Author Archives: Larry Finklestein

Do you remember when we traded for this running back?

A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, New York Giants General Manager George Young pulled the trigger on a trade with the Houston Oilers for a backup running back named Rob Carpenter.  A fifth year pro, Carpenter became relegated to fullback duties when the Oilers drafted Earl Campbell in 1978.  Apparently the Giants had their eyes on Carpenter for a few years.  He was a good blocker, good runner and had excellent hands.  Perhaps most importantly, he was tough. Carpenter had been averaging 300 yards per season for the Oilers in his 3 + seasons with the team but was deemed expendable in head coach Ed Biles scheme which featured Earl Campbell and Tim Wilson as the blocking back.

I have some not-so-fond memories of this time as a young Giants fan.  I remember full-well hearing Leon Perry’s name being called on third and one.  The result more often than not was Fourth and One. The Giants were forced to punt the ball. (Going for it at that time was all but unheard of).

The Giants traded undisclosed draft picks for Carpenter, thought to have been as low as a third round pick.  As it turned out, the trade was a good one for the Giants.  Lifting up a weak running game that featured Billy Taylor, Doug Kotar and Leon Perry, Carpenter went on to have the best season of his career rushing for 833 yards including 4-100 yard games.

Carpenter led the Giants to their first playoff victory in decades with 33 carries for 161 yards as well as 4 receptions for 32 yards in a 27-21 win over the Philadelphia Eagles. He continued to play for the Giants until 1985.

Fast forward to present day.  The Giants have lost their all-world back Saquon Barkley to a season-ending acl injury.  As if anything more could go wrong in the world this season, the best player on the Giants went down with a major injury in Game 2.  Barkley was the key to the Giants offense.  So heavily relied upon to move the chains for the Giants, his backup, Wayne Gallman was not even activated for the game.

The Giants slept walked through the first half against the Chicago Bears making the Mitch Trubisky-led offense look better than they were. The Bears wide receivers featuring Allen Robinson, Cordarrelle Patterson, Anthony Miller and Darnell Mooney effectively offset the run game led by David Montgomery and Tarik Cohen.  The Bears led the Giants, 10-0 before the Giants’ Daniel Jones threw his first interception of the day. Total yardage thus far in the game was entirely in the Bears favor; 81 yards to the Giants 4.

On their final drive of the first half, Trubisky operated like a surgeon.  Using weapons Darnell Mooney, Javon Wims and Ryan Nall, Trubisky ended the drive with a touchdown pass to Moody over struggling cornerback Corey Ballentine.  Trubisky was 5 of 5 on this drive for 56 yards.  The Giants pass rush on this drive was nowhere to be found.

The Giants, on the other hand, were rumbling, stumbling and fumbling.  Their first three possessions featured a fumble, a punt and an interception before Barkley went down with his season-ending injury. The Giants attempted a 57-yard field goal with 2 seconds left in the half.  The result was a miss. The GMEN had 31 passing yards in the first half.  The score was 17-0 at the half.  For those of you scoring at home, the last time the Bears shutout the Giants in the first half was 1991.  Surprising as it was, the Giants were still in the game.

In the words of NFL coaching immortal Knute Rockne, “build up on your weaknesses until they become your strong points”.  Perhaps these words were among the half time speech given to the team by head coach Joe Judge as the Giants made a valiant effort in the second half.

After an opening drive that included a third down sack of Daniel Jones by the Bears’s Akiem Hicks, the Giants showed some life on the next drive when Julian Love intercepted a Trubisky pass that was tipped by cornerback James Bradberry.  The Giants proceeded to turn the drive into 3 points and they were on the board… score 17-3 in favor of the Bears.

After losing wide receiver Sterling Shepard to what would be a season-ending toe injury, the Giants used an assortment of players including Wide Receiver C.J. Board and Tight End Kaden Smith on an 8-play, 91 yard scoring drive resulting in a Dion Lewis touchdown for the GMEN.  The Giants were back in this one, 17-10.

On the Bears next drive, Giants cornerback James Bradberry proved his worth with an amazing interception of Trubisky.  Using his newest favorite weapons, CJ Board and Kaden Smith, Daniel Jones drove the Giants down to field goal position where new kicker Graham Gano made the score 17-13… game on!

The Bears followed up with a drive that caught the Giants defense off guard with 57 yards on the ground.  They attempted to end it with a long field goal attempt which was no good.  With 2:02 left in the game, the Giants would get the ball back on what would wind up being their final drive of the game.

The GMEN proceeded to keep to keep their drive alive with two fourth down conversions. Finally, with time winding down to 8 seconds left, the GMEN were called for offensive pass interference as Wide Receiver Golden Tate pushed off his defender.  Game over.  The Giants lost 17-13.  Although nobody likes a loss, it is easy to see the positive in the Giants second half performance.  One can’t help but believe that they could have pulled out a victory with additional time on the clock.

Moving forward, the Giants signed free agent running back Devonta Freeman to fill-in for the injured Saquon Barkley.  Freeman is a 28-year old two-time Pro Bowler who can do it all; run, catch and block. Some think Freeman’s best years are behind him.  I ask all fans to remember the Rob Carpenter lesson. An early-mid season key addition to your team can infuse energy and enthusiasm.

Whereas I am not necessarily looking for a playoff visit this year for the 0-2 Giants, I do think that the addition of Freeman will help the GMEN on putting a few more W’s on the board this year. I do see some positive signs on both sides of the ball for the GMEN and loved the second half effort displayed in the Bears game, albeit in a loss.  With the addition of Freeman and continued improvement on both sides of the ball, I think this team might surprise.  Just some thoughts from an ignorantly optimistic Giants fan!

