NFC East: New York Giants

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It would be another 10 hours before previously-red-hot Dallas lost at home to battered Washington on "Monday Night Football." But had New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin been able to see that far into the future, he'd have found another useful data point for the passionate speech he was giving his team at the end of Monday's practice.

"You look around the league, and you see teams that are playing superbly that maybe hadn't been playing superbly," Coughlin explained a few minutes after the speech concluded. "So to me, we've got to play above the X's and O's. We've got nine games to play as well as we can possibly play. Anybody in that locker room can do that. They just have to realize the amount of the season and the schedule that's gone by and yet we have nine opportunities. Let's go."

[+] EnlargeTom Coughlin
Eric Hartline/USA TODAY SportsTom Coughlin isn't giving up on this Giants team, despite a 3-4 record to kick off the 2014 season.
The message: Yeah, you're 3-4 and coming off two tough division losses, but crazy things happen every week in this league, and you have to be ready to take advantage when they do. Just look at the Indianapolis Colts, who happen to be the Giants' next opponent. Two weeks ago, they looked incredible in beating the Bengals, 27-0, for their fifth win in a row. This past week, they gave up 522 passing yards and 51 points in a loss to Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers.

Coughlin's message to his players is the inconsistency around the league offers opportunity for a team in the Giants' position to get hot and take advantage. To "play above the X's and O's" is to outplay expectations. Don't just run the plays that are called, do something exceptional with them. Don't just win your individual matchups, dominate them consistently.

"This is exciting," quarterback Eli Manning said. "We have a good opportunity ahead of us. The way we've played to start the year, we've made it tough on ourselves. But we have to get hot. We have to handle our business and start playing at a higher level."

As you know if you read me regularly, I believe it's important for fans to look at this Giants' team in a broader perspective than just this one season. I think it's a rebuilding team that doesn't yet have all of its pieces in place and has developing players in key roles. But there's enough mediocrity in the NFL that you can make the playoffs during a rebuild, and it's not out of the question that this Giants team could get hot in the second half and sneak in.

More importantly to the current point, however, is that it's not the job of Coughlin or the players to take that broader perspective. It's their job to try as hard as they possibly can to win every game, not to worry about whether they're outmanned in a given week due to injuries and/or roster insufficiency. And this is where Coughlin remains this team's greatest strength. Coughlin's teams never play below the X's and O's. There's no coach better at consistently making sure his team wins at least as many games as its talent level dictates, if not more. And you don't need me to tell you that if Coughlin and Manning get into the postseason, they know how to win games there.

"One thing I'll never do: I'll never bet against Tom Coughlin," Giants GM Jerry Reese said Monday. "When his back is against the wall the most, that's when he seems to come out swinging and get his football team ready to go. And I expect him to do the same here going down the stretch. This is a big moment for all of us, the second half of this season. I think Coach will get it done."

If not, I don't still don't think cataclysmic change looms for Coughlin and the Giants in 2015. As long as this team shows progress by the end of the year (and honestly it already has), I think they'll get to continue the rebuild that began in March for at least another season. If they fall completely apart and finish 4-12 or something like that, then all bets are off. But Coughlin is hard at work on making sure that doesn't happen. And I agree with Reese that it's folly to bet against him.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants still have six days until their next game, so Monday's practice was a shorter one than usual, designed to shake off the rust from the bye week and see where everyone stands in terms of health and readiness for the final nine games of the season. Here's a recap of what we learned Monday on that front:
  • Jennings
    We already went through running back Rashad Jennings and the reasons it doesn't sound to me as though he'll be ready to play Monday night against the Colts. You can read more about it here, but basically, Jennings is a highly positive and optimistic person who admitted between the lines Monday that his optimism in this particular case is likely not going to turn out to be justified.
  • Guard Geoff Schwartz, who hasn't played since the preseason because of a toe injury, is eligible to come off short-term injured reserve and play Monday, but there's no guarantee he will. He was on the practice field and moving around, but he didn't appear to be doing much. Coach Tom Coughlin said, "He's started," meaning Schwartz was just now beginning the process of getting back on the field. The Giants have 21 days to activate Schwartz from the short-term injured reserve list, which means there's nothing compelling them to play him or even put him back on the 53-man roster in time for this week's game.
  • Rodgers-Cromartie
    Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was on the practice field, though Coughlin indicated Rodgers-Cromartie remained somewhat limited due to persistent leg and back problems. He has yet to miss a game, but he hasn't played a whole one in more than a month. Rodgers-Cromartie's injuries appear to be the kind that will bother and limit him all season, but at this point they're not considering sitting him for a long period of time. That could change.
  • In case you missed it, linebacker Jon Beason will have surgery on his toe and miss the rest of the season. "Hopefully we're not going to lose anything in terms of his presence," Coughlin said. "I think he's probably going to have to be away a little bit, but then he'll return and we'll have him in meetings, etc. I'm looking forward to that part, anyway."
  • And safety Antrel Rolle was struggling a bit with his left foot in the early portion of practice Monday, coming on and off the field while trainers worked on his foot and tried to adjust his shoe to alleviate some discomfort. But Coughlin said Rolle ended up taking every snap in the team period, and Rolle said after practice that he was fine. So that's something to keep in the back of your mind, but at this point it doesn't appear to be a major thing.

