New York Giants 38 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers 35
Following the Giants Monday night victory in San Francisco, the 2-7 NFC East bottom-feeders took the long trek home and were forced to take on the struggling Tampa Bay Buccaneers on short rest. However, the newfound “8 game season” that this team has taken on as its mantra created a sense of confidence and “challenge accepted” approach.
NYG put together its easiest, borderline most fluid drive of the season right off the bat. A 6 play-63 yard drive that featured Saquon Barkley 5 times ended in an easy touchdown pass from Eli Manning to the rookie. Tampa Bay, led by the 35-year old Ryan Fitzpatrick, looked off from the beginning. They were using broken plays and some miscues by the Giants front seven to gain yards rather than a fluid offensive system. Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter opted to go for it on 4th and 1 from the NYG 5-yard line despite being on the road, down 7, in the first quarter. The NYG front line created a wall that Fitzpatrick couldn’t get through and NY forced its first de facto turnover on the day.
The NYG offense proved that the first drive wasn’t a fluke and that they may have actually found a rhythm that carried over from the previous week. Head Coach Pat Shurmur had a sit down with Barkley during the week and wanted to create more urgency, a more north/south approach to Barkley’s efforts when the game called for it. Barkley accepted that challenge and more, as he was gashing the depleted TB front seven with the most aggressive running style we have seen out of him yet. A 12-play drive that gave him the ball on half the snaps resulted in another NYG touchdown, this one a 5-yard run up the middle.
Down 14-0, TB found themselves in a 4th and goal situation from the NYG 10-yard line. Koetter opted to go for it yet again and things looked bleak post-snap. A broken play led to Fitzpatrick scrambling for his life but he somehow managed to find a running lane to the outside and dove his way into the end zone for a touchdown.
The Giants offense puttered for the rest of the half, shooting themselves in the foot with poor blocking, penalties, and simple mishaps. TB was gaining momentum thanks to something I may have never seen before. Defensive end Olivier Vernon was flagged for a roughing the passer penalty and then 2 straight offsides penalties. 25 yards back-to-back-to-back. Three plays later, Fitzpatrick threw an interception to safety Michael Thomas on a pass intended for OJ Howard up the seam. NYG opted for the safe approach and took the lead into halftime, 14-7.
Anyone who has followed Fitzpatrick’s career knows that he is one of the more up-and-down, Jekyll-and-Hyde quarterbacks in the league. We saw the ugly side of him in this one, mostly in the second half. On TB’s first possession, he threw a pick six that was deflected by Janoris Jenkins and into the arms of Alec Ogletree. Then, on the next possession, Fitzpatrick lofted a ball, almost Hail Mary-style, into the end zone at the end of a solid drive which NYG safety Curtis Riley came down with. NYG then put themselves into field goal position and Aldrick Rosas booted a 52 yarder though the uprights. They had a commanding 24-7 lead and Fitzpatrick was benched in favor of Jameis Winston, the former #1 overall pick.
Winston has begun his career on a record-setting turnover pace, but TB gave him a shot to bring this team back. He did exactly that. TB scored touchdowns on their next 4 possessions. Yes, 4 straight touchdown scores for the anemic Bucs offense. Thankfully, the NYG offense continued to stay hot via a balanced attack. Manning hit Odell Beckham on an 8-yard touchdown and Barkley crossed the goal line for a third time on a 2-yard run.
It was a back-and-forth affair that turned into the NYG faithful simply hoping for the clock to run out because TB kept creeping closer and closer, making it a 3 point game at one point with over 2 minutes left.
NYG was able to run the clock down to under 30 seconds, but Winston and the offense did come out for one final possession, no timeouts in hand. On the first play, Winston heaved a desperate ball downfield that was intercepted by BW Webb, and that sealed NYG’s 3rd win of the season.
Giants win, 38-35.
-Eli Manning: 17/18 – 231 yards – 2 TD / 0 INT. Manning finished with a 110+ QB rating for the 3rd time in 4 games. It is amazing, but not surprising, how much better Manning and this offense looks now that the offensive line has stabilized. Don’t look now, but he is trending towards career highs in both completion percentage and QB rating despite being sacked a league-leading 36 times. Nobody is going to mistake Manning for one of the elite signal callers in the NFL, but he is finally finding the comfort zone within this uber-talented offense. Give this guy enough time to read the defense and enough time for the receivers to actually run their routes and we will see more performances like this.
-Saquon Barkley: 27 att / 142 yards / 2 TD – 2 rec / 10 yards / 1 TD. There was a different version of Barkley on the field against TB. One we had yet to see and it seems to have stemmed from some hard-truth coaching from Pat Shurmur. Barkley’s lone negative in his scouting report last spring was a little too much dancing behind the line of scrimmage, neglecting what the defense gives him too often. Barkley took it to heart and ran harder between the tackles time after time than I have ever seen, college days included. He was constantly finishing runs, falling forward, and gaining yards after initial contact. This is the kind of running style that, if Barkley can turn on and off based on game situations and the opposing defensive approach, can take his game to the next level. His 3 scores proved that he, and this offense, are much more than big-play dependent.
