NFC East: New York Giants
"I wanted to try and create some spark and be able to run the ball a little bit," Giants coach Tom Coughlin explained after the game. "In last week's game, there wasn't any run. I wanted to be able to have some balance to our offense, and if that's what it took, then so be it."
Geoff Schwartz, who was signed in the offseason to play left guard but missed the first 10 games due to a toe injury, made his Giants debut at right tackle Sunday in place of the injured Justin Pugh. We had a sense during the week that they'd do that. But in a mild surprise, the Giants also benched rookie Weston Richburg, who'd started the first 10 games at left guard, and replaced him with veteran Adam Snyder.
"Me and Snyder and some veteran guys, we've done this before where we've had to fill in at certain times," Schwartz said. "I thought our effort was good."
The line endured change during the game as well. Snyder had to leave with a knee injury and was replaced by Richburg. And during the fourth-quarter drive that led to the go-ahead Giants touchdown, left tackle Will Beatty had to leave due to an eye injury and was replaced by James Brewer. Beatty returned to the game, Snyder didn't, and it's hard to know for sure what the Giants will do going forward. Pugh could return from his quadriceps injury next week and move Schwartz back to guard. But they could stay with Snyder at left guard if he's able to bounce back and use Schwartz at right guard in place of John Jerry, who's struggled as well. Schwartz is versatile like that and willing to play anywhere.
The only thing that's certain is that this will remain flux, and that the Giants will need to do some more work on the line when the offseason rolls around. Again.
As for that run game... meh. The Giants ran for 89 yards on 32 carries, a pitiful average of 2.8. Starter Rashad Jennings had 52 yards on 19 carries, and rookie Andre Williams had 35 yards on 10 carries. The two alternated drives in the first half, but Coughlin said that wasn't necessarily the plan -- that he planned to play both of them and that's the way it worked out in the first half. The Giants ran 74 offensive plays in the game, so there was plenty of opportunity for multiple backs. Jennings got 12 carries in the second half while Williams only got one.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A few thoughts on the New York Giants' 31-28 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night at MetLife Stadium:
What it means: A sixth straight loss for the Giants, and mathematical elimination from the NFC East race with a week still to go in November. The Giants will need to win all five of their remaining games just to finish this season with a .500 record.
Stock watch: Giants' offense, UP. Quarterback Eli Manning went through a rough patch in the third and fourth quarters, and his interception in the red zone was inexcusable and set up the Dallas touchdown drive that gave the Cowboys their first lead. But the offense clicked all throughout the first half and on the 93-yard drive that gave the Giants the lead back with three minutes left in the game. The Giants converted their first seven third-down conversion attempts and were a remarkable 11-for-15 on third downs in the game. And they didn't call one fade route at the goal line.
More of the same on the O-line: The Giants made a couple of changes to their offensive line, as Geoff Schwartz started at right tackle for the injured Justin Pugh and Adam Snyder replaced rookie Weston Richburg as the starting left guard. But while the protection held up all right in the first half as the Giants built a 21-10 lead, it crumbled in the third quarter and Manning began to feel the effects, as he appeared jittery and out of rhythm. Regardless of how they arrange things for the remaining five games of this season, the Giants will go into the offseason still needing to make the offensive line a top priority.
Game ball: Who else could it be? Giants rookie receiver Odell Beckham Jr. made one of the most incredibly athletic catches you'll ever see in the second quarter. It was a twisting, one-handed, 43-yard touchdown catch, his second touchdown of the game. He left the game briefly in the fourth quarter with a back injury but did return to the field and ended up with 146 yards and those two touchdowns on 10 catches. Assuming he recovers from the injury, Beckham should continue to be a bright spot for the remainder of this lost Giants season.
What's next: The Giants travel to Jacksonville for a 1 p.m. ET game against the 1-10 Jaguars next Sunday. It will be the Giants' first game since Week 5 against a team that does not currently have a winning record. They are 3-0 against those teams this year.
It was the first play of the second quarter, a first-down play from the Dallas Cowboys' 43-yard line. Giants quarterback Eli Manning rolled out to his right and found Beckham sprinting down the right sideline, covered by Cowboys defensive backs. Manning fired the ball in Beckham's direction, possibly hoping for a pass-interference call, which was indeed made as Beckham was interfered with in his effort to make the leaping catch.
However, Beckham managed to catch the ball with only his right hand while twisting and falling to the ground on his back.
