NFC East: New York Giants

The Film Don't Lie: Giants

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
A weekly look at what the New York Giants must fix before their next game:

After the game the Giants played Thursday, anything we say here will qualify as a nitpick. But they definitely could be getting more pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and if they don't get to the Atlanta Falcons' Matt Ryan on Sunday, there'll be no excuse. Atlanta's offensive line troubles run so deep that they had to play tight end Levine Toilolo at right tackle in their last game.

The Giants' defensive line has done a good job against the run, but it needs to generate more consistent pressure from more different spots on the line. Jason Pierre-Paul is playing well enough at defensive end that he's getting more attention from opposing offenses in the form of double-teams. That should free up Mathias Kiwanuka at the other defensive end spot, but, aside from the early sack/fumble in the Washington game, Kiwanuka was a nonfactor in the pass rush. By contrast, Robert Ayers had two quarterback hits and one hurry in just 18 defensive snaps, according to Pro Football Focus, which ranks Ayers as the No. 2 4-3 defensive end in the league this season.

Ayers has played on only about 48 percent of the Giants' defensive snaps this season, as compared with 78 percent for Kiwanuka. It might be time for Ayers to see more time on the field if the Giants want to get the most out of their pass rush.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- After a rough first game of the season, New York Giants left tackle Will Beatty has performed quite well in his last three games -- much more like the 2012 Will Beatty who earned a five-year free-agent contract than the 2013 version who admitted in December that the contract had proven too much for him to handle psychologically in its first season.

"Last year," Beatty said Monday, "was just an anomaly."

If that's the case, then Beatty's recovery from a broken leg and the rebound in his performance have come at a good time. The Atlanta Falcons come to town Sunday, and one of their pass-rushers is former Giant Osi Umenyiora, who meant a great deal to Beatty when Beatty and Umenyiora was at the top of his game.

"When I came in the league, Osi was the guy I was practicing against," Beatty said. "If you could pass-block him, you knew there was nobody that could beat you on the outside, because of his speed. So having worked with him and now having the chance to go against him, I want to make sure he sees how far I've come and thank him for all he's taught me."

Beatty said that with a smile, because his hope is to "thank" Umenyiora by keeping him and his fellow Falcons pass-rushers far away from Giants quarterback Eli Manning. Umenyiora does not have a sack this season after recording 7.5 in 2013 in his first season with the Falcons. He's not a starter for Atlanta. He plays on about 35 percent of the Falcons' defensive snaps, usually as a pass-rush specialist. He'll no doubt he eager to perform well Sunday, but the Giants' offensive line has stepped up its pass protection significantly since the preseason and the messy Week 1 loss in Detroit.

Beatty's performance at the key left tackle position is a huge part of that. He struggled last year with his technique -- everything from first step to hand position -- and it snowballed as the season went along. This year, coming off the injury and an offseason of rehab, his technique is sound, he's using his quickness to his advantage better, and Pro Football Focus has him rated as its top offensive tackle in the league overall -- second in pass blocking and sixth in run blocking.

"I know I still have a lot of work to do," Beatty said. "The coaches are still on me. I'm showing a lot of good things, but I'm not there yet."
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants got back to work Monday after a rare weekend off, and rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was on the field.

Beckham returned to practice on a limited basis last Tuesday, and was out there again on Monday. "He did a little bit more [today]," coach Tom Coughlin said.

[+] EnlargeBeckham
AP Photo/Bill KostrounThe Giants want rookie WR Odell Beckham to be fully healthy and get in more practice before logging his first minutes of an NFL regular-season game.
It's far too early to predict whether Beckham will make his NFL debut this coming Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons.

"I want to play as soon as possible," Beckham said, "but it’s not really all the way up to me."

Coughlin said Beckham has to show him "a lot of things" in order to play.

"He has to practice, he has to practice repetitive days, he has to be able to show us that he's not only strong enough but can endure day after day. So there’s some room here to make some progress and impress everybody."

Beckham, the No. 12 overall pick in this year's draft, has barely been able to get on the field since then, because of a nagging hamstring injury.

The Giants obviously loved what they saw Beckham do on film at LSU. They haven't gotten to see much in person yet, but Eli Manning sounds impressed nonetheless.

"He’s very fast, but he’s got good body control and runs good routes," Manning said. "From what I've seen, he’s pretty polished on what he’s doing. That’s a good thing, but still, you just need reps and need lots of practice."

Manning mentioned Beckham's "burst" off the line of scrimmage on more than one occasion. "Even if it’s not a deep route, you see him coming off the line of scrimmage, getting in and out of his breaks, he’s got this good burst of speed and energy," Manning said. "That’s what you like to see, and get excited about."

