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Sterling Shepard, New York Giants (September 22, 2019)

Sterling Shepard – © USA TODAY Sports

New York Giants 32 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31

QUICK RECAP

The 0-2 Giants traveled to Tampa Bay to take on the 1-1 Bucs, whom were coming off a 10-day rest. What had become to feel like normal (the sixth 0-2 start in 7 seasons), this winless start was different. There was a buzz leading into week 3 unlike we have seen in quite some time. Besides the wacky, still unexplainable decision to bench Eli Manning week 12 of 2017, Big Blue would march out of the tunnel with a new franchise QB at the helm. After being selected with the 6th pick of the 2019 NFL Draft, Daniel Jones was inserted into the staring lineup after just two games in to his rookie season.

The Giants began the afternoon in similar fashion as the previous two weeks on both sides of the ball. For the third week in a row, NYG allowed a touchdown but also scored points of their own in the first quarter. Jameis Winston, a former number one pick who is currently in a contract year, hit his star receiver Mike Evans in the end zone twice on the Bucs’ first two drives, beating Janoris Jenkins both times. That theme would be repeated all game. In between the TB scoring drives, Jones set the tone for the afternoon, engineering an 11 play – 57 yard drive with two 3rd-down conversions. While it only resulted in 3 points, Jones proved early on he was ready for game time. Fortunately TB missed their first extra point and had their second attempt blocked by Dexter Lawrence with an assist from B.J. Hill. Missed extra points almost always come back to bite you. Remember that.

Jones opened the second quarter with another long, yard-by-yard drive, this one being 12 plays long. TB shot themselves in the foot with two 3rd-down penalties on this one and Jones displayed his athletic ability on two separate occasions, the latter being a 7-yard designed run after a fake to Saquon Barkley inside. Kerry Collins, Kurt Warner, and Eli Manning were the three previous starting quarterbacks for the Giants. None of them would be the best athlete on a team full of senior citizens, thus the burst and speed Jones showed on both those plays seemed almost foreign, but it was a pleasant sight to see.

The rest of the first half was all Tampa. They had four more possessions, giving them six altogether in the first half. They scored four more times (3 field goals and another touchdown to Mike Evans over Jenkins), giving them six altogether in the first half. Yes, six possessions and six scores for the Bucs in the first two quarters, the 27th ranked offense in the NFL after two weeks. Winston finished the half with a 144.5 QB rating, the same Jameis Winston with a career 87.7 QB rating. Jones also lost a fumble, an issue we discussed in the preseason, giving this game a blowout-feel to it as they went to the locker rooms. And the worst of it all, Saquon Barkley went down with what appeared to be a serious ankle injury. TB was up 28-10.

It is often said that the first two possessions of the second half set the tone for the rest of the game. Well, Sunday added to the strength of that theory, as Jones hit Engram for a 75-yard touchdown on the first play and then the Giants stopped the Bucs on their next drive, forcing their first punt of the game. With Barkley on the sideline using crutches and wearing a boot, NYG came out and scored another touchdown via a Jones-to-Sterling Shepard pass. Just like that, NYG had all of the momentum and the TB offense began to stall.

The two teams traded multiple possessions back and forth with both offensive lines starting to fatigue and both quarterbacks turning the ball over. Winston threw an interception but Jones had the ball jarred loose as he wound up to throw just two plays later. TB ended up being the next to score via a 23-yard field goal, making the score 31-25 with six minutes left. The Giants responded with a quick 3-and-out and no choice but to punt it back to TB with the hope their defense could get a quick stop, and that they did. Michael Thomas made arguably the defensive play of the afternoon on a 3rd-and-2 play that left him and TB tight end Cameron Brate alone in space after short completion. TB was forced to punt and Jones, in his pro debut, got the ball back on the NYG 25-yard line with 3:16 left and a timeout at his disposal down 6 points. Stage was set.

He completed his first five passes, the highlight being a 21-yard gain to fellow rookie Darius Slayton whom was also making his pro debut. Jones was quick to the get the ball out while also showing outstanding pocket mobility and awareness. On 4th-and-5 from the TB 7-yard line, it was a do-or-die situation. Jones took the snap, felt pressure on the outside, recognized man coverage with the defenders turning their backs to him, and darted up the middle and easily scored his second rushing touchdown of the day, the first time a Giants quarterback scored on the ground twice in one game since 1991. Aldrick Rosas hit the extra point and NYG was up 32-31 and just over a minute remaining.

