Jan 052021
 
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Dante Pettis, New York Giants (January 3, 2021)

Dante Pettis – © USA TODAY Sports

QUICK RECAP

There was an odd feel to the days and moments leading up to the week 17 battle with the Dallas Cowboys. After all, it was the first time in years that Big Blue was playing a meaningful game in January. However, it was largely a result of how bad the NFC East was as a whole, more than the Giants earning the right. If NYG could win this 1 PM game against DAL, all they would need would be an 8:20 PM Eagles win over the Washington Football Team. If those two things happened, they would be hosting a playoff game in under a week. NYG would be the first double-digit loss team in the postseason in league history. DAL was playing for the same exact thing in this do-or-die match-up. As they always say, all bets are off when you’re in the tournament, though.

NYG has been horrid in the first half since the start of December. In their previous 4 games combined, they scored a total of 6 points and did not get into the end zone once in the first 2 quarters. They began this week 17 match-up against league’s 26th-ranked (and last-ranked run) defense. Questions were looming over their second-year quarterback. Offensive Coordinator Jason Garrett has already been rumored by the media to be gone after this season. The opening drive on this game meant something and they responded. It took just 6 plays to drive 78 yards, ending with a Sterling Shepard reverse that saw him carry it 23 yards into the end zone.

Backup quarterback Andy Dalton, who took over the job the last time these two teams met on October 11 when Dak Prescott suffered a severe leg/ankle injury, had a really rough first half. He threw an interception on the opening DAL drive to rookie Xavier McKinney but it was cancelled due to a holding penalty on fellow rookie defensive back Darnay Holmes. DAL did end up punting a few plays later, however.

NYG was playing a really physical brand early on. There was a lot of emotion and some extra contact post-whistle on most plays. They were trying hard to establish the run with Wayne Gallman (who gained 18 yards on 2 carries on the opening drive) in contrast to them ignoring him in their previous 3 games, all losses. On the third play of the NYG second drive, there was a fumble on the Jones-Gallman exchange, which DAL recovered. Thus, the Cowboys began their own second drive on the NYG 27-yard line. They did breach the red zone but the NYG defense held them to 3 points.

The two offenses then traded 6 scoreless possessions. Both quarterbacks were struggling to make the needed throws that would extend drives and the game became more and more physical. The Jones-to-Shepard connection continued to blossom with New York’s sixth drive ending with a 10-yard touchdown in which Shepard trucked over DAL rookie corner Trevon Diggs into the end zone. Graham Gano made the PAT after missing the first one following the opening drive to make it 13-6.

Dalton then started to click and the NYG defense started missing tackles left and right. Their drive was thwarted by a Dalvin Tomlinson sack, however. DAL settled on a field goal, this one from 46 yards. The NYG two-minute offense clicked on the next drive. This time, they needed just 4 plays to gain 75 yards, ending with a 33-yard touchdown to Dante Pettis. NYG had 20 points on the board for the first time since November 15. Those 20 points came in the first half. They scored 16 points in the first halves of the previous 5 games combined.

The NYG defense was not able to keep DAL from driving down the field again enough, however. They got past midfield with chunk gains in the passing game. Zuerlein then hit a 57-yard field goal to make it 20-9 going into the half.

After going 1-for-7 on 3rd down in the first half, DAL then went 3-and-out on the opening drive of the second half. The oh-so-important first drive of that second half for NYG then resulted in a turnover thanks to another drop by Evan Engram. The ball went right through his hands and into the arms of DAL safety Damien Wilson. DAL turned that into 7 points on a 1-yard touchdown by Ezekiel Elliott. All of the sudden, they were within 4 points with an offense that was starting to click.

The NYG offense continued to shoot themselves in the foot with an illegal crackback block by Shepard and another drop by Engram killing the drive. DAL had the ball back. Their 13-play drive ended with a 36-yard field goal to cut the lead down to 1 point as the 4th quarter began. The stalling NYG offense then went 3-and-out following a sack. Now DAL, who had at this point scored 13 unanswered points, had the ball back. Fortunately, the NYG defense forced a 3-and-out.

At this time, it is important for an offense to have an identity. They had stalled, the opponent was coming back and within 1, and the end of the game was near. In these moments, they need to have something or someone to lean on and that has been where this offense has been putrid in 2020. Nobody could be consistently relied on. However, Jones stepped up and it was interesting to see who he went after the most. On three of the next four plays, Jones threw to Shepard. All three connected and it gained a total of 43 yards. They were approaching field goal range, which was important because it would force DAL to have to pursue a touchdown rather than a field goal. Damien Wilson came up with another big play by sacking Jones for a 10-yard loss. On 3rd-and-16, Jones threw a pass slightly behind Pettis, who was forced to dive backward. He made the catch but the replay showed the ball bounced off of the ground before he demonstrated full control. DAL Head Coach Mike McCarthy did not challenge, Gano then hit a 50-yard field goal, and NYG had a 4-point lead with under 7 minutes left. A huge gaffe by the DAL Head Coach who had more than his fair share of big mistakes in 2020.

DAL kept their offense rolling, putting together a marathon 17-play drive. They did indeed reach field goal range but the 4-point lead now loomed large. What an awful mistake by McCarthy! DAL converted three 3rd downs and a 4th down on this drive. They made it all the way to the NYG 7-yard line. After a crucial sack by Leonard Williams, Dalton desperately heaved a pass into the end zone which was intercepted by McKinney. This time the interception stood. NYG just had to get a first down on offense and it would all be over.

Wayne Gallman, on 2nd-and-5, broke through the line and crossed the first down marker. Without a DAL defender within 5 yards of him any direction, all he had to do was fall onto the ground. Instead, he dropped the ball. An enormous pile of blue and white jerseys then trounced on top of one another. The refs initially signaled DAL football in one of the most 2020-moments of the year. It was almost unbelievable. After conferring with each other, the refs changed it to NYG possession because Gallman clearly had the ball at the bottom of the pile. After a lengthy booth review, NYG still had the ball and game number 16 ended in the victory formation.

NYG wins, 23-19.

QUARTERBACK

-Daniel Jones: 17-25 / 229 yards / 2 TD – 1 INT / 106.9 RAT

Jones did seem a little hesitant with his legs, but he did run the ball 9 times for 17 yards, including a couple of designed runs. The interception was a complete gaffe by Engram. Jones played a solid game and threw a few really nice intermediate balls. He did show a lack of arm talent on two throws that NFL quarterbacks need to make. One was on a deep pass to Slayton where he had a few steps on corner Trevon Diggs. The other was on an out throw to Shepard on 3rd down from the opposite hash. His poor accuracy was bailed out on a few throws by his receivers. Overall, it was a solid game, he simply just missed on a few throws. By the way, the interception that was on Engram marked the first time Jones had thrown one in a current league-high 178 straight attempts. He was charged with the lost fumble on the exchange with Gallman, but I think it was more on the running back.

RUNNING BACK

-Wayne Gallman: 11 att / 65 yards

Gallman had a bunch of quality inside runs. After all, they were up against the last-ranked rushing defense in the league and the NYG offensive line was getting a great push early. When you have a back averaging 6 yards per carry and a passing game that struggles across the board, I just don’t see why you steer away from that running game. Gallman should have gotten the ball more, once again.

-Alfred Morris added 12 yards on 5 carries and Dion Lewis had 1 carry for 7 yards. All three of these backs are unrestricted free agents this offseason. This could be a very different looking running back room with Barkley coming back in 2021.

WIDE RECEIVER

-Sterling Shepard: 8 rec / 112 yards / 1 TD and 2 att / 24 yards / 1 TD

Shepard put out his best performance we have seen in a long time, possibly the best game of his career. It was a strong finish to the year for a guy who just hasn’t made a ton of big plays for this offense that has been starving for a pass catcher to step up. Shepard played a really physical game, trucking over DAL defenders and making an impact as a blocker. He was flagged for a crackback block, however. One thing I love about this kid, he rarely drops the ball. Really sure-handed receiver.

-Dante Pettis definitely earned the right to be a part of the wide receiver mix next year. He had 2 catches for 43 yards and a touchdown. Both grabs were high-skill (even if the second one did indeed hit the ground). They were both big plays and on a team that is absolutely starving for WR talent, he needs to be at least considered.

-Austin Mack had a catch for 9 yards and allowed a TFL while Darius Slayton added 2 catches for 22 yards. Slayton made a really nice grab on a poorly thrown pass and was also mistargeted by Jones on a deep route. It wasn’t a great year for Slayton but there is no denying the upside if the offense around him improves.

TIGHT END

-Evan Engram dropped two more passes. Both went right through his hands and one of them resulted in an interception that DAL turned into a touchdown. The debate really doesn’t exist anymore. Engram is super-talented and blessed with rare movement tools for the position, but he can’t be a focal point here. NYG has him here for one more year on a fair price, but I think his days here should be over. More on that below.

-Kaden Smith and Levine Toilolo each had a catch on their lone respective targets. Smith allowed a sack but also threw a key block on the Shepard rushing touchdown.

OFFENSIVE LINE

-The top two grades went to the top 2 offensive linemen on the year, Nick Gates and Andrew Thomas. They were both flawless in pass protection and both got tremendous push in the running game. Thomas had a roller coaster season but his second half was better than his first half. He has some positive momentum going into his first offseason. Gates started off poorly but evolved into the top OL on this team. He really did play at a top-10 level in the league at the center position. The physical brand of football is coming back and I think this kid is at the forefront.

-Kevin Zeitler allowed a sack, TFL, and a pressure. He did throw some weight around in the running game but he and Cameron Fleming, who also allowed a pressure, may be the focal point of this offense that needs to be fixed first. That right side has been poor all year and even though Matt Peart did show some signs of potential, NYG can’t go into 2021 with these holes. If it means big money to someone, so be it. If it means another high draft pick, so be it. They need to get dominant up front or else this offense will continue to stink.

-Shane Lemieux played every snap at left guard and allowed 1 pressure. He, too, was solid in the running game. I think he showed enough to deserve a starting spot in 2021 or at the very least be in competition for a starting spot. He simply needs strength and power development. There was a lot he did right this year and NYG should be pleased with him considering where they got him in the draft.

EDGE

-Kyler Fackrell was back after missing 4 games with a calf injury. It was interesting to see NYG try and fill his hybrid ILB/OLB “BUCK” role in this scheme. Nobody realty could. It is a really unique position. He had 3 tackles and a sack. Fackrell is a free agent this year and I think NYG should prioritize bringing him back. He isn’t special, but he is unique.

-Jabaal Sheard had 1 tackle and a 1 pressure. He was a solid player for a one-year rental, but I doubt he is in the picture next year.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

-The career-year by Leonard Williams ended with a bang. He finished with 7 tackles, 3 sacks, a pass break-up, and 2 pressures. No need to bring up whether or not the trade was worth it anymore, as previously stated. The question is now is what should NYG offer him to stick around for the long term? The 26-year old is one of the more unique defensive linemen in the game and you could make the argument he is the most versatile defensive lineman in the game. He is not as good as J.J. Watt, but they are the two guys who can credibly play both the inside and outside gaps in whatever scheme a coach draws up. For a defense that truly wants to change their face weekly, that is invaluable. But hey, everyone has a limit.

-Dalvin Tomlinson had 2 tackles and a sack while Dexter Lawrence added 2 tackles, 1 TFL, and 1 pressure. Even though NYG still has a ways to go, these three guys up front along with quality backups B.J. Hill and Austin Johnson were a consistent bright spot all year. This group made this defense more consistent than it has been in a very long time. They made this defense have a standout trait and even though there are other pieces needed, I do hope they find a way to keep these guys together another few years. That could be something special.

LINEBACKER

-Tae Crowder and Blake Martinez both had 11 tackles. Crowder added 2 TFL and Martinez added a sack. This was fun to watch. We have gotten used to how reliable Martinez has been, notably against the run between the tackles. We also saw flashes of Crowder and his play-making ability that stems from plus twitch and speed. They were both on their game in this one and matched with a very solid defensive line, they could be major forces combined as a pair in 2021. Crowder did miss 2 tackles and that is a red flag we have seen a few times.

-David Mayo had 4 tackles, 2 of which were on special teams, and Devante Downs added 1 tackle. These are two guys I wouldn’t mind seeing replaced in 2021. They just don’t seem to have enough speed to be relied on. It has shown up several times this year, as it did in this match-up.

CORNERBACK

-Pro Bowler James Bradberry had 4 tackles and a pass break up. He dropped an interception that he should have brought in. Opposing defenses really didn’t throw at him that much this season. NYG got a good one. Now they need to find another.

-Logan Ryan played more corner in this one than the previous few weeks. He nearly had an interception as well while adding 3 tackles. He had another missed tackle. He led the team in that department this season.

-Darnay Holmes was back after missing time with an injury. He was on the field for under a third of the snaps. On multiple occasions, he has shown the knack for being flagged at very inopportune times. This game was no different. He was flagged for a hold on Xavier McKinney’s interception in the first half. He was beat on a couple 3rd-down conversions as well.

SAFETY

-Speaking of McKinney, we saw a real glimpse of just how good this kid can be down the road. He was all over the field and this scheme has him wearing a lot of hats. He finished with 8 tackles, 1 TFL, and an interception. He also has a second interception that was cancelled by a penalty on Darnay Holmes. McKinney quickly sniffed out a screen pass on two occasions and also sniffed out a reverse that led to a no gain. He really seemed to get more and more comfortable these past 3 weeks. I think NYG should be excited about what he brings to the table. They have been starving for talent at safety for a long time and they now have 2-3 guys who can really get it done.

-Jabrill Peppers was roasted by the DAL passing game in this one. They attacked him over and over and he just always seemed to be a step slow. He did a nice job of making tackles in space and minimizing damage, but he did miss a tackle and was flagged for a holding penalty.

SPECIAL TEAMS

-K Graham Gano: 1/1 (Made 50). Gano hit his 29 consecutive field goal, a franchise record. He missed an extra point.

-P Riley Dixon 5 Punts / 45.2 avg / 37.6 net

3 STUDS

-WR Sterling Shepard, DT Leonard Williams, S Xavier McKInney

3 DUDS

-OG Kevin Zeitler, TE Evan Engram, S Jabrill Peppers

3 THOUGHTS ON DAL

6-10 in a season where they lost their starting quarterback in Week 5. DAL had games started by quarterbacks Ben DiNucci and Garrett Gilbert. They lost both of their starting defensive tackles. They lost both starting offensive tackles and had health issues at center and one of the guard spots. I actually give this team credit for finishing where they did.

What does DAL need the most? Their defense is atrocious on multiple levels. They lack discipline, they lack consistency, and they couldn’t stop the run all year. DAL is going to need to invest money and early picks on their defense, the DTs and safeties in particular. This is where the issues arise when you opt to put so much money into the Prescott/Elliott/Cooper trio and then spend a 1st rounder on a WR. I’ve been vocal about DAL not spreading their funds and picks out well enough and now they are in a very tricky spot with a QB who is going to fight an uphill battle to return from a serious injury. This offseason is going to be huge for them, huge.

DAL got by with a dominant offensive line for a few years. It was one of a few examples in the league that showed just how good a team can be overall when the OL is dominant. However, left tackler Tyron Smith hasn’t played a full year since 2015 and missed 14 games this season. Right Tackle La’el Collins missed the entire year and there are some whispers from people I trust that some in the organization want him at guard. Yes, DAL missing Prescott was the catalyst in their offense going backwards but that OL taking a few steps back was a close second.

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

NYG finishes 6-10. It was the most wins they’ve had since 2016. While nobody is actually giving them credit for playing “meaningful games in December,” it was refreshing to walk away from week 17 thinking the arrow was finally pointing up. This was the first time since 2016 that NYG finished with a defense ranked top-half in the NFL and just the 3rd time since 2010. They finished even in the turnover battle a year after they tied for a league-worst -17. They were flagged the 6th-least amount of times just 2 years after getting flagged the 9th-most. They are clearly playing with more grit, hustle, and intelligence. Their coaching decisions are showing more innovation and creativity. There are still things to be done here, but this is the first time in a long time where I feel this team is on the right track.

