Sep 182020
 
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Game Preview: New York Giants at Chicago Bears, September 20, 2020

THE STORYLINE

In reading through last Monday’s Giants-Steelers game discussion thread, it quickly became clear to me that a lot of Giants fans are still in denial. They either can’t or won’t accept reality.

What is that reality? When you start over with a new coaching staff, you are literally starting over. The uncomfortable truth that many can’t accept is that the franchise wasted the last four years by hiring Ben McAdoo and Pat Shurmur. Any “building” you do with the wrong coaching staff is erased when you hire a new coaching staff. No progress was made. The Giants are back at the starting line. Fans who complain, “nothing has changed” don’t seem to get this. We’re starting over again. Deal with it. It is what it is.

The most important questions moving forward are:

  1. Is Joe Judge the right man to lead this team forward?
  2. Are Dave Gettleman and his successor the right men to provide Judge with the tools he needs?

Throwing a hissy fit because the playoff-caliber Steelers beat the team with THE WORST record in the NFL over the span of the last three years doesn’t make much sense to me. The Steelers were expected to win that game. Their loaded defense was expected to give the Giants offense all sorts of problems, especially up front. The fact the game was as close as it was until the 4th quarter was a pleasant surprise. A loser’s boast? Yup. But again, the Giants are starting over.

THE INJURY REPORT

  • WR Golden Tate (hamstring – questionable)
  • LB Tae Crowder (hamstring – probable)
  • LB Carter Coughlin (hamstring – questionable)
  • S Adrian Colbert (quad – out)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE

The height of absurdity was Giants fans “surprised” that a restructured offensive line, with two new tackles (including a rookie), and a new center who has never played the position at any level, would struggle with a loaded, All-Pro laden front seven. This line had no OTAs, no mini-camps, no preseason, and just 14 practices to get ready for the season. This reality isn’t going away. Lack of familiarity, cohesion, and practice are going to impact the line all season. The best we can hope for is that the growing process moves along at a reasonable rate.

“Gates sucks! They need to replace him!” With whom? Spencer Pulley? Unless the coaching staff comes to the conclusion that Gates will never develop into a decent center, switching back to Pulley seems like more wasting time to me. If you thought Gates was going to immediately do well, then you are not thinking straight. Gates is going to spend the 2020 season LEARNING THE POSITION. It’s not going to be pretty. We’re living in the real world, not a video game.

The good news is that the left side of the line, rookie LT Andrew Thomas and 3rd-year guard Will Hernandez performed adequately against top competition last Monday. The bad news is the veteran right side, RG Kevin Zeitler and RT Cam Fleming, did not. More is expected of them. They are the ones who should bring some much needed stability to the offensive line and they failed to do so in their first effort together. Again, given the quality of the opponent and the lack of practice time, I would suggest not overreacting. However, if issues continue in Weeks 4, 5, 6 with these two, Joe Judge, Jason Garrett, and Marc Colombo may want to think about what is best for the future and consider Shane Lemieux at right guard and Matt Peart at right tackle.

What hurt the blocking against the Steelers was not just the offensive line, but the poor work of the tight ends. We’re on our third coaching staff in a row who insists Evan Engram can serve as an in-line blocker. He can’t. The one or two good blocks he may make are erased by the ones where he gets easily tossed aside. If you screw up a block, your 1st-and-10 becomes a 2nd-and-11. That’s hard to overcome. Teams only get about 10 possessions per game. Levine Toilolo also needs to step up his game.

Sy’56 said it last year and I’m sure he will continue to make the same point this year. Quarterbacks who regularly turn the ball over are not long for the NFL. You can’t win that way. On Monday, Daniel Jones continued to give Giants fans a reason to be optimistic (clutch plays under duress without a lot of help) and pessimistic (two killer turnovers). The zone-blitz interception doesn’t bug me as much… young quarterbacks struggle with zone-blitzes. The turnover down on the goal line was the real killer. It happens. We’ve seen Eli Manning make stupid plays like that even in his 10th season. But it’s plays like that that also lose football games. I don’t want to see Daniel Jones play too conservatively. That’s not his game. But we all want to see him play a clean game.

As for the skill positions, enough attention was spent on Saquon Barkley’s pass protection issues this week. But until he proves otherwise, teams are going to keep testing him. They are also going to keep loading up on the run and dare Jones and his receivers to make them pay. Darius Slayton did some of that last week, but he needs more help from Evan Engram (who really came up small in Week 1), Sterling Shepard (needs to be more of a game-changer), Golden Tate (please get back on the damn football field). One of the debates in the offseason was how good was the receiving corps (including Engram). The returns from Week 1 were not good outside of Slayton.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE

My take on the state of the defense is perhaps a bit too negative. After all, the Giants have been one of the worst defenses in the League for the last three years. There is a big hill to climb. And there were actual signs of improvement against the Steelers as New York held Pittsburgh to 16 points until the 4th quarter. BUT… the Steelers scored on half of their 10 possessions (three touchdowns and two field goals). The Steelers rushed for 141 yards (averaging 4.7 yards per rush). The Giants did not force a turnover on defense (this has become an alarming trend for the Giants). And at times when the team REALLY needed a stop… after both turnovers, right before halftime, and late in the 4th quarter, the defense couldn’t make that stop (another alarming trend). So progress made, but nowhere near good enough.

To me, the weak spot is what I mentioned in my last preview. Teams are going to continue to attack Corey Ballentine until he proves he can cover on a consistent basis. Isaac Yiadom also gave up an easy touchdown. I don’t think the Giants have the horses at cornerback to stop the bleeding but we shall see. As I also mentioned last week, I would try to arrange packages that have Darnay Holmes and Logan Ryan playing corner more than Ballentine and Yiadom.