-Wayne Gallman and Elihjaa Penny deserve mention. They combined for 39 yards on 6 touches. Penny has made a couple of athletic catches in recent weeks and while he won’t ever be a feature of the passing game, it is a nice outlet to have. Gallman’s opportunities are so limited, but his quick speed will make a big play at some point.
–Odell Beckham: 4 rec / 74 yards / 1 TD. Six days after Beckham went for 4 catches – 73 yards, he put out a similar performance. His touchdown catch was a thing of beauty, one that many could not have made. The ball was well on its way before he turned around and he had to make an backwards adjustment to the pass. He is in a nice groove right now despite seeing a ton of attention from opposing secondaries.
-It was a spread out day for the rest of the WR group. Sterling Shepard had 2 catches for 22 yards and both Bennie Fowler and Corey Coleman each snared a pass. Coleman’s role here seems locked in as he is performing so well as a kick returner whereas Fowler will only make an impact if someone gets hurt.
-Evan Engram: 2 rec 66 yards. Similar to last week, Engram’s impact on the game wasn’t really felt until the 4th quarter. When TB’s offense kept the game close and within striking distance, Manning hit Engram on a short pass, but Engram’s burst and speed created a 54-yard gain on the play that put them near the end zone that eventually led to a touchdown. What was notable about this day, however, was the fact Engram played just 32% of the snaps, less than half the snaps of Rhett Ellison and even less snaps that Scott Simonson. Is he in the doghouse? Not necessarily. However as I said a couple weeks ago, this team runs the ball better with Engram not on the line. If this offense wants to continue to be run-dominant, I expect to see snap totals like this from Engram.
-With that said, Ellison had an up-and-down game as a blocker. He allowed a TFL and a sack. While you can’t expect him to sustain blocks against a DE like Jason Pierre-Paul, he has constantly been a very inconsistent presence in the trenches. Simonson wasn’t a factor that often as a blocker, but his footwork has come a long way since the start of the year. Curious to see if he can carve a long-term role here for himself as a presence in the trenches.
-Nate Solder had the responsibility of facing off against former Giant DE Jason Pierre-Paul. The motivated JPP finished with 7 tackles and 1.5 sacks. One of the sacks came through Rhett Ellison, but Solder was still being handled pretty badly. His staying power just isn’t there. The fact Manning only dropped back 23 times helped Solder not get exposed as often as he has been, but I still view him as a major liability to this offense.
-Chad Wheeler had a solid game as a run blocker. His initial contact was violent and he got downfield a handful of times making a difference. I love the hustle this kid plays with. He allowed 1 TFL and had a bonehead personal foul penalty on a PAT late in the game. Otherwise, very solid game for him.
-This is the best combo-guard play we have seen out of NYG in quite some time. Rookie Will Hernandez had the highest grade of the group, as he neutralized and moved All Pro Gerald McCoy all afternoon. He did allow 1 TFL early in the game where his lack of foot-adjustment showed up again, but he was a steady force from there on out. Brown had some of the most dominant run blocks against both DTs and LBs that I saw all weekend. Now that he knows the scheme one more week, he moved with more confidence. I don’t want to celebrate yet, but NYG may have found their RG.
-Spencer Pulley was the one negative of the group and I think that is simply what we are going to have to deal with the rest of the way. You can hide poor OC play if the guards play at a high level. Pulley allowed a sack and had a false start penalty.
-Kareem Martin, ever since his days at North Carolina, has a game every now and then that makes evaluators get excited. Well, this was that game. He finished with 7 tackles, 1 sack, and 2 TFL. He was a factor in both traffic and in space, but I will say some of his bigger plays were a product of the action being washed his way. But hey, he got it done. Good game for him.
-Lorenzo Carter continues to show subtle but obvious improvement across the board. He had 2 pressures, 1 of which led to a sack by Martin. Get this guy in pursuit and he can chase down any QB and force him into an early throw.
-Olivier Vernon and Kerry Wynn both had quiet games, although the loudest hit of the day may have been by Wynn on special teams. Vernon had an odd stretch of roughing the passer-offsides-offsides on three straight snaps. That is the kind of thing that makes a fan say “trade him” but let’s not forget guys, this pass rush did improve as a whole when he came back from injury.
-The lack of Damon Harrison’s presence has been apparent these past two weeks. Dalvin Tomlinson and BJ Hill were getting moved off the ball way too much, way too often. The TB running game had wide open running lanes inside for most of the day and while some of that was on the LBs, Hill and Tomlinson weren’t stout enough. They need to be better.
-Josh Mauro and Mario Edwards on the other hand, who both played 37% of the snaps, were exceptional in their backup duty. Mauro had a TFL and a pressure while Edwards had 2 pressures and a forced fumble. Mauro’s pressure was the reason Fitzpatrick threw his final interception. The ball was lofted into the air because he had Mauro creeping up into his face as he threw. That was an overlooked aspect of that key play. Both of these guys play really physical and make a difference at the point of attack.
–Another weak showing from the inside linebackers in this one. Alec Ogletree and Tae Davis were not filling lanes against the TB rushing attack. They were a step slow and too late to make reads, giving the TB blockers the proper angles to wash them out. And when TB did use the middle of the field in the passing game, they once again couldn’t get it done. Nice job by Ogletree to come up with the pick six on a Janoris Jenkins tipped pass, but these guys need to play better.