The Giants are off Tuesday, and Wednesday is an abbreviated work day with no media access, so the next time we check in with these guys will be Thursday.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Don't think the New York Giants are taking enough shots downfield in their new offense? Well, you have some high-profile company. Giants general manager Jerry Reese agrees with you.

"I just think, as an offense, we have to be more aggressive," Reese said in his annual midseason news conference Monday. "At times, we're a little bit almost too cautions with what we're doing offensively. This is the National Football League. You've got to go out there and you've got to win the game. You can't expect something to fall into your lap. You've got to take the game. And I think we've got to be more aggressive offensively.

[+] EnlargeEli Manning
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsMore than two-thirds of Eli Manning's throws this season have been for fewer than 10 yards downfield.
"I appreciate Eli taking care of the ball and not turning it over, because that's what leads to wins a lot of the time. But you can't be too cautious. You've got to throw the ball down the field. You've got to score points in this league to win."

This was a startling comment because it runs directly counter to everything that quarterback Eli Manning, coach Tom Coughlin and offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo have been saying about this new Giants offense. Manning spoke last week about how he's learned to get rid of the ball rather than take chances with tough throws he used to take (and how much he likes that change). And Coughlin spoke last week about the team's reliance on the run game as a means of avoiding turnovers following Manning's 27-interception 2013 season. Each made it clear that the plan would not change. But Reese made it clear Monday he'd like to see some changes.

"I'd like to see us be more aggressive going down the stretch," Reese said. "If you turn the ball over, you're going to lose in this league. But you still can't be too careful. You have to throw the ball down the field. You have to be more aggressive. You have to give your receivers a chance to make plays. You've got to score points. If you don't score points, it's hard to win."

The Giants (3-4) rank 22nd in the league in points per game. According to ESPN Stats & Information, 67 percent of Manning's passes this season have been thrown fewer than 10 yards downfield, up from 61 percent in 2013, 61 percent in 2012 and 60 percent in 2011. So this is a conscious and determined change, whether Reese likes it or not. That has not stopped him from communicating his opinion on the matter to the coaching staff.

"I'm just giving you what my opinion is," Reese said. "We talk every week about, 'How do we win the next game?' Every Monday we meet. And we don't sugarcoat anything. We go in there and talk real talk. So we've had conversations about this, yes."

Very interesting. My take on this is that, in an organization with less secure leaders, this could be an issue. With the Giants, less so. I found it surprising that Reese, who only makes himself available this one time during the season because he wants to let the coaches coach the team and not appear to be meddling, would admit publicly to disagreeing with Coughlin and his staff on such a significant matter. But I believe him that he's expressed his opinion in meetings, and it's obviously possible that the coaching staff has thanked him for it and told him they would continue trying it their way. And that such conversations will continue as part of the regular weekly course of things.

By the way, this wasn't the only such issue that came up. Reese shares an opinion with the vocal portion of the fan base about second-year defensive end Damontre Moore as well.

"I think he needs to play a few more snaps," Reese said of his 2013 third-round pick. "I think, when he gets into a game, he makes something happen. So I think he's progressing, but I think he needs to play a little bit more."

Again, on this matter, Reese has made his opinion known and then stepped back to allow the coaches to do what they want with it. Moore is still very young and hasn't yet earned the trust of the coaching staff to an extent that would allow his role in the defense to expand.

"We have conversations about everything," Reese said. "We don't sugarcoat anything. I don't coach the game. It's the heat of the moment. And those guys, they've been coaching a long time. They know who to play."