Important positives from last Monday include the play of ILB Blake Martinez and DL Leonard Williams. Now if Patrick Graham and company can get more out of DLs Dalvin Tomlinson and Dexter Lawerence, along with OLB Lorenzo Carter, the Giants really may make some important strides.

The loss of Xavier McKinney is hurting in the defensive backfield as his presence would have enabled Graham to use Jabrill Peppers in more of a hybrid role. Nevertheless, Peppers once again is proving to be a frustrating player, alternating between impact plays and screw ups. Those types of players are coach killers.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS

The Giants special teams are going to win them at least two games this year. Jabrill Peppers is going to break one soon as a punt returner.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH

Head Coach Joe Judge on what he wants to see this weekend: “There are a lot of levels of improvement. We have to see, not only this week but throughout the year, we have to grow as a team. We’re still working on really getting our identity and our base set as a program and as a culture. The things I want to see this week, on top of playing together as a team for 60 minutes which I was pleased with how we did it last week, is I want to see the guys go out there and execute and not set ourselves back with mistakes.”

THE FINAL WORD

Yeah I know, I didn’t spend any time discussing the Bears in my Giants-Bears preview. But there were other things I wanted to get off my chest. As for this game, keep in mind that when the schedules were released other teams and their fans react by saying, “The Giants? That’s a win for us.” We’re the team everyone else wants to play. We’ve been that way for years.

That all said, this is a winnable game for the Giants. Yes, the Bears’ defense will give the Giants problems up front again. But there is no home field advantage for Chicago. The Bears were on the ropes against a bad Detroit team last week and should have lost that game. Their quarterback sucks. Call me naively stupid, but I think this is a game the Giants can win, provided the Giants don’t lose the turnover battle.

Sep 162020
 
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Andrew Thomas, New York Giants (September 14, 2020)

Andrew Thomas – © USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Steelers 26 – New York  Giants 16

QUICK RECAP

An offseason like no other. A training camp like no other. And now, a regular season like no other. The Covid-19 pandemic has led to empty or near-empty stadiums, a lot of awkward silence, and a bunch of never-heard-before F-Bombs on live television. At one point, or several points, the idea of the NFL playing this year was cloudy at best. However, here we sit, looking back on a full slate of Week 1 games. Excellent job by the NFL and everyone involved. Now onto the good stuff.

The Giants kicked off Monday Night football with a home game against Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Big Ben, in his 17th season, was on the game field in pads for the first time in 364 days following an elbow injury that created the question if he was done, both mentally and physically. He has discussed retirement in the past and not many players are still wearing the helmet at the age 38. He did come back, he is paired with an elite defense, he is behind an elite offensive line, and he is throwing the ball to some of the more exciting young receivers in the league. This was a tall order for the New York Giants and their new Head Coach, Joe Judge, a first time Head Coach on any level.

Judge’s history revolves around special teams and that is exactly where NYG got their first break. A muffed punt by PIT receiver Diontae Johnson gave the Giants the ball on the PIT 3-yard line. However, after 3 plays that derived 1 total yard, they had to settle for a 21-yard chip shot by newly signed kicker Graham Gano. Giants held the initial 3-0 lead. After trading three-and-outs, PIT got on the board with a 41-yard field goal by Chris Boswell at the end of a 13-play drive.

The Giants opened the second quarter with their first touchdown-scoring drive of the season. They were stopped after three plays but they were given new life by a Joe Haden pass interference call on third down. On the very next play, Jones hit Darius Slayton deep down the middle on a post route for a 41-yard score. The Giants’ passing game looked crisp on all levels early on and they had a 10-3 lead. Following another three-and-out by PIT, Jones’s first pass of the ensuing drive resulted in an interception to Defensive Player of the Year candidate T.J. Watt. It was a zone blitz that caught Jones off guard. This gave PIT the ball on the NYG 36-yard to line to start and that resulted in PIT’s first touchdown of the year, a 3rd down, 10-yard loft as NYG tried to bring the heat via a heavy blitz. Boswell missed the extra point, thus NYG still held the lead at 10-9.

From this point, NYG showed their current true color. The true color that has netted them the worst record in the NFL over the past three seasons. The Giants had momentum on their side after a 38-yard gain on a screen pass to Barkley where his elite level burst and speed were on display in space, the place he is most lethal. Evan Engram, who had a game to forget, caught a pass up the seam for a 24-yard gain that put NYG on the PIT 20-yard line. Unfortunately, he was flagged for offensive pass interference. Two plays later, Jones was sacked. They went from 1st-and10 on the PIT 20 to 3rd-and-27 on the NYG 39.

The two offenses traded three-and-outs before the Big Ben and the PIT offense started a 2-minute offense from their own 22. Eight plays, 68 yards later PIT had put up another 7 points stemming from a rub route that put James Washington in the end zone with the ball in his hands. PIT held a 16-10 lead at the half.

Since the start of 2016, there have been 23,518 offensive drives in the NFL. Only 2 of them had more plays (21) than the opening NYG drive of the second half (19). On 2nd-and-3 from the PIT 4-yard line, Jones evaded pressure and foolishly tried to throw against his body’s momentum into what would have been a ton of traffic. He was hit by Bud Dupree, who had a monster night, sending the ball tumbling into the air and into the waiting arms of defensive lineman Cam Heyward, the first of his 10-year career. This was the second time NYG had the ball inside the 5-yard line and it netted them a grand total of 3 points.

