Game Preview: New York Giants at Washington Football Team, November 8, 2020
These two teams played less than one month ago, supplying the New York Giants with their only win to-date in the 2020 NFL season. In recent years, Washington has become New York’s “feel good” opponent, a rare bright spot in otherwise dreary seasons. That said, only a highly-questionable coaching decision to go for a failed 2-point conversion on October 18th prevented the “Football Team” from keeping the Giants winless.
As I wrote about in last week’s preview, the Giants are still clutching defeat from the jaws of victory. Three times in the last four weeks, they have squandered 11-point leads against the Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. At times they have regained the lead only to see it evaporate again in a series of heart-breaking defeats. The Giants could easily be 4-4 right now. But they aren’t. And it is hard to argue against the notion that this is a team that expects to lose.
Publicly, many of the players say they are close to turning this around. But ultimately those are just empty words until they decide collectively to make plays in the clutch on offense, defense, and special teams to win football games. This is a bottom line business.
THE INJURY REPORT
- RB Devonta Freeman (ankle – out)
- WR Sterling Shepard (shoulder/toe)
- OG Will Hernandez (COVID – out)
- LB Blake Martinez (hamstring)
- LB Devante Downs (shoulder)
- CB Ryan Lewis (hamstring – placed on IR – out)
- S Logan Ryan (hip)
NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE
It’s pretty much a consensus that Daniel Jones’ two interceptions and missed opportunities in passing game cost the Giants the game last week. On the flip side, he continues to tease with sometimes incredible plays to keep drives alive both with his right arm and legs. The mounting media and fan frustration with Jones is palpable. Right or wrong, the quarterback is always the target of fan venom when football teams lose. The problem for Jones is twofold: (1) he is playing in an era where there is almost zero patience level for “developing” a quarterback. “Look at so-and-so on this other team, he’s playing great in his second year!” (2) the more the Giants lose, the more likely the team is going to have a good opportunity to draft another “franchise” quarterback. Everyone is already talking about it. Daniel Jones knows it. The pressure on him to perform for multiple reasons is now immense.
Unlike many, I still have not given up on Daniel Jones. Perhaps its a function of my age and the football era I grew up in, but I don’t think it is wise to form a definitive judgment on a quarterback in less than two seasons. Daniel Jones’ issues are not his character, work ethic, competitiveness, intelligence, athleticism, arm, or ability to make difference-making plays. As we all know, his main issue been turnovers. Jones also suffers from some deficiencies that are not abnormal for young quarterbacks such as bird-dogging primary receivers, waiting for receivers to come “open” before throwing the football, not reading what the defense is giving you, not throwing the football away instead of forcing the mistake. Can those things be fixed? Sure. Happens all of the time. Will they be fixed? Unknown. The NFL graveyard is filled with failed 1st-round quarterbacks who couldn’t do so.
I still get the feeling that if you put Daniel Jones on a team with a respectable offensive line, an average running attack, and some decent weapons to throw to, he can develop into a very good quarterback in this league. But given we’re living in 2020, time is running out for him. He has to stop making stupid mistakes. At this point, unless the situation calls for him to take more risks, he has to be more of a game manager. Throw the football away, take the sack (while holding onto the football with two hands), don’t make that super-risky throw on 2nd down.
Sterling Shepard is not an outstanding receiver. But he is solid, viable, professional target. Even though the injury-prone Shepard is battling a turf-toe injury that will likely nag him the rest of the season, his return has helped the offense. When you add talent the football field, it opens things up for everyone. His presence makes life a little easier for the other receivers, the running backs, and the quarterback. Breaking the 20-point barrier is a big deal for this team, and the Giants did it the last two weeks with Shepard on the field. That said, we will have to hope that Darius Slayton, Evan Engram, and Golden Tate can build upon last Monday’s performance. Those three tend to disappear. (Note: There is a chance Tate will be benched for this game due to disciplinary reasons).
The upside to Devonta Freeman’s injury is that it forced this coaching staff to give Wayne Gallman an extended look. It’s pretty obvious that the last two coaching staffs – for whatever reason – were not enamored with him. He has eight more games to change minds.
