New York Giants: Calvin Johnson

No rest for DRC, Giants cornerbacks

September, 9, 2014
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Here's an examination of one thing the New York Giants must do after their season-opening loss to the Lions in Detroit:

Rodgers-Cromartie
The Giants' plan Monday night was to shadow the Lions' top wide receiver, Calvin Johnson, with their top cornerback, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. They offered Rodgers-Cromartie safety help on some plays but asked him to single-cover the game's best wideout on others. This is why they signed Rodgers-Cromartie believing they could use him this way. The results, as you know by now, were not positive, as Johnson caught seven passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns.

Johnson is the toughest test there is, so there's no reason to think the Giants will move away from that "shadow the best WR" plan with Rodgers-Cromartie. But the next opponent on the Giants' schedule is the Arizona Cardinals, and they bring with them a talented corps of wide receivers without an obvious top candidate for the honor of "best."

Is it veteran Larry Fitzgerald, who's in the top 30 in NFL history in catches and receiving yards? Is it the emerging Michael Floyd, who had five catches for 119 yards in Arizona's opener late Monday night and was targeted seven times versus Fitzgerald's four? Could it even be electric rookie John Brown, who also saw more targets Monday (five) than Fitzgerald and caught the game-winning, 13-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter?

My guess is Floyd will be Rodgers-Cromartie's man if the Giants go the same way they did in Week 1. But the broader point here is the Giants need to be open to rethinking their coverage plan with their cornerbacks.

As my colleague Herm Edwards is fond of saying on air, "A plan that can't be changed is a bad plan." The Giants might have signed Rodgers-Cromartie under the belief he was a shutdown corner who could match up with top wide receivers, but the fact is he has not been that, consistently, throughout his career. Prince Amukamara showed some good things Monday night and remains a quality option, as does slot corner Walter Thurmond. The Giants obviously need to play better in zone coverage than they did Monday.

Cornerback is the strongest position group the Giants have, on paper, but it didn't look very strong Monday night. They might need to make some adjustments to the way they're deploying these guys if they want to get the best out of them the rest of the way.

Drive of the Game: Lions pounce

September, 9, 2014
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DETROIT -- The game would eventually get closer, and the two New York Giants drives that ended with Eli Manning interceptions were candidates for this week's honor. But the very first drive of the very first game of this Giants season gets the nod here because of what it felt like and what it symbolized.

The Giants spent big on cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie during their free-agent spending spree in March because (a) the Jets were trying to get him too, and (b) they thought for some reason he was the type of corner they could assign to the other team's top wide receiver every week in single coverage. Their first test of this came in Monday night's season opener, and it could not have been a tougher test.

The Lions' top receiver is Calvin Johnson, the unquestioned best in the game at his job, a 6-foot-5, 236-pound specimen who can reasonably consider himself a mismatch against any corner on the planet. The Giants decided to cover him with Rogers-Cromartie, plus some occasional help, and it was a disaster from the start.

First of all, Rodgers-Cromartie struggled to find the big guy. He lined up on the against him on the first two plays when Johnson was on the right side of the Lions' formation, but when Johnson moved to the left side on the third play, Rodgers-Cromartie spotted him late and found Prince Amukamara already on him. So he moved back left and covered someone else. Matthew Stafford looked for Johnson on Amukamara and found him for 24 yards, but the play was overturned because Johnson had run out of bounds prior to the catch.

Anyway, two plays later, Johnson went up the right sideline and for some reason Rodgers-Cromartie let him go. The safety, Stevie Brown, did not stay with him, instead colliding with Rodgers-Cromartie on a clumsy play while Johnson sailed out as open as he's been since high school, with no defender within 20 yards of him. Stafford had to elude a rushing Damontre Moore on the play, but he did, and he easily found Johnson downfield for the 67-yard touchdown that touched off the 35-14 rout.


DETROIT -- The worst part for the New York Giants was that they didn't have anything they could feel good about. Week 1 is supposed to be about optimism and looking forward with hope. But after a 35-14 loss to the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on Monday night, the Giants couldn't come up with anything positive to say about their performance.

