Game Preview: New York Giants at Chicago Bears, September 20, 2020
In reading through last Monday’s Giants-Steelers game discussion thread, it quickly became clear to me that a lot of Giants fans are still in denial. They either can’t or won’t accept reality.
What is that reality? When you start over with a new coaching staff, you are literally starting over. The uncomfortable truth that many can’t accept is that the franchise wasted the last four years by hiring Ben McAdoo and Pat Shurmur. Any “building” you do with the wrong coaching staff is erased when you hire a new coaching staff. No progress was made. The Giants are back at the starting line. Fans who complain, “nothing has changed” don’t seem to get this. We’re starting over again. Deal with it. It is what it is.
The most important questions moving forward are:
- Is Joe Judge the right man to lead this team forward?
- Are Dave Gettleman and his successor the right men to provide Judge with the tools he needs?
Throwing a hissy fit because the playoff-caliber Steelers beat the team with THE WORST record in the NFL over the span of the last three years doesn’t make much sense to me. The Steelers were expected to win that game. Their loaded defense was expected to give the Giants offense all sorts of problems, especially up front. The fact the game was as close as it was until the 4th quarter was a pleasant surprise. A loser’s boast? Yup. But again, the Giants are starting over.
THE INJURY REPORT
- WR Golden Tate (hamstring – questionable)
- LB Tae Crowder (hamstring – probable)
- LB Carter Coughlin (hamstring – questionable)
- S Adrian Colbert (quad – out)
NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE
The height of absurdity was Giants fans “surprised” that a restructured offensive line, with two new tackles (including a rookie), and a new center who has never played the position at any level, would struggle with a loaded, All-Pro laden front seven. This line had no OTAs, no mini-camps, no preseason, and just 14 practices to get ready for the season. This reality isn’t going away. Lack of familiarity, cohesion, and practice are going to impact the line all season. The best we can hope for is that the growing process moves along at a reasonable rate.
“Gates sucks! They need to replace him!” With whom? Spencer Pulley? Unless the coaching staff comes to the conclusion that Gates will never develop into a decent center, switching back to Pulley seems like more wasting time to me. If you thought Gates was going to immediately do well, then you are not thinking straight. Gates is going to spend the 2020 season LEARNING THE POSITION. It’s not going to be pretty. We’re living in the real world, not a video game.
The good news is that the left side of the line, rookie LT Andrew Thomas and 3rd-year guard Will Hernandez performed adequately against top competition last Monday. The bad news is the veteran right side, RG Kevin Zeitler and RT Cam Fleming, did not. More is expected of them. They are the ones who should bring some much needed stability to the offensive line and they failed to do so in their first effort together. Again, given the quality of the opponent and the lack of practice time, I would suggest not overreacting. However, if issues continue in Weeks 4, 5, 6 with these two, Joe Judge, Jason Garrett, and Marc Colombo may want to think about what is best for the future and consider Shane Lemieux at right guard and Matt Peart at right tackle.
What hurt the blocking against the Steelers was not just the offensive line, but the poor work of the tight ends. We’re on our third coaching staff in a row who insists Evan Engram can serve as an in-line blocker. He can’t. The one or two good blocks he may make are erased by the ones where he gets easily tossed aside. If you screw up a block, your 1st-and-10 becomes a 2nd-and-11. That’s hard to overcome. Teams only get about 10 possessions per game. Levine Toilolo also needs to step up his game.
Sy’56 said it last year and I’m sure he will continue to make the same point this year. Quarterbacks who regularly turn the ball over are not long for the NFL. You can’t win that way. On Monday, Daniel Jones continued to give Giants fans a reason to be optimistic (clutch plays under duress without a lot of help) and pessimistic (two killer turnovers). The zone-blitz interception doesn’t bug me as much… young quarterbacks struggle with zone-blitzes. The turnover down on the goal line was the real killer. It happens. We’ve seen Eli Manning make stupid plays like that even in his 10th season. But it’s plays like that that also lose football games. I don’t want to see Daniel Jones play too conservatively. That’s not his game. But we all want to see him play a clean game.
As for the skill positions, enough attention was spent on Saquon Barkley’s pass protection issues this week. But until he proves otherwise, teams are going to keep testing him. They are also going to keep loading up on the run and dare Jones and his receivers to make them pay. Darius Slayton did some of that last week, but he needs more help from Evan Engram (who really came up small in Week 1), Sterling Shepard (needs to be more of a game-changer), Golden Tate (please get back on the damn football field). One of the debates in the offseason was how good was the receiving corps (including Engram). The returns from Week 1 were not good outside of Slayton.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE
My take on the state of the defense is perhaps a bit too negative. After all, the Giants have been one of the worst defenses in the League for the last three years. There is a big hill to climb. And there were actual signs of improvement against the Steelers as New York held Pittsburgh to 16 points until the 4th quarter. BUT… the Steelers scored on half of their 10 possessions (three touchdowns and two field goals). The Steelers rushed for 141 yards (averaging 4.7 yards per rush). The Giants did not force a turnover on defense (this has become an alarming trend for the Giants). And at times when the team REALLY needed a stop… after both turnovers, right before halftime, and late in the 4th quarter, the defense couldn’t make that stop (another alarming trend). So progress made, but nowhere near good enough.
To me, the weak spot is what I mentioned in my last preview. Teams are going to continue to attack Corey Ballentine until he proves he can cover on a consistent basis. Isaac Yiadom also gave up an easy touchdown. I don’t think the Giants have the horses at cornerback to stop the bleeding but we shall see. As I also mentioned last week, I would try to arrange packages that have Darnay Holmes and Logan Ryan playing corner more than Ballentine and Yiadom.
Important positives from last Monday include the play of ILB Blake Martinez and DL Leonard Williams. Now if Patrick Graham and company can get more out of DLs Dalvin Tomlinson and Dexter Lawerence, along with OLB Lorenzo Carter, the Giants really may make some important strides.
The loss of Xavier McKinney is hurting in the defensive backfield as his presence would have enabled Graham to use Jabrill Peppers in more of a hybrid role. Nevertheless, Peppers once again is proving to be a frustrating player, alternating between impact plays and screw ups. Those types of players are coach killers.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
The Giants special teams are going to win them at least two games this year. Jabrill Peppers is going to break one soon as a punt returner.
FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH
Head Coach Joe Judge on what he wants to see this weekend: “There are a lot of levels of improvement. We have to see, not only this week but throughout the year, we have to grow as a team. We’re still working on really getting our identity and our base set as a program and as a culture. The things I want to see this week, on top of playing together as a team for 60 minutes which I was pleased with how we did it last week, is I want to see the guys go out there and execute and not set ourselves back with mistakes.”
THE FINAL WORD
Yeah I know, I didn’t spend any time discussing the Bears in my Giants-Bears preview. But there were other things I wanted to get off my chest. As for this game, keep in mind that when the schedules were released other teams and their fans react by saying, “The Giants? That’s a win for us.” We’re the team everyone else wants to play. We’ve been that way for years.
That all said, this is a winnable game for the Giants. Yes, the Bears’ defense will give the Giants problems up front again. But there is no home field advantage for Chicago. The Bears were on the ropes against a bad Detroit team last week and should have lost that game. Their quarterback sucks. Call me naively stupid, but I think this is a game the Giants can win, provided the Giants don’t lose the turnover battle.