Dec 022022
 
Don "Wink" Martindale, New York Giants (November 13, 2022)

Don “Wink” Martindale – © USA TODAY Sports

THE STORYLINE:
Glass half full or empty? The optimist will say this is an intriguing contest between two tough, over-achieving, well-coached teams that are playing above expectations. The naysayers will call this a game between two teams that are trying to keep out of last place in the division. It’s all a matter of perspective.

Regardless, this is an absolutely critical game for both franchises. The winner will have the inside track to the 3rd spot in the division and a possible Wild Card spot. The loser is going to be behind the proverbial 8-ball.

The Giants and Commanders are two similar teams. Both are largely carried by their defense. Both like to run the ball more than they throw it. But at the moment, both appear to be heading in opposite directions. The Commanders have won six out of their last seven games, including an impressive win in Philadelphia. The Giants have lost three of their last four and have already been swept by the Dallas Cowboys.

Can the Giants regain their footing and reverse Washington’s surging momentum? That’s the storyline.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • RB Gary Brightwell (illness – questionable)
  • WR Darius Slayton (illness – questionable)
  • WR Richie James (knee – questionable)
  • TE Daniel Bellinger (eye – questionable)
  • OC Jon Feliciano (neck – questionable)
  • OG Josh Ezeudu (neck – out)
  • OG Shane Lemieux (toe – out)
  • OT Evan Neal (knee – probable)
  • OT Tyre Phillips (neck – probable)
  • DL Leonard Williams (neck – probable)
  • LB Carter Coughlin (thigh – questionable)
  • CB Adoree’ Jackson (knee – out)
  • CB Fabian Moreau (oblique – questionable)
  • CB Darnay Holmes (shoulder – questionable)
  • CB Cor’Dale Flott (concussion – probable)
  • S Dane Belton (clavicle – questionable)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
I’ve outlined the Giants’ passing game issues for the past two months. The cavalry is not going to crest the hill and save the day in 2022. Kadarius Toney was a bust and is gone. 29-year old Kenny Golladay has had one of the greatest career implosions in NFL history. Wan’Dale Robinson is on IR. The Giants will have to get by with Darius Slayton, Isaiah Hodgins, and Richie James, all of whom may not even be on the team in a few months. Making matters worse is James has been nursing a knee issue for the past couple of weeks. It’s not a good situation, but there is little that can be done about it.

More worrisome has been the marked decline in the Giants’ ground game in recent weeks. There is a direct correlation between the team’s last three losses and Saquon Barkley’s lack of productivity. In those games, Barkley rushed for 53, 22, and 39 yards, averaging only 2.5 yards per carry. In the last two games, he only rushed the ball for a total of 26 times. This was after his career-high 35-rush game against the Texans. And it’s not just that the blocking hasn’t been there. Barkley is not running as decisively or physically as he did in September and October. Cutting to the chase, the Giants can’t win unless Barkley gets back on track. They don’t have the weapons in the passing game to compensate.

Relatedly, Daniel Jones’ declining rushing figures are having a negative impact on the offense. Since his 107-yard effort against the Jaguars on October 23rd, Jones has only rushed for 108 yards in the last four games, averaging only 25 yards per game. Some of this has been due to opposing defenses playing more in a more disciplined fashion. But Jones’ number has not been called as much either. He carried the ball only three times against the Cowboys. The Giants need to get back to their old 1-2 punch formula of Barkley and Jones presenting problems on the ground.

The good news is that the team is getting reinforcements up front. Evan Neal and Daniel Bellinger are back. Both were injured against the Jaguars on October 23rd. The Giants have gone 1-3 since they have both been out. Neal not only will help the ground game, but his presence will allow Tyre Phillips to serve as the 6th offensive lineman in heavy packages, another upgrade. Bellinger has been missed not only as a target, but as a viable, point-of-attack blocker at the tight end position. In addition, the return of Nick Gates should help to settle down the interior of the line, be it at left guard or center.

Which brings us to the Commanders, a well-coached defense that is currently 7th in the NFL in yards allowed (one spot below the 6th-ranked Cowboys). Washington is 10th against the pass and 8th against the run. They are also 10th in points allowed. To be blunt, they are playing far better defense than the New York Giants. The strength of Washington is their defensive line, led by defensive tackles Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne, as well as end Montez Sweat. They can play the run and all three have over six sacks each. The Commanders also may be getting back #2 overall pick in 2020, Chase Young. Making matters worse is a secondary that has been playing good football. Starting corner Benjamin St. Juste will miss his second game in a row however. The Commanders are excellent in 3rd-down defense, being able to rush the passer as well as cover.

The man on the spot is Daniel Jones. He does not have the weapons that Washington has. He’s also going against a tougher defense than his counterpart in this game. With six critical games left, starting this Sunday, Jones still has the opportunity to make a statement. He must out-play Taylor Heinicke, not only for his team to have a chance but probably for Jones’ own fate with this franchise. Jones was the #6 overall pick. Heinicke was undrafted. Don’t turn the football over. Make plays in crucial situations to keep drives alive and score points. Win the game.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
Not only has the Giants’ ground game deteriorated, but so has its defense. It’s pretty easy to connect the dots as to why. The loss of Xavier McKinney caused a domino effect on the entire defense. This was exacerbated by the loss of the team’s #1 cornerback in Adoree’ Jackson. I don’t think it is a coincidence that we have seen a marked decline in 3rd-down defense and red-zone defense since both were lost. The problem for Wink Martindale and the defense is these two are still out as the key stretch run begins.

The defensive key to this game is obvious: run defense. Like the Giants, the ground game is the heart of the Washington attack. Stop their ground attack and stopping the Commanders becomes much easier. Washington is only 22nd in offense in yards, and 24th in points. But they average over 121 yards per game rushing and lead the NFL in time of possession. Rookie Brian Robinson has been impressive and is coming off his best game against the Falcons, averaging almost six yards per carry. Antonio Gibson is the other back, and presents more of an issue as a receiver (47 catches). He’s dealing with a foot injury however.

The problem for New York is that their run defense has been bad this year. The Giants are 26th against the run, allowing almost 139 yards per game. Worse, the Giants are allowing 5.2 yards per rushing attempt, one of the worst figures in the League. The lack of depth on the defensive line, talent issues at inside linebacker, and sporadic tackling by the secondary have all contributed to the disappointing play. But Washington is surely going to approach this game by attacking the New York weakness. Washington’s yards-per-carry is usually not impressive (sub 4.0), but they stick with the run and hope to wear down their opponents in the 4th quarter. It has been working.

The other fly in the ointment is the quality of Washington’s receiving targets is vastly superior to New York’s. Terry McLaurin is one of the best receivers in football. He can beat you deep and he can beat you by keeping the chains moving. With better quarterbacking, he’s be a real star. Curtis Samuel is also a quality slot receiver. These two, plus Gibson and tight end Logan Thomas, are Washington’s main receiving threats.

Which brings us to Heinicke, the 29-year old undrafted quarterback now with his sixth NFL team. He took over for Carson Wentz in Week 7 and has gone 5-1 as a starter. He’s no stud quarterback, but he’s managed games well and made just enough plays when called upon. That said, he lacks a top arm and has gotten lucky with a number of his throws. If the Giants can stop the run and make the Commanders more one dimensional, New York’s pass rush could make things uncomfortable for Henicke and cause turnovers.

The good news for the Giants is that Kayvon Thibodeaux is coming off of his best game. Azeez Ojulari finally is back as well and will help the pass rush. Combine these two with Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence and the Giants finally may have some real horses to rush the quarterback. The Commanders will also be without right guard Trai Turner. Center Tyler Larsen has also been limited with a shoulder injury.

Priority #1 is stopping the run. The inside linebackers will be on the spot, especially with as much motion as Washington employs offensively. But an undermanned New York secondary will also have to deal with McLaurin and Samuel. The return of Fabian Moreau should help, but the Giants will need Darnay Holmes, Nick McCloud, Rodarius Williams, and Cor’Dale Flott to rise to the occasion as well.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Thomas McGaughey’s special teams units have been a disappointment this year. The return game has been a net negative. Punting has been a problem. Coverage has not stood out. Giants face one of the league’s better punters in Tress Way. Punt/kick returner Dax Milne is out.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Defensive Coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale on his run defense: “We’re just going to have to get 11 hats to the football, and right now statistically, our run defense isn’t very good. We need to continue to work on fundamentals and technique and getting everybody to the football. When you start putting in all the other runs, the wide receiver sweeps and all the other plays off of it, I think run averages are up across the league, but I think we need to get better at it.”

THE FINAL WORD:
These are two similar, over-achieving teams that are unfortunately playing in the same division as the Eagles and Cowboys. After Sunday, one will be in far better shape than the other. This contest almost has the feel of a playoff game. If the Giants win, hopes for a real playoff spot continue. If they lose, fan attention will likely increase about the upcoming offseason. This is the biggest December game the Giants have played since 2016.

Nov 262022
 
Saquon Barkley, New York Giants (November 24, 2022)

Saquon Barkley – © USA TODAY Sports

QUICK RECAP

One of the metrics I use in coach evaluation is how well a team plays the second time around. These are almost always divisional foes but when post-season match-ups come into play, I look at them as well. While Brian Daboll was not the Head Coach in BUF, I did take a look at how their team (and offense) fared in their respective repeat matchups year-to-year:

2018 (on a 6-10 team): 1-2 and +13 in points
2019 (on a 10-6 team): 1-2 and +2 in points
2020 (on a 13-3 team): 3-1 and +29 in points
2021 (on a 11-6 team): 4-1 and +8 in points

The Thanksgiving Day match-up in DAL marked the first time in Daboll’s Head Coach tenure they would face off against a repeat opponent. They lost to the Cooper Rush-led Cowboys Week 3 by a score of 23-16. A game where NYG had a lead in the second half, but had it taken out of their grasp because the defense did not step up when they were needed.

The initial NYG drive stalled at midfield before opting to punt on 4th-and-3 from the DAL 48-yard line. The initial DAL drive stalled on their own 40-yard line, but they kept their offense on the field on 4th-and-2. Ezekiel Elliott was stuffed by a group of defenders led by Jaylon Smith, the Cowboys 2016 second rounder who was starting against his former team for the first time. NYG was primed to strike first blood. Daniel Jones hit Isaiah Hodgins for a 24-yard touchdown, but it was called back after right tackle Tyre Phillips was flagged for illegally blocking downfield. Jones then threw two incomplete passes, the second of which was flagged for intentional grounding, pushing NYG way back into deep field goal range. Fortunately, Graham Gano sent the 57-yarder through the uprights to give NYG the initial lead.

Dak Prescott, coming off his best game of the season in Minnesota, gave NYG the ball back with an interception that landed in the hands of Rodarius Williams. The NYG offense responded with a three-and-out as the DAL defensive front, a top-five group league-wide, was easily controlling the point-of-attack. Seven of DAL’s next eleven snaps were running plays and it landed them in the end zone via an Elliott 6-yard run on the first play of the second quarter. NYG then borrowed a page from that book, running the ball on seven-of-nine plays which also ended in a touchdown, this one by Saquon Barkley on a one-yarder. NYG had the lead at 10-7.

After trading three-and-outs, DAL put together a lengthy drive that was heading toward the red zone. Prescott tried to fit one in to CeeDee Lamb but a deflection by Darnay Holmes ended up in Julian Love’s hands for the second interception of the half, matching their 2022 season total coming into this game. A sloppy final two minutes, including two penalties by DAL and one by NYG and an interception that was nullified by one of those DAL penalties eventually led to a 47-yard field goal by Gano to lengthen their lead to 6 as halftime approached.

The DAL offense was a different animal in the second half. They started off with a 14-play drive that consisted of four third-down conversions. One of them was with a lot of help from the refs on a phantom defensive holding called on Holmes. The fourth conversion was a 3rd-and-15 touchdown pass to tight end Dalton Schultz. It put DAL up by one and wiped out over half of the third quarter clock.

The NYG offense stalled near midfield again. This time it was 4th-and-1 from their own 45-yard line. Daboll pushed the urgency, with 4:11 left in the third quarter, and kept the offense on the field. Offensive Coordinator Mike Kafka called a great play, giving Jones an open look at Saquon Barkley who was all alone in the flat. A catch would have resulted in a first down and much more. Jones misfired, the ball fell to the ground, and Prescott took over on the NYG side of the field. Six plays later, Prescott connected with Schultz for another touchdown and DAL was up by eight.

Midfield continued to be a black hole for the NYG offense. They just could not get past it. Barkley couldn’t get going, the entire NYG offensive line (including Andrew Thomas) was taking turns getting beat, and the DAL train was heating up. For the third straight drive, DAL put a touchdown on the board, this time via a 2-yard run by tight end Peyton Hendershot. They were up 28-13 with under 9 minutes remaining. NYG down, by two touchdowns plus a two-point conversion, with an offense that had been averaging 18 points per game since their win in Jacksonville October 23rd.

They did end up getting into DAL territory on their next drive. There were two problems, however. They never quite went into hurry-up mode (11 plays netted 38 yards and took off 5:41 of game clock) and the final sequence went 10-yard sack, false start penalty, 16-yard gain, incomplete pass. DAL took the ball back and ran the ball over and over to get NYG to rid themselves of their timeouts. NYG did end up scoring a garbage-time touchdown with just :08 remaining on a pass from Jones to Richie James. At the very least, NYG bettors left the game happy. The onsides kick did not work and NYG dropped their 11th game to the Cowboys in their last 12 attempts.

QUARTERBACK

-Daniel Jones: 21/35 – 228 yards / 1 TD – 0 INT / 88.8 RAT

The mistakes Jones made in this do not show up on the stat sheet. It was a poor start where he held onto the ball on plays where they left specific pass rushers unblocked. The illegal shift + intentional grounding that nearly pushed them out of field goal range were avoidable. The 4th-and-1 miss to Barkley was the turning point of the game. He was fortunate to not have an interception on his stat line at the end of the first half on penalty that had nothing to do with the play. And lastly, I felt he did not tuck and run on two instances where he should have. Both resulted in stops for the DAL defense. This game won’t be put on Jones but there is no denying just a couple of better plays by him would have easily altered the trajectory of the game. And the looks were there, he simply did not come through.

RUNNING BACK

-Saquon Barkley: 11 att – 39 yards / 4 rec – 13 yards

For the second straight week, Barkley was contained, and it was a mix of quality defense and a scaled back version of Barkley. Is he hurt? I don’t know. If I had to money on it, I would say he is not hurt. He was not coming off the field dramatically in pain like we have seen him do in the past. He was not grimacing after hits. Mentally, Barkley looks hesitant. NYG missed out on two likely third-down conversions because of that hesitancy. On an offense like this and considering the player he is, that is a huge deal.

-The best running back play we saw in this game was from Gary Brightwell. He gained 31 yards on 5 carries and added another 18 yards on 2 catches. This was the most we have seen him touch the ball over his two seasons in the league and the results were excellent. He’s earned more touches in this offense that is searching everywhere for production. Matt Breida added 15 yards on 3 touches, 1 catch and 2 carries.

WIDE RECEIVER

-Darius Slayton came up with the offensive play of the day. A game-long 44-yard catch that set NYG up for their first touchdown that put them up early. He was targeted 5 other times, catching 2 of them for 19 yards. Earlier in the game I made a negative note on his ball skills when it came to fighting through contact while maintaining body control down the field. In fairness, his 44-yarder was a big-time play on the ball. It is the up-and-down play by Slayton that causes evaluators to pull their hair out. The good is there, the consistency is not.

-Richie James had 5 catches for 41 yards and a touchdown. Almost all of that came in the second half. Isaiah Hodgins caught 3 passes for 31 yards and had a touchdown taken off the board by an offensive line penalty. Kenny Golladay did not get thrown to at all, nor did Marcus Johnson. They saw a combined 26 snaps.

TIGHT END

-A better game from this group as a whole than what they put out there last week. Lawrence Cager, Chris Myarick, and Tanner Hudson all caught one pass each (for 23-20-10 yards respectively). Cager and Myarick were responsible for 2 of the 3 biggest plays in the passing game. Hudson did not see any blocking snaps, but both Cager and Myarick held their own against the physical DAL front.

OFFENSIVE LINE

-On paper, this had the potential to be an ugly game for the Giants offensive line. DAL came into this one leading the NFL in sacks and top-three in every important pass rush metric. NYG was missing their starting right tackle and were on a fourth-string left guard. To make matters worse, left tackle Andrew Thomas was battling illness and appeared to be limping a bit on that bad foot of his. He paid the price against All Pro linebacker Micah Parsons, allowing 2 sacks, 1 pressure, and 0.5 TFL. Jack Anderson, the fourth-stringer noted above, allowed 2 pressures and a sack and was flagged for a false start.