"No excuses. We played very poorly," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "We don't have a lot to be proud of here. It was a nightmare performance."

Coughlin wasn't happy about the pass protection, as the Lions registered two sacks and nine hits of Giants quarterback Eli Manning. He was unhappy about a running game that gained 53 yards on 22 carries. He was upset about the breakdowns in pass coverage that allowed Calvin Johnson to perform like the video-game version of himself to the tune of seven catches for 164 yards and two touchdowns, and that allowed Golden Tate to gain 44 yards on a key third-and-11. He was unhappy about Manning's two interceptions and the inability of receivers Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle to make plays.

Everybody was unhappy. We even asked defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins, who had a good game stopping the run, whether he felt good about that at least. He did not.

"Right now, I don't feel like I did a good job of anything," Jenkins said. "I feel like we could have made it a lot easier on our secondary if we'd played better up front."

Safety Antrel Rolle said "there definitely wasn't enough fight" in his team in its first game of the season. And after the mess they made of last season, all of the changes they made in the offseason and the grief they took from outside critics in the preseason, you would have thought that wouldn't be a problem.

Instead, those who endured last year's 0-6 start seemed to be experiencing a sick and familiar feeling as they dressed and packed and headed for the plane.

"We shouldn't be talking right now about comparing the way we lost to last year," Jenkins said. "We should be talking about what we learned from last year, and how that made us better."

But they weren't, and the reason was the familiarity of the overmatched feeling they felt on the field. The Lions came at them with star players at wide receiver, running back, defensive line and, of course, quarterback. The Giants looked like a patchwork science project of a team whose pieces aren't good enough on their own to scare anyone and don't yet fit together in any kind of productive way.

"How are guys that you don't know going to respond to adversity now?" linebacker and newly minted team captain Jon Beason asked. "We have a new group of guys here. Owning up to what you did wrong is the first step, and it's an important one."

Tuesday and Wednesday aren't going to be fun days for the Giants as they review what went on in their first game of the season. To make sure the feeling doesn't repeat itself, they must correct the mistakes and start playing better. The long-term problem is that they may not have enough quality players on this roster to allow them to do that. The short-term problem is that Monday night's opener didn't offer any evidence to the contrary.

Tom Coughlin: 'A nightmare performance'

September, 8, 2014
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DETROIT -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the New York Giants' 35-14 loss to the Lions:
  • Giants coach Tom Coughlin doesn't sugarcoat. "No excuses," he said. "We played very poorly. We don't have a lot to be proud of here. It was a nightmare performance." Coughlin cited the pass protection and the lack of productivity by the run game as his top two concerns and told his team it was in for a tough, short week of preparation for Sunday's game against the Cardinals.
  • Weatherford
    Weatherford
  • Punter Steve Weatherford had a walking boot on his left foot and said he would have an MRI on his injured ankle Tuesday. Weatherford was hit on a punt early in the game and stayed in to continue punting, but he said he "had to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to punt when I couldn't accelerate through the ball." Obviously, the Giants will have to bring in someone else if Weatherford's injury is serious.
  • The Giants' defensive game plan called for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to shadow Lions top wideout Calvin Johnson all game. Johnson had seven catches for 164 yards and two touchdowns. "He got behind the defense and made a play," Rodgers-Cromartie said of the 67-yard play that began the night's scoring. "I can't really speak on that." My sense was that Rodgers-Cromartie thought he had help on the play and didn't want to burn a teammate by saying it.

Rapid Reaction: New York Giants

September, 8, 2014
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DETROIT -- A few thoughts on the New York Giants' 35-14 loss to the Detroit Lions at Ford Field.

What it means: As we told you going into the season, the Giants' offense is not a finished product. Not even close. But the problems go well beyond whether they're picking up offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo's new schemes. The Giants' problems are about personnel. The offensive line isn't good enough. They don't have enough at wide receiver, as Victor Cruz is easily erased from the game and Jerrel Jernigan and Rueben Randle aren't reliable. They have no dynamic tight end. And they didn't run the ball especially well Monday, either. Eli Manning's interceptions were bad, especially the second one, but the quality of the group around him needs to improve.