The most polarizing personnel decision this offseason, in my opinion, is not at quarterback or wide receiver or outside linebacker or defensive tackle. It revolves around Evan Engram. He is locked into another year before his free agency hits in 2022. I’ll go on record now; I think they need to try and trade him if they can get a day 2 pick from someone. I do think he can thrive in a certain role in a certain offense and there is no denying his talent. However, this passing game just doesn’t have the margin of error to deal with his drop issues. We may be singing a different tune about this season if he didn’t drop the ball so much. I think NYG needs to get the “old school” tight end whether it be in the draft or in free agency. This offense will be built on the running game and short/intermediate passes. Engram doesn’t fit and his drops just kill the flow and upside. He isn’t worth the risk.

Where does NYG go this offseason? I will put together a more detailed approach in the coming weeks. But to be short and to the point, they need players on offense who scare the defense. With Barkley out, nobody scares the defense. Look at the top offenses, they all have multiple guys who scare you. You can use the #11 pick on getting the #1- or #2-graded receiver or you can go after one of the top free agents at the position. I lean toward the former. I also think the building of this offensive line isn’t close to being over. They need a new right side and they need to build more depth at tackle. They likely need another starter at outside corner or at least a guy who can rotate in. Lastly, they need a pure pass rusher on the edge who can help them break through the line while rushing just 4 guys while keeping 7 in coverage. Considering they need to figure out allocation of funds to Leonard Williams and Dalvin Tomlinson, all of this is a really tall order. If I had to, right now in this moment, rank where I think they need to apply resources, I am saying: OL, WR, EDGE, TE, CB. Those are the top 5 needs.

Thanks for discussing NYG football with me this year, everybody. Just think… about 5 months ago, we didn’t know if football would happen. And within the past 5 months, we had several chirping about the idea that the league should be put on hold. Football is more important to the well being of this country than most want to admit. We were fortunate that the league pulled off a full 256-game schedule. God Bless everyone. I will be around here and there, but during the next 3-4 months, I will be hunkered down writing my reports for the draft. Position previews will be out in April.

Jan 012021
 
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Daniel Jones, New York Giants (September 22, 2019)

Daniel Jones – © USA TODAY Sports

THE STORYLINE

The New York Giants are in a very strange position. A 10-loss team, the Giants face scenarios in the NFL’s final regular-season weekend where they could make the playoffs by winning the atrocious NFC East or secure a top 10 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

For the Giants to make the playoffs, they have to beat the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday afternoon and pray the Philadelphia Eagles beat the Washington Football team on Sunday night. Neither is impossible and there is a good chance the Giants can pull this off. If they do, the Giants will likely lose in the first round of the playoffs to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Los Angeles Rams. And Giants fans will be left with the opportunity to purchase the tragically comical “6-10 New York Giants 2020 NFC East Champions” t-shirt.

So should we REALLY be rooting for New York to win this game? Wouldn’t it be best for the long-term interests of this team to secure a much higher draft pick? There is merit to that argument. But there is also merit to the argument that if the Giants are ever to become a truly competitive team again, they need to re-develop a winning mindset and culture. Joe Judge also needs to know which of the players on his current roster will perform well in the crucible of playoff-type football. Over a decade ago, Tom Coughlin learned that players such as Eli Manning, Brandon Jacobs, Plaxico Burress, Michael Strahan, Antonio Pierce, and Corey Webster could be counted on in pressure-packed situations with an entire season on the line. In 2016, Ben McAdoo discovered Odell Beckham could not.

This game, and the potential playoff game, are hugely important tests for Daniel Jones, Wayne Gallman, Darius Slayton, Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram, the offensive and defensive line, the three rookie linebackers, and many of the players in the secondary. Do they elevate their game? Remain inconsistent? Fold under the pressure? Joe Judge will be watching.

THE INJURY REPORT

  • QB Daniel Jones (hamstring – probable)
  • FB Eli Penny (illness – out)
  • WR Golden Tate (calf – doubtful)
  • WR Sterling Shepard (ribs – probable)
  • TE Evan Engram (calf – probable)
  • LB Cam Brown (illness – questionable)
  • S Jabrill Peppers (ankle – probable)
  • CB Darnay Holmes (knee – probable)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE

The Dallas Cowboys are 26th in yards allowed and 30th in points allowed. The Giants are 31st in both yards gained and points scored. Something has to give. The Giants offense never hit any sort of stride in 2020. The most points the team scored in a single game was against Dallas on October 11th in a 37-34 loss (seven NYG points were from a defensive score). Since beating the Philadelphia Eagles 27-17 on November 15th right before the bye week, the Giants haven’t scored more than 20 points in a game. During the last five games after the bye, the team has embarrassingly only averaged 12.4 points. It’s a minor miracle the Giants won two of those five games.

I’ve pointed out ad nauseam how the personnel limitations on offense have hampered this team all year. It is what it is. The offensive line is a work in progress. It got dramatically better during a 4-game winning streak and got dramatically worse during the current 3-game losing streak. There is a direct correlation between how this offensive line plays and the overall competency of the offense, leading to more or less rushing yards and more or fewer negative plays in the passing game. Throw in the ill-timed injuries to Daniel Jones and the utter lack of fear-inducing targets to throw to and it’s pretty easy to see why the team has struggled to score points.

As always, rightfully or wrongly, the lightening rods/scapegoats are the coaches and quarterback. Many fans say if we just get rid of Jason Garrett (they are not prepared to go after Joe Judge – yet) and the quarterback, all will be right in the world. This is just a lazy and stupid reaction. It’s much more complicated than that. And New York fans should know better, especially since we literally just went through this three other coaching staffs and Eli Manning. The talent (or lack thereof) on the offensive line, at running back, at tight end, at wide receiver matters. Hell, the play of the defense has an impact the offense (turnovers, field position, keeping the score within reach, time of possession, number of drives, etc.).

Fans may forget, but Eli’s rookie season was largely a disaster. He actually finished one game against the Baltimore Ravens with a 0.0 quarterback rating, only completing four passes for 27 yards. Meanwhile, Ben Roethlisberger was tearing it up on the 15-1 Pittsburgh Steelers. Most Giants fans were absolutely convinced the Giants had drafted the wrong quarterback. Eli lost his first six starts. All was doom-and-gloom until he beat the 6-9 Dallas Cowboys in the season-finale, throwing three touchdowns and leading the team from behind in a dramatic last-second victory. Even with playoff appearances in 2005 and 2006, as late as December 2007, many if not most fans were convinced Eli would never take them to the promised land.

Minus the surrounding offensive and defensive talent that Eli Manning had, Daniel Jones had a far, far superior rookie season in 2019. Indeed, had it not been for the ridiculous number of fumbles, fans would have been raving about him all offseason. And he had two watershed games that year with dramatic come-from-behind wins against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Washington Redskins, throwing five touchdowns in the latter during a season where he threw 24 touchdowns in 12 starts.

Where am I going with this? Daniel Jones can do it. We’ve seen it. He can throw a lot of touchdown passes. He can run for touchdowns. He can lead his team from behind. I remain firmly convinced that if you surround him with legitimate NFL talent, he can perform. That all said, this game against the Dallas Cowboys is a huge, huge test for him. Yes, he is not completely healthy. Yes, his offensive line remains inconsistent. Yes, his pass targets suck. But this is a playoff game. Jones needs to elevate his play and carry his team as much as he can without doing something really stupid. In short, score points. Is he a winner?

One way or the other, this is likely to be the game that everyone remembers from Jones heading into the offseason.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE

The good news for the Giants’ defense is they are not facing the Cardinals, Browns, or Ravens this week. But Dallas isn’t chopped liver. They lost Dak Prescott for the season against the Giants in October, but Andy Dalton is a legit NFL starter with a 2-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio. Dallas is 12th in offense (7th in passing yards and 17th in rushing yards).

To be blunt, the New York defense hit its high point against the Seattle Seahawks on December 6th and has been playing like shit during the current 3-game losing streak. The 73 points given up in the last three games has not been indicative of the poor play. They haven’t been good against the run or the pass. This has to change on Sunday or the Giants have no chance. And Andy Dalton has already led the Cowboys to a come-from-behind victory against the Giants and Patrick Graham this year. That was a game the Giants should not have let slip away.

Despite the fact that he is having a down season, the focal point must remain Ezekiel Elliott, who has rushed for “just” 937 yards and five touchdowns this year. Much of that is a reflection of a diminished offensive line that simply is missing parts and not playing as well. Nevertheless, Elliott is still quite capable of wearing down a defense and taking over a game. The Ravens ran all of the Giants last week to the tune of 250 yards. The Cowboys are going to test them.

That all said, the absolute strength of the current Dallas offensive team are their passing game targets, headlined by wide receivers Amari Cooper (86 catches, 1,073 yards, 5 touchdowns), CeeDee Lamb (69 catches, 892 yards, 5 touchdowns), and Michael Gallup (55 catches, 794 yards, 5 touchdowns). Throw in tight end Dalton Schultz (56 catches, 545 yards, 4 touchdowns) and Elliott (49 catches, 319 yards, 2 touchdowns). If Daniel Jones had targets like these, he would be lighting it up. (As a team, the Giants only have 10 touchdown receptions this year).

The problem for Patrick Graham is this: he doesn’t have the cornerbacks to match up with Dallas. James Bradberry can cover one of these studs, but Isaac Yiadom will have to take another and rookie Darnay Holmes (still dealing with a knee issue) will have take yet another. The linebackers and safeties can’t help out too much without leaving Schultz or Elliott all alone. This is what I mean when I say the surrounding talent matters. These guys make Andy Dalton look good.

Graham can only do so much game-planning here. Dalton is a veteran. The Giants can’t focus too much on the run or the pass because Dallas is balanced. This game will come down to individual match-ups… who is better and who wants it more. To win, the Giants will most likely have to win the turn over battle.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS

The Cowboys always seem to have very good special teams. As noted, the Giants special teams played well most of this year but have faded down the stretch. They definitely have been a factor in the 3-game losing streak as well. The offense could use some help with a big return in the return game to set up quality field position.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH

Head Coach Joe Judge on whether the 2020 season can be considered a success for his team, regardless of the outcome of Sunday’s game: “Yeah, I think there are a lot of things in terms of what we set out to accomplish this year that no one game is going to go ahead and define the season. I’m proud of the culture and the foundation we’ve laid and the work ethic and urgency we’ve instilled in these players going forward. That being said, there are a lot of things we need to do better as an organization across the board going forward. We have to keep building this thing in the right direction. But I know there’s a vision going forward and there are a lot of people pointing in the right direction right now. So yeah, absolutely. But that being said, look, our job is to go out and win on Sunday. We’re doing everything we can right now to go out there and win a football game.”

THE FINAL WORD

The Giants went on a 4-game winning streak that included three wins against the terrible NFC East. They upset the Seahawks but showed their true colors against real play caliber teams (Arizona, Cleveland, Baltimore). The Cowboys are a bad team in a bad division. The Giants can win this game.

I love the Giants and hate the Cowboys. So you know my rooting interests. That said, there is a weird dynamic with this game in that it could mean the difference in sliding as possibly as many 15 spots in the draft order. What do I want more than anything? To be left with a really positive impression of Daniel Jones heading into the offseason.

Dec 292020
 
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Daniel Jones, New York Giants (December 27, 2020)

Daniel Jones – © USA TODAY Sports

QUICK RECAP

The NFL season is full of streaks both hot and cold, for every respective team in the league. The ones that trek through the peaks and valleys the best while minimizing the down times and maximizing the good times are the teams standing tall at the end. The best can still turn those low points into wins while the bottom feeders just can’t seem to hide their issues well enough. The Baltimore Ravens entered the week 16 matchup winners of 3 straight averaging a league high 40 points per game over that span behind the surging Lamar Jackson, who caught fire over that period (10 touchdowns). The Giants entered the game going in the complete opposite direction. They had lost two straight and scored a combined 30 points over the previous 3 weeks, 10 less than what BAL was averaging per game. In the putrid NFC East, however, they were still alive.

The BAL offense continued their impressive, machine-type offensive work early on. They scored touchdowns on both of their first two drives while chewing up the majority of the first quarter-clock. They held onto the ball for 13:17 while NYG possessed it for 1:43 and got flagged for two false starts while accruing 18 total yards. BAL added 3 more points on a 20-yard field goal by All-Pro kicker Justin Tucker, following another long drive, this one 13 plays. With 5 minutes left in the first half, BAL had run 36 plays and NYG just 10.

NYG’s offense did start moving the ball on their final possession of the half, as they had to start eating away at the 17-point deficit. They found themselves in the red zone with 1:25 left and this is where I felt they mismanaged the clock. Following a 4 yard completion to Sterling Shepard on a 1st and 10, BAL called a timeout. They knew there would be enough time to potentially get the ball back. NYG then proceeded to call two high-difficulty pass plays to undrafted rookie Austin Mack. Both fell incomplete and BAL did indeed get the ball back with 2 timeouts and over 1 minute on the clock following Graham Gano’s 31-yard field goal.

BAL then ran another 10 plays that brought them all the way to the NYG 10-yard line, but they were finally stopped by a quality pass rush which made them settle on another field goal, this one from 28 yards, that Tucker nailed through the uprights to give BAL a commanding 20-3 lead at the half. BAL out-gained NYG 282-95 yards and won the time of possession battle 22:38 to 7:22 in the first two quarters. Complete domination.

NYG began the second half with a three-and-out, but the defense did stop BAL for the first time soon after. The NYG offense then started to wake up with chunk gains from Wayne Gallman, Dante Pettis, and C.J. Board. They got into the red zone with a 1st-and-10, but the first two plays from there were a 5-yard loss on a screen to Sterling Shepard and then a 7-yard loss on a sack. They had to settle on a field goal which Gano nailed from 42 yards. This was his 29th straight successful attempt, tying an all-time NYG record.

BAL ended the 3rd quarter with another touchdown-scoring drive spurred by a 25-yard run by rookie running back J.K. Dobbins. Jackson ended the drive by finding a wide open Dez Bryant in the end zone. Yes, the same Dez Bryant who was playing in his 5th game since the start of the 2018 season and formerly of the division-rival Dallas Cowboys. The 32-year old was surrounded by open turf as the NYG secondary had a miscommunication in coverage.

NYG then began the 4th quarter with their own marathon, clock-eating drive that was 15 plays long. This was very much aided by BAL mistakes, however. After a set of plays that saw Jones sacked on three-straight drop backs, BAL running back Justice Hill was flagged for a roughing-the-punter penalty which gave NYG a fresh start from their own 37. BAL was flagged 3 more times on that drive and even though the NYG offense still seemed lethargic and sloppy, they were able to score a touchdown on a 3-yard pass from Jones to Shepard. NYG had narrowed the gap to 14 points with just under 9 minutes remaining. A three-and-out by the BAL offense gave NYG the ball back but NYG was never able to breach midfield. After a 12-yard completion to Shepard, NYG went incomplete-incomplete-sack-incomplete on the following four passing plays. Yet another pathetic display of offense.

BAL drove the ball all the way down to the NYG 1-yard line after starting at the 35. A fumble on the exchange between Jackson and running back Gus Edwards was recovered by the newly-extended Logan Ryan for the lone ball-turnover of the game. NYG had under 2 minutes left and no timeouts. One of the worst two offenses in football could not even reach midfield, yet again, despite BAL playing a soft defense and aiding them with a 10-yard pass interference. The game ended with the final four NYG offensive plays netting 3 total yards on a scramble by Jones before turning it over on downs and back to BAL for the victory formation kneel-down.

NYG loses 27-13.

