THE STUFF OF DREAMS:
AN EARLY LEAD
It’s been a bad start to the season for the Giants, but within that combined 0-4 record are a series of individual bad starts. The Giants have not scored a single point in the first quarter of any game this season. The only other team in the NFL to be blanked until the second quarter is the Bills.
It is imperative that on Sunday, when the Giants host the Chargers, they change that trend. Not because it will mean a victory for them, but because the home fans will quickly turn on them if they falter out of the gate yet again. This is a crowd that booed them after their THIRD PLAY of the home opener a few weeks ago, and their frustration with the team has likely only grown.
The Chargers are concerned about not having many people rooting for them in their home games in Los Angeles this season. If they can blank the Giants’ offense for a while, they’ll see whether an angry fan base is better than no fan base at all.
The Giants, of course, would like to rectify the first-quarter oversight quickly.
“There’s no doubt we can’t wait until the second quarter, or the third quarter, or the fourth quarter to get things going,” offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan said. “There’s got to be a concerted effort. It certainly has been an area of emphasis for this week.”
What would an early lead do for the Giants from a psychological standpoint?
“I’d love to find out,” Ben McAdoo said. “Getting points early in the ballgame would be a big boost for our football team, and playing with a lead would be something that we would look forward to. As the games have gone, we have fallen behind early, we’ve really had to battle back in the second and third quarters the last couple weeks and expend a lot of energy to do that, and take the lead.”
The Giants have taken a lead four times in the last two games, all in the fourth quarter, but never by more than one score. Eli Manning has thrown for 454 yards in the four fourth quarters of the season so far, the most in the NFL. The Giants have shown that they can move the ball. They just have to do it from the beginning of the game.
“It’d be awful nice to sit there and be in the first quarter and have a nice lead, or in the second quarter have two-touchdown lead,” Sullivan said. “Hey look, we’re doing some things well that are difficult. Let’s get better at doing the easier things, instead of shooting ourselves in the foot.”
HAVING A CATCH WITH ELI
Eli Manning already has 116 completions this season, the most in the NFL. Seventy eight different players have caught a pass from Eli Manning in the NFL, but Odell Beckham Jr. could become the player with the most on Sunday. He passed Victor Cruz on that list last week and is six catches away from passing Hakeem Nicks at the top of the list. A look at who has caught the most Manning passes over the years:
Hakeem Nicks — 313
Odell Beckham Jr. — 308
Victor Cruz — 303
Plaxico Burress — 244
Steve Smith — 213
Amani Toomer — 210
Jeremy Shockey — 206
The Giants and the Chargers are both 0-4, but their losing streaks actually run deeper than that. The Giants have lost five straight going back to the wildcard playoff loss in Green Bay. The Chargers? They finished last season losing five straight so they are 0-9 since their last win on Nov. 27, 2016. That’s a combined 0-14 between the two teams.
Don’t think that doesn’t matter to the players.
“We have to include that Green Bay game,” Giants defensive captain Jonathan Casillas said when talking about the current losing streak. “Maybe it’s some carry-over from there. Nobody has talked about that yet. I mean, maybe. We did get beat pretty good at the end of the season last year. Hopefully it’s not beating us one, two, three, four, five times now. Hopefully it’s not.”
The Chargers, too, look back past this year’s opener when defining their streak of futility
“I think this team just needs to win a game,” quarterback Philip Rivers said. “It’s been a long time since we felt winning a game. I know not everybody was on this roster last year, but I and some other guys that were part of that team, we haven’t won a football game since November of last year. So, it’s been rough.”
Most likely one of the teams will end their losing ways on Sunday. For the other, the streak will continue.
The Giants’ defense took a new approach to film study this week, having the players break down the footage from the Bucs game themselves.
“The important thing wasn’t what I saw or what I was willing to do,” defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. “It was what they saw and what they were willing to do and the only way I knew whether we were on the same page or not was to let them run (the review) and hear what they said. It was a great meeting and I think we got a lot out of it.”
The result was a lot of honesty.