The Steelers then scored a combined 10 points on the next two drives, the touchdown being another pitch-and-catch between Roethlisberger to Juju Smith-Schuster via a rub route where James Bradberry got bumped out of position. Down 16 with 5:23 left, Jones and the Giants offense pieced together another long drive, 16 plays, that this time ended with points on the board. Jones hit Slayton for a 7-yard touchdown as the two have clearly brought the connection we saw in 2019 to the table here in their respective sophomore seasons. They failed the two-point attempt, leaving it a two-possession game with just 2:00 left. PIT ran out the clock and that was it.

Giants lose 26-16.

QUARTERBACK

-Daniel Jones: 26-41 / 279 yards / 2 TD-2 INT / 79.2 Rating

Jones added 22 yards on the ground via 4 carries. In his first ever season opener, Jones was matched up against one of the top 5 defenses in the NFL playing behind an offensive line that was playing with two new tackles and a new center. That led to him being pressured more than any quarterback in the NFL week 1. As is the case with most young quarterbacks, Jones was inconsistent. On one hand, he looked poised and tough, something we saw plenty of last year. He made accurate downfield throws, he stayed aggressive, he knew when to pull down and run, and most importantly he did not fumble (although there was a close call). However, the way this position works in this game, he had two major mistakes and that really cost the team. His first interception was against a zone blitz that he did not recognize and the second one, on just second down, was a rookie-level mistake throwing against his body into heavy traffic. One was a lack of recognition; one was a lack of sound decision making. His game wasn’t a bad one, but if he is THE guy, he needs to make sure they walk away with at least 10 points when they are inside the PIT 5 two times, not 3 points.

RUNNING BACK

-Saquon Barkley: 15 att – 6 yards / 6 rec – 60 yards

This was the third time in his 30-game career that Barkley has been held to 10 or less rushing yards, one of the other times being an injury-shortened game in Tampa Bay last year. It was a horrific way to start off the year. Barkley rarely made it two steps with the ball before he had a PIT defender (or several) on top of him. The inside running lanes rarely existed and the PIT defense was too fast for them to handle when they went outside. His lone bright spot was a 38-yard gain on a screen pass where we saw the explosion, speed, and make-you-miss ability on full display. New Offensive Coordinator Jason Garrett needs to fully understand this is a completely different back than Ezekiel Elliot in Dallas. Barkley needs to the ball in space as much as possible, that is where he does damage. This performance is solely on the offensive line, zero question. With that said, Barkley did allow a pressure and a sack. His blocking remains subpar at best.

WIDE RECEIVER

-Darius Slayton: 6 rec – 102 yards / 2 TD

Before the season, I said Slayton was going to end up being the team’s number one receiver this year. That was partially an indictment on the lack of upside Sterling Shepard and Golden Tate bring to the table, but also a level of confidence in Slayton. His routes and long speed looked crisp, he played through contact, and he finished. Excellent start for him. He looks like the real deal and a true keeper.

-Sterling Shepard: 6 rec – 47 yards

It was a “quiet” night for Shepard. He didn’t really factor as much until the second half. He caught all 6 of his targets (not including the 2-point conversion attempt), as he just ran into some bad luck. From my view, it looked like he was the main target three times on plays where the pass protection pressured Jones away from the read. This could have easily been a bigger game for Shepard.

TIGHT END

-Evan Engram: 2 rec / 9 yards

Jason Garrett and Joe Judge may end up having a short leash on the athletic Engram. Neither have used a tight end like this much before and I think they both lean toward a sturdier presence. Engram was tossed around like a rag doll by the Steelers front seven. Simply put, he just does not belong in there trying to block edge defenders. He can hold his own against defensive backs and some inside linebackers, but his lack of blocking had a significant impact on the team mightily struggling on the ground. He allowed a pressure, a TFL, and dropped a pass in the first quarter to boot. Lastly, his offensive pass interference was an absolute killer to the team’s momentum. There are 15 games left, but Engram needs to know he is on the hot seat.

-Kaden Smith and Levine Toilolo played 43% and 35% of the offensive snaps respectively. Having one tight end play that much is expected, but two? I do like the concept of having these three on the field together (NYG played with 13 personnel – 3 TEs – more than every team Week 1), but they have to do what they are supposed to do. Having them on the field allows more support for the running game, at least theoretically. However, they both struggled against the PIT physical front seven, allowing a combined 3 pressures and 1 TFL. They also combined for 3 catches / 30 yards. Hopefully some of the blocking shortcomings had more to do with lack of chemistry than anything, because that is why these guys are on the team.

OFFENSIVE TACKLE

-Perhaps the brightest, or second brightest part of NYG’s week 1 game was the play of rookie Andrew Thomas. He did allow 3 pressures on the night, a number we want to be lower, but it doesn’t get much tougher than Bud Dupree (on an island nonetheless) for a rookie tackle. Thomas was the top graded Giants lineman by far and two of his pressures could be argued against (they are a tad subjective). He played with a wide and strong base, he played patient, and his hands were heavy. I would like to see more running attempts right behind him.

-Cameron Fleming has not produced any confidence that the massacre right tackle has been to this offense in recent years will be any different. He allowed 2 pressures and a sack in pass protection, he allowed 2 TFL, and he was pushed backward multiple times as a run blocker. He was flagged for a false start. I think Matt Peart will be starting by mid-season.

