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.

Oct 112021
 
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Daniel Jones, New York Giants (October 10, 2021)

Daniel Jones – © USA TODAY Sports

QUICK RECAP

After riding high following their emotional Week 4 win against the Saints, the Giants went on the road for the second straight week to take on the NFC East favorite Dallas Cowboys. A division rivalry that has been anything but in recent years would be an opportunity for NYG to make a statement. A statement that they could contend for the division crown. A statement that they were on the way up with Joe Judge at the helm. A statement that their dynamic, come-from-behind win in New Orleans was no fluke, but the new norm. They would have to do so without their left tackle Andrew Thomas, who was active but did not play. They would have to do so without their top wide receiver in Sterling Shepard and defensive general, Blake Martinez. Dallas, winners of 3 straight, was pretty much fully healthy with a quarterback in Dak Prescott who has found himself in the early MVP discussion. If NYG wanted to truly turn this ship around, this would be the game they had to win.

NYG had the initial momentum, forcing an interception on a 4th-down pass from Prescott to running back Ezekiel Elliott by Lorenzo Carter. After a 3rd-down drop by rookie Kadarius Toney, Graham Gano lined up for a 54-yard field goal attempt. It went wide right, leaving the game tied at 0-0 and giving DAL excellent field position. DAL shot themselves in the foot again, this time being a Dalton Schultz drop in the end zone that made them settle on a 31-yard field goal by Greg Zuerlein. DAL had the initial lead.

NYG went 3-and-out on the next drive but the biggest negative was a Saquon Barkley sprained ankle on a freak accident where he stepped on DAL cornerback Jourdan Lewis’ foot. For those who have ever sprained their ankle in that fashion, you know it doesn’t take much for it to get ruined. The odds of it happening were slim-to-none, but what is done is done. Barkley’s ankle blew up on the sideline within just a few minutes and we knew in that moment, he was done for the day and likely longer.

DAL drove down the field with ease again. And for the third time in as many drives, their final play was a major mishap that prevented points. Prescott mishandled a shotgun snap and the ball rolled into the hands of NYG linebacker Reggie Ragland. NYG proceeded to go 3- and-out again on the ensuing drive, but the score was still 3-0 as they dug into the second quarter. On 3rd-and-8, DAL put up the first touchdown of the game. A deep pass to CeeDee Lamb over James Bradberry finally put a score on the board that indicated what was really occurring on the field.

Thanks to a 38-yard gain on a 3rd-and-10 pass to Toney, NYG was back in field goal range. The offense stalled and settled on another long field goal attempt; this was from 51 yards. Gano nailed this one through the uprights and put NYG within a touchdown. They had the ball back after a 3-and-out by the DAL offense and found some of their mojo we saw last week in New Orleans. They got inside the DAL 5-yard line and after two straight failed rushing attempts by Devontae Booker, offensive coordinator and former Cowboys Head Coach Jason Garrett called a designed run for Jones after a faked handoff. Jones came up a few inches short but was badly concussed on a hit by DAL linebacker Jabril Cox. He needed assistance walking off the field and that was as clear a sign as anyone needed, he too was done for the day. NYG ended up scoring a touchdown to tie it up via a Booker run but it was hard to be optimistic knowing Barkley, Jones, Shepard, and Thomas were out.

DAL put up a touchdown to end the half on a Prescott pass to Amari Cooper. It was the 5th time in as many weeks where NYG allowed a touchdown in the final 2 minutes of the first half. NYG was down 17-10.

The Giants came out of the half, being led by Mike Glennon (7-28 career in games he played), without Barkley, Shepard, Jones, Thomas, Nick Gates, and now receiver Kenny Golladay who injured his knee in the first half. They were up against the best team in the division being led by a QB that had beat NYG 8 times in a row. Tall order.

Their initial drive netted 3 points, making it a 4-point margin. DAL then took over. They scored touchdown on the ensuing drive via a pass to Elliott, intercepted a Glennon pass on the first play of NYG’s next drive, then put up another 3 points on a 38-yard field goal by Zuerlein. They were up 27-13 as the game entered the 4th quarter.

The Toney-show was NYG’s last hope at making this a game as the final 15 minutes of game clock dwindled down. He picked up 26 yards to get the ball across midfield. From there, he was the target or ball carrier on 4 of the next 6 plays. They were inside the DAL 10, but the 4th-and-goal pass to him toward the sideline on a play where he lost his footing fell incomplete. DAL began the ensuing drive from their own 2, and needed just 9 plays to travel 98 yards. Elliott scored his second touchdown of the day on a 13-yard run. It was 34-13 with 7:34 left.

Glennon had a solid drive, engineering 11 plays and fighting through further adversity that stemmed from an on-field fight that saw Toney get ejected for throwing a punch. Yet another playmaker not on the field. Glennon found Booker for a 3-yard touchdown to make it 34-20. After a failed onsides kick attempt, DAL put up 3 more points on a 31-yard field goal by Zuerlein. This game was all but over with under 2 minutes left, but the football gods added further insult to injury with a pick-6 by DAL corner Anthony Brown. The score was now more indicative of how big the gap was between these two teams on this day.

NYG loses, 44-20.

QUARTERBACK

-Mike Glennon: 16/25 – 196 yards – 1 TD – 2 INT / 68.1 RAT

Glennon essentially played the second half under a deficit without 3 starting offensive linemen, his starting running back, and 3 of his top 4 receivers. On the road. Knowing that, I think Glennon deserves some credit. He made a few quality throws and commanded the offense well all things considered. Nobody will mistake him for a starting caliber quarterback, but he has been around, has started games, and can do the minimums. That said, I wouldn’t expect anything more from him on a consistent basis if Jones ends up being out.

-Daniel Jones: 5/13 – 98 yards – 0 TD – 0 INT / 65.5 RAT

Jones added 9 yards on the ground. Before his concussion, he was erratic. He overthrew John Ross down the field twice and air mailed one over Barkley’s head on a short pass. It was a poor performance, and it is hard to diagnose why. Was the new offensive line in his head? Was he too amped up? Or is this just the inconsistency from Jones that is going to create debate in the upcoming months in regard to this team’s long-term future with him? Remember, he won’t be earning a rookie salary in just a couple years. Economics is a part of the evaluation.

RUNNING BACK

-Devontae Booker: 16 att – 42 yards – 1 TD / 3 rec – 16 yards – 1 TD

Booker isn’t a feature back and nobody should expect that from him. However, like Glennon, he made the most out of the situation he was in. He dropped a pass and allowed a pressure, but otherwise he was mistake free. I’ve said this before on him and I will say it again. Booker is a difference maker as a blocker and as a pass catcher. He has 128 career receptions with a 75% catch rate. If Barkley is out for extended time, I think he is the automatic 3rd down back and he can be spelled on early downs with Eli Penny and Gary Brightwell.

WIDE RECEIVER

-Kadarius Toney: 10 rec – 189 yards / 1 att – 7 yards

Toney was the star of the game for NYG, and nobody was even close. After his drop on the first drive, he caught 10 of 12 targets and just made so much happen by himself. The quickness and agility, which show up with the ball and while running routes, is rare. There aren’t many players in the league who can move like him. The temper issue at the end of the game? I don’t want to make too much of it because the answer is generic. It was a dumb decision in the heat of the moment against a dirty player (Tyron Kazee) who has a reputation. The only move to make is preventing himself from doing that again. He was pulled back by coaches last week after a NO defender hit Jones near the sideline. His toughness and attitude are part of what make him a good player, but he needs to show he can control it. We’ve been here before, hopefully this one turns out better.

-After his big-time performance last week, John Ross had 1 catch for 13 yards and had a touchdown pulled off the board by a review because he didn’t get his second foot down in time. He had a step on DAL corners multiple times downfield and Jones overshot him twice. Glennon didn’t see him on another one.

TIGHT END

-Evan Engram: 4 rec / 55 yards
Engram caught all 4 of his targets and two of them were high-level hand catches. If Glennon gets the nod with Jones being out, look for Engram to see an uptick in production. Glennon has a history of throwing to the tight end often.

OFFENSIVE LINE

-Andrew Thomas was active but did not play. Thus, the staff moved Nate Solder back over to left tackle and inserted Matt Peart on the right side. Solder allowed 3 pressures and was flagged for a hold. Peart was excellent on the right side. He neutralized that side of the line from start to finish while the coaching staff sent over a lot of help to Solder’s side. Peart should be the starting RT by midseason. He needs to get his game experience up and he just showed there isn’t much of a drop off, if at all, from him to Solder when Thomas returns back at left tackle.

-Left Guard Matt Skura had an awful game and was benched for recently signed Wes Martin. He was on the field for just 29 plays (15 passes) but allowed 3 pressures. Martin didn’t fare much better, but he did get a better push in the running game.

-Will Hernandez had a solid game. He was effective at the second level and was left alone on an island in the passing game often. He neutralized the DAL interior pass rushers, most of which are power based. Hernandez does have his struggles against speed, but he is as good as you will find when it comes to blocking against size and power.

DEFENSIVE LINE

-DAL averaged 5.2 yards per carry and while some of that will be put on the defensive line, most of the blame should be placed on the guys in the next position group. Leonard Williams had 6 tackles, a half-sack, and a pressure. He had a dumb personal foul penalty late in the game where he couldn’t hide his frustration. Dexter Lawrence was hot and cold. He finished with 3 tackles. The glaring negative I have was the result of him facing off against DAL right guard Zack Martin. Martin, one of the best in the game still, abused Lawrence when they were on an island. That is a red flag for me. Lawrence did get him on one pass rush but otherwise, he looked overmatched.

-Danny Shelton was terrible against NO and because DAL had a lot of success on the ground, many will assume was terrible against DAL. That would be incorrect. He was much more active, finishing with 6 tackles and a half-sack. He missed 1 tackle and didn’t offer anything as a pass rusher, but he was better at holding the point of attack than a week ago.

-Austin Johnson had 4 tackles and a sack, continuing his solid play. He offers a lot of what B.J. Hill did prior to the trade with CIN.

LINEBACKER

-This was the position group that hurt the defense the most in my opinion. They were roasted against the pass all afternoon, showing no range. The outside ‘backers failed to set the edge over and over. Lorenzo Carter made a huge play on the tip + interception early on, but he was getting crushed in the running game all afternoon. Azeez Ojulari had 3 tackles and 1 TFL, his 5th play behind the line of scrimmage in as many weeks but got pushed inward routinely on the DAL outside zone runs. And Oshane Ximines continues to show no feel for run defense. He did add 1 pressure, though. Poor game by this crew.

-Tae Crowder and Reggie Ragland were late to the outside over and over. Their mental reactions are a hair slow, and they just couldn’t make up the gap with movement, more notably Ragland. Ragland’s box score reads well (7 tackles, 1 FR, 1 PD, 1 TFL), but he was the catalyst in NYG’s poor run defense for most of the afternoon. The speed isn’t good enough. Crowder has more juice, but it won’t matter much if he can’t diagnose quicker.

CORNERBACK

-There are certain receivers James Bradberry can excel against. The quicker, more change-of-direction based pass catchers are simply not a good matchup for him. Lamb is one of those guys. He torched Bradberry for a long touchdown and forced a pass interference on a 3rd-and-3 near the end zone later in the game. Bradberry also dropped an interception. A poor game for him that added to his poor overall start for the season.

-Adoree’ Jackson and rookie Rodarius Williams were both beat on 3rd down multiple times. They are quality athletes but like Crowder, they don’t forecast well. Their reactions are just a tad too behind and against a quality passing game, that margin just can’t be erased especially with a poor pass rush.

SAFETY

-There wasn’t a lot of positive coming from a defense that allowed over 500 yards. Julian Love, upon re-watching the 2 tapes, played a good game. They moved him around often. He had 2 pressures and 5 tackles. Love is an effective blitzer who times his breaks well to coincide with the snap and he takes good angles. His glaring negative, however, was being late to the outside on the long Lamb touchdown. He also took a poor angle on the play.

-Logan Ryan led the team with 8 tackles. He missed 1, but it was a tough play where he was caught out of position. Xavier McKinney had 6 tackles and looked better in coverage than a week ago in NO, but he was still getting beat by tight ends. He needs to improve over the middle of the field because in all honesty, his impact elsewhere isn’t good enough to make up for poor coverage.

SPECIAL TEAMS

-K Graham Gano: 2/3 (Made 51, 51, Missed 54).
-P Riley Dixon: 2 punts / 45.0 avg / 36.5 net. Dixon is having a poor year and ranks bottom 7 in the most important metrics.

3 STUDS

-WR Kadarius Toney, OT Matt Peart, S Julian Love

3 DUDS

-OG Matt Skura, LB Oshane Ximines, CB James Bradberry

3 THOUGHTS ON DAL

(1) I projected DAL to win 10 games and win the NFC East prior to the season. I stand by it now and could see them approaching 12 wins if they remain healthy. Their offense is loaded and will end up top-5 in points scored. We knew that. But what is the difference maker? Their defense looks credible and deep, finally. Even with the release of linebacker Jaylon Smith, this defense is so well put together top to bottom, left to right. The emergence of cornerback Trevon Diggs could potentially shut down one side of the field the way Jalen Ramsey does for LAR. He is doing things only a couple corners in the league can do.

(2) It’s hard not to root for a guy like Dak Prescott. His personal story and issues with depression, the bounce back from a horrific injury, and the fact he was a FOURTH round pick (many forget that) should give a lot of teams and fans alike hope. I graded him as a 2nd rounder and stacked him right under Carson Wentz in 2016 and saw Donovan McNabb in him. Now? I think he is the best QB from that class by far (Goff/Wentz/Lynch/Jones) and will end up with a far better career than McNabb.

(3) NYG had a shot at Micah Parsons. He was one of the top 10 players on my overall board and was an ideal fit for a scheme that gave multiple looks. He has 10 QB hits, 3 TFL 2 PD, and 25 tackles. All of that and he still doesn’t even know what he’s doing yet. He is making all of that happen with sheer talent alone. If his head stays on straight, and from everything I’ve been told he has been an “A+ student” with the coaches, DAL may have yet another elite-level player for the back seven to pair with Diggs. Say what you want about Jerry Jones, but those guys have drafted very well over the years.

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

(1) This won’t matter much in the NYG locker room but when it comes to us, the outsiders, it certainly does. NYG is missing nearly two-thirds of their offense and their 5 most important players. How long will Jones, Barkley, Thomas, Shepard, and Golladay be out? My guess is not long. But because of the poor 1-4 start, their margin for error was small. They are now staring down the barrel of a schedule that is the hardest in the NFL. 16-9 is the combined record of their upcoming 5 opponents and the team with the worst record? Kansas City. It’s hard to have even an ounce of optimism as opposed to last year because DAL is already running away with the division crown.

(2) Matt Peart was behind Nate Solder on the depth chart for the first 4 games. Kadarius Toney barely saw the ball over the first 3 games (all losses). They get forced into action week 5 and they end up playing at a really high level? Proper patience? Or over-coaching? Should these two have played a larger part in the offense weeks 1-3? I think it is a question worth asking.

(3) NYG now ranks bottom 3 in pressure percentage. When examining and breaking down defenses from around the league, it is one of the most important metrics I personally use. They are 2nd worst in QB knockdown percentage. Simply put, we will never know how good this secondary is without a true pass rush presence. There is a lot of talk, and there will be a lot of talk, why NYG is where it is right now. The lack of pass rush is where I start the conversation and then I move over to the OL. Remember when NYG used a 1st round pick on defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka from Boston College in 2006 despite the fact they already had a top tier group of pass rushers? They were already 3-deep with 3 All-Pro caliber players and had other roster weaknesses. Those were the days and always remember, “You can never have enough pass rushers.” Draft talent more than you draft need. It works.

Oct 052021
 
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Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley, New York Giants (October 3, 2021)

Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley – © USA TODAY Sports

QUICK RECAP

There is adversity, and then there is what the New Orleans Saints have gone though. After being displaced thanks to Hurricane Ida, the team had to practice in Texas and play a “home” game in Florida. It didn’t end there. Week 2 against the Panthers, they were without seven assistant coaches on game day and three the following week against the Patriots because of positive Covid tests and protocols. They were also missing their star wide receiver Michael Thomas, starting left tackle Terron Armstead, starting center Erik McCoy, starting inside linebacker Kwon Alexander, starting defensive end Marcus Davenport, starting defensive tackle David Onyemata, backup wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith, and kicker Wil Lutz. All of this in the first season without Drew Brees under center since 2005.

On October 3, Week 4, it was the first time they were in front of a full home crowd since the 2019 season. The place was rocking and hungry to make an impact against the 0-3 Giants. Big Blue was also a little less than 100%, albeit not nearly down to the level of the beat-up Saints. They were without receivers Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton, in addition to marching out their fourth left guard in as many weeks. Linebacker Blake Martinez was placed on IR earlier in the week, leaving the green-dot responsibilities to Tae Crowder.

The game remained scoreless through the first quarter. NYG did show some life on both sides of the ball, however. Leonard Williams came up with a huge 4th-down stop on a running play from the NYG 29-yard line. Rookie receiver Kadarius Toney came up with a first down on a short 3rd-and-18 pass where he created it all pretty much on his own. That drive, which ended at the start of the 2nd quarter, brought NYG into field goal range. Graham Gano had his 37-consecutive made field goal streak broken on a wide-left attempt. It was the first miss since November 25, 2018, when he was with Carolina. Coincidentally, the NYG kicker at the time was Aldrick Rosas, current kicker for the Saints. Rosas missed a career-long attempt field goal of 58 yards on the following NO drive.

NYG had the ball back with great field position. John Ross III, the NFL Combine record-holder for the fastest official (4.22) 40 time ever, suited up for NYG for the first time since being signed in March. He blew by rookie corner Paulson Adebo and Jones perfectly placed the ball on his chest in stride. As he was about to breach the goal line, he had the ball jarred loose. Adebo did not realize the ball was live, giving Ross III the opportunity to pounce back on it in the end zone. The play resulted in a touchdown and NYG had the initial 7-0 lead.

NO then put together a 13-play, 8:28 drive with three third-down conversions that ended with a 15-yard touchdown pass from Winston to Juwan Johnson. It was the fourth time in as many weeks where the NYG defense allowed a touchdown with under 2:00 left in the first half. NO then built off that momentum in the third quarter with another touchdown scoring drive. This one only needed 3 plays, however. A 58-yard gain on a pass to receiver Marquez Callaway and a 9-yard pass to veteran journeyman Chris Hogan preceded an 8-yard touchdown run by Mr. Everything Taysom Hill. It was a physical run that saw him break four tackles. NO was up 14-7 and the raucous crowd had their swagger back.

NYG’s next drive made it inside the 5-yard line with a 1st down, but their red zone woes continued and they had to settle on a field goal by Gano. Down by 4, NO head coach and former NYG Offensive Coordinator Sean Payton went for the jugular. Winston connected with another veteran journeyman Kenny Stills for a 46-yard touchdown but a holding penalty called on tight end Adam Trautman brought it back. One play later, NO threw the ball downfield yet again, this one by Hill, but right into the hands of NYG corner James Bradberry. Instead of it being 21-10, NYG had the ball back with the score 14-10. NO was running the ball down the throats of NYG but they got just a bit too greedy and it helped out NYG.

Unfortunately, NYG could not capitalize on the NO mistake. Evan Engram dropped a 3rd down conversion pass and NO put those 7 points on the scoreboard that they missed out on earlier. It was early in the 4th quarter as Hill crossed the goal line for a second time. NO had gone on a 21-3 run in just over 17 minutes of game clock. NYG needed to respond.

They traded scoreless possessions and now NYG was also playing a game against the clock. They were down 11 with just 7:01 remaining. After a 26-yard punt return by C.J. Board that brought NYG close to midfield (a very overlooked component of the comeback effort), NYG wasted no time in putting a touchdown on the board. Jones hit Barkley on a go route with a perfectly placed ball just over the coverage of NO top corner Marshon Lattimore. Barkley was making cuts in this game we haven’t seen since 2019 and he used one of them to scamper by safety Marcus Williams for the score. NYG opted to go for 2 so they could be within 3 and they used a designed QB draw to get it done. Jones darted through the line and the score was 21-18 with over 6 minutes left.

This was the moment where the NYG defense needed to prove they were at least close to the level we expected them to be coming into this season. They hadn’t been able to come up with big stop over the previous 3 weeks and they were getting torched late in halves. Thanks to a shocking delay of game penalty, pushing NO back to 2nd-and-14 on their own side of the ball and a solid pass rush by Leonard Williams, NYG had the ball back with just over 3 minutes.

Jones spread the ball out, using targets to Kenny Golladay, Toney, Engram, Ross, and Barkley (the latter 2 did not catch those targets, however). The point was, he kept NO guessing and he took what the defense gave. They stalled as they reached field goal range and had to settle on tying the game via a 48-yarder by Gano. NO didn’t have much time left and they foolishly didn’t have any timeouts remaining. The game was headed to overtime.

NYG won the coin toss and obviously chose to start overtime with the ball. Remember the rule is if a touchdown is scored, game over. If the team who starts overtime with possession hits a field goal, the opponent then gets an opportunity to match it or score a touchdown of their own (which would end the game). Want to control your own destiny? Get in the end zone.

