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Sidelines Notes

Giants vs. Texans: Sideline notes and observations

The Giants got their first win of the season, handing the Texans their third straight loss to start the year, and ruining their home opener. Here's what I saw after reviewing the coaches' tape:

• I love the way head coach Pat Shurmur, offensive coordinator Mike Shula and the offensive staff came out and attacked the Texans defense on the first drive of the game. The Giants ran it five times for 39 yards and passed it five times for 41 yards. Aside from one delay of game penalty, there were no negative plays on the drive, which is an underrated key to successful offensive football. The drive featured just two third downs (of four and five yards). There was one play• action pass from under center with a moving pocket that turned into an 18• yard completion to wide receiver Sterling Shepard, but otherwise all the passes came out of shotgun with quick routes and passes to prevent the Texans pass rush from getting home. The offensive line got the job done in the run and pass games. The first drive set the stage for the rest of the first half, which featured four straight scoring drives for the Giants. It was easily the best half of offensive football the Giants have had dating back to last season.

• The balance of the first drive mirrored the rest of the game. The Giants had 33 pass plays and 27 rushing plays. I didn't see any five• or seven• step drops when Eli Manning was under center the rest of the game. Rather, we saw play action, screen passes and moving pockets. Being in shotgun allowed Manning to see potential rushers and allowed him to make quick decisions and get the ball out before they arrived.

• The Giants took advantage of the Texans defense in the middle of the field. When the Texans played man, their cornerbacks couldn't stick with Giants receivers on crossing routes. Pat Shurmur's offense sets up a lot of natural rub routes to make it difficult on opposing cornerbacks, but for the most part the Giants receivers created their own separation coming across the field. When the Texans were in zone, their linebackers couldn't close up Manning's passing windows before the ball came through either. It was an excellent game plan, with the Texans protecting the boundaries and preventing passes from getting over the top. 

• In pass protection, the offensive line wasn't perfect, but they got the job done. Most importantly, they avoided the types of mistakes that led to free runners on the quarterback against Dallas. Defenders still won one on one from time to time, but they were at least slowed up and gave the quarterback a chance to get rid of the ball more times than not. The Texans ran more blitzes and games up front than they had in their first two games, (but not as much as Dallas last week), but the line handled them with almost no protection mistakes. 

• Left tackle Nate Solder kept Jadaveon Clowney silent for much of the game. John Greco had no issues taking on the responsibilities of a center. Right tackle Chad Wheeler, in his first start of the year, had some issues blocking J.J. Watt in both the run and pass game, but he handled him enough times to let the offense function, especially in the first half. Watt did get caught upfield a couple times, opening up some running lanes. I thought all three interior linemen, guards Will Hernandez and Patrick Omameh along with Greco, blocked well in the run game. Omameh had the key block on running back Saquon Barkley's first quarter touchdown run.

• Barkley showed tremendous patience on that 15• yard run, waiting for Omameh to get to the second level to block linebacker Zach Cunningham before exploding through the hole and making safety Kareem Jackson miss in the open field. Barkley is finding a nice balance between being patient and attacking the hole when it is there. His dancing behind the line was at a minimum, and he is still breaking tackles at an elite level. 

• Give both Barkley and the coaching staff credit for getting Barkley lined up one on one, isolated outside against Zach Cunningham in a mismatch situation on a crucial 3rd and 2 with 3:55 to play in the fourth quarter. The Texans had closed to 20• 15 and had momentum. The Giants caught the Texans in man to man defense, and Barkley beat Cunningham off the line and went past him and up in the air to grab an Eli Manning pass for a 21• yard gain, good for a first down. The Giants scored the game• clinching touchdown three plays later. These are the types of mismatches the Giants coaches can create with Barkley. Cunningham had a very long day. He was also covering Rhett Ellison on the seam route that went for a touchdown in the second quarter. 

• Does Eli Manning look like he can still play the position at a high level, Giants fans? With protection, he was extremely accurate, completing 25 of 29 passes for 297 yards and two touchdowns. He put the ball on his receivers with accuracy consistently. There wasn't one pass in the game that was close to being intercepted. He threw a beautiful 21• yard dart to wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. in between cornerback Johnathan Joseph and safety Justin Reid in the Cover• 2 hole. There was not a lot of room but he put it right on target over the outstretched hand of Joseph.

