NFC East: New York Giants

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants' coaches have one defensive game plan for Monday Night if cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie can play and another in case he can't. But based on the way Rodgers-Cromartie has practiced this week, they are optimistic he'll be able to help them against the Colts.

Rodgers-Cromartie
"We're working him, and it depends on how he feels," defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said Friday. "He's been good in back-to-back practices now, and that's something he didn't do before our last game. So we'll see how he feels (Saturday) and if it stiffens up, but it's that day-to-day assessment with him right now."

Rodgers-Cromartie has been dealing with leg and back problems for more than a month, and wasn't able to play in much of the team's Week 7 loss in Dallas. He's been getting treatment through the bye week, but his health issues obviously haven't cleared all the way up, and head coach Tom Coughlin said "I don't believe we can do that at this point" when asked about counting on Rodgers-Cromartie being able to play the whole game.

Colts quarterback Andrew Luck leads the league in passing yardage, so he obviously poses a serious challenge to a Giants secondary that is already without nickel cornerbacks Walter Thurmond and Trumaine McBride. A limited Rodgers-Cromartie is a potentially big problem in a game like this.

On the offensive side of the ball, Coughlin called guard Geoff Schwartz "a long shot" to return from injured reserve this week. Schwartz just started practicing this week on the toe injury that's kept him out since training camp, and they still have 17 more days before they are required to activate him.

And running back Rashad Jennings, who has already been ruled out of a third straight game with his knee injury, said he's still a few days from trying to move laterally on his leg, and that Week 11's game against the 49ers is a more realistic goal than the Week 10 game in Seattle, though he wouldn't rule that out.

Colts vs. Giants preview

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
8:00
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The Indianapolis Colts had won five games in a row before last week's 51-34 loss to Pittsburgh. The New York Giants had won three in a row before losing in Philadelphia and Dallas prior to last week's bye. These two teams are looking to remind everyone of better times as they meet at MetLife Stadium on "Monday Night Football."

ESPN Colts reporter Mike Wells and ESPN Giants reporter Dan Graziano are here with your game preview:

Wells: Dan, the Cowboys went from Super Bowl contenders to having to worry about Tony Romo's back, and the Eagles are coming off a loss. Do you feel like the Giants have a realistic shot at winning the NFC East?

Graziano: It's not impossible, but I don't think it's realistic. They trail Dallas by 2½ games and Philadelphia by two, and they lost to each of those teams before the bye. The idea that they could catch both is far-fetched, especially since they can't go 2-0 against either.

Fundamentally, I just don't think the Giants are very good. Eli Manning is playing well in the new offense, but the group around him is made up of young guys and backups. Injuries to Victor Cruz (out for the year) and Rashad Jennings (who will miss a third straight game) have sapped the offense of much of its explosiveness, and guys such as Odell Beckham, Rueben Randle, Larry Donnell and Andre Williams have shown promise but are still developing. The offensive line, also quite young in spots, has been inconsistent. On the defensive side, they're extremely banged up at cornerback and they just lost middle linebacker Jon Beason for the season.

The Giants are a team with a clear vision for the future and they've already shown progress in the new offense, but they're going to be outmanned most weeks.

How about the Colts? The group around Andrew Luck seems to have come together better than I expected it would. What are the main reasons (other than himself) that Luck is leading the league in passing yards?

Wells: The main reason is that Luck's ability to spread the ball around makes it difficult for defenses to key on one area. He had back-to-back games earlier this season where he completed passes to nine different receivers. Another reason: Two key players -- receiver Reggie Wayne and tight end Dwayne Allen -- are back after having their 2013 seasons cut short. Wayne is second on the team with 434 receiving yards -- trailing only T.Y. Hilton -- despite missing the Pittsburgh game. Allen is tied with former Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw for the team lead in receiving touchdowns with six.

Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton took a lot of criticism last season for being determined to make Indianapolis a power-running team despite having Luck at quarterback. Hamilton is more comfortable in Year 2 as an NFL coordinator and it's showing, as the Colts run the ball just enough to keep defenses honest.

Manning is 22nd in the league in passing yards. Would it be safe to say he's on the decline of his career, or does he have enough left in the tank to win his third Super Bowl ring at some point?

Graziano: I don't think he's declining. They just totally changed the offensive system. Longtime coordinator Kevin Gilbride "retired" (cough, was forced out, cough) and was replaced by Ben McAdoo, a former Packers assistant who brought Mike McCarthy's West Coast offense with him. The emphasis for Manning has been on avoiding turnovers after leading the league with 27 interceptions last year, and as a result the Giants are leaning hard on the run and the short-passing game. A whopping 67 percent of Manning's throws have traveled fewer than 10 yards down the field, compared with 61 and 62 percent the two seasons prior.

It's possible the offense develops more of a downfield element as everyone continues to develop -- especially first-round rookie Beckham, who has field-stretching speed but has only played three games. GM Jerry Reese said Monday that he'd like to see the offense be more aggressive, but coach Tom Coughlin has insisted that they're not looking to take more chances downfield and prefer to play it close to the vest so as to avoid a recurrence of last year's turnover problems.

Long term, I think Manning has enough time to win another Super Bowl if this new group develops around him. I imagine he'll get his contract extension this offseason, and the way the league is set up for quarterbacks right now, it's not crazy to think he has five or six good years left.