The catch sparked a remarkable Twitter reaction from players around the NFL and other sports leagues -- everyone from Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman to injured Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz to Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James:
Man I just witnessed the greatest catch ever possibly by Odell Beckham Jr! WOW!!!!— LeBron James (@KingJames) November 24, 2014
That's the best catch I've ever seen— Victor Cruz (@TeamVic) November 24, 2014
My Goodness.... That young man is bad!!!!— Richard Sherman (@RSherman_25) November 24, 2014
Made some crazy catches in my day but 13 for the G - Men just trumped them all...#Crazycatch— Andre Reed (@Andre_Reed83) November 24, 2014
The play was reviewed, as all touchdown catches are, by replay officials, who ostensibly wanted to see whether Beckham stepped out of bounds before making it but may have just wanted to watch it over and over again. Who could blame them?
The catch gave the Giants a 14-3 lead over the Cowboys in the second quarter, and MetLife Stadium was still buzzing about it minutes later as the Cowboys drove down the field for a touchdown that cut the lead to 14-10.
Personally, I just wanted to get this written before the Giants' next possession to see what the kid might do next.
The 7-3 Dallas Cowboys have a chance to mathematically eliminate the 3-7 New York Giants from the NFC East race on Sunday night. ESPN Cowboys reporter Todd Archer and ESPN Giants reporter Dan Graziano hereby present your game preview:
Graziano: Hey, Todd, the Giants haven't won a game since the last time we did this, so I'm eager to see what questions you've come up with. But during their current five-game losing streak, the Giants' best offensive game was the loss in Dallas. It was the only game in the streak in which they've rushed for 100 yards and the only one in which the opponent didn't generate consistent, disruptive pressure on quarterback Eli Manning. How is that Dallas front seven looking these days?
Archer: The easy answer is not bad, but for those used to seeing DeMarcus Ware for close to a decade, he's not walking through that door again. The good news for the Cowboys is that they are getting healthier whereas last year they were signing guys on a Tuesday and playing them on Sunday. Tyrone Crawford did not play against Jacksonville, but he should be back. Rolando McClain didn't play against the Jaguars, but he will be back. Henry Melton has been much more active. Rookie defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence didn't play in the first meeting because of a foot injury but he is coming on. Josh Brent is eligible to play but I don't think he will be on the 46-man roster Sunday. They have been decent against the run but have had some breakdowns. The pass rush has been better but it's still not good enough. Like the defense as a whole, the front seven is getting by.
I'll keep it simple off the top: Is this the end for Tom Coughlin?
Graziano: Well, this game surely isn't. Coughlin will certainly coach out this season, and I honestly think his future as the Giants' coach will depend a lot on how the Giants do in their final six games. If they rally against a December schedule that includes games against Jacksonville, Tennessee, Washington and St. Louis and get back to 7-9 as they did last year, it'll be easier for Giants ownership to justify giving Coughlin another year of this rebuilding project. If they fall completely apart and finish, say, 4-12 or 3-13, I imagine all bets are off and no one is safe. A lot of people want a definitive answer on Coughlin's status, but I don't believe ownership has made one yet. They love him and love having him as their coach, and if he does decide to leave or if they decide to move on from him, they know they'll need a good plan in place for how to replace perhaps the best coach in franchise history (apologies to Bill Parcells). So it's no sure thing, but the way this team is playing and the inevitable fact that they'll miss the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons does not work in his or any other coach's favor.
What's Jason Garrett's status these days? Has the Cowboys' surprisingly good season done anything to quiet those who perpetually call for his head?
Archer: A little bit it has, but if they don't make the playoffs then the calls for his job will be heard again. I've written that he deserves to be extended. I think the plan he has put in place has started to come together. But it will all be determined by what they do from now on. As you know, they have lost three straight winner-take-all season finales to the Giants, Redskins and Eagles. At least Garrett had them in position to win the division, but this year they have to get over the top. Jerry Jones has been patient with Garrett and often talks about wanting him to be the coach long term, but he hasn't backed those words up with a new deal. Along with the contractual statuses of Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray, this one could get juicy here down the stretch.
How much of this Giants mess is on GM Jerry Reese? They have let guys go and not had replacements ready, especially on the offensive and defensive lines.
Graziano: I think it's almost all on Reese, Todd, and you've hit it right on the head. His drafts have been flat-out terrible from the standpoint of finding players who have turned out to be foundation pieces. Do you know that, since Reese became Giants GM in 2007, only three of his draft picks have signed second contracts with the team? And none of those three was a first-rounder? (They're Will Beatty, Ahmad Bradshaw and Zak DeOssie.) You're right that the Giants haven't done a good enough job of finding and developing players to replace those who have left, and the result was that last year's roster got so hollowed out that they had to sign more free agents than any other team in the league just to fill out a 53-man roster. That's why I say this is a rebuilding project that has to take more than one year, and why I blame Reese much more than I blame Coughlin or the coaching staff for the mess this team is in. The Giants don't fire GMs as a matter of policy. They've had only three of them in the past 38 years. But as I said when we were talking about Coughlin, if things get really ugly over these final six weeks, all bets are off.
