New York Giants: LeSean McCoy

videoPHILADELPHIA -- The New York Giants lost more than a game here Sunday night. They lost wide receiver Victor Cruz for the season to a knee injury -- a loss that hit them on a deeper emotional level than did the 27-0 loss on the scoreboard. They also lost ground in the NFC East. Rather than playing for first place next week in Dallas, they sit at 3-3, a full two games behind the two teams tied for first place in their division.

It was a terrible night on every conceivable level for the Giants -- a rude splash of cold water in the face of a team that was beginning to feel as though it had things figured out.

[+] EnlargeEli Manning
Rich Schultz /Getty ImagesEli Manning and the Giants couldn't get going against the Eagles and fell to 3-3.
"I think it's a good reminder that you can't just show up on the field and have things go well for you automatically," Giants quarterback Eli Manning said. "You've got to earn it."

The Giants aren't as bad as they looked Sunday night. Nor are they as good as they looked during the three-game winning streak they carried here with them on a wave of bizarre midweek trash talk. They are what we thought they were all along -- a rebuilding team that's going to show progress in spurts but isn't likely to sustain excellence anytime soon. They're a team unlikely to be able to survive injuries to players as important to them as Cruz and injured running back Rashad Jennings, who missed this game with a knee injury of his own. They're good enough and well-coached enough that it's not going to shock you to see them win any given game, yet they're unfinished enough that they can still get their helmets handed to them by a 2013 playoff team that has as many good players as the Eagles do.

"Definitely, the first couple of series, we got punched in the mouth," Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara said. "We started bleeding, and we couldn't put a Band-Aid on it."

The Eagles dominated the Giants on both lines. They sacked Manning six times and backup Ryan Nassib twice in what Giants right tackle Justin Pugh called "probably the worst game I've ever played, hands down, not even close." The Eagles' offensive line kept the Giants' pass-rushers away from quarterback Nick Foles and opened enough holes to break star running back LeSean McCoy out of his early-season funk. The Eagles were, by the Giants' own admission, the more physical team and the team that wanted the game more.

"We took the night off," Giants safety Antrel Rolle said. "No rhyme or reason for it."

That's going to be the frustrating thing about this Giants season. You're not likely to know when the good game is coming or when the stinker is just around the corner. They will be inconsistent and maddening, because that is the type of team they are. They are still putting a lot of new pieces together, still trying to make progress in the new offense. If you believed that progress would continue without any setbacks, you now know how wrong you were.

The injury to Cruz only adds to the challenge. Jennings was clearly missed, as the Giants don't trust rookie Andre Williams in passing situations yet and the Eagles played defense as though they knew it. And starting cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who missed the second half with back spasms, is starting to become a regular injury question mark.

A team in the Giants' position -- one that's still trying to find itself -- is going to feel those injuries keenly. Cruz, Jennings and Rodgers-Cromartie are vital pieces not easily replaced. And even if the Giants get tough relief efforts from guys such as Odell Beckham Jr., Williams and Zack Bowman, there are enough cracks elsewhere on the roster that the hiccups are likely to continue.

There's nothing wrong with being a team like that as long as you're making progress. And Sunday night notwithstanding, the Giants have shown progress over the season's first six weeks. If you can contend while you're rebuilding, it's a bonus. And while these Giants may yet be able to pull that off, their main goals this year should be to show progress and figure out which holes remain for them to plug next offseason. Nothing about the first six weeks of the season has really changed that. Sunday night, in the end, was only a reminder that this is a team that still has a long way to go.

W2W4: New York Giants

October, 11, 2014
Oct 11
The New York Giants ride a three-game winning streak into Sunday night's 8:30 ET game on the road against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Giants are 3-2 and looking to catch the 4-1 Eagles, who are tied for the division lead with the Dallas Cowboys. Here are three things we'll be watching Sunday night:

1. Can the rookies lead the offense? First-round pick Odell Beckham Jr.'s NFL debut on Sunday against the Falcons was impressive, and the rookie wide receiver is likely to spend more time on the field this week than he did last. Fourth-round pick Andre Williams has looked good in limited action, and now he becomes the starting running back due to Rashad Jennings' knee injury. Add in left guard Weston Richburg, the team's second-round pick, and three of the Giants' 11 offensive starters will be rookies. In the Giants' ideal world, Beckham's impact will be to draw attention from the defense downfield due to his rare speed. If the Eagles decide to keep their safeties deep to guard against the big play, that could open things up underneath for Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle and Larry Donnell. If they don't, the Giants will try to get Beckham matched up on a cornerback he can beat with his speed. As for Williams, he's likely to get the bulk of the carries, especially in the red zone, but he's got to show an ability to help as a blocker and a receiver in the passing game if he's to be on the field as much as Jennings was.

2. Stopping the Eagles' running backs. The Falcons did a good job picking apart the Giants in the short-range passing game with their running backs in the first half Sunday, and the Giants had to adjust in the second half to stop it. Eagles running backs LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles are among the best receiving backs in the league, and pose an even tougher test if that's the way Philadelphia chooses to attack the Giants' defense. The Giants aren't likely to get away with blitzing linebackers as much as they did early in their last two games against Washington and Atlanta, and pass-rushers Jason Pierre-Paul, Robert Ayers and Mathias Kiwanuka are going to have to prioritize playing the run to avoid being beaten by explosive plays from McCoy and/or Sproles. The Giants' defensive ends -- Pierre-Paul especially -- have performed well against the run this season. But if the Eagles' offense is getting back to full strength, this is the toughest test New York has yet faced.