Stock Watch: The new Giants' secondary, DOWN. Yes, I know Calvin Johnson makes everybody look bad, but the breakdowns in the zones were terrible, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie made way too many mistakes, letting Johnson go into empty space on the first touchdown and letting Golden Tate get past him for a critical 44-yard catch on third down in the second half. The Giants aren't good enough on offense to allow for a leaky secondary. This is supposed to be the strength of the team, but it was a weakness Monday.

Line must improve: Pass protection was Manning's biggest problem last year, was a major issue in the preseason and was terrible again Monday night. Left tackle Will Beatty looks lost, and he and the rest of the offensive line need to figure out some things in a hurry if the Giants are to avoid a repeat of last year's offensive crater.

Game ball: Defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins. The one bright spot, I thought, was the Giants' run defense, led by the play of the beefy defensive tackles on the inside. Especially with only three of them active for the game, Jenkins, Johnathan Hankins and Mike Patterson had to handle a lot of the load and held up well, limiting a talented Detroit running game to 76 yards on 30 carries. Jenkins made the plays that stood out most to me, so I pick him.

What's next: The Giants host the Arizona Cardinals at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
The New York Giants invested heavily in free-agent cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and they're going to use him accordingly. Speaking at the NFL owners meetings in Orlando on Wednesday, Giants coach Tom Coughlin said Rodgers-Cromartie would be deployed as the team's No. 1 cornerback. Per Jordan Raanan of NJ.com:

When asked how exactly DRC would be employed within defensive coordinator Perry Fewell's defensive system, head coach Tom Coughlin didn't hesitate.

"Are you the best receiver of their team? [He's] following you then," Coughlin said Wednesday at the NFL Meetings.

Dallas Cowboys' Dez Bryant
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezNew Giants cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, left, can expect to be matched up with elite receivers like Dallas' Dez Bryant next season.
Coughlin and the Giants targeted that type of player right from the start of free agency. They checked in on all the top cornerbacks, before landing Rodgers-Cromartie when the options were slimming. It's clear what drew them to talented cornerback.

"He's physical enough. When you watch him closely, he doesn't shy away," Coughlin said. "He's got great big long arms, he's tall, he's fast, he can match up."

So that's the answer to a lot of the questions that were asked when the Giants signed Rodgers-Cromartie. The question is whether he can handle the assignment of tailing guys like Dez Bryant, Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Julio Jones and maybe DeSean Jackson around the field for a whole game. All of those guys are on the Giants' 2014 schedule (unless Jackson gets traded to a team that is not), and each is a tough matchup for even the best cornerbacks in the league.

Rodgers-Cromartie hasn't really been used that way in previous stops, and it will be interesting to see how he responds. I asked my NFL Insiders colleague Louis Riddick what he thought. Louis is a former defensive back himself who worked in the Eagles' front office when Rodgers-Cromartie was there in 2011 and 2012.

"He may actually respond favorably to that, to be honest, especially if there are guys like [Antrel] Rolle who he doesn't want to let down," Louis said. "While we had him, no, he would not have reacted well to that kind of responsibility."

Interesting point about safety Rolle, who is the Giants' defensive team captain and was a teammate of Rodgers-Cromartie's in Arizona earlier in their careers. Rodgers-Cromartie was calling Rolle "big bro" around the time of his signing and clearly looks up to him. Part of the reason the Giants have confidence Rodgers-Cromartie can harness his talent and establish a level of consistency with them that he hasn't shown to this point in his career is that they expect Rolle's influence to be strong and positive.

If Rodgers-Cromartie can handle that "shut-down" responsibility with regard to the opponent's top wideout every week, that would obviously be a huge asset to the Giants' defense and justify their five-year, $35 million investment in him. It would ease some of the pressure on Prince Amukamara, who tried gamely to fill the No. 1 cornerback spot in 2014 but isn't really suited for that role full-time. It would allow fellow newcomer Walter Thurmond to stay on the slot receiver, where he should be a tough matchup every week. And the overall depth at corner now should allow Rolle to stay at safety for a whole season, which he prefers and will likely make him as effective as he can be.

