NFC East: brandon myers

The awkward part of New York Giants GM Jerry Reese's pre-draft news conference Thursday came when a reporter asked him about tight end. The exchange went like this:
Q: Historically, this team has relied on the tight end quite a bit. Would you be comfortable moving forward with the guys you have on your roster right now?

Reese: Historically we've relied on our tight end?

Q: Well, they've had a prominent role.

Reese: Really?

Q: I seem to remember tight ends catching important passes.

Reese: Yeah, well, we think we've got some tight ends that can catch some important passes. But "prominent role"? We want all of our positions to be prominent roles. I'm not sure if our tight ends have had prominent roles in the past. But we want a competent tight end. We think we've got a couple of young tight ends who have been here for a couple of years who we want to develop, and we'll continue to look as we move forward.
[+] EnlargeBrandon Myers
Brad Penner/USA TODAY SportsIn his one season with the Giants, Brandon Myers caught 47 passes for 522 yards.
I have been on the other end of that exchange in the past. I've been the one who asked Reese a question that posited a certain level of significance for the tight end position and had him reject the premise. Obviously, this does not show Reese at his most polite, but he views this idea that the Giants' offense has relied on a tight end as an especially irksome misperception. And the numbers support his side of it:

  • Brandon Myers' 47 receptions in 2013 were the second-most in a single season by a Giants tight end since Jeremy Shockey caught 57 passes in 2007.
  • Since 2007, the Giants have employed four different starting tight ends -- Kevin Boss from 2008-10, Jake Ballard in 2011, Martellus Bennett in 2012 and Myers last year.
  • Over that six-year stretch, the Giants' leading tight end has averaged 42 receptions for 539 yards and five touchdowns per year, with Bennett's 55 catches and 626 yards in 2012 and Boss' six touchdowns in 2008 the high-water marks in those categories.

Reese is not shy about telling people he thinks he can find a tight end who can catch 42 passes every year, and this is the basis on which he rejects a characterization such as "prominent role." Yes, he could be nicer about making the point, but the Giants' offense has not, in point of fact, relied on the tight end. Shockey was an exceptional case -- an exceptional talent the Giants deemed worthy of a first-round pick. And Bennett's athleticism allowed them to use him a bit more than they've used other guys after they were able to get him on the cheap prior to the 2012 season.

But the thing to remember about Bennett and Shockey is that both were excellent and willing blockers at the position. Bennett's as good a run-blocking tight end as there is in the NFL right now, and the Giants had him on the field a lot for that reason. That his size and speed enabled him to be a slightly bigger factor in the passing game than some of his predecessors were was a bonus, and the Giants were fortunate that he wasn't in demand that year due to the perception that he was a huge disappointment in Dallas. Once he played well for them, he parlayed that into a big free-agent deal with the Bears, and the Giants made no effort to spend to keep him.

So the point to be taken from this is not that the Giants don't like the tight end position but that it's not a position on which they feel compelled to spend major resources. Other than that 2002 first-round pick they spent on Shockey, they've consistently sought cheap solutions at tight end, viewing whoever plays it as replaceable from year to year. They want guys who can block, and if those guys can catch the ball, so much the better.

For that reason, it's easy to convince yourself that they won't be taking North Carolina's Eric Ebron with the No. 12 pick in the first round next week. Ebron may be an exceptional talent as a receiver, and the tight end position leaguewide may have evolved to the point where it's worth spending a No. 12 overall pick to get one who can be a difference-maker in the passing game. But Reese insisted Thursday that the arrival of new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo has not changed the way the Giants evaluate offensive players. And while Shockey was the No. 14 overall pick in that 2002 draft, it's vital to remember that Shockey was a good blocker in addition to a great pass-catcher. Ebron is a pass-catcher only. He'd be a liability as a blocker. So the comparison doesn't necessarily fit.

The Giants could find a tight end such as Jace Amaro or Austin Seferian-Jenkins in the second round if they really feel they need one, but it's possible they don't feel that way. They have 2012 fourth-round pick Adrien Robinson still on the roster and have been eager for some time to see him on the field more. They resisted putting Robinson on injured reserve all last year because they believed he had something to offer if he ever got healthy (which he finally did, only to injure himself again on the opening kickoff of the Week 16 game in Detroit). They signed blocking tight end Kellen Davis and Daniel Fells for depth at the position, and Larry Donnell has been a strong enough special-teams performer to earn more practice reps and show what he can do. That's the group Reese has, and he swears he doesn't feel the need to upgrade it in the draft. If their pick comes around and the best player still on their board plays tight end, sure, they could take him. But Reese isn't hunting for some huge solution at the position next week.