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Giants vs. Steelers: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Before we begin this version of the Sergio Leone classic, allow me to say how great it was to enjoy NFL football this weekend.  In light of the year we are all experiencing, NFL football is a much welcomed diversion from Covid- related news updates.  Amazingly enough, it appears that the NFL has found a way to provide us with a revised version of entertainment, albeit with few-to-no fans in the stadium and sideline personnel wearing masks.  (One recommendation I do have to make; lay off the closeups of Chiefs coach Andy Reid if he continues to wear the plastic mask shield.  His shield was covered in an unappealing moisture fog cloud).  And let’s all keep our fingers crossed that there are no health repercussions as a result of the games being played this past weekend.

Now for the much anticipated season opener between the Giants and the Steelers, whose outcome came at no surprise.  The Steelers won the game, 26-16, but for Giants fans, it could have been worse.  The truth of the matter is that the GMEN were in the game much of the first half and were actually leading the Steelers 10-3 after their third drive of the game.   Then reality set in. There was a tougher, more polished team in this game that was not from New York with a Superbowl-winning quarterback leading them named Ben Roethlisberger. Truth be told, the Steelers were manhandling the Giants on several fronts.  After the Giants held a brief 10-3 lead, an impressive New York drive was stalled when the Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt intercepted a Daniel Jones pass.  Ben’s pass to Ju-Ju Smith Shuster over new Giants cornerback James Bradberry made the score 10-9. The tide had indeed turned.

The Giants were unable to get Saquon Barkley going pretty much the entire game.  Run blocking was  non-existent.  The Steelers stated after the game that their primary mission was to render Saquon Barkley ineffective during the game.  They succeeded in achieving this goal. This is how the Giants linemen fared against the Steelers:

=======================================================================================

Linemen Rankings From Pro Football Focus:

LT-Andrew Thomas:  60.8

LG-Will Hernandez:  46.3

C- Nick Gates:  54.4

RG- Kevin Zeitler:  49.6

RT- Cameron Fleming:  51.6

=====================================================================================

The Giants proceeded to go nowhere on their next possession.  Saquon continued to get stuffed on or near the line of scrimmage. At this point in the game, he had 7 rushes for -6 yards.  This is not a recipe for winning the game.  And when James Connor went down with an injury for the Steelers, his replacement, Benny Snell ran hard on the Giants to the tune of 19 carries for 113 yards.

The Giants and the Steelers exchanged possessions leaving the ball in the hands of the Steelers. Big Ben looked to be in form as he continued to find Ju-Ju Shuster Smith open.  Rookie Darnay Holmes was unable to stay with him. A 13-yard pass from Ben to James Washington made it 16-10 at the half. Ben was 5-7 for 67 yards and a touchdown on this last drive.

With the Giants trailing 16-10 in the third quarter, Daniel Jones ended a heroic 19-play drive that could have put them ahead with an awful interception just outside of the end zone.  This blunder was a key point in the game for the Giants, who never recovered. Pittsburgh took control of the remainder of the game.

The Steelers went on a 9-play 62 yard drive that made the score 19-10, Steelers. The inability of Barkley to gain positive yards on offense combined with the inability to stop linebacker Bud Dupree from getting to Daniel Jones was a theme that remained constant throughout the second half of the game.

The Giants did score again on Darius Slayton’s second touchdown reception of the day. The Steelers added one more score. The final score was 26-16 Steelers.   Now for The Good, The Bad and The Ugly !

(cue music)

The Good

  • The Giants were in this game, for the most part
  • Rookie LT Andrew Thomas was not abused by TJ Watt and Bud Dupree. The remainder of the Giants O-line were.
  • Darius Slayton is a star. He picked up where he left off last season with 2 TD receptions and over 100 receiving yards
  • Both Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence registered sacks in this game
  • LB Blake Martinez was all over the field in this game. As advertised, he recorded 12 tackles (8 solo)
  • We didn’t really expect to win this game, did we?

The Bad

  • Nick Gates struggled in his first attempt at the Center position for the Giants
  • Cam Fleming struggled in his first outing at Right Tackle for the GMEN
  • The Giants run-blocking was non-existent against the Steelers
  • The Giants could not stop the Steelers from converting any key plays, a disturbing issue that                               seems to have carried-forward from last season.
  • Both Cornerbacks James Blackberry and Isaac Yiadom were beaten for touchdowns

The Ugly

  • Saquon Barkely had 15 rushes for 6 yards
  • Evan Engram continued to no-show in key games with 2 receptions for 9 yards. He dropped                          passes and missed blocks.

Next week we are off to Chicago.  It will be interesting to see if  Joe Judge’s young squad can build off this outing against the Steelers.

Huddleball.com welcomes all fan insight and opinions.  If you want to blog with us this season, please email us at huddleball@gmail.com.

So You’re Telling Me There’s Still A Chance ?

Believe it or not, there is… at least on paper.  At 2-4, the New York Giants are only 1 game out of first place in a fairly dismal NFC East.  This is where the optimism ends and reality set in.  Although the GMEN are very much in the race in the NFC East, anyone who has watched the NFL this season realizes that there is a great divide between elite teams and pretenders.  This Giants team falls into this latter category.

