Nov 162018
 
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John Mara and Dave Gettleman, New York Giants (May 11, 2018)

John Mara and Dave Gettleman – © USA TODAY Sports

Game Preview: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New York Giants, November 18, 2018

THE STORYLINE:
The New York Football Giants have won eight NFL championships. They have appeared in 19 NFL championship games. And because they won on Monday night, they are now 5-20 in their last 25 football games. You have to go back to the 1970s to witness a stretch this bad in team history.

The Giants have a decent chance to win two in a row. The 3-6 Tampa Bay Buccaneers are another bad football team. But win or lose, the question is are the Giants getting better? The win over the 49ers was dramatic and raised the morale of a fan base sick of losing. But aside from the 4th quarter dramatics, objectively speaking, it was clearly a contest between two bad football teams. And the game-winning drive was kept alive by two killer San Francisco penalties.

As I watch the Giants now, the same questions keep entering my head:

  1. Is Pat Shurmur the right coach to turn this thing around?
  2. Is Dave Gettleman the right general manager?
  3. Who will quarterback this team in 2019?
  4. How do we improve the pass rush?
  5. Is the team getting better?

The good news is the Giants haven’t quit. They are still playing hard. But the answers to those five aforementioned questions still very much concern me.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • FB Eli Penny (back – probable)
  • RG Jamon Brown (ankle – probable)
  • LB Alec Ogletree (ribs – probable)
  • CB Antonio Hamilton (hip – probable)
  • FS Curtis Riley (shoulder – probable)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:

The Giants benched John Greco for recently-claimed Jamon Brown at right guard, and the offensive line play went from “dog shit” to “below average.” It was an improvement so we’ll take it. Brown had his down moments, but he looks the part. He’s a mammoth man and demonstrated the mental wherewithal to adjust and pick up stunts. Brown’s contract expires at the end of the season, but if he is a viable NFL starter and the Giants can re-sign him to an appropriate contract, that will be one less hole to fill in the offseason.

Brown may be the #1 guy to keep your eyes on. Will Hernandez and Jamon Brown are young, big, and strong. They are mauling types who fit in well with Saquon Barkley. Between the two is Spencer Pulley, who struggled against the 49ers. Unless he starts playing better, and unless the Giants have a diamond in the rough in Evan Brown, the Giants still need to acquire a center this offseason.

The tackle situation is also very unsettled. When Gettleman signed Nate Solder and Patrick Omameh, he probably felt he had locked in two starters for the next 2-3 years. Omameh has already been cut. Solder has been a disaster, but may have played his best game against the 49ers. Can he build upon that the last seven games and give the team reason to hope he still can be an asset rather than a liability in 2019? Chad Wheeler is receiving invaluable playing experience. Young tackles often struggle and then it sometimes just clicks for them. Is Wheeler simply a placeholder or does he have a future in this league? Cutting to the chase, is he getting better?

Not to toot my own horn, but I called it last week with respect to Eli:

Eli Manning is due for one of those games where his most loyal supporters can claim he still has “it.” But as discussed ad nauseam, those good games have become too infrequent.

I think a lot of readers of this site think I have it in for Eli. Nothing could be further from the truth. He’s one of my all-time favorites. But my loyalty to him does not supercede my loyalty to the team. And regardless of the reasons, Eli’s play has been a roller coaster for the last few years with more down moments than up. Can Eli play well against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, or are we going to see a game where he makes the killer mistake or two? Recent history says the latter. I hope not. Until the game-winning drive, what bothered me about his play against the 49ers were the mental breakdowns on his part. If that part of his game is deteriorating now too, look out.

Some other quick thoughts:

  • Despite the losing and missed opportunities, Odell Beckham is still playing hard. He is maturing.
  • Evan Engram really has disappointed this year. I expected him to be one of the top receiving tight ends in the league. He only has 21 catches for only 191 yards.
  • Rhett Ellison has also been a big disappointment. His blocking has sucked.
  • Corey Coleman is a guy to keep an eye on. The Giants still need a third receiver. Could he become that player?

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:

Before the trade deadline, the New York Giants defense was the stronger unit on the team. But that doesn’t mean it was playing particularly well. So it is not surprising that the defense has weakened since the departure of Damon Harrison and Eli Apple.

Somewhat surprisingly, the issue hasn’t been the corners. While Janoris Jenkins hasn’t been on top of his game, and while the other corners are mostly journeymen, they have all done a respectable job. My hat is off to guys like B.W. Webb and Grant Haley for playing above expectation level.

The most glaring weaknesses have been:

  1. Perhaps the most inept NYG pass rush in memory. Through nine games, the Giants have TEN sacks. TEN!!! In the offseason, we were told how James Bettcher would be able to create situations where the team’s new 3-4 defense would be able to attack the quarterback from all angles. Through nine games, Bettcher’s schemes don’t appear to be particularly effective, and the team’s personnel doesn’t appear able to beat their opponent in one-on-one pass-rush situations. Kareem Martin and Connor Barwin have been duds. Olivier Vernon got hurt again, and upon his return, remains the player he has been: someone who teases every now and then but simply doesn’t do enough. Perhaps the Giants should play more 4-3 again. They appear to lack the linebacker talent to make the 3-4 work.
  2. The Giants can’t cover the middle of the field. This has been an issue for years. And while the coaches and players have changed, the reasons haven’t: the Giants don’t have linebackers or safeties who can cover. Dave Gettleman made big mistakes acquiring Alec Olgetree (for 2 draft picks), Kareem Martin, and Connor Barwin. Not trading away Olivier Vernon is looking like a mistake. The Giants have no viable free safety. And Landon Collins is simply too up-and-down. (Again, they may rue the day they didn’t trade him as he is a pending free agent).

So when you combined (1) and (2), you get opposing QBs who have time to scan the field, and inevitably find an open target over the middle of the field. This is why the team’s third-down defense is so bad.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:

While the special teams are still making mistakes (i.e., kickoff out of bounds, usually allowing one decent return per game), the unit appears to be improving. Aldrick Rosas has been a pleasant surprise. Riley Dixon has been consistent. And the Giants now have a couple of returners on the team – Corey Coleman and Quadree Henderson – who have made some noise the past couple of games.

THE FINAL WORD:
The Giants have scored more than 20 points in three games this year. They won two of those games. The Giants have scored 20 or few points in six games this year. They have lost all of those games. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure this out.

Against Tampa, can the Giants put more than 20-24 points up on the board? If they do, they probably win. If not, they will probably lose.

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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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