Manning said he's already started doing some extra work with Beckham, to try to bring him up to speed as quickly as possible. The Giants' offense has made great strides the past two games, but adding a talent like Beckham to a receiving corps featuring Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle and emerging tight end Larry Donnell could make them even more difficult to stop.

Randle, who played with Beckham at LSU, certainly thinks so.

"I think with his abilities, he's definitely gonna take [the offense] to another level," Randle said. "With the big-play ability that he has, able to make big gains, it's gonna help us out as an offense, and also in the return game and special teams. Just having him back as a whole is gonna be great for our team."

Big Blue Morning: Weekend thoughts

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
Following three well-deserved days off, the New York Giants return to work today with a short morning practice to knock the cobwebs off. They'll get their regular Tuesday off and then return Wednesday to begin preparing for Sunday's home game against the Falcons. In the meantime, and in the wake of the Giants' Thursday dismantling of Washington, the NFC East had an interesting weekend.

The Eagles went out to San Francisco and suffered their first loss of the season, their banged-up offensive line looking terribly overmatched against the 49ers' defense. And the Cowboys just went out and hammered the Saints at home on Sunday night, getting some measure of revenge for one of their most embarrassing 2013 losses and asserting themselves as a team not to be taken lightly.

[+] EnlargeEli Manning
AP Photo/Alex BrandonEli Manning and the Giants have bounced back after a slow start to the season.
As a result, Dallas and Philadelphia are tied for first place at the quarter pole with 3-1 records. The Giants sit just a game behind at 2-2, and Washington is in last at 1-3. The Giants and Eagles are each 1-0 in the division by virtue of wins over Washington. Dallas hasn't played a division game yet.

So, hope? Sure. If you're a Giants fan, no matter how poorly those first two games went, your team is one game behind the first-place tie in the division between two teams it has yet to play. Beats the heck out of last year, when your team was 0-4 at this point and couldn't get in a race no one seemed to want to win. You're perfectly justified in wondering if maybe the NFC East is emerging from his half-decade-long doormat phase, and maybe the Giants have a real shot.

Four games is a decent amount of evidence, but unfortunately it's still not enough to know for sure what's real and what's not. The Giants' offense has looked very smooth these last couple of games, but they've put plenty of bad on tape to go with the good. And the fact that the good is more recent is no guarantee that the bad won't resurface. I retain my preseason questions about whether they have the requisite caliber of personnel to score with the other offenses in the league when they're all at their best, even as I recognize how much better they looked Thursday than a Washington team whose receivers and running backs appear much better than theirs on paper.

There is a long way to go, but if the NFC East is to be the jumble it usually is -- with teams beating up on each other head-to-head and nine or 10 wins being enough to win it -- then this year the Giants should at least be a factor deeper into the season than they were last year. I had them at 8-8 entering the season, which is exactly the record for which they're on pace right now. My game-by-game predictions had them starting W-L-W-L, and instead they've gone L-L-W-W. As beautifully as last week went for them, not even the most die-hard fan can possibly expect them to win all of their remaining games. There will be more tough times to come. That's just the way of things.

And Philadelphia's offensive line will get pieced back together, and Dallas' defense is likely to have some rough games, and Washington is sure to look better at some point than it did Thursday. The rollercoaster rolls on.

But a Tom Coughlin Giants team is always going to win at least as many games as it's supposed to win. And if I'm right that they're an 8-8 team on paper, then my expectation is that Coughlin will get at least eight wins out of them. And if they can steal one or two along the way and get to nine or 10 ... well, then yeah, they're a contender in the NFC East as long as no one runs away with it.

We'll know a lot more after Week 7, by which time the Giants will have played road games in Philadelphia and Dallas and be on their bye. They have that rough Colts-Seahawks-49ers-Cowboys stretch coming out of the bye, and that could sink them if they don't get through these next three weeks in decent shape (say, if they go 1-2 and lose both of the division road games). But given the way they started the season, the Giants like where they sit right now. A 2-2 record at this point doesn't knock them out of anything. And the way they're trending gives them and their fans reason to hope -- at least for a little while -- for another Coughlin/Manning miracle.

Twitter mailbag: A banner week

September, 27, 2014
Sep 27
The New York Giants have won two games since last week's Twitter mailbag, and the feeling around and about this team has changed dramatically in the past seven days. With that in mind, here are the #nygmail questions that made the cut this week:

@DanGrazianoESPN: I think the last two games have been very good ones for the Giants' offensive line, and I think you're right that it's a group that's starting to jell. Remember, this particular group of five didn't play together in this alignment until Week 1 of the regular season, as a result of injuries to Geoff Schwartz and Brandon Mosley. It's natural for there to be growing pains. I wouldn't assume everything is solved, because Weston Richburg is a rookie, J.D. Walton hasn't been consistent and even Justin Pugh, who's viewed by many in the fan base as something like reliable, is kind of in-and-out from week to week. But like the offense as a whole, this group can draw encouragement from the success it's had the last two weeks and build on it for the future. What Will Beatty is doing at left tackle right now is excellent and reminiscent of that big 2012 year that got him his big contract. Beatty is dependent on his technique for success, and it slipped last year to a point where he couldn't make corrections in-season. This year, he's been more sound in his technique, and it allows his athleticism to take over.

