“Disappointed,” that the word Tom Coughlin used to describe his state of mind following the Giants loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. Being tied at 14 at halftime, Coughlin thought it would be a better football game. He was encouraged when the Giants came out and drove to the Cowboys 35 yard line with their first possession of the second half, “And it starts. We go backwards to the 43. Another time we get to their 40 and get a holding penalty and it’s 1st and 20.”
Coughlin sees the major missing component as the “Harmony” that needs to exist between the offense, defense, and special teams. Setting up field position to enable the Giants to score was a key to their three game winning steak, now a fading memory. The defense game up drives of 80 and 93 yards. Larry Donnell’s fumble gave the Cowboys excellent field position to take a two touchdown lead. And the defense couldn’t stop Dallas when the game was on the line. These are all missing pieces to the winning puzzle.
The improving return game is among the things Coughlin liked about the Cowboys game. He sees Odell Beckham and Michael Cox as having given the struggling Giants special teams units a boost and hopes they will start making returns that set up the offense in good field position and start returning harmony to the team.
What disappointed Coughlin most was the Giants failure to capitalize on the opportunities. He credits the Cowboys for making plays when they needed them specifically throws and catches that resulted in touchdowns. He didn’t see the lack of a pass rush as a critical issue, citing the decision to play coverage in some situations, and the Cowboys ability to block the plays in others. Coughlin pointed out that pass rushers won’t get the the quarterback on every play and that coverage needs to be tight in order to prevent big plays. “In an ideal world,” added Coughlin, “Yes, you’d like to get a strong pass rush on every play.” He also praised Dez Bryant and Gavin Escobar for making spectacular catches on well thrown balls.
In order to play an better overall brand of football, the Giants need to run the ball more consistently. That will stabilize the offense, help the defense, and control the flow of the game. Coughlin confirmed that it was a big part of the game plan against Dallas, and that the team “Stuck with it, to the chagrin of some.”
What went wrong with the win game against the Cowboys? Coughlin diagnosed the issues as a failure of the offensive line to adjust to the Cowboys “Shifting front” on running plays. He said the line adjusted well on pass blocking, but didn’t make the needed adjustment on running plays.
Despite the loss of Victor Cruz and Rashad Jennings, the Giants offense move the ball reasonably well. Coughlin credits Eli Manning as the “Link or cog” that has kept everything together. In the Dallas game, Manning threw the ball away 4 times by Coughlin’s count, preventing negative plays. He also counted 3 drops (Profootballfocus.com tallied 2). If those plays are improved, the offense can get that much better. He would also like to see more big plays utilizing the talent that has the ability to make them.
Asked to assess where the team is going into the bye, Coughlin puts them somewhere between how the Giants looked against Washington, and how they played against Dallas on Sunday. He added that he will not comment on the Eagles game (Giants360 will, the team would have struggled to beat a major college program playing like that). With 9 games to go, Coughlin sees the potential for a strong finish.
As one would expect, Coughlin refuses to blame injuries of the influx of new players and learning a new system for the Giants struggles. “I thought we’d be 7-0,” replied Coughlin, when asked about contributing factors. He added that every team has to overcome injuries.
Jon Beason may be the next player to be lost for the season. He is in North Carolina for the third time to see Dr. Robert Anderson to determine what to do about his sesamoid injury. Orthotics and rest have not allowed Beason to return to the field and play effectively. In an interview on New York radio station WFAN, Beason said he is 50/50 on having a surgical solution. Even without surgery, he has been unable to play a full game and is a liability when he’s on the field. Beason needs extended rest to recover from this obviously serious injury and shouldn’t play until he’s able to run with his trademark reckless abandon.
Yesterday was another tryout Tuesday for the Giants, and 15 players were given a chance to display their talents for the team. The most prominent name on the list is quarterback Terrelle Pryor. The others were: wide receiver Jon Baldwin, tight end Ted Bolser, place kicker Travis Coons, guard Jack Cornell, punter Jacob Dombrowski, place kicker Nate Freese, running back Alex Green, running back Felix Jones, running back Dion Lewis, punter Robert Malone, guard Antoine McClain, tight end Tony Moeaki, long snapper Tyler Ott, and tight end D.J. Williams.
The tryout appears to be the team updating their short term emergency list rather than a need based tryout with the intent of making an immediate signing. All NFL teams maintain a short list of available players that can be signed and made ready on short notice in case of injury. The bye week presents an in season opportunity to update this critical list and ensure that the players are in shape and still near game ready.
Pryor is an interesting name as there have been conflicting reports about his willingness to change positions to stay in the National Football League. An elite athlete with poor passing skills, Pryor has not been able to stick on a roster at quarterback for either the Oakland Raiders or Seattle Seahawks. It has been speculated that he would make an imposing slot receiver or receiving tight end and the prospect of him catching the ball in the open field and running with it is an enticing one. And while not an accomplished passer by quarterback standards, he is well above the skill level of other position players, making option passes a true threat. Pryor could also serve as an emergency and/or wildcat package quarterback. This conversion would seem more suited to an off season conversion rather than a mid season project. Look for someone to sign him in early January if he is indeed willing to make a position change.
Giants quarterback coach Danny Langsdorf emphasized the importance protecting the football and making good decisions plays in the team’s offense this season. In addition to “Finding completions, moving the chains, and spreading the ball around,” Manning is evaluating the risk associated with passes and not making the risky ones that he has in the past. The result – 5 interceptions through 7 games, with one coming on a hail mary and one on the Rueben Randle end zone pop out play against Washington.
