Inside Football: Full Sample Issue

REGULAR SEASON COVERAGE • ISSUE RS13-16 • DECEMBER 12, 2016

Giants 10 – Cowboys 7 by Patricia Traina, Bob Folger and Mike Iannaconi

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.—Several weeks back, New York Giants head coach Ben McAdoo now famously uttered the words, “Stats are for losers,” when being badgered by the press corps about the lack of sacks by the defense.

But this musing isn’t about the Giants’ defense, which dominated the Dallas Cowboys in a 10-7 win Sunday night, thus completing a season sweep of the hated NFC East rivals for the first time since 2011!

And yes, this musing is going to include statistics, because, quite frankly, we believe that numbers really do give you a solid picture of what’s happening—not necessarily the entire picture, but a picture nonetheless.

We’re going to look at the offense, a unit that, for the third straight week on a row failed to crack the 300-yard mark. Yet McAdoo, when asked by a reporter following the game whether he felt the Giants’ offense made progress, said, “To be able to stack the rush attempts on top of each other and find a way to win the game, 10-0, in the second half was encouraging.”

So how exactly is 93 yards rushing on 33 attempts progress in the offense? If you agree that “stats are for losers,” stop right here and move on to the next section of the newsletter. If you want to find out, then please keep reading.

For the first time this season, the Giants actually ran the ball more times (33) than they passed it (28). That’s right, for the first time.

And while the 2.8 yards-per-carry average (technically, 2.9 yards per carry, if you deduct the two kneel downs Eli Manning had at the end of the game), pales in comparison to Dallas’ 4.3 yards per carry via the ground game, what the Giants were able to do was control the time of possession for only the third time this season (all winning efforts, by the way).

Still not sold about the yardage? Wondering how there could have been improvement, despite the Giants’ third-down conversion rate of 2 out of 14 (14 percent)? The answer to that question lies in what the Giants averaged on offense on both first and second down.

Before we give you the numbers, remember, the key is to get significant chunks of yardage on first and second down so that third down is manageable.

That’s exactly what the Giants did, averaging 3.6 yards per play on first down and a whopping 7.6 yards per play on second down. That means that the Giants, who ran 64 plays (one less than the Cowboys), averaged 3.9 yards per play on third down, only seeing a third-down situation occur in one out of every 4.57 plays (the higher this number, the better).

So, then, what about the running game? Before we go into those numbers, let’s share what McAdoo said when asked what the most important number is in judging the effectiveness of the running game.

“Last night, it was important for us to not have the game be one-sided and tilted in time of possession,” he said. “We felt that Dallas, in their wins, have been very successful with a bunch of rush attempts. Really holding the ball and playing the whole game like a four-minute offense.

“We thought that we need to limit the number of opportunities that they had with Dallas’ offense along with all the playmakers that they have. Limit the number of touches they have and increase the number of touches that you have. Try and run the clock a little bit. We need to complete the ball a little bit better; that would also help us. The number of rushes was a key.”

Now for the numbers. On first down, the running game gained 33 yards; on second down, 46; on third down 16.

(Note: The Giants finished with 93 rushing yards; we did not factor in Eli Manning’s minus-2 yards into our numbers. Also, the Giants had a 21-yard rush by Paul Perkins wiped out, thanks to a holding penalty called against Marshall Newhouse.)

The averages? On first down, 2.3 yards per carry; on second down, 3.8 yards per carry; on third down, 3.2 yards per carry.

Of note: On the Giants’ longest drive of the game, an 11-play scoring drive that cumulated in Robbie Gould’s lone field goal, the Giants ran Paul Perkins on five of the 11 plays in that drive.

So yes, it’s progress—not eye-popping by any stretch of the imagination, but progress is progress. But as McAdoo has correctly said before, they have a long way to go before the offense is where it needs to be if the team should qualify for the post-season.

The key to moving forward is to obviously not go backward with the numbers—time of possession and clock management will be vital against the offenses the Giants are about to face. Also, eliminating the penalties and turnovers will be huge.

INJURY UPDATE

Running back Shane Vereen’s return to the lineup was short, but hardly sweet. Vereen suffered an early-game concussion and is now in the protocol. Defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins suffered a burner; his status was unknown as of Monday. (Hankins was already dealing with a quad injury.)

Head coach Ben McAdoo said that left guard Justin Pugh made some more progress last week. Pugh ended up being a scratch after last Saturday’s practice, not necessarily a surprising development, given that he still appeared to be “gimpy” when he walked around the locker room. But all signs seem to be indicating that his return is close; whether that’s this coming week remains to be seen.

Another player who could be inching closer to a return is safety Nat Berhe (concussion). Berhe was seen on the field working with a trainer, inspiring hope that he’s further along in the protocol for his second concussion of the season.

Owa Odighizuwa (knee) was a scratch this week. Odighizuwa said he was feeling better, but he is dealing with a sprained MCL, which is what Pugh has. Odighizuwa’s sprain, however, doesn’t appear to be as significant as Pugh’s was.

No word on linebacker Mark Herzlich, who missed his second game with a concussion.

QUARTERBACK

Eli Manning: Well, the Giants survived some bad quarterbacking from their franchise guy this week. In fact, Manning was responsible for all three turnovers the offense suffered.

In the first half, while under an onslaught of pressure coming through his sieve of an offensive line, Manning lost two fumbles, and both ultimately were on him.

The first one came out of an empty backfield, which is just an invitation for the defense to blitz, since this offensive line can barely form a pocket against normal pressure.

An untouched blitzer was screaming at him, which hurried his throw. Unfortunately, the ball slipped out of his hand before he was hit. That Manning was throwing to an open deep receiver and a likely touchdown made his flub even worse.

