New York Giants: 2013 Week 8 NYG at PHI

New York Giants defensive players would say when it was all over that they were relieved to see Eagles quarterback Michael Vick leave the game in favor of Matt Barkley, but it sure didn't look that way at the beginning. Barkley was working his way down the field in the final two minutes of the first half and looked as though he was about to score a touchdown that would have cut the Giants' lead to 12-7 at the half. At the very least, the Eagles appeared assured of a field goal when a 14-yard Barkley pass to Jason Avant set them up with a first-and-goal from the 2-yard line with 1:23 left on the clock.

But instead of handing the ball to the league's leading rusher and trying to grind out those final 2 yards with a couple of safe runs, Eagles coach Chip Kelly instead had the rookie Barkley attempt a bizarre-looking goal-line pass play. And the result was exactly what the Giants' defense needed.

Cornerback Terrell Thomas was the one who got into the backfield, and for a few seconds it appeared as though Thomas' fellow former USC Trojan would elude him. Barkley rolled out to his left looking for someone open in the end zone, but Thomas stuck with him and was able to slap the ball out of Barkley's hand as he brought him down for the sack. The ball scuttled toward the sideline as Giants linebacker Jacquian Williams leaped over Thomas and Barkley and managed to corral the ball just before it rolled out of bounds. The Giants had the ball and the Eagles' scoring threat was over.

"I thought he was going to get away from me, but thank god I was able to get a hand on it," Thomas said. "Great play by Jacquian to keep his arm in bounds."

Probably the play that kept the game from slipping away from the Giants.

PHILADELPHIA -- There is a fantasy and a reality about the current state of the New York Giants' season. The fantasy was getting its fuel from a back room in the visitors locker room at Lincoln Financial Field in the moments that followed the Giants' 15-7 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.

As the team dressed and headed for the buses, a small group of players was watching the division-leading Dallas Cowboys fall to 4-4 with a last-minute loss to the Detroit Lions. There was some hooting and cheering, but it was subdued, because the reality is that this isn't December and the Giants' record is still a miserable 2-6. To their credit, the Giants continue to seem rooted in the reality.

"The only time that will mean something is if we go on an eight-game win streak after the bye and end up 10-6," Giants defensive end Justin Tuck said of the Dallas result and the NFC East standings. "We've got to put the blinders on. We're in a hole. We've still got a long way to go. We can't worry about what Dallas does or what anybody does."

That's reality, and these Giants are extremely good at staying grounded in it. When they were 0-2 and 0-4 and 0-6, they were always the same -- unfailingly professional and focused on the game at hand. Now that they've won two in a row and are 2-6, they're not going to change that about themselves. It's what sustains them.

"The one thing I understand about being a New York Giant is you have to be even-keel through the great days and the bad days," Tuck said.

To that end, there is some positive reality to the current state of the Giants' season. The defense is playing extremely well. You can argue that the past two games have been against teams with astoundingly bad quarterback situations and that things will look different once the Giants start playing the Green Bays and Seattles and Detroits on their second-half schedule. But you can't win tomorrow's game today, and the reality is that the Giants have done a lot of things well the past two weeks against the Vikings and the Eagles.

After an Oct. 10 loss in Chicago dropped them to 0-6, the Giants' defensive players met with their coaches to discuss some new ideas. Players said Sunday that the meeting was an open and frank one in which players offered suggestions about everything from changing coverages to simplifying the pass rush. They all seem to agree it has helped.

[+] EnlargeLinval Joseph and Matt Barkley
Chris Faytok/The Star-Ledger/USA Today SportsLinval Joseph notched one of the Giants' four sacks.
"Just getting together and getting on the same page," safety Antrel Rolle said. "A lot of speaking to each other as men. Players trusting coaches, coaches trusting players. And I think that has showed up in our performance."

The reality is a four-sack Sunday by a team that had only six sacks all season coming in. Three turnovers forced. LeSean McCoy, the league's leading rusher, held to 48 yards on 15 carries.

