-Tyrod Taylor: 27/41 – 317 yards / 1 TD – 1 INT / 87.3 RAT
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly was the theme of this game and it all stemmed from the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of one of its quarterbacks. Taylor’s highlight reel from this game alone is enough to make his supporters create the case he can be the guy. His lowlights from this game alone are enough to prove why he’s destined for backup duty for the remainder of his career. Taylor has a confident and quick trigger to launch the ball downfield and his success there is real. Here is a fun fact you can use at the bar with your friends next time. Taylor’s first full season as a starter, 2015, he ranked 3rd in the NFL in passer rating on throws 20+ yards downfield (109.5). Who was first? Eli Manning (114.3).
His explosive plays (4 – one of which was on the ground) and the 47-yarder called back by the Daniel Bellinger hold were clear, easy-to-see differences in this offense as a whole. At the same time, the layup-misses were on full display, one of which would have given the Giants a one-point lead on the two-point conversion attempt to Saquon Barkley. Then you have to add in the the interception and fumble on 4th-and-1 (not technically a turnover, but LAR scored a touchdown three minutes later) and there you have the Jekyll & Hyde style of play Taylor brings to the table. Acceptable for a rookie or second-year player, not a veteran (unless of course you’re nothing more than a back-up).
-Saquon Barkley: 12 att – 39 yards / 3 rec – 19 yards
A very uneventful game for Barkley. He did get six targets in the passing game in addition to the failed two-point conversion attempt. He never got it going besides a 13-yard gain. His drop on a 3rd-and-9 that had a shot at moving the chains is something we have seen too often over his career. The head-scratching gaffes in the passing game are, in my opinion, one of the glaring deficiencies in his game when comparing him to a Christian McCaffrey-type. He just never got over that hump after catching 91(!) balls as a rookie in 2018.
-Barkley went into the blue tent to get his shoulder checked. Rookie Eric Gray carried the ball once for two yards and Matt Breida saw a few uneventful snaps besides allowing a pressure.
-For the second time in as many weeks, Darius Slayton caught a long touchdown on a well-thrown deep ball. This one went for 80 yards. He added 26 more yards on 3 more catches. This marks three straight weeks of 60+ yards for Slayton, just the second time of his career where we have seen a stretch like this. He hit that mark in every game from week 8-12 last year but other than that, this is the most consistent stretch of his career. The significance of his ability to win vertically (and someone actually getting it to him) is such a vital component to the health of this offense.
-Wan’Dale Robinson led the team with 6 catches, finishing second with 55 yards. Forty-four of those yards came on two plays where he created after the catch. He took these little dump off passes over the middle and immediately accelerated to fast forward, moving faster than everyone on the field. Robinson also scored on a 24-yard end-around. Combine that with the toughness he showed and the development I see in his route running and NYG can head into 2024 knowing his he is a formidable weapon.
-Jalin Hyatt caught 3 passes for 25 yards. He was targeted four times officially, not including the 47-yard grab he had that was negated by a Bellinger holding penalty. He also dropped a downfield pass. After not seeing one ball thrown his way in Week 16, at least we saw him included in the game plan. Hyatt already gives off the sense of a credible, dangerous threat to the defense because of both his speed and ability to finish. I do see that extra step or two as an underneath route runner that hinders the separation, and his presence against contact is flimsy at best.
-Gunner Olszewski returned a 94 yarder for a touchdown, the first for NYG since Dwayne Harris did so in 2015. NYG never seems to get the return game figured out consistently, but this fifth-year pro formerly of the Steelers and Patriots has something. The vision and quick burst combined with the tough-dude mentality are worth keeping around at least through next summer. He’s never been a consistent part of a pro passing game but when the opportunities have come his way, he’s done well.
-Sterling Shepard dropped his second pass in his last four targets. Tough to watch a guy fall off the cliff like this.
-The tight ends were efficient in the passing game, combining for 9 catches and 90 yards on just 11 targets. Taylor missed a wide-open Waller on the one incompletion thrown in his direction. The blocking continues to be the glaring red flag for both the veteran and second-year player. Bellinger was actually flagged for holding twice, one of which took a 47-yard gain off the board. The struggles continue across the board for him.
