New York Giants vs. New Orleans Saints: Full Report Card Grades for New York
Both the New York Giants and New Orleans Saints possess high-powered offenses that can torch an opposing defense on any given Sunday. Expectations for a shootout were high, as the two teams combined for 855 passing yards and 13 touchdown passes less than a calendar year ago.
So naturally, the Week 2 matchup was a defensive battle that came down to a last-second field goal—just like everyone envisioned it.
Although the offense didn't reach the end zone for six points, the unit was largely effective on Sunday afternoon. Eli Manning utilized nearly all of his available weapons as Odell Beckham Jr., Victor Cruz, Sterling Shepard, Larry Donnell, Will Tye, Rashad Jennings and Shane Vereen were all active in the passing attack. The running game, however, wasn't nearly as impactful, as Jennings failed to make much noise when given the chance to gain yards on the ground.
Fortunately for the offense, the defense lived up to their collective paycheck for the second week in a row.
As a unit, the D stifled the Drew Brees-led Saints, allowing just 263 yards over 44 passing attempts while completely neutralizing the run game. Although the defensive line struggled in getting to the quarterback, their pressure—combined with the outstanding coverage from the cornerbacks and safeties—led to another successful effort.
They may not have been the prettiest of wins, but another tally in the column is all that matters for the Giants. Now let's see how each position graded out in the Week 2 victory.
When looking at a box score, touchdowns thrown by a quarterback usually determine how well the player performed.
That wasn't the case in Manning's game against the Saints.
The 13-year veteran dropped back 41 times on Sunday and completed 32 of those passes, good for an impressive 368 passing yards and a 104.1 passer rating. Manning was a giving teammate as he dished the ball out to eight different targets during his strong afternoon.
Manning wasn't perfect, however. Although the refs appeared to have missed his shin hitting the ground before the ball came out, the Giants signal-caller did fumble after a sack in the second quarter.
Overall, Manning—who passed Drew Bledsoe for 10th on the all-time passing yards list—continued to flourish in the up-tempo offense. Whether it was controlling the ball at the line of scrimmage or threading the needle on some very important throws, Manning's calm and cool demeanor was an integral part in the team's victory.
Just one week removed from an impressive ground game, the Giants running attack struggled against the Saints defense.
Lead back Rashad Jennings had a rough afternoon, as he gained just 27 yards on 13 attempts. Unlike last week, he wasn't getting any second-chance opportunities as he had issues trying to shed tackles.
With Jennings ineffective, Shane Vereen took up the task of being the main ball-carrier and found decent success. Primarily used as a pass-catcher and blocker for the duration of his career, the former New England Patriot turned 14 running opportunities into 42 yards. He also hauled in three catches for 24 yards.
Even overlooked backup Orleans Darkwa got a chance in the fourth quarter as he saw his first snaps of 2016. Unfortunately, the running struggles continued (one rush, minus-1 yard).
It's hard to put all the blame on the running backs for their ineffective game, as the blockers in front have a lot to do with it. (Don't worry, we'll get to that in a couple of slides.)
But if the Giants want to succeed this year, they need a lot more out of Jennings, Vereen and whoever else gets the ball from Ben McAdoo.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
If the trio of Beckham Jr., Cruz and Shepard gave Giants fans a glimpse of what's to come against the Cowboys, then the wide receiver corps gave them the whole movie plus a blooper reel against the Saints.
Each pass-catcher was dominant in his own way and, despite not getting to the end zone, had a huge effect on the outcome.
As usual, Beckham was Manning's primary target for a majority of the game. The Saints defensive backs clearly didn't want the young receiver to beat them over the top, so his 86 yards on eight receptions came on shorter routes. Beckham, however, could have hauled in his first touchdown of 2016 as the fourth quarter ticked down, but the perfectly placed ball trickled out of his hands as he neared the end zone.
After returning to action for the first time in 700 days, Cruz had an up-and-down performance in his first regular-season game back at MetLife Stadium. With physical cornerbacks opposing him, Cruz struggled to make an impact in the first half, even getting stripped after a 40-yard run after the catch. But the veteran wideout wiped that image away from fans, as his leaping grab on 3rd-and-long secured the victory for his team. Cruz finished the afternoon with four catches for 91 yards.
The story of the game, however, was second-round pick Sterling Shepard. With safeties keeping an eye on Beckham and Cruz, the combination of Manning and Shepard was able to exploit the coverage from the slot. Shepard dominated the middle of the field as he caught eight balls for a team-high 117 yards, one of which came during a crucial third down as time was winding down in the fourth quarter.
Like last week, neither Larry Donnell nor Will Tye particularly stood out. The tight end duo combined for six catches for 32 yards while also helping in the blocking game.