And they also, apparently, don't have to wonder who (or how) the GM wants them to play.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A full calendar week remains before the New York Giants' next game, so this is by no means a definitive prediction. But after speaking with injured running back Rashad Jennings this afternoon, I would be surprised to see him playing against the Colts next Monday night.

Jennings
A week ago, Jennings said his plan was to start running during the bye week and hopefully practice with the team this week. But he did not practice with the team Monday, and after the team finished practice, Jennings said he hadn't done any running until Monday and that what he did was "a light jog."

"It's coming along," Jennings said. "It's getting better every day. Building on it, and when the time's right, I'm going to be out there ready to go."

Jennings is a relentlessly positive and upbeat person who will not rule out the possibility that he plays next Monday. But he never ruled out playing in Week 6 or Week 7, even when the team was making it clear he wasn't close. So his own personal optimism, by his own admission, is a poor guide. The facts of what he's saying are the true harbingers of what might happen. He said he wouldn't try moving laterally on his injured knee until Wednesday, and even then, he said, he won't be "planting my foot in the ground" and driving off the injured leg.

That's what makes it sound to me as though Jennings is at least another week away from returning from the MCL sprain he suffered in Week 5 against the Falcons. That and this assessment from Giants coach Tom Coughlin, who seemed surprised to even be asked about Jennings:

"He's not ready to go."

Rookie Andre Williams likely would get his third straight start at running back next Monday night against the Colts if Jennings has to miss a third consecutive game.
The New York Giants will gather Monday for their first practice in more than a week, having enjoyed an opportunity to rest and heal during their bye week. It will be a short practice, and the real pregame work week won't start until Thursday (as opposed to the usual Wednesday) because the Giants' game this week is next Monday Night. But this Monday will be interesting for a number of reasons:

Giants GM Jerry Reese will hold his annual midseason availability session with the media. Reese only speaks once during the season, preferring not to comment on individual games or stretches and to wait until after the full 16-game season is over to make an evaluation of it. But Monday will offer a chance to check in with the GM and see what he thinks of the roster he remains in the process of rebuilding.

Schwartz
Guard Geoff Schwartz, out since the preseason with a toe injury, is expecting to be able to practice with the team for the first time since August. We're a long way from knowing whether (and how much) Schwartz might be able to play next Monday. And when he does come back, we still don't know whether he'll reclaim his left guard spot from Weston Richburg or take the right guard spot from John Jerry.

Running back Rashad Jennings, as of a week ago, was hoping to be able to practice this week and play next Monday Night. Jennings has been out since Week 5 with a knee sprain.

There could be news on linebacker Jon Beason, who last week was discussing the possibility of season-ending surgery on his own toe injury.

And there will surely be much talk from Reese and Tom Coughlin and the players about the standings. The Giants are 3-4, which puts them only a game and a half behind Green Bay for the NFC's second wild-card spot. The two straight pre-bye losses to division rivals Philadelphia and Dallas were damaging, and the upcoming stretch of Colts/Seahawks/49ers/Cowboys is daunting. But this is the NFL, where even last year's Giants team (which started 0-6) made it to December before mathematical elimination. Seattle and San Francisco have both looked shaky and, at 4-3, are the types of teams the Giants must surpass in order to contend for that playoff spot, so those games offer opportunity if nothing else. There's clearly no reason for the Giants to give up hope, and with Coughlin in charge, we can be certain no one will.
Injuries could force the New York Giants' defense to look a little bit different in the weeks that follow this week's bye. Defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins strained his right calf in Sunday's loss in Dallas. Middle linebacker Jon Beason might need surgery to repair the toe injury that's been limiting him since June. And injuries at cornerback could lead the Giants to bring back the three-safety look they used on their way to their most recent Super Bowl title three seasons ago.

"The game plan last week was to have Stevie Brown in the game with the three-safety package versus certain personnel groupings," safeties coach Dave Merritt said Tuesday. "That worked out for us, because Stevie went in and did his job and did what we asked him to do. The fact that we used to play the three-safety package a ton back in the day was because of the fact that we had three veterans who were able to play. I'm talking about Kenny Phillips, Antrel Rolle and Deon Grant. Right now, we feel like we've tested the waters and we have the same right now in our camp here."

[+] EnlargeStevie Brown
AP Photo/Seth WenigStevie Brown could see more playing time as the Giants adapt to injuries in their secondary.
The plan coming into this year was to play three cornerbacks most of the time. The team signed Walter Thurmond to play the nickel spot, but he suffered a season-ending injury in September, and Trumaine McBride, who took over, suffered his own season-ending injury in Week 6. So they are down to their third-string nickel cornerback, Jayron Hosley, and they don't seem comfortable leaning on him to the extent that they leaned on Thurmond or McBride.

