New York Giants: LeSean McCoy

Big Blue Morning: Cruz's season is over

December, 20, 2013
Your daily morning check-in on news and notes about and of interest to the New York Giants.

The news of the day: The Giants announced Thursday that wide receiver Victor Cruz had gone to see Dr. James Andrews to have his left knee checked out and that Andrews performed a surgical procedure on the knee. It was called an "arthroscopic debridement," which as I understand it means a cleaning up of loose cartilage or bone in the knee. So that's much better news for Cruz than if he'd had to have a ligament repaired, and there's no reason to think he won't be able to participate in the offseason program or be ready for the start of 2014. But obviously, since he just had his knee operated on 10 days before the final game, he's out for the rest of this season. Cruz was the only player on the Giants' offense having any kind of a respectable season, and there's good reason to believe that, as a result of this news, the final two games will be even more unwatchable than the first 14 were.

Behind enemy lines: It seems all we've been talking about with Giants defensive players this week is Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson. But they have a pretty good running back, too, in Reggie Bush, who's about to crack 1,000 rushing yards and is a serious threat in the passing game as well. The Giants have been good at limiting even the best running backs between the tackles, but they have been susceptible to running backs as receivers on the outside. But the Lions have their own problems. Bush himself says the team for which he plays lacks discipline. And Jeff Chadiha writes that it's time for Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford to show more in the big spots.

Around the division: If the Cowboys lose early Sunday, the Eagles could clinch the NFC East with a victory Sunday night against the Bears. If the Cowboys win Sunday, or if the Eagles lose Sunday night, then the NFC East will come down to one Week 17 game for the third year in a row -- Philadelphia at Dallas this time. Regardless, Eagles running back LeSean McCoy says he wants to carry the offense in this game. The way the Bears have defended the run this season, that sounds like a good plan.

Around the league: I think expanding the NFL playoffs is a terrible idea, because there are enough bad games as it is and not enough really good teams to fill a 12-team playoff field. But others disagree, and we asked around.
Scott Tolzien and Mathias KiwanukaGregory Shamus/Getty ImagesNew Packers quarterback Scott Tolzien will face Mathias Kiwanuka and an improved Giants pass rush.
The New York Giants will be looking for their fourth win in a row following an 0-6 start. The Green Bay Packers will be trying to snap their first two-game losing streak since 2010. The two teams square off Sunday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. Giants reporter Dan Graziano and ESPN NFL Insider Matt Williamson (filling in for Packers reporter Rob Demovsky) break down the matchup for you.

Dan Graziano: Hey, Matt. Thanks for filling in while Rob's on the inactive list this week. The big question the Giants have this week is: Who is Scott Tolzien and what can we expect to see from him? So let's start with that one.

Matt Williamson: Well, Dan, that's a good question! I don't think we really know the answer, but he did move the team well in relief of an injured Seneca Wallace and was generally a smart distributor of the football. And we know Green Bay has weapons to get the ball to. We don't have a lot of tape to evaluate, but I think the Packers are better off with Tolzien over Wallace while Aaron Rodgers recovers from a broken collarbone.

While we are talking quarterbacks, what on Earth is going on with Eli Manning? Despite this winning streak, he really has not played well.

Graziano: Matt, my theory on Eli is that the protection issues at the beginning of the season were so egregious that he just fell into this zone of discomfort from which he's been unable to extricate himself. He just doesn't look right back there, and while the protection issues have improved some, they're still present. The Giants have had no blocking help from the tight-end position at all. They're vulnerable in the middle of the line, and I'm not sold on either tackle, to be honest. They haven't had reliable blitz pickup help from the running backs.

Downfield, Hakeem Nicks isn't playing wide receiver the way he used to play it. A lot has gone on around Manning to make him far less comfortable with his surroundings, and I'm not sure what it's going to take before he starts playing with that old Eli confidence again. Great quarterbacks make the best of bad situations, and Manning has not done that this year. As the Giants' situation improves, they will need him to play much better if they're really going to make this miracle run they still believe they can make.

They get another break this week with Rodgers out and Tolzien in, but they are already talking about that improved Packers running game. What do you see from Eddie Lacy & Co. and how do you think they'll attack the Giants, who have generally been pretty good against opposing running backs this season?

Williamson: This Packers' running game is terrific and should continue to excel even with less of a passing threat. The left side of the offensive line is playing great, but isn't healthy on the right side and has had to do a lot of shuffling of personnel there. Still, the rushing attack isn't easy to prepare for, as the Packers can run a wide variety of plays out of a wide variety of personnel groupings and formations. Lacy is quick to get downhill and is a punishing runner who can wear a defense down, and he also excels at reading his blocks and showing patience with the ball in his hands -- rare traits for a rookie running back. The Packers' ability to run the ball will probably be the most crucial component of this game.

Along those lines, I feel like the Giants might actually have a respectable rushing attack of their own now with Andre Brown carrying the rock. Do you agree?

Graziano: Yeah, the 30 carries and 115 yards for Brown on Sunday in his first game back off a twice-broken leg were eye-opening. I think the workload they gave him showed that the Giants knew just how much they were missing this season at running back. David Wilson never got going and then got hurt, and they patched it together with Brandon Jacobs and Peyton Hillis. But watching Brown run with vision and power and gain yards after contact Sunday, it was obvious that he's the Giants' best option going forward and the best they've had all season.

The injury risk has to be considered, given Brown's history, but at this point the Giants need to win pretty much every game, and they're going to have to lean hard on Brown to do it. Even if he can't be as productive every week as he was against the Raiders, the legitimate threat he poses on film should open up the play-action passing game as a way for Manning to combat those protection issues.

