By Curt Macysyn
Perhaps we shouldn’t read too much into the individual game performances of the New York Giants (7-3). After all, with a 22-16 victory over the hapless Chicago Bears (2-8), the team has already surpassed their win total of the past two campaigns. With their seventh victory of the season, New York surely guaranteed that their December schedule can provide multiple pathways to the NFL playoffs.
As has become a recent trend, the G-Men scuffled out of the gate and allowed their opponent to control a large chunk of the first half, as Chicago held a 10-point second quarter lead. But when the going gets tough, this defense gets tougher, and the unit clamped down on Jay Cutler and company in the second half. The result was a harder-than-expected win that ran the Giants current winning streak to five games, the team’s longest since 2010.
“Tale of two halves today,” said head coach Ben McAdoo. “I’m proud of the way the guys responded at halftime, 13-nothing in the second half. We came out with the fire burning. We still have a lot of work to do. We realize that, and we look forward to doing it.”
Eli Manning should not be judged on his overall passing performance in this game, as the windy conditions at MetLife Stadium contributed to his low completion percentage (58.3 percent). On the afternoon, Manning threw two touchdown passes and protected the pigskin by not throwing an interception. The offensive line did not allow a sack, so the unit didn’t shoot itself in the foot and did just enough to get the job done. The last turnover-less game for the Giants was Week 7 of last season.
Manning sought out rookie wideout Sterling Shepard with 11 targets on the afternoon, but the combo was not particularly efficient. Shepard had only five receptions, but one was a beautiful seam route for a 15-yard touchdown in the third quarter. Odell Beckham Jr. must have left his playbook in the same place he lost his expensive pinky ring, as he was held to five catches for 46 yards. Revitalized Rashad Jennings had another solid game with 85 yards on the ground with 4.0 yard per carry average. New York surpassed the 100-yard mark with its ground game again, which was vital in the blustery conditions at MetLife Stadium.
The defense cannot be judged solely on the game statistics, as the unit was incredibly ineffective to start the game. Jay Cutler was hot early in the contest with a nice seam pass to tight end Zach Miller for a 15-yard opening drive touchdown. The Bears scored on their first three drives of the game, but Steve Spagnuolo’s defense stiffened considerably as the game wore on.
The strength of this team is the fact that the star power is producing as expected. For example, the tandem of Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul pressured Cutler in the pocket, especially in the second half. JPP had 2.5 sacks on the afternoon, as he punished the Bears’ patchwork offensive line. Vernon chipped in with another QB sack, but he also set the edge effectively that eventually shut down rookie running back Jordan Howard. Howard had 77 rushing yards in the game, with the majority coming in the first half. Landon Collins is not only making a strong case for Pro Bowl honors, but he can also be put into the conversation for defensive-player-of-the-year. Collins picked off Cutler to snuff out the Bears’ last gasp.
Special Teams: D
The play of this unit was ineffective for the third game in a row. This time kicker Robbie Gould added to the misery with two missed PATs that put the game within a one-score reach of Chicago in the final minutes. Gould did make a 46-yard field goal in the second quarter, but the extra point failures must be cleaned up moving forward.
Brad Wing will not get work as an actor, as the Giants’ punter tried to fake a couple running-into-the-kicker calls. His theatrics went unrewarded. In his real job, he had six punts for a 46.3 yard average. On at least two punts, hang time was an issue, however. The kickoff team allowed another long run back; this time Deonte Thompson ran one back 40-yards, putting the Bears in great field position.
Dwayne Harris giveth and taketh away. Harris jump started Big Blue’s second half with a 46-yard kickoff return. He also made a bad decision to take one out of the end zone, giving the G-Men poor field position at the 15-yard line. If that was not enough, Harris muffed a punt that was luckily recovered by an alert Eli Apple.
Ben McAdoo has mostly pushed all the right buttons this season, but the slow starts will eventually catch up with Big Blue. The Giants cannot continue to dig an early hole against quality opponents. In addition, the aggressiveness of “going for it” on fourth down gets the crowd excited, but it’s not a recipe for long-term success. McAdoo also went too conservative, as the offense was trying to run down the clock at the end of the contest. By achieving one first-down, New York could have run out the clock. Instead, two runs up the middle and a busted pass play gave the ball back to the Bears.
This was not defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s best effort, either. Spags dialed up a few blitzes when the base four-man rush would have done just fine. The Bears’ offensive line and receiving corps were watered-down, so there really was no need to press his luck at all. Rookie Eli Apple is hit-or-miss within any given game, so Spagnuolo cannot put the rookie in a position where he will hurt the team.
Up Next: Cleveland Browns (0-11)
Yikes, another trap game? The Giants have effectively navigated their November schedule, and they are rewarded by facing the winless Cleveland Browns. Cleveland is on the fast-track to the first overall selection in next spring’s NFL Draft. Given the fact that the Browns traded away the rights to Carson Wentz this year, it makes you wonder if these guys will ever get any better. That should not matter to the Giants, who should end November with an 8-3 record.