Tom Coughlin wears NYPD tribute

December, 21, 2014
Dec 21

ST. LOUIS -- New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin is wearing a black strip on his left shoulder and a peace sign under the "NY" logo on his blue pullover for the Giants' game against the Rams on Sunday.

The Giants said it was a tribute to the two NYPD officers, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, who were shot and killed while sitting in their car in Brooklyn on Saturday afternoon.

Coughlin was not available to give his reasoning before the game, but he has been a consistent and outspoken supporter throughout the years of law enforcement and the military.

It seems to be a Coughlin tribute, and not a Giants team decision. The Giants said Coughlin was the only member of the staff wearing the tribute.

The New York Jets held a moment of silence before Sunday's game against the New England Patriots, and the Brooklyn Nets planned a moment of silence before their game against the Detroit Pistons.

The New York Yankees' Yankee Silver Shield Foundation said it will pay for the college education of Ramos' son, 13-year-old Jaden, as well as another son who is already in college, according to the New York Daily News. Liu did not have children.

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New York Giants-St. Louis Rams inactives

December, 21, 2014
Dec 21
ST. LOUIS -- Armed with a healthy 53-man roster, the St. Louis Rams have seven pregame inactives who are in good shape and could play if needed. At this stage in the season, it's rare but for a team out of the playoff race, it also means making some tough decisions.

And, in the process, it requires the Rams to leave some young players who could use some experience on the side. On Sunday against the New York Giants, the Rams probably didn't make some observers happy by choosing to leave young offensive linemen Barrett Jones and Brandon Washington on the sidelines, but they did get rookie cornerback Lamarcus Joyner back in the mix.

Some, including yours truly, wouldn't mind seeing some of the young offensive linemen get a few reps here and there to get a better gauge on what they have as they head into the offseason. The Rams need help on the offensive line and with Joseph and right tackle Joe Barksdale set for free agency and Wells with one year left on his deal, now seems like a good time to get some reps.

Perhaps the Rams already have made up their minds on those players or feel they aren't ready, but clearly they aren't going to tweak anything even with the chances of anything meaningful this season already gone.


Giants: RB Rashad Jennings, CB Jayron Hosley, OL Adam Gettis, OL Eric Herman, TE Jerome Cunningham, LB James Davidson, DT Dominique Hamilton.

Rams: OL Brandon Washington, TE Alex Bayer, DL Ethan Westbrooks, DL Alex Carrington, CB Marcus Roberson, TE Justice Cunningham, OL Barrett Jones.

Giants rookie sensation Odell Beckham Jr. has gone from having dinner with LeBron James this month to communicating with Michael Jordan.

Over the past week, Beckham and Jordan have been exchanging texts, with the idea to continue corresponding, sources told ESPN.

Just as Beckham reached out to James, he did the same with Jordan, wanting to get into the mindsets of some of the all-time great athletes.

James encouraged Beckham to focus on on-field business, and Jordan has offered the rookie wide receiver similar encouragement.

There is a chance that Beckham and Jordan -- both of whom have deals with Nike -- will meet up on a personal and professional level in the near future.

Despite missing the first four games this season, Beckham enters Sunday's game against the Rams with 972 receiving yards -- the most among NFL rookies -- and nine touchdowns this season.

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W2W4: New York Giants

December, 20, 2014
Dec 20
The New York Giants (5-9) travel to St. Louis this weekend for a 4 p.m. ET game on Sunday against the Rams (6-8) in St. Louis. Here are three things we'll be watching from the Giants' end:

1. Can the pass rush stay hot? The Giants have a whopping 22 sacks in their last three games after recording only 19 in their first 11. St. Louis' offensive line had a hard time protecting quarterback Shaun Hill in its Week 15 game against Arizona. The quarterback-challenged Rams will try to keep the Giants' pressure off by leaning on the run game -- something they couldn't do against Arizona's tough run defense. So the Giants' pass-rushers are going to have to find ways to keep the pressure on while still paying attention to Tre Mason and the Rams' running game.

2. Can they protect Eli Manning? On the flip side of that, the Giants' offensive line will have to cope with a fearsome St. Louis front that features Robert Quinn, Chris Long and rookie defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Manning hasn't responded well this year (or last!) when facing pressure, and the Giants haven't faced a defense this tough in quite a while, if all year. St. Louis had back-to-back shutouts before last week's 12-6 loss to Arizona. They haven't given up a touchdown since Week 12.

3. What can Andre Williams put on tape? The rookie running back is getting a fair bit of exposure here late in the season because of Rashad Jennings' ankle injury. Williams will get a start against the Rams. He rushed for 131 yards two weeks ago in Tennessee but only 44 in last week's victory over Washington. The Giants would like to see Williams show improved patience as a runner and better timing and trust with his blockers, especially against tough defensive fronts. This week offers as tough a test for that as he's likely to find.

