-Daniel Jones: 22/32 – 137 yards / 0 TD – 2 INT / 64.2 RAT
Jones added 5 yards on the ground. This was a matchup nightmare on paper. The Niners ability to put “quick pressure” on the passer, the makeshift offensive line, and not having their two best offensive players on the field made the margin for error miniscule. Jones had to play perfect and everyone around him had to play bigger than the sum of their respective parts for this to be competitive. The game-plan was full of dinks and dunks and I estimate about 50% usage of the full playbook even being an option. There were not a lot of positives to take away from this game when it comes to Jones. The few times where the team needed a play (and he had things working around him), he did not come through. The 3rd-and-11 miss to Waller in the fourth quarter with the score at 23-12 was the standout negative. Waller does not escape his share of the blame (I will discuss this in the tight end analysis), but that is an easy throw that needs to be made 99 out of 100 times. We’ve heard and saw all summer just how big and long Waller is, how he towers above everyone else. Jones had that target wide open (NFL standards) for a first down and he air-mailed it above his outstretched hands.
The positives remain the same. He stood tall in the face of pressure in a situation that had ‘loss’ written all over it. He went through progressions, he did not abandon mechanics, and he was accurate on almost all throws. While I will not call him Joe Montana when it comes to ball placement, he threw strikes most of the night on the quick-release throws. For the second time in three weeks, he was fighting uphill in mud, nothing to gain traction on and slowly having the ground slip from underneath him. He is now 1-11 in primetime games and while that is more of a correlation between the quality of opponents + the poor state of the NYG roster than the time of day that present his struggles, it is hard to get past the notion he is not rising to a better version of himself in situations like this. Daniel Jones just….is.
-With Saquon Barkley out again with another lower body joint injury (the story of his career so far unfortunately), the NYG backfield barely moved the needle. Matt Breida did score the lone NYG touchdown of the night on an impressive, aggressive downhill run of 8 yards. He had just 4 total carries for 17 yards and 3 catches for 1 yard. Gary Brightwell added 5 yards on 4 carries and had the team’s biggest gain of the night (18 yards) on a dump-off pass, but also dropped a pass. His sample size was small, but his overall impact was positive economically, just like in previous games where he has contributed.
-Wan’Dale Robinson was back on the field for the first time since tearing his ACL 10 months ago. That is an impressive turnaround from the second-year gadget receiver from Kentucky. He had 4 catches for 21 yards while fellow slot receiver Parris Campbell led the team with 6 catches, netting just 24 yards. The limitations of the offense overall made them key focal points underneath because their skill sets can get them open in a hurry and both are supposed to be effective after the catch. They struggled to break tackles, though. Neither made an impact there, neither stepped up to make plays on their own, which was a vital ingredient to any potential success they were hoping to have.
-Darius Slayton appears to be the number one receiver on this team. He is the guy who has the most experience with Jones, he is the guy with the most contractual commitment to the team, and he is the only player who is being targeted more than 9 yards downfield on average (minimum 4 targets). He ended with 3 catches for 32 yards and had a couple of open looks deep that did not come to fruition because of poor blocking. He is playing hard and confident right now, and with his speed, that matters.
-I am disappointed we, A) barely saw Jalin Hyatt (16 out of 50 snaps) and B) he did not get a single target. I know we should temper expectations from the rookie receiver, as I even said myself last spring following the draft his impact in 2023 would likely be minimal. Even with that in mind, not one target? The one guy on this team (with Barkley out) who can strike fear into the defense? The guy who made two the biggest non-touchdown plays in their historic comeback last week? If he truly is more than just a vertical threat, then the argument that Jones simply not having enough time is not good enough for me. He should have been given at least two or three looks.