Brown entered the season as a starting safety, but he lost his job in Week 4 after a poor start to the season and was replaced by Quintin Demps. Coaches have been pleased with the work Brown has put in since the demotion, and they believe there are situations in which it's better to have him, Demps and Rolle on the field at the same time than it is to have three cornerbacks. This arrangement could force Rolle into the nickel spot, a position he has said in the past he's willing to play but prefers not to, but Merritt said they are comfortable with Brown in there as well.

On the defensive line, Jenkins' absence for at least a few weeks leaves the Giants thin at defensive tackle. But they have had success playing defensive ends Robert Ayers and Mathias Kiwanuka at interior positions in pass-rush situations this season, and they might decide to do that more going forward to augment the defensive tackle rotation. Rookie defensive tackle Jay Bromley likely will be elevated to the active roster in Jenkins' absence, but there's also a chance second-year defensive end Damontre Moore could get more looks on the outside when Ayers and/or Kiwanuka move inside.

"Damontre needs to continue to improve and stay focused on what we're doing on first and second down," defensive line coach Robert Nunn said. "He can do it. He's a lighter body, not ideal, but he can play it. He has to stay focused and continue to improve in that area, and he will get more at-bats. He's going to get more opportunities on third down, so he just has to keep coming along and improve on first and second down. If he does that, then he's going to get those opportunities in pass-rush situations."

Moore has shown exciting ability in pass-rush situations and on special teams. But he has yet to earn the complete trust of the coaching staff as a player who can stop the run (and avoid jumping offsides).

No trust issues at linebacker, though. When Beason missed time early in the season, Jameel McClain filled in for him in the middle. At the time, rookie Devon Kennard was hurt, so Mark Herzlich replaced McClain on the strong side. This time, if Beason is out a while, Kennard could be the one who sees more playing time.

"Now that he's healthy, he's contributing on special teams, and last week was able to go in the game and do some good things," linebackers coach Jim Herrmann said of Kennard. "It was good to see him get out and get some game experience, because that is invaluable for a young linebacker. The other guys love him. He's got a great personality, and he wants to be great. I think we'll see some really good things out of him."
Geoff Schwartz was the big offensive line pickup of the New York Giants' offseason, and he has yet to play a meaningful game for the team. A toe injury he suffered late in the preseason forced Schwartz to short-term injured reserve, and he wasn't eligible to practice with the team until last week. The first game in which he's allowed to play is their next game -- Nov. 3 against the Indianapolis Colts. But while Schwartz and the team are hopeful he can play in their first game after the bye week, they're still not certain.

Schwartz
"That's a great question, and I don't know the answer," Giants offensive line coach Pat Flaherty said Tuesday. "Geoff has been very active in our meetings. He's stayed on top of everything. He's worked his tail off in there, and from all reports I get, he's done the same thing in the training room. As far as how close he is to playing, I'll know more next week when I see him."

Aside from obsessing over the World Series (he's a San Francisco Giants fan), Schwartz has been spending his bye week getting treatment at the Giants' team facility. He said Monday that he wasn't sure whether he'd be able to practice with the team next week when they all got back to work. A lot will depend on how that toe feels once he starts really testing it out. He did some running on the side during practices last week, but hasn't tried to block or punch anyone, and he doesn't know how his foot will hold up right now to the rigors of his position.

"I would think he's not going to stand on the sideline [once he's cleared]," Flaherty said. "But how much? Is he ready to play 75 plays? That's the question. If he's not, then he's got to play X number of plays, and we have to figure out when to insert him into the games."

They also have to figure out where. Flaherty said Schwartz looked good in the preseason making the transition to left guard after playing on the right side of the offensive line for most of his career. But it's hard right now to identify where the greatest need is on the offensive line. Rookie Weston Richburg has had his share of struggles at left guard since replacing Schwartz there late in camp, but John Jerry hasn't been Mr. Reliable over at right guard, either. The Giants might have to decide where they think Schwartz can best help them once they decide he's ready to help them.

