Team Giants


Special Report

Sent: 10-08-14

Dave Klein was the Giants' beat writer for The Star-Ledger from 1961 to 1995.
He is the author of 26 books and he is one of only three sportswriters to have covered all the Super Bowls. Dave has allowed TEAM GIANTS to reprint some of his articles.


By Aaron Klein
Come from behind victory. That may be the most important phrase to keep in mind in the aftermath of the Giants' victory over Atlanta, the one that vaulted the team to a 3-2 record with a pair of division games on the road up next.

Here's another: Contain your excitement.

When the season is done, this victory may not be viewed as a modern-day "4th-and-17" moment, though this was still a turning point. We've all been waiting for the new offense to come together, waiting to see if Jason Pierre-Paul could become a leader on the field, if the defense could pick up where it left off and if Eli Manning was done or not.

What we saw Sunday was the team coming together and fighting back for the victory. Sure, they stomped on a hapless Washington team in Week 4, but that only showed what happens when everything goes right. Things went wrong this week. There were fumbles and incompletions. There was a more than talented offense on the other side of the field. There was a 10-point deficit with 20 minutes left to play.

Come from behind victory.

Still, there's a long way to go. Don't start looking into the what-ifs, like, What if the playoffs started today? Or, What if they beat the Eagles next week? If the Giants don't win another game this season, they'll be 3-13. Again, there's a long way to go, but they looked good Sunday. Those Eagles, who represent the Giants' next opponent, came from behind to beat Washington on Sunday, a bit of a surprise that since Philly seems to have been handed the NFC East title before the season began. In fact, the Dallas Cowboys are tied for first place in the division with a 4-1 record. The Giants play Dallas in two weeks on the road.

Contain your excitement.

So, how does this game break down in terms of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly concept? Here you go.

Right, the ability to come from behind in the fourth quarter: In a league where the old, clichéd, "Any given Sunday" mantra remains true, Atlanta is a talented group despite the drubbing suffered against Minnesota in Week 4. Sure, they were down three starting offensive linemen and a starting safety. They have Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Roddy White, Stephen Jackson and Devin Hester on offense, Kroy Biermann and Osi Umenyiora on defense.

They have the ability to score big and control games. So, when the Giants found themselves down by 10 points midway through the second half, you could hear the whispers, the ones saying that the two-game winning streak was a mirage, that they were still the same Giants who were destroyed in the first two weeks of the season. That they are all hype. Instead, the Giants quieted those whispers and instead kept their heads in the game, staying within their game plan and fought back to win a big conference game.

Eli Manning: Over the last three winning weeks, Manning has eight touchdown passes, one rushing touchdown, three sacks and just one interception. He rated out at 104.9 percent for the Atlanta game and currently sits at 95.6 percent even with those first two disastrous games to open the season. Against Atlanta, Manning's favorite receiver, tight end Larry Donnell, was taken out of the game by the Falcons with double- and triple-coverage.

Instead, he found other open receivers, like rookie Odell Beckham Jr., Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle and more. The system, which now seems to be falling into place – I still say it should have been ready Week 1, but what do I know? – is built to spread the ball around and take advantage of the open doors the defense offers in a given game.

Andre Williams: The rookie running back saw increased action in the second half after Rashad Jennings left the game with a knee injury. The fourth-round pick out of Boston College was an impressive, big presence (beastly even) and tough to tackle with 65 yards and a touchdown on 20 bruising carries as well as a pair of receptions for 17 yards on two targets. Oh, his three-yard touchdown run? Williams plowed through and over linebacker Paul Worrilow with violence.

Williams has big job ahead as Jennings will be out for two to three weeks with a sprained Medial Collateral Ligament (non-surgical). The team is confident in him, though the Giants elevated Michael Cox from the practice squad as insurance, and you should expect to see at least a spattering of regular offensive action for Peyton Hillis next Sunday night in Philly.