-Center Nick Gates graded out as the top lineman, which isn’t saying much. His hands were heavy and accurate. I don’t see a ton of movement off the line against defensive tackles and he did struggle to get his hips in the hole a few times. I chalk that up to the lower body still working its way back.

-The right side was responsible for four pressures (2 each by Mark Glowinski and Tyre Phillips). Glowinksi also allowed a 0.5 TFL and Phillips was called for a crucial penalty that came from him aimlessly working his way downfield for no reason on a passing play. I liked what I saw out of him as a run blocker though and I wonder if there is any thought on him returning to guard when Neal comes back. Not as a starter, but as an immediate backup if needed.

EDGE

-The top individual pass rush performances of this season previously belonged to Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams. Those performances now sit behind rookie Kayvon Thibodeaux’s dominance he put on display in this game. 9 pressures, 1 caused hold, 1 caused TFL. This was the best combination of get off, pad level, and power we have seen out of him. He absolutely abused fellow rookie Tyler Smith on the left side all game and proved to be a menace both the inside as a blitzing linebacker and on the left side the defensive line. He did miss 2 tackles, one of which was a sack, but this is exactly what we want to see from Thibodeaux at this point. The most impressive part of his stat line is the fact he did so on just 26 pass rush snaps. In another year or two, after he continues to figure his craft out at the professional level and improve his power game, a few of those will turn into sacks.

-Jihad Ward finished with 2 pressures and 1 TFL. I like him so much more when he is in the tight spaces. His power game and feel for blockers is top notch.

-Oshane Ximines lost the edge twice on big runs in the first quarter. He also missed a tackle and did not impact the game as a pass rusher.

DEFENSIVE LINE

-Leonard Williams was back to his dominant ways. He had 6 tackles, 3 TFL, and 1 pressure. His closing speed on lateral runs is such an overlooked component to his game. He reaches guys that 95% of the league’s interior linemen cannot. The negative in his game, which has been around for years, showed up a few times in this one. He does not anchor well against runs right at him. He also missed 2 tackles.

-Dexter Lawrence had 5 tackles and a pressure. He seemed to be off his game in this one. Nothing drastic, but I caught him walking gingerly and grimacing a few times throughout and he looked out of gas on a few others. Henry Mondeaux added 3 tackles and a pressure. He offers much more than Justin Ellis, who finished with 1 tackle, when it comes to playing sudden and showing some range once off the initial contact of a blocker.

LINEBACKER

-Jaylon Smith was playing some spirited football in his first start against the team that drafted and signed him to a long-term deal. He led the team with 10 tackles, adding 1 TFL and a big 4th-down stop early in the game. His downhill explosion is still there and even though the lateness + lateral movement issues hurt from time to time, he has been a quality player for this defense.

-Micah McFadden was on the field for a career-high 48 snaps. After a poor game last week against DET, I saw more urgency with his reads, and he finished better. He had 4 tackles and 2 TFL with 1 missed tackle. The movement in coverage looked much better when looking at the All-22. He was rarely targeted, but he did his job when working the intermediate level of the route tree.

CORNERBACK

-We had a little bit of a coming out party for Rodarius Williams. I discussed him a bit after the DET game noting how often he was getting beat in his first action of the season. He responded with 2 pass break-ups and an interception, the first of his career. He did not allow a reception either (although he was flagged for a pass interference). There were quite a few people excited about Williams after the 2021 preseason, remember. Now that he is in the mix, he looks the part.

-Nick McCloud had 8 tackles without any misses. I like him in the middle of the field. He is a physical player and gets the ball carrier down at a near-perfect rate. He allowed a touchdown in coverage. Rookie Cor’Dale Flott allowed 3 completions on all 3 times he was targeted. His lack of power presence is a concern against a receiver with any kind of size. Michael Gallup tossed him around a couple times. His play speed is excellent, though.

-Darnay Holmes was flagged three times, one of which was a poor call. The issue here is Holmes has the reputation of being too grabby in coverage. He built that as a rookie in 2020 and it hasn’t gotten anything but worse. He now has 7 penalties on the year and teams know it. He also allowed 3 catches for 58 yards, being outclassed by Lamb. He did deflect a pass that ended up being an interception.

SAFETY

-Julian Love tied for the team lead with 10 tackles. He added two impact plays as well, a TFL and an interception. This is exactly what this team needs from Love. Be the safety net on the back end who makes tackles in space and create big plays for the defense. He did both.

-Jason Pinnock played every snap. This is valuable experience for him. He had 8 tackles, but he also missed one and allowed a touchdown in coverage. More up-and-down play for him.

SPECIAL TEAMS

-K Graham Gano: 2/2 (Made 57, 47)
-P Jamie Gillan: 4 Punts / 48.3 avg – 38.3 avg

3 STUDS

-CB Rodarius Williams, EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux, S Julian Love

3 DUDS

-CB Darnay Holmes, OT Andrew Thomas, RB Saquon Barkley

3 THOUGHTS ON DAL

After the Week 3 loss in September, I asked how far do I see this version of Dallas going? “We have every reason to believe they will contend not only for the division, but for the conference. The defense has the upside of being special and if that offense can elevate their game just one or two levels, they have the “goods.” Here we are at the end of November, and I only feel stronger about that notion. DAL is one of three teams I can see going to the Super Bowl. The difference between this team and the previous few years is the defense. They can be lights out against anyone.

There is a good chance that was Ezekiel Elliott’s final game against NYG in a Cowboys uniform. DAL has made a habit out of restructuring his contract in recent offseasons, pushing money into future years. They did not do so this past offseason. To me, that, and the emergence of Tony Pollard who is simply a better player right now, will pave the way for them cutting him loose in a few months. 12 games, 1108 total yards, 10 TDs vs NYG.

I will be intrigued to see where Tyler Smith, their 2022 first round pick, ends up on the offensive line. He was going to be the left guard until Tyron Smith went down but shifted over and has played at a solid level for most of the year. He’s allowed 4 sacks and is second in the league with 10 penalties. This was a major issue at Tulsa as well. I think Smith’s run blocking is already on the elite level but I don’t see the upside in pass protection. I think he ends up at OG in the future.

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

Two losses in five days can sting a bit more and the injuries on both sides of the ball were accelerated by the Thursday game. The positive is now schedule-based. NYG gets 10 days of rest prior to a home match-up against the Commanders, who play Sunday against ATL. With multiple players on the brink of returning (OT Evan Neal, TE Daniel Bellinger, OL Ben Bredeson), the timing of this mini-bye week is crucial. Especially considering WAS will be one of the teams NYG is contending with for a playoff spot.

The Barkley tape is the elephant in the room that everyone can see. He is not running as hard. He is showing hesitancy. And this is an offense that did not have any margin to work with. Barkley is the most important player on this offense and probably the team. If he does not play to his ability (whether it is physical or mental) – the entire scope changes. Look what happened when Brightwell came in and ran hard. I discussed this a few times last year. There was not, and is not, a bigger Barkley guy out there than me. But if the hardness in his game is back and forth, it will make for an easy decision this upcoming offseason.

One of the questions people will ask about Daniel Jones and his future with NYG will revolve around upside. Just how good can he actually be? Best case scenario, what is he? We just watched Dak Prescott throw two interceptions in the first half. He was hit just as much if not more than Jones was throughout the game. Nothing mattered. He comes out in the second half and played some of the best QB I have seen all year from around the league. The numbers did not pop off the page, but it was the complexity of his throws and how precise they were. I do not see that in Jones. Both right now and in the future.

Nov 232022
 

THE STORYLINE:
Just last week, fans of the New York Football Giants were contemplating an 8-2 record, the return of number of previously injured players, the possible acquisition of Odell Beckham, and dare we say it, a possible run at the NFC East title. A few days later, many of these same fans are questioning if the team will win another game this year and see beating the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving as an equivalent challenge as beating the 18-0 New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.

Dear Giants fans,
Get a grip.
Signed, BBI Management

Professional football is a multi-billion dollar entertainment industry in which each year 32 franchises compete for a shiny trophy. Aside from geographical location, these 32 franchises differentiate themselves from each other by the color of the clothes they wear. Distinct from MLB and the NBA, these teams operate on a relative even playing field with a hard salary cap. Every team has good players and coaches. Because of this, it’s virtually impossible for any one team to dominate the league.

The Giants entered 2022 with their third general manager and fourth head coach in six years after enduring a decade-long’s worth of mismanagement. Botched drafts and free agent signing periods left the franchise with a roster devoid of talent, players accustomed to losing, and a very poor salary-cap position. Most fans were thrilled that ownership reached outside of the organization and hired a new GM and HC who be on the same page and work together to eradicate the rot and build a new foundation. Most of these fans knew this would take time, especially since many believed the quarterback on the team was not part of the answer moving forward.

The offseason was a dizzying affair. Players such as Evan Engram, Kyle Rudolph, Will Hernandez, Lorenzo Carter, Jabrill Peppers, James Bradberry, Logan Ryan, and Riley Dixon, among many others, were let go. Almost 40 free agents and 11 draft picks were added to the training camp roster. Changes were made in the front office both before and after the draft. Many fans and pundits assumed the Giants, blessed with an easier schedule, would win somewhere around 4-6 games. How gloomy were the prognostications? There was a lot of talk of Daniel Jones probably being benched at some point for Tyrod Taylor.

Then something weird happened. The Giants beat AFC’s #1 seed on their turf on opening day. And they did so in dramatic style, coming back from a 13-0 halftime deficit and winning with a daring 2-point conversion. Over the course of the next eight games, the Giants would surprisingly win six of them, often coming from behind in the 4th quarter to pull off the upset. Even with one of the best records in football, the Giants were considered the underdogs in almost every game. The pinnacle of the first half of the season was the back-to-back dramatic victories over the Packers in London and the Ravens.

The weird part was all of this was happening with a completely revamped roster of unfamiliar names, many of whom were let go by other teams and would have trouble finding work on any other roster. Players who were counted on to make a big difference did not, such as Kadarius Toney, Kenny Golladay, Sterling Shepard, Aaron Robinson, and Azeez Ojulari. Injuries also affected the play and availability of Leonard Williams, Kayvon Thibodeaux, Evan Neal, Shane Lemieux, Daniel Bellinger, among others. The team was left scrambling in-season for waiver-wire pick-ups, guys signed off of the street and practice squads. Although it wasn’t pretty, the team was still winning despite being hampered with the worst set of receivers and tight ends in the league and a number of castoffs on the defensive side of the ball.

The Giants were winning because they were well coached, and the new coaching staff was getting the best out of players who many had discounted, such as Dexter Lawrence, Adoree’ Jackson, Julian Love, Daniel Jones, and Oshane Ximines as just a few examples. Others came out of nowhere to play significant roles such as Jihad Ward and Fabian Moreau. It wasn’t easy. Players kept getting hurt and the front office and coaching staff had to keep juggling the roster, limited by little cap room. At times, the Giants didn’t even keep 53 players on the roster.

Tactically, the staff recognized the limitations of the roster. Passing-attack gurus Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka transitioned to a run-first ground game, designed to minimize mistakes and keep the team alive in games against opponents with equal or better talent. The defense gave up yardage, but stood tall on third down and inside the red zone. And for whatever reason, this team started to believe it could and would win in the 4th quarter. Opponents simply could not kill the Giants. They hung around, they hung around, they hung around… and finally somehow pulled off the win.

Something else different began to happen. Giants’ fans began complaining that the wins were too ugly. After each win, there were more discussion threads on what went wrong rather than what went right. It quickly began to dawn on me that Giants fans who were worn down by a decade worth of losing were developing unrealistic expectations about what this team was and could be as it is currently formulated. The other red flag was the insistence by the bulk of the fan base that the addition of just one wide receiver would change everything for plodding offensive football team and somehow turn them into a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Whoa! What?

Karma began to change over the bye week. Xavier McKinney got stupid, crushed his hand on vacation, and sabotaged the entire defense. He was one of the few players on this team the Giants could ill-afford to lose. His absence had a domino effect. The Giants also started to do something they had not done, and that was kill themselves with turnovers. Richie James fumbled twice on punt returns against the Seahawks. The team turned the ball over three more times against the Lions. Brian Daboll got stupid and put Adoree’ Jackson on punt returns and paid the price. Now the other player in the secondary the Giants simply could not afford to lose may be gone for the bulk of the rest of the season. Worse, the Giants came out of last week’s game needing a MASH unit. Wan’Dale Robinson had his career game to date and then tore his ACL, leaving a bad unit even worse. The other starting cornerback, Moreau, who was filling in for Aaron Robinson, got hurt. Five offensive line showed up on the injury list and two safeties. A really thin team to start with just got dangerously thin.

This where Giants fans have gotten stupid. Not all of you. The smart ones are nodding your head at what I wrote and are off the hook. I’m scolding those of you who say such things as (and yes, these have been posted this week):

  • Brian Daboll lost this team when he yelled at them.
  • We will learn this Thursday if this coaching staff is any good.
  • The team needs to make a number of changes in Week 12 to take the offense and defense in new directions.

But what mostly bothers me are posts that scream (paraphrasing), “If this team doesn’t win and perform to my expectations, then the individuals responsible are horrible human beings and must be vilified until they make me feel better.” Or the “please tell me it’s going to be OK” posts. What are we? Eight year olds? I don’t know what is going on, but some of you guys need a good slap in the face and dose of reality.

This is flawed, rebuilding football team. It underwent major changes this past offseason. It will undergo major changes this upcoming offseason. The 7-3 start has been great, and hopefully they still have a few wins in them to keep things entertaining. But the unexpected winning has now created unrealistic expectations. A thin team that wins with the slightest margins of error is not likely to experience sustained success. And this is especially true when that thin team loses its most important players. “But…but…but..” No buts, that’s just the way it is. Teams with stronger rosters will prevail in the end. Survival of the fittest.

So this is a word of advice to those of you who are getting really upset: It’s a game. It’s supposed to be something fun for you to enjoy. It would be nice to win, but it’s not the end of the world if your team loses. The Giants appear to be heading in the right direction with a GM and coach on the same page. Regardless of how it ends, this year turned out better than expected. You’d probably feel better if the team’s W-L record was better after the bye than before it, but it’s not likely to work out that way.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • WR Richie James (knee – questionable)
  • TE Daniel Bellinger (eye – out)
  • OC Jon Feliciano (neck – out)
  • OG Josh Ezeudu (neck – out)
  • OG Shane Lemieux (toe – out)
  • OT Andrew Thomas (illness – questionable)
  • OT Evan Neal (knee/illness – out)
  • OT Tyre Phillips (neck – questionable)
  • CB Adoree’ Jackson (knee – out)
  • CB Fabian Moreau (oblique – out)
  • S Dane Belton (clavicle – questionable)
  • S Jason Pinnock (jaw – questionable)

THE FINAL WORD:
The Giants are huge underdogs against Dallas and for good reason. The Cowboys are coming off of their most impressive win of the season. The Giants are coming off their most disappointing loss of the season. Worse, the Giants somehow managed to end up a more physically-damaged team after the bye week. The secondary, offensive line, and wide receiving corps are a mess with injuries. Barring a big upset, the results are not going to aid your post-Turkey digestive process. If you can’t handle that, pretend the team isn’t playing and enjoy the time with your family.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Nov 222022
 
Julian Love, New York Giants (November 20, 2022)

Julian Love – © USA TODAY Sports

QUICK RECAP

Lions Head Coach Dan Campbell was drafted by NYG in the third round of the 1999 NFL Draft. He started 34 games for them, 28 of which came over his final two seasons before he signed with DAL (and later DET) in free agency. A year-plus after his career ended, he became an intern-offensive coach for MIA. Working his way up, including a stretch where he was interim Head Coach for MIA and an Assistant Head Coach for NO, Campbell landed the top job for DET in 2021. In a time where owners are often chasing after specialty minds (offense/defense), DET did it different. They went after a culture guy. Campbell is leader of men. He wants to chew glass, get into fights, and give off the tough-guy persona to a league full of tough guys. His staff is filled with former players with similar backgrounds and mindsets. DET personifies “Blue Collar” as much as any team in the league. To be determined if this approach can work and DET. If you have not followed the team, DET has had some of the worst losses in the league since Campbell’s tenure began when it comes to blown leads and aggressive mistakes.

DET came into this one with the last-ranked defense in the NFL when looking at both yards and points allowed, respectively. What surprises many, however, is the fact they came into the league with a top-10 offense in both categories. They do not have star power on that side of the ball. They have a quarterback who would not start on 20 teams in the league. How are they doing this? NYG got a front row seat in their Week 11 matchup at windy MetLife Stadium. It is that time of year.

