Week 12 brought the Giants to Cincinnati, home of the worst team of the 2019 NFL season. That placed the Bengals at the top of the 2020 NFL Draft, where they took quarterback Joe Burrow following his record setting, National Championship senior season at LSU. Even though the franchise still has a ways to go, things were looking up, as Burrow was proving to be worthy of that top pick with his solid play throughout the course of this season. However, a knee injury sustained last week knocked him out for the remainder of the year and probably into the 2021 season quite a bit as well. Thus, NYG who came in on a 2-game winning streak, were up against 2016 6th-round pick Brandon Allen, a career backup. This was an ideal ending to their, by far, easiest stretch of schedule. Dating back to October 11, this was NYG’s 6th opponent (out of 7) with a losing record. Considering their next 4 opponents entered this week with a combined 28-15 record, one could easily make the argument this was an absolute must-win.
NYG’s opening drive continued a trend we discussed two weeks ago prior to their bye. For the 6th-straight game, NYG scored a touchdown in the first quarter. This one was a 1-yard run by Wayne Gallman, who has now scored a touchdown in 5 straight games, tying a franchise record. The lead did not last long, however. CIN kick returner Brandon Wilson took the ensuing kickoff to the house for a 103-yard touchdown to tie it up.
Both offenses appeared to stall over the next few drives. CIN, ranked third worst in the league on third down, was severely limited by poor quarterback play while the NYG offensive line was flagged three times on their next two drives. On the next possession, tight end Evan Engram fumbled inside the red zone. CIN took advantage and drove the ball into NYG territory and ended up taking a 3-point lead via a 44-yard field goal. NYG was out-gaining CIN by a wide margin but they found themselves losing to the 2-7-1 Bengals and their backup quarterback. Flashbacks of their week 3 loss came up where they lost to Niners backup quarterback Nick Mullens by 27 points. The Giants quickly got the ball into CIN territory as the first half was coming to an end. They settled on a 49-yard field goal attempt for Graham Gano, which he nailed. That made his streak 21 straight successful attempts, the second most in franchise history. CIN knelt when they got the ball back to send the game into halftime.
After stopping CIN with a three-and-out on the first drive of the second half thanks to a drop by running back Gio Bernard, the NYG offense came back onto the field. A 44-yard completion to Engram, his second of 40+ yards on the day, put NYG deep into CIN territory again. On the next play, Jones scrambled up the middle and got up awkwardly. Two plays later, it was very evident he strained his hamstring to the point where he had to come off the field. Backup Colt McCoy, a former collegiate opponent to current Bengals Head Coach Zac Taylor, marched onto the field to take over the offense but things went in reverse. Three plays netted -5 yards and NYG had to settle on another field goal, this one from 40 yards, to make the score 13-10.
The NYG defense forced a three-and-out and then Jones came back on with the offense to give it another shot. He lasted two plays and one pass before taking himself out. This was going to be up to McCoy and the Giants defense. The Giants punted back to CIN and they forced them into another punt themselves after three plays. This time, however, CIN faked the punt and converted the first down. The next play netted 13 yards and CIN was starting to gain some momentum. Allen then threw a pass that was deflected by rookie corner Darnay Holmes and fell into the hands of edge rusher Niko Lalos, who was just called up from the practice squad. NYG’s defense was once again stepping up.
The NYG offense began the fourth quarter with the ball in CIN territory and even though they were playing with a lesser deck of cards, they gained enough yards to put Gano in position for another field goal. He nailed it from 39 yards to make the score 16-10. The next CIN drive resulted in a three-and-out and the one following that resulted in a fumble forced by Logan Ryan in which he recovered himself. For those keeping track, the NYG defense in the second half up until this point forced 3 three-and-outs, allowed 2 first downs, and forced 2 turnovers. NYG, then starting from inside the red zone, put up another 3 points via a 32-yard field goal by Gano to make it a 2-score game. CIN had just 3:54 left and were approaching one of their worst offensive performances in their franchise’s history.
With the help of 32 yards worth of penalties, including a 3rd-down pass interference by Holmes in the end zone, Allen found rookie Tee Higgins in the end zone for a 1-yard score. All of the sudden NYG’s lead was just a mere 2 points and McCoy was still playing quarterback. With 2:33 left, NYG was in a good position however, as CIN had just one timeout left. With that said, NYG was not able to get a first down to seal it and had to punt the ball back.
