Game Preview: New York Giants at Washington Redskins, December 22, 2019
Alright, we’ve had enough of the doom-and-gloom game previews. Plus, we had our Eli Manning tribute last week. While we don’t yet know who will be shepherding this team moving forward, we can take a look at how the roster currently stacks up with two games remaining in the 2019 NFL regular season. Obviously, these views are mine alone. Many won’t agree.
Quarterback: Daniel Jones has shown me enough that I think he can be the franchise quarterback this team needs moving forward. I see a big, smart, mobile quarterback with a better-than-advertised arm who throws a gorgeous deep ball and who has demonstrated far better accuracy than Eli Manning as a rookie. The only Pat Shurmur quote that sticks in my mind this year is him telling the press that Jones is smarter than any of the coaches. The two valid criticisms I see are: (1) he’s been a turnover machine, and (2) the offense hasn’t produced enough points with him at the helm. Regarding point #1, the primary issue has been fumbles. Yes, he has 11 interceptions in 10 starts, but three of those came in his last start after he suffered a high-ankle sprain. Manning had nine interceptions in seven starts as a rookie. The picks don’t bother me so much. The fumbles (an astounding 15, 10 lost) are a different story. I think that is correctable. Others are not as optimistic. What I do firmly believe is that most quarterbacks would have fumbled on some of the shots he has taken. Regardless that has to be rectified moving forward. You can’t have a QB who fumbles the ball away every single game. Regarding point #2, I think most observers can see that the liabilities of the coaching staff, offensive line, and injured/missing skill level players have been a significant dead weight for the rookie quarterback. In short, I believe in Daniel Jones. I certainly don’t see enough negative for the Giants to spend their upcoming top 5 pick on another quarterback.
Eli Manning will either retire as a New York Giant in January or unceremoniously move on to another team. Either way, his departure will likely be overshadowed by news on the general manager and head coach. Sad. If Shurmur does depart, the team will likely look to bring in a new veteran, back-up quarterback.
Running Back: Saquon Barkley has had a dreadful sophomore season in the NFL. But let’s not forget that he was “Rookie of the Year” and accrued over 2,000 yards just 12 months ago. The high-ankle sprain has obviously been an issue, as has the offensive line. Many subjectively believe the coaching staff doesn’t maximize his talent. But Saquon has to accept some of the responsibility for his down performance. There was too much pitty-pat to his game in 2019. And he dropped too many balls as a receiver, something he didn’t do as a rookie. The good news is that it appears he is starting to get out of his funk and I wouldn’t be surprised if he has a strong finish to this season. I believe that Saquon Barkley can be the best player in this league. But the organization has to give him an offensive line and a coaching staff who knows how to use him. He also has to fully commit himself to the game.
The (new?) coaching staff will have to decide about the back-up situation moving forward. Wayne Gallman’s stock has fallen to the point where he has been inactive in recent games. Buck Allen flashed late against the Miami Dolphins, but obviously that sample size is far too small. These last two games are very important for him.
Wide Receiver: If the Giants had the 2014-2016 version of Odell Beckham on this team, they would look in outstanding shape with him and Barkley as two of very top players at their respective positions in all of the NFL. But Beckham has been a shadow of former self for the past three years. He will just break 1,000 yards in 2019 and currently only has two touchdowns. Dave Gettleman deserves a lot of criticism, but not for trading Beckham for three starters.
Perhaps the best news coming out of 2019 was the unexpected productivity of 5th-round draft pick Darius Slayton, who has six more touchdown receptions than Beckham. Slayton is not just a deep threat. He runs good routes, adjusts well to the football, and does damage after the catch. Hopefully, he keeps his head on straight.
Sterling Shepard just can’t seem to put together that one season that everyone hopes and expects he will eventually have. In four seasons, he has yet to catch more than 66 passes and 900 yards in a season. His long-term future in the NFL is now in doubt due to multiple concussions. Golden Tate is a playmaker, but he appears to rub many the wrong way. His future likely depends on what the (new?) coaching staff wants to do with him. Cody Latimer teased but never developed.
