NFC East: New York Giants
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants are working this week on trying to contain mobile 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick as well as they contained mobile Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor last week. But when they show up for Sunday night's game, the Giants could be without a couple of key pieces in their defensive front seven.
Defensive end Robert Ayers, who's missed the past two games with a hamstring injury, hasn't practiced this week and doesn't seem likely to play. Linebacker Devon Kennard, who's been one of the Giants' best defensive players this season, also has been out this week with a hamstring injury and looks unlikely to play Sunday as well. Add in defensive end George Selvie (calf) and linebacker Jonathan Casillas (calf), neither of whom practiced Thursday, and things are thinning out quickly on the Giants' front.
The return to practice of defensive tackle Markus Kuhn helps from a depth perspective, and Owa Odighizuwa's debut last week after he missed the first three games with injury was encouraging as well. But Kennard's absence would be felt both in the Giants' top-ranked run defense and in their No. 32 pass defense.
"Whoever goes in there, we represent the New York Giants defense. That's it," middle linebacker Jon Beason said. "Obviously, he's going to be missed. He's been playing outstanding for us. He can do so much rushing the passer, being extremely consistent against the run and showing he can cover some guys last week with the interception. It's unfortunate, and it's the nature of the business, so it's the next-man-up mentality."
Cornerback Jayron Hosley (concussion) also did not practice Thursday, though he was out on the sideline, which is a good sign for his recovery. Cornerback Trumaine McBride (groin) was a limited participant. Tackle Ereck Flowers (ankle) has been a full practice participant all week.
Wynn, who made the team as an undrafted free agent defensive end out of the University of Richmond in 2014, thought Amukamara was messing with him.
"Because he's starting, right?" Amukamara said. "He's one of our starting defense ends, an undrafted guy, and look what he's doing."
Wynn had eight tackles in Sunday's victory over the Bills, two for loss. He was at the forefront of a run defense that stifled the Bills' run game and helped the Giants take control of the game in the first half. Wynn isn't a big-time pass-rusher at this stage of his career, but his instincts, toughness and determination when playing the run have been a big part of the reason the Giants are allowing a league-low 69.8 rushing yards per game this year.
Without the injured Jason Pierre-Paul, the Giants' defense lacks star power and high-impact playmakers. But the way guys like Wynn are playing -- the way the Giants are flying to the ball and making tackles and finding a way to keep guys like Karlos Willams and Tyrod Taylor out of the end zone when they're on the one-yard line and the game's still in doubt -- that covers up a lot of flaws.
"It's been done before, no-name defense," linebacker Jon Beason said. "We've got some journeymen, some guys who've been around. But we're just buying into a mentality spearheaded by our defensive coordinator and our position coaches, and guys are doing it collectively."
There's a lot of bend-don't-break going on with this Giants defense. They definitely appeared to be wearing down in the second half Sunday, and the lack of a real pass rush shows up when the opposing quarterback gets into a fourth-quarter rhythm. This isn't a problem that's going away anytime soon. How do you combat it? You lean hard on what you can do. If your defensive linemen are run-stuffers and not pass-rushers, you give the opponent nothing at all against the run and force them into an uncomfortable game plan. They did it in Week 3 against Washington, which was the No. 1 rushing offense in the league coming into that game. They did it Sunday against Buffalo, which by then had assumed the No. 1 spot.
"We don't pay attention to what everybody says about us," Wynn said. "We know what we have in that room and we have each other's back, and we fly around for each other and play for each other and when we do, stuff like this happens."
Give defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo credit. He spent the offseason trying to instill pride and intensity in his players, educating them on great Giants defensive players of years past and convincing them they're part of something bigger than themselves. So far, the intensity and emotion has helped push aside the flaws and has the Giants sitting at 2-2 and headed into a soft portion of their schedule. No superstars? No problem. Find a way to get fired up to get it done each week. The past two weeks, it's worked quite well.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The first team ever to blow double-digit fourth-quarter leads in losing its first two games of the season, the New York Giants showed up for work two weeks ago with an 0-2 record and got a simple message from their coach.
"So what?" Tom Coughlin said. "Now what?"
This has become a mantra for the Giants for the past couple of weeks. Let the opposing tight end get open for a big third-down gain? So what? Now what? Can't get the run game going? So what? Now what? Everybody's got problems. Our lives are determined by the way we handle them.
"We're 0-2? Fight. Keep fighting," Coughlin said Sunday evening, after a 24-10 victory over the Buffalo Bills improved his team's record to 2-2. "That's what we do. That's what the thing is all about."
