Sep 132022
 
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Sterling Shepard, New York Giants (September 11, 2022)

Sterling Shepard – © USA TODAY Sports

QUICK RECAP

Week 1 in the NFL. Besides postseason play, this is the most anticipated week of the season, and soon after, the most over-reacted week of the season. The nature of the beast. What now seems to be an every-other-year tradition in New York, NYG was introducing a new era of football under a new regime. This one, in comparison to the previous three, feels different. A new General Manager AND a new Head Coach coming from a more modern era of football and no previous association with the franchise. Less personnel staff carry over. And an owner who vowed to let the new guys do their thing. The 2022 season kicked off in Tennessee against the defending #1 seed from the AFC.

The game started with a three-and-out by the Giants offense followed by a 46-yard punt return by rookie Kyle Philips. Starting in NYG territory, TEN needed just five plays before scoring a touchdown on a 7-yard pass from Ryan Tannehill to Dontrell Hilliard up the seam. NYG was without both of their starting edge defenders, Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari, and it showed both right away and for the rest of the game. NYG’s second drive never made it past midfield and included back-to-back plays that went sack / delay-of-game penalty. The two teams then traded three-and-outs before TEN put another three points on the board via a 46-yard field goal by Randy Bullock. TEN was up 10-0 as the second quarter was under way and it appeared to be more of the same for NYG.

The approach on offense changed. They went hurry-up mode and it led to two first downs and action inside TEN territory. Jones then fumbled on a sack by TEN star pass rusher Jeffery Simmons, giving TEN the ball back in NYG territory. The defense held TEN to a field goal, at least, putting the score at 13-0. That is where the score remained for the rest of the half. While there were subtle differences between this version of NYG and what we saw a year ago, the result was the same. A double-digit deficit on the road and 0 points.

This all changed right away in the third quarter. This is the period where, in my opinion, coaching shows brightest or darkest. A quick 15-minute period to communicate and adjust for the team. NYG knew they had to make a change from a macro-perspective on offense. After forcing a three-and-out on defense, NYG’s first play of the second half was a 68-yard run by Saquon Barkley. The #2 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft has been on a steady decline since his Rookie-of-the-Year season in Eli Manning’s second-to-last year in the league. That seems like a lifetime ago. NYG then kept their weight on the run-pedal for the next three plays and it ended with Barkley crossing the goal line for the first touchdown of the season. A bad snap kept the extra point off the board.

NYG forced their second straight three-and-out. It then took just two plays before Jones hit Sterling Shepard, who last scored in the team’s Week 1 game of 2021, for a 65-yard touchdown. In under 7 minutes and after just 6 offensive plays for NYG, they were tied 13-13 and more than doubled their total yards for the game.

TEN responded with a touchdown-scoring drive despite three offensive penalties. The NYG defense could not capitalize on the momentum and they were up against one of the best close-game teams in the NFL on the road. The pass rush was non-existent, and the linebackers were being roasted in coverage, as Hilliard caught his second touchdown of the game. The two offenses traded three-and-outs as the fourth quarter began with TEN winning 20-13.

NYG’s drive halted near midfield. They caught a huge break as Philips muffed a punt and turned it over. They were 1st-and-10 from the TEN 11. Two runs resulted in three yards, forcing Jones into a must-throw situation. He forced a ball to Barkley in the end zone, who was not even close to being open, resulting in an interception by safety Amani Hooker. Tennessee had the football with a 7-point lead, Derrick Henry, and 8:50 left in the game as a team that was 13-4 in one score games since the start of 2021, second best in the NFL.

On 3rd-and-1, the TEN brain trust looked past a traditional run by Derrick Henry for the second time in this game, opting for a reverse to rookie fourth rounder Chigoziem Okonkwo that resulted in a 4-yard loss. It was the second time of the day the rookie touched the ball after a college career that saw him carry the ball three times back in 2018. Questionable decision to say the least.

The door was open for Jones and the offense to redeem him and themselves. A 12-play drive that consisted of 9 runs and 3 passes brought NYG into the end zone via a 1-yard pass to tight end / fullback Chris Myarick, his second career touchdown. NYG was an extra point away from tying it up, but the special teams group never came on the field. Daboll had already decided they would go for two, and the lead, had they scored. A shovel pass to Barkley, a brilliant broken tackle, and some help from the refs (false start by Evan Neal) put 2 points on the board for NYG. 21-20 was the score with just over a minute left.

