Football finally returned on Sunday night as the New York Giants and Buffalo Bills opened the 2014 season with the annual Pro Football Hall of Fame Game. The pregame festivities were worth writing home about, while the game itself was played much cleaner than you might expect for the first of the season. In the end, Big Blue game out on top 17-13.
"I thought all of that went well. I thought that the plays were coming in, I thought that we did a good job at the line of scrimmage making checks and making calls and getting to the right plays. Everybody was on the same page so I thought that all of those things went well. We’ve got to get better in some areas and improvements but watching the first game film will be great to study and to learn from and make corrections. It’s always at a different speed, a different pace when you get into a real game rather than practice, what we’ve been doing these past few weeks," quarterback Eli Manning said.
Key to Victory: Strong ground game.
From Rashad Jenning to Andre Williams and Peyton Hillis to Michael Cox (despite the numbers), each Giants running back flashed at least some skill on Sunday night. Andre Williams obviously led the way with his impressive performance, but each player had at least one shining moment of their own. Rashad Jennings showed by the Giants targeted him in free agency, while Peyton Hillis and Michael Cox each made the case for themselves on the 53-man roster.
There was power and speed up and down the running back depth chart, but they got an assist courtesy of solid run blocking by both the offensive line and fullbacks — most specifically, Henry Hynoski, who looked like a mauler out there.
"I think we have some talented guys at that spot," head coach Tom Coughlin said last week. "I think Rashad has done well. I think the young kid (Williams) has come along the more we have given him to do. Michael Cox has had his spots.
It's only the first game, of course, but it's a solid start.
- Running back Andre Williams – The rookie made quite an impact on Sunday tonight, displaying the exact skills that led to him leading the NCAA in rushing a season ago. He's a strong North-South running with a little speed. He follows his blocks, hits his gaps and has enough patience to wait as holes open up.
- Cornerback Zack Bowman – With all the talk about Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Walter Thurmond III — who each played well in their own right — Bowman really stood out on Sunday night. He looked good in coverage, appears to be a strong tackler and led the team with two passes defensed.
- Defensive end Damontre Moore – After getting a pregame prep talk from Michael Strahan, who has been working with him privately, Moore recorded his first NFL sack early in the game. He appeared very active, around the ball and in on a number players. His development and growth will remain key for the Giants. So far, so good.
- Fullback Henry Hynoski – Hynoski may have had the best game of any player on the team if you were able to weigh performance on a position-by-position basis. He looked comfortable, healthy and like a mauler. He was burying defenders and opening huge holes for all the running backs.
- Wide receivers Marcus Harris and Corey Washington – Both Harris and Washington really opened eyes on Sunday night. While Harris led the team with four receptions on six targets (impressed with YAC), Washington had the big play with a 73-yard touchdown in which he out-leaped a defender for an under-thrown ball and then took it in for a touchdown. Both make an early case for themselves at WR.
- Quarterback Ryan Nassib – Nassib received the most snaps of any quarterback and after a slightly shaky start, made each of them worth while. In perhaps his best showing (in either practice or a game) since being drafted a year ago, Nassib completed seven of his 12 passes for 139 yards and a touchdown. The West Coast-style offense Ben McAdoo brought with him clearly is a better fit for Nassib.
- Punter Steve Weatherford – Ignoring the blocked punt as a result of a missed block, Weatherford showed why he has no training camp/preseason competition. He averaged 46.0 yards per punt on the night, pinned two inside the 20 and was one bounce away from pinning a third down there. His first punt of the game was the most impressive, as he handled a bad snap and boomed it 58 yards downfield.
- Cornerback Jayron Hosley – Already facing a four-game suspension to start the 2014 regular season, Hosley needs a strong camp and preseason in order to justify waiting for. Things did not get off to a strong start on Sunday night, as Hosley struggled in coverage, missed a few tackles and was called for defensive holding twice. Receivers caught four of five passes thrown his way, including one for a touchdown.
- Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul – JPP was essentially shutout on Sunday night, and was also beaten time and time again by rookie Seantrel Henderson in one-on-one situation. The Giants are going to need a lot more out of him if they want to find success in 2014.
- Fullback John Conner – Conner seemed out of sorts. He did have one solid run, but he also missed several blocks and looked like a guy who was just out of place. Uncharacteristic of the veterans and perhaps nothing more than an early preseason anomaly.
PLAYER OF THE GAME – RB Andre Williams
Williams kicked off his NFL career with an impressive performance against the Bills, gaining 48 yards and a touchdown on sever carried. He led the team in yards rushing, rushing touchdowns, longest run and yards per attempt (excluding John Conner's one seven-yard run).
"I thought he played well. That was encouraging," head coach Tom Coughlin said after the game.
RB Andre Williams, WR Corey Washington, WR Marcus Harris, CB Zack Bowman, P Steve Weatherford
OVERALL PERFORMANCE GRADE:
All things considered, the Giants looked pretty good on Sunday night. Sure, there were some mistakes, hiccups, a little confusion early on, but all of that was to be expected. With a brand new offense being implemented, the fact that Eli Manning & Co. didn't completely embarrass themselves is a real positive.
Depth on both offense and defense held up, the running game looked powerful, the offensive line appears to be coming together and, overall, there were a lot more positives than there were negatives. Still, there's a lot to be refined — especially on offense. But if Sunday's 17-13 win is any indication — and the team can stay healthy — it's easy to see why so many players are excited about the 2014 season. There's a lot of talent on the Giants' roster.
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Tags: Andre Williams, Corey Washington, Damontre Moore, Football, Henry Hynoski, Jason Pierre-Paul, Jayron Hosley, John Conner, Marcus Harris, New York, New York Giants, NFL, Ryan Nassib, Steve Weatherford, Zack Bowman