GUARD/CENTER

-The guiltiest culprit of the inside running woes was center Nick Gates. He was toyed with by Tyson Alualu, a solid but unspectacular nose tackle. This is where the lack of offseason may have hurt the Giants the most. Gates was very late with his hands. When you’re late with your hands, especially inside against a powerful player, you’re going to abruptly lose ground. That happened over and over and understandably so, as Gates really doesn’t have a lot of experience snapping the ball and getting his hands up quickly enough. NYG can only hope for improvement here in the coming weeks, but it could easily take longer.

-Kevin Zeitler had a surprisingly awful game. He was the lowest graded blocker of the bunch. He allowed 2 pressures, 2 TFL, and a sack (although one could argue it wasn’t his fault). More than the weak grade, Zeitler looked stiff. Is there something wrong? Is he on the sharp decline? He will be one I watch closely next week in Chicago, another team with really good interior defensive linemen.

-Will Hernandez was quietly solid. He allowed one pressure and was oddly left alone by the PIT defense several times. He was late to help a few times, but not a bad game by him. Again, I want to see more NYG runs to the left side next week.

EDGE

-Lorenzo Carter is going to be a key factor for this team in 2020 and whether or not this defense can take a true step forward. He looks the part, as he always has. He seems to be more powerful than we’ve seen, and he still has the elite speed and burst. I made a couple different notes of physical play and he finished with 7 tackles and 2 pressures including 1 hit on the QB. He is what I call an every-down defender in that he can have a role in any situation. He has the tools but his issues have revolved around consistency and mental quickness. We saw some positives in this game, but he needs to more of a finisher.

-Markus Golden, the team’s leading pass rusher from 2019 and a guy that pretty much nobody in the NFL wanted to bring in, was limited to just 34% of the snaps as he continues to work back into game shape. He was a non-factor.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

-Leonard Williams was the most disruptive and consistent player along the NYG front. He finished with 5 tackles / 1 sack / 2 TFL / 1 pressure. A lot of eyes are going to be on the franchised player who some are still looking down on because he was traded for. If he plays like this, we can seal the deal as a win for the NYG organization.

-Dalvin Tomlinson had a quiet game, not in a good or bad way. He just didn’t impact the defense much in either direction. Dexter Lawrence had a pressure and a sack. In addition, he once again flashed surprisingly solid athletic ability on a couple of nice hustle plays away from his starting point.

LINEBACKER

-Blake Martinez showed quality inside play after receiving a hefty contract from NYG in the offseason. I can easily say this: it was the best true ILB play we have seen in awhile. He led the team with 12 tackles including 1 TFL. There wasn’t anything eye-popping here, but it was notable how fast he reacted to the offense. In addition, he was rarely fooled or caught out of position. This is a legit inside presence at the second level that this defense sorely lacked in recent years.

-Kyler Fackrell and Devante Downs were on the field for less than a half and quarter of the plays respectively. Fackrell brings inside-out versatility, which is nice, but he didn’t show much as a pass rusher in week 1. Downs recovered a fumble on special teams in the first quarter. I am pulling for this kid, great story of perseverance.

CORNERBACK

The newly signed James Bradberry had a really up-and-down inaugural game in blue. The high-priced corner “allowed” two touchdowns but on both plays, he was the victim of “rub routes”. Basically, the plays were designed to combat man coverage in that two receivers crisscrossed each other close enough that Bradberry collided with his own teammate. He also allowed a big downfield gain to Chase Claypool (who got away with a push off). Overall, Bradberry finished with 4 tackles, 2 pass deflections, and a forced fumble that nearly turned the game around. A second look from the All-22 angle showed quality coverage throughout.

-Rookie Darnay Holmes started at the nickel spot and played 73% of the snaps. If nothing else, he played fast, physical, and aggressive out there. He did miss two tackles on the same drive early in the game, but he can’t be looked down on for that too badly. He just isn’t a very big kid and his first NFL action was against a formidable passing offense. He showed several encouraging signs.

-Corey Ballentine started at the other outside corner spot and I have to say, he may be the key weaknesses to this defense besides the lack of pass rush that stems from four guys. He allowed so much separation, most notably to the smaller/quicker Diontae Johnson. This was something we saw last year when they tried him at nickel, a spot he just couldn’t hang. He doesn’t forecast well and the speed just isn’t there to make up for it.

-Isaac Yiadom was on the field for 5 plays and allowed a touchdown.

SAFETY

-Jabrill Peppers shined as a punt returner, but mightily struggled as a safety. He had 3 tackles and a pass deflection but was beat on 3rd down by Eric Ebron and missed 2 tackles. Every year, Peppers will impress with some workout videos during the offseason. His talent is obvious. He plays hard and physical. But when it comes to reading the game situation and playing with instincts, it just isn’t there. The downhill angle he took on a 4th quarter run was abysmal. It led to 30-yard gain that should have easily been stopped at the 5-yard mark. He needs to step it up, no more fluff.

-Logan Ryan and Julian Love were on the field a lot in respective safety/nickel roles. I like how they can interchange roles on a dime, as it makes things tougher for the opposing quarterback to read and diagnose. They were both solid in coverage, but Ryan offers more as a tackler and physical presence. Love got knocked back a few times on contact with the ball carrier and I considered it a missed tackle on James Washington’s touchdown.

SPECIAL TEAMS

-K Graham Gano: 1/1 (Made 21) / 1/1 XP.