A Jones pass to Ross picked up 17 yards for a first down on the first play. Two plays later, he hit him for 8 yards which also netted a first down. They were pushed back to a 2nd-and-14 via a Collin Johnson illegal substitution penalty, but it took just one play, a pass to Barkley, to gain all of that back and more. They were now in field goal range. A collective gasp among NYG fans occurred on the next play where Barkley fumbled. The ball bounced around several times, NO had a shot at recovery, but tight end Kyle Rudolph recovered it. Two plays later, on 3rd-and-5, Jones hit Golladay for a gain of 23 yards. Aggressive play call and throw for an offense that did a nice job of keeping the foot on the gas.

1st-and-goal from the 6. An offense that has been downright terrible in these situations. Touchdown wins it, field goal keeps it alive and open for another potential disaster. This was the opportunity this team was in search for. They needed just one play, a handoff to their running back that is showing signs of returning to his elite ways, to end it. Barkley got over the goal line, barely, and NYG had their first victory of the 2021 season.

NYG wins 27-21.

QUARTERBACK

-Daniel Jones: 28/40 – 402 yards / 2 TD – 1 INT / 108.5 RAT

Jones also added 27 yards on the ground. Keep in mind that the INT was on a Hail Mary attempt at the end of the first half. This could easily be considered the best game we have ever seen out of Jones. Not just because of the career high 402 yards and yards-per-attempt (10.05), but because of the number of high-level throws he made in clutch situations. He had a notable difference in decision making. The confidence level and desire to put this team on his back, on the road in a hostile environment, missing two starting OL and his most targeted receiver, speaks volumes. His downfield passing is impressive and now that there are credible deep threats and the OL appears to have turned a corner, get ready. This may be the starting point for something we always knew COULD happen with this group.

RUNNNG BACK

-Saquon Barkley: 13 att – 52 yards – 1 TD / 5 rec – 74 yards – 1 TD

The game didn’t start off very well for Barkley. His first 4 touches netted -3 yards, and at the end of the first quarter, he had 4 total yards. From the second quarter-on, he had 13 touches for 129 yards and 2 touchdowns. The biggest positive takeaway I had from this game was the different level of movement we saw. The cuts in and out of traffic, combined with his burst and the timing of when to use it, isn’t something we have seen in quite some time. His confidence should be elevated after this game and that could be the final missing component to getting back the player who gained 2,000+ yards from scrimmage as a rookie. The negative? From the All-22 angle, he clearly missed the running lane on two inside zone runs. These were running lanes that I see most NFL backs hit, both good and bad.

WIDE RECEIVER

-Kenny Golladay: 6 rec / 116 yards

Not enough will be made of Golladay and the chunk gains he made to set up scoring opportunities for the offense. He is such a threat in traffic because of how well he comes back to the ball, using his length and strength against cover men. He also made a difference as a blocker and consistently shows high effort in that department. It may not make the highlight reel, but it makes a huge difference when receivers with that kind of size play like that.

-Kadarius Toney: 6 rec / 78 yards

Toney’s coming out party was a huge part of the NYG win and comeback effort. He made multiple big plays after the catch, showing toughness and elite-level quickness. The ways he can cut things back and pick up extra yards were on full display. This is what made him a threat at Florida in the SEC. He can simply play at a different level of speed in short spaces. He couldn’t get behind the secondary on deep routes, but that won’t be his game. His game is what we saw on 3rd-and-18, where he took a short pass and found a way past the chains. He did drop a pass and had another drop nullified by a hold on guard Matt Skura.

-John Ross III: 3 rec / 77 yards / 1 TD

With Slayton and Shepard out and this being Ross’ first game back from being on short-term IR, the opportunity could not have been better for the 9th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. The oft-injured speedster made his presence known right away with a 51-yard touchdown. Nearly just as important were his two other catches on the overtime drive. I don’t want to inspire too much over-excitement about one player from one game, but I will say this: Ross has missed 36-of-55 games since his career began. Most (not all) were injury-induced. Plain and simple, we have not seen the best out of the 25-year old Ross, who was drafted the same year as Evan Engram to put things into perspective time-wise.

TIGHT END

-Speaking of Engram, we have another negative to add to the list. He dropped a 3rd-down pass that was thrown a little behind him. He did catch his 5 other targets for just 27 yards total. He was also given a rushing attempt near the goal line that lost 3 yards. He played 68% of the snaps and was in some visible pain at different points of the game. I don’t want to look too deeply into it with my very limited knowledge, but Engram’s body language was very odd in this one.

-Kyle Rudolph caught 2 passes for 24 yards, including 1 for 20 yards. He was given an opportunity on 3rd-and-goal, but he couldn’t out-position the much smaller NO corner Lattimore. He looks like he is playing in slow motion. He is a fine player to have on the side, but he isn’t a feature-player who should be targeted in vital situations. There isn’t enough talent left in him.

OFFENSIVE LINE

-This is some of the best pass blocking we have seen from the NYG offensive line in over 28 games. Zero sacks and just 3 QB hits from defenders who defeated a blocker.

-Another elite-level performance by Andrew Thomas on the blind side. He allowed 1 pressure and that was it. NO rotated a few backup-caliber pass rushers at him and none had any success. His pass protection tape was a clinic on how to get the job done in a variety of ways. Right tackle Nate Solder allowed 1 pressure, a great game for him, and better than what he has been putting on tape since being on this team. They were giving him a ton of help against Cameron Jordan, one of the top-10 defensive ends in the game.

-The interior played a solid game, notably in pass protection. Matt Skura, the fourth starting left guard in 4 weeks. He finished with the worst grade in the group, allowing a TFL, a pressure, and was flagged for a holding penalty. Will Hernandez also allowed a TFL and 1 pressure, but threw a couple of key blocks on big gains. I was most impressed with his effort, hustle, and effectiveness down the field. On three occasions he was 10+ yards beyond the line of scrimmage making blocks that helped gained more yardage. Center Billy Price was clean after a rough first two drives. Much better than a week ago.

DEFENSIVE LINE

-I knew Leonard Williams had a solid game when I watched the live tape. Upon the re-watch and All-22 review, he clearly was the difference maker on this defense. He had 5 pressures in a game where the NYG pass rush didn’t record any sacks. In their defense, NO called just 23 pass plays. Williams also came up with a huge stop in the first quarter on 4th down to force a turnover on downs. What stood out about that play was how far away it was from the snap. Williams nearly reached the sideline to run down Alvin Kamara and then had to work over and around others to complete the play against a back who is always near the top of the league in yards after contact and broken tackles. The defensive tackle had 6 tackles.

-Danny Shelton had a horrible game. He was on the field for just one-third of the snaps, mostly running downs, but his negative plays were a huge part of the success NO had on the ground. He was pushed back multiple yards several times. A nose tackle that big and that ineffective in space needs to, at the very least, maintain the point-of-attack at the line of scrimmage.

-Austin Johnson and Dexter Lawrence were up and down. Lawrence had the better game, finishing with a pressure, TFL, PD, and 6 tackles. He was not the issue when it came to NO running the ball well. Johnson added 6 tackles and played a physical game, but was really hit or miss against the inside run. He was very poor against the pass as well.

LINEBACKER

-Tae Crowder and Reggie Ragland were fighting an uphill battle against a Saints running game that saw their offensive line easily reaching the second level. They both missed 1 tackle (Crowder’s being a lowlight on the first Hill touchdown), but also combined for 17 tackles. For what they had to deal with, I would grade their performance in the positive.

-Make it four weeks in a row for rookie Azeez Ojulari making a stop in the backfield. Also, make it four weeks in a row where he was quiet for the vast majority of the game, notably as a pass rusher. Lorenzo Carter missed 2 tackles, had 1 pressure, and finished with 4 tackles (all were assists). I zeroed in on every Carter pass rush and he just doesn’t have it. No moves, no ability to disengage, and no tight turns around the edge. It has been a poor start for him.

CORNERBACK

-James Bradberry had a big interception and 2 tackles, however he was burned deep and also missed a tackle. While the interception was a needed big play for both him and the defense respectively, I am still a bit worried about the amount of separation we are seeing receivers get on him.

-Adoree’ Jackson got beat on 3rd down two times and also missed 2 tackles. He was picked on often, as seen with his 7 tackles. While Jackson is a better option than what NYG has been marching out there at the position in recent years, he has yet to show he is worth the hefty price tag. I’m not optimistic about this one.

SAFETY

-The safeties were the position group on this defense I was most excited and optimistic about coming into this season. Jabrill Peppers and Xavier McKinney have dampened those thoughts. Peppers allowed a touchdown to Juwan Johnson, a former undrafted receiver who was shifted to tight end. He was injured on that drive and sat out the rest of the game. McKinney missed 2 tackles and was horrible in coverage. He allowed a touchdown that was nullified by a NO holding penalty. His angles in pursuit were very poor as well.

-Logan Ryan and Julian Love, however, played well. Ryan led the team with 9 tackles and Love added 6. They were both all over the field and seem to be better football players than athletes, while the two names above are the complete opposite. I want the instincts and football intelligence at this position more than I want the athlete.

SPECIAL TEAMS

-K Graham Gano: 2/3 (Made 23, 48, Missed 35)
-P Riley Dixon: 4 punts / 39.3 avg / 37.0 net

3 STUDS

-QB Daniel Jones, DT Leonard Williams, OT Andrew Thomas

3 DUDS

-DT Danny Shelton, S Xavier McKinney, OLB Lorenzo Carter

3 THOUGHTS ON N.O.

(1) 2021 will be the biggest test of Head Coach Sean Payton’s career. Since he took over in 2006, the team has finished top 5 in the league in scoring 10 times and top 5 in yards 11 times. Those are stunning numbers. In recent years, however, it is the defense that has stepped up as the team has spent more and more draft resources on the other side of the ball. Four of their past six first round picks have been spent on defenders and they now have the 15th most expensive defense while they have the 26th most expensive offense. Things have changed so much, and the question will be whether or not Payton can pivot well enough without Brees. It hasn’t panned out so well in New England so far.

(2) How good can this Saints team be? Jameis Winston at the helm leaves me overly skeptical they can be a true NFC contender. My thoughts won’t go beyond there even though I think the defense is more than solid. Winston has thrown the ball 20, 22, 21, and 23 times. Those aren’t completions, those are attempts. He ranks 30th there. 18 QBs have completed more passes than he has even attempted. You can only ride Alvin Kamara for so long and at some point, they won’t be able to protect the quarterback forever. His bonehead decision-making is going to show up at some point and that delay-of-game penalty in the 4th quarter was a microcosm if who he is. I projected them to miss the playoffs prior to the season and I still believe it to be true.

(3) The one hope NO can rely on is the mere fact a huge portion of their starting lineup is injured (and due to come back). Michael Thomas, Tre’Quan Smith, Erik McCoy, Terron Armstead, Marcus Davenport…are just a few names they will have back in the coming weeks.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

(1) The passing game on play-action. More specifically, the passing game on first down play-action. Jones went a perfect 7 -or-7 for 84 yards (11.0 YPA). First down play-action is one of the most well-known and proven strategies to enhance a passing game and early-down offense in general. Defenses are more prone to playing the run and will “bite” more easily. Even if they don’t bite, it slows down the initial pass rush, putting the offensive line in position to succeed more often and easily. We need to see more of this, it works as well as anything on this offense.

(2) So, is it time to turn around expectations for this team? Not quite. Just like it was foolish to write them off at this time a week ago. NYG has a tough slate of games in the coming weeks, very tough. Arguably most-difficult-in-the-NFL tough. However, momentum and confidence in sports are something that cannot be objectively measured by fans and media. As smart as some people think they are, it cannot be measured or accounted for from our perspective. Don’t try. Winning matters. Winning tight games matters. Coming from behind matters. Even when you want to lose games so you can draft Chase Young who is, by the way, NOT one of the 191 players in the NFL who have a sack this season. His 2 QB hits, however, are indeed tied for 102nd in the NFL along with the likes of former Giant Kyler Fackrell, Chiefs safety Daniel Sorenson, and Jets cornerback Bryce Hall.

(3) Last week I wrote that the NYG offense was not performing poorly. Not to the level that some were acting. They were awful in the red zone and awful inside the opponent’s 5. I didn’t feel like getting into a back-and-forth with emotional NYG fans who throw more unnecessary tantrums than my 1-year old. However, now that most are under a better mindset. Some of the most objective numbers I look at from a team offense perspective in relation to the other 31 teams:

Yards Per Play: 8th (6.2)
Turnovers: 3rd (3)
1st Downs: 20th (82)
Penalty Yards: 12th (207)
Score percentage: 12th (41.5)

This is an above average offense trending toward a top 10 offense. Get on board.

Sep 282021
 
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Evan Engram and Logan Ryan, New York Giants (September 26, 2021)

Evan Engram and Logan Ryan – © USA TODAY Sports

QUICK RECAP

You just don’t know how much you appreciate someone until they’re gone. It’s been just over one season since Eli Manning retired. The 16-year quarterback who won two Super Bowls and made the playoffs six times had his day in the sun at MetLife Stadium during a halftime ceremony. He officially had his number retired and nameplate hung on the Ring of Honor within the stadium. Eli Manning, a career .500 quarterback who had his fair share of ups and downs, cheers and boos, successes, and failures. While the demise of NYG began toward the back nine of his career, it was never, ever this bad. NYG, the biggest losers in the NFL since the start of 2017, were set to face the 0-2 Atlanta Falcons, experiencing a similar decline as their long-time franchise signal caller is nearing the end of his career. They were 18-32 over their last 50 games with an offense that has gone backwards each season since 2018 and very little long-term hope on the roster. Barring a tie, one of these teams would be leaving 0-3.

For the first time this season, all of the starting NYG offensive weapons were on the field. Evan Engram was back after missing time with a calf injury and Kenny Golladay got the nod after being questionable all week with a hip injury. They were up against defense that allowed the most points in the NFL, the most passing touchdowns in the NFL, and the 6th-most yards per carry in the NFL. They were home on one of the nicest days of the year with zero weather negatives. It was time to make a statement.

After stopping ATL on their first drive, we saw a 14-yard gain on short pass to Barkley in open space, a 38-yard gain on absolute dime to C.J. Board from Daniel Jones, and a 3rd-and-1 conversion on a running play designed for Jones, the NYG leading rusher on the season. They had 1st-and-goal from inside the ATL 10-yard line but an 11-yard sack on 2nd-and-goal pushed them too far back. They settled on a 25-yard field goal by Graham Gano to make it 3-0. The NYG defense stopped ATL again on the ensuing drive, giving NYG the ball back. A first down play-action pass to start the drive resulted in another double-digit gain, this one 19 yards to Golladay. NYG have had a lot of success with that approach. On the next play (a first down), NYG took a 3-yard loss on a running play. They punted 3 snaps later.

Following yet another stop by the NYG defense, this one a three-and-out, NYG put together a 15-play drive. They reached the red zone, setting up a 1st-and-10 from the ATL 17-yard line. Jones missed a shotgun snap and it resulted in an 11-yard loss (their second 11-yard loss of the half). Two plays later, running back Elijhaa Penny was flagged for a false start. It was now 3rd-and-22 from the ATL 29-yard line. NYG settled for another field goal attempt, this one from 31 yards. Gano nailed it again and NYG had a 6-0 lead. ATL did breach NYG territory for the first time on the next drive, but a solid defensive play by Logan Ryan forced yet another punt.

NYG started the next drive inside their own 5. They converted a 3rd-and-6 on a pass to Board, but he was flagged for pushing off. Another shot to their own foot. They punted the ball back to ATL with just over 2 minutes left before halftime. ATL started the possession inside NYG territory and had gains of 3, 12, and 14 yards in addition to an unnecessary roughness penalty on safety Xavier McKinney, giving them 8 more yards and putting them inside the 10. Ryan then hit Olamide Zaccheaus for a 4-yard touchdown. ATL needed just 36 seconds of game clock in a hurry up situation to take the lead, 7-6. There was, however, enough time left on the clock for NYG to pursue more points.

Jones hit Evan Engram for a 13-yard gain on the second play of the drive. The super-athlete but sub-par football player who many NYG fans are still hoping turns the corner fumbled. ATL recovered and took control of the ball on the NYG 36-yard line. It was an ugly scene for Engram, who is visibly in the doghouse among the NYG faithful. He heard the loudest booing directed at one player I have heard in a long time inside the stadium. Fortunately, he was saved by an Azeez Ojulari sack-fumble, which was recovered by Lorenzo Carter on a 3rd-and-9. NYG then took a knee and went into halftime down by 1.

The two offenses traded scoreless possessions to start off the second half. On the first play of the NYG’s second possession, Barkley took a 20-yard gain on a short pass that again, got him the ball in space. It was called back because guard Will Hernandez illegally moved downfield before the ball was thrown. Instead of 1st-and-10 from the ATL 36, it was 1st-and-15 from the NYG 39. 25-yard swings like that are so vital to an offense that is already bottom tier. NYG did make it back on to the ATL side of the field eventually. On 4th-and-4 from the ATL 39, Judge opted to punt. There was no trust in this offense’s ability, on a day where Jones had been performing well and Barkley-space plays were working, to get that tough first down.

NYG inched their way down the field on their next possession. Consecutive gains of 11, 4, 12, 3, 7, 4, 1, 5, and 16 yards brought them inside the ATL 10-yard line. A pass interference called on ATL corner Fabian Moreau got the ball to the 1-yard line and from there, Barkley scored his first touchdown since December 29, 2019. That is about two and a half months before the Covid-19 pandemic started to put that date into perspective. NYG put another 2 points on the board via a Jones-run where he barreled over ATL star defensive tackle Grady Jarrett. NYG had a 14-7 lead in the fourth quarter.

The greatest sign of a good defense is coming up with the big stops when it matters most. NYG’s defense had put forth an admirable effort to this point, but they needed one more quarter of quality football. On the very next drive, ATL tied it up through a 15-play drive. They converted four straight 3rd downs while the NYG defensive backfield took turns getting beat. Logan Ryan was flagged for a pass interference in the end zone. Rodarius Williams was beat by Tajae Sharpe, who is holding on by a thread in this league. Adoree Jackson dropped an interception and was also beat on an earlier 3rd down. Matt Ryan hit blocking tight end Lee Smith on a 1-yard pass for the touchdown following Logan Ryan’s penalty, tying it up at 14 with just over 4 minutes left.

NYG got the ball to midfield with just over 2 minutes left. This was the most important part of the game where Offensive Coordinator Jason Garrett needed to find a way to gain another 15 yards for the automatic Graham Gano. The two most reliable plays this season (knowing Sterling Shepard was out with a hamstring injury) have been designed runs for Jones and quick passes to Barkley in space. Garrett opted for a pass to Engram (incomplete), a deep drop back (9-yard sack), and then a quick pass to Barkley in space (10-yard gain). It was a 4th-and-9 from the 50. An 0-2 team that has had issues stopping offenses in 2-minute situations playing against a defense that had allowed 30 4th quarter points over the first two weeks. It was time for Judge to make his “Harbaugh Go-For-It” decision. He opted to punt and hope for overtime. Riley Dixon sailed one into the end zone and ATL had the ball, with all of their timeouts, just 40 yards away from field goal range.

It took just 3 plays for ATL to gain 55 yards. They bled the clock out (NYG used 2 timeouts earlier on avoiding a delay-of-game penalty and defensive confusion pre-snap). Kicker Younghoe Koo, who grew up about 20 minutes from MetLife, hit a 40-yard field goal with :00 left on the clock.

NYG loses, 17-14.

QUARTERBACK

-Daniel Jones: 24/35 – 266 yards – 0 TD – 0 INT / 90.9 RAT

Jones also added 39 yards on 8 carries and scored a 2-point conversion via the ground. He fumbled twice, both of which he recovered himself. Another solid performance by the third-year quarterback. He had one of the top throws of the day across the entire league in the first quarter on a 3rd-and-4 go route to C.J. Board. He lost Darius Slayton and Sterling Shepard early on to injury but made most of the situation. I wish Garrett had put more on his shoulders on that final drive in the 4th quarter. Those are the situations NYG needs clarity on regarding his future with the club. Jones has thrown just 1 interception over his last 9 games and remains one of the top rushing threats in the league at the position.

RUNNING BACK

-Saquon Barkley: 16 att – 51 yards – 1 TD / 6 rec – 43 yards

The arrow continues to point up for Barkley, although he still isn’t playing at the level this team needs if they have any thought of getting out of the basement among NFL offenses. Too much dancing, not seeing the cutback lanes, and the lack of quality decision making are bothersome. He also tripped over his own feet three more times. He is so explosive in a straight line, but he keeps on violently slamming his front foot into the ground looking to shake a pursuing defender. He is constantly looking for the highlight reel rather than making the sure yards and it is impacting this offense in a negative way. At 0-3, I expect Garrett to start getting him the ball 25+ times per game now. There is a right and wrong way to do that. More on this below.

WIDE RECEIVER

-Kenny Golladay: 4 rec – 64 yards

After missing the week of practice with a hip injury, Golladay was an unknown until just a couple hours before kickoff. He was on a limited snap count, as he was on the field for just 70% of the offensive plays. He made a couple of aggressive plays on the ball and after the catch, showing notable grit and toughness. He also forced two pass interference penalties. One positive of having a big receiver like this is exactly that. Corners, especially in big situations, tend to get too handsy on and grabby with them because of the size disadvantage.

-Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton both went down early with separate injuries. I would expect them to be out for at least a couple weeks, opening the door for the forgotten John Ross III potentially. This created an opportunity for the sizable Collin Johnson, recently picked up off of waivers from Jacksonville. He led the receivers with 5 catches, totaling 51 yards. He was the main target for Jones on 3rd downs and it worked out well.

-Rookie Kadarius Toney saw the field often in the first half. He had 2 catches on 2 consecutive plays. He gained solid yards after the catch both times and it was a solid way to get him involved. I was hoping to see him get another touch or two in the second half, but it didn’t pan out that way.

TIGHT END

-Evan Engram returned after missing 2 games with a calf injury sustained in preseason. It was an ugly afternoon despite seeing just over half the snaps. He caught 2 passes on 6 targets and lost a fumble in the 2nd quarter. For the rest of the afternoon, Engram was booed every time the ball was thrown his way and cheered every time he came off the field.

-Kaden Smith caught 1 pass for 9 yards and allowed a pressure while Kyle Rudolph did not see any action in the passing game and allowed a TFL. The combination of Rudolph and Smith at least gives NYG a real and dependable expectation from the position. Engram is so volatile, and the negative plays may turn him into a part time, gimmick-only type asset to the offense. Usable and worthy of a gamble here and there, but simply not an every down player.

OFFENSIVE LINE

-A solid game overall for the group albeit against a weak ATL defensive front. Andrew Thomas was the star of the day, throwing a shutout and completely locking down anyone who lined up across from him. Right tackle Nate Solder allowed 3 pressures and a sack. That sack was at a vital time of the game on the final NYG drive. He was also flagged for a hold that ATL declined on the play.

-The interior had a poor game overall. It was a step up in relation to what we are used to seeing here, but it was still a poor overall performance. Will Hernandez allowed 2 TFL and was flagged for an illegal-man-downfield penalty on a 20-yard pickup. Ben Bredeson allowed a sack, TFL, and pressure. It wasn’t a pretty stat line but he actually performed notably well the rest of the way. He needs to be better, but he showed he can hang at left guard. Billy Price allowed a TFL and continues to look sloppy. On the sack that Bredeson allowed, Price was supposed to be in on the double team there. However, he tripped and fell, leaving a lane open for the ATL defender (Jarrett). He and Hernandez are too often ending up on the ground because of balance issues, a major no-no. Good defensive fronts are going to see that and play games with them.

DEFENSIVE LINE

-The two headliners of the group, Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence both had above average grades on my scale. Williams produced the trifecta, recording a sack, TFL, and pressure in addition to 5 tackles. He was just a few inches away on multiple occasions from making additional plays in the backfield as well. He was getting off the ball well and caused a lot of disruption. Lawrence added 3 pressures and 3 tackles. He got a lot of push up the middle and forced Ryan into quick decisions throughout the afternoon.

-Impressive game from Austin Johnson. He had 5 tackles, 1 sack, and a pressure. He and Danny Shelton are two solid options inside who control multiple gaps against the inside run.

LINEBACKER

-Rookie Azeez Ojulari recorded his 3rd sack in as many games. On paper, it is woefully impressive and encouraging. However, as we have seen since the first preseason game, there isn’t enough impact elsewhere. He played in just half the snaps and didn’t make a lot of noise other than that play. However, a sack that produced a turnover via fumble is the kind of play this defense is starving for more of. He is off to a good start and isn’t even in the discussion when talking about the issues on this defense. I feel good about his future.

-Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines each finished with 1 tackle apiece. Carter’s was for a loss and he recovered the fumble that was forced by Ojulari. It was a disappointing game from these two, and the outside pass rush continues to be low-level and overall detriment to this defense as a whole.

-Inside, Blake Martinez was lost in the first quarter with a non-contact ACL injury. His 2021 season is over. While in the grand scheme of things it won’t matter because this team doesn’t appear to be going anywhere, this defense will miss his presence. Tae Crowder took over the green dot-duty, the play-caller of the defense. His on-field IQ won’t be near the level of Martinez, as seen in the frustration from Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham on a 3rd down where the team was forced to take a timeout because of alignment issues. He did end up with 11 tackles and does bring a different level of speed to the defense.

-Reggie Ragland finished with 4 tackles and may see an uptick in playing time, although I am curious to see who this front office brings in off the market to fill the Martinez roster spot.

CORNERBACK

-The ATL receivers are not a good matchup for James Bradberry. I said earlier in the week that it may suit NYG well to have the Giants top defensive back shadow rookie “tight end” Kyle Pitts all afternoon rather than stick to the crossing route-heavy ATL receivers. He allowed a touchdown and two first downs. He did have an impressive pass break up in the first quarter. He didn’t have a poor game, but certain types of receivers (quick-footed, change of direction guys) give him major issues.

-Adoree’ Jackson had another poor game and continues to warrant the “overpaid” label. He missed a tackle, dropped an interception, and showed low effort on a couple plays to his side. Jackson, like Jabrill Peppers, seems to lack situational awareness. Corner is a very difficult position to play (second hardest in the game in my opinion), but Jackson just isn’t big enough to play with such poor recognition and reaction time.

-Rodarius Williams replaced Darnay Holmes as the team’s nickel back. He was flagged for a pass interference on a 3rd-down stop and missed 2 tackles. From the All-22 angle, he did seem to stick to the ATL crossing routes better than the two guys mentioned above. That is a good sign for a corner that has solid size and ball skills.

SAFETY

-Logan Ryan had a poor game and it was mostly about the plays he did not make. He missed 2 tackles, dropped an interception, and was flagged for a 3rd-down pass interference in the end zone that led to an ATL touchdown. This is the leader of the defense and now, with the injury to Martinez. He received a notable payday this past offseason and plays a position that needs to make plays that alter a game. Plain and simple, Ryan needs to elevate his game even though I know he isn’t a weak point of the defense.

-Xavier McKinney seems to be having issues with the mental side of the game. He is fooled by misdirection way too much. The contrast between him and Julian Love there is obvious. It is hard to play safety if you get fooled that easily, just ask Jabrill Peppers. Peppers had 7 tackles and 2 pressures in addition to a couple solid punt returns. The All-22 shows how blatantly obvious it is that he just can’t forecast or anticipate. He is a top shelf athlete who can react well enough in most situations, but the lack of instincts shuts the door on his play-making potential. He is an easy target when a team needs a first down.

SPECIAL TEAMS

-K Graham Gano: 2/2 XP.
-P Riley Dixon: 5 Punts – 45.8 avg / 37.0 net. His biggest punt of the day, one from the 50 in the 4th quarter, was a complete failure that resulted in a touchback. Field position was crucial there.

3 STUDS

-OT Andrew Thomas, DT Leonard Williams, WR Kenny Golladay

3 DUDS

-LB Lorenzo Carter, S Logan Ryan, OG Will Hernandez

3 THOUGHTS ON ATL

(1) Cordarrelle Patterson is one of the most unique players in the league, if not the most. He spent 5 years in the league as a wide receiver after being drafted 29th overall by MIN. He then went to NE primarily for special teams, but they started to put him in the backfield because of injuries. From that point, he never saw more targets than he did carries. He also remained one of the top kick returners in the game (a trait he has had since his rookie season) and an above average gunner. Patterson is now 30 (old for the NFL) and producing some of his best results across multiple roles. I think he is the best running back on the ATL roster and could end up being the leading rusher by year’s end. I can’t think of another first-round receiver who made a position change this late into his career, played on 5 teams in 9 years, and continued to improve his status into his 30’s. Ever.

(2) The Falcons organization as a whole is in a very tough spot. They owe Matt Ryan a TON of money over the next few years and it is not a contract they can get out of. The cap penalties are enormous and would set records for dead money. They don’t have a young QB in the wings and they may not lose enough games to head into the draft in position to grab one. This is a similar situation to where NYG was with Eli Manning in the 2017-2019 time period. Perhaps he is good enough if the talent around him very good, but it simply isn’t. The ATL defense has very little potential, and the offensive line is average at best. I think they are in for a rough few years coming up unless they hit a few home runs, not even doubles, in the draft.

(3) The one hope they have, besides staying healthy which they have so far, is the fact they do win the turnover battle often and they are in a lot of games. They had leads in 13 of 16 games last year and they led at halftime in 9 of 16 games (80% win rate). Head Coach Arthur Smith was the catalyst in Ryan Tannehill’s resurgence in Tennessee, too. I think .500 is a reach for them, but a few bounces their way could lead to a 9-10 win season.

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

(1) I have been on the critical side of Jason Garrett for a few reasons, one of which is right below. However, I am going to say this and it may surprise some of you. The offense did not perform poorly. As a matter of fact, they played well when looking at some of the more important metrics. They had a successful play rate of over 50%, they were solid on 3rd down, their pass protection graded above average, and they spread the ball out well. Why only 14 points? Big mistakes at inopportune times by the offensive line and questionable play selection in the red zone.

(2) On to my critique of Garrett when it comes to Barkley. I did some extra work on his involvement and came away with this:

  • Barkley had 9 touches in space. They totaled 62 yards (6.9 yards per)*
  • Barkley had 12 touches into traffic. They totaled 32 yards (2.7 per).

*Does not include the 20-yard gain (into space) on the Hernandez penalty.

Obviously, these plays can’t all be directly compared because of situational football. And yes, you need to take into account specific situations. However, it does paint a picture, at least somewhat, where this offense should go in key situations late in games. On that final offensive drive, they didn’t get the ball to him in space, they did not run play-action (Jones’ top passing numbers when it comes to splits), and they did not opt for any designed runs for Jones (another high-success marker). That, to me, does not make sense.

(3) 0-3. Two losses by a combined 4 points. Several missed opportunities in the red zone and a defense that can’t stop the opposition over the final 2 minutes of a half. Is NYG getting blown out? No. The difference between them and teams like the Jets and Jaguars is apparent. These close, emotional losses tend to bring out unfair doomsday thoughts in fans. I don’t think this team is going anywhere this season, but I am not mailing it in just yet. They are in games and are a few bonehead plays away from 2 wins. I’m not a moral victory guy, so please don’t take it that way. But an offsides last week and maybe one less shot to the foot this week (dropped INTs, penalties…etc)…just one less, and NYG could be 2-1 right now. Margins are that close and that is why I don’t think you can label NYG a bottom tier team in 2021 just yet. Time is running out though and I am curious to see how they respond in a tough situation on the road against a solid defense. I’ll be watching.

Sep 182021
 
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Darius Slayton, New York Giants (September 16, 2021)

Darius Slayton – © USA TODAY Sports

QUICK RECAP

Most fans do not watch games beyond their favorite team. They’ll watch every contest that includes the team they root for, maybe a few nationally televised matchups, and then the postseason. I bring that up because the typical Washington Football Team follower could easily be under the impression this NYG team, despite all the losses (49 of their last 67), is a team “on the rise” under their young stud franchise quarterback, Daniel Jones. After all, he entered the game 4-0 against WAS. What that typical fan may not realize, however, is Jones also entered the game 4-19 against everyone else. It was a rainy night on a short week for two teams that were torched on third down in their respective week 1 losses. Nobody wants to start the year 0-2 and everybody wants the division win. NYG has owned this matchup, winning 14 of 20 since 2012 and this version of WAS was being led by an undrafted quarterback who had two career starts in four years under his belt.

That quarterback, Taylor Heinicke, was forced into a quick 3-and-out to start the night off. Jones, who had a 100.0 career-quarterback rating against WAS, the highest among all his opponents he has played more than once, started where he left off against this defense. He led a drive with a solid blend of run and pass, mainly featuring himself in both regards, to put the early score on the board. A designed QB-draw, running behind new center Billy Price, put the away team wearing their home blues up 7-0 just 8:20 into the game. WAS responded with their second straight three-and-out in as many drives at the hands of quality NYG pass rushing from the outside.

The first “ugly” of the night appeared on the second NYG drive. First, right guard Nick Gates was rolled up on and broke his leg. It was such a gruesome injury that the telecast opted to not show the replay. The team captain shifted over to guard from center, where he had been excelling, because of the injury to Shane Lemieux, who was placed in Injured Reserve earlier in the day. On the very next play, however, the momentum was back as Saquon Barkley darted through the right side of the line, thanks to Chase Young vacating his lane, and up the sideline for a 41-yard gain. What a sight to see that was! Maybe this would be the night NYG fans have been waiting for after all.

The run brought NYG to the WAS 35. They got to 3rd-and-2 from the WAS 29 via two more running plays before calling an early timeout. And this is where the “no excuses” thought enters one’s mind. After a timeout, Jones had a really hard time lining up the offense. They were shockingly scrambling to get aligned with the play clock reaching :00 as Andrew Thomas jumped out of his stance early, getting flagged for a false start. They moved back the necessary 5 yards, just to have Jones sacked for an 8-yard loss, knocking them out of field goal range. They had WAS by the throat, they called a timeout to get on the same page, and it ended up looking like football’s version of the Bad News Bears. Just an awful, awful display of professional football.

WAS then took control via a 13-play drive where Heinicke connected with one of the most underrated receivers in football, Terry McLaurin, four times. The fourth was an 11-yard touchdown to tie the game up. Both offenses traded three-and-outs before NYG started a drive on their own 22-yard line. The lack of discipline shown by the hyped WAS edge rushers last week against LAC kept showing up in this contest as well. Jones was roasting them with read option runs and he took one 58 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown. However, a questionable holding call on receiver C.J. Board took the ball back to the WAS 22. They eventually had a 1st-and-10 from the WAS 13, thanks to a pass interference called on cornerback William Jackson III. Two poor play calls gained a total of 2 yards and the 3rd-down conversion attempt, a short pass to Sterling Shepard, came up 2 yards shy. The Giants settled for a 23-yard field goal by Graham Gano.

After being torched by Denver quarterback Teddy Bridgewater at the end of the first half in week 1, Heinicke did the same in Week 2. They couldn’t cover the likes of Adam Humphries and Logan Thomas. They couldn’t stop the likes of running back J.D. McKissic. The coverage was soft, the pass rush was non-existent, and they couldn’t come up with situational stops. The talk from coaches about specializing in situational football seems like an oxymoron when watching this team play. The drive ended in a 2-yard score by McKissic to give WAS a 14-10 lead heading into halftime.

The opening drive of the second half got off to a hot start. NYG crossed midfield in a hurry and had a 1st-and-10 from the WAS 33 following a defensive holding penalty by former Giant Landon Collins. Yes, he is still in the league but holding on by a thread. A poorly-designed outside run resulted in a loss of 6 yards and then a poorly-designed run play resulted in a gain of 2 yards. NYG was in danger of missing out on a field goal opportunity, but an 8-yard gain via a pass to Darius Slayton put them on the 29-yard line. Gano nailed a 47-yarder to make it a 1-point deficit.

WAS responded with a 3-and-out and the momentum shift was back on NYG’s side. Following a 3rd-and-13 incomplete, the refs flagged WAS corner Kendall Fuller for a pass interference. NYG took advantage of it with a…9-yard loss on…yet another poorly-designed running play. A 9-yard loss on a running play. That is really hard to do. Jones then took control of the game with surprisingly good pass blocking by the hodge-podge offensive line. He completed 3 passes in 4 attempts for a combined 64 yards, the final one being an absolute dime to Slayton for a 33-yard touchdown. NYG was up 20-14.

The rest of the game, as it entered the 4th quarter, was a constant seesaw. The next four drives resulted in both teams netting two field goals each. NYG remained ahead by 6 points with under five minutes left. A 56-yard pass to McKissic, beating Tae Crowder, and a 19-yard touchdown pass to Ricky Seals-Jones, beating Adoree’ Jackson, put WAS ahead by 1 point. All of the sudden, NYG was trying to play catch-up once again. Their drive stalled and they were forced to punt for the first time in seven possessions. WAS started the with the ball inside their own 10, just over 3 minutes left.

After being absolutely roasted by McLaurin all night, James Bradberry came up with the game’s first turnover on a beautiful read of the route and break on the ball. NYG had the ball on the WAS 20, down 1, with just over two minutes left. The running game had one constant that worked all night. Read option with Jones keeping to the outside. They had a solid short passing game over the middle to Shepard and the tight ends. Jones was 22/31 (71%) with zero turnovers. This was his game. He was the reason NYG was in position to win and all they had to do was gain a first down, get the clock well below 2:00 while burning through WAS timeouts. Jason Garrett, who struggled with calling productive runs all night (18 carries for 27 yards on non-Jones runs other than the 41-yard gain by Barkley early on), failed again. Two obvious run calls netted just three yards. WAS stopped the clock twice and Jones threw an incomplete pass to Shepard that wouldn’t have reached the sticks anyway. Two poor running plays and a too-short pass to Shepard was the exact same three-play routine we saw in the second quarter when they were near the end zone. Remember? WAS did. Gano hit a 35-yard field goal to give NYG a 2-point lead but there were 2 minutes left on the clock and the NYG defense all of the sudden can’t stop a nosebleed.

There was never a feeling that they would come up with the big stop. Heinicke carved them up yet again, quite easily getting into field goal range. McKissic might as well been Alvin Kamara and Heinicke might as well been Tom Brady. This defense let down the entire organization and fan base, allowing them to get within field distance in a hurry. And that wasn’t even the worst part. Kicker Dustin Hopkins pushed the 48-yard attempt wide right. NYG had the 2-point win in the bag but the yellow flag was thrown on to the field. Dexter Lawrence jumped offsides, giving Hopkins a second life. He nailed it from 43 and WAS won the game. Just like that, NYG starts 0-2 for the fifth straight year and the 7th time in 8 years.

NYG loses, 30-29.

QUARTERBACK

-Daniel Jones: 22/32 – 249 yards / 1 TD – 0 INT / 102.2 RAT

Jones also added 95 yards and a touchdown on the ground. So, 344 total yards of offense and 2 touchdowns. This was easily one of the best games Jones has put on display in his short career. And he was a Slayton drop away from another 43-yard touchdown. I wouldn’t call the game flawless, as Jones still threw four woefully inaccurate balls on passes across the middle. That needs to improve because it is where the best quarterbacks to their most damage. That aside, Jones put this team on his shoulder. High level throws, gutsy running plays, 3rd-down success, and most importantly the zero turnovers kept this team in the game. Without Jones’ big game, NYG had no shot.

RUNNING BACK

-Saquon Barkley: 13 att – 57 yards / 2 rec – 12 yards

You can call this a (small) step forward for Barkley’s return. He played on short rest and not only did he play, but he was also on the field for 84% of the snaps. He also broke off a 41-yard run where that burst and speed in the open field was on display. Overall, however, it is easy to say that he’s just not fully back yet. On his other 12 carries, he had 16 yards. He looked hesitant and did not see cutback lanes. It is easy for me to say from the All-22 angle that he should be cutting into different lanes, I know. But I see other backs do it on a routine basis and it is because they run without hesitation. Barkley hesitates nearly every time he gets the ball. Is he running scared? On 2nd-and-10 from the 43-yard line in the 4th quarter (6:25 left), Barkley ran through an inside crease and simply fell to the ground. He wasn’t touched, he didn’t trip over his feet. He was anticipating contact, looked scared, and fell to the ground. He tried to save face by punching the ground a few times. He’s done that a handful, if not more, of times over the years. I am starting to turn south on him and I was one banging the table FOR NYG to draft him in 2018.

-Elijhaa Penny had 2 carries for 5 yards. He is the best short yardage back on the team and I am glad they are using him in that role as I stated last year.

WIDE RECEIVER

-Sterling Shepard paced the group again with 9 catches on 10 targets. He was back in his 10 yards-per-catch area (10.4), but a few of them were big plays. It is early in the year to say this, but with how the passing scheme looks and how well Shepard is moving, he has a good shot at finishing top 5 in the league in catches. This is the best we’ve seen out of him.

-Kenny Golladay and Darius Slayton each caught 3 passes and dropped one. Slayton’s drop, however, was in the spotlight as it would have been an easy touchdown. Easy catch? Absolutely not. Should a pro receiver bring that in? Absolutely. There are negative plays each week from Slayton it seems. If John Ross gets on the field, Slayton will be the one that loses his snaps. More on Golladay and his sideline antics below. On the field, however, I’m not worried about his low production through 2 games. He will get his. WAS got away with 2 pass interference penalties on him but I expect to see a lot of that, as he is a physical receiver himself and won’t separate a lot. In addition, Golladay had a monster-block on Barkley’s 41-yard run.

TIGHT END

-A better game from the duo of Kyle Rudolph and Kaden Smith. They both came up with a tough grab each and totaled 49 yards on 4 catches. They both were much more effective in the running game with key blocks on some of the better runs Barkley had, Rudolph especially. He did allow a sack, however. I expect Evan Engram to be back for week 3 against Atlanta. He was very active on the field in pre-game warm ups and the team has some extra rest to work with.

OFFENSIVE LINE

-A very back-and-forth, up-and-down performance by the group as a whole. After watching the tape two times, I still don’t know how to best describe the performance of this group. They were very good when it mattered most, but there were a ton of negative plays. Let’s start with the move of Nick Gates to left guard after the team moved Shane Lemiuex to IR. He allowed a sack early before breaking his leg and is now out for the year. Unfortunate for him and NYG, as a strong case can be made for him being the top OL on the team. Ben Bredeson came in and played pretty well, allowing just 1 pressure.

