The dust has settled on the Lions demolition of the Giants on Monday night and as we prepare to move on from the disappointment of another opening night loss, let’s review some of the statistics and see what we can learn about the 2014 Giants. Many of the statistics in this article come from the analytical website ProFootballFocus.com (PFF), and require a subscription. It’s a fantastic resource if you enjoy want to delve deeper than they typical surface NFL statistics and want unbiased comparative player stats to use for comparisons. Others are derived from the Gamebooks on NFL.com, and are homegrown.
Based on practice and the preseason games, it appeared that the fullback would figure more prominently in Ben McAdoo’s offense, but Henry Hynoski was only on the field for 6 of 62 offensive snaps. This could be attributable to the shoulder injury he suffered against the Patriots, or the speculation during the summer, including that of Giants360 was wrong. The running back division of carries against Detroit was 2 to 1 in favor of Rashad Jennings as he was on the field for 42 snaps compared to 20 for rookie Andre Williams. Jennings also received the majority of red zone carries, somewhat unexpectedly, based on practice reports this summer, especially for fantasy football players.
John Jerry’s injury was not serious, as he missed only 3 snaps. Jerry was the least effective run blocking lineman, something that was apparent re-watching the game. Weston Richburg and Justin Pugh were also particularly ineffective run blocking. None of the Giants offensive linemen rated out highly in this category. Pass blocking, surprisingly, was better, with Pugh and Jerry rating the best. Not outstanding by any means, but highest on the team. Richburg and Will Beatty struggled with pass blocking on Monday night. It was a rough outing all around for the rookie Richburg, making his first start at left guard facing one of the best defensive tackle combinations in the league.
The Giants averaged just 2.41 yards per carry, horrific by any standard. However, they were only stuffed in the backfield twice despite the run blocking woes.
The truly shocking statistics come when you review the passing breakdown. PFF shows that Eli Manning was under pressure on 11 of 35 dropbacks, that’s 31% of passing plays. Subtracting the two sacks, Manning was 2 of 9 for 20 yards, but that’s not the shocking part. Both interceptions came on plays when there was no blitz, one was an “under pressure” play, meaning it was just a blocking breakdown, and one was not. The floated pass to Victor Cruz that was intercepted by Glover Quin, was made while Manning was under intense pressure. The DeAndre Levy interception was a miscommunication with Larry Donnell.
Manning was at his best when he was blitzed, completing 3 of 4 passes, including the touchdown to Donnell.
Cruz spoke out in the media and commented that he did not have enough looks in the game. He was targeted 6 times, with 2 catches, and 2 drops. Part of the issue was pass protection, but if the drops continue, Manning will lose confidence in him. His speaking out was ill timed, coming after the blowout loss when the team needs to regroup and pull together to avoid another 2013 like start to the season.
The shining star through all of the fallout was the performance of the Giants run defense. Detroit averaged only 2.53 yards per carry and were stuffed 4 times in 30 carries. The best defenders along the defensive line were Jason Pierre-Paul, despite his missing time with an injury, Robert Ayers, Cullen Jenkins, and Jonathan Hankins. Grading out poorly were Mathias Kiwanuka and Mike Patterson, explaining why Patterson has dropped below Hankins on the depth chart. Jacquian Williams rated out poorly and was horrific in pass coverage, especially against Reggie Bush. Sunday’s opponent, the Arizona Cardinals, feature Andre Ellington, another accomplished pass catching running back, and improvement will be needed.
Williams poor performance is concerning as the coaches were raving about his having taken a step forward in his development coming into his fourth season with the Giants. It may have been apparent in practice, but it did not translate onto the field on Monday night. Pass coverage is allegedly among Williams strengths. Jon Beason, while looking good during my game re-watch, graded out poorly, likely a function of his summer of inactivity.
As good as the run defense looked, the pass defense was equally bad. The issue may come down to communication with Perry Fewell trying to integrate players from various systems into his with limited practice time under the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement. While returning veterans Antrel Rolle, Stevie Brown, and Prince Amukamara know Fewell’s terminology, but Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Walter Thurmond, who were on the field for the majority of snaps, 66 (of 68) for Rodgers-Cromartie and 44 for nickel back Thurmond, have only been in the system since May. Fewell has been criticized for having too complex a system in the past and famously simplified it before the Giants beat the Jets in 2011 to kick start their championship run.
