Game Preview: New York Giants at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, September 22, 2019
In 25-year history of BBI game previews, there has never been a more obvious storyline. Barring a disaster, the 16-year Eli Manning era is over. The Daniel Jones era has begun. For some, the move away from Manning was long overdue. For others, it is too soon. Most Giants fans probably have mixed emotions. They are excited about the change, but feel terribly for Eli. Yes, transition and change are the nature of the sports world. But many young Giants fans have known no other quarterback. Think about where you were in your personal and professional lives in 2004. That’s how long it has been.
As an organization, the New York Giants never fully embraced the necessary rebuilding of this franchise by clinging to the aging Manning. Hell, they have refused to even use “rebuild” in their lexicon. But here we are, in year two of a new regime, with a gutted roster and brand new starting quarterback. The defense appears to be one of the very worst in the NFL and two of the rising teams in league reside in the NFC East. This is going to take a while. What fans are looking for now is hope. Hope that things will eventually get better. That starts with Daniel Jones.
What fans need to understand is this: the 2019 season is already over for the New York Giants. Everything that happens between now and December 2019 is now about 2020 and beyond. The up-and-down growing pains and growth of the new quarterback is the storyline for the remainder of the year. Pat Shurmur is probably safe for one more year, although his defensive coordinator remains on the hot seat.
THE INJURY REPORT:
- WR Sterling Shepard (concussion – probable)
- WR Cody Latimer (concussion – out)
- WR Bennie Fowler (hamstring – questionable)
- WR Darius Slayton (hamstring – probable)
- TE Garrett Dickerson (quad – probable)
- RG Kevin Zeitler (shoulder – probable)
- CB Grant Haley (illness – probable)
NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
If you are impatient or looking for miracles, you are going to be disappointed. Daniel Jones is a rookie quarterback who is going to struggle. The preseason means virtually nothing. Teams were not game-planning for him or disguising coverages. And he was not playing against front-line players. There is also a chance that Jones looks very good early on until defenses catch up with him. That has happened with many other quarterbacks. Look at how RGIII was anointed the savior in Washington after his first season. I’m not trying to be a wet blanket here, but expectations need to be reasonable.
The perception is that Pat Shurmur has not been able to run his full offense with the immobile Eli Manning. We’re about to find out if that is true or not. Shurmur will undoubtedly scale some things back to not overburden the rookie more than necessary. But will we see things like run-pass options? That would be quite a change for Giants fans.
The Tampa Bay game plan is obvious: stop Saquon Barkley and force Daniel Jones to beat them. Smart coaches usually want to build up the confidence of a young quarterback by giving him easy completions early. I suspect we’ll see some short throws to Evan Engram, Rhett Ellison, or Saquon Barkley to start the first quarter. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers will crowd the line of scrimmage, blitz, and mix up their coverages to confuse Jones. They want him to make mental mistakes and throw the ball to places where he should not. They want to rattle him. Bruce Arians was pretty frank when discussing Jones. “He’s a more mobile guy so you have to be a little more cautious of rush lanes and things like that. Expect a little bit more movement passes, but he’s still a rookie… It’s a very hard position to play.”
As an offense, the Giants have looked awesome on both of their initial drives of the season and then faltered for the rest of those contests. There has been no consistency. To make things easier on Jones, Barkley needs to get the ball and gain yardage on a consistent basis. That said, I would not run Barkley into 8- and 9-man fronts. If the Bucs want to crowd the line, let the rookie play. He throws a beautiful deep ball.
On last thing to note with Jones. Keep in mind that he has not had many reps with the starters. In other words, he has much more experience throwing to guys like T.J. Jones and Garrett Dickerson than Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram. Don’t be surprised at missed connections with the starters while there appears to be better chemistry with second-tier players.
Meanwhile, another week, another tough defense for the Giants. Tampa is currently 8th in defense in terms of yardage allowed (6th in rushing defense). And the defense has only given up one touchdown in two games.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
While the Giants continue to face quality defenses on a weekly basis, the are encumbered (once again) with one of the very worst defenses in the league. It doesn’t matter how many coaches they change or how many players they get rid of or newly acquire, the Giants remain near the bottom of league standings. The Giants are 28th in yardage allowed and 31st in scoring defense. And they simply cannot stop the pass. The quarterback rating for opposing quarterbacks playing the Giants is an embarrassing 132.3. Opposing quarterbacks are completing 71 percent of their passes against the Giants. On a yards-per-carry basis, the defense has allowed a respectable 3.8 yards per carry. It’s the pass defense that is killing New York.
Against a lesser offensive line than they faced in week one, the pass rush picked up a bit last week. But both Antonio Hamilton (week one) and Deandre Baker (week one and two) have struggled terribly at corner opposite of Janoris Jenkins. Opposing quarterbacks and coordinators are simply playing pitch-and-catch against these two guys. Worse, the middle of the field has been left exposed by the safeties for yet another year. So far, Jabrill Peppers has not lived up to the expectations set by Dave Gettleman and James Bettcher. He’s been invisible, and not in a good way. Antoine Bethea has been just as poor in 2019 as Curtis Riley was at free safety in 2018. Grant Haley is also not making plays on the football. If the Giants are going full rebuild, it may be time to simply live and die with Deandre Baker, Julian Love, Corey Ballentine, and Sean Chandler. That said, if Baker continues to struggle as poorly as he did last week, the Giants may want to allow him to clear his head on the bench while playing one of the other younger guys outside for a game or two (for example, move Haley outside to stop the worst bleeding and move Love to nickel corner).
Lost in the issues in the secondary and with the edge rushers is that the Giants have a nice trio of defensive linemen developing up front. They are the strength of the defense. What we need to see is the edge guys Markus Golden, Lorenzo Carter, and Oshane Ximines build upon last week. I’d like to see Tuzar Skipper get some snaps soon too. Inside, Ryan Connelly has taken over at one spot. Is Alec Ogletree really the “leader” you want moving forward next to him? I’d have him on a short leash.
The Buccaneers have some talented players at the skill positions but their offense is not good because they don’t have a quarterback. But that doesn’t seem to matter against the Giants, who made Jameis Winston look like Dan Marino last year when he came off of the bench. I can talk about Xs and Os and match-ups, but it comes down to this: can the Giants rush the passer and cover the receivers? Tampa has good tight ends. Expect them to feast on the middle of the field. Until the Giants prove they can even function in these areas, opposing offenses will continue to embarrass the team, regardless of the down and distance.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Aldrick Rosas missed his second kick in two years last week. Let’s see how he rebounds. T.J. Jones had a 60-yard punt return. The coverage units have been strong. Special teams have not been an issue for the Giants yet.
FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Offensive Coordinator Mike Shula on Tampa Bay’s blitzing schemes: “They do such a good job, it poses a lot of problems for a lot of offenses. As we go into the game, you can imagine starting a rookie quarterback is probably going to increase it a little bit. They’re really good at what they do, and they’re really fast at doing it, and they give you a lot of disguises, so I think all of those things present problems. So, we’ve really got to be on point with our recognition and our communication.”
THE FINAL WORD:
There is an understandable sense of excitement and nervousness about the beginning of a new era. Again, I want to caution fans who have grown far-too-accustomed to disappointment that this is a process for Jones. This is just the beginning. The last 14 games of this year is the growing experience he needs to go through in order to become the player the Giants hope he will become. There will be both good and bad plays, good and bad games. To expect otherwise is foolish.
On the other side of the ball, the Giants will never become a good team again unless they get their defense sorted out. This has become an annual embarrassment for the Giants. They are not even functioning at a somewhat professional level.