The 2018 NFL Draft was one for the books. If you can recall, NYG picked #2 overall and were approaching the end of Eli Manning’s career. Multiple quarterbacks graded out high enough to be considered for that spot. Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, and Josh Allen were all in the discussion, but only the latter three were available when NYG came on the clock. We all know they went on to choose Saquon Barkley (the 2018 Rookie of the Year and current NFL leader in yards from scrimmage). One of the most oft-forgotten facts about that draft class was what Baltimore did within the back half of the first round. They were sitting at #16 overall and then traded their way back to #25. They selected South Carolina tight end Hayden Hurst. Right as the first round was about to wrap up, BAL made a trade up with PHI. That is where they took a quarterback out of Louisville named Lamar Jackson. Getting him in the first round, even at the very end of it, created an eventual economic advantage (the 5th year option which he is playing under right now). Fast forward to the present where the streaky Jackson, the 2019 MVP, led the 3-2 Ravens into MetLife Stadium. They were coming off two straight games where they finished with under 21 points scored after seeing that same exact thing occur in 6 of 9 games down the stretch in 2021 that ultimately led to their demise.
It was a sloppy start to the game for both teams. There were four false starts within the first 25 snaps and neither team scored any points in the first quarter. The Giants defense continued a bend-but-don’t-break approach, as BAL crossed midfield on both of their drives. The second one ended in a Justin Tucker missed field goal attempt of 56 yards, his first 50+ miss in 11 attempts. The game’s first score occurred on BAL’s opening drive of the second quarter. Kenyan Drake, who was cut by the Raiders in August, entered the game with 65 yards on 21 carries. He burst through the right side of the line for a 30 yard-score.
Gary Brightwell, an unsung hero to the hot start of NYG’s surprise season, took the ensuing kickoff to midfield. When a team wins games the way the Giants have been winning so far, these little things go a long way. Daniel Jones then led the offense to a 10-play, 53-yard drive that ended on a touchdown pass to rookie Wan’Dale Robinson, who had not been on the field since the first quarter of week one in Tennessee. The drive included third down conversions of 14 and 12 yards, respectively. It was a big-time clutch performance in a moment where the team needed it coming from an offense that came into the league ranked in the bottom third on 3rd down.
BAL scored on the next drive via a 34-yard field goal by Tucker. Drake had another 30-yard run as he matched his season total in rushing yards on less than a handful of carries. NYG went three and out, giving BAL one more shot with over a minute left before halftime. A sack by Dexter Lawrence, who continues his All-Pro caliber play, moved the chains back enough to eventually lead to their own three and out. NYG did get the ball back at midfield thanks to an Unnecessary Roughness penalty on A.J. Klein on the punt, but it did not lead to any points as Jones was sacked and lost a fumble as time expired.
BAL outgained NYG 256 to 90 in the first half. They won the time of possession battle. They led in the sack battle. They led in the turnover battle. Usually, those margins lead to bigger deficits, but NYG, an excellent second half team, was right where they wanted to be and right where they are comfortable. BAL lengthened their lead to 13-7 following their first drive of the second half despite getting to the NYG 5-yard line with a 1st and goal. Jackson threw three straight incomplete passes (including a drop by Mark Andrews) and Tucker had to come on for a 23-yard field goal. NYG stayed in it with a 34-yard field goal following a 14 play, 59-yard drive. The scoring drive was heavily aided by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by Jayson Oweh following a third-down stop.
BAL kept ahold of the momentum with a touchdown scoring drive. Jackson hit Andrews, the other All-Pro the team drafted in 2018, for a 12-yard score. The fourth quarter was under way and NYG was down by 10, the biggest deficit of the game. They did not crumble; they did not panic. Seven runs, five passes, and two more third-down conversions brought them all the way to the BAL 8-yard line. Jones hit rookie Daniel Bellinger for the touchdown to get the game back within one score. It was the third scoring drive that consisted of double-digit plays.
There is an ongoing debate whether or not Jackson is worth the next big quarterback contract. Many assume he will breach the $50 million-annual mark but BAL has not coughed it up yet. There is no denying how rare of a talent he is and how hard he can be to defend. But what transpired over the next two drives in combination with the contrast in regular season to postseason performance (1-3 record / 3 TD-5 INT) is what can credibly cause one to hesitate to spend 25+% of cap allocation on him. A terrible interception brought in by Julian Love after an errant shotgun snap gave NYG the ball back on the BAL 13-yard line. NYG scored on a 1-yard run by Barkley the play after Marcus Peters was flagged for pass interference in the end zone, a play he intercepted the ball.