Early losses to the Dallas Cowboys and Buffalo Bills were forgotten after the Giants inserted Daniel Jones into the role of starting quarterback. He proceeded to orchestrate an exciting tug-of-war win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and a convincing win over the Washington Redskins.  The legend of “Danny Dimes” was alive and well.  Optimism ran rampant that they had found the steal of the draft; Giant fans began to think that perhaps anything was possible. That was until the Minnesota Vikings entered their building in East Rutherford.

The Vikings defense battered the GMEN, sacking Daniel Jones 4 times and hitting him countless other times.  Welcome to the NFL, lad!  The Vikings were far more physical than the Giants and won the game 28-10 (it could have been worse).  The Vikings had 490 yards on offense including 211 yards on the ground.  Whatever was accomplished in the Giants two previous victories appeared to be gone.

Next up was the New England Patriots who highlighted the Giants deficiencies even more in their 35-14 victory.  The Patriots forced 4 turnovers and dominated the GMEN as the game went on. The legend of “Danny Dimes” took a hit again with a 3 interception game. It didn’t help matters that they were playing against the best defense in the NFL.

Still, there were moments early in the game that reminded us of the magic that occurs when the Giants play the Patriots. When Lorenzo Carter (where has he been?) sacked and stripped the ball from Tom Brady only to be picked up and ran into the end zone by Marcus Golden for a Giants touchdown, flashback memories of Strahan, Tuck and Umenyoura came into the minds of Giants fans everywhere. At least for a little while.

Tom Brady did not have a good first half but did enough to keep the Patriots ahead at the half, 21-14. The second half was another story. Belichek’s defense made their necessary adjustments and dominated the GMEN exposing their injuries to their RB’s and WR’s.  When Jon Hilliman fumbled the ball late in the game which was recovered by Kyle Van Noy and returned for a touchdown, the Giants were down 28-14 and the game was officially over.

The Giants were severely outmatched in this game both on offense and defense; that much was clear. With injuries to several offensive players including running backs and wide receivers, and injuries to their defense at the linebacker position, the outcome of this game was a surprise to nobody.  Was it too much to count on David Mayo to have another 9 tackle performance as he did against the Minnesota Vikings?  (He actually had 13 tackles in this game).

Who, by the way, is David Mayo? David Mayo is the next man up or an undrafted free agent, the Giants answer to a depleted linebacking corps.  The Giants all but neglected the linebacker position relying on often injured Alec Ogletree and BJ Goodson who, by the way was beaten out of a starting job by rookie Ryan Connolly.  Connolly, after playing well the first few games of the season went down with a torn ACL in week 3.  Thus, the Giants had no choice but to turn to free agency using the likes of David Mayo.  Mayo actually had 13 tackles in the Patriots game and has to be credited for being around the ball often.

Linebacker was not the only position that the Giants failed to backup adequately going into the 2019 season.  Against the Patriots, the Giants suited up the feared duo of Jon Hilliman and Elijah Perry at Running Back.  The result of this decision; 16 carries for 52 yards. Hilliman’s late game fumble was likely the reason he was cut promptly after the game to be replaced by veteran running back Buck Allen, a castoff from the Baltimore Ravens.  The Giants better hope to have Saquon Barkley back in week 7 if they are to have any chance in a wide- open NFC East race.

So where do we stand at 2-4 after losing the last two games?  IN THE THICK OF IT IN THE NFC EAST!

Best case scenario:

Looking at the Giants remaining schedule, I believe they can defeat the following teams:   Arizona Cardinals, New York Jets, Miami Dolphins, Washington Redskins

This would give the GMEN  6 wins. Throw in a few possible win games against inconsistent but talented teams such as the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears and the GMEN are 8-8.  Not good enough to get into the playoffs. This, my friends is the best we can hope for I believe.

The Giants will not go further than this until they can beat the more physical teams including Dallas, Philadelphia, Green Bay and others.  Winning the game on both sides of the ball is what is required, even if the magic of Danny Dimes returns anytime soon.

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Good things come in 3’s today for the New York Giants

Three was the magic number of the day, today for the New York Giants as they were able to generate 3 sacks, 3 interceptions and held the Redskins to just 3 points in total on this fourth game of the 2019 season.  Although it did not always have the feel of a great win, the men in blue soundly defeated the Washington Redskins today, 24-3 in front of a home crowd.  This was the second consecutive win for rookie Daniel Jones who went a respectable 22 of  31 for 225 yards.

Jones, however proved that he was human today by throwing two interceptions to Washington’s Quentin Dunbar. He also showed Giants fans what he is capable of doing with his feet as he got out of a multiple defender rush with a scamper which was reminiscent of Eli Manning’s escapism that occurred in Superbowl XLII on February 3, 2008. In it nice to see a level of athleticism for Jones which hasn’t been enjoyed in decades by Giants fans. (The last Giants QB with this degree of mobility was Jeff Hostetler in 1991).  You know how that story ended with a Superbowl win against the Buffalo Bills.

As for the role players on the Giants offense today, Wayne Gallman filled in unspectacularly well for the injured Saquon Barkley rushing 18 times for 63 yards with two touchdowns, one rushing and one receiving. Gallman was also a factor in the passing game making 6 catches for 55 yards.  With over 100 yards from scrimmage rushing and receiving, Gallman’s workhorse performance was instrumental in today’s win.  Sterling Shepard had another strong day contributing 7 receptions for 76 yards. It is starting to appear that Shepard was worth the big money thrown his way after the offseason Beckum Jr. megatrade. Evan Engram contributed to the tune of 4 receptions for 54 yards.

