Sidelines Notes

Giants defeat 49ers: Film review notes and observations

The Giants started the second half of the season on the right foot on “Monday Night Football” against the 49ers. Here’s what I saw on the coaches tape.

• The Giants’ first score was the product of the team doing four things well that they have struggled with all season along: getting takeaways, converting in the red zone, converting third-and-long, and protecting the quarterback. The defense put the Giants in position by taking the ball away from the 49ers via B.J. Goodson’s interception off a deflection from Janoris Jenkins. Goodson would add another later in the game on a pass that hit off Marquise Goodwin’s hands. The two takeaways gave the Giants nine for the season. Not coincidentally, the Giants’ two wins have come in games where they won the turnover battle.

• Off the takeaway, the Giants converted a red-zone possession into a touchdown. After two runs gained only two yards, the Giants had to convert a third-and-eight on their own 10. Failing to convert third-and-long situations and scoring touchdowns in the red zone have both been big reasons the Giants’ offense has struggled this year. The kicker? Eli Manning was able to connect with Odell Beckham Jr. for a touchdown because the offensive line gave him enough time to sit in the pocket and wait for Beckham to find space in the back of the end zone. The 49ers ran a stunt with defensive tackle Sheldon Day and defensive end Cassius Marsh. Right tackle Chad Wheeler passed Marsh off to new arrival right guard Jamon Brown, who drove him across the pocket, giving Manning enough room to slide in the pocket and find Beckham.

• Jimmie Ward made and unbelievable defensive play that prevented the Giants from scoring a touchdown on their second drive. Saquon Barkley caught a short pass to the right, and cut the ball back all the way to the left side of the field. Ward ran him down and tackled him on his own, something that has proven very difficult for defenders this season. If Barkley got around Ward, he would have had a real chance to score.

• The Giants converted third downs of four, nine and 10 yards on that drive, but failed on a third-and-goal at the three. It appeared as though Beckham was uncovered in the slot to the left of the formation. It looked like Manning called for a run for Barkley after calling for him to motion into the backfield, and the running back got tackled after a gain of one by idle linebacker Fred Warner. Overall Jamon Brown played a good first game, but it didn’t look like he finished his pull into the hole on this particular play. If he gets to Warner instead of helping center Spencer Pulley with defensive tackle Deforest Buckner, Barkley might have had room to get into the end zone.

• The Giants got their second touchdown by attacking cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon with Beckham running identical routes on back-to-back plays. The first time, Witherspoon did a good job staying with Beckham on the “go” route after an outside release, forcing Beckham to fail on a one-handed catch attempt. The very next play, Manning saw single-high safety again, and attacked with the same play. This time, Beckham got more separation and caught the 20-yard touchdown from Manning. It appeared Witherspoon was upset he didn’t have safety help, with safety Antone Exum Jr. being too far away as a single high safety to get there in time. Exum also looked upset on the play, indicating someone else might have blown a coverage.

• The Giants might have scored a touchdown on their second third quarter drive into the red zone, but Beckham slipped at the top his route forcing an incompletion. He had created room on cornerback Richard Sherman and probably would have scored.

• The Giants’ game-winning drive was not a thing of beauty with two penalties on each team, but Manning and his teammates made enough plays to win the game. On a couple different occasions the Giants managed to get their best skill players lined up in favorable matchups. On a second-and-20, Beckham drew a pass interference penalty on Witherspoon along the left sideline to give the Giants a first down. Then on a second-and-10, Saquon Barkley ran a tremendous option route, faking outside to a wheel route before cutting back to the middle of the field to beat Marsh and Malcolm Smith. Two plays later, Sterling Shepard beat DJ Reed Jr. to the outside from the slot for the game-winning touchdown.

• The Giants’ running game was still too inconsistent. After Barkley’s first two runs went for 26 yards, his next 18 went for just 41. The Giants had Manning under center a lot more than in the first eight games of the season. It also looked like they used 12 personnel a lot more than usual. The team still left some plays on the field. In addition to the ones mentioned previously, Manning underthrew a deep pass to Odell Beckham Jr. that could have went for a touchdown. He also underthrew Barkley on a wheel route.

• Goodson gets kudos for his first interception of the game because he was in the right place at the right time, but Janoris Jenkins deserves most of the credit. Nick Mullens was late getting the ball out to Kendrick Moore on a comeback route, and Jenkins drove the ball and tipped it up to Goodson who completed the play. The takeaway turned into a score for the offense and was the difference in the game. The 49ers outgained the Giants by 100 yards in this game, but it didn’t matter because of the Giants’ plus-2 advantage in the turnover ratio.

• Landon Collins almost had a pick-six of his own late in the second quarter. Mullens was late trying to find George Kittle in the flat. Collins undercut the route, but hesitated for just a moment before breaking on the ball and the pass got by him. Collins made a nice play to navigate around two inside routes by receivers to get there but he came up a foot short on the pass.

• When Lorenzo Carter was drafted he was touted as a developing pass rusher, but so far this season he has been better in the other parts of his game. He flashed again in the run game and on coverage Monday night, even carrying Matt Breida down the field on a wheel route in the first half. Carter (and Olivier Vernon) did get nice pressure on Mullens on the final play of the game, forcing him to airmail it out of the back of the end zone.

• The Giants’ defense certainly has a couple of things to work on after this game. They gave up far too many long runs and allowed the 49ers to run it 29 times for 124 yards. Breida hurt them on a lot on perimeter runs. The defense also struggled in coverage in the middle of the field, allowing some 10+ yard passes to George Kittle, Marquise Goodwin, Matt Breida and Kendrick Bourne. Finally, there was a distinct lack of pass pressure on Nick Mullens. The 49ers do a lot to help prevent pressure with play action, moving pockets and quick action but the Giants front didn’t disrupt what they tried to do nearly enough.

• The field definitely played a role in this game. The Giants were slipping and sliding early in the game, including Barkley who slipped in the backfield a couple of times. Jackie Miles, Tim Slaman, Kyle Lynch, Harrison Eisen and the rest of the Giants equipment staff was all over it, however, and quickly got the right cleats on the Giants players early in the game.

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