QUARTERBACK

-Daniel Jones: 24-41 / 252 yards / 1 TD – 0 INT / 84.6 RAT

The stat line actually made Jones’ performance look better than he played. It wasn’t a good game for the sophomore, as he missed on multiple throws that, simply put, he needs to make. He was short on a couple deep balls to Slayton, he was high on a couple of open slants where he had pressure coming right at him, and he did not process information quickly enough when BAL sent the house in their blitz packages. While the offensive line didn’t do him any favors and we just don’t see these receivers ever running with space around them, his performance did not help this team. Was he rusty after a few weeks of being in and out of practice and games? Was he overwhelmed by the aggressive BAL defense? Did he not respond well to not really being able to use his legs? Or is he just not that good? I’ll discuss further in the closing comments.

RUNNING BACKS

-I really don’t get why NYG hasn’t been using Wayne Gallman more in the first half these past few weeks. He carried the ball 6 times for 27 yards and caught 2 passes for 26 yards. In the first half, he touched the ball 3 times. Granted, BAL dominated time of possession and NYG only ran 18 play,s but I still think Gallman has been productive enough to warrant more consistent touches in the first half where a team can dictate play calls more than the game situation. The same can’t be said in the second half.

-Dion Lewis had 15 yards on his lone carry and Alfred Morris had a 9 yard catch and gained 4 yards on 3 carries, including a key 3rd-and-1 conversion.

WIDE RECEIVER

-Sterling Shepard had a season high 9 catches and 77 yards with a touchdown, just his second of the year. It’s been over two months since he last scored. Shepard played a really tough, competitive game from the slot and outside positions. He came up with a big 3rd-down conversion on the lone NYG touchdown scoring drive.

-Darius Slayton caught 2 passes for 26 yards and dropped another one, although it was a tough grab due to an off-throw by Jones. He still needs to start showing the ability to make these tough catches and be more physical against contact. If he wants to be a guy who can run in a straight line and catch passes with nobody on him, fine. But if he is going to be more than the occasional deep threat, he needs to more consistently make the tough plays.

-C.J. Board caught a pass for 16 yards and Dante Pettis caught 2 passes for 33 yards in his first game-action with the team. Remember, San Francisco was very excited about this kid not so long ago. Talent is there, but he has had durability and mental-capacity issues.

-Austin Mack saw more playing time than he has seen in a while. He was targeted three times and didn’t come away with anything. He had a really bad drop on a 3rd-and-4 would-be conversion. He was also flagged for a holding penalty on a kick return.

TIGHT END

-Evan Engram had 7 catches for 63 yards. The “big play threat” is now averaging a career-low 10.4 yards per catch. Three of the four Giants leading pass catchers are averaging 11 yards per catch or less. Engram does provide spark and twitch but he just doesn’t create enough big plays for a guy who everyone says is dripping with talent. He graded out average as a blocker.

-Kaden Smith and Levine Toilolo were quiet in their respective backup roles. Smith did provide a couple of quality run blocks.

OFFENSIVE LINE

-It was a horrid day for this group, especially in the second half. They just did not come to play across the board. Center Nick Gates was the only one who graded at the average point; everyone else was below the desired mark.

-Rookie Matt Peart allowed 2.5 sacks despite being on the field for just 17 plays. He looked confused and it made him move awkwardly with very little power presence. Cameron Fleming outplayed him by a long shot, allowing just 1 pressure but was also flagged for a false start on a 3rd down. Killer.

-Shane Lemieux continues to struggle when it comes to maintain quality presence and contact as a pass blocker. He allowed 2 pressures and a sack. This coaching staff really seems to favor him over Will Hernandez, who played just 10 snaps, but I think it may be time to let the latter back in this upcoming week. Lemieux just can’t get it done as a pass blocker on an island and opponents now know this. They will keep isolating him.

-Kevin Zeitler was flagged for a false start and allowed 1 pressure and a half-sack. Rookie Andrew Thomas was also flagged for a false start and he allowed 2 pressures. Both got good push in the running game, however. It didn’t help much though.

EDGE

-On a day where the NYG defense could neither rush the passer nor stop the outside run, one can only shake their head. That is exactly what happened. Jabaal Sheard had 2 tackles and Cam Brown finished with three. They both missed a tackle and neither got a pressure. They were facing the backup tackle tandem on an offense that has been mightily struggling with pass blocking. Brown did make an impressive play where he ran down wide receiver Devin Duvernay, possibly one of the 20 fastest players in football. He is interesting, but that is all I will say about him for now. Still a long ways to go.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

-This was supposed to be a huge game for these guys. The BAL rushing offense came into this game ranked number one in the NFL. There is no secret to stopping this offense. You have to stuff the run and make Jackson throw. NYG failed, miserably. I have been vocal about the NYG defensive tackles being a key cog to the defensive improvements we have seen this season. With that said, they were outmatched for the majority of the game.

-Dexter Lawrence was the one guy who could have passed as a good player at times in this game. He finished with 5 tackles and a pressure. He remained active throughout the game and made a few plays away from the ball.

-Leonard Williams finished with 1 tackle and 1 pressure in his worst game of the year. Dalvin Tomlinson added 4 tackles and a pressure, but was over-matched in the first half when BAL jumped out to that early lead.

-B.J. Hill added 3 tackles and a pressure.

LINEBACKER

-Blake Martinez was hot and cold. I still don’t think he is 100% based on how he is moving in pursuit. He did play with some decent power and strength, finishing with 12 tackles. He had a big-time fill and stuff on a 3rd-and-2 failed attempt in the second half when NYG still had some life.

-Tae Crowder struggled. The best athlete in this group did show some speed and twitch as usual, but he missed a team high 3 tackles and was flagged for a block in the back on a kick return. He finished with 8 tackles, but it was his worst game of the year and it was against the stiffest competition he has been up against.

-David Mayo was on the field for 44 plays and somehow did not record a single tackle. He missed 2 of them. He was outclassed when it came to speed and agility.

CORNERBACK

-James Bradberry was back on the field after missing a game. BAL barely even looked his way. He did finish with 3 tackles.

-Part of the reason why Bradberry didn’t get tested was Isaac Yiadom. It was his worst game of the year. He missed 2 tackles, lost outside contain on a 3rd-down conversion, and allowed a touchdown to Marquise Brown.

-Logan Ryan saw a lot of time at nickel. He did finish with 8 tackles and a fumble recovery, but missed 2 tackles. Both of his misses were big and it appears he allowed a touchdown on a misread in zone coverage. Ryan does give NYG a lot of hot and cold. By no means was the extension a bad decision, but there are reasons why nobody in the league wanted him at a significant contract price this past offseason. He needs to clean the mistakes up, especially the ones that revolve around tackling.

SAFETY

-Julian Love saw less playing time. It looks like Xavier McKinney has passed him on the depth chart and it didn’t go well in BAL. McKinney was beat by tight end Mark Andrews multiple times. He also missed 2 tackles. The one thing I will say that I did like was his playing speed. He gets from point A to point B faster than anyone else on the defense.

-Jabrill Peppers had 6 tackles and a TFL. Nothing stood out, good or bad.

SPECIAL TEAMS

-K Graham Gano: 2/2 (Made 31, 42).
-P Riley Dixon: 3 Punts / 47.0 avg / 35.0 net

3 STUDS

-WR Sterling Shepard, LB Blake Martinez, OC Nick Gates

3 DUDS

-DT Leonard Williams, CB Isaac Yiadom, EDGE Jabaal Sheard

3 THOUGHTS ON BAL

This is one team I just wouldn’t want to play in the postseason. Sure, they haven’t done much there since Jackson has been in the fold. Sure, their passing game isn’t dangerous. Sure, their offensive line isn’t quite what it was a year ago. However, when this team is hot, they show dominance that is as high as anyone. You know what they’re doing, and you just can’t stop it.

Want to know the sign of as really good coaching staff? One that can adjust. One that is not stubborn and set in their ways. Look no further than BAL. They took in Jackson (after trading up for him with the last pick of the 2018 Draft) and morphed their scheme and surrounding cast in a blink of the eye when they put him into the starting role. They stocked up on tight ends. They stocked up on physical downhill running backs. They stocked up on big offensive linemen. BAL has, by far, been the top rushing team in the NFL since the start of 2019. Next up, they have to get it done in the playoffs.

Talk about a homegrown defense and just a team overall that drafts well. Over 75% of their starters / heavy rotation guys were drafted by BAL over the past 8-10 years. Dating all the way back to 2013 (!)…BAL has drafted one current big-time contributor to their defense OR had a big-time defensive player sign elsewhere because of cap economics.

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

Some of you need to read this. I try to avoid talking like this within the reviews but not this time. It is OK if you believe Jones is not the answer. It is OK if you think Jones is the answer. Nobody can objectively determine that right now. One thing we all can and should agree on: you don’t know. I don’t know. He doesn’t know. She doesn’t know. The kid has played TWENTY-FIVE games behind a bottom-5 offensive line, the worst set of receivers in football, a tight end who is among league leaders in drops, and a star running back who has missed 14 of 25 games in which Jones started. He needs to be better and I have been vocal about that. You can even argue NYG should start over at QB in the upcoming draft. But to say Jones and NYG should be better because he was the #6 pick (means almost nothing, do some research), or that Jones is a definitive bust, you just sound foolish. This kid has shown more in 25 games than SO MANY quality quarterbacks. That is a fact.

The most disappointing part of this NYG loss was the defensive line. I had high hopes that they would rise to the occasion and put this team back on track. They failed miserably. This is the issue with building a defense on big-and-physical but slow-and- limited athletes who do most of their work between the tackles. Football is a game of space and speed, and NYG just doesn’t have enough up front. They aren’t dynamic enough within the pass rush unless it is schemed.

Here we are entering Week 17 with what I consider a realistic shot at making the playoffs. Not because NYG has played well, but because this division is historically bad. No matter the case, I think rooting for a loss so they can pick higher in the draft is just wrong. If WAS loses to a motivated PHI (which I think will happen), the Giants will have an opportunity to play in a playoff game. Playoff experience is huge for so many young ball clubs. This is the biggest game NYG has had late in the year in a very long time and if they come out firing on all cylinders after such a poor 3-week stretch, it is a great sign for the future. Whether they make the playoffs or not, that is a fact. If they come out and lay an egg and continue their bottom-level offensive football against a horrid defense like DAL, then it is a huge negative sign for the future in my eyes. From that perspective, I think it is pretty easy to decide what you are rooting for. I hope you understand that.

Dec 252020
 
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Joe Judge, New York Giants (January 9, 2020)

Joe Judge – © USA TODAY Sports

THE STORYLINE

2020 has been a very strange year and that strangeness has extended to the NFL and the New York Giants. In a shocking move, the Giants hired a relatively unknown, 38-year old special teams coordinator as the franchise’s new head coach  in January. Although he had no head coaching experience at any level, Joe Judge immediately began to win over skeptical fans during his fiery, introductory press conference. More so than any Giants head coach in memory, Judge took his own sweet time in methodically putting together what appeared to a strong coaching staff. Fans were largely unimpressed with the slew of players added in free agency, headlined by high-priced acquisitions James Bradberry and Blake Martinez. Most of the anticipation and focus centered on the 2020 NFL Draft, with the Giants holding the fourth overall selection.

Then COVID-19 hit.

“15 days to stop the spread” morphed into something far darker. One of the minor casualties appeared to be the 2020 NFL season. From a purely parochial, pro sports viewpoint, it appeared that Joe Judge’s inaugural season was irrevocably sabotaged. Teams were not able to meet with players before the draft. No rookie mini-camp, no OTAs, no veteran mini-camp, zoom calls instead of face-to-face interaction, abbreviated and restricted training camp, no preseason. Would a full season even be possible?

All of this for a team that had won just 12 total games in 2017, 2018, and 2019 and was now on its fourth head coach and second general manager since 2015. There was a sense that the Giants were in perpetual rebuilding mode, merely spinning their wheels. The last thing the franchise and Joe Judge needed was the COVID albatross.

Among fans, the doom-and-gloomers initially ended up being right. The young team with a new coach missed a preseason that it desperately needed. The early schedule was a bitch. And disaster struck when the Giants lost their best player, Saquon Barkley, early in Week 2. The Giants quickly found themselves 0-5. Yet another season appeared over by October. The Giants got embarrassed by a 49er JV team and let two leads against the Cowboys disappear. Fans turned on turnover-machine Daniel Jones and there was talk that the Giants may own the first pick in the 2021 Draft and select Trevor Lawrence.

Then something unexpected happened. The Giants started playing better. The Giants won their annual “feel good” game against Washington. New York lost two heart-breakers against the Eagles and Buccaneers, games in which the Giants held 4th-quarter leads. The Giants then went on a 4-game winning streaking, beating Washington, the Eagles (finally!), the Bengals, and the Seahawks (holy crap!). Unbelievably, the Giants were tied for first place in December. And had they made a play here or there against the Cowboys and Bucs, they could have been in the midst of a 7-game winning streak and a commanding NFC East lead.

What happened? Daniel Jones stopped turning the ball over. And the entire defense and offensive line were coming on. The former under Patrick Graham, who had only just become a defensive coordinator in 2019 in Miami. The latter despite offensive line coach Marc Colombo unexpectedly being fired during the surge.

Giants fans who had become accustomed to losing football were now giddy in December! That all changed when the Cardinals bitch-slapped the Giants 26-7 in mid-December. An offense that had struggled to score all season and already missing Barkley could not also deal with an obviously hobbled Daniel Jones. Worse, the schedule was clearly getting tougher again. The Giants (not unexpectedly) fell to 5-9, one game behind Washington with two games left to play. That’s where we are right now.

Why the recap? Because I think many Giants fans have lost their freaking minds.

Giants fans before the Browns game: “We have no chance! We’re going to get killed!”

Giants fans after the Browns game: “We suck! How could we lose to the Browns?!”

Many (not all, but many) Giants fans are still living in denial. They don’t seem to REALLY understand that this team has won just 17 games in four years. The fact that the Giants are one game out of first place in arguably the worst division in NFL history doesn’t change that fact. The Giants STILL have significant talent issues on offense and defense. The Cardinals and Browns beat the Giants because they are the better teams. The Giants are improving but they have a long way to go.

Now to the good stuff. The Giants can still make the playoffs. The Baltimore Ravens should win this game, but the Giants are certainly capable of pulling off the upset if a few things break their way. Despite all of the shit that has happened this year, the Giants are still only one game out with two games left to play. Not ideal. But if you painted this picture in September, many Giants fans would have been thrilled to be in this position.

THE INJURY REPORT

  • QB Daniel Jones (hamstring/ankle – questionable)
  • WR Golden Tate (calf – out)
  • TE Evan Engram (calf – probable)
  • OT Matt Peart (ankle – probable)
  • LB Blake Martinez (ankle – questionable)
  • CB Darnay Holmes (knee – questionable)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE

I love you guys, but you are driving me crazy. Since September, I’ve pointed out the personnel limitations on this side of the ball. I told you all how catastrophic the loss of Saquon Barkley would be to this talent-deprived unit. Where I was wrong is I didn’t fully realize how inept our receiving targets were going to be this year. I foolishly expected more out of Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton, Golden Tate, and Evan Engram. These “big four” have just SEVEN touchdown receptions in 14 games. As a team, the Giants only have nine touchdown passes. That’s beyond dreadful.

Jason Garrett has a long history of coaching top-10 offenses in this league. That’s just a fact. “But look at his talent in Dallas!” That’s my point. The New York backfield last week included Colt McCoy (8-22 starting QB) and Alfred Morris (32-year old RB who had one carry in 2019). Shit, that was the Redskins backfield in 2014 (a team that finished 4-12). “Garrett should be able to do the same with McCoy, Morris, and Tate as Cleveland does with Mayfield, Chubb, and Landry!” (See how stupid this sounds?)

I still haven’t given up on Daniel Jones. I may be dead wrong, but I feel he has been sabotaged with poor surrounding talent. He played much better as a rookie, but Barkley only missed three games last year. When a defense focuses all of their attention on Barkley, it opens everything up everyone else. This year, when his protection got better, Jones stopped turning the ball over. The hamstring and ankle injuries obviously affected his play against the Cardinals. It remains to be seen how much they will hinder him against the Ravens and Cowboys. Keep this in mind: Daniel Jones started 12 games in 2019 and 12 games thus far in 2020. He threw 24 touchdown passes last year. He has eight this year. You can draw your own conclusions as you best see fit.