Coughlin just turned 69 years old a few weeks ago and is the oldest coach in the NFL. Most people know this, and most people also know that if he ends this season with a losing record for the third year in a row, the Giants are likely to look for a new head coach. Coughlin surely knows the first thing but hates to talk about it. And he likely knows the second thing too but doesn't have time to care.
"His energy is just really high right now," Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara said. "Well, it always is. But the last couple of weeks, I think he's just been so positive, so upbeat. We still get music at practice. We still have the recovery day. It tells us he believes in us, and he's always reminding us of that."
By no stretch of the imagination is this one of the best Giants rosters Coughlin has had. The defense lacks disruptive playmakers. There's no pass rush. The middle of the field is a coverage wasteland. And the offense is basically Eli Manning, Odell Beckham Jr. and then somebody please catch a ball. They should not scare anyone. They should not have come up here to western New York and beaten a team with the depth of talent the Bills have.
"Hustle," Coughlin said, "makes up for a lot of errors."
Coughlin's Giants came in fired up and prepared and feeling sure they could win the game. That's a product of coaching -- and not play-calling, challenge-flag-throwing Sunday coaching. That's a product of during-the-weekly-grind coaching, which is where Coughlin's the best there is. This is about showing up on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and delivering the right message. This is about being consistent in your attitude and your example and backing up the things you tell your players with your actions. This is about insisting on accountability and also projecting it because otherwise insisting on it doesn't work. It's about getting players to buy in and believe.
The Giants believe.
"We lost two games. We didn't get beat," Beckham said. "So in our mind, we're 4-0."
"At 0-2, the way we lost, I don't think guys really felt like they lost," Amukamara said. "So we feel like we should be 4-0, but we also have a chip on our shoulder."
It's reflected in the way they play -- the energy, the intensity. They fly to the ball and don't miss tackles. Rashad Jennings catches a key third-down pass and stiff-arms and high-steps his way to the end zone for the play that puts the game away. Rookie tackle Ereck Flowers plays the whole game on a bum ankle and holds up all right. This is a tough team, a disciplined team, a team that's paying attention to its leader. And this is a leader who so far this season is coaching his brains out.
"We do play hard," Coughlin said. "We didn't practice as well as I wanted early in the week, but at the end of the week we did, and I made sure to tell them that. They're battlers, and to be honest with you, the coaches are doing an outstanding job."
He wasn't talking about himself, but he could have been. The Giants are 2-2 and in the hunt in the NFC East. There's a long way to go, and likely more than a few tough weeks ahead. But if you're a Giants fan, you can feel confident knowing the guy in charge can handle those tough weeks. There may not be anyone better at it.
From Devon Kennard's interception to the fourth-quarter goal-line stand to Rashad Jennings' stiff-arm on the game-sealing touchdown run to the consistently tough play of Kerry Wynn in run defense, Tom Coughlin's Giants played a tough, intense, clean game. They took advantage of an undisciplined Bills team that couldn't get a first down or stop committing penalties for much of the day. They made the plays they needed to make on both sides of the ball. For the second week in a row, they looked like a team simply better prepared and more fired up to play than its opponent.
What it means: Despite coughing up fourth-quarter leads in each of their first two games, the Giants are 2-2, which could be tied for first in the NFC East if the depleted Dallas Cowboys lose Sunday night to the New Orleans Saints. They have issues to work out, but they're managing to stay in and even win games while they do it.
What were they thinking? It was too late to do any harm, but Eli Manning's first interception of 2015 was inexplicable as it came near the goal line with a 14-point lead late in the fourth quarter. Run the ball there.
One reason to get excited: The way the Giants swarm to the ball on defense. They can get outrun on defense, and they have coverage and pass-rush issues, but there's no doubting their energy and intensity. They're not missing many tackles, and a big reason is the emphasis on gang-tackling.
One reason to panic: The pass-rush doesn't appear on the verge of being solved. The Giants' inability to get to the quarterback has been a consistent problem this year, and it's one of the main reasons Buffalo was able to mount drives in the second half.
Fantasy watch: Manning threw three touchdown passes -- his third game in a row with more than one -- and it seems he's becoming a somewhat reliable weekly option in fantasy leagues.
