Game Preview: New York Giants at Washington Redskins, November 23, 2017
When Roger Lewis, Jr. came down with that miracle catch in overtime against the Kansas City Chiefs last weekend, I jumped up and yelled, “YES!!!!!!” Two plays later, when place kick Aldrick Rosas kicked the game-winning field goal, I was not sure how I felt. Did the Giants just hurt themselves in the draft? Does the win impact how ownership views the long-term effectiveness of how the team is being run?
To those who say positioning at the top of the draft does not matter, I remind everyone of the nightmare of the 1996 NFL Draft. Drafting 5th, everyone assumed that the Giants would have a shot at Simeon Rice or Jonathan Ogden. But when those two players – along with Keyshawn Johnson and Kevin Hardy – surprisingly went before the NYG pick, the Giants were screwed. The Giants did not need or want Lawrence Phillips. Nobody wanted to trade with the Giants, and they were “forced” to picked a half-blind defensive end from the University of Oklahoma. The lesson of this story? Falling a spot or two at the top of the draft can make all of the difference in the world.
Then there is the management/ownership issue. We all know that the Giants would prefer to not make any changes. It’s not in the team’s DNA. That conservative nature has been a tremendous asset at times, but it has also been a liability too. What we do know is this: a defense that had largely quit the previous two games, including the anemic San Francisco 49ers, decided to show up against the Chiefs. That’s exceptionally maddening. And nothing has changed in terms of evaluating Jerry Reese’s decision-making in the draft and free agency at a number of positions, including both lines and the linebacker position.
So where does this leave us? Two beat-up teams with very little to play for playing on a very short week and a national holiday in front of what is anticipated to be yet another small crowd. Given those circumstances, the Giants can win this game. Moreover, looking at the schedule, the Giants could actually win a few more games before this is over. Again, this leaves me with mixed emotions.
Side Note: Someone asked me this past week why I am not doing my usual game previews that focus on match-ups against the upcoming opponent. The two-fold answer is (1) since the team was done in October, I see these more like preseason game previews, and (2) as we’ve seen in just the past two weeks, match-ups don’t count right now, effort does.
THE INJURY REPORT:
- RB Orleans Darkwa (hamstring – probable)
- WR Sterling Shepard (illness – questionable)
- OL Justin Pugh (back – out)
- OL D.J. Fluker (toe – out)
- DE Jason Pierre-Paul (knee – probable)
- DE Olivier Vernon (shoulder – questionable)
- DT Damon Harrison (ankle/elbow – questionable)
- DT Dalvin Tomlinson (ankle – probable)
- LB B.J. Goodson (ankle – out)
- LB Calvin Munson (quad – doubtful)
- LB Jonathan Casillas (neck – questionable)
- LB Kelvin Sheppard (groin – questionable)
- LS Zak DeOssie (trap – questionable)
NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
One game does not make a trend. Heck, one season does not make a trend (innumerable examples such as RGIII). But have the Giants gotten lucky again with an other undrafted free agent? Chad Wheeler’s first start was beyond encouraging. I’m sure there will be rough moments to come, but if he is a viable NFL starter and Ereck Flowers continues to settle down, then there is at least somewhat of a foundation to work with. Then you factor the emergence of D.J. Fluker, who won’t play this week and will be a free agent, and there are some encouraging signs. Unfortunately and ironically, Justin Pugh (1st round) and Weston Richburg (2nd round) were supposed to be part of the solution, and now they are just question marks who may sign with other teams in the offseason. If Pugh and Richburg are off the team in 2018, those are two more wasted premium picks and holes to fill. Had they panned out, a line of Flowers-Pugh-Richburg-Fluker-Wheeler may have been a solid one.
As for this particular game, with Pugh and Fluker out, it looks like either Jon Halapio or recently-signed journeyman John Greco will start at guard. I’d prefer to see the 26-year old Halapio over the 32-year old Greco at this point. Regardless, the emerging running game will likely take a hit without the physical Fluker in there.