-Darren Waller led the team with 7 targets, but he caught just 3 of them for 20 yards. He added a drop that led to an interception. After a summer full of optimism and beat reporters salivating when discussing how much of a threat he appeared to be, three games in and I am down on what his upside can be here. Sure, the underneath threat and security blanket component to his game are there and it will be all season. But there is a significant difference in his movement from what I saw from 2019-2021. Jones misfired on two throws in his direction, they were more on the passer. However, Waller’s attempt at what I call “late movement,” a reaction-based attempt to the ball looked like it belonged to a 275-pound blocking tight end. No abrupt, explosive leap to go up and get it. No sudden change of direction to snare the ball that hit his hands. Effort is not the issue from what I see, just a simple lack of ability. Perhaps the hamstring is a tighter constraint than I initially thought. My true fear is the 31-year-old does not, and will not, have the special athletic traits that made him a household name and we are simply looking at an average underneath threat. Not a bad thing, but not what some believed it would be.
-Daniel Bellinger played 30 snaps and seems to be having trouble finding his role within this team. One of the biggest surprises from the 2023 Rookie Class has taken a back seat to Waller for obvious reasons. He had 1 catch for 8 yards. He has seen 2 passes thrown his way in 3 games. His value is a guy who splits a blocker/receiver role, but because of Waller’s presence he has been way more biased toward the former and he simply is not good enough there. He allowed a sack, a hold, and was flagged for a false start. This two tight end package has been one of the more subtle disappointments for the offense through three games.
-A few days ago, I warned everyone to temper the enthusiasm regarding former Tar Heels Joshua Ezeudu at left tackle and Markus McKethan at right guard. Performing well against Arizona did carry some weight, but the truth is that defensive line can make a case to be the worst in football. I wanted to see what the line, and these two in particular, would bring to the table against one of the best fronts in football. Just a solid game against them would go a long way. It did not turn out well. Ezeudu allowed 5 pressures and was flagged for a face-mask penalty. He was clearly overmatched when he faced off against Nick Bosa. They offered help a few times from Bellinger, but big picture, Ezeudu cannot compete against the best in the league. McKethan struggled even more. He was charged with 4 pressures and a sack in addition to a holding penalty. His size and length appear to be weapons that can win a lot of battles, but it is a complete hit or miss due to a lower half that does not have enough shiftiness to it. Growing pains are allowed and we will need to see if these guys can improve with consistent snaps week to week.
-Despite a couple of ugly losses to Javon Hargrave, I ended with a positive grade on rookie center John Michael Schmitz. He allowed one pressure was driven back badly on an outside zone run (again) that caused a TFL. Besides that, I thought he moved well to the second level, provided quality help in pass protection, and anchored well. From my perspective re-watching the game, there appeared to be minimal communication issues up front. I credit that to Schmitz. Execution has not been good, we know, but the assignments have seemed cleaner than I remember over the past two-three years.
-A lot of eyes are on Evan Neal, and rightfully so. The 2022 seventh overall pick has not been good through 18 games. He allowed a sack on the two-point conversion attempt and two pressures. The bar has been set low, but I do believe this was an overall positive performance compared to what Neal has been putting out there. While it is not good enough and I still want to see substantial improvement, I did not walk out of this game lowering his status even further. Hopefully he can use this as a springboard to better play, more consistently. After all, that is what this comes down to.
-Shane Lemieux got the start over Mark Glowinski, something I did not see coming. He allowed 3 pressures and a sack, and the disheartening note I have from the live game was: “Not even competitive.” No anchor, minimal range in the running game, and inability to recover when beat.
-Kayvon Thibodeaux was on the field for 72 snaps. He finished with 3 tackles, 1 sack, and 2 hurries. Overall, it was a game that lacked impact. He was flagged for a questionable illegal contact penalty which I did not mark against him, as I thought it was within five yards from the line of scrimmage. The issue was a lack of feel, lack of flow to the action, and slight hesitation. That and the obvious fact he is not winning one-on-one battles. I am not comparing him to Bosa by any means, but the difference I see in those two off the ball is completely night and day. Bosa has tunnel vision. Thibodeaux has hesitation. Does he play scared? Does he lack situational awareness? I see both. And no, I am not seeing improvement (at all) despite a couple positives in the traditional box score. I will say it again. He needs to play better, period.