Ouch: Left tackle Ereck Flowers started the game despite an ankle injury, left after one play but returned and played admirably even though he clearly was not 100 percent healthy. Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie left the game a few times but returned each time. Kick returner Dwayne Harris suffered a rib injury but returned. Kennard left the game in the fourth quarter with a hamstring injury.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The idea that the New York Giants might be able to contend in a wobbly NFC East is based entirely on the deficiencies of other teams. Dallas has lost Tony Romo and Dez Bryant to major injuries. Philadelphia looks all wrong. Washington remains the Giants' one reliable punching bag. The Giants' out-of-division schedule doesn't scare you too much, what with all that San Francisco and Tampa Bay and New Orleans in there.
And that's fine. None of those teams' problems are overblown. But what that narrative overlooks is the caliber of the Giants' own roster, and the legitimate question of whether they are a good enough team to take advantage of other teams' flaws.
Since the start of the 2013 season, the Giants are 5-0 against Washington and 9-21 against the rest of the league. You can make the strong case that they haven't beaten a quality team since 2012, as their 2013 victories against the Eagles and Packers came in games quarterbacked by Matt Barkley and Scott Tolzien. Sure, you can tell me the Giants' October/November schedule looks easy, but the counter-argument is that the Giants have become the sort of team that makes other teams' schedules look easy.
This isn't about bashing. This is about stepping back and taking a sober look at where the Giants are at this point in their franchise history. Years of unproductive drafts have left the roster paper-thin and required GM Jerry Reese to try to fix mistakes with big free-agent spends. The defense can't consistently pressure quarterbacks or cover receivers -- a combination of flaws that should be impossible but which speaks to the quality of the personnel at all three levels. It's not that there aren't good players on this defense; it's that there aren't enough of them.
On offense, they have one brilliant young wide receiver and a quarterback who never gets hurt and has proven he can win Super Bowls. Those are two truly outstanding assets, but things thin out around them quickly. The non-Odell Beckham Jr. receivers and tight ends are question marks, the running backs are so-so and the offensive line is young and banged-up.
On Friday, the day after his first victory of the season (against ol' reliable Washington, of course), coach Tom Coughlin used the term "still under construction" to describe his team.
"We're not there, but we're trying like heck," Coughlin explained Monday. "I think our attitude and our effort is good. We still have our situational issues, but we're grinding away, and hopefully we're going to improve. We are not where we want to be. We know we can be better than this, and we're trying like heck to get there."
Coughlin sounds to me like a realist, right? His analysis helps convince me mine is justified. It's as if some part of him -- one he can't truly reveal because his job is to keep his players' spirits up -- would prefer that those of us charged with sober, neutral analysis of his team ditch the "Well, they were 0-2 in 2007!" talk and write instead about being handed a roster so thin that he has to play Nikita Whitlock at defensive tackle.
But this, of course, is Coughlin's great coaching strength -- assessing the puzzle pieces and working to find a solution. Coughlin's teams always win at least as many games as they should, and I don't expect this season's team to be an exception. The work he did last week to get them prepared to play Washington on a short week minus five starters after two crushing losses should not be overlooked. You can rag on him all you want for clock management and for challenging plays he's not allowed to challenge, but you have to coach Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, too, and Coughlin's work last week was a clinic in that.
"He kept coaching us," Prince Amukamara said Thursday night. "He's never given up on us. He's the leader of our team, and he knows what we need."
What the Giants need this week is to prove they can do what Coughlin keeps telling them they can do -- play better. Winning this road game in Buffalo would prove something the Giants of the past couple of years have not been able to prove -- that they can indeed beat a quality opponent. Holding fourth-quarter leads against Dallas and Atlanta this month didn't prove that. It might have made you believe it, but it didn't prove it. The only thing that will prove it is winning, and this Bills team -- even without LeSean McCoy and Sammy Watkins -- is the kind of opponent the Giants need to prove they can handle if we're to consider them a legitimate contender. Even in a watered-down division.
If they can win Sunday, it's fair to start changing the narrative about the Giants' 2015 chances and considering them a contender. If they don't, they have given us no reason to look at them any differently than we have for the past two years.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –- Rashad Jennings knew if he was going to make the Jacksonville Jaguars as a self-described "snot-nosed rookie" in 2009, the running back had to make his presence felt on special teams.
"I [told myself] I got to learn how to block punts and learn how to protect the quarterback," recalled Jennings, who was a seventh-round pick. "That is the only way I am going to make the team."
Seven seasons later, Jennings is pretty good at blocking punts. His block on Thursday night resulted in a safety on the game's first drive to help the New York Giants take a critical 32-21 victory over the Washington Redskins.
