Giants Mid-season Report Card
With the Giants at 6-2 at the mid-year point for a third straight year under head coach Tom Coughlin, let’s take a look back at how things have fared.
Sure the weekly numbers every week haven’t always been eye-poppers, but if you’re looking for another reason besides the offensive line that the Giants have a league-low seven sacks, look no further than Eli Manning, whose maturity as a quarterback has helped his team more than it’s hurt.
Whereas a couple years ago Manning had an unusually high number of interceptions because he tried to make plays when there were none to be made, he’s learned to have more patience since then. That includes throwing the ball away, rolling away from pressure, and overall just being smart on just about every play.
Running Backs: B-
While the running game is improved from a year ago, there are still too many yards being left out there on the field, and those yards are coming as a result of starter Ahmad Bradshaw’s lack of patience in following his blockers and letting things develop in front of him. Years of foot and ankle problems appear to have robbed Bradshaw of his one-time electric burst to the outside.
Meanwhile, Andre Brown is the opposite– he’s enjoyed the success he’s had because he’s more patient in letting his blocks develop. Rookie David Wilson is a work in progress who still needs to demonstrate to the coaches that he can pass block before he gets more snaps; unfortunately for him and the Giants right now, whenever he comes onto the field, his presence telegraphs the play. He should be more of a factor though as the season grinds on.
Give Henry Hynoski credit for building on a solid season in which he was the only rookie starter on offense. He added a lot of muscle and has been able to better execute his blocks against some very good linebackers — NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis, and Anthony Spencer all come to mind.
Another thing that often goes unnoticed by many is that Hynoski is a student of the game who not only knows his assignments, but those of hisses low teammates on offense. Why is this so important? As running backs coach Jerald Ingram once said, a good fullbacks who knows all the assignments is an offense’s best friend because he can clean up breakdowns that happen in the blocking scheme. And there have been plenty of times when this super sophomore-year player has done just that through these first eight games.
Tight Ends: B-
After a very promising start, Martellus Bennett’s play dropped off just a bit to the inconsistent range. Part of that could be due to the knee injury he suffered, but since he hasn’t been on the injury report of late, one can only assume he’s reasonably healthy and should be back to the level he was at earlier in the season.
Bear Pascoe doesn’t get a lot of attention, but for the most part, he’s been a solid complement to Bennett and to the running game. Rookie Adrien Robinson, who was dubbed “the JPP of tight ends” has rarely seen the field in the first half of the season, his blocking technique still a work in progress.
Considering that the Giants had been without a healthy Hakeem Nicks, whose foot and knee issues have clearly affected his play in the first half, the unit has held up fairly well. Domenik Hixon and Ramses Barden have contributed 100-yard performances, while Victor Cruz has found a way to come through when it’s mattered most, despite the added attention he’s been receiving from defenses.
Another plus from this unit that has been overlooked by many has been their downfield blocking, particularly that by Hixon, who has shown no fear in mixing it up with some of the league’s more aggressive defensive backs.
Offensive Line: B+
Other than their first game against the Cowboys, the offensive line has, for the most part, been settled, once against showing unit resiliency in terms of being able to function and mot miss a beat despite injuries. Veteran Sean Locklear has been a solid performer, first at left tackle and then at right, but has, according to Pro Football Focus, yielded 21 quarterback pressures, more than double of the rest of the current starting offensive linemen. Will Beatty has been surprisingly solid in the majority of his snaps, at times even dominating, allowing zero hits against Manning.
As for the interior, center David Baas, while much improved from a year ago, is once again dealing with some injury issues – his ankle problem appeared to give him trouble last week against Dallas when having to go against Jay Ratliff.
Chris Snee appears to have shaken off some early season injury issues his play having steadily progressed. Kevin Boothe has been solid in executing his assignments, but of the offensive linemen, he’s yielded the most quarterback hits (five) according to Pro Football Focus. As stated earlier, it helps the unit tremendously that its quarterback is smart enough to avoid getting into trouble.
Defensive Line: C
The vaunted pass rush, which was largely regarded as the best of the league coming into the season, went invisible for about the first four games, as teams were coming up with different ways to slow down the trio of Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Osi Umenyiora. The good news is that the sacks and quarterback pressures have started to come.