NYG began the game with the ball. Left Guard Shane Lemieux was on the field for the first time, giving the team 4 of their 5 starters up front on the field. Evan Neal remained inactive with a knee injury. Two of the first three plays resulted in losses. They went three-and-out and DET responded with three points via a field goal by Michael Badgley. A week after Saquon Barkley’s 30+ touch performance and four days prior to their next game against DAL, backup running back Matt Breida made his mark early. He converted a 4th-and-1 rushing attempt before a 16-yard gain on a 3rd-and-7 a few plays later. This set them up for their first touchdown of the game, a 3-yard run by Daniel Jones.

The game stayed at 6-3 (the extra point was blocked), NYG up, for the next three possessions as the two ground-and-pound offenses were playing the field position battle. DET punter Jack Fox, a 2020 All-Pro, had consecutive punts of 57 and 63 yards. NYG’s #1 corner and fill-in punt returner, Adoree’ Jackson, was injured on the 57-yarder. He did not return and will be out a month. Jones threw an interception on a zone blitz that he did not recognize, throwing it directly to DET defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, the second overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. With the DET offense starting their drive in the red zone, it took just four plays for them to score on a Jamaal Williams four-yard run.

Thanks to an illegal block in the back by Nick McCloud on the ensuing kickoff, NYG started their drive on their own 6-yard line. They had gains of 19, 13, and 4 yards. Because of the penalty, that only got them to their own 42-yard line. They were forced to punt again as the NYG offensive line, with four starters in, continued to get abused. Punter Jamie Gillian then shanked one 25 yards. DET needed just three plays before they were in the red zone again and with under a minute remaining in the half, Williams scored a 1-yard touchdown to make the game 17-6. Poor clock management by Jones ended the half with the NYG offense near midfield.

DET opened the second half with another touchdown-scoring drive on the back of Williams yet again, his third score of the day. There was urgency in the NYG offensive huddle on the next drive. Down 18, at home, but up against the worst defense in the league. Barkley had just 18 yards on 10 first half carries, and they were approaching the point in the game where they needed points, and fast. The way to do that in the NFL? Throw the ball. On 4th-and-5 from the DET 40, Jones threw his second interception on a poorly placed ball. Rookie Kerby Joseph brought it in, his third of the season as he has emerged as the league’s top rookie safety so far.

DET did not convert this into points. They went three and out two possessions in a row, but NYG’s offense remained stagnant themselves. However, as the game turned to the fourth quarter, their fortune started to change even though they lost their most targeted receiver, rookie Wan’Dale Robinson, to a knee injury. He did not return and will be out the rest of the year. Breida did end up scoring NYG’s next touchdown on a 3-yard run but kicker Graham Gano missed the extra point. 24-12 DET.

NYG got the ball back with under 9:00. This was it, they needed to score a touchdown on this drive and who better than DET to do it against, a team that has made a living on blowing fourth quarter leads since the start of the Campbell-era. Jones threw two incomplete passes, center Nick Gates forgot to snap the ball on 3rd-and-10, and the anemic passing game needed a huge play. Jones delivered a strike to recently picked up receiver Isaiah Hodgins for a 20-yard gain. First down. But on the next play, right before he went down, Hodgins fumbled, and it was recovered by Hutchinson who was all over the field. DET needed four plays before D’Andre Swift got his turn at crossing the goal line on a 4-yard touchdown run.

NYG did end up getting that touchdown, a drive and turnover too late, on the next drive. Jones hit Richie James on a 9-yard crossing route. They were down 13 points with under 5:00 left in need of a successful two-point conversion to make it a TD + 2-point conversion + FG margin. Tight End Lawrence Cager dropped the pass from Jones, NYG remained down 13, and DET recovered the ensuing onsides kick. NYG would not touch the ball again. DET’s offensive line paved the way for two first downs via run-only in run-only situations and sucked the remaining NYG timeouts out of Brian Daboll’s hands.

NYG loses, 31-18.

QUARTERBACK

-Daniel Jones: 27/44 – 341 yards / 1 TD – 2 INT / 74.1 RAT

Jones also added a team-high 50 yards on 7 carries including a touchdown. The 341 yards were the third-highest of his career and the 44 attempts were the second-highest. The DET defense, again the worst in the league because of how poor they perform against the pass, sold out on stuffing Barkley and the NYG running game. This will be what see week in, week out for the rest of year. Extra beef up front, defensive backs in the box, and sheer number advantages. Jones did make big throws. He did a fine job getting the ball out when receivers were open. He took what was there. He was productive (391 yards total). Checks in all of those boxes. But the interceptions were both on him. He did not read the zone blitz on the first one and he air-mailed the second one. While we can continue to pound the OL + pass catcher drum and rightfully so, this one will go in the negative bucket for Jones. He did not rise above.

RUNNING BACK

-Saquon Barkley: 15 att – 22 yards / 2 rec – 13 yards

Barkley looked like a guy who carried the team a week earlier. He had less pop and speed than what we have seen this season. After reviewing the All-22, I also noted three runs where Barkley’s lack of aggression caused no gain or a loss. All three were plays that had a strong likelihood of going for 5+ yards, one of which could have been much bigger. Daboll has done a fine job with Barkley and this running game when it comes to putting the head down and getting those 2-3-4 yard gains. But we saw the version of Barkley who had too much tip-toeing, lack of desire, and overall slowness. That margin in between in this league is enormous. A poor game for Barkley but he was strong pass protection. He has turned that around in a big way.

-Matt Breida: 3 att – 13 yards – 1 TD / 1 rec – 16 yards

We did not see a lot of Breida in this one and I wish we saw more. He brought more energy to the offense than Barkley did, and it was obvious on the early drive where he converted a 4th- and 3rd-down conversion, respectively. While it is hard to keep #26 off the field, this was something obvious to see early on. With where NYG’s receivers are, I think more looks with both guys on the field should be a priority.

WIDE RECEIVER

-The position group caught 22 passes for 292 yards, by far a season-high. Wan’Dale Robinson led the group with a line of 9/100 but suffered a torn ACL on the first play of the fourth quarter. Such an unfortunate blow for multiple reasons. One, it looked like Robinson’s role was starting to click here. He was the guy Jones could get the ball to on 3rd/4th down. He was the one who created the most on his own after the catch. Two, because of the nature of the injury and timing, this is something that could linger into 2023. My hope is he will be on the field Week 2 or 3.

-Darius Slayton came up with a few big plays. His 17.2 yards per catch in a game that he had 5 or more receptions were the most since Week 10 of 2020. The negative with Slayton continues to be drops. He added 2 more to his season total and double caught two others – meaning a slight bobble before bringing it in. On a team that lacks talent at WR – he is clearly the number one guy especially with Robinson out. He can make big plays in an offense that is begging for such in the passing game. But it is hard to rely on a guy with his caliber of hands and ball skills. He did come up with a key block on the Jones touchdown run early in the game.

-Maybe the loudest ovation of the day, whether it was genuine or sarcastic, came on the first Kenny Golladay reception. He had 2 catches on the day, both body-balls that he let come in to his numbers rather than attack it with his hands, for 29 yards. By default, Golladay will see more and more looks now.

-Richie James appeared out of the doghouse once Robinson went down. He responded with 3 catches for 48 yards and a touchdown, all coming in the fourth quarter. Isaiah Hodgins came up with 29 yards on 3 catches but lost a fumble that DET turned into a fourth quarter touchdown.

TIGHT END

-Another lackluster day for the group overall. It is one thing to see a lack of impact on the game, but when the negative plays start to pop up, it becomes frustrating to watch. Tight end was mishandled this past offseason and even in-season. Lawrence Cager allowed a TFL, was flagged for offensive pass interference, and dropped a big 2-point conversion attempt with the team down 13. He did have 2 catches for 20 yards, but that was it for the group as a whole.

OFFENSIVE LINE

-I have long discussed the issues the interior of this line would present as the year went on. It was one of the first things I saw at camp back in August. They’ve played better than I anticipated but that doesn’t mean much. It has still been a well-below average group that was somewhat overshadowed by the smoke and mirrors offensive scheme. With Shane Lemiuex on the field for the first time this season, I had some optimism. That ended quickly. He allowed 3 pressures and a sack before being benched in the second half for rookie Josh Ezeudu, who allowed a pressure himself. Mark Glowinski was man-handled by Alim McNeill repeatedly. He allowed 2 pressures and was flagged for illegally blocking downfield on a drive that had NYG approaching field goal range and ended with a punt. His penalty was the turning point of the drive.

-Center Jon Feliciano left the game with a neck injury. He allowed a TFL and one pressure before heading out. Nick Gates started off as a blocking tight end but then took over at center for Feliciano. He was flagged twice, one of which was declined. As I said a few weeks ago, Gates is the guy that should be at center. He sustains contact better than Feliciano and gets more push.

-Andrew Thomas allowed 1 TFL but was otherwise lights out again. On the other side, Tyre Phillips had to be relieved by Matt Peart because of a neck injury. Phillips allowed a pressure before departing and Peart struggled with 2 pressures and a TFL. His hands were all over the place and it threw off his body control. Peart clearly has not clicked yet. The tools were there, and it was worth the gamble, but he simply cannot pass block consistently.

EDGE

-Oshane Ximines had a solid game, pressuring Jared Goff 3 times and registering 1 tackle. He was flagged for a roughing penalty, however, on a 3rd-and-8 stop that gave DET an automatic first down on a 3-point scoring drive.

-Rookies Kayvon Thibodeaux added 2 tackles and 1 pressure and Tomon Fox had 1 tackle. Quiet and overall ineffective game for the two on limited looks, as Goff only threw 26 passes.

-Jihad Ward had 4 tackles, 1 pressure, and a pass break up. Martindale put him into coverage on a couple of occasions via the zone blitz and it hurt the defense. Ward moves more like a defensive tackle than a linebacker. Stiff and slow.

DEFENSIVE LINE

-Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams continue to play a ton of snaps. Lawrence had 3 pressures and a team-high 7 tackles while Williams added 1 pressure and 4 tackles. The DET interior is one of the best in football and these two won several matchups. The success DET had on the ground had very little to do with them.

-Henry Mondeaux remains ahead of the immobile Justin Ellis on the depth chart. He played 32 snaps while Ellis only saw 17. Both of them struggled against that OL.

LINEBACKER

-Rough day for the group. Rookie Micah McFadden got the start next to veteran Jaylon Smith and both were manhandled against the DET running game. McFadden is a step too slow especially in coverage. It keeps popping up and DET took advantage of it on the play-action crossing routes. He was also flagged for a pass interference. Smith had 6 tackles but 5 of them were assists. He was late to the running lanes and slow to fill. The lateral adjustments are worrisome, as he looks so stiff and rigid when he needs to adjust. He added 1 pressure.

-Tae Crowder saw an uptick in playing time late in the game and finished with 3 tackles and a TFL.

CORNERBACK

-Adoree’ Jackson missed most of the game because he was injured on a 3-yard punt return. He was recently put in that role because of the two Richie James fumbles in Seattle a few weeks ago. More on that below. Jackson will be out for a month, if not longer. I’ve said this a few times; Jackson is the one guy this defense could not afford to lose. Huge blow for the defense that has almost no margin left.

-Fabian Moreau suffered an oblique injury and may be out Thursday at DAL. That leaves the secondary with Darnay Holmes at nickel and a mixture of Nick McCloud, Rodarius Williams, and Cordale Flott on the outside as NYG is approaching a difficult slate of opposing offenses in the near future. Holmes and McCloud both had a TFL and were solid in coverage. They fit the aggressive scheme well and I feel good about them. The concerns are with Williams and Flott. Williams was beat in coverage multiple times in his first action of the season and Flott, a rookie who has played 22 snaps since Week 3, is raw. He dropped an interception but did force a fumble. These next few weeks will be huge for Flott when it comes to experience and learning from mistakes. It may be painful right now, but it could end up being beneficial to his future.

SAFETY

-Julian Love was the lone defender to play all of the snaps. Nobody else played 90% of the snaps. He tied for the team lead 7 tackles and added a TFL. He did miss a tackle on a 3rd-and-long conversion though and missed out on an interception late in the game, but it did end in a pass break up.

-Jason Pinnock was in and out of the game with a jaw/neck injury. He is very much an all-or-nothing type player on defense. He had a TFL and 3 tackles but added a missed tackle. I like the aggressive style and length he brings to the table. I hope he can stay on the field because NYG may have something in him.

-Rookie Dane Belton had 2 tackles but was ridden out of multiple plays by wide receiver and tight end blocks. That is a weakness in his game I’ve seen repeated a few times this season. He also allowed receptions on the two times he was targeted.

SPECIAL TEAMS

-K Graham Gano: 0/0 (One extra point blocked and he missed another)
-P Jamie Gillan: 4 punts / 38.3 avg – 38.3 net

3 STUDS

-DT Dexter Lawrence, WR Wan’Dale Robinson, RB Matt Breida

3 DUDS

-OG Shane Lemieux, LB Micah McFadden, RB Saquon Barkley

3 THOUGHTS ON DET

The Lions have passed their 2021-win total (3) with 7 games left on the schedule. They’re currently the 2nd place team in the NFC North. They have contests against JAC, NYJ, CAR, CHI, and GB remaining. Say what you want about the defensive and late-game struggles, but this team is on the rise. I believe in culture-building and I believe the resources DET has put into it will pay off. What is truly missing? They’re going to be limited with Jared Goff under center, that is the simple truth. The statistics are a bit misleading, as a lot of their production has come late in games against prevent-style coverages. But if their 2022 first rounder Jameson Williams, who may be back in December and was my second-ranked receiver behind Garrett Wilson last April, is a dude who checks every box. With next year being the vital third season of the Campbell-era, I can see them making THE aggressive move in the offseason for a quarterback. That can go in a few directions, but it is something I see happening one way or another.

The DET offensive line has been well built. Left tackle Taylor Decker, 1st round 2016. Left guard Jonah Jackson, 3rd round 2020. Center Frank Ragnow, 1st round 2018. Right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai, free agent signing in 2020 (currently on IR). Right tackle Penei Sewell, 1st round 2021. When I look at this offense that is top 10 in yards and scoring without a true number one receiver (or tight end now that they’ve traded T.J. Hockenson), Jared Goff at quarterback, and an overrated number one back in D’Andre Swift, it is impossible to not give most of the credit to their O-Line. It creates a strong notion in my head that adding yet another high pick to the group along the interior will very much be in the discussion next April.

The Dan Campbell experiment seems to be working. Now, the Colts seem to be re-energized by Jeff Saturday. Neither situation can be considered a full-blown win yet, but if they turn in to successes you can bet your bottom dollar other teams will follow suit. Coaching hires that have less to do with scheme, more to do with culture.

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

Two losses in their last three games. One win since October 24. Is NYG simply regressing toward the mean? Meaning is this what they truly are? A thin roster that cannot handle the multitude of injuries. A team that was winning a bunch of one-score games, but the law of average has arrived? I think NYG has some “dark” days ahead, meaning more and more losses, but let’s not get it twisted. This team has already exceeded expectations in 2022. They are still very early in this new regime and way of doing things. They’re playing with house money and, as we have been saying since August, they are looking for things that will build this roster and the future. They need some answers, and they need their young guys to get the experience of ups and downs. Anything else that comes, which includes a very-possible postseason birth, is icing on the cake.

If NYG wanted to put a premium playmaker in the return game, why not put Saquon Barkley back there? Because you don’t want him getting hurt. Then why put Adoree’ Jackson, who in my opinion was the most important player on defense, in that role? This coaching staff has been amazing from the start and Daboll is in the running for Coach of the Year. But that was the wrong move and they’re going to pay for it. I understand some of the decision-making revolved around feeling safe with Jackson (catching the ball) but losing him is going to be a potential season-changer for this defense and team.

Injuries aside, I’m glad NYG has a short week against a team that just absolutely crushed the 8-1 Vikings on the road 40-3. One team riding a high. One team riding a low. Both teams have seen their fair share of peaks and valleys this season. It is a divisional matchup. This is the first time this new regime is playing a repeat-opponent. I think NYG will be in this game on Thursday as crazy as it sounds. It’s the way the NFL works more often than not.

Nov 182022
 
Brian Daboll, New York Giants (November 13, 2022)

Brian Daboll – © USA TODAY Sports

THE STORYLINE:
It’s usually unwise to make bold proclamations after a small sample size. After all, New York Giants fans were feeling pretty good about Dan Reeves during the 1993 season and Jim Fassel during the 1997 season. And views about those two coaches changed radically in subsequent years. On the flip side, fans were ready to run Bill Parcells out of New Jersey after 1983 and Tom Coughlin after his third season in 2006. Nevertheless, I came to the conclusion this week that there is some very Belichick-ian about Brian Daboll.