Let's move the discussion to the field. When the Giants and Cowboys played in that Week 7 game, Murray have to leave for a while with an injury. He came back and seems to have been fine since, but are there any signs of his extreme workload wearing on him? And are they doing anything to keep him from wearing down?
Archer: There really hasn't been any drastic change in his production. He has had 100 yards in every game but one this season and even in that Arizona game he averaged 4.2 yards per carry. He had at least 22 carries in the first seven games of the season but has maxed out at 19 in each of the past three. I don't know if that is by design. Some of it has been dictated by the circumstances of the games. They are using Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar earlier in games to spell Murray some. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said he is not worried so much about the carries as he is the snaps Murray plays. He's a three-down back and has 36 catches. It's a tricky balancing act the Cowboys have to follow because Murray is so valuable to what they do. He said he felt refreshed after the bye week and largely stayed off his feet. Whatever the Cowboys do in their final six games will be with the same formula they used in their first 10 games: a lot of Murray.
When these teams met in October, it looked like Manning was feeling his way through the change in offense pretty well. Is this scheme a fit for what Manning does best or is he held back by what's around him?
Graziano: The group around Manning sure has taken a pounding. The Giants lost top wide receiver Victor Cruz to a season-ending knee injury in Week 6, and they were without starting running back Rashad Jennings for four games due to a knee sprain. Jennings was back last week, and I thought the offense would look better as a result, but then Manning went and threw five interceptions, nearly doubling his season total. (He'd thrown six in his first nine games.) You're right that Manning was looking comfortable in the new offense until last week, and I think all eyes are on him Sunday night and the rest of the way to see whether this last game was a fluke or whether it's a sign that "Bad Eli" is always potentially around the corner no matter what system they put him in. One thing he has dealt with is a lot of pass-rush pressure, and that crescendoed a bit last week against the 49ers. They may make some changes on the offensive line this week, and if those changes help protect him better, I think he gets back into that rhythm he was in earlier in the year.
This was my No. 1 takeaway from the Giants' locker room Thursday. I learned a lot in there, including the facts that Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie thought the movie "Interstellar" was too long and center J.D. Walton got a paycheck this week that was for $0.00 because his previous checks had failed to withhold federal income tax and they're in the process of correcting that. ("Tight budget," Walton joked.)
"When you have a dude of that caliber and he's got that dog in him, you have to have kind of a nasty attitude to go against him," Rodgers-Cromartie said. "He's a tough cover. One of those big guys who's good to the ball. You just have to cover him for as long as you can."
He is, and it likely will fall to Rodgers-Cromartie to handle him as long as he can. Rodgers-Cromartie was too injured to play much of the Week 7 game in Dallas, leaving it to Prince Amukamara to handle Bryant, who caught nine passes for 151 yards in that game. Amukamara is out for the year now, so that's no longer an option. And while Rodgers-Cromartie is in better shape now than he was that week (read: actually practicing), his leg and back injuries continue to flare up and force him out of games for stretches.
That means the Giants won't be able to stick Rodgers-Cromartie on Bryant all game as they'd like to, and that they'll have to arrange coverage on one of the game's most fearsome receivers with some combination of him, Zack Bowman, Jayron Hosley and Chykie Brown.
"It does make it difficult to match up without a full-strength 21," defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said, oddly referring to Rodgers-Cromartie by his uniform number. "I'm encouraged by what we see out of 21. Obviously, he's feeling better, because before he just didn't practice. But we never know, because sometimes he's working well and then he'll tighten up in a ballgame and he'll need a break. So we never know."
Fewell said he was "very confident in Brown," indicating that he might draw the Bryant assignment if Rodgers-Cromartie can't. But the point is, whatever solution they come up with will be an imperfect one, and that's a tough pill to swallow, especially given the already tough matchup of their 32nd-ranked run defense against NFL rushing leader DeMarco Murray.
Manning knows this, but he says his hope is to ultimately land a contract extension that keeps him a Giant for the rest of his career.
"I think you always hope that. That's always the mindset," Manning said Wednesday. "I'm playing as if that will be the case, but I never thought Peyton would play for another franchise, and I don't think he did either. I'm just going to try to do my job and do it well enough to where the franchise wants to keep me here."
