Wow. Let me correct myself on that last comment: WOW!!!
This was one of the best regular season victories in recent memory. We'll see how this season plays out, but right now it sure seems to stamp the Giants as a team that could make things interesting this year. We all know that the Giants early part of their schedule was very soft and they are now beginning the varsity part of the schedule. As a result, few people were giving the Giants props for their 5-2 record against the weaker opponents. The most reasonable evaluation is to wait and see how they do against the elite teams in this four week period, where the Giants get the Patriots, 49ers, Eagles and Saints. Patriots were number 3 or 4 on all the NFL power rankings, so this was a statement win. While I certainly agree that this was a huge win, and it's always fun to beat the condescending, holier-than-thou Patriots, we probably have to consider how good the Patriots really are, before we judge how good this win makes the Giants look. More on that in another post later this week, but for now, on to the game itself.
Jake Ballard had a spectacular game and has been having a great season. He has made several big plays, none bigger than the seam route on the winning TD drive yesterday. Anybody still ticked off that the Giants lost Kevin Boss in free agency? I liked Boss, and he might be a little quicker than Ballard, but he's not that much quicker and Ballard certainly has better hands, rarely dropping anything. Ballard is a very heady player, always in the right place, always making the right reads and adjustments and he is really big making himslef a good target in the red zone.
Even though everyone is throwing roses at Eli for his play in yesterday's win, in my opinion, Eli had a much, much better game yesterday than anyone gave him credit for. Without Nicks as a deep threat, the Patriots played much more man-to-man than they usually do and the Giants WRs were not getting a lot of separation. The completions nearly all had to be placed in a very narrow window. On several of the completions, the WR had to change his route because he didn't beat the defender on the primary route, but he kept running to eventually give Eli a little opening to throw the ball. Eli's decision making has been good, his accuracy has been good and his ball placement has been superb. It's not just that he's hitting the WRs, and leading them so that he's hitting them in stride. He's also placing the ball perfectly - high to Ballard on the seam route; low and away from the defender on one of the Cruz connection. Even on the incomplete pass to Cruz on the 3rd and goal, he placed it perfectly where only Cruz could catch it. He showed his perfect touch on one of the sideline throws to Cruz, where he had to lift the ball a few inches over the LB's hands and drop it down to Cruz in front of the DB.
On Eli's INT, I thought he underthrew the ball slightly, but it was not a bad decision or a terrible throw. Manningham had his man beat and the guy guarding Pascoe, who was running an underneath route was giving him a big cushion and was several yards behind him. As a result, he was closer to Manningham, running in the back of the end zone than Eli expected him to be. This short defender was able to come off his man and make the pick. Even so, it required a great catch, over his head, on his fingertips. In terms of risk/reward, it was a good decision to throw the ball. It required a perfect play by the DB to get it and if he didn't it would hvae been a TD. It's not like he threw into triple coverage.
After the INT, Coughlin was showing his emotions and annoyance on the sidelines and it was really misplaced. I wanted to go out there and smack him. If we got mad at Burress and Shockey for showing up their QB when they were on the Giants, why should we tolerate that behavior from the head coach. The reason the Giants won the game yesterday is that Eli's steady hand and composure spreads to the team and inspires them to be calm and confident at these moments. Coughlin's ridiculous gesturing undermines that.
I loved what Cruz said after the game. He was direct and to the point. He said, when we got in the huddle with 1:30 left in the game, Eli looked everybody in the eye and said: everyone stay calm, we're going to score now and win this game. He didn't say it yelling; he wasn't breathing fire; he wasn't pointing fingers. He wasn't the NFL QB out of central casting. He was who he always is - easy Eli. I am happy he's on our team.
Eli's TD pass to Manningham was a thing of beauty. Perfect throw, perfect touch, perfect timing. If it's thrown a second later, Manningham doesn't have time to get his feet down. A second earlier and Manningham doesn't clear the DB.
Giants OL did reasonably well, providing decent protection in the passing game and opening up enough holes for Jacobs and the running game to get over 100 yards.
Giants got Jacquian Williams back in the game, after spending a week on the bench and he played well. But on defense, Kiwanuka and Boley were the stars, making tackles all over the place, pressuring the QB and making plays in the passing game. They collaborated on the first INT of Brady, Boley getting his hand on it and Kiwanuka catching the tipped ball.
We've seen Eli lead 4th quarter comebacks in 4 other games this year, so that was not a surprise. But this was the best game the Giants defense has played this year and I think that is the most encouraging thing to take away from yesterday's game. They stopped the run very well and I think that Tuck returning to full strength has a lot to do with that. Kiwanuka played a lot of LB yesterday and was very good. In truth, he wasn't tested that much in space, but he did well nonetheless. I don't if you noticed, but they had JPP lining up quite a bit inside at the DT position. The Giants take fairly wide splite with their DEs, so it is less congested in the middle of the line, giving athletic DTs a chance to move around a bit and use their speed.
The secondary coverage was interesting, even though it's hard to tell exactly what they did in coverage while watching the game on TV. There were times when they had Ross on Welker and times when they had S Rolle on him. Webster, who is bigger occasionally was matched up on the TEs. Kiwanuka, who has been playing better and better this year, was on the field a lot, switching between LB and DE, occasionally blitzing from a standing position. Deon Grant even played a good game yesterday, making the INT, making a few tackles for a loss and defending some passes effectively. He did drop one other pass that he could have intercepted.