For years, I have envied the way that Bill Belichick was able to import ordinary players, immediately get them up to speed in a new system, and have them become not-so-insignificant contributors to a winning program. Not only did the Giants make sweeping roster changes in the offseason, but since the end of August, they have picked up the following players off of the street, waiver wire, or other teams’ practice squads: Jason Pinnock, Jack Anderson, Henry Mondeaux, Tyre Phillips, Jaylon Smith, Fabian Moreau, Landon Collins, Tony Jefferson, Lawrence Cager, Marcus Johnson, Isaiah Hodgins, Terrell Burgess, and Vernon Butler. Fast forward to last week’s game, and Pinnock, Mondeaux, Phillips, Smith, Moreau, Cager, and Hodgins all were factors in the victory. That’s SEVEN players. Astounding.

59-year old Don “Wink” Martindale, who has coached in the NFL since 2004, said on Thursday, “I’ve never seen a roster move around the way this roster moved around with injuries and things like that.”

Combine that with the way this coaching staff has adjusted to the strengths and weaknesses of this roster.  All coaches talk about doing this, but few actually do it. Last Sunday, the Giants employed formations with eight offensive linemen on the field. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that before. But it seems like something like Belichick would do if his roster was configured the same way.

Winning in the NFL is about acquiring talent. But it’s also about how you manage the talent you have. Few teams have security at head coach. It’s why we see so many coaches fired each offseason and why the Giants have fired four coaches in six years. Regardless of how this team finishes this season, it appears the Giants may have the head coaching position finally figured out again.

The 2022 New York Giants are a team living on the edge. They don’t have the pass catchers to score a lot of points. Every contest has been (and will be) a nail-biter decided in the 4th quarter. That formula usually is not conducive to sustained winning because the law of averages usually catches up with you. Thus far, that has only happened twice for the Giants. I keep expecting the other shoe to drop, but the Giants keep winning. That said, my instincts still tell me that every opponent is certainly capable of embarrassing the Giants.  And that includes the Detroit Lions. Don’t sleep on the Lions. They are better than their record indicates.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • WR Wan’Dale Robinson (hamstring – questionable)
  • WR Kenny Golladay (hamstring – questionable)
  • TE Daniel Bellinger (eye – out)
  • RT Evan Neal (knee – doubtful)
  • OG Josh Ezeudu (neck – questionable)
  • DL Dexter Lawrence (back – questionable)
  • OLB Kayvon Thibodeaux (illness – probable)
  • OLB Jihad Ward (thumb – probable)
  • S Dane Belton (clavicle – questionable)
  • PK Graham Gano (illness – probable)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka came from pass-happy systems. It’s extremely likely that their long-term vision for the Giants is a team that can throw the ball 35-40 times per game if necessary and doing so at an elite level. The drafting of Wan’Dale Robinson supports that conclusion. Nevertheless, both coaches recognized the limitations of the current personnel and massively altered their approach, turning the Giants into a run-first team.

The Giants have played nine games. In six of those games (all wins), they have run the ball more than they have thrown it. In both of their losses, they have thrown the ball more than they have run it. The reasons for this vary and often can’t be rationally discussed by fans who have formed intransigent views on the quarterback, running back, receivers, and blockers. But the reality is the coaching staff has come to the conclusion that it is better to play more conservatively on offense, and the W-L record based on the run/pass ratio seems to support that position. Points come out of the passing game. And they come out of big-chunk plays in the passing game. But the Giants are not currently built for that approach. If the Giants attempt to veer too much away from their current formula, the team is likely to see more three-and-outs, penalties, sacks, and worst of all, turnovers.

Which brings us to another stat that is not receiving enough attention: the Giants’ offense has lowest turnover rate in league. Only 5.3 percent of their possessions have ended with a turnover. Daniel Jones has thrown only two interceptions (and none since Week 3 against Dallas when his intended receiver fell down on a pick). And the Giants only have five lost fumbles, three of which were by Richie James on punt returns. It’s no coincidence that Giants’ turnovers were an issue in both of their losses. When the Giants don’t turn the football over, they probably are going to win the football game.

So fans yelling at the top of their lungs that Daboll and Kafka are being too conservative and need to open it up more are completely missing the point. They don’t understand the team’s limitations and why they are winning. You can try telling them, but they don’t want to listen. Same thing with any pre-game predictions that the Giants are going to score 30+ points. Unless the defense and special teams score, they aren’t going to do that this year.

The Giants’ formula, which they are pretty much wed to until the roster improves in the offseason, is based on playing it safe and not making mistakes. The Giants are not beating themselves with penalties and turnovers, but they are also not scoring a lot of points. The red-zone defense has kept them in contests and the Daboll/Kafka commitment to the ground game has paid off dividends in the 4th quarter of close games. The 2-yard run in the 1st quarter becomes the 14-yard run in the 4th quarter. It’s why so many of New York’s 4th-quarter comebacks have come not only on the right arm of Daniel Jones, but his legs and the legs of Saquon Barkley.

Enter the Detroit Lions and a larger danger than their 3-6 record suggests. The Lions are not only 6th overall in offense, but 9th in scoring. They average over 24 points per game and have scored more than 30 points in four games (35, 36, 45, and 31). The Giants simply cannot match those numbers. So not only does the offensive braintrust have to pray that Wink’s defense can hold the Lions to field goals, but the offense has to play keep-away by putting together long, clock-eating drives that hopefully result in at least 2-3 touchdowns.

The good news is that Detroit’s defense is dead last in yards allowed (416 yards per game) and points allowed (over 29 per game). The Lions also are not good on 3rd down and in red-zone defense. The Giants were able to employ a heavy run-first strategy against Houston’s 32nd-ranked run defense. Don’t expect a big change as Detroit is 31st against the run. However, Daboll and Kafka may rightfully be more concerned about the Lions scoring more points than the Texans against the New York defense. If so, I would not be shocked to see more play-action in the first half of this game than we are accustomed to. Much depends on the weather (it may be very windy) and the health of the receivers (see above injury list).

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The loss of Xavier McKinney had a big, domino effect on the defense last week. A unit that largely kept Houston under wraps in the first half had trouble stopping 29th-ranked offense in the second half. McKinney was missed in coverage and as a tackler. His absence most likely will be noticed even more this week against the NFL’s 6th-ranked offense (8th passing, 10th running). Note the balance. Detroit can hurt you with run and the pass. And they are one of the top teams in the NFL in big plays, getting huge chunks of yardage (again, big plays are the key to point generation in the NFL). Not having McKinney in there for this game scares the heck out of me.

What makes Detroit so good on offense? First of all, they have one of the NFL’s best offensive lines. They are solid or better across the board, especially if their starting center plays this week as he is now expected to. Unbelievably, quarterback Jared Goff is only behind Patrick Mahomes in 20+ yard completions this year. WR Amon-Ra St. Brown is on pace for a near 100-catch season and is Goff’s go-to guy. Goff will also throw to wide receivers Josh Reynolds and Kalif Raymond, and running back D’Andre Swift. As for the ground game, it’s a 1-2 punch with Jamaal Williams being more of the workhorse and Swift being the more explosive, change of pace. This is a balanced, well-coached unit that has surprisingly performed well against quality teams.

Detroit’s big plays don’t come out of a reliance on the deep passing game but yards-after-the-catch (YAC) and big runs by their backs. When facing offenses like that, tackling become priority #1. Martindale and his staff will be preaching limiting the big play through gang-tackling. What is going to be tough is the play-action game. Because the Giants need to respect Detroit’s running game, the linebackers will be more vulnerable to run fakes, leaving gaps over the middle of the defense. This is exacerbated with the loss of McKinney with his instincts and range missing.

The match-ups I’m most curious to watch are up front. Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence are playing as well as any defensive linemen in the league. But the excessively high number of snaps is beginning to take a toll on Lawrence, who was limited this week with a back injury. These two also face one of the better OLs in the NFL. The Giants need Williams and Lawrence to be at their best along with Kavyon Thibodeaux making his presence felt. Detroit will likely target Dane Belton and/or Jason Pinnock in coverage. They will also have Swift test the linebackers in coverage.

I firmly believe this game is going to come down to red-zone offense and defense for both teams. Detroit is going to move the ball. But the Giants need to keep them from reaching the end zone in order to keep the game close.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Daboll and Special Teams Coordinator Thomas McGaughey have highlighted Detroit’s tendency so surprise opponents on special teams. “(Head Coach) Dan (Campbell) is real aggressive,” said McGaughey. “And at any point in time, you can get a surprise onside kick. You could get a fake punt. So, we’ll work on that stuff this week, and we got to stay ready for it.”

Punter Jamie Gillan is going through a rough stretch and needs to rebound. The Giants’ punt return game remains uneasily unsettled. McGaughey seemed to indicate a continuation of the Adoree’ Jackson/Richie James split. Neither seems like a good answer.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Head Coach Brian Daboll on the Detroit Lions: “They create explosive plays. (Jared) Goff plays at a high level; he’s a very accurate passer downfield, intermediate, off the play action. And then their two runners have taken it to the distance a few times. They’re both a little bit different but both very good. They’ve scored 30 points four times. In six of their losses, four of them have been four points or less. The other one against the Cowboys it was 10-6 with 3:20 left. Explosive team. Good football team… Look, they create explosive plays. The other thing they’re really good at is down in the red zone, finishing drives… We’re going to have to do a good job of trying to slow them down and make sure we’re tackling and not giving up 50-yard runs that they break through, taking care of the deep part of the field and things like that on defense. Offensively, do our job in terms of executing and trying to go down and score points and then create field position in the kicking game – another good team. Dan (Campbell) has run a variety of fakes since he’s been there: onside kicks, surprise onside kicks, fake punts.”

THE FINAL WORD:
This is an important game for the Giants, especially with the upcoming short week before Dallas on Thanksgiving. This is a contest where the weather and fans could really work in the Giants’ favor if the wind does pick up and the fans remain loud. You already know my thoughts on the keys… turnovers, red-zone offense, red-zone defense. Both of these teams have played an inordinate number of close games. The difference is the Giants have been winning the close games while the Lions have been losing them.

Nov 152022
 
Saquon Barkley, New York Giants (November 13, 2022)

Saquon Barkley – © USA TODAY Sports

QUICK RECAP

The Houston Texans are the pinnacle example of just how fast things can change in the NFL. Head Coach Bill O’Brien took over the job for the Texans in 2014 after putting himself at the top of the next “Belichick Disciple” list that had not been working out very well despite coming from the most dominant franchise in the game. Houston was coming off a 2-14 season but once O’Brien took over, the team went 9-7 three straight years, made the playoffs twice, and even won a post-season game. There was something missing, however. Brock Osweiler, Brian Hoyer, and Ryan Fitzpatrick were the primary quarterbacks for those squads and the organization knew it would not get over the hump without a real player under center, a long-term solution. In the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, Houston gave Cleveland a call and offered #25 overall in round one and their 2018 first rounder to move up to #12. Cleveland accepted and allowed O’Brien to get his quarterback, Deshaun Watson from Clemson. Watson tore his ACL halfway through his rookie year and the team went 4-12. But from there, HOU went on to win 22 games in two years including another post-season win, Watson made the Pro Bowl three straight seasons, and he led the NFL in passing in 2020 with just under 5,000 yards. They were on a steady ascent with one of the game’s young stars at quarterback. Fast forward a couple years and Watson forced his way out of town for multiple off-field reasons, HOU is on is third coach in three years, and they’ve won 8 games since the start of the 2021 season. Peaks and valleys.

NYG came into this game off their bye week with a 6-2 record ready to face off against the 1-7-1 Texans. The bye week is used for self-scouting, and it also allows injured players another week of recovery without missing game action. With this staff and the current NYG injury situation, that actually meant something. That showed on the first drives of the game as the NYG defense forced a three-and-out of HOU and the offense responded with a 10-play, 68-yard touchdown-scoring drive that ended in a short pass from Daniel Jones to Lawrence Cager. HOU went on to post two more three-and-outs as Wink Martindale seemed to put all his attention on stuffing HOU rookie running back Dameon Pierce. The first quarter ended at 7-0 and on HOU’s tenth offensive snap of the game, they finally got past the first down marker. That drive, their fourth of the game, ended in a 38-yard field goal by Ka’imi Fairbairn as the game was into the second quarter in a hurry.

Both teams exchanged sloppy offensive drives from there until halftime. Poor snaps, penalties, broken plays, sacks. All of the above were on display between the two teams as both were showing their colors. They came into the game ranked in the bottom third of yards-per-play and points, respectively league-wide. It was discouraging to watch and Daboll was visibly angry with the performance of the offensive line.

The second half began, yet again, with a new form of NYG offense. For the fifth time this season, their opening possession of the third quarter put points on the board. It was a highlight-reel play on 3rd-and-9 where Jones had to fall back with multiple HOU pass rushers bearing down on him as he threw the ball to Darius Slayton just beyond the line of scrimmage. Slayton made safety Jalen Pitre miss and then he turned on the burners, out running most of the HOU secondary to the end zone with some blocking help from by tight end Tanner Hudson.

The HOU offense, as it did for the entire second half, easily moved the ball downfield. They put up seven points of their own on a pass from Davis Mills to Nico Collins for a 12-yard score.

NYG had a 14-10 lead, and the offense came back on the field and put together a beautiful drive. 12 plays, 74 yards, and two 3rd-and-7 conversions on passes led to a 2-yard Barkley touchdown run. After a ten-point first half by the two bottom-third offenses, the second half opened with 21 points in three possessions. HOU drove down the field and found themselves 1st-and-goal from the NYG 9-yard line. Leonard Williams, part of the two-headed monster along the inside of the defensive line, forced a Pierce fumble that was recovered by linebacker Jaylon Smith. The NYG offense did not capitalize, however, as they went three-and-out, but they were able to somewhat reverse the field position.

Once again, HOU was in the red zone with a first down after just two plays. Once again, HOU turned the ball over on a pass into the end zone. Dane Belton came down with it, ensured his feet were in bounds, and stepped out of the field of play in the end zone for a touchback. This time, the offense gained two first downs that helped the field position battle, and more importantly, took time off the clock. HOU was down 11 points with under five minutes remaining. Their offensive surge stayed alive and well, starting on their own 8-yard line and ending up in the red zone with a first down for the fourth time in four second-half possessions. With time running short and the need for two scores no matter what, HOU opted for a 34-yard field goal by Fairbairn.

NYG recovered the ensuing onsides kick. Barkley was stopped two yards shy of the first down marker and HOU used their remaining two timeouts to force NYG into a field goal attempt. Graham Gano nailed a 49-yarder to give them another 11-point lead. HOU, again for the fifth time, made their way back into the red zone and had a first down. Questionable clock management in a game where they absolutely needed to score a touchdown at some point helped NYG seal the deal. Fairbairn hit a 46-yarder to get the game within 8 points again but with just :07 left. Jones took the knee and NYG improved to 4-1 at home, the most wins at MetLife since 2016.

NYG wins, 24-16.

QUARTERBACK

-Daniel Jones: 13/17 – 197 yards / 2 TD – 0 INT / 153.3 RAT

Jones added 24 yards on the ground. Because the situation called for it, Jones was not needed much. Do not mistake this for a lack of ability. Do not mistake this for a lack of confidence from Daboll/Kafka. They were up against the 32nd-ranked HOU run defense (29th-ranked in yards per attempt). NYG had the early lead and never let it go. He is still working with a poor group of pass catchers. He is still playing behind a poor pass blocking offensive line. All these things add up to the reasoning behind Jones only throwing the ball 17 times. In addition, keep your attention on the 11+ yards per attempt and 153.3 QB rating. Both led the NFL in Week 10. Number one in the NFL. Beyond the stat sheet, Jones made good decisions and maneuvered well around pressure. The play he made on the Slayton touchdown was overlooked by some because of the fact Slayton ran a long way to the end zone. That play was more on the shoulders of Jones because of what he did in the pocket, no question.

RUNNING BACK

-Saquon Barkley: 35 att – 152 yards – 1 TD / 1 rec – 8 yards

As noted above, the situation called for a “lean on Barkley” kind of offensive approach. By lean on Barkley, I mean jump on to his back and ride him through the fire. His 35 attempts were a career-high, and those yards were tough-earned. The number one rusher in the NFL did something off the radar I was happy to see. Early in the game, in the red zone, he bounced a run outside that he shouldn’t have. It was the last time he made that mistake. One of the keys to Barkley’s ascent this season is how willing he is to take the two-to-three yard runs rather than sit behind the point-of-attack hoping to create something on his own. Sure, the offensive line has been better and so has the scheme, but Barkley’s aggressive downhill approach has made a huge difference. Lastly, his blocking was on point. He was a weapon against the HOU blitz-heavy attack with violent hits and sustained contact.

-Matt Breida added 20 yards on 6 carries.

WIDE RECEIVER

-The Bad News Bears got their poster boy back. Kenny Golladay returned to the field for the first time since October 2. He was targeted twice. He dropped both targets. The first one was a tough ball away from his body, but it was catchable. The second one was as bad of a drop as you will find in today’s NFL. Even his teammates and coaches cringed on the sideline. He was soon taken out after that and did not come back into the game.