The question is whether he's right. I personally think the Giants would benefit from having a more permanent solution at this position than they've employed over the past four years. I think the way the league is going, it's more important than it used to be to have a big-time weapon at that position who can split out wide and bust matchups in the secondary. But I don't run the Giants. Jerry Reese does. And he and the Giants do things their way, and they believe in it. You can respect someone's conviction even if your opinion differs from theirs. Reese thinks he's OK at tight end -- or at least that he will be. And it's clear when he's asked about it that he doesn't understand what all the fuss is about.

Top free-agent roundup: NFC East

March, 10, 2014
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Here are the top 15 free agents, followed by their rankings, entering Tuesday's signing period as compiled by NFC East reporters Dan Graziano, Todd Archer, Phil Sheridan and John Keim. There are some strong options at the top, but there is not a lot of depth in the NFC East when it comes to free agency. And if Dallas' DeMarcus Ware gets released, he vaults to a top spot on this list. As always, ESPN's free-agent tracker will keep you updated during this period.

1. LB Brian Orakpo, 8.5: The Redskins used the franchise tag on him, so barring a surprise, he’ll be back. It’s a controversial move among fans, but the Redskins need his pass rush and promise to unleash him more often. His career best for a single season is 11 sacks.

2. DT Linval Joseph, 8: A very big, strong and young (25) interior run-stuffer who has also shown the ability to create pressure from the interior, Joseph could be available because of the Giants’ depth at defensive tackle and their many needs.

3. DT Jason Hatcher, 8: He is coming off an 11-sack season, but he turns 32 in July and Dallas doesn’t have much cap space.

4. LB Jon Beason, 7: The Giants are working hard to sign him before free agency opens, as his leadership and high-energy play at middle linebacker helped transform their defense during the 2013 season.

Nicks
5. WR Hakeem Nicks, 7: This grade is based on talent and past accomplishments, and a feeling that he was being overly careful in 2013 in order to hit free agency healthy. Lacks his early career speed, but knows how to play the position as well as anyone.

6. WR Jason Avant, 7: For a team in need of a third-down possession guy, the sure-handed Avant will be a great value.

7. P Donnie Jones, 7: The Eagles are expected to re-sign Jones, who was an underrated contributor to their NFC East title team.

8. DE Anthony Spencer, 6: He is coming back from microfracture surgery, so the cost won’t be high.

9. LB Perry Riley, 6: The Redskins need to re-sign him because they already have a hole at inside linebacker after London Fletcher retired. But they won’t break the bank for Riley, who needs to improve in coverage.

10. DE Justin Tuck, 6: Coming off an 11-sack season that came out of nowhere after two down years, Tuck turns 31 later this month but is a locker-room leader and a 4-3 defensive end who can set the edge against the run.

Vick
Vick
11. QB Michael Vick, 6: With Nick Foles' ascension, Vick is looking for a chance to start elsewhere.

12. RB Andre Brown, 5: He played very well in his first few games back off a broken leg, but faded down the stretch and fumbled too much in the final few games. He is likely not a guy who can be relied on as a starter, but potentially a valuable piece.

13. TE Brandon Myers, 5: A huge disappointment in New York after catching 79 passes as a Raider in 2012, Myers also contributed little as a blocker. The Giants are likely to let him go. He could fit better with a different system.

14. CB Terrell Thomas, 5: He played all 16 games after missing the previous two seasons because of ACL tears in the same knee. Thomas believes he can hold up as a starter off a real offseason, and would like to cash in.

15. S Danny McCray, 5: He is a core special teamer only, so the Cowboys could find value here.

Free-agency primer: Giants

March, 7, 2014
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» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Key free agents: DT Linval Joseph, LB Jon Beason, WR Hakeem Nicks, DE Justin Tuck, RB Andre Brown, TE Brandon Myers, CB Terrell Thomas, CB Trumaine McBride

Where they stand: The Giants have 23 unrestricted free agents and a crying need to rebuild an offense that bottomed out around quarterback Eli Manning in 2013. They need to find a wide receiver, a running back, a tight end and at least two starting offensive linemen. New offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo is likely to have some input in the kinds of players they pursue in free agency because he's installing a relatively new offense in New York for the first time in 10 years. They will also need to plug holes on defense if they don't re-sign Beason, Tuck or Joseph. And they could use an upgrade over McBride at cornerback.