Manning’s second lost fumble came on a subsequent first-half drive, when he was plastered from his blind side by an untouched pass rusher. Still, Manning felt the hit coming and was able to get the ball close to his body but he still couldn’t hold on to it upon impact. He’s got to find a way to hold on to that ball!

In the second half, Manning threw one bad interception, thanks, in part, to Victor Cruz who not only didn’t come back for the ball, but didn’t offer much of a fight for it. He also made two other terrible decisions that should have resulted in INTs, but luckily, he survived those.

And seriously, what was Manning was thinking, when, at 2:52 in the fourth quarter, he forced a ball into the middle of the field with the three-point lead and his defense completely shutting down the Cowboys’ offense?

At that point, the only way the Giants lose this game is via the turnover route. That Manning wasn’t focused on protecting the ball at that moment was really mind- boggling. He’s simply got to play smarter and better in the coming weeks.

To be fair, Manning was hit early and often on every first-half drop back. He may have had two, maybe three, safe pockets, which may have contributed to his mental and physical misplays later.

And then there were the drops, one of them coming on his best throw of the night, a perfectly placed fly pattern to Odell Beckham that the mercurial one dropped while running into the end zone.

Despite Beckham’s electric 61-yard touchdown catch-and-run on a simple slant that Manning nailed perfectly, Beckham dropped two more balls, and Cruz dropped another.

Yes, the conditions were difficult and not very conducive to efficient passing— Manning’s imperfect game by comparison wasn’t anywhere as bad as Dak Prescott’s—which makes his carelessness with the ball in bad weather even more egregious.

Manning has a peaking defense behind him right now. Better to just hand the ball off and keep it out of harm’s way, and if necessary, let his defense win these games.

Simply put, he has to remove the mistakes from the equation. Perhaps that is something the head coach needs to ensure with his play-calling. The offensive line can’t be trusted to pass block, so why put Manning in harm’s way so often? It’s obviously affecting him.

With the weather getting colder and windier, it’s time to pull in the reins on his offense and slug it out more often.

RUNNING BACKS

Rashad Jennings: Getting the start, Jennings split the snaps and carries with his rookie counterpart and somehow recorded an identical stat line (15 carries for 45 yards). Jennings also had 2 catches for 12 yards, a nifty seven-yard screen pass his highlight.

It was funny to watch Jennings on one second half try to mimic Le’Veon Bell with stopping in the backfield, showing patience, but totally lacking the feet to explode into a seam. Instead, Jennings lost two yards when his hesitation made him a dead duck in the backfield.

Jennings may be reliable with the ball while trying to run out the clock, but he’s as vanilla as they come, and makes his offensive line’s blocking simply impossible.

There’s no threat around the edge with him on the field, and we saw a couple of plays in which his zero- to short-yard gains might have gone for a lot more, if he had just bounced to the outside.

We were also disappointed that Jennings didn’t power through a couple of tackles on third down to get to the yard marker, both times leading to a punt. Jennings is a power runner, but he’s not always very powerful.

 

Paul Perkins: The only play-making made by any Giants running back this week was delivered by this rookie. He started out slow on his first few touches, but the more he played the quicker Perkins became.

Some of his decision making was electric, his quick feet making things happen. Early in the fourth quarter, he made a couple of fine moves in the hole, one of them resulting in a 21-yard burst that was called back by another holding penalty against the offensive line.

Perkins’ pass blocking was solid and reliable once again, as it has been the last half-dozen games or so of this his rookie year. He’s obviously earned the trust of the coaches, but on the negative side, he did fumble on a fourth-quarter run that he was very quick and fortunate to recover himself.

This happened when he was fighting for yardage. He’s learning on the go; all this game experience a positive investment in the future as Perkins is just that for this team, the future.

How big of a role he’ll have in the weeks ahead is questionable, as the coaches will surely rely on the veteran Jennings’ ball security and reliability, but getting this kid his touches should remain somewhat of a priority as he makes things happen that Jennings can only dream about.

 

Shane Vereen: In his first game back after an early-season triceps injury, Vereen lasted one touch into this week’s game when he suffered a concussion on his first hit. This came when he was tackled at the end of a nice 10-yard catch-and-run, his helmet driven into the turf.

The way concussions are handled nowadays, it’s doubtful that we’ll see Vereen very soon, though the severity of it is unknown at this point.

 

Bobby Rainey: Getting some offensive snaps in long yardage when Vereen got hurt, Rainey got two touches at the end of the first half in what was essentially garbage time.

The coaches trust Rainey to do the right thing in these situations, which he did, by gaining five yards on each touch, one on a handoff and one out of the backfield.

TIGHT ENDS

Will Tye: It was yet another mixed bag from the Giants’ starting tight end.

Tye had a handful of solid early blocks that were followed by a handful of negative ones, especially when the Dallas defense upped its intensity at certain moments. Tye just couldn’t raise his level and lost several important battles in the second half.

In the passing game, he caught his requisite two passes for 19 yards, recording zero drops, but offering very little threat to the Dallas defense.

 

Jerell Adams: This big rookie held up quite well in most every one of his blocking assignments this week, and handled two simple short pass patterns and catches for five and six yards, respectively.

Adams continues to do very little wrong out there—though on his only long pull, he seemed confused at what to do when he reached the point of attack on the opposite edge, his man making the tackle.

Otherwise, Adams’ blocking was more than solid, it was physical and efficient. Why he isn’t get more to do on game day remains a mystery, as there are seams that need to be attacked out there by a big- bodied tight end—and yet this offense hasn’t attacked one in quite a long time.

It’s getting late. Getting this intriguing kid more looks and responsibilities seems like the logical thing to do. We’re not seeing him in practice or meeting rooms to know how he’s responding, but on game days, he sure looks like the tight end that this offense tends to look for.

RECEIVERS

Odell Beckham Jr.: Beckham continues to suck up most the pass targets on this offense—his nine pass targets was a team high, with the next closest man (Shepard) only getting four.