CIN punt returner Alex Erickson, one of the best in the league, was able to finagle his way 29 yards to midfield. CIN kicker Randy Bullock needed just 10 yards to give CIN a credible shot at winning this game and CIN still had about a minute left. The thought of a loss was approaching hard and fast. However, on the first play, Allen held on the ball too long and was sacked by Jabaal Sheard, which jarred the ball loose and it was recovered by Leonard Williams. Game over.
NYG wins 19-17.
Daniel Jones: 16-27 / 213 yards / 0 TD-0 INT / 84.3 RAT
Jones added 19 yards on 6 carries. This was an incomplete game from him, as he made it through just over half of the third quarter before succumbing to the hamstring injury. When it comes to his performance, Jones looked really solid once again. He connected on two deep balls and threw a near-perfect pass on a third attempt that just slipped through the fingers of Darius Slayton. He had a lot of time and room in the pocket and his game clearly benefited from it. And once again, he did not turn the ball over. It is simply a huge difference maker and it has been the key catalyst to this stretch of NYG winning games. As for the injury, I can’t say I know what is coming because I am far from an expert in the field. But based on how he strained it and based on how high up he was grabbing, I think this isn’t going away quickly. This will impact his play for multiple weeks and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him miss a game or two.
Wayne Gallman: 24 att / 94 yards / 1 TD and 3 rec – (-3) yards
Gallman was really effective from the start and once again, he played better than the numbers you see. His yards after contact and aggression when running up the middle is stemming from quality blocking, but also his vision and assertiveness. He runs so much bigger than his size, getting through the traffic and bursting through arm tackles. Gallman is so close to breaking a long one; it is coming. His 5-game streak of scoring a touchdown tied a franchise record.
-Dion Lewis didn’t see the ball a lot (2 carries and 1 catch) but he played a quiet but important role. He was on the field for several obvious passing situations where he picked up the CIN blitz and created both space and time for both quarterbacks on key third down conversions. It was an overlooked but vital component to NYG’s third down success. They were 9 for 21 on third downs, a solid number that played a big role.
-Sterling Shepard led the team with 7 catches and was second with 64 yards. His route running and toughness in traffic were both featured in this game. There are guys who get open because of how fast and explosive they are, and then there are receivers like Shepard. He can be such a 3rd-down weapon simply because of how well he can trick defensive backs. He made an amazing play on a comeback route where he fell out of his break as the pass was already in the air, got up with the ball nearly on him, and came away with the first down grab. If McCoy is going to be the guy moving forward for a few weeks, expect Shepard to be a key part to the passing game more so than what we have seen.
-Golden Tate was targeted a season-high 9 times. He came away with 4 catches for 36 yards. He did show some toughness in traffic and came up with a couple of key third down conversions but his biggest issue remains a lack of separation. At this point, he is simply a tough guy who needs to find vacant windows against zone coverage and can make a few things happen after the catch. I do expect to see him play a somewhat bigger role if McCoy is the guy moving forward because he can break through arm tackles and gain yards after the catch. However, he just doesn’t separate well at all.
-Darius Slayton saw just 2 targets, neither of which were caught. He dropped a deep ball that would have resulted in a touchdown and even though it was a tough catch, it went through his hands. He played 69% of the snaps and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear they were nursing his ankle injury a bit.
-Evan Engram continued his flashes that create hope just to have them brought back down after a huge mishap. On the first drive of the game and the first drive of the second half, he caught passes downfield that properly displayed both his size and speed. Those 2 catches combined for 97 yards. He finished with 129 catches on 4 yards, but he fumbled in the second quarter and it led to a CIN field goal that put them up by 3. Engram can be such a difference maker. There are not even a handful of tight ends who can make the plays he did in this game but the turnovers and drops are enough to kill his chances long term.
-Andrew Thomas did not allow any pressures, sacks, or TFL according to my record keeping. He also was not penalized. This was the first time we can walk away from a game this season saying that. Thomas was primarily matched up against Carl Lawson, an undersized but powerful and quick end who won’t be mistaken for a premiere pass rusher, but he is a solid player. Thomas contained him very well from start to finish.