If Rodgers-Cromartie can't handle that assignment ... well, then they're going to have to move a lot of pieces around to make up for that. The positive thing there is that they have a good number of quality pieces to move around in case Plan A doesn't work out.

NFLN survey/feared player: Giants

January, 9, 2014
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ESPN.com's NFL Nation surveyed 10 players from every team on a variety of questions, and the results will be released in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl. The first question addressed in our series was, "Who is the most feared player in the NFL?", and while the results don't include any New York Giants players, they do include a few players the Giants faced this season.

The top two players on the list were Detroit Lions -- defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who got 19 percent of the vote, and wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who got 18.1 percent of the vote. The vast difference in the roles those two players have for the Lions indicates the open-endedness of the question, which was a characteristic I found interesting in my own confidential polling of Giants players. There were defensive players named for their fearsome ability to dominate games physically, and there were offensive players named for their ability to demoralize defenses.

As for those two particular Lions, neither turned in any kind of eye-popping performance in the Week 16 game the Giants came back to win in overtime in Detroit. The Lions were toast by then, and were eliminated from postseason contention by that game's result.

Other players on the list who played on Giants 2013 opponents included Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, who took them apart in Week 2, and Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who didn't do much in that "Monday Night Football" game in Week 7 that produced the Giants' first victory of the season.

The survey was a fun and fascinating exercise, and I look forward to sharing more of the results with you as the weeks before the Super Bowl unfold.

Amukamara tries out 'shutdown CB' role

December, 23, 2013
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Back in training camp, New York Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara said his goal going into the season was for his coaches to trust him enough to allow him to "spilt the field" with fellow starter Corey Webster instead of assigning Webster to shadow the opponent's best wide receiver all game. Amukamara believed he'd worked hard enough and played well enough to earn that.

Amukamara
Well, obviously things have not gone as planned for the Giants this year anywhere, including in the secondary, and Amukamara has, by necessity, advanced even further than he'd hoped. Webster got hurt and barely played, elevating Amukamara to the role of best cornerback on the team by default if nothing else. They also lost backup Aaron Ross to injury, didn't have Jayron Hosley for much of the year and have preferred to use Terrell Thomas and his rebuilt knee in the slot rather than on the outside. Even so, Amukamara had not yet been given Webster's old assignment of covering the opponent's top wide receiver no matter where he lined up.

Until Sunday, when the Giants decided to put him on the best wide receiver in the league, Detroit's Calvin Johnson. Apparently not wanting to risk ending up with 5-foot-8 Trumaine McBride on the 6-foot-5 Johnson, the Giants instead told Amukamara to follow Johnson wherever he went unless he lined up in the slot, in which case a safety would cover him. Amukamara clearly found the assignment exhilarating.

"You do feel special when you get the assignment to match up against the receiver, and everyone knows that Megatron is all-world," Amukamara said. "So I had my hands full when he was in."

He wasn't in all the time. Johnson had a knee injury and was a game-time decision to play, and he spent an unusual amount of time on the sideline. When Johnson was in the game, Amukamara seemed to handle him fine, though he did acknowledge it was a bit hectic trying to identify where he was and not only get there but make sure McBride took his place on the other side. At one point, linebacker Jon Beason was lined up over Johnson. Thankfully for Amukamara, they noticed before it was too late. That would have been what you call a mismatch.

"I told him, 'You take him. That's your job,'" Beason said on his way out of the locker room.

May seem like a small thing, but the fact that the Giants decided to try using Amukamara the way they liked to use Webster -- and did so against the most challenging guy in the league -- indicates a possibility that Amukamara could be advancing into such a role as he and the Giants move into the future. The coaches will make a detailed evaluation of the way Amukamara handled the assignment before giving it to him again. But to the extent that the Giants can draw future-focused conclusions from these final weeks of the season, this is the kind of individual performance at which they'll be looking closely.