What to expect: The Giants are trying to lock up Beason in advance of free agency but haven't yet. Once the market opens Tuesday, expect them to be aggressive in their pursuit of interior offensive linemen. If they find an upgrade at center, they can gain significant cap room by designating David Baas a June 1 cut. But they will go after at least one free-agent guard (Geoff Schwartz, Jon Asamoah, guys like that) and possibly more. Improving the protection of Manning is a primary goal for the Giants this offseason. Beefing up the interior of the line would also help them re-establish the run game. As they pursue wide receivers, keep an eye on players like Dexter McCluster and Golden Tate, who could help the Giants' weak return units.

Looking at Giants draft needs

January, 9, 2014
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Our NFL draft team's division-by-division look at draft needs stops today on the NFC East Insider, and -- surprise! -- the top three needs Steve Muench lists for the New York Giants are all on offense. Steve lists offensive line, tight end and wide receiver as the top positions for the Giants to address in the draft, and lists some candidates at each of those spots. It's an Insider article, so I can't give it all away, but here's a piece, along with a list of players Steve suggests as possibilities at those three positions:
Nicks
Improving the pass rush is important, but getting Manning back on track is imperative, so receiver gets the nod for the third need. Hakeem Nicks is expected to leave via free agency, and Louis Murphy isn't under contract for next year. While 2012 second-round pick Rueben Randle has flashed, he's inconsistent.

OL: Alabama's Cyrus Kouandjio* (OT), Stanford's David Yankey* (G), Arkansas' Travis Swanson (C)
TEs: Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins*, Texas Tech's Jace Amaro*, Iowa's C.J. Fiedorowicz
WRs: Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews, Penn State's Allen Robinson*, Clemson's Martavis Bryant*


I can't argue with the idea that the Giants need to address offense in many ways this offseason. The extent to which it will turn out to be a draft priority in May will depend on how they spend their money in free agency. But addressing the offensive line in the draft makes sense, because their problems there stretch beyond the immediate. Their lack of quality replacements in the pipeline behind their injured starters on the line this season was a major issue, and they need to address the line as a long-range project, not as a collection of 2014 roster holes.

Similarly, tight end is worth addressing if there is a quality candidate there in the early rounds. The Giants have changed their No. 1 tight end each of the past four seasons, and sometimes it's been successful and other times it hasn't. Their thought process is that the tight end hasn't been a top target in their offense and that tight ends coach Mike Pope can get the best out of anyone they bring in. But Brandon Myers was a major disappointment this season and ended Pope's run of success with one-year stopgaps at the position. They need someone who can block in the run game, and who can be at least a safety valve for Eli Manning as a receiver. It's possible, too, that a new offensive coordinator would implement a system in which the tight end is more important as a receiver. Either way, drafting a high-end talent at the position would alleviate the problem of trying to replace someone each and every offseason.

Upon Further Review: Giants Week 15

December, 16, 2013
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A review of four hot issues from the New York Giants' 23-0 loss to the Seattle Seahawks:

[+] EnlargeTom Coughlin
AP Photo/Bill KostrounTom Coughlin and the Giants are showing signs of frustration as they trudge down the stretch of a disappointing season.
Locker room strife? The Giants have held together admirably all miserable season long, in spite of an 0-6 start and a generally dismal performance by their offense even during their four-game win streak. But after Sunday's game, coach Tom Coughlin laid the blame deservedly at the feet of the offense, and safety Antrel Rolle strongly indicated that he agreed. Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks bristled at Coughlin's use of the word "pathetic," and tight end Brandon Myers tweeted, "If ppl on this team wanna take shots at me an say I have no passion they are mistaken. I give everything I have each an every week." The Giants aren't going anywhere this season. They can't even finish .500 at this point. But the leaders and the coaches could conceivably face a challenge in keeping the locker room together to maintain some semblance of respectability in the final two weeks.