-Jihad Ward, Oshane Ximines, and Boogie Basham were the other rotational edge defenders. None within the trio has stepped up with Azeez Ojulari out. Ward can set the edge against the run, but the next time he comes off a blocker to make a big stop will be the first. Basham has been unimpressive in action since the trade from BUF, as he looks like the JV version of Ward. And we know what Ximines is. He did add a pressure with 2 tackles. I think it is time we see Tomon Fox on the field.
-Dexter Lawrence had another Dexter Lawrence game, finishing with 7 tackles, 3 pressures, and a TFL. Leonard Williams came to play as well, at least more so than the previous two weeks, and finished with a half-sack, 6 tackles, and 2 QB hits. He was flagged for a roughing penalty that was correct when looking at the rulebook, but it is the one I just do not support. I am all about protecting quarterbacks but expecting a guy to fall a certain way while moving at full speed is a garbage way of making life impossible for defenders.
-D.J. Davidson got the look over rookie Jordon Riley again, and he showed why. On just 19 snaps (9 run / 10 pass) he finished with a half-sack, 2 pressures, and a pass break up at the line. He was injured on a dirty play by Jake Brendel, a play he should be fined for. Davidson was pushing the interior SF linemen around every time he got on the field. The injury to the elbow appeared to be fairly serious.
-A’Shawn Robinson and Rakeem Nunez-Roches are, at least, playing physical and prideful. They are getting beat initially at the point-of-attack and they do not have the recovery quicks to make up for it. They are clearly frustrated because of the part they are playing in the defense getting beat up front against the run. Robinson did end up with 5 tackles and pursues the action with a lot of hustle. I am still holding onto hope the line can turn things around. The size, power, and effort are all there from all of the guys.
-Micah McFadden had a game. He led the team with 10 tackles, including 4 for a loss. He missed a tackle early on and I thought “here we go again”. But he made several tackles on plays away from the ball. He read the screen game exceptionally well and I guarantee other teams will be using his performance on film as “teach tape” throughout the season. He remains an easy target in the passing game but if he gets this kind of results downhill, they can deal with him being weak in backwards coverage.
-Bobby Okereke does not seem fully comfortable in the scheme. I say that because when he fills downhill hard, he is an absolute menace. But there still seems to be a lack of consistency to that part of his game and it is causing significant issues against the run. If I had to come up with a single catalyst to the issues the defense has there, it is him. He did finish with 9 tackles and 2 pressures (both untouched) but 3 missed tackles are way too many for a leader of the defense, the green dot.
-Isaiah Simmons saw a slight uptick in playing time, finishing with 4 tackles. His lack of feel for angles and blocking on a 3rd-and-13 conversion was an absolute killer. The speed and range are great assets but only valuable if he knows that to do. Very poor situational awareness by him on that play.
-Another rough night for the rookie corners. Deonte Banks suffered an arm injury and at the time of this writing, we do not have the MRI results. Tre Hawkins missed 2 (of his 3 on the night) tackles on the same play, something you could go an entire season never seeing. He got flagged for holding and allowed every target in his direction to be completed. He looked lost, unsure, and tight. He may not be the best fit for the number of snaps he is seeing and after three weeks (and as many penalties), it may be worth moving someone else into his starting spot.
-Adoree’ Jackson saw most of his snaps outside again, the spot I think he simply works best. He did allow a long touchdown pass to Deebo Samuel late in the game but I thought his coverage was solid most of the night. He broke up a pass over the middle on a great corner play.
-Darnay Holmes moved into the slot when Jackson went outside. He finished with two impact plays, a pass break up and a TFL on a screen, but he was also flagged for a hold on a third down stop. The issue we have seen since his rookie season continues to be his kryptonite and what simply makes him unreliable.
-Xavier McKinney and Jason Pinnock both played every snap again. They combined for 12 tackles and 3 missed tackles. They were targeted often, especially with SF tight end George Kittle. Pinnock made the biggest blunder of the night on the 3rd-and-14 conversion where they had everything lined up, he simply needed to make the tackle. He did not come close. He turned it up a bit in the second half with 2 pressures. McKinney seemed a bit lost. He was not anticipating routes and the precision of the SF passing game kept exposing it.
-K Graham Gano: 2/2 (Made 44, 57). The 57-yarder ties his career-long with NYG.