-P Riley Dixon: 5 Punts – 38.6 avg / 36.0 net / 3 inside 20

3 STUDS

-WR Darius Slayton, OT Andrew Thomas, LB Blake Martinez

3 DUDS

-OC Nick Gates, OG Kevin Zeitler, TE Evan Engram

3 THOUGHTS ON PIT

  1. How do you build an elite defense? Continuity, chemistry, scheme, draft quality players. The Steelers have, for pretty much 17 years, made their defense a main priority when it comes to coaching and drafting. In that span, they’ve ranked top 10 in points allowed 12 times and top 5 in points allowed 7 times. It is in their blood. When it comes to personnel, they they rarely miss in the 1st round. Devin Bush, T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, Ryan Shazier, Cam Heyward…all those guys have been drafted since 2011 in round 1 and they all (minus the injured Shazier) are still making an impact on this team in a big way. Add in the trade for Minkah Fitzpatrick and you are looking at 5 elite players at their respective positions and I would say 4 of 20 the league’s Defensive Player of the Year candidates.
  1. Speaking of drafting, I did a team study on the Steelers and their success at drafting skill position players in the middle rounds. In rounds 2-4 since 2017, take a look at these names: JuJu Smith-Schuster (round 2), James Conner (round 4), James Washington (round 2), Diontae Johnson (round 2), Benny Snell (round 4), Chase Claypool (round 2), and a name you will hear about soon enough in Anthony McFarland (round 2). You will have a hard time finding more homegrown skill position talent in the league.
  1. Lastly, this offensive line is likely going to be a make or break for PIT. They were solid against NYG in week 1, yes. However, there are going to be much tougher pass rushers on the schedule coming up and now they are without Zach Banner in addition to David DeCastro. When these guys are at full strength, they are a top-5 group. They have a ton of chemistry in addition to multiple top 10 guys at their respective positions. If they stay healthy enough, this PIT team has final 4 potential in the AFC.

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

  1. The Giants were one of four teams with a new coaching staff during the most difficult offseason any team has ever dealt with from a logistical perspective. Those teams went a combined 1-3 and the other team with a first timer at the Head Coach spot (Cleveland) lost 38-6. I’m not a moral victory guy at all, but I do think that these teams with new coaching staffs and schemes will see more margin between week 1 and week 2 compared to the rest of the league. Not having these guys in a real live situation throughout the preseason does leave a lot of question marks that are only answered via gameplay. NYG has multiple areas to improve and whether or not this coaching staff can make the needed changes will dictate a lot.
  1. When looking at “how to win a game”, you can go down several rabbit holes. I try to keep it as simple as possible. Here is what gets it done more often than not: Win the turnover battle. Win the penalty battle. Win the sack battle. If you can walk away with two of those micro-level wins, the odds of ending up on top are well over 90%. The Giants lost the turnover battle by one, they lost the penalty battle, and they lost the sack battle. Trifecta.
  1. The Giants did impress me in one specific area, and that was on defense. They played really fast and really physical and really smart (minus Peppers). We listened to Joe Judge talk about those three traits the entire offseason and we mostly just swept it under the rug, but that was one thing that stood out to me. The Giants have a defense that plays fast based on both the athletic ability and sureness of their assignments. That, more than anything, is encouraging as we move forward. Now, somebody needs to step up and make plays/create turnovers.
Sep 142020
 
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Darius Slayton, New York Giants (September 14, 2020)

Darius Slayton – © USA TODAY Sports

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PITTSBURGH STEELERS 26 – NEW YORK GIANTS 16…
Despite the game remaining close for three quarters, the Pittsburgh Steelers pulled away in the 4th quarter and soundly defeated the New York Giants on Monday night at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Giants begin the 2020 NFL season 0-1.

What killed the Giants was their inability to run the football combined with two very costly interceptions by quarterback Daniel Jones. The defense also crumbled at inopportune times, including after both turnovers and late in the first half. Running back Saquon Barkley was held to an abysmal six yards on 15 carries. Indeed, Jones was the team’s leading rusher with 22 yards as Giants’ running backs only combined for seven yards rushing.

The Giants received the football to start the game, picked up two first downs, but were then forced to punt. However, New York was handed a golden opportunity when Pittsburgh’s returner muffed the punt and the Giants recovered the loose ball at the Pittsburgh 3-yard line. But the Giants could not get the ball into the endzone after a 1-yard run and two incomplete passes as they settled for a 21-yard field goal.

After both teams exchanged three-and-outs, the Steelers tied the game at 3-3 when their 13-play, 59-yard second drive resulted in a 41-yard field goal. The Giants responded with an impressive 6-play, 75-yard possession that culminated in a 41-yard touchdown pass from Jones to wide receiver Darius Slayton. Early in the second quarter, the Giants led 10-3.

The Giants forced another three-and-out by the Steelers. With momentum clearly in New York’s favor, Jones threw his first bad interception on the first play of the subsequent drive. Linebacker T.J. Watt fooled Jones when he dropped into coverage and the Steelers had the ball at the New York 36-yard line. Six plays later, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw a 10-yard touchdown. Pittsburgh missed the extra point and the Giants led 10-9.

After two punts by the Giants and one by the Steelers, Pittsburgh got the ball back at their own 22-yard line with 1:32 left before halftime. Unfortunately, the New York defense could not prevent the Steelers from easily marching 78 yards in eight plays to take a morale-sapping 16-10 lead into halftime. Roethlisberger threw a 13-yard touchdown pass with just seven seconds left on the clock.