Jason Pierre-Paul, Jonathan Hankins and the defensive line: Pierre-Paul notched five tackles, a defensed pass, a pair of quarterback hits and a ton of pressure Sunday, playing at 100 percent all the way and finally, it seems, quelled the concern that he wasn't his 2011 self anymore. Hankins just keeps getting better and is quite a presence inside the trenches. For his effort, he scored a sack, four tackles (one for a loss) and plenty of pressure as well.

Once the second half began, the line really stepped on the gas, with Robert Ayers Jr., Matthias Kiwanuka and Cullen Jenkins adding to Ryan's woes.

Odell Beckham Jr.: He got his first catch in the first quarter and that was it for the half, but by the time the game was over, it was apparent that not only did he not need any more time to get comfortable, but that the rookie was well worth his first round selection. By the end of the season, you'll probably forget that, too. Beckham Jr. adds size, speed and athleticism the team hasn't seen in a long time, going back to the early career of Hakeem Nicks ... or is OBJ going to be better? It's one game, you say. Right.

Last year, when Nicks mentally checked out, the team expected Randle to take over as the big No. 1. It didn't happen. Why do you think they left this linebacker or that tight end on the board and took Beckham Jr. with the 12th pick of the first round in May? OBJ is what Randle was supposed to be. There, it had to be said by someone.

Offensive line: The group was highly effective in both the running and passing games. The unit gave Manning plenty of time and protection, yielding just one coverage sack all day. Extra points for rookie left guard Weston Richburg right tackle Justin Pugh, left tackle Will Beatty and center J. D. Walton.

Jacquian Williams: A baker's dozen 13 tackles (nine solo, four assists). ‘Nuf said.

Trumaine McBride: Solid at the nickel corner spot against a variety of Atlanta weapons. Quietly, he notched seven solo tackles and a forced fumble and didn't make many (any?) mistakes. Again, solid.

Red-zone defense: The unit held Atlanta twice in goal-to-go situations in the first half, forcing the Falcons to go with a pair of field goals instead. That's an eight-point swing (assuming PATs). That the team fell behind, 20-10, in the third quarter was a result of a single missed tackle by Antrel Rolle that opened the entire field for speedster Antone Smith on a swing pass under heavy blitz pressure that left a wide open green pasture over which Smith cut a path to the end zone. Otherwise, that eight-point Red Zone swing would have been the difference.

Punt and kick coverage units: Well, good enough, at least. Hester accumulated yardage and affected the field position, but the strategy of keeping punts away from him, or at least making him work to get the ball, was successful. He didn't score or manage any return for more than 25 yards.

Run defense: Should we be concerned? Probably not, but Jackson's first-quarter touchdown run capped a strong Atlanta drive and exposed some defensive problems. The unit was blown off the ball and blocked perfectly on his 10-yard score. The play was a reminder that there are several good running backs still to face this season, like Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy next week, Dallas' DeMarco Murray the week after and Seattle's Marshawn Lynch and San Francisco's Frank Gore after the bye.

Minor injury concerns: Losing Jennings and again playing without middle linebacker Jon Beason is a concern with Philadelphia and Dallas coming up on the schedule before the Week 8 bye. One might assume that each will remain out of action until after the break. Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has been nursing an ankle injury and that might be a problem down the road. Though Prince Amukamara is fine, DR-C's backup is Zach Bowman and he's just not as talented.

Rueben Randle: Well, he was not bad, since he caught Manning's first touchdown pass and finished with four receptions and 33 yards, but he was targeted 10 times in the game. In fairness, one target was an end zone catch that was ruled out of bounds. Conversely, he seemingly turned the wrong way on a fade pass late in the third quarter, risking a near interception in the process.

Still, the Giants need Randle to be a reliable receiver, not a home run hitter who strikes out too often. Remember Dave Kingman? Like that. He can still scare the defense with his size and range, but we are wondering when he will truly break out. He was born for this offense, yet there is still a sore lack of separation.

Kick return game: A fumble each for Quintin Demps and Preston Parker were only part of the problems. The kick return unit overall has been ineffective, creating little if any room and seemingly moving at half speed. Punt returns were only a little better, but over the course of 16 games, winning battle for field position is crucial.

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