So the Giants feel they can offer a balanced offensive attack against a Packers defense that couldn't get the ball back from the Eagles in the final 9:32 of Sunday's game. Was that a LeSean McCoy issue, or are the Packers really struggling on defense right now?

Williamson: The Packers are struggling on defense and allowing too many big plays. I expected last week's return from injury by Clay Matthews to pay off much more than it did. However, we know Matthews is a great player, and maybe he just needed a week to get back into the swing of things. I still expect Matthews to torment the Giants' tackles this week.

On the inside of their defensive line, the Packers have a lot of sheer mass and power with guys like B.J. Raji, Johnny Jolly and Ryan Pickett. I also expect the Giants' interior offensive line to have a difficult time moving this group in the running game. This could be a bounce-back week for Green Bay on this side of the ball.

The Packers' run defense had a difficult time when the Eagles stacked both of their offensive tackles on the same side of the formation. While I expect the Giants could use some personnel groupings with six offensive linemen, I don't see them duplicating what Philadelphia did to make room for McCoy.

Watching the Giants game from last week, I noticed they had a difficult time getting the Raiders' Pat Sims blocked. Sims is a big-bodied and powerful defensive tackle in much the same mold as the Packers' group. I think that bodes well for Green Bay this week.

And expect the Giants to have a difficult time blocking little-known Mike Daniels in the passing game. Daniels has taken over the Cullen Jenkins role -- a spot Green Bay drafted Datone Jones for in the first round -- as an interior pass-rusher, and he has excelled.

The Giants' defense is based entirely on great defensive line play. This is a deep group with a ton of important resources tied up in it, but it hasn't been an elite group. It is improving, however. Where do you see this unit right now and this week against the Packers?

Graziano: Well, the sack numbers have come up. The Giants had only six sacks in their first seven games, but then got eight in their past two games. So they've moved from last in the league in sacks, where they spent most of the season, to a tie for 30th in that category. Odd thing is, of the eight sacks in their past two games, only four have come from defensive linemen. Safety Antrel Rolle has as many sacks (two) in the Giants' past two games as defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul has in their past 16.

The line has been very good, as I mentioned, against the run this year. But over the first seven games of the season, opposing quarterbacks did a good job of unloading the ball before the Giants' pass-rushers could stop them from doing so. Not sure they get the full test this week against Tolzien, but at some point we're going to find out whether the front four really has improved, or whether it has just been feasting on lesser competition.

Thanks again, Matt. Catch you online in one of our game chats soon, I'm sure.

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.

W2W4: Giants at Eagles

October, 26, 2013
The New York Giants are looking for their first two-game winning streak since Weeks 7-8 of last year as they travel to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles in a 1 pm ET game Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. Here are a couple of things to look for as the Giants try to avenge their 36-21 Week 5 loss to the Eagles at MetLife Stadium.

Can Michael Vick still run? Vick rushed for 79 yards on seven carries in the first half of that Week 5 game, but he pulled his hamstring running out of bounds just before halftime and hasn't played since. It's possible that Nick Foles would be starting this game if Foles hadn't suffered a concussion in last week's loss to Dallas. So it's fair to wonder whether Vick will be able to hurt the Giants with his legs to the extent he did three weeks ago. If his legs aren't fully healthy, that takes away an element of the Eagles' offense that was vital to their ability to build a first-half lead. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Eagles running back LeSean McCoy is averaging 5.7 yards per carry this year when Vick is the quarterback and 3.3 when Foles is. Add in the fact that the Giants are much improved on defense since that game due to the addition of middle linebacker Jon Beason, who has energized and organized the defense and played extremely well since coming over from Carolina in a trade. The linebacker corps with Beason at its center is better equipped to contain those outside runs (and those screen passes to McCoy) than it was the first time these two teams met.

Something's got to give: Since beating the Giants at Lincoln Financial Field in Week 4 of last season, the Eagles have lost nine straight home games -- the longest home losing streak in the NFL since the 2008-10 St. Louis Rams. Since winning in Dallas in Week 8 of last year, the Giants have lost eight straight road games -- their longest road losing streak since 1978-79. One of those streaks has to end Sunday.

Toughening up? The Giants spoke a lot this past week about how the Eagles' defense looks better now than it did earlier in the year. Philadelphia gave up an average of 446.8 yards per game and forced a total of five turnovers in four September games. But in their three games so far in October, they are allowing 367.3 yards per game and have forced seven turnovers. The better streak started with that Week 5 game in New Jersey and the three interceptions Eli Manning threw in the fourth quarter. The Giants have taken the ball away from their opponents only 10 times this year, but it's possible they're improving in that area too, as three of the 10 came in their most recent game, Monday night's victory over the Vikings.

Shaky day for Giants coach Coughlin

October, 6, 2013
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin has never before been 0-5 as an NFL head coach. Even his expansion 1995 Jacksonville Jaguars won their fifth game after starting 0-4. After the Giants' 36-21 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, Coughlin worked hard to try to convey leadership and accountability.

"It's no fun, but I'm not concerned about me," Coughlin said. "I'm concerned about those players in the locker room. Whatever I can do, I'll defer whatever to myself. I lose the games and they win 'em."

Truth is, there's ample blame to go around, and Coughlin made a couple of questionable decisions in Sunday's loss. He explained them after the game.