Upon Further Review: Giants Week 16

December, 23, 2013
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DETROIT -- An examination of four hot issues from the New York Giants' 23-20 overtime victory against the Detroit Lions:

Amukamara
Prince on Megatron: The Giants assigned top cornerback Prince Amukamara to cover superstar Lions receiver Calvin Johnson wherever he lined up Sunday except in the slot. Amukamara said it was the first time he'd had such an assignment (as opposed to "splitting the field" with another cornerback) and that it made him "feel special." Johnson was targeted just four times and had three catches for 43 yards and no touchdowns. He also was dealing with a knee injury that made him a game-time decision to play, per Adam Schefter, and he spent a fair amount of time on the sideline. Amukamara said Johnson didn't seem injured to him when he was on the field -- that he looked "very explosive off the line, but there were series where he had to go out of the game, so I kind of figured he must be injured."

Jernigan shows toughness: Playing the slot receiver position in place of the injured Victor Cruz, Jerrel Jernigan had a very Cruz-like stat line -- six catches for 80 yards and his first NFL touchdown. "I see his game elevate and get better year after year after year out there on the practice field," fellow wide receiver Hakeem Nicks said of Jernigan. "He's the next guy up with Victor out, and he's obviously up to the task." Jernigan's 15-yard catch on fourth-and-seven in the overtime period kept alive the winning drive and moved the Giants into position for Josh Brown's game-winning field goal. Jernigan is taking advantage of a chance to prove himself a useful NFL player.

Protection remains an issue: Down to third- and fourth-stringers at the guard positions, the Giants struggled mightily to protect quarterback Eli Manning from the rushing Detroit defensive line. With some inside handoffs to Andre Brown and some rollouts by Manning in the first half, they were able to keep the defense off him enough to build a 13-3 lead. But in the second half, they had no time to do anything on offense, and Manning was sacked in the end zone for a safety that was part of Detroit's 17 straight points. Manning surely will play Sunday and extend his streak to 151 consecutive games, but the Giants will have to work hard to keep Redskins pass-rushers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan from terrorizing him.

The whole story: The Giants turned the ball over twice. The Lions turned the ball over three times. That makes it the fourth game this season in which the Giants have had a positive turnover differential. They are 4-0 in those games, 1-2 in games in which it's even and 1-7 when they turn the ball over more than their opponent does. That's your Giants season in a nutshell, right there.
DETROIT -- New York Giants safety Will Hill is active and will play in today's game against the Lions. Hill was reportedly arrested Friday night on a warrant related to child support, but the Giants consider it a personal matter and not a behavioral misstep worthy of discipline. So Hill will start at safety as usual.

Headlining the inactives list, however, is veteran guard David Diehl, who will miss the game with a knee injury. That leaves the woefully inexperienced James Brewer and Brandon Mosley as the Giants' starting guards against a Lions defensive line whose interior pass-rushers are among the most fearsome in the league. It will take a supreme effort to keep Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley off of Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who has already absorbed a career-high 36 sacks this season.

Other inactives include wide receiver Victor Cruz (knee), defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder), safety Cooper Taylor (hamstring) and running back Peyton Hillis (concussion), all of whom were ruled out Friday. Linebacker Allen Bradford and third quarterback Ryan Nassib are the other inactives.

The Giants announced Rueben Randle as the starter at wide receiver in place of Cruz, and you should look for Randle and Hakeem Nicks when they're in two-receiver sets. But Jerrel Jernigan is the man who'll replace Cruz as the slot receiver when they use one.

Active for the first time this season is tight end Adrien Robinson, who if he gets on the field could be auditioning for a spot on next year's team. The Giants have had high hopes for Robinson since drafting him in the fourth round of the 2012 draft.

Superstar Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who has been dealing with a knee injury, is active for the game. There had been some question about that following an Adam Schefter report Sunday morning that Johnson would be a game-time decision.

Double Coverage: Giants at Lions

December, 20, 2013
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Justin Tuck and Matthew StaffordGetty ImagesJustin Tuck, left, and the Giants will be trying to end the playoff hopes of Matthew Stafford's Lions.
It is a battle of disappointments on Sunday at Ford Field: the New York Giants, who have been disappointing all season, against the Detroit Lions, who have been one of the more surprising teams over the second half of the season -- in a bad way.

The Giants have no playoff hopes. The Lions need to win their final two games and then hope for help (i.e., losses) from Green Bay and Chicago.