-Billy Price got his first start since being acquired for defensive tackle B.J. Hill (who had 2 sacks for CIN week 1). Overall, it was a very poor game for the fourth-year center. While he did have a key block on the Barkley 41-yard run, he allowed a sack, a pressure, and was flagged for 2 penalties. He looked off balance as well with a couple really ugly displays of blocking even though it did not impact those particular plays.

-The tackles, Andrew Thomas and Nate Solder, both played 100% of the snaps. Matt Peart didn’t see the field on offense. Thomas allowed 2 TFL (one of which wasn’t on him), 1 pressure, and a half-sack. He was also flagged for 2 false starts. Considering who he was up against, I give Thomas another thumbs up for this game. I still want to see a cleaner record and less penalties, but he was left alone often against Chase Young and I thought he got the best of him. Solder, as expected, struggled when he was left alone. He did get a decent amount of help and when he did, he kept it together. He allowed a pressure, 1 TFL, and half-sack.

-Will Hernandez allowed a pressure and made his presence known in the running game. His footwork and lower body bend looked better as well. That said, he simply isn’t on the same level as WAS defensive linemen Jonathan Allen and Da’Ron Payne.

DEFENSIVE LINE

-Another quiet game from this group. Dexter Lawrence wasn’t heard from most of the night until his offsides penalty. Danny Shelton added 1 tackle. He was on the field for 21% of the snaps and didn’t hold his ground the way I expected him to.

-Austin Johnson and Leonard Williams at least combined for 9 tackles and made a few plays away from the ball. They pursued well and made a couple physical plays. Williams was the only one who  put pressure on the quarterback but missed the tackle attempt on a near-sack.

EDGE

-Rookie Azeez Ojulari recorded a sack for the second straight week. He has 2 of the team’s 3 sacks so far in this young season. He was quiet thereafter and while I won’t give him a negative grade, I do want to see more snap to snap consistency and variety. He hasn’t shown any effective rush moves quite yet, although we’ve seen glimpses.

-Lorenzo Carter looked better in Week 2 than he did in Week 1, an encouraging sign knowing he missed most of last year with an Achilles’ injury. He was flagged for a neutral-zone infraction late in the game, however – a black eye on his 3-pressure, 4-tackle game. He needs to finish plays more often, as he’s been getting locked on to by pass blockers too easily.

-Oshane Ximines played nearly half the snaps and didn’t impact the game much. The more he plays, the more evident it becomes he just won’t ever turn into a quality player. He is below average across the board. He just doesn’t win against lone blockers.

LINEBACKER

-Blake Martinez led the team with 12 tackles and cut out the mistakes we saw from a week ago. Tae Crowder added 4 tackles and a pressure, but his biggest mistake resulted in the big passing play to running back J.D. McKissic in the 4th quarter. He got beat on an obvious wheel route and just couldn’t make up for it. Huge play and a huge part of the NYG collapse defensively. Reggie Ragland added 2 tackles.

CORNERBACK

-There is no sugar coating the fact James Bradberry played his worst game as a Giant. Had it not been for his interception in the 4th quarter, a fantastic, high-level play on the ball, he would have finished on the “Dud” list. Terry McLaurin dominated him from start to finish. He allowed a touchdown and was flagged twice, once for holding and once for pass interference.

-Adoree’ Jackson added 5 tackles and 2 pass defenses, but allowed the late touchdown to Ricky Seals-Jones on a play where he did a poor job of locating the ball. He also missed a tackle. His movement looks great, but his ball location looks poor. Darnay Holmes is in the same boat. His twitch and burst is so enticing and I like how hard he plays, but he is an easy target for opposing quarterbacks on 3rd down.

SAFETY

-Logan Ryan and Jabrill Peppers were back to the majority-snap roles when they had 2 safeties on the field. Ryan was solid, finishing with 7 tackles and was superb in coverage for most of the game. He is an excellent open field tackler as well. Peppers had a pressure, 6 tackles, and a pass break up. He missed one tackle.

-Julian Love played just 8 snaps. Xavier McKinney has been disappointing over the first 2 weeks. He made 3 tackles and missed 2 others. He isn’t finishing when he gets in contact with the ball carrier and he just doesn’t have the man-power behind his hits yet. His movement in deep coverage did look very good, however.

SPECIAL TEAMS

-K Graham Gano: 5/5 (Made 23, 47, 52, 55, 35). He has now made 35 straight field goals.
-P Riley Dixon: 3 punts / 41.3 avg / 41.3 net

3 STUDS

-QB Daniel Jones, K Graham Gano, S Logan Ryan

3 DUDS

-OC Billy Price, CB Adoree’ Jackson, RB Saquon Barkley

THOUGHTS ON WAS

(1) What is Taylor Heinicke? Can he be a franchise quarterback? If I am WAS, this is the guy I am riding with the rest of the year. You know Fitzpatrick isn’t the long-term answer, but you can’t say the same about Heinicke. Remember, he went toe-to-toe with Tom Brady last January in the playoffs. I think he ends up being another Case Keenum type, but I love the grit he shows play-to-play, drive-to-drive. His interception late was such a killer, but he came right back and made play after play when they got the ball back. If WAS can get by with him, maybe they could end up keeping all those 1st rounders on the DL.

(2) The WAS defense looks downright scary on paper. Their defensive line is loaded with first round picks that they hit on, their corners are a top-10 pair in the league, and I think the second level will improve as rookie Jamin Davis gets more and more comfortable. What is missing? They’re vulnerable at safety and their depth is nearly non-existent. If they get even just a couple injuries (odds are that will happen), I don’t see enough talent to step up. I also think a quality passing game can exploit the safeties.

(3) WAS quietly put together a quality, impactful rookie class. I wrote about that in May. They went hard after high-end athletes on both sides of the ball. Dyami Brown and Samuel Cosmi will be starters for the rest of the year barring injury, and Brown is the one I think can be a nice player. Jamin Davis made some eye-opening plays Thursday night and Benjamin St. Juste is good enough to allow Fuller to go inside in nickel packages. In addition, undrafted free agent running back Jaret Patterson was one of the top backs I saw in preseason who doesn’t currently have a starting job.

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

(1) The tempers flaring on the sideline don’t bother me one bit. Kenny Golladay got caught on camera yelling at Jones, presumably for not getting the ball when he thought he should. Want to know what is one hundred times worse? Watching Odell Beckham laugh on the sideline as the team is getting crushed on the field. We have now seen both, and I’ll take guys that hate losing all day. Tempers are allowed to flare up every now and then, as long as it doesn’t impact their play. I don’t think it will.

(2) Is this defense bad? Was the outlook on them a little inflated after 2020? Things change in the NFL so much and even though NYG didn’t really lose any talent from the 2020 unit that was around a top-10 defense, this doesn’t surprise me. Why? The pass rush is woefully poor when they rush 4 or 5. The only way they impact the opposing quarterback is with the blitz. It is a volatile way to play defense and a good passer can see right through it to their advantage. If Graham continues to play soft coverage with poor pass rush, we will see this on repeat week after week.

(3) The NYG running game design left me scratching my head. They have an odd fascination with running toward the strength of a defense. They run into crowded areas, and they make life hard on an offensive line that, quite frankly, is still bottom third in the league. The WAS edge defenders were biting on the inside fakes all game, leaving things open for Jones (NYG’s leading rusher). Why not use that in more key moments? How come they aren’t engineering more space touches for Barkley? Do we really need to see more jet sweeps? It almost looks pre-determined no matter what and it appears the opposing defenses were in on it too.

Sep 132021
 
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New York Giants Fans (September 12, 2021)

Dejection – © USA TODAY Sports

QUICK RECAP

Week 1 of the 2021 season began with a matchup against the Denver Broncos. Year-2 Head Coach Joe Judge took on year-3 Head Coach Vic Fangio, a defensive mastermind who hired a familiar face to run the team’s offense in 2020. Former Giants Head Coach, Pat Shurmur was back in town to call plays for the Denver offense that saw a change at quarterback this offseason. Teddy Bridgewater, owner of 35 career wins and a 66+% completion percentage, started a game under center for the fourth team in just his seven seasons. He was never a failed project at any point in his career. The former first rounder suffered a career-threatening injury prior to the 2016 season and threw just 25 passes over the next two seasons combined. After 15 starts for Carolina a year ago in which he completed just under 70% of his passes (5th in the NFL) and finished with 92.1 rating, he was now starting over Drew Lock for the defense-centered Broncos.

Much of the attention revolving around Denver heading into this game was the defense. It was a great litmus test for an offense that has a year-3 quarterback, new offensive weapons in Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney, and of course the star running back Saquon Barkley on the field after missing nearly all of 2020 with a knee injury. A 42-yard gain on a pass from Daniel Jones to Darius Slayton put NYG across midfield, but the next two plays netted -8 yards. The opening Bridgewater-led drive ended with an incomplete deep pass to Courtland Sutton covered by one of the newest cornerbacks in the very expensive secondary, Adoree’ Jackson. The next NYG drive went 3-and-out, being capped off by a sack allowed by Nate Solder. It was Solder’s first sack allowed since the 2019 season. He did not play in 2020.

DEN took used ball control, a theme of the day, on the next drive. 15 plays, 62 yards, and 8:42 of game clock led to a 23-yard field goal by kicker Brandon McManus. McManus was traded by the Giants to DEN in 2014. The early 3-point lead wouldn’t last long. NYG converted two straight 3rd downs, one at the hand of a Ronald Darby pass interference and one on an 8-yard pass to Sterling Shepard. Offensive Coordinator Jason Garrett called a 1st down pass for the third straight time and this one put points on the board. Sterling Shepard took a pass on a crossing route, broke a Patrick Surtain II tackle, and rumbled his way into the end zone. NYG was up 7-3.

DEN marched right down the field again with the help of a bonehead personal foul penalty on second-year corner Darnay Holmes. Logan Ryan then made one of the top plays of day, as he stripped the ball away from tight end Albert Okwuegbunam after a catch-and-run inside the NYG 4-yard line. Even though it was early in the game, it was game-changing at that moment. A defense that couldn’t stop the opposing offense needed a play like this, and Ryan produced it. The negative, however, was the NYG offense going 3-and-out without even looking halfway competitive from the poor starting field position.

As the 2-minute warning approached, Bridgewater found Sutton on a 14-yard gain on 4th-and-2 to cross midfield. Three plays and 35 yards later, he found wide receiver Tim Patrick for a short touchdown on misdirection. There were just 13 seconds remaining afterward, meaning DEN practically got the ball right back after scoring a touchdown (because NYG started the game on offense) and dominating the time of possession 18:59 to 11:01.

The NYG defense needs to be the backbone of this team. They’re supposed to be the side of the ball that steps up when things look bleak. They did come up with a big turnover in the first half, but they were allowing too many conversions and chunk plays. Starting off the second half with a stop was crucial, as DEN already had a 3-point lead. It did not pan out very well. DEN went on a marathon 16-play, 75-yard, 8:12 drive that included FOUR straight 3rd-down conversions. It was a drive that saw DEN receiver K.J. Hamler drop an easy touchdown and another receiver, Jerry Jeudy, go down with a serious ankle injury. Neither ended up being capitalized on, as DEN put another touchdown on the board on a 4th-and-1 pass to Okwuegbunam, where he broke a Blake Martinez tackle attempt and reached for the pylon. It was 17-7 well into the 3rd quarter and NYG had run just 20 offensive plays all game up until this point. It was time for them to step up.

They were well on their way. NYG converted three straight 3rd downs, the Jones-Shepard connection was getting stronger and stronger, and Barkley (with the help of the OL) pushed a pile past the first down markers. The crowd was getting into it and NYG was heading into the red zone. On a 1st-and-10 scramble, Jones fumbled and lost the ball. DEN had it back and just like that, “Same Old Giants” came back into everyone’s mind. DEN turned that possession into 3 points after, you guessed it, another successful 3rd down conversion.

NYG was down by 13 as the fourth quarter was under way. Their 14-play drive brought the clock all the way down to the 6:30 mark. They had a fresh set of downs inside the DEN 10-yard line. This had a “very last chance” feel to it. Those four plays gained a total of 1 yard. Three incomplete passes and a 1-yard run. The final two passes had no shot and screamed a lack of innovation and creativity. DEN got the ball back, and on the fourth play of the drive, Melvin Gordon took a rushing attempt 70 yards for a touchdown. DEN was up 27-7 and the NYG faithful headed for the exits with 4 minutes left in the game, a weekly tradition when NYG plays at home unless fans of course sold their tickets to the Dallas faithful when the Cowboys are in town.

The final two drives put some lipstick on the pig of a performance NYG put out. We saw a few nice grabs by Kenny Golladay and eventual garbage-touchdown by Jones as the clock ran out to make the final score look even better than what we all watched for 3 hours.

NYG loses, 27-13.

QUARTERBACK

-Daniel Jones: 22/37 – 267 yards / 1 TD – 0 INT / 90.7 RAT / 6 att – 27 yards / 1 TD

Looking at the stat line, it would be natural to assume Jones played a decent game. I went in the other direction. He was way worse than the stat line, and considering the fumble at such an inopportune time, it was a well-below average game from Jones. This is THE year for the third-year quarterback from Duke and it was a poor way to start it off. He was inaccurate on several throws, he had two interceptions dropped, and the fumble was inexcusable. That was arguably the top turning point of the game, and you just can’t have that from the leader of the offense. Jones continues to be slow to react, he continues to struggle when his primary read isn’t there, and he isn’t putting a defense on its heels. 1 down, 16 to go for Jones who is in a season-long job interview for his future.

RUNNING BACK

-Saquon Barkley: 10 att / 26 yards – 1 rec / 1 yard.

Understandably so, Barkley looked very rusty. He was losing his balance and footwork, he dropped a pass, and he failed to see running lanes on two occasions. It is important he got in and out of the game while avoiding any physical issues. That is a big mental part of coming back from a serious injury for a player who is fully dependent on cuts and bursts. I expect to see him on a similar pitch count Thursday night.

-Hats off to Devontae Booker. He didn’t impact the game in an obvious, playmaking manner. He rushed for 7 yards on 4 carries and caught a pass for 6 yards. However, he was a factor in the passing game as a blocker. He made 3 big-time blocks, 2 of which that put DEN defenders on the ground.

WIDE RECEIVER

-Sterling Shepard: 7 rec – 113 yards / 1 TD.

One of the best games we have seen out of Shepard’s career. He was a menace for the DEN secondary on 3rd down and after the catch. The majority of his yards came with the ball in his hands. I noticed throughout preseason that he looks more physically developed this year. He is going to break a ton of tackles with how aggressive and quick he moves, in combination with his strength.

-Kenny Golladay made a catch early on in the 1st quarter but was very quiet until the game was pretty much over. He made a couple of really nice grabs with a defender all over him. He looked like a guy who will improve the odds of those 50/50 balls substantially. He finished with 64 yards on 4 catches in his NYG debut.

-Darius Slayton had 65 yards on 3 catches, 42 of those yards on the first drive of the game on a deep ball. His speed is there but he continues to play a soft game against contact with defenders.

-Rookie Kadarius Toney’s usage was odd. After not being a factor for nearly the entire training camp and preseason period, Garrett engineered two scripted plays for him. One resulted in a loss of 6 yards, the other resulted in a gain of 4 yard. Then, we essentially did not see him until the 4th quarter when the game was all but lost. After a bizarre spring and summer with him in relation to this team, that just didn’t sit well with me.

TIGHT END

-Really poor game by new tight end Kyle Rudolph. He allowed a TFL and a pressure as a blocker, and just didn’t impact the game in the trenches. Minimal push, minimal sustainment. He looked rusty and stiff. He added 2 catches for 8 yards. I was expecting more.

OFFENSIVE LINE

-One of the positives (yes, there are positives from this loss) was Andrew Thomas. Bradley Chubb missed the game with an ankle injury, thus backup Malik Reed was the predominant opponent lining up across from the second year tackle. Thomas was superb in pass protection, showing heavy and sticky hands, good balance, and outstanding pad level. Nice warm up battle for the tall task he will face Thursday night against Washington.

-Nate Solder returned from his year away from football. He started right where he left off, strengthening the notion he just isn’t a starting caliber player. He allowed a sack on a short drop back, 1 TFL, and 2 pressures. He can’t bend at all, and it shows. Will Hernandez, who plays right next to Solder as he shifted over to the right side, was equally awful in the passing game. He allowed 2 pressures and a TFL. A case can be made he was responsible for a sack as well. After a strong (but very short) preseason, the arrow appeared to be pointing up for him. Well, it didn’t remain that way in this one as his heavy feet and delayed reaction time was abused on several ugly plays. His poor play didn’t impact the situation often, but it was still very disappointing.

-Matt Peart and Ben Bredeson rotated in. Bredeson actually saw the majority of the snaps at left guard. He looked a little out of control, but he did maul his man a few times. Peart allowed a TFL and a sack, the latter being more communication based as Von Miller ran right by him and put Jones on the ground as Peart remained in his 2-point stance. If nothing else, it will be found on countless blooper videos I imagine.

DEFENSIVE LINE

-The big boys up front, in all honestly, played a solid game. You won’t see it in the box score, and I think they could have finished better in the pass rushing department, but it was a solid effort from multiple guys. Dexter Lawrence made DEN guard Graham Glasgow and center Lloyd Cushenberry look like high schoolers several times. Great push from him that netted 4 pressures. Leonard Williams added a TFL and 2 pressures, one of which led to a sack.

-Austin Johnson finished with 5 tackles and a pressure. He did get credit for a sack, but it came on a play where Bridgewater tripped over his own blocker and fell to the ground. Johnson was the first to touch him, thus getting credit for the sack. Logan Ryan and Williams were really the main contributors there. I thought Johnson was all over the box though, impressive game.

-Danny Shelton added a pressure but missed a TFL attempt that would have been a key play.

LINEBACKER

-Good to see an active Lorenzo Carter on the field. He didn’t finish the way I was hoping for, but he made DEN adjust to him and that is a good sign. He struggled at setting the edge as well, as did rookie Azeez Ojulari. It was a mixed bag for the second rounder, but I really liked how active he was. He finished with 3 tackles, 1 sack, and a pressure. He was flagged for head-contact on Bridgewater, a major no-no in this league. I expect both to improve from here, but I still question how consistently they can beat one-on-one blocking as pass rushers.

-Blake Martinez had an up-and-down game. He finished with 9 tackles, 1 TFL, and 2 pressures. However, his missed tackle on the Okwuegbunam touchdown (a 4th-down play) was inexcusable. He also struggled in coverage.

-Tae Crowder finished with 4 tackles and may be one of the most physical defenders on this team. He put a couple of DEN offensive linemen on their butt a few times. He is the best athlete they have at the position, and he appears to be much more powerful than a year ago. A very good sign. Reggie Ragland split snaps with him and had 7 tackles, most of which were against the run, between the tackles.

CORNERBACK

-James Bradberry and Adoree’ Jackson are the two most expensive starting cornerbacks NYG have had on the same field at the same time (not including hybrid DB Logan Ryan from a year ago). They did not earn their paychecks respectively. While they avoided the big-play touchdowns, they were often a step or two too late in coverage as the DEN offense torched them on 3rd and 4th downs. Grading corners can be tough because opportunities are so few, but at the end of the day, they were outplayed by the young DEN pass catchers.

-Darnay Holmes is such a roller coaster. He plays fast, he plays aggressive. Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham does several things with him but he, nearly every game, makes a bonehead mistake. He was flagged for a personal foul as he blatantly threw Jeudy out of bounds way after the play was dead. Judge promptly took him out and ripped him a new one on the sidelines.

SAFETY

-What I consider to be the strength of this defense and the biggest hope this unit has – the safeties – were torched by the DEN tight ends. Jabrill Peppers was beat on 3rd down three separate times, although he did have a TFL and pressure. Julian Love was late in coverage on a couple of occasions as well.

-Logan Ryan and Xavier McKinney were solid. Ryan led the team with 10 tackles, a TFL, and made one of the plays of the game on his forced + recovered fumble near the end zone. McKinney broke up 2 passes but got lucky on a couple of occasions where Bridgewater underthrew a target who blew by him. He also missed a tackle.

SPECIAL TEAMS

-K Graham Gano: 1/1 XP
-P Riley Dixon: 3 punts / 54.0 avg / 39.3 net

3 STUDS

-WR Sterling Shepard, OT Andrew Thomas, S Logan Ryan

3 DUDS

-OT Nate Solder, TE Kyle Rudolph, CB Adoree’ Jackson

3 THOUGHTS ON DEN

(1) Watching, re-watching, and then re-re watching the game, I came away with one thought. We really have to give credit to how well DEN quarterback Teddy Bridgewater played. He was incredibly accurate no matter where he threw the ball. He got the passes out in a hurry, and he created a lot on his own. Bridgewater isn’t a very good athlete, but he played an athletic game. On multiple instances he moved just enough to avoid sacks before making quality throws on the move. He really knows how to take what the defense gives him to a point where it can be woefully frustrating for the opposition. Maybe he took in a thing or two from playing under Drew Brees because that was a very Brees-like performance.

