I really enjoyed the past week. There was a lot of hope. And then the game started. Eli Manning threw an interception on the very first play. In true New York Giants fashion, this team played down to their opponent. You have to hand it to them, they always make it a fair fight. Not that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a walk-over, but it took a Giants team to prove to the rest of the league that they weren't.
Going into this game, every writer on Big Blue View picked New York to both win this game, and to score at least 30 points. While both of those elements did end up as true values on Sunday night, the Giants left their opposition with a chance to win the game on an admittedly improbable final possession, and only topped the 30-point threshold by scoring a defensive touchdown as the final seconds wound off the clock.
There was a strong likelihood that the other fine writers on this site held similar emotions towards the end of the game. Edge of your seat. Sweaty palms. Nervous bad language. If you wanted to try win a game on a crazy bit of last minute trickery in 2015, then the Giants are an ideal opponent. Things worked out right this time, and a bunch of young men (and Ed) looked a bit smarter for their picks, but I can assure you that the pregame confidence was running on fumes during the fourth quarter.
Manning was perfect while throwing to Rueben Randle this past Sunday, completing all five passes thrown his way. For the season, Manning is completing a little more than 70 percent of his passes to Randle, which is the highest of any non-running back on the team.
Passes to running backs are generally low-risk checkdowns at the end of a play, or designed screens where the likelihood of completion is so high that the other receivers often run decoy routes or simply block. So, Randle's catch percentage of 70 percent is certainly more impressive than Shane Vereen's 77 percent or Rashad Jennings' 89 percent.
While Randle may not possess the same playmaking ability as Odell Beckham Jr. -- who is afforded a lower catch percentage because of what he does with the ball and the volume of targets -- he provides a valuable counter-punch for an offense that cannot become too reliant on a single receiver. His statistical pace may be slightly down from his 2014 total, but it's clear to anyone following this team that Randle has dealt with hamstring injuries in recent weeks.
The fourth-year player took a lot of flak for not extending for an important potential catch in the New Orleans Saints game, but fans need to direct their ire elsewhere. Randle has quietly been putting in a lot of work on a team that has been without their highest-paid receiver, Victor Cruz, for 19 straight games now.
Considering he was a second-round pick on a team with a history of bad second-round picks, people should be ecstatic with Randle's production. He has never missed a game in his career, he catches more of his targets than any other receiver, and hasn't fumbled in his last 29 games. That's a Tom Coughlin receiver if I ever saw one.
Through the entire five-year Perry Fewell era, the Giants had just six scores on defense. After cornerback Trevin Wade's scoop-and-score to end Sunday's game, the Giants have accumulated four defensive scores through the first nine games of the season.
It will be interesting to see how this pace keeps up as I doubt they have enough to come close to the record of 10 touchdowns set by the 1998 New Orleans Saints' defense, but they're only one shy of their franchise-best five TDs, which just so happened to come in 2007. Many will remember that as the first year of Steve Spagnuolo's first term with the Giants. Now, in his first year back, he's putting them on a similar path.
Some quick Beckham notes. This kid is rewriting record books, and I've written quite a lot about him in this article before, but this week I'm going to give you a quick run-down of his NFL records so far. There is a lot of bloating in terms of record-keeping so stuff like "Most receptions in a seven-game span by a rookie" isn't as prestigious a category as say "Fastest to reach 150 career receptions" -- a record which he set this week -- but unofficially there are (at least) 29 titles to his name, so it doesn't matter. Right now, the volume of his volumes is what's impressive.
- Fastest to reach 150 career receptions (21 games), surpassing Anquan Boldin (25 games)
- Fastest to reach 100 career receptions (14 games)
- Fastest to reach 2,000 receiving yards (21 games), tying Bill Groman.
- Most receptions in first 15 games of career:110
- Most consecutive games with 90+ receiving yards: 9, 2014, tying Michael Irvin
- Most consecutive games with 130+ receiving yards, 1+ TD: 4, tying Patrick Jeffers and Calvin Johnson
- Most games with 10+ receptions, Rookie, Season: 4
- Most games with 10+ receptions, 100+ receiving yards, Rookie, Season: 4
- Most games with 10+ receptions, 100+ receiving yards, 1+ TD reception, Season: 4, tying Torry Holt
- Most 125+ Yard games, Rookie, Season: 6
- Most consecutive games with 6+ receptions, 90+ receiving yards: 9
- Most receptions in a seven-game span by a rookie: 61
- Most receptions at home, Rookie, Season: 52
- Most receptions in month of November, Rookie: 38 (2014)
- Most receptions in month of December, Rookie: 43 (2014)
- Most touchdown receptions in month of December: Rookie, 7 (2014)
- Most receiving yards in any calendar month, Rookie: 606 yards (December 2014)
- Highest average receiving yards per game, Rookie, Season: 108.8
- Only player in NFL history with 75+ receptions in 11 games to begin a career
- Only rookie with 75+ receptions, 1,100+ receiving yards, 10+ TD's in a season
- Only player in NFL history to have 1,300+ receiving yards while playing in 12 or fewer games in season
- Only rookie with 90+ receiving yards in 5 games in a calendar month (November 2014)
- Only rookie in NFL history to have multiple games with 10+ receptions, 125+ receiving yards, 1+ TD in a season (4)
- Only rookie in NFL history to have 12+ catches, 140+ receiving yards and 3+ TDs in a game
- Only rookie in NFL history to have consecutive games with 11+ receptions, 130+ receiving yards, 1+ TD
- Only rookie in NFL history to have 10+ receptions in consecutive games
- Only rookie in NFL history to have 11+ receptions in consecutive games
- Only rookie in NFL history with 50+ receptions at home in a season
- Youngest player in NFL history with multiple games of 10+ receptions in a season: 4 (22 years, 53 days)
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Giants' nine sacks is their lowest total through nine games since team sacks were first compiled in 1963. I wrote about Spagnuolo's success earlier in the article, but this right here is where it gets ugly. Somehow, the man behind one of the most talked about pass-rushes in the Super Bowl era has produced a pressure scheme so bad that there literally isn't a comparison for it in the franchise's history.