NYG, for the first time, had a 24-20 lead. Jackson, with just under 2 minutes and all three timeouts under his belt, carelessly held the ball as NYG brought pressure. Rookie Kayvon Thibodeaux came up with his biggest play of his young career, batting that ball hanging out in the open and knocking it loose. Leonard Williams fell on it and NYG had the ball back, up four on the BAL 13-yard line, with 1:30 left. BAL did have all their timeouts so when looking at the math, NYG would either have to get a first down, score, or turn the ball over. They couldn’t bleed the clock to death. On 2nd-and-5, Barkley bounced a run to the outside and had a clear shot at the end zone. He channeled his inner Ahmad Bradshaw and slid to the ground in between the first down marker and the end zone. Fantasy mManagers must have been upset but this was the way to guarantee victory.
NYG wins 24-20.
-Daniel Jones: 19/27 – 173 yards / 2 TD – 0 INT / 112.1 RAT
Jones added 10 yards on the ground not including his kneel downs. He lost a fumble on the last play of the first half which had no impact on the game. It was a clean performance by Jones that included a couple of big-time throws, some of which were on 3rd down. The overall comfort I see with him while making decisions and navigating the pocket continues to grow by the week. Having the rookie Wan’Dale Robinson back on the field did not look like a lot on paper, but when considering the lack of talent he has been working with at the receiver position, it brought Jones to a higher level. The quick maturation of the rookie tight end is bringing Jones to a higher level. Saquon Barkley staying on the field and playing the best we have seen him is bringing Jones to a higher level. All of that added up and his skill position talent is still bottom third in the league. What kind of level does Jones get to with another high-end receiver or two? It is all projection at this point, but we now have some more information on what happens here when this situation around him trends north.
-Saquon Barkley: 22 att – 83 yards – 1 TD / 3 rec – 12 yards
73 of Barkley’s 95 yards came after halftime. The running game had a bit more juice and even though he did not have explosive plays (20+ yards), as his biggest run on the day was a gain of 8, Barkley came up big when it mattered. A few of these runs that resulted in 2-3 yard gains were losses a year ago. It does not look like a lot on paper, but the margin from 1–2 yard loss to a 2-3 yard gain adds up. His slide at the end of the game was an incredible move. It was a move that CLE running back Nick Chubb did not do Week 2 against the Jets, and it ultimately led to a loss. One concern I have with Barkley is the shoulder. It has not caused him to miss a ton of snaps, but it is contact-induced and he plays such a violent position. Something to keep an eye on.
-Matt Breida had 3 carries the resulted in -6 yards but did add 17 yards on 2 catches and provided a couple of key blocks in pass protection. Gary Brightwell’s 47-yard kick return that set up NYG’s first touchdown is another feather in the cap of the second-year 7th rounder who continues to make important contributions to the 5-win Giants.
-Good to see rookie Wan’Dale Robinson back on the field after suffering a knee injury Week 1. He played just a pitch count-based 15 snaps (23%) but he made a huge impact on the game. 3 catches for 37 yards and a touchdown, the first of his career. The other 2 catches both went for first downs. The one red flag here centers on the ball skills. Robinson dropped a pass and double caught/bobbled two others. I lean toward this being a result of him being a bit rusty more than forecasting it being an issue.
-Marcus Johnson caught 2 passes for 25 yards, both of which went for a first down, but he also dropped a touchdown. Johnson’s tools continue to impress. Richie James caught both of his targets for 18 yards and David Sills caught 1 ball for 8 yards.
-Darius Slayton caught a pass for 18 yards but dropped one and was also flagged for offensive pass interference. Jones gave him an opportunity for a touchdown (he had Barkley WIDE open for a touchdown on the play) but Slayton could not come down with the contested catch. I want to see him attack the ball with both hands and play stronger against contact.
-Daniel Bellinger: 5 rec – 38 yards – 1 TD
The rookie continues to surge as he played a season high 61 snaps and led the team in catches and yards, and scored one of the two passing game touchdowns. I want to spend the time talking about the improvements he has made as a blocker. It was a red flag I discussed over summer and most rookies struggle in this department in their first year. Bellinger’s improvement from August to now in the trenches, on the move, and at the second level is one of the biggest wins of the season when looking at player development. His hands and ability to stay attached are so solid and it is helping the running game immensely. His ball skills are all about his hands. His routes look sudden. NYG has themselves a tight end, folks. Amazing how fast this happened.
-Tanner Hudson and Chris Myarick both played under half the snaps. Neither made much of an impact on the game, good or bad.