The long awaited debut of Dwayne Haskins at QB for the Washington Redskins occurred just before the half with Haskins completing two first downs on this drive. With nobody open, Haskins showed some ability to scamper by running it down to the 1 yard line. The Redskins had to settle for a field goal on his first drive. The score at the end of the first half:  14-3, Giants.

That drive was as good as it got for Haskins all day. He completed 9 of 17 passes for 107 yards. The highly touted rookie who many thought would be the Giants selection in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft  looked like a rookie. His entrance undoubtedly spells the end for Case Keenum as the Redskins starting QB.

The star of the day was the New York Giants defense.  Any time you hold a team to 3 points in total, your defense usually has something to do with it.  The Giants were strong against both the run and the pass today, holding the Redskins to just 176 yards on offense with 121 passing yards and 55 rushing yards.  It seemed like the Giants secondary were in the right place for the first time all season. Jabril Peppers had a particularly strong day, most notably for picking off Redskin QB Case Keenum and returning it all the way to the house for a pick-6.  Janoris Jenkins also bounced back from a rough day against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with at 2 interception day.

Today’s Giants sack team by committee consisting of Marcus Golden, Oshane Ximines, Tuzar Skipper, and Dexter Lawrence contributed 3 sacks on top of last week’s 4 sacks. Tighter coverage in the Giants secondary and modification in defensive game plan must have contributed to the pressure they were able to generate on the quarterback. Fifth round draft pick Ryan Connelly had another impressive day in the middle of the Giants D with 5 tackles and 1 sack.  He did, however leave the game with a knee injury; severity of injury uncertain.  The last factor helping the Giants win today was the sloppy performance of the Washington Redskins with multiple penalties occurring throughout the game. It was the type of performance that results in head coaches being fired.  Tune in to see what happens in our Nation’s Capital this week.

It is far too early to consider the Giants to be a good team. Many fans would be satisfied with a 2-2 split of the first 4 games.  They play a tough Minnesota Vikings team next week and then the New England Patriots at Foxboro.  They could easily be 2-4 after their first six games.

In order for the Giants to continue their momentum, the must improve each week on both sides of the ball.  This was indeed the case today on Defense.  The offense did what it needed to win today as well.  One has to ask whether the Giants are any closer to competing with a Dallas team who they lost to in Week 1.

The GMEN will be benefitted by the return of veteran wide receiver Golden Tate next week.  Tate should provide a deep threat who is able to complement Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram and Darius Slayton. As long as Daniel Jones continues to improve, and the Giants defense continues to improve, the Giants may make this a three team race in the NFC East.  Stay tuned, keep your seatbelt fastened.  This season is just starting to get good !

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An improbable win for Daniel Jones and the New York Giants

Just as Eli Manning was thrown in the water on November 21, 2004, Daniel Jones was given his first opportunity to start on Sunday, and from the results he did not disappoint! He can pass (23-36 for 336 yards), he can run (4-28) and he can win games in the end regardless of how bad the team around him is playing.  Winning his first game, however, did not come easy.

Much like Game 1 against the Cowboys, the Giants could not stop their opponent on Defense in the first half.  Passes to Tampa Bay Wide Receiver Mike Evans went virtually uncontested (8-190, 23.8 avg). One had to wonder whether the defensive game plan installed for this game was placing too much reliance on the skills of aging cornerback, Janoris Jenkins who, looked old during the game.  Jenkins appeared to be overmatched throughout the first half against Evans. Having no safety playing behind him left him exposed and vulnerable. Again, one had to wonder whether the game plan installed was sound.

It was a strange day for the Giants.  Down 28-10 at the half, only the most fervent believers could forecast that something special was about to happen.  And then it began, on the opening drive of the second half, starting with a crossing route to TE Evan Engram (who had a monster of a game). After the long touchdown to Engram followed by a 2-point conversion, it was a 10 point game.

Enter the defense.  The much maligned defense of James Bettcher began to make plays in the second half.  After allowing 11 drives of 70 yards or more, the Giants forced the first punt of the game for Tampa Bay.  Perhaps the tide was truly turning.

After another long drive by the GMEN capped by a touchdown to Sterling Shepard, the Giants closed the deficit to 28-25.  Daniel Jones looked confident and appeared unflappable at times.  Following a third straight Tampa Bay punt, the Giants pass coverage improved and was much tighter in the second half.

The half was far from one-sided.  The Giants offensive line was repeatedly abused by Tampa Bay linebacker Shaq Barrett, who had his way with lineman Nate Solder to the tune of 4 sacks. He did his best to kill any thoughts about a Giants comeback on this day.  Also notable in the second half was the lack of Saquon Barkley who would experience a high ankle sprain in this game and as a result was not a factor. Wayne Gallman came in as his replacement and was barely serviceable.  A better solution will be required in Barkely’s absence, which is reportedly in the 4-8 week range.

After two more Tampa Bay field goals the Giants were down 31-25.  If there was to be any magic finish for the GMEN, it would have to occur on this drive. Thanks to a long Darius Slayton reception, the GMEN were knocking on the door with the chance to score the go ahead touchdown. And then we were reminded why they drafted this kid. A seven yard scamper on fourth down gave the Giants a 32-31 lead. I need to remind readers that this was not a play that would have been made by Eli Manning. No way, no how.

Still, the game was not won.  Tampa Bay marched back down the field putting their kicker in a good position to win the game.  And then it occurred…wide left. Giants win!  The comeback victory was complete.