The reality is the impact of middle linebacker Jon Beason, who came over in an early-October trade with the Panthers and has rapidly emerged as a leader and star at a critical position they'd been overlooking. It is a reality that the Giants' defense has not allowed a point since the Chicago game, and that Eli Manning hasn't thrown an interception since that game, either. The reality is that the Giants are playing much better now than they were when they were losing their first six games.

"This definitely is a huge boost to their confidence," coach Tom Coughlin said. "It reinforces what we are doing, obviously. And then two wins in a row, we're happy to have that."

That's the extent of the current reality, and make no mistake. You are welcome to look at the standings, see the Cowboys only two games in front and make your own hopeful assumptions about what might be if the Giants continue to play well and no one in the division can keep themselves above .500. But that's all still fantasy.

The Giants are still a last-place team with a half-season to go and major problems on the offensive line, among other places. They're still a sloppy team that commits too many penalties and doesn't make enough big plays on offense. And while you can argue that the division is lousy this year, everybody in it is still ahead of them in the standings. That's reality.

But there's nothing wrong with a little fantasy as a means of sustenance in tough times. The Giants have played much better the last two weeks, and their reward is a pair of wins and an improved sense of confidence and self-worth. And when you have that, it's a lot more fun to mix in a little fantasy every now and then.

Peyton Hillis looks like a helper

October, 27, 2013
PHILADELPHIA -- Peyton Hillis' 70 rushing yards on 20 carries Sunday isn't exactly an eye-popping stat, but it's more than satisfactory for a New York Giants' run game that has ranked at or near the bottom of the league all season long. Mix in Michael Cox's 19 yards on nine carries and the team very nearly got to 3.0 yards per rush for the game. Again, nothing special, but a significant upgrade over the state of the run game in September, when it was basically crippling the offense.

"I think I'm a good fit here, and whatever it is they want me to do, I'm going to do it," Hillis said after the game. "I'm grateful for the opportunity."

It came because of injuries to David Wilson, Andre Brown, Brandon Jacobs and Da'Rel Scott, but the Giants are glad they found Hillis at the bottom of that pile. Not only is he banging out two- and three-yard gains that allow them to feel they're balancing their offense, he's also helping in the passing game -- as a receiver out of the backfield and as a blitz-pickup running back in pass protection. Those two aspects of his game are critical in helping quarterback Eli Manning feel more comfortable than he felt earlier in the season.

"I think we need to get in better position and continue to work hard to open up some more holes on the offensive line to be able to run the ball better," Manning said. "I have to do a better job seeing the clock and not making us rush through things on offense. I think Cox ran the ball really well and has done a nice job."

Work in progress, this running game. And with Brown eligible to return from his broken leg in Week 10 and Jacobs presumably over his hamstring injury at some point in the future, their options in the run game could be expanding soon. Wilson isn't even officially out for the season with his neck injury. The Giants aren't a running team and won't be anytime soon. But at least what they have in the run game now is representative, where it wasn't before.

Locker Room Buzz: New York Giants

October, 27, 2013
PHILADELPHIA -- Observed in the locker room after the New York Giants' 15-7 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles:

Schadenfreude: A group of Giants watched the end of the Cowboys-Lions game, in which Dallas blew a late lead and fell to 4-4, leaving the Giants just two games back in the NFC East standings. There was an audible cheer and laughter from the back room in which they were watching, though the party line in the interviews was that they weren't worrying about other teams' games. "We've got to put the blinders on," Justin Tuck said. "We're in a hole. We've still got a long way to go. We can't worry about what Dallas does or what anybody does."

My bad: Tom Coughlin said Antrel Rolle apologized to him immediately following the 15-yard penalty Rolle drew for a group celebration after his first-quarter interception. Rolle said he felt it best to get to Coughlin before Coughlin could get to him because "it was a bonehead move on my part, and it won't happen again."

Good to see you: Linval Joseph said he "almost" sacked Michael Vick a couple of times early, but his actual sack came later in the game after the Eagles had changed quarterbacks. "I'm glad it was Matt Barkley back there and not Vick," Joseph said. "Vick's too fast."