Nevertheless, the Giants were still very much in the game. After the Steelers picked up one first down to start the third quarter, they were forced to punt. The Giants then began a marathon 19-play possession that started at their own 9-yard line. Despite no running game whatsoever, the Giants converted on 3rd-and-14, 3rd-and-1, 4th-and-1, 3rd-and-6, and 3rd-and-3 to keep the drive alive. Disaster struck when on 2nd-and-3 from the Pittsburgh 4-yard line, Jones scrambled to his left, was hit as he threw, and the pass was picked off in the end zone by a defensive lineman for a touchback. The 19-play, 87-yard, almost 9-minute possession resulted in no points. It was a devastating turn of events.

Predictably, the Steelers took advantage of the huge momentum switch as they drove 62 yards in nine plays to set up a 36-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter. The Steelers now led 19-10 and the Giants were clearly in trouble.

The game was all-but-officially decided on the next two series. Despite starting their next possession at their own 40-yard line, the Giants went three-and-out. The Steelers then drove 75 yards in 11 plays to take a commanding 26-10 lead with 5:23 to play. New York drove for a garbage-time touchdown, ending with Slayton’s second touchdown catch on 3rd-and-goal from the 7-yard line with less than two minutes to play. The two-point conversion and subsequent onside kick failed. The Steelers then ran out the clock to preserve the win.

Offensively, the Giants were held to 291 total net yards (29 rushing, 262 passing). The team did convert 8-of-15 times on third down (53 percent) and 1-of-1 on 4th down. Jones completed 26-of-41 passes for 279 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He was the leading rusher with 22 yards on four carries. The leading receivers were Slayton (6 catches for 102 yards and two touchdowns), Barkley (6 catches for 60 yards), and wide receiver Sterling Shepard (6 catches for 47 yards).

Defensively, the Giants allowed 349 total net yards (141 yards rushing, 208 yards passing). Pittsburgh scored on five of their 10 offensive possessions (three touchdowns and two field goals). The Giants did not force a turnover on defense. Defensive linemen Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence each had sacks.

Video highlights are available on Giants.com.

PRACTICE SQUAD ACTIVATIONS, INACTIVES, AND INJURY REPORT…
With teams now allowed to activate two players from the Practice Squad on game day, the Giants activated OL Chad Slade and S Sean Chandler.

Inactive for the game were WR Golden Tate (hamstring), OG Shane Lemieux, OT Jackson Barton, DE R.J. McIntosh, LB T.J. Brunson, LB Cam Brown, and LB Tae Crowder (hamstring).

The Giants reported no injuries from the game.

POST-GAME REACTION…
Transcripts and video clips of post-game media sessions with Head Coach Joe Judge and the following players are available in The Corner Forum and at Giants.com:

WHAT’S UP NEXT…
Head Coach Joe Judge will address the media by conference call on Tuesday afternoon.

Sep 122020
 
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Game Preview: Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Giants, September 14, 2020

THE STORYLINE

On paper, this game looks like an easy win for the Steelers. The third-longest tenured NFL head coach after Bill Belichick and Sean Payton versus the 38-year old rookie head coach who has never served as a the head man at any level. With that comes the understanding that the Steelers know their schemes and coaching staff inside and out, while the Giants are still at the beginning of the learning curve. Furthermore, the Steelers have been one of the toughest, most physical teams in the NFL since the Chuck Noll era. Indeed, the Steelers haven’t had a losing record since 2003 and only three head coaches since 1969. On the other hand, the Giants are on their fourth head coach since 2016 and are averaging four wins per season in the last three years. The overall consensus is that the Pittsburgh Steelers are a legit Super Bowl contender while the extremely young New York Giants will be fortunate to finish anywhere near a .500 record.

What do the Giants have going for them? The element of the unknown. While the Steelers likely studied Jason Garrett in Dallas and Patrick Graham in Miami, Garrett hasn’t called offensive plays since 2012 and Graham most likely didn’t have full control of the defense in Miami with Brian Flores’ defensive background. The Giants are a very young team who may not know they are supposed to be intimidated by the big bad Steelers. And on top of all of this, the COVID-19 issue has prevented all NFL teams from having a normal offseason… no mini-camps, no OTAs, no preseason. Teams that adjusted the best and were more organized should have an advantage even over more talented teams. Joe Judge ran a very organized, physical training camp.

My advice to the Giants? Go into this game like Michael Keaton did in Batman. “You Wanna Get Nuts? Let’s Get Nuts!”

THE INJURY REPORT

  • WR Golden Tate (hamstring – questionable)
  • TE Levine Toilolo (hamstring – questionable)
  • LB Markus Golden (illness)
  • LB Tae Crowder (hamstring – questionable)
  • S Adrian Colbert (illness)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE

This is a bad opponent for the New York Giants’ offense to begin the season with. The Steelers have one of the toughest defenses in the NFL and will put tremendous mental and physical pressure on the yet-to-gel offensive line and 2nd-year quarterback trying to overcome a fumbling problem.

The Steelers are loaded at all three levels of the defense. DE Cameron Heyward (2x All-Pro, 3x Pro Bowl) is one of the best in the business up front. Outside linebackers T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree are double-digit sack artists, and Watt is a legit “Defensive Player of the Year” candidate. Inside linebacker Devin Bush is a rising star. Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick is coming off an All-Pro season and CB Joe Haden a Pro Bowl season. These are the headliners but the entire unit is well-coached, tough, and physical. They intimidate their opponents. The Steeler defense is quite capable of winning a game on its own.

Enter a promising New York Giants offensive line that has yet to play an actual game together. Rookie left tackle Andrew Thomas has yet to play against NFL talent at full speed contact, and his first opponent are going to be the Steelers superb outside rushers. This will be Nick Gates’ first real game at center and he is going to have to deal with the Steelers’ complicated blitz schemes. RT Cam Fleming will probably have issues with Pittsburgh’s outside rushers as well.