Situation No. 1: In the first quarter, with the Giants up 7-0, the Eagles picked up five yards on a third-and-nine play that moved the ball to the Giants' 47. Eagles center Jason Kelce was called for holding, and had Coughlin declined the penalty, the Eagles would have had fourth-and-four at the 47. Instead, he accepted it, and they had third-and-20 from their own 37. Michael Vick ran 34 yards for the first down. Coughlin said he accepted the penalty because he believed Chip Kelly would have gone for it on fourth-and-four, and to be fair there is ample evidence to support that belief.

The explanation: "There was no question in our minds that the would go for it," Coughlin said. "So the consensus on the sideline was to take them back. We were doing a pretty good job with Vick at that time. Then, of course, the next play he runs for what would've been that first down and a first down from wherever the ball was."

My take: Even if you thought the Eagles would go for it on fourth down, I make them make that decision. Coughlin's right -- the Giants were doing a decent job on Vick at that point. The Eagles had 12 yards of total offense on nine plays so far, and there was no reason yet for the Giants to believe they couldn't stop them from gaining four yards. Crowd and defense would have been fired up. Instead, everyone was confused.

Situation No. 2: With 12:40 left in the third quarter and the Giants trailing 19-7, the Eagles converted a third-and-10 with an 11-yard Nick Foles pass to LeSean McCoy. There was some dispute, among the Giants on the field, as to whether McCoy had control of the ball when he fell out of bounds and whether he had sufficient yardage for a first down. Coughlin called timeout to settle things down, then got word from his coaches in the booth that it was worth challenging the play. So he challenged the play and lost the challenge, leaving the Giants with only one more timeout for the final 27:40 of the game.

The explanation: "When I saw the players on the field, they were trying to get my attention to go ahead and challenge," Coughlin said. "The clock was way down, so I just instinctively called a timeout to settle everybody down. Obviously if I'd known in advance from upstairs what exactly I was going to do, I would have challenged first. Then I asked for the timeout back if they did reverse it. That wasn't going to be the case either. But I was very surprised, as was our sideline and upstairs, when they did not reverse it."

My take: At the time, with the game in reach and the Giants behind, it seemed like a bad move. Especially bad when they burned that final timeout with 4:48 still left in the third quarter. But this was desperation time for an 0-4 Giants team that had no reason to believe, based on its first four games, that it would be within striking distance late in the fourth quarter when those timeouts might matter. And as it turns out, they weren't.
Eli Manning, LeSean McCoyGetty ImagesEli Manning and LeSean McCoy enter Sunday's game with a combined 1-7 record this season.

The last time the New York Giants played the Philadelphia Eagles, in Week 17 of last season, Philadelphia was sleepwalking through the final game of the Andy Reid era while the Giants were being eliminated from playoff contention by results in other cities. The month of September didn't treat either team much better, and so it is a 1-3 Eagles team that travels to New Jersey this weekend to face the 0-4 Giants at 1 p.m. ET Sunday at MetLife Stadium.

Eagles team reporter Phil Sheridan and Giants team reporter Dan Graziano offer their thoughts on this bottom-of-the-division NFC East matchup.

Dan Graziano: Hey, Phil. Hope things are going well for you down there in the City of Brotherly Love. Up here, the Giants might be the worst team in the NFL so far this year. I don't think that's a development anyone saw coming, but based on the way they've played on both sides of the ball, it's hard to argue. Not sure anyone knew what was coming in Philadelphia, and the Chip Kelly Eagles sure did burst onto the scene with their Week 1 victory in Washington. Things don't seem to have gone very well since, however. What do you think is the biggest thing that's derailed the Chip-Kelly-Will-Change-The-NFL storyline?

Phil Sheridan: The biggest thing, Dan, is that the NFL just isn't that easy to change. Kelly had one chance to throw a sucker punch, which he did in the first half of that Monday night game at Washington. The Eagles haven't looked remotely as crisp or as confident since halftime of that game. They did put up some points against San Diego, but only because the Chargers' mystifying decision not to cover DeSean Jackson. Since then, Kelly has been outclassed by Andy Reid and John Fox, two of the NFL's senior head coaches. Ultimately, if Kelly is going to stage a revolution, he's going to need a better army. The Eagles just aren't good enough.

Which brings me to the big question about the Giants: What in the world happened? OK, a little more specific: Is Eli Manning playing that badly or is it the offense around him?

DG: Oh, the problems are around Manning, for sure. He needs to play better, and he's committed too many turnovers. But the issues start up front, as they always do, and the Giants' offensive line is just plain awful. It was a rotten run-blocking unit in the first two games. It gave up seven sacks of Manning in the 37-0 loss in Carolina in Week 3, and starting center David Baas and right guard Chris Snee got hurt in that game. So they had to use backups at those two spots last Sunday in Kansas City, and it was a mess again. The result is that Manning and the offense can't get in any kind of rhythm because they can't get the play blocked at the point of attack. The receivers don't have time to get open, the running backs can't find holes, and even if there is something that works, the Giants simply can't trust that anything will be there play to play. Tom Coughlin said after Sunday's game that trying to call offensive plays right now is like "throwing a dart at a board."

Now, all of that said, they have faced four pretty strong defensive fronts so far in Dallas, Denver, Carolina and Kansas City. The Eagles' defense, to me at least, looks a little bit more, shall we say, permissive. Do you think it's possible the Giants get the offense going this week against the Philly D?

PS: It's very possible. Peyton Manning has it all going on right now, obviously, but I think Archie Manning could go out Sunday and move the ball against this Eagles secondary. The litany of issues sounds quite a bit like what you just outlined regarding the Giants' offense. The Eagles have not been able to generate any kind of reliable pass rush. Trent Cole is in transition, playing some standard defensive end while also standing up and occasionally dropping into coverage. Connor Barwin, the only true 3-4 outside linebacker on the team, has not been the difference-maker the Eagles expected. At least not yet. The lack of pressure makes the secondary vulnerable and the lack of coverage ability doesn't give the pass rush time to get there. It's a cycle that allows smart, experienced quarterbacks to do their bidding, and Eli is certainly one of them. He hung 42 on the Eagles as a lovely parting gift to Andy Reid last December.