Big picture, here is where the Giants are at: This year, the Giants can be respectable on offense when the offensive line is having one of its “good games” and Daniel Jones is relatively healthy. This is NOT a team that can count on its wide receivers and tight ends to make plays in the passing game. There is no depth at these positions either; none of the young players pushing the non-productive starters (Austin Mack is not going to save the day). Even Wayne Gallman has seen his carries decline from 24 to 16 to 12 to 9 in the past four games. As a group, many if not most of the wide receivers, tight ends, and running backs currently on the roster will not be on this team in 2021 (and a few won’t be in the NFL). The Giants are a bad offensive football team because they have bad offensive personnel at the skill positions. Read that last sentence again.

What about the future? The building blocks on the offensive line appear to be in place. They just have to continue to grow together and gain cohesion and chemistry. Sy’56 strongly argues to add additional pieces to the line in order to turn this into a real strength. He argues a very good offensive line can cover up a multitude of sins. Assuming the Giants move ahead with Daniel Jones, the offensive offseason priorities have to be centered around upgrading the wide receivers and tight ends. No one here scares other teams. Also pray that Saquon Barkley can return near full strength. Long story short, in many ways, this team doesn’t even have major component parts on the roster yet. The rebuild continues.

As for the game against the Ravens, for the Giants to have a chance, they have to play like they did against Seattle. Run, run, run behind a big and physical offensive line that will hopefully be “on”… because if they aren’t, the Giants are toast. Unfortunately, Baltimore has the NFL’s 9th-ranked defense (10th against the run, 14th against the pass, 4th in scoring defense).

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE

Like the injuries to Daniel Jones, the loss of James Bradberry due to a COVID precaution came at a bad time. His absence, along with nickel corner Darnay Holmes (a de facto starter), was keenly felt against the Browns. The loss of these two players had a trickle-down effect throughout the entire pass defense. It also demonstrated just how thin the Giants are at the corner position thanks to botching the Deandre Baker and Sam Beal picks.

Assuming Holmes plays, the Giants will be near full-strength on defense (late note: LB Blake Martinez was a late addition to the injury report). For the third week in a row, the Giants will be playing a top-four rushing attack. The Cardinals are #4 and the Browns are #3. This weekend, the Giants play the #1 rushing team in the NFL as the Ravens average almost 173 yards per game, or one yard less in what they average throwing the football (31st in the NFL). Usually, run-centric teams can have issues scoring, but that isn’t true for the Cardinals, Browns, and Ravens. Baltimore is 6th in the NFL in scoring, averaging 29 points per game (the Giants have dropped to an embarrassing 17 points per game).

Even more so than the Cardinals, the focal point of the Ravens’ rushing attack is their quarterback, Lamar Jackson (828 yards rushing, 6.1 yards per rush, 7 touchdowns). Running backs Gus Edwards (578 yards, 4.9 yards per rush, 6 touchdowns) and J.K. Dobbins (568 yards, 5.2 yards per carry, 6 touchdowns) contribute another 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns. As a team, the Ravens have 21 rushing touchdowns.

Lamar Jackson has thrown for one yard less than Daniel Jones this year. But while Jones has eight touchdown passes and nine interceptions, Jackson has thrown for 21 touchdowns and eight interceptions on 50 fewer attempts. The efficiency of his game is why he has a QBR 20 points higher than Jones. Only three Ravens have more than 17 receptions on the season: WR Marquise Brown (49 catches, 703 yards, 5 touchdowns), TE Mark Andrews (48 catches, 598 yards, 7 touchdowns), and WR Willie Snead (31 catches, 408 yards, 3 touchdowns).

When Jackson is “on,” he’s truly a difference maker who can dominate a game with his arm and feet. But when he is “off,” the Ravens suffer and can be beaten. The Giants clearly need to focus on defending the run, especially the more “gimmicky” designed QB runs. Kyler Murray was good practice for the Giants. But also keep in mind the Cardinals soundly crushed the Giants 26-7 just two weeks ago.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS

The game within a game this week is two former special teams coordinators turned head coaches matching off against each other. New York’s late-season downward spiral on special teams continued last weekend with the odd fake field goal attempt against Cleveland. The Ravens have returned one kickoff for a touchdown this season and their punt returner is averaging a respectable 8.6 yards per punt return. They also have superb kickers.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH

Head Coach Joe Judge on the 2020 Baltimore Ravens: “You talk about them as a team, they obviously went through that three-week stretch where they played on kind of not normal weeks. Short schedules, long schedules, guys being pulled out for COVID, whatever the reason is. Obviously, they’re getting guys back now healthy. They’re really hitting their stride. This is a very good team. It’s going to take everything we have to prepare for them. We have to have our best on Sunday.”

THE FINAL WORD

The Baltimore Ravens are arguably the best team the Giants have faced this year. They have top units on offense, defense, and special teams. As Judge pointed out, they had to deal with unbelievable COVID issues, but are now hitting their stride. On paper, this is one of the worst teams for the Giants to be facing in a must-win situation. But it is what it is. The Giants put themselves in this position by losing earlier games to the Cowboys and Eagles. For all intents and purposes, this is a playoff game.

My head says “no way” but my heart says “Go Giants!”

Dec 222020
 
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Sterling Shepard, New York Giants (December 20, 2020)

Sterling Shepard – © USA TODAY Sports

QUICK RECAP

While the modern-day rivalry between the Cleveland Browns and New York Giants isn’t very historical or dramatic, as they only play once every four years and don’t have any championship games against one another, there was some extra spice to this late-season match-up. First, the 2019 CLE Head Coach Freddie Kitchens took over play calling duties for NYG for Jason Garrett, who missed the game because of Covid-19. Second, former CLE starting QB Colt McCoy was starting for the injured Daniel Jones. And third, these two teams traded players and picks with each other two offseasons ago, creating a “revenge” feel for many. Beyond that, the national TV, flexed game was a big one for NYG. Because of a WAS loss earlier in the day, NYG would be back in 1st place if they were able to pull off the upset against CLE, winner of 4 of their last 5.

Following a 48-yard return on the opening kick to midfield by Dion Lewis, NYG was set up nicely to start the game. Thanks to a 22-yard pass from McCoy to Sterling Shepard, NYG quickly had the ball in the red zone. After a failed touchdown pass attempt to Evan Engram, the NYG field goal unit came on for a 25-yard field goal attempt. The trickster in Joe Judge has been getting more and more aggressive, but this next decision took the cake. NYG rushed into an odd formation with everyone split out besides three down linemen. Center Nick Gates, an eligible receiver, snapped the ball then ran into the end zone. Punter Riley Dixon took the snap, dropped back like a quarterback similar to that time he did it in recess a couple decades ago, and lofted a pass to Gates who was surrounded by 3 CLE defenders. The ball fell incomplete, turnover on downs.

CLE then turned the ball over on downs near midfield, giving NYG another strong starting field position. This time, they turned it into 3 points. McCoy hit Darius Slayton for 35 yards on this drive and even though everyone knew points would be tough to come by, it was a good sign this team got into the red zone on both of their first two possessions. They were only up 3-0, however. Baker Mayfield, the #1 pick from the 2018 Draft, looked smooth, confident, and decisive. CLE used that to go up by a score of 7-3 via a 2-yard pass to tight end Austin Hooper.

Once again, NYG drove the ball down the field and breached the red zone. They were faced with a 4th-and-2 from the 6-yard line, enabling Judge to stay aggressive. A rush attempt failed to convert the first down and instead of points, it was a turnover on downs for the second time. NYG has an All-Pro contender at kicker, they have a hard time scoring points, and they now were down 7-3 instead of up 9-7. The seemingly automatic Mayfield continued to complete pass after pass on the next drive. They near-seamlessly put another touchdown on the board on a 2-yard pass to Jarvis Landry. Landry was flagged for taunting, however, pushing the CLE extra point attempt back 15 yards. Kicker Cody Parkey ended up hitting the upright on the PAT attempt, keeping the score at 13-3 as halftime approached. NYG has scored a combined 3 first half points over the previous 3 games.

CLE had the momentum and started the second half with the ball. If NYG wanted any shot at a comeback win, these opening second-half possessions were vital. Dexter Lawrence sacked Mayfield for an 11-yard loss on a 2nd-and-11. This was the play that was supposed to change the flow of the game. However, on the ensuing NYG drive, and after two first downs that brought NYG to midfield, Wayne Gallman was tackled for a 3-yard loss due to a failed attempted block by Engram, a wide receiver who sometimes lines up where a tight end is supposed to. This created a 3rd-and-12, which NYG did not convert.

CLE then went on a 14-play, 8+ minute drive that ended in a 1-yard touchdown by Nick Chubb. It was 20-3 and the NYG offense just couldn’t get anything going from sources like Colt McCoy, Alfred Morris, and a group pass catchers who are among the least-intimidating in football. NYG was able to put 3 more points on the board a couple possessions later to make it 20-6 (rather than 20-12) with 4 minutes left. CLE was done scoring but they did force NYG to burn their timeouts before getting the ball back with a minute left. A few pointless and meaningless gains later, the clock read 0:00 and NYG remained in 2nd place as they lost their second straight.

NYG loses, 20-6.

QUARTERBACK

-Colt McCoy: 19-31 / 221 yards / 0 TD – 0 INT / 82.9 RAT

For the second time in 3 weeks, McCoy got the start for an injured Daniel Jones. Expectations for a 34-yard old career backup are never high and whatever they may be, McCoy met them. He made a couple of really nice throws in the first quarter that led NYG to the red zone, but he couldn’t seal the deal on a couple of opportunities in the end zone. McCoy just didn’t put the ball where he needed to on a few occasions and that is often the difference between good and mediocre at this level. NYG went over 15 years without having to deal with a backup starting the game. We’ve now seen it twice in three weeks. It really is such a limiting factor.

RUNNING BACK

-Alfred Morris led the way with 39 yards on 7 carries while Wayne Gallman added 29 yards on 7 carries. Dion Lewis caught 2 passes for 14 yards and had a 48 yard kick return to start off the game but fumbled later in the game as a returner for the second week in a row. It wasn’t a bad day for the NYG backs, but it lacked impact and Gallman getting stuffed on a 4th-and-2 where he just didn’t have the sheer power to push the pile forward was a killer.

WIDE RECEIVER

-Darius Slayton led the way with 74 yards on 4 catches. He had an awful drop that would have converted a 3rd-and-10 (even if he did, there was a penalty on the offensive line that cancelled the play altogether). Still a really ugly look for Slayton. Those 74 yards were 29 yards more than what he accrued in the previous 3 games combined. However, 2 of those catches and 18 of those yards came in the final minute of the game where pretty much nobody cared.

-Sterling Shepard added 51 yards on 4 catches and Golden Tate caught 2 passes for 13 yards. That is a combined 6 catches for 64 yards. Just over 10 yards per catch, yet again from these two. The more games I see this offense play, the stronger the notion is that this team is starving for playmakers on the outside that scare a defense.

TIGHT END

-Evan Engram had a bad game. He did catch 4 passes for 46 yards but he added another drop to the list and his blocking was poor. He just isn’t a guy that can handle the rigors of blocking in-line. He allowed a TFL and caused both Morris and Gallman alike to alter the running lane on one occasion each. There was a near-touchdown that can’t be called a drop, however both of his hands were on the ball first and it was jarred out by CLE safety Karl Joseph.

-Kaden Smith and Levine Toilolo both deserve a positive write up. Smith was a key blocker on a couple of NYG’s longer runs. They used him as a trap blocker a couple times and he did some serious damage on contact. Toilolo added a catch for 14 yards and recovered the Dion Lewis fumble.

OFFENSIVE TACKLE

-After a horrific match-up against Haason Reddick a week ago, Andrew Thomas bounced back against Myles Garrett. Garrett didn’t look like his old self at points, but I like how Thomas played him. He was really aggressive with his hands and he kept his balance post-contact. He did allow a half-sack late in the game but besides that, he didn’t give anything. 0 Pressures, 0 TFL, 0 penalties.

-Cameron Fleming and Shane Lemieux were poor. Fleming just doesn’t have it snap to snap; he is pretty much always going to get beat eventually within a sustained drive. He allowed 2 pressures, got flagged for a hold, and allowed a half sack. Lemieux allowed 2 pressures and was flagged for a hands-to-the-face penalty which ended up being declined. His issues have more to do with the fact he just isn’t powerful enough yet. I think that will come with time. His twitch, balance, and technique look good.

-Kevin Zeitler allowed a TFL and Nick Gates was pretty quiet. He didn’t get left alone much but still produced quality run blocking with his ability to move guys laterally.

EDGE

-It was a quiet day overall for the group, but Carter Coughlin was the stand out. He had 4 tackles and a pressure. He did get beat badly in coverage by Austin Hooper twice, one of which was for a first down. He isn’t natural in that role because remember, he was purely an edge guy in college. I can remember writing in his scouting report that he had the skill set and intelligence to play a role inside down the road. With the BUCK role being an edge role that can fill in next to the MIKE inside at times in this defense, Coughlin is making a strong case to be considered for that role next year. He just needs to figure out coverage more than anything.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

-NYG held the CLE rushing attack (top 5 in the NFL) to a quiet day on the ground. The 106 yards were the lowest since November 1. The two catalysts? Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams. They were excellent off the line and showed range. They both had 6 tackles and a TFL, Lawrence also had a sack and pass deflection on 3rd down. Williams added 2 pressures and made rookie left tackle Jedrick Wills look like a child in the running game.

-B.J. Hill, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Austin Johnson all continued to rotate and provide solid run defense. None offered much against the pass. Johnson had a TFL.

LINEBACKER

-Blake Martinez looked, moved, and hit better than he did last week when he seemed to be recovering from his back injury. He was back to the level we had gotten so used to all year and it was a great combination with what NYG was working with up front. He had 10 tackles and 2 TFL. Not many guys can stone Kareem Hunt, but Martinez did. He played smart, instinctive, and physical. He is one of the best LBs in the league when it comes to noticing and reacting to the screen.

-Tae Crowder added 6 tackles and a TFL. Devante Downs and David Mayo rotated in but it is as clear as anything that Crowder is the guy there. Downs and Mayo both badly missed tackles in space. Those two need to play less and Crowder needs to be the only inside guy on the field next to Martinez.

CORNERBACK

-With both James Bradberry and Darnay Holmes out, NYG had to get a little creative at cornerback with Julian Love and Logan Ryan, both collegiate corners. Both of them played well in their roles, respectively. Ryan had 9 tackles and Love finished with 6. They both were beat by Jarvis Landry on separate 3rd down conversions and both missed a tackle.

-Isaac Yiadom was expected to step up in this one, and he did not. CLE clearly wanted to go after him and they ended up having a lot of success there. He allowed a touchdown to Landry and allowed two downfield completions to Rashard Higgins. He didn’t have a lot of help in this one and he just did not come through.

SAFETY

-In his first game back against the team that made him a 1st round pick in 2017, Jabrill Peppers was as quiet as we have seen this year. He had 3 tackles and just didn’t seem to make a physical presence known against the strong CLE rushing attack. He got caught over-pursuing two outside runs that I did not count as missed tackles, but it did create more yards for them.

-Rookie Xavier McKinney saw a slight uptick in playing time because of the vacancies at corner. He made 4 tackles and was often playing a preventative deep role in coverage. He didn’t really have an opportunity to display much against the pass.

SPECIAL TEAMS

-K Graham Gano: 2/2 (Made 39 and 37)
-P Riley Dixon: 2 Punts / 34.5 avg / 31.5 net

3 STUDS

-DT Dexter Lawrence, DT Leonard Williams, OT Andrew Thomas

3 DUDS

-OT Cameron Fleming, CB Isaac Yiadom, TE Evan Engram

3 THOUGHTS ON CLE

CLE went a combined 1-31 in 2016/2017. Their last winning season was 2007 (the first Eli Manning Super Bowl). They are now 10-4 and heading toward the playoffs with a big arrow pointing upward. How did they turn it around? Three things. One, they’ve crushed the early draft picks. DE Myles Garrett in 2017, Baker Mayfield and Denzel Ward in 2018, Jedrick Wills in 2020. Two, their Head Coach Kevin Stefanski has created a system on offense that fits his personnel perfectly and he sticks to it. Three, they have created one of the best offensive lines in football.