(2) Many don’t realize just how much Drew Lock held this team back last year. They actually could have been a solid offense but a horrid start and Lock being bottom 5 in most advanced metrics just killed their shot in the tough AFC West. I’ll be curious to see if he ends up getting a shot down the road, but I know Shurmur really liked him coming out of Missouri a few years ago. That said, he gave up on Lock in a hurry.

(3) DEN and NYG both have one of the most expensive secondaries in the NFL (top 6). The difference? DEN also puts enormous resources into their pass rush while NYG is left hoping their day 2 / day 3 picks that have not proven anything can rush the edge. DEN’s defense is going to keep them in a lot of games this year and it may be the most ideal spot for a quarterback like Bridgewater. I wouldn’t discount this team from a 9-10 win season especially because they have a very easy schedule lined up.

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

(1) I don’t want to write up, for the 1,000th time, how little Week 1 means in the grand scheme of things. A successful season in 2021 is 8-9 or 9-8. They are 0-1 with 16 games left and it was a frustrating game to watch, absolutely. Green Bay lost to the Jameis Winston-led Saints 38-3. Buffalo lost at home to the .500-at best Steelers by a touchdown. Tennessee lost 38-13, at home. I think the one credible fear and gripe NYG fans can yell from their balconies if they feel the need to do so revolves around the fact that it really seems like we are watching the same issues year after year. A vanilla offense, a shaky-at-best offensive line, minimal pass rush, and a defense that struggles in clutch scenarios.

(2) Joe Judge trying to throw a challenge flag on a scoring play was a borderline inexcusable mistake. I haven’t read about his post-game thoughts on the subject, but even my wife who is a casual bystander during football games said, “Aren’t you not allowed to do that?” NYG went on to lose a timeout because of it. That did not end up meaning anything, but it was a juvenile mistake.

(3) The offensive line rotations at RT and LG can be viewed one of two ways. One, it is messing with the most vital component of offensive line play: chemistry. Two, nobody is stepping up and proving snap-to-snap, week-to-week reliability. I’ve discussed the holes at OT and OG multiple times since the end of last year and we are still in the middle of it. I am not sure if the answer(s) are on the current roster, but multiple guys need to be given opportunities with the hope of, well yes, luck. NYG’s only hope here is someone far outplays the level they’ve already played at. Nearly out of the blue. “Fingers crossed” is usually a poor way to build a football team.

Aug 312021
 
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Kaden Smith, New York Giants (August 29, 2021)

Kaden Smith – © USA TODAY Sports

QUICK RECAP

The preseason finale (yes, 2 weeks prior to the start of the season rather than 1) was a home matchup against the New England Patriots. Throughout my short lifetime of being a Giants fan relative to many of you, the exhibition game against the Pats has always meant we are right around the corner from week one. After 2 losses, NYG was looking to come out on the winning end of this one, as their starters on both sides of the ball were planning to play at least through the first half.

Daniel Jones, entering the vital-third year, was forced off the field after a third down that saw him sacked by NE edge rusher Josh Uche. The sack was allowed by Andrew Thomas, who had trouble sealing the edge all night. Cam Newton and the NE offense started near midfield after a poor punt before gaining 31 yards on 4 plays, three of which were on the ground. Consecutive incomplete passes brought kicker Nick Folk onto the field for a 41-yard field goal, which he made.

NYG had a bit more flow on their second drive with a solid 1st-down, play-action pass pick up of 13 yards and a 3rd-and-1 conversion by running back Devontae Booker. They crossed midfield before converting a 4th-and-1 by sending power back Elijhaa Penny up the middle. They shot themselves in the foot again, however, allowing a dual-outside sack by the tackles and a drop by Darius Slayton on a 3rd-and-13. NYG had to punt again.

After a solid punt that pinned NE inside their own 5-yard line, Newton was intercepted by linebacker and defensive leader Blake Martinez. It was a slight underthrow to Jakobi Meyers but he managed to get both hands on the ball. It was a brilliant, impressive play by the linebacker that resulted from him sticking with the receiver down the field. Good linebackers know that you just need to be near the action and good things will eventually bounce your way. NYG now had 1st-and-10 near the NE 40-yard line for the second time in as many drives. It took them 9 plays, including two 3rd-down conversions, to reach the 1-yard line. A failed run up the middle and then a horrific interception by Jones left 0 points on the board. 0 points came from two 1st-and-10s near the NE 40-yard line.

NE rookie quarterback Mac Jones came in and led a drive into field goal range, largely helped by a defensive holding penalty by cornerback James Bradberry. Quinn Nordin nailed a 48-yarder to make the score 6-0. How would the anemic starting offense respond? They failed to reach midfield after starting at their own 31-yard line. An Andrew Thomas holding penalty and a near-interception by Jones really brought the vibe down. The NE offense went 3-and-out on the next drive, however, as the backup offensive line was now protecting the rookie Jones.

Once again, NYG began with good field position, just 8 yards shy of midfield. They went into a 2-minute offense and Jones completed 6 straight attempts for an average gain of 5+ yards per. With just 30 seconds left, he threw his best ball of the night, a 23-yard touchdown that was put in the best possible spot for Kaden Smith to haul in despite minimal separation from the defender. NYG carried a 7-6 lead into halftime.

Backups filled the field for the second half, although there was plenty to still watch. NE first- and second-year skill players took care of business right away, marching down the field for a touchdown that ended with a throw from Jones to receiver Isaiah Zuber. They went for two to lengthen their lead to 7, but it failed. NE led 12-7. NYG, led by backup Mike Glennon, went 3-and-out just to watch the NE offense put another score on the board to make it 19-7.

Glennon’s second drive of the night had much more rhythm and success to it. He hit Alex Bachman for a 21-yard pickup but three straight incompletions forced NYG to go for a field goal. Graham Gano, who missed just one attempt in 2020, went wide right from 41 yards to keep the score at 19-7. Mac Jones then ended his night with a poor drive, holding onto the ball for too long, resulting in 2 sacks before punting back to NYG.

The Giants’ running game started to heat up at this point. Corey Clement and Penny combined for 46 yards in addition to a 15-yard face mask penalty by NE defensive lineman Montravius Adams. Glennon then hit Bachman for a 12-yard touchdown on 3rd-and-6 with Gano following it up with an extra point to make it 19-14 with 13:00 left. Brian Hoyer, one of the best backups in the league from a play + presence perspective, dinked and dunked his way down the field on a time consuming 12-play drive that put another 3 points on the board for NE.

The NE pass rush was all over Glennon on the next drive and they were forced to punt the ball back with under 4 minutes left, down by 8. NE gained a couple first downs and in typical preseason fashion, opted to start taking a knee just a tad early. Joe Judge wasn’t having it. He used his timeouts to get the ball back with under 30 seconds left following a missed 54-yard field goal attempt, setting them up near midfield again.

Glennon chucked a borderline-desperation pass into the end zone from midfield and a receiver that keeps making splash plays, Damion Willis (a former starter in this league), came down with the touchdown catch. NYG was within 2 with mere seconds left on the clock. Even though there is no overtime in preseason, it was still intriguing to watch this offense go for two. Glennon slightly rushed his 50/50 ball to Dante Pettis, preventing his target from being able to high point the ball, and the pass fell incomplete.

NYG loses, 22-20.

QUARTERBACK

-Daniel Jones: 17/22 – 135 yards / 1 TD / 1 INT and 1 att / 4 yards

This was the first time we saw Jones in live game action. He will go into the third year, the T in the road of his career, having played 40 snaps before Week 1 against a very good defense. I still disagree with the approach but won’t touch on it anymore. Jones was forced into making a lot of throws underneath. The pressure was at his feet in a hurry and the NE defense dropped a lot of defenders into zone. He did a nice job of checking down and threw an accurate ball. The black eye of the night was a rookie-type interception on 3rd-and-goal from the 1, running to the outside while throwing back inside. His touchdown to Smith, however, was a great downfield throw with elite touch and placement. Jones can excel when throwing vertical, I am confident there. The question is, will he program himself and will the play-calling allow for more shots.

RUNNING BACK

-Elijhaa Penny continued his surge this preseason. The no-nonsense, north-south runner gained 35 yards on just 4 carries. He ends the 3-game run with 53 yards on 7 carries. We can’t get excited about such a small sample size, especially from preseason, but he proved he deserves a shot to be the short yardage guy or at least get a few looks in those situations.

-Roster hopeful Corey Clement gained 24 yards and Devontae Booker, potentially the Week 1 starter, combined for 38 yards on 11 carries. The one standout here was rookie Gary Brightwell. The former wide receiver had 20 yards on 3 catches and added 10 more yards on the ground. He was on the field with the ones, in front of Clement. I thought that was interesting and it is another reason why I think Clement may have a hard time making the 53 (I am writing this early Tuesday morning).

WIDE RECEIVER

-Sterling Shepard, who has averaged 10 yards per catch over the past 2 years (22 games played + 10 games missed), led the team with 5 receptions. They only accrued 42 yards (8.4 per). I bring the numbers up because he is likely going to be the most targeted player on this offense in the passing game. He is making $9 million this year, $10.5 in 2022, $11.5 in 2023. For an offense that needs to make bigger plays in the passing game, it is hard to see that kind of money going to a guy who won’t make big plays. I love the player, I love the route running and aggression after the catch, both of which showed up in this game. However, I question what he can do outside of the short window and then I ask myself if a player like that is worth top 5-7 money on this team. Something to look at this year.

-Darius Slayton had 1 catch for 6 yards and dropped a 3rd-down pass. He was also flagged for offensive pass interference. Dante Pettis was the one who came on the field once Slayton tweaked a foot injury (again). He had 1 catch for 8 yards and I charged him with a drop as well, although it was a tough one to bring in. It was interesting to me that he seemed ahead of David Sills on the depth chart. Sills had 1 catch for 14 yards where a defender was all over him. Once again, solid ball skills but he struggled to get open.

-Alex Bachman had 2 catches for 33 yards and a score. He also dropped one, his second of the preseason. Damion Willis made 2 big-time plays in the 4th quarter as NYG mounted their comeback. He finished with 70 yards on 3 catches and keeps making plays when the opportunities are put in front of him. I think he deserves a shot.

TIGHT END

-The story of the night will be Evan Engram. Judging by the look of how the injury went down, I would expect him to miss a few weeks. By the time this review gets posted, we should know more. Anyway, the writing will be on the wall for Engram if he misses more time. Hard time catching the ball, hard time staying on the field, below average blocker in an offense that needs to focus on running the ball. This makes the position group look mighty thin if he ends up being out.

-Kaden Smith, who went scoreless in 2020, brought in a touchdown catch for 23 yards. It was a high-level catch. He blocked well but did allow a TFL on a bizarre play call. He struggles to really hold the point against defensive linemen.

-If NYG loses Engram for some time, the waiver wire could be the route they take but Nakia Griffin-Stewart looks interesting to me. Perhaps as a PS guy at first, though. He had 3 catches for 30 yards and plays a physical brand. He showed angry, violent hands as a blocker. He plays like he wants it.

OFFENSIVE LINE

-Really poor night by the two young tackles, especially Andrew Thomas. He played 40 snaps (just over half of what you would see on a normal Sunday), and allowed 1 sack, 1 pressure, and was flagged for a hold. He looked like he lacked confidence in his outside foot, as he wouldn’t reach and plant with any sort of anchor. His outside shoulder looked soft. Carl Banks (who I respect a ton), noted he looked afraid of losing inside. I disagree. He looked like he didn’t have the confidence in his footwork and overall lower body strength to anchor himself into the ground. Matt Peart allowed a pressure and was flagged for a false start. Both were solid in the run game, however. Really good movement off the ball.

-Will Hernandez is one of the winners of the preseason. This was the best I’ve seen him (albeit just one half of football). He looks much more fluid and active with both his feet and hands. If NYG can have that RG spot locked in, it is a huge benefit when considering the questions marks up front. Nick Gates played well in the running game but did allow a pressure. He was late to see a twist. This was a solid NE front they were up against, and both played well.

-Ted Larsen got the start at left guard and he struggled. He allowed a TFL and a sack before injuring his left leg when he got rolled up on. Kenny Wiggins came in and continued to struggle, allowing a pressure and TFL. The team traded for Billy Price and I will touch on that below.

-Nate Solder looks very lean and a little quicker. He started at RT, and I think that is what we will see early on but with a few rotations per game. Solder gets off the ball well, but he isn’t sustaining good contact. There are balance issues, and he just doesn’t stay square to his man. He isn’t powerful enough on the move and it will cause issues weekly. He allowed a sack.

-Jackson Barton looked much better at left tackle than what I have seen the previous 2 weeks. I also liked Chad Slade at right guard next to Peart. I think he is better inside where he can think more about power and violence.

EDGE

-Nice to see Lorenzo Carter on the field. After watching the group of edge rushers on this team over the first 2 weeks, it is easy to see how advanced Carter is in comparison. More twitch, more pop on contact, faster decision making. He finished with 2 tackles and a sack.

-Azeez Ojulari and Oshane Ximines are likely going to split snaps opposite of Carter. They should lean more toward Ojulari in my opinion, as he looks better against the run, and he simply plays faster. Both finished with a pressure.

-Trent Harris finished with a sack and 3 tackles while Ryan Anderson, who will start the season suspended because of PEDs, nearly came up with a sack as well. At the time of this writing, I think both will end up on the 53-man roster. They won’t ever be reliable every down guys but they offer a niche respectively. Harris has pop and explosion in addition to an aggressive style. Anderson is powerful and stout. There are roles for both.

DEFENSIVE LINE

-B.J. Hill didn’t play, as he was a part of a trade to CIN that I will discuss below. Dexter Lawrence, Leonard Johnson, and Austin Johnson were the starters, all of whom played under half of the team’s snaps. Lawrence bull-rushed his way into a sack but was also flagged for a defensive hold on a screen.

-The trade of Hill will open a door for both Raymond Johnson III and possibly Willie Henry. Both had yet another active game, with the latter finishing with a pressure, a sack, and a pass break up, and the former added another pressure. I’m not sure what their roster status will be as of this writing, but I bet we see them on the field at some point. Let’s see if they can do it against starters.

-David Moa truly has done everything he could to make this team and maybe even carve out a weekly role. He is active and has shown surprising pass rush capability. There was an ugly 3rd-down run where he got pushed back 5+ yards, however.

LINEBACKER

-Play of the night by Blake Martinez on an interception in the first half. Man, it feels good to have a true general who can make an impact all three downs in the middle. Best linebacker they’ve had since Antonio Pierce and I mean that. He also had a pressure.

-Tae Crowder and Reggie Ragland will likely split snaps next to Martinez. I hope they lean hard toward the former. Crowder had a TFL and just shows week-to-week how much more speed he has on the field. Ragland is a thumper and may see snaps here and there, but he is best suited for specific roles and situations.

-Devante Downs has a trade market? News to me. I haven’t heard anything there at all. He finished with 6 tackles in this one, including one on special teams. He excels at straight-ahead, physical play, but he misses too many tackles and can’t cover.

CORNERBACK

-James Bradberry was flagged for a hold on a third down. Otherwise, I liked what I saw of the true, credible number one corner. He easily turns and runs down the field with speed and shows good control out of his breaks.

-Adoree’ Jackson was out with an ankle injury, thus we saw Darnay Holmes start. He shifted inside on nickel and rookie Rodarius Williams came on the field. The 6th rounder led the team in snaps this preseason and I think we should be ready to see a lot of him early in the season. You know he will be tested often. He was up and down this preseason, but he has a really nice blend of tools. Can he think and react fast? Can he get used to not grabbing? We will see.

-Sam Beal played a solid game. He played physically against the run after a poor effort against the Browns in preseason game #2. He had a TFL on a 2-point conversion and was solid in catch-up coverage. I just see too many losses at the point-of-attack for my liking.

-Madre Harper was picked on for the third week in a row. He just doesn’t have it mentally. There is some impressive size and speed there, but he isn’t a pro corner. He just isn’t.

SAFETY

-We got to see the full gambit of how this team will use the abundance of talent they have at safety. This is one thing I feel really good about. Logan Ryan, Jabrill Peppers, Julian Love, and Xavier McKinney all got on the field in a rotational manner. I love what they offer when it comes to versatility and hustle. Love has had a nice preseason, capping it off with a nice 3rd-down PD.

-Jordyn Peters had an awful game. He was beat on a touchdown pass where he was late to the seam route and then was barreled over on a touchdown run later. I can’t see any situation where he makes this team, but he is new to the position and could be worth a PS spot.

SPECIAL TEAMS

-Graham Gano: 0/1 (missed 41) – 2/2 XP
-P Riley Dixon: 5 punts / 43.0 avg / 33.4 net

3 STUDS

-OG Will Hernandez, WR Damion Willis, LB Blake Martinez

3 DUDS

-CB Madre Harper, OG Ted Larsen, S Jordyn Peters

3 THOUGHTS ON NE

Man, I could write a book on my admiration for how NE builds their roster year in, year out. I won’t because I know nobody wants to read that. But just in short, they excel at finding players to help their plan in every possible facet. The 2021 offseason was the most aggressive I have ever seen them in free agency by a wide, wide margin. They did it because their other strategies weren’t working. They didn’t fold, they didn’t double down. They quickly altered their approach and added talent to a team that had the second-most injured roster in 2020 (including Covid opt outs). They are so good at this stuff.

As I write this, Cam Newton being released just came across the ticker. I promise, I’m not even a little surprised. I said it last year: He simply looks done. Will he get scooped up? Perhaps, but keep in mind you really have to change the offense around him for that. Maybe BAL takes a look in a backup role? I don’t see the upside with him. We may have seen the last of the 2015 league MVP.

How far will NE go? After years and years of automatic bids into the postseason, they are in the tier of a dozen (if not more) teams. If things break right, they can win 10-11 games. If things break wrong, they’ll win 6-7. They have a really tough schedule from a rest perspective, and they have a lot of really good offenses they’ll have to defend. Mac Jones can play; I think we saw enough in college and preseason to confirm that. But “play” and trying to score 22+ points per week don’t always coincide. I think they will be in the playoff hunt, but they may be too easy to defend without a deep threat. Maybe someone emerges there or maybe running back J.J. Taylor breaks out into a big-time playmaker (yes, that is very possible). But the likes of Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, and Nelson Agholor won’t scare anybody. I’m calling for 8-9 or 9-8.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I want to offer a few thoughts on the B.J. Hill vs Billy Price trade. Again, I will try to keep it short. Hill is a quality defensive lineman who could make almost every roster in the league. I can only think of maybe 3 or 4 where he would be cut. He can offer something against both the run and pass. He is limited though, and he didn’t play a ton last year. This defense isn’t the ideal fit for him. I think some had an inflated outlook on him because in 5.5 sacks in 2018. He has had 2 since. He has had 2 TFL in the running game since. In 32 games. That isn’t good. Billy Price on the other hand, hasn’t been good either. He has been a horrific pass blocker, but a very solid run blocker. That doesn’t solve the issue with the NYG offensive line fully, but I do view him as an upgrade over what NYG has tried along the interior this year. Wiggins, Larsen, Fulton, Looney, Harrison….etc. They aren’t going to get it done. Price has seen his fair share of injuries (pec and foot), he has been moved back and forth between OG and OC, and the CIN offensive line coaches they’ve had are not highly regarded to say the least. NYG isn’t going anywhere without a better starting group than what they’ve had along the OL or more adequate depth. Is Price better than the names I mentioned above? Yes. He played well end of 2020 and this preseason. Could he crack the starting lineup by mid-year? Yes. All in all, this was a move that may or may not help this offensive line, the black hole of this franchise. It will not hurt the DL one bit, in my opinion. Worth the gamble.

Roster cuts from around the league will start pouring in as, and after, I send this review in. Don’t make any final judgements on the 53-man roster until the weekend is my suggestion. A lot will happen between now and then. The one group I would like to see NYG add to is tight end. Rudolph and Smith are fine, but if Engram goes down, I want another guy here who can be trusted to block. This passing game may need an extra body in there to help on the outside. Another place I would look is linebacker. If a guy with speed gets cut loose, I may want to start a Downs-type experiment over. Meaning, hope to get lucky off another team’s trash. Downs doesn’t have it.

As we enter the 2021 season in decent shape health wise, it is time to really turn on what we think will happen this year. I may get another post out there next week, but I think this team is actually similar to what we will see out of NE. If things break right (Jones + the OL turn it up a couple levels), we could see 10 wins. It would be on the heels of this defense though. They have a shot at being a top 10, maybe even top-7 unit. The pass rush is what concerns me, but I trust Graham to manufacture pressure when needed if the outside guys can’t get it done. Can the offense be “good enough?” They won’t get away with scoring 15-19 points per. They won’t get away with low red zone scoring percentages. Even if the NYG defense ends up doing well, they need to score 22+ per game to have a shot at 10 wins. If it gets ugly, you’re looking at 6-7 wins and a new quarterback in 2022.