Taking you through Sunday’s matchup are ESPN.com NFL reporters Michael Rothstein (Lions) and Dan Graziano (Giants).

Rothstein: The Giants have struggled all season, and Eli Manning has been at the forefront of that. What has changed there?

Graziano: It's basically just a complete bottoming-out on all fronts, starting with the protection. A line that wasn't great to begin with is down two starters and has been playing a rookie at right tackle all season. The blocking help the line used to get from running backs and tight ends disappeared when the Giants let Ahmad Bradshaw and Martellus Bennett leave in the offseason. Hakeem Nicks has had a terrible year at receiver, playing like he is more worried about staying healthy in advance of free agency than trying his best to win. There has been no run game at all for long stretches. And Manning has failed to elevate above his miserable circumstances, missing too many throws and too often looking as though it has all been too much for him. It's been a total whitewash of a season for the Giants' offense. They are the only team in the league that has been shut out even once this season, and they've been shut out twice.

What is the deal out there in Detroit? To my eyes, the Lions should have put this division away by now with Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler having been out for so long. What is the main reason they seem to have squandered such a great opportunity?

Rothstein: I don't know whether there are enough words to describe all that has gone on, although the simplest way to put it would be consistent end-game meltdowns, either from turnovers, coaching decisions or a defense that suddenly faltered.

A lot of it has to do with Matthew Stafford, who has had accuracy issues in the second half of the season. Really, there have been issues everywhere but the lines, from turnovers to coverage breakdowns on defense.

This is a team that should be safely in the playoffs right now instead of needing to win out and get help.

That obviously leads to job-security questions for Jim Schwartz. Although that doesn't seem to be the case for Tom Coughlin, has this season given any indication as to how much longer he plans to be on the sideline?

Graziano: No, Coughlin is really a what-you-see-is-what-you-get sort of guy. He's completely believable when he insists he's focused on only this week's game and doesn't want to address anything beyond this season. People close to Coughlin insist he won't quit as long as he feels he can still do the job, and there is no indication he feels otherwise. He has as much passion and energy as anyone else in the building (and right now, more than most!). I don't think Giants ownership would fire him, and I'd be stunned if he got into the offseason and decided he was done. As one person close to him told me, "He has no hobbies. There's nothing for him to retire TO." At 67 years old, he understands why the questions get asked, but he doesn't view himself as near the end of a career, I don't think. As of now, he plans to be part of the solution here, and it would be a major upset if he wasn't back in 2014.

One of Coughlin's biggest immediate problems is keeping his quarterback from getting killed. How is that Detroit pass rush looking these days?

Rothstein: Eli, meet Ndamukong. He will be the guy tossing you to the ground today. In all seriousness, though, the Lions' pass rush has been interesting. The Lions have been great at applying pressure (other than against Pittsburgh) but don't have the actual numbers to show for it, which can be confusing.

What teams have done is bottle the middle on Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, and have either a tight end or running back help on either Willie Young or Ziggy Ansah on the ends.

So to answer your question, it has been OK, but not the consistently dominant force some were expecting.

That leads into my last question. The Lions' run defense, headed by that front, has been one of the best in the league this season. Have the Giants figured any way to solve their run woes?

Graziano: Andre Brown was hot for a while when he came back from his injury, and the offensive line was starting to block better for the run. But the past two weeks have seen a step backward, and the way the line is configured now, with starting left guard Kevin Boothe playing center and backups rotating in and out at left guard, has left it very vulnerable and one-dimensional. The Giants were able to take advantage of some good matchups with Brown running well, but against tougher fronts like the one they saw against Seattle last week, they struggle. I imagine they will struggle against the Lions' front in the run game as well.

Two straight disappointing games for Stafford and Calvin Johnson. Do you expect Megatron to blow up this week and victimize the Giants' secondary?

Rothstein: Kind of. As cornerback Rashean Mathis told me this week, if the Lions don’t find their urgency now, they’ll never find it this season. So I’d imagine you would see Johnson -- who is Detroit's best player -- at the forefront of that if the Lions have any shot over the next two weeks. Plus, those two drops he had against Baltimore will gnaw at him all week long. I expect he’ll have a big game.