Manning has one year left on his contract after this year and is scheduled to make $17 million in salary in 2015. The Giants could sign him to an extension this coming offseason, but with the salary cap projected to escalate significantly in the next two years, they also could wait and see how he plays, risking that he hits the free-agent market two offseasons from now. It's possible they are a ways from a final decision on Manning's long-term future with them, and the way Manning finishes out this season will go into evidence as they deliberate it.
"Obviously last season was not good, but this season I thought I've been playing better," Manning said. "This last week wasn't good, but hopefully we can get on a hot streak and I can play well. I feel I can still make plays and make all the throws. I still feel energized every week. I work extremely hard, and I love what I'm doing. I feel I can play at an extremely high level and take over games and do my job."
Manning said he's not worried about his contract situation and that he's still enjoying football, in spite of the tough stretch the Giants are enduring right now. At this point, he said, all he knows is that he'd like to keep playing.
"Yeah, until it's not fun anymore, or you're hurt, or you don't feel you can play at that level that can win games for your team or win championships," Manning said. "I don't know when that point comes, but I guess I'll know when it does. You always hope to go out on your own terms, but it doesn't always happen. We'll see.
"This is the only franchise I've been a part of and I think it's the best one. I don't want anything else but to be here, play here and win another championship here."
They just don't know where.
"I'm just out there kind of moving around, seeing what the best fit is for this week," Schwartz said. "I've played enough now that I can hopefully play anywhere and be OK."
If Schwartz plays guard, it's unclear which side he'd play -- whether he'd replace Weston Richburg at left guard or John Jerry at right guard. Neither of those players has performed especially well, so Schwartz could plausibly replace either. James Brewer also got some right tackle work in Wednesday's practice, and Adam Snyder worked some at right guard. The Giants haven't ruled out the idea of making multiple changes to an offensive line that has struggled to protect quarterback Eli Manning over the past month and a half.
"At this point in time, we're trying to be the best that we can be," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "We'll do whatever we have to do to get it that way."
The Giants have used the same starting five offensive linemen in all 10 games so far this year, but that appears likely to change Sunday.
In addition to Pugh, defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins (calf) and linebacker Jacquian Williams (concussion) missed Wednesday's practice. Both players missed Sunday's game with their injuries, and it's too soon to know whether to expect either or both back this week. Schwartz and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (back/hamstring) were listed as full practice participants. Defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka (knee) was limited.
Their options at the start of the offseason will be as follows:
2. Extend his contract, potentially picking up cap room in 2015 but committing to the two-time Super Bowl MVP (who turns 34 in January) at a premium quarterback cost for another half-decade. (Manning's not likely to cut the Giants a deal, considering what the market would bear.)
3. Release Manning, saving $17.5 million against the cap in 2015 but starting over at the most important position on the roster with either untested Ryan Nassib or an undetermined player who's still in college at the moment.
The third option is the least likely by far. If the season ended today, the Giants would hold the No. 7 pick in the draft. They could move higher, of course, but their remaining schedule and the condition of the teams above them make it unlikely they could get into the top three or four. And even if they did, there's no guarantee they find their long-term answer in the draft. Nassib, Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston would do well to even have half the career Manning has had, and if you had to bet on which of the four will be the best NFL quarterback in 2015 and the three or four years to follow, you'd still bet on Manning, because there are no sure things these days in a non-Andrew Luck quarterback draft.
The merits of Manning as a player aren't at issue just yet. He had a terrible game Sunday, obviously, with five interceptions, but it was his first truly bad game of the year, and in the nine games prior he'd shown smoothness and reliability in the new offense. Sunday's interception total nearly doubled his total for the season, and unless he continues to turn it over at an alarming rate over the final six games, it'll be easy to look at Sunday as a fluke and the rest of the season as representative of what the Giants can expect of Manning.
The question is whether the Giants need a $19 million quarterback in Ben McAdoo's system, and that's where it gets interesting. Manning's salary is as high as it is because of his Super Bowl heroics, and the Giants haven't blinked at committing 17-18 percent of their salary cap annually to Manning because he has been so reliable. He never misses a game, never causes drama inside or outside the building and he has, in the past, demonstrated an ability to elevate the players around him to a championship level. In this day and age, when 32 teams are looking for franchise quarterbacks and there aren't 20 walking the Earth, there's no such thing as overspending to get or keep one.
But under the new offensive system, the requirements for being the Giants' franchise quarterback may be changing. The Giants don't really throw the ball downfield anymore, and McAdoo's offense is designed to eliminate risk. It won't be asking Manning to make the heroic throws he made in the past in playoff games and Super Bowls. Part of Manning's magic has always been his fearlessness of tough throws and his ability to hit them in the clutch. In a timing-based offense that rarely asks the quarterback to throw the ball more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage, those qualities may not be worth a premium price anymore.
