Atlanta Falcons 23 – New York Giants 20
Yet another national television game for the worst team in the NFL; Big Blue headed to Atlanta to face off against the equally disappointing Falcons.
The emotions and effort by NYG early on were high. Odell Beckham, coming off a week where Owner John Mara essentially told him to ‘shut up’, got involved in the first quarter for what seemed to be the first time in a long time. The Giants pass rush was getting to Ryan, and Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher was hitting on his all-or-nothing blitz approach. However, the Giants OL prevented the NYG offense from getting into a groove, which should surprise nobody. Manning was sacked twice and pressured 2 more times on their first 2 drives.
The 2nd quarter began at 0-0 and after a couple more back forth drives that included another ATL sack, Ryan connected with seldom-used WR Marvin Hall for a 47 yard touchdown. It was a perfect play call and a perfect pass that left no margin for error by Janoris Jenkins who was left on an island to defend the Falcons fastest pass catcher. A slight misstep forced on the double route by Hall and it was an easy score.
Manning used two big passing gains, one to Beckham and one to Shepard, to get this offense into the red zone. NYG entered as the 5th worst offense in that situation but ATL ranked 2nd worst in defending it. Something was about to give. 1st and 10 from the 13 yard line and, to nobody surprise, NYG threw the ball 3 times. One of the incomplete passes was an easy score but Manning an Beckham weren’t on the same page with the timing. The final attempt resulted in the 4th sack of the half and Saquon Barkley didn’t touch the ball once. So much for committing to the run.
Aldrick Rosas hit a 31 yard field goal but left enough time (:50 seconds), for Matt Ryan to march down into field goal position, thanks very much to a 38 yard pass interference on Michael Thomas. Newly signed Giorgio Tavecchio nailed a 40 yard field goal to put the lead back 7 going into halftime, 10-3.
The second half began with a drive where the momentum was in the hands of NYG. They were sitting 1st and 10 on the ATL 10 yard line much thanks to a 53 pitch, catch, and run to Sterling Shepard. Two plays on the ATL 1 yard line and instead of using Barkley in a downhill fashion, they attempted a jet sweep with him that everyone and their grandma saw coming. Fail. Next up, a nice play-action design that gave Beckham enough room for Manning to get the ball to in the end zone but the 37 year old quarterback, who is showing the reaction speed of a senior citizen, didn’t get the ball out, resulting in an incomplete attempt to 3rd string tight end Scott Simonson in the end zone for the second straight week. Repeated mistakes week after week, a key sign to diagnosing a losing team.
After a lengthy 6 minute drive, ATL was heading towards another score but Jenkins stripped Julio Jones after a catch, causing a fumble that was recovered by Eli Apple.
NYG’s first play following the turnover was a 51 yard deep ball to Beckham. This catch put Beckham over 5,000 career yards, the quickest any WR has ever gotten to that mark since the merger. It also put him over 100 yards for the game, the 23rd time he has surpassed that mark, a new franchise record. Manning was within striking distance with momentum but two miscommunications between Manning and Shepard and Evan Engram resulted in NYG having to settle for another field goal attempt. Manning was visibly upset with those two and he let them hear it. The frustration was boiling over even for a guy that has made a career of not letting the emotional roller coaster of the game impact him.
The 4 point lead didn’t last long, as ATL put another field goal on the board at the start of the 4th quarter. After a 3 and out by NYG, ATL marched down the field as Matt Ryan was in the midst of connecting on his last 18 throws. ATL running back Tevin Coleman scored on a 30 yard touchdown run and NYG was in the familiar 2 score deficit towards the end of the game.
Only then did this offense start to show some life. ATL called off the blitz and stunt dogs, giving Manning some more time to work and it resulted in a strong finish. He was able to spread the ball out, chunk after chunk, which led to NYG’s first touchdown of the night with under 5 minutes left, a Barkley 2 yard run up the gut. Because of the analytics, Pat Shurmur went for 2. The nerds vs. old-school fans can debate this all day but in my opinion there was no right answer there. At the end of the day, this 1-5 team had nothing to lose. The play call was off because in that situation, it is Barkley or bust. Instead Shurmur put the ball into the passing game’s hands and Beckham dropped a ball in the end zone.
