By Curt Macysyn
The New York Giants (8-3) took care of business with a methodical 27-13 victory against the Cleveland Browns. The game plan was simple; require the Browns to make plays. This patient approach does not normally garner style points, but it effectively got the team another important win.
Once again, the Giants offense sputtered out of the gate. They had great field position when Cleveland booted the opening kick-off out of bounds. However, it was to no avail as Eli Manning overshot an open Odell Beckham Jr. on the first drive. At the start of the second quarter, an Ereck Flowers’ holding call negated great field position for the Giants at mid-field. Later in the first half, the offense did take advantage of a fumble deep in Browns’ territory. Two plays after the recovery, Manning hit Dwayne Harris for a 7-0 lead.
When the Giants go no-huddle, they are dangerous. It took just 30 seconds to get their second touchdown of the first-half; a 32-yard crossing pattern by Odell Beckham for a 14-3 lead. The revival of the Giants’ rushing attack was short-lived. Rashad Jennings only had 55 yards and a 3.7 yards per carry average. Manning was off target early, but he heated up in the second half. The veteran quarterback had less than 200 total yards passing, but he did connect for three touchdown passes and no interceptions.
The Browns played a conservative Cover 2 approach, but that only allowed them to make the game competitive. In addition, they still gave up two Odell Beckham touchdowns, even when Joe Haden matched up against him. Brad Wing punted nine times.
The Giants’ defense was aware that if they didn’t make mistakes, Browns’ quarterback Josh McCown was not going to beat them. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was patient in ensuring that his unit was not going to give up big plays. This philosophy eventually paid dividends as running back Isaiah Crowell coughed up the football at the Giants’ 30-yard line. It was Crowell’s first lost fumble of the season.
The defense got soft at the end of the first half, as they allowed the Browns to travel downfield and make a 25-yard field goal as the half expired. Two defensive penalties, including pass interference on Eli Apple, aided the Browns’ cause. Apple also let up a big 54-yard reception by Terrelle Pryor Sr. that got the Browns out of the shadow of their own end zone in the fourth quarter. Pryor had 131 receiving yards on the afternoon, and Apple suffered through another sub-par game.
Thankfully Cleveland’s porous offensive line allowed Johnathan Hankins to disrupt McCown’s throwing motion resulting in Jason Pierre-Paul’s 43-yard interception return for a touchdown. That turnover basically put the game away for the Giants. Kerry Wynn got a late recovery on a McCown fumble to drive the final nail in the Browns’ coffin. New York had seven sacks of McCown on the afternoon.
Special Teams: C-
No Dwayne Harris this week, but Bobby Rainey’s careless muffed punt directly led to Cleveland’s initial field goal. Punter Brad Wing started out inconsistently, but he ended up with a strong afternoon with a 48.1 yard average. Wing was much better in the second half, and the team started to win the field position battle with five punts downed inside the 20-yard line. Two penalties negated strong Odell Beckham Jr. punt returns, including a holding penalty on Mark Herzlich that negated a potential 60-yard touchdown.
The conditions were optimal this week for kicker Robbie Gould, and he still missed another point after touchdown; his third miss in two weeks. It would not be surprising to see the Giants work out kickers this week. The special teams mistakes continue to show up on a weekly basis and need to be cleaned up as the competition gets stiffer.
The game plans on both offense and defense were purposely bland, as Ben McAdoo was comfortable letting his personnel dictate his moves on offense. Additionally, Spagnuolo did not feel the need to bring extra bodies to get pressure on McCown, and ultimately he was right. The offense was not going to gamble on fourth down, as evidenced by the nine punts. Clearly, the Giants did not have to empty the playbook to defeat the winless Browns, but some of the offensive play-calling was too predictable
Overall, the name of the game was patience, and that is how the contest ultimately played out. Sometimes coaching staffs are criticized for not being aggressive enough, and clearly the Giants were not overly aggressive. But letting the game play out was absolutely the right call in Cleveland, regardless of whether or not that plan gained any style points.
Up Next: Pittsburgh Steelers
The Giants take their six-game winning streak on the road again next week. They take on another AFC North foe, the Pittsburgh Steelers, at Heinz Field in a tough inter-conference match-up. The Steelers have been nicked up all season, and they find themselves in a dog fight with the Baltimore Ravens for the division title. The Giants still have hopes of catching the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East division.