Manning accounts for 17 percent of the Giants' salary cap this year. Assuming the cap rises to around $142 million next year, and they do nothing with his contract, he'd take up 14.4 percent of next year's cap. Only the Saints, Cowboys and Broncos are currently scheduled to spend a larger percentage of their cap on their starting quarterbacks in 2015. The Giants may still decide it's worth it for a player whose durability alone keeps them from the cringe-worthy quarterback juggling act you see half the teams in the league go through every year. But with so many other needs still to address, and as they think about what they're going to be on offense in the future, the question of cost looms larger than ever with regard to Eli Manning.
The Dallas Cowboys are one of five teams in the league that have fewer sacks this year than the New York Giants do. So the Giants' most important task this week shouldn't be too difficult, and it's to protect quarterback Eli Manning better. Manning was pressured on 15 dropbacks in Sunday's loss to the San Francisco 49ers, which ties the Week 6 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles for the most pressures he's faced in a game this season. He was 3-for-13 for 48 yards and two interceptions on the 13 of those on which he was not sacked.
During the Giants' five-game losing streak, the only game in which Manning wasn't pressured at least 12 times was the Week 6 loss in Dallas. He faced only seven pressures that day, was not sacked and completed three of seven passes for two touchdowns and no interceptions when facing pressure. Manning was able to handle pressure better that day because it was far less constant. He can shake off the occasional pressure or hurry, but when he feels under siege all game, Manning gets out of his rhythm and his comfort zone, he stops trusting his footwork and starts forcing throws. That's what happened Sunday, and it's the most important thing for the Giants to avoid Sunday night in the rematch against the Cowboys.
The Giants may finally have guard Geoff Schwartz in the lineup Sunday night, as he's back from his preseason toe injury and available to play. That could help them achieve their goal of keeping Manning at least as clean as they kept him in Week 6, the last time they faced Dallas.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- We are at the point in the New York Giants' season when fans want to fire the coach and replace the quarterback and talk about all the very rash moves they'd like to see in the offseason because they want blood.
You pay -- with your money and your heart -- to follow this team, and you're just sick of it all. The Giants are 3-7, worse after 10 games than they were last year, and all but assured of missing the playoffs for the fifth time in six years. You're hurting, and no one can blame you.
But what's wrong with the Giants isn't the coach. You can't watch these past two games and think they're not playing hard for Tom Coughlin. Until Eli Manning threw five interceptions Sunday in a 16-10 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, you really couldn't put it on the quarterback -- not this season.
It was just too easy for the 49ers' pass rush Sunday, especially once starting right tackle Justin Pugh went out early in the game with a quad injury. The 49ers ran every kind of pass-rush game they could think of at the right side of the Giants' offensive line, where Charles Brown and John Jerry were overwhelmed even when they were one-on-one, and they whacked and harassed Manning all day. They sacked him twice and hit him seven times.
You can say Manning should handle pressure better than he did, and you'd be right. But it's the organization's job to keep the pressure off Manning, and it's painfully obvious this organization still isn't doing a good enough job of it.
"He had great pressure today," Coughlin said of Manning. "I don't think anybody's going to argue with that one, especially when they run a simple T-E up front and hit him full-steam two or three times today."
It's troubling that Jerry and Brown are playing full games at right guard and right tackle this late in the season. The Giants went into free agency and the draft with a mandate to fix the line, and part of what they claimed to do was find enough veteran depth to cover them in case of injury this year. But while Brown and Jerry are both veterans, they're cheap, Band-Aid solutions to a significant problem that can only be fixed through drafting and development. As much fun as rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. is, you can still make a convincing case that a first-round offensive lineman would have been a better choice if the Giants were really thinking long-term about their foundation.
They did take Weston Richburg in the second round, and he has started every game so far at left guard. They did sign free-agent guard Geoff Schwartz, who has yet to play because of a toe injury. But the fact that so many leaks still remain speaks to the severity of the problems they were confronting the past offseason. They're still in the early stages of this project. Is Pugh a long-term answer at tackle, or does he need to move to guard? Is Will Beatty really a franchise cornerstone at left tackle, or do they need to make a major investment there? Is Richburg's future at center, or is J.D. Walton a keeper?
The team coming to town next week, the Dallas Cowboys, provides a prime example of what the Giants need to do. After years of neglecting the line and paying the price with underachieving teams, the Cowboys have used their first-round pick on an offensive lineman in three of the past four years and now boast one of the best lines in the league. It's not brain surgery. Looking for cheap solutions in free agency or the middle rounds of the draft is no way to build the most important part of your offensive foundation. You have to spend -- either free-agent money or high picks or both -- to build the line you need in today's NFL.
