Giants scouting report: Ground game improving
GREEN BAY — The fact that Paul Perkins ranked eighth among rookie running backs in rushing yards with 456 wouldn’t be a big deal for most teams.
For the New York Giants, Perkins’ ability to balance their previously one-dimensional offense could be the difference between one-and-done and a deep run through the NFC playoffs.
When the Giants played the Green Bay Packers on Oct. 9 at Lambeau Field, Perkins didn’t get in the game until the middle of the third quarter. With veteran Rashad Jennings sidelined (thumb), Orleans Darkwa started and was followed by Bobby Rainey.
Rainey carried five times for 22 yards, Darkwa rushed seven times for 11 and Perkins had two attempts for 9 as the Giants gained 43 on the ground and were defeated, 23-16, in a game that really wasn’t that close.
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers basically ignored New York’s ground game, enabling him to employ a two-high safety look to assist his cornerbacks against Odell Beckham Jr. The Packers didn’t use a single snap of base defense.
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Perkins, a fifth-round draft choice from UCLA, made his first start Sunday in the Giants’ 19-10 victory at Washington. He posted season-highs in carries (22) and yards (102) while Jennings went 18 for 52 as New York rushed 40 times for 161.
If the fifth-seeded Giants (11-5), a 4½-point underdog Sunday in a wild-card game against the fourth-seeded Packers (10-6) at Lambeau Field, are able to mount a respectable ground game, it would take some heat off quarterback Eli Manning and put more stress on Capers.
“In the Washington game they just looked a little more committed to running the ball,” an executive in personnel said. “I do like Perkins a little bit better than Jennings. Perkins has some vision, at least.”
Perkins, 5 feet 10½ inches and 208 pounds, missed a large portion of the off-season because of UCLA’s quarters system and wasn’t deemed worthy by the coaches of playing time early. He had merely 10 carries in the first seven games.
In the last three games, however, Perkins’ attempt total has been 11, 15 and 21 to go with yardage totals of 56, 68 and the 102. After averaging 78.7 yards in Games 1-13, the Giants averaged 129.7 in Game 14-16.
Rainey, who remains the No. 3 back, led running backs in snaps against Green Bay with 28. Darkwa, who went on injured reserve Nov. 29 (leg), and Perkins each had 14.
“Perkins isn’t dynamic,” the scout said. “He kind of gets what’s there, but he does see it and he gets downhill.
“I didn’t see quick darting. He’s more of a glider. I didn’t see a burst to explode out. He’s a mid-4.5 guy.”
Perkins’ uncle, Don, was a six-time Pro Bowl running back for the Cowboys from 1961-’68 who led all rushers in the 1967 Ice Bowl with 51 yards.
“Even when it’s not blocked perfect he can make something out of a run,” another personnel man said. “The change-of-direction stuff he’s got, not many people have. He runs tough.”
Jennings (6-1, 231), a former Jaguar-Raider, will spell Perkins on passing downs because he’s more reliable in pass protection, in short-yardage and possibly for several series.
“Jennings is a bigger guy and he’s smart and has done it (pass block) forever,” one scout said. “If they run Perkins 20 times and Jennings eight, that’s what you want. Jennings does much better with limited carries than with a bunch.”
The Giants finished 29th in rushing (88.3) and 30th in yards per rush (3.55), with a long gain of only 25 yards. In total yards, they ranked 25th (330.7).
New York’s highest-scoring game was 28 points, a total surpassed by Green Bay six times. The Giants, who haven’t scored more than 19 points since Game 11, ranked 26th (19.4).
Under center: Manning, who turned 36 on Tuesday, ranked 22nd in passer rating at 86.0 after posting a career-best 93.6 last season. His 13-year mark is 83.7.
“He’s not having a great year but he’s still capable of making plays and hurting you,” said one scout. “I don’t think he’s been as accurate (63%), but he’s accurate enough. Is that his calling card? No, but he takes more shots downfield so the accuracy can be affected at times.
“He just has experience reading defenses and delivering the ball to his playmakers. He’s been a streaky guy. He can get hot and put 400 on you easy.”
Manning tied for 25th in interceptions with 16. He also has fumbled seven times, losing four.
Opponents have sacked Manning just 21 times, a number that would be higher if he wasn’t so opposed to taking a sack.
“Instead of taking a sack he’ll throw into coverage,” one scout said. “They don’t have a lot of big skill guys. They’re more small guys. With contested balls, sometimes little guys lose out.”
Counting his playoff victories at Lambeau Field (2007, ’11), Manning owns a 4-4 record and 87.3 rating against the Packers.
“He’ll have time and he’ll have open receivers and he’ll just kind of get a little nervous for no reason and make a bad throw,” one scout said. “At this point you don’t expect him to win games. It’s just kind of game manager.”
Men up front: It appears that Marshall Newhouse will be starting his first game against his former team since departing Green Bay for Cincinnati as an unrestricted free agent in March 2014. His one-year contract contained a $50,000 signing bonus.
Newhouse started five of 15 games for the Bengals in one season and 19 of 23 games for the Giants in 2015-’16. Inactive for the first game against Green Bay, he is expected to start for the second straight week at right tackle over Bobby Hart (arm).