@DanGrazianoESPN: No, I do not think the days of 30-plus carries for Rashad Jennings are over, and I'm glad you asked this question, because I expect this to be a hot topic in the fantasy football community over the next week. Jennings got 13 carries Thursday night and so did Andre Williams. But it's vital to remember that this game was only four days after Jennings (a) got 34 carries and (b) endured a bruising day in pass protection against the Houston Texans. Had the Washington game been a normal Sunday game a week after the Houston one, my sense is that Jennings' workload would have been similar to what it was against Houston. But since it was only four days later, it made sense for the Giants to back off Jennings and spell him with Williams on the early downs. It also helped a lot that they got out to a huge early lead and didn't necessarily need their best running back on the field in the fourth quarter. They like Williams a lot as a ballcarrier, but Jennings is their clear No. 1 right now, and as long as he's healthy, he'll remain so. The split workload Thursday had more to do with keeping Jennings from breaking down under a too-strenuous five-day workload than it did anything else. If I can put on my Matthew Berry hat for a second: If he's available in your league, go get him.

@DanGrazianoESPN: Wow! And they say I'm negative and pessimistic! In all honesty, I wouldn't worry about something like the pending debut of first-round pick Odell Beckham Jr. disrupting the Giants' chemistry on offense. Beckham's been a regular in the locker room, in the meeting rooms and on the practice field (even though he doesn't really practice) since the spring. They all know him, they all seem to like him and they all believe he'll add a lot with his uncommon speed once they're able to deploy him as an outside receiver in their preferred three-wide alignment. The Giants are trying to temper expectations for Beckham, since he's a rookie who hasn't practiced in the NFL, and they're not ready to say for sure he'll play Week 5 against Atlanta. But they believe his skills will fit what they want to do on offense, and at this point it's really easy to believe in the ability of Tom Coughlin and this coaching staff to find the right way to assimilate him into the program and get the best out of him.

@DanGrazianoESPN: My first thought was cornerback Prince Amukamara, who's been outstanding in coverage and already has a career-high two interceptions. But I think I give the edge to defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. He had the one game in which he had 1.5 sacks, and obviously he'd like to have more. But he's been excellent against the run, and the ability of the defensive ends to set the edge has been a key element to the Giants' pressure defense so far this year. And Pierre-Paul is playing quickly and actively enough to merit the additional attention defenses didn't feel the need to give him last year. That's been a boon to Mathias Kiwanuka, Robert Ayers and Damontre Moore, each of whom has flashed in the pass rush so far this year. As we wrote many times in the offseason and the preseason, a fully healthy and functional Pierre-Paul unlocks everything on this defense. So far, so good with that.

Thanks for all of the questions. Enjoy the rest of your Saturday, and a stress-free Sunday with your team's win already banked. 
The New York Giants were still juggling offensive line combinations deep into training camp. And late-camp injuries to guards Geoff Schwartz and Brandon Mosley pressed people into unfamiliar roles once the games started counting. As he looks back on it now, Giants coach Tom Coughlin has to admit it's understandable that the line struggled in the first couple of games.

"I don't know about speed or how fast or has it come together before we expected," Coughlin said on a conference call Friday. "We would have liked to have had it in Week 1, but it wasn't to be. We've had a couple of pretty good weeks in which everybody has been on the same page now. It's got to continue to grow."

[+] EnlargeEli Manning
AP Photo/Alex BrandonWith the offensive line coming together, Eli Manning and the Giants are reaping the benefits.
Part of what's helped the pass protection is the ability of Eli Manning and the Giants' offense to operate their no-huddle offense, built on quick drops and Manning's ability to unload the ball about a half-second quicker on average than he did last year. But there's a chicken-egg argument to be made here, and one could posit that Manning's improved comfort level in the new offense was only possible once he had faith in his protection.

The preseason and the first two weeks made that look unlikely. It appeared for a while as though the Giants' most crippling 2013 problem would cripple their 2014 season as well. And while there are still likely to be missteps, mishaps and setbacks during the remaining 12 games, the two games they won this week offer the Giants encouragement that the group of five starting offensive linemen they're using now can be good enough on a given week to allow the offense to work correctly. Left tackle Will Beatty has looked excellent for three weeks in a row, and J.D. Walton and Weston Richburg have begun to win their physical battles on the inside, which they were not doing early on.