While we're talking pass rush, we're used to watching the Giants torment Eagles quarterbacks. What happened to the Giants' pass rush and is there any hope to get it cranking again?

DG: I'm starting to think not. The Giants have only seven sacks in their past nine games dating back to last November. (And the one they got Sunday really shouldn't have counted, since it was a linebacker tackling Alex Smith at the line of scrimmage on a run play.) Jason Pierre-Paul has one sack in his past 11 games, and I watched him closely Sunday. There are plays on which he simply doesn't do anything at all. The explosive player who racked up 16.5 sacks in 2011 has vanished, and while he might still be getting over offseason back surgery, it's possible he never returns to form. That's more than possible for Justin Tuck, obviously, coming off two down years. Mathias Kiwanuka is so-so. Rookie Damontre Moore has great skills but has been slow to develop to the point where the coaches trust him.

The Giants have actually had some guys perform better than expectations at linebacker and in the secondary. And the way the offense has played has offered the defense some cover. But you're right -- if they can't get the pass rush going, they're not a good defense.

They have, in the past, had a lot of trouble stopping LeSean McCoy and the Eagles' midrange passing game, as Andy Reid used to love to exploit the Giants' weakness at linebacker. Can we expect a heavy dose of the run game Sunday, I assume?

PS: Absolutely. Kelly flat-out said the Eagles will continue to rely on what they do best, which is to run the ball. They are No. 1 in the NFL in rushing yards, which would have sounded like science fiction during Reid's pass-happy tenure. The basic philosophy is simple: The Eagles spread opponents out with three wide receivers, then pound the ball behind a good run-blocking line. The question I have is whether defensive coordinators are willing to concede a certain amount of rushing yards in order to safeguard against big plays from DeSean Jackson. The Eagles amassed 890 yards the past two weeks -- 426 of them on the ground -- but scored just four touchdowns. That's not enough in 2013.

Here's a more abstract question. With two Super Bowls on their résumés, there has to be a temptation for the Giants' core group to accept that this is just a down year. Do you see signs of that? And can Coughlin still find a way to prevent that?

DG: Yeah, I don't think that's what's happening here. Not after they missed the playoffs last year for the third time in four seasons. This team won the Super Bowl two seasons ago, but the six-week stretch that culminated in that title is one of the few sustained runs of strong play the Giants had over the past half-decade. The Giants believe they can play better and that it's on them to do so, whether the season can still be saved or not. And what ownership is telling Coughlin is that they have faith in him to figure out how to fix the problems. Whether he can or not will have an impact on his legacy. He's not in any trouble here in terms of job security, but the current plight offers him a chance to prove he's the coach the Giants and their fans believe him to be.

Good talk, Phil. Thanks. Looking forward to seeing you Sunday in the swamp.


NFLN Says: Can the Eagles keep it up?

September, 11, 2013
So we went around and polled NFL players Wednesday on the question of whether the Philadelphia Eagles' new up-tempo offense under former Oregon coach Chip Kelly is sustainable. You know, since it looked so good in the first half Monday night against the Redskins' mediocre defense and has become the talk of the league on the most overreactive week of the season, right?

The question of sustainability is a significant one to the New York Giants, who don't face the Eagles in September but do face them twice in October. They get them Week 5 at home and Week 8 on the road, so if they can't handle them the first time it'll be fresh in their memories for the second. And while it might be nice to have more than four games' worth of tape to assess before the first time they face them, four is better than the zero with which the Redskins were working when Kelly, Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy showed up Monday night and ran them out of their own building.

So the Giants will at least be in a position to plan for the Eagles and it's likely that by the time they face them they will have put some failure on film. And it's always possible, of course, that Vick gets hurt and either isn't 100 percent or isn't able to play. That's a Vick thing, no matter what kind of offense he's in, and this particular one looks willing to make a lot of sacrifices in pass protection in exchange for its determination to run plays as quickly as possible.

My sense is that you'll soon start to hear the same things about Kelly's manic offense that you heard last year and this offseason about the read-option -- that if you can hit the quarterback, you can derail this or any other offense. And the Giants' whole defensive plan is based on the importance of hitting the quarterback. The Giants also made beefing up their run defense a major focus of their offseason, and they have a deep stable of defensive tackles with which to combat the brilliant McCoy.

When the Giants do finally get their first up-close look at the Eagles, they're going to have to do what they always have to do -- pressure and hit the quarterback as quickly and effectively as possible so he's unable to do whatever he's supposed to do on a given play. If the speed of Kelly's offense makes that more difficult, it's going to be on Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul to out-athlete the Eagles' offensive players and make life miserable for Vick.

Big Blue Morning: RBs on parade

September, 10, 2013
Your daily morning check-in on news and notes about and of interest to the New York Giants:

The news of the day: The Giants are bringing in several running backs, including old friend Brandon Jacobs and Willis McGahee, who was the Broncos' starter this time last year, for tryouts Tuesday. May sign one, may not. (Though I think they will, as they've already cleared a roster spot by waiving Adewale Ojomo.) As I wrote Monday, the point is not to replace David Wilson because of his two fumbles Sunday night, but rather to find the complementary back they intended Andre Brown to be before he broke his leg. Giving Wilson more to do at this point, when he continues to have ball security and blitz pickup problems, is not a recipe for success -- for him or for the team.