Jennings, the Giants' starting running back, says it was the 10th blocked punt of his career. According to the Giants, getting "your hands on a punt" is not necessarily recorded as a punt-block statistic. If the punt goes past the line of scrimmage, it is not considered a block. Jennings is officially credited with three blocked punts since he entered the NFL in 2009, tied with Bryan Braman, Dekoda Watson and Jimmy Wilson for the most for any player over that span, according to the Giants.
Still, teammates and coaches were repeating that this was Jennings' 10th career block after the win.
"He's been on it for a while," coach Tom Coughlin said when asked if Jennings was on to something that helped him get the block. "Where's your stats? He's told everybody else. He probably hasn't told you. [But] he has about 10 blocks in this league."
This block –- the Giants' first since Damontre Moore blocked a Houston punt on Sept. 21, 2014 -- was a much-needed special teams play for a franchise that has had its heart broken on special teams by opposing players in the past (DeSean Jackson, anyone?).
This was a game the Giants needed badly to keep their season from sinking to 0-3, and Jennings propelled them to a surprising start.
"Special teams is one play that every time you are on the field it is the biggest change of the game, yardage-wise," Jennings said. "Every single time. So anytime you get an opportunity to make a play on that unit, a special play, that makes a difference in the ballgame."
Initially, Jennings was called for running into the kicker on Washington's first punt attempt after the opening drive stalled. But the Redskins drew an offsetting penalty for having a player run out of bounds on the punt.
Tress Way had to punt again on a fourth-and-12 from the Washington 17 and this time Jennings got a piece of the ball coming down the middle. Jennings sent the ball out of bounds in the end zone for a safety with 12:47 left.
The Giants would later take a 12-0 lead into the second quarter and an 18-6 lead into the fourth quarter. On offense, Jennings would add 32 yards rushing on 11 carries and three catches for 25 yards.
But his block got the Giants going in the right direction.
"He is a guy that we brought in to be our feature back and last year he was begging to kind of get out there [on special teams]," middle linebacker Jon Beason said. "It is tough, he's your starter, you don't want him to get hurt. But he has such a knack for it, to get a penalty and come back and block a kick, that is like him.
"Teams are going to have to play him for that [reason] and he is a guy that wants to do more. So let him."
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- There was a point in the drawn-out fourth quarter of Thursday's 32-21 victory when things started to feel familiar for the New York Giants' defense. And since the Giants had blown big fourth-quarter leads in each of their first two games of the season, familiar was not a good feeling.
So defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins launched into a profane, impromptu sideline pep talk, exhorting his teammates to toughen up, set the edge in the run game, make sure to finish off this game instead of let another one slip away.
"My bad," a voice from the bench muttered when Jenkins pointed out an error from a prior play.
"I don't want to hear, 'My bad!'" Jennings barked. "I want to see you do it! We can't repeat what we did the last two weeks!"
And they didn't. The banged-up, undermanned Giants defense wasn't awesome in the fourth quarter, but it did enough to protect a 19-point lead and secure the team's first victory of the season. It wasn't easy or pretty, but they didn't care.
"It wasn't how we wanted it to go at the end," cornerback Prince Amukamara said. "But we're so desperate, we'll take it any way we can get it."
It was Amukamara's first-quarter interception -- along with Rashad Jennings' blocked-punt safety -- that really got things humming for the Giants on Thursday. With the Giants up 2-0, Amukamara recognized the formation, knew Kirk Cousins was throwing it his way, and jumped in front of receiver Pierre Garcon for the pick that set the Giants up on Washington's 14-yard line and led to the game's first touchdowns.
Amukamara was playing angry, holding on to the feeling he had after Atlanta's Julio Jones beat him for a deep sideline catch that set up the winning touchdown here four days earlier. Amukamara said he went after that ball as aggressively as he ever has, and since safety Landon Collins had moved down to the line to blitz, he had no help behind him. Had he missed, Garcon likely had a long touchdown.
But the Giants' defense has adopted the motto "So what? Now what?" -- meaning that you have to take a risk every now and then and, if you get beaten by it, you know you have to shake it off. The result of the interception was a huge boost to a team that needed to start quickly and feel good about itself, and a big play for a defense still finding its way.
"I'm trying to think if I'd rather be a turnover team or a team that stops people," Amukamara said. "I still feel we're giving up a lot of trash yardage we shouldn't be giving up. We can't count on turnovers every week."
