Game Preview: San Francisco 49ers at New York Giants, September 27, 2020
Besides being mismanaged for the past decade, I think we’re all coming to the conclusion that the New York Giants are jinxed. Perhaps its payment for the two miracle Super Bowl runs in 2007 and 2011, but if I’m John Mara, I’m hiring some sort of exorcist or witch doctor at this point to get good karma back on my side.
If Dave Gettleman’s rebuilding plan was to work, two things had to happen:
- Saquon Barkley being the best player in the 2018 NFL Draft and not suffering a potential career-altering injury.
- Daniel Jones being a franchise quarterback and also not suffering a potential career-altering injury.
I’ve seen many Giants fans try to minimize the ACL tear/partial meniscus tear to Barkley’s right knee, but there is no positive way to spin this. The injury is a disaster. There is a reasonable chance that Barkley, whose game is built on agility and speed, will never quite be the same player again. Yes, medical procedures have come a long way, but for every example a fan can provide of a success story, there is an example of a player never who regains his old form. At best, Barkley’s shelf life just took a big hit and the Giants will have to strongly consider whether it is worth the risk to re-sign him to a mega-contract when his rookie deal expires. Many of us felt Barkley was the right pick in 2018, provided he did not suffer a serious injury early in his pro career. Well, he just did. If Barkley is not on this roster in 2023, 2024, 2025 and an All-Pro, then they blew the #2 pick in the draft.
Bill Parcells famously said you are what your record says you are. If you accept that metric, in the last 50 regular-season games, there is no worse team in the NFL than the New York Giants. And now the Giants have just lost their best player. They also just placed another one of their better players, Sterling Shepard, on Injured Reserve. Bad teams usually can’t take hits like that and get better. Unless the Giants have some tricks up their sleeves, we’re looking at yet another season being over by October.
THE INJURY REPORT
- LB Carter Coughlin (hamstring – probable)
- CB Brandon Williams (groin – questionable)
- S Adrian Colbert (quad – doubtful)
NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE
It’s usually unwise to use team stats when teams have only played a couple of games. This is especially true in the case of the Giants given that they have faced two of the toughest defenses in the NFL. Nevertheless, even the most casual fan recognizes that the Giants simply are not generating enough yardage and points. The Giants currently rank 29th in yards and 32nd (dead last) in points. The Giants have scored three touchdowns in two games, and one of those came in garbage time. Now the Giants are without Barkley and Shepard. Yikes.
The loss of these two is significant. Overnight, the Giants running back situation turned from a team strength into perhaps one of the worst units in the NFL. Devonta Freeman may end up being a very good signing, but he is way behind and not in game shape. Because of the latter, don’t be surprised if he gets hurt. Dion Lewis is more of a 3rd-down back the past two coaching staffs have thought enough of Wayne Gallman to not even activate him on game day.
Many fans argued that the team’s wide receiver corps wasn’t good enough before the season started. Those who argued the opposite (including me) said that Darius Slayton, Golden Tate, and Sterling Shepard were good enough PROVIDED they stayed healthy. Tate has already missed one game and Shepard will be out at least three. Now the Giants will have to rely on waiver-wire pick-ups such as C.J. Board, Damion Ratley, and practice squad players. Is this now the worst group in the NFL?
Everyone keeps telling us we haven’t seen the real Evan Engram. And that Engram will make up for any deficiencies at wide receiver. Engram is in his 4th season. He keeps disappearing for long stretches. It’s now or never, but I think most of us are not holding our breath. Personally, I’d like to see more of Kaden Smith.
I do think the Giants have the horses up front on the offensive line to EVENTUALLY become a good unit, PROVIDED Nick Gates develops at center. I think most of us are thus far pleased with Andrew Thomas and Will Hernandez on the left side. They will get better as they grow together. The right side should start looking stronger once the Giants move past the killer defenses on their current schedule (including the 49ers). And as I said last week, long-term solutions such as Shane Lemieux and Matt Peart are on the roster. But the Giants need Gates to improve or this really won’t be getting “fixed” until another offseason.
