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Giants win, but still struggle finishing

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.Y. — The New York Giants snapped their two-game losing streak, which is the good news.

The bad news is that head coach Tom Coughlin wasn’t exactly pleased with how his team once again finished a game. The source of Coughlin’s latest frustration occurred on Washington’s first possession following New York’s 30-yard touchdown catch by Odell Beckham Jr. to put the Giants up 25-6.

“I spent some time talking about the end of the game and how I realize we’re under construction, but we’re into our third game here so we do need to understand how to finish better than we did,” Coughlin said.

“Washington ran something like 39 plays, our offense ran 10, and that’s not the way it’s supposed to be. You’d like to think you can finish the game with the ball in your hands.”

The issues in finishing games would appear to be on both sides of the ball. On offense, New York only managed 11 plays on offense on three drives. Two of those three drives went for three-and-outs.

Defensively, the Giants were on the field for 39 plays in that final 11 minutes of the game as Washington added 15 points to close the gap to the 32-21 final.

A quick breakdown of the defense’s shortcomings showed that they allowed Washington to convert on two of three third-down plays and two of their fourth-down plays. In addition, the Giants also committed defensive penalties on two other Washington fourth-down plays that contributed to extending the drives.

“That fourth quarter was not indicative of the way the game went,” said linebacker Jon Beason, who made his 2015 debut on Thursday night after missing time due to a knee injury.

“We still for some reason collectively are having this problem with finishing. You always want to be known as a team that knows how to finish strong and I don’t want opposing teams to think, ‘Hey, we’re playing the Giants and if we keep it close, they’re going to give us this and that in the fourth quarter.’”

Beason and Coughlin aren’t quite sure what the answers are at this point, but both are hoping that matter gets resolved sooner than later.

“That’s something we have to put more emphasis on and figure out what the issue is. You just can’t be inconsistent and win games if you’re doing that,” Beason said.

–Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo stopped on his way out of the locker room after their 32-21 win over Washington, barely able to hide his smile.

Did you see that?” he asked of a reporter chatting with Nikita Whitlock. “Did you see the plays this guy made?”

He then took a couple of steps back to Whitlock, tapped him on the elbow and said, “Hey, thanks for your help.”

Whitlock, a 24-year-old first-year player out of Wylie, Tex., is a rare breed, the Giants’ version of the “slash” player who plays two very different positions, fullback and defensive tackle.

Whitlock isn’t some flash-in-the-pan either. This is a young man who is thriving and who continues to reward the coaches for giving him the chance he never really got with other teams.

“Honestly, this is what I’m here for. This is what I always wanted to do,” Whitlock said. “I’m a football player. Line me up anywhere you think I can help you and I’m going to give you my best effort.”

That he did, starting with some solid blocking as the lead back for the running game, with 14 snaps, usually leading the way for Andre Williams. With that, Whitlock was the lead on Williams’ 1-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.

Whitlock, a college defensive lineman, also made a cameo appearance on the defensive side of the ball, this despite not being in any of the defensive meetings this past week and getting limited practice snaps at the position.

That didn’t stop the young man from making his presence felt on the defensive side of the ball. Whitlock put a beautiful spin move on Washington tackle Tom Compton to slide inside and get a hit on quarterback Kirk Cousins.

He also showed discipline and instincts in diagnosing and blowing up a delayed screen.

If his work on offense and defense wasn’t enough to keep Whitlock busy, he also logged 20 snaps on special teams.

“He’s a multi-task, multi-talented guy who can rush the passer, plays fullback as you all know, is on all of the special teams,” head coach Tom Coughlin said. “He’s got great energy, this kid.”

That’s not just Coughlin being polite either; after all, there aren’t many 250-pound defensive tackles in the NFL and it’s not as though the Giants can afford to throw a few pity snaps at a player just because.

No, Coughlin believes that Whitlock is a legitimate defensive tackle with a definite niche.

“He’s very quick, very difficult for these offensive linemen to just be in position and stay with because he does have the spin move and the acceleration and those types of things. And in a limited capacity, he is an excellent change of pace, and you saw that he can generate some pressure.”

The down-to-earth Whitlock, who hasn’t stopped smiling since learning that he made the roster, shrugged all the hype around him off.

“I’m grateful they gave me this opportunity, he said sincerely. “I’m living my dream and I’m just here to give them my best every week.”

–It wasn’t exactly how linebacker Jon Beason envisioned his first game action of 2015 would be, but given how things have gone for him with his health, the 2015 season is off to an encouraging start.

Beason, who last year missed 12 games due to a toe injury, worked hard in the offseason to get himself ready for the new season. However, a preseason knee injury on Aug. 22 put him back on the shelf until Thursday, when he finally got on the field for the Giants in 28 pre-planned snaps.