There is more to pressuring the quarterback than just sacks, because hits and hurries play a legitimate part in affecting a play, but the end result isn't nearly as quantifiable. This is an area where it has gone beyond making excuses, because this unit genuinely is that bad. Perhaps with Jason Pierre-Paul back on the field and providing an immediate spark, this team can work towards something more substantial, but I fear the inadequacies elsewhere on the line will neutralize the effectiveness of his miraculous return from injury.
I don't know how to fix this. Do they blitz more? Do they change their scheme? Is there a roster move that could help? The secondary is getting killed out there and for a change, it's not all their own fault. If Spagnuolo wants to outlive setting a record for most passing yardage allowed in a single season, he needs to make significant progress before the Giants play themselves out of playoff contention.
It took over a season and a half to get there, but Rashad Jennings has finally compiled 1,000 yards in a Giants uniform. This is hardly what the team expected when they signed him last year. Jennings has shown promise and potential in his 20 appearances with New York, but has rarely capitalized on his chances. His 3.8 yards-per-attempt with the Giants are lower than what he managed with Jacksonville or Oakland, but his on-field opportunities remain unaffected due to the lack of competition around him. Andre Williams has been worse (3.2 YPA), Shane Vereen isn't an every-down back, and the team just doesn't trust Orleans Darkwa for some reason.
It's possible that Jennings will find his stride at some point, but right now looks set for another sub-par year despite a much-improved offensive line. The problem is that he doesn't pose a huge threat in any area of the game. On average in 2015, he's rushing 10 times with two catches to boot for a total of 58 yards from scrimmage per game. His longest run since joining the team is 27 yards. This is the Giants' lead running back. I know this is the age of the committee, but the standards right now are abysmally low.
Manning attempted just three deep passes in this game. None were completed. I'm not going to complain about a poor completion percentage on passes that travel more than 15 yards in the air, because a multitude of influences impact the outcome of a play, but I am not above pining for more opportunities in this area. These aren't exactly lottery tickets, and this is a team with one of the best one-on-one receivers in the game in Beckham. They should be taking these chances.
I know that this is a product of the offensive scheme, but the conservatism is infuriating. Manning is a great short-to-intermediate passer with a capable arm for downfield passes that is being ignored. On Sunday, he threw 37 passes that traveled less than 15 yards and just three that went further than that. In terms of basic spacing and balance, the ratio is wrong.
The Downright Confusing
Will Tye's current total of games started remains at zero thanks to an NFL rule that makes absolutely no sense. The Giants opened the game on Sunday with a three receiver formation and no tight ends. This meant that despite being the top tight end on the team, Tye doesn't get credit for working his way to the top of the depth chart, and instead an extra notch goes in the books for third receiver Dwayne Harris.
Currently, the league only credits your game log with a start if you're in on the first play from scrimmage. This makes sense on paper, but in practice ends up skewing a lot of statistical columns in unforeseen ways. Stick with me here for a second, because it does actually matter more than you think.
In Week 1, the Buffalo Bills had Tyrod Taylor as their starting quarterback, but thanks to Rex Ryan's dumb Wildcat playcalling, the record book shows Matt Cassel as the starter because he was under center and Taylor was split out wide. Cassel played one play -- a hand-off to LeSean McCoy that lost six yards -- and then left the game, leaving Taylor to finish the day. Cassel's official win-loss column gained a W and Taylor's record does not reflect his contribution to the game despite never missing a play. I hate using QB wins as a measurement of achievement, but I hate it even more if the fundamental principle of the number is flawed.
Another example can be found in-house. Manning's 176 consecutive starts is the longest active streak in the league, so naturally, he leads the Giants in that category. Who is in second? Well, that honor goes to recently-injured Jonathan Hankins with 25 first-play appearances. That said, this also doesn't include special teamers, which it should because Zak DeOssie's 137 games at long-snapper is totally ignored.
I'm very aware that this is a very specific annoyance, but if you're like me and trawl through databases for interesting nuggets of information every week, then you would understand the complications involved. The point is that if the NFL is going to such lengths to track detailed metrics like player-speed and distance traveled, they should at least have a protocol in place to credit the players with game-starts accurately. If there is a dedicated position listed in the game, make sure to credit the first player that appears at each position with a game-start. There are flaws to this, because maybe a team doesn't roll out their fullback until a situational play in the second quarter, but at least you would know who is the top fullback on that team's depth chart.