So far, Giants opponents have turned the ball over six times and the Giants have turned it over only once. They had three takeaways and no giveaways Thursday, just as they had against Dallas in the season opener. But they gave up 393 yards to Washington on Thursday and are averaging 410.3 yards allowed per game.
"That needs to be corrected, especially when we go up against great offenses that don't turn it over," Amukamara said.
But he thinks it can be, and being 1-2 instead of 0-3 is part of the reason why. The Giants' defense has played hard and been opportunistic so far this year. It's not getting any pressure on quarterbacks and it's not covering receivers well, which is a terrible combination that a quarterback better than Cousins likely could have exploited Thursday. But the Giants are stopping the run well, and they can build on that and the fact that they're playing hard and getting turnovers. And that can help them get better at actually slowing down offenses as the year goes along.
"I think we hung our hat on the fact that we played two great teams prior to this and played good against the run," said middle linebacker and defensive captain Jon Beason, who made his season debut Thursday after missing the first two games with a knee injury. "We could be better in the passing game, and we will look to correct that. But this was a huge challenge. Coming in, they were the No. 1 rushing offense in football. And we did it collectively. No huge stats from anybody, but we were able to contain them for the most part. We wish we could have those last few drives back."
But the pilots say any landing you can walk away from is a good one, and the Giants don't care how they won this game. They just needed to win it. Now, they can work on making things better and know their season still has life and hope.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Rashad Jennings is the New York Giants' starting running back, and most starting running backs don't play on the punt return team. But every now and then, Jennings told me last year, he likes to lobby the coaches to put him in when he's seen something on film that indicates he might be able to block a punt.
Jennings saw something when he watched film this week, and when Washington lined up for a punt at the end of its opening series Thursday night at MetLife Stadium, Jennings was on the field and got through to block it. The ball rolled out of bounds in the end zone for a safety and the Giants had an inspiring first score of the game en route to a 15-6 halftime lead.
Neither the big plays nor the fruits of film study stopped there. The Giants' defensive backs know from watching tape of Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins that he's liable to make mistakes downfield, and they're conditioned to look for them. A few minutes after Jennings' punt block, Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara jumped a route and intercepted a Cousins pass inside the Washington 20-yard line to set up the Giants' first touchdown of the night.
All in all, the first half couldn't have gone a lot better for an 0-2 Giants team that really needs to win this game. Undoubtedly, coach Tom Coughlin is talking in the locker room about two drives that ended in field goals instead of touchdowns. And yes, Larry Donnell's drop of a third-down pass on the Washington 10-yard line was inexcusable. But the Giants are by no means a perfect team and don't look it even in a game in which things are generally going their way.
The fact is, they have a halftime lead on a Washington team that would prefer to run the ball rather than have Cousins chuck them back into it. Kerry Wynn and Devon Kennard have led a front seven that's held Washington to 47 yards on 14 carries. Rueben Randle, who was due for a big game, has 47 yards on three catches. The Giants have blown double-digit fourth-quarter leads in both of their games so far this season, so they know this isn't over. But thanks to big early plays, it's going well for them so far.
Why the New York Giants can make the playoffs: The current narrative says the NFC East is a mess, because the Philadelphia Eagles can't get out of their own way and the Dallas Cowboys, while 2-0, have lost the two best players in the division to major injuries. This theoretically opens it up for a mediocre team that gets hot at the right time to steal the division with an average record, as the Giants did in 2011 on their way to the Super Bowl. The schedule doesn't look imposing, and if the Giants suddenly figure out how to hold a lead, I guess it's not impossible.
Why the Giants won't make the playoffs: They're not a good team. They haven't been a good team for several years. They haven't beaten a good team since 2012. Outside of their coach and quarterback, the current group of Giants has shown nothing to indicate it has any idea what it takes to win games with any consistency. They have no pass rush, no safeties, not much at linebacker, very little at wide receiver after Odell Beckham Jr. and a young offensive line that isn't all the way together yet. You can look at their schedule and say it doesn't look so tough, but the fact is, the Giants are one of the teams right now that makes other teams' schedules look not so tough. The division may be there for the taking, but that doesn't mean the Giants are good enough to take it.
Predicted finish: 6-10. I did game-by-game predictions two weeks ago that had the Giants finish 7-9 after starting 1-1. So now that they've started 0-2, I'm adjusting it down to 6-10. I haven't seen anything from the Giants the first two weeks to change my feeling about the quality of their roster. There aren't enough good players for them to contend, and they don't have enough depth behind the starters to withstand any kind of injury issues at all.