When we talked to Eli on Monday, he said he'd watched the Colts' past two games and noted the significant difference in the number of points they surrendered in them. His take was that the defensive scheme wasn't different but that Pittsburgh did a great job against it, while Cincinnati obviously did not. What on earth went wrong Sunday, and which Colts defense is the one we should expect to see Monday?

Wells: I'm not even sure the Colts know what went wrong against the Steelers. There wasn't a defense in the league that probably could have stopped Ben Roethlisberger. Defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois summed it up best when he said they got a wake-up call and Roethlisberger was a step ahead of them the entire game. He found the soft spots of the defense when they played zone and torched them when they blitzed. He also laid out the blueprint on how to beat a Colts defense that had 20 sacks and nine turnovers in the five games leading up to that matchup. Indy's front seven couldn't get any pressure on Roethlisberger; it was the first time since Week 2 that the Colts didn't have a sack.

Luck has thrown for at least 300 yards in six straight games. The Giants are 25th in the league against the pass. How do they expect to slow Luck down?

Graziano: Their best bet is that the offense clicks and they put together long, sustained drives that keep Luck off the field for long stretches. Their pass defense is in tatters. Top cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has been trying to play through leg and back injuries, and he doesn't seem to have improved much over the bye. They lost nickelback Walter Thurmond (arm) and backup nickel Trumaine McBride (thumb) to a season-ending injuries.

To overcome those losses, they've been putting Prince Amukamara on the opposing team's top receiver and experimenting with a three-safety look that includes Antrel Rolle, Quintin Demps and Stevie Brown, who was demoted earlier in the year due to ineffectiveness. It would help if they could generate more pressure on opposing quarterbacks, but in spite of a solid performance against the run, Jason Pierre-Paul and the rest of the defensive line have not been getting sacks. (As a team, the Giants have only 13 in seven games.) Luck has a chance for a big night.

If Luck does have a big night, however, it doesn't seem as though former Giant Hakeem Nicks will be a part of it. Has he been as much of a non-factor there as he was here last year, and if so, why do the Colts think that is?

Wells: The Colts are saying the right things publicly, but it's been a mystery why Nicks hasn't been a factor. Last weekend's game basically summed up his time with the Colts. With Wayne out with an elbow injury, Nicks was the No. 2 receiver, but he was clearly outplayed by rookie Donte Moncrief. Nicks only caught one of the six targets from Luck for 27 yards while playing 60 of 66 snaps. Moncrief only needed 40 snaps to catch seven passes for 113 yards and a touchdown. You would have thought having a bigger role in the offense would help Nicks. Now you have to wonder if he'll fit in at all this season because Wayne will likely play Monday and Moncrief's performance may have been good enough to move him ahead of Nicks as the third receiver.

Graziano: Thanks, Mike. Travel safe and I'll see you Monday.

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It all sounds good, and the fact that it came from his general manager forces him to take it seriously. But while New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning understands Jerry Reese's desire for the offense to be more aggressive, he wants to make it clear that he's not going to take chances with the ball just for the sake of taking chances.

"I think we're just trying to run the offense," Manning said Thursday. "I think we're trying to run things we feel comfortable with and that we know our guys do well. If we can create some throws down the field, that's great. But we can't force them just because you want to throw the ball downfield. We're looking for completions, and then hopefully we can create some big plays."

The Giants changed offensive coordinators and installed a new West Coast system designed to limit turnovers after Manning led the league with 27 interceptions last season. Manning has said he enjoys not having to constantly be trying to extend plays and make the big play downfield, and while the Giants were winning three games in a row earlier this season, the offense was scoring points reliably and in rhythm.

Now that they're playing without starting running back Rashad Jennings and top wide receiver Victor Cruz due to injury, the Giants likely are concentrating even more on sticking to the game plan and executing the plays that are called. But again, this suggestion comes from the top, so Manning can't just dismiss it.

"I'm just trying to go through my reads," Manning said. "In some cases, maybe my first progression might have been open, and you look back and say, 'Well, if you would have gotten to your second progression, you had a go-route that was open on it. But that's part of football. You can't start second-guessing or start changing your reads just to try to get something deep, because all of a sudden you do that, and the deep one doesn't win, then you're stuck with sacks or several bad plays.

"So I just have to stay the course and keep going through my progressions, and hopefully guys can keep winning their routes and we'll find completions. As long as you're getting completions and first downs, moving the ball, having drives, that's good also."

When the crowd dispersed a bit, I asked Manning this question: "If your first read is open, you have to throw it to him, right?"

"Pretty much, yup," he said.

So then I asked whether they'd consider changing the plays so that the first reads are occasionally deeper ones, and he pretty much said no to that too.

"You can throw it short and still hit a big play," Manning said.

So there you have it. Don't expect any big changes anytime soon. If they get a great matchup and have a chance to throw deep without significant risk of a turnover, sure, the Giants will try that out. But this is a run-based, short-passing-game offense, and that's what it's going to continue to be.
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- One of the more common frustrated-fan questions I get about the New York Giants is when they'll let second-year pass-rusher Damontre Moore play more on defense. General manager Jerry Reese mentioned earlier this week that he'd like to see it. Defensive line coach Robert Nunn said last week he planned to try it. Even head coach Tom Coughlin mentioned in his Thursday morning news conference that he'd like to get Moore involved in the pass-rush rotation, though Coughlin did add, "and Robert Ayers as well."