Covering Calvin Johnson one on one for the majority of the game, Rodgers-Cromartie rated out horrifically on Monday night. One of Giants360’s keys to victory was blanketing Johnson with double coverage. Fewell is obviously not among out current readership. Conversely, Amukamara was one of the highest rated cornerbacks in the NFL for week 1, another bright spot n a game mostly devoid of them. Stevie Brown also struggled against Detroit, perhaps attributable to his returning from a torn ACL. It might take him a few games to play himself back into his old ball hawking form.
Damontre Moore only played 9 snaps on Monday night, the most infamous of which was when he was sidestepped by Matthew Stafford on his 67 yard touchdown to Johnson. Moore’s run defense is a concern, which is why his snap count was so low. Devon Kennard only played 2 snaps on defense before a hamstring injury sidelined him. Safety Nat “The Missile” Berhe was on the field for 4 defensive snaps.
Steve Weatherford has torn ligaments in his plant leg, but won’t require surgery. It’s hard to imagine him being ready to punt on Sunday, although he’s been called day-to-day and not ruled out, and the Giants are unlikely to use two roster spots on punters, costing them a position player. Season ending injured reserve seems the most likely destination for Weatherford. Chris Kluwe, Matt Turk, Daniel Sepulveda, Ben Graham, T.J. Conley, and Reggie Hodges are among the recognizable names of free agent punts available.
Weatherford is also the holder for Josh Brown’s kicks, a critical special team role that will not be easy to replace on short notice.
Another name that was on the list of available punters will surely rekindle Giants fans nightmare images from 2010 season – Matt Dodge. Everyone knew as the Giants lined up to punt with 14 seconds left on the clock and the score tied at 31, not to punt the ball to Eagles returner DeSean Jackson. Everyone except then Giants punter Dodge, that is. The image of Jackson picking up his own fumbled punt, streaking through the Giants coverage, down the sideline, and then taunting the Giants by running parallel to their goal line before crossing into the end zone for the winning score is burned into fans minds forever. As is a frustrated Tom Coughlin running out on to the field to confront Dodge on his line drive punt directly to Jackson. Weatherford replaced Dodge the next season, and Dodge has not been given another chance in the NFL. I doubt he’s on the Giants short list of replacement punters, should they need one.
Zack Bowman and Spencer Paysinger were the Giants best special teams players against the Lions on Monday night. Trumaine McBride, and surprisingly, Mark Herzlich, were the worst. Herzlich has historically been an outstanding special teams player and it’s the main reason he was given a roster spot. If his play doesn’t improve, it’s doubtful he’ll hold on to it.
Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer empathizes with Manning, having learned a new offense himself last season. He says it takes 4-8 regular season games to truly learn the system and that there is no substitute for live action, “There is no other way to replicate a regular season game that playing a regular season game.” Palmer cautions that there’s not a date where – BOOM – it just clicks, and that learning the system will just take time. He also says that Manning will learn from the bad experiences as well as the good.
Palmer has a lot of respect for the Giants defense, mentioning Beason, Amukamara, Rodgers-Cromartie, Rolle, Jenkins, and Pierre-Paul as standouts on the unit. The Cardinals defense suffered an injury casualty, as 36 year old John Abraham has left the team and is contemplating retirement after suffering another concussion in the Cardinals Monday night victory over San Diego. “It’s going to be tough,” said Palmer, asked about replacing Abraham, who has reportedly been experiencing memory loss for more than a year after sustaining multiple career concussions.
Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians, who has been involved in coaching football for 40 years echoed Palmer’s sentiments about the Giants picking up the new offense. He even agreed with the time frame, stating that he doesn’t judge a quarterback on a new offense until week 8. Arians, an who was offensive coordinator in both Cleveland and Pittsburgh, before famously taking the Colts interim head coaching job while Chuck Pagano underwent cancer treatment in 2012, said that it’s sometimes more difficult to teach a veteran quarterback a new system and he finds it easier to “brainwash” a rookie. He has no doubt that Manning is experiencing growing pains in the new system.
The Giants poor performance in Detroit before returning home to face his Cardinals is of concern to Arians as he doesn’t see the Giants playing as poorly before their home fans. He says there is nothing worse than going into a team’s home stadium after they lost the week before.
As the Giants returned to the practice field today, Weatherford was among those that didn’t practice. Josh Brown was reported to be available as the stand in punter, but a JUGGS machine was used instead Joining Weatherford on the sideline was Jason Pierre-Paul, who is being monitored after suffering a “stinger” on Monday night. Kennard was not out on the field today, and Odell Beckham junior fielded punts only, not returning them, repeating a pattern familiar to those following his training camp practice habits.
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