Nicks' woes continue: It was easy to infer that Nicks was one of the players Coughlin suggested had to "fight harder for the ball," as Eli Manning was 1-for-4 for five yards and three interceptions when targeting Nicks on Sunday, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Manning is completing 56.8 percent of his attempts to Nicks this season with no touchdowns and six interceptions. The Giants entered this season hoping Nicks would have a big year and give them a difficult decision about how much to pay to sign him as a free agent. Instead, he has had a horrible one, and does not appear likely to be back. Amazing that he has fallen so far out of favor after being such a respected figure in their huddle and their locker room for his first four years.

Manning's miserable year: Manning has matched his career high for interceptions in a season with 25. He threw 25 in 2010, but he still has two games to go in this season. He was sacked three times in Sunday's game, extending his career high in that category to 36 for the season with two games to go. He was 2-for-10 with four interceptions on throws of 10 or more yards downfield Sunday. If Victor Cruz is out next week in Detroit, which is possible after he left the game with a concussion and a knee sprain, it's hard to imagine how the Giants' passing game has a chance to do anything. And a run game that gained 25 yards on 14 carries Sunday didn't inspire much confidence that it can alleviate any of the pressure.

One positive: The Giants did a good job limiting monster Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch between the tackles. He gained only 47 yards on 16 carries, though he did catch six passes for 73 yards. That looks like the kind of line top running backs were posting against the Giants back in September, which means the season has come full circle. Which is not, for the Giants, awesome.

Upon Further Review: Giants Week 14

December, 9, 2013
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SAN DIEGO -- An examination of four hot issues from the New York Giants' 37-14 loss to the San Diego Chargers.

[+] EnlargeEli Manning
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesEli Manning threw two more interceptions, bringing him closer to a new career high.
Penalties a killer: The Giants were flagged for seven penalties for 72 yards. The worst may have been Charles James' offside penalty that gave Nick Novak a second chance at a field goal (he missed from 41 yards but then made it from 36), but that was just one of four offside calls against the Giants. "There's no excuse for that," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "Watch the ball. That's what you do all day long. If you watch us practice, we put a ball on the end of a stick, and the player doesn't move until the ball moves. There's absolutely no excuse for jumping offsides." It's easy to use a word like "undisciplined" to describe a team that gets called for too many penalties, but I think sometimes a team that feels overmatched can start jumping early in an effort to tilt the advantage back in its favor. The Giants have certainly felt overmatched at times this season, and Sunday was a strong example of such a game.

Chargers run wild: The Chargers rushed for 144 yards on 40 carries. Ryan Mathews had 103 yards and Danny Woodhead added 42. Justin Tuck grumbled that the total had more to do with San Diego's number of rushing attempts than anything special they did against the Giants' defense. But the 144 was the second-highest single-game rushing yardage total against the Giants this season (Carolina had 194 in Week 3), and Mathews found holes all day. The Chargers ended up possessing the ball for 36:56, which was the second-highest time-of-possession total against the Giants this season, just behind Dallas' 37:10 in the opener.

Third-down woes: The Chargers entered the game with a third-down conversion rate of 46.4 percent, which was second-best in the league to Denver, and they improved it, going 10-for-15 on third down Sunday. The Giants have struggled with third-down defense all season, and rank in the bottom third of the league in that department. But this was especially bad. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers was 7-for-10 for 128 yards and two touchdowns on third down, and that was another huge reason for the time-of-possession edge.

Eli's rough year rolls on: Hakeem Nicks was able to make some plays down the field for a change, and ended up with 135 yards on five catches. But quarterback Eli Manning struggled again, missing some key throws and once again unable to get the offense into a rhythm. The Giants struggled to protect him early in the game, and he took two more sacks to raise his career-high total to 33 for the season. He also threw his 19th and 20th interceptions of the season, putting him five short of his career high in that department with three games to play. He threw a touchdown pass to tight end Brandon Myers for the third game in a row, but Nicks doesn't have a touchdown all season and Victor Cruz hasn't caught one since September.

Nicks has rare big game in Giants' loss

December, 8, 2013
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SAN DIEGO -- The easy joke is that you can forgive New York Giants' wide receiver Hakeem Nicks for not knowing he wasn't in the end zone, since he hasn't been there all season. Nicks went up to catch Eli Manning's Hail Mary pass at the end of the first half of Sunday's 37-14 loss to the Chargers. He outfought defenders for it and came down with the ball at the six-yard line. Then he got up and started acting as though he'd scored a touchdown, because he believed he had.