Aug 252021
 
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Raymond Johnson, New York Giants (August 22, 2021)

Raymond Johnson – © USA TODAY Sports

QUICK RECAP

Week 2 of the 3-week preseason brought NYG to Cleveland, a spot they spent all week practicing against a 2020 playoff team, the Cleveland Browns. These intra-squad practices have become the norm for most teams around the league. Because of the increased intensity during the week, the vast majority of starters on both sides of the ball did not play a single snap. Head Coach Joe Judge did state that next week’s preseason matchup against New England, the final one, will feature the starters for a good chunk of time. This game, however, was one of the final pieces to the puzzle for the back-end-of-roster building as there are still several question marks at a few spots when diagnosing who will be on that final 53-man roster.

The Giants’ running game got off to a solid start, but their opening drive stalled at midfield with 2 straight incompletions by Mike Glennon. CLE then took their opening drive down the field with little resistance from the NYG defense. Their opening 6 plays netted respective gains of 7, 8, 14, 12, 13, and 18 yards, putting them inside the NYG 10-yard line. After a 2nd down drop in the end zone by receiver Rashard Higgins and a sack by Oshane Ximines, CLE opted to go for it on 4th and Goal from the 7. Case Keenum hit KhaDarel Hodge for the score.

NYG responded with a time-consuming drive of their own, showing everything you want to see out of an offense. Balanced play-calling with efficient gains on early downs, a 3rd-down conversion, and quality blocking. Their 11-play drive ended with a Devontae Booker 1-yard touchdown where he dove over the pile right down the middle. The score was tied up at 7 and it would remain that way for the rest of the first half.

CLE did make their way inside the NYG 10-yard line again, aided by a questionable 3rd down pass interference penalty called on Carter Coughlin. On the ensuing 3rd down, this one from the NYG 9, Keenum had his time in the pocket, but the coverage was on point. He tried to fit a ball into tight end Jordan Franks, but it was picked off by Quincy Wilson, one of the team’s standout performers all summer.

The two offenses traded uneventful drives; CLE being led by former Giants backup signal caller Kyle Lauletta. He peppered the defense with several short air-yard passing attempts and rarely looked downfield. They did reach midfield but ran out of time and timeouts as the NYG pass rush was consistently causing disruption.

The second half was highlighted by the newest NYG quarterback, Brian Lewerke. Signed just a week prior to this game, he marched out onto the field with the backups. His first two drives were uneventful 3-and-outs while the NYG defense got roasted on the second- and third-level by the Lauletta-led CLE offense. They scored their second touchdown of the day on a 5-yard run by second-year back John Kelly.

On the Giants’ first possession of the 4th quarter, still down 14-7, Lewerke threw a couple of nice passes on the move outside of the numbers. On this drive, he really turned some heads. He started it off going 3-for-3 before picking up 20 yards on a designed quarterback keeper. Thanks to 20 yards of CLE penalties and 8 yards picked up by rookie running back Gary Brightwell on two runs, Lewerke found himself 3rd-and-4 from the CLE 8-yard line. He threw a strike to David Sills IV, who made a nice play on the ball, before failing the two-point conversion pass. NYG was down 14-13 with just over 7:00 left.

The ugly tackling, a notable trend we have now seen for two straight weeks, reached the low point on the ensuing CLE drive. Multiple missed tackles by the back seven heavily aided Kelly as he picked up 43 yards on 4 touches via both the run and pass. It put them on the NYG 31, which netted them an additional 3 points with just over 2 minutes left. CLE had a solid 4-point lead.

The Lewerke-led offense did put together another impressive drive in what you would call a “pressure” situation in preseason terms. He converted a 3rd-and- 19 to tight end Rysen John, a 4th-and-6th to running back Gary Brightwell, and a 4th-and-8 to Damion Willis. Really impressive performance from the 2020 undrafted free agent. The game, however, did end on a desperation throw that was intercepted by rookie safety Richard LeCounte in the end zone.

CLE wins, 17-13.

QUARTERBACK

-Mike Glennon and Brian Lewerke both looked sharp in this one, all things considered. They got the ball out quickly and accurately and seemed to have their timing down well. They went a combined 21/32 for 194 yards 1 TD / 1 INT and another 27 yards on the ground. The pass protection was solid enough for the coaches to get a proper feel for these two. Lewerke was good once he got a few drives under his belt, notably on 3rd and 4th down. Is there a subtle QB competition going on for that backup spot? Probably not. Glennon is making a half-million guaranteed. However, Lewerke could earn a spot on the practice squad. Something worth keeping an eye on.

RUNNING BACK

-Devontae Booker got the start and was only in there for a quarter of the plays. He appeared less-rusty and more decisive with the ball. He picked up 27 yards on 6 carries along with a touchdown and caught 2 passes for 13 yards.

-The spot behind Booker is interesting to me. Corey Clement had a solid 13-yard run but gained just 17 yards on his other 8 carries. Considering his fumble history, including last week, and the lack of variety to his game, one can wonder of Elijhaa Penny should have that number three role. The fullback has been discussed for 2 years now as a guy who can get the ball more in short yardage. He went on to gain 16 yards on 2 carries and picked up 7 more yards on a catch. In the 53-man roster chess match where finding guys who can do multiple things is key, I do see a scenario where Penny gets the nod and Clement gets the boot.

-Gary Brightwell saw about a third of the snaps and caught 3 passes. He looks physical and powerful with a no-nonsense approach. I need to see more out of him as a blocker to really diagnose the odds of him making this roster. We already know he can impact special teams.

WIDE RECEIVER

-David Sills and Dante Pettis led the group in both snaps and receptions, with the former bringing in a touchdown on a play where he played the ball beautifully. His ability to maneuver around defenders and put himself in optimal positioning to hand-catch the ball was the top trait that had me give him a 3rd round grade coming out of West Virginia (he went undrafted). I may have a small bias here, but I believe this kid deserves a shot in real-game action. He never has been a blazer, nor will he ever be one. But he knows how to catch the ball and his route running/release ability has improved notably. If I had to choose between him and Pettis? I’m going with Sills. Pettis offers more athletically though; I will say that.

-Alex Bachman and Damion Willis are on the outside looking in. The former had a drop and also didn’t run a 3rd-down route deep enough on a play where he was the primary read. Little things like that are deciding factors in games because of how much 3rd down success correlates to winning. Willis made 2 catches, one going for 15 yards. Still would love to see him on the practice squad.

TIGHT END

-Another week, another game where Rysen John is growing on me. He led the team with 58 yards on 3 catches. He gets up the seam in a hurry and that is an area I think this offense will be attacking more in the passing game now that Barkley will be back on the field. He did get flagged for a hold and he did bang up his ankle a bit, but I think he needs to be on the practice squad on the very least. He still is very early in the progression stage when it comes to learning how to play tight end.

OFFENSIVE LINE

-The first string sat this one out, so it was a nice long look at some of the backup-battles. Overall, the line looked better this week than what we saw in preseason Week 1.

-I was unimpressed by the left tackle Jackson Barton, who was claimed last September from KC. He allowed 1 sack and 1 pressure, but his weaknesses show up in the running game. Too often off balance, rarely got movement off the ball, and whiffed a couple times when forced to adjust laterally.

-This was our first look at the Ted Larsen-Jonotthan Harrison combo inside. Both veterans looked like a presence in the running game. They were on point across several combo blocks. These are the two guys I want sitting behind the starters. Limited upside but you know what you’re getting here, two smart guys with some nastiness in their game.

-Chad Slade and Jake Burton were better than what we saw last week, notably in pass protection even though Burton did allow a sack. Slade is going to make this roster I believe. When he has his feet under him, he really is a swift and powerful blocker.

-This staff may have a thing for Kenny Wiggins and I can’t say I know what goes on behind closed doors and at practice, but I have been very underwhelmed with him so far. I don’t see any consistency with any part of his technique. Simply put, he gets beat a lot.

DEFENSIVE LINE

-I don’t see how David Moa makes this roster when I do the math, but he certainly is making a case for it. He finished with a very active 6 tackles, while adding a pressure and pass deflection. He was roaming up and down the tackle box, getting free from blocks and finishing. Really impressive hustle from the 310 pounder who led all DL in snaps.

-Raymond Johnson III was the defensive star of the game in my eyes. NYG has something here. He finished with 3 tackles, a half-sack, and 2 pressures. His play-style, body type, and skill set are exactly what NYG needs to backup their linemen and I would be shocked to see him anywhere other than the final 53-man roster. Sure, we need to see him against some better competition, but he has shown a lot in 2 games.

-B.J. Hill had one tackle and a pressure, as he was right there on the Carter Coughlin sack. He didn’t play much, however.

-Elijah Qualls flashed with some penetration and Willie Henry had another active game. Good to see these backups respond well to the scheme should injuries start to arise at some point.

EDGE

-Oshane Ximines had a standout performance as a pass rusher. His shortcomings in the running game have been there from the beginning of his career and it is safe to say he won’t ever be a weapon there. But his main job is to impact the opposing passing game and that he did. He had 3 pressures and a sack, seeming to live in the backfield on deep drop backs by the CLE quarterbacks.

-Trent Harris had a pressure and a TFL. He is a guy who consistently will flash when the snaps are there. Just a really quick and strong finisher.

-Ryan Anderson finished with a half-sack and Ifeadi Odenigbo added a pressure. Both were charged with missed tackles and didn’t seem to have a consistent flow in the pass rush game.

LINEBACKER

-Carter Coughlin still appears to be the best of the backups at this group. He had a pressure, a sack, and 4 tackles. He got flagged for a questionable pass interference and there were a couple other plays where he got beat in coverage, but he never seems too far from the action, run or pass.

-Reggie Ragland and Devante Downs can’t say the same. They are going to be an issue in coverage if they are on the field and Downs missed 2 tackles. Both were bad, ugly misses. He did share the team lead with 7 tackles, however. Not a terrible game for him, but he needs to cut out the whiffs.

-Cam Brown got some action late in the game. He was fooled on misdirection twice, but I was really impressed by the speed and burst he showed in recovery. He is so wide and long-strided. If he can figure things out mentally, there will be a role for him. He also added 2 special team tackles.

CORNERBACK

-Rodarius Williams and Sam Beal practically played the entire game, just under 90% of the snaps. Williams continued his up-and-down performance that we have seen and read about all summer. He broke up a 3rd down pass where he showed excellent lower body technique and accurate hands. Beal struggled and I think we are at the point where one needs to ask: what does anyone hope he can bring to the table? He is a terrible tackler (2 misses), he has issues staying healthy, and there isn’t a natural feel in coverage. You can only hope on speed and height for so long.

-Madre Harper is another one I find myself scratching my head about. He allowed a touchdown early in the game for the same reason I see over and over with him: a lack of discipline on reads and long-legged movement that makes it even tougher for him to adjust into a good position.

-Darnay Holmes played just 7 snaps early in the game.

SAFETY

-Julian Love and Xavier McKinney didn’t play a ton, but I was encouraged but what I saw from both on the re-watch. They both made a really physical downhill tackles, and both were moving swiftly in coverage. When healthy (knock on wood), this defensive back group is loaded with potential and a lot of it comes down to the versatility these safeties have.

-Quincy Wilson, arguably the top defensive surprise of camp and preseason, finished with a tackle and key interception in the end zone. The former Florida cornerback is yet another defensive back who can be moved in and out of positions based on matchups.

-Chris Johnson, one that I think had no shot of making this roster anyway, was terrible. He missed 2 tackles, failed to set the edge multiple times, and was responsible for a touchdown run where he didn’t fill his assignment.

SPECIAL TEAMS

-K Ryan Santoso: 1/1 XP
-P Riley Dixon: 6 punts / 45.5 avg / 40.2 net

3 STUDS

-DL David Moa, WR David Sills IV, DL Raymond Johnson III

3 DUDS

-OT Jackson Barton, S Chris Johnson, CB Sam Beal

3 THOUGHTS ON CLE

1) We all know that analytics have taken over the majority of NFL teams, some more than others. It isn’t a debate I enjoy getting into because the term “analytics” is simply too broad. I think information and data is key. It is vital to building rosters, making personnel decisions, and strategizing. I have taken a deep dive into information when it comes to salary cap allocation, personnel groupings on offense and defense, and situational play calling. One team stands out the most in terms of blending this all together to create wins, and it is CLE. It worked well last year, and I think the sky is the limit for them in 2021.

2) The CLE running game is absolutely stacked. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are the top 1-2 punch in the league for my money, but the rest of the depth chart needs respect too. D’Ernest Johnson and rookie Demetric Felton are almost sure-things to make this roster. Could that free up John Kelly? Should NYG be interested if so? He broke tackles with the best of them in college, in the SEC, and that is the top trait I look for in backs.

3) A lesson in how to make a solid offense one of the best? BUILD THE OFFENSIVE LINE and DO NOT MISS. They’ve done it all to build a top 5 OL in this league. First round pick on their left tackle, a big contract to a young and proven right tackle who his former team simply could not afford, a trade for a guard who was being used incorrectly on his previous team, a day-2 guard who played tackle in college, and no hesitation in spending top-10 money (respective to position) at center for a smart, leader-type. It was a perfect plan, and it was executed even better.

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

1) Two games, zero snaps for Daniel Jones and several other starters. Head Coach Joe Judge did state Jones would start (and I am assuming others will too) Sunday against the Patriots, 2 weeks before their first game. Was this a good idea? For a 3rd year quarterback who has shown issues making reads? Playing with a new number one receiver and an offensive line that has barely played with each other? Are we going to give a pass Week 1 against DEN when we hear “shaking off the rust” lines from coaches and players alike? I understand the fear of injury, but this is a game of chemistry and execution. Not fear.

2) I stated that if Kadarius Toney wasn’t playing at full speed by September, I would start to worry. Remember, this is an offense that was in desperate need for more talent at the skill positions. Sure, Barkley is back and Golladay was signed, but Toney is a big part of this offense needing to take a big jump. And I’ll tell you what, there may not be an offense that has a tougher schedule of defenses all things considered this season in the league. There are a few things that have bothered me about this entire situation, but I won’t go too deep into it yet. This kid needs to get on the field though.

3) Are we looking at the deepest defensive NYG has put on the field in a long time? I think so. The secondary is absolutely loaded with good players who can play multiple roles at a credibly high level. The defensive line hosts one of the top tackle-ends in the game in Leonard Williams along with a handful (or more) of very solid, high-upside run stuffers who could offer enough in the pass rush game. Depth is there for a great defense. Are they top heavy enough at EDGE? That is where they lack star power, and every good defense needs to be great at rushing the passer. Most of the pieces are there. Is THE piece there?

Aug 172021
 
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Sandro Platzgummer, New York Giants (August 14, 2021)

Sandro Platzgummer – © USA TODAY Sports

QUICK RECAP

For the first time since August of 2019, the Giants played a preseason game to remind everybody just how ugly football is when the lower-level players get involved. If anyone doesn’t understand the gap between NFL players that make a 53-man roster and those that just miss out, tell them to watch preseason Week 1. Games this time of year are not very entertaining, nor do they need to be watched very closely by the public. Nothing about them means very much and the reactions to them are often misguided and, to be honest, just flat out asinine. With that said, there are things to look for and note for future reference and that is exactly what this review will be mostly about.

The Giants sat the majority of their starters on both sides of the ball. The offensive line, however, marched out their top group to start the game off protecting backup quarterback Mike Glennon and paving paths for backup running back (and potential week 1 starter) Devontae Booker. They were outclassed to start off the game as the offense went three-and-out, the third play being a sack allowed by second-year tackle Matt Peart.

The Jets marched out their shiny new toy, quarterback Zack Wilson. He, along with a productive running game, marched down the field with some aid from missed tackles by the Giants’ defense. Wilson looked sharp and confident with their timed-based throws against the vanilla Giants defense that didn’t show much complexity. Cornerback Isaac Yiadom came up with a 3rd-and-3 stop on a pass attempt to the newly-signed Corey Davis. The Jets settled for a 30-yard field goal by rookie kicker Chris Naggar. That 3-0 lead would stick until the last 3 minutes of the 3rd quarter.

The Giants’ offense did wake up a bit on the next two drives in the first half, as they crossed midfield on both possessions. Andrew Thomas and Will Hernandez made key blocks on big Corey Clement rushing attempts that gained solid yards multiple times. Clement, however, fumbled on a 1st-and-goal from inside the 5-yard line. It was a major blow that, had this been a regular season game, would have been a major black-eye for the offense.

On the positive side, the Giants’ defense did perform consistently following the first drive. A 4th-and-1 stop by Danny Shelton, a 3rd-and-1 stop by Reggie Ragland, and another 3rd-and-1 stop by Austin Johnson were high points early on. If the Giants are going to be a credible contender in the still-weak NFC East, it will ride on the back of the defense. And with the way injuries mount up in the NFL these days, the defense will at least somewhat ride on the back of the ability of second/third stringers filling in when their respective numbers are called. Shelton and Ragland were very good.

Speaking of backups, the second-, third-, and fourth-stringers were on tap from the midway point of the second quarter-on. Roster hopefuls were hoping to get their opportunities on both sides of the ball. David Sills came down with a 37-yard catch inside the 2-minute warning, sparking some hope that the Giants would get rid of the zero on the scoreboard. The following three plays were incomplete pass, sack, incomplete pass. The second half yielded similar results early on.

The Giants offense went three-and-out on their first two possessions of the second half while the Jets added their first touchdown via a four-yard run by La’Mical Perine. That was three plays after a 3rd-and-18 conversion in which second-year receiver Denzel Mims broke three tackles on his way to the first down that put them inside the 10-yard line. It was an ugly display of tackling, a theme that this defensive staff must be sure to end before Week 1.

The fourth quarter began with the Giants starting an offensive possession near midfield. Thanks to a pass interference by former Big Blue corner Corey Ballentine, they were 1st-and-10 in Jets territory. Thorson missed an open Damion Willis downfield that could have been an easy score before two more incomplete passes that weren’t even close.

The Giants’ defense held on and even created a scoring opportunity themselves, as rookie cornerback Rodarius Williams picked up a fumble and returned it 29 yards to the NYJ 17-yard line. Three plays later, Thorson hit a wide-open Willis this time, beating Ballentine, on a broken down play. The sore was 10-7, Jets up, with 7 minutes remaining.

The Jets bled the clock down a to under 2 minutes, but they pinned Thorson and the Giants offense down inside the 10-yard line for the second time of the half. On the first play, Thorson was rocked by a hard hit in the end zone, resulting in a safety that put the Jets up 12-7. The Jets then took a knee when they got the ball back and the game was over.

Giants lose, 12-7.

QUARTERBACK

-It is crystal clear that Mike Glennon is going to be the backup to Daniel Jones this year. He played 38% of the snaps, while Thorson picked up the remaining. Glennon is an extremely lethargic mover, as there may not be a signal caller in the league with feet as heavy as him. That always makes me nervous when it comes to a backup quarterback. A guy who can’t move without a superior arm doesn’t inspire confidence should the team ever have to turn to him.

-Thorson was really poor. We can’t make a huge deal about a third-string quarterback, but there is no denying his poor performance. He went 5/16 for 72 yards. The touchdown to Willis on a broken down play makes the stat line look much better than it really is. He did make a great throw to David Sills in the first half, though. He was inaccurate on all levels and the timing throws were too late. Late in the game, Thorson was rocked on a sack and needed to be helped off the field.

RUNNING BACK

-Giants fans need to prepare for Saquon Barkley being on the sideline for the first couple weeks potentially. Even if he is back for live action, he will probably have a pitch count he needs to stay under. It will likely come down to newly-signed veterans Devontae Booker and Corey Clement to pick up the slack early on. They combined for 44 yards on 8 carries. Clement was more impressive, as he is known for a no-nonsense style between the tackles. That is the kind of back who will work best to complement a fully-healthy Barkley down the road. The issue with him? It popped up in the 2nd quarter when he fumbled inside the NYJ 5-yard line. The one black eye on his game centers around that, as he has fumbled 6 times in under 100 carries since the start of 2018.

-Sandro Platzgummer rattled off the biggest play of the night for the NYG offense, a 48-yard run up the sideline from the NYG 1-yard line.

-The best blocker of the bunch appears to be Booker and I would include Barkley in that discussion based on what we have seen the past two years. Booker is stout but more importantly, his footwork and sustainability look natural and easy. That is going to be a plus-factor this year.

WIDE RECEIVER

-David Sills has been having a strong camp and it appears the coaching staff wanted to give him as many snaps as possible to make his case for the final WR spot on the roster. He led the group in snaps, catches (3), and yards (49). Those 49 yards were more than the rest of the pass catchers combined. Sills has excellent ball skills, he always has. The issue with him is a lack of top-gear speed. His release looked really good, however. If he wants any shot at making the roster, he needs to prove he can get open on all levels of the route tree. If he can, he can make it happen.

-C.J. Board got the ball a lot. He had a carry on a jet sweep that resulted in a 12-yard gain and 4 returns (2 punt / 2 kick). He dropped a pass, however. Board’s route to making this team will revolve around special teams but if the receiving skill set isn’t there, he will have a hard time fighting off some of the other options.

-Damion Willis is an interesting name. He started a couple games in 2019 with CIN and they were excited about him. He has good size (6’3/209) and a wide catch radius with a bendy frame. He came down with a touchdown and could have had another one if Thorson had thrown the ball inbounds.

-Dante Pettis, another roster-bubble name, had three targets but didn’t come away with any catches. He still looks like the best combination of skills + talent among these back-end guys.