-Andrew Thomas fought through a minor ankle injury (the one that has hampered him for multiple years) and pitched yet another shut out. I did see him get stood up at the point-of-attack in the running game a couple times, as it looked like he could not get the movement we have seen in recent weeks. That said, he cleared the lane for Barkley’s 1-yard touchdown run on a down block. Evan Neal had his best game of the season. He allowed 1 pressure and did allow a sack on a weird play. He fell to the ground as he chased Justin Madubuike inside, a play the resulted in just a 1-yard loss. Neal showed better footwork overall and allowed his mass to win the battles. I know Neal was atop the Bruce Feldman “Freak List” in 2021 and he does some impressive things in workouts, but his game is all about size and power. When he stays within himself and avoids over-setting, he is a very tough guy to move. He needs to continue to lean into that the way he did against BAL.
-Inside we saw a few more issues again, especially in the first half. Mark Glowinski allowed 2 pressures early but played better from the second quarter-on. Jon Feliciano continues to grade out well below average, finishing with 2 allowed sacks, 1 TFL, and 1 pressure. He went down with a groin injury in the second half but did come back on the field. Ben Bredeson (1 pressure allowed) moved to center for a few snaps, a position I am starting to think he may need to shift to, while rookie Joshua Ezeudu got on the field for 4 snaps.
-All three of the main contributors made plays behind the line of scrimmage. Jihad Ward had 2 TFL on the opening drive of the game, the second one knocking BAL out of field goal range and forcing a punt. Oshane Ximines had a TFL. And rookie Kayvon Thibodeaux played a career high 83% of the snaps, finishing with 3 tackles, 1 pressure, and a sack-fumble that sealed the win. Last week I said don’t even think about being alarmed by a lack of sacks. His play, his movement, and his reaction times were getting better and better and the big plays would come. The sack-fumble came at the best possible time and now we will see the confidence morph into production, watch.
-Dexter Lawrence is the best defender on this team and one could make the argument he is the overall team MVP over 6 weeks. He finished with 1 tackle, 1 sack, 2 pressures, and a pass break up. The volume of impact may not have been there, but he was a key to stopping BAL when they needed to be stopped. His performance was a microcosm of the defense’s overall performance. Make the plays when they’re needed the most despite overall numbers looking more bad than good.
-Leonard Williams was back on the field after missing 3 games. I thought he would be on a strict pitch count but he was on the field for 92% of the snaps. He finished with 2 tackles, 1 pressure, and the game-sealing fumble recovery. He didn’t look like he lost a step at all but there were 2 plays where he got completely washed out of a running lane. BAL does a great job up front on combo blocks and that is where Williams has struggled in the past.
-Justin Ellis and Nick Williams were beat up a bit in the running game. Neither show a lot of range in pursuit against the athletic BAL rushing attack that gained most of its yards from the B-gap outward.
-If there was one position group that I had to point to when looking at BAL’s 8.8 yards per carry, it was this one. Tae Crowder and Jaylon Smith both had 3 tackles and avoided the negative plays on the score sheet, but neither were stout against the run. Crowder did not get off blocks and Smith was late and slow to react. They simply gave the BAL running game too much space to operate.
-Glad to see Adoree’ Jackson on the field after a knee injury knocked him out early last week. He had 4 tackles and a pass break up. His deep coverage against BAL speedster Devin Duvernay was a key factor in the game many won’t see unless they watch the All-22. His one negative on the score sheet was blowing outside contain two times on running plays.
-Fabian Moreau finished with 8 tackles, the second highest of his career. While high-tackle numbers can be an alarm for a corner, Moreau did not play a bad game. He did get beat for a touchdown and he did drop an interception off a deflection, but he tackled well after the catch and after BAL ball carriers broke through the second level.
-Darnay Holmes played just 10 snaps (17%). This was interesting to me, but I believe it had more to do with Dane Belton providing better match-ups against the run/tight end-dominant BAL attack.
-Dane Belton seems to be rotating in and out of playing time based on match-ups, not performance. In 5 games he has played 46, 11, 46, 21, 42 snaps. Although I see a few ups and downs, he is turning into a quality asset on this defense. He had 6 tackles, 1 pressure, and a pass break up in the end zone. He missed 1 tackle. His deep coverage against tight ends factored in their success against the pass as well. He is playing fast and physical and seeing some snaps at linebacker. I did not love seeing him in that spot, however. He got trounced a couple times there.
-Xavier McKinney led the team with 9 tackles and was a reliable last line of defense. He broke up a pass and was the one who pressured Jackson on the 4th-quarter interception. He is a fast decision-maker with great burst, 2 major traits for safety.
-Julian Love gets the game ball if you’re asking me. He had 5 tackles, a pass break up in the end zone which was a high level play, and a huge interception in the 4th quarter that was the most influential play of the game. Overlooked on that interception was the 27-yard return that brought the ball to the BAL 13-yard line. NYG getting a 4-point lead rather than tying it up at 20 was enormous and it was very much a result of his impressive vision, burst, and footwork to pick up those yards.