Nicks
"I thought I was in the end zone until I got up and everybody was just looking at me," Nicks said. "I was thinking, 'Why isn't anyone celebrating?'"

Nicks did nothing wrong on the play. He went for the ball and got it. Had he actually been in the end zone, he would not have been able to catch it. But as it stands, he is still without a touchdown catch in this, the final season of his contract with the Giants.

He didn't have a bad game, though. He caught a 51-yard pass early in the game that he thought would help the offense get going. He had a 28-yarder in the second half, and ended up with 135 yards on five catches. He and tight end Brandon Myers each were targeted seven times to lead the team. And the two Nicks didn't catch, while they weren't uncatchable, were balls Manning threw behind him on short routes across the middle.

"Each week I strap it up and I'm ready to go," Nicks said. "I had a lot more opportunities today and I wanted to take advantage of it."

It's hard to imagine the Giants re-signing Nicks, especially since he'll likely be looking for the biggest contract he can get. But a strong final month would help him in that pursuit, whether it's the Giants who sign him or some other team.

Injury report: McBride questionable

December, 6, 2013
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Giants starting cornerback Trumaine McBride (groin) is questionable for Sunday's game against San Diego after being limited in practice all week.

McBride
McBride missed last Sunday's game against Washington after suffering an injury the previous week against Dallas.

"He looks like he's going to be OK," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said.

The Giants will be without Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder) and Corey Webster (ankle) against the Chargers, while Brandon Jacobs (knee) is doubtful. Brandon Myers (groin) is probable.

Here's the full injury report:

GIANTS

OUT
DE Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder/did not practice)
CB Corey Webster (ankle/limited)

DOUBTFUL
RB Brandon Jacobs (knee/did not practice)

QUESTIONABLE
CB Trumaine McBride (groin/limited)

PROBABLE
TE Brandon Myers (groin/limited)
CB Terrell Thomas (knee/limited)

CHARGERS

QUESTIONABLE
LB Jarret Johnson (hand/full)
WR Eddie Royal (toe/chest/did not practice)

PROBABLE
OT King Dunlap (neck/full)
OT D.J. Fluker (ankle/limited)
DE Lawrence Guy (toe/full)
C Nick Hardwick (neck/full)
WR LaVelle Hawkins (knee/full)
DE Corey Liuget (knee/full)

Practice report: No JPP or Jacobs

December, 6, 2013
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Pierre-Paul
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It's not looking good for New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder) as he was not practicing during the open portion of practice on Friday. Pierre-Paul would miss his second straight game if he can't play on Sunday at San Diego.

Running back Brandon Jacobs (knee) missed his second straight day of practice and might not play either. The plan was for him to play Friday, but he was in the stationary bike area during the open portion. He was limited Wednesday.

Cornerback Corey Webster (ankle), cornerback Trumaine McBride (groin),and tight end Brandon Myers (groin) were all working. Webster and McBride were limited both Wednesday and Thursday, while Myers missed Thursday.

Big Blue Morning: Passing game woes

December, 6, 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: Tight end Brandon Myers didn't practice Thursday due to a groin injury, but he said it's not a real problem and he expects to practice Friday. The Giants have been using Myers more as a receiver in recent weeks, and he's caught a touchdown pass in each of the last two games. So he'd probably be missed by a passing game that hasn't been able to get going all year in terms of big plays down the field. To me, the biggest reason for that problem is the pass protection, and we've written about that extensively. But rookie right tackle Justin Pugh is one guy on that line who's definitely shown week-to-week improvement and has handled the job well in his first year in the league.

Behind enemy lines: The Giants-Chargers game Sunday may not be a real popular watch in San Diego, where the Chargers are trying hard to avoid a second straight week in which their home game is blacked out in their home market due to insufficient ticket sales.

Around the division: Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin says his team will be trying to stop basketball players when it faces off against the Bears and wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery on Monday Night Football. You may (or may not) remember the game against Chicago as a pretty low point for the Cowboys last season. They will need to win it this time either to assert control of the division or to keep pace with the Eagles, depending on what Philly does Sunday against Detroit.

Around the league: Join me, Chris Mortensen, Jarrett Bell and Suzy Kolber at 3 pm ET today on ESPN for "NFL Insiders," where we'll take a look at this weekend's big games and maybe throw you a Giants note or two if they'll let me. Go ahead and leave work early. Tell your boss I said it was OK.