The Giants have started to at least look like a team that gets this, as they took Pugh in the first round in 2013 and Richburg early in the second this year, but they need to keep after it. They need to make the line a high priority item on which they spend significant resources. Because whatever they end up doing with Manning, and whoever's coaching them into the future, they're not going to be able to score points reliably until they're better up front.
- Giants coach Tom Coughlin, talking about the last two games and looking ahead to next week: "We've had a defensive fiasco. Now we've had an offensive fiasco. Now maybe we can put something together." It's never good when you're comparing fiascoes.
- Coughlin said right tackle Justin Pugh injured his quad in last week's game in Seattle, which was surprising because Pugh was never on the injury report this week. Coughlin said Pugh took every snap in practice, so they weren't worried, but he came out of this game early and did not return. Charles Brown did a poor job as his replacement.Pugh
- Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had to physically restrain safety Antrel Rolle from walking across the field to argue with officials following a pass interference call on Rodgers-Cromartie early in the game. I pointed out to Rodgers-Cromartie that his veteran mentor, Rolle, was supposed to be the one who did that for him. Rodgers-Cromartie grinned and said, "Sometimes the younger guy has to play the bigger role."
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A few thoughts on the New York Giants' 16-10 loss to the San Francisco 49ers at MetLife Stadium:
What it means: A fifth straight loss for the Giants, who at 3-7 have a worse record after 10 games than they did last season.
Stock watch: Eli Manning -- Down. The Giants quarterback threw a total of six interceptions in his first nine games, but he managed to throw five in Sunday's loss. He was under pressure all game, and the fifth was on a forced throw and tipped pass at the goal line. But early in the game he was making bad throws and bad decisions. It was an unfortunate resurrection of the "Bad Eli" who threw a league-leading 27 interceptions last year and who had largely disappeared in a new offensive system designed to limit his mistakes. It was especially unfortunate for the Giants that it happened in a winnable game.
Offensive line woes continue: Right tackle Justin Pugh left the game early with a quad strain and did not return. Pugh is not having a very good year, but replacement Charles Brown was awful. The 49ers were able to generate consistent, disruptive pressure on Manning by attacking Brown and right guard John Jerry with an assortment of pass-rush games. The inability to get the run game going against San Francisco's strong defensive front didn't help with the protection, but it also underlined the fact that the Giants' offensive linemen aren't good enough to win their physical matchups without help.
Game ball: LB Mark Herzlich. Pressed into starter's duty at the weakside linebacker spot due to the injury to Jacquian Williams, Herzlich made nine tackles, broke up a pass and was a big part of blowing up the 49ers' botched field goal attempt. He hasn't been a major contributor on defense, but the Giants' coaches think he is a better option against the run than Spencer Paysinger or Devon Kennard at this point. Herzlich's effort against the 49ers' run game proved them right this week.
What's next: The Giants host the 7-3 Dallas Cowboys, who are on bye this week, in an 8:30 p.m. ET home game next Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Running back Rashad Jennings has practiced all week with the New York Giants and is officially listed as probable for Sunday's home game against the San Francisco 49ers. After missing the last four games due to a knee sprain, Jennings looks good to return to the starting lineup for the Giants this week.
"It definitely feels good," Jennings said. "It's not fun when you're at home watching on the couch with your dog looking at you like you're crazy."
"And we won the game, right?" Coughlin asked rhetorically. "Maybe he gets 50 carries. Whatever it takes to get a win."
Jennings is on board. The Giants averaged 83 rush yards per game with him out and rookie Andre Williams starting. In the five games Jennings started earlier in the year, they averaged 121.
"If I'm out there, I'm going," Jennings said. "No hesitation, no restrictions. I can go as many as they need."
Defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins has been ruled out with a calf injury. Jenkins injured his calf in Week 7 in Dallas and sat out the Week 9 game against the Colts following the bye. He returned to the field Sunday in Seattle but re-injured his calf late in that game and didn't practice this week.
Running back Peyton Hillis and linebacker Jacquian Williams, who both suffered concussions in Sunday's game, also have been ruled out for the 49ers game. The Giants will get Mark Herzlich and Spencer Paysinger more involved at linebacker to replace Williams, who has been their full-time starter on the weak side this year and whose speed has been an asset in coverage. With Hillis and Michael Cox (broken leg) both out, Andre Williams and newly signed Orleans Darkwa could see more action behind Jennings at running back. Fullback Henry Hynoski also could get some carries.
Defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka, safety Nat Berhe, tight end Daniel Fells and defensive end Damontre Moore, all of whom were on the injury report at some point during this past week, are all listed as probable.