A huge issue for this unit, though, was it defensive interior, as once Rocky Bernard went down with a quadriceps injury, the interior had its share of struggles largely due to the inexperience of youngsters Markus Kuhn and Marvin Austin, The return of a healthy and fresh-legged Chris Canty from PUP was a huge shot in the arm and defensive coordinator Perry Fewell’s decision to move Mathias Kiwanuka to the line toward the end of the first half stretch was another boost to the pass rush.
Once considered a weak link by many outsiders, the linebacking unit has actually been solid. Chase Blackburn might not be the fastest guy on the field, but what he lacks in speed, he more than makes up for in his knowledge of the playbook in getting everyone lined up. Moreover, Blackburn was usually able to get over to where the ball carrier was if just to slow him down or redirect him until help could arrive. Michael Boley, the team’s every down linebacker, has been slowed down by injuries that have kept him from really opening up and running with some of the tight ends he might ordinarily have no trouble with; keeping him fully healthy for the stretch run will be huge.
Mathias Kiwanuka hasn’t been bad as a linebacker, but he’s had his share of struggles in coverage, where his talents are just not being put to the best use. Kiwanuka, in my opinion at least, is better utilized as a down lineman. Spencer Paysinger has been a pleasant surprise this year, as the results of his off-season workouts have paid dividends.
With the youngsters given an opportunity to learn other positions at lienbackers, it’s interesting that the coaches have called Paysinger’s number ahead of Mark Herzlich in those spot situations at outside linebacker. Speaking of Herzlich, who will likely get his chance this weekend against the Steeler, head coach Tom Coughlin says he’s ready to step in if needed. The problem for Herzlich, of course, has been the solid play by Blackburn.
Lastly, the injury to Jacquian Williams has been huge, as he’s usually the guy they would call upon to be the spy against the mobile quarterbacks. His speed and quickness will be a huge boost to the team once he does return somewhat healthy.
Defensive Secondary: B-
Some early season injuries to Corey Webster, specifically his hamstring, were likely a big reason why the Giants’ top corner looked like his better days were behind him. While Webster still hasn’t quite gotten back to the level he was at a few years ago, having the injuries behind him should bode moving forward. Meanwhile Prince Amukamara is finally starting to show some flashes of being a first rounder as far as playing with a little more aggression; however he needs to improve on his consistency.
Inside, Stevie Brown has been a pleasant surprise playing in place of Kenny Phillips. And despite some issues here and there, Antrel Rolle continues to have a solid showing, while rookie Will Hill has been a pleasant surprise as well.
Special Teams: A
Lawrence Tynes, who is in a contract year, spent the off-season working on improving his leg strength, and boy has it paid dividends, as he’s been perfect on all attempts under 40 yards. His two misses, in fact, included a blocked 40 yarder and a career long attempt of 54, which would have topped his previous long of 53.
Punter Steve Weatherford had a slight drop off from last year, when he was routinely nailing his coffin corner kicks, but he’s since picked up the pace and through eight games, hasn’t hurt his team in the punting department. Moreover, as the holder for Tynes, he’s been as consistent as anyone in the league in that department. The return duo of David Wilson and Rueben Randle has shown a great deal of promise – it’s likely only a matter of time before Wilson breaks one wide open.
No matter what the challenge has been for the Giants, be it a crazy start to their schedule which saw them play three games in about 17 days, or a hurricane that sharply disrupted the normal every days lives of his players and coaches, head coach Tom Coughlin has had the answers for everything fate has thrown his team’s way, showing compassion and refusing to whine about any misfortunes.
Offensive MVP: Eli Manning
He just has a way of making everyone around him play much better, be it the offensive linemen, the receivers, etc.
Defensive MVP: Jason Pierre-Pau
He might not have been having fun earlier in the year, but neither have the quarterbacks and offensive linemen he’s abused.
Special Teams MVP: Lawrence Tynes
Off-season focus on improving legs strength has resulted in him hitting all his field goal attempts less than 40 yards.
Biggest Surprise: DB Stevie Brown
Initially thought to be camp fodder, he’s played extremely well in Kenny Phillips’ absence.
Biggest Disappointment: Keith Rivers
First round talent can’t seem to stay on the field.
Biggest Injury: Chris Canty
His absence, combined with Rocky Bernard’s left the defensive interior in the hands of two inexperienced players, and it showed.
Best Draft Pick: Jayron Hosley
Has played very well for a rookie, and has lived up to his advertisement of being an aggressive player who doesn’t view his size as a disadvantage when going against taller receivers.