Oct 092019
 
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Game Preview: New York Giants at New England Patriots, October 10, 2019

THE STORYLINE:
Last Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings was a litmus test, and the undermanned New York Giants failed miserably. The team wanted to be 3-2 heading into New England, not 2-3. They will soon to be 2-4. That’s not doom-and-gloom pessimism but simple reality.

  • The away team on Thursday night football is always at a serious disadvantage.
  • The away team rarely wins in New England.
  • The Patriots are defending Super Bow champions.
  • The Patriots currently have the NFL’s #1 defense, allowing only two touchdowns in five games.
  • The Giants’ best running back, wide receiver, and tight end are out.
  • The Patriots currently have the NFL’s #11 offense.
  • Tom Brady, arguably the best quarterback in NFL history, faces a secondary that Kirk Cousins just tore apart.
  • Bill Belichick versus Pat Shurmur?
  • The Patriots are well on their way to another Super Bowl appearance. The Giants are in the eighth year of their 20-year rebuilding program.

It’s no wonder why the Giants are more than two touchdown underdogs.

Honestly, if I were Pat Shurmur, I would treat this game as a glorified preseason game. I would use it as an opportunity to experiment both in terms personnel and play calling. For example, this may be the time to give players like Corey Ballentine and Julian Love some playing time. The team may also want to try some things on offense and defense that are out of character. What do you have to lose? You want to be predictable and undermanned against Bill Belichick? “You play to win the game!” Screw that, let’s have some fun!

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • RB Saquon Barkley (ankle – out)
  • RB Wayne Gallman (concussion – out)
  • WR Sterling Shepard (concussion – out)
  • TE Evan Engram (knee – out)
  • LT Nate Solder (neck)
  • LB Alec Ogletree (hamstring)
  • LB Tae Davis (concussion)
  • LB Lorenzo Carter (neck – questionable)
  • LB Josiah Tauaefa (knee)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
This is a horrible spot for Daniel Jones to be in. Barkley out. Gallman out. Shepard out. Engram out. Offensive line struggling. Now on a short week, the rookie quarterback faces the #1 defense and the #1 defensive mastermind of all time without his best offensive weapons. The Giants have no running game without Barkley. None. His two security blanks – Shepard and Engram – will not play. Yikes!

Instead of focusing on this mismatched contest, let’s use this as an opportunity to look at the bigger picture moving forward:

Quarterback: Barring a devastating injury or complete meltdown during the last 11 games, Daniel Jones is the franchise quarterback. As I’ve talked about in previous game previews, he’s the central focus for the rest of the season. Regardless of his and the team’s performance, these games are invaluable learning moments for him. Really, for Jones, this is about preparing more for 2020 at this point. Eli Manning won’t be on the team next year. The Giants have to decide if they can do better than Alex Tanney as Jones’ back-up after Manning is gone.

Running Back: The Giants’ offense is a completely different animal without Saquon Barkley. As great as it has been for Giants fans to get to watch Daniel Jones earlier than expected, it sucks that Barkley’s high-ankle sprain has taken away one of the few reasons to watch this team. That all said, the Giants may have learned a valuable lesson here about making sure they have proper NFL depth behind Barkley. Is Wayne Gallman the guy you want backing him up? I think we’ve seen enough of Jon Hilliman. In this game, I would like to see Eli Penny receive the bulk of the carries.

Wide Receiver: The Giants need to upgrade this position. Pray Sterling Shepard’s concussions are not an issue moving forward because they can ill-afford to see yet another one of their promising receivers have his career end prematurely (Plaxico Burress, Steve Smith, Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, etc.). With Shepard out, this will be Golden Tate’s opportunity to shine. But he and Cody Latimer don’t look like the answers moving forward. On the other hand, the Giants may have hit the jackpot with Darius Slayton in the 5th round.

Tight End: As long as he can stay healthy (a big if), Evan Engram looks like one of the more dynamic receiving-threat tight ends in football. He’s a weapon. Pat Shurmur obviously loves tight ends. There are currently four on the 53-man roster (and the team had five at one point). Rhett Ellison is steady, but as this season progresses, Shurmur may want to get a better look at Garrett Dickerson and Kaden Smith in real games.

Offensive Line: It’s beyond ridiculous now. The Giants simply can’t seem to field a legitimate offensive line. As has smartly been pointed out in The Corner Forum this week, when you have a good offensive line, everything looks better. See the Indianapolis Colts and San Francisco 49ers as prime examples. The Giants made a huge mistake signing Nate Solder to that contract. He’s been terrible. Mike Remmers was signed to be a temporary stop-gap but he’s only marginally better than Chad Wheeler, who replaced Bobby Hart. I still don’t know what Dave Gettleman and Pat Shurmur see in Jon Halapio, who has played for five other teams, including the Boston Brawlers and Brooklyn Bolts. Making matters worse is that Kevin Zeitler is playing with a bad shoulder that is clearly affecting his play. The Giants NEED two new starting offensive tackles, and ideally a starting center. That’s a tall order in one offseason.