Moore
It's all reasonable and understandable. Moore has electrifying speed and talent and has shown an ability to make an impact on special teams and on defense. And part of the reason they picked him in the third round of the 2013 draft was because they thought his college production indicated he was a player who could help right away, at least as a situational pass-rusher.

But the answer I give when I get the question is that Moore is still quite young (he just turned 22 last month) and inexperienced and hasn't yet earned the trust of the coaching staff. You know who knows this as well as anyone? Damontre Moore does.

"We've been putting more of an emphasis on making sure I'm fundamentally sound in my technique, but Rome wasn't built in a day," Moore said Thursday. "This second half of the season, I want to make sure I'm more fundamentally sound and studying my opponent more, doing all of the little things and making sure I don't leave anything to chance. I have to prove I know my scheme and make sure my teammates know they can trust me not to make mistakes."

That's it. Once the Giants feel they can put Moore into a key spot and trust him not to jump offside or overpursue a running back or make any number of mistakes you'd expect a high-energy 22-year-old to make, they'll play him more. They only have 13 sacks so far, and it's not as though Mathias Kiwanuka is playing at such a high level at defensive end that there aren't reps to be had. With defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins likely out a few weeks with a calf injury, Kiwanuka and Ayers are going to have to play inside more, and that could be the chance for Moore to demonstrate whatever improvements he's made on his own reliability.

"I've got all the right people saying it," Moore said of his chances of getting more plays. "I'm just waiting for it to come when they say it's going to come, like everything else has. I think I can make some things happen."
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants hoped starting running back Rashad Jennings would be able to return from his knee injury and play Monday night against the Colts. He will not.

 Giants coach Tom Coughlin said Thursday that there was no chance Jennings would be able to play Monday, leaving the running game once again in the hands of rookie Andre Williams and fading veteran Peyton Hillis. Jennings will miss his third game in a row since spraining his knee in the Week 5 victory against the Falcons.

The Giants rank 27th in the NFL so far in rush yards per attempt -- 3.7. And in that category, there hasn't been a perceptible dropoff since Jennings went down. They were averaging 3.7 yards per carry in their first five games and are averaging 3.8 in their past two, which are the two Williams has started.

However, when Jennings was the starter, they were averaging 121 rush yards per game. In the two games Williams has started, they're averaging 95. Part of that may be skewed by the fact that they trailed and lost by so much in Week 6 in Philadelphia, but the Giants' run game hasn't generated nearly as much confidence as they had in it when Jennings was healthy.

The coaching staff doesn't yet trust Williams as a receiver or a blocker in passing situations, so there's more juggling going on in terms of substitution and play-calling, and as a result, they haven't established the same kind of rhythm on offense as they had during their three-game winning streak.

Williams himself is averaging 3.1 yards per rush attempt and has caught four passes for 25 yards on the season. Jennings is averaging 4.4 yards per carry and has 11 catches for 109 yards. He's the more complete back and obviously the more experienced, and Williams has played like a rookie still finding his way in the league and the offense, which is what you'd expect. He could have a hard time getting things going Monday night against the Colts, who rank ninth in the league in rush defense, allowing 99.3 rush yards per game.

As for when to expect Jennings back, he's working on it. He was planning to do some running and cutting Wednesday to evaluate the strength in his knee and the surrounding muscles. It's not out of the question he could return for the Week 10 game in Seattle, though he obviously has to make significant progress before that happens.

Also not practicing Wednesday was defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins, who's likely to miss a few games with the calf injury he suffered in Week 7 in Dallas. Coughlin said cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who's been severely limited by back and hamstring problems, would continue to practice on a limited basis. Guard Geoff Schwartz, who's eligible to return this week from the toe injury that's kept him out since the preseason, is just starting to practice and likely isn't ready to be activated for this upcoming game.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It would be another 10 hours before previously-red-hot Dallas lost at home to battered Washington on "Monday Night Football." But had New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin been able to see that far into the future, he'd have found another useful data point for the passionate speech he was giving his team at the end of Monday's practice.

"You look around the league, and you see teams that are playing superbly that maybe hadn't been playing superbly," Coughlin explained a few minutes after the speech concluded. "So to me, we've got to play above the X's and O's. We've got nine games to play as well as we can possibly play. Anybody in that locker room can do that. They just have to realize the amount of the season and the schedule that's gone by and yet we have nine opportunities. Let's go."

[+] EnlargeTom Coughlin
Eric Hartline/USA TODAY SportsTom Coughlin isn't giving up on this Giants team, despite a 3-4 record to kick off the 2014 season.
The message: Yeah, you're 3-4 and coming off two tough division losses, but crazy things happen every week in this league, and you have to be ready to take advantage when they do. Just look at the Indianapolis Colts, who happen to be the Giants' next opponent. Two weeks ago, they looked incredible in beating the Bengals, 27-0, for their fifth win in a row. This past week, they gave up 522 passing yards and 51 points in a loss to Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers.