Stafford, on the other hand, I’m not as sure about because he seems genuinely rattled this second half of the season. Detroit needs to find what was working for him at the start of the season and bring that back, otherwise its season is over.

.

Big Blue Morning: Cruz's season is over

December, 20, 2013
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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.

Covering Calvin: The Giants prepare

December, 18, 2013
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- His name is recognizable league-wide, and its four basic syllables offer no impediment to punctuation. But Calvin Johnson struggled Wednesday with the names of the New York Giants defensive backs who will be trying to cover him Sunday.

On a conference call with Giants reporters, the Detroit Lions' superstar wide receiver knew Prince Amukamara's first name but asked for help pronouncing the last. And he referred to Trumaine McBride only as "No. 38" and admitted he wasn't sure on his name.

"I mean, last year I was out of the league," McBride said later in the Giants' locker room. "I haven't done much. I'm not surprised he doesn't know me."

[+] EnlargePatrick Peterson and Calvin Johnson
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesAs they prepare to cover Calvin Johnson on Sunday, Giants defensive backs are looking at how Arizona's Patrick Peterson managed in Week 2.
Amukamara, as congenial an NFL player as you'll ever meet, offered that people still misspell and mispronounce his name around the Giants' facility and said he wasn't bothered at all by the fact that Johnson didn't know it well enough to pronounce it. He said he'd help him out if Johnson asked when they're on the field facing each other Sunday.

Both starting cornerbacks, as well as the other players in the Giants' secondary, were more concerned Wednesday with how to cover the 6-foot-5 Lion who's already got 81 catches for 1,449 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. McBride, who stands only 5-9, is dealing with the reality of giving away eight inches and still trying to stop a guy.

"I've been this small forever, so everyone I go against is bigger than me," McBride said. "I know I can't jump with him, so it doesn't make sense for me to try and jump with him. It makes sense to play his hands when he's coming down with it and knock the ball out. He's obviously very good, but everyone has weaknesses. So once I find out what that is, that's what I have to focus on to have success on game day."

It might make more sense to put the 6-foot Amukamara on Johnson throughout the game, but the Giants prefer to split the field with their cornerbacks instead of assigning one to the opponent's best receiver, and Amukamara said he believes that's the plan this week as well. In order to prepare for the times he'll face Johnson, he's been studying tape of the Lions' Week 2 loss in Arizona, in which Cardinals corner Patrick Peterson shadowed Johnson.

"It seemed he did pretty well," Amukamara said of Peterson. "He got beat on some big plays, but you would expect that given who Calvin Johnson is. But Patrick did a very good job from what I see, and I think I can take some things from that."

In that game, Johnson had six catches for 116 yards and two touchdowns. One of the touchdown catches covered 72 yards, which obviously skews the yardage total high. But it tells you all you need to know about who Johnson is that Amukamara's goal would be to replicate a six-catch, 116-yard, two-touchdown game.

Johnson's best game this season, as has been the case for many receivers, came against the Dallas Cowboys. In a Week 8 home victory over Dallas, Johnson had 14 catches for 329 yards and a touchdown, and no, that's not a misprint. The Giants' defensive backs, as of Wednesday afternoon, had not watched tape of that game. But some of them said they planned to.

"You definitely want to see how something like that transpired," safety Ryan Mundy said. "But whatever you see on tape. you know this is a big, fast, strong, physical receiver, and we have to go out there and be big, fast, strong and physical with him. We have to try and put him in some difficult spots."

Johnson is coming off a couple of disappointing games. He caught just three passes for 52 yards in the snow in Philadelphia in Week 14, and caught only six of his 14 targets for 98 yards in Monday night's loss to Baltimore. He had a couple of bad and critical drops against Baltimore as well, and he hasn't caught a touchdown pass since Week 13. So he could be in a slump, or he could be due to explode and destroy his next opponent. While it'd be easy to get caught up in the latter possibility, the Giants are not expecting to be intimidated.

"We're all players, all men, and we're at this level for a reason," McBride said. "He can make plays. I can make plays too. We'll line up and do what we can to try and stop him. That's all we can do."

