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Evan Engram, New York Giants (September 9, 2018)

Evan Engram – © USA TODAY Sports

Game Preview: New York Giants at Houston Texans, September 23, 2018

THE STORYLINE:
Dramatic mood swings by football pundits, media, and fans are as old as the game itself. One minute the sky is falling; the next “we’re going to the Super Bowl!” So I’m a little wary about making definitive judgments about an 0-2 team with a new general manager, new coaching staff, new offensive and defensive systems, and massive roster turnover. After all, this team was never going to seriously challenge for a title run in 2018. The best that could be expected of a what had been an atrocious 3-13 team is that it improved to the 9-7 range. Expecting more than that was simply unrealistic.

But I’m worried. The first game against the Jaguars was a “respectable loss,” but the second game was a huge red flag. The Cowboys are not a good team. And yet they dominated the Giants. Thus far, this team looks no different than the 3-13 mess from 2017. The Giants not only can’t score 30 points in a game, they can’t score a total of 30 points in two games. And this is on the team with the highest-paid wide receiver in NFL history and the highest-paid rookie running back in NFL history? The Giants have the look of a car with a souped-up engine but rusted-out chassis.

It’s beginning to dawn on fans what some warned about in the offseason: that ownership made a massive strategic mistake in ONCE AGAIN believing this team only needing a bit of tweaking in order to contend. Firing Ben McAdoo, Jerry Reese, and Marc Ross were the right moves, but did the Giants hire the right replacements or simply “yes men” who would not rock the boat and re-evaluate EVERYTHING in how the team was being run? Did John Mara draw the wrong conclusions in not understanding that fans were upset HOW Eli Manning was benched rather than WHY? Did he foolishly bow to fan pressure and decide that Eli was untouchable moving forward?

Let’s take a step back here and look at the big picture. The Giants are not going to the playoffs in 2018. Eli Manning will be entering the last year of his current contract in 2019 at the age of 38. The guy Reese and McAdoo drafted to replace him in the 3rd round of the 2017 draft was cut this month. Unless you have a tremendous amount of confidence and faith in the future Alex Tanny or Kyle Lauletta, the Giants are in deep shit at the quarterback position. Will it surprise anyone if they draft a QB with a top-5 pick in April? I would argue now that it is to be expected. So is 2019 now also going to be a “wasted” season, Eli’s farewell tour, while his 1st-round replacement sits for a year? Shouldn’t that have been done this year?

What I’m trying to get at is that a franchise that “wasted” the last 7-8 years of Eli’s career in New York is now wasting Odell Beckham’s first 7-8 years. And will we be having the same conversation about Saquon Barkley in five years? Where is this franchise going? What’s the plan? I don’t see it.

I hate writing this shit. I hate being 0-2 again. I hate looking at the prospect of the season being over by October again. I’m tired of it. This isn’t fun. If the team were building towards something, it would be more tolerable. But as I posted on the site earlier this week, this has the feel of a movie we’ve seen before. If the team keeps losing, watch the injury list begin to grow.

The Giants desperately need a win. To stop the bleeding. To give the team and its fans some confidence. To inspire some hope and belief that there is some direction and this team can still make some noise in the current season. There is a world of difference between 1-2 and 0-3. The season is on the brink.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • WR Kaelin Clay (ankle – probable)
  • TE Evan Engram (ankle – probable)
  • LB Olivier Vernon (ankle – out)
  • LB Connor Barwin (knee – probable)
  • CB Eli Apple (groin – out)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a team with so many credible weapons be so inept. The Giants are doing the impossible. A team with Odell Beckham, Saquon Barkley, Evan Engram, and Sterling Shepard can only score one touchdown per game. (Even more startling when you consider that the first TD came off one play, and the second was a garbage-time affair). Most of us understood that the offensive line would be the Achilles’ heal of offense again, but not to this extent. These guys look worse than last year’s train wreck. Worse, there is absolutely NOTHING behind the five struggling starters. The cupboard is bare and there are no reinforcements walking around out there on the street. Enter J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and Whitney Mercilus. Yikes.

As is ALWAYS the case when a team struggles, the quarterback has become the lightning rod. That will never change. And it comes with the job description so both the quarterback and his hyper-sensitive supporters need to get over it. I love Eli. He’s the best QB in franchise history. But he’s been a losing QB now for four of the last five years in a league filled with mediocre teams and quarterbacks. His defenders will charge that no quarterback could operate behind this line (and they could be 100 percent correct), while his critics will assert that the Giants have hooked their wagon to a QB who has to have everything perfect in order to succeed. The truth most likely lays somewhere in the middle. What we do know is that outcomes are not pretty and Eli’s career is ending in a very ugly fashion.

There are those who claim it can’t get worse. Imagine Eli being carted off of the field and Alex Tanney hurriedly warming up on the sidelines.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
With some justification, many will say the Giants’ defense hasn’t been a problem. After all, they held the Jaguars to 13 offensive points and the Cowboys to 20. Unlike the offense, the defense has been respectable. But they need to do more. They need to create more game-changing plays: tackles for losses, sacks, forced fumbles and fumble recoveries, interceptions. Create superior field position for a struggling offense. For the second week in a row, we saw some disappointing trends developing: lack of game-changing plays, run defense that hasn’t been as good as expected, and costly breakdowns by their #1 corner. Olivier Vernon is still out. And now Eli Apple is hurt. This team still hasn’t faced a truly dynamic offense yet, one that can seriously test what is likely a weak secondary.

For the third week in a row, the Giants will be challenged by an elite-level running game (averaging almost 160 yards rushing) and a quarterback who can hurt you with his feet. But quarterback Deshaun Watson can also hurt you with his arm. And he has wideout DeAndre Hopkins to throw to. Janoris Jenkins had better get his early-game struggles out of his system because Hopkins can embarrass him. And with Eli Apple out, the match-up of B.W. Webb or Donte Deayon against Will Fuller looks problematic.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Knock on wood for the second week in a row, but the special teams have being holding up their end of the bargain. The next step forward would be to make a game-changing play: a blocked kick, a converted fake, a return for a score.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Head Coach Pat Shurmur on the offensive struggles: “We just have to make sure we get the ball in the end zone in the first half, that’s just it. We find a way to drive the ball a little bit, get stalled out on third down – we have to make sure we can’t get stopped third and inches, fourth and inches. We have to get the first down, keep the drive alive, and then find a way to get some big plays.”

THE FINAL WORD:
Well, I was as wrong as could be with last week’s prediction. That Dallas loss took the wind out of my sails. Until they prove otherwise, I don’t trust this team. The offense is still a dysfunctional mess. The line can’t run or pass block so Odell and Saquon are literally being wasted. The secondary has the feel of a house of cards that has been protected thus far by the lack of quality of the opposition. If this team goes 0-3, the media and fans will quickly turn on team management.

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Eric Kennedy

Eric Kennedy is Editor-in-Chief of BigBlueInteractive.com, a publication of Big Blue Interactive, LLC. Follow @BigBlueInteract on Twitter.

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