Coughlin's message to his players is the inconsistency around the league offers opportunity for a team in the Giants' position to get hot and take advantage. To "play above the X's and O's" is to outplay expectations. Don't just run the plays that are called, do something exceptional with them. Don't just win your individual matchups, dominate them consistently.

"This is exciting," quarterback Eli Manning said. "We have a good opportunity ahead of us. The way we've played to start the year, we've made it tough on ourselves. But we have to get hot. We have to handle our business and start playing at a higher level."

As you know if you read me regularly, I believe it's important for fans to look at this Giants' team in a broader perspective than just this one season. I think it's a rebuilding team that doesn't yet have all of its pieces in place and has developing players in key roles. But there's enough mediocrity in the NFL that you can make the playoffs during a rebuild, and it's not out of the question that this Giants team could get hot in the second half and sneak in.

More importantly to the current point, however, is that it's not the job of Coughlin or the players to take that broader perspective. It's their job to try as hard as they possibly can to win every game, not to worry about whether they're outmanned in a given week due to injuries and/or roster insufficiency. And this is where Coughlin remains this team's greatest strength. Coughlin's teams never play below the X's and O's. There's no coach better at consistently making sure his team wins at least as many games as its talent level dictates, if not more. And you don't need me to tell you that if Coughlin and Manning get into the postseason, they know how to win games there.

"One thing I'll never do: I'll never bet against Tom Coughlin," Giants GM Jerry Reese said Monday. "When his back is against the wall the most, that's when he seems to come out swinging and get his football team ready to go. And I expect him to do the same here going down the stretch. This is a big moment for all of us, the second half of this season. I think Coach will get it done."

If not, I don't still don't think cataclysmic change looms for Coughlin and the Giants in 2015. As long as this team shows progress by the end of the year (and honestly it already has), I think they'll get to continue the rebuild that began in March for at least another season. If they fall completely apart and finish 4-12 or something like that, then all bets are off. But Coughlin is hard at work on making sure that doesn't happen. And I agree with Reese that it's folly to bet against him.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants still have six days until their next game, so Monday's practice was a shorter one than usual, designed to shake off the rust from the bye week and see where everyone stands in terms of health and readiness for the final nine games of the season. Here's a recap of what we learned Monday on that front:
  • Jennings
    We already went through running back Rashad Jennings and the reasons it doesn't sound to me as though he'll be ready to play Monday night against the Colts. You can read more about it here, but basically, Jennings is a highly positive and optimistic person who admitted between the lines Monday that his optimism in this particular case is likely not going to turn out to be justified.
  • Guard Geoff Schwartz, who hasn't played since the preseason because of a toe injury, is eligible to come off short-term injured reserve and play Monday, but there's no guarantee he will. He was on the practice field and moving around, but he didn't appear to be doing much. Coach Tom Coughlin said, "He's started," meaning Schwartz was just now beginning the process of getting back on the field. The Giants have 21 days to activate Schwartz from the short-term injured reserve list, which means there's nothing compelling them to play him or even put him back on the 53-man roster in time for this week's game.
  • Rodgers-Cromartie
    Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was on the practice field, though Coughlin indicated Rodgers-Cromartie remained somewhat limited due to persistent leg and back problems. He has yet to miss a game, but he hasn't played a whole one in more than a month. Rodgers-Cromartie's injuries appear to be the kind that will bother and limit him all season, but at this point they're not considering sitting him for a long period of time. That could change.
  • In case you missed it, linebacker Jon Beason will have surgery on his toe and miss the rest of the season. "Hopefully we're not going to lose anything in terms of his presence," Coughlin said. "I think he's probably going to have to be away a little bit, but then he'll return and we'll have him in meetings, etc. I'm looking forward to that part, anyway."
  • And safety Antrel Rolle was struggling a bit with his left foot in the early portion of practice Monday, coming on and off the field while trainers worked on his foot and tried to adjust his shoe to alleviate some discomfort. But Coughlin said Rolle ended up taking every snap in the team period, and Rolle said after practice that he was fine. So that's something to keep in the back of your mind, but at this point it doesn't appear to be a major thing.

The Giants are off Tuesday, and Wednesday is an abbreviated work day with no media access, so the next time we check in with these guys will be Thursday.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Don't think the New York Giants are taking enough shots downfield in their new offense? Well, you have some high-profile company. Giants general manager Jerry Reese agrees with you.

"I just think, as an offense, we have to be more aggressive," Reese said in his annual midseason news conference Monday. "At times, we're a little bit almost too cautions with what we're doing offensively. This is the National Football League. You've got to go out there and you've got to win the game. You can't expect something to fall into your lap. You've got to take the game. And I think we've got to be more aggressive offensively.

[+] EnlargeEli Manning
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsMore than two-thirds of Eli Manning's throws this season have been for fewer than 10 yards downfield.
"I appreciate Eli taking care of the ball and not turning it over, because that's what leads to wins a lot of the time. But you can't be too cautious. You've got to throw the ball down the field. You've got to score points in this league to win."

This was a startling comment because it runs directly counter to everything that quarterback Eli Manning, coach Tom Coughlin and offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo have been saying about this new Giants offense. Manning spoke last week about how he's learned to get rid of the ball rather than take chances with tough throws he used to take (and how much he likes that change). And Coughlin spoke last week about the team's reliance on the run game as a means of avoiding turnovers following Manning's 27-interception 2013 season. Each made it clear that the plan would not change. But Reese made it clear Monday he'd like to see some changes.