"I'm really not closed-minded on one side or the other," Flaherty said. "I think wherever he fits and can help us, he can adjust, because he's had that versatility of playing on the left side and the right side. So at this point, I'm not sure what side it's going to be. We'll have to see how it unfolds as he progresses."
When New York Giants running back Rashad Jennings sprained his knee in Week 5, the presumption was that rookie running back Andre Williams would ascend to the starting role and handle it. There were questions about Williams' abilities as a pass blocker and especially as a pass receiver, but in terms of actually running the ball, it was believed he would do fine filling in for Jennings for at least a couple of weeks.

Williams
Jennings
He has not been fine.

Williams has rushed for a total of 110 yards on 35 carries in the two games since Jennings got hurt. That's an average of 3.14 yards per carry. Jennings' average in the season's first five games was 4.35 yards per carry. Both of Williams' games have been losses, but that's no excuse, because as we've already discussed here, the Giants have been running ball even though they've been behind.

There are two key aspects to examine as we try to figure out why Williams hasn't been as effective as Jennings was as the Giants' lead back, and they are:

1. The offensive line has had two poor games. Jennings this season is averaging 2.53 yards per carry before contact, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Williams is averaging 1.31. That's a significant difference in the amount of room in which the Giants' backs can operate. And while it's possible Williams isn't identifying the hole as easily as Jennings was (and we'll get to that later), a stat like this is pretty much all on the offensive line.

"Yes, if that's a stat, then yes," offensive line coach Pat Flaherty said Tuesday. "The running game is a combination of the offensive line, the tight end, the fullback and the running back. And there's no question we need to be better at executing the schemes, better calls. But more so than anything, it is on the offensive line to make sure we have better holes to get our running backs through."

Each of the Giants' starting five offensive linemen has earned a negative run-blocking grade from Pro Football Focus in both of the past two games. During the three-game winning streak that preceded those two games, only right guard John Jerry (in Week 5 vs. Atlanta) had a single negatively graded game. The offensive linemen aren't beating the people in front of them consistently enough to open holes for Williams to run through. However...

2. Williams isn't always seeing the holes when they do show up. As a very successful collegiate running back at Boston College, Williams was used to power running schemes. The Giants' running schemes this season incorporate a great deal more zone running than Williams has seen before. Jennings, who'd been only a power runner in Jacksonville and Oakland before arriving in New York, struggled himself in the preseason with some of the zone concepts, and there were times when the film would show him almost inexplicably running into one of his blockers instead of hitting the hole. Williams is dealing with that now, at least to some extent, as his reps have increased.

"What he's going through right now, getting more carries, is timing and rhythm with the offensive line," running backs coach Craig Johnson said. "That's the bottom line. They block and a certain rhythm and a certain pace, he runs at a certain rhythm and a certain pace, and everybody's trying to mesh that together."

The problem, such as it is, is that Williams is learning on the job. Different players develop at different rates, and developing while starting in the NFL is no easy trick. The only way for Williams to master what Johnson is talking about is to keep at it.

"You have to learn the defenses, where their fits are going to be, and that's through film study," Johnson said. "And then you find out when can I set a good pace to the hole and then hit it. And how you do that is rep after rep after rep. It is a rhythm and a pace and a feel. And how do you learn that? You have more reps. The more reps you get, the more you get with your timing, the more your timing happens, the more you have a chance to have the big runs."

The Giants hope to get Jennings back in Week 9 after the bye. But the meantime has been a valuable learning experience for Williams, who'll only get better with time and practice and a bit better offensive line play than he's had since they gave him the starter's job.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- If you feel like the New York Giants have been running the ball a lot, you're not crazy. So far this season, the Giants are running the ball more than almost any other team in the NFL.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Giants' rush percentage (the percentage of offensive plays on which the quarterback does not drop back to pass) is 45.1 percent. That's the fourth-highest percentage in the league, behind only Dallas, Cleveland and Houston.

They run the ball on first down 52.2 percent of the time, which is the ninth-highest figure in the league.

They run the ball on second down 48.3 percent of the time, which is the second-highest figure in the league.

They run the ball on third down 24.5 percent of the time, which is the third-highest figure in the league.

The Giants run and run and run and run. They run when they're ahead in the game and they run when they're behind. They run whether it's working or not.

[+] EnlargeEli Manning
AP Photo/Brandon WadeEli Manning and the Giants are committed to balance in their offense this season.
And they're not going to stop anytime soon.

"You've got to have balance," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said after the Giants ran the ball 42.4 percent of the time in Sunday's 31-21 loss in Dallas. "We're not just going to turn the ball over because we refuse to run. That's not what we're about."