GAME BALLS

Daniel Jones

Although this hard fought Giants victory was far from perfect, there are many players to credit for this win, starting of course with the Giants new quarterback, Daniel Jones.  Jones brought a new level of excitement to the team and restored, even if briefly, the notion that winning is again possible.  Jones finished the game 23-36 for 336 yards with 4 TD’s (2 running, 2 passing).

Evan Engram

Engram was a beast and is becoming a true factor in the Giants offense. He had a huge touchdown to open the second half and finished the day with 6 receptions for 113 yards, averaging 18.8 yards with 1 touchdown.

Sterling Shepard

Shepard stepped up big time with several big receptions.  He had 7 catches on the day for 100 yards and 1 touchdown, averaging 14.3 yards per reception.  Keep it up, Sterling. You are filling some big shoes!

Darius Slayton

The rookie made one of the biggest plays of the game in the second half.  He had 3 receptions for 82 yards with a 27.3 average.  Hopefully he will continue to establish himself as a deep threat this season and become a reliable second or third option on offense.

The Giants Defense

Somehow, someway the Giants D got the job done in the second half.  DeAndre Baker was credited with shutting his receiver’s down, and the Giants ensemble of pass rushers including Marcus Golden, Oshane Ximinez, and Dexter Lawrence (5 hurries, 1 sack) provided some legitimate pressure on the quarterback.

Janoris Jenkins was able to salvage a rough day with a win.

It is clear that the Giants have much work to be done ahead of them if they are going to go anywhere this season. But this victory certainly felt good. There is magic in the air and until we are told otherwise, it resides in the hands of #8, Daniel Jones.

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A Giant debacle in Dallas

Noone is saying that the season is over for the New York Giants. Not even close. But after their season opening performance in Dallas last Sunday, you have to be thinking it.  The fact is, the Giants were not competitive against a good Dallas team. I’m not quite ready to annoint this Dallas team as being Superbowl ready, but the ease with which they disposed of the GMEN was quite frankly, embarrassing. The final score of 35-17 did not tell the entire story.

After an auspicious opening drive for the Giants which included a 59-yard run by Saquon Barkley and an early touchdown for the Giants, everything went south from there.  The Giants Defense got on the field and Dallas proceeded to answer with their own touchdown, which would be the first of many.  After stopping the Giants on their next drive, Dallas took control of the game. With no pressure whatsoever from the Giants, Dallas was able to find open receivers all day. Three Dallas wide receivers had 100 or more receiving yards.  Dallas had 5 long drives of 50 yards or more. Giants fans had to be wondering what the defensive game plan was and who were these new players who were so ineffective?  I know that I expected more… much more!

The middle of the field must have looked like Candyland for the Dallas Cowboys. All passes thrown in that direction went virtually uncontested.  The Giants cornerbacks and safeties were nowhere to be found.  With all due respect, the Cowboys were working on the opposite side of Janoris Jenkins, the side that saw Antonio Hamilton and DeAndre Baker (the third number one pick selected in the first round by the GMEN).

I know that Hamilton had been recognized as an outstanding Special Teams player for his former employer, the Oakland Raiders.  But to have him cover the Cowboys receivers was a nightmare. He was playing 5 yards off any receiver he covered and could be seen running in the direction of Dallas receivers all afternoon. Hamilton should not be used in the starting defense. Surely the Giants have better players than him!

Baker wasn’t much better.  Quite frankly, he looked lost.  I know he came into this game slightly injured, but this was a college player who did not give up many touchdowns.  Expectations for him were (and hopefully still are) sky high.  This was not an auspicious start.

As for the Giants other first round picks, the story was equally as discouraging.  Rookie Defensive Lineman Dexter Lawrence was supposed to provide pressure up the middle. He did not.  His name was rarely mentioned during the game. Other linebackers and defensive ends expected to make an impact including Lorenzo Carter, Marcus Golden and Oshane Ximinez were also nowhere to be found. No sacks, no pressure.  C’mon James Bettcher, you have to dial up something better than this. How about a safety blitz or 3?

By the way,the Giants star of the preseason, first round pick Quarterback Daniel Jones, entered the game during garbage time. After a few pass completions for short yardage, Jones was welcomed to the big leagues as the ball was stripped from him.

There were some positives on this day for the Giants but unfortunately not many.  The Giants offensive line appeared to be worlds ahead of where it was last year.  Eli Manning had time to pass and the line did some run blocking as well, even with an injury to highly prized right guard, Kevin Zeitler.  Saquon Barkely had his stardard 100 + yard rushing and receiving and appeared to be underutilized during the game.  Likely a consequence of the fact that Cowboys were on offense most of the game dominating the time of possession.

Other positives for the GMEN; Evan Engram started to look good.  If the Giants are going to have any success this season, they will undoubtedly need more of a contribution from Engram. Many of Engram’s yards appeared to have come during garbage time. Getting him involved early and often is essential as he is a wide receiver in disguise on a team that does not have many reliable receiving threats..

The Giants have an opportunity to right their ship in week 2 against the Buffalo Bills.  Not to be taken lightly, the Bills  present their own threats but this much is clear; THE GIANTS MUST FIND A PASS RUSH!. If they don’t receivers will get open and there understaffed, undermanaged or underskilled defensive backfield will get burned repeatedly. And stick to the game plan of offense; give the ball to Barkley and find their ensemble of open receivers including Engram l to keep the Bills off balance.

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Entering the season on a positive note

The New York Giants are in the unenviable position of being a team being overlooked this season. Many prognosticators have them ranked as low as 28th out of the 32 teams in the NFL.  It appears that there is only one direction they can go, and I believe that is up!