The game plan seems fairly obvious. Try to establish Saquon Barkley on the ground, thereby protecting the offensive line somewhat until it can get its feet wet. Use the short passing game to backs Barkley and Dion Lewis, and tight ends Evan Engram and Kaden Smith. Get the ball out of Daniel Jones’ hands fast and keep the chains moving. Try not to expose Jones to a lot of hits. The last thing the Giants can afford is for that fumbling issue to continue. You can’t win games that way, and there is a risk to Jones’ long-term confidence.

Don’t expect the Giants’ offense to perform well. This is one of the toughest defenses in the NFL. “Wins” in this game will come from NOT making negative plays, NOT turning the ball over, and flipping field position. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot!

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE

The expectation by many Giants fans and pundits is that the team’s defense will struggle again in 2020. I’m not so sure. I do have a big worry about the secondary. The Giants were counting on Deandre Baker and Xavier McKinney, and to a lesser extent Sam Beal. But adding Logan Ryan should help. I’m still not convinced that Ryan is going to be used exclusively at safety. It would not shock me to see him lining up at outside cornerback against the Steelers (in fact, this is what I would do…either that or play Darnay Holmes outside and Ryan at inside corner).

The other worry from fans is the pass rush. Call me a naive optimist but I think a big part of the problem with the team’s defense last year was that it was simply poorly coached. I believe Dexter Lawrence, Dalvin  Tomlinson, and Leonard Williams are better-than-average 3-4 pass rushers and potentially more than that. I also think that Patrick Graham and Bret Bielema are going to have a positive influence on Lorenzo Carter, Oshane Ximines, Markus Golden, and Kyler Fackrell. The issue for these guys in this particular game is the Steelers see better every day in practice.

Opinions on the Steelers’ offense varies. But there are a number of question marks, starting with QB Ben Roethlisberger, who is nearing the end and missed most of 2019 with an elbow issue. How much gas does he still have in the tank? Do his teammates still consider him their field general? Pittsburgh’s primary back, James Conner, has been injury-prone. The offensive line has size and experience, but appears to be fraying a bit at the edges and guard David DeCastro is not expected to play against the Giants.

As for the receiving targets, the Steelers two tight ends (Vance McDonald, Eric Ebron) can present match-up problems. Patrick Graham also says the Giants are worried about the Steelers’ backs in the receiving game. WR JuJu Smith-Schuster has been a bit of a frustrating player for Pittsburgh, at times looking like an impact player (monster 2018 season) and at other times not living up to expectations (disappointing 2019 season). But how much was that due to Big Ben being out of the lineup? The Steelers have high hopes for WR Diontae Johnson, and WR James Washington is solid. On paper, the match-up Giants fans worry about is Corey Ballentine against anyone, until proven otherwise. Or do the Giants surprise the Steelers and play Logan Ryan or Darnay Holmes outside?

Cutting to the chase, the defense has to keep this game close for the Giants to have a chance. The Giants’ offense simply is not going to score that much.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS

Here is a huge wild card the Giants all season. Joe Judge was so impressive as special teams coach that he was hired as an NFL coach despite having no head coaching experience at any level. “I’ve learned more football in the last six months probably than I have learned in the last 10 years,” said long-time NFL and current Giants special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey earlier this week.

The Giants look very solid in the kicking department with Graham Gano, Riley Dixon, and Casey Kreiter. No worries there. Losing gunner Cody Core this summer was a big blow. Someone needs to step up and replace him as much as possible. “We have to put guys out there and see who is going to make plays,” said McGaughey. “The hard part about it is you haven’t been able to cover any live punts (this summer). You won’t know until you get out there and see it done live. That’s the hard part of our situation.”

Pittsburgh changed punters and are going with the old guy, left-footed Dustin Colquitt. Place kicker Chris Boswell was solid in 2019, but had issues in 2018.

It’s not absolutely clear who will be primarily returning punts and kickoffs for both teams. Right now, the Giants list Darnay Holmes as the primary kickoff returner and Golden Tate as the primary punt returner. I would not be surprised if we see other players performing each duty. Note that Jabrill Peppers was name a special teams captain alongside Nate Ebner.

Could Joe Judge have a special teams trick or two up his sleeve for Pittsburgh in this game?

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH

Head Coach Joe Judge on the Pittsburgh Steelers: “To play the Steelers, it’s important for our players and coaches to understand the tradition and the culture that’s in their DNA. They’re a tough team from a tough city. They have a blue-collar mentality. This defense is very talented, they’re experienced, they play together, they’re tough, they’re opportunistic, they make plays up front and take advantage in the backend on the mistakes you make. This offense is heavily explosive. Obviously, they have one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. They have a tremendous collection of receivers, tight ends and running backs, all of which can change the game on any play. They’re only a few plays away from the end zone at any point in time. We have to respect everything they do. They run the ball very effectively, they throw the ball at will, and they can extend plays. Ben (Roethlisberger) is obviously one of the best in getting the ball out of his hand fast. They give you enough to work on on both sides of the ball. In the kicking game, it all starts with the specialists. They have two big leg guys in (Chris) Boswell and (Dustin) Colquitt. Obviously, that was a big addition bringing Dustin in, a left-footed punter. That’s always kind of a novelty to some people, but this guy has been tremendous throughout the duration of his career. We have a lot of respect for him having gone against him in the past on other teams. Then starting with the returns, love to see what they do on kickoff returns and punt returns. Whether it’s (Ray-Ray) McCloud, whether it’s (Diontae) Johnson, both guys are very explosive with the ball in their hands. We have to do a tremendous job in space of playing with leverage in tackling.”