Twitter mailbag: What might have been

December, 20, 2014
Dec 20
Last spin of the year through Newark Airport as I head off to St. Louis. Might as well take some New York Giants questions. Let's see who used that handy-dandy #nygmail hashtag on Twitter this week...

@DanGrazianoESPN: So many choices from among the 22 Giants players on injured reserve. Wide receiver Victor Cruz is the most obvious answer, as the offense seemed to be clicking and Odell Beckham Jr. had just returned from injury when Cruz blew out his knee in Week 6 against the Eagles. And based on the Giants' preseason plans, they'd likely give a nod to middle linebacker Jon Beason, who never recovered from a minicamp foot injury, but I don't know that we can put the Giants' defensive struggles solely on the absence of Beason. I think the potential impact of Walter Thurmond as the nickel cornerback was a major one, and he went down early. He could have solidified them in the slot, and he could have played on the outside once Prince Amukamara went down with his injury. With a nod toward offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz, I'm going to go with Cruz and Thurmond as my answers here. But as I said, lots of strong choices, unfortunately for the Giants.

@DanGrazianoESPN: In spite of this odd disciplinary fracas between wide receiver Rueben Randle and coach Tom Coughlin, I don't see any reason the Giants wouldn't bring back Randle next year. He's only going to be making about $800,000, and he'll only cost about $1 million against the salary cap. He's on pace to finish this season with 67 catches for 741 yards. He caught six touchdown passes last season, when he was the No. 3 wide receiver on the team. None of those numbers are dazzling, I'll grant you, but he's obviously a competent NFL receiver, and no one's roster has 53 superstars on it. The Giants believe Cruz will return to full health, which would make Randle a pretty good-looking No. 3 behind Cruz and Beckham (likely playing outside with Cruz in the slot in their preferred three-wide receiver sets), especially for the price. Again, it's possible that the issues he's having with being late for meetings and whatever else is ticking off Coughlin could pave the way for Randle to head out of town and be replaced by someone from the mid-range receiver market. But I find that unlikely, especially since they just used a second-round pick on him two years ago and the Giants are not inclined to give up on draft picks this soon.

@DanGrazianoESPN: Hey! That's two questions! Pretty good work for 140 characters. In spite of the Justin Pugh pick from 2013, I still think the Giants are disinclined to use a first-round pick on the offensive line. Considering where they'll likely be picking (7-to-9 range), and considering that this draft seems more top-heavy with defensive linemen than it does with offensive linemen, my way-too-early prediction is that they go with a pass-rusher in the first round and maybe hit the offensive line in the second or third. Or, as you said, free agency. As for Larry Donnell, I would not say he's "done enough to trust as a starting tight end next season." But I would say he's shown enough to make the Giants believe he'll continue to develop as that, and that at this point their plan would be to go into 2015 with him as their starter at the position. That'd be the first time since 2010 (Kevin Boss) that they didn't change starting tight ends in the offseason, but they like Donnell and believe he can blossom into a major playmaker for them.

@DanGrazianoESPN: Just rumors and inside whispering, but yeah. At this point, I think the odds are better that Coughlin is back than that he's gone. They're not planning to cut bait with offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo after just one year. I think a lot of people would be surprised if defensive coordinator Perry Fewell is back, and if they do make a change there you'd have to think some of the other defensive assistants would be in trouble as well, since a new coordinator would likely want to bring in at least some of his own people. And don't rule out a little bit more tinkering on the offensive side of the ball in McAdoo's second season. Offensive line coach Pat Flaherty is a good coach and well respected, but it was a bit of a surprise that spot didn't turn over last year when they made moves to get younger on the coaching staff. He might not be safe this time around if they do make more changes.

Thanks for the questions, and enjoy the start of bowl season.

Week 16 Predictions: Giants at Rams

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Giants running back Rashad Jennings missed a third straight day of practice and has officially been ruled out of Sunday's game in St. Louis. Jennings has a sprained right ankle that he aggravated on the first play of last Sunday's game against Washington.

Earlier this season, Jennings missed four games with a knee sprain. This is the first game he'll miss due to the ankle injury, which he suffered in Week 13 in Jacksonville, but he was a non-factor in Week 14 in Tennessee and was injured on the first play of the game in Week 15.

Jennings said Friday that his hope is to return to practice next week and play in the season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles next week. In the meantime, rookie Andre Williams will make his sixth start of the season. Orleans Darkwa will serve as his backup, and Chris Ogbonnaya is likely to be active for the first time as a Giant.

