The bye week is a good time to take stock, assess where you are and how you arrived there and devise a plan for improvement when you return to action.
The Giants will do all that this week as they head into their weekend off. And they will do so with some momentum and a positive frame of mind, thanks to their stirring 27-24 victory yesterday over the Buffalo Bills in MetLife Stadium. The Giants are 4-2 and in first place in the NFC East. And while is it still extremely early – 10 games, after all, remain to be played – it certainly beats the alternative.
"It was a good win going into the bye week," said cornerback Corey Webster, who had two interceptions yesterday. "We still have a long ways to go, but it is easily corrected off of a 'W' instead of a 'L.' We made some mistakes, but we get to correct them. We have two weeks to do that, so hopefully we get started moving in the right direction now."
"It's obvious that it's great to go into a bye week with a win, especially against the quality football team that Buffalo is," Coach Tom Coughlin said on a conference call today. The Giants will next play on Oct. 30, at home against the Miami Dolphins. "There certainly is a sense of having had a goal, of working hard to get to it – it wasn't perfect, obviously – going on the field and finishing the game. We finished the ballgame again. This time, we finished it with our defensive team going ahead and creating a four-and-out. There's confidence in that, but I think when the players see the tape there's always an awful lot of room for improvement. But what I'm really interested in is that the enthusiasm and the spirit and the idea of preparation and the hunger for bigger and better things would continue as a strong attitude and it would be contagious as we go forward."
After having today off, the Giants will re-convene and meet and practice tomorrow. As mandated by the new collective bargaining agreement, the players are scheduled to have four days off, from Thursday through Sunday. Coughlin will use the week to improve the team. And he has several target areas he intends to address.
"We have a number of things, as we analyze ourselves, that we will put together in terms of cutups of our team, of our situation – offense, defense, special teams," Coughlin said. "There are areas in each that we'll try to focus and concentrate on. The third down stuff with the offensive team, obviously. Just the ability to recognize that we have more and more work to do with our defense in terms of stopping the run, stopping the big play. We'll continue to work on that. We're going to grind it out with our field goal protection and try to do a better job there as we go forward here. In each category – offense, defense, special teams – there's three or four things that kind of stand out, which have to be enhanced as we go forward. It's all about improvement. It's all about using your time properly and so we'll try to take a good hard look at ourselves and not only just the coaches, but the players as well."
The Giants converted five of 11 third down opportunities yesterday, a 45 percent success rate. But they've succeeded only 31.5 percent (23 of 73) in their first six games, which leaves them 27th in the NFL.
And while they did run for a season-high 122 yards, including 104 yards and three touchdowns by Ahmad Bradshaw, they averaged 3.7 yards a carry and are averaging just 3.3 yards per attempt for the season.
"I think it was a good start to getting it (the rushing attack) going," guard David Diehl said of the performance vs. Buffalo. "We had that mindset and determination that we were going to go into this game and get the run game going, because in order to win football games in this league, you have to take care of that. There is no question, especially when you start hitting the month of December and late in the season, that is going to be your strength, especially in the NFC. You have to be able to control the ground game and control the line of scrimmage and most importantly, the time of possession.
"Just like this last game with the Buffalo Bills, this is a team that was putting up 32 points on the board and they were doing a great job of creating turnovers. They were doing whatever they can to get your offense off balance and get that momentum back to their offense. I think we are moving in the right direction. Do I think it is a finished product? No. I know that we have the attitude that we are going to continue to work and make sure that it becomes one of the strengths of our offense because it needs to be."
Bradshaw's total gave the Giants their first individual 100-yard rushing game of the season.
"(It was) better blocking, better running, better assignment work," Coughlin said of the run-game improvement. "I think the combination just as we tore it down, took it apart last week, started to improve a little bit this past week. I think that first goal line touchdown run, you don't see the back enter the end zone without being touched very often and that was pretty well blocked. I just use that as an example."
Defensively, big plays have been an issue. Immediately after Bradshaw's first touchdown gave the Giants a 7-0 lead, Fred Jackson tied the score with an 80-yard run. Last week, the Giants surrendered a 47-yard run by Seattle's Marshawn Lynch and the previous week, it was a 39-yarder by Arizona's Beanie Wells.