The 5-4 San Francisco 49ers travel to New Jersey this weekend to face the 3-6 New York Giants. ESPN Giants reporter Dan Graziano and ESPN 49ers reporter Paul Gutierrez are here with a preview:
Graziano: Paul, I see Aldon Smith is back from his suspension just in time to face the struggling Giants. What do the 49ers expect to be able to get out of Smith in his first game?
Gutierrez: Are we talking realistically or hopefully? For the purposes of this conversation, let’s go with a combo. Look, Smith has been able to work out at the Niners' facility during his nine-game suspension and attend team meetings, but he was banned from team practices and games. So there's no telling what kind of football shape he'll be in.
That being said, his skill set as a pass-rusher is needed badly in Santa Clara. The Niners have just 15 sacks, tied for 24th in the league, and all they need from Smith is for him to pin his ears back and rush Eli Manning. There's not much scheme involved there, really, especially if the other linebackers are coached up. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said a couple of weeks ago that he expected Smith to be full-go and without limitations when he returns. Jim Harbaugh was a little more hesitant. I’d lean toward Fangio on this one.
Do the Giants expect Smith to be back to his sack-happy self, meaning they’d have to go max protect for Manning, and if so, how does that affect what the Giants want to do offensively, particularly running the ball? And what is the latest on Rashad Jennings?
Graziano: Jennings returned to practice Wednesday, and barring a setback they expect him to play Sunday and resume his role as the bell cow in their offense. They're 0-4 without him, averaging 83 rush yards per game as opposed to the 121 they were averaging with him. He's a three-down back who can pick up the blitz and catch the ball out of the backfield as well as pick up those "dirty" yards (as he calls them) on first and second downs.
The Giants' offense will run much better with Jennings back in the lineup, assuming he's fully healthy. And that's a big part of their ability to contain Smith and the 49ers' pass rush -- forcing San Francisco to respect the Giants' ability and determination to run the ball. Leaving their tackles alone to handle Smith would be a bad idea at this point, as they are not playing well. The offensive line is one of many weak spots on this team, and the only time it's looked good was earlier in the season when the Giants were running their up-tempo, run-based offense with all of their weapons. They still won't have Victor Cruz, who's out for the year, but getting Jennings back will help in many ways.
Overall, how different is this 49ers defense from the dominating unit of the past couple of years, and what is the impact of losing Patrick Willis?
Gutierrez: It's a completely different unit. Not only is Willis gone for the season with that chronic injury to his left big toe, but nose tackle Glenn Dorsey is still working his way back after suffering a torn left biceps in camp and NaVorro Bowman is still recuperating from the devastating injury to his left knee from the NFC title game in January. Oh, and Aldon Smith has been out all season serving his nine-game suspension for general malfeasance, though, as you noted above, he's about to make his season debut.
Yet, the defense has not really been the Niners' problem this season; that would be an inconsistent offense that goes from being a pass-happy attack to a power-running attack and back again. Consider: Even with all of the attrition and injuries, the Niners' defense is the No. 2-ranked total defense in the NFL. The loss of Willis would seemingly be a crushing blow to a team with Super Bowl-or-bust aspirations, but it is cushioned with the inspired play of rookie Chris Borland, who has had 18 and 17 tackles in the past two games, and recovered the key fumble in OT Sunday that led to the game-winning field goal at New Orleans. Borland is no Willis, but then again, no one is.
The Giants gave up 350 yards rushing to the Seattle Seahawks last weekend, their most given up on the ground since the Carter administration. Why should the 49ers not run the ball in New Jersey?
Graziano: The only reason would be if they didn't want to win. What the Giants showed Sunday in Seattle was a complete inability to handle Seattle's basic zone-read run game. They bought the play fake every time, and the only time they stuck with the quarterback was when he did hand it off to Marshawn Lynch. If they'd gone into the game intentionally trying to make the wrong play on every zone-read play, they couldn't have done as good a job of it as they actually did. It was a fiasco.
The Giants are without three of their top four cornerbacks, a couple of whom were actually big helps in run support, and they're without middle linebacker Jon Beason. They'll also likely be without weakside linebacker Jacquian Williams this week, as he's struggling to work his way back from a concussion. So they're thin on defense, but the guys who are playing up front -- Jason Pierre-Paul, Robert Ayers, Jameel McClain, Mike Patterson -- have to do a better job of stopping the run than they did last week, or it's going to be ultra-simple to control the clock and beat them.
Part of the success the Seahawks had running the ball was the 107 yards Russell Wilson had on the ground, including 64 on read-option runs. How similar is the 49ers' and Colin Kaepernick's run game to what the Seahawks do?
