Sunday, December 1, 2013
Halftime thoughts: Rough start evens out
By Dan Graziano ESPN.com
LANDOVER, Md. -- All week, the New York Giants warned us not to judge Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins' offense on last Monday night's miserable performance against the San Francisco 49ers. The Giants remembered struggling twice last season with a dynamic, multifaceted Washington offense they found difficult to solve. And regardless of the struggles the Redskins had last week, the Giants believed them capable of a rebound.
As if on cue, the Redskins started Sunday night's game hot, employing an up-tempo, no-huddle style off the opening kickoff and driving 73 yards in 14 plays for their first opening-possession touchdown since Dec. 9 of last year. After possessing the ball for 11:22 of a possible 15:00 in the first quarter, the 3-8 Redskins added a second-quarter touchdown for a 14-0 lead and appeared to have the 4-7 Giants on their heels. They were dominating on offense as well as on defense, where Giants left tackle Will Beatty was having a terrible time with Redskins pass-rusher Brian Orakpo, and on special teams, where Santana Moss was performing well on punt returns and Sav Rocca had one of his own punts killed at the Giants' 1-yard line.
Though they wobbled early, the Giants have recovered with a couple of nice touchdown drives of their own. Andre Brown capped a 74-yard drive with a 23-yard touchdown run, and an Eli Manning touchdown pass to tight end Brandon Myers covered 22 yards to cap an 81-yard drive with 35 seconds left in the first half. The Giants have come back to tie the score at 14-14 and will get the ball to open the second half.
So, a fair amount of good as well as bad so far, and here are a few things I've noticed:
As tough a time as the offensive line has in pass protection, it's doing a truly exceptional job of run-blocking for the second week in a row. The Giants have 73 rushing yards on 11 carries for an average of 6.6 yards per carry. Peyton Hillis broke a 27-yarder earlier in the drive that resulted in Brown's 23-yarder, and the Giants' best bet for keeping the pass rush off of Manning is likely to continue to show they can pick up big chunks of yardage against the middle of the defense.
There could be a huge number of passing yards in the second half, because right now no one is stopping anyone in the passing game. Manning is 10-for-12 for 101 yards, and Griffin is 16-for-17 for 149 yards. The Redskins' secondary has been a problem for them all season (and last season, too), and the Giants are very thin at cornerback with both Corey Webster and Trumaine McBride inactive for the game. If the quarterbacks can get time to throw, as Griffin has all night and Manning did in the second quarter, this could be a shootout the rest of the way.
Run defense continues to be a Giants' strength. They've done a good job all season against top running backs, and in the first half tonight they have held Washington's Alfred Morris to 11 yards on nine carries. They have depth and quality at defensive tackle and are very tough in the middle of the defensive line. Defensive end Justin Tuck also has been strong against the run. The Giants' defensive line isn't generating a pass rush, and without the injured Jason Pierre-Paul they should continue to struggle to do so. But if they can take away Morris, they could frustrate Griffin by limiting his options.
Hakeem Nicks is active after sitting out last week's game with his abdominal injury, and he looks fine, but he hasn't had many opportunities. The Redskins are sticking cornerback DeAngelo Hall on him and occasionally shading a safety to his side, and his one catch so far was a jump-ball for which he barely out-fought Hall. He continues to struggle to get separation, and Manning does not appear to be looking his way early in the progressions. Manning has targeted Myers four times, Brown three times, Victor Cruz twice and no one else more than once.
The ESPN.com boxscore credits Giants middle linebacker Jon Beason with 10 solo tackles already, which is insane, but Beason is flying around out there and managed to run down Griffin on one play to force him out of bounds short of the first-down marker on third down. The Giants aren't great, but no one can say they're not playing hard.
The Giants seem to be using a safety on Pierre Garcon's side, as well as sticking top cornerback Prince Amukamara to him. Which would be smart, since the Redskins don't have any scary receiving options after Garcon. Tight end Jordan Reed is inactive for the second game in a row because of a concussion, and Josh Morgan isn't showing much. Garcon has caught all four passes thrown his way, but for only 32 yards. The Giants have done a good job bringing him down after the catch.