"I'd like to see us be more aggressive going down the stretch," Reese said. "If you turn the ball over, you're going to lose in this league. But you still can't be too careful. You have to throw the ball down the field. You have to be more aggressive. You have to give your receivers a chance to make plays. You've got to score points. If you don't score points, it's hard to win."

The Giants (3-4) rank 22nd in the league in points per game. According to ESPN Stats & Information, 67 percent of Manning's passes this season have been thrown fewer than 10 yards downfield, up from 61 percent in 2013, 61 percent in 2012 and 60 percent in 2011. So this is a conscious and determined change, whether Reese likes it or not. That has not stopped him from communicating his opinion on the matter to the coaching staff.

"I'm just giving you what my opinion is," Reese said. "We talk every week about, 'How do we win the next game?' Every Monday we meet. And we don't sugarcoat anything. We go in there and talk real talk. So we've had conversations about this, yes."

Very interesting. My take on this is that, in an organization with less secure leaders, this could be an issue. With the Giants, less so. I found it surprising that Reese, who only makes himself available this one time during the season because he wants to let the coaches coach the team and not appear to be meddling, would admit publicly to disagreeing with Coughlin and his staff on such a significant matter. But I believe him that he's expressed his opinion in meetings, and it's obviously possible that the coaching staff has thanked him for it and told him they would continue trying it their way. And that such conversations will continue as part of the regular weekly course of things.

By the way, this wasn't the only such issue that came up. Reese shares an opinion with the vocal portion of the fan base about second-year defensive end Damontre Moore as well.

"I think he needs to play a few more snaps," Reese said of his 2013 third-round pick. "I think, when he gets into a game, he makes something happen. So I think he's progressing, but I think he needs to play a little bit more."

Again, on this matter, Reese has made his opinion known and then stepped back to allow the coaches to do what they want with it. Moore is still very young and hasn't yet earned the trust of the coaching staff to an extent that would allow his role in the defense to expand.

"We have conversations about everything," Reese said. "We don't sugarcoat anything. I don't coach the game. It's the heat of the moment. And those guys, they've been coaching a long time. They know who to play."

And they also, apparently, don't have to wonder who (or how) the GM wants them to play.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A full calendar week remains before the New York Giants' next game, so this is by no means a definitive prediction. But after speaking with injured running back Rashad Jennings this afternoon, I would be surprised to see him playing against the Colts next Monday night.

Jennings
A week ago, Jennings said his plan was to start running during the bye week and hopefully practice with the team this week. But he did not practice with the team Monday, and after the team finished practice, Jennings said he hadn't done any running until Monday and that what he did was "a light jog."

"It's coming along," Jennings said. "It's getting better every day. Building on it, and when the time's right, I'm going to be out there ready to go."

Jennings is a relentlessly positive and upbeat person who will not rule out the possibility that he plays next Monday. But he never ruled out playing in Week 6 or Week 7, even when the team was making it clear he wasn't close. So his own personal optimism, by his own admission, is a poor guide. The facts of what he's saying are the true harbingers of what might happen. He said he wouldn't try moving laterally on his injured knee until Wednesday, and even then, he said, he won't be "planting my foot in the ground" and driving off the injured leg.

That's what makes it sound to me as though Jennings is at least another week away from returning from the MCL sprain he suffered in Week 5 against the Falcons. That and this assessment from Giants coach Tom Coughlin, who seemed surprised to even be asked about Jennings:

"He's not ready to go."

Rookie Andre Williams likely would get his third straight start at running back next Monday night against the Colts if Jennings has to miss a third consecutive game.
The New York Giants will gather Monday for their first practice in more than a week, having enjoyed an opportunity to rest and heal during their bye week. It will be a short practice, and the real pregame work week won't start until Thursday (as opposed to the usual Wednesday) because the Giants' game this week is next Monday Night. But this Monday will be interesting for a number of reasons:

Giants GM Jerry Reese will hold his annual midseason availability session with the media. Reese only speaks once during the season, preferring not to comment on individual games or stretches and to wait until after the full 16-game season is over to make an evaluation of it. But Monday will offer a chance to check in with the GM and see what he thinks of the roster he remains in the process of rebuilding.

Schwartz
Guard Geoff Schwartz, out since the preseason with a toe injury, is expecting to be able to practice with the team for the first time since August. We're a long way from knowing whether (and how much) Schwartz might be able to play next Monday. And when he does come back, we still don't know whether he'll reclaim his left guard spot from Weston Richburg or take the right guard spot from John Jerry.

Running back Rashad Jennings, as of a week ago, was hoping to be able to practice this week and play next Monday Night. Jennings has been out since Week 5 with a knee sprain.

There could be news on linebacker Jon Beason, who last week was discussing the possibility of season-ending surgery on his own toe injury.