The Giants defense, which could not have started worse, quietly came up big for the entire second half. They were on a hot streak but streaks are always meant to be broken. Winston hit Evans one last time, this one for a gain of 44 yards, putting TB within easy field goal striking distance. The wind was officially out of the sails. TB took a delay of game penalty on purpose because Head Coach Bruce Arians was convinced rookie Matt Gay was better from a slightly longer distance. Gay lined up for what appeared to be a chip shot from 34 yards.

28 years – 8 months ago, NYG had a 1-point lead against the Buffalo Bills in Tampa Bay in Super Bowl XXV. Bills kicker Scott Norwood missed a 47-yard field goal by less than a foot, wide right. Giants won 20-19. Same city, different stadium, different opponent, and different magnitude, Bucs kicker Matt Gay missed a 34-yard field goal by less than a foot, wide right.

Giants win, 32-31.

QUARTERBACK

-Daniel Jones: 23/36 – 336 yards – 2 TD / 4 att – 28 yards – 2 TD. Jones also lost two fumbles in this one. Well, what can we say? The first start of Jones’ career was as memorable as any first-start of any Giants QB in the history of the franchise. I can’t say this performance surprised me. Why? Jones showed a certain level of poise and natural decision making during preseason. Add this to the list of reasons why I think preseason games are not only important, but vital. From the minute the game started all the way to the Giants game-winning touchdown, Jones had the look of someone that has been there, someone that can handle anything thrown at him, someone that has the ideal match of tools and intangibles. His throws were accurate, his runs were athletic, his hesitations were minimal. Giants fans it won’t take much more, other than time, to fully convince me that NYG has their guy. By guy, I mean their next QB for a decade-plus. Now, hold onto that football. More on that later.

RUNNING BACK

-Saquon Barkley: 8 att – 10 yards / 4 rec – 27 yards. Barkley left the game in the 2nd quarter with an ankle injury. That kind of high ankle sprain usually sidelines backs for a minimum of 3 weeks and it could be 2 months before we see him out there. It was a really quiet start to the game for him regardless with absolutely no running room. TB Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles jammed the box pretty tight with an extra defender and got them blitzing multiple gaps often. Barkley did drop a touchdown pass on a ball that caught him off guard a bit but the damage was nullified by a Jones touchdown run soon after.

-Wayne Gallman: 5 att – 13 yards. NYG didn’t spend a lot of time trying to run the ball after Barkley went down. The TB defensive line was dominating the point-of-attack from start to finish. Gallman didn’t get the fairest of opportunities here but these next 2-4 games where Barkley is out, he will get a big shot to make a name for himself.

WIDE RECEIVER

-Sterling Shepard: 7 rec – 100 yards – 1 TD / 2 att – 21 yards. It was Shepard’s first game back after missing a game with a concussion. Shepard is one of the guys who you realize his value after he isn’t out there. He never has been and never will be a star, but the ability to get open, make things happen after the catch, and block downfield are major game-winning traits. He had gains of 36 and 26 yards in the passing game and a 19-yard gain on a rushing attempt. He is going to be vital for Jones’ success.

-Darius Slayton: 3 rec – 82 yards. Like Jones, it was Slayton’s pro debut and he brought exactly what you were hoping for to the table. He looked rusty early on when it came to running routes and tracking the ball but as the game went on, he had what I would call a mini-breakout performance. His 3 catches went for 15-21-46 yards, two of which were in the second half. Slayton was paired up against former college teammate Carlton Davis on numerous occasions and it is worth noting how much of a cushion he gave Slayton in comparison to other NYG receivers. Davis knew Slayton better than anybody out there, and he knows what Slayton can do deep. This was an extremely encouraging sign to see him make an impact like this even though he played under half the offensive snaps.

TIGHT END

-Evan Engram: 6 rec / 113 yards. We are getting to the point where Engram is receiving national spotlight. Only Travis Kelce has more receiving yards among tight ends (by 7). Engram was the favorite target of Jones early on, catching four balls in the first two drives. TB started to bracket-cover him from there on, but the first play of the second half resulted in a 75-yard play-action pass to Engram where his burst and long speed were on full display. Thanks to a key downfield block by Slayton, Engram outran the TB secondary by a pretty wide margin. That was something we have seen glimpses of in his first two years but I think we are at the beginning of a big-time breakout year for him. Watch out.

-Really poor blocking day for Rhett Ellison. He allowed a sack, a pressure, and a TFL.

OFFENSIVE LINE

-It was a horrid day for the tackles. Nate Solder, the second highest paid tackle in the NFL, allowed 1 TFL, 1 pressure, and 3 sacks. He was nothing short of miserable in the second half. Mike Remmers struggled in the run game from the start, allowing a TFL and made both Barkley and Gallman re-direct the instant they approached the line. He allowed 1 TFL and 1 pressure in addition to being flagged for a false start. An offense can usually hide one poor blocking OT, but if both of these guys continue to struggle, it will come back to bite hard against a real defense.