This brings us to Daniel Jones. So much depends on him right now. And unfortunately he is saddled with perhaps the worst running back and wide receiving corps in the NFL, a feature tight end who disappears for long stretches, and an offensive line that is a long way from being a cohesive unit. To put this in perspective, consider the surrounding talent Eli Manning had around him in 2004-2006. There is no comparison. And yet there is a group of fans just waiting for his next turnover so they can say, “I told you so!” The calls for drafting another quarterback will increase, especially as the team’s record worsens. Not an enviable position.
So what can we look forward to? My focus on the next 14 games is going to be on Jones, the offensive line, and Slayton. But the “to do” list keeps expanding. The Giants have to draft a running back next year. Probably a tight end. Definitely more receivers. Maybe a center. It doesn’t feel like progress is being made.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE
The irony is that before the season, fans felt that Patrick Graham was more of a question mark than Jason Garrett. Again, it’s early and opinions can still rapidly change, but statistically, the Giants defense has improved from 25th in yardage and 30th in points in 2019 to 4th in yardage and 11th in points, respectively. Yes, small sample size. But a promising start, especially when one considers the short comings at edge rusher and in the secondary.
Let’s get the negative out of the way first. Graham’s style is unconventional and that doesn’t sit well with some. No down linemen and/or three-man rush on 3rd-down isn’t a good look when it doesn’t work. The much-maligned Bears’ offense was over 50 percent on 3rd down conversions last week. The Giants are 25th in run defense (not acceptable). Corner play opposite of James Bradberry is an issue. Jabrill Peppers still looks like a better athlete than player. The Markus Golden of 2019 has yet to show up. Why was Devante Downs kept over Ryan Connelly again?
The good news is (thus far) the team looks like it made the right decisions on its two high-priced free agent acquisitions, Blake Martinez and Jame Bradberry. Leonard Williams, Dexter Lawrence, Dalvin Tomlinson, B.J. Hill, and Austin Johnson are a strong group of 3-4 defensive linemen. Lorenzo Carter and Kyler Fackrell have flashed. I expect Logan Ryan and Darnay Holmes to make some noise soon. There are young linebackers waiting in the wings. The point is there is a base to build around, to add pieces to. Adding an edge rusher and cornerback (damn the Deandre Baker fiasco) in the offseason would do wonders, provided now the Giants don’t have to spend those assets on offense!
Moving forward, what we want to see is (1) improved run defense, (2) improved 3rd-down pass defense, and (3) more turnovers. The Giants did not generate any turnovers in Week 1 but did create two in Week 2. More of that is needed given the issues on the offensive side of the football.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
Old Giants fans will remember a time when the offense was so bad that any chance at a win came from the defense and special teams play. The Giants may have stunk for years in the 1970s-early 1980s, but their special teams units were often top notch. It feels a bit like old times to right now. I have complete confidence in our special teams and it’s the one part of the team where I think we can consistently out-play the opponent. I look forward to some game-changing plays soon. They are getting close.
FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH
Head Coach Joe Judge on the 49ers defense: “They know all the coverage beaters you’re going to try to run on them. They know how you’re going to try to go ahead and get at their front in terms of scheming up the run game. They’re a very good penetrating front. Really, it all starts up front with these guys. They’re very disruptive. This is a turnover team, this is a penetration team, this is a pressure-on-your-quarterback team. It gives opportunities to the secondary and the backend. The linebackers are extremely fast. These guys can really move and flow behind that front in front of them. They’re very good in the pass game, they’re very effective in the run game. They don’t give up explosive plays. That’s the biggest thing. This team makes you commit to being a disciplined team and execute down the field, play after play after play. You watch them, they do a great job of just sitting back, letting you check the ball down and then tackling the ball in front of them. This is a tough opponent. You really watch their identity, I’d say their identity is how they fly around on tape and how they stand out at you with the physicality they play with.”
THE FINAL WORD
“The 49ers are really beat up. Their starting their back-up quarterback. Many of their best players are out!” Yadda, yadda, yadda. An injury-depleted 49ers team beat the crap out of the Jets last week. The Giants are not clearly better than the Jets. The 49ers have a very deep team with a proven coaching staff. They shouldn’t have much of an issue shutting down the NYG offense. And San Francisco is licking their chops over New York’s 25th-ranked rushing defense. Giants only steal one here if they win the turnover battle and/or making dramatic plays on specials.