And there will surely be much talk from Reese and Tom Coughlin and the players about the standings. The Giants are 3-4, which puts them only a game and a half behind Green Bay for the NFC's second wild-card spot. The two straight pre-bye losses to division rivals Philadelphia and Dallas were damaging, and the upcoming stretch of Colts/Seahawks/49ers/Cowboys is daunting. But this is the NFL, where even last year's Giants team (which started 0-6) made it to December before mathematical elimination. Seattle and San Francisco have both looked shaky and, at 4-3, are the types of teams the Giants must surpass in order to contend for that playoff spot, so those games offer opportunity if nothing else. There's clearly no reason for the Giants to give up hope, and with Coughlin in charge, we can be certain no one will.
Injuries could force the New York Giants' defense to look a little bit different in the weeks that follow this week's bye. Defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins strained his right calf in Sunday's loss in Dallas. Middle linebacker Jon Beason might need surgery to repair the toe injury that's been limiting him since June. And injuries at cornerback could lead the Giants to bring back the three-safety look they used on their way to their most recent Super Bowl title three seasons ago.

"The game plan last week was to have Stevie Brown in the game with the three-safety package versus certain personnel groupings," safeties coach Dave Merritt said Tuesday. "That worked out for us, because Stevie went in and did his job and did what we asked him to do. The fact that we used to play the three-safety package a ton back in the day was because of the fact that we had three veterans who were able to play. I'm talking about Kenny Phillips, Antrel Rolle and Deon Grant. Right now, we feel like we've tested the waters and we have the same right now in our camp here."

[+] EnlargeStevie Brown
AP Photo/Seth WenigStevie Brown could see more playing time as the Giants adapt to injuries in their secondary.
The plan coming into this year was to play three cornerbacks most of the time. The team signed Walter Thurmond to play the nickel spot, but he suffered a season-ending injury in September, and Trumaine McBride, who took over, suffered his own season-ending injury in Week 6. So they are down to their third-string nickel cornerback, Jayron Hosley, and they don't seem comfortable leaning on him to the extent that they leaned on Thurmond or McBride.

Brown entered the season as a starting safety, but he lost his job in Week 4 after a poor start to the season and was replaced by Quintin Demps. Coaches have been pleased with the work Brown has put in since the demotion, and they believe there are situations in which it's better to have him, Demps and Rolle on the field at the same time than it is to have three cornerbacks. This arrangement could force Rolle into the nickel spot, a position he has said in the past he's willing to play but prefers not to, but Merritt said they are comfortable with Brown in there as well.

On the defensive line, Jenkins' absence for at least a few weeks leaves the Giants thin at defensive tackle. But they have had success playing defensive ends Robert Ayers and Mathias Kiwanuka at interior positions in pass-rush situations this season, and they might decide to do that more going forward to augment the defensive tackle rotation. Rookie defensive tackle Jay Bromley likely will be elevated to the active roster in Jenkins' absence, but there's also a chance second-year defensive end Damontre Moore could get more looks on the outside when Ayers and/or Kiwanuka move inside.

"Damontre needs to continue to improve and stay focused on what we're doing on first and second down," defensive line coach Robert Nunn said. "He can do it. He's a lighter body, not ideal, but he can play it. He has to stay focused and continue to improve in that area, and he will get more at-bats. He's going to get more opportunities on third down, so he just has to keep coming along and improve on first and second down. If he does that, then he's going to get those opportunities in pass-rush situations."

Moore has shown exciting ability in pass-rush situations and on special teams. But he has yet to earn the complete trust of the coaching staff as a player who can stop the run (and avoid jumping offsides).

No trust issues at linebacker, though. When Beason missed time early in the season, Jameel McClain filled in for him in the middle. At the time, rookie Devon Kennard was hurt, so Mark Herzlich replaced McClain on the strong side. This time, if Beason is out a while, Kennard could be the one who sees more playing time.

"Now that he's healthy, he's contributing on special teams, and last week was able to go in the game and do some good things," linebackers coach Jim Herrmann said of Kennard. "It was good to see him get out and get some game experience, because that is invaluable for a young linebacker. The other guys love him. He's got a great personality, and he wants to be great. I think we'll see some really good things out of him."
Geoff Schwartz was the big offensive line pickup of the New York Giants' offseason, and he has yet to play a meaningful game for the team. A toe injury he suffered late in the preseason forced Schwartz to short-term injured reserve, and he wasn't eligible to practice with the team until last week. The first game in which he's allowed to play is their next game -- Nov. 3 against the Indianapolis Colts. But while Schwartz and the team are hopeful he can play in their first game after the bye week, they're still not certain.

Schwartz
"That's a great question, and I don't know the answer," Giants offensive line coach Pat Flaherty said Tuesday. "Geoff has been very active in our meetings. He's stayed on top of everything. He's worked his tail off in there, and from all reports I get, he's done the same thing in the training room. As far as how close he is to playing, I'll know more next week when I see him."

Aside from obsessing over the World Series (he's a San Francisco Giants fan), Schwartz has been spending his bye week getting treatment at the Giants' team facility. He said Monday that he wasn't sure whether he'd be able to practice with the team next week when they all got back to work. A lot will depend on how that toe feels once he starts really testing it out. He did some running on the side during practices last week, but hasn't tried to block or punch anyone, and he doesn't know how his foot will hold up right now to the rigors of his position.

"I would think he's not going to stand on the sideline [once he's cleared]," Flaherty said. "But how much? Is he ready to play 75 plays? That's the question. If he's not, then he's got to play X number of plays, and we have to figure out when to insert him into the games."