"The protection has been good for the most part the last couple of weeks," Coughlin said. "And certainly we've benefited from that, because Eli has had time to recognize his keys and make a decision on his progression. So I see a lot of those things coming together, and I'm very hopeful that we can continue to make progress."

Make progress. Build on this. These are the things you're hearing from Giants players and coaches right now. They know everything's not totally fixed. They know they're not going 12-0 from this point. But right now, they are playing and winning impressively. They are performing at a high level in multiple phases. They are dictating the flow of games. Even once they started winning, midway through last season, they were just kind of eking out wins and getting by. They never felt as in control of things as they have this past week. And a lot of that comes down to the big guys up front.

"We've played this one group together for a few weeks, and they have experienced a little bit of success a week ago, and that did a lot for them," Coughlin said. "To win at home against a Houston team, to run the ball the way we did, I think that the offensive linemen took great pride in that, and I think once that starts to develop, and you get a group that has that camaraderie and the pride in what they want to accomplish, that helps an awful lot."
Victor Cruz can't pinpoint one particular moment when the New York Giants' season turned around.

 But he can pinpoint one particular player -- and it's not him, nor is it Eli Manning or any of the Giants' other high-salaried stars.

"I think when Larry Donnell started to come to fruition, and catch the ball well and make some plays for us, I think that’s when things kind of shifted," Cruz said Friday on a conference call with reporters. "It was definitely something that we needed to happen -- someone to step up and make some big plays, and Larry’s done that for us."

Truth be told, Donnell has delivered all season long -- he had five receptions for 56 yards and a touchdown in the Giants' season-opening loss to the Detroit Lions, and seven for 81 in their Week 2 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

But Donnell took things to another level Thursday night against the Washington Redskins, with three touchdown grabs -- the first Giants tight end to accomplish that feat in a single game since Joe Walton in 1962, according to Elias Sports.

Not bad for an undrafted free agent out of Grambling State, who had three career catches prior to this season.

A quarter of the way through 2014, Donnell has 25 receptions for 236 yards and four touchdowns. At that pace, he would finish the year with 100 catches for 944 yards and 16 scores.

To put that in perspective, last season the New Orleans Saints' Jimmy Graham led all NFL tight ends with 86 catches for 1,215 yards and 16 scores -- rather similar numbers.

Donnell still has a long way to go, but Cruz said he isn't surprised by the success his teammate is having.

"In practice each and every day, I see the types of plays that he makes. I knew that it was just a matter of him getting his opportunities and making the best of it," Cruz said. "The style of offense that we have, it definitely sets up well for an athletic tight end to do some positive things, and I think he’s filled that void for us."

The Giants hit the jackpot with Cruz, another undrafted free agent, a few years back. Perhaps they struck gold again with a late bloomer from Grambling?

Cruz has been an inspiration to underdogs on the Giants and around the league. Now the tables have turned, it seems.

"I’m inspired by him. It makes me play harder, it makes me want to get as many touchdowns as Larry, get as many catches," Cruz said. "He’s definitely inspiring me, and I know that he’s inspiring other teammates as well."

Now, who would have predicted that?
LANDOVER, Md. -- The New York Giants were one of only three teams in the NFL that didn't take the ball away from its opponent in the first two weeks of the season. It was a trend they have spoke in practice and meetings about reversing.

 "Coach [Perry] Fewell has been challenging us to get turnovers, and ever since the first week he's been telling us we need to be more Zack Bowman-ish, since [Giants cornerback] Zack Bowman is known for getting turnovers," cornerback Prince Amukamara said after Thursday's 45-14 victory over Washington. "We've been rising to the challenge."

Bowman did not have one of the Giants' four interceptions Thursday, but Amukamara did, and it was something of a milestone for him. After collecting just one interception in each of his first three NFL seasons, Amukamara now has one in each of his last two games -- and a career-high two for the season.

"Zack's been staying with me after practice, catching balls off the JUGS machine, and he told me after last week, 'There's more to get,'" Amukamara said. "And tonight he came to me and said, 'You broke your record.' The knock on me has always been I have bad hands or I'm not a big playmaker or whatever. So it's definitely good to be able to show that part of my game."

It's vital for the team as well. The Giants had six takeaways in the game and only turned the ball over once. A plus-five turnover differential is a pretty good way to ensure a victory in the NFL. According to ESPN Stats & Information, since the start of the 2013 season, the Giants are 7-0 when they have a positive turnover differential, and 2-11 when they do not.