ATL had the ball with a 7 point lead and Ryan continued to torch the NYG defense. However not one, but two false start penalties aided a NYG stop near midfield with 2 minutes left. Instead of playing it safe and knowing kickers have superhuman powers against Big Blue, Tavecchio came out with a 56 yard field goal and he nailed it. ATL had a 10 point lead, NYG had no timeouts, and the 2 minute warning was in the rear view mirror.
It didn’t take long for NYG to get downfield via a perfect deep ball to Shepard for 58 yards. Even though a win was a long shot, NYG handled the final minute poorly. With a running clock, 1st down, and on the ATL 1 yard line, NYG tried 2 QB sneaks in a row. Both failed and with 10+ big men in a pile trying (or not trying) to get off each other, 40 valuable seconds came off the clock. Manning finally audibled and threw a desperation throw to Beckham in the end zone and he made an amazing catch which likely receives no credit because there were only 5 seconds left.
NYG failed to recover the onsides kick.
NYG loses 23-20.
-Eli Manning: 27/38 – 399 yards – 1 TD / 0 INT. A new season high in yards for Manning. On paper, it looks like Manning had a quality game. The pressure got into his head a few times, as the line continues to be leaky. However Manning missed an open Odell Beckham for a touchdown on a crucial 4th and goal play in the 3rd quarter. This is where the game almost appears too fast for Manning right now. He isn’t always mentally in it and for a QB that is heavy footed and slow to react, that could be a nail-in-the-coffin note. If he can’t win games with his head, the talent isn’t nearly good enough to make up for it. Manning made several big throws and he did get more aggressive as the game went on, so he clearly isn’t done yet as a thrower. But his reactions need to be more assertive. One extra note here; it seems like Manning is starting to get after his players more often. He went after Shepard, he went after Engram, and he was visibly frustrated by the delay in Beckham’s high-low concept route where he danced around too much when he should have darted for the rear pylon.
-Saquon Barkley: 14 att / 43 yards / 1 TD. 9 rec / 51 yards. Barkley also rushed for a successful 2 point conversion. The running game just couldn’t get off the ground. The offensive line was being pushed back repeatedly and the backside blockers couldn’t cut off their assigned defenders. There were three occasions where Barkley tried to bounce a run outside where he likely should have put his head down and kept going north. That is one part to his game that we will have to accept at times because of how dangerous he can be in space. That said, the decision when to do so needs to be more calculated.
-Odell Beckham: 8 rec / 143 yards / 1 TD. Last week I spoke about Beckham as a route runner where he was dancing around contact too much. Monday night was a different story. Beckham was assertive, full of energy, and back to his play-making ways. A very impressive statistical night, Beckham should have had 2 more touchdowns. One, he mistimed his break and didn’t reach Manning’s pass in time. Two, Manning didn’t trust or react quickly enough on an exceptional goal line route. Beckham played hard, really hard. And when a couple things line up, this is who he can be every week. He did drop a ball on a 2 point conversion late in the game but otherwise it was a very clean performance.
-Sterling Shepard: 5 rec / 167 yards. By far a new career high for Shepard in total yards and yards per catch. He made plays on a long ball and a crossing route with plenty of yards after catch. Is it a coincidence that he has arguably his best game ever on a night where Beckham breaks out? No. The production from these two is correlated and it is something to keep in mind over the next 2 years, as both will be around.
-Newly acquired Bennie Fowler was quietly on the field for 55% of the plays. He hauled in one catch for 11 yards late in the game but he is going to get a shot to be what Latimer was supposed to be.
-Evan Engram: 2 rec / 16 yards – 1 att / 10 yards. It was the first game back for Engram since his MCL injury that forced him to miss 3+ games. He wasn’t a focal point of the offense, as he was only thrown the ball 4 times. For what it’s worth, he looked like he didn’t lose a step and I do expect him to get more looks in the coming weeks.
-Scott Simonson and Rhett Ellison played 11 and 32 snaps, respectively. Simonson got a look in the end zone on 4th and goal. Yes the third string tight end, but the ball was slightly deflected by ATL safety Demontae Kazee. Ellison brought in a couple catches and provided solid run blocking.