More on that offensive line because it deserves its own write up. Baker Mayfield has been sacked just 18 times this year. In 2019, he was sacked 41 times. Kudos to this Front Office for double-dipping at the OT spots by signing Jack Conklin in free agency and then using their 1st-round pick on Jedrick Wills. Those two, in combination with what I consider to be the top trio of interior offensive linemen in the league has instilled so much confidence in Mayfield in addition to paving the way for a top-5 rushing attack.

The CLE offense is better without Odell Beckham. I mean that 100% and I say it without hesitation. This is not a knock on Beckham at all. This has more to do with my thoughts on NYG and whether or not they should pursue a top WR in free agency. They need an uptick in talent there, but you need to tread carefully. An offense works best, in most cases, when the ball is being spread around. Mayfield was forcing the ball to Beckham and it was making him a less effective quarterback, plain and simple.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

There may not be a less effective offense in the NFL than what NYG is working with. Granted, they are working with a backup QB and they are missing the focal point of their offense in Barkley. But 30 points over 3 games (including 13 over the last 2) against three defenses that do not include any top 10 units is just embarrassing. The silver lining here is I would rather go into the offseason trying to fix a bad offense than a bad defense.

How does the 31st ranked offense get fixed? This offensive line needs to become dominant. Not good, they need to be dominant. I think NYG can go into next year with Thomas and Peart at tackle but both of those guys aren’t dominant players. Nick Gates is a keeper at center. The question and opportunity for upgrade will be at the guard spots. Whether it is a high priced free agent (Joe Thuney/NE?) or a 2nd round pick (there are a few), or both, NYG needs to go in that direction. It isn’t sexy, but I feel it is the most efficient and reliable way to go about it.

Two games left and yes, NYG still has a shot at this division crown. The biggest issue? They are matched up against a hot BAL team that, when all things are clicking, can be as hard to stop as anyone. While I am confident in NYG’s ability to stuff a traditional rushing attack like CLE, BAL is simply a different animal. Think about the way ARI was able to pick up chunk gains with Kyler Murray. This will be on the NYG defensive line, yes. But we really need to see that second level (LBs and safeties) step up.

Dec 182020
 
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THE STORYLINE

The New York Giants have been out of serious contention for so long that many of us forgot how quickly things can change during the roller coaster that is an NFL season. Left for dead, the Giants had scrapped and clawed their way to the top of the NFC East, winning four games in a row, including an impressive beat-down of the then 8-3 Seattle Seahawks. It was assumed that the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers would easily defeat the Washington Football Team on Monday night and the Giants would effectively have a 2-game advantage (owning the tie-breaker) with four to play.

Events began to turn against the Giants on December 7th. Washington came from behind to defeat the Steelers. Then in Week 14, disaster struck. Encumbered by a still clearly gimpy Daniel Jones, the Giants were destroyed by the Arizona Cardinals at home. Making matters much worse, every other team in the NFC East won. With three games left in the season, the Giants now find themselves one game behind Washington and having the much more difficult schedule.

If that wasn’t enough of a kick to the nuts, arguably the Giants best player, James Bradberry, will miss Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns because he came into close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. Offensive Coordinator Jason Garrett also tested positive and the team had to skip practice on Thursday because of it. The Giants also revealed that Daniel Jones suffered an ankle injury against the Cardinals. The Giants now find themselves in a must-win game against a 9-4 Cleveland Browns teams that scored 42 points last Monday in a loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Yikes.

One week ago, Giants fans were dreaming of a division title and a playoff game. Now, once again, they are thinking about the 2021 NFL Draft. What a pisser!

THE INJURY REPORT

  • QB Daniel Jones (hamstring/ankle – questionable)
  • TE Evan Engram (calf – questionable)
  • TE Kaden Smith (knee – questionable)
  • OG Kevin Zeitler (shoulder – probable)
  • CB Darnay Holmes (knee – out)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE

Many fans will say I am excuse-making, but the injuries to Daniel Jones could not have come at a worse time. Before the Seattle game, the Giants had won three games in a row. Jones had not turned the ball over in any of those wins and he was finding his stride and playing better despite the team’s liabilities in the receiving department. Without Jones, a Colt McCoy-led offense did just enough in the second half to pull out a win, relying mostly on the team’s defense. Jones returned in Week 14 against the Cardinals, but it became clear pretty early that the team rushed him back too soon. As I wrote in last week’s game preview, “The big question is will Daniel Jones play? And if he does, how effective will he be and will he not re-aggravate his hamstring injury? It’s not just a matter of the injury limiting his rushing ability, but ability to throw the football forcefully with accuracy and velocity.”

On New York’s first drive, the Giants picked up two first downs, reached mid-field, and then Jones got clobbered by an unblocked Markus Golden. He fumbled the ball in his throwing motion. The tone was set for the day and Jones was ineffective the rest of the contest, being sacked six times and fumbling two more times. Adding injury to insult, Jones now has a bum ankle to go along with his hamstring injury. Just terrible timing for quarterback who was finally coming around in his sophomore season with his team entering the stretch run.

I keep reading comments from Giants’ fans complaining about the offensive coordinator and play-calling. While an argument can be made that the team is not running the ball enough early, for the most part, the Giants’ poor offensive performance (31st in the NFL) is a product of their personnel limitations. I have been yelling this from the roof tops since Saquon Barkley got hurt, but it is still being ignored by those who don’t want to accept reality.

Teams with solid running games and few dynamic threats in the passing game don’t score a lot of points. The Giants were beginning to play much better on offense during their 4-game winning streak, but they were still only averaging 21.5 points per game during those four wins. It was the improved play of the offensive line that was largely responsible for the increased effectiveness of the running game and reduction in turnovers. With the offensive line unfortunately coming up with one of their worst performances of the year against the Cardinals, the result was predictable. The ground game was inconsistent. The quarterbacks got sacked eight times, fumbling four times. And the team scored seven points.

The offensive line is a work in progress. While it has improved dramatically and at times looked like a top unit, it is still peppered with inexperienced players who are learning to play together as a unit. They took a major step backwards last week. Jones can’t move around and as I feared, the bad wheels are also affecting his ability to set up and throw. But most disappointing of all are the receiving targets. It’s pretty clear now that Evan Engram is who he is… an occasional highlight reel player who comes up small in big moments and often disappears for long stretches of games and the season. He’s not a reliable player. And the Giants should have traded him when there was a decent market for his services. He’s a coach killer. And he and Kaden Smith are “questionable” for the game. Wonderful.

But let’s not let the wideouts off of the hook. Darius Slayton is averaging only three catches and 48 yards per game. Worse, his productivity has worsened as the season has progressed. In the last three games, Slayton has four catches and 45 yards. Once again, Sterling Shepard missed a huge chunk of the season with an injury and only has 416 yards receiving and one touchdown on the year. Golden Tate only has 375 yards. In other words, the team’s top three wideouts have a total of 1,420 yards and six touchdowns. That’s terrible. Let’s cut through the BS. Slayton is having a bad sophomore season, Shepard has never been more than JAG, and Tate is done. They will occasionally make a highlight reel catch, but none are consistently reliable. No one scares the defense.

Why am I painting this same sad picture AGAIN?!? I’m trying to reach you guys. This is an intervention. The New York Giants don’t have the offensive personnel to compete with the big boys right now. You can blame the coaches and the quarterback all you want, but it’s a unit-wide issue. When the offensive line is playing its A-game, the Giants have a chance to pound the rock. But they don’t have the skill players to score enough points. And now with the quarterback situation the way it is, the offense is likely to be really ugly the rest of the way. It is what it is.

As for Cleveland’s defense, there is a bit of an ex-Giant angle here. Linebacker B.J. Goodson is leading the team with 84 tackles and two interceptions. Edge rusher Olivier Vernon is second on the team with seven sacks. The Browns can get after the quarterback too with Myles Garrett (10.5 sacks) and Sheldon Richardson (4.5 sacks).

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE

You want more gloom? I’ve got it for you. One of the team’s best players and one of the major reasons the defense has turned itself around, James Bradberry, is out due to the COVID protocol. (It’s not even clear he has COVID). Just terrible timing again in a must-win situation facing a team that just scored 42 points. Worse, nickel corner Darnay Holmes will miss his second game in a row. Another crucial player, inside linebacker Blake Martinez, is not on the injury report but he did look like himself last week playing with a back injury.

Enter the Cleveland Browns, the NFL’s 12th-ranked offense in terms of yards and 13th-ranked in terms of points scored (27 points per game). The strength of this team is its running game, third in the NFL, averaging 156 yards per game. The Browns have a two-headed monster at running back: Nick Chubb (881 yards, 5.9 yards per carry, 9 touchdowns) and Kareem Hunt (772 yards, 4.4 yards per carry, 5 touchdowns). That’s elite-level productivity. This is a team with a big and effective offensive line and power running game. They will wear you down, old-school style.

Baker Mayfield has his critics. But he’s still has a 23-to-8 TD-to-INT ratio, good enough for a 96.6 QB rating. His favorite target by far is WR Jarvis Landry, with 60 catches but only two touchdowns. Mayfield spreads the ball around with eight players having at least two touchdowns on the roster. Bradberry will be missed in that the Giants could have isolated him on Landry. Now with him and Holmes out, the Giants will have to rely on Isaac Yiadom, Logan Ryan, and Jarren Williams at corner. The Giants may even have to bring up Quincy Wilson. Who? Oh boy.

The Browns run the ball more than they throw it. Stating the obvious, for the Giants to have any chance to win this game, Patrick Graham and his players will have to do what few teams have been able to do this year and that is stop Cleveland from consistently running the football. That’s not just on the defensive line and linebackers, but all 11 players. The defense will have to load up the box and hope the depleted secondary can hold its own.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS

I’m simply going to repeat what I wrote last week: “I’m not sure what is going on with the Giants special teams all of the sudden, but a Giants team that is encumbered with an offense that struggles to score 20 points simply cannot afford to have repeated major breakdowns on special teams.”

The Giants have played three subpar special teams games in a row. They have to turn this around NOW. The problem is that Cleveland has excellent, well-coached special teams.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH

Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham on the Browns’ Offense: “Their offensive line, these guys are big, they’re physical. I’m not trying to diminish the merits of the teams we’ve seen before, but arguably one of the best O-lines we’ve seen all year. It’s going to be a challenge. The tight ends are willing to block. The thing that stands out to me with Chad O’Shea the wide receivers coach and pass game coordinator. These receivers are going to block too… From there, you get the quarterback getting them in the right checks. You can see him really maturing as a signal caller back there… Last but not least, are the backs. You’re talking about guys that don’t go down on first contact. Guys that play tough. (Nick) Chubb…I love his demeanor, I love the way he carries himself… (Kareem) Hunt’s a dynamic player in the run and pass game.”

THE FINAL WORD

A week after tremendous optimism, it is easy to be down on the Giants now given everything that has gone wrong the past seven days. One has to guard against that pessimism and realize that things could bounce in the other direction just as quickly. In other words, don’t fall into the same trap that “expert” prognosticators always fall victim to: only paying attention to the last game and not overall trends.

That said, the injuries to Daniel Jones and one-game loss of James Bradberry come at a terrible time. In hindsight, the two wins against the Washington Football Team look more impressive now. The Giants beat-down of the Seahawks was real. But so was the Cardinals beat-down of the Giants. Which version of New York will we see on Sunday night?

The irony of ironies is that Freddie Kitchens will be calling the offensive plays against his own team. Could he have a few surprises up his sleeve? He doesn’t have much to work with.

Dec 162020
 
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Andrew Thomas and Daniel Jones, New York Giants (December 13, 2020)

Andrew Thomas and Daniel Jones – © USA TODAY Sports

QUICK RECAP

Two teams going in two completely different directions. ARI came into this week 14 match-up losers of three straight, and four of their last five. Their lone win over that stretch came at home against BUF at the hands of a last second Hail Mary. On the other hand, NYG was coming off 4 straight wins, including one over SEA the previous week. Starting quarterback Daniel Jones was back in the lineup, Blake Martinez was active after missing some practice time because of a back injury, and the overall health of the NYG squad ranked near the top of the league in a sport where attrition means everything.

The last time Jones turned the ball over was November 2 (week 8) against Tampa Bay. He then went three straight games without giving the ball to the other team (plus he missed last week’s match-up because of a hamstring injury). That is simply mentioned because the one glaring black eye to the start of Jones’ career has revolved around turning the ball over, namely fumbles. It has been getting cleaned up, NYG has been winning, and the arrow for both Jones and the franchise was pointing up. That isn’t how things began, however.

Jones was sacked by former Giant Markus Golden, who was traded by the club in October, on an untouched rush. Jones was starting his release and the timing of the hit was perfect for a forced fumble. Golden scooped up the loose ball himself and returned it to the NYG 9-yard line. The NYG defense stepped up though. They came up with 3rd and 4th down stops from the 1-yard line, keeping the score at 0-0. The NYG offense responded with a 3-and-out before punting the ball back to ARI, where Christian Kirk had a 24-yard return. ARI started their second possession from the NYG 38. This time, ARI was able to put points on the board via a 34-yard field goal by Mike Nugent.

NYG gained a combined 15 yards on their next two drives. ARI started their fourth possession of the game in NYG territory, the third time they started near midfield or better. The NYG defense remained tough though, keeping them to another 3 points. ARI was up 6-0. It was time for the sleepy offense to step up, as they didn’t want a repeat first half performance from last week where they didn’t score at all. That attempt would have to wait. Dion Lewis fumbled the ensuing kick return, giving ARI the ball at the NYG 21-yard line. For the fourth time in five possessions, ARI was starting near midfield or better and it was the third time they were inside the NYG 40. The NYG defense gave up a 15-yard run to ARI running back Kenyan Drake but got it to 3rd and Goal from the 7. Kyler Murray was pressured by multiple rushers and heaved a fade away pass toward the back of the end zone. There was one ARI tight end and three NYG defensive backs in the area but it was Dan Arnold who brought it in for the touchdown. ARI went up 13-0.

The NYG offense approached midfield for the first time but they were stopped on a 3rd-and-7 attempt where Jones did not throw to the open receiver (Lewis) for the second time in as many possessions. They were forced to punt back to ARI and Kirk once again returned it to near midfield. They had under 20 seconds left and no timeouts, but a few chunk gains got them within field goal striking distance. Nugent missed a 55-yard attempt, but it was nullified by a late false start whistle, thus creating a shot for ARI to go for a last second touchdown. With Murray and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins on the field, this was not something to overlook. Murray ended up being pressured and scrambled his way down the field for 12 yards and was taken down. It was 13-0 at halftime and NYG was out-gained in yards 199-58.

To make matters worse, ARI began the second half with the ball. They manufactured an 11-play drive that consisted of 8 runs and 3 passes. The final run was a 1-yard touchdown by Drake. It was 20-0 and NYG was entering a do-or-die situation to keep this game reachable. Similar to last week’s game in Seattle, Wayne Gallman was featured at the start of the second half after having a quiet first two quarters. He touched the ball on the first 5 plays, gaining 35 yards. Golden Tate then came up with the big play, making a catch in traffic for a 39-yard gain that brought NYG to the 1-yard line. Dion Lewis then snuck his way into the end zone on the next play and just like that, NYG was on the board but still down 20-7.

The NYG defense forced a punt on the ensuing ARI drive, giving Jones and the offense an opportunity to take the full momentum of this game back. The response? 3-and-out. NYG had a 3rd-and-1 and the play call plus decision by Jones created a deep pass to Sterling Shepard. It fell incomplete.

