Behind Enemy Lines: Part I

Seattle Seahawks publisher Rob Rang asks New York Giants lead writer David Aitken five burning questions ahead of Sunday afternoon's contest.

1. Injury kept Odell Beckham from making the immediate impact some expected but he's certainly flashed. How would you grade his performance, thus far?

The Giants really can’t ask anything more from Beckham than what he’s given so far. In fact, the biggest issue may actually be that the Giants coaches themselves aren’t asking him to do more. Especially with Cruz shelved for the season, Beckham is far and away the most explosive talent in the Giants’ receiving core and what he has done despite essentially not even practicing with the team until about a month ago is very impressive. The Giants have been patient in getting him involved and don’t want to put too much on him too early, but he’s clearly ready for a bigger role and it would be a surprise if he were not featured heavily in Seattle.

2. The Giants dedicated an awful lot of money in the offseason to improving along the offensive line. Eli Manning's numbers are far from eye-popping. Is this a reflection of poor protection, struggles in the new offense, drops from the receivers or is Manning no longer among the game's top quarterbacks?

The pass protection, outside of two major failures - in Detroit and in Philadelphia - has actually been pretty solid. Of course, it still hurts that the team’s big signing on the offensive line, Geoff Schwartz, has yet to actually play a game after sustaining an injury in preseason. As for Manning, his reinvention as an efficient West Coast Offense quarterback has actually been one of the positives of the team’s season. Where the Giants are lacking, especially with Cruz out, is in the weapons department. Certainly it could be argued that part of Manning’s reinvention as a WCO quarterback comes with an over-emphasis on short passing and less aggressive play, but the way the offense has functioned as of late features Rueben Randle and tight end Larry Donnell as the primary targets, neither of whom are particularly explosive. Rueben Randle is a decent possession receiver, but he is really struggling to make a difference as the team’s number one option. As I alluded to in the previous question the Giants coaches do not trust their youth a whole lot yet at receiver, but Beckham and also UDFA Corey Washington are both deserving of bigger roles.

3. So much of the Giants' success in recent years can be attributed to their pass rush. Jason Pierre-Paul and Mathias Kiwanuka haven't been as productive as anticipated. Is the lack of statistics misleading or are the Giants really struggling to pressure the quarterback, despite their big names?

The amount of snaps Mathias Kiwanuka has played relative to free agent signing Robert Ayers and 2013 3rd round pick Damontre Moore has been a definite point of contention. Kiwanuka has been ineffective yet has seen most of the snaps opposite Pierre-Paul. Ayers has been a spark to the team’s pass rush when he actually sees opportunities, and in particular really shined last Monday night when he saw his snaps increase. Having Moore come onto the field as a pass rush specialist for the 31 year old Kiwanuka seems like a logical step to take, but for whatever reason it isn’t happening. Jason Pierre-Paul has played well as both a pass rusher and defender of the run, but his 2011 season looks more and more a fluke with each passing week. Pierre-Paul is only to blame if being held to that standard, but more realistically he’s simply a good player that just can’t do it all himself.

4. The 2015 NFL draft looks ripe with running backs. Is Andre Williams the Giants' franchise runner of the present and future?

Fundamentally the Giants just aren’t getting the push in the run game, but there are other factors at play that has made the team one-dimensional offensively during this three game skid. Andre Williams was a preseason standout, but hasn’t been able to replicate that promise in the regular season. He could serve to be more patient as a runner, and his lack of polish as an every-down back is holding back the Giants offense. Going back to the trust in youth theme, Williams isn’t trusted in clear passing situations and it hurts the balance of the offense. The coaches would sooner turn to the mundane experience of Peyton Hillis than trust the more talented Williams where there would surely be some hiccups in third down duties. In terms of looking towards the draft though I would say it’s unlikely and the Giants will hope to develop Williams going forward as a spell back behind Rashad Jennings. The injury to Jennings has really hurt the Giants offense, arguably more than the Cruz injury even, as the Giants have thrived on being able to play Jennings in any situation. Rashad Jennings has essentially been the team’s running game.

5. Based on my preseason scouting of the Giants, defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins looked like a real breakout candidate. Is he beginning to play to his talent?

Jonathan Hankins, simply, has been a monster this year. He’s been arguably the best player the Giants have had this season. Some questions were raised when the Giants let Linval Joseph walk in free agency but Hankins has repaid GM Jerry Reese’s faith in full. Not just the typical lane stuffer, Hankins is good for at least one or two impact plays in the run game each week and has shown some ability to collapse the pocket in the passing game as well. Seattle is sure to find success on the ground on Sunday, but don’t count on it being in Hankins’ direction.

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