-Darius Slayton is the group’s saving grace. He had 3 catches for 95 yards, including a 54-yard touchdown emanating from his speed, out-running angles of the HOU secondary. He and Wan’Dale Robinson (2 rec / 20 yards) are both dangerous in their own way. If this offense needs to go more pass happy at some point, they need to be the focal points moving forward.

-Isaiah Hodgins was signed off of the BUF practice squad, where he had previous experience with Daboll, and played a key role right away. He had 2 catches for 41 yards, both resulting in a first down. His separation is limited, but just like he did at Oregon State, he played the ball well in the air and understands the importance of body positioning. With the way Golladay played, I expect Hodgins to get his snaps in the coming weeks.

TIGHT END

-Tanner Hudson tied Slayton with the team lead 3 receptions. His went for a combined 24 yards. His biggest play of the day was a downfield block he made on the Slayton touchdown. He stuck to his man, and it also took out a second HOU defender who had a good shot at catching Slayton from behind.

-Hudson was third in snaps at the group, as he is the worst in-line blocker of the trio. Chris Myarick and Lawrence Cager saw more snaps, but both struggled at the point-of-attack. It did not impact the running game badly, but Myarick did allow 2 pressures and dropped a pass. Cager allowed a TFL and a pressure but caught a touchdown in the first quarter two plays after being penalized for an illegal formation. This is going to be an underwhelming group until Bellinger returns and expect to see the high number of extra linemen on the field to help combat that.

OFFENSIVE LINE

-From a macro perspective, the NYG offensive line got the job done. It took a few extra guys at times and their pass protection was below average. But when looking at what they had to do, they won the battle against the HOU front.

-Andrew Thomas graded out well above average, as he threw another shut out in pass protection. He did, however, allow 2 TFL. From a season full of elite grades, this was Thomas’ second-worst game of the year. The thing that made me smirk was that no other lineman on this team has graded as high as Thomas’ second-worst game this season. His high floor is as impressive as his high ceiling.

-The interior of this line was a major weak point when Jones threw the ball. Of the 23 drop backs, the combination of Joshua Ezeudu, John Feliciano, and Mark Glowinski allowed 5 pressures and 2 sacks. Glowinski was the weak point, as he was responsible for 2 of those pressures, a half-sack, and missed a block that ended up causing the TFL on the Robinson rush attempt that lost five yards. Feliciano also allowed 2 pressures but he was in on several key runs as a lead blocker. His athleticism to the outside was a big factor and he played sticky on linebackers. Ezeudu allowed 1.5 sacks but the one at the end of the game I did not count against him. That had more to do with Jones taking the sack on purpose to keep the clock running and it was far away from the point-of-attack. Ezeudu finished as the second-best lineman in the game as his speed and power to the second level factored in on Barkley’s big runs. He was also a key contributor to Barkley’s touchdown. I am encouraged by the fact his play appears to be on an upward track.

-Right tackle Tyre Phillips had a few bad looks. He allowed a sack, a TFL, and was flagged for a false start. His game looks very “all or nothing.” He has tremendous power and size, but if the accuracy is not there, he is an easy guy to beat.

-The extra three lineman that saw snaps were Jack Anderson, Nick Gates, and Matt Peart (just activated for the first time this season). Anderson made a bonehead mistake on a crucial 4th-and-1 that would have been converted. He was flagged for a false start, and it pushed NYG far enough back to force a punt. In a tight game, that could have been a huge mistake.

EDGE

-Kayvon Thibodeaux finished with 4 tackles and 2 pressures. He made a key 3rd-down stop with an aggressive, physical hit at the point-of-attack and started to break through late in the game. He was held twice (neither were called) late in the game. I’m not sure why he isn’t getting these flags. I never expect the refs to see everything, but these are pretty obvious and they’re right in front of the QB. It’s odd. This was a solid game for Thibodeaux even though he did not fill the stat sheet. More on his first 7 games below.

-Oshane Ximines had a tackle and a pressure along with a PD. He nearly had a sack-fumble, but the call was overturned, rightfully so. Jihad Ward had 1 tackle, 1 sack, and 1 pressure. Tomon Fox added an untouched pressure on his 13 snaps. I still think we are going to see him factor over the second half of the season.

DEFENSIVE LINE

-Just when we thought it couldn’t get better for Dexter Lawrence, he comes out and has arguably his most dominant game of the season. 5 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 6 pressures, 1 sack, 2 pass breaks ups. He also forced two holding penalties. This defense is performing at a high level but I’m not sure everyone realizes how much of it points back to him and Leonard Williams, who I will get to next. Lawrence is winning with sheer physical dominance. His hand placement, along with his lockout and lower body leg drive, is simply too much for a lone blocker to handle. It is a lot of fun to watch.

-Leonard Williams was right on par with Lawrence. He had 9 tackles, 4 pressures, a half-sack, and a forced fumble. Williams created big plays for the defense. Two of his pressures led to sacks and his forced fumble was recovered by NYG as HOU was approaching the end zone. Safe to say he is fully back. More on these two monsters down below.

-Henry Mondeaux was back on the field after missing time with a knee injury. He saw 22 snaps and added 1 tackle and a half-TFL on an impressive play on the first drive. Justin Ellis was on the field for 11 snaps and missed a tackle. The game looks a bit too fast for him.

LINEBACKER

-One casualty of the bye week, regarding playing time, was Tae Crowder. He played just two snaps. Jaylon Smith (41 snaps) and rookie Micah McFadden (36 snaps) were the main second level defenders. The veteran of the pair had 5 tackles and a pressure in addition to a fumble recovery in the fourth quarter. He also had 2 missed tackles. McFadden had just 2 tackles and struggled on runs to his outside shoulder. I would not count Crowder out yet based on how much this coaching staff will move guys in and out of roles, but I do think they trust Smith more.

CORNERBACK

-I liked what I saw out of Adoree’ Jackson and Darnay Holmes. Jackson has 2 pass break ups in addition to 6 tackles and Holmes finished with 3 tackles, and an outstanding TFL. He did allow a couple of big plays in the passing game, but I thought his coverage underneath was solid.

-Fabian Moreau got off to a nice start, breaking up a pass on third down but later he allowed a touchdown to Collins. I normally like and even prefer him in those match-ups against the bigger, more physical wideouts. He simply just lost that battle, nothing to be overly concerned about.

SAFETY

-Because of the unfortunate hand/finger injury to Xavier McKinney over the bye week, Julian Love and Dane Belton were expected to step up. They both played 100% of the snaps. But it was Jason Pinnock, a waiver claim from the Jets prior to the season, who saw the big tick up in playing time. He was on the field for 23 snaps (36%), the second-most of his career. He was one of the surprise big contributors to the game. 4 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and a pressure. Huge opportunity for him and this is a guy who I know the Jets really did not want to lose.

-Belton did have a big interception in the fourth quarter, but overall it was a poor game for the rookie. He led the team with 3 missed tackles and was roasted in coverage. HOU went after him hard and had a lot of success with it. Curious to see if that is a trend we see in the coming weeks. Love added 5 tackles.

SPECIAL TEAMS

-K Graham Gano: 1/1 (Made 49)
-P Jamie Gillian: 6 Punts / 40.3 avg – 34.2 net

3 STUDS

-DT Dexter Lawrence, DT Leonard Williams, QB Daniel Jones

3 DUDS

-P Jamie Gillian, OG Mark Glowinski, WR Kenny Golladay

3 THOUGHTS ON HOU

The reason why I discussed the demise of the Houston franchise at the start of the review is simple. Building a winning franchise in the NFL is hard. HOU had what everyone wants. A young superstar quarterback. An elite left tackle. An elite wide receiver. A face of the franchise on defense who was a three-time Defensive Player of the Year. Imagine that. Elite players everywhere but they couldn’t even get to the AFC Championship Game. Suddenly the bottom falls out and all but one of those pieces are currently playing elsewhere. It is rare to have the personnel, coaching, and front office all on the same page. Every move is important. Every interaction is important. Every game is important. Whether you’re in it, or not.

Where does this HOU franchise go from here? I’ve seen enough of Davis Mills to know he won’t be the guy. I think he can be “good enough” with the ceiling of a Jimmy Garoppolo. But the HOU team has a long, long ways to go before they are in the same stratosphere as SF when it comes to a support system. Mills does not have athletic ability to make up for the average passing traits. They will be high enough (and with some extra capital) in the draft to take their next quarterback. It is a no brainer if you ask me. Get him in town, hire the right head coach (a spot I can see Sean Payton landing), and go from there.

Lovie Smith took away the captain tag from receiver Brandin Cooks because of how he acted after not getting traded. Cooks does not have a strong reputation in NFL circles. “Diva” may not be the right word, but to make it simple, he just isn’t a team-first guy. I never thought NYG was in the running for him in the trade market (mainly because of the money owed to him). I also don’t think he would have made the difference that some think he would have. Even though some of his numbers say otherwise, he is a number two at best. My opinion comes from watching his tape over the years. A very inconsistent player who is owed a lot of money and who does not have a strong reputation in the locker room? Pass.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I know there is some chatter circling around the #5 overall pick Kayvon Thibodeaux. He has 1 sack in 7 games. If that is all you look at, a strong case can be made for disappointment. I challenge you to look a little deeper, however. Thibodeaux is averaging 1 pressure every 11 pass-rush snaps. #1 overall pick Travon Walker? 1 every 13. #2 overall pick Aidan Hutchinson? 1 every 11. Thibodeaux has a forced fumble. Walker? Zero. Hutchinson? Zero. Thibodeaux has hit the quarterback 3 times on 205 pass rushes. Walker has hit the quarterback 3 times on 299 pass rushes. Hutchinson 4 times on 298 pass rushes. I could go on with a few more but my point is, trust me on the fact that Thibodeaux is playing better than his sack number will lead you to believe and he is on par with other rookies at the position. He is actually off to a much better start than what we saw out of Azeez Ojulari last season when looking at the big picture beyond only sacks.

So, I did a little quick study on defensive tackle pairs in the NFL. Not only is the Lawrence/Williams combo the best in the league, I don’t think any are even close. Tennessee and Baltimore are the closest, but their coaches wouldn’t even take them over what NYG is playing with. This is a special pair. I’m not sure if they will stick here long term because of Williams’ contract, but be sure to keep appreciating what they’re doing for this defense. It is special.

Sticking with the defense for the trifecta. The parting thought will not be a positive one. Against one of the worst offenses in the NFL, the NYG defense allowed 18 first downs, 2-of-3 third-down conversions, 301 yards on 34 plays (8.6 per), and 13 points in the second half alone. Those numbers are better than the best offenses in the NFL when it comes to a per-half basis. While the unit came up big when it mattered, this was an alarming defensive performance from a macro perspective that can and should cause some concern. Something to keep an eye on as they have some productive offenses coming up (DET, DAL, PHI, MIN are all top half in league).

Nov 112022
 
Kenny Golladay, New York Giants (September 26, 2022)

Kenny Golladay – © USA TODAY Sports

THE STORYLINE:
When the 2022 New York Giants schedule was first released in May, the November 13th game against the Houston Texans was one of the few games Giants fans pegged a possible win. Fast forward to November 11th, and the Giants are standing at 6-2 and are only one of five teams with a winning record in the NFC. As the first game in the post-bye sprint to the finish, this game has taken on far more importance than originally anticipated.

The upstart, overachieving Giants have three different post-bye paths:

  • They can completely collapse with the clock striking midnight and finish with a losing record.
  • They can continue to win the inevitably close games in the 4th quarter and finish with a surprisingly good post-bye winning record.
  • They can play near .500 football and finish with 10 or 11 wins.

In reading commentary from the fan base, I think most assume option #3 is the most likely scenario. Consciously or subconsciously, most NYG fans realize this team is playing over its head. As long as there isn’t a complete collapse, I think most will be happy with this season. After all, after three straight failures, the Giants finally found themselves a quality coaching staff.  The season didn’t end in October. We have something to look forward to in November, December, and early January. While the team has its warts, it’s fun to root for.

The short- and medium-term issues for the Giants are talent related. The bye came at the right time, but key players such as Evan Neal, Daniel Bellinger, and Azeez Ojulari are still out. Plus there is something in the water at the Meadowlands that causes Giants to do stupid things on break – see Plaxico Burress, Jason Pierre-Paul, and now Xavier McKinney. (Side note to current and future Giants, don’t go sky-diving during a bye week). My point here is an overachieving team can ill-afford to lose good players. McKinney will be missed as Neal, Bellinger, and Ojulari are being missed. We’re all thinking it… just get by the Texans and Detroit Lions and get these players back soon.

Don’t take the Texans (or any team) lightly. The Giants have been winning close games because they are making fewer mistakes than their opponents. Against Seattle, the Giants made the mistakes and we saw the outcome. Get back to the winning formula.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • WR Kenny Golladay (knee – questionable)
  • WR Marcus Johnson (thumb – probable)
  • WR Richie James (concussion – probable)
  • TE Daniel Bellinger (eye – out)
  • RT Evan Neal (knee – out)
  • OLB Oshane Ximines (quad – questionable)
  • CB Cor’Dale Flott (calf – questionable)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
The same problem remains for the Giants: they are severely limited by arguably the worst receiving corps in the NFL. It’s so bad that the Giants are trying to upgrade with players signed off of practice squads or cut by other teams, Marcus Johnson and Isaiah Hodgins being the latest examples. This is a receiving corps that can’t get open, and when they do, they struggle to catch the ball. So it’s impossible to take any fan commentary seriously that suggests Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka are holding the team back because they “won’t open up the offense.”

The best the the offense has looked has been when Daniel Bellinger and Wan’Dale Robinson were on the field together. Combine them with Saquon Barkley and the Giants had just enough to at least present some problems for opposing defenses. We all learned against Seattle that losing the tight end made a huge difference in both the running and passing game. Bellinger will not play against the Texans so the problems remain. Someone else has to step up. The Giants can’t just “coach” themselves out of this mess.

The obvious guy to help here is Kenny Golladay, the $72 million man who astonishingly has yet to catch a touchdown in a Giants uniform. As a Detroit Lion, Golladay caught 183 passes for 3,068 yards and 21 touchdowns in four seasons. As a Giant, he has 39 catches for 543 yards and no touchdowns in two seasons. New York needs him more now than ever. They don’t even need the Pro Bowl version of him; they just need him to be an average NFL starter. Is that asking too much for $72 million?

The other guy who remains in the spotlight is Darius Slayton. He has three games this year where he has caught more than one pass. The Giants need more of that plus they need him to get into the end zone more than his one touchdown. Marcus Johnson was handed a golden opportunity to resurrect his career here and thus far he has failed miserably. Richie James has faded not only as a punt returner, but as a target. David Sills has started five games and only has 11 catches. That leaves Wan’Dale Robinson and newcomer Isaiah Hodgins. The hope (and prayer) is that Golladay and Slayton can provide just enough of an outside threat for Robinson and Barkley to do damage underneath. And perhaps Hodgins can get caught up to speed quickly to make Johnson, Sills, and James irrelevant. Can they do just enough until Bellinger gets back?  (Side note: unbelievably, the leading receiver on this team in terms of receptions at 28).

The other issue was the loss of Bellinger in the ground game. Tanner Hudson and Chris Myarick just are not point-of-attack, in-line blockers. They are easily controlled at the edge. That hurts the ground game. Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka are going to need to adjust again so plays don’t fail because of these two. That’s not easy since the Giants are not in position yet to spread things out and throw it. This is why some savvy fans recognized that tight end was just as much of a need as wide receiver before the trade deadline.

What about the Texans? Well coached with long-time defensive guru Lovie Smith at the helm as head coach. However, they are 30th in yards allowed; better in points allowed at 19th. The key stat? Dead last in defending the run, allowing over 180 yards per game (and over 5 yards per rushing attempt). You don’t need me to tell you what the game plan should be.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
We’re seeing a fascinating trend in the NFL this year. As NFL defenses became more sophisticated in their attempts to stop high-flying passing attacks, many teams have adjusted and are running the ball more. And they are doing so with great success. Don “Wink” Martindale’s defenses in Baltimore were always very strong against the run, including the injury-plagued defensive squad that finished 25th in 2021 (but 1st against the run). Surprisingly, even with Fabian Moreau and other waiver-wire pick ups playing significant time in the secondary, as well as the top NYG pass rushers missing significant time, it has been the Giants’ pass defense that has played better. The Giants are 16th against the pass (208 yards per game) and 25th against the run (137 yards per game).

Martindale came to New York with the reputation of not being a bend-but-don’t-break defensive coordinator, but that is exactly what his defense is doing. The Giants are giving up yards, but remain a top-10 defense in points allowed (currently 9th).