Behind enemy lines: Jeff Legwold expects the Broncos to play defense differently this Sunday against the Giants than they did in their season opener last week against the Ravens. Because the Giants use three-wide receiver sets more than Baltimore does, and because of the size advantage the Giants' receivers will have on the Broncos' corners, Jeff expects to see some new things from defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, including the occasional seven-defensive back set.

Around the division: The Eagles obviously looked great on offense in the first half against the Redskins on Monday night, but they either tired or simply took their foot off the gas in the second half as Washington came back and nearly made it a game. LeSean McCoy is a legitimately great player who likely will thrive in this offense, but one must still wonder about Michael Vick's durability and consistency. And considering the way the second half went, it's also fair to wonder whether the Eagles' personnel can handle the tempo for a full game. Chip Kelly has to be thrilled with the start to his NFL career, regardless.

Around the league: Two seemingly unrelated items of interest caught my eye. This one on Robert Griffin III saying the NFL had told him he had to cover up his knee brace, and this one on the Lions' Ndamukong Suh facing league discipline for a low block on the Vikings' center during an interception return. The NFL is open about the fact that it uses an escalating discipline system for repeat offenders, and Griffin has broken apparel rules many times and without any apparent remorse, willingly being fined for wearing Adidas apparel where the league specifics he should only wear Nike. And Suh, of course, is on the NFL's radar in a big way for past on-field physical offenses. Makes you wonder at what point the league takes a look at, oh I don't know ... a team that has a reputation for faking injuries to slow down opponents' offensive drives? Just sayin.

Giants react to Cooper's racial slur

August, 1, 2013

The Giants reacted to Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper's recent use of a racial slur and his subsequent apology.

“It’s a really unfortunate situation,” Giants cornerback Aaron Ross said Thursday. “I think that word is kind of taken out of society these days. It’s one of those words you don’t want to use. That’s pretty much the Eagles’ problem that they have to deal with. But it’s really unfortunate it came out.

“We don’t have that problem over here. And hopefully we’ll never have that problem.”

Giants defensive end Adrian Tracy said he could see Riley’s words adding fuel to the Eagles wide receiver’s opponents.

“I love the nature of football because I feel like all your aggression, no matter what your emotions are, you can get out in a positive manner and not be arrested for it. You may be fined, but you won’t get arrested for it,” Tracy said. “People play with anger all the time and this is an outlet for us to do so, so if people are angry and within the confines of the rules express their anger, I don’t think he’s going to be the only player, I’m sure there’s little lists that everybody has.”

Tracy added: “Nobody is perfect, everybody has done something that others feel offended by. For you to hold a grudge or feel strongly toward a person for a mistake they made is not only going to set yourself backwards but the whole team chemistry.”

Said Giants punter Steve Weatherford: “It’s obviously a black eye for him and a black eye for that franchise. It’s disappointing for him because we’re role models at this point in our career and we have a pedestal to inspire and motivate. So that was unfortunate.”

Said Eagles running back LeSean McCoy: “I forgive him. We’ve been friends for a long time. But in a situation like this, you really find out about someone. Just on a friendship level, I can’t really respect someone like that.”

Rapid Reaction: Eagles 19, Giants 17

September, 30, 2012
PHILADELPHIA –- Another game between the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles went down to the final minutes and the Giants ended up losing another heartbreaker, 19-17 to the Eagles.

What it means: The Giants (2-2) have now lost eight of their past nine to Philadelphia, and this defeat came at the end.

The Giants failed to protect a one-point lead in the fourth and had to rely on Eli Manning for another fourth-quarter comeback. He gave the Giants a chance for the win, but Lawrence Tynes missed a 54-yard attempt at the end. These two teams will meet again Dec. 30 in the regular-season finale, which could decide the NFC East.

Shady Gaga: The Giants held LeSean McCoy to a total of four yards rushing in the first half. But the shifty Shady McCoy, whom Osi Umenyiora referred to as "Lady Gaga" last year, repeatedly gashed Perry Fewell's run defense, which lost containment and had problems in the second half stopping the Eagles' running back on the outside edge.

Michael Vick also had a few runs on the outside that burned the Giants. The Eagles duo helped Philadelphia drive down to the Giants' 2-yard-line before kicking the go-ahead field goal with 1:48 remaining.

Bad Eli, Good Eli: Manning started the fourth quarter with a painful interception on a first-and-10 at the Eagles' 10-yard-line. Manning never saw Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who picked a pass intended for Martellus Bennett.

The Eagles turned the turnover into only a field goal, though, to take a 16-10 lead.

Manning bounced back by marching the Giants 83 yards for a touchdown to Bear Pascoe to take a 17-16 lead.

After Philadelphia regained the lead 19-17, Manning had 1:43 left to engineer a comeback. He nearly pulled it off.

Secondary issues: The Giants were already playing without cornerback Jayron Hosley (hamstring). Cornerback Michael Coe was nursing a hamstring injury and safety Antrel Rolle was playing with a bruised knee.

And cornerback Corey Webster, who lost DeSean Jackson on the Eagles' first-half touchdown, played with a broken bone in his hand.

But the Giants' issues in the secondary worsened when safety Kenny Phillips left in the first half with a sprained right knee. Stevie Brown came in for Phillips.

The Giants do get safety Tyler Sash back this week from suspension and they may need him, depending on Phillips' status.

No Nicks: Hakeem Nicks missed his second straight game with pain in his surgically repaired foot and swelling in his knee.