Beckham caught four of his pass targets for 94 yards, but take away his 61-yard score, and that’s three catches for 33 yards, 11.0 per catch.

Not very impressive numbers, if you consider that pedestrian Terrance Williams of the Cowboys caught five out of six targets for 76 yards and a touchdown, his big pass play being the 31-yard touchdown that came on a busted coverage.

Anyway, what irked us were Beckham’s two dropped passes—the one in the end zone really bothered us because it looked like Beckham might have been prematurely planning his celebration dance, rather than looking the ball all the way in and securing it.

If Beckham had made that catch and not dropped the other one, this game’s outcome wouldn’t have been as razor thin as it was.

The other drop came at the five-yard line, where Beckham looked to briefly take his eye off the ball. Our guess is that because Beckham knew he was short of the first- down marker, he started planning his escape route.

To be fair, we know he has the injured thumb and we suspect that the injury is clearly bothering him. However, we’ve long been of the school of thought that if you’re healthy enough to be out there to do your job and you don’t deliver at the highest level, then you might want to put a little more time into making sure any physical ailments do not affect your game.

On the plus side, Beckham, is a master at running the slant routes—his touchdown catch was on a slant. He also came down with one such catch late in the first quarter after Manning recognized the man-to-man coverage by cornerback Brandon Carr.

 

Victor Cruz: Cruz, who doesn’t get open as much as he once did, was thrown four passes, catching one for four yards. He was also the intended receiver on a horrible second-half interception thrown by Manning.

We put this interception squarely on Cruz, who failed to come back for the ball and also didn’t really show much fight for it. In a situation like that, if you have no chance to come down with the rock, at least try to bat it away from the opponent.

Cruz did make a catch early in the fourth quarter on a quick in route. He was covered well and the pass was thrown perfectly.

 

Sterling Shepard: Shepard made his first catch on a wide receiver screen late in the first quarter. What made this pass work was the solid blocking by Will Tye, who led the play through the traffic, but credit Shepard for putting on a few moves to shake defenders and come up with a nice gain.

In the middle of the third quarter, Shepard made a big catch on a slant route to convert the fourth down to set up the field goal.

His third catch of the night—he caught three out of four targets for 39 yards—came early in the fourth quarter, when, thanks to a blitz, he was up against a safety.

Manning read it perfectly and got the ball to Shepard, who showed his physical side in breaking some tackles to get the Giants closer to the first-down marker.

 

Roger Lewis: Late in the first quarter Lewis worked from the slot and was wide open on a straight fly route and would have had a touchdown as the Cowboys simply did not cover him. Alas, the ball slipped out of Manning’s hand and a potential touchdown led to an actual turnover.

Late in the second quarter, Lewis was open on the sideline. The pass was a little wide and although Lewis caught it, he was not able to keep both feet in bounds. Still, it was more than a decent effort on a ball that was tough to come down with.

OFFENSIVE LINE

Ereck Flowers: After this week’s woeful pass-blocking performance, we are more and more convinced that Flowers’ future is inside at guard because he just doesn’t have the feet or the technique to be trusted with protecting his quarterback’s blindside edge.

That this player is on his second offensive line coach in the pros and his development is progressing at snail’s pace is a big concern.

Flowers needs constant help out there, which is one reason that the coaches need to siphon out the empty backfield from their schemes. There’s always somebody on this offensive line that could use a little pass-blocking help—none more so that Flowers.

He gave up such incredibly easy edge pressures, one of them resulting in a sack- fumble, that it’s hard not to feel sorry for his quarterback. Throughout Flowers’ terrible first half, we kept sighing, “Poor Eli,” because the quarterback really didn’t have a chance.

If Flowers’ guy wasn’t hitting Manning, then he was pressuring him. This leads to the quick-throw offense that gives opposing defensive backs the chance to sit on patterns, which is what happened on Manning’s lone interception (though, as previously noted, we put part of the blame on that pick on Victor Cruz, as well as on Manning’s two near-interceptions).

In the second half, most of the pocket pressure calmed down as the coaches committed more to the running game, and that is where Flowers can really shine. His run blocking, for the most part, was very successful.

We wonder how he would survive playing inside, where physicality is so important. However, he’s built so high that we wonder if opposing defensive tackles would simply get under his arms and leverage him to death.

Flowers is a difficult problem, one of this organization’s biggest headaches—if not its biggest. You can’t give up on a ninth overall pick, but it’s looking more and more like a bigger problem finding a position at which he can survive.

 

Bobby Hart: The offensive line’s edge blockers had a tough first half! Hart started it out by being called for a very legitimate hold on a pass block that blew up the offense’s second possession.

Hart then followed that up by being fooled by a stunt that popped free a pass rusher right into his quarterback’s face for a sack. On both snaps, Hart was beaten as much by physicality as he did by speed.

Everything calmed down in the second half, when the running game received more of a commitment. Fortunately, with the defense playing so well, the offensive line didn’t have to pass block as much.

Hart’s run blocking was solid most of the way this week, while his second-half pass blocking also improved. It’s amazing how easier an offensive lineman’s job gets when the defense can’t pin back their ears.

We like how Hart has settled down and committed to improving his craft—his remaking of his body in the offseason is a huge factor toward his development. However, he still has some ways to go, and needs to get stronger this offseason.

 

Marshall Newhouse: Getting what is likely his last start at left guard if Justin Pugh returns next week, as the team hopes, Newhouse had some negative moments, none more “Amateur Hour” that the pull the coaches asked him to execute.

Simply put, Newhouse is not a pulling guard and shouldn’t be placed in this situation. Why the coaches think that he can be something he’s not is a question that ranks right up there with some of the play- calling decisions we’ve seen.