Kenyan Drake fumbled two straight plays on the next drive but NYG couldn’t grab either one of them. ARI ended up putting 3 more points on the board via a 34-yard field goal by Nugent as the fourth quarter was under way. The next NYG drive netted -1 yard over three plays and they punted yet again. Punter Riley Dixon barely wore his sideline jacket in this one. The NYG defense, despite showing 23 points allowed, continued to play solid football. They forced another ARI punt after two straight plays that saw takedowns behind the line of scrimmage. The NYG offense continued to falter, however. Their next drive consisted of Jones being sacked twice and two false starts by the offensive line. NYG was forced to punt.

With about 5 minutes left, NYG started using their timeouts but ARI was able to push the ball down the field with a balanced attack. This drive netted another 3 points, this time via a 30-yard field goal by Nugent who was perfect on the day. It was 26-7 with just over 2 minutes left. Colt McCoy trotted out with the offense, as Jones was visibly limping during and after the previous drive. The final offensive play was McCoy being sacked by Haason Reddick, his career high fifth of the day, which forced a fumble that was recovered by ARI.

NYG loses 26-7.

QUARTERBACK

-Daniel Jones: 11-21 / 127 yards / 0 TD – 0 INT / 70.9 RAT

Jones did not have any rushing attempts on the day. After missing a game with his hamstring injury and unsure of his status until late in the week, Jones did not look like himself in this one. I can’t imagine missing one game can make a player “rusty.” What I think happened here was simple. Jones knew he was not going to be playing with his normal arsenal of personal weaponry. Designed runs weren’t a part of the game plan and scrambling was something he had to avoid as much as possible. That, combined with a sneaky-good ARI pass defense filled with quality defensive backs and a NYG offense line that started to break down in the second half, he just seemed to have no shot. Can this be pegged on him? Not completely. However, he missed Dion Lewis on two straight 3rd-down plays that easily could have altered the trajectory of the game. He fumbled three times and even though one of them was completely not his fault, the other two showed weak ball handling. Jones looked lost in this one.

RUNNING BACK

-Wayne Gallman: 12 att / 57 yards and 3 rec / 16 yards

Gallman had a really quiet first half. He did touch the ball 8 times but only gained 25 yards (3.1 yards per). We saw a different level of production in the second half for the second week in a row. He touched the ball 6 times and gained 48 yards (8 yards per). I think we are at the point now where Gallman needs to be the feature player on this offense. We need to see more early down running with him, we need to see him getting the ball on 3rd-and-short, and we need to get him the ball in the screen game. This is no longer a back who had a couple of decent games in a row. Especially if Jones is going to be limited, Gallman needs to start getting the ball 20+ times per game at the minimum.

WIDE RECEIVER

-Darius Slayton was targeted 8 times and caught 3 passes for 31 yards. It has been a disappointing, dry run for Slayton over the past 2 months. He hasn’t scored a touchdown since October 18, he has 10 catches over the past 5 games, and he hasn’t eclipsed 100 yards since October 11. He was man-handled by the physicality of Patrick Peterson on a few occasions, both as the ball came at him and off the line. This continues to be a major issue for him.

-Sterling Shepard had 3 catches for 35 yards and Golden Tate had 1 catch for 39 yards. There aren’t many teams that have gotten less production from their wide receivers this season. More on that below.

TIGHT END

-Evan Engram had 2 catches for 18 yards. Both of them came on the last drive of the game when Colt McCoy was under center and the game was basically all but over. He was nowhere to be found in this one.

-Kaden Smith had a catch and Levine Toilolo’s main contribution came on special teams with a couple of physical hits. Neither had a strong impact, good or bad, on the game.

OFFENSIVE LINE

-A week after Andrew Thomas put out the top performance of his rookie season, he took a significant step back. He allowed 2 sacks and 2 pressures in addition to be flagged for a false start. Before the game I was speaking with a former scout and we agreed that Reddick was a worst-case matchup for Thomas. Short, shifty, powerful, and bendy. Thomas just couldn’t seem to square Reddick up and his hands + feet were never in sync. Myles Garrett is on tap.

-The right side of Kevin Zeitler and Cameron Fleming did a nice job in the running game but both allowed a sack and a pressure each in pass protection. Rookie Matt Peart rotated in for a bit (11 snaps total) and allowed a sack. Shane Lemieux had a rough day for the second straight week. He allowed 2 pressures and a sack and Will Hernandez also allowed a sack when he rotated in. Center Nick Gates was the only offensive lineman who didn’t allow a sack on the day but he, too, did not grade out above average. Overall, this was one of the worst OL performances we have seen all year.

EDGE

-Carter Coughlin led the way in this group, as his role appears to be increasing more and more. He has clearly made an impression on the coaching staff, as he has played 39%, 63%, and 81% of the defensive snaps over the past 3 games, respectively. He set a career-high 7 tackles, added a TFL, and pressured the QB two times. They are moving him all over the place and he is thriving.

-Jabaal Sheard had 2 tackles, 1 TFL, and a pressure that led to a sack. For a veteran signed in-season of the street, Sheard has played well. Cam Brown added a pressure but still hasn’t seen a consistent volume of snaps. I think this pass rush could benefit from seeing him on the field more and remember, he is not just a pass rusher. I would argue he can impact the game more as a run stuffer based on what I’ve seen this year.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

-Dalvin Tomlinson had the best game of the trio that has been playing well all year. He had 3 tackles, a sack, a TFL, and 2 pressures. He was a factor all afternoon, constantly breaking through the line and forcing the offense to react to him. Really solid performance here.

-A week after Leonard Williams had his best game as a Giant, he failed to pressure the quarterback one time, a first this season. He did add 4 tackles and he maneuvered his way off blocks well against the run. When Williams struggles to impact the passing game, there just isn’t much on this defense that can fill the void.

-B.J. Hill, Austin Johnson, and Dexter Lawrence all added a pressure, respectively. Hill also added a TFL and Lawrence added 3 tackles, including a key 3rd-and-goal stop at the 1-yard line. Overall, the NYG run defense wasn’t good in this one, but these guys all did their job up front.

LINEBACKER

-We were unsure all week the status of Blake Martinez after suffering a back injury last week. He ended up playing but it was clear he was laboring out there. While he had 7 tackles, it was evident he didn’t have the same pop on contact and he looked a little slow to fill.

-Tae Crowder is evolving into a quality blitzing linebacker. He had 2 pressures and 4 tackles. David Mayo and Devante Downs didn’t play much, but when they did, they struggled. They weren’t beating blockers to the spots and it created extra room for the ARI running backs. They played less than half the snaps Crowder did.

CORNERBACK

-James Bradberry had a really solid game. He had 7 tackles and a high-difficulty pass break up in the end zone that could have easily been a touchdown. He wasn’t matched up against DeAndre Hopkins for the entire game but when he was, I thought he was the winner. Isaac Yiadom added 3 tackles and played a physical brand. He got beat in zone coverage a couple times where it didn’t look like he quite knew what was going on around him. Again, he plays way too scared of getting beat deep and it allows for a lot of action underneath to transpire.

-Rookie nickel Darnay Holmes was out with an injury, thus Logan Ryan filled that role for the majority of the game. He had 5 tackles and a near-interception pass break-up that was knocked away by Hopkins; savvy move by the veteran receiver. Ryan missed 3 tackles on the day. One of the more important players on this defense, Ryan is often a hit-or-miss player and today he missed too many times.

SAFETY

-With Ryan playing more nickel corner in this one, we saw rookie Xavier McKinney on the field for 38 snaps, just under 50%. He made 4 tackles and showed his superior athleticism and burst. Him flying around with Jabrill Peppers (more on him below) was fun to watch and could be a big thing in the future if the veteran stays here long term. From the All-22 tape, McKinney looked more reactionary than instinctual, which is common for a young safety in the league.

-Julian Love had 9 tackles (second most of his career) on just 57% of the snaps. I noted him a lot in this one, just playing extra fast and aggressive. He had a really nice fill on a goal-line stand and looked rangy on a couple of lateral Kenyan Drake rushing attempts. The one issue, from my perspective which doesn’t mean much I know, was the zone coverage. I won’t pretend to know how to play defensive back in the NFL, but Love was beat a few times on passes up the middle. He doesn’t seem to attach himself to receivers entering his zone, but rather stays back and just “floats” if that makes sense. The college corner is a quality athlete who doesn’t seem to have a ton of confidence in zone coverage and that is an issue for me.

-Jabrill Peppers continues his red-hot level of play. He led the team with 13 tackles, 2 TFL, and forced a fumble. He was all over the field and looks like he can be labeled as both the best linebacker and best safety on this team. He played both roles. This defense has turned a sharp corner and he may be the leading catalyst.

SPECIAL TEAMS

-K Graham Gano: No FG attempts
-Riley Dixon: 8 punts / 48.8 avg / 36.6 net

3 STUDS

-S Jabrill Peppers, EDGE Carter Coughlin, CB James Bradberry

3 DUDS

-QB Daniel Jones, OT Andrew Thomas, WR Darius Slayton

3 THOUGHTS ON ARI

Haason Reddick. After watching the new NYG defense run over the first 4-6 weeks of the season, he was the name I circled when it came to 2021 NFL Free Agents to try and sign. The Kyler Fackrell role (BUCK linebacker) in this scheme needs to be effective on the outside but also transform into an extra inside linebacker in specific looks. Reddick has a lot of experience playing inside, which is where ARI predominantly played him for the first three years of his career. His 5 sacks in this game were a little overblown when it comes to how good he is, but the point remains. Fackrell is a one-year rental and Reddick can be the long-term solution for NYG. He is “multiple” in that he can credibly wear different hats for a defense, but the specialty is on the outside despite lacking traditional outside tools.

I don’t believe in ARI in its current state and I don’t believe in Kyler Murray. I’ll go on record with that and will be the first to eat my words if I end up being wrong. ARI is a gimmick offense that does have a lot of talent, absolutely. When everything clicks, they can score on anybody, yes. Murray can take over a game, yes. That, to me, is not what makes a team get in and stay in the elite tier, however. They are reliant on the uniqueness of their offense and Murray’s arsenal. Unique can work like a gem at times (remember Miami’s wildcat offense?) but NFL defenses catch on. Very few offenses and quarterbacks can stay at the top week-to-week and year-to-year. Murray just doesn’t throw the ball from the pocket like those guys and there are things in his game that I just don’t see lasting.

The one area of their team that is stand-out strong and does not get enough attention in the secondary. They’ve really hit on their draft picks over the years and even though Patrick Peterson is not what he once was, there is still plenty in the tank left. Byron Murphy, Budda Baker, Jalen Thompson, and Deionte Johnson were all drafted within the past 3 years. If NYG can build the secondary like this in the next year or two, watch out.

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

While the offensive shortcomings can at least be somewhat attributed to Jones, one needs to really look at what this team has at WR. Over his last 19 games, Sterling Shepard is averaging 9.7 yards per catch and has 3 touchdowns. Golden Tate has been good for 2 catches per game over his last 7 and can rarely get open by himself. Darius Slayton has not taken the step up from his impressive rookie year. Evan Engram is among the league leaders in drops since he has been in the league. This team is starving for a true outside threat and if you look at David Gettleman’s history in pro personnel both with NYG and CAR, they are going to go after someone in free agency. The following are projected to be free agents this offseason: Kenny Golladay / DET, JuJu Smith-Schuster / PIT, Allen Robinson / CHI, Corey Davis / TEN, Sammy Watkins / KC. There are a handful of lesser-tier free agents as well but I think they will go big at this spot this offseason.

We should not be surprised to see NYG lay such an egg after such a strong win in SEA last week. This is life in the NFL for a team that is “middle tier.” One week, you create hope of playoff caliber football and the ability to beat anybody. The next week, you look like a team that can’t do anything right. Big picture, everybody. This is part of growing and evolving into a team that can win games in the postseason. They are still on the right path.

Up next are the Cleveland Browns in front of a national audience. I would love to say CLE is overrated (which was my thought early in the year) but this is a legit playoff caliber team playing really good football on both sides of the ball. The greatest test will come defensively on the ground, where Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are the best 1-2 backfield duo in the game. In addition, they are running behind one of the top 3 offensive lines in the league this year. The NYG defense has been outstanding this year, but this will be a different kind of test.

Dec 112020
 
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THE STORYLINE

There was a great disturbance in the Force last weekend. We all felt it. The New York Giants were not supposed to go into Seattle and rough up the Seahawks the way they did. There was nothing flukey about the win. The Giants were the better team on both sides of the football, even with back-up quarterback Colt McCoy facing off against MVP candidate Russell Wilson.

The Giants should have been dead at 0-5 and 1-7. They are now on a 4-game winning streak and tied for first place in the NFC East. Yes, it’s a crappy division. But the Giants have a real shot at making the playoffs if they can win two or three of their last four games. Three of those games are at home. The other is just down the road a bit Baltimore.

First up is the Arizona Cardinals, who were 5-2 in October, but have lost four of their last five games and are now 6-6. To be fair, the one win was against impressive Buffalo and their last three losses came against the respectable Seahawks, Patriots, and Rams. Nevertheless, this appears to be a game between two teams heading in opposite directions. The Giants are trying to keep momentum going and the Cardinals are trying to stop the bleeding.

THE INJURY REPORT

  • QB Daniel Jones (hamstring – questionable)
  • OT Matt Peart (ankle – questionable)
  • LB Blake Martinez (back – questionable)
  • CB Darnay Holmes (knee – questionable)
  • CB Madre Harper (knee – out)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE
The big question is will Daniel Jones play? And if he does, how effective will he be and will he not re-aggravate his hamstring injury? It’s not just a matter of the injury limiting his rushing ability, but ability to throw the football forcefully with accuracy and velocity.

Colt McCoy did enough in the second half to win the game (and not lose it) last weekend, but the offense is clearly more limited with him at the helm. If he is called upon again, hopefully we’ll see a repeat performance, not making the killer mistakes and making a few clutch throws when needed. The Giants got by the then 5th-ranked Seattle offense by scoring under 20 points (again). They are tempting fate if they can’t score more than 20 against the now 5th-ranked Cardinals offense. Stating the obvious, the Giants need to score more points and take some pressure off of their own defense.

New York’s four-game “renaissance” has been sparked by two things: (1) defense and (2) the offensive line. For Giants fans who have become accustomed to shitty offensive line play for a decade, the rapid turnaround by the offensive line from a joke to clearly one of the best units in the NFL has been a revelation. Let me say that again, the New York Giants offensive line is now one of the best OL groups in the entire league. While there are the inevitable miscues by a young group still gaining chemistry and cohesion, the offensive line is simply punishing people up front.

The Giants (including fired OL coach Marc Colombo) were right about Nick Gates. If he stays healthy and grounded, he has more physical ability because of his size than renowned team centers Bart Oates and Shaun O’Hara. Gates plays with a nasty chip on his shoulder and I love it. After a very rough start, Andrew Thomas is now developing into a shut-down left tackle who mauls people in the run game. Fellow rookie Shane Lemieux brings more youth, spirit, aggressiveness, and mobility and seems to be stealing Will Hernandez’s job, despite the fact that Hernandez is still a solid player. The “old man” of the group, 30-year old Kevin Zeitler is reverting to his old solid form. The other veteran, Cam Fleming, is the weak link but with four games left to play, the Giants may not want to tinker too much with the OL down the home stretch with the playoffs on the line. Still, Matt Peart (if he can stay healthy) is pressing him.

The biggest beneficiary of the offensive line play has been Wayne Gallman, a back who seemed to be out of favor with the previous and current coaching staffs. Remember, Joe Judge and Jason Garrett didn’t turn to Gallman when Saquon Barkley went down but in-season pick up Devonta Freeman. When Freeman got hurt, they had little choice but to turn to Gallman. As has been pointed out by many, Gallman is running with a toughness greater than his more linear build would indicate. He’s showing nice patience, instincts, and elusiveness. He’s also starting to break off some big runs.