TIGHT END

-Kaden Smith got the start with Kyle Rudolph out. More of the same from him with quality blocking in the trenches and limited separation as a route runner. He will be the unquestioned number 2 guy here until Kyle Rudolph is ready.

-Cole Hikutini had a solid game as a run blocker. He sustained an injury in the 3rd quarter to his hip, so we didn’t get to see a lot of him. They are already thin at the position, as Levine Toilolo is out for the year with an Achilles injury.

-Rysen John added 3 catches. He is someone worth keeping an eye on from a Practice Squad-perspective. He is obviously lacking in traditional body-type and overall power when it comes to the traditional Y-Tight End the Giants use, but there is something about the way he goes after the ball with loose and athletic limbs that could be useable down the road if NYG needs more options in the passing game. He has twitch that the other guys at this spot don’t.

OFFENSIVE LINE

-The starting offensive line (minus guard Shane Lemieux) was on the field for three drives. Andrew Thomas and Will Hernandez both played well in the limited time. If those two take a big step up, this entire offense is going to benefit in a big way. Hernandez looks slimmer and more comfortable moving as a lateral run blocker. He wasn’t tested as much in pass protection from an adjustment perspective, the other glaring hole we have seen over the past three years. Thomas did a nice job against NYJ ‘s newest pass rusher Carl Lawson, who has been tearing it up at camp.

-Matt Peart, the third component to this offensive line that is needed for this offense to operate smoothly, didn’t play well. Nothing about this needs to be analyzed too deeply yet, as this was the first real live action for him and others in a long time. He allowed a sack and a pressure in 18 snaps.

-Kenny Wiggins got the start at left guard and came back in the game following the injury to third-stringer Kyle Murphy. He had a poor game. He allowed 2 pressures, 1 TFL, and 1 sack as he played a team-high 41 offensive snaps.

-The backup group as a whole had an up and down night, very inconsistent. They did sustain pass protection for above-average time on multiple occasions, but they were leaky at times and didn’t get a push in the running game. Center Brett Heggie look overmatched athletically and Chad Slade continues to play with poor balance. The only one who I would have had a positive grade on would have been Jake Burton. I liked his hand violence and footwork.

DEFENSIVE LINE

-Nose tackle Danny Shelton is going to be a factor here. He had several dominant snaps where he took on multiple blockers and still impacted the play. He had a TFL on a 4th-and-1 and factored on another 3rd-down stop. Depth along the defensive line is key, and Shelton will be a big part of that. B.J. Hill and Austin Johnson were solid as well.

-Look out for Willie Henry as a potential roster surprise. He is really active and quick in pursuit and may have played with the most violence of all the linemen. He finished with 4 tackles, 1 TFL, and 1 pressure while playing just over a third of the snaps.

-Rookie Raymond Johnson III is another guy I think will be a factor in 2021. Maybe not right away but when injuries pop up, his versatility and explosive first step are traits that transition well in the NFL. He finished with 2 pressures.

LINEBACKER

-Watch out for Carter Coughlin. As stated above, I am very careful to not overreact in either direction early in preseason. That said, Coughlin had a few eye-opening moments in 2020 and he has picked right up where he left off. He was the “defensive player of the game” in my eyes, finishing with 5 tackles and a sack. The college-edge defender is the ultra-hybrid front-seven Swiss army knife who look both comfortable and capable in multiple roles.

-Reggie Ragland played under half the snaps and there is some tightness in his hips as a pass defender, but I liked what he brought to the table. He had a big hit that jarred a ball loose on a 3rd-and-1 conversion attempt. He will be the top ILB backup, something I think we should be happy about because it is a substantial upgrade over what NYG has had in that role lately.

-Tae Crowder missed 2 tackles and Devante Downs had 1. They both pressured the quarterback once each. That spot next to Blake Martinez is going to be very interesting to watch in the coming weeks.

-I liked what I saw out of the edge defenders. Lorenzo Carter didn’t play, but 2nd round rookie Azeez Ojulari did, and he flashed. His pass rush repertoire lacked variety, but the juice out of his stance is noteworthy. That is going to be a factor this year. His run stuff where he got off the big/bad/overrated (and overrated) Mekhi Becton proved this guy is going to be more than a pass rusher as much as that can be proven Week 1 of preseason.

-Niko Lalos and Ifeadi Odenigbo had standout efforts. Lalos was disruptive and active, a true hustler. Odenigbo is a hidden gem, I think. Not a starter, but the ever-important rotational pass rusher who makes his name know later in the year. His footwork and twitch looked very good. Remember, he had 7.5 sacks in 2019.

CORNERBACK

-With James Bradberry and Adoree Jackson out, it was a good opportunity to get looks at Isaac Yiadom and rookie Rodarius Williams. Yiadom showed good coverage on Corey Davis. We know what we have in him, a solid but limited veteran who can get the job done for the most part. If he is the team’s number three or four corner, they’re in a good spot. Williams got beat multiple times early on, giving up two 3rd down conversions on the first 2 drives. He played nickel, something I don’t see being an ideal fit for him, but it is possible they just wanted to see him in live action. He bounced back well after a rough start. I liked what I saw out of him.

-Madre Harper led the defense in snaps. He missed 3 tackles on the night and appears to be a few steps behind mentally. I didn’t see it with him last year and still don’t. He was flagged for a pass interference and was roasted in coverage throughout the second half.

SAFETY

-The top three safeties didn’t play (Ryan, McKinney, Peppers). Julian Love and Quincy Wilson are both hybrid defensive backs who saw time in this one. The latter finished with 7 tackles and a couple big hits.

SPECIAL TEAMS

-K Ryan Santoso: 1/1 XP.

-P Riley Dixon: 6 punts / 43.3 avg / 41.0 net

3 STUDS

-OG Will Hernandez, WR David Sills, LB Carter Coughlin

3 DUDS

-QB Clayton Thorson, OG Kenny Wiggins, DB Madre Harper

3 THOUGHTS ON NYJ

1) I liked what I saw out of Zach Wilson under center. Look, anything you watch in Week 2 preseason needs to be taken with a grain of salt, but there are still things that can show you the arrow is pointing up. Wilson showed a really nice release, he was quick to get the ball out, and he was accurate. That is a good place to start.

2) The Jets have a similar edge-rusher anxiety to NYG. The best player on either team, at that position, may be a 2020 undrafted free agent. Bryce Huff flashed last year in limited time and there have been whispers growing louder and louder from people I respect from that organization that this kid is going to break out. He looked excellent at multiple levels. He finished with 3 tackles / 2 sacks / 1 pressure.

3) I really do like the direction NYJ is heading in. It is mostly about the leadership and support staff they have in place, both on the coaching staff and in the front office. They have extra picks, they’re emphasizing the right things when it comes to personnel, and they have plenty of available money. They are gonna have a solid 4-5 year window coming up. I think they finish at or near .500 this season.

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

1) I’ve hinted at this a few times, but wanted to get it out here as well. If there is ONE game that fans need to remain seated with their mouth shut afterward, it is Week 1 of preseason. That is both for positive and negative reviews. The game plans are vanilla, the players are rusty, and the goals this coaching staff have within these games is too deep for many to understand. Don’t get worked up about anything you saw in this one.

2) Should Daniel Jones be playing? My opinion is yes. Year 3 is THE year for a young quarterback. Sure, the fear of injury is alive and well in preseason but it is important he continues to gain experience with the scheme and timing in live action. I think he should be playing at least 4 drives in each of the next 2 games.

3) I have a really good feeling about the NYG defense. Not because of what I saw in this game, but because of what I saw last year and who was added to the unit. Also add in continuity and the fact I think they will be much deeper than a year ago, I think we are finally going to see a top 7-8 defense in the league.

Apr 262021
 
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Trevor Lawrence, Clemson Tigers (January 1, 2021)

Trevor Lawrence – © USA TODAY Sports

QUARTERBACKS

Format includes a quick position overview, my grading scale and what the number means, the summary and final grade from my final report on my top 10, a quick additional note on the player, and my ranks 11-20 with grades only.

*I AM NOT DOING NFL COMPARISONS

QUICK POSITION OVERVIEW

Daniel Jones is entering the vital third year. Personally, I view the third year as THE deciding season when it comes to building the franchise. No gray area. After the third year, you decide if this is the guy you are going to extend and build around or start looking elsewhere for the next guy. Is it a black and white situation? No. Of course, he could stink in year three and succeed in year four because “anything can happen.” However, I feel the decision makers need to stay out of the gray area with a quarterback in which they drafted. After three years, he is your guy or not. Jones has had several moments that make me think he can be the guy. He also has had several moments that make me think NYG will be moving on at the end of his rookie contract. The inconsistency has been maddening, but he deserves some slack here because the supporting cast has been among the worst in football. Look around the league and you will have a hard time finding 5 offenses with a worse combination of talent at the skill and line positions together. 2021 is all about Jones and what he can do with an improved arsenal and line (which will likely get stronger over draft weekend).

GRADING SCALE

90+ All Pro Projection

85+: Pro Bowl Projection

81-84: 1st rounder – Should be able to play right away

79-80: 2nd rounder – Should be able to rotate right away – Year 2 starter

77-78: 3rd rounder – Should be able to rotate by end of rookie year – Year 2/3 starter

74-76: Early Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup/possible starter

71-73: Mid Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup / gamble starter

68-70: Late Day 3 – Back end of roster / Practice Squad / Development guy

65-67: Preferred UDFA

60-64: Undrafted FA

TOP 10 GRADES AND ANALYSIS

1. Trevor Lawrence / Clemson / 6’6-213

Grade: 95

Summary: Junior entry from Cartersville, Georgia. Three-year starter that earned postseason ACC honors all three seasons. He finished 2nd Team All ACC and won the conference rookie of the year award in 2018 before finishing 1st Team All ACC in both 2019 and 2020. Lawrence was also a 3rd Team All American in 2020 and Heisman finalist. The former #1 high school recruit certainly delivered, winning a National Championship as a true freshman and making it back to the big game in 2019. Lawrence has been destined for the #1 pick in the draft for years. He checks all the boxes when it comes to both the on and off field requirements of a franchise QB. His arm talent and precision are top tier, he is an outstanding athlete, and he is a sound decision maker. His slow heartbeat and confident aura will elevate those around him from day one. He is one of the few that will enter the league with legitimate All-Pro expectations.

*I really think Lawrence could have come out after the 2018 season and been the first pick. This kid is a pure gamer in every sense of the word. Yes, his tools are top notch (passing and rushing), his intelligence is top notch, his approach is top notch. However, what do I like most? He brings his level of play to another level when it matters most. I respect that in a quarterback more than anything. It is a rare trait, and it is even more rare that these intangibles are attached to such a talent-filled player. The fluff about him not loving the game is complete nonsense and was created by low level humans that work in the media. Not even going to address that.

2. Justin Fields / Ohio State / 6’3-227

Grade: 83

Summary: Junior entry from Kennesaw, Georgia. Spent one season at Georgia, playing in a 1A/1B situation at quarterback with Jake Fromm, although he played lesser snaps by a wide margin. Two-year starter for Ohio State. Won the Big 10 Offensive Player of the Year Award both seasons and was a 2nd Team All American in 2019. Fields made it all the way to the National Championship in 2020 but came up short to Alabama. Fields remains an enigma. He is clearly talented enough on multiple levels to be a big-time pro. He has a tremendous arm, he is one of the best athletes at the position to ever come out, and he plays with a slow heartbeat that exudes confidence. He had multiple games over his final month that created questions about his ability to quickly process information in order to avoid mistakes. He is an ideal fit for redshirt year in the NFL because if he mentally catches up to where he is physically, he can be a Pro Bowler.

*I never even thought about placing Fields in the Lawrence-tier. However, I have had him at since the process began and never really came close to changing it. I like Fields the way I liked Dak Prescott coming out. His running is an asset to his passing game and it will score touchdowns, but he isn’t overly dependent on his legs. He can make every throw, he can change speeds and loft, and can make plays that are off-schedule. The reason I don’t have him higher? His low points (against NFL-style defenses) were really ugly. I don’t expect every young QB to go an entire college career without making mistakes, that isn’t realistic. But when defenses got complex with him, he didn’t respond well. I think he is a great fit for a team that won’t depend on him right away. I would love him in SF, maybe CAR.

3. Zach Wilson / BYU / 6’2-214

Grade: 81

Summary: Junior entry from Draper, Utah. Three-year starter that showed flashes in both 2018 and 2019, but truly broke on to the national scene in 2020 as he led BYU to an 11-1 record. Wilson is a new age quarterback that is becoming increasingly popular. He lacks traditional drop back and throwing mechanics, but he has the ability to make off-schedule throws with different arm angles appear natural and easy. He goes against the grain but was woefully accurate and rarely turned the ball over. With that said, he was 2-4 against top 25 teams and didn’t exactly play against the best college football had to offer. He is going to be a boom or bust, one that really only had one very strong season in a year where Covid-19 impacted a lot of it. He is best suited for a year of backup duty before being given the keys to the bus.

*From day one of watching Wilson, the name Tony Romo has always popped into my head. That is who I think he can be. He has a ton of arm talent that revolves around accuracy and innovation more so than power. That is more important. Wilson has the kind of game that can be really frustrating to play against, but also play with. There is a bit too much “backyard football” in his game that I’m not sure will work in the NFL. For every Mahomes, there are going to be a handful that try to be Mahomes and come up short when it comes to being creative and off schedule. Last thing I love about Wilson is the on-field toughness. He will take hit after hit after hit and remain tall. Is he tough enough to handle a New York market? That will be the biggest concern for me. He hasn’t exactly faced a lot of off-field adversity in his life.

4. Mac Jones / Alabama / 6’3-217

Grade: 81

Summary: Redshirt junior entry from Jacksonville, Florida. One-year starter that also started 4 games the year prior when Tua Tagovailoa went down with a season ending hip injury. Jones could not have put in a better performance in 2020, earning 1st Team All American and All SEC honors in addition to winning the Davey O’Brien Award. He set an FBS single season record with a 77.4% completion percentage. While Jones doesn’t have a ton pf starting experience in college, it is hard to argue against what he accomplished. He has tremendous accuracy on all levels and is far more advanced when it comes to anticipation and throwing his targets open when comparing him to most college quarterbacks. Jones lacks the ideal body type and playing strength and shows issues against pressure at times. Ideally, he would have another year of starting experience to look back on, but he doesn’t and whoever drafts him will have to take on that risk.

*There are a ton of varying opinions on Jones. You can’t overlook what he did in 2020, as it was one of the more impressive seasons from a QB in my lifetime. However, you have to take into account he was playing with more talent than everybody else and there weren’t a lot of tight-window throws. I don’t want to discount him just because of that, as Joe Burrow was in a similar spot in 2019. Jones’ footwork, intelligence, and accuracy are big time traits. He will fit into a pro offense right away and could start year 1 without a hitch. The upside is where I lose it a bit with him. He will be solid, but I don’t ever see him being great.

5. Trey Lance / North Dakota State / 6’4-224

Grade: 79

Summary: Third year sophomore Marshall, Minnesota. One-year starter that lost nearly the entire 2020 season to the Covid-19 pandemic, as North Dakota State played in just one game. In his one season as a starter, Lance won the Walter Payton Award (top player in FCS), the Jerry Rice Award (top FCS freshman), and the Missouri Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year Award. He led the Bison to a National Championship while going the entire year without throwing an interception. Lance is the definition of a risky draft pick. He lacks starting experience, and he didn’t have to throw the ball a ton. There is so much unknown here, but nobody can argue against what he actually put out there when on the field. Lance has an ideal blend of tools and showed really good intelligence. He is advanced on multiple ball handling tactics and his footwork looks natural and easy. Lance has the upside to be one of the best players in this class and he plays the ultimate position. The question will be just how big of a learning and adjustment curve will it be for him, coming from FCS and playing in just one game since the end of the 2019 season.

*Lance is going in the top 10, I think. I won’t dismiss it or “criticize” that at all. This has been such a unique year when it comes to the college football season and scouting process. With the information had (mostly tape), this is the conclusion I came up with. Lance is a really attractive prospect that has a lot of tools. But a QB that played this-little in college, at a lower level mind you, would scare the crap out of me if I am taking him to lead my franchise. Now, a team like SF has extra access to the guy that trained him over the past month and there were multiple Pro Days. Lance has attractive tape on multiple levels, I just didn’t see enough. Highest risk-reward ratio of all the QBs in the draft by far.

6. Davis Mills / Stanford / 6’4-217

Grade: 78

Summary: Fourth year junior entry from Duluth, Georgia. Two-year starter that first earned a starting role after KJ Costello got injured in 2019. Honorable Mention All-Pac 12 honors in 2020. Mills was a former top-shelf recruit, but his career never quite took off. Much of his status and grade still depend on projection rather than on field performance. While he does check a lot of boxes when it comes to arm talent and mechanics, he simply didn’t show enough in his 11 starts, a woefully low number. He will be a backup for at least a year or two, however there is an intriguing skill set here.

*I’ll tell you what. If I am a QB-needy team and miss out on the top 4 guys on this list, I would rather wait until day 2 for Mills than use a day 1 pick on Lance. I know Lance has more upside, but I see a pro in Mills. He is really clean. The issue with him, like Lance, is a lack of experience. The Covid situation really hurt him, and I was surprised he left Stanford, because had he gone back to school, he could have been QB1 in next year’s crop. Someone like WAS or CHI can get really solid value here.

7. Kyle Trask / Florida / 6’5-236

Grade: 77

Summary: Fifth year senior from Manvel, Texas. Two-year starter that was actually a backup in high school to current Miami Hurricanes quarterback D’Eriq King. Trask took over starting duties after the injury to Feleipe Franks and never looked back. He finished his career strong, setting a school record with 43 passing touchdowns while earning 1st Team All SEC honors and ending up a Heisman finalist. Trask started off the year red hot but fizzled out a bit later. This is a classic pocket passer with tremendous size and arm talent. While he isn’t the best athlete, he performs well enough on the move and can maintain good presence against contact. Trask won’t be in the first tier of quarterbacks that go in the top half of round 1, but he brings similar upside as a couple of them.

*I think the NFL is going to like Trask a bit more than what you are probably seeing in media coverage. I bet he goes ahead of Mills and maybe even toward the top of round 2. He has big time size and arm talent. Remember early in the season, he was heading toward the Heisman and some were talking about him as a 1st rounder. He didn’t keep it together all season, but you still have to be impressed with how he played. For some reason I see him going to WAS and sitting for a year.

8. Kellen Mond / Texas A& M / 6’3-211

Grade: 72

Summary: Senior entry from San Antonio, Texas. Four-year starter that won Team MVP honors in 2018 and 2019. The former top dual threat recruit vastly improved over his career. He really came a long way and ended his career leading the Aggies to a 10-1 record. Mond is an outstanding athlete for the position but he understands how to use it as a backup option, not his primary one. His arm talent is better than what he shows, as he will too often try to dart his passes rather than throw them. It is a less than ideal release that gets too long at times. Mond can be a solid backup in the league that will bring a different kind of element should he ever get in the game. His ability as a passer is limited, but it is good enough too and is somewhat balanced out by his athleticism.

*I don’t see Mond ever being THE guy, but I do like him as a backup. There is such a thing to have a quarterback desired for backup duty more than a quarterback that has a (small) shot at evolving into a starter. I like backups that have some athletic ability, but not at the expense of arm talent. Mond has limitations when it comes down to what you can do with him play to play, drive to drive, week to week. However, he can provide a spark plug that others can’t because of his twitch, speed, and ability to play off schedule. Interesting name here.

9. Ian Book / Notre Dame / 6’0-211

Grade: 71

Summary: Fifth year senior from El Dorado Hills, California. Three-year starter that earned 3rd Team All ACC honors in 2020. Book left the storied Notre Dame program as the all-time leader in quarterback wins with 35. The two-time team captain is a dream come true for quarterback coaches when it comes to work ethic and leadership. Book’s talent and overall upside won’t turn a lot of heads, but his intangibles will. He is an ideal fit for a backup role because of what he can offer to the quarterback room in meetings and practice. He may be able to stick as a sought-after backup for a long time in this league.

*Some teams look for intangibles and intelligence more than physical traits when trying to find backup quarterbacks. After all, their contributions in practice, meetings, and game planning are as important as the possible few snaps they see the field. Book may be a future coach and a team may bring him in earlier than where I have him for that reason.

10. Shane Buechele / SMU / 6’0-210

Grade: 69

Summary: Fifth year senior from Arlington, Texas. Began his career at Texas where he started for two seasons before getting injured and losing his job to Sam Ehlinger. He then transferred to SMU where he started two more years, one of which he earned 1st Team All AAC honors. Buechele re-wrote the single season passing record book at SMU in 2019. While his 2020 didn’t quite reach that level, he continued to show his top tier short and intermediate accuracy. He lacks the ideal tools of a starting quarterback across the board, but there will be a spot for him on a depth chart somewhere. He is a smart and experienced passer that truly maximizes what he brings to the table.

*If there is one QB that simply lacks the tools I want in a QB, but I could see coming out of nowhere to land a starting job, it is Buechele. He is a really good thrower of the ball, really accurate, and processes information quickly. He will have a big jump in complexity of offense to learn from SMU to the NFL, but nobody is ever going to question his capability there. There has been something about him throughout the entire process that I can’t shake. I have a feeling about him far outplaying his draft grade.