There you have it. This reliance on the run is not the result of sloppy or haphazard play calling. This is a deep-rooted philosophy to which Coughlin and the Giants have committed in the wake of a 2013 season in which they committed 44 turnovers -- a stomach-turning figure that led the league by 10. The Giants are scared straight, which is why they're not throwing the ball downfield as much, why their quarterback is throwing it away more often, and why they're leaning so hard on the run.

The Giants have given the ball away 13 times so far this year, which isn't great. It's tied for the fourth-highest total in the league, and only two off the league-leading total of 15 shared by Jacksonville and Washington. But of those 13, only five have been interceptions, and four of those five came in the first two weeks of the season. Eli Manning hasn't thrown an interception in any of his last three games.

"We haven't had an interception in a couple of weeks, and that has been a very important part, I think, of our ability to control our game," Coughlin said Monday. "If we can get it under control, we will do it that way. Now, what to do about guys who can't catch the ball, put it away, cover it up without getting it stripped? That's another issue. We have had our issues with that."

The Giants do lead the league with eight lost fumbles, three of which have come on special teams. But those can't be controlled by game-planning or strategy. Those are either the result of luck, which corrects itself, or poor technique, which the coaches can correct on the practice field.

Running the ball more and taking fewer risks in the passing game is a way for the Giants to try to get control of their turnover situation. And remember to keep this year's numbers in perspective. Tied for fourth in the league in turnovers is a heck of a lot better than leading the league by 10.

"It's tough in this league if you sit back there and throw it 50 times a game," Manning said. "That puts a lot of pressure on the offensive line and me and the receivers, because you're going to get a lot of coverages. When you're running it and you have a commitment to run like we were Sunday, it's going to bring a safety in the box, it's going to give you some better throwing situations.

"We're going to be committed to doing it. We just have to get back to where we're getting successful runs. It's not like we've got to run for 150 yards, but on first and second down, when they're giving you the run looks, we've got to get those four and five yards just to keep the down and distance in shape. We're just having too many runs where we're losing yards, we're getting negative-two yards. We can't be going backwards. That's what hurts you."

For more on how they fix that, check back in Thursday.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- "Where did Larry Donnell come from?" is one of the big early questions of this New York Giants season, and the answer defies simple explanation.

Donnell was on the team last year in a reserve role -- a special-teams player who was working to develop as an offensive asset at tight end. He was a basketball player early in life and a quarterback when he arrived at Grambling for college, so tight end was new to him and he had to learn it. He's still learning it.

"One of the big things is his confidence level," Giants tight ends coach Kevin M. Gilbride said Tuesday. "He didn't play with a level of confidence last year that he's now playing with in the passing game, certainly, and that he's starting to develop in the run game, as well."

[+] EnlargeLarry Donnell
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsLarry Donnell made three receptions as a Giants rookie. This season, he already has 33 catches for 332 yards and four red zone touchdowns.
That's a word -- "develop" -- that gets tossed around and often ignored in today's hyper-impatient NFL. We hear so much about how precious those 53-man roster spots are that we forget that some of them are occupied by players who aren't ready yet to make major contributions. Every roster has at least a handful of developmental players -- guys who aren't yet ready to start or even be active on Sundays but who've shown at least some inkling of promise that makes it worth the team's time to keep working with them throughout the week.

Donnell was such a player last year. Heck, he was such a player as recently as August. In many ways, he's still such a player. But he's better, for example, at getting open now than he was a year ago or even a few months ago, and the Giants' coaching staff can get really specific if you want to know how.

"One specific is a release off the line of scrimmage where a linebacker has inside leverage and he's going to try to collision you," Gilbride said. "In the past, what Larry would do is just try to bow around the defender, and that's not a good thing. What the defender does at that point is, he collisions you and widens you outside of where we want you to be. It muddies the picture, the whole picture for the quarterback.

"And what [Donnell] has done is, he's taken the coaching point of, if the defender takes that approach, attack to his inside leverage and then be violent with that defender. Don't try to bow around him. And you'll see, as you see him running routes, he'll take his single hand and swipe down and he slips right by defenders. And that puts defenders in an adverse situation and gets him an opportunity to get down the field."

That's one example. "One of many," Gilbride said. But it didn't happen overnight. Donnell's improvement is an example of slow, persistent work and development -- a player who understands the value of learning and practicing things with which he's not automatically comfortable.

