Tennessee Titans 17 – New York Giants 0
With the Giants playoff hopes still alive, barely, the feisty Tennessee Titans came to town as they are on the post-season bubble in the AFC. The rain was coming down hard and it showed no signs of slowing down all afternoon. Without Odell Beckham, this Giants team headed into their 14th game of the season in the midst of changing their losing culture. Yet another shot to play against a team that was simply at a higher level than themselves. A nice “prove it” opportunity.
With the rain coming down hard, this had defensive battle written all over it especially considering the lack of firepower on both offenses. TEN dominated the ball early on with drives of 10 and 15 plays, respectively. They sandwiched a Giants’ 3 and out drive. On TEN’s second possession, they scored a touchdown that ended up being the only points on the board until the end of the third quarter.
Derrick Henry, who had a career game a week earlier against the sinking Jaguars, picked up where he left off. He scored that first quarter touchdown on a 4th and goal from the 1-yard line. The oversized back was running with a downhill force that reminded me of a young Brandon Jacobs. His force and power created hesitation among most Giants defenders, as it appeared to be a business decision when it came down to trying to tackle him or not. He constantly pushed piles forward, broke several tackles, and simply wore the entire defense in the ground. He had 127 yards on 21 carries in the first half.
As one-sided as the game felt heading into halftime, the TEN lead was only 7 points and we’ve seen this NYG offense pick up steam in recent weeks. We knew it was at least possible to change the tone in the second half. They did exactly that on the first drive of the 3rd quarter, as Manning found Sterling Shepard for NYG’s longest gain of the day, 38 yards. They were in TEN territory with a first down. Thanks to a couple Manning to Engram connections, they were in the red zone with a fresh 1st and 10. But after a penalty and a loss of 1 yard on a pass to Shepard, they were staring at 3rd and 20 from the TEN 29 yard line. They simply needed a few yards so the field goal attempt in the rain wouldn’t be too high-risk. Manning dropped back and made an uncharacteristic, overly aggressive throw into traffic which ended up being intercepted by TEN safety Kevin Byard. It was a turning point in the game that completely took the wind out of the sails for NYG.
TEN was content with their lead and they didn’t deter from their game plan. Run the ball hard and often, taking advantage of the poor tackling back seven of NYG. When you hear coaches talk about “wearing down a defense”, well this is exactly what they mean. NYG’s effort and passion certainly could have been better, but at the end of the day these guys were just getting beat at the point of attack over and over with a 235 pounder coming downhill hard and fast. At some point, defenders start to lose desire and hope, and that is exactly what happened in this one.
Manning turned the ball over again via a fumble on the next NYG drive, setting up TEN on the NYG 14-yard line. Six plays later, Henry stampeded into the end zone to make the lead 14-0, but it might as well have read 31-0.
The rest of the game consisted of NYG struggling to put together drives and TEN simply but effectively chewing up the clock. It was such a simple equation that it almost became maddening to watch. This was the closest we’ve seen this team to completely mailing it in well before the game clock expired as the Titans stayed hungry and assertive on both sides of the ball. This one couldn’t be over soon enough. TEN lengthened their lead to 17-0 in the 4th quarter and NYG was able to get the ball to the TEN 4 yard line, but they failed to convert. Too little, too late, anyway.
NYG loses 17-0.
-Eli Manning: 21/44 – 229 yards – 0 TD / 1 INT. Manning also lost a fumble in this one, giving him 12 turnovers on the year. Twelve is a career low in that department. Thus as tough as this season has been offensively, the turnovers haven’t been the issue. Manning’s biggest deficiency is he simply just can’t create anything on his own. He can make the throws when the time is there, but his mobility is worsening weekly it seems. And at the end of the day, this league is all about adjusting and creativity. With Manning, there is a deficit in both.
-Saquon Barkley: 14 att – 31 yards / 4 rec / 25 yards. The TEN defense did an outstanding job defending Barkley. It was the best job I’ve seen all year when it comes to a defense maintaining gap integrity. They were stout, they filled lanes, and they swarmed to the ball after keeping Barkley contained to small windows. TEN isn’t a sexy team, but they do things the right way and they play together. Barkley still had a couple runs that showed off his impressive balance and burst, but arguably the league’s top back was held in check all afternoon.
-Sterling Shepard: 2 rec – 37 yards. This is the kind of game where you can really notice the fact that Shepard is a complimentary player, not a focal point. Without Beckham on the field, Shepard just can’t get enough done on his own. Manning threw him a 50/50 ball where Shepard actually had the initial positional advantage, but he wasn’t close to coming down with it. That is simply not his game. He also had 2 drops in the rainy weather.