Offensive Summary: On paper, the Giants look like they have their starting quarterback, running back, and tight end. But 3/5ths of the offensive line needs to be replaced and another outside receiver needs to be added to complement Slayton and Shepard.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
I grew up spoiled on great New York Giants defense. As much justifiable criticism as Eli Manning, the offensive line, and the offense as a whole have received for the past eight years, in my mind, the defense may be even more guilty for the team’s demise. Good defense can cover for a multitude of sins and keep teams competitive. Even in terrible seasons like 1995, the Giants were in just about every game because the defense kept them in every game. In the last eight years, the New York defense has finished:

  • 2011: 27th
  • 2012: 31st
  • 2013: 8th
  • 2014: 29th
  • 2015: 32nd
  • 2016: 10th
  • 2017: 31st
  • 2018: 24th

They are currently 30th.

Like the offensive line, the Giants can’t seem to fix the defense. They keep changing players, coaches, and schemes. But the team remains at the bottom of the league in defense. Until the defense markedly improves, it won’t matter what Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley do on the field.

Defensive Line: This is currently the strongest area of the team. Dexter Lawrence, B.J. Hill, and Dalvin Tomlinson are good enough to win with, although I’d like to see more flash from Tomlinson. Lawrence is starting to give offensive linemen fits. Depth is shaky with only R.J. McIntosh and Olsen Pierre on the 53-man roster as back-ups.

Edge Rusher: Some fans still think Lawrence and Hill are supposed to be like Michael Strahan or Justin Tuck in the Giants’ old 4-3 scheme. In James Bettcher’s 3-4, the outside rush has to come from the outside linebackers or “edge rushers.” Lost in the crappy defensive play is that Markus Golden (4.5 sacks) is quietly averaging just under sack per game. More was expected of Lorenzo Carter, but it’s still early and he has been dealing with injuries. Oshane Ximines and Tuzar Skipper have flashed but as their play against the run last week showed, they both still has a lot to learn. Ideally, this team needs an edge rusher who scares opposing offensive coordinators and quarterbacks. That’s not on the roster right now.

Inside Linebacker: Long gone are Sam Huff, Brian Kelly, Harry Carson, Gary Reasons, Pepper Johnson, Antonio Pierce. Hell, even Michael Brooks, Michael Barrow, Corey Widmer, or Chase Blackburn would look great right now. The Giants have gone from Linebacker U. to Linebacker Hell. And when they finally draft a good one for the first time in years and years (Ryan Connelly), he tears his ACL in his third start. Look at the outstanding defenses around the NFL and they all have good linebackers. The “help wanted” sign has been out here since Antonio Pierce left. This group can’t play the run and can’t play the pass. They make the entire defense worse.

Cornerback: The Giants focused on rebuilding this position in the 2019 Draft. The jury is still out on Deandre Baker, but he is starting and learning. That’s about as good as  you can expect from a rookie corner. Sam Beal missed most of the offseason with a nagging hamstring injury but has returned to practice and will likely be added to the 53-man roster soon. Corey Ballentine should be seeing more playing time. The Giants need to start reducing Grant Haley’s role. At this point, the Giants may want to shop Janoris Jenkins in advance of the trade deadline. He won’t be a part of the rebuild.

Safety: The good news is that after a slow start, Jabrill Peppers is starting to make some plays. The bad news is that Antoine Bethea looks done. At some point very soon, perhaps even this game, the Giants need to sit him. Julian Love should start playing more. Sean Chandler didn’t look good against Minnesota but he should also see his workload increase so the Giants can fully evaluate him. If Love or Chandler can’t handle the position, the Giants have a huge need at this position entering the offseason.

Defensive Summary: A great edge rusher will make everyone better. If you can’t rush the passer in this League, you’re in trouble. Much depends on Ryan Connelly moving forward. Will he be the same player? Regardless, the Giants need to add one or two more inside linebackers as well. Safety remains a sore spot unless Julian Love can handle the transition to free safety.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Ironically, after years are dismal special teams units, the Giants are in pretty good shape here.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Head Coach Pat Shurmur on his team being 16.5-point underdogs: “I have no reaction to it.”

THE FINAL WORD:
I doubt my words will be heeded, but I suggest most Giants fans don’t get too upset over this game. The Giants are going to get their asses kicked by the best team in the NFL. And this year, it’s the Patriots’ defense that is carrying them. I’ll be happy if Daniel Jones gets out of this game healthy.

Based on needs alone, this team is more than one offseason away from seriously competing again. It has to start with the offensive line, edge rushers, and inside linebackers.

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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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