The latest red flag is the Sterling Shepard situation. At first it was supposed to be a migraine, now Ben McAdoo said they are not sure what is going on. Hopefully this isn’t a long-term concussion concern. As Sy’56 addressed in his KC game review, how will Roger Lewis build upon his game-winning catch? Or was this his flash-in-the-pan moment? Moving forward, the Giants have Odell Beckham and Shepard, and not much else in the wide receiving department.
Given the state of the various, makeshift component parts, the Giants offense will continue to struggle for the remainder of the season. The best the Giants can hope for is a 20-point-type “offensive explosion” from this group, and as we saw last Sunday, even that may be pressing it.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
Want to see how much effort is a determining factor in a football game? Watch the exact same Giants defense against the 49ers and the Chiefs. How will the defense perform against the Redskins? Tell me how hard they are going to try first. The Giants held the Chiefs to nine points because defenders such as Janoris Jenkins and Landon Collins decided to play up to their ability. Those two are difference makers when they are on their game.
On the other hand, I would like to single out Damon Harrison and Dalvin Tomlinson for continuing to play hard despite their respective injuries. They are not using the 2-8 record as an excuse to sulk or miss time. Harrison comes to work every game even though it is clear that ankle injury is hurting him. Harrison is the type of guy I want on my football team. Give credit to Jerry Reese for spending $$$ on him. But the JPP re-signing still looks like a mistake. And I’m not sure how the Giants will address this in the offseason given the cap hit involved with moving him. These last six games are important for Pierre-Paul’s status.
I was skeptical of the Ross Cockrell trade… Steelers fans were overjoyed when Pittsburgh ditched him. But Cockrell has played at a respectable level. Again, the talent is there in the Giants secondary. Collins, Jenkins, DRC, Cockrell. That’s why the performance of the defense this year is so thoroughly revolting. Give me a couple of stud DTs and a strong secondary, and 9 times out of 10, I show you a very respectable defense. Opinions will vary on the reasons but effort, coaching, outside pass rush, and linebacker play are all contributing factors in the defense’s demise. (Speaking of the pass rush, do you realize the Giants only have 14 sacks?! And as much as we knock JPP, he has 4.5 of those – or 1/3 of the team’s total. No other defender on this team has more than two sacks after 10 games.)
Which brings us to Eli Apple. His development (or lack thereof) in the final six games is probably the top issue to watch on defense during this final stretch. The effort just hasn’t been there. Is that because of his mom’s health situation? Or is the game simply not that important to him? Is he a winning or losing football player? With DRC getting up there in age, if Apple is a 1st-round bust, then the Giants have yet another glaring hole to fill.
Lastly, what a mess at linebacker! B.J. Goodson – who has had injury issues all season – must have a high-ankle sprain to be out this long. Calvin Munson and Jonathan Casillas are still hurting. Even the recently-re-signed Kelvin Sheppard immediately got hurt. The Giants’ linebacking corps will be a patchwork mess on Thursday. Look for the Giants to employ more three-safety looks, hoping not to become too vulnerable against the run.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Aldrick Rosas is going through a shaky period here. He needs a perfect game soon. How bad has the Giants’ return game been this year? The team’s longest kickoff return is 30 yards and longest punt return 20 yards. The Giants are currently 23rd in kickoff returns (20.4 yards per return) and 25th in punt returns (5.8 yards per return). Tom Quinn – meet door.
FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Head Coach Ben McAdoo on Roger Lewis, Jr.: “Lewis is a guy that’s been around, he’s a young player, had a big role on special teams, and really grew into his role on offense. You see how important it is to him to develop chemistry with the quarterback. He’s been outspoken on it, and he works hard on it every day in practice. He’s one of our work dogs out there, he really works hard at practice, and it shows up when you look at the numbers each and every day on the GPS, and also the targets as well.”
THE FINAL WORD
It’s always tough for the road team to win on Thursday night. Throw in the 2-8 record and playing on Thanksgiving and it is easy to see the Giants losing this one. That said, the Redskins lost a heart-breaker last week and are extremely banged up. The franchise is practically giving away tickets for free right now so the crowd may be sparse and demoralizing to a team that had been in the playoff hunt. What I expect is a very ugly football game between two bad and beat-up teams. It may be one of those games where you question which team wants to lose it more. Effort and turnovers will most likely be determinative.