-Nate Solder continues to be one of the worst signings not only by NYG, but of the entire 2018 NFL’s offseason. All teams. He allowed 2 pressures and 1 sack in addition to get tossed around like a rag doll in the running game. As I said last week, Solder has been hovering around the same game-by-game grade mark we saw out of Ereck Flowers last year. Yes, that Ereck Flowers. Not nearly what you want out of the highest paid left tackle in the NFL. Chad Wheeler, who also struggled, was at least more consistent. He has some plays where he looks like the undrafted free agent followed by a solid stretch where he looks like he can be the guy at RT if they need a bargain somewhere. He allowed 2 pressures.
-NYG made a move to get OG Patrick Omameh out of the starting lineup which was necessary. Center John Greco moved to RG and Spencer Pulley was put at OC. It didn’t work out very well because these two were most responsible for the lack of push in the running game. Both were exposed as poor lateral blockers and you can be sure WAS paid close attention to that. And they have one of the best DLs in the league.
-Rookie Will Hernandez mightily struggled in this one. The lack of lateral adjustment speed was exposed by Grady Jarrett a couple times, once resulting in a sack. He allowed another sack against Jack Crawford where he was late to see his outside shoulder action. Hernandez was getting jostled around as it looked like ATL zeroed in on trying to confuse him. Hopefully a learning experience for a rookie who has been solid this year.
-In his second game back, Olivier Vernon was quiet statistically with just 2 tackles and 1 pressure but he was near the action on a few occasions when the NYG pass rush broke through. His presence has been a solid addition to the defense. Fellow starter Kareem Martin had an impactful first drive with 1 TFL and 1 pressure but was quiet afterward.
-Kerry Wynn played just a third of the snaps among the deep DL group. He did have a sack though. Lorenzo Carter recorded his 2nd sack of the season. I like what I am seeing out of him progression wise. For a guy who is speed-based, he has done a nice job of not only relying on that. A lot of times you will see young edge rushers simply run up the edge and a good tackle just ride them out of the pocket. Carter stayed low, engaged, and cut inside on his sack. A very nice play out of the 3rd round rookie.
-Solid night out of the two young starters, Dalvin Tomlinson and BJ Hill. Hill recorded a TFL along with a season high 4 tackles, while Tomlinson added 4 of his own. Both were active in pursuit.
-Damon Harrison played under half of the team’s snaps against the pass-happy Falcons. He was solid as usual, but didn’t make any impact plays. If NYG truly is in sell-mode, I expect Harrison to garner attention from a handful of contenders struggling against the run.
-Josh Mauro and Mario Edwards saw a decent amount of action in their respective backup roles. Mauro finished with 1 TFL and Edwards had a sack nullified by an Eli Apple hold. Edwards has been impressive with his violent hands and ability to free himself of the blocker as a pass rusher. It will be interesting to see what he does with the rest of this year.
-Alec Ogletree played a physical game and helped set the tone for a defense that, minus Tevin Coleman’s 4th quarter 30 yard touchdown run, shut down the run game. But the case continues to be repeated where he and his fellow linebackers could not defend the passing game in the middle of the field. There were several plays where they didn’t reach their depth and others where the reaction to underneath routes was a bit too late.
-The rest of the linebacker snaps were split between BJ Goodson, who continues to be overly-one dimensional, Nate Stupar, who is a favorite of the coaching staff but hasn’t made a noteworthy play yet, and rookie Tae Davis. Davis is interesting to me, as he stood out during preseason multiple times. He is young and fast, albeit slightly undersized. He made a couple of backside pursuit tackles that nobody else on this team at linebacker can make. With Ray-Ray Armstrong on IR (since waived), the rest of this year will be a nice tryout for Davis and his future.
-Janoris Jenkins and Eli Apple both had the opportunity to perform against Julio Jones, one of the handful of top tier receivers in the NFL. As expected, they had their ups and downs, but neither left the game leaving the NYG faithful feeling good. The one positive is Jones didn’t beat either one of them over the top. In addition, Jenkins forced a Jones fumble that was recovered by Apple in the 3rd quarter. On the flip side, Jenkins was burned for a 47 yard touchdown and Apple was flagged on a key 3rd down sack in the 3rd quarter. Apple was traded the next day to NO for a 4th round pick in 2019 and a 7th round pick in 2020.
-BW Webb, for a free agent that was signed to a cheap 1 year deal in March, has been a very solid nickel corner. He recorded a sack and was solid in underneath coverage.