TEN did get the ball into field goal range. Two defensive holding penalties on third down and 21-yard pass from Tannehill to Philips set up Bullock for a 47 yard try. Bullock, who has hit just 76% of his field goals over his career from 40-49 yards and went 8-for-13 from there last year (62%), went wide left as time expired.

NYG wins 21-20. The first Week 1 win since 2016 and the first time they’ve been above .500 since that year as well.

QUARTERBACK

Daniel Jones: 17/21 – 188 yards / 2 TD – 1 INT / 115.9 RAT

Jones also added 25 yards on 6 rushing attempts. The 21 attempts were second fewest he’s ever thrown in a game that he both started and finished. There could be multiple reasons for that, but I will touch on that below. Only Justin Fields (who played in horrific conditions) threw less times than Jones in Week 1. But he made the most of those attempts, averaging a third-best in the league 9 yards per attempt. Numbers aside, Jones played an average game. He made quick decisions and was under fire often in the first half. The big-time touchdown pass to Shepard was nullified (from an evaluation standpoint) by the bonehead interception thrown in the end zone. His ability to run came up big on a couple of occasions including the 4th-and-1 conversion on their final drive. Solid first game in the new system. And no, the fumble cannot be pegged on him.

RUNNING BACK

-Saquon Barkley: 18 att – 164 yards – 1 TD / 6 rec – 30 yards

Barkley did fumble once but it fortunately rolled out of bounds. This was the best one-game version of Barkley we have seen since he became a Giant. I went through old performances and my old notes to make sure I am not overreacting. We’ve seen more output, we’ve seen more yards per touch, we’ve seen more touchdowns. But when combining the burst, agility, long speed, and most importantly, toughness, we haven’t seen this yet. Barkley came up huge in this game. There is no way they win this one without him. This is a different player in a different system with a different OL in front of him. Get ready.

-Matt Breida was the backup who spelled Barkley here and there. He produced well, gaining 24 yards on 5 carries.

WIDE RECEIVER

-One of the bigger stories of the game. Kadarius Toney was the sixth receiver on the depth chart. Sixth. He did not see a single target. He received 2 carries (one of which was intended for him to throw). Very interesting story to follow here and I will touch more on it below. Those 2 carries, by the way, gained 23 yards and he displayed the elite ability with the ball in his hands we have seen several times.

-Richie James led the team with 5 catches, totaling 59 yards. He dropped a ball on 3rd down but also gained 62 yards as a punt returner. This is a kid who last played in a regular-season game for SF in 2020. Talk about a comeback and something tells me he will be the Cole Beasley in this version of the Daboll offense.

-Sterling Shepard caught 2 balls, 1 of which was the 65-yard score that helped NYG tie the game up. His biggest impact beyond that play was in the running game. No, not as a rusher. Shepard made multiple key blocks both in and out of the box. They’re using him like the Rams use Cooper Kupp as a blocker. Motion to create momentum and move the eyes of the defenders, then as a trap-type blocker for Barkley to work off of once he gets through the traffic. Excellent dirty work by him.

-Kenny Golladay caught both of his targets for 22 yards but rookie Wan’Dale Robinson left the game early with a knee injury we still do not have clarity on at the time of this writing. He caught his lone target for 5 yards.

TIGHT END

-Another unsung hero of the running game success was rookie Daniel Bellinger. He was not involved in the passing game at all, but he had a couple of big-time blocks at the second level on big gains.

-Chris Myarick caught a touchdown that set NYG up for the lead. He moved around a bit as a blocker and got the job done there as well but had a holding penalty declined and missed a tackle on special teams. Tanner Hudson was the number three and didn’t see any action.

OFFENSIVE LINE

-Andrew Thomas played a clean game. The steady performance we talked about all summer and preseason carries on. He and Mark Glowinski both finished with positive grades. Glowinski did allow a pressure and was flagged for a hold, but was very steady besides that. He also made a key block on one of Barkley’s big runs.

-Rookie Evan Neal struggled in his debut. He allowed 2 TFL and 1 sack. The sack and one of those TFLs were not fully graded against him, however. Jones ran into Neal’s man because of back side pressure. The issue I saw with Neal centers around lateral speed. He was beat badly on two plays where he had to get across Simmons’ face, and he failed to do so. In addition, he was luckily not called for a false start on the NYG successful 2-point conversion attempt. Who knows what would have happened had the refs called it. Neal had a lot of impressive snaps and there is no denying the talent. Great movement as a straight-ahead run blocker, fared well in pass protection for the most part, and he never looked mentally fooled. He just needs to continue to hammer away at the footwork which will create more lateral upside and balance.