Anyway, when he arrived at the hole, Cowboys middle linebacker Seann Lee, who had himself a nice game, flew right by him to make the tackle in the backfield. In fact, this play had very similar results as the one in which Ereck Flowers was asked to pull!

We appreciate the coaches’ belief in “next man up,” but that statement is such a myth, it isn’t funny. These players are not all plug-and-play to the point where they can all do the same thing the exact same way, with the exact same results.

Right now, their best pulling guard is on the bench trying to heal from an injury. So why the coaches expect these other linemen to be able to pull is a mystery and just speaks to the stubbornness of the play caller in refusing to acknowledge that, in this case, not all offensive linemen are created with equal skill sets.

It’s certainly not Newhouse’s fault, as he at least gives a solid effort and shows up ready to roll. If we’d have our druthers, we’d bench Flowers and slide Newhouse outside, where he belongs.

Newhouse was also flagged for a blatant hold on an otherwise successful 21-yard inside run, bringing it back. His pass blocking was the best part of his game this week; in fact, he might have been the offense’s best pass blocker.

 

John Jerry: Jerry started off slow by being unable to sustain any semblance of contact on two early runs that were otherwise well-blocked, while he was party to one of the three sacks the offensive line allowed when he was bull-rushed into the backfield, opening an inside lane for the stunting Cowboys defender to collapse the pocket and nail his quarterback for a sack.

Jerry had his moments later on—oddly enough in the running game, but his pass blocking was just not up to snuff, as he was pushed back into the pocket much too easily most of the night.

 

Weston Richburg: If we had to pick one culprit for the jailbreak on Eli Manning’s first fumble of the night, we’d have to pick to Richburg, who was bull-rushed right back into his quarterback’s lap, contributing to the fumble that resulted.

With that said, we think that Richburg was the offensive line’s best overall blocker, as even on this snap, he stayed between his man and his quarterback, despite the pressure.

Otherwise, Richburg’s pass blocking was very sharp, while his run blocking had many more positives than negatives. He did suffer through several run blocks that he failed to sustain, which resulted in tackles—but nobody’s perfect.

We’d certainly give him a positive grade this week, as he was his typical sharp self when playing against any 4-3 defense. It’s those 3-4 units against which Richburg struggles, but his ability to get position with quickness and fight to keep it is always a positive against the lighter 4-3 defensive tackle’s out there.

 

Brett Jones: Getting one late-game series as a blocking tight end, Jones did a very nice job on every single snap, though his offense still didn’t get the required 10 yards and had to punt.

We liked what we saw out of this alignment, as using a sixth offensive lineman tends to stop the leaks from developing upfront. We’d like to see more of it, especially with the weather getting cold and the running game becoming so much more important.

DEFENSIVE LINE

Olivier Vernon: Playing a beast of a game this week against Dallas’ best blocker (left tackle Tyron Smith), Vernon perhaps didn’t have quite the success he was looking for on the pass rush—his string of five straight games with a sack ended—but he absolutely dominated Smith in the run game.

Knowing Vernon is so very difficult to run at straight up, Dallas ran away from him most of the night. Vernon still made his plays in pursuit, closing on Ezekiel Elliot and laying the wood with the heaviest hits that the running back absorbed all night.

Vernon never came off the field, as with Jason Pierre-Paul’s season-ending injury Vernon’s edge presence is all-important the rest of the way.

What still amazes us hours after the game ended was Vernon’s physicality. He battled Smith hard on the pass rush and got home a good half-dozen times for pressures.

His coaches even moved him around a bit on passing downs, sliding him inside as well as on the strong side. This kept the Dallas offense guessing as Vernon remains the front four’s most dangerous presence.

Though he never did quite get home, he was disruptive. He even got his hand on a late game pass for a deflection, that the Cowboys still caught; still, the deflection helped stop the receiver short of the yard marker to force one of the Cowboys’ nine punts this week.

Vernon is one of this defense’s leaders, and he sure did come to play this week, finishing with five tackles and a ton of hustle and physical play.

 

Romeo Okwara: Getting the start at Pierre- Paul’s strong side spot, Okwara ended up leading the defense in tackles this week, partly because Dallas chose to run at him rather than at Olivier Vernon. This made perfect sense.

The good news is that Okwara was more than up to the challenge. He started a bit slow, most notably an early indecision that allowed Elliott a quick 15-yard gash right inside his missed contain. But after that misplay, Okwara learned his lesson and stopped falling for the misdirections.

He learned the joys of playing his position honest and face up, and it turns out he was more than up to the challenge. He made a bunch of solid plays against the run in the second half, which is when the defense really stiffened and picked up their game— Okwara included.

The highlight of his night was a first sack that he earned against a sixth Dallas lineman, Okwara going right around his block and then showing a real nice burst in chasing down Dak Prescott for the sack. This was the defense’s first sack of the night and it sent a message, that some of these “no-names” on this defense had come to play.

One of the other highlights in Okwara’s game this week was his pass coverage, as the coaches dialed up a bunch of blitzes, oftentimes dropping Okwara into coverage, where he looked unusually comfortable.

His great recognition and face up tackle of a dump-off pass to a Dallas back was one of the defense’s best hits of the night. It also stopped a Dallas drive and forced a punt.

Included in Okwara’s eight tackles were three hits on the quarterback, one of them coming on a nice stunt, which he finished off with a heavy face up hit on Prescott.

This week was a bit of a coming-out party for this undrafted rookie, who showed that the bright lights weren’t too bright for him. This kid came to play, and did it ever make a difference!

Kerry Wynn: Getting only a smattering of Pierre-Paul’s rotation snaps in deference to Okwara, Wynn made several textbook strong-side contains and solid wrap-up tackles on Elliott, limiting the damage done.

We were surprised that Wynn didn’t get more playing time, as his physical run defense style matches up so well against the Dallas great running game.