On the Buffalo possession following Jackson's score, the Bills took a 14-7 lead on a 60-yard pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Naaman Roosevelt.
"How about two-yard runs and incompletions - that's what I'd like to see," Coughlin said. "I think each play has a unique aspect to it and that particular play, on the run, we did have an alignment issue, we did have a defender who was out of position and you did have a very skilled back that found a gap that was supposed to be covered that wasn't. And then because of the coverage we were in, he found himself literally free in the secondary, running pretty free and easy relatively quickly. And the angles that our people had weren't great and he was fast enough to take advantage of it. But it all started at the line of scrimmage with an error. A gap responsibility was not fulfilled. There could have been a case where someone was blocked off from visually seeing it as it developed, just for a split second, and then didn't get into position. That's basically the way I saw it."
"It is always disappointing (to give up big plays)," linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka said. "It is not necessarily a big surprise, because those things are going to happen. But it is our job to minimize them. That is what we focused on a lot last week. Going out there and giving one up early is a bad situation to be in, it was tough and disappointing but the fact that we fought and we got it corrected and we were able to come out with a win is the biggest positive you can take out of this week. We put ourselves in a bad situation but we came back and we fought and we rose up.
"Obviously, we have to stop the big plays and that will be the thing that we focus on during the bye week."
The Bills rushed for 155 yards, though without Jackson's long run their totals were 75 yards on 22 carries, a 3.4-yard average. But Jackson's run can't be excluded from the final total, so the last four opponents have rushed for an average of 158.3 yards against a Giants defense that allowed an average of 101.3 yards per game on the ground in 2010.
"You can't take that one run out and I wish we could, but in terms of the rest of the game, I think we were pretty sound in terms of responsibility and everybody knowing where they were supposed to be," Kiwanuka said. "That was the only issue coming into the game. It wasn't that people couldn't make plays, it was that some responsibilities were mixed up coming in. Once we got that taken care of with sideline adjusting, we were good from there on."
Special teams will also be scrutinized. In the third quarter yesterday, the Giants' bid to extend their lead to 10 points was literally blocked by Buffalo's Alex Carrington, who reached up to bat away Lawrence Tynes' 51-yard field goal attempt. It was the second time this season Tynes' attempt for a three-pointer got no further than the line of scrimmage; Brian Orakpo blocked one at Washington in the opener.
"I think we had penetration and we had hands in the air," Coughlin cited as reasons for the block by Buffalo. "You worry on a long field goal about the thought of the trajectory of the kick, if there's any kind of adjustment that the kicker would make because of the distance factor. I don't think that was the case here. I think there was some penetration and someone got their hand up in the line of flight and tipped the ball."
That will be one of several facets of the game the Giants will address before beginning their bye-week break.
"We are going to see what we need to do for these next 10 games and the rest of the season," Diehl said. "We are going to see what we need to correct to make sure the rest of our season is successful."
*The Giants hope several players who have missed time with injuries will return for the Dolphins game, including Justin Tuck, Chris Snee, Brandon Jacobs and Henry Hynoski. First-round draft choice Prince Amukamara, who broke his foot early in training camp and has not played all season, could also return.
"We are very much aware, as I said yesterday, and very optimistic that we are going to get some players back," Coughlin said. "I think it will be a nice boost in the arm. I don't know exactly when the individuals will be cleared, but hopefully we'll be in a position where they are ready to go when we're talking game week and we get closer to our next opponent."
*Coughlin reported no new injuries coming out of the Buffalo game.
*Kiwanuka is officially listed as the starting strongside linebacker, but he has played more defensive end the last two weeks – and had a sack in each game.
"It is always going to be there, because that is what I have been doing for the last 10 or 15 years going all the way back to grade school," Kiwanuka said. "Whatever circumstance that we are in team-wise and who we are playing against will dictate the different positions I will play. It is always comfortable and it is always good, especially when you get a sack and can contribute to the game like that."
*The Giants re-signed quarterback Ryan Perrilloux to their practice squad. He replaces defensive tackle Dwayne Hendricks, who was added to the 53-man roster on Saturday.