They also have to figure out where. Flaherty said Schwartz looked good in the preseason making the transition to left guard after playing on the right side of the offensive line for most of his career. But it's hard right now to identify where the greatest need is on the offensive line. Rookie Weston Richburg has had his share of struggles at left guard since replacing Schwartz there late in camp, but John Jerry hasn't been Mr. Reliable over at right guard, either. The Giants might have to decide where they think Schwartz can best help them once they decide he's ready to help them.

"I'm really not closed-minded on one side or the other," Flaherty said. "I think wherever he fits and can help us, he can adjust, because he's had that versatility of playing on the left side and the right side. So at this point, I'm not sure what side it's going to be. We'll have to see how it unfolds as he progresses."
When New York Giants running back Rashad Jennings sprained his knee in Week 5, the presumption was that rookie running back Andre Williams would ascend to the starting role and handle it. There were questions about Williams' abilities as a pass blocker and especially as a pass receiver, but in terms of actually running the ball, it was believed he would do fine filling in for Jennings for at least a couple of weeks.

Williams
Jennings
He has not been fine.

Williams has rushed for a total of 110 yards on 35 carries in the two games since Jennings got hurt. That's an average of 3.14 yards per carry. Jennings' average in the season's first five games was 4.35 yards per carry. Both of Williams' games have been losses, but that's no excuse, because as we've already discussed here, the Giants have been running ball even though they've been behind.

There are two key aspects to examine as we try to figure out why Williams hasn't been as effective as Jennings was as the Giants' lead back, and they are:

1. The offensive line has had two poor games. Jennings this season is averaging 2.53 yards per carry before contact, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Williams is averaging 1.31. That's a significant difference in the amount of room in which the Giants' backs can operate. And while it's possible Williams isn't identifying the hole as easily as Jennings was (and we'll get to that later), a stat like this is pretty much all on the offensive line.

"Yes, if that's a stat, then yes," offensive line coach Pat Flaherty said Tuesday. "The running game is a combination of the offensive line, the tight end, the fullback and the running back. And there's no question we need to be better at executing the schemes, better calls. But more so than anything, it is on the offensive line to make sure we have better holes to get our running backs through."

Each of the Giants' starting five offensive linemen has earned a negative run-blocking grade from Pro Football Focus in both of the past two games. During the three-game winning streak that preceded those two games, only right guard John Jerry (in Week 5 vs. Atlanta) had a single negatively graded game. The offensive linemen aren't beating the people in front of them consistently enough to open holes for Williams to run through. However...

2. Williams isn't always seeing the holes when they do show up. As a very successful collegiate running back at Boston College, Williams was used to power running schemes. The Giants' running schemes this season incorporate a great deal more zone running than Williams has seen before. Jennings, who'd been only a power runner in Jacksonville and Oakland before arriving in New York, struggled himself in the preseason with some of the zone concepts, and there were times when the film would show him almost inexplicably running into one of his blockers instead of hitting the hole. Williams is dealing with that now, at least to some extent, as his reps have increased.

"What he's going through right now, getting more carries, is timing and rhythm with the offensive line," running backs coach Craig Johnson said. "That's the bottom line. They block and a certain rhythm and a certain pace, he runs at a certain rhythm and a certain pace, and everybody's trying to mesh that together."

The problem, such as it is, is that Williams is learning on the job. Different players develop at different rates, and developing while starting in the NFL is no easy trick. The only way for Williams to master what Johnson is talking about is to keep at it.

"You have to learn the defenses, where their fits are going to be, and that's through film study," Johnson said. "And then you find out when can I set a good pace to the hole and then hit it. And how you do that is rep after rep after rep. It is a rhythm and a pace and a feel. And how do you learn that? You have more reps. The more reps you get, the more you get with your timing, the more your timing happens, the more you have a chance to have the big runs."

The Giants hope to get Jennings back in Week 9 after the bye. But the meantime has been a valuable learning experience for Williams, who'll only get better with time and practice and a bit better offensive line play than he's had since they gave him the starter's job.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- If you feel like the New York Giants have been running the ball a lot, you're not crazy. So far this season, the Giants are running the ball more than almost any other team in the NFL.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Giants' rush percentage (the percentage of offensive plays on which the quarterback does not drop back to pass) is 45.1 percent. That's the fourth-highest percentage in the league, behind only Dallas, Cleveland and Houston.

They run the ball on first down 52.2 percent of the time, which is the ninth-highest figure in the league.

They run the ball on second down 48.3 percent of the time, which is the second-highest figure in the league.

They run the ball on third down 24.5 percent of the time, which is the third-highest figure in the league.

The Giants run and run and run and run. They run when they're ahead in the game and they run when they're behind. They run whether it's working or not.

[+] EnlargeEli Manning
AP Photo/Brandon WadeEli Manning and the Giants are committed to balance in their offense this season.
And they're not going to stop anytime soon.

"You've got to have balance," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said after the Giants ran the ball 42.4 percent of the time in Sunday's 31-21 loss in Dallas. "We're not just going to turn the ball over because we refuse to run. That's not what we're about."

There you have it. This reliance on the run is not the result of sloppy or haphazard play calling. This is a deep-rooted philosophy to which Coughlin and the Giants have committed in the wake of a 2013 season in which they committed 44 turnovers -- a stomach-turning figure that led the league by 10. The Giants are scared straight, which is why they're not throwing the ball downfield as much, why their quarterback is throwing it away more often, and why they're leaning so hard on the run.