The immediate challenge is patching up a secondary that will now be without arguably its top player in Xavier McKinney for at least four games and possibly more. McKinney doesn’t have a lot of flashy plays this year, but his speed, range, and instincts will be missed. Expect more deep passing attempts and completions. The guys who will replace him are not as speedy or athletic in space. I would expect Julian Love to play more deep safety now with rookie Dane Belton and veterans Jason Pinnock and Landon Collins seeing more action near the line of scrimmage. What should help them is a pass rush that should get healthier in the second half with Leonard Williams and Kayvon Thibodeaux being near full strength. Oshane Ximines is set to return too. Now if the team could only get Azeez Ojulari on the field!

The other potential fly in the ointment is the under-the-radar, season-ending loss of reserve Nick Williams. The Giants are down to only three defensive linemen on the 53-man roster. Dexter Lawrence has been playing far too many snaps per game. Same with Leonard Williams when healthy. Henry Mondeaux and Ryder Anderson remain on the Practice Squad, and one or both will likely be called up, but the drop in quality is very noticeable. The Giants badly need to address DL depth this offseason.

This brings us to the Texans: 30th in yards, 28th in points. They are 26th in passing (Giants are 29th by the way) and 25th in rushing (Giants are 4th). However, rookie running back Dameon Pierce is in contention for “rookie of the year” honors. He has rushed for almost 700 yards and is averaging over 4.5 yards per carry. Pierce can run over you, around you, and break long runs (he has a 75 yarder this year). He is one of the NFL’s top backs in breaking tackles and is running behind an offensive line with some good talent. He has fumbled twice.

In addition, wide outs Brandin Cooks and Nico Collins can hurt you. Both can make plays down the field. 2021 3rd-round quarterback Davis Mills has been adept at getting the ball out quickly, but he has also thrown 18 interceptions in one and a half seasons. The Giants only have one pick this season. The law of averages favors New York.

Game plan is fairly obvious. Wink has to get his defensive unit to play the run better than it has. Control Pierce as much as possible and force Mills to beat you. Do not let Cooks or Collins beat you for the cheap score. Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams should present problems for Houston’s interior line.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
To be blunt, New York’s special teams lost them a game two weeks ago. Who returns the ball moving forward will be interesting to watch. Obviously ball security must be the #1 priority.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Offensive Coordinator Mike Kafka on the Giants self-scouting over the bye week: “There was some good stuff that we looked at as a staff. Really took some good time and evaluated first, second down, third down, red zone. Just really went piece by piece on personnel groupings, the players, putting those guys in the spots – that they were in the right spots. I think we came out with some good information and stuff that we can apply moving forward… We’ve had some new players come in so we’re constantly evaluating how those guys play and what their strengths are, what their weaknesses are and then also tying that into what we see from a defensive standpoint. That’s been the key, that’s what we spend a ton of time on every single day.”

THE FINAL WORD:
McKinney being out on defense and Bellinger being out on offense makes this game dicer than I would like. But this is a game the Giants should win. Don’t expect it to be easy however. The 2022 New York Giants are not for the faint of heart. I suspect Corner Forum game threads to remain a mess.

Nov 012022
 
Richie James, New York Giants (October 30, 2022)

Richie James – © USA TODAY Sports

QUICK RECAP

The third road game in four weeks, including the second flight of 6+ hours, dropped the Giants in Seattle. The resurgent Seahawks came into the match-up with a 4-3 record, just months after a personnel move that screamed rebuild. Quarterback Russell Wilson was no longer calling the shots as QB1 for the first time since 2011, which was Pete Carroll’s second year with the club. Once Wilson took that job over as a 3rd-round rookie in 2012, the club had 9 straight winning seasons, 8 playoff appearances, 2 NFC Championship victories, and a Super Bowl win. 2021 saw their streak of .500+ ball come to an end and the Wilson + Carroll + Seahawk relationship was clearly fractured. Fast forward to the last game in October of the 2022 season and Carroll, the oldest coach in the NFL, quickly had his team back atop of the NFC West.

Since Week 3, SEA had averaged scoring 11 points in the first quarter. Their offensive game plan early in games was a key reason for their success. Despite dominating the time of possession by a 2:1 ratio, the NYG defense held them scoreless. The problem? NYG continued their offensive trend of getting off to a slow start by not only going scoreless through the first quarter but also going three-and-out on all three of their possessions. Saquon Barkley touched the ball just once over those first nine plays. Through 8 games, NYG has scored 23 points in the first quarter, an average of less than 3 points.

The second quarter began with SEA in the middle of a marathon drive that lasted 15 plays. It included two fourth-down conversions from inside the NYG 20-yard line as the team was not settling for three points. Geno Smith, a 2013 second-round pick (the year NYG took Justin Pugh in round 1), found D.K. Metcalf alone in the end zone for the three-yard score. On the third play of the next NYG drive and 12th offensive play for the team, the Giants finally picked up their first first down. It came after consecutive touches for Barkley, go figure. The drive was halted at midfield and punter Jamie Gillian masterfully pinned SEA inside their own five. The biggest play of the game to this point ensued.

Smith threw a short pass to Tyler Lockett, the smaller half, but to some the stronger half, of the dynamic SEA wide receiver duo. Adoree’ Jackson knocked the ball loose on the tackle and scooped it up himself. NYG now had the ball, first-and-goal, on the two-yard line. With help from extra linemen, including Nick Gates, Barkley scored his fifth touchdown of the year to tie the game up. NYG then kept ahold of the momentum with two sacks on the next SEA drive. They were about to get the ball back but a Richie James fumble on the punt return gave life back to SEA. The defense stopped the bleeding, holding SEA to a field goal.

NYG had the ball back with 1:31 left following the kickoff with all three timeouts at their disposal. With such low production over the course of the half (46 yards) and knowing they were going to start the second half with the ball, this was the opportunity to get their momentum back. Instead, they ran the ball twice and did not use their timeouts. On 3rd-and-2, they finally opted to pass the ball, but Jones was sacked. SEA called timeout to make NYG punt the ball. They did, and SEA took a knee to take the three-point lead into the locker room. Very odd ending to the half.

NYG opened the third quarter with their longest drive of the game. 14 plays, including a first-and=ten in the red zone. They totaled three yards on three plays from that point and the drive resulted in just three points via a 31-yard field goal. The tie at 10 did not last long, as Myers hit a 51-yard field goal for SEA on the next drive as the third quarter was coming to a close. NYG’s offense was starting to click but they continued to shoot themselves in the foot. On a 1st-and-10 from the SEA 29-yard line, Barkley took an eight-yard loss on a misdirection run. There were quite a few communication-based mistakes in this one. The Seattle crowd, also nationally known as the “12th Man,” did indeed have a major impact on the game.

They had to claw their way back into field goal range before Gano hit a 45-yarder to tie it back up. That would be it for NYG points. The first fourth-quarter possession for SEA needed just five plays. Smith hit Tyler Lockett for a 33-yard touchdown a drive after Lockett dropped a sure-thing touchdown. The eighth-year pro, known for never making mistakes, and that fact very much hiding his diminutive size shortcomings (take notes, Wan’Dale), was having one of the worst games of his career. A fumble that turned into points, a dropped touchdown that led to SEA settling on 3 points instead of 7. Lockett redeemed himself by giving his team a commanding seven-point margin. The NYG offense continued to struggle. Keep in mind they had just 13 points, more than half of which came largely because of the Lockett fumble inside the SEA five-yard line.

They responded to the SEA score with a three-and-out, but then so did SEA. NYG was getting the ball back with just over six minutes left. The scapegoat of the game, if one had to be chosen, Richie James, fumbled his second return of the afternoon. SEA recovered, scored another touchdown on the legs of rookie running back Kenneth Walker III. All of the sudden SEA had a 14-point lead. NYG’s next drive made it inside the SEA 30-yard line. From there, NYG went sack-incomplete-incomplete, giving SEA the ball back with just over two minutes left.

They did gain a first down but because NYG had all of their timeouts and the two-minute warning, they got the ball back one last time. Jones completed 1-of-4 passes and was sacked twice before the clock ran out.

NYG loses, 27-13.

QUARTERBACK

-Daniel Jones: 17/31 – 176 yards / 0 TD – 0 INT / 71.4 RAT

Jones also added 20 yards on the ground. This was the fourth time we have seen Jones finish with under 200 yards of total production in a game this season. The first half was torture for the offense overall (46 yards, just 2 yards per play). We can point to multiple factors when searching for why, and Jones is on the list. My key example there comes from their opening drive of the game. They ran a mesh-concept that every single offense uses in these 3rd-and-3-7 yards to go situations. Two crossers underneath and a third target that sits in the middle. The design worked, the routes were good, and tight end Tanner Hudson was wide open with nobody around him on the other side of the first down marker. Jones did not see it, threw to Marcus Johnson (who was covered tightly), and NYG came up a yard short, punt. Jones did not pull the trigger on that play and four others (I’m being conservative). He also overthrew two downfield passes where his guy had multiple steps ahead of the defender. We can keep repeating ourselves over and over about the lack of weapons Jones has. You know, I know, everyone knows it. But that does not excuse a game like this one. The good quarterbacks in this league raise the level of players around him, plain and simple. He did not get the job done in this one.

RUNNING BACK

-Saquon Barkley: 20 att – 53 yards – 1 TD / 3 rec – 9 yards

Week 8 brought us the lowest production from Barkley we have seen in a game all year. A big part of this was excellent scheming and execution by the SEA defense. Part of it was some poor blocking, and the other part of it was predictable play calling by NYG. They ran the similar power run with two pulling blockers from one side to the other that we saw them run over and over in Jacksonville. The results were very different, and it was obvious the NYG tight ends were going to keep getting blown up in the trenches. Looking back on it, I think Kafka would certainly re-think his approach on the play calls for Barkley. He also dropped a pass and lost his balance a couple times where there was some space available.

-Matt Breida added 5 yards on the ground and 10 yards in the passing game on 3 touches. He played just 14 snaps to Barkley’s 52.

WIDE RECEIVER

-Darius Slayton stepped up with a solid game. He had 66 yards on 5 catches, two of which were huge third-down conversions. They were both in the second half, they were both physical catches that required plus-ball skills, and they both led to scores. Six of their thirteen points came on these two drives where he came up big.

-Marcus Johnson had 1 catch on 6 targets for 3 yards. That catch came on the first drive of the game and that was all we heard from him. He added another drop. Rookie Wan’Dale Robinson 2 catches for 15 yards and David Sills had 1 catch for 5 yards. I’ll do the math for you. The NYG receivers totaled 9 catches for 89 yards. In week 8 alone, 13 individual receivers had more yards across the league. To those keeping score at home for the season: Tyreek Hill leads the NFL with 961 yards in receiving. All of the NYG receivers, combined, have 875 yards on the year.

TIGHT END

-The loss of Daniel Bellinger was expected to be felt at least a little bit. After re-watching, especially from the All-22, it was much more than a little bit. Tanner Hudson was the biggest liability on the team when it came to the running game’s struggles. He allowed 2 TFL and a pressure. Some may look at his receiving line (3 rec / 58 yards) and come away with the notion he had a solid game there. All three of Hudson’s catches came on the final two drives of the game with SEA up by fourteen and playing softer coverage. He also dropped a ball earlier on.

-Chris Myarick and Lawrence Cager both allowed 1 TFL each as well. A terrible game in the trenches for this group. All the talk about bringing in a wide receiver to help spur the passing game overall is warranted. I am confused why there is not more discussion about the tight ends when considering the economics and where this offense as a whole needs help. More on that below.

OFFENSIVE LINE

-The offensive line as a whole lost at the point-of-attack for the majority of the game. Their solid stretches in play brought the offense to another level. When they faltered, it compounded to the skill positions. Inconsistent game overall.

-Andrew Thomas, you guessed it, pitched another shutout. His pursuit of the coveted All-Pro label is not quite there yet, but he is getting close. It will come down to his ability to remain consistent at his current level. NYG could not be asking for better football from their left tackle.

-Tyre Phillips, the fill-in at right tackle for rookie Evan Neal, had a poor game, the lowest grade on the line. He was flagged for two false starts (common in Seattle when the crowd is in it) and he also allowed both a pressure and a sack. His gap-blocking in the running game was the one positive, but he struggled mightily on outside-zone runs. He appeared to be confused and slow to react.

-Inside, third stringer Joshua Ezeudu was good for most of the game. He was heading toward an above average grade, and he threw the best block of the group on Barkley’s touchdown run. However, he allowed 2 pressures and a sack late. His anchor isn’t ready yet for pure bull rushers and the stunt/twist game is moving a bit too fast for him. Right now, he is a one-dimensional blocker who does his best work as a pulling guard across the line.

-Mark Glowinski allowed a pressure and a sack while center Jon Feliciano allowed two pressures and was inconsistent in the running game. He wound up on the ground often, never a good sign for interior blockers.

-Nick Gates returned after nearly seeing his career end after a gruesome leg injury last season that requited multiple surgeries. When it comes to what I know about the human body and rehab, this will be just as much about how he responds to just a little bit of live action (five plays) days later as it was about seeing how effective he still is. From those five snaps, it certainly appears the baseline ability is still there. Now? The team will see how his leg and surrounding joints recover. If he checks multiple boxes, I think Gates is going to be a big part of this offense over the final third of the season. They need him and if he is just 90% of what he was pre-injury, getting him a starting spot is a no brainer. He looked good and brought some of the Gates-type attitude to the offense.

EDGE

-I start this group off with a rookie. No, not Kayvon Thibodeaux. Tomon Fox made a big impact on this game, and I did not fully appreciate the effort until I re-watched it. The undrafted free agent led the team with 8 tackles and 2 TFL while adding a pressure on his 27 snaps. He played less than half the snaps, plays an OLB/DE hybrid position, and finished with that much production. Maybe LT was onto something. Fox was the most physical player not named Dexter Lawrence in this game for NYG.

-Thibodeaux had a quiet game. He finished with 1 pressure and missed a tackle. I did not like some of the movement we saw out of him in space. Lateral stiffness and poor reaction. We know he runs in a straight line well and his get off is very good. I need to see more suddenness, though.

-Elerson Smith saw his first action of the year with 7 snaps on defense. His lone tackle on the day came on special teams. With Fox emerging and the expected return of Azeez Ojulari and Oshane Ximines, Smith may have a hard time getting on the field. He needs to flash, and soon.

-Jihad Ward continues to set a strong edge as a run defender and showed the versatility to line up inside again even more so after the Nick Williams injury. That is where he broke up a pass from. His limitations in space did hurt the defense a couple times.

DEFENSIVE LINE

-Because Nick Williams went down with a biceps injury early, we saw an uptick in playing time for both Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence. For the short term, it wasn’t a bad thing at all. Williams had 8 tackles, 5 pressures, a sack, and was the finisher to a TFL by Fox. He was so dominant in the first quarter that SEA adjusted their blocking scheme on him. He still broke through the line for most of the game. Lawrence finished with 4 tackles and 3 pressures. These two were the driving force behind stuffing the SEA run game, ranked #1 in the league in yards per attempt coming into Week 8, until late in the game. Admirable and dominant effort from these two.

-As noted above, Nick Williams went down early with a biceps injury. Him, D.J. Davidson, and Henry Mondeaux all being injured have left this interior line very thin. Justin Ellis is a two-gap run plug at this point, an average one, and won’t be anything more. This team needs to get more depth on this front. Williams and Lawrence cannot play that much week to week.

LINEBACKER

-This defensive coaching staff has made a routine of altering their personnel groupings and individual snaps for certain players week to week based on match-ups. So, this may not mean anything, but it may mean something. Tae Crowder was removed from the middle and Jaylon Smith was inserted. Then, rookie Micah McFadden saw five more snaps (27 to 22) than Crowder on the weak side. This is something to keep an eye on. Smith brings a higher level of decision-making and doesn’t miss tackles like Crowder (who missed another 2 in this game). McFadden is not the athlete Crowder is, but he excels at hand-fighting with blockers and has more ability downhill. The rookie finished with 4 tackles and sack, Smith finished with 7 tackles, and Crowder finished with 2. Lastly, I think it was Crowder who was guilty culprit on the blindside block that was flagged on the punt (Jason Pinnock was wrongfully called by the refs).

CORNERBACK

-Playing cornerback in this league is hard. It is the hardest position to play in football other than quarterback. Playing cornerback in the Wink Martindale scheme is hard because of how often they are left on an island. Adoree’ Jackson was having his best game of the season until the fourth quarter. He broke up a pass on 3rd down, he broke up a pass in the end zone, he forced and recovered a fumble that led NYG to their first and only touchdown of the day. SEA had just 13 points at the 10:00 mark in the fourth quarter and Jackson was one of the catalysts to the group’s effort. He was burned by Tyler Lockett for a near-touchdown but was bailed out by an out-of-character drop by the receiver. On the very next drive, Jackson was burned again for a touchdown that ultimately decided the game. It was not a bad game for Jackson, and it should not be labeled so even though he was on the wrong end of the highlight reel. Martindale is the Bruce Arians of defense. “No risk-it, no biscuit.” It can work often with the right guys, but the law of averages will see the guys lose like that from time to time.