"It's Christmas, that's what it is," said safety Antrel Rolle, who had another of the interceptions. "You want games like that, where you're playing ahead and the other team is trying to play catch-up, and you know they have to force the ball. They're trying to make the long throws and complete long passes, and it gives the defense more opportunities to create turnovers."

Amukamara and safety Quintin Demps, who also had an interception in his first game replacing Stevie Brown as a starter, said Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins was staring down receivers Thursday night, and that helped the defensive backs jump routes and anticipate where the ball was going.

Good pressure by the defensive line and blitzing linebackers in the first half helped get Cousins off his game -- especially when Mathias Kiwanuka came unblocked for an early sack/fumble.

And Amukamara and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie held up their end in man coverage against star Washington receivers Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson, respectively. Strong defensive effort all around, but the Giants feel a lot better about those strong defensive efforts when they come with a big pile of turnovers.

"It's a mindset," said Bowman, who came over from the takeaway-happy Bears this offseason and has been preaching that since training camp. "Once you start getting them, it can snowball. It can get contagious. That's where we are right now."

LANDOVER, Md. -- If someone tells you they saw Larry Donnell coming, they're lying.

Not even the New York Giants, as they wrapped up training camp late last month, thought they had a tight end on their roster who'd have 25 catches and four touchdowns in their first four games. Donnell is an ungainly, undrafted, 6-foot-6 low-talker with braces who got the starting tight end job because no one else took it from him and because Giants coaches wanted to reward his hard work on special teams.

But there he was, catching seven passes for 54 yards and three (three!) touchdowns in the Giants' 45-14 victory over the Washington Redskins on Thursday night at FedEx Field. Donnell and the Giants (2-2) have figured out a way to use his height advantage with great success on third downs and in the end zone. And the team's reconfigured offensive coaching staff is showing it is not afraid to keep doing the same thing over and over again -- as long as it works.

[+] EnlargeLarry Donnell
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyTight end Larry Donnell has burst on the scene, much like the Giants' resurgent offense.
"When he gets in trouble," Donnell said of quarterback Eli Manning, "he knows he can throw it up there and it's my job to go up and get it. And he feels comfortable doing it."

Comfortable. That's a big word around the Giants these days. They just won two games in five days by the combined score of 75-31. The offense is undoubtedly clicking, with Manning operating efficiently in the no-huddle and keeping the passing game short and controlled. On Thursday, he was 20-for-27 on throws that were 10 yards or shorter, according to ESPN Stats & Information. All four of his touchdown throws came on such passes, and he has thrown nine such touchdowns so far this year -- more than he did from that distance all of last season.

"Yes, starting to like the offense," Manning said. "It's fun. Each week we have some new things and different plays that will work. I think everybody, offensive linemen, receivers, are starting to feel the tempo of things and see what we can do in this offense. We just have to keep working."

They've been helped the past couple of games by the defense's ability to get field-flipping turnovers. And it hasn't hurt that they've been able to get the first lead in each of their past two games, either.

"It gives you all the versatility of what you want to accomplish," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "You stay to the plan much better. You don't have to forgo some of the things you initially thought would be effective. It is a factor."

But the biggest thing that has happened here is Coughlin and offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo have accurately assessed their personnel and tailored an offense to fit it. Donnell isn't a great inline blocker, and he's not going to do anything after the catch. But man, he is tall. And he can jump. And his routes are clean. So you bet they're going to throw it high to him on third down and at the goal line.

Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams aren't breakaway runners; in fact, Williams' 23-yard run in the second half was the Giants' first run of the year that covered more than 20 yards. But those guys can move in the hole and fight for extra yards, and they're putting the Giants in third-and-short somewhat reliably.

"We all understand what's being asked of us in this offense, which is that we've just got to be in the right place at the right time and catch the ball when it's thrown to us," wide receiver Victor Cruz said. "I think we're just clicking."

This offense will develop and likely grow more dynamic as time passes and the personnel evolves. Rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. could join the party in the coming weeks, and if he does, the coaches have a plan for ways to use his speed to help them do more. In the meantime, the game plans are designed to put the people they have in the best possible position to succeed. And that's just plain, old-fashioned good coaching.
LANDOVER, Md. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the New York Giants' 45-14 victory over the Washington Redskins:
  • The Giants defensive backs said Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins was staring down receivers, that they saw it on tape during the week and that defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul was hollering it at them during the game. "That was great for us, great for our safeties, because wherever [Cousins] looked, he was going," said cornerback Prince Amukamara, who had one of the Giants' four interceptions.
  • The coach, the quarterback and the stars of the game do postgame interviews at a podium in a side room instead of in front of their lockers. The Giants' players got a kick out of the announcement that tight end Larry Donnell was selected for a podium interview after his three-touchdown night. Cries of "Larry to the podium!" echoed through the cramped visitors locker room at FedEx Field as happy players dressed.