-The interior had a back and forth day. Shane Lemieux started at left guard and Will Hernandez rotated in. I think the line works better with Lemieux in there, to be honest. He isn’t as stout but athletically he makes a difference and NYG has had a lot of running success via pulling their guards to trap block. Lemieux is hands down more efficient and productive in that role. Kevin Zeitler was flagged for a false start and allowed 1 pressure and 1 TFL. Nick Gates had another above average grade, he leads the group in that department.
-Cameron Fleming is still starting because Matt Peart tested positive for Covid-19. That is my opinion, anyway. He was downright awful in this one. He allowed 2 pressures and he was flagged 3 times. One of his holds was declined by CIN but the next one came on a successful 3rd-and-4 conversion late in the game. Fleming also did a poor job sealing the outside on inside runs. Really poor game by him.
-It was an interesting day from this group. Kyler Fackrell and Jabaal Sheard each saw about 50% of the snaps. Sheard had 2 TFL and a sack-fumble that ended the game. Fackrell had 2 tackles and a pressure. He did a really nice job of setting the edge with physical punches and lockouts in the running game.
-There were three youngsters who saw snaps. Cam Brown looked like the best of the bunch, as his skill set is starting to catch up with his tools and engine. Brown can be a dangerous player if he puts things together. He had a pressure and made a key special teams stop on the final punt return that could have easily resulted in a touchdown had he not made the play. Carter Coughlin got in for about 15% of the snaps and he had a pressure that led to a CIN holding penalty. Lastly, Niko Lalos, who was brought up from the practice squad the day before the game, came up with a key defensive play. He intercepted a pass deflection by Darnay Holmes. The coaches say they love his ability to get near the action and that is exactly what happens when you have guys fly to the ball. He only saw 8 snaps on defense; he didn’t show much on his pass rush.
-Leonard Williams recorded his 6th sack of the year while adding 2 tackles and 2 pressures. Williams’ biggest play came at the end of the game where he recovered the fumble forced by Jabaal Sheard. However, he was flagged for a roughing-the-passer penalty for the second straight game on the CIN touchdown-scoring drive. Williams was all over the field and if you really put an eyeball on him, you will notice how much he has been changing the game week to week. Whether or not to resign him will be a credibly debatable topic where strong arguments can be made on both sides. That said, I like the idea of paying a guy long term who isn’t overly reliant on explosive movement. Williams makes a huge difference with his hand power, hustle, and versatility. Those traits stick around longer.
-Dexter Lawrence seemed to have some extra pop in him. He finished with just 1 tackle and 1 pressure, but as always, his impact was strong. His back-side pursuit and ability to react are fun to watch. Dalvin Tomlinson added 1 tackle and 1 pressure. B.J. Hill and Anthony Johnson each had a pressure but didn’t do much else in their respective backup roles.
-Blake Martinez had 5 tackles, which is a quiet game for him. But CIN only ran 10 designed running plays. He, nor David Mayo, really had a lot of opportunities to make an impact. Tae Crowder was back on the field and finished with 3 tackles. His speed and pop will be important in the coming 2 weeks as NYG will be facing off against really fast offensive skill groups.
-The two outside starters, James Bradberry and Isaac Yiadom, did a nice job shutting down the outside passing game of CIN. Bradberry had a tackle and a pass break up, which was on third down. Yiadom’s play is the one that seems to be progressing. While he did allow the late touchdown to Tee Higgins, he did a nice job in deep coverage throughout he afternoon. Having so many physical and aggressive defensive backs, notably on the outside, is a huge deal and a nice sign moving forward.
-Rookie nickel Darnay Holmes had an active day. He finished with 3 tackles, 1 pressure, and a pass break up. His pass break up led to an interception and he made a couple of really physical plays against the run. His issue remains too much contact down the field in coverage, though. Holmes got flagged for a pass interference on a 3rd-down stop that brought the ball to the 1-yard line. Had NYG lost, that would have been the play we were punching the wall over. Holmes is flashing on a weekly basis; I notice him and his play speed every week. He just needs to clean it up when it comes to technique and ball location.