Big Blue Morning: A winning streak

October, 28, 2013
10/28/13
8:00
AM ET
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 won their second game in a row, beating the Philadelphia Eagles 15-7 to head into their bye week with a 2-6 record. For the second game in a row, the defense did not allow any points, as the Eagles' touchdown came when they recovered a botched punt snap in the end zone in the fourth quarter. The Giants' defense got four sacks, which represents two-thirds of its league-low season total from the first seven weeks of the season. It also forced three turnovers, including Will Hill's final-minute interception that sealed the victory. They were upset that they couldn't score touchdowns and instead had to settle for five Josh Brown field goals, but a Giants team that couldn't find a way to win for the first six weeks of the season wasn't complaining about much of anything after this one. Two of the sacks came from defensive backs, and some of the defensive linemen joked that maybe that was the spark the pass rush needed. "It's not the most ideal situation, but you'll take it," defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said. "Especially if they're out there forcing turnovers like they were."

Behind enemy lines: It was pretty apparent that Eagles quarterback Michael Vick should not have been playing on his bad hamstring. Multiple Giants defenders said Vick didn't look like himself, and Justin Tuck said he thought Vick "just tried to will himself to play hurt." Vick declined to say after the game whether or not he thought it was a good idea for him to play, but he did say it was a worse hamstring injury than any he's ever had and that he's going for further tests this week. "I tested it many times, but there's nothing like game simulation when guys are coming at you and they're going to hit you," Vick said.

Around the division: The first-place Cowboys looked poised to improve to 5-3, but they gave their game away late to Calvin Johnson and the Lions, and so they fell to 4-4, which as everyone is pointing out is only two games better than the Giants. (Three, really, since they beat the Giants head-to-head.) Jason Garrett has a good team that hasn't yet learned how to win its big games against tough opponents, and as a result the division race remains up for grabs.

Around the league: Top of my head, I'm thinking the Saints, 49ers and Bengals get serious looks at improved standing on my Power Rankings ballot as I put that thing together today. The Bengals' victory over a Jets team that just took out the Patriots a week earlier was something of a serious statement.
Your daily morning check-in on news and notes about and of interest to the New York Giants.

The news of the day: Lots of talk around the Giants about wide receiver Hakeem Nicks and the tough year he's having. Tom Coughlin said Wednesday that Nicks needs to be more reliable. And while Nicks said he thinks his game is the same as it ever was and people are just focusing on him more because he's in a contract year and has been mentioned in trade rumors, it seems obvious to anyone watching that Nicks isn't the same player he was before the leg injuries of 2012. Maybe he gets better as the year goes along. Maybe the legs never come back. Either is a possibility, as are several outcomes along the middle part of that spectrum. Whatever happens, assuming they don't trade him by Tuesday, Nicks remains one of the big issues facing the Giants for the remainder of this season and into the offseason. ... In other news, the Giants placed starting center David Baas on season-ending injured reserve with a knee injury, meaning Jim Cordle takes over as the starting center. Cordle has improved since the start of the season, and has started as many games this year as the injury-plagued Baas has, but the Giants are struggling against defensive pressure on the interior of the offensive line, and they would prefer a healthy Baas. They just don't have one, and likely won't ever again.

Behind enemy lines: Giants coaches and players spoke Wednesday about how much improvement they believe the Eagles have shown on defense since they played them in Week 5, but one of the Eagles' starting cornerbacks is missing practice time this week with an injury. Bradley Fletcher wasn't the most exciting free-agent signing of the offseason, but he's covered pretty well and is a key aspect of the Eagles' improved ability to limit opponents.

Around the division: The Cowboys are feeling good about themselves these days as they've won a couple of games in a row and moved into first place in the NFC East. But they have a big test of a game this week against the Detroit Lions, and one of the biggest keys will be the ability of Dallas defensive back Brandon Carr to limit the damage done by Lions star receiver Calvin Johnson.

Around the league: Greg Garber's look at the NFL trade deadline was a fun read, and he proposed some potential doozies, including this off-the-wall idea of the Giants trading for Minnesota's Adrian Peterson. Don't sweat it, Giants fans. Not possible, for salary cap and a whole bunch of other reasons. Probably fun to imagine, though.

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