-K Graham Gano: 1/1 (Made 34)
-P Jamie Gillian: 4 punts / 46.3 avg – 43.3 net
-S Julian Love, DT Dexter Lawrence, QB Daniel Jones
-OC Jon Feliciano, LB Jaylon Smith, WR Darius Slayton
3 THOUGHTS ON BAL
1. Three time this year BAL has blown a double-digit lead in the second half. All three have resulted in their three losses on the year. They also blew games against the Dolphins and Bills. The one common thread I have seen in those losses has been the lack of ability to get to the passer on defense. They don’t have the closer anymore, and even though new Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald is an aggressive shot caller, he’s no Wink Martindale. David Ojabo was drafted in April, but he will miss the year as he rehabs the Achilles’ injury he suffered at his Pro Day last March. 2021 first rounder Odafe Oweh has flashed but lacks consistency and a power game. Tyrus Bowser is hurt. Justin Houston and Calais Campbell are both near the end. I don’t think BAL realized what they were losing when they let Matt Judon walk after 2020. He currently sits 2nd in the NFL in sacks.
2. The Lamar Jackson contract situation is a fascinating one on multiple levels. He does not have an agent. His mother (with some help from the NFLPA) has been doing the negotiating with the club. And BAL has passed on extending him multiple times now. As I said above, Jackson is a rare talent, and he can keep opposing defensive coaches up at night. But is he a winner? And by winner, I mean postseason wins. The kind of wins where he puts the team on his back, makes other players better, and beats a high-quality defense with his arm. There is no denying he is one of the best 10 quarterbacks in the game, but the question will be, should he be paid like one that is top 3? If BAL thought so, it would have happened already. I do think there is a more-than 40% chance he is playing elsewhere in 2023.
3. How far will this BAL team go? As I said earlier, they lack a true difference-maker along their defensive front. They have minimal talent at receiver. They have a hard time creating explosive plays in the passing game. Their schedule will do them some favors down the stretch (CAR, JAC, PIT 2x, ATL, CLE over the final 8 weeks), but at this point it almost seems we know what they are: a roller coaster that is an extension of the quarterback and defense. They will look dominant at times and a non-contender the next week. They are in a weird spot, and I think 10 wins will be right around where they end up. But they lack key components to win in the postseason.
3 CLOSING THOUGHTS
1. I want to give Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale a standing ovation. This match-up could have gone multiple ways. Sure, Wink knows Lamar as much as any defensive mind in the game, but the offensive staff (and Lamar) know Wink as much as anyone in the league. While I don’t think the Giants took the game over by any means, they repeatedly came up big in key moments. The turnovers in the fourth quarter are the obvious bullet points under that statement, but the little victories like pushing them out of field goal range on 3rd down on the first drive of the game, the tackle for loss by Ximines on 2nd-and-15 on the second drive, and holding them to field goals twice after having a 1st down in the red zone. These are the moments that often decide games and in these moments, Martindale beat Lamar. His exotic looks and constant state of confusion he created made a huge impact.
2. The Giants have been one of the more injured teams in the league. It can be tough to objectively measure “team health” (a few guys try but there are loopholes), but I peg them somewhere between the 8th and 12th most injured team. Some have it worse, most have had it better. That isn’t the point. My point is this team is sitting 5-1 and they have some guys on the brink of coming back. Look at Leonard Williams and Wan’Dale Robinson. They come back and both made vital plays to the winning effort. Kayvon Thibodeaux misses two games and has been on a steady ascent since coming back Week 3. NYG will get the likes of Azeez Ojulari and Kadarius Toney back at some point. Say what you want about them, but there is no denying the fact these guys are personnel upgrades over what is being marched out there right now. Just another positive to look forward to.
3. What is the best offensive line configuration? NYG is going to need to decide soon when it comes to the interior. Fortunately, their outside spots are locked in. Mark Glowiniski won’t be going anywhere from RG. So, there are, in my eyes, three decisions that need to be made. Who starts at center? Does that change who starts at LG? And who are the top two backups who can rotate and back these spots up? The availability of Nick Gates and Shane Lemieux will determine a lot. Those are the two biggest questions. Where I do not have any questions is at center. NYG needs to make a change there. After 6 games and the preseason and looking back on Feliciano’s career, it is time to make him a backup. Move Bredeson to center or warm the spot up for Gates when he is fully back. This can make left guard a wide-open competition between Lemieux (who will likely win the job if he stays healthy), Gates, and the rookie Ezeudu. Another option for that spot it to investigate the trade market for teams that are clearly out of the 2022 postseason race. OL talent is a hard spot to acquire via trade because it is such a rare commodity that everyone wants, but Jonah Jackson (DET) and A.J. Cann (HOU) are two names worth inquiring about based on them as players and the situations they currently are in.