The performance of the offensive line against an outstanding opponent last Monday was encouraging. Most were ready to dump Nick Gates after only a few games, but the coaching staff seems to have made the right call with him. Expect growing pains but he is trending rapidly in the right direction. Andrew Thomas also settled down, but one game does not make a trend. He has to start stringing solid games together. Shane Lemieux’s NFL debut was predictably inconsistent, but encouraging. The coaches usually know best, but I’m anxious for the team to make the switch from Cam Fleming to Matt Peart. One thing to keep in mind when judging the OL this year is that they have played a series of outstanding defensive fronts almost all year.
As for Washington, as I covered in my game preview from less than a month ago, the strength of their team is their defense. Washington has improved since these teams last met, now ranking 4th overall in defense (1st against the pass and 17th against the run). They have a bunch of 1st-round talent and are very well coached on that side of the ball. They badly mauled the Dallas Cowboys (held to a field goal) before their bye week and have had two weeks to prepare for a struggling New York team.
The last time these two teams played, the Giants ran the ball more than they passed. They kept it conservative and it worked out (barely) for them. I expect more of the same. It can be boring, but often times boring is good.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE
I strongly felt the biggest question mark on this coaching staff was Patrick Graham. It’s still very early, but my worries seem to have been misplaced. To be honest with you, I have no idea how he has this defense ranked 13th in yards allowed and 15th in points allowed, given the personnel issues at edge rusher and in the secondary. Outside of 2016, the New York Giants defense has ranked near or at the bottom of the NFL in defense with more talent. Graham has these guys playing above their level of ability. It just shows you what solid coaching can do.
The one thing killing this defense right now, and you can tell it is eating Graham up inside, are the breakdowns at the end of each half. Yes, I keep harping on this, and I will continue to do so, because it is also a major factor in why the team is 1-7. Good defenses make the critical stop in the clutch with the game on the line. This has been an issue for the Giants for years, spanning multiple head coaches and defensive coordinators. Obviously it is related to the pass defense issues (lack of pass rush, issues in the secondary). But it’s happening each and every game. Stop the bleeding!
Like the Giants, Washington remains a miserable offensive football teams. Washington is ranked 30th, the Giants 31st. Both teams struggle run and pass. Keep James Bradberry on wideout Terry McLaurin, cover tight end Logan Thomas, and cover the backs out of the backfield as Washington loves to dump the ball off to them. Because of the final point, it may be better to get the more athletic, younger linebackers on the field in obvious passing situations.
The Giants are a bit banged up on defense with three linebackers on Injured Reserve (Lorenzo Carter, Oshane Ximines, Tae Crowder) and two limited in practice on a short week (Blake Martinez and Devante Downs). CB Ryan Logan is out so Isaac Yiadom is on the spot again. Logan Ryan is also dealing with a hip issue.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
The NYG return game is starting to pick up steam. The Giants have a history of big returns against Washington. This will be a close game and special teams could very well make the difference. Is this the week Jabrill Peppers finally breaks one?
FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH
Offensive Coordinator Jason Garrett on teaching Daniel Jones when to give up on a play: “I think that’s the nature of most quarterbacks. Quarterbacks who are worth their salt have a play-making instinct in them. They want the ball in their hands and they want to be the guy who’s guiding the offense but making an impact on what goes on on the field. I would say every quarterback I’ve been around who’s been a really good player has that same instinct. Over time, you learn through experience what plays you simply have to fold on, and you have to get the ball out of your hand and live for another day. Whether it’s punting on the drive or just simply going to second and 10, I think that’s an important thing to understand. The more situations you’re in, if you approach them the right way, you’ll learn from those experiences. Daniel continued to do that. Most guys I’ve been around have gone through that very similar process.”
THE FINAL WORD
I’m literally going to copy and past what I wrote when these two teams met less than a month ago:
Two bad football teams with two bottom tier offenses that lack talent. This will likely be a low scoring game with the team making fewer turnovers and more plays on special teams wins the game. It will be one of those ugly games where even winning won’t feel particularly good.