Injuries still challenge 'next man up' for New York Giants

By Patricia Traina, The Sports Xchange  |  Nov. 24, 2017 at 7:14 PM
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Injuries are never any fun for NFL coaches to deal with, but when they occur, the mantra is "next man up."

Unfortunately, the next man up concept doesn't always work like it's drawn up in the classroom. Take for instance the New York Giants. Head coach Ben McAdoo's team has gone through eight different starting offensive lines this season because of injuries while his defense has had five different starting middle linebackers.

Continuity? Forget about it. But McAdoo isn't looking to use that as an excuse for the team's 2-9 record this year nor its recent 20-10 loss to Washington on Thanksgiving night.

"We had a lot of players who had to step in and play at a high level. It is a challenge, but it's part of the game," he said via conference call Friday.

"We played hard, we weren't detailed enough and didn't execute the way we're capable of executing, but we went out and played the game hard."

Effort aside, McAdoo and the players aren't foolish enough to think all is right within the locker room. The offensive line, which this week was missing starting right guard D.J. Fluker (toe), couldn't get any push in the running game while the pass protection, which had been better of late, also took a step backward as quarterback Eli Manning was sacked four times and hit seven.

McAdoo agreed. "The physicality in the run game wasn't as good as it's been, and our protection wasn't good enough," he said.

On defense, the Giants have had to rotate different middle linebackers into the mix largely due to the injury-filled season of starter B.J. Goodson, who earlier this year missed time with a shin injury and who of late has been sidelined with a high-ankle sprain.

In addition to missing Goodson, starters Jonathan Casillas and Devon Kennard have also missed games due to injuries.

"It's definitely a challenge. We have an intricate defense with a lot of moving parts to it and the linebacker play is a huge, huge role in that so having the inconsistency in the linebacker room has definitely posed a challenge for us this year," Kennard admitted.

"You can't control (injuries). Whoever you have out there, you got to be able to go out and perform. The expectation stays the same whoever is out there."

Which is why McAdoo's hope is that the players realize that no, it's not always going to go according to plan, but when facing aversity, the tough usually come out on top.

"We need these guys to grow up," he said when asked if the staff was doing more teaching now that the season is wasted. "It's part of coaching, it's part of playing. We don't have time to wait; it's gotta be now."


--The Giants' offense was supposed to be its bread and butter, its pride and joy and its ticket to another Super Bowl championship.

Instead, the offense has sputtered out worse than an Edsel, and those problems run far deeper than this season's 15.6 points per game average (31st in the NFL).

"It's definitely a frustrating year. We're not playing great football offensively," said quarterback Eli Manning.

"We just haven't been able to move the ball, not been able to get first downs, not being able to get completions. It's not the style of football that I'm used to playing. Not being able to complete the ball ... it is tough. We just got to keep finding ways to be creative to put our guys in great position to make plays and be more efficient offensively."

The problems, which began even with receiver Odell Beckham Jr. in the lineup, include a failure to score more than 24 points in the last 17 games, and a struggle to score more than 30 points on offense since Ben McAdoo became the team's head coach.

The problems also include injuries and the drop-off in talent to replace the injured players, notably on the offensive line where, for example, the Giants struggled to gain any traction in the running game Thursday night after losing right guard D.J. Fluker to a toe injury that could keep him sidelined for multiple weeks.

A case might even be made for the talent not matching the scheme direction desired by the coaching staff. McAdoo, who spent two years as the team's offensive coordinator, introduced a West Coast offensive system that topped out in 2015, the final year of Tom Coughlin's tenure as head coach.

Lost in the shuffle is the fact that the Giants don't seem to have a running game that can bounce plays to the outside, nor do they have a quarterback who can extend plays with his legs. The team also didn't upgrade the tight-end position until this year when they drafted Evan Engram in the first round.

Personnel aside, the results haven't been good for the Giants. In their first two seasons with McAdoo as the offensive coordinator, they averaged 21.7 points per game; since McAdoo was bumped up to head coach, they are now averaging 21.7 points per game.

"We're missing some key players on offense and it's just tough to catch up and make up some of those plays from the playmakers that we lost," said Manning.

Manning admitted that the losing has taken a toll.

"Yeah, it can wear you out," he said. "It can test you, but you've got to keep going to the drawing board and find ways to play better and move the ball and score some points."


Legendary Giants head coach Bill Parcells used to frequently caution reporters and fans from getting too excited about a prospect by advising them to wait before preparing a player's bust for the Pro Football Hall of Fame after just a few impressive games.

His advice is particularly fitting on a day after rookie tight end Evan Engram, who thanks to the season-ending injury to receiver Odell Beckham Jr. has become the Giants offense, was once again held in check, this week to three receptions on seven pass targets for 18 yards and no touchdowns.