-Speaking of Jenkins, he had a strong game for the most part. The one weak moment came late in the game where he was beat off the ball and for a 44-yard touchdown to Mike Evans. He broke up a pass that ended up turning into a defensive touchdown for NYG. His play has leveled off in a good way in recent weeks. One thing I didn’t like, and we have seen this before out of him, was the fact he made a business decision to not tackle a downhill Peyton Barber near the goal line. Can’t have that.
-BW Webb came down with an interception on a final desperation attempt-type throw on TB’s last drive. This was his best game of the season, as he shut down DeSean Jackson. He finished with 7 tackles and 2 pass break ups as well. Webb has had me thinking the past few weeks that he may have earned his way into a contract next year; he has been consistent.
-Grant Haley played the nickel role again and appears to be getting more and more confident. He dropped a interception and did allow a touchdown late to Adam Humphries, but I think his performance these past 2 weeks warrants a continued role in the nickel. He doesn’t have the physical presence to work through receivers to the ball, but he is reacting fast and getting his hands on the ball.
-Best game of the season to date for Michael Thomas. He was only on the field for about a third of the plays, but he came up with a key interception in the red zone in addition to a couple of key tackles late in the game. Thomas is the best tackler on this team and I have a feeling the team will give him a hard look if Landon Collins prices him out of this town via free agency in the winter.
-Landon Collins led the team with 11 tackles and was again a solid force in the box. He did recognize running plays late a few times that led to lengthy gains, but he was solid. The glaring issue with Collins arose late in the game when TB obviously had to make a play deep. He was late to give help on a vertical route and it resulted in a touchdown. I’ll say this again, if you can’t send this guy deep ever, he isn’t a safety. Something to think about. Nice interception and return for Curtis Riley but he did miss more tackles and is among the NFL’s league leaders in that department. Not a list you want a safety to be on.
-K Aldrick Rosas: 1/1 (Made 52). In a year where kickers are just failing left and right, Rosas continues to be one of the most steady ones in the league.
-P Riley Dixon: 4 Punts – 41.5 avg / 34.0 net. Nothing notable from Dixon in this one; he had a couple opportunities to pin TB close to their own end zone but overshot one, undershot the other.
-KR/PR: Corey Coleman added another 40 yard return early. He has what I call aggressive speed and he is a major weapon if the blocking is good enough. He is close to taking one to the house.
-RB Saquon Barkley, S Michael Thomas, OG Will Hernandez
-LB Tae Davis, OT Nate Solder, DE Olivier Vernon
3 THOUGHTS ON TB
-This is maybe one of 3 or 4 teams in this league that just lack direction. They have a recent #1 pick whom has had some success and a 35-year old journeyman going back and forth at QB. Their offensive line is inconsistent with both tackles, neither of which deserve big money, heading towards free agency. Their best defenders have a hard time staying healthy. And their Head Coach seems to be in over his head on a near-weekly basis. Lastly, they just spent a ton of money on free agents this past offseason. Very odd situation going on down there, it’s been built the wrong way.
-Jameis Winston may, or may not be available this offseason. Crazy prediction, I know. But if he is made available, I know at least some NYG fans will throw his name out there. I’ve watched him plenty over the years and I do think he has some special talents and intangibles. The problem is, they are grouped with off-field red flags that never seem to go away, and a lack of ball discipline. He was lucky that Mike Evans fell on his fumble in the end zone on his first drive of the second half. Like I feel about Sam Darnold, some guys just don’t protect the ball enough in key situations. Winston is who he is and I don’t want him in a Giants uniform. It wouldn’t work here in a high-pressure market.
-This goes to show guys….”winning” in free agency doesn’t get you anywhere. Acquiring expensive veterans as the main catalyst for a turnaround just doesn’t work. Jason Pierre-Paul, Vinny Curry, Ryan Jensen, Beau Allen combine for about $36 million in cap space with all of them locked up for another 2-4 years. And this team is going nowhere fast.
3 CLOSING THOUGHTS
-Does NYG have momentum? Well they beat 2 teams on the down slope that have a combined 5 wins through 11 weeks. But just like you don’t get any credit for losing to a good team, NYG deserves credit for 2 wins no matter who they come against. As we see every week in the NFL, there is no such thing as an easy W.
-If NYG is going to keep this offensive flow going (25 + points in consecutive games for the first time since October 2015), the actual devotion to the running game and play-action passing needs to be the staple. Manning has always been at his best from under center in a play-action-heavy routine. I’m glad to see Shurmur, for the first time, stick to a running game throughout all 4 quarters. If he can keep this approach, NYG will continue to score points like this.
-How can NYG fix this defense in-season? It does look like they are trying to spread some snaps out among the front seven with different personnel combinations each week. Credit to them for continuing to try new things. Perhaps the quality of talent isn’t there to defend the middle of the field, but this coaching staff needs to find something. Their toughest test will be this weekend as Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert may very well be the best TE combination in the NFL when it comes to catching the football.