Domenik Hixon started for Nicks and Ramses Barden and Rueben Randle saw snaps as well. Hixon had three catches on the last drive of the first half, including a big 32-yard catch, that helped set up a Tynes' field goal to pull the Giants within 7-3 at halftime.

Victor Cruz did most of the damage for the Giants, scoring a touchdown in the third quarter and repeatedly getting open whenever the Giants needed a big catch.

Barden came up with a big 31-yard reception on the scoring drive that put the Giants ahead 17-16 with 6:45 left. And he drew two pass interference calls but also was called for a pass interference on the final drive that forced Tynes to have to kick a 54-yarder.

What's next: The Giants return home to host the Cleveland Browns. With a trip to San Francisco looming in another week, can anyone say trap game?

W2W4: Giants at Eagles

September, 28, 2012

The Giants and Eagles renew their rivalry on Sunday night before a nationally televised audience. The next time they face each other, the NFC East very well could be on the line in the regular-season finale at MetLife Stadium.

So whoever wins this game will have a crucial head start.

Kickoff is scheduled for 8:20 p.m. Here's what to watch for:

Killer B's: Ahmad Bradshaw makes his return from a neck injury which he has described as a "bulge" and an "inflamed disk." During his absence, Andre Brown has been a stud, rushing for 184 yards and two touchdowns in the last two games.

Both Tom Coughlin and offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said Brown has earned a role and that the Giants will ride the hotter hand of the two. It will be interesting to see how the carries are divided. The more those two can run, the more time Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy spend on the sideline.

Shady Gaga: Round 1 of the 2012 season between McCoy and Osi Umenyiora begins on Sunday night. And we can hardly wait!

Umenyiora and McCoy's beef is an entertaining one that spills over to Twitter and beyond. They talk trash like they are WWE rivals. Umenyiora has referred to McCoy as Lady Gaga and "she," while also wishing the running back a happy Mother's Day. McCoy has responded by calling Umenyiora a "ballerina."

Hopefully Andy Reid will run McCoy to Umenyiora's side when the defensive end is in the game.

Salsadelphia: Victor Cruz returns to Philadelphia, the birthplace of his salsa touchdown dance. It was here in Week 3 last sesason that Cruz broke out with two touchdowns and debuted the salsa celebration at Nnamdi Asomugha's expense.

In two games against the Eagles last year, Cruz totaled nine receptions for 238 yards and three touchdowns. Hakeem Nicks is out, so the Giants will need Cruz to have a big night against the Philadelphia secondary.

Stick Vick: The Giants had success last season against Vick by hitting him every chance they got. They wanted to make sure he felt each hit.

Vick has taken a beating early on this season and has been sacked a total of nine times and he has thrown six interceptions while fumbling five times, losing three. Last Thursday, the Giants got some licks in on Cam Newton and the second-year quarterback never seemed to get comfortable.

They cannot afford to let Vick get comfy on Sunday night.

Renew the rivalry: Lately, the Eagles-Giants rivalry has been lopsided with the Eagles taking seven of the last eight meetings, including their playoff game during the 2008 season.

The Giants have to start making the clutch plays in the fourth quarter. They do have what the Eagles don't: Super Bowl rings. But if they don't find a way to beat the Eagles this season, the defending champs might not win the NFC East. And with the toughest schedule in the NFL, the Giants likely need to win the division to get into the playoffs and defend their title.

Umenyiora won't take bait on McCoy

September, 27, 2012

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Osi Umenyiora spoke to reporters for several minutes after Thursday's practice -- and refused to pour any more gasoline on his feud with Eagles running back LeSean McCoy.

"He's a great player, he's entitled to his own opinion, and that's the way it's gonna be," Umenyiora said.

The war of words between McCoy and Umenyiora reignited this week, when McCoy called Umenyiora a "ballerina" in an interview that aired on "E:60" on Tuesday night.

"I'm done talking about him and all that stuff that's going on," Umenyiora said. "We have a big game this week, a big game against Philadelphia, and that's pretty much what my focus is."

It is a big game, considering it's only Week 4 of the regular season. Both teams are tied for first in the NFC East at 2-1, along with the Cowboys, in what is expected to be a competitive race for the division crown.

The Giants already have a strike against them, with an 0-1 record within the division after losing to Dallas in their season opener. Divisional record can be an important tiebreaker at the end of the regular season, and the Giants are staring at the prospect of starting 0-2 -- something coach Tom Coughlin spoke with the team about on Thursday.

"Biggest game of the year," Umenyiora said. "We can't go 0-2. It's gonna be a big hole for us to climb out of, if we go 0-2."

The rivalry between the Giants and Eagles has grown even more intense in recent years, with the two teams often jockeying for playoff position, and even facing each other in the postseason.

Throw in the fact that this game will be played on national TV, in prime time, and in Philadelphia, and there's bound to be some fireworks Sunday night.

"They're rowdy," Umenyiora said, when asked about the Philadelphia fans. "You pull up on the bus, and you see them on the side, flipping you off and all kind of crazy stuff. Those guys are intense. When they hate you, they really hate you. And they really hate me."

When asked why Philadelphia fans hate him so much, Umenyiora replied, "Well, obviously some of the games that I've had against Philly in the past couple of years. And then now with all this recent back-and-forth that was going on, it's just picked it up. To be honest with you, I enjoy it."

The Giants are hoping their defensive line -- headlined by Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul -- can have a breakout game against the Eagles. So far this season, that trio -- which recorded 30.5 sacks in the 2011 regular season -- has just 1.5 sacks in 2012.

Eagles quarterback Michael Vick has already been sacked nine times in three games.