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Victor Cruz thinks this is the week for the New York Giants' passing game. Been a tough year. Very few big plays, lots of sacks allowed. Cruz hasn't caught a touchdown pass since September. Hakeem Nicks hasn't caught one all year. But this Sunday in San Diego, Cruz says, this is the game.

"I believe this is an opportunity for us to get ourselves going again in the passing game," Cruz said Thursday after practice. "I think we see some things we can open up against. I think this week we'll get some opportunities to hit some big plays against the style of defense they run."

Hey, it's supposed to rain this weekend in San Diego, too, so anything's possible, right? The narrative around this place for months has been that the passing game would eventually get going -- that a big week was coming for Eli Manning and his receivers. Given their track records, it's not crazy to think that at some point they'll just snap out of it.

"There's still a lot of talented people on our team," guard Kevin Boothe insisted. "For whatever reason, the big, explosive plays haven't been there."

The Giants (5-7) have just five passing plays this year of 40 yards or longer, which ranks 24th in the league. They're tied for eighth with 44 passing plays of 20 or more yards, so it's not as though they never go downfield. It's just that they don't seem able to take the top off a defense the way they did when the passing game used to sizzle.

[+] EnlargeVictor Cruz, Jarvis Jenkins
Brad Mills/USA TODAY SportsVictor Cruz is closing in on another 1,000-yard season, but he hasn't scored a TD since Sept. 29.
And with due respect to the second part of Boothe's quote, the potential reasons are myriad. It starts with the protection, which has been awful. Manning has already taken a career-high 31 sacks and there are still four games left in the season. Left tackle Will Beatty on Wednesday bemoaned the ability of the line and the blockers to provide Manning with a clean pocket, musing, "Oh, how great would it be if we could give him that pocket again?"

Unprecedented pressure combined, early in the season, with a complete lack of a running game set Manning down a dark path of interceptions and slumped shoulders as the Giants started 0-6. Things have picked up since, as the Giants have won five of their past six games and Manning has had three games with a completion percentage over 60 and two over 70. He was an efficient 22-for-28 for 235 yards Sunday night in Washington. But he hasn't yet strung two good games together, and part of the problem is that Nicks' play has stubbornly refused to improve along with that of the team.

Nicks is playing in a contract year, but he has performed poorly and was left inactive two games ago after his agent instructed him to get checked for a hernia earlier in the week and he had to miss practice time. Without Nicks as a legitimate big-play threat, teams have been able to double-team and severely limit Cruz. Rueben Randle has broken loose for six touchdowns, and tight end Brandon Myers has a touchdown catch in each of the past two games, but the halting progress of the passing game remains a major problem.

"You always try, and we have," offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said of getting Nicks more involved. "But it's a two-way street. You still have to get open. You still have to win. The coverage has to accommodate it. Sometimes the opportunities haven't been there. Sometimes, when he's had the opportunity, we haven't always capitalized on it. Sometimes the ball has gone other places. A lot of factors come into play, and sometimes it's just luck."

Yeah, but not for four whole months, it's not. If you're into the first week of December and still waiting for your passing game to get going, there's a pretty good chance it's not going to happen.

I asked Gilbride if he felt limited in terms of what he could call and execute in the passing game because of all of the problems that have limited it this year. He didn't say no, but he bristled when I suggested he had effectively said yes. His answer was a general one about how coaches and teams always have to adjust to what they're able to do well, and as an example he mentioned the vastly improved run game since Andre Brown returned from his injury. The Giants would be foolish, he said, not to rely on that.

"There's no question you take into consideration what your strengths are," Gilbride said. "Is your strength your running game? Is it your pass protection? Is it your receiving corps? You capitalize on whatever that strength is to the best of your ability, and every game is different."

Maybe, but a lot of Giants games this year have felt very much the same. And one of the common denominators has been the inability of the passing game to effectively beat teams deep. It's possible that it'll come around at some point in these final four games. It's possible that the involvement of Myers as a receiver the past two weeks indicates an ability to stretch out a bit further down the field than the Giants could a few weeks back. It's possible that Cruz's prediction will come true, and they'll strafe the Chargers' secondary Sunday. Listen to the players, and you can almost convince yourself.

And then you go out and listen to Gilbride talk about the way the Chargers disguise blitzes.