If the preseason hype wasn't enough, it looks as though the passing game is going to be a huge bright spot for the Giants this season.
With the Giants offensive line having a strong performance in Week 1, many were hoping that the unit could continue its prowess into the second week of the season.
Unfortunately, all the questions about the line came back into play against the Saints. Although the interior linemen—Weston Richburg, Justin Pugh and John Jerry—weren't as strong in the run game as they were last week, Jennings and Vereen did find the most success running up the gut. The trio also didn't let up much penetration from the defensive tackles, resulting in a mostly positive game from the center and two guards.
The issues, however, had to do with the defensive tackles. And those issues were glaring.
After grading out as Pro Football Focus' top performing right tackle from Week 1, Marshall Newhouse looked more like his 2015 self against the strong Cameron Jordan. Former first-round selection Ereck Flowers wasn't much better, as he also let up a ton of pressure from Manning's blind side. Both tackles received back-to-back holding penalties, all but putting an end to one of the best offensive drives in the game.
As the saying goes, you're only as strong as your weakest link. That looks to be largely accurate when it comes to the O-line.
As has been well-documented, the paychecks for the defensive line will make them a position to watch for the entirety of the season.
For the second straight week, they've passed the eye test.
Not enough can be said about the success of Damon Harrison and Johnathan Hankins. The rotund pair of defensive tackles won't rack up stats, but their ability to demand double-teams and stuff the run is vital. The duo combined for eight total tackles, while Hankins' field-goal block was one of the biggest plays of the game.
There's no denying that Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul are going to get to the quarterback. But while last week's struggles in that category were expected, it was odd to see neither end get to Brees on a constant basis. While both Vernon and Pierre-Paul garnered edge pressure at times, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will want some more penetration from them.
But despite the lack of sacks, Vernon, Harrison, Hanks and Pierre-Paul have completely shut down the run game. After allowing just over 100 yards on the ground last week, the foursome shut down the Mark Ingram-led rushing attack (41 yards).
Spagnuolo continues to go with a linebacker-by-committee approach. While the unit struggled at times in Week 1, it looks like the coach found a better combination in the second week of the season.
Instead of going with the traditional three-linebacker set, the Giants primarily had two linebackers on the field. For the second straight week, captain Jonathan Casillas spent a majority of the game on the field, resulting in six combined tackles. While he did get beat on a couple of passes, Casillas continued to be stout in the run game.
While Kelvin Sheppard started in the middle last week, Keenan Robinson took the reins as the "Mike" linebacker against the Saints. Typically used as a cover linebacker, the former Washington Redskin showed promise in the run game as well, finding himself in the backfield on more than one occasion.
Sheppard (one tackle) and Devon Kennard (two assisted tackles) saw a drastic reduction in play. Whether that's because of the emergence of the defensive backs corps or the success of Casillas and Robinson, their lack of playing time could be something that continues in future weeks.
But in the end, both Casillas and Robinson were impressive in the middle, and their play will be a huge talking point moving forward.
With the abundance of new faces in the defensive backs unit, many were hoping that the group would be drastically improved this year.
If Sunday was any indication, it looks like it'll be hard to succeed through the air against the Giants.
Prized free-agent signing Janoris Jenkins continued to live up to the billing. Just one week after shutting down Dez Bryant, the former St. Louis Ram had eight combined tackles, two pass deflections and returned a blocked field goal for a score, the team's only touchdown against the Saints.
First-round pick Eli Apple played a ton on Sunday, taking a majority of his snaps on the outside. While he does need to learn how to turn his head on deep balls, the youngster did break up two big plays down the sideline while also adding seven tackles to the stat sheet.
Veterans Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Leon Hall were mostly seen in sub packages but still had an impact on the outcome. Rodgers-Cromartie shadowed Brandin Cooks—the Saints' top receiving weapon—at times, resulting in a quiet game for the speedster. Hall, meanwhile, recorded his first career sack.
Spagnuolo also went with the trio of Landon Collins, Darian Thompson and Nat Berhe at the safety position, which also proved to be successful. Collins, who was named game captain, was all over the field, as he was pressed at the line of scrimmage while also blitzing at times. Both Thompson and Behre split time at the free safety position and had decent afternoons.
Once a weak point, the Giants now have a combination of smart veterans and athletic youngsters to make up an extremely promising unit.
The special teams unit has been an improvement from past seasons, but it was inconsistent nonetheless.
For the punt team, Dwayne Harris made some questionable decisions when deciding to receive the ball, while the coverage team missed a bunch of tackles.
In his first game back from suspension, John Brown missed his first kick (53 yards) but also hit a pair of field goals, including the game-winner as time expired.