11. Feleipe Franks / Arkansas / 6’7-234: 69

12. Jamie Newman / Georgia / 6’3-235: 68

13. Zach Smith / Tulsa / 6’3-222: 68

14. Peyton Ramsey / Northwestern /6’2-215: 67

15. Sam Ehlinger / Texas / 6’1-220: 67

16. KJ Costello / Mississippi State / 6’5-225: 66

17. Brady White / Memphis / 6’3-210: 66

18. Brady Davis / Illinois State / 6’4-210: 65

19. Zac Thomas / Appalachian State / 6’1-210: 64

20. Collin Hill / South Carolina / 6’4-213: 63

NYG APPROACH

There isn’t much to say here. NYG needs to use their draft assets elsewhere to build this roster around Daniel Jones. They have their 2021 backup in Mike Glennon and a third stinger who adds something to the room mentally in Clayton Thorson. If they are in a bad spot at this time next year, then I think QB becomes a stronger discussion. I think it would be nice to have an athlete in this group, someone that can create with his legs behind Jones, but I wouldn’t use a pick on one for that reason alone. If NYG wants to add another QB from this group, wait until after the draft and see who shakes free.

Apr 242021
 
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Travis Etienne, Clemson Tigers (January 1, 2021)

Travis Etienne – © USA TODAY Sports

RUNNING BACKS

Format includes a quick position overview, my grading scale and what the number means, the summary and final grade from my final report on my top 15, a quick additional note on the player, and my ranks 16-30 with grades only.

*I AM NOT DOING NFL COMPARISONS

QUICK POSITION OVERVIEW

Since this front office regime selected Saquon Barkley with the 2nd pick of the 2018 draft, NYG’s running game has ranked 24th, 19th, and 19th in rushing year by year. Out of 48 possible games, Barkley has played in just 31 of them. The jury is still out on long term projection of this group, mostly centering around Barkley, but for 2021 and 2022, they are set at the top. Devontae Booker was signed from LV to a two-year deal to offer a really solid backup presence. He has averaged just under 5 yards per carry over the past 3 years combined. He is also a really underrated pass catcher even though LV didn’t use him much there in 2020. Wayne Gallman left town for SF, leaving the rest of the depth chart pretty bare. Elijhaa Penny is a solid fullback.

GRADING SCALE

90+ All Pro Projection

85+: Pro Bowl Projection

81-84: 1st rounder – Should be able to play right away

79-80: 2nd rounder – Should be able to rotate right away – Year 2 starter

77-78: 3rd rounder – Should be able to rotate by end of rookie year – Year 2/3 starter

74-76: Early Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup/possible starter

71-73: Mid Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup / gamble starter

68-70: Late Day 3 – Back end of roster / Practice Squad / Development guy

65-67: Preferred UDFA

60-64: Undrafted FA

TOP 15 GRADES AND ANALYSIS

1. Travis Etienne / Clemson / 5’10-215

Grade: 86

Summary: Senior entry from Jennings, Louisiana. Four-year starter that led the program in rushing all four seasons. Etienne is a two-time ACC Offensive Player of the Year and a three time All American. The two-time Doak Walker Award finalist re-wrote the program’s record book for both career and single season production. Etienne is one of the more decorated and accomplished running backs to enter the league in a long time. It is rare for a running back to produce at such a high level from day one as a freshman and play out all four years of his college career. He will enter the league as a playmaker that can contribute to both the running and passing game respectively right away. His ability to run low to the ground with elite balance and leg drive in combination with the breakaway burst and speed will make him one of the more dangerous weapons in the NFL right away. He is a no-nonsense, dependable worker bee that will change an offense right away.

*I have always seen some Alvin Kamara in Etienne’s game. When looking at how low he can run to the ground with thick but loose enough base, how well they both do in traffic, and how much they can equally impact the running/passing games respectively, that is the trajectory I see Etienne having. He is such a solid all-around player, a week 1 starter for sure. You also know you are getting a hardworking, smart kid that will continue to refine his craft as his career gets going.

2. Najee Harris / Alabama / 6’1-232

Grade: 86

Summary: Senior entry from Antioch, Alabama. Two-year starter that was also a key part of the running game in 2018. Former 5-star recruit that earned 1st Team All SEC and All-American honors in 2020. Harris had to patiently wait his turn in the Crimson Tide’s backfield early on in his career. In front of him were current NFL running backs Josh Jacobs, Damien Harris, and Bo Scarborough. As some of those predecessors left for the league, Harris saw his playing time increase year after year. He blossomed at the right time as a senior, finishing as the program’s all-time leader in touchdowns with 54. The Doak Walker Award winner put together the kind of tape that can easily put him in the top running back in the class discussion. He has unique size, power, and hunger. His every down capabilities should land him a starting spot in a backfield right away.

*I really think Harris can be considered the top back in this class. His swift and fluid lower body movement at that size is rare. He also has the kind of vision and toughness that you want in the backfield. He is such a gamer and will come up big in the big moments. The one drawback on him centers around he is just a step below the desired top end athletic ability. I’m not sure he will break off the big play and his high-hipped frame may make it hard to get out of a crowded phone booth. That feels like nitpicking though. He really can be a Pro Bowler early on if he gets to the right situation.

3. Javonte Williams / North Carolina / 5’10-212

Grade: 80

Summary: Junior entry from Wallace, North Carolina. Two-year contributor that split action with fellow draft prospect Michael Carter, who earned 1st Team All ACC honors. Williams finished 2nd Team All-Conference, as he finished tied for third in the nation with 19 rushing touchdowns. Williams was a part of a two-back system in which he was the one that laid the thunder on opposing defenders. He is a big and powerful bruiser that matches that ability with the aggressive mentality that never sleeps. He runs through contact consistently and pushes the pile. What sets Williams apart is the surprising ability to anticipate and miss tacklers at the final instant. He excels at altering his weight and coupled with his power, he is a tackle breaking machine. Williams has the potential to be a very solid feature back despite some top end physical shortcomings.

*I really like the kid Carter that he shared the backfield with, but Williams is a better pro prospect. He is one of the more physical backs in the class and I love his grit. Being a power back is about one third about size and strength, two thirds desire and toughness. He loves contact and will push NFL defenders back. I see a little Josh Jacobs here.

4. Trey Sermon / Ohio State / 6’0-215

Grade: 80

Summary: Senior entry from Marietta, Georgia. Started sporadically all four years of his career. Spent three seasons at Oklahoma where he won Co-Big 12 Freshman of the Year honors in 2017 before earning Honorable Mention All-Conference in 2018. Sermon’s 2019 was cut short after hyperextending his knee. He then transferred to Ohio State for the 2020 season and ended as the team’s leading rusher. Sermon left Oklahoma because he was being phased out of the offense, as they had multiple future NFL running backs on the roster. He shined in his lone season with Ohio State and ended it strong. Sermon is a physical downhill slasher that will run hungry and smart. His vision is a plus, he holds onto the ball, and he knows where to find extra yards. He can change up his running style on demand but will best be used in a complimentary role rather than being a feature back.

*I am surprised there isn’t more talk about Sermon and his upside. He has rare lower body movement traits attached to a rather sizable frame. He looked to be at a different speed as he got more and more comfortable in the Ohio State scheme. There are certain backs that just look quicker twitched than others, that is Sermon. He had a few speed bumps in college that impacted his ability to truly shine but when he did, he looked like a top tier prospect.

5. Khalil Herbert / Virginia Tech / 5’9-210

Grade: 78

Summary: Fifth year senior from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Spent four years at Kansas before grad-transferring to Virginia Tech where he became the starter right away and earned 3rd Team All ACC honors, finishing second in the conference in rushing. Herbert averaged just under 8 yards per carry over his final two seasons. He is one of the best backs, if not the best, at gaining yards after contact in the entire class. He has a stout, muscular frame but can move with plenty of twitch and a surprising level of burst. Physically, Herbert has it. Mentally, he shows advanced ability when it comes to reading the defense and reacting to it. His vision is a major plus. He didn’t show much as a receiver and there are occasions he gets a little too east/west when he shouldn’t. Herbert put the ball on the turf just one time over his 500+ carry career in college. This is a starting caliber back that will produce in multiple ways within the running game no matter what scheme he is put into.

*I think Herbert is one of the more overlooked players in the class. He doesn’t have a ton of splash plays and he doesn’t look the way some want in a starting caliber back, but just watch him game to game and it is easy to see that he is a pro. I think he has some Tiki Barber in him when it comes to size, lower body power, and running style.

6. Chuba Hubbard / Oklahoma State / 6’0-210

Grade: 78

Final Grade: Fourth year junior entry from Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada. Three-year starter that initially got his first real action when current NFL running back Justice Hill went down with an injury in 2017. Ended his career with two straight All Big 12 honors. He really broke out of his shell in 2019, where he earned 1st Team All American honors and won the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year Award. He led the nation with 2,094 rushing yards and was a finalist for the Doak Walker Award. Hubbard’s 2020 season did not go as well, as he fought though a lower body injury in the shortened season and his per-touch production decreased across the board. While the scheme and lack of quality defense in the Big 12 could have inflated his initial outlook, there is no denying the big play potential here. He is well north for 200 pounds and the former worldwide ranked 100 M sprinter on the track shows elite level footwork, hip flow, and speed in space. He would be an ideal fit for zone-heavy rushing scheme and has starer potential.

*There are some that think Hubbard will be the next big thing at running back in the NFL. That size + pure speed combination will be dangerous in the open field. Add in the lower body looseness and big-time production in 2019, a strong case can be made. I actually question some of the toughness traits I look for in a back. He needs the space to be effective and while any back can have that said about him, he is more dependent on it than others. I get nervous about Big 12 backs in general as well. I try to avoid saying things like that in a general sense, but that conference just doesn’t play defense and their offenses create so much space. Boom or bust.

7. Michael Carter / North Carolina / 5’8-201

Grade: 77

Summary: Senior entry from Navarre, Florida. Started games all four years and shared touches from the beginning. Led the team in rushing his last three seasons. 1st Team All ACC in 2020, 3rd Team in 2019. Carter is the prototype third down back when it comes to running routes, catching the ball, and making plays. He is productive on all fronts and set a school record for yards per carry. Even though he isn’t blessed with size, Carter is a tough kid that will break tackles and run through initial contact. He is strong below the waist, has great balance, and will take off when he finds a crease. He comes from a military family background and has been touted for how hard he works and how disciplined he is with his approach. Carter is the kind of piece that gets added to a backfield and creates a spark right away. If he is in the right role, namely one that gets him in space or quick bursts upfield, he is going to be a playmaker.

*Even though I don’t have a high grade on Carter, I am as confident in his potential to be a solid contributor as any back in the class. He is a football player, plain and simple. Some teams are better than others when it comes to creating opportunities for backs than others, thus how much we see out of Carter will largely depend on what city he goes to. If he falls into Day 3, I think this is one of the few backs I would want NYG to use a 4th on. He is such a good pass catching back and he has knack for creating big plays. He plays faster than he times, he plays bigger than he looks.

8. Rhamondre Stevenson / Oklahoma / 6’0-231

Grade: 76

Summary: Senior entry from Las Vegas, Nevada. Two years at Oklahoma after two seasons in Junior College where he ended up being the top available running back recruit afterward. Spent his first year after high school away from the game. One-year starter at Oklahoma that missed the first 5 games of the 2020 season because of a drug suspension. Even though he played in just 6 games, he led the Sooners in rushing and touchdowns. Honorable Mention All-Big 12 in 2020. Stevenson is a big-bodied back that will bring a physical presence to the backfield he is added to. He isn’t the kind of the dynamic athlete that will create big plays and run away from the defense, but he is a pure tackle-breaker that can bounce off defenders, maintain his north movement, and push piles. Paired with a complimentary back, Stevenson can be an important weapon that will pick up the tough yards and touchdowns routinely.

*When you get into this area of the running back stack, you are most of the time looking for certain traits that complement your existing backfield. One area where I think Barkley coming off the field can be a good idea is in short yardage. He just isn’t very assertive in that area. Stevenson could solve that problem and fill that role in year one. He made the most of that opportunity in 2020 with Kennedy Brooks out and Trey Sermon transferred. The question with him will be a few character red flags. Good player though.

9. Kylin Hill / Mississippi State / 5’11-214

Grade: 75

Summary: Senior entry from Columbus, Mississippi. Three-year starter that opted out of 2020 after just three games. Hill had a really consistent and productive career in the SEC. He averaged 5.6 yards per rushing attempt and caught 67 passes. Hill has the kind of frame and contact balance to withhold a full beating from NFL defenses week to week. He is stronger than he looks, and he knows how to miss the brunt of a hit. Hill may be best suited for a 1A role in a backfield, however. He is a really good pass catcher and blocker but doesn’t always run with enough burst and speed nor does he push the pile. He can be a really effective backfield piece if his role is clearly defined with another solid back.

*Hill might end up being a really good pass catching back. I think that will be his best shot at really earning a useable spot on a good offense. There really isn’t a dynamic athletic component in his arsenal, and he has some tightness. But the more I watched, the more I respected his game. He plays smart and consistent, just wouldn’t want him being THE guy back there.

10. Demetric Felton / UCLA / 5’9-189

Grade: 74

Summary: Fifth year senior from Temecula, California. Three-year starter that has been a key contributor to the offense from day one. A hybrid receiver/running back that split his snaps at the two positions but really took over the backfield in the shortened 2020 season. Felton earned 1st Team All-Pac 12 honors at the athlete position. Felton is exactly that. He is someone that should not be restricted to one spot on the depth chart. His quickness, acceleration with the ball, and vision can be used in a variety of ways. He can run routes and catch the ball like a slot receiver and knows how to press the running lane like a seasoned running back. The more you can do, the more likely you will find yourself active on game day. Felton is a unique and versatile threat that should add multiple options to an offense.

*Felton is going to be graded very different among teams. Some will see a 3rd rounder; some will see a 6th rounder. I am right in the middle but will acknowledge that he is going to be scheme specific. Tom Brady can use a weapon like this to fullest. Sam Darnold? We would never see his name anywhere. If NYG wants to add a pass catcher into the backfield, Felton will be talked about at length. That quickness is lethal in space; however the question is will Garrett + Jones be able to use it.

11. Kenneth Gainwell / Memphis / 5’8-201

Grade: 74

Summary: Third year sophomore from Yazoo City, Mississippi. One-year starter that certainly left his mark in that one season. Won the FWAA Freshman of the Year Award, the AAC Rookie of the Year Award, and earned 1st Team All-Conference honors after producing 2,069 all-purpose yards. The other two players to do that in school history were former and current NFL running backs DeAngelo Williams and Darrell Henderson. Gainwell plays in fast forward mode. His feet look like fingers on a piano, constantly moving left and right, up and down. He stays square to his target and will maximize his speed and agility. Gainwell isn’t an every down player when looking at the backfield, but he can man the slot and run quality routes paired with good hands. If a team can create a specific plan for him, he can touch the ball 10+ times per game and put points on the board.

*I wanted to put a higher grade on Gainwell and this is one that may come back and bite me. He doesn’t have some of the natural traits I want in a running back mentally, but his speed is legit. He will make plays at the next level but the question will be what does he do in between? Another back that really needs to be planned around.

12. Larry Rountree III / Missouri / 5’11-211

Grade: 73

Summary: Senior entry from Raleigh, North Carolina. Three-year starter that led the Tigers in rushing each of the last three seasons with the program. Rountree III left campus ranked second all-time in both rushing yards and touchdowns. The compiler is a patient runner that will eat at a defense play by play, inch by inch. He wasn’t a big play back, but instead one that seemed to get hot the more touches he received. He is well put together, he runs hard, and he is smart. Rountree III plays at a different gear near the end zone. He excels at pressing the line, making a decision, and bursting into the crease. His vision is a plus. Rountree III doesn’t look like a feature back but he can be a part of a weekly committee approach because of his versatile skill set.

*You may not look at his physical profile and see a high-end short yardage back, but if you watch the tape you will see what I mean. Certain guys just play at a different gear when they are in a short yardage or goal line scenario, and that is Rountree III. As I said earlier, that is where Barkley just isn’t that good, and I think this could be a nice piece to add back there. At the end of the day, that is what it takes to be successful in that specific department.

13. Javian Hawkins / Louisville / 5’8-183

Grade: 71

Summary: Third year sophomore entry from Titusville, Florida. Two-year starter that earned 2nd Team All ACC honors in 2019. Hawkins opened eyes in 2019, setting a new school record for running backs with 1,525 rushing yards as a redshirt freshman. Hawkins is a small, but quick and explosive playmaker that is as dangerous as it gets in the open field. He has a rare ability to twist and turn his hips while moving at his top speed. The issue is, he needs to reach the open field. His lack of size and power will show up in traffic, as he goes down on initial contact too often and shows ball security issues. He is not an every down player but can be a dangerous secondary option that can have a portion of the playbook carved out for him.

*Speed kills, yes. Hawkins has plenty of it and he reaches that gear in a blink. Those space-friendly offenses can make it easier for a guy like this to play to that strength. Hawkins is really small though, and he plays small. You don’t see him running through arm contact well, he is a non-factor as a blocker, and he won’t fall forward. Maybe he creates a few big plays in specific packages, but there is a cap on his every down impact.

14. Stevie Scott III / Indiana / 6’0-225

Grade: 71

Summary: Junior entry from Syracuse, New York. Three-year starter that began his career with a loud bang, winning Big 10 Offensive Newcomer of the Year and set program freshman rushing records. He earned All Big 10 honors in both 2018 and 2019. Scott’s 30 touchdowns over his three-year career are notable, as he often ran behind an offensive line that was overmatched at the point of attack. His future in the league will revolve around short yardage duties, where his downhill force and push will be sought after. He is a straight-line burst, downhill runner that can quickly generate power behind his 230+ pound frame. He is also a big-time blocker that imposes his will on pass rushers. Scott lacks wiggle and top end athletic ability when he needs to adjust his intentions. That will limit his upside and role at the next level, but there will be a spot for him on the back end of a depth chart.

*I was more excited about Scott III at the start of the process than I was at the end. I still think he is a solid prospect that can impact a game, but he is just really limited when it comes to change of direction and lateral movement. That is fine if he is in for the specific short yardage roles. But even there, he had far too many runs where he didn’t get the job done. He isn’t always a big time physical, aggressive guy. That switch went on and off too often.

15. Elijah Mitchell / Louisiana-Lafayette / 5’10-201

Grade: 70

Summary: Senior entry from Enrath, Louisiana. Three-year starter that has been a part of a two-back system with fellow draft prospect Trey Ragas. 2nd Team All Sun Belt in 2018 and 2019, 1st Team in 2020. Mitchell scored 41 touchdowns over the past three seasons combined. He is built like an inside runner that runs with a no-nonsense approach. He prefers north-south movement and at the very least will put his head down and push the pile when nothing is there. Mitchell has some slasher in him, meaning he will approach the line with a nice forward lean, find the lane, put his foot in the ground, and just go. He lacks standout physical traits and there isn’t a ton of variety in his game, but there is a natural skill set here that can find a home on the back end of a depth chart.

*There are some scouts that see Mitchell as a 3rd/4th rounder. They see a starting caliber back if he can progress over his first year or two. I think the tool set is too limited to go in that direction but he can fill the back end of a depth chart and possibly evolve into a Wayne Gallman type.

16. Jaret Patterson / Buffalo / 5’7-195: 70

17. Ben Mason / Michigan / 6’3-246: 70

18. Chris Evans / Michigan / 5’11-211: 70

19. Gary Brightwell / Arizona / 5’11-218: 70

20. Mekhi Sargent / Iowa / 5’8-208: 69

21. Trey Ragas / Louisiana-Lafayette / 5’10-218: 69

22. Gerrid Doaks / Cincinnati / 5’11-228: 69

23. BJ Emmons / Florida Atlantic / 5’11-215: 68

24. Pooka Williams Jr. / Kansas / 5’9-175: 68

25. Jermar Jefferson / Oregon State / 5’10-206: 67

26. CJ Marable / Coastal Carolina / 5’7-195: 67

27. Spencer Brown / UAB / 5’10-208: 66

28. Josh Johnson / Louisiana-Monroe / 5’9-209: 65

29. Brenden Knox / Marshall / 5’11-215: 65

30. Rakeem Boyd / Arkansas / 5’11-213: 65

NYG APPROACH

This is actually a position I really want to see NYG zero in on day three. There are good complimentary backs that would fit in well with Barkley and Booker. I consider those two solid every-situation backs. They can catch the ball, they can run in space, they can run between the tackles. The third back that is brought in should have a specialty in an area where you don’t mind keep Barkley/Booker off the field. As previously stated, I think Barkley struggles most in short yardage in relation to the rest of his arsenal. He is big and strong enough, but he doesn’t have that “reckless” mindset, there is always a tad of hesitation in his game. Booker simply isn’t a pile pusher, so he won’t be much better in that role. I think NYG should lean toward a sizable power back if they want to add to the backfield. I like Stevenson, but there are questions about his character. I also like Rountree III if they want to wait a little longer, or Sargent if they want to wait until the free agency period. One last kicker here, Michael Carter is one of my favorite backs if he were to fall. He would be another do-it-all back, but I think his receiving skill set could be a usable asset if Barkley’s touches need to be limited.