Rapid Reaction: New York Giants

September, 25, 2014
Sep 25

LANDOVER, Md. -- A few thoughts on the New York Giants' 45-14 victory over Washington at FedEx Field.

What it means: The Giants just won two games in five days by a combined score of 75-31. The offense is really clicking right now, as we'll discuss in the paragraphs to come. But after not taking the ball away on defense in either of their first two games, the Giants had three against Houston on Sunday and six more, including four interceptions of Kirk Cousins, on Thursday night in Washington. It's helped them control the games.

Stock Watch: Eli Manning, UP. This was Manning's third straight strong game, and his completion percentage is up to 66.9 for the season. He was 28-of-39 for 300 yards and four touchdowns and ran for a fifth. The offense is obviously tailored to minimize Manning's mistakes (see: inside runs on third-and-long inside their own 20), but he's executing very well in terms of tempo, accuracy and timing with his receivers. His pre-snap reads and calls are excellent, his few downfield attempts are low-risk and well-chosen, and he's playing a very efficient game right now.

O-line's stock up, too: There's a case to be made that the quick tempo and short drops are helping the offensive line look better, but I thought the guys on the interior who were struggling the first two weeks -- J.D. Walton and Weston Richburg -- were physically dominant against the Washington defensive front. And left tackle Will Beatty made Brian Orakpo, who tormented him here last season, look silly. The downfield passing game should evolve as the pass protection earns more trust.

Game ball: There's no one it could be but tight end Larry Donnell, who caught three touchdown passes in the first half while the Giants were building a huge lead. Having won the job out of camp as the least objectionable option at tight end, Donnell has run clean routes and shown a remarkable ability to jump and catch the ball -- especially on third down, where Manning appears to trust him completely. Only two of the league's 32 teams have played their fourth game yet, but Donnell is one of only four players in the league with at least four touchdown catches this season.

What's next: The Giants likely will get a few well-deserved days off and return to practice Monday to begin preparing for their Oct. 5 home game against the Atlanta Falcons.

W2W4: New York Giants

September, 25, 2014
Sep 25
The New York Giants (1-2) are in Landover, Maryland, on Thursday night for an early-season NFC East matchup against Washington (1-2) at FedEx Field. Here are three things we'll be watching in this game:

[+] EnlargeRashad Jennings
AP Photo/Evan PinkusThe Giants' Rashad Jennings rushed for a league Week 3-best 176 yards in a victory over Houston last Sunday.
1. Rashad Jennings' workload: This might not be a major factor if the Giants aren't playing with a lead, as they were all day against Houston, but Giants coaches said they were monitoring Jennings closely this week after he carried the ball 34 times in Sunday's victory. Jennings is in excellent physical condition, but he has the second-most carries in the league so far, and any running back would have a tough time bouncing back just four days after a 34-carry workload. If the Giants find themselves in the enviable position of having an early lead and being able to run their offense the way they ran it Sunday, don't be surprised to see Jennings get more breaks. That could mean an enlarged opportunity for rookie running back Andre Williams in this game. It also will be interesting to see whether the running backs get any catches this week. Jennings was not targeted in the passing game Sunday, and it's no coincidence, because he was asked to stay in and help block on pass plays as part of a successful effort to combat the Houston pass rush.

2. Will the Giants test the Washington secondary? This unit is always a question mark, and it took a hit Sunday with the loss of starting cornerback DeAngelo Hall for the season with an Achilles injury. To this point, the Giants have been relying on the run game and the short passing game. Of Eli Manning's 100 throws this year, 68 have been either behind or within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. In order to confidently throw downfield more, the Giants are going to have to develop greater trust in the consistency of their improving offensive line and hope that the addition of speedy rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., if he can return from his hamstring injury in the next couple of weeks, will help them stretch the field. In the meantime, they'll likely keep it close to the line unless they're behind and trying to catch up. But if they end up having to throw downfield, that's when the potential for interceptions rises.

3. Will the pass rush light up? The Giants had only 34 sacks as a team last year, but eight of them came in their two December games against Washington. They sacked Robert Griffin III five times in the road game and Kirk Cousins three times in the home game that ended the season. Cousins is the Washington starter these days with Griffin out because of an ankle injury, and it will be interesting to see whether Cousins and his teammates can keep the Giants' pass rush at bay to an extent they could not when they were playing out the string last December. Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who was injured and not playing by the end of last season, is off to a hot start this year.

Giants vs. Redskins preview

September, 25, 2014
Sep 25
It's too early in the season to have playoff hopes eliminated. It's not too early in the season to realize that a 1-3 team does not have a great shot at reaching the postseason, especially when those teams have tough upcoming games.