-The combination of Bennie Fowler, Corey Coleman, Jawill Davis, and Russell Shepard combined for 7 catches – 92 yards. I’m not sure any of these guys will be in the picture in 2019, but they have these next couple of weeks to leave a good taste in the coaches’ mouths. Davis is interesting, as he ran some good routes and has proven to be effective with the ball in his hands.
-Evan Engram: 8 rec – 75 yards. It was nice to see Engram back in his former role before his string of injuries this year. The explosive, dangerous weapon made couple of big 3rd down catches and gained a good amount of yards after the catch. He is at his best when he runs crossing routes in space so he can really gear up for after-catch yards. He was Manning’s go-to target in this one and I expect to see more of the same these next 2 weeks. When he’s on and involved often, it’s hard not to get excited about what he can be.
-Even with Brian Orakpo out, Chad Wheeler was overmatched from start to finish. It was one of his worst 3 performances of the season. The former undrafted free agent was flagged twice, allowed 1 TFL, and 1 sack. Something you don’t see on paper was his inability to get off combo blocks to the next man up. Part of that can be attributed to quality defensive line play by TEN, but Wheeler showed a lack of power presence in this one.
-Nate Solder didn’t fair much better. He continues to have multiple peaks and valleys within each game and it can be maddening considering he protects the blind side. He allowed 2 pressures, 1 sack, and was flagged for a false start. This year can’t over soon enough for the NFL’s highest paid offensive lineman.
-It wasn’t a pretty day for the interior run blocking. Will Hernandez, once again, graded out as the best NYG blocker but even he barely scratched above the average mark. He allowed a pressure early in the game but settled in nicely after outside of some miscommunications between him in OC Spencer Pulley. Pulley continues to be a weakness, as he allowed a sack and a pressure in addition to being tossed around in the running game.
-Jamon Brown is playing for a starting role, whether it be here or for another team, next season. As I said last week, his play has been very up and down. He and Pulley also showed confusion against inside stunts and delayed blitzes. I feel like I have seen enough out of Brown to say he isn’t the long term answer at RG for a team that is going to need a plus-group up front in 2019. He is better than what they’ve had, but he is very limited.
-Olivier Vernon was overmatched by Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan. He finished with 3 tackles and a pressure in this one which isn’t terrible considering TEN threw the ball just 20 times. However his performance as a run defender was low-level. He gets good initial contact at the point of attack but he simply couldn’t free himself.
-Kareem Martin had one of his busier days as a Giant, finishing with a season high 9 tackles. TEN was running the ball early and often, thus the spike in his production. I will say this about Martin, it seemed like he was the only defender on this team that wasn’t intimidated by Derrick Henry. He is very stout in the trenches, but won’t offer much other than backup-caliber edge rushing ability.
-Kerry Wynn and Lorenzo Carter combined for 6 tackles on the day. Neither of which were standout in any area.
-In a scheme where the defensive approach is about penetration, both Dalvin Tomlinson and BJ Hill are good fits inside. They got off the ball well and made the TEN rushing attack alter their approach. The problem that comes with that penetration is the fact that new windows and lanes are created. A back with good vision and good downhill force can take advantage of that in a big way, much like Henry did all afternoon and the week prior against JAC. Tomlinson and Hill did not play poorly, but this was certainly a game where Damon Harrison was missed. They combined for 8 tackles and 2 pressures, but when a team runs the ball 45 times for 215 yards at a consistent rate, the guys inside need to shoulder a big part of the blame.
-Josh Mauro had a very loud game. 6 tackles and 2 TFL are very impressive for a rotational player along the defensive line. However he was flagged twice, one of which was on a 3rd down stop that would put TEN on the 7 yard line. The facemask resulted in a fresh set of downs for TEN, which they used to score their second touchdown of the game. Mauro has been a solid player for NYG but his aggression has hurt them a few times.
-Alec Ogletree, another peaks and valleys player who was brought in this offseason, finished with 7 tackles and a TFL. He missed 1 tackle on the day, which wasn’t bad compared to what else we saw against Henry. He was physical from start to finish but just didn’t win his one on one battles with blockers.
-BJ Goodson led the team with 9 tackles, as expected because he is the team’s best inside run defender. One thing Goodson does well is come downhill with a lot of force. He doesn’t adjust well, as that was the cause for both of his missed tackles, but he is a good enforcer in the middle. I think it is important this team keeps him here and keeps getting him more playing time.
–We’ve seen this out of Janoris Jenkins a few times since he singed with the team. Lack of inspiration, inconsistent effort. On multiple occasions he made a business decision to not pursue Henry carrying the ball downhill. While I do understand the fact there is a 50+ pound difference between the two and nobody wants to see Jenkins get hurt, it is a hard thing to watch. You really have to take the good with the bad when it comes to Jenkins, their best DB by a long shot.