The Giants need more help here, especially with Shepard’s long-term future in doubt.
Tight End: After a promising rookie season, Evan Engram just hasn’t developed as hoped. He can’t block and that hurts the team’s ability to run the football. Worse, he can’t stay healthy. He’s missed 13-of-28 games the past two seasons with four different injuries. He teases with game-changing, highlight plays. But they are too infrequent and he can’t be counted upon. If Engram is not traded in the offseason, he faces a make-or-break season in 2020.
Rhett Ellison is scheduled to make almost $5 million in salary in 2020. He has 18 catches and one touchdown this year. I would say his roster spot is in serious jeopardy. At best, Kaden Smith is probably a #2 tight end.
The Giants need an infusion of reliable talent here. It’s comical that at one point in the 2019 season that the Giants had five tight ends on the roster.
Offensive Line: Stating the obvious, this has been the offense’s Achilles’ heel for almost a decade. This organization simply appears incompetent in addressing the offensive line. Heading into 2019, on paper, it looked like this line should have been at worst “average.” Established veterans Nate Solder, Kevin Zeitler, and Mike Remmers were supposed to stabilize a line that also included supposed up-and-comer Will Hernandez. Dave Gettleman and Pat Shurmur also kept telling us how good Jon Halapio was. Oddly, the “revamped” offensive line performed worse than the hodgepodge line thrown together at the end of 2018. The sum of the parts never equaled the whole. Daniel Jones got hit far too much and Saquon Barkley rarely had room to run.
The problem here is we don’t really know how much coaching and dysfunctional schemes played a role. Offensive Line Coach Hal Hunter wasn’t even employed in 2017. Will Hernandez and Kevin Zeitler should have been better than they were. Nate Solder hasn’t performed well since he signed that mega-contract with the Giants two years ago, but how much was he distracted by the unimaginable health issues of his child? Remmers was what he was expected to be, but he obviously isn’t the answer at right tackle moving forward. Team decision makers seriously misjudged Halapio’s ability.
At the very least, the Giants MUST find replacements for both tackles and the center. It’s clear that both Eli Manning and Daniel Jones don’t trust Solder and it affected their play. If the Giants don’t draft Chase Young with their first pick, then it should be a left tackle.
Defensive Line: Two years ago, fans were a combination of thrilled and/or curious about the shift from the 4-3 defense to the 3-4. James Bettcher came to the organization with the reputation of an up-and-coming defensive genius who could create mismatches with innovative blitzing schemes. Fast forward to 2019. Fans are now calling for the return to the 4-3 and James Bettcher is widely regarded as a moron.
Again, the problem with evaluating this area is how much of an issue has the coaching staff been? Has the defensive line been put in the best position to succeed? From the start, it seemed odd that Dexter Lawrence wasn’t playing over the center. Defensive Line Coach Gary Emanuel doesn’t have an impressive resume. The overall picture moving forward has been complicated by Gettleman’s decision to spend two draft picks on soon-to-be unrestricted free agent Leonard Williams, who is demanding top dollar despite not accruing a single sack with the Jets and Giants in 2019.
As of December 2019, the defensive line is clearly the strongest unit on a bad defense. They are a big, physical group that can hold the point-of-attack and stop the run. However, they cannot generate a consistent pass rush. That’s more acceptable in a 3-4 alignment, but what scheme will the team be employing in 2020? Bettcher and Emmanuel may not even be here. Should the Giants spend big bucks to justify the trade for Williams? Dexter Lawrence looks like the real deal. Dalvin Tomlinson is now playing the best football of his young career. More was expected from B.J. Hill and R.J. McIntosh. If the Giants keep the 3-4, then it makes more sense to bring all of these guys back. But if the team shifts to the 4-3, then is it a wise use of resources to have Lawrence, Tomlinson, Hill, and Williams man just the two inside DT spots? These guys aren’t really 4-3 outside rushers.