-The duo of John Michael Schmitz and Ben Bredeson continues to worsen. The rookie center has hit the proverbial wall that many first-year players do at this point in the season. While he did make a key block in space on the Robinson touchdown, this was about as bad as a game from a center as you will find. He allowed 6 pressures, a sack, and was penalized two times. You may think it was All-Pro Aaron Donald who undressed him all afternoon, but it was third-round rookie Kobie Turner.
-Tyre Phillips played another solid game in pass protection prior to injuring his right knee/quad area. That looked like a serious one that is almost sure to keep him out of the start of 2024. Andrew Thomas played a mostly-clean game minus one pressure and a half-sack. He threw a key block on Robinson’s touchdown where he was about 25 yards away from his starting point. Good hustle and body control. The offensive line still stinks, but what a turn it made when he came back.
-Matt Peart came in for Phillips for 23 snaps, 20 of which were pass plays. For what we have seen out of him in recent years, he played well. I look forward to watching him against PHI for a full game; it is his last shot. This could determine a huge chunk of his future with NYG and the league.
-Justin Pugh allowed 2 pressures and a half-sack in addition to a tackle for loss. He is holding on for dear life at this point.
-Matthew Stafford excels at getting the ball out in a hurry. He is calculated and smart when it comes to deciding when to hang on for that extra second or two. His 2.13 seconds average time to throw was by far the quickest of the season, as a matter of fact the quickest since Week 3 of 2015. I bring that up because Kayvon Thibodeaux had just one pressure, making just three over the last three games. He has quieted down a lot. Azeez Ojulari had 2 QB hits on heavy-blitz packages where he was either left free or with minimal blocking across from him. I still think this is a top-three need on this roster.
-Jihad Ward, the veteran of the group, appears to be getting stronger as the season winds down. He recorded a sack and added 3 tackles. His 4.5 sacks are now tied with Dexter Lawrence and builds on his career high.
-Dexter Lawrence was back near a full snap load while playing on a beat-up hamstring. He had 2 tackles, one for a loss, and 2 pressures. Stafford’s quick throws kept some of the production down. He was winning off the line for most of the game, but they slowed him down just enough.
-The veteran accessories, A’Shawn Robinson and Rakeem Nunez-Roches, contributed with impact plays. The former ended with 5 tackles (as he continues his red-hot second half) and the latter recorded his first sack of the season. D.J. Davidson and Jordon Riley played uneventful snaps (about a dozen each) in back-up roles.
-Another big game from Bobby Okereke, the ironman. A team-high 10 tackles and 1.5 sacks. While it was not the best start of the season for him, Okereke was a home-run free agent signing. He has added a certain level of stability to the defense and there appears to be less mistakes made than when the likes of Tae Crowder was the main guy inside.
-Micah McFadden and Isaiah Simmons could not be more different when looking at their tools. One is short but physical, instinctive, and savvy against blockers. The other is tall, long, fast and explosive but lacking the IQ you want out of an inside linebacker. We saw a healthy mix of the two in this game with Simmons recording his first sack of the season and 3 tackles. More on this duo below.
-Adoree’ Jackson was the defensive version of the Tyrod Taylor roller coaster. He finished with 7 tackles, a pass break-up, and a forced fumble that NYG recovered, turning into three points. He missed 2 tackles, one of which was one of the more pathetic attempts a pro defender can put on tape. It resulted in an 80-yard gain for rookie receiver Puka Nacua. LAR scored a touchdown on the next play. The Rams went after him 11 times, making this the second time in as many weeks that the opponent threw at him over ten times. With Deonte Banks out, Jackson was the top corner on the field. But despite the expensive contract, he does not give the consistent level of play to be considered anything close to a number one.
-Nick McCloud played a season-high 62 snaps for the injured Banks. His physical brand continues to factor every time he is on the field, but he is an easy guy to beat for savvy route runners. The lack of anticipation makes him an easy target on third down and near the end zone. He allowed a touchdown and 80 percent of the passes thrown his way were completed.
-Cor’Dale Flott has had a rough second half of the season, but there are still flashes in coverage that I like. His movement was very clean. Nevertheless, the lack of presence against contact and his impact as a run defender hurt the defense in this one. He was flagged for defensive holding in the fourth quarter a play before the Rams final touchdown of the game.