-BW Webb also missed 2 tackles on the day and was beat on 3rd down a couple times by lackluster wide receivers. While I don’t see less effort in his game, he does scream inconsistent against the run. Not the worst thing in the world in today’s NFL, but still enough to bother me.
-Grant Haley saw a slight downtick in snaps but that wasn’t a result of his play. TEN was all-in on trying to run the ball, so getting bigger personnel in there was important. He continues to impress in the slot coverage game.
-Curtis Riley was back to his normal ways, missing 3 tackles and looking lost in coverage when Mariota rolled out in either direction. When I watched the All-22 angle, it was blatantly obvious he had no idea what to do when Mariota was moving. Again, I’ll give him that he has fast and physical, but it is almost too much for his own good.
-Michael Thomas had a solid game. He finished with 7 tackles and a sack. He has been exactly as advertised since coming over from MIA. Good locker room presence, a leader on the field, and stout run defender. However he did miss 2 tackles on the day.
-Sean Chandler didn’t play much, but he was crucial on the Thomas-sack. He delayed his blitz perfectly and snuck through the action up front right as Mariota went to his second read. He has made a few “knack” plays, meaning things you don’t teach but simply come from feel. Very important for a safety.
-P Riley Dixon – 6 punts – 39.5 avg / 38.2 net. He pinned TEN inside the 5 once and inside the 20 another time. He also ran for a first down on a fake punt on a well timed decision by the coaching staff. TEN had no idea it was coming.
-Quiet day for the returners Jawill Davis and Corey Coleman.
-S Michael Thomas, TE Evan Engram, LB BJ Goodson
-CB Janoris Jenkins, OT Chad Wheeler, QB Eli Manning
3 THOUGHTS ON TEN
-It is refreshing to see a team like TEN win games. They’ve lost some big ones this year, too. They are very-throwback in that they love to run the ball, they play good defense, and they don’t shoot themselves in the foot. I think even the strongest of NFL fans can’t name more than 10 Titans players. In this era of gaudy stats and spread attacks, give me a team like TEN that can play in any conditions, any time of year, at any stadium.
-Is Marcus Mariota the answer for that team? I’ve been asking myself that for a couple years now and I still don’t know. I’ve seen a lot of this team since the start of 2016 and I haven’t seen him improve much, if at all. Yes, you can obviously win with him, he has proven that. But when NYG go into QB-fantasy land and just cant wait to get their hands on a fresh, new, young to replace Manning, all I will say is I hope that guy is better than Mariota.
-I can remember writing Derrick Henry’s scouting report a few years ago. I had so many game notes with the word “freak” next to his name. He really is a rare player and I’m not just noting it because of his performance the past 2 weeks. When he hits a groove, he is as tough to play against as some of the top backs. His issue is that he won’t do much without space and his running style will likely keep his success short-lived if he is getting 25+ carries per game. TEN did the right thing by signing Dion Lewis this past offseason but even then, I think he is going to have a Brandon Jacobs type ending to his career.
3 CLOSING THOUGHTS
-I’ve given Pat Shurmur a lot of credit for keeping this team from dwindling down the toilet. They have played hard, tried to win games, and shown a lot of “want-to”. Well, something happened to completely reverse that approach when TEN came to down. Was it the rain? Was it Derrick Henry? Is there some drama going on with Beckham’s mysterious mystery and how he is talking about it publicly? One thing I will be looking for IND is a return to their former-hustling ways against a team that has a lot to play for. I am not sold on him being the guy in 2019 just yet.
-Almost every team has a loss like this throughout the 16 game season. Ugly, lacking passion, boring, hopeless. Because of that, I somewhat give them a pass but I just hate this seems to always happen at home every year. NYG’s home record just doesn’t scream home-field advantage. In 2017 they lost by 34 to the Rams, in 2016 the lost by 14 to the Vikings, in 2015 they 32 to the Vikings, in 2014 the lost by 16 to the Colts, in 2013 they lost by 23 to the Seahawks….all at home. Is this a coincidence? Is there someone to blame? Fans? Owners? Coaches. Just a very frustrating fact that Big Blue does NOT play any better at home.
-The final 2 weeks could be the best shot for NYG to see if there is anything to work with when it comes to Kyle Lauletta. With that said, we don’t get to see practice so it could be already known he simply isn’t ready. His short stint against WAS didn’t exactly strengthen his case. But I will say, it would be nice to see what he can do before we head into the offseason which is just a couple weeks away. Manning has shown his limitations and even though I think he has a good shot at being the guy in 2019, I don’t think we need to see him play anymore this season. The damage has been done and nothing will reverse his 2018 performance.