Team needs here depend on what alignment the Giants choose to use going forward. The good news is that Chase Young can play 4-3 end or 3-4 edge rusher. But if they go back to the 4-3, the team will need more help at defensive end unless they think Lorenzo Carter, Markus Golden, and Oshane Ximines can make the transition. This is possible, but not a given.
Linebacker: Like the offensive line, the franchise has not been able to adequately address this position for years. It’s one of the main reasons why the team has been abused by tight ends and why the run defense has been so hit-or-miss. With the possible exception of Saquon Barkley’s ankle sprain, the injury that hurt the Giants most this year was rookie Ryan Connelly tearing his ACL in Week 4. The guy looked like a stud. Now we’ll have to see if he can truly regain his form before his career even had a chance to take off.
As discussed with the defensive line, much depends on what scheme the Giants employ in 2020. Lost in the terrible season was Markus Golden’s rebound season (60 tackles, 9 sacks). He will be an unrestricted free agent. There is a risk of overpaying here for a player who did suffer a career-impacting injury. Moreover, what if the Giants shift back to the 4-3? How do Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines fit? A lot of questions.
Regardless of the scheme, I think it is time to part ways with Alec Ogletree. I don’t think the guy is a winner and I think it’s pretty clear that giving up two draft picks for him 2018 was a mistake. The big bucks signing of Kareem Martin never really paid off either and one has to think that his time here is nearing an end.
There is a dearth of talent at middle/inside linebacker on this team even if Connelly can return at 100 percent. The Giants desperately need physical, athletic, instinctive play-makers at the position. If the team shifts back to the 4-3, the need for 3-down outside linebackers who can cover also becomes an issue.
Defensive Back: While things did not go as planned here in 2019, there are reasons to be optimistic. Jabrill Peppers started off slowly, but then began to improve his play until he suffered a transverse process fracture in his back in late November. He may never be a Pro Bowler, but it does appear he can do enough to have a productive career as a starter in the NFL if used correctly. James Bettcher and Dave Gettleman really miscalculated on Antoine Bethea. They thought they could get one more respectable season out of him; they were dead wrong. There were also hopes that Sean Chandler could surprise but that obviously didn’t happen.
At cornerback, Janoris Jenkins predictably finally wore out his welcome. Unfortunately, Gettleman didn’t receive anything in return for him before he put his foot in his mouth. Bettcher stuck with Grant Haley for too long and paid for it.
The good news here is the young guns. While their careers can still go in either direction, there was enough ups from Deandre Baker, Sam Beal, Corey Ballentine, and Julian Love to think they could have a bright future with the team. Over the years, we’ve seen enough promising defensive backs fail to deliver. Nothing is a given. But there is talent to work with.
In terms of needs moving forward, much depends on how the (new?) coaching staff feels like a safety combo of Julian Love and Jabrill Peppers. Remember, Love was a collegiate corner and a new staff could like him as a nickel corner. Baker, Beal, and Ballentine – the three “Bs” – could form a good young core of outside corners, but a veteran presence would help.
Special Teams: We may have seen the last of Zak DeOssie as a long snapper. The Giants have already committed to Riley Dixon as punter with his new contract. Aldrick Rosas took a major step backwards in 2019 with four missed extra points and a 73.3 percent average on field goals. I wouldn’t get rid of him, but he will be on notice.
THE INJURY REPORT
- QB Daniel Jones (ankle)
- TE Rhett Ellison (concussion – out)
- RG Kevin Zeitler (ankle)
- LB Oshane Ximines (ankle)
THE FINAL WORD
Once the whistle blows, I can never bring myself to root against the Giants. It’s not in my DNA. But logically speaking, it would be best for the Giants to lose this game. The loser of this game will likely draft Chase Young. I’m hoping for a great game from Daniel Jones and mind-numbing, game-losing coaching decision by Pat Shurmur.