That's the spot the New York Giants and Washington Redskins find themselves in entering Thursday's game. Both teams are 1-2, with the Redskins having games against Seattle and at Arizona on deck. The Giants have hot Atlanta at home followed by road games at Philadelphia and Dallas. A loss by either team Thursday would put it in a dangerous hole.

Giants reporter Dan Graziano and Redskins reporter John Keim talked about the matchup:

John Keim: Did the Giants' offense finally start to show progress last week, and if so, where?

Dan Graziano: I think the Giants started to show progress in Week 2 but were undone by fourth-quarter turnovers. The progress in Week 3 was on the scoreboard, where the Giants exceeded 27 points for the first time since Week 1 of 2013. The Texans helped them out with turnovers, and the fact that the Giants got the first lead of the game (even though it wasn't until the second quarter) allowed them to run their offense the way they want to run it -- no-huddle, rhythm-based, leaning hard on the run game and the short passing game. Rashad Jennings had 34 carries, which seems like a lot with a game just four days later, but he got 176 yards on them, and Eli Manning completed 75 percent of his passes by keeping everything right around the line of scrimmage. It's not going to win any awards for excitement or creativity, but the Giants' offense is designed to be simple and take the pressure off the quarterback, and what we saw Sunday was the first real, extended, successful demonstration of the way it's supposed to look.

Scoring points doesn't seem to be the problem for Kirk and the Miracles down there, but that game Sunday against the Eagles looked like a bloodbath. Just how banged-up is Washington coming out of that game?

John Keim: Very. They have a lot of players who can't wait for Friday to begin healing. They lost corner DeAngelo Hall for the season and have a number of other players banged-up, including defensive end Jason Hatcher. He's the key to any sort of interior pass rush and has been terrific in the first three games. DeSean Jackson still has a shoulder issue; starting guard Shawn Lauvao was downgraded and could miss the game (not a big loss, though). Tight end Jordan Reed remains sidelined. Although Niles Paul has done well in his absence, Reed is a better playmaker -- but can never stay healthy. The Redskins already lost nose tackle Barry Cofield for at least half the season. The backups have done a good job for the most part, but you never like to go to your bullpen so often this early on.

Was that one win enough to calm the masses, or are there still some big concerns with the G-Men?

Dan Graziano: Concerns definitely remain, because I still think this team lacks depth and has personnel deficiencies in key areas. Victor Cruz is their only reliable threat at wide receiver until Odell Beckham comes back, and even then, Beckham is a rookie who's never practiced. Larry Donnell is catching a lot of passes, but he's a woeful blocker and certainly no threat to do anything exciting after the catch. The offensive line had a good game Sunday, but it's still counting on often-overmatched guys such as J.D. Walton and rookie Weston Richburg in the interior. The Giants are making a position switch at safety this week, benching struggling Stevie Brown for Quintin Demps, who was signed as a kick returner. The Giants underwent a major rebuild in the offseason, signing more free agents than any other team in the league. But the facts of the league and of free agency are that that's not the way to rebuild a roster, and the likelihood is that this season will be about making progress and finding out what holes still need to be filled next offseason. So they're feeling good now, coming off their first win, but tough times still loom ahead, and it's going to be tougher for them to run with offenses like Washington's and Atlanta's than it was to run with an Arian Foster-less Houston.

About that Washington offense ... it sure doesn't look as though the Bengals have skipped a beat without Jay Gruden, but how are things different now that he's running the show in D.C.?

John Keim: There are a lot of similarities between what the Redskins do now and what they had done the past four seasons. The run game is about the same, but the passing game is a little different -- a lot of it in terminology and philosophy. Gruden likes the dropback passers and was working hard on trying to develop Robert Griffin III into one before his injury. Gruden will call some zone read, but not as much as his predecessor (especially with Kirk Cousins at quarterback). He will call bootlegs, but by and large he prefers his quarterback in the pocket. The biggest difference is probably how he handles players. Gruden is much more of a player's coach. That can carry negative connotations, but he's definitely not averse to criticizing or getting on a guy. But his criticism does not sting the same way as with previous coaches. Gruden has brought a new vibe to the Redskins. We'll see if that works. If it doesn't, I'll be writing in a few years how the new guy is working to change the culture and has brought a new energy. I have experience.

Meanwhile, Tom Coughlin keeps plugging away, although he always seems right next to the hot seat, if not directly on it. How is he handling all the changes: a new offensive system, some overhauled areas? Seems like a job for a young guy. How does he do it -- and how much longer will he do it?