Got this from a reader on Twitter:
@DanGrazianoESPN so when does Randle make his season debut? Someone told me he's been playing but that can't be right
— michael trainor (@ceorock35) September 23, 2015
This is a cleverly made point. Rueben Randle's getting off too easy, right? Preston Parker became the target of fan ire for dropped passes in the first two games and ended up getting cut Tuesday in the kind of angry move the New York Giants never make. But there's a far bigger picture to address here, and it involves Randle, the 2012 second-round pick who was supposed to be a star by now.
Yes, Parker dropped too many passes. But at least he was open. As Eli Manning has spent the first two games of this season looking for downfield targets to take some of the attention away from Odell Beckham Jr. every now and then, Randle hasn't been an option. Manning has targeted him seven times. Randle has managed to catch four passes for 28 yards.
"We've got to do a good job of getting Rueben involved some more, get him some catches," Manning said Monday. "He's got to be a weapon for us."
He absolutely does. Say whatever you want about Parker, but if Randle had been performing up to his draft position, his SEC pedigree and his physical profile, Parker wouldn't have found himself in a position to have to make key catches. The Giants' offense should feature Randle and Beckham on the outside as the primary downfield playmakers, and Randle isn't getting open or making plays.
Randle can do this. After a season spent in the doghouse because of clashes with the coaching staff over tardiness and poor practice habits, Randle caught 12 passes for 290 yards in the final two games of the Giants' 2014 season. He has the ability to be what they need him to be. They don't know why he's not doing it.
"I don't have a theory," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said Tuesday. "I can tell you that there was basically a two-week stint during training came when he couldn't work [because of a knee injury]. That doesn't help."
No, but all indications are that Randle is healthy now. He's just not delivering. He had a key drop against Atlanta. Randle's not in danger of being cut, but he is in the final year of his rookie contract and is eligible for free agency when it's over. For his own sake and that of the Giants, it's about time he started to deliver on his considerable promise.
"It's just about me getting out there and playing fast," Randle said. "That's what I want to do. Hopefully this Thursday, I can get back into the groove and make some plays."
The Giants face Washington in an 8:30 p.m. home game Thursday and must win to avoid an 0-3 start. Since 1990, 300 NFL teams have started a season 0-3 and only three of them made the playoffs.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The narrative is an easy one, and New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin is right to try to sell it to his players as a motivational tool for Thursday night's game. Yes, the Giants are 0-2, but so are the Eagles, who look terrible. And yes, the Cowboys are 2-0, but they've lost the two best players in the division to serious injuries. The narrative says that means opportunity, because someone has to win the NFC East and everyone has problems.
Again, good for Coughlin if he can get his players to buy it. But I don't.
While Philly's struggles and Dallas' injuries and Washington's persistent Washington-ness appear to offer the opportunity for an undermanned Giants team to make a run if it gets its act together, that assumption ignores the very real and significant problems that lace their way through the Giants' roster. There is no depth anywhere. The only effective receivers are Odell Beckham Jr. and running back Shane Vereen. The only defender who can cover anyone (as long as Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is concussed) is Prince Amukamara. Their only truly disruptive pass-rusher remains in Florida rehabbing his damaged right hand. Their offensive line could be down to its third-string left tackle.
I completely agree with the idea that Dallas' chances to win the division could be done in by the losses of Tony Romo and Dez Bryant to injury for a long period of time. But I don't think it's crazy to suggest that the Cowboys' roster is better than the Giants' roster even without those guys.
The Giants' defense has played about as well as it could play in the first two games of the season, and yet Oakland is the only team in the league that's allowed more yards. The Giants' offense has had its moments, but the disappearance of Rueben Randle, the injury to Victor Cruz and the drop issues of Preston Parker are severely limiting Eli Manning's options at key times. He's 1-for-8 on throws that travel 20 or more yards downfield and just 5-for-20 on throws that travel 10 or more yards downfield.
Can this get better? Sure. Cruz could come back at some point in the next couple of weeks, and middle linebacker Jon Beason seems to be inching closer to a return from his knee injury. Even left tackle Will Beatty is expected back at some point from his offseason chest injury. But we still don't know what kind of player Cruz is going to be coming off last year's knee injury, Beason always seems one misstep away from his next injury and Beatty isn't expected back before November in the best case. Those are Hail Mary plays for a roster that isn't one or two or three players away from looking like a real contender.