The Giants have given the ball away 13 times so far this year, which isn't great. It's tied for the fourth-highest total in the league, and only two off the league-leading total of 15 shared by Jacksonville and Washington. But of those 13, only five have been interceptions, and four of those five came in the first two weeks of the season. Eli Manning hasn't thrown an interception in any of his last three games.

"We haven't had an interception in a couple of weeks, and that has been a very important part, I think, of our ability to control our game," Coughlin said Monday. "If we can get it under control, we will do it that way. Now, what to do about guys who can't catch the ball, put it away, cover it up without getting it stripped? That's another issue. We have had our issues with that."

The Giants do lead the league with eight lost fumbles, three of which have come on special teams. But those can't be controlled by game-planning or strategy. Those are either the result of luck, which corrects itself, or poor technique, which the coaches can correct on the practice field.

Running the ball more and taking fewer risks in the passing game is a way for the Giants to try to get control of their turnover situation. And remember to keep this year's numbers in perspective. Tied for fourth in the league in turnovers is a heck of a lot better than leading the league by 10.

"It's tough in this league if you sit back there and throw it 50 times a game," Manning said. "That puts a lot of pressure on the offensive line and me and the receivers, because you're going to get a lot of coverages. When you're running it and you have a commitment to run like we were Sunday, it's going to bring a safety in the box, it's going to give you some better throwing situations.

"We're going to be committed to doing it. We just have to get back to where we're getting successful runs. It's not like we've got to run for 150 yards, but on first and second down, when they're giving you the run looks, we've got to get those four and five yards just to keep the down and distance in shape. We're just having too many runs where we're losing yards, we're getting negative-two yards. We can't be going backwards. That's what hurts you."

For more on how they fix that, check back in Thursday.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- "Where did Larry Donnell come from?" is one of the big early questions of this New York Giants season, and the answer defies simple explanation.

Donnell was on the team last year in a reserve role -- a special-teams player who was working to develop as an offensive asset at tight end. He was a basketball player early in life and a quarterback when he arrived at Grambling for college, so tight end was new to him and he had to learn it. He's still learning it.

"One of the big things is his confidence level," Giants tight ends coach Kevin M. Gilbride said Tuesday. "He didn't play with a level of confidence last year that he's now playing with in the passing game, certainly, and that he's starting to develop in the run game, as well."

[+] EnlargeLarry Donnell
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsLarry Donnell made three receptions as a Giants rookie. This season, he already has 33 catches for 332 yards and four red zone touchdowns.
That's a word -- "develop" -- that gets tossed around and often ignored in today's hyper-impatient NFL. We hear so much about how precious those 53-man roster spots are that we forget that some of them are occupied by players who aren't ready yet to make major contributions. Every roster has at least a handful of developmental players -- guys who aren't yet ready to start or even be active on Sundays but who've shown at least some inkling of promise that makes it worth the team's time to keep working with them throughout the week.

Donnell was such a player last year. Heck, he was such a player as recently as August. In many ways, he's still such a player. But he's better, for example, at getting open now than he was a year ago or even a few months ago, and the Giants' coaching staff can get really specific if you want to know how.

"One specific is a release off the line of scrimmage where a linebacker has inside leverage and he's going to try to collision you," Gilbride said. "In the past, what Larry would do is just try to bow around the defender, and that's not a good thing. What the defender does at that point is, he collisions you and widens you outside of where we want you to be. It muddies the picture, the whole picture for the quarterback.

"And what [Donnell] has done is, he's taken the coaching point of, if the defender takes that approach, attack to his inside leverage and then be violent with that defender. Don't try to bow around him. And you'll see, as you see him running routes, he'll take his single hand and swipe down and he slips right by defenders. And that puts defenders in an adverse situation and gets him an opportunity to get down the field."

That's one example. "One of many," Gilbride said. But it didn't happen overnight. Donnell's improvement is an example of slow, persistent work and development -- a player who understands the value of learning and practicing things with which he's not automatically comfortable.

"It doesn't necessarily just 'click.' You have to do it," Gilbride said. "And that's what he's done. Instead of continuing to take his bad habits and bang his head against the wall because it's not working ... he tries to put it into practice. And when you attempt to put it into practice and then you have some success with it, then moving forward, you like to keep that approach."

Donnell is still just 25 years old, and in spite of the obvious gains he's made as a player, he remains obviously inconsistent. Three touchdown catches one week, no catches at all the next. Two fumbles this past week in a close game in Dallas. Some weeks he's a good run-blocker, other weeks he gets overrun in the run game. That's his next frontier, and it's an important one.

"Finishing blocks with effort and strength in his hands," Gilbride said, "that's another area that still does need to continue to improve. But when he does play that way with confidence, he does well."

Donnell is still developing, so the gains are interspersed with setbacks and struggles. The encouraging thing for the Giants is that Donnell is an eager and willing student, and the successes this year are proof that his hard work and open-mindedness to teaching can pay off. That makes them believe the development will continue, and that he'll continue to get better. And as the Giants work this year to incorporate all of their new, young faces into their new offense, they need as many guys like that as possible.

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