THE FINAL WORD

It makes no sense to pick the Giants to win this game, just from the impact of the abbreviated offseason alone. The Steelers have an inherent advantage given the long-standing nature of their coaching staff and schemes. Throw on top of that the perceived talent gap, and the Giants will be “lucky” to stay within a touchdown.

That all said, crazy things happen on opening day. The Steelers don’t always start off strong. And the complete lack of a normal offseason could have unforeseen consequences. In other words, some crazy shit could happen. Let’s get nuts!

May 072020
 
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Saquon Barkley, New York Giants (December 1, 2019)

Saquon Barkley – © USA TODAY Sports

NEW YORK GIANTS 2020 SCHEDULE RELEASED…
The New York Giants 2020 regular-season schedule has been released:

Preseason:

  • Aug. 13-17 – at New York Jets
  • Aug. 20-24 – at Tennessee Titans
  • Aug. 27-30 – vs. Green Bay Packers
  • Sept. 3-4 – vs. New England Patriots

Regular Season:

  • Week 1: Monday, Sept. 14 – vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, 7:15 p.m.
  • Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 20 – at Chicago Bears, 1:00 p.m.
  • Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 27 – vs. San Francisco 49ers, 1:00 p.m.
  • Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 4 – at Los Angeles Rams, 4:05 p.m.
  • Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 11 – at Dallas Cowboys, 4:25 p.m.
  • Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 18 – vs. Washington Redskins, 1:00 p.m.
  • Week 7: Thursday, Oct. 22 –at Philadelphia Eagles, 8:20 p.m.
  • Week 8: Monday, Nov. 2 – vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 8:15 p.m.
  • Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 8 – at Washington Redskins, 1:00 p.m.
  • Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 15 – vs. Philadelphia Eagles, 1:00 p.m.
  • Week 11: BYE
  • Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 29 – at Cincinnati Bengals, 1:00 p.m.*
  • Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 6 – at Seattle Seahawks, 4:05 p.m.*
  • Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 13 – vs. Arizona Cardinals, 1:00 p.m.*
  • Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 20 – vs. Cleveland Browns, 1:00 p.m.*
  • Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 27 – at Baltimore Ravens, 1:00 p.m.*
  • Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 3 – vs. Dallas Cowboys, 1:00 p.m.*

* Subject to flexible scheduling.

The Giants will host two Monday night games and travel to Philadelphia for a Thursday night game. It is the first time the Giants will host two Monday night games in the same season in the 51-year history of Monday Night Football.

“I’ll tell you what, when you get the schedule, it definitely does give you a little surge of energy,” Head Coach Joe Judge said in the team’s press release. “It stimulates a lot of conversation between all areas of the organization – support staff, coaching staff — and you start preparing immediately for it.

“The number one positive is we’re getting ready to play football, so that’s the biggest thing. Once you get the schedule, it starts moving a little bit faster in your mind in terms of preparing for what’s in front of you. The thing we were waiting to see a little bit on was how some of the cross-country games played out. That ties in a little bit to how you plan out a lot of your travel for the year, which is tied to how you practice those weeks. You start mapping out how you’re going to go about each week by week through the season.

“We can start working on hotels and you start having more conversations that are going to tie into how you’re going to plan and prepare throughout the flow of the season. You look at the bye week, you look at how shortly before that is the Thursday night game, which leads into a Monday night game. How can you use some of the breaks in the season to help your players? How can we structure practice accordingly? You’re also tying in the new rules with our limited number of padded practices. You just start calculating as you look on down the list of opponents.

“I think everyone is going to have a lot of energy for the opener, us and Pittsburgh. It’s going to be a situation where look, you get to play under the lights, you get to play at home. But it’s the opening game for both teams. Both teams will be coming out of training camp sick of beating up on each other and ready to see an opponent.”

Five of the Giants’ first 10 games are against NFC East opponents and they are within a six-week span.

“It doesn’t matter if they’re in a row or spaced out, division games are obviously big for you,” said Judge. “Those are key opponents. It definitely jumps out at you that you have five of those in six weeks and only having a couple of weeks in between each of the opponents with the Redskins and Philly. That’s sometimes a different flavor in terms of how much change can happen within those couple of weeks. How much the opponent’s done differently, how much have you adjusted. That plays more into it than just having a string of division opponents.

“Whether it’s a short week or a long week, we’re going to do everything we can to just line it up and get prepared for our opponents regardless of if you play them on a short week or you play them home or away. I don’t think we really want to make too much of the length of the weeks. It is what it is. You’re fortunate to be able to play in some prime time games. You’re lucky to be able to be under the lights. We’ll just make sure we prepare for those teams a little bit more on the front end to account for a day or so after the game.

“Look, it’s a long season. Wherever you fit that bye in, you’re going to have to find ways to structure your team and how you practice and prepare to account for guys through attrition, through injuries, your guys getting worn down. You have to find ways throughout the year, regardless of when your bye comes, of managing your team. You look at it more in terms of just when it falls and what the stretch looks like afterwards. I’ve had very, very early byes. We’ve had late byes. I think where our bye is right now is a good spot for it. But at the same time, you have a long stretch of games before and you have a lot of tough opponents after it. That bye week is not going to do a whole lot for you when the whistles blow on Sundays.

“I don’t think too much about if it’s a home or away game. I look at it more as the opponent we have to play. They are all teams that have a lot of explosive qualities on their offense and tough defenses. I’m looking more at who the team is as opposed to where we’re playing them.”