The cause of their ranking is because of fear of the unknown.  Like in the stock market, professionals like certainty. There has never been less certainty than with this current Giants team. There are question marks in just about every area of this team and that includes coach and general manager.

At the close of the Giants vs. Patriots game on Thursday, August 29, backup Quarterback Kyle Lauletta threw a last ditch effort into the end zone which was caught by wide receiver Alonzo Russell, his second of the game.  This reception won the game. Euphoria erupted. The players stormed the field.  You would have thought this was a game 7 World Series win, or perhaps another Superbowl win over the Patriots. Sure, this had the makings of a fun sports movie; perhaps Any Given Sunday or a Friday Night Lights episode.  Giants management proceeded to reward Lauletta, Russell, as well as TJ Jones, their leading receiver during the 2019 preseason, by cutting all 3 of them.

Russell’s preseason stats were 6 receptions for 131 yards with 2 TD’s.  He wasn’t even their best receiver in the preseason. TJ Jones caught 12 receptions for 146 yards and 2 TD’s as well. As for the quarterback responsible for mopping up many of these preseason games, Kyle Lauletta completed 37 of 62 passes for 453 yards and 4 TD’S.  Hardly Tom Brady-like numbers, but certainly worthy of third QB consideration. No such outcome. He too was cut and did not make the final 53.

The NFL is a cruel league. That much is clear.  Maybe I am just expressing my sour grapes because I have admittedly developed a liking for Russell, who is affectionately referred to as “Zo” in postgame locker room celebrations.  Did I mention that there were 4 of these wins this preseason?  That’s right, the Giants won all 4 of their preseason games.

These wins are not the basis of my optimism for the upcoming season.  My confidence starts on the offensive side of the ball with a talent like Saquon Barkley.  Add an improved offensive line to the equation and you are likely to see extended drives that result in points.  Eli Manning is 38 years young and still appears to be able to manage the offense efficiently for now.  The Giants should be able to score points.  That’s right, you heard it here, the Giants offense should be improved even without a playmaker like O’dell Beckum Jr.  Dare we talk about Daniel Jones at all in this blog? I guess we will save him for the future.  After all, he will be doing little besides holding a clipboard, right?

Defense is another story but I will try to dwell on the positives.  The committee consisting of Lorenzo Carter, Marcus Golden, Oshane Ximinez and Dexter Lawrence should be able to get to the quarterback.  Perhaps they will not be Strahan, Tuck, Umenyoura and Kiwanuka immediately, but they should be able to make some plays.  I am expecting some big pressure up the middle by the rookie Lawrence, we they invested a first round pick on.

The defensive backfield stands a chance to be improved as well.  DeAndre Baker, if healthy will make a nice pairing with Janoris Jenkins.  This guy does not give up many completions, especially not touchdowns.  Add some other talented players into the mix including Sam Beal, Julian Love and Grant Haley along with what should be better safety play by Bethea and Peppers and James Bettcher’s defense could return to the outstanding rankings he experienced in Arizona.

I know the preseason is for meaningless but when you have Saquon Barkley on your team and some talented players on defense, you might be pleasantly surprised.  I’m not picking the GMEN to win it all, but with what appears to be a fairly soft schedule, a 9-7 record could be within their grasp.

Please bring on the regular season!

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Were the ’85 Chicago Bears on the field in Dallas last week?

For anyone who watched last Sunday’s matchup between the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys, it would have appeared so.  The Cowboys defensive line played like the ’85 Bears registering 6 sacks and several pressures.  Eli Manning couldn’t throw deep to any of his receivers, rendering O’Dell Beckum Jr. (4-51), Sterling Shepard (3-24) and Evan Engram (7-67) largely ineffective… or so it felt.  His only option was short passes to Saquon Barkley, who set a Giants record for receptions by a running back (14-80).

Regarding all of the offseason talk of General Manager Dave Gettleman’s  offensive line building, the GMEN’s hog mollies looked a lot more like mollies than hogs. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist).  At the end of the game, the final score was 20-13.  The O-line for the Giants was so dominated by the Dallas defense that the score might have just as well been 48-0.

Kudos to Dallas Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli, who clearly deserved the game ball.  Marinelli out coached Giants coach Pat Shurmer and Offensive Line coach Hal Hunter.   Simple D-line stunts and cornerback blitzes wreaked havoc on the GMEN’s offense almost the entire game.  Eli took so many hits that he was probably rethinking his retirement with this current squad of protectors.  It appears that it will be a long season for the GMEN.

The running game was all but entirely negated as well.  Saquon Barkely had 11 carries for 28 yards.  Any gains he achieved was the result of him making multiple defenders miss tackles. There is no run blocking to be found.  Barkley is an exciting rookie with tremendous talent but can’t be expected to do everything himself.  The Giants are averaging 0.8 yards before the running back is touched, ranking last in the NFL in this statistic.  The NFL average is 2.4 yards before contact.  As much as we want Barkley to be the reincarnation of Barry Sanders, we can’t expect this to happen. At least not overnight.

Many are to blame for this monumental Giants collapse.  Let’s start with management who continues to back an aging, immobile pocket passer.   It is easy for Giants fans to drool when watching Pat Mahomes, Baker Mayfield or Sam Darnold play the quarterback position.  These stars can evade defenders and still make plays downfield.  Eli’s days of finding David Tyree downfield are likely to be long gone. Fans and the analyst community are likely to believe there is cause to reevaluate the Giants decision to pass on a QB with the second pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.   While Eli Manning has several tools on his offense that other NFL teams would kill for, the question is whether he will have time to get the ball to them.  He also has difficulty beating linebackers who can cover.when he actually has time to find a receiver in the middle of the field.