The Giants and their fans have ammunition if they want to talk themselves into hope. Washington is this week's opponent, and while the Giants are 1-3 against the Eagles and 0-5 against the Cowboys since the start of 2013, they're 4-0 against Washington in that same time. They feel good about their chances to win this next game, and if they do, then they can spin the disappointments of the first two weeks in a positive direction. They had the Dallas and Atlanta games in hand and gave them away, which means they can win these games if they just tidy some things up.
But the Giants don't necessarily deserve to be favored against Washington or anyone else at this point. They are one of the teams that other struggling teams look at on their schedules and think, "We can win that one." Until they prove otherwise, the Giants don't deserve to be looked at as a team capable of taking advantage of other teams' misfortunes. And until their myriad roster holes start to fill up with concrete answers, they're unlikely to be such a team.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- While the New York Giants work to try to avoid starting their season 0-3 without him, injured defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul continues to drop public hints that he believes he's getting closer to returning.
Pierre-Paul posted a video Tuesday morning on his Instagram account that shows him bench-pressing with a towel between his injured right hand and the bar. The caption says, "Getting back right."
Pierre-Paul severely injured his hand in a July 4 fireworks accident that cost him his entire right index finger and required several surgical procedures to repair his thumb and other fingers. He visited the Giants' team facility Sept. 7 and said he'd be willing to play if they could find a way to protect the hand, but the Giants deemed him not ready, and he has been training at home ever since.
The Giants and Pierre-Paul are likely to talk again at some point next month about his readiness to return to the field, and if the Giants don't think he can come back this season, they could rescind his $14.81 million franchise tender, allowing him to test his worth on the free-agent market. If Pierre-Paul believes he's ready to play and the Giants won't clear him to pass a physical, that could lead to a dispute between player and team that would have to be mediated by the league and the NFL Players Association.
But we're a long way from all of that. This latest post seems to indicate Pierre-Paul wants everyone to know he's working to try to get back.
The New York Giants didn't practice Monday, since they played Sunday, but NFL rules mandate that they release an injury report that imagines the extent to which their various injured players would have practiced if they had.
As is often the case with the Giants and injuries, the news isn't great.
Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (concussion), defensive end Robert Ayers (hamstring), wide receiver Victor Cruz (calf), tight end Jerome Cunningham (knee), tackle Ereck Flowers (ankle), defensive tackle Markus Kuhn (knee), defensive end Owa Odighizuwa (foot) and guard Geoff Schwartz (illness) were all listed as "did not practice," meaning they wouldn't have participated if the Giants had held a practice.
Rodgers-Cromartie suffered a burner early in Sunday's game, returned to the game and then suffered a concussion. It's difficult to imagine him clearing the league's concussion protocol in time to play in the Giants' next game, which is Thursday night at home against Washington. Not impossible, mind you, but difficult to imagine. Jayron Hosley took over for him Sunday.
Flowers injured his ankle in the season opener in Dallas, finished that game, practiced hurt all last week but did not return to Sunday's game after re-injuring the ankle. Flowers is obviously a tough kid who will push to play, but the facts of the re-injury and the short turnaround seem to make it unlikely. We will know more Tuesday, when the Giants actually do practice.
Don't expect to see Cruz, who hasn't practiced for more than a month due to his calf injury. The Giants are hoping Cruz can practice enough between now and the Week 4 game in Buffalo to make his return to the field that day, but until he's on the practice field they can't have anything resembling a realistic timetable for his return.
Odighizuwa and Kuhn missed Sunday's game with their injuries. Ayers, Cunningham and Schwartz are newcomers to the injury report this week, but it's possible their injuries are game-related nicks and they'll be back on the practice field Tuesday.
Linebacker Jon Beason (knee), defensive tackle Jay Bromley (knee), tight end Daniel Fells (foot) and defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins (hamstring) were all listed as limited participants in Monday's theoretical practice. Beason and Fells both missed Sunday's game, and Fells didn't practice all of last week, so the "limited" designation is a potential good sign for them. Fells, Cunningham and Larry Donnell are the only tight ends on the roster.
Giants coach Tom Coughlin said return specialist Dwayne Harris had a toe injury Sunday and that's why he sat out the final kick return. But Harris was not listed on Monday's injury report, and Coughlin said he was not sent for tests with the other injured players.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants are all-in on Eli Manning as their quarterback. Have been since they moved up to get him at the top of the 2004 draft. Reaffirmed it a couple of weeks ago with a four-year, $84 million contract extension. If Manning can't get it done, the Giants are done, pure and simple. Their chances rely completely on his ability to be healthy and reliable. And while he definitely appears to be the former, through two weeks of this season he has been anything but the latter.