-The left guard/center combination was very up-and-down and often the source of pressure on Jones. Center Jon Feliciano allowed 2 sacks and a pressure. He seemed out of control at times, but it did look like he was limping around a bit. I did recently hear about his family situation and while I do separate personal news from football evaluation, anything with kids hits different. I took him off the Dud list because of that.

-Ben Bredeson and Joshua Ezeudu split snaps nearly down the middle at left guard. I am fine with the approach, as neither has taken the bull by the horns yet. Who played better? I have the edge to Bredeson. He was flagged for a false start and did not have the peak plays that the rookie Ezeudu did, but he was much more consistent. Ezeudu did have a couple of monster, highlight-reel plays but also allowed the sack on the play Jones fumbled and allowed a pressure that led to another sack. It is important for the rookie to play, make mistakes, and see how he responds. I do like, however, how the keys were not just handed over to him.

EDGE

-With Thibodeaux and Ojulari out, Jihad Ward and Oshane Ximines were the starters. The pass rush was non-existent from these two. Ximines did get one pressure and deflected a pass but was completely shut down otherwise. Ward’s impact was felt in the running game, setting the edge and finished with 6 tackles, second most on team. He is one of the main emotional and physical tone-setters on the team.

-Tomon Fox was the next guy up ahead of Quincy Roche. Both played, but Fox saw much more time. The undrafted rookie actually had the lone sack on the day, but it resulted in a 0-yard loss as he went untouched on the naked bootleg play by TEN.

DEFENSIVE LINE

-Containing the TEN run game was largely a result of Ward setting the edge but also the ability of Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence to maintain depth at the point-of-attack on both inside and outside runs. Williams had 1 pressure and Lawrence had 2. They both made tackles outside of the numbers in lateral pursuit as well. Quietly, a very solid game from these two.

-Nick Williams, Justin Ellis, and rookie D.J. Davidson rotated at the other DL spot with the veterans seeing more time. Ellis was effective over the center but was a little late to the outside on a couple of occasions and Williams was pushed around a bit.

LINEBACKERS

-The low point of the defense. I know Tae Crowder made a couple of highlight-reel hits (he’s done that multiple times over his career). But he was roasted against the pass, and it wasn’t receivers who beat him. He had a hard time covering TEN running back Hilliard, allowing a touchdown, and giving up another big gain to him on a crossing route. He is late to recognize route concepts and takes poor angles, showing very little space-awareness. He did lead the team with 7 tackles and added a 0.5 TFL.

-Austin Calitro allowed the first touchdown in coverage but did add 1.5 TFL. If he is playing next to a very good ILB, his play is good enough. But next to Crowder, this exposes a major issue in the middle of the defense.

CORNERBACK

-The two outside corners played a very solid game against a less-than-inspiring group of outside receivers. Adoree’ Jackson fared well against his former team besides one pass interference penalty. It was Aaron Robinson who played the standout game, however. He finished with 4 tackles and a pass break up on 3rd down, a near interception, and played excellent on special teams to boot. Robinson was a major factor as a run defender as well.

-Darnay Holmes was nearly the main culprit in the late-game defensive meltdown. He was flagged for 2 defensive holds (an ongoing problem for him) and allowed a 21-yard reception that set up TEN for the game-winning field goal attempt.

SAFETY

-Xavier McKinney and Julian Love played every snap and both were all over the field. From the All-22 tape, I was impressed with how quickly they were able to get over the top of TEN’s deep routes. They were well prepared. They combined for 9 tackles, and both filled multiple roles in coverage against the run and as pass rushers.