This all bodes well against an Arizona Cardinals team that is middle-of-the-pack defensively (18th) and 21st against the run, allowing 123 rushing yards per game. Statistically, the Cardinals are better against the pass than the Seahawks, but much worse against the run. The Cardinals have some talented familiar faces in the secondary, including corners Patrick Peterson and Dre Kirkpatrick. Our old friend Markus Golden is also starting at linebacker.

“This is a blitz heavy team,” said Joe Judge. “We have to be alert for a lot of movement, a lot of pressure throughout the game plan. They do a very good job of changing up on you. They’ll blitz linebackers, DBs, whoever’s involved, everyone is going to get a turn.”

Stay with what is working. Pound the rock. Wear down the Cardinals. One of the ways to really frustrate and really hurt blitzing defenses is to run the ball down their throats. All of that trickery doesn’t matter when you are lying on your ass.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE

Like Seattle, Arizona’s strength is clearly on the offensive side of the football. The Cardinals are 5th in the NFL in yards gained and 9th in points scored, averaging almost four touchdowns per game. With the Giants still averaging less than 20, you see the problem. The defense needs to come up big again against a quality opponent.

There has been some excellent discussions in The Corner Forum about how Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham’s scheme is relying more on size, strength, and power up front to create pass rush issues than employing the typical dominant edge rushers in a 3-4 system. That does not mean that the edge rushers aren’t making some plays, or that Graham isn’t sending inside linebackers and defensive backs on blitzes. But the chaos is starting up front with Leonard Williams, Dexter Lawrence, Dalvin Tomlinson, and B.J. Hill getting a push up the middle. All quarterbacks hate pressure up the middle and it is the quickest way to disrupt a passing play.

Savvy veteran Russell Wilson was clearly frustrated last weekend by the pressure up front and confused by what the team was doing in the secondary. Just as importantly, the Giants’ pass rush was disciplined. Wilson continuously spun out of trouble only to find yet another defender preventing him from escaping outside of the pocket. That same discipline will be needed against quarterback Kyler Murray.

The very first pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, the undersized (only 5’10”) Murray can throw the football. But he is whirling dervish who reminds me of Bo Jackson in the old Nintendo Techmo Bowl video game…

Murray is 67 percent passer who has thrown for 22 touchdowns (against just 10 interceptions). He’s not just a runner. Literally one-third of his passing yards have gone to wideout DeAndre Hopkins (85 catches, 1,019 yards, 5 touchdowns). But he will spread the ball around to the other targets: WR Larry Fitzgerald (43 catches), RB Chase Edmonds (42 catches, 3 touchdowns), WR Christian Kirk (35 catches, 6 touchdowns), among others.

That all said, it’s his running ability that really scares defenses. Murray has rushed the ball 102 times for 665 yards (6.5 yards per carry) and an astounding 10 touchdowns. And with Murray receiving so much attention because of designed QB runs that often fool the socks off defensive players, running backs Kenyan Drake (4.3 yards per carry, 8 touchdowns) and Chase Edmonds (4.9 yards per carry) can and will hurt you. Overall, Arizona is 3rd in the NFL in rushing, averaging over 150 yards per game. The Cardinals can run it. And they can throw it. This is a very tough match-up for the Giants.

“This is a team that’s very explosive,” said Judge. “(Head Coach) Kliff (Kingsbury) does a great job in terms of scheme, using tempo, really creating match-ups for his players and letting them play to their strengths. (Murray) is obviously a dynamic player… This guy does a great job improvising on his feet, extending plays, keeping his eyes down field and making big throws. He has a rocket for an arm, and this guy can be as aggressive as he wants to because he’s very, very accurate with the ball. You put that along with the receivers he has to throw to. This is a group of weapons that’s very explosive. Offensively though, it really starts with the running game with them. Drake and Edmonds, these guys are both having good seasons. They do a very good job of getting the ball downhill at you. They have a very good zone run game. They’ll also mix up some game plan runs and pulls and gap schemes. Kliff does a good job of mixing that in with the tempo and keeping you on your toes.”

The focus must be on stopping the run and keeping Murray in the pocket. Mix and match coverages and try to confuse him in the passing game. The good news is this should be a similar game plan to what the Giants did in Seattle. The bad news is that LB Blake Martinez and CB Darnay Holmes are “questionable” for the game. The Giants need both to play.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS

I’m not sure what is going on with the Giants special teams all of the sudden, but a Giants team that is encumbered with an offense that struggles to score 20 points simply cannot afford to have repeated major breakdowns on special teams. New York escaped the last two games despite bad special teams play. But they are playing with fire if the don’t turn it around. It’s time to return to this being asset for us.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH

Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham on Kyler Murray: “Murray is true speed. When I’m talking to the players, true speed. Not fast, not quick, we’re dealing with true speed. Any mistake, it can be a touchdown at any given moment. That’s what you’re dealing with, with this guy. Whether it’s the run game or the passing game, he can get away from you and then get the ball down the field. That’s what I mean by true speed and the ability to score a touchdown at any point on the field. He’s pretty dynamic. We have a big challenge ahead of us.”

THE FINAL WORD

Heading into last week’s game, I figured the best the Giants could do over the course of the upcoming two games was lose to Seattle, but beat Arizona. Beating Seattle took a lot of immediate pressure off until Washington upset Pittsburgh. Despite the fact that the Giants have won four in a row and Arizona has lost three in a row, this is clearly a very dangerous game for the Giants. The Cardinals are desperate. I just can’t see New York escaping with a win unless they score more than 20 points. They can do that, but it’s been a challenge for them all year. Again, my emphasis would be running the ball. This will help control the clock and keep Arizona off of the field. But can New York stop Arizona from running the ball? This might be one of those rare games that ends before 4PM.

Dec 082020
 
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Jabaal Sheard, New York Giants (December 6, 2020)

Jabaal Sheard – © USA TODAY Sports

QUICK RECAP

The Giants’ 3-game winning streak landed them in 1st place this past week, albeit with a 4-7 record. That has been the way of 2020, however. The NFC East hadn’t collectively beat a team with a winning record to this point in the season and NYG traveled to Seattle to start off a four-game span matched up against four winning ball clubs. This test would be extra difficult, as quarterback Daniel Jones was sidelined with an injury and the Seahawks ranked 3rd in the NFL in points scored. SEA quarterback Russell Wilson entered this game with a career 53-16 record at home and on the other side was Colt McCoy, who hadn’t won a game as a starter since 2014.

The SEA offense easily drove the ball down the field on the game’s opening drive. Their first five plays gained 5, 6, 11, 24, 11 yards, respectively. The NYG defense has specialized in a bend-don’t-break style for most of the season and that trend continued. Once inside the red zone, NYG forced three straight incompletions and SEA ended up having to go for a 31-yard field goal by Jason Meyers. He nailed it, good for his 24th straight made attempt.

NYG then went three-and-out but forced SEA to do the same. The banged up SEA secondary started to get exposed on the second NYG drive, as McCoy found his three main targets (Sterling Shepard, Golden Tate, and Evan Engram). They got the ball into the red zone but a pass that made its way to and through the hands of Engram led to an interception by Quandre Diggs. NYG wasn’t going to have a big margin for mistakes like this and failing to put points on the board while getting so close was a potential killer.

The NYG defense gave up a few chunk gains but ended up with another stop thanks largely to a sack by Jabrill Peppers. The two offenses failed to sustain drives. Both defenses were applying pressure to the passer and neither running game was finding enough room to really work. It was the NYG defense and their surprise edge presence Niko Lalos coming away with his second turnover in as many weeks after a botched snap by Wilson. NYG had the ball at midfield but the offensive struggles remained. They went three-and-out.

SEA got the ball to midfield, but Leonard Williams was leading constant pressure on Wilson. They were able to force yet another punt with Michael Dickson pinning the NYG offense inside their own 5-yard line. There was under a minute left and NYG simply wanted to make it to halftime down by 3. They ran the ball three straight times and it net gained 6 yards. SEA used all of their timeouts so they could have one more shot at lengthening their lead. The offense didn’t need to come back on the field, however. The punt was blocked in the end zone by Ryan Neal and recovered by SEA but the ball made its way out of bounds quickly enough to make it a safety (2 points) rather than a touchdown (6 points). SEA did get the ball back one more time, starting at midfield, but they weren’t able to get points and went into halftime with a 5-0 lead.

Wayne Gallman, one of the offensive catalysts in the recent NYG winning streak, carried the ball just 4 times in the first half. NYG knew that approach needed to change, and that it did. The old-school, smack-you-in-the-mouth, run-up-the-middle strategy started off the second half. He gained 16 bruising yards on 3 carries. It did not amount to much, as NYG ended up punting, but the tone was set. The physical brand of Big Blue football is back and here to stay. After forcing a quick punt, NYG got the big play they were searching for from Gallman. A 60-yard run all the way down to the SEA 17-yard line put NYG in position to take over the lead. Two Alfred Morris runs later, the 31-year-old back who carried the ball one time in 2019 crossed the goal line for the first time since 2018. NYG then went for 2 and McCoy found Sterling Shepard for the conversion to give NYG a 3-point lead, 8-5.

The NYG pass rush and sheer dominance up front, matched with timely plays by the defensive backfield, kept the SEA offense returning to the sideline. The NYG offensive momentum continued on their next opportunity, scoring another touchdown via a 6-yard pass from McCoy to Morris. Wayne Gallman set up this score as well, as he started off the drive with 39 yards on three carries.

A 9-point lead in the 4th quarter in Seattle. This is where NYG stood before rookie corner Darnay Holmes picked off a Wilson pass that was deflected off fellow rookie Tae Crowder. NYG was able to turn that into 3 points via a 48-yard field goal by the automatic Graham Gano. The lead was elevated to 12 points and the SEA offense, which seemed to have no answers for the NYG defensive front, had under 10 minutes to attempt a comeback.

With a slightly hurried up offense, Wilson drove the ball down the field with an 11-play, 82-yard drive. This was heavily aided by a defensive holding penalty on Holmes on a 3rd-and-15 stop. On the next play, Wilson found running back Chris Carson for a 28-yard score. This brought the score to 17-12 with over 6 minutes left, not a strong position considering how elite Wilson has been in come-from-behind scenarios. McCoy was going to have to make at least a couple plays for NYG to maintain this lead and take home the win, and that he did. He hit Darius Slayton (his first catch of the day) and Evan Engram for two first downs that were not deep passes, but tight window throws that needed quick decisions and accuracy. They were able to get the ball past the 2-minute warning prior to punting back to SEA. Even though they did not put more points on the board, the amount of time taken off the clock was crucial. Now, it was up to the NYG defense.

The first four plays of the final SEA drive netted 34 yards. They were into NYG territory with a minute left. With a 5-point lead, this drive was going to end the game either with a SEA or NYG win, no ties. Wilson then threw two incomplete passes before getting sacked by Leonard Williams, the defensive star of the game who had his way with the SEA offensive line. SEA was faced with a 4th-and-18 before James Bradberry broke up the final pass of the game on a Hail Mary-type play for the win.

NYG wins, 17-12.

QUARTERBACK

-Colt McCoy: 13-22 / 105 yards / 1 TD – 1 INT / 67.4 RAT

When the reports became verified that Daniel Jones would be out for the game, the outlook for this already-tough matchup was bleak at best. A backup quarterback on the road against a top 5 offense led by a MVP candidate is less than ideal. McCoy didn’t take the game by the horns by any means, but this is where having a veteran back there can be a huge benefit. We knew McCoy wouldn’t be dropping dimes and/or getting chunk gains with his legs, but there is a sense of confidence and calm with a guy like McCoy. He stayed within himself, he didn’t make any colossal mistakes, he didn’t try to do too much. He made a few clutch throws and didn’t lose the game for NYG. That is the backup’s job in a situation like this. Nice job by McCoy and I think we may see him for one more game.

RUNNING BACK

-Wayne Gallman: 16 att / 135 yards

A tale of two halves. I’m not quite sure why NYG didn’t feature more of him in the first half, but when they came out for the 3rd quarter it was evident they knew what to do. Gallman had 4 attempts for 6 yards in the first half, 12 attempts for 129 yards (just under 11 yards per carry) in the second half. This was against a SEA run defense that ranked top 10 in the NFL and averaged 64 yards allowed per game over the previous 5 weeks, which included games against the NFL’s top 2 rushing attacks. Gallman is no longer a back who is just able to have a couple good games. This is a legit NFL runner who breaks tackles, has good vision, and will eventually make the big play as long as he gets consistent looks.

-Alfred Morris: 8 att / 39 yards / 1 TD and 1 rec / 6 yards / 1 TD.

Hats off to Morris. A 31-year-old who had one carry in 2019 and who many had assumed was simply washed out of the league for good. This was a practice squad signing in-season that many questioned. An aging back without recent success on a team that wasn’t going anywhere. Why not go for someone young? Why not add a back with more speed or versatile skill set? Another major win for the pro personnel expert Dave Gettleman.

WIDE RECEIVER

-It was a really quiet day for the Giants receivers. Golden Tate caught all 4 of his targets for 30 yards and Sterling Shepard caught 1 of his 6 targets for a 22 yard gain. Darius Slayton saw just 1 target, which he caught for 14 yards in a big moment in the 4th quarter. When you have a backup quarterback with limited arm talent in the game, the receivers simply won’t be able to impact the game much. However, the underneath skill sets of Shepard and Tate especially can still make a difference. Slayton’s main role on this offense stems from being a deep threat and if McCoy is the one throwing the ball, opposing defenses simply won’t be as thoughtful in that regard. Not a bad game by these guys at all, just limited opportunities and if anything, they did a fine job when their number was called.

TIGHT END

-Evan Engram: 4 rec / 32 yards

-I had a feeling Engram would be the most targeted pass catcher with McCoy under center. NYG has been trying to feature him more and more and he did get the ball thrown his way a team-high 8 times. It seems to happen nearly every week now. The broadcasters see him make a nice play, discuss how special of a talent he is, and then he makes a major mistake. Engram dropped a ball in the red zone that was tipped into a SEA defender’s hands for the interception. He dropped another pass in the 4th quarter. Both of the drops were at least somewhat caused by quality defensive plays. However, a big-time tight end needs to make those catches. The first one that led to the interception was another potential game-altering play. One positive on Engram that surprised me was how well he blocked in the second half. He had multiple key blocks when NYG got their ground game going.

-Kaden Smith and Levine Toilolo were both on the field for more than 55% of the plays. That fact in combination with Engram being on the field for 77% of the plays is noteworthy. That will rank at or near the top of the league in double/triple tight end sets, respectively. This offensive game plan and halftime adjustments deserve a lot of credit. Smith had a reception for 3 yards and Toilolo didn’t see the ball once. They were on the field to help contain the fast-moving, lateral linebackers. They were both excellent in the second half.

OFFENSIVE LINE

-Andrew Thomas graded out the best we have seen this season. His rookie year has taken a turn for the best. The biggest positives I see are the more consistent anchor and hand placement once he is engaged in pass protection. He really is a powerful kid who can handle the size and strength of the NFL. He is not a guy who gets tossed around. When those hands get to where they are supposed to be and his feet are under him, he shows dominant traits.

-Cameron Fleming split snaps with Matt Peart, with the former getting more. Fleming allowed a sack but was just fine otherwise. Peart seemed a little rusty in his 15 snaps. He was off balance and inaccurate, which is understandable considering he just came back from missing a few weeks of work.

-Inside, Kevin Zeitler and Nick Gates were really physical and consistent. They both finished above average grade-wise. Shane Lemieux and Will Hernandez split snaps at left guard, with the former starting and seeing the majority. This was a tough game for the rookie, allowing 3 pressures, 1 of which led to a sack. Even though he left a lot to be desired out there as a pass blocker, Lemieux was once again effective with his run blocking efforts. He is so much quicker off the ball and is so much better with lateral adjustments in comparison to Hernandez, who also allowed a pressure. I think Hernandez may be a backup the rest of the year.