-We have discussed Landon Collins’ all-or-nothing approach a few times this year as his free agency looms closer and closer. Monday night was one of his better games we have seen. He made a few key tackles, showing great downhill speed and reaction. He also got into Matt Ryan’s face a couple times and recorded a TFL.
-The speedy, physical Curtis Riley continues to hurt and help this team play to play. He did make a key 3rd down stop late in the game, but the ATL passing game attacked him a few times in key situations and it worked out for them. Riley takes poor angles to the action and it is something opposing offenses are taking advantage of. Michael Thomas, who is known for special teams prowess, had one notable play. It was getting pump faked by Matt Ryan and Julio Jones which forced him into a deep pass interference. Even he knows he is over-matched in situations where he is matched up alone against quality WRs.
-K Aldrick Rosas: 2/2 (Made 31, 36).
-P Riley Dixon: 4 Punts / 40.8 avg / 40.8 net. He pinned ATL down inside the 5 early in the game and limited them to no returns throughout all four attempts.
-KR/PR Quandree Henderson impressed in his debut, averaging a NYG season high 14.5 yards on 2 punt returns.
-WR Odell Beckham, WR Sterling Shepard, S Landon Collins
-OT Nate Solder, OG Will Hernandez, CB Eli Apple
3 THOUGHTS ON ATL
-It’s hard to believe this team is 3-4 going into their bye week. There may not be a better WR core in the NFL, and pairing that with an established, top 10 QB in the NFL in this era of football should equate to more wins. Is their defense that bad? Personnel wise I don’t think so. But no team has blown more 4th quarter leads over the past year and a half and I think that Super Bowl let down a couple years ago is still lingering. If you don’t believe in a culture impacting wins and losses, I think you’re nuts. This team doesn’t know how to close games. They find ways to lose. This is why I wouldn’t root against a team simply for a higher draft pick. That stuff is hard to get over.
-Matt Ryan had a 3-4 year stretch where he was the most sacked QB in the NFL. 2013 was the low point. During that run, ATL drafted just 1 offensive lineman per year. Only one of those was in the first 3 rounds (LT Jake Matthews). Ryan’s sack and pressure numbers have gone down a lot. How else did they do it? Their running game improved via two draft picks (Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman) in addition to a solid WR core and an offensive system that asked less of the big boys up front. While I am all about getting new OL talent in for NYG, this team has several holes and it may not simply be that simple. This organization needs to think outside the box, something they have never done.
-One of my favorite players in the NFL who nobody talks about is DT Grady Jarrett. I remember scouting him in 2014 and wanting to put a high grade on him. The size numbers and inconsistent senior season bumped him down. But the talent I saw and he has made a big difference so far. He’s fought injuries but hasn’t missed a lot of games, so his production on paper looks average. The 2019 free agent is a guy I would look real hard at if I am looking for more interior pass rush.
3 CLOSING THOUGHTS
-Last week I spoke about the possibility of trading off some of the few assets this roster has. Well, here we are and NYG is now down 2 starters via the market. CB Eli Apple was sent to NO for a 2019 4th round pick and a 2020 7th. DT Damon Harrison was sent to DET for a 2019 5th rounder. Keep in mind that expecting anything more was foolish. Harrison is a run defender in a passing league who is on the wrong side of 30 with just a year and a half left on his deal. Nobody liked him as a player more than me, but at this point you can’t expect more than that. Not everyone is Jerry Jones when it comes to trading picks. I like both trades because the only way this thing is getting back on track for the long term is via the draft. Get as many picks as possible especially if it means clearing up cap room and getting rid of players who won’t be here a two years from now.
-We are entering the part of the season where we will be watching young players “try out” for their future roster spots. Guys like LB Tae Davis, CB Grant Haley, OT Chad Wheeler, WR Jawill Davis, OC Evan Brown, OT Brian Mihalik…etc. While it will get ugly at times, these will be valuable film sessions to see if there is a diamond in the rough. Turning this thing around is not only about high draft picks and free agent signings… every good team has a few of these overlooked players who came from nothing and turned into something. Keep an eye on these players – it may peak some more interest than usual.
-Another thing to keep laser focus on is the coaching staff. While I know “1 and done” wouldn’t be typical of Mara and his handling of a coach, there is more blame and overall negativity surrounding ownership right now than possibly ever. It could force his hand into literally gutting the entire franchise. If Shurmur continues to under achieve, and I believe he has to this point, him getting the boot can certainly happen.