The coaches went with Okwara’s mobility, and the rookie didn’t disappoint, but Elliott hurt the Giants on the ground enough, especially in the first half, that perhaps Wynn’s physical, disciplined presence might have calmed down.

 

Damon Harrison: Once again playing his heart out inside from start to stop, Harrison was limited to four tackles this week—he had been leading the defense in tackles recently. Regardless, he still played one heckuva game.

Harrison’s biggest play was beating All- Pro center Travis Frederick with quickness, then laying a big hit on Elliott in the backfield for a loss.

Harrison also took every opportunity he could get to lay a hit on Elliott, specifically whenever he attempted to bleed into a middle pattern, Harrison would be there to discourage his progress with contact.

Despite Elliott’s 100-yard game, we thought the defense did a solid job against him, especially in the second half, which is when Harrison, as well as his fellow pit players, picked up their intensity and took over the game.

In the first half, Elliott racked up 86 of his 107 yards on 15 carries. In the third quarter, he had 22 yards on five carries; in the fourth, four carries for minus-1 yard. The best stat of all? Zero touchdowns for the rookie running back, who suffered his first road loss in years.

 

Johnathan Hankins: We thought that Hankins was a bit hampered this week by the thigh injury that he suffered last week, but he still gutted it out and played most the game patrolling the line of scrimmage before having to exit with a burner.

Hankins didn’t provide much of a pass rush, but he was solid taking up space and honoring his gaps against the run. He finished with two tackles, and was flagged legitimately for a defensive holding call on a wide running play.

It was a rather blatant hold, and though it was unusual to flag a defensive lineman for holding, we thought Hankins’ hold was rather obvious. Let’s hope that Hankins can come back even stronger in the coming weeks, because this defense is going to need him.

 

Jay Bromley: Getting more snaps than we expected—and even more surprising some of them came on passing downs—Bromley did a solid job (as he usually does) hustling to the ball, staying on his feet and taking up space.

Though his name didn’t dent the stat sheet, Bromley was hustling all over the place in his limited snaps. We suspect that the coaches gave Bromley some of Hankins’ snaps, with Hankins’ mobility compromised by that thigh injury of his.

 

Robert Thomas: Getting fewer snaps than Bromley, Thomas sure came up big on two of them. On the Okwara sack, it was Thomas who, while playing middle contain, tracked the quarterback and was there to provide the final contain to finish off the sack.

Though its credit went to Okwara, Thomas was right there with the support. Thomas also made a nice play on an Elliott run at the two-minute warning of the first half, helping to force yet another Dallas punt.

LINEBACKERS

Devon Kennard: It was Kennard’s inside pressure that was most prevalent on the Leon Hall interception, while his sack of quarterback Prescott forced a fumble that Dallas recovered.

What was most important about this sack was that it knocked Dallas out of field goal range and forced another first-half punt, keeping the score close.

Both of Kennard’s pressures came from the inside (defensive tackle), his sack on a key
3rd-and-11 coming against All-Pro guard Zach Martin. Kennard’s relentless was impressive on both pressures. He really seems to have found a home on passing downs rushing from the inside.

He also played a very solid game on the edge, controlling it and finishing second on the defense with six total tackles, all of them coming against the run. His edge run defense is not surprising, but the pass rush is, and it seems to be improving week by week.

Look for Kennard to be causing even more disruptions in the coming weeks as he seems to be getting stronger the more playing time he gets.

 

Keenan Robinson: After last week’s horrid performance by the linebackers, particularly against screens, the coaches went back to the drawing board and, showing zero lost faith in the unit, they had the linebackers do multiple of things this week.

The blitzing was particularly effective, as the coaches kept the Dallas offense guessing all night long. When they sent Robinson, he was disruptive, but more often they either dropped him or sent him one-on-one against Elliott.

Keeping a linebacker following Elliott wherever he went completely took away the Dallas screen game. In fact, Robinson read one screen so fast that he very nearly took the wayward pass to the house.

Not to be overlooked, having a healthy Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie gives the defense three reliable cover corners, which released the Giants linebackers to attack the line of scrimmage without impunity.

Robinson was particularly effective in attack mode, finishing with six total tackles and playing one of his more assertive games, particularly in coverage, where he was at times spectacular.

 

Jonathan Casillas: Also getting more of an opportunity to blitz and patrol the short zones this week, Casillas was also much more active and visible out there, giving the coaches lots of variety in which to attack and confuse Dallas’ rookie quarterback.

Casillas finished with five total tackles and not a single whiff on the day. This defense can be effective once all their working parts are in place. Even without Pierre-Paul, the improved deep coverages freed up Casillas to use his speed to disrupt without having all those one-on-one responsibilities.

Instead, combo coverages that mixed and matched from snap to snap really gave the Dallas passing game trouble. Credit to Casillas for hustling all over the field and playing tough at the point of attack.

 

Kelvin Sheppard: Getting more snaps than he’s used to against Dallas’ many running formations, Sheppard had several positive early moments in attack mode, and was also alert on several misdirection plays that he was very quick to recognize.

Keeping Sheppard away from one-on-one coverages is one of the keys to his success, and the coaches made sure to get that job done.

They even kept Sheppard on the field on a couple of passing downs, if only to discourage Dallas from running the ball on these plays, thereby keeping the ball out of the dynamic Elliott’s hands.

It was a real chess match out there, and it sure looked like the Giants’ defensive coaches won a lot of those games. Sheppard finished with three total tackles, two of them physical hits on Elliott.

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Janoris Jenkins: Jenkins continues to play solid ball against the opposing receivers, and we’re talking a Pro Bowl-caliber level. Often drawn the opposition’s best receiver, Jenkins has shut down that man repeatedly, and this week was no exception.