-Fabian Moreau had an early pass break up on a pass intended for D.K. Metcalf. He spent a lot of time one-on-one against one of the biggest freaks and best deep threats in the NFL and fared well. He did this without safety help over the top for most of the game too. Nice game for him and he added 5 tackles.

-Nick McCloud and Darnay Holmes both saw about half of the defensive snaps. McCloud getting the nod at nickel was noteworthy. First, Holmes competed with safety Dane Belton for snaps but they played different positions. Now, we see McCloud getting the nod over Holmes. Interesting development here and he did play well. He had a pressure that caused a sack and Holmes was beat up a bit on short-to-intermediate throws.

SAFETY

-Julian Love had 7 tackles but allowed a touchdown in zone coverage early in the game to Metcalf. Xavier McKinney added 2 tackles and a sack but missed a tackle on the late Kenneth Walker touchdown. And Dane Belton played just 10 snaps. The safety group overall lacked impact in this one.

SPECIAL TEAMS

-K Graham Gano: 2/2 (Made 31, 45)
-P Jamie Gillian: 6 punts / 53.7 avg – 47.7 net

3 STUDS

-EDGE Tomon Fox, DT Leonard Williams, OT Andrew Thomas

3 DUDS

-WR Richie James, TE Tanner Hudson, OT Tyre Phillips

3 THOUGHTS ON SEA

1. Right up there with NYG is SEA when talking about the league’s biggest surprises. I projected them to go 5-12 and finish in last place in the NFC West. My main reasons for this incredibly wrong prediction were the perceived downgrades in the passing game on both sides of the ball. From Russell Wilson to Drew Lock (many believed he was the guy prior to camp) at QB, two rookies stepping in at OT, two rookies stepping in at corner, and unproven pass rushers led me to believe they would get smoked there. Man, was I wrong. Not only is this team playoff bound, I think they are going to win the NFC West if they stay healthy. And playing at that place in the postseason will be a TOUGH assignment.

2. Through the halfway point of the season, the SEA rookie class is the best in the NFL, and I don’t think anyone is close. Listen to the first 6 picks of this class. OTs Charles Cross (rd 1) and Abraham Lucas (rd 3), who are both among the top 4 rookie tackles in the NFL. Only Ikem Ekwonu (CAR) is ahead of them right now while Tyler Smith (DAL) can be debated. RB Kenneth Walker (rd 2) is among the NFL lead in yards over the last 3 weeks and the best eyes/minds I see in NFL analysis are raising him to be one of the top 10 backs in the NFL right now. All of them. CBs Coby Bryant (rd 4) and Tariq Woolen (rd 5) are their top two corners and the latter shares the league-lead in interceptions. There are strong rookie classes, and there is a class like this that if they keep it up, could go down as one of the most impactful ever in their inaugural season.

3. Love or hate Pete Carroll, and most do despise him (in and out of league), the dude can flat out coach. Perceived as a defensive guy, Carroll is very much involved and in control of the offense from a macro-perspective. There have been interesting situations with him and different play-callers over the years. He wants things his way and the second they go too pass-heavy, he fires them. Russell Wilson leaves town and he looks like a shell of his former self, his Seahawk self. Geno Smith gets a starting job for the first time since 2014 and is all of the sudden in the MVP discussion. That, the fact they are doing this with rookie contributions at major positions, and the fact their defense looked more prepared for the NYG offense than anyone we have seen so far brings me to the idea that Carroll is heading toward a Coach of the Year Award.

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

1. This will be the final input I have on the trade deadline. At the point of this writing (late Monday night), no trade has been made. The rumors are circulating, and I do think there is validity behind NYG inquiring about wide receiver talent. If this was year three, or even year two of this regime I would lean strongly toward a deal being done. But when reflecting on how many times Joe Schoen has brought up the lack of salary cap health and the fact they are in year one leads me to believe they will not trade pick(s) for a receiver. If there is a trade to be made, I think it is more likely we see them trade a late day-three pick (or a late swap) for a defensive lineman or a tight end. The DLs I think fit the situation (scheme, contract, team) are Michael Brockers (DET), Roy Robertson-Harris (JAC), and Bilal Nichols (LV). The TEs I think fit the situation (scheme, contract, team) are Ian Thomas (CAR) and Eric Saubert (DEN). I still think they will lean no trade but could make a play for Odell Beckham in free agency soon (however I think he wants to be with a more credible SB contender).

2. The bye week is coming at a good time. I mean, mid-year is always a good time. But I like how a few of the key players who are out (Ojulari, Neal, Ximines, Lemieux, Bellinger), but are expected back at some point, will simply miss one less game with the bye coming right now. This has been an eventful first 8 games to the season with a lot of drama and emotion (on and off the field). Regroup, heal up, and come back hungry.

3. What is the one thing I want this coaching staff to spend the most time on as they self-scout this week? The answer is simple. Improve their first-half offense. They are 30th in first-half points. They are 30th in first-half time of possession. Early-game offense is often scripted, especially in the first quarter. Their script (and execution) has been poor. Next up I want to see more pass rush. Despite being the most blitz-heavy team in the league, they rank in the bottom half of every noteworthy pass rush metric. And this is the result even though DT Dexter Lawrence is in the discussion for a spot on the All-Pro team. Looking at you, edge defenders. Let’s see the arrow point up. And lastly, find a new punt returner. That is all.

Enjoy the week off everyone – it has been a fun season so far. Thanks for letting me be a part of it.

Oct 282022
 
Saquon Barkley, New York Giants (October 23, 2022)

Saquon Barkley – © USA TODAY Sports

THE STORYLINE:
We’re nearing the midway point of the regular and the well-placed bye week for the New York Football Giants. And I suspect most fans of the team have the same thought in their head: let’s squeak out one more win, heal up during the bye, and get some reinforcements back for post-bye sprint to the finish.

This is turning out to be a completely unexpected and entertaining campaign. The Giants have been tied or behind their opponent in the 4th quarter in five of their six wins (and behind in four of them). Their six wins have been decided by 27 points. The oddsmakers have had them favored to lose almost every game this year. How are they 6-1? They are extremely well-coached. They are keeping games within two scores, and they are out-playing their opponents in the 4th quarter. Their resiliency and competitive endurance is off the charts. Thus far, there has been no emotional letdown despite the fact that every game was been an emotionally-draining nail-biter.

The NFC is not terribly impressive this year. There are only five teams in the conference who currently have a winning record. Unfortunately for New York, the NFC East has three of those five teams. And until proven otherwise in head-to-head match-ups, the Giants are still only the third-best team in their own division. The Eagles clearly appear to be the cream of the crop in the NFC. The Cowboys already beat the Giants once and get them at home again on Thanksgiving. The Giants will play five division games in their last seven contests. That’s where their fate will be determined.

One of the five teams in the NFC with a winning record is the also-surprising Seattle Seahawks, who are leading the disappointing NFC West with a 4-3 record. Seattle was supposed to be bringing up the rear in that division. Nevertheless, the other three teams all have three wins and things can change quickly. It’s quite possible that the Giants and Seahawks may be vying with each other for a final Wild Card playoff spot, making Sunday’s game much more important than it seemed when the schedule was first released.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • WR Kenny Golladay (knee – out)
  • TE Daniel Bellinger (eye – out)
  • RT Evan Neal (knee – out – out)
  • LG Ben Bredeson (knee – out)
  • DL Leonard Williams (elbow – questionable)
  • OL Tyre Phillips (toe – questionable)
  • OLB Oshane Ximines (quad – out)
  • CB Cor’Dale Flott (calf – out)
  • S Jason Pinnock (foot – questionable)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
Before the Giants became a hopeless, ongoing joke from 2017-2021, long-time readers of this site should remember my tediously predictable approach to this team: it’s never as good as it seems when you’re winning; it’s never as bad as it seems when you are losing. I’ll charitably call it me playing Devil’s advocate. Get ready for a bit of Debbie-downerism.

The Giants are largely succeeding offensively with smoke and mirrors. A poster in The Forum pointed out this week that the Giants don’t have a player on their roster who has more than 200 yards receiving. I immediately thought that can’t be correct. Well it is. Richie James, who hasn’t caught more than 18 yards in a game in the last four contests, is leading the team with 191 receiving yards. The top pass-catcher is Saquon Barkley with 25 receptions. It’s 2022. Not 1940. These are historically-bad figures for a 6-1 team. And barring a trade that may be unwise for a still-rebuilding club, these numbers are not likely to get much better in the final 10 regular-season games unless Kenny Golladay has a massive turnaround.

In last week’s game preview, I wrote that it was not a coincidence that Daniel Jones threw his first 2-touchdown game since the opener in a contest where both Wan’Dale Robinson and Daniel Bellinger played together. The problem is the team just lost Bellinger for an unknown length of time. One can legitimately argue that the only healthy targets on this team who likely to be on the team next year are Robinson and Barkley. To be blunt, the New York Giants’ offense is not terribly difficult to defend at this point. No one is worrying about Darius Slayton, Richie James, David Sills, Marcus Johnson, Chris Myarick, and Tanner Hudson. They just aren’t. Hell, these guys sometimes “defend” themselves because they can’t catch the football.

So the Giants’ coaches are going to have to continue to desperately out-coach their opponents who are going to be completely focused on Barkley, and to a lesser extent Robinson. That’s a tough task. Remember, the Giants lost two starters on the offensive line last week as well. The early returns are that while Joshua Ezeudu may be an asset in the running game, he still has a lot to learn in pass protection. Tyre Phillips did a nice job at right tackle, but he is not Evan Neal.

Why am I being negative here? I’m just trying to prep the fanbase for the inevitable game where the offense can’t do just enough to pull out the victory. A thin team just got a lot thinner by losing Bellinger and two starters on the OL. Teams in the NFL can’t just play six or seven offensive linemen and just pound the football. That may work at the end of game when the other team has been worn down, but it won’t work for a full game. Plus, at some point, other teams are simply not going to keep falling for bootlegs by Daniel Jones.

Keep things in perspective. Recognize that despite the team’s superb record, it is still a weak roster that needs a big infusion of talent on the offensive side of the ball. Other teams have good players and excellent coaches. When adversity strikes, as it will, don’t start yelling and screaming that the coaches screwed up or ALL of the players suck. As JonC smartly posted this week, the Giants are playing with house money. Enjoy the season but be realistic about it.

The good news? Seattle is 29th in defense in terms of yards allowed (23rd in pass defense, 30th in run defense). They are 29th in scoring defense. If there was a team the Giants may be able to line up against and pound the football with some success, this is one of them. The weather also may be a factor with rain in the forecast. The Seahawks are also very young on that side of the ball, so misdirection and trickery may work. The Seahawks are bad on third down. They also give up big plays. When Seattle does blitz, their secondary has problems.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
Let’s start with the negative again and get that out of the way. I think most fans have picked up that I love Don Martindale. Heck, a few years back I wanted him to be our head coach. I think he’s done an excellent job with a unit that had a major question mark at one corner spot, has talent issues at inside linebacker, and has been hit hard by injuries (Azeez Ojulari, Leonard Williams, Aaron Robinson). However, I’m a bit shocked that the Giants have remained weak in run defense. It’s a weekly problem now and the Giants are currently 28th in run defense. Why this is so strange is that Wink’s defenses in Baltimore were always top tier against the run, even in his last year with the team. Other than the Dallas game, this hasn’t cost the Giants yet. But it will if they don’t get it fixed. They are also coming off a game where the defense gave up 450 yards of offense and had no sacks or tackles for losses.

Enter a Seattle team that is performing remarkably well on offense, 12th overall in yards and 5th overall in points. Pete Carroll was mocked when the team named Geno Smith the starter. Well Smith (107.8 rating) is vastly out-performing Russell Wilson (83.4 rating) who was traded to Denver. Smith, who was presumed to be merely back-up material, has thrown for 1,712 yards (7th in the NFL) and 11 touchdowns (tied for 6th in the NFL). He’s also thrown only three interceptions (though he has gotten a bit lucky in this department with some dropped picks).

Helping Smith is the fact that Seattle is also 10th in the NFL in rushing. The revelation has been rookie Kenneth Walker, who filled in when Rashaad Penny was lost for the year and is averaging over six yards per carry. In a limited number of carries (67), he has already broken off a number of big runs. The threat of the Seahawk running game allows Smith to use play-action effectively on first down. They have also done a good job of scoring early in games, putting teams in a hole early. Getting Seattle off of the field has been a problem on 3rd down as well.

Surprisingly, Seattle is having all of this offensive success despite two rookie tackles. Giants fans will note that Charles Cross, who was in play for the team in 1st round, is Seattle’s starting left tackle. Aside from the presence of a strong running game, Smith has benefitted from dangerous targets. Wideout D.K. Metcalf will likely miss this game due to a knee injury, but Tyler Lockett (41 catches, 468 yards, 2 touchdowns) and Marquise Goodwin (2 touchdowns against the Chargers last weekend) can get the job done. Both are fast. Seattle’s three tight ends have 56 catches and five touchdowns, with Will Dissly leading the way with three TDs.

The game plan here is obvious. Stop the run and make Geno Smith beat you with his arm. However, the Giants must remain disciplined on first down and not allow Seattle’s play-action game to lead to big chunks of yardage. The linebackers in particular will be on the spot, both in run defense and not being overly aggressive with the play-action. This is a game where the Giants need Tae Crowder and Jaylon Smith to play well. Wink also has to find a better solution to the team’s woes in run defense, or they will lose.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
As I mentioned last week, the Giants’ special teams units are starting to find their rhythm and now are making plays to help the team win. Last week’s contribution was a blocked extra point. For a team that plays a style that keeps every contest close, these types of special teams contributions are invaluable.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Don “Wink” Martindale on his defense giving up a lot yards: “I just know that we’re sixth in points and we play real well in the redzone. That’s the name of the game defensively is to try to keep them out of the endzone. We’ve done a good job doing that. I think each game, you look at it differently, so I’m not really worried about where we’re at statistically with that. I just want to know how many wins we have and how many losses we have.”

THE FINAL WORD:
In some ways, the win against the Jaguars was as impressive as the upset wins against the Titans, Packers, and Ravens. The Jaguars are a much better team than their record. They are well-coached. And they were desperate. The officials also put their hand on the scales of that game. It didn’t matter. The Giants still found a way to win.

I keep expecting reality to set in and the team to lose. The odds say they can’t keep this up. However, this Seattle team is probably not as good as its record. This is a game the Giants can win if they can somehow pull out another close game. Find a way to get to 7-1, got into the bye on a positive note, and get some reinforcements back.

Oct 252022
 
Daniel Jones, New York Giants (October 23, 2022)

Daniel Jones – © USA TODAY Sports

QUICK RECAP

Rewind to Week 17 of 2020 with me. NYG was on the brink of a potential playoff spot despite a 6-10 finish. The only thing that stood in their way was the Washington Football Team that went into a Sunday night matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles with a 6-9 record. Because of tie-breakers, NYG would have gone to the postseason had PHI taken care of business. PHI tanked the game for the sake of a better draft position. There is some debate on whose call that actually was, but Pedersen took the heat. Washington won, went to the playoffs, Pedersen was fired, and NYG was on the outside looking in. Had they made it, would Joe Judge have had an extra year to prove his worth in 2022? As angry as NYG nation was back then, it was a move that could have prevented NYG from working under Brian Daboll today.

NYG has not been a productive first-drive team. In fact, the last time they opened the game with a touchdown-scoring drive was November 7, 2021 at home against the Raiders. They later went on to win that contest, one of their four on the year. So, for the first time in 14 games, Jones led the NYG offense to a game-opening touchdown on a pass to Darius Slayton. The lead did not last long, however. The Jaguars, led by second-year quarterback Trevor Lawrence and former Eagles Super Bowl-winning Head Coach Doug Pederson, marched right back down the field. Six Plays (3 run / 3 pass), and 70 yards ended with Travis Etienne crossing the goal line. They opted to go for two points rather than tie it up after NYG was flagged for an illegal formation on the PAT try. Etienne easily ran that one is as well to give the home team an early one-point lead.

NYG punted on their next drive, but after left guard Ben Bredeson went down with a knee injury. JAC showed no issues in continuing their early offensive momentum, again getting into the red zone and putting up points. This drive ended with a 27-yard field goal by Riley Patterson. Former Giants’ first round pick Evan Engram had the longest play of the drive, a 28-yarder. The 28-year old is currently playing with the lowest drop rate of his career (2.6%), well below the league average. He is on pace to set a career high in catches and yards.