Dan Graziano: John, I honestly think Coughlin is the best coach in the league. And the reason I say that is I believe that coaching is about figuring out the kind of people and team you have and finding the right way to manage them. Few are as consistently excellent at it as Coughlin is. Last week, after meeting with his team captains, he decided the right move was to loosen things up. He allowed them to play rap music during stretching on Friday -- which never happens -- and after that day's practice he had a punt-catching competition between the offensive linemen and the defensive linemen. He said the message was, "I still believe in you, and things will be OK if you just relax and let your ability take over." The players all talked Sunday about how much they appreciated the lighter touch. It reminded me of December 2011, when they were 7-7 off a loss to Washington, and he came in and gave the players a speech about how great life was and how awesome it was to have a chance to still make the playoffs. When Coughlin has to ride the team hard, he rides it hard. When he has to lighten up, he lightens up. His genius is in his ability to figure out which time is which. And as the Giants undergo this overhaul incorporating so many new players, new coaches and new systems into the mix, he remains their greatest asset. I don't think a Coughlin-coached team will ever win FEWER games in a season than its talent level dictates it should.

Now, with us, Coughlin is still kind of a grouchy guy pounding on the same old stuff, including his insistence that his team be able to run the ball. Jennings had 176 yards on the ground Sunday, but Washington has been super-stingy against the run. Without Cofield especially, how have they been doing this, and do you expect the Giants to have a tough time running the ball this week?

John Keim: They've done an excellent job stopping the run, especially the past two games. Part of that has been facing weakened offensive lines, but an equal part is that they did a nice job in the front seven. Chris Baker took over for Cofield, and while the Redskins are better with those two on the field at the same time (Baker had been at end, but is a natural nose), they're fine with the current setup. Baker is a strong player who uses good leverage and can handle double teams. Jarvis Jenkins returned to starting at left end and has been fine. And Hatcher, provided he's healthy, has been terrific. They've tackled much better, and that's made a difference. So, yes, I'd expect the Giants to have a tough time running the ball. Throwing it might be another story; it all depends on whether Washington can pressure with a four-man rush. It's been hit (10 sacks one game) or miss (zero sacks in the other two) this season.

The New York Giants released their final injury report for Thursday night's game in Washington. As expected, rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and rookie linebacker Devon Kennard, who have hamstring injuries, are officially ruled out.

Linebacker Jon Beason, who is trying to play through a foot injury, is listed as doubtful. Beason missed Sunday's game due to the injury but was able to do some practicing this week and hopes to be able to play at least part of the game.

Cornerback Zack Bowman (quad) and offensive linemen James Brewer (back) and Charles Brown (shoulder) are listed as questionable. Punter Steve Weatherford, who sprained his left ankle in Week 1 but hasn't missed a game, is listed as probable.

Beckham has yet to debut for the Giants after they used the No. 12 overall pick in the draft on him in May. But he was able to participate in practice Tuesday to a greater extent than he has in two months, and he's targeting the Week 5 game against the Falcons for a return. The Giants have repeatedly said, though, that they won't rush him back, so that Week 5 target is anything but set in stone.

The Giants also announced Wednesday they have signed former Raiders wide receiver Juron Criner to their practice squad and released wide receiver L'Damian Washington from it.

Eli Manning getting his feet right

September, 24, 2014
Sep 24
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Eli Manning's feet were a big concern for the New York Giants when this season began. Their veteran quarterback was struggling toward the end of training camp with the footwork elements of the new offense the team was installing, and during a preseason game against the Jets, he decided to scrap it altogether and return to dropping back the way he always had before.

It was, to use a highly technical scouting term, not good.

"It's hard to dance with someone if you're both listening to a different song," Giants offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo said Tuesday in discussing Manning's footwork. "We try to get the primary receivers on the same page with his feet. If you can do that, you have a chance, no matter what the defense does, to complete the football."

The receiver's routes in this offense are timed up with Manning's footwork. Based on which play is called, when Manning reaches the end of his drop, and if the receivers have run their routes correctly, he knows exactly where they are supposed to be. This simplifies and speeds up his reads and allows the offense to work in rhythm. Fortunately for the Giants, Manning has recommitted to the footwork since the start of the season, and the gains the offense has made the past two weeks are evidence of that.

"He's gotten a lot of work, and really in camp, you saw his feet coming along and you saw him progressing there," McAdoo said. "We feel it is starting to show up on Sundays."

That could be a matter of reps. It could be a matter of improved trust in the offensive line, which was in flux during the final weeks of the preseason. It could be a matter of success breeding success. Whatever it is, it offers the Giants hope of continued improvement as they continue learning and operating the offense together.

"I think just getting used to the timing of the offense, how quickly guys are going to pop open," Manning said. "Get my feet to kind of work with my eyes so I'm ready to throw, going through my progressions quickly enough and moving everything in the right way to be able to throw the ball accurately and on time. I think it's getting there. There are some things I'm doing better and some things I still need to improve on."