Nestled within Engram's poor production were three dropped passes, which, per Pro Football Focus, give him nine drops for the season that leads NFL tight ends.

"Are they a concern?" Engram said after the game about his sudden case of the dropsies. "Tonight, yeah. A big concern. I just got to be better. There's no excuses for it. I just got to make some plays, just got to be better."

Head coach Ben McAdoo hinted that the rookie might have been pressing to make plays, especially in his quest to build on last week's winning effort in which Engram only caught one of his pass targets.

"Our margin for error is small with the way things are right now. We know that going in, but it doesn't mean we can't go out there and press," McAdoo said.

"And he looked like we played on a short week tonight. He needs to get that out of his system. He needs to learn from it and I'm confident he will learn from it and move on."

McAdoo, who said he had some conversations with Engram after the dropped balls, stressed to the rookie the importance of having a cornerback's short memory.

"Especially after the first one, you have to flush it and move on, because at a certain point of time you have to reset mentally," he said.

While it's too soon to give up on Engram, who has done a nice job otherwise as a receiver and as a blocker, the key moving forward will be for the coaching staff to help him break through the proverbial rookie wall and to adjust to how defenses are playing him now.

"You just have to keep fighting," said quarterback Eli Manning of the advice he gave to his young teammate. "You get to the second half of the season and these rookies, it can get long for them. So you just have to keep grinding and make sure you're focused, and we're going to need him to make some plays for us."



--LB Deontae Skinner suffered a hamstring strain in the first half and did not return to the game.

--LB Curtis Grant injured his right knee and had to be carted off the field. Head coach Ben McAdoo confirmed that Grant is likely done for the year.

--CB Donte Deayon suffered a broken right forearm in the loss. Head coach Ben McAdoo indicated that Deayon's season is over.

--CB Janoris Jenkins injured his left ankle on his pick-six, but was able to return to the game. Afterward, he was spotted with his foot in a walking boot and was to have further tests done to determine the nature of his injury. Head coach Ben McAdoo said that Jenkins' ankle injury is painful and that they would re-evaluate him next week.

--WR Sterling Shepard is still experiencing migraines, according to head coach Ben McAdoo, who confirmed there is no change in Shepard's status, which includes him not being in the league's concussion protocol.

--CB Eli Apple, who was a healthy scratch Thursday night, was kept out of the game because he had been excused from practice the week before due to tend to his mother as she underwent brain surgery. McAdoo said Apple had not been able to get in much work since returning last week, which is why he made the decision to keep the second-year cornerback out.


--PASSING OFFENSE: F - Eli Manning only completed 13 of 27 pass attempts for 113 yards, but he didn't have much help. His offensive line couldn't protect him, and his receivers dropped passes; tight end Evan Engram had three dropped balls alone. Overall, that was a recipe for disaster for an offense that had a very slim margin of error to begin with.

--RUSHING OFFENSE: C - The running backs ran hard, but they didn't get much help from the offensive line, which couldn't open holes. The Giants really missed their big right guard, D.J. Fluker, who was left behind with a toe injury that could be a multi-week affair. Orleans Darkwa gave it his best shot, but he ended up rushing for a season low 2.7 yards per carry.

--PASS DEFENSE: C-plus - The Giants managed to record a season-high six sacks against Kirk Cousins' banged-up offensive line, but the back end of the defense didn't hold up its part of the deal. New York allowed three big pass plays of 20 or more yards to Washington receiver Jamison Crowder, who consistently found wide-open real estate over the middle. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins did come up with a pick-six, his second one in as many games and his seventh interception return for a touchdown, which ties him with Aqib Talib for the most in the NFL since 2012. Unfortunately for the Giants, it wasn't enough.

--RUSH DEFENSE: C-plus - The run defense allowed 122 yards on the ground, 100 of which came via Samaje Perine. For the most part, the Giants held Washington in check, allowing 12 yards on seven carries in the first half. In the second half, Washington broke things open, with Perine and Byron Marshall recording a couple of long runs, but the Giants managed to stuff eight runs for zero or negative yardage, with defensive ends Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul leading the charge with two stuffs apiece.

--SPECIAL TEAMS: D - Punter Brad Wing was once again inconsistent and yet was once again bailed out by his coverage team. However, punt returner Khalif Raymond continues to be frustrating to watch. He called for a fair catch on one return opportunity despite not having a defender within 15 yards. Then, when he should have called for a fair catch on another punt, he decided to try a return. He finished with two returns for eight yards and didn't help the situation at all.

--COACHING: C-minus - There's not much the coaching staff can do about the injuries, but the rest once again falls on the head coach, who save for the two games they won this year, can't seem to get this team to pull itself together and play complementary football. The main problem continues to be the trial and error methods of head coach Ben McAdoo, who last week pushed all the right buttons in leading his team to a win only to come up short this week, often pointing to the short work week.

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