NYG was able to put up three points of their own on a 33-yard field goal by Graham Gano. But this came after Evan Neal, the second starting lineman of the game, limped off the field injured. He, along with Bredeson, did not return. At the time of this writing, both will likely be out for at least a couple of weeks. Even though NYG got the game within one, the outlook was bleak. A rookie who has already seen his share of struggles was in at left guard and a third-year vet who was waived in August by Baltimore was in at right tackle as NYG was taking on a very physical defensive front from JAC.

For the third time in as many tries, JAC found themselves in the red zone. It seemed everything they were trying on offense was working. Runs, passes, play-action, counters…etc. JAC was moving the ball at will and someone on the defense needed to make a play. Safety Xavier McKinney, who was having a poor game up until this point, stepped up. He forced an Etienne-fumble as he reached the NYG 5-yard line. Julian Love recovered in the end zone and walked out of bounds for the touchback. It was an enormous turn of events. Instead of it being JAC ball, 1st-and-goal from inside the five, it was NYG ball on their own 25. This turned into three more points for NYG after Gano hit a 33-yard field goal. The half was over after JAC threw a desperation Hail Mary and NYG had the 2-point lead.

The opening play of the first half was a 49-yard run by Etienne. At this point, he had 92 yards on just 7 carries. Etienne got them down to the NYG 1-yard line after two more carries before Trevor Lawrence took two straight QB sneaks up the middle, the second one crossing the goal line. NYG has made a living this year on scoring early in the second half, but they were the ones that allowed the early score after halftime. JAC was up 17-13, as Nick McCloud blocked the extra point. NYG drove down the field themselves and had an interception by Jones taken off the board thanks to a roughing-the-passer penalty, the second turnover of the game NYG escaped due to a flag. They had 2nd-and-3 from the JAC 3-yard line. Barkley was stuffed at the line on second down. Jones nearly threw an interception on third down. And Marcus Johnson dropped a pass on fourth down that would have at least resulted in a first down conversion and could have ended up in the end zone. The frustration level was at its highest.

Three straight scoreless possessions followed. The second stop of JAC was the result of more aggressive decision-making by Pederson. On 4th-and-1 from the NYG-20 yard line (and a 4-point lead), he kept the offense on the field. They tried yet another QB sneak and this time the NYG front stuffed it. Turnover on downs. Instead of going for the 7-point lead (Patterson is 7/8 lifetime on attempts 30-39 yards), it was NYG ball, down four. After a quiet running game in the first half, NYG was controlling the point-of-attack (with 2 backup OL remember). All 69 yards gained on their own were via the running game. Add in another 10 yards and 3 JAC penalties. Jones, who was having arguably the most impressive performance of his career, crossed the goal line on a 1-yard carry. NYG was up 20-17.

The NYG defense forced a three-and-out on the next drive, and with just under 4:30 left in the game, the offense had the ball back and their dominance on the ground continued. NYG brought extra linemen on the field and simply ran power after power after power. They gained 61 yards and forced JAC to use all 3 timeouts. The black eye here was the fact that Barkley ran out of bounds, stopping the clock, three times. Not once, not twice, but three times. Football has a way of balancing things out over time. A week after Barkley made the unselfish and brilliant decision to fall on the ground in front of the end zone to keep the clock running, he made three bonehead mistakes (in a row) that kept the game alive for JAC. Gano hit a 34-yarder to make the NYG lead six.

JAC and the referees made things interesting. Three penalties were called on NYG. One of them nullified an interception by Fabian Moreau. One of them added 15 yards to a 28-yard gain with under :20 left. Lawrence and the JAC offense had three shots at the end zone from inside the NYG-20 yard line. The first two fell incomplete. The third connected with Christian Kirk right in front of the end zone. It took a trio of NYG defenders to wrestle the 200-pound slot receiver to the ground just a couple feet shy of the end zone as the clock expired.

NYG wins 23-17.

QUARTERBACK

-Daniel Jones: 19/30 – 202 yards / 1 TD – 0 INT / 94.0 RAT

The most important stat from Jones came on the ground. He ran for 107 yards on 11 carries and added another touchdown. It was his first ever 100+ yard performance and he is third to only Lamar Jackson and Justin Fields in rushing by a quarterback this season. Jones has 1,343 yards on the ground so far in his career. Eli Manning had under 600 over his career. The contrast in offensive style and possibilities with an athlete like this under center should not be overlooked when evaluating his play. Jones put this team on his shoulder and delivered. He had multiple passes dropped, including a touchdown. Game ball for a guy who stepped up the most when his team needed him the most. If you are looking for a negative, he did have two turnovers cancelled by JAC penalties that did not exactly impact the original result of the play.

RUNNING BACK

-Saquon Barkley: 24 att – 110 yards / 4 rec – 25 yards

Barkley has been a different player in the second half of games this season. Week 7 was no different. He had 9 carries for 18 yards in the first half, 15 carries for 92 yards in the second. This is the ideal way to go about a power-run game; be at your best as the defense grows tired. The fact he did this behind a makeshift offensive line means something for both him and the coaching. I do believe they were limiting his snaps early, as the shoulder is a minor issue that they need to prevent turning into a big one. But with the game on the line late, it was time to feed him over and over. He delivered. That said, the constant lack of awareness that saw him go out of bounds three times was such a head scratcher. Had they lost, Barkley would have been one of the biggest scapegoats and rightfully so.

-Matt Breida had 19 yards on 4 carries and gained 14 yards on a catch. Solid performance in a game that saw him tie a season-high 18 snaps.

WIDE RECEIVER

-Poor game by the group overall. NYG is 6-1, but one needs to ask how much longer they can try to contend with these guys running routes. Darius Slayton caught 3 passes for 58 yards including a 32-yard touchdown. That was a double catch, and he dropped a ball later on. His ball skills and overall feel for the position is maddening.

-Wan’Dale Robinson was a huge part of the offense early on. He finished with 50 yards on 6 catches. Not the most impressive stat line, but keep in mind ALL of that production was in the first half. He suffered a minor injury in the second half and even though he came back in, he did not see the ball (or any targets) after halftime. I’m not too into fantasy football but I have a strong feeling he is going to be THE feature receiver on this team from here on out. No other player was targeted more and his adjustments to the ball in the air were amazing.

-Marcus Johnson is a polarizing player. I noted how many transactions he has been a part of in the past (including 2 trades). We saw some of the good the last two weeks, but we saw the ugly this week. He was targeted three times and he had 2 drops, one of which came at a vital point in the game. He was also flagged for an illegal downfield block.

-David Sills had a catch for 19 yards and Richie James added 1 catch for 2 yards.

TIGHT END

-Rookie Daniel Bellinger suffered one of the worst injuries I have seen in quite some time. While it sounds like it won’t be in the season-ending tier, the pain he obviously felt made my stomach knot up. He took a finger-led punch to the eye which caused fractures and will require surgery. He had 1 catch for 13 yards before exiting.

-Chris Myarick and Tanner Hudson will likely fill in for him moving forward. Myarick had 2 catches for 21 yards and allowed a TFL. I will touch on this below, but an argument can be made that tight end is now a bigger need on this team than receiver.

OFFENSIVE LINE

-I will start off with the injuries. Ben Bredeson and Evan Neal both missed most of the game with knee injuries. Initially this was perceived to be a major blow. When considering the law of averages, when a team loses multiple linemen in the same game, it usually gets ugly. Here? One could make the argument the NYG offense only got stronger from that point. No, not a knock on Neal and Bredeson. It is a compliment to the situation, players and coaches combined. Tyre Phillips played 58 snaps at tackle and Joshua Ezeudu played 61 snaps at left guard. How did they fare? Phillips looked better than the rookie. He allowed 2 pressures and a half-TFL, but was often left alone on an island and won more of those match-ups than I expected him to. Because Neal is still growing as a player, I don’t expect much of a drop off with Phillips in there. Ezeudu allowed 3 pressures and was flagged for illegally going downfield on a passing play. Overall, it was a poor game for him, but his best football was played late in the game when NYG absolutely took over with the running game.

-Mark Glowinski allowed a pressure and a TFL. More of the same from him. Solid football with a limited ceiling. You know when you hear the line “high floor / low ceiling” in pre-draft talk? That is Glowinski.

-Jon Feliciano had his best game as a Giant and Andrew Thomas was near-perfect again. The latter did allow a pressure, and some will credit a sack against him but that is why I like tracking my own stats. That sack was not on Thomas. These two and Glowinski need to be rock-solid as this offensive line is about to shift around a bit.

EDGE

-Last week I discussed rookie Kayvon Thibodeaux playing on a steady incline ever since missing the first two games of the year. That description is still in play. He had 3 tackles and a team-high 3 pressures. He constantly won with his first step and played well under the pads of the JAC tackles while turning a tight corner. His effort and speed are making an impact away from the ball, always a good sign. The big issue that continues to arise? He is not doing a good job setting the edge. He has been slow to recognize and lacks the power to make up for it. That hurt NYG against the run multiple times.

-Jihard Ward is the epitome of what an edge setter is in the NFL. He excelled in that role and has done so all year. He finished with only 2 tackles, but did a lot of the dirty work that helped this defense come up big late.

-With Oshane Ximines and Azeez Ojulari out, the door was opened for Tomon Fox and Quincy Roche. Roche was on the field just 2 snaps and he finished with a tackle. Fox was on the field for 34 snaps and did not appear on the stat sheet. He made one physical hit on an incomplete pass toward the end of the first half but beyond that, he was shut out. NYG had a few pass rush issues for the first 50-65% of the game. Fox was one of the culprits there.

DEFENSIVE LINE

-Dexter Lawrence was flagged twice for roughing the passer. The first was complete garbage. The second, I did not agree with, but that kind of roughing gets called weekly around the league. Hate the rule there, not the ref. Otherwise, he finished with 2 tackles, 1 TFL, and 1 pressure. He had a sack nullified by a defensive holding call in the secondary.

-Leonard Williams and Nick Williams both had 1 tackle and 1 pressure. The former broke up a pass at the line as well. Overall, a quiet game from these two who had a hard time against the run.

-Ryder Anderson and Justin Ellis both rotated in and finished with a tackle.

LINEBACKER

-Tae Crowder had 6 tackles and missed one. He also broke up a pass. The issue with his overall game showed up in an ugly way in this game. He is late to react off the ball and gets caught out of position. He struggles to get off those blocks and now there is a wide-open running lane for the opposition. Jaylon Smith has similar issues but does show more post-snap when it comes to making reads. He added 4 tackles and showed good coverage downfield multiple times.

-Welcome back #21, Landon Collins. He saw 23 snaps at linebacker and most of them were on third down / passing situations. He had 1 tackle on an impressive play where he fought off the block in space and dragged down the ball carrier near the end zone.

CORNERBACK

-Adoree’ Jackson is the one force in this cornerback group that can be relied on play to play, week to week. He had 6 tackles and 2 pass break ups. His coverage down the stretch was money. Undoubtedly one of the most important players on this defense because of what is, or isn’t, behind him.

-Fabian Moreau finished with 7 tackles and a pass break up. He too came up big on the final drive. His interception was cancelled by a penalty by Dane Belton (a horrific call). And he was part of the crew that kept Kirk out of the end zone on the final play. He fits the bend-don’t-break stigma of this defense very well.

-Darnay Holmes had a penalty cancelled by a different defensive penalty. Otherwise, it was more of the same from him. Physical run support and tackling, good-not-great coverage, and a lot of versatility.

-Nick McCloud blocked an extra point. All things considered that ended up being a big play in the game.

SAFETY

-Xavier McKinney came up with a huge forced fumble that was desperately needed at the time. JAC was moving the ball with ease early on and it appeared they were about to score another touchdown. Getting that ball out of Etienne’s grasp was both timely and potentially game-changing. That somewhat hides his poor angles in run support that gave JAC extra yards (and points).

-Julian Love led the team with 9 tackles and a fumble recovery. The fumble recovery may not have even been the biggest play of the game. He made initial contact with Kirk on that final play of the game that ended up 1 yard short of JAC winning the game. McKinney and Moreau made bigger impact hits, but it was Love’s contact that slowed down Kirk’s momentum. Had Love not done this, Kirk may have reached the end zone for the score. He was flagged for a personal foul earlier in the game that I thought was another poor call by the refs.

-Dane Belton played 23 snaps, as he and Holmes appear to be going back and forth with respect to playing time. He finished with 2 tackles and was hosed on a penalty on the last drive that cancelled the Moreau interception. Another poor call by the refs.

SPECIAL TEAMS

-K Graham Gano: 3/3 (Made 33, 33, 34)
-P Jamie Gillian: 2 punts / 40.0 avg – 30.0 net

3 STUDS

-QB Daniel Jones, WR Wan’Dale Robinson, CB Adoree’ Jackson

3 DUDS

-WR Marcus Johnson, LB Tae Crowder, OG Joshua Ezeudu

3 THOUGHTS ON JAC

1. Yet another example (there are multiple cases every year) of not crowning anyone after 3 weeks. JAC started of 2-1 with wins against IND and LAC that combined for 62 points of margin over those opponents. They were up 8-1 in the turnover margin. They were up 70-51 in first down margin. Fast forward to Week 7, and they still have only 2 wins. Losers of 4 straight, JAC’s turnover margin is back to even and they’ve averaged under 18 points per game since their fast start. They are not contenders yet even though the AFC South can make a case for being the worst in football again.

2. Just how good is Trevor Lawrence? The 2021 #1 overall pick was destined for that tag since his freshman season at Clemson. He went on to have a stellar career there, but as we all know, life in the NFL is different. I’ve seen him four times this season and the traits are obviously there. But one inconsistency I see week to week revolves around ball placement issues when he has a lot of action close to him. This happens often. Kids from college come into the league and long-gone are the days of having 5 yards of space around you in all directions for 3-4-5 seconds every drop back. Lawrence missed on several throws in this game, and I saw the same against both HOU and PHI (albeit that one in the rain). Every young quarterback has a three-year grace period in my eyes as long as they do not bottom out. He is only in year two and is currently playing under his third play-caller. But for someone who I graded as high as I did, I was expecting better play than what he is showing in year two. He was the second-best quarterback on the field in this game and to be blunt, it wasn’t close.

3. What does JAC need to be a credible contender? Obviously, we know Lawrence needs to ascend, that can go without saying. When I look at this roster, I see quality players on both sides of the ball. Ownership has spent more free agency money than anyone in the league since 2012. I trust the coach. Travis Etienne has All-Pro potential, and he is starting to flash. Their defense has a young star in Josh Allen and another future star in Travon Walker. Linebacker Devin Lloyd is playing some of the best football in the league among rookies. But they have not escaped the cellar. What gives? I see two major issues. Their receivers can’t make anything happen after the catch and they are not deep threats. That is a danger zone to be in. Defensively they don’t have the cover-guys at the top and lack pro-caliber depth when guys go down. Thus, they are incredibly vulnerable to losing both passing battles week to week. Until that changes, they’ll remain where they’re at.

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

1. 6-1. Credible playoff contention now and opportunities like this should not be assumed by a front office. Does the urgency for a trade (or signing) at receiver pick up with each win? Yes, I think so. Especially when it is coupled with the fact these receivers either can’t stay healthy or simply cannot be relied upon. Let’s be sure to not lower the standard for what a winning receiver does for a team. We have seen Slayton flash. We have seen Johnson flash. We have even seen Sills do a few good things. But do not mistake them for more than what they are: replacement-level players. I don’t want General Manager Joe Schoen to go down the path of selling future premium picks. But I think the urgency is a little higher now on an Odell Beckham reunion. But don’t overlook the need for a tight end. They are less expensive regarding both the cap and the trade market. Bellinger is the future at the position, but replacing his value and production CAN be done with a simple trade of a day-three pick to a team that is out of contention.

2. In episode 6 of “NYG Coaches Are Among the Best in the League”…I bring you to the final 19 offensive plays of the game. 17 of them were runs and they totaled 130 yards. 2 of them were passes, both fell incomplete. NYG doubled down on what they knew would work. Their bread and butter. And this was behind a banged up offensive line. So, what did they do? Bring on extra linemen as blocking tight ends (Devery Hamilton and Jack Anderson). They essentially ran the same play over and over and then threw in the little curve ball once JAC over-committed off the snap with a Jones naked bootleg. This staff has such a strong grasp how to move the ball on offense and that has more value than fancy personnel that other teams may have. It just keeps getting better.

3. A game in Seattle before NYG gets a week off. While 6-1 looks nice on paper, 7-1 will make things so much more comfortable than 6-2 moving forward. Because of their rookie tackles, I have seen all the Seattle games this year. They are right up there with NYG as the most surprising team in the NFL this season. My biggest concern is their ability to pound the run. They are first in the NFL in yards per carry and their rookie Kenneth Walker looks big time. NYG ranks dead last in the NFL in yards per carry allowed. This is an obvious mismatch, and I am curious to see what Martindale schemes up to prevent this being an issue.