Giants Finally Take A Step In The Right Direction
With only 10 days left in the month of October and seven weeks into the NFL season, the New York Giants finally have their first win of 2013. It wasn't very pretty at times, but then again, when has this team ever been about aesthetics? In their 23-7 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Monday night, the Giants got the job done with their defense — the much-maligned unit that finally came together and submitted their most complete performance of the season, shutting down the reigning league MVP in the process.
At 1-6, the Giants are still far away from where they want to be, but there were several bright spots during last night's game that can be used as building blocks going forward — something that has been few and far between for the Giants so far this season. For starters, the defense finally stepped up and delivered the kind of performance that we all knew they were capable of. Making his first start as a Viking, Josh Freeman never looked comfortable thanks to a Giants pass rush that kept pressure on him for the majority of the night despite notching only one sack.
Freeman definitely felt the heat, and it was apparent on many of his 33 incomplete passes, a few of which sailed so far over the heads of their intended receivers that I could have sworn he was trying to throw the ball out of the stadium. His 16 overthrown passes were the most by a quarterback in an NFL game since 2006. Freeman completed only 20 of his 53 passes on the night — a head-scratching statistic when you remember that Adrian Peterson was on the field for the entire night. Peterson was ineffective, carrying the ball only 13 times for 28 yards as the Giants front seven did an excellent job of containing him at the line on most of his runs. On his longest run of the night, an eight-yard scamper, new addition Jon Beason made a tremendous tackle that may have saved a touchdown.
For the Giants, that was the story of the night: the newcomers who stepped into their roles and delivered big games. For the second straight game since joining the team, Beason led the Giants in tackles with nine, a week after submitting a 12-tackle performance in Chicago. He did a commendable job of filling the gaps and keeping Peterson in check.
Another newcomer who made an immediate impact last night was Peyton Hillis, whom the Giants acquired this past week to replace the injured David Wilson and Brandon Jacobs. It took Hillis some time to find his legs and get himself adjusted to the pace of the game after being out of football for the better part of a year, but once he got going, he became a reliable target for Eli Manning out of the backfield, catching five balls for 45 yards. Hillis also added 36 yards on 18 carries and a one-yard touchdown run that gave the Giants a 17-7 lead in the third quarter.
What did the Giants do right last night? For starters, they opened the game with a clock-draining drive that took 9:36 off the clock — the longest drive of the NFL season for any team thus far. That 17-play, 68-yard drive resulted in a field goal when Hakeem Nicks dropped what looked to be a sure touchdown in the back corner of the end zone, but it managed to set the tone for the rest of the game as the Giants were able to control both the clock and the line of scrimmage. That opening drive was duplicated later on in the third quarter when the Giants took the ball with 8:31 remaining and went 75 yards in 16 plays on a drive that lasted into the fourth quarter and led to a Josh Brown field goal that put the Giants up 20-7.
While Manning managed to play mistake-free football for the first time this season, he still looked a little off on some of his passes. However, what the Giants offense was able to do last night was turn away from the deep ball and instead work the middle of the field utilizing Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle and Hillis on shorter intermediate routes and slants that exposed a soft spot in the second tier of the Minnesota defense. On average, Manning's passes traveled 6.6 yards downfield last night, a stark change from the 10.7-yard average that we saw during the first six games. What resulted was an offense that seemed to have more of a controlled pace to it, and although there were still quite a few three-and-outs, Manning did a superb job of managing the game and making the right plays when they needed to be made.
With only 257 yards of total offense, the Giants didn't exactly wow anyone last night, but they did what they needed to do, which was grabbing that elusive first win. Where they go from here is anybody's guess, but you have to start somewhere.