"He'll get better. He'll improve," Tom Coughlin, the only NFL head coach Manning has ever had, said after Sunday's 24-20 fourth-quarter meltdown loss to Atlanta. "There are times when it's tremendous, and other times when it's not. I'm frustrated like you are in terms of, at that point in time, all the engines have to be going full-speed and not the other way around."
"That point in time" is the latter part of the game, especially when the Giants have the lead and the ball as they have in the final minutes of both of their games this season. Manning committed a crucial fumble late in the third quarter with a 10-point lead Sunday when he held on to the ball too long and didn't see the rush coming. Then he committed a crushing delay-of-game penalty (coming off a timeout) in the fourth quarter, turning a third-and-7 into a third-and-12 that he couldn't convert.
"That's on me," Manning said. "Can't afford a penalty there. We had deep coverage, trying to get a better play in those circumstances. Same thing on the next play, just checked it late to a different play trying to get a first down."
It's nice that Manning takes responsibility for the mistakes that are costing the Giants games. That accountability and leadership are part of the reason they pay him like one of the top quarterbacks in the league.
But the main reason they pay him like one of the top quarterbacks in the league is that, in the most critical parts of games, they expect him to play like one of the top quarterbacks in the league. And in their two crushing losses, he has done just the opposite. Week 1 in Dallas, he told Rashad Jennings not to score on two straight goal-line carries, then threw the ball out of the end zone on third down to stop the clock at a time when they had to keep it running. Week 2 against Atlanta, fumble and fourth-quarter penalty. Manning was 22-for-29 with two touchdown passes in the first three quarters Sunday, then 5-for-11 in the fourth. The Giants had three fourth-quarter possessions, and the only third down they converted on any of them was on a Manning fumble that Larry Donnell recovered beyond the first-down marker.
"I've got to make better throws," Manning said. "Everybody's got to play better, everybody's got to do their part, and it starts with me."
Starts with Manning, or else the Giants, their ragtag defense, their young offensive line and their Odell-or-nothing wide receiver corps have no chance. Starts and ends with Manning. And so far this year, he has messed up the ending twice in two tries.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Last week, the New York Giants benefited from three Dallas turnovers and found themselves in position to win before giving the game away late. This week's opponent, the Atlanta Falcons, didn't turn the ball over. So when Eli Manning fumbled away the ball on the Falcons' 9-yard line with the Giants up 10 late in the third quarter, it really put them in a bad spot.
"I thought we played better than we did last week, but we didn't get the turnovers, and that was the huge difference in the game," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said after a 24-20 loss. "We can't make mistakes. We have to count on the other guys, and we didn't get any today."
We can't make mistakes.
The way Coughlin said it, it was a flat admission of something that should be clear if you've looked over the Giants' roster and watched this team play. The Giants are not good enough right now to get away with errors, especially late-game errors by the veteran quarterback who's supposed to be one of their sure things. With the number of questions marks they have on defense, on the offensive line, at tight end, at wide receiver -- all over the roster, really -- the Giants have to play just about perfectly in order to win.
Sunday, they did not. They got up 20-10 and things were looking good, but then Manning fumbled deep in Atlanta territory and the flood began. The Falcons went 91 yards in 12 plays over 6 minutes, 36 seconds, converting three third downs en route to a touchdown that cut the lead to 20-17. From that point on, Manning completed just five of 11 passes and the only third down the Giants converted in their final three offensive series was on a second Manning fumble that Larry Donnell recovered beyond the first-down marker.
"We're not making the plays in the crucial moments," Manning said. "We're having penalties and mistakes at different times that are preventing us from being as good as we can be."
Maybe. But maybe this is as good as they can be. Maybe bad teams find ways to lose and the Giants, who are 13-21 since the start of the 2013 season, are just a bad team. Maybe the number of holes on this roster that has been hollowed out by year after year of unproductive drafts really are too much for the Giants to overcome if they play anything but a perfect game from start to finish. Maybe every mistake they make is going to feel like a game-changer because that's the way it feels when you have no margin for error when you're just not that good.
"I feel as though we beat ourselves," Odell Beckham Jr. said. "Dropped balls, fumbles, whatever the case may be. We just need to clean it up and find a way to get it done."
If they don't, the Giants are going to keep finding ways to beat themselves and keep finding ways to lose. That's what bad teams do, and it's been three years since the Giants could claim they were anything other than that.