Rapid Reaction: New York Giants

October, 27, 2013

PHILADELPHIA -- A few thoughts on the New York Giants' 15-7 victory against the Philadelphia Eagles:

What it means: The Giants have won two games in a row for the first time since Weeks 7 and 8 of last season. This was their first road win since Oct. 28, 2012, in Dallas. Their defense hasn't allowed a touchdown since Week 6 in Chicago. And Eli Manning has played two full games without throwing an interception after throwing 15 in his first six. The Giants also picked up four sacks of Eagles quarterbacks Sunday, a stunning number considering they had a league-low six sacks as a team coming into the game and only nine sacks in their past 12 games dating back to last season. They have played teams the past two weeks that have major quarterback issues, but give the Giants' defense credit for taking advantage of their opponents' problems.

Stock Watch: Peyton Hillis: up. With Brandon Jacobs inactive again, Hillis got the bulk of the workload at running back for the second week in a row. Hillis isn't a very dynamic runner, but he's an asset in the passing game as a receiver out of the backfield and as a blocker in pass protection. With Andre Brown due back after the bye, it'll be interesting to see how things get divided in the backfield.

Turning it over: Another thing with which the Giants' defense has struggled this season is forcing turnovers. But the first two they forced Sunday -- an Antrel Rolle interception of Michael Vick and Jacquian Williams' recovery of Terrell Thomas' strip-sack of Matt Barkley -- were critical. And the third -- Will Hill's interception with 13 seconds to go -- sealed the game.

Eventful day: Rolle had a sack and an interception and recovered an onside kick in the fourth quarter after the Eagles cut the lead to 15-7. A big enough all-around contribution to mitigate the incredibly stupid group celebration he led after the interception that cost the Giants 15 yards in the first quarter.

Getting his kicks: Josh Brown's five field goals tied his career high and came one short of the Giants' team record set by Joe Danelo in 1981.

What's next: The Giants have a bye next week. They'll gather in East Rutherford for their regular Monday meetings and film sessions, but then they're off again until they return to practice next Monday. Their next game is Nov. 10 at home against the Oakland Raiders.

Halftime thoughts: Giants in control

October, 27, 2013
PHILADELPHIA -- Until the past two weeks, you thought the New York Giants had a quarterback issue. But after watching Minnesota on "Monday Night Football" and the Philadelphia Eagles so far Sunday, those 15 interceptions Eli Manning threw in the first six games don't seem like such a big fiasco anymore, do they?

A strong defensive game plan and execution have helped the Giants take advantage of the Eagles' quarterback mess, and the Giants have their second halftime lead of the season. They lead the Eagles 12-0 on the strength of four Josh Brown field goals.

Has it been pretty? Of course not. When you're 1-6, it's hard to make it look pretty. The Giants have outgained the Eagles 229 yards to 72 but have not scored a touchdown. They have seven penalties for 58 yards, including an astoundingly idiotic group celebration penalty after Antrel Rolle's first-quarter interception of Michael Vick. But the Giants are winning the game, and with an obviously injured Vick having already been replaced by rookie Matt Barkley, you have to like their chances of holding onto it.

The main reason is of course the defense. A Giants team that had nine sacks in its past 12 games and a league-low six for the season coming into Sunday, has two already in this game and also forced an intentional grounding penalty by Vick. Both of the sacks were by defensive backs -- Rolle and Terrell Thomas. Both forced fumbles, and Thomas' strip was recovered by Jacquian Williams deep in Giants' territory to snuff out a potential Eagles touchdown drive in the final two minutes of the half. The Giants' defense has struggled all season to pressure quarterbacks and to force turnovers, but it has managed to do both so far in this game.

On offense ... still a little spotty. But Manning looks much more comfortable, and I think you can tell by the way he's ducking pressure and keeping his eyes downfield while he does it. Peyton Hillis isn't going to run for more than what's blocked, but he does appear to be an asset in the passing game, both as an outlet receiver out of the backfield and as a blocker who can pick up the blitz. The Giants also are 5-for-10 on third downs, a very positive percentage for the third game in a row after ranking last in the league in that category through the season's first five weeks.

So it looks better, Giants fans. Though the best you can hope from the day is improvement to a dismal record of 2-6, at least there are continued signs that the rest of the season might be more watchable than the early part was. If the Giants hold this lead, they'll have won a road game and a second game in a row for the first time in 364 days.