"It doesn't necessarily just 'click.' You have to do it," Gilbride said. "And that's what he's done. Instead of continuing to take his bad habits and bang his head against the wall because it's not working ... he tries to put it into practice. And when you attempt to put it into practice and then you have some success with it, then moving forward, you like to keep that approach."

Donnell is still just 25 years old, and in spite of the obvious gains he's made as a player, he remains obviously inconsistent. Three touchdown catches one week, no catches at all the next. Two fumbles this past week in a close game in Dallas. Some weeks he's a good run-blocker, other weeks he gets overrun in the run game. That's his next frontier, and it's an important one.

"Finishing blocks with effort and strength in his hands," Gilbride said, "that's another area that still does need to continue to improve. But when he does play that way with confidence, he does well."

Donnell is still developing, so the gains are interspersed with setbacks and struggles. The encouraging thing for the Giants is that Donnell is an eager and willing student, and the successes this year are proof that his hard work and open-mindedness to teaching can pay off. That makes them believe the development will continue, and that he'll continue to get better. And as the Giants work this year to incorporate all of their new, young faces into their new offense, they need as many guys like that as possible.
New York Giants linebacker Jon Beason was in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Tuesday to once again see foot specialist Dr. Robert Anderson about his persistent toe injury. In a radio interview Tuesday, Beason said a determination would be made Wednesday about whether to finally have season-ending surgery to repair the injury, which cost him all of training camp, three full games already this season and the second half of Sunday's loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

Beason
"It's gotten progressively worse over the last couple of games," Beason said on WFAN radio in New York. "Right now I'd say it's 50-50. I'm still deciding if the smart thing is to go ahead and get it fixed and get ready for next season."

Beason injured his toe in the spring and sat out all of training camp with the injury. He aggravated it in Week 2 and missed three games in a row (all of which, he jokingly pointed out last week, the Giants won) before returning in Week 6 in Philadelphia. He aggravated it again Sunday, prompting the latest doctor visit.

When Beason has not been on the field, Jameel McClain has moved to middle linebacker to replace him and either Devon Kennard or Mark Herzlich has replaced McClain as the strongside linebacker. The Giants have at least five defensive backs on the field enough, however, that they usually only need two linebackers on the field.

Still, they made re-signing Beason a priority in the offseason due to the effect his play and leadership at middle linebacker had on them after they acquired him in a trade in 2013. So their strong preference would be to have him healthy and available for the rest of the season. They may find out Wednesday that they don't.

The Film Don't Lie: Giants

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
11:00
AM ET
A weekly look at what the Giants must fix:

The New York Giants are off this week before returning for a "Monday Night Football" game Nov. 3 against the Indianapolis Colts, and when they get back they're going to have to block better in the run game.

Running back Andre Williams rushed for a pitiful 1.0 yards per carry before contact in Sunday's loss to the Dallas Cowboys, according to ESPN Stats & Information. For the season, Williams is averaging 1.31 yards per carry before contact. Before he was injured, starting running back Rashad Jennings was averaging 2.53 yards per carry before contact, which is a monster number and clearly indicates the Giants were blocking the run much better in their first five games than they have in their last two.

Now, some of that may indicate Jennings' ability to identify and hit the holes better than the rookie Williams. But a disparity that significant is mainly on the linemen, who have been dominated physically by their opponents in Philadelphia and Dallas the past two weeks. The Giants are going to need to get back to showing the toughness they showed in their three-game winning streak and dictating the game at the line of scrimmage. They're determined to stick with the run all game even if it's not working early, but in order for that philosophy to work, they're going to need to run the ball more effectively. And it's on the offensive linemen to play better and make that happen.

Jason Pierre-Paul believes Giants can run the table after bye week

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
6:14
PM ET
video
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The view from the outside is that the New York Giants are basically what their 3-4 record says they are, an inconsistent team that might not be good enough to be a contender.

Jason Pierre-Paul isn't buying it.

He looks at the Giants, and sees a team ready to go on a roll. He looks at the rest of the schedule and sees nothing but victories, despite a string of tough opponents in November.

"I think the bye [week] is good," the Giants defensive end said Monday. "What have we got, nine more games to play? Let's win all the nine games. I think we can do it.

"We've just got to believe."

Pierre-Paul
Pierre-Paul was one of the Giants' top performers in Sunday's 31-21 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, playing so well that coach Tom Coughlin singled him out in Monday's team meeting. Pierre-Paul was credited with six tackles, including two sacks and three total tackles for loss, but he looked even better than that on the game film.