“It’s definitely sore; nothing that I didn’t anticipate,” he said of his ailing left knee, for which he wore a brace during the Giants’ 32-21 win over Washington.

“It’s just kind of one of those things where you just keep working through. I was able to finish up and that was the thing I wanted to do more than anything was to make sure I finished the game.”

Beason said he was encouraged that he didn’t feel winded in his first extensive action, but added, “I would love to have been more active, make more plays, be more a factor that way, but I did my job and I gave great effort. For the most part, I think it was a great step forward and we’ll just keep building on it.”

What will be interesting to see though is whether he will get a chance to build on what he started Thursday. Uani’ Unga, who has been filling in for Beason at middle linebacker, has played well considering he is just in his first NFL season.

“You know, I don’t know,” head coach Tom Coughlin said when asked how he would determine the rotation between Beason and Unga moving forward. “They’re both outstanding players and we need them both. We had personnel combinations that we had Jon in, and Uani’ was in other combinations.”

The Giants mainly stuck with Beason on running plays and Unga, who leads the team in interceptions, on passing plays. That breakdown would appear to be the path Coughlin will continue to take for the time being.

“We have a young player (Unga) that’s made two outstanding interceptions, that’s athletic, that is fast, and is growing into the position. And we have a veteran (Beason) that is so extremely well-thought of, he’s voted captain of the defensive team, and we feel like we’re fortunate in that we’ll be able to utilize both of these players,” Coughlin said.

Of course, the problem might solve itself if Beason finds that he has had a setback with his knee. To make sure that doesn’t happen, Beason said he is going to try to find a balance between allowing his body to recover and continuing to build on what he has accomplished thus far.

“Getting an extra two days off and then we’ll probably have that Tuesday off next week off is huge in terms of recovery,” Beason said. “For me, I’m going to continue to do some extra running and try to get my wind back so I can play at a high level.”

REPORT CARD VS.REDSKINS

–PASSING OFFENSE: A – There were no sacks, no interceptions, only three dropped passes, and no screw-ups of the game clock, all of which bodes well for quarterback Eli Manning in what was his best game thus far of the young season. Manning also got some help from receiver Rueben Randle, whose seven catches for 116 yards led the team. The cherry on top of the cake was that Manning connected on all three of his deep pass attempts going for 20 or more yards, something that no doubt made head coach Tom Coughlin, who has been calling for more shots down the field, smile.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: C-minus – The running game continues to struggle. This week, the Giants finished with 84 yards on 31 carries, a paltry 2.7 yards per carry average. Andre Williams had the lone rushing touchdown and the longest run, an 11-yard gain, of the night, but starter Rashad Jennings continues to struggle while Shane Vereen continues not to get enough touches despite having the best per carry average (3.9) of the group.

–PASS DEFENSE: C-plus – The Giants continue to be gouged for yards through the air and will continue to do so until they establish any kind of a consistent pass rush. Still, the good news is that this week they benefitted from a season-high two interceptions in one game, both converted into touchdowns by the offense. They also broke up eight pass attempts while the longest play of the night allowed was a 26-yard pass in the seam to tight end Jordan Reed.

–RUSH DEFENSE: A – The Giants held the Redskins’ one-two punch of Alfred Morris and Matt Jones to 57 yards on 17 carries. They also only had one breakdown in which they allowed a run to go for more than 10 yards, that coming in the second half on a Chris Thompson 26-yard dash. Otherwise, the run defense, which welcomed back starting inside linebacker Jon Beason, clamped down on the Redskins, holding them to 88 yards on 20 rushing attempts.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: B-plus – Take away the big 101-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Rashad Ross and the inability of the punt return team to clear any space for Dwayne Harris, and the Giants’ special teams would have had a much higher grade this week. Besides winning the starting field position battle — New York’s average starting field position was their 38 — the unit had a blocked punt that went for a safety. Punter Brad Wing continues to excel, placing two of his four punts inside the 20, one of which was downed at the one-inch line. Kicker Josh Brown continues to turn every ball his golden foot touches into points, and Harris, although not getting significant yardage this week on punt or kickoff returns, provides ball security.

–COACHING: A – Credit head coach Tom Coughlin, who in an interview appearing on the team’s official website admitted that it was challenging to keep the spirits up, for finding a way to get through to his team. Using lots of positive enforcement and harping on the fact that his players have made plays before, this week’s showing proved that Coughlin has not lost the team despite its disheartening 0-2 start. Extra credit goes to Coughlin for getting into receiver Rueben Randle’s ear to stimulate his confidence level. Randle had his best game of the young season thanks in part to his head coach’s ability to push the right buttons.


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