But Tuck believes the secret to beating the Eagles is actually shutting down someone other than Vick -- the man who called Umenyiora a ballerina.

"Y'all can talk about Vick all you want to. If McCoy's allowed to run rampant, we ain't gonna have a chance to hit Vick anyway," Tuck said. "That's the saying -- there's the gun hand and the knife hand. You always wanna stop the gun hand. In that offense, I think McCoy's the gun, and the passing game's the knife."

NFC East teams must look to the lines

August, 20, 2012
allas Cowboys Jason O. Watson/US PresswireLike its NFC East rivals, Dallas is shuffling and searching for ways to solidify its offensive line.
The NFC East leads the league in hype. The huge media markets in which the teams play, the history of success, the rivalries ... all of it combines to create a perception that the NFC East is the best, most competitive and toughest division in the NFL. That the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants play in it -- and are not the clear-cut favorites to win it again this season -- only adds to the perception, as does the growing excitement over an NFL regular-season opener between the Giants and the Dallas Cowboys 16 nights from tonight.

But while Giants-Cowboys is fun, and each of those teams has something pretty intense going with the division's other two teams -- the Giants' recent struggles with the Philadelphia Eagles and the Cowboys' longstanding rivalry with the Washington Redskins -- the stats don't back up the NFC East as the league's toughest division anymore. The division is, by many measures, coming off its worst season ever. Last season was the first regular season in NFC East history in which no team won at least 10 games. Only the Giants finished over .500, and they gave up more points than they scored. Their Super Bowl run might have saved the division's honor, but it also disguised the troubling fact that the NFC East is no longer the Beast it used to be.

A large part of the reason for this, I believe, is the state of the division's offensive lines. We all know offensive line play is important, but in the NFC East these days, concern about the lines affects too many things. Teams that are strong on the line can control games. Teams that aren't cannot. Eli Manning and the Giants have been talking for months about wanting to not have to come back in the fourth quarter as much as they did last season, and the best way to avoid that is to control games from the start. Given the issues with their offensive line, they could find that a challenge once again.

But they're not alone. As we look ahead to 2012 and start assessing everyone's biggest questions, offensive line stands out as an issue for each of the NFC East's four teams. To wit:

  • Giants left tackle Will Beatty is unproven and can't get healthy, and they're thin at tackle in general. Additionally, David Baas was a disappointment in his first season in New York, and they haven't seen Kevin Boothe as a full-season starter yet. The Giants finished 32nd in the league last season in rushing offense because of a line that couldn't get any push. Pro Football Focus graded them the 29th-best run-blocking team in the league, and the worst pass-blocking team in the league. Good for them for overcoming it all and winning the Super Bowl, but it remains an issue insufficiently addressed.
  • The Cowboys' offensive line has been the dominant story of their training camp -- specifically their struggles at center, where Phil Costa has been banged up and the potential backups and replacements for him have had trouble snapping the ball to the quarterback. The Cowboys also are trying to find guards who can protect Tony Romo against the interior pass rush better than they did last season. And starting tackles Tyron Smith and Doug Free have had to switch sides because of Free's struggles on the left last season. PFF had Dallas as the 15th-best pass-blocking team in 2011 and the 11th-best run blocking one, so it could be worse. But they need everyone healthy and playing together to see if they have a chance.
  • The Redskins likely were planning to use some of the $18 million in salary cap money the league took from them on the eve of free agency to upgrade the offensive line. But they couldn't, obviously, so they're still dealing with Jammal Brown's hip injury, Kory Lichtensteiger's knee injury and Will Montgomery's limitations as a center in their zone-blocking run scheme. The Redskins ranked 26th in pass blocking and 30th in run blocking last season according to those PFF grades, and they also made no significant change or improvement.
  • After a rocky start, the Eagles had a good season on the line in 2011. They ranked second in the league in run-blocking and 14th in pass-blocking. But they also lost left tackle Jason Peters, their best lineman and one of the best in the league, to an Achilles injury in the offseason. As good as the other four starters on their line are, the Eagles could struggle to replace what Peters gave them last season, and so far they have not figured out whether Demetress Bell or King Dunlap replaces him as the starter.

The NFC has no shortage of star power. It has three great quarterbacks and one, Washington rookie Robert Griffin III, who's getting as much hype as any of the other three these days. It has some of the great wide receivers in the league in veterans such as Hakeem Nicks, Miles Austin and DeSean Jackson as well as rising stars such as Victor Cruz, Dez Bryant and Jeremy Maclin. The Eagles' LeSean McCoy ranks with the game's great running backs. And on defense, of course, the division is known for its great pass-rushers. Each team can rattle off names that give opposing quarterbacks heartburn. DeMarcus Ware. Jason Pierre-Paul. Justin Tuck. Trent Cole. Jason Babin. Brian Orakpo.

All of that makes the NFC East very exciting. But very often in the NFL, excitement and hype can conceal issues of quality. And if the NFC East really wants to be the best division in football again, it's not the quarterbacks or the wide receivers or even the pass-rushers that will bring it there. The NFC East's teams all need to start paying more attention to their offensive lines, because as those continue to erode, so will the division's annual claim to Beastliness.

SportsCenter has been running prime-time specials previewing the 2012 season for each NFL division. Tuesday at 7 p.m. on ESPN, they will do their one-hour show on the NFC East. To help you gear up, we take a look at each of the four teams and the reasons why you should like their chances to finish on top ... and why you shouldn't.