As for the coaching, let’s not give up on Pat Shurmer and company yet.  It is clearly too soon for that. He has not lost the locker room as was the case with the Giants previous coaching mistake, Ben McAdoo. He has simply lost 2 games and looked awful in one of them against a team that many thought the Giants would beat.  Offensive line coach is another story. Simple stunts and cornerback blitzes can’t nullify your offense as was the case against the Cowboys.  Again, this was NOT the ’85 Chicago Bears defense that was on the field although at times, you wouldn’t have know it.  It is time for both Pat Shurmer and offensive line coach Hal Hunter to step-up their game!

Then there was fullback Shane Smith.  Or should I say ex-New York Giant full back, Shane Smith.  Smith was cut this week after missing 2 key blitz pickups against the Cowboys.  A notable statistic from the Giants game…Smith was solely responsible for 1/3 of the Giants 6 sacks.  Smith was released on Thursday following his horrendous performance which contributed largely to the Giants offensive collapse.

Still, you can’t blame a loss like this on one player. You have to site management for believing Eli could continue to thrive with this offensive line protecting him.  This is naïve or wishful thinking at best.

What Can Be Done Now?   

Any team that plays the New York Giants is going to follow Rod Marinelli’s game plan, bringing pressure early and often from several positions.  Why would you not?  The Giants must fill their holes as quickly as possible. The Giants are going to have to anticipate blitz-happy defenses and find a way to get the ball to their major weapons.

All hope is not lost at 0-2, but one can only hope that we have seen the worse of the New York Giants in 2018. It’s time for a coaches meeting that will not only identify team weaknesses but resolve or make wholesale changes.  Players that can be obtained are usually available for a reason.  Did I actually hear Will Beatty’s name being bandied about again as an offensive line addition?  Didn’t we already give him a second chance last season?

It will be interesting to see what changes are made to this team in Week 3!

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These are a few of my favorite things…

If there is any satisfaction to be gained by Giants fans during the 2018 season, it will most likely result from the plays coming from several offensive weapons.  That’s right, I said offense. A team rich in the tradition of solid if not spectacular defenses, this year’s New York Giants feature some of the games most exciting stars who are certain to win over fans who are still smarting from last season’s 3-13 finish.

Specifically, I have four players in mind that could change the outcome of a game.  Let’s start with my new favorite player, O’dell Beckum Jr.  95 million dollars (65 million guaranteed) will do a lot to improve a player’s attitude.  The Giants showed that they are indeed all-in regarding OBJ. I believe that he feels the same way.  Prior to the opening kickoff at Met Life Stadium last week, O’Dell was sprinting in front of the rest of the team trying to fire up the crowd. I love it. And I love what the most exciting receiver in the game can do for us when he is healthy.  I am expecting a monster season out of him, one for the record books.  Against the number 1 ranked Jacksonville Jaguar defense, Beckum caught 11 passes for 111 yards. Paltry numbers for him. And Eli missed him on what would certainly have been a touchdown.  Let’s see what he can do against bad defenses.

Now let’s discuss the rookie phenom Saquon “Say Gone” Barkley. That is correct, I said phenom. With no blocking last week against a stout Jaguars line, Barkley had 18 carries for 106 yards, a 5.9 average per carry.  Barkley will do that to you. Sure, prior to his 68 yard run he was bottled up with a 2 + yard per carry average, but he always has the ability, with or without blocking to spring a long one. Watching Barkley run or catch a pass, you believe that he can score a touchdown anytime he touches the ball. The last Giants player to have that type of explosiveness, let me think, was noone. I can’t remember another back with the agility and breakaway speed that Barkley possesses. Sorry David Wilson, sorry Tiki Barber.  Did I mention that Barkley can also catch and block?  Just wait until the Giants utilize all of his tools.

The third weapon that I have in mind could just as easily qualify as a second receiver alongside Beckum. I am referring to none other than last year’s first round selection Evan Engram.  Engram is a modern day version of Jordan Reed, the pass catching tight end who thrived on the Washington Redskins. If Engram can stay healthy, he has the potential to have the impact of a Jimmy Graham or even a Rob Gronkowski.  He has all of the tools to have a breakout season. Fingers crossed on the durability issue.

Weapon number 4 is wide receiver Sterling Shepard.  Against the Jaguars last week, Shepard caught 5 passes for 48 yards, an average of 9.6 yards per catch.  A very talented outside or slot receiver, Shepard will have to accept any balls not thrown to weapons 1-3.  Trust me, he will be very useful this season.

Reality Check

I have made it clear as to what I love about this team. I would be remiss if I didn’t address the unknown.  If you believe it is appropriate to refer to this season as a rebuilding or transition season (I prefer to view last season as an aberration), then we must be honest about a few things.

The offensive line could not block for Saquon last week. Granted it was only game 1 and they did play the number one ranked defense in the NFL last season.  The O-line needs time to gel.  Although they should improve game-by-game, I would not be surprised to see substitutions or replacements on the line.  Both tackles had poor games.  Fans are already calling to replace Right Tackle Ereck Flowers. If he continues to falter at this position, he could see the bench or even be released. Management owes him nothing and they have already shown (Jason Pierre Paul) that they are not afraid to break from the past.  Eli Manning was sacked twice against the Jaguars and hurried repeatedly. The offensive line has to do better if the GMEN are going to win games.