“He wasn’t quite as exposed (against Washington) as he was earlier in the season,” one personnel man said. “Maybe he’s better at right (tackle) than left.”
Hart, a seventh-round pick this year, was up and down in 13 starts at right tackle.
On the outside: Using their coverage-oriented scheme, the Packers limited Manning to 199 passing yards and the Giants to a season-low 221 yards.
Beckham, who finished third in receptions (101) and receiving yards (1,367), settled for 5 for 56 against underneath coverage from LaDarius Gunter and Quinten Rollins with a safety over the top.
“Is it Beckham vs. Gunter?” one scout asked. “When the lights are on and in the playoffs, I would think Beckham’s going to have a big day.
“The difference between him and most guys is he can catch it and then accelerate up field and take it to the house. Some guys who are soft, they slow down when it gets sticky. He runs through it.”
Other primary targets in the Green Bay game were tight end Will Tye (2-37) and rookie Sterling Shepard (2-14). Veteran slot Victor Cruz was shut out (two targets) in 56 snaps.
“Shepard gets better every week,” one scout said. “Cruz just doesn’t have any juice anymore. Just can’t run. Tye’s all right in a limited role.”
According to Sportradar, the Giants had the second-most dropped passes (43) in the NFL. Beckham led with 10, followed by Cruz (eight), Jennings (five), Shepard (four), Tye (four), tight end Larry Donnell (three) and Perkins (two).
Beckham was the Giants’ only Pro Bowl player on offense.
Pass rush: According to Man-Games Lost, the Giants were fortunate to have ranked 26th in the impact of injuries suffered this season. The Packers finished 20th.
Two of New York’s preferred starters, defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and free safety Darian Thompson, are out.
Pierre-Paul played 71 of 80 defensive snaps in the first meeting. After undergoing sports-hernia surgery Dec. 7, he’s out Sunday but hasn’t yet been placed on injured reserve.
Rookie Romeo Okwara, an undrafted free agent, has started the last four games backed by Kerry Wynn and Owa Odighizuwa.
“It hurts them,” said one scout. “He was playing as well if not better than (Olivier) Vernon. Okwara has been solid as a run player. He cannot rush. He’s stiff, kind of robotic.”
Sportradar credited Vernon with 53 pressures, the fourth-highest total in the NFL. He was followed by Pierre-Paul (37), 3-technique Johnathan Hankins (16), Okwara (12), strong safety Landon Collins (nine), nose tackle Damon Harrison (eight) and Odighizuwa (five).
“‘Snacks’ (Harrison) and Hankins give you good inside push,” one scout said. “That’s tough on quarterbacks because they cause some problems.”
The presence of the 350-pound Harrison, a former Jet, was a critical reason why the Giants tied for third in rushing yards allowed (88.6).
“Harrison’s dominant, even on the pass rush,” said one scout. “He had a real nice sack against (Washington’s Brandon) Scherff. A quick club and won early. Against the run he’s tough.”
Back end: The Giants took a hit in the Green Bay game when rookie cornerback Eli Apple exited after seven snaps with a groin injury and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was limited by a groin.
It’s expected that Pro Bowl cornerback Janoris Jenkins will be back to full speed after suffering a back injury in Game 15 and sitting out the second half of Game 16.
Jenkins usually shadows the opponent’s No. 1 receiver, which in this case would be Jordy Nelson. Nelson caught four of 13 targets (three drops) for 38 yards and one touchdown in the first game.
“There’s nobody better than him,” one scout said, referring to Jenkins. “He’s shut guys down all year.”
Rodgers-Cromartie, however, tied for the NFL-lead in “ballhawks” (interceptions, passes defensed, sacks, forced fumbles) with Tampa Bay’s Brent Grimes, according to Sportradar. Each had 29.
Jenkins tied for sixth with 23. Collins was eighth with 22.
Apple has been starting ahead of Rodgers-Cromartie, who usually mans the slot. Veteran Trevin Wade is a capable dime back.
“They can match up against the Packers’ receivers,” said one scout. “That will be interesting.”
Collins, another Pro Bowl pick, plays near the line and has an outstanding all-around game. The Giants’ weakest link has been free safety, where rookie free agent Andrew Adams was exposed and later benched against Washington.
Leon Hall, a Pro Bowl cornerback in a nine-year career with the Bengals, replaced Adams in Washington and might start Sunday. Backup Nat Berhe, a forceful hitter, might be ready to return from a concussion.
“It’s not ideal but it’s better than the other guy (Adams),” one personnel man said, referring to Hall at safety. “Smaller guy, but savvy. Veteran guys can match back there just because of their awareness. He can match up OK against tight ends in man coverage.”
Hall, 32, played 34.5% of the snaps, mostly at cornerback.
New kicker: Kicker Josh Brown, who kicked three field goals (47, 41, 30) against the Packers, was cut Oct. 25 and replaced by former Bear Robbie Gould.
Gould, 35, has made 10 of 10 field goals but only 20 of 23 extra points. He sat out two months after being released by Chicago on Sept. 4. In 12 seasons, Gould has made 85.9% of 333 field-goal attempts.
“He’s OK,” said one scout. “He’s experienced playing in Lambeau, being a vet.”
Dwayne Harris, the Giants’ fourth Pro Bowl selection, handles all the returns and leads the team in special-teams tackles (11).