The only other Giants player on the injury report this week was middle linebacker Jameel McClain, who missed Wednesday's practice with a knee injury but practiced Thursday and Friday. McClain is listed as probable and is expected to play.

Fantasy: Rashad Jennings

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19


Christopher Harris analyzes RB Rashad Jennings for Week 16.

Prediction: Rams will beat Giants

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
The New York Giants have been benefiting a great deal from the schedule this month. Their last three opponents have a combined record of 7-35, which makes it a bit of a disappointment that they haven’t won all three of the games. But they gave the game away in Jacksonville in Week 13, which is a reminder that they can lose to any team at any time.

The St. Louis Rams are 6-8, which is obviously no great shakes, but they have victories this year against Seattle, San Francisco and Denver, and they’ve allowed a total of 12 points in their last three games. The Rams play a level of defense the Giants have not encountered since the Week 11 game against the 49ers in which Eli Manning threw five interceptions.

Both of these defenses come into the game playing well, so I don’t expect a lot of points either way in this game. But I think the Rams will generate more pressure on Manning than he’s faced in recent games, and this is the week we remember that the Giants are a team with a lot of problems. Rams 16, Giants 10.

Holiday vibe at Giants practice Friday

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Earlier this year, when the New York Giants were struggling out of the gate, some of the players asked coach Tom Coughlin if they could play music at the beginning of Friday practices. Coughlin said yes, later explaining that he viewed relaxing some of his Friday practice rules as a way of showing the players the coaches were in their corner and believed they were trying hard. So it has become a Friday tradition -- loud music selected by the players and played during the stretching and warmup portion of practice.

This particular Friday being Dec. 19, this week's music selection had a holiday vibe. Here's the playlist that rolled out at the start of the portion of practice open to the media:

"Christmas in Hollis" -- Run DMC

"Santa Claus is Comin' to Town" -- Bruce Springsteen

"Santa Claus is Comin' to Town" -- The Jackson Five

"Jingle Bell Rock" -- Unknown

"Ludacrismas" -- Ludacris

And then it spun into a non-holiday Nelly tune and a couple of more usual selections.

These are the kinds of thing I figure at least some of you guys would like to know.

What Ben McAdoo has learned in his 'rookie' year

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- We've talked a lot about the development of the New York Giants' young players, and you know every case is different. Rookie Odell Beckham Jr. is a comet; third-year receiver Rueben Randle continues to frustrate. Second-year defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins is having a dominant season, while second-year end Damontre Moore continues to make slow progress in understanding his responsibilities in the defense.

Lost in this, on occasion, is the fact that Giants offense coordinator Ben McAdoo is himself a rookie. Prior to this year, the 37-year-old McAdoo had never been a coordinator at any level and had never been an in-game playcaller. He's been both for the Giants this year. On Thursday, I asked him what he's learned this season and how he's different as a coach than he was a year ago.

"You don't fall into the trap where you think the system is everything," McAdoo said. "In tough times, you think about players, not plays. That's the first thing that comes to mind."

McAdoo said expanded exposure to a variety of viewpoints has helped educate him about his new job as he's done it. Having been a position coach (tight ends and quarterbacks) during his time in Green Bay, he's now in a position to hear a variety of opinions and perspectives as a coordinator overseeing several different position coaches. And the on-the-job lessons about in-game play calling have helped as well, as there's no better teacher than experience.

But I found it interesting, especially as we watch the offense run through the red-hot Beckham every week instead of a run game that has faltered, that McAdoo's first answer to the question of what he's learned is that there are times when you have to rely on your personnel rather than your plan or your scheme. Understanding that is the mark of a good coach, I believe.

"Simply, the best play may not be the best play because it doesn't get the person the ball who gives you the best chance to win the game," McAdoo said. "Getting the ball to the right guy at the right time is critical."

McAdoo stands as an interesting figure for the Giants in the coming years as a young, developing offensive coordinator the team views as a potential head coach. It should be fun and interesting to track and analyze his development along with that of the players.

Jason Pierre-Paul doesn't care about sacks

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Jason Pierre-Paul is suddenly among the top 20 players in sacks in the NFL with 9.5, and has a chance to crack double digits for only the second time in his career -- in a contract year, no less.

Yet when asked Thursday if that numerical milestone would mean anything to him, Pierre-Paul's response was a tad surprising.

"Nope!" he said. "I'm just playing football, and I think I'm doing a great job of it."