Assigned to Dez Bryant for most the evening, Jenkins didn’t disappoint, holding the receiver to one catch out of seven pass targets for 10 yards. That one catch Bryant came up with Jenkins promptly knocked loose, the fumble recovered by safety Landon Collins.

Earlier in the evening, Jenkins made a solid read on a slant pattern, jumping the route and picking off Prescott’s pass intended for Bryant. This play forced the Cowboys to burn their final timeout, as they sought to get the ball back down only three points.

Jenkins and the Giants weren’t about to let the Cowboys back into this one. On Dallas’ last pass of the game, one that came on 4th- and-10, Prescott appeared to hit Bryant for 17 yards. However, the catch was reversed after being reviewed, as Jenkins managed to get a hand between Bryant and the ball to cause it to hit the ground.

Jenkins also drew Terrance Williams a couple times, with one of those times being a success for Williams, who caught a pass on a slant route. However, Jenkins was right there to stop him short of the first down.

Again, an overall solid showing by Jenkins, whom we think is one of the most underrated of the Giants big free agent signings this past offseason.

 

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie: On the Cowboys’ first possession, tight end Jason Witten caught a pass in the flat. Rodgers- Cromartie was right there to immediately make the tackle. Witten has been a huge thorn in the Giants’ side over the years and in this one, the Giants completely shut him down.

Late in the second quarter, Cole Beasley tried to run a slant over the middle from the slot. Rodgers-Cromartie would have none of it, as he had perfect position on the play and knocked the pass away.

On third down on the first play of the fourth quarter, Prescott looked for Bryant on the slant. Rodgers-Cromartie got right in front of Bryant and knocked the pass away. It is not easy to play man-to-man as a slot cornerback, and Cromartie is doing a superb job.

In fact, this Giants cornerback trio has sort of a 2007 feel to it—veteran Rodgers- Cromartie being like R. W. McQuarters, Eli Apple the emerging Corey Webster and

Jenkins a much younger (and better) version of Sam Madison. The play of this group has made a world of difference for this defense.

 

Landon Collins: On the second defensive possession, Terrance Williams made a catch over the middle, but Collins was right there to stop him short of the first down. A year ago, we had concerns about Collins’ ability to cover, but this year, he’s been reacting so quickly on routes that it’s been like night and day.

Anyway, as soon as Williams caught the pass, Collins was closed quickly and just as importantly makes tackles which stops receivers in their tracks.

Early in the third quarter, Collins came on a safety blitz and rushed the pass as the ball was thrown short to Witten. That was a well-timed blitz that gave Collins an open shot at Prescott.

On the last play of the third quarter, Witten made a catch on an out pattern and in came Collins. First, he read the play perfectly then drove himself to and right through Witten to completely stop him in his tracks.

Witten finished with four receptions out of seven pass targets for 26 yards and a long of 13. We hope the Giants finally have a long-term solution for this longtime party spoiler.

 

Eli Apple: Late in the first quarter, Bryce Butler went deep down the right sideline against Apple. We thought it was a good read and call on the Cowboys’ part, but Apple, who has bounced back so strongly after being benched a few weeks back, was up for the task. He stayed stride for stride with Butler and knocked the pass away.

Late in the second quarter, Terrance Williams ran an in-route in front of Apple. Apple did a nice job stopping Williams in his tracks, as this was very important as the field goal on the next play hit the cross bar and bounced out.

On 3rd-and-9 early in the third quarter, Apple came up hard against Witten, stopping him short of a first down.

 

Andrew Adams: The Cowboys’ only score came on a play fake late in the first quarter, when Adams bit on the fake and Terrance Williams came across the middle on a slant where he was wide open.

The free safety is the last line of defense and for the first time this season, Adams bit on the play fake, his mistake leading to the touchdown. After that, Adams, benched for a little bit to clear his mind clamped down and played an honest, effective game the rest of the way.

Leon Hall: Hall replaced Adams in the second quarter for a bit while the rookie took a much-needed timeout to get his mind right after being burned in the Williams play.

Hall made his presence felt right away on an Ezekiel Elliott run early in the second quarter when Hall came up and laid the big hit on Elliott. Elliott felt that one and it is what you need to do to slow down a very good back.

Hall, who has been inactive lately, continued to be a man on a mission, coming up with a huge play late in the third quarter. Prescott tried to go deep on a post route, but Hall, playing centerfield, read it perfectly and came up with the interception and a big return after he made the grab.

 

Coty Sensabaugh: Late in the third quarter Sensabaugh seemed out of position against Cole Beasley when the slot receiver made a catch on the sideline.

Beasley also had room to pick up extra yardage after the catch, which he did. Other than this play, Beasley had a solid game, as he continues to be a key part of this defense.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Robbie Gould: One of the real positives from the team’s overall solid game this week was the reliability it got from its kicking game.

Gould certainly helped the team by not only nailing his lone extra point, but also his 39-yard field goal attempt—each of them of the stress-free variety. He also kicked off very well—in fact, doing a better job of it than his counterpart, the big- legged Dan Bailey, whom Gould simply out-kicked.

Two of Gould’s kickoffs pinned Dallas inside their 25-yard line—including high kick that the Dallas returner only reached the 14-yard line—while also nailing a third kickoff deep into the end zone for a touchback.

One of Gould’s kickoffs was a picture- perfect mortar kick with excellent direction that helped the coverage. Two weeks ago, everyone was worrying about Gould’s lack of leg strength, but in cold weather the last two weeks, he’s come up rather big.

 

Brad Wing: The Giants’  punter came up big this week.  Not only were Wing’s numbers excellent—43.2 gross, 42.9 net—his pooch punting was out of this world. Two of his pooch punts were downed inside Dallas’ five-yard line,
the most important being his final punt of night.

With 1:15 left in the game and Dallas out of timeouts, Wing downed his final punt on the Dallas three-yard line, pinning them in the shadow of their own end zone and big-time contributing to the job that the defense then finished.

Of Wing’s nine punts, the only quasi- clunker was caused by a low snap that he did well to haul in. On his eighth punt of the game, Wing was run into, but there was no flag—despite what we thought was a very legitimate running into the kicker. The penalty would have given the Giants a very important late-game first down, but such is life.

This week was likely Wing’s best game of the year, as it came in difficult conditions, under the bright lights, in a game his team really needed to win.

 

Zak DeOssie: Of all DeOssie’s snaps this week, that low punt snap late in the first half could have proven disastrous, but his punter came up big with the catch and kick.

Some of DeOssie’s snaps were obviously affected by the breezy conditions, but he persevered. He also handled his coverage responsibilities with discipline, per usual, getting in on another tackle.

DeOssie’s coverage skills are one of the special teams’ more reliable week-to-week assets.

 

Odell Beckham Jr.: Starting out the game as the team’s punt returner, Beckham had one solid return, one dangerous-looking return, and one second-half return that sent shivers through every Giants fan’s veins.

This one came early in the third quarter, with the score still 7-0 Dallas. The punt was a bit short and turned over suddenly on Beckham, who had tried to come up on it but was late. The ball bounced and hit Beckham in the leg.

Fortunately, his great athleticism and hands allowed him to jump on the loose ball and recover his muff, but boy, these were definitely some anxious moments.

We are a big fan of getting the ball into Beckham’s electric hands, any which way we can, which certainly includes returning punts. He is a legit threat every time the ball’s in his hands, so why not give him more opportunities to handle the ball?

Prior to the muff, Beckham had made four risk-free fair catches, and looks very comfortable catching the ball.

 

Bobby Rainey: Getting all the kickoff return duties this week, Rainey was solid returning both of his chances past the 25- yard line.

Rainey doesn’t quite have the breakaway speed that you’re looking for on these returns, but he’s built solid enough to take a hit, and has just enough burst to get through a crack.

He’s also a reliable north-south returner who doesn’t shy away from contact. His ball-security issues reared their ugly head on a recent punt return, but his kickoff ball security, decision making and production have been consistently reliable.

 

Dwayne Harris: After Beckham’s muff, Harris took over the punt return duties for one punt and returned it for a non- threatening four yards. Harris, remember, is nursing an ankle injury, so any explosion he had is temporarily on the shelf.

Beckham then returned to this duty on Dallas’ final two punts and fair-caught them both. Harris’ greatest contributions came as a gunner this week, and he sure did come up big.

Harris not only drew two of Dallas’ three punt return penalties, he also downed two of Brad Wing’s punts inside the five-yard line. That’s some spectacular production from one player, but Harris sure showed up in covering punts.

 

Deontae Skinner: For the second week in a row, this big-bodied, physical graduate from the practice squad brought his physical style to the special teams coverage, specifically on kickoffs, where he got credit for both kickoff coverage tackles this week.

Skinner used his big body to control his lane and crash down on the returner with that physical style that is so very important to have this time of year. We are a big fan of adding physical players to special teams along the way. Skinner and fellow physical specimen Eric Pinkins have done just that in a big way.

 

Kelvin Sheppard: Though he doesn’t get a lot of credit for his middle linebacker play these days, Sheppard has been a consistent contributor on specials from day one.

He recorded two of the punt coverage team’s tackles this week, and has consistently shown a good nose for the ball, and that physical style that is so important, at least to these eyes.

 

B. J. Goodson: The specials teams only committed one penalty this week—that being Goodson’s hold on a punt return, to Dallas’ three punt penalties.

That’s a positive differential that helped affect the field position all game long. This rookie must start playing a little smarter out there, as he’s being a bit too aggressive for his own good.

I ON STRATEGY

by Mike Iannaconi and Patricia Traina

In case anyone thought their first win against the mighty Dallas Cowboys way back in Week 1 was a fluke, the New York Giants did so again this week, without needing Terrance Williams to stay in bounds and then ending up costing his team precious end-of-game seconds.

We’re going to start on the defensive side of the ball this week, because the unit played lights out. Actually, the unit fixed the issues from last week’s disappointing loss at Pittsburgh while beating a Cowboys team that many analysts believed to be “unstoppable.”

If that’s not enough to get you excited, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s unit managed to get the best of the Cowboys with a much different plan this time around than it did in the first meeting.

The major difference in the defensive strategy is that in the first meeting, the Giants dropped back in coverage, to take away any open looks down the field.

As the Giants’ defensive secondary began to jell since then, Spagnuolo felt comfortable enough to single up his defensive backs against the Cowboys receivers and bring the heat against rookie quarterback Dak Prescott.

Now, here is the beauty of what the Giants’ defensive strategy accomplished this week. The blitzes that Spagnuolo designed confused the heck out of Prescott. For example, the Giants lined up three defensive ends on one blitz, but brought one of them at the quarterback.

Prescott, not knowing what end was up, was forced to throw to his “hot” receiver. Combine that with the coverage the Giants managed to get and there just wasn’t much doing for the rookie quarterback, who, after weeks of having the analysts say how advanced he looked in his first season, really did look like a rookie.

We mention the coverage on the back end, and we really need to give the Giants kudos here: their man-to-man coverage was nothing short of outstanding.

Even those times when a Cowboys receiver caught the ball, they rarely managed to get many yards after the catch. Yes, there was the busted coverage that went for 31 yards and the touchdown (by Terrance Williams), but other than that, not one Cowboys pass play exceeded 18 yards.

The safeties also played a part in this one. Andrew Adams had his first miscue this season, as he bit on a play fake that led to the aforementioned 31-yard touchdown catch by Williams.

He was replaced by Leon Hall, who came up with a key interception, while Landon Collins took care of another longtime Giants problem: tight end Jason Witten, who was held to 26 yards on four catches.

We spoke about the job done by the defensive secondary, but we really need to, again, give props to cornerback Janoris Jenkins. Jenkins as, time and again, take the opponent’s best receiver and made him a non-factor.

He did so again this week, completely nullifying Dez Bryant. Bryant was targeted nine times in this game, eight of those coming against Jenkins. The one catch Bryant made against Jenkins just so happened to be the one the cornerback knocked free for Collins to scoop up.

Let’s look at the front seven, which did its share of the heavy lifting. The defensive players all said that Ezekiel Elliott’s 107- yard rushing performance on 24 carries is a stain on their performance, but the run defense clamped down on Elliott as the game went on, holding him to 9 runs for 21 yards in the second half, the fourth quarter alone resulting in minus-1-yard rushing on four carries by the dynamic rookie.

The important piece to take away is that Elliott had to earn every single one of his yards. Also, Dallas could not string together any consecutive good plays.

The Giants’ defense held them to one third- down conversion out of 15 attempts. Considering that offenses are built on momentum, that the Cowboys couldn’t get that momentum going was a huge yet understated factor.

One final observation overall: The Giants defenders were so sure of their assignments, which allowed them to fly to the football and continue to cause disruption. When a team knows what to do, they can play fast, and there is no doubt that the Giants’ defense outhustled the Cowboys offense this week.

Now, for the bad news. The Giants’ offense continues to be stuck in quicksand with no help anywhere in sight. We remain perplexed how this unit, which is pretty much the same with the exception of an upgraded receiving corps—at least on paper. (More on that in a moment.)

First, we have to give kudos to play-caller Ben McAdoo for showing more of a commitment to running the ball. The results aren’t always there, and there are still yards being left out there on the field, but at least the Giants are trying to break out of being a one-dimensional offense.

The issue—and we’re quite frankly surprised that opponents haven’t really found a way to stop this on a week-by- week basis—is the only way this team is able to score is when there is a single high safety and Odell Beckham Jr. is able to work his magic by beating man-to-man coverage.

We are going to continue trumpeting something we have been talking about for a couple of weeks now. The Giants should use more two wide receiver sets, and insert an extra tight end or linemen.

This will allow them to run the football but more importantly, it should take them out of nickel coverage, which should give Odell Beckham Jr. more room to operate down the field.

Beckham has been making his mark with his yards after the catch. That’s all well and good, because he can do that, but because of the Giants’ stubborn insistence of sticking with 11 personnel (three wides) for the majority of the time, teams really don’t have to get too elaborate with defending them.

We wonder how much things might open up for the passing game if the Giants aren’t facing nickel on almost every single play.

Much is made of how good the current Giants wide receiving trio is, but we are not so sure about that. Victor Cruz is not getting open and it is creating issues for this offense. Having Cruz in the game means the nickel package, which makes it tougher for the other receivers in the game.

Also, three wide receiver sets make it hard for a running back to get to the edge as on the one side of the field, he does not have a tight end or a lead blocker.

This offense must get on track and having Cruz in the game on an every-down basis does not seem to be the way to do so.

The other issue, as we see it, is the outside blocking by the receivers. We have long believed that the Giants have three slot receivers on this team and on one on the outside.

When we see Cruz and Beckham seemingly wanting very little to do with blocking, we cringe just a bit. A strong outside receiver MUST be on top of this team’s offseason wish list.

And no, we haven’t forgotten about the offensive line. Despite the constant pleasure? we see to put in Will Beatty for Ereck Flowers, the move isn’t happening. Ditto for moving Marshall Newhouse to left tackle and Beatty to right guard.

What you see with this offensive line, personnel-wise, is what it’s going to be the rest of the year, except for left guard, when Justin Pugh gets back.

Let’s start with Flowers. The more we watch him, the more we question whether he’s coachable. All too often, Flowers reverts to the sloppy technique that got him by in college but that is going to get him into trouble every time in the NFL.

We aren’t there to see the classroom sessions or in-season practices, we sure wish we could get a straight answer regarding how well he is taking to the coaching of Mike Solari because they eye test says there is still a way for him to go in that regard.

We wonder if Flowers might be a better guard down the line, but we suspect that the Giants are going stick with him at left tackle for another season, perhaps using the fact that he’s had four different left guards play next to him as a reason.

If so, we think that’s hogwash. Whoever is lining up next to him doesn’t have any effect on his technique, and that’s his biggest issue right now.

The other problem with this offensive line is the use of the personnel. Coaches often like to say “Next man up,” and then sit there and tell the fans that they have confidence that they won’t miss a beat with Player B in the lineup over Player A.

But we don’t buy it, and we never have. The proof is in the pudding when it comes to this offensive line. Justin Pugh is by far not only their best pulling lineman, he’s really the only one who can execute this skill.

Yet, time and again, they have had Flowers and Marshall Newhouse attempt to execute pulls, both with poor results.

While you have to give them credit for trying something new, when that “something new” means that the pulling offensive lineman is going to see a blitzing inside linebacker blow right by him, because the lineman wasn’t quick enough to the hole, and that linebacker promptly lays a massive hit on your quarterback, well, then that’s just insane.


Inside Football is an independent publication that is neither sponsored by, nor affiliated with, the New York Football Giants or the National Football League (NFL). For subscription information or address changes, contact INSIDE FOOTBALL, P.O. Box 6434, Edison, NJ 08818-6434, (732) 743-5694, Fax: (480) 287-9380, www.insidefootball.com. Publisher: Inside Football LLC. Senior Editor: Patricia Traina (member, Pro Football Writers of America). Senior Analysts: Mike Iannaconi, Bob Folger. For advertising information or radio/television appearances, please call (732) 743-5694. Copyright 2016.