"They do a terrific job of disguising," he said. "You have to go in saying, 'I might have to throw some hots, we're going to have to throw some sights.' Which isn't a bad thing, but normally we're able to adjust to the protections. Eli has done a good job of studying, and he's able to take the tools that we have available for him and solve more protection problems. You're just not going to get it done in this game because of their ability to disguise."

And you think that maybe this isn't the week after all. That maybe that week just isn't coming in 2013.
LANDOVER, Md. -- Special teams have been a problem for the New York Giants for much of this season, but a huge play the punt-return team made Sunday night led directly to the drive that put the Giants on top for good in their 24-17 victory over the Washington Redskins.

With a minute and a half left in the third quarter and the Redskins leading 17-14, Justin Tuck sacked Robert Griffin III to force the Redskins to punt from their own 38-yard line. The punt snap was bad, and Redskins punter Sav Rocca dropped it, and when he picked it back up to kick it, Giants special-teams disruptor Damontre Moore was there to get a hand on it. The ball fluttered out down the middle of the field and settled at the Giants' 44 -- an 18-yard punt that set the Giants up with good field position.

They needed four plays to take the lead. The first was an Eli Manning pass to Victor Cruz for 8 yards. The second was a Manning pass to tight end Brandon Myers for 18. The third was a brilliant Cruz catch in traffic that looked, initially, to have been a touchdown catch. But Cruz was ruled down at the 1-yard line, and Andre Brown ran it in on the next play for a touchdown that put the Giants up 21-17.

The sequence was critical because it functioned as something like a turnover, and the Redskins had just scored a field goal off of a Manning interception. Having the lead early in the fourth quarter enabled the Giants to lock in on Griffin, as their defense already had running back Alfred Morris bottled up and the Redskins were going to have to throw while playing from behind.
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.

Cowboys view Jimmy Graham as wideout

November, 8, 2013
11/08/13
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IRVING, Texas -- At 6-foot-7, 265 pounds, the New Orleans Saints list Jimmy Graham as a tight end.

That doesn’t mean the Dallas Cowboys view Graham as one.

Graham
“He’s a wide receiver for sure,” safety Barry Church said. “That’s what we’re going to treat him as in this game.”

Graham leads the Saints with 49 catches for 746 yards and his 10 touchdowns lead the NFL. On Oct. 13, the New England Patriots were able to hold him without a catch by putting cornerback Aqib Talib on him all over the field.

The Cowboys have had cornerback Brandon Carr follow some of their opponents’ top receivers all over the field. The last time was Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who had 329 receiving yards, but Carr helped limit Demaryius Thomas, Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson.

Will the Cowboys be as extreme as New England? Maybe not. Sean Lee said it will be a team defense on Graham.

“I think in a lot of areas we’re going to have to make sure we know where he is on the field and whoever is on him will know, hey, the ball could be coming your way at any point,” Lee said. “And he’s a guy even if you’re on him, Drew Brees can put it in places and he can go to where, hey, he’s covered but he’s not covered.”

Technically Graham is a tight end and other tight ends have given the Cowboys trouble. San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates caught 10 passes for 136 yards, including a 56-yard touchdown. Denver’s Julius Thomas caught nine passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns. Brandon Myers of the New York Giants had seven catches for 66 yards and a touchdown in the season opener. In last week’s game against the Minnesota Vikings, Kyle Rudolph had a 31-yard touchdown catch.

“Against elite quarterbacks we weren’t that good and against pretty good tight ends, they’ve been able to hurt us in the past,” Church said. “Hopefully the game plan we do have set up will switch that around and we’ll have a better day.”

Midseason Report: New York Giants

November, 6, 2013
11/06/13
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If you're the sort of New York Giants fan who likes to think only positive thoughts about the team and believe things are better than they seem to be ... well, you may want to read this post sitting down. The Giants went 2-6 in the first half of their season, losing the first six and then winning the last two against Vikings and Eagles teams that were effectively playing without quarterbacks. It has been grim, to say the least.

What's worse is that there hasn't been just one problem to which the Giants can point. Their failure is systemwide -- offense, defense and special teams -- with nearly every position group contributing in a significant way to the disappointing start. They have been outscored by an average of 10.25 points per game -- a higher figure than any team in the league but the historically dreadful Jaguars.

So as we go through, position by position, and assign grades based on 2013 performance to date, the best thing you can say is that there's plenty of room for improvement. For pretty much everybody.

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