-Veteran Tony Jefferson played a lot in the final quarter. Interesting to see Martindale use him at that point of the game, and he blitzed as often as he did not. He did accrue a pressure. Jason Pinnock, another post-camp signing, recovered the muffed punt.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K Graham Gano: 2/2 XP
P Jamie Gillian: 6 punts – 51.5 avg / 41.2 net

*LS Casey Kreiter botched a snap on the first extra point attempt – forcing a missed point

3 STUDS

-RB Saquon Barkley, OT Andrew Thomas, CB Aaron Robinson

3 DUDS

-CB Darnay Holmes, LB Tae Crowder, LS Casey Kreiter

3 THOUGHTS ON TEN

1. TEN has out-kicked their coverage almost every year of the Vrabel era. What I mean by that is their end-of-season record exceeds what many believe is within their reach when considering their roster. As I mentioned earlier, they are one of the best, if not the best, in the league when it comes to winning close games. They’ve had a top-10 offense just once in four years. They’ve never had a top-10 defense. They’ve had a double-digit sack defender just once over that span (and he just tore his ACL before the season). There is a template here to follow for NYG as they build the roster, and even though they want to eventually be better than this, there is a lot to be said for playing quality fundamental football with minimal mistakes.

2. Ryan Tannehill is the quarterback I compared Daniel Jones to when he came out of Duke in 2019. While they have different styles and backgrounds (remember Tannehill started at WR in college), I can see the trajectory of Jones’ career heading in a similar direction. The ceiling being a guy who absolutely needs the team around him to be top notch. This is a tough kind of player to plan around when it comes to long term finances. Tannehill has the biggest cap number in the NFL ($38.6 million). And the team just drafted Malik Willis in round 3. They will be looking at a tough decision next offseason. Pay him the 5th-most among all QBs or take the $18 million cap hit to release him. In terms of dollars spent and production he creates, the value is poor. But the flip side could be much, much worse. NYG could be heading toward a similar situation.

3. I projected TEN to win 9 games, finishing 2nd in the weak AFC South, and missing out on the playoffs. Their roster situation was brittle and the loss of A.J. Brown in addition to the preseason injury to Harold Landry is going to expose the lack of versatility on this roster. While I do put DT Jeffery Simmons into the elite tier of defensive linemen, and this young secondary has the upside of being a top-5 group, I don’t see enough options offensively to rely on in big moments. They will be on the outside looking in.

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

1. There are several takeaways from the first game when projecting how this season will go and where NYG is headed long term. The biggest one is simple. This team finally has a pulse. It is amazing how big the contrast is between this coaching staff and what NYG has employed in recent years. The design of the offense. The construction of the personnel (while being handicapped by the cap). The innovation and adjustments. While it is just one week and there is still a long, steep hill to climb, the aura is different.

2. The offensive approach seemed advanced. Not just better than what we have seen, but fully mapped out and ready for adjustment. Watching several games around the league and keeping the past decade of NYG football in the memory bank, this was a different level of preparation and planning. Some of the hidden components to quality offensive football are what they did on 3rd-and-long in the first quarter. On the second and third offensive drives, respectively, NYG faced 3rd-and-long deep in their own territory. How many times have we seen a low-success running plays in those situations? Gain 2-4 yards, then punt. Or a wide receiver screen. Or a dump-off pass that did not reach the line of scrimmage. NYG gained 14 and 16 yards on those plays. Sure, the result was still a punt, but those hidden yards change games. Whether it is field position or information gathering for future 3rd-down situations. As simple and as unimportant as that sounds, those are signs this coaching staff is looking to get ahead at all times. Never throw up the white flag. Never a “get ‘em next time” mantra. And then you have the obvious analytic + momentum decision of going for 2 at the end. This is such a different era of NYG football and we’re here for it.

3. Where does this passing game go from here? NYG could end up being one of the more run-dominant teams in the league, but this run-pass ratio will not continue. 32 runs and 21 passes (+5 sacks). PHI was the most run-heavy team in the NFL last year and they still threw more than they ran. This one-game sample size is way too small (wait 4 weeks, then take a look), but fully expect to see this ratio get closer to 55-pass / 45-run. NYG’s wide receiver situation and usage needs to be ironed out. This was a wakeup call for Toney, I hope. He is clearly one of the most three talented players on this offense and with more passing on the way, the looks will be there. But he needs to earn it. He needs to change his ways behind closed doors. Nobody believes the likes of Richie James and David Sills bring more to the table. But this game (and this offense) requires much more than talent and status that stems from a previous regime using a 1st rounder on you.

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David Syvertsen

David Syvertsen, aka Sy'56, has worked for Ourlads Scouting LLC since 2013, starting off as a college depth chart manager and now a lead scout for one the most-sold NFL draft guides year-in, year-out. He has been scouting for over 10 years and will compile anywhere from 400-600 scouting reports per season, with that number increasing year by year. He watches and studies game films 20-25 hours per week throughout the entire year with his main focus being NFL Draft prospects.

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