    No, the problem is that the Giants have four running backs and a stubborn desire to use every one of them; it's an approach that just doesn’t work. If you look at Andre Williams, for example, his two best career rushing performances where he topped the 100-yard mark in 2015 came when he received at least 20 carries.

    It’s the law of averages. The more opportunities you give a player, the more likely he is to produce. In the case of the running backs where it’s clear that they would benefit by a smaller committee, why not pare it down instead of trying to force-feed crumbs to each guy?

Special Teams

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    The special teams group has, for the most part, seen a night-and-day improvement from last year thanks to the addition of Dwayne Harris, the stellar kicking of Josh Brown (who rebounded from some inconsistent kickoffs earlier in the year) and the fresh leg of punter Brad Wing.

    Lately, special teams have been just a tad sloppy, such as when they failed to stop Danny Amendola’s 82-yard punt return or when they drew penalties on their own kickoff and punt returns—two of the eight penalties last Sunday were called against special teams—to set their starting field position back further.

    They need to address those little details moving forward, as special teams look to be part of the solution rather than the problem this year.

    Patricia Traina covers the Giants for Inside Football, the Journal Inquirer and Sports Xchange. All quotes and information were obtained firsthand unless otherwise sourced.

    Follow me on Twitter, @Patricia_Traina.

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