EDGE

-Even though I still have this spot as the top defensive need, maybe the top overall need on the team, this crew has been over-extending themselves when it comes to their results vs. expectations. We saw more key plays in this game from this group than we have all year. Cam Brown had 2 tackles, 1 TFL, and 1 pressure in just 10 snaps. Niko Lalos had 2 tackles and a fumble recovery. Jabaal Sheard had 4 tackles, a half-sack, and 2 pressures.

-The surprise of the day, however, was Carter Coughlin. The 7th-round rookie played a season high 45 snaps and finished with 2 tackles and 3 pressures. They moved him around into multiple roles throughout the game. They sent him in as an edge rusher, as a blitzing inside linebacker, and as a spy on QB Russell Wilson. He had a key pressure on Wilson that stemmed from him not being fooled by play-action and showing closing speed to prevent Wilson from reaching the sideline on a bootleg. Outstanding game for these guys as a group.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

-The debate is now closed. It is over. The trade for Leonard Williams was a major success. We are no longer looking at a guy who gets a few pressures here and there. We are no longer looking at a guy who doesn’t impact the game enough. Williams is on a different level right now. He had 5 pressures and 2.5 sacks. This is the most dominant DL performance we have seen in a long, long time. I received a text from a scout I speak with on a regular basis and he asked if this seals the deal of locking him up long term. I think Williams has a unique and rare combination of tools and skills that are an ideal fit for this scheme. Patrick Graham has learned how to use him, learned how to get him in a lot of one-on-one match-ups via scheming, and Williams is responding in a big way. My reply was, “Yes…but it may cost watching Tomlinson walk.”

-Dexter Lawrence and Dalvin Tomlinson combined for 3 tackles and Lawrence added 2 pressures. Both were actually a little weak against the run in this one. They were giving up more ground than we have been used to seeing, but they both rose up in the key situations. B.J. Hill added 1 pressure and was flagged for holding.

LINEBACKER

-Blake Martinez led the team with 10 tackles and also broke up a pass and forced a fumble. He was injured late in the game. It was a back injury that, according to media reports, won’t sideline him for any notable time. Martinez kept the glue together after a rough start.

-Tae Crowder was back out there making plays. If NYG can find a consistent play-maker to pair with Martinez inside, this defense will be on another level. So far, Crowder is proving to be a part of that discussion. He had 7 tackles, 1 pressure that led to a sack, and a sack himself. His notable trait is quality open-field tackling. It stems from his twitch and speed that a lot of the other inside linebackers just do not have. And that does not come at the expense of his contact strength and presence. He really has been an ideal fit for this defense and has a role to play.

CORNERBACK

-James Bradberry had 7 tackles, 1 PD, and 1 forced fumble. The match-up against D.K. Metcalf was one I was looking forward to. If I had to pick a winner, it is going to Bradberry by a thin margin. This is the kind of WR who he does well against; one who works with size, straight lines, and long speed. Bradberry can handle that well while also proving to be ball-savvy and a true play-maker. Metcalf did drop a ball (more on that below) but when these two were truly matched up one-on-one, Bradberry contained him.

-Darnay Holmes and his physical, aggressive, fast brand continued to both help and hurt the defense. He did have 5 tackles and an interception, while simply adding physical a presence to the secondary. He plays a man’s game. The glaring negative was similar to what we saw last week. Holmes was flagged for holding on a 3rd-and-15 stop in the 4th quarter while SEA was mounting their comeback attempt. The next play? A SEA touchdown. His mistakes are coming at the worst time.

-Isaac Yiadom had 4 tackles and 2 pass break ups, one of which was a high-level play in the end zone in the first quarter.

SAFETY

-The trio-safety group of Jabrill Peppers, Logan Ryan, and Julian Love have hit a really nice stride. And to think that arguably the most talented (but unproven) player in the group itself, Xavier McKinney, only saw 6 defensive snaps. The fact that he could add a boost to the unit in the coming weeks is a great sign.

-Similar to Leonard Williams, the unique and versatile skill set of Jabrill Peppers has been figured out by Patrick Graham. He is now regularly making quality plays. He had 5 tackles, 1 sack, and 2 pass break ups. Peppers was also the most physical player on the defense and he made it known on a few occasions. He did get beat on the Chris Carson reception for a touchdown, but he also broke up a 3rd-down pass into the end zone.

SPECIAL TEAMS

-K Graham Gano: 1/1 (Made 48). Gano also missed one extra point for the first time this year.

-P Riley Dixon: 6 punts / 43.5 avg / 32.7 net

3 STUDS

-DT Leonard Williams, RB Wayne Gallman, OT Andrew Thomas

3 DUDS

-LG Shane Lemieux, DT Dalvin Tomlinson, TE Evan Engram

3 THOUGHTS ON SEA

  1. Wide Receiver D.K. Metcalf is the freak athlete in a league full of freak athletes. He really has blossomed/broken out in his sophomore season. The league leader in receiving yards also ranks third in yards per catch and he ranks fifth with 9 touchdowns. However, just how good is he? I think far too many are too quick to label him a top-shelf receiver. He leads the league with 9 drops. He has caught 64% of his targets (120th in the NFL), and he still has significant issues as a route runner. Metcalf was picked 64th overall in the 2019 Draft (partially because of neck injury concerns) but many said it was the steal of the draft. There were many enamored with his size and speed, and yes, some even thought he was really good because of what he looked like with his shirt off. This is where I stand with Metcalf: he is a Terrell Owens-type weapon who will force a defense to really plan around him. He can take over a game. He can change an offense. However, similar to Engram, I can’t consider him elite if he continues to drop this many passes. I just can’t get there on him.
  1. I love to track the SEA team building process every year. They move around via trade on draft weekend as much as anyone. They trade for players nearly every year. They get aggressive in free agency. They take calculated chances on players with both health and character issues. Why does it work so well? They have a culture there and it comes from the top. Whether or not you like Pete Carroll, that was a notable attribute to his coaching skill set right away. NFL players are not robots. They are real people just like you and I. The culture is absolutely vital to sustained success in this league and It should make NYG fans feel encouraged.
  1. SEA is 8-4 with games left against NYJ, WAS, LAR, and SF. Despite this loss vs NYG, I think they are on the right track to win 10 games. Their defense has completely turned things around I still consider them a top 5 offense in the NFL. This would make it their 8th 10-win season in 9 years, a commendable stat. Sustained success in the league is really tough to achieve. And even though they have had so many ups and downs with personnel on both sides of the ball in recent years, it all comes down to the QB. If you have someone truly elite back there combined with a quality coach and front office, you truly have a credible shot every year.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

  1. Defense, defense, defense. It is back. Going to SEA and allowing just 327 yards (3rd-lowest of the season for them), allowing just 12 points (their lowest since December 17, 2017) was the sign I was looking for when I questioned just how legit this defense can be down the stretch. They did not just contain Wilson and the team’s high-powered offense, they completely dominated. The pass rush, the secondary, the physical nature, the forced turnovers…everything was there.
  1. It will be really interesting to see how this coaching staff handles the offensive line down the stretch. These next 4 games will dictate whether or not NYG plays in the postseason and the margin for error is really small, as WAS pulled off the upset in PIT and is trending up. Will they continue to rotate at LG and RT? Or has this been a trial to see who really are the best players and will those players now receive all of the snaps? Will Hernandez seems to be a thing of the past already and Cameron Fleming continues to be the weak link who hurts the offense every game.
  1. Next up is a home game against ARI, a team that has lost 4 of their last 5 with their only win over that stretch coming from the Hail Mary pass from Kyler Murray to DeAndre Hopkins. This will be another tough test for the NYG defense, as Murray just presents a lot of different issues and scoring points hasn’t been an problem for them since Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury took over. They are banged up on defense and have allowed 28+ points 5 of their past 6 games and they are most vulnerable against the run. Wayne Gallman should be able to keep his momentum going.
Dec 042020
 
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Colt McCoy, New York Giants (November 29, 2020)

Colt McCoy – © USA TODAY Sports

THE STORYLINE

It hasn’t been pretty, but the New York Giants are on a roll. The last time this team won three games in a row was 2016. Other than the 10-point win over the Eagles, everything has been tight. Six of the Giants’ last seven games have been decided by three points or less, including three of their four victories.

The naysayers will justifiably claim the Giants have gotten “fat” on lesser teams, and barely at that. The Giants were probably a completion away from losing a heart-breaker to a 2-win Cincinnati team starting a Practice Squad quarterback. The optimists will justifiably claim that game should not have been that close, and regardless the Giants made the defensive play they needed to make to secure the win.

What has transpired is largely moot at this point. The 4-7 Giants are tied with 4-7 Washington at the top of the NFC East, with New York owning the head-to-head tie-breaker. The Eagles are a half-game behind. The Cowboys, arguably with the easiest remaining schedule, are just one game behind. The final sprint has started. The bad news for the Giants is that injuries are beginning to mount (at quarterback, wide receiver, and linebacker) at an inopportune time. The Giants also face four teams with winning records in a row, not knowing when their starting quarterback will return nor how limited he will be when he does. The good news is the Giants seem to be playing the best ball in the division right now.

The Giants probably can afford to lose the Seattle game, and many fans have already opined that the team should rest Daniel Jones for this contest, accept the loss, and strive towards upsetting the Cardinals at home. I don’t think Joe Judge thinks that way.

THE INJURY REPORT

  • QB Daniel Jones (hamstring – doubtful)
  • WR Darius Slayton (shoulder/foot – probable)
  • WR Sterling Shepard (toe/shoulder – probable)
  • LB David Mayo (knee – questionable)
  • LB Cam Brown (illness – probable)
  • S Nate Ebner (knee – probable)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE
It dawned on me this week that there are probably two diametrically-opposed camps on Daniel Jones’ impact on New York’s 29th-ranked offense. There are those who argue that Jones is largely responsible for the offensive short-comings. And there are others – including myself – who have argued that Jones has been hampered by the talent around him. If the latter is true, then things could get really ugly with Colt McCoy at quarterback.

As the BBI team has pointed out the last few weeks, as the offensive line has played better, the running game and pass protection has improved, and Jones has stopped turning the ball over. The result has been a 3-game winning streak. This despite the limitations of Jones’ targets. Darius Slayton has been dealing with shoulder and foot issues, Sterling Shepard with toe, hip, and shoulder issues. Golden Tate is not having the impact he did last year. And Evan Engram keeps alternating the good (two 40+ yard catches last week) with the bad (dropped pass that cost the first Eagles game, last week’s fumble in the red zone). In short, the Giants’ receiving corps has not delivered in 2020 and will need a major upgrade during the offseason.

Enter McCoy, your typical back-up QB. McCoy has played 11 years in the NFL, starting 28 games. But 21 of those starts came in 2010-2011 with only three starts in the last three years. To me, he’s a Jeff Rutledge-type quarterback. He can’t win a game on his own. You hope he doesn’t lose it, but he will need help to win it. That’s a tall order when you have ordinary running backs, significant limitations at receiver, and are facing a Seattle team that scores 31 points per game (3rd in the NFL). The Giants still are averaging less than 20 points per game.

McCoy is an immobile, weak-armed, 60 percent thrower who has a career 1-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio (29 touchdowns, 27 interceptions). The game plan seems obvious. Focus on the running game, sprinkling in short- to intermediate-passes to the tight ends and running backs. The role of slot receiver Sterling Shepard may also be emphasized more. Stating the obvious, what you don’t want to happen is see McCoy taking risky chances and turn the ball over.

If Joe Judge and Jason Garrett have any tricks up their sleeves, this is the time to use them. Beating the 8-3 Seahawks on their home turf is going to be extremely tough. I would pull out the stops.

The good news for the Giants? The historically physical and aggressive Seattle defense is having a terrible year. They are ranked dead last in yards allowed (418 yards per game) and 26th in scoring defense (almost 28 points per game). The bad news? The Seahawks are vastly better at defending the run (3rd in the NFL) than the pass (32nd in the NFL). That’s not good for a New York team that will have to run the ball effectively to have a legitimate chance to win this game.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE

I think I jinxed the defense last week when I said they were getting healthier. The medical staff obviously misjudged Oshane Ximines’ shoulder condition, choosing to end his season with rotator cuff surgery after his brief comeback attempt. Fellow linebacker Kyler Fackrell was placed on IR with a calf injury, joining Lorenzo Carter. The team is now having to rely on in-season pick-ups Jabaal Sheard and Trent Harris as the only veteran edge rushers, backed up by late-round rookies Cam Brown and Carter Coughlin. But with the game on the line last weekend, it was the journeyman Sheard who saved the day. Go figure!

I keep saying it on a weekly basis, but Patrick Graham and his staff are coaching their collective asses off. Yes, the late-game breakdowns are still frustrating as hell, especially when the team employs more of a 3-man rush. But the fact that this unit – with all of its talent issues – is currently 10th in defense is amazing. That said, Graham and his defense are about to see a major upgrade in the caliber of the competition they face. It won’t be offensive bottom dwellers Redskins, Eagles, and Bengals that they will compete against in coming weeks, but offensive teams ranked 5th (Seattle) and 2nd (Arizona). In other words, shit is about to get real.

Seattle is 12th in rushing (averaging 117 yards per game) and 4th in passing (averaging 274 yards per game). But it is a running game with no bell cow, as no running back as more than 364 yards and quarterback Russell Wilson is leading the team with 379 yards rushing. In that, Seattle is similar to the Giants with Jones at full strength and the team’s running back-by-committee approach.

What separates the Seahawks is Wilson and his receiving targets. Remarkably, with five games left to play, Wilson already has thrown for 3,216 yards and 31 touchdowns! As stated, he is the team’s leading rusher and has only thrown 10 interceptions, with a 110.8 quarterback rating. He’s playing at an MVP level. While Wilson has a plethora of targets, two stand above the rest: wide receivers Tyler Lockett (70 catches, 771 yards, 8 touchdowns) and D.K. Metcalf (58 catches, 1,039 yards, 9 touchdowns). That’s 17 touchdowns for two receivers! To keep this in perspective, the Giants wide receivers only have SIX touchdown catches all year!

The Giants must maintain disciplined pass rush lanes up front to prevent Wilson from making plays on the ground. The pass rush will suffer, but the Giants must not allow Wilson to extend drives by rushing for 1st downs. Stating the obvious, there will be tremendous pressure on the the secondary, specifically corners James Bradberry, Isaac Yiadom, and Darnay Holmes to cover Lockett and Metcalf. Wide out David Moore has 5 touchdowns too (again the Giants wideouts have SIX as a team!) and is no slouch.

Seattle is going to move the ball. They don’t tend to turn the ball over (10 interceptions, 4 fumbles). I expect Graham to attempt a bend-but-don’t-break defense that hopefully will limit the damage to field goals rather than touchdowns. That’s probably the team’s best chance.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS

Until last week, the Giants special teams had been, well, special. But across the board, last week against the Bengals was a disaster… they allowed a 103 kickoff return, a 29-yard punt return that almost cost them the game, a fake punt, and poor decisions by the punt returner. It was ugly. My guess is Judge and Thomas McGaughey laid down the law this week in meetings.

If the Giants have any shot at upsetting Seattle, the Giants must not only rebound, but actually dominate the special teams match-ups. Again, I would pull out the stops. Look for fake field goals and/or punts. We may even see a surprise onside kick.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH

Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham on the Seattle offense: “Aside from Metcalf, they have so many different weapons. The backs (Carlos) Hyde and (Chris) Carson these guys are scary. The quarterback obviously he’s a scary player, a good player… They have so many weapons from the receiver spots, 83 (David Moore), 16 (Tyler Lockett), 14 (Metcalf), they are all making plays. We’re going to try to figure it out. Do what we can do. See what we can do to try to limit their effectiveness… We’re going to need everybody, all hands-on deck for this one. They have a lot of weapons out there.”

THE FINAL WORD

Seattle is a well-coached team with a QB playing at an MVP level and a dynamic receiving corps. If Daniel Jones was fully healthy and playing well, this would be a difficult game for the Giants to win. It’s hard to see New York pulling off the upset with Colt McCoy at quarterback. Seattle just doesn’t turn the ball over much. So something weird has to happen and/or the Giants will need to use some trickery to fool the Seahawks.