3. Taking care on special teams. The Eagles have four special teams returns for touchdowns in five games this season. The Giants rank among the worst teams in the league at covering punt returns and allowed a punt return touchdown to Arizona's Ted Ginn Jr. in Week 2. In a game that should be close, the Giants cannot afford to give points away on special teams and will have to maintain their intensity to avoid letting Sproles or another of the Eagles' return men swing the game in Philadelphia's favor.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin shows his team the NFC East standings every week. He's not going to have a tough time getting his players' attention with them this week.

Winners of three games in a row, the Giants are nonetheless in third place in their division with a 3-2 record. The two teams in front of them are the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys, both 4-1.

The Giants' next two games are on the road, the next two Sundays, in Philadelphia and then in Dallas.

"We know what's in front of us, but we need to keep focused on ourselves," defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul said. "We have a lot more work to do and we can get a lot better. If we do that, it doesn't matter who we play."

That's a perfectly appropriate frame of mind for the players to have. But the fact is, if the Giants win their next two games, they would enter their Week 8 bye in control of the division. They would be 5-2, with the Eagles' and Cowboys' records guaranteed to be no better than that, and they would be 3-0 in their division games, all three of which will have been road games.

[+] EnlargeLeSean McCoy
AP Photo/Matt RourkeLeSean McCoy is off to a slow start for the Eagles, but is coming off an 81-yard performance in Week 5.
If they lose their next two games, the Giants would be 3-4, with the Eagles and Cowboys each no worse than 5-2, and they'd be 1-2 in the division. They could also split the next two games, but if they do that, they'll obviously slip somewhat significantly behind whichever team beats them.

It's a critical stretch, and the Giants are in the right frame of mind to handle it. They followed a couple of easy victories with Sunday's tough, brawling comeback, and they believe their new system and personnel are working well together. So what are their chances to make the most of this opportunity?

The Eagles are first up. They're 4-1 and their only loss was in San Francisco, but things aren't going smoothly. Six of their 18 touchdowns have come on defense or special teams. Quarterback Nick Foles, who threw just two interceptions last year, has five interceptions and three lost fumbles in five games this year. They are allowing an average of 26.4 points per game. They fell behind in each of their first four games and came close to blowing a 34-7 third-quarter lead to St. Louis on Sunday. Last year's NFL rushing leader, LeSean McCoy, is averaging 54.6 yards per game, 2.9 yards per carry and has only one touchdown. They have suffered multiple injuries to starting offensive linemen, a problem they avoided throughout the 2013 season. As a result, their offense is not what it was as they rolled to a division title in the second half of 2013.

The Giants' newfound ability to milk the clock and operate their offense in rhythm while minimizing turnover risk could enable them to control the game against a still-wobbly defending champion. But McCoy did run for 81 yards and the team for 145 on Sunday, with right tackle Lane Johnson back from his drug suspension. And Foles' play-action passing game improved as a result (9-for-12 with an average of 9.3 yards per attempt). The Eagles remain dangerous with Darren Sproles complementing McCoy out of the backfield and Jeremy Maclin leading the downfield attack. They will be a tougher offense to get off the field on third down than any the Giants have faced since their opener in Detroit.

The Cowboys are dominating in the run game behind NFL rushing leader DeMarco Murray and a powerful offensive line that features three of their last four first-round draft picks. They have won four games in a row, though by the time the Giants get there, Dallas will be coming off a tough road game in Seattle. Obviously, if the Cowboys can run the ball against the defending Super Bowl champs and take a five-game winning streak into the Giants game, they will have everyone's attention. But so far, their formula has been effective. Murray was so effective on first down Sunday that Dallas quarterback Tony Romo was 15-for-20 for 185 yards on second-down throws.

Dallas' defense entered Week 5 ranked 26th against the pass and 14th against the run, but it hasn't been the crippling weakness it looked to be on paper before the season started. Part of the reason for that is substandard competition, but one of their four victories was an impressive throttling of Drew Brees and the Saints. The Cowboys' offense is so good at keeping the opposing offense on the sidelines that the defense isn't asked to do too much.

These will both be difficult games, and after they're over, the Giants will hit the bye week with a much better idea of how they stack up in the NFC East race.
Bart Hubbuch of the New York Post spoke with Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy the other day on a number of topics, including the New York Giants' free-agent spending spree. On the latter, McCoy is not impressed. Per Bart's Twitter page:
LeSean McCoy to me on the Giants: "I'm not paying attention to the Giants. What've they done (this offseason)? Signed some guys. Big deal."

McCoy's Eagles are flying high -- defending division champs with plenty of reason to believe things are just getting started for them as they head into Chip Kelly's second year as their head coach. And in general, McCoy has little reason to view the Giants with much reverence, since the Eagles are 7-3 against the Giants during McCoy's career and the Giants have made the playoffs just one time in those five seasons. Yes, we're all fully aware of the way things ended up the year they did make it, but the point here is the Giants aren't keeping McCoy up at night in the first place.

So the comment likely comes from a place of honesty and not false bravado. McCoy's time in the NFL has not given him much reason to think the Giants are better than his team is. He also was part of a 2011 Eagles team that "signed some guys" in the offseason and saw it not work out too well, so excuse him for not being impressed with a free-agent signing spree.

But man oh man is it foolish to think you know what's going to happen in the NFL -- especially when the regular season is still more than four months away. I give full respect to the Eagles' and their fans' right to consider themselves the NFC East's top dogs at the moment. And I have my own doubts about the short-term effectiveness of the Giants' offseason moves. But if I played or cheered for a team in the NFC East here in the second decade of the 21st century, I'd be really careful about assuming I had it all figured out, or that the gap between my team and anyone else's was all that considerable.

This isn't exactly Vince Young blurting out "dream team" in the summer of 2011, and in no way am I saying McCoy should be worrying himself about the Giants' offseason. This was just a chance to point out that no one knows what's going to happen, and it's foolish to act as though you do.

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.