-Guards Will Hernandez and Kevin Zeitler both graded out very high in the passing game. Hernandez was swift with his lateral footwork and overall recognition. Zeitler is still nursing the shoulder it seems, as his push wasn’t there but he stayed off the radar, which is exactly what you want from a lineman.

-Center Jon Halapio went backwards in this one, both literally and figuratively. He was matched up against arguable the most under-talked about defensive tackle in the game right now, Vita Vea, most of the game. He gets somewhat of a pass but it has to be mentioned he allowed a TFL and a pressure. His lack of push was right there with Remmers in relation to why this running game just couldn’t get going.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES

-As we saw last week, Dexter Lawrence is getting more and more comfortable. It seems they are getting him over the center more often and it is changing how the entire defense plays. That is something to keep an eye on in coming weeks. He had 2 tackles, 1 sack, and 1 pressure and was found 15-20 yards away from the point-of-attack getting in on the action a couple times. His biggest play was the blocked extra point after the second TB touchdown. You really have to watch him to fully appreciate what he is doing out there.

-Dalvin Tomlinson is a major unknown to me right now. He was a major weakness against the inside running game several times in this one. He was getting pushed back multiple yards, multiple times. Ronald Jones averaged nearly 6 yards per carry and if there was one guy to point the finger at, it was him. He did make a couple of noteworthy plays based on range to the outside and ability to maneuver in space.

-B.J. Hill had a quietly effective game. He re-directed the TB rushing attack a few times but perhaps his biggest play has yet to be mentioned anywhere. On the blocked extra point, it was Hill that jumped the snap and got the push that created the space for Lawrence to drive through and get his hand up.

-Backups Olsen Pierre and R.J. McIntosh got roughed up. They played a combined third of the snaps and the TB offense visibly went right at them. It was a poor day for both.

EDGE

-The Giants edge presence improved for the second straight week after a tough start in DAL. Markus Golden, Lorenzo Carter, and Oshane Ximines combined for 14 tackles / 3 sacks / 4 pressures. Golden was credited with 2 sacks, although I had one of them shared with Ogletree. These three aren’t a what I would call a scary force, but they were consistently getting involved. They have Winston to thank because of how long he holds on to the ball, but it is amazing what changes within a defense when the pass rush starts leaking through.

LINEBACKERS

-Alec Ogletree strained his hamstring while running back a fumble return that ended up not being a fumble, and missed over half the game. Ryan Connelly, who was already in the starting lineup, stepped up his game thereafter. He had 7 tackles, a pass break up, and a key interception in the second half. He got the green dot put on his helmet and this could be the changing of the guard at inside linebacker for NYG. Ogletree, who has been a bit of an underwhelming presence since NYG traded for him, has 2 more years on his contract at $22+ million. With NYG entering the prime years of building a roster around a rookie-contract-QB, this could be the beginning of the end for Ogletree.

-Tae Davis had a quiet game and was replaced by David Mayo after what appeared to be a head injury. I don’t expect him to miss any time.

CORNERBACKS

-Karma. Janoris Jenkins called out the lack of pass rush to the media after last week’s home loss to BUF. He wasn’t wrong, but he handled it wrong. He responded with his worst game as a Giant and likely the worst game of his career. He allowed 3 touchdowns to Mike Evans and was burned deep on the final TB drive that put them in to easy-field goal range. Had Matt Gay not missed the easy chip shot. Jenkins would be been THE culprit of this loss. He simply did not compete in this one.

-Deandre Baker, other than a play where he allowed a first down to Breshard Perriman as a result of him giving way too much cushion in relation to the situation, improved his play after his tough first two weeks. Baker made a key tackle in this one and showed tight deep coverage on a couple of occasions.

-Grant Haley wasn’t tested much but when he was, he didn’t perform. He allowed a deep pass and was late to help in the middle of the field. The issues NYG has defending the middle of the passing tree are mostly attributed to the safeties, but Haley has to take some of the heat here. He hasn’t taken his game to the next level and his days could be numbered if it stays that way.

SAFETIES

-One thing I am noticing about Jabrill Peppers, a fine athlete who plays really hard, is the lack of instincts and “gamer” in him. He just doesn’t read-and-react efficiently and everything seems manufactured. He allowed a couple of downfield completions and was flagged for a pass interference when he was playing catch up against a tight end. Peppers did finish with 8 tackles and he made a nice play when he blew up a wide receiver screen, but I’m not sure he is going to help this team more than hurt them. He is often a notch or two late and a good QB can expose that all day.