-Jason Pinnock has played nearly as much as anyone this year with a fast and violent brand at safety. He injured his foot in the first half and missed the rest of the game. My guess is that will be it for him in 2023. Dane Belton came in relief and had the game of his life: 2 tackles, 2 interceptions, and a fumble recovery. The big plays somewhat overshadow the 2 missed tackles. Whether or not he can fill the Xavier McKinney role (if he leaves in FA) will be at least somewhat dependent on him avoiding those mistakes.
-McKinney finished with 7 tackles (0 misses) and allowed just one completion thrown his way. He has cleaned up his game a lot after a rough first half of the season. This is probably the biggest free agency decision the front office will make. I have been back and forth on him. Because so many teams in the NFL are looking for safety help, I have a feeling NYG will get priced out. I like McKinney. He does things on tape that do not show up in the box score weekly, but his value is not worth what he will likely get in the market.
-K Mason Crosby: 2/3 (Made 31, 32 / Missed 54 / Missed 1 XP)
-P Jamie Gillan: 5 punts / 44.4 avg – 44.4 net
-WR Darius Slayton, S Dane Belton, LB Bobby Okereke
-C John Michael Schmitz, CB Nick McCloud, OG Ben Bredeson
3 THOUGHTS ON LAR
(1) Perhaps it is because we are used to the Rams being good. But what this team is doing with a roster that has more rookies than anyone in the NFL on their 53-man roster at the start of the year is simply stunning. I remember doing their pre- and post-draft team reports for Ourlads and couldn’t believe it. This coaching staff (not just McVay, but Raheem Morris as well) should be put on a pedestal for what they’ve done. Playoff-bound for the fifth time in seven years.
(2) Puka Nacua is arguably having the best rookie season we have ever seen when it comes to the production and where he was drafted. The FIFTH-round pick is FOURTH in the NFL in yards. Not among rookies, fourth among everyone. He is fifth in first downs. He is eighth in receptions. He is fourth in yards after catch. Stunning production for a guy everyone had a late day three / priority free agent grade on.
(3) Would you want to play the Rams in the post-season? Against a championship caliber quarterback who can still sling it, an All-Pro caliber receiver and record-setting rookie to complement him, and a pass rush that does not look great statistically, but Aaron Donald is still there and they have two rookies (Byron Young + Kobie Turner) who are blossoming fast. These guys are 4-3 on the road with wins at Seattle, Indianapolis, and a near-win at Baltimore that needed an absolutely crazy ending. In the NFC, there are only 2 teams I would hate to play against more than these guys.
3 CLOSING THOUGHTS
(1) Can Evan Neal learn something from Tyre Phillips? I think he can. Phillips is a poor athlete and always has been. His Combine workout was one of the worst I’ve seen and Neal, while he won’t set any records athletically, is a much better mover. Phillips grades out better in pass protection though. What gives? Neal abandons his technique way too early, way too often. I think it is more of a confidence issue than anything and I hope he can watch Phillips and pick up the fact that if you do what you’re supposed to do with your feet and hands, you will not bottom out the way he does.
(2) Weeks before Isaiah Simmons was drafted, I said I would love to see him as an outside linebacker-only at some point. What he did at Clemson (which was everything) and all of the projecting we did ended up not being realistic. I’m still not sold even Martindale knows what to do with him. This is truth. He is at his best in attack mode. He is 6’4” with plus-length, and he is incredibly explosive. I don’t think he has every-down ability at a Thibodeaux-type spot, but I would love to see him be a designated pass rusher. He’s been there for just about 20 percent of his career snaps and he pressures the passer at a higher than 10 percent rate, a solid number. That is his calling card. McFadden is the kind of number two linebacker who should be getting a 30-40 percent snap share and taken off of the field in obvious passing situations. Neither should be THE guy unless they clean up the deficiencies, McFadden’s being the missed tackles (2nd most in the NFL).
(3) Here we are. The final game of the 2023 season before we go headfirst into offseason mode, arguably more active and undoubtedly more interesting than the regular season. NYG is up against a team that is falling off the track hard and fast. Even though everyone wants the better draft position (they’re top 8 no matter what), this is a game I believe could help them get over one of the roadblocks in their way, and that is beating Philly. Does it mean anything for 2024? Mathematically, nope. But this team needs to find ways to get past these guys in head-to-head matchups. Confidence is bigger in sports than many realize, and I view this as a huge game for the future of this nucleus.