• The offense's performance in the first half versus the second half is evidence of how the quarterback isn't always the reason why the offense succeeds or fails. When the Giants ran the ball well, avoided penalties, and blocked reasonably well, the offense moved the ball and scored points. When they failed to do those things at various points in the second half, the offense sputtered. Eli Manning was the same quarterback in the same scheme both halves. It was the conditions around him and the quality of the play around him that changed. The quarterback is important, but football is really the ultimate team game, and one player messing up on a play can make things go south very fast. Everything isn't always on the quarterback. 

• There were a couple plays in the game where either Barkley or Beckham were a shoestring tackle away from breaking a long run that could have gone for a score. The explosive plays will come if the Giants keep putting the ball in their hands. 

• We talked all week about how the Texans offensive line (especially the tackles) had been struggling in pass protection, and the Giants were able to take advantage of it on Sunday. Though the Giants had only three sacks, they were constantly moving Watson off his mark and forcing him out of the pocket, sometimes forcing him to miss open receivers in the process. Kareem Martin, Connor Barwin and Lorenzo Carter all got pressure on Watson, especially in the red zone. Kareem Martin's rush in the fourth quarter forced a holding penalty that took a touchdown pass to DeAndre Hopkins off the board. 

• On one particular play with :43 seconds left in the second quarter, Watson would have had a deep shot to Will Fuller V, who had beaten B.W. Webb down the right sideline with an inside release. Fortunately for the Giants, Connor Barwin forced Watson to move his feet to escape the rush and the pass was never thrown. It could have been a touchdown if the pass was thrown accurately. Instead, Houston had to settle for a field goal.

• The Giants' red zone defense was phenomenal, holding Houston to one touchdown in three trips. The Giants also forced a pair of Texans turnovers deep inside New York territory. Linebacker Alec Ogletree played good coverage on running back Lamar Miller down the sideline on his interception in the second half. Miller had a step on him going vertical down the right sideline as Watson rolled out right. Instead of Ogletree panicking and sprinting towards Miller with his back turned, which could have turned into a defensive pass interference penalty, he got his head around and made a play on the ball for the interception. It is not the type of play you usually see from a linebacker. 

• Defensive lineman Kerry Wynn's hustle forced the other turnover. Lamar Miller caught a short pass, and instead of Wynn giving up on the play after his pass rush attempt, he turned and sprinted down the field, hitting Miller from behind and forcing the fumble. Wynn also made a tackle for loss on the Texans first trip in the red zone. On a second and goal from the two• yard line, he knifed into the backfield on an outside run and tackled Lamar Miller for a three• yard loss. They would have to settle for a field goal. Wynn was one of the Giants' most productive defensive linemen in the game. 

• The Giants stopped the run all game long. The Texans tried to run it up the middle a bunch, but defensive linemen Damon Harrison and Dalvin Tomlinson would have no part of it. Both were dominant at the point of attack and manhandled the offensive linemen trying to block them time and time again. It was fun to watch. Tomlinson also had a nice push up the middle on a pass rush on the Texans final scoring drive that forced Watson to move out of the pocket. 

• Defensive lineman B.J. Hill got the first sack of his career with a little assist from running back Alfred Blue. Hill was pushing left tackle Martinas Rankin into the backfield, and as Blue released out of the backfield, it looked like his foot caught Rankin's leg sending him to the ground. Hill took advantage, ran over Rankin, and collected the sack. 

• James Bettcher knew he was short a cornerback with Eli Apple's injury, so he mixed up his coverages extremely well to keep Watson guessing on where to go with the football. He mixed in man and zone, sometimes playing different defenses on different sides of the field on the same play. It was very nice design by the Giants defensive coordinator. 

• The Giants defense allowed Deshaun Watson to throw for 385 yards. There were far too many chunk plays in the middle of the field. Watson was able to find receivers in the layer between the linebackers and the safeties for too many big gains. The Giants will work in practice this week to avoid similar issues next Sunday against a polished Saints passing game.

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