ReFo: Saints @ Giants, Week 14
Entering this game, Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees was a lifetime 4-0 against the Giants with a margin of victory of at least 20 points in each, including a 49-24 demolition in Week 12 a year ago. It was only fitting that in this nightmarish season in New Orleans the Giants handed them their worst defeat of the season, 52-27.
Special teams was the story of the game as the Giants dominated from the opening kickoff, taking advantage of the Saints’ porous coverage unit. With the help of four takeaways, they ran practically every offensive play in New Orleans territory.
The Saints displayed the same maddening inconsistency on offense and defense that has extinguished any remaining playoff hopes. Conversely, the Giants came away with a much-needed win as they go into the final weeks of the season in what has suddenly become a tight divisional race.
New Orleans – Three Performances of Note
Typical Day at the Office
Once again, the performance of Saints’ defensive end Will Smith caught our eye. Unfortunately (and ironically) for New Orleans, however, he stood out for being all but invisible at DRE, as he’s been far too often this season. Smith (-3.0) played 65 snaps, rushing the passer a team-high 36 times, yet managed only a single hit and hurry and now ranks as our worst-graded 4-3 DE rushing the passer. With the Saints’ complete inability to generate consistent pressure, they need more from a player who’s left to rush one-on-one virtually every play, especially considering he’s one of the team’s highest-paid defensive players. And with a cap number above $14 Million in 2013 and 2014, the Saints will surely ponder this offseason whether that money — and those snaps — would be better allocated elsewhere on more productive players such as Martez Wilson or Junior Gallette.
Another staple of the Saints’ defense is the inability to take advantage of big-play opportunities, particularly in the secondary with corners Jabari Greer and Patrick Robinson. In the case of Greer (-2.8), you won’t see an easier chance at an interception than on the Giants’ third offensive play of the game, when he failed to haul in an Eli Manning pass thrown right to him. That was the highlight of his day, however, as he went on to allow seven catches on nine targets and struggled to defend Victor Cruz. No sequence of plays was worse than at the end of the half when Greer botched the switch with Elbert Mack on an inside/outside release and allowed a 35 yard pass to Cruz — a few plays later he was beaten for a touchdown by Domenik Hixon.
On the other side, Robinson was often in good position to make a play, but, like Greer, failed to take advantage. Primarily covering Hakeem Nicks, he allowed five catches for an average of 8.6 yards, but twice failed to come up with a much needed play in the end zone. First, at 6:15 of the second quarter, Robinson covered Nicks’ 9-route well, but couldn’t haul in an underthrown ball. At least he located and defensed the pass, though, which is something you can’t say he did at 8:23 of the third quarter, when, on the same route, he was again in great position, but inexplicably failed to locate the ball and allowed an easy 25-yard touchdown catch for Nicks.
Offensive Bright Spots
The Saints have lacked the offensive explosion that we’ve seen in years past, but certainly not due to the fault of Joe Morgan (+2.7). Though he doesn’t see many balls come his way — he’s been targeted just 15 times on the season — Morgan has made the most of the ones that have; after catching two passes for 106 yards against the Giants, the second-year WR is averaging 44.3 yards per reception, a mark that leads the league by more than 14 yards. And a number of his seven receptions have been of the spectacular variety, such as his diving 44-yard catch on a 3rd-and-9 early in the fourth quarter.
Also a positive for the Saints was the play of another second-year man, Mark Ingram, who has really come on in recent weeks. On a team-leading 13 carries, Ingram gashed the Giants for 5.2 yards a rush. Since Week 9, he is averaging just less than 4.5 YPC after failing to break 3.5 yards a run even once through the first eight weeks. While at times he still shows minimal elusiveness and questionable vision, the Saints have to be happy with the improvement that Ingram has shown over the second half of the season.
New York – Three Performances of Note
We can’t mention the Giants without highlighting the terrific play of David Wilson (+3.0 offense, +3.5 returns), who was impactful from start to finish. His 58-yard return on the opening kickoff set an early tone, but he wasn’t done there, putting his devastating speed on display all game and shredding the Saints’ coverage unit for an average of 56.8 yards on four returns. None was better than his second return of the game when he answered a New Orleans pick-six by going 97 yards for the tying touchdown. And if not for a couple of timely tackles by kickoff man Thomas Morestead, Wilson and teammate Jerrel Jernigan might have put up more return scores.
Wilson’s play on special teams shouldn’t overshadow his performance rushing the ball, though, as he averaged 7.7 yards on 13 carries and scored two touchdowns, including an electric 52-yard run late in the fourth quarter. Let’s hope he sees the field going forward, as he adds an explosive element to the Giants’ rushing attack that should blend well with the strength and consistency that Ahmad Bradshaw brings to the party.
The Giants were able to pressure Drew Brees on 18 of his 44 drop-backs, in large part due to the play of Jason Pierre-Paul (+6.0), who terrorized the New Orleans offensive line en route to a season-high nine QB disruptions. Regardless of who was in front of him, Pierre-Paul had no trouble getting into the New Orleans backfield, as he beat tackles Jermon Bushrod, Zach Strief, and William Robinson at least twice each for pressures. Dave Thomas didn’t fare much better, allowing a hurry and picking up a holding penalty on his attempts to contain the end.
Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora weren’t bad either — each produced four pressures, including the team’s only sack on the day, on 61 combined rushes. Tuck was particularly effective rushing from the interior of the defense where he collected a hit and a hurry from two of his seven pass rushes against Ben Grubbs at DRT. This is usually the time of year that we see the Giants’ pass rush light the blue touch paper. It’s too early to tell if this was the start of that, but this was at least a better performance by the Giants’ base pass rush than we’ve seen for most of the season.
Mixed Bag at QB
Another inconsistent day on what’s been an up-and-down season for Eli Manning. As usual, he showed why he’s one of the top quarterbacks in the game as he threw for 259 yards and four TDs — none of which was more impressive than his 5-yard TD to Hixon late in the first quarter, when he laid the ball out perfectly in the back of the end zone. However, for each great throw and great decision, there was seemingly one on the opposite end of the spectrum. The first quarter pick-six to Mack was as bad a throw as he’s made on the season, as Eli was both late and inaccurate on an intermediate out-route. And though he only ended up with two picks in the big win, he realistically could have ended with five, as he put three other passes right on the hands of Saint defenders. Ultimately, these poor decisions didn’t matter for the Giants, but it was not the most encouraging performance against one of the poorer defenses in the league.
–– On throws outside of the numbers, Eli Manning was four of eight for 35 yards and two interceptions to the left side, but completed 10 of 11 passes for 116 yards and two TDs to the right.
–– Michael Boley allowed all 12 passes thrown into his coverage to be completed.
— Through Week 14, the Saints have passed on 86% of snaps when Darren Sproles is in the game.
PFF Game Ball
This one goes to David Wilson, who was dynamic as a rusher and returner for the Giants.