Langsdorf pointed out that those two interceptions count in the statistics as well, but sees the improvement in Manning’s decision making. He doesn’t accuse the quarterback of being too conservative, be emphatically states that the team wants him taking care of the ball. Given the choice between making a risky throw and protecting the football, “Protecting the ball overrides it,” said Langsdorf, providing insight into some of the intricacies that are part of the Ben McAdoo offense.
Count the quarterbacks coach among Beckham’s fans, especially since the rookie is doing it with minimal on field practice time. “He’s explosive, runs good routes, and in the short time he’s played for us, he’s been exciting,” states Langsdorf. He added that his ceiling is high as he will only get better with more time on the practice field, playing field, and working with Manning.
Running backs coach Craig Johnson does not have a separate set of plays he practices for Andre Williams versus Jennings but says that Williams is still learning the ways of the National Football League. “It’s a matter of rhythm and flow,” says Johnson, “Hitting the hole at 80 miles per hour instead of 100 miles per hour.” Reading blocks and how NFL holes open and close is something every rookie running back has to learn, added Johnson, and Williams is picking it up quickly.
Hitting the hole at the right time to get the the second and third level and having the correct timing between the offensive line and running back are two critical components to having a successful ground game. The line and Jennings went through the process and now they are going through it with Williams. Johnson called it a work in progress and something they will continue to work on until the running game helps make the offense roll.
Johnson identified three steps to improving in the passing game, something he praised Williams for greatly improving in his time with the team. First, the back has to identify who to block. Manning, who always helps his teammates, has been of great assistance to Williams in this regard. Second, is learning the proper technique to pass block and pick up the blitzing player. Identifying the correct player is not helpful if you miss the block. And finally, the third step is getting out on a pass route if no one blitzes. This is an area where Williams has shown a lot of improvement.
As far as Jennings is concerned, Johnson will reply on the medical staff for advice on when and how much he can play. Being an athlete, Jennings will want to play as early and often as possible. Johnson’s job as a coach is to make sure he’s ready to come back and to keep the team’s long term interests in mind. That’s also the case when giving Peyton Hillis practice and game reps in place of Williams. It prepares him in case of a Williams injury, and also prevents Williams from thinking he has to win games by himself.
Tight ends coach Kevin M. Gilbride spoke about the biggest mystery on the Giants offense – tight end Adrien Robinson. He praised the third year player and his willingness to be coached. Citing his footwork as needing to improve, Gilbride has seen the improvement. Robinson is also working on “Shooting his hands rather then surrounding the ball” when catching it. The team has specific packages for Robinson and Gilbride expects his playing time to increase as his technique continues to improve.
Offensive line coach Pat Flaherty is also awaiting word from the training staff on Geoff Schwartz and says he has no sense of when he will return to the paying field. Schwartz is expected to start practicing after the bye, but Flaherty expects him to be day-to-day. While wanting the best five players on the field, he adds that the team must also move forward with what they have.
Flaherty evaluates the line on a play by play basis and has seen “Some read good plays and some real head scratchers” from his linemen. He wants to see more consistent play on both run and pass blocking and most importantly, the elimination of breakdowns in concentration resulting in penalties. At the point the Giants are in the season, adds Flaherty, the penalties should be eliminated.
Wide receivers coach Sean Ryan said that Beckham is on a “Full load” and that he was told his rookie season is over now that Cruz in injured. Expecting that there will be bumps in the road as Beckham learns the NFL ropes, Ryan is impressed with Beckham’s desire to learn and get things right.
“He’s not getting by on talent alone,” says Ryan, pointing out that Beckham has put in extra film work and meeting time to get up to speed in a hurry. If Ryan is not available to meet, Beckham seeks out other to help him. Ryan sees him as doing everything he can to improve and wants to move him around and do everything he can to put Beckham in a position to make plays.
“An unknown when he came in the door,” is how Ryan describes Preston Parker, who he also said “Plays with an edge.” He is pleased with Parker’s play and emphasizes that the third year receiver has done a nice job in every role the team has put him in.
The most frequent question asked of Giants360 is “What of Corey Washington?” who was a surprise inactive in favor or new addition Kevin Ogletree on Sunday. Ryan provided the answer and it confirmed our thinking as to the fate of the rookie preseason sensation, “Corey is a young player from a Division II level program. He’s learning to run our entire route tree. There’s growing to be done with him. He’s working on his routes, his releases, and his top of the break. That’s where he is now. He’s a work in progress.”
Washington is not an NFL ready receiver. He has all the physical tools and desire to develop into a top flight wide receiver, but he’s not there yet. Until he shows in practice that he deserved to be on the field on both offense and special teams, he will be a game day inactive. Had he not been a sensation playing against lower level competition in training camp, Washington would undoubtedly have been a practice squad player this season, but the Giants has no choice but to protect him on the active roster while coaching up his skills. His domination against 3rd and 4th string talent shows his potential, but Ryan’s statements clearly indicate he has a ways to go before he is ready to take on the league’s elite.
Tomorrow will will be our “Predicting the Thursday Game” column, and either late in the day tomorrow or early Friday, Giants360 will bring you the interviews with the defensive assistant coaches and all the related news, notes and our unique brand of analysis. In the meantime, be sure to follow us on Twitter, @giants360, as all the breaking news is shared there first.