"He was dominant," cornerback Prince Amukamara said. "Just getting in the backfield and blowing things up, against the run, against the pass, you name it."

Pierre-Paul was on the field for all but two of the Giants' 62 defensive plays. His performance was even more impressive because he was lined up against Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith, who was so good the week before that he was the first lineman in 10 years to win the NFL's Offensive Player of the Week award.

"[Pierre-Paul] played hard, and I thought he played well, both run and pass," Coughlin said. "His energy level was high. He had outstanding endurance. If you were going to find someone that gave the kind of effort you were looking for and played well, he would certainly be at the top of the list."

The problem for the Giants was that not enough of them have played well, at least not from week to week. They lost their first two games, won their next three, and now have lost two straight to division opponents. The 27-0 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles was ugly, but Sunday's loss to the Cowboys left a bad taste, too.

"We basically let them win," Pierre-Paul said. "We made mistakes, and it cost us big-time. [But] there's a lot more football in the second half to play. We'll be ready."

The Giants will come back after the bye with a Monday night game against the first-place Indianapolis Colts, followed by Seattle, San Francisco and a rematch with Dallas. But Pierre-Paul isn't concerned.

"I think we're fine," he said. "Tough loss [to the Cowboys], but as far as a team, we know what we can do. It's like we told everyone, do what you want this week, get away from football.

"When we come back, it's time to turn it on."

There are nine games left, and for Pierre-Paul, that can mean nine wins.

He thinks they can do it.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Eli Manning didn't get to watch his older brother set the NFL's all-time record for touchdown passes Sunday night. Manning and the New York Giants were on a flight back home from Dallas when Peyton Manning whizzed past Brett Favre and into first place all time with 510 touchdown throws. But Eli knew what was going on and was excited to see the highlights when he landed.

"You never play for individual awards and records, but the touchdown record is pretty special," Eli Manning said Monday. "And I think it has a chance to stick around for a long time."

Eli said he sent Peyton a text, but as of 3:30 pm ET on Monday he still hadn't had a chance to speak to him. Peyton Manning and the Broncos are preparing for a quick-turnaround Thursday night game this week, and so the schedule is a bit off.

"I just sent him a text message, told him congratulations and that I'm proud of him," Eli said. "Obviously, I know he was proud to get the win with it."
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Most of the New York Giants' players finished up meetings Monday and headed out for a long midseason break. The Giants are on bye next week and don't play again until Nov. 3. So guys who want to shut it down, get out of town for a few days, go fishing, whatever, they all go their separate ways.

Some will have to be around the facility, however, to get treatment for various injuries. And there are a few significant Giants injuries to monitor over the next couple of weeks.

Jennings
Schwartz
There is some hope that the return of running back Rashad Jennings from the knee injury that has cost him the past two games and of guard Geoff Schwartz from the toe injury that has so far delayed his Giants' debut will help get the running game going again. But to hear coach Tom Coughlin tell it, neither of those players is a sure thing to return in Week 9. Due to his short-term injured reserve status, Schwartz wasn't even eligible to practice until last week, and all he's done so far is some light running.

"Schwartz has got a long way to go," Coughlin said.

Coughlin also pointed out Jennings is trying to work his way back from a pretty serious knee injury -- an MCL sprain he suffered in the Week 5 victory over Atlanta. Jennings said his goal is to get back in time for the Week 9 "Monday Night Football" game.

"That's what we're trying to get to," Jennings said. "We've got the bye week and we've got some down time, so I'm just working. Preparing my body so that when it heals I can pick up where I left off."

Jennings said he would do more running this week and then "eventually get into the cuts." Schwartz said the goal for him was to practice on the field with the team next week when they return from the bye week.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Giants are banged up as well. Defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins left Sunday's game in Dallas in the first half with a calf strain. An MRI on Monday confirmed the strain and nothing more, but Jenkins was still on crutches and in a walking boot Monday and said it was "probably going to be at least a couple weeks" before he could play again.

Middle linebacker Jon Beason re-aggravated the toe injury that cost him all of training camp and three games earlier this season, and Coughlin said Beason likely would go back to see the same foot specialist he's seen a few times this year. It's possible the Giants will end up having to shut Beason down due to this injury, but Coughlin said that's not in the plans at this point.

And cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie plans to continue to play through the leg and back injuries that have been limiting him. "It's going to be a continuous kind of thing here," Coughlin said, though he's hoping the two weeks of rest will help.

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