New York Giants

Why they'll win the East: Quarterback Eli Manning has established himself as one of the best in the league, and the most clutch. Armed with two great wide receivers in Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, Manning makes the Giants a threat to win any game that's close in the fourth quarter. They have a dominant pass rush that makes life miserable for opposing quarterbacks, even the very best ones. It's a passing league, and the Giants pass the ball and disrupt the opponent's passing game as well as anyone.

Why they won't: The Giants' up-and-down 2011 regular season had a lot to do with inconsistency on the offensive line and an inability to control the game with the run. Neither the line nor the run game appears to have been improved over last year, and that could lead to inconsistency again, in spite of the outstanding talent they have at other key positions. Also, it's not their turn. This division has had three different winners over the last three years, and no one has repeated as NFC East champ since the Eagles won the division four years in a row from 2001-04. Every team in the division has improved, so the task of repeating is not an easy one.

Philadelphia Eagles

Why they'll win the East: Everything went wrong last year, and they still missed by only one game. They went 5-1 against division opponents. The depth they have on the defensive line may actually be more impressive than the Giants' depth there (though, without the championship rings), and they tied for the league lead last year in sacks. Assuming he stays healthy, quarterback Michael Vick is a multi-faceted weapon. LeSean McCoy is one of the best running backs in the league. And DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin are super-speedy potential stars in the receiving game.

Why they won't: Almost everything rides on Vick, and he hasn't shown that he can be trusted to be (a) healthy or (b) consistently responsible in his decision-making. Even if you assume improvements on defense and in the wide receiving corps, Vick still has the potential to devastate the team with mistakes or a serious injury. They have very little behind him, and the loss of star left tackle Jason Peters for the year with a torn Achilles' tendon will make him more difficult to protect.

Dallas Cowboys

Why they'll win the East: They had it in their hands last year with five games to go, but lost four of those, including two to the Giants. The main culprit for the collapse was a secondary that's been overhauled with the additions of Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne at cornerback. And assuming running back DeMarco Murray comes back and remains healthy, he and Tony Romo lead an offense capable of big things.

Why they won't: They remain questionable at safety, at guard and at center. Those are structural issues that could undermine the ability of the Cowboys' great skill-position players to put up their big numbers. The Cowboys' hope is that camp competition brings out the best at those positions, but they are areas in which Dallas could conceivably struggle all year.

Washington Redskins

Why they'll win the East: The Redskins haven't won this division since the 1999 season, and they were so fed up that they dealt four high draft picks to get quarterback Robert Griffin III. If he can be half as dazzling in his rookie NFL season as he was in his final season at Baylor, the Redskins could be a surprise contender. Upgrades to the receiving corps and an imposing front seven bolstered by the return of 2011 second-rounder Jarvis Jenkins from injury also offer reasons for optimism, as does last year's 2-0 record against the Super Bowl champs.

Why they won't: Still too many question marks, particularly on the back end of that defense and in the jumbled running game. They'll need some of their safeties, cornerbacks and running backs to play over their heads if they want to contend in this very tough division race, and they'll also need their rookie quarterback to play like a veteran. Everybody loves Griffin, and for good reason, but he is a rookie, and rookies struggle to adapt.

Some encouraging numbers for Giants

January, 16, 2012
Lovely day here at Milwaukee's General Mitchell Airport, though it was kind of sad listening to the Packers fans on the sports talk radio this morning on the drive here from Green Bay. Honestly, if you've ever been to Green Bay, you need to wonder: what do those people do now?

What we do now is look ahead to Sunday's NFC Championship Game between the New York Giants and the San Francisco 49ers. It's going to be a different kind of game for the Giants. The 49ers don't have the array of passing-game weapons that recent Giants opponents such as the Packers, Falcons and Cowboys have. They will attack the Giants differently, and the best thing the 49ers have going for them is a defense that looked fast, tough and terrifying for most of the game against the Saints on Saturday night.

San Francisco finished fourth in the league in total defense, allowing just 308.1 yards per game, and first in rush defense by a mile, allowing just 77.3 yards per game. That would seem to bode ill for a Giants team that finished last in the league in rush offense. But the numbers from the head-to-head matchup between these teams in San Francisco in Week 10, even though the Giants lost it, offer some hope for the Giants.

The 395 yards of total offense the Giants had against the 49ers was the fourth-highest total any team posted against San Francisco all season. Only the Eagles (513 in a Week 4 loss), Cowboys (472 in a Week 2 overtime victory) and Saints (472 in Saturday's playoff loss) had more yards in a game against the Niners this season.

Even more encouraging, the Giants had 93 rush yards in that game, which is the fourth-highest total of rush yards any team had in a game against the Niners this season. Marshawn Lynch's Seahawks had 124 in Week 16, Steven Jackson's Rams had 111 in Week 17 and LeSean McCoy's Eagles had 108 in that Week 4 game in Philadelphia. All of those games were victories for the 49ers, but the Giants have run the ball considerably better over the past seven weeks, and in the Week 10 game in San Francisco they did not have running back Ahmad Bradshaw, who was out with a foot injury at the time. Brandon Jacobs had 55 yards on 18 carries, and D.J. Ware kicked in 34 yards on nine carries.

A healthy Bradshaw on Sunday, plus the drastic improvements the Giants have made in run blocking over the past two months, plus the film they can watch of their offense having success against this very tough 49ers defense, are all assets for the Giants as they prepare for the NFC Championship Game. The 49ers likely aren't going to miss as many tackles as the Packers did Sunday, but the Giants have proof that they can move the ball against them anyway. The key, as it always is, will be to avoid the turnovers. The Giants outgained the 49ers by 90 yards in Week 10, but Eli Manning threw two interceptions, and they lost by seven points.