Gutierrez: Are we talking this season, or last? Because while there is no doubt that the read-option was a huge part of Kaepernick's arrival on the national consciousness, it has been virtually nonexistent as a play call this season. Sure, Kaepernick is averaging 5.1 yards per carry and is on pace to rush for a career-high 530 yards, but his running game has been more threat than design, if that makes sense. It's all part of the Niners' desire to keep him healthy, obviously, and to make him more of a pocket passer. Still, given the way the Seahawks shredded the Giants' run defense, I would be shocked -- shocked! -- if the Niners shied away from pounding the rock with Frank Gore to set up the read-option for Kaepernick.
OK, perhaps trite or maybe even a tired question at this stage of his career, but can you still spell "elite" without "Eli"?
Graziano: I never liked getting into the "elite" game, because I don't think there's more than three or four quarterbacks in the world who truly fit that word; otherwise, what does the word really mean? But Manning is the least of the Giants' problems. He's on pace to throw 30 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions, which the Giants would have signed up for in a heartbeat after he threw 27 interceptions last year. He has thrown only two since Week 2, and he has clearly taken to a new offense designed to lean on the run game and the short, high-percentage passing game and limit turnovers.
The offense has fallen apart around Manning due to the Cruz and Jennings injuries, but he's got a really nice thing going with rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. right now, and he even got Preston Parker into the mix with a big game Sunday. I think the story of the Giants over the next couple of years will be about how well they can rebuild the team around Manning, who's holding up his end of the bargain as steward of the new offense under new coordinator Ben McAdoo.
Good stuff, Paul. I know you have another long flight coming this week, so travel safe and I look forward to seeing you Sunday in my home state.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Perry Fewell is well aware that his New York Giants defense ranks last in the league in yards allowed per game. He's well aware that people blame him for that. And while he does his best to tune out the criticism, he kind of agrees with it.
"As defensive coordinator, I'm personally responsible for everything, for all facets of the defense," Fewell said Thursday. "So I take it personally, sure. But all I know to do is to go back to work and look at the best way to put our players in a position to succeed."
This is the NFL coaching life, folks. You can holler about Fewell needing to be fired, but the Giants aren't going to fire him during the season and it's not going to do him, them or you any good for Fewell to sit around worrying about whether they'll do it after the season. You can get upset, as some fans have, about Fewell smiling on the sideline while his defense was being roasted by the Seahawks on Sunday, but Fewell's not going to change the kind of man or coach he is just because of how it looks on TV. He smiles. He smiles when he's happy. He smiles when he's exasperated. He smiles at his players when he's trying to get them to listen to him, because that's his style and that's the way they know him.
It may also be a coping mechanism, because the results are nothing to smile about. The Giants' defense is an injury-ravaged mess, and the healthy players who should be running the defense that's called aren't running it well enough. Fewell knows all of this, and he knows it could mean his job at the end of the year if it doesn't turn around. In the meantime, whether he can be saved or not, he knows his job is to try to do whatever he can do turn it around.
"I tell them we've got to go to work," Fewell said of his message to the players. "We've got seven games left. We're not going to stay (at No. 32 in total defense). We're going to get out of that spot."
They likely will, if for no other reason than a schedule that lightens up considerably after these next two weeks. But Fewell's defense finished 27th and 31st in yards allowed in 2011 and 2012 before rising to No. 8 last year. And if they end up in that bottom-six range again this year, the track record could become too much to ignore -- especially if the Giants are looking for a scapegoat and decide they don't want to move on from their two-time Super Bowl champion head coach or their first-year offensive coordinator just yet. As I wrote after Sunday's game, Giants owner John Mara declared the offense "broken" after last season and has reason to say the same thing about the defense now. And if that happens, Fewell could well go the way Kevin Gilbride did in January.
And Fewell knows all of this. He's just not going to let it distract him from the job for which they're still paying him.
"The thing I'm more concerned with is the New York Giants and our players," Fewell said. "So the outside criticism, I block that out. We all want the same thing. We have seven games right now to crawl out of that spot, and we'll crawl out of it."
The Giants gave up 350 rushing yards to Marshawn Lynch, Russell Wilson and the Seahawks on Sunday. They have Frank Gore, Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers coming in Sunday, and Fewell said in light of last week's mess they've been working on different techniques for teaching defensive assignments against the option this week. He doesn't know if it will work, but he's not worried about getting his players' attention.
"We're competitors, man," Fewell said. "We're going to come, we're going to compete, and we're going to get us a victory on Sunday."
And if not ... well, he's not going to stop working, no matter what inevitabilities await at the end of another dismal Giants season.