-Jamie Gillan: 6 punts / 52.7 avg – 49.0 net
-LB Micah McFadden, DT Leonard Williams, K Graham Gano
-CB Tre Hawkins, OG Markus McKethan, S Xavier McKinney
3 THOUGHTS ON SF
1. The best coach in football is Kyle Shanahan. That’s where I stand with him, and I know I’m not alone. What he has done over the years despite such injury turmoil (especially at QB) is something most (if not all) coaches would crumble under. He is a magician and trend setter when it comes to finding ways to play efficient football. Early down passing, motion pre-snap, versatile personnel packaging, etc. The scheme itself is fun to watch no matter who they play. Since 2017, they have been the 10th, 4th, 6th, 1st, 3rd, and 9th most injured team in the league, respectively. They made the NFC Championship despite zero games with their QB1, RB1, TE1, WR1, WR2 all healthy at the same time last season. How many teams could pull that off? I don’t think any. Coaching made the difference.
2. SF had 196 yards after the catch in this game alone. The Giants total net yards were 150. The thing is, SF is always among the league’s best in yards after the catch. They’re also near the top in explosive run plays. How come? Scheme is one, but also the kind of players they go after. They’re all strong and powerful relative to their positions and maybe the most overlooked component to their success is how hard they block downfield for each other. It is such a difference maker.
3. SF is one of the two or three best teams in the NFC. How did they get there? You may be surprised to see their early draft results in recent years. Since John Lynch took over in 2017, here are their first-round picks: DT Solomon Thomas (#3), OT Mike McGlinchey (#9), DE Nick Bosa (#2), DT Javon Kinlaw (#14), QB Trey Lance (#3). To be blunt, that is a terrible looking list outside of Bosa (the highest paid defender in the NFL). Only Kinlaw remains on the team. How is Lynch considered one of the top GMs in football and what can NYG learn from it? If you go back to 2017 and start going through their day 2/3 picks, you’re going to be wowed. TE George Kittle, DT D.J. Jones, CB D.J. Reed, LB Fred Warner, LB Dre Greenlaw, WR Jauan Jennings, OT Colton McKivitz, RB Elijah Mitchell, S Talanoa Hufanga, QB Brock Purdy, OG Spencer Burford. These guys in combination with the aggressive trades for OT Trent Williams and RB Christian McCaffrey are the catalysts to this being such a well-balanced team. Keep this in mind in the coming years with the NYG regime led by Joe Schoen. Even when you miss in the first, the doors are open later on to build the nucleus. You must find the right guys there.
3 CLOSING THOUGHTS
1. So let’s not beat the dead horses. Is Daniel Jones worth the money? Are the #5 and #7 picks from the 2022 draft going to step up? Save it for another time, I’m sure history will repeat itself. Let’s turn the attention to Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale. It is hard to fully diagnose what is going on, but the results are scary. 98 points allowed in 3 games (let’s take off 14 for the special teams + defensive TDs from week 1). So, 84 points allowed. Sixth worst in yards per play allowed. Last in turnovers. Fourth most in yards per pass allowed. 14th most yards per rush allowed. Second worst in pressure percentage. Sixth most missed tackles. Seventh worst on third down. The personnel was upgraded. There are 7 returning starters. And everything has gone backwards. Has the league figured out Martindale? It is something that needs to be considered.
2. I’m not a fan of the “must win” label some put on games unless is mathematically eliminates someone from contention. So, no, Week 4 against Seattle is not a must win. But getting a 3-day rest advantage over a 1-1 team that is flying from the West Coast is one of the easier set ups they have and not taking advantage of it would be such a major blow to the vibe of this team.
3. The one time NYG scored a touchdown came on a drive where they had the biggest gain of the day. A 22-yard pass interference call on a deep ball to Waller. Getting the ball more vertical like this creates so many more opportunities for the offense. You can get that cheap penalty, which when it comes to results end up being the same as a long completion. It puts things on tape and in memories of defenders that needs to be accounted for, opening space up underneath. And it can change the entire mojo of a team. NYG needs to find ways to push the ball downfield at least a handful of times week in, week out. They have the speed.