-Antoine Bethea led the team with 9 tackles. I give him credit for being a reliable last line of defense when the action is in front of him. He is a good tackler but the lack of deep range limits this secondary as a whole, and it almost seems like it is impacting the cornerbacks and their overall approach.

-Have to give a shout out to Michael Thomas, who only played 17 defensive snaps, for the tackle he made in the 4th quarter on the Bucs 3rd-and-2 completion in to the flat. A half second later and it would have been first down TB and likely a NYG loss.

SPECIAL TEAMS

-K Aldrick Rosas: 1/1 (Made 36).

-P Riley Dixon: 5 Punts – 48.8 avg / 47.0 net. Dixon is tied for 4th in the NFL with a 45.5 yard net average.

3 STUDS

-QB Daniel Jones, TE Evan Engram, DT Dexter Lawrence

3 DUDS

-CB Janoris Jenkins, OT Nate Solder, DT Dalvin Tomlinson

3 THOUGHTS ON TB

  1. Jameis Winston is in a contract year. He’s been in the NFL for 4+ seasons now. He is 22-37. He has thrown 93 TDs / 62 INTs and has fumbled 40 times. He is currently working with his third head coach. Yesterday was a microcosm of his entire career. A short, nice run followed by mental mistakes and a horrid turnover. He has had a few issues off of the field. This is what Winston was in college and this is what Winston has been, and will be, in the NFL. TB will be in the QB market when the 2020 NFL Draft arrives, no question.
  1. OLB Shaquil Barrett could have been signed by any team in the league this past offseason. Almost nobody wanted the 27-year old, 5th-year veteran who had 14 career sacks to his name as a part time player in DEN. He was paid $4 million on a 1-year deal, which is less money than Kareem Martin on a per-year basis and just slightly above what NYG signed Markus Golden for. Barrett leads the NFL with 8 sacks in just 3 games. This is not an indictment on anyone, but yet another sign that as far away as a team may seem at a position or multiple positions, they truly can be just one guy away at all times.
  1. Imagine this TB defensive front with their best player? Don’t forget they lost Jason Pierre-Paul to a neck injury and last I checked, he is expected back at some point. Barrett, Vea, and a potential JPP comeback combined with other solid role players, this front can make a major impact in a division race that is as up in the air as any.

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

  1. During the preseason, I noted that Daniel Jones had an issue with ball security. He fumbled it numerous times but it wasn’t just that that got me concerned. One of the basic principals of moving your way through the pocket in the NFL is keeping two hands on the ball until you are actually starting the throwing motion. It is a foreign concept to some young QBs because they didn’t have to do that in high school or college. The pass rushers weren’t as fast, weren’t as long, weren’t as strong, weren’t as savvy. However, in the NFL, almost every pass rusher is adept to going after the ball. The second one I give him a pass for, as he was in the throwing motion. But that first fumble, it can’t happen. He will walk away from every game with something to work on and I think this needs to be objective number one.
  1. In week 1, NYG allowed 21 points (3 touchdowns) in the first half. In week 2, NYG allowed 21 points (3 touchdowns) in the first half. In week 3, NYG allowed 28 points (3 touchdowns) in the first half. Sure, one could make the argument that in all three games the defense “stepped up” in the second half but I won’t even give them that much credit. Analytics show that most teams, with a lead, alter their offensive game plan in the second half even though the original game plan worked so well in the first half. At that point they are playing to bleed the clock, playing not to lose, rather than sticking with what worked. Very few teams stay aggressive with a double digit lead in the second half, but NO and NE are one of a few that do. That is not irony. Anyway, NYG’s defense is worse than we even think right now. Personnel wise, they have (literally) nobody that scares anybody.
  1. The Saquon Barkley news is a killer. For a team that just came off as emotional of a win as they have had in a long time, it was a rather quick buzz kill. But if I am going to be real here, this NYG team is not ready to compete. There is no sense is rushing him back on the field until he is 100%. Let Gallman get his time to shine and let’s see if another running back can emerge now that touches are up for grabs. It worked out well for SF, no reason it can’t work here.
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David Syvertsen

David Syvertsen, aka Sy'56, has worked for Ourlads Scouting LLC since 2013, starting off as a college depth chart manager and now a lead scout for one the most-sold NFL draft guides year-in, year-out. He has been scouting for over 10 years and will compile anywhere from 400-600 scouting reports per season, with that number increasing year by year. He watches and studies game films 20-25 hours per week throughout the entire year with his main focus being NFL Draft prospects.

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