As for the defense, it is hard to condemn a team for only giving up 20 points (7 of those points came on an Eli Manning deflection). The Secondary played well, led by Janoris “Jackrabbit” Jenkins and Eli Apple.  Curtis Riley played competently alongside defensive captain Landon Collins.

The run stoppers did their job led by Damien “Snacks” Harrison who had 6 tackles. Granted, Leonard Fournette left the game early with a hamstring injury but they played well against his worthy backup, T.J. Yeldon.  The GMEN had only one quarterback sack but that number will improve when star pass rusher Olivier Vernon returns to the lineup in week 2 vs. the Cowboys. If he is unable to play, perhaps James Bettcher’s defense should utilize more blitzing from promising rookies Lorenzo Carter and B.J. Hill.

The glass is clearly half-full in my view. The GMEN lost by 5 points to a Jaguars team that was one half away from going to the Superbowl in 2017.  Time to get on the winning side this week and beat a Dallas team that is now Bryant and Witten-less and does not appear to be as scary as in past seasons.

On a final note, as the song goes… when the final buzzer sounds, when the loss stings, when I’m feeling sad, I simply remember my favorite things and then I don’t feel so bad!

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My thoughts about the GMEN after the first two preseason games

The 2018 New York Giants are likely to improve upon their 3-13 record from 2017. I might not be sticking my neck out very far in making this not-so- bold prediction, but there is much to support this thinking.  Although it is too early to tell whether this is a 6-win team or a team capable of winning 9 or more games and potentially making the playoffs, roster changes and the return of star power from injury alone will make this team better. Let’s begin with the offense.

This offense has star power. Saquon Barkely, the first round pick of the Giants and the second overall player taken in the 2018 NFL draft, should be a stud.  He’s a 1000-yard rusher behind a bad offensive line and possibly a 1500-yard rusher if this revamped offensive line gels as quickly as hoped. Did I mention he is a talented receiver and blocker as well?  He is one of several players on this offense who can excel at YAC-ing. (That is, getting yards after the catch). Remember, YAC-ing is a welcomed occurrence in the NFL;  and a bad thing to happen at a New Year’s Eve party.

Few players in the league are as dynamic and dangerous with their hands on the ball as wideout  O’Dell Beckum Jr. The good news for Giants fans is that he appears to be back in form.  Sterling Shepard , another Wide Receiver is a rising talent who can also turn a difficult catch into a big-play. The slot receiver, or third receiver depending upon where they move players around to appears to be Cody Lattimer who was acquired from Denver in the offseason.  Although he flashes on occasion, the jury is still out on him.

Then there is Evan Engram, the Giants 2017 number one draft pick. He’s a wide receiver at the Tight End position.  Think Jimmy Graham or Jordan Reed.  This guy is a playmaker. Let see how good he can be after having an outstanding rookie season.

Now let’s address the revamped offensive line.  Yes, the GMEN spent a lot of money on Nate Solder, the former left tackle for the New England Patriots. I suppose they were tired of hearing the boos for former left tackle Ereck Flowers and chose the best left tackle available in free agency. Who can blame them?

Solder is not an elite player. He gets beaten and looks very ordinary at times. But he is a leader in the lockeroom and should make a big difference protecting Eli’s blind side. Insert rookie Will Hernandez at left guard. Think Chris Snee with slightly worse feet.  Big, nasty mauler who should be able to create running  lanes for Saquon.  At center, John Halapio appears to be the choice over the Canadian, Brent Jones. Time will tell who wins the center position but it looks like it’s Halapio’s job to lose. Patrick Omaneh is the right guard who has played for Giants GM Dave Gettleman in Carolina.  He is somewhat of a journeyman but should still be able to open holes for the rushing attack.   Last but not least, is right tackle Ereck Flowers. It might be a reach for the Giants to think he can perform on the right side better than he did on the left. I don’t blame the Giants for giving him a shot at another position.

And then there is Eli, who looks like he can still hit the open man when protection is present.  Granted, he is closer to the end of his career than the beginning, but he should benefit greatly from the addition of Barkley as a safety valve who can run, catch and perhaps most importantly, block.  Keeping Eli vertical will be essential for having a bounceback season.

On defense, the GMEN unloaded salary in the form of Jason Pierre Paul and let some of their linebackers and defensive backs with big salaries find other teams in free agency.  So why do I believe their defense stands a chance to be better than they have in the past few seasons?

James Bettcher, new defensive coordinator for the New York Giants excels with the ensemble cast theory. He has crafted three top- 6 defenses in the past 3 seasons.  This year could follow suit. He has acquired a group of players in addition to starter Olivier Vernon, who can rush the quarterback including Kareem Martin and Josh Mauro (players he had in Arizona) as well as Connor Barwin and rookie Lorenzo Carter.  Bettcher brings the pass rush early and often.  In the second preseason game, you saw sacks coming from various players including rookie Lorenzo Carter.  Very encouraging.

In the secondary, Cornerback Janoris Jenkins (aka Jackrabbit) and safety Landon Collins are pro bowl players.  Let’s hope that the players the Giants put next to them can rise to the occasion as well.

It might take the Rod Marinelli-like ensemble themed defense a few weeks to bear fruit, but I think they have the potential to be good.  If the offense lives up to it’s potential and the line can open up some running lanes for Saquon as well as protect Eli, the GMEN could be back in contention for the NFC East lead.  Stay tuned.

Larry Finklestein is a self proclaimed ignorantly optimistic New York Giants fan.

 

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