[+] EnlargeJason Pierre-Paul
AP Photo/Bill KostrounJason Pierre-Paul has racked up six sacks in the Giants' past three games.
The stats certainly back Pierre-Paul up. He has six sacks in the Giants' past three games -- 1.5 in the loss to the Jaguars, two in the win over the Titans, and 2.5 in last week's victory over the Redskins. He's now tied for 15th in the league, with the Dolphins' Cameron Wake and the Bills' Jerry Hughes -- but he doesn't sound too excited about it.

"Way before my sacks went up I was playing good," Pierre-Paul said. "At the end of the day it’s all about numbers, but I was playing great before that."

Stats back up that statement, too. Pro Football Focus has Pierre-Paul rated the second-best 4-3 defensive end in the league, behind only Wake. And against the run, he's No. 1, by a large margin -- not too shabby for a guy known as a pass-rusher.

Suddenly, Pierre-Paul -- who's been a big disappointment the past two years -- looks like a player who will get a big contract this offseason. He has stated that he would like to stay with the Giants, but whether they'll pony up is very much in question.

Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell gushed about Pierre-Paul on Friday. "I just think JPP has turned it up a notch this second half of the season," Fewell said.

And the play Fewell was most impressed by last week wasn't even one of Pierre-Paul's sacks -- it was his chase-down of Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III on the final play of the first half, which caused Griffin to fumble and negated a Washington touchdown.

"Amazing. Absolutely amazing," Fewell said. "Because RG3 as a 4.4, 4.5 (40-yard dash) guy, JPP was on the right side of the defensive line -- it just showed you his desire to want to make that football play, and I think that’s what he has done over the last three or fours weeks. He's turned it up, his desire to make plays."

"I was in awe, I really was," Fewell added. "It was like, wow. The guy continues to amaze you."

Pierre-Paul isn't the only Giants defensive player to step up of late. The team as a whole has 22 sacks the past three weeks -- in fact, the Giants are the first team since the 1989 Vikings to record seven sacks in three straight games (credit ESPN Stats & Information).

Second-year player Johnathan Hankins is now up to seven sacks -- the fifth-most by a defensive tackle in the NFL. And rookie linebacker Devon Kennard has 4.5 -- all of them coming the past three weeks.

Pierre-Paul credited improved communication across the defensive line, when asked about the sack surge.

"We’ve had to do some different things," Fewell admitted, in regards to the increased pressure on opposing quarterbacks. But that's all we got -- when asked what has changed, Fewell's answer was short, and not so sweet.

"If I told you that I’d have to kill you," Fewell said, with a smile.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- During the first four games of this season, when he was sitting out with a hamstring injury, New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was hearing from fantasy football owners on Twitter.

"When I was hurt, I would see a lot of tweets telling me, 'I dropped you from my fantasy team,'" Beckham said Thursday. "That's on them, I guess."

Some are paying for it, and some are benefiting. Of all the teams in fantasy league championship games, 39 percent have Beckham on the roster. The only players with higher such percentages are Dallas running back DeMarco Murray (41 percent) and Pittsburgh running back Le'Veon Bell (40 percent).

But Beckham is not among those fantasy owners benefiting from his brilliant statistical run, because the Giants' rookie does not play fantasy football.

"It's just not my thing," Beckham said. "I don't have time to do substitutions or things like that. It's too time-consuming."

He said he has been taken aback by just what a huge deal fantasy football is to people, now that he's such a significant figure in the industry.

"I don't really pay much mind to it, but people talk about fantasy all the time," Beckham said. "It's definitely pretty crazy. I didn't expect people to be so into it. But now, being at a point where you can be picked up on a fantasy team, you can see what a big deal it is to people."

He says he still gets tweets from people asking whether they should start him in a given week.

"I'm not your team's coach. You do what you want to do," Beckham said. "I don't play football to play for somebody's fantasy team. This is what I do. This is my job. It's what I love."

Beckham: Need to finish strong

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. has played just 10 games, but his performance in those 10 games has thrust him into the discussion for the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year award.

It's a crowded field that includes strong first-year performances by fellow receivers such as Tampa Bay's Mike Evans, Carolina's Kelvin Benjamin and Miami's Jarvis Landry, who's a close friend and former college teammate of Beckham's. Dallas guard Zack Martin also could receive consideration for his strong performance, though it's tough for linemen who don't get individual stats to win such an award.

But Beckham, who has 71 catches for 972 yards and nine touchdowns since missing the first four games of the season with a hamstring injury, insists he's trying not to think about such things.

"If they vote for me, I win it, and it would definitely be a tremendous honor," Beckham said. "It's in the back of your mind, but at the same time, we've got two games left and I've got to finish strong."

Beckham said if he had a vote, he'd vote for a pair of his former LSU teammates No. 1 and 2.

"Jarvis Landry," Beckham said. "And [Bengals running back] Jeremy Hill."

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