-Jabrill Peppers is really in a groove. His stat line continues to record numbers all over the place. He led the team with 6 tackles and he added a TFL, a pressure, and 2 pass break-ups. He brought a lot of energy to the defense and he is making plays each week. This is evolving into a top notch acquisition by Dave Gettleman, something that even his biggest critics have to respect. More on that below.
-Logan Ryan is also on a hot streak. His play is more back-and-forth because of how much he likes to risk and bait quarterbacks but when it pans out, it really helps the defense. He finished with 5 tackles, 2 pass break ups, and a forced fumble that he also recovered in the fourth quarter. This defense really needed to step up when Jones went down and Ryan was the one who stepped up the most.
-Julian Love played 69% of the snaps, making 2 tackles and preventing a couple of perceived deep passes early on. He looks really swift and easy on the back end. He fits in the safety group well considering what the team is having Peppers and Ryan do collectively. I question if this staff will feel confident in Xavier McKinney playing that role. McKinney was back for the first time but he only played special teams. This will be interesting to watch in the coming weeks.
-K Graham Gano: 4/4 (Made 49, 40, 39, 32)
-P Riley Dixon: 5 punts / 46.6 avg / 37.8 net
-S Jabrill Peppers, DB Logan Ryan, K Graham Gano
-OT Cameron Fleming, WR Darius Slayton, CB Darnay Holmes
3 THOUGHTS ON CIN
- CIN is a much better team than what we saw a year ago. They have some pieces in the secondary, they have a solid defensive line rotation (when Reader/Atkins are healthy), and they have the franchise QB. What is missing? That offensive line really needs a facelift. Center Trey Hopkins is the only solid player right now and the jury is still out on left tackle Jonah Williams. They don’t sustain their pass blocks long enough and that division will eat that up with ease if they don’t fix it.
- A.J. Green looks like he is done. No, not just a step or two slower. He looks checked out. Watching the All-22 angle led me to this notion. He doesn’t finish routes, he doesn’t attack the ball, and he looks hesitant. I think he is done in CIN after this season, as CIN already has two up-and-coming pass catchers in Boyd/Higgins. Green is a waste of money and no, he isn’t worth taking a chance on if he does hit the market from the NYG perspective.
- Defensive end Sam Hubbard is a name I would keep a close eye on in the coming year. His rookie contract runs out after 2021. If you take a look at his stats, you won’t be impressed. He has 1 sack so far in 2020 but I really think this guy’s value goes far beyond the stat sheet. He can impact every down from multiple roles, he is incredibly smart and instinctive, and he is hyper. When it comes to what NYG wants on the edge, Hubbard is the kind of profile they are going to look at whether it is free agency or the draft.
3 CLOSING THOUGHTS
- Alright, the cake walk is over. NYG has back-to-back-to-back-to-back quality opponents on the way. NYG has yet to play consecutive games against winning teams. Their next 4 all have winning records. NYG’s past 7 opponents combine for a current 26-47-2 (.347 winning %). Their next four opponents combine for a current record of 28-15 (.651 winning %). NYG’s wins were against teams that rank 23rd, 24th, 25th, and 26th in points scored. Their next four opponents rank 1st, 8th, 18th, and 12th in points scored. I think NYG can go to bed at night knowing they are no longer basement dwellers in the NFL but now the question needs to be answered, are they approaching playoff caliber or are they still trying to rise to the middle tier?
- What players are most responsible for NYG’s turnaround? James Bradberry, Blake Martinez, Jabrill Peppers, Leonard Williams, Logan Ryan. Sure, there are other players who have stepped up and the offensive line has been night-and-day different from what we saw earlier in the year. But just look at those names listed above and try to make an argument against them. You can’t. All were veterans acquired by Dave Gettleman via trades and signings. Gettleman has not been perfect (no GM ever has or ever will be) but his plan is starting to come into focus more and more. His background has always been in Pro Personnel and NYG is really seeing the fruits of that. And guess what…NYG is going to have money to spend over the next couple of years while their best offensive players are on cheap deals. Is there anyone in the league right now that you would rather be spending that money on impact free agents?
- If Daniel Jones is down and out for a week or two, that is going to be a major blow to the playoff chances. If I had to guess, we aren’t going to see him against SEA. I do have some professional knowledge in the field and that kind of high-hamstring strