Going into this game, it was apparent that the key to a Giants victory would be how their rebuilt, patchwork offensive line responded to the Detroit Lions ferocious front four. Look no further than the final score, 35-14 Lions, and you have your answer. This Giants were over matched, with Eli Manning under constant pressure and never looking comfortable in the pocket, running lanes were non-existent, and there was no surge off the ball to give Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams room to pick a hole. After two early breakdowns, the defense settled in and played well until the fourth quarter, when they were tired and wore down, giving up a late score to put the game completely out of reach. This one was ugly, but it was only the first game. The Arizona Cardinals come to town in six days, and with them, a chance for redemption.
Losing the coin toss, the Giants kicked off to the Lions and Josh Brown put the ball into the end zone for a touchback. After giving up 12 yards on a screen pass to Reggie Bush, it appeared the defense had settled down as Prince Amukamara and Jon Beason stuffed Bush for no gain, and Calvin Johnson was called for an illegal touching penalty after a spectacular sideline catch where Amukamara had tight coverage. A short pass to Bush brought up third and 9 and it the Giants appeared poised to stop Detroit’s opening drive. Johnson went deep, with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in coverage, he released, and safeties Antrel Rolle and Stevie Brown collided, taking each another out of the play and leaving Johnson wide open. Matthew Stafford, the Lions quarterback, sidestepped a hard charging Damontre Moore and fired the ball the Johnson, who caught the ball without a Giants within 15 yards of him and strolled into the end zone for an easy 67 yard touchdown and a 7-0 Lions lead.
After a Nate Freese touchback, Manning brought the Giants offense out for the first time in 2014, with dreadful results. Jennings ran into the line twice and lost a yard. On the first play, defensive tackle Nick Fairley blew past center J.D. Walton, and on the second, he overpowered right guard John Jerry. On third down, Manning, under pressure, misfired towards Jerrell Jernigan, and the Giants were forced to punt.
Taking over at his own 31, Stafford went to work again, picking up a quick 39 yards on two passes to Bush and a toe tapper to the on the sidelines to Johnson. Mixing in a few Joique Bell runs, Stafford again moved away from Giants pressure and found Johnson in the end zone for a second touchdown, this one a diving grab for 16 yards, and a 14-0 Detroit lead. Jason Pierre-Paul was injured on the play, and taken into the locker room with what he described as a “stinger.” He later returned but was not a factor in the game with just 4 tackles.
Another touchback gave the Giants the ball on their own 20 and the best play on this drive was a 22 yard pass interference call on a pass intended for Victor Cruz. After the penalty, the Giants offense against stalled and they were again forced to punt. Special teams issues, which plagued the team in the early part of 2013, reared up again, and the punt, partially blocked by linebacker Tahir Whitehead, traveled only 16 yards. On the replay, it appeared that Whitehead blew past Jameel McClain who was running downfield, there’s no way to know if he was responsible to blocking him. Nat Berhe and Will Demps were in the backfield to protect. Berhe was in the best position to pick up Whitehead.
The Giants defense adjusted, and forced the Lions to punt after only three plays, giving them the ball on their own 21. On drive three, the offense appeared to have something going, as Manning hit tight end Larry Donnell for 19 yard, and Jernigan for gains of 7 and 9 yards, until a penalty on the Lions defense for hands to the face seemingly confused Clete Blakeman’s officiating crew and the delay while they determined if it would be assessed from the line of scrimmage or the end of the play cooled down the Giants offense. Assessed from the previous line of scrimmage and finally resuming play, the Lions defense stopped the Giants cold, culminating with a sack of Manning and Weatherford again came out to punt. On the sack, defensive end George Johnson came on a stunt between Jerry and Walton, following a blitzing linebacker who was picked up Jennings, and Jerry whiffed.
Punt protection issues continued, and while Weatherford got the punt away, he was knocked down by Jerome Couplin, and drew a roughing the kicker penalty. Couplin was being blocked by McClain and came off of it into Weatherford, who was injured on the play, but finished the game. The penalty gave the Giants a first down on the Lions 35 and breathed new life into them as the second quarter started.
Rashad Jennings had his best run of the night, a 14 yard burst up the middle behind blocks by Walton and Weston Richburg. After another Jennings run, Manning threw a pass intended for Jernigan in the end zone, drawing a flag for pass interference on cornerback Darius Slay, and giving the Giants a first and goal on the one. Here we got our first glimpse of Ben McAdoo’s goal to go style.
The first down play was a fade to rookie Corey Washington, his only target of the night, who had his hands on the ball, but couldn’t bring it down. On second down, another fade, this one to Donnell, he caught the ball, but couldn’t get his feet in bounds. The third down play was a Jennings run that was stuffed for no gain. Passing up the field goal, Coughlin elected to go for it and McAdoo called another fade to Donnell, who out leaped safety Isa Abdul-Quddus and caught the ball for a touchdown, cutting the Lions lead to 14-7. It was a choppy, penalty assisted 13 play, 79 yard drive that took 4:56.
The Giant defense held Detroit to another three and out and it appeared that the offense might be getting on track as a quick first down following the Lions punt gave them a first down at mid field with just under 10 minutes left in the first half. Two incompletions and sack ended that threat and a short punt by an obviously injured Weatherford failed to pin the Lions inside their own 20. Stafford mixed passes to Bush, Johnson, and Golden Tate and drove the Lions into field goal range as the two minute warning arrived. The Giants caught a break as rookie Freese’s 43 yard attempt sailed wide left .
Taking over at their own 33 with 1:55 on the clock, Manning hit Donnell up the seam to give them a first down just inside Lions territory, but was unable to push them deeper and Weatherford punt and Stafford kneel down ended the half. The Giants were fortunate to be down only 7, as they gained just 75 yards, and needed help from the officials to sustain drives. As they would receive the third quarter kickoff, the game was still well within reach.
The third quarter opened with a familiar pattern from 2013. The Giants took the second quarter kickoff, and after two lackluster plays, Manning fired an off target pass in the general direction of Donnell. Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy cradled it, and kept it from touching the ground for a brilliant interception, setting the Lions up at the Giants 18. The Giants defense held and Detroit settled for a 28 yard Freese field goal and a 17-7 lead.
After a Giants punt, Stafford drive the Lions 66 yards in 9 plays including a 44 yard pass to Tate to set up another Freese field goal, this time for 27 yard, increasing their lead to 13, at 20-7, when disaster struck for the Giants on the signature play of this game. On the very first play after the kickoff, Manning dropped back to pass and, under intense pressure from Fairley, threw a wild,floating pass towards Cruz that was easily intercepted by Lions Safety Glover Quin. With the ball at the Giants 19, Stafford was able to put the ball in the end zone in 5 plays, keeping the ball himself on a 5 yard touchdown scramble. His score effectively put the game out of reach for the Giants struggling offense at 27-7 Lions with 3:51 in the third quarter.
The Giants immediately answered the Lions score with a 14 play, 80 yard touchdown drive, culminating with a 1 yard Jennings plunge to cut the score to 27-14, but the damage was already done and the outcome of the game was long decided. On the field for more than 36 minutes, an exhausted and bullied Giants defense gave up a late touchdown and two point conversion on a 12 play, 80 yard touchdown drive and two point conversion that took over ten minutes off the clock and closed scoring in the 35-14 rout.
The Giants were flat out awful the their 2014 regular season debut, especially on offense, confirming the worst of fan and media observations from the first team’s performance in the preseason games. Manning had little time to pass and never looked comfortable in the pocket. When he did look down field, the only wide receiver who seemed to have separation was Jernigan, who was targeted 7 times, catching 4 for 25 yards. Cruz was a non-factor, catching 2 of 6 passes thrown his was for 24 yards with several drops. Rueben Randle caught 2 passes for 1 single yard. That’s a total of 50 yards receiving from the Giants top 3 wide outs and won’t get the job done against any opponent. The Cardinals secondary is vastly superior to Detroit’s, which does not bode well for the trio of receivers.
For the game, the Giants gained 197 yard, 53 rushing and 144 passing. The defense gave up 417 to the Lions, including 346 to the red hot Stafford who completed 22 of 32 passes and had a passer rating of 125.3 Manning rating was 53.0 on an 18 for 33 night, a 54% completion rate, far off from McAdoo’s target of 70%. The Giants were able to penetrate the Lions defensive line, but Stafford was surprisingly mobile, stepping up and rolling away from the pressure to make completions or throw away to avoid sacks.
There were some bright spots on offense – Donnell made some impressive grabs at tight end, catching 5 of 8 passes thrown his way for 56 yard and the touchdown. He was open in down the seam and looked fluid and athletic catching the ball, and appears to have claimed the starting tight end job for the time being. Jennings caught 4 passes for 50 yards and was elusive in the open field. He also made a nice run on a 4th down conversion on the the Giants second touchdown drive.
On defense, following the first quarter breakdowns, there were a lot of positives to take away from the game. Jon Beason played well in his first game back from a foot injury. He showed no ill effect from the sesamoid fracture, moving well and making plays. Amukamara made several good plays in the secondary and was his usual solid self in run support. The run defense was solid overall, limiting the Lions to 76 yards on 30 carries, a 2.5 average per carry, with 4 stuffs in the backfield. Those numbers would have been more impressive if not for some Bell bursts on the Lions clock killing drive against the Giants spent defense.
Of particular concern are the punt protection breakdowns, which were consistent and led to Weatherford’s injury. His plant foot was swollen after the game, however, he doesn’t believe anything is seriously damaged. X-Rays were negative, but he’ll have an MRI today. Jameel McClain, Nate Berhe, and Will Demps were among the primary culprits in the punt protection breakdowns, depending on their assignments. Giants360 will keep an eye out for team information releases this week for more on this topic.
Also injured in the game were Jerry, who was replaced by Brandon Mosley, no word on his injury, and Devon Kennard, who left with a hamstring injury and did not return. Pierre-Paul left and returned, and will certainly be evaluated this week given that the injury was to his neck.
In his post game press conference, Coughlin called the game a “Nightmare performance,” saying that the Giants couldn’t move the ball, stop the Lions, turned the ball over, and had a blocked punt. He added that the team has a lot of things to improve in a short week. Coughlin wouldn’t offer excuses other than “We played poorly.”
Asked if Manning was an issue, Coughlin responded, “It’s no one individual, It’s a team game and a team concept. He’s no more to blame than anyone else. Blame me.” He earlier indicated that a big part of Manning poor performance was the constant pass pressure Manning faced from the Lions and made statement that is concerning, “This is our team, this is what we have.” For the second season running, the Giants have a lack of talent on the offensive line, having lost Geoff Schwartz to injury until November, and Chris Snee to retirement. Coughlin seems resigned to deal with an inferior line in 2014.
Coughlin responded “Pass protection and the inability to run the ball,” when a reporter asked him the biggest areas of disappointment in the game. The lack of a run game was particularly concerning as it appeared to have some life in the preseason, but lacked any cohesion against Detroit.
The Giants fly back today and will begin short week preparations for the 1-0 Arizona Cardinals. They need to turn things around quickly or they face an 0-2 hole that will be difficult to dig out from.
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