Wide Reciever/Tight End
...feed Martellus Bennett. The Black Unicorn signaled this much to Eli Manning after a 2nd quarter catch and the Giants did just that. It resulted in one of Bennett's most complete games of the season. Although his 5-32-1 line wasn't gaudy he graded out to a season-high +6. He was one of several who was featured in the passing game with eight targets and even had one long catch called back by a holding penalty. To UltimateNYG's delight Bennett's touchdown grab came in a place we like to see the tight end used: the red zone. Perhaps the most pleasing takeaway from Bennett's performance was his consistency in the blocking game. He only had one negative play in the contest which was a great sign.
...the wide receivers as a whole put together a tremendous effort themselves. Cruz (+9), Nicks (+6), and Hixon (+4) graded out to an unbelievable +19 and didn't have a single negative play between them. Cruz's routes were sharp as usual, his best one coming on his touchdown grab where he undressed his man at the line of scrimmage and was wide open for the score. Rich: the route looked a little something like THIS. Cruz's line was impressive, finishing with eight grabs for 121 yards and a touchdown. He is steadily putting together and All-Pro type season and has yet to disappoint in his sophomore campaign.
...Nicks had some highlights of his own as well. He was open not only on his touchdown but also on play 27 when a similar fade route would have led to another score. He hasn't been putting up monster numbers that Giants fans know he is capable of but considering that most reports have Nicks hobbling on BOTH legs during the week it is remarkable what he is still doing on gameday. His solid performance over the last few weeks is a testament to the raw ability and determination of one of the most talented wide receivers in the NFL.
...in a game filled with plenty of them, the best play of the day was play 37. It was a jaw-dropping throw and catch for a touchdown that came at an important time right before the end of the half and was one of the prettiest balls that Eli has thrown all season. But the most rewarding aspect of the outstanding catch was who made it: Domenik Hixon. Some Giants fan may have put Hixon on the proverbial back burner as he has battled injuries over the last few weeks and other receivers have filled the WR3 role (to varying success). With that one play Hixon reminded Giants fans that he is more than capable of filling that pivotal role in the lineup. Hixon can take a lot of pressure off of Cruz and Nicks when teams focus in on shutting them down (see Manningham, Mario on the run to SB XLVI for a reminder on how important that can be).
...minus two mishaps from Jernigan and Barden, the Giants receiving corps graded out to an unheard of +25. Yes, that is as good as it sounds. Easily the best performance of the year for this group. Had Eli been a little more on target the score would have been Madden-esque and a better representation of how well this group played.
...a very, very, very outstanding overall performance by the ENTIRE unit with a combined score of +23 highlighted by a +9 from Will Beatty and a bounce-back +7 from Chris Snee along with a +1 from Kevin Boothe, +4 from David Diehl and a +2 from David Baas. While the effort was certainly outstanding, a strong performance was to be expected against the underwhelming Saints DL. I'd imagine the Giants were not the only team this season to have one of their top offensive line performances against a Saints group that is last in the NFL against the run (by a comfortable 7 ypg margin) and bottom five against the pass. Regardless of the opponent, these are a group of professionals, one that was physically dominated by the Giants OL.
...again, we know that the Saints have struggled all season long, especially on the DL, but it was refrreshing to see an explosive Snee full of the that leg drive that has made him a top-flight guard. Snee was back to being aggressive out of his stance and more importantly "finished" blocks regularly against an overmatched Saints DL. On one particular double team, Snee and David Baas (+2) each earned the elusive 2 rating with a tag team block that you only see in football movies. The two powered the helpless Saints DT nearly 10 yards off the line of scrimmage right into the LB that the two was responsible for picking up. Take a look at the screen grab to the right for a better idea where you can see the two mid block already about five yards into their block. Wilson only gained three yards on the play, certainly with no blame going to Snee or Baas. Good to see from an offensive line that has struggled with push in the run game all season long.
...while we don't have the data sorted to back up this claim yet, the Giants did an excellent job on play action plays and a lot of the credit goes to the offensive line for firing off the ball and selling the run. They moved as a unit and often had the defense WAY out of position. I also expect the data to highlight a new wrinkle--PA pass out of the shotgun. Our season long data shows they have done this only 4 times prior (last week's game vs Wash not included) and have not showed it since way back in Week 5. It was very successful drawing in the defense, who like all of us know how much the Giants (and rightfully so) enjoy running the ball out of the shotgun. Keep an eye out for plays like this going forward.