“Nobody is crazy in that room,” DT Damon Harrison said. “We all can see the mistakes. It’s just different if somebody can actually tell you, ‘Look, I know what I did wrong on this play.’ So, it’s better than having Spags go up there and say one thing.”
Added DE Jason Pierre-Paul: “I think (it did) a whole lot of good, man. We came in, we watched the tape, the coaches were in the room . . . We were just looking at film and saying, ‘Hey, I need to set the edge more.’ ‘I need to make that tackle, that’s why I’m back there.’ ‘It shouldn’t go through a second level.’ And guys know what they did wrong.”
It’s a bit similar to the kinds of defensive debriefings that the Giants used when Perry Fewell was the defensive coordinator for the 2011 Super Bowl team. Spagnuolo said he has used versions of the technique in the past, too.
For it to work, though, the players must be completely honest about their own flaws. That’s sometimes hard to come bay, but Spagnuolo said he had no doubt the current Giants would respond well to the challenge.
“I wasn’t that surprised because I know we have those kinds of men,” he said. “I believe in the men we have and the character they have and I think they’re accountable guys. I hope it pays off. We don’t know that. Still have to show up on Sunday and play.”
Sometimes special teams coordinator Tom Quinn focuses on the mechanical aspects of the players under his jurisdiction. Sometimes it’s the psychological. So in a week when both his punter and his kicker had costly flubs in the fourth quarter of the loss to the Bucs, which hat does he wear?
“You always have to be a little bit of both,” he said.
Punter Brad Wing’s 15-yard punt set up a late touchdown for the Bucs and was the second bad punt in two weeks. Wing, though, has a long resume of success including a stellar 2016 season to fall back on to regain his confidence. “He’s mentally tough, he’s got thick skin, and so now he’s got to step up and perform,” Quinn said of Wing.
“I know how good I am,” Wing said. “There’s only 32 punters in the NFL, and I have one of those jobs. So yeah, the last two weeks, there’s been some negatives, but I have a lot of confidence in what I do. I’ve done a lot more good than bad. I am not going to let two plays determine me as a punter. I know what value I bring to this team, and I look forward to getting out there and having another chance to do it this weekend.”
Alrdick Rosas, though, is in a far different place in his NFL career. It’s his first season and his missed field goal attempt in Tampa was the first real failure of his career.
“Kickers are going to miss them, they have to be able to bounce back,” Quinn said. “That’s really the difference between guys in the NFL and the guys that aren’t in the NFL. You can’t let one kick pull you down, you’ve got to step back up and stay true to your form and nail the next one.”
WHO TO COVER?
The numbers are pretty staggering. The Giants have allowed 29 receptions on 38 targets to tight ends, both second-most in the NFL through four weeks, and 309 yards and five touchdowns, both the most in the NFL. But Ben McAdoo said a lot of that is actually by design as the defense focuses on stopping other positions.
“You have to pick certain guys each week to play ‘Where’s Waldo?’” McAdoo said of keeping track of big playmakers. “You have to look at who you need to stop so they don’t wreck a game. A lot of times tight ends don’t wreck a game, but there are some other players that can and you have to make sure you have your priorities straight when you’re going into a ballgame.”
The Giants have done that well, allowing 41 catches on 76 targets for 495 yards and two touchdowns to opposing wide receivers.
Sunday the Giants will face a Chargers team with two pretty good tight ends in future Hall of Famer Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry, and hope they don’t wreck the game for them.
24: Years since the Giants have hosted a team from Los Angeles. The last time was when they beat the L.A. Rams, 20-10, on Sept. 19, 1993, at Giants Stadium.
84: The number of consecutive regular-season games DE Olivier Vernon has played in, the equivalent of his entire career without missing a game. It is the third-longest such streak on the Giants, trailing only OG John Jerry (89, who is listed as questionable with hamstring tightness) and QB Eli Manning (203). Vernon is listed as questionable for Sunday with an ankle injury, but said he is not concerned about the streak itself, just what it represents. “I don’t want to miss a game and not be out there for my teammates and everything like that,” he said. “But the main thing is getting healthy so I can be out there longevity-wise and help contribute. My main concern is just trying to get healthy. Be healthy and win a game, basically.”