...and as usual, hats off to this group for keeping the Giants' prized possession, Eli Manning, clean in this one. The group does a great job of providing a pocket and throwing lanes for the QB and he certainly understands the need for urgency in getting rid of the ball. While there is no data compiled to support this, I count on every passing play and it is rare that I ever get to "three-one thousand" with him. As many have noted also, Manning is one of the best at the league at a. taking hits and most importantly b. adjusting/turning his body just before being hit so as to reduce the impact of it. Think of it as the complete opposite of what Michael Vick
...just as he wasn’t responsible for the loss last week, Eli Manning wasn’t really responsible for the win this week, not with the sensational play of Stevie Brown once again, and for the first time of David Wilson. Eli was 22 for 235 (63%) for 259 yards with four TDs and no sacks. Even with two interceptions, his overall QB rating was 99. These are good numbers, and they mirror good play. All things considered (expectations, his ability to excel, defense, etc) the grade of 0 seems just right.
...Eli showed good leadership throughout the game, but relied less on play-action (one of his strengths is the run-fake) and screens (seemingly the perfect play for a guy like Wilson) than I hoped he might. He was not called for a penalty (unlike last week), and some of his passes were things of beauty.
...specifically there is the perfect strike to Hixon in the right corner of the end zone (2nd, 0:25) easy and well—timed and put just where only 87 could reach it. There was the perfect strike to 80 (2nd, 1:14). Then there was that long easy lob falling right into Cruz’s hands like a gift from above for a TD in the 3rd (8:21).
Rich: ...another one was the sideline pass to Cruz for 35 yards. Some may assume that the throw to Cruz was missed short by Eli, but if you watch the wide coaches film you will see that it was placed there by Eli, as Cruz had burned the guy behind him but the safety over the top was still in play if the throw was left inside. If the throw is outside, the sideline comes into play. Leaving it behind Cruz (the high percentage play) ensured that the pass was completed.
...on the other side of things there were mistakes, although not lethal , that had me wondering what other games were being broadcast. The intercept on the ball thrown to Jerrigan in the 1st quarter (9:54) was as bad a pass as Eli has thrown all year. Not only was it off-target, it might well have been intercepted had it been thrown much better. Jerrigan was flailing about in a virtual mine-field of defenders. The pass failed because it was badly thrown, but probably would have failed had it been thrown well. Simply deciding to throw there was a huge mistake, something we might expect of a rookie, and not the brightest rookie, either. Right before that Eli had done nearly the same thing, underthrowing Hixon and putting the ball right into the bread basket of a defender so amazed he dropped the ball.
...in the 2nd (8:35) Nicks beats his man to the corner of the end zone, but Eli underthrows him. Deduct a touchdown. In the 3rd (5:10) it’s Bennett who has his man beat in a chunk of under populated real estate, only issue is that the Saints safety was baiting Eli into the throw (again something usually reserved for a rookie) and jumped the lofted pass for an easy INT. The only way this throw should be made is somewhere where it is out of reach for all, except for the chance that Bennett makes a spectacular catch on a throw high and outside.
Rich: ...the 1st quarter 3rd down pass to Domenik Hixon not only needs to be completed, but it needs to be completed for a walk-in TD. Not sure where the miscommuncation was, but you can see in the screen grab on the right that Hixon had gotten over the top of his man with no safety help. Instead of firing the ball inside, Eli would have been best suited lofting the ball over the top, allowing the generally sure-handed Hixon to pull in the ball for the TD. PS: This play was one of the shotgun PA passes mentioned earlier, notice how hard the safety (circled in red) bites on the effective run fake. The red X just gives an idea of where Eli should have placed the ball. Come January that opportunity needs to result in six points.
...the mistakes didn’t kill us, the great plays helped a lot, and so things go with Eli. His general attitude and leadership were a plus. His total score was 0. That’s average (for Eli), but more than acceptable when players like Brown and Wilson are winning the game.
...Come back tomorrow for part 2 where we look at some defensive performances including a few key alignment and formation notes for the LB position and a look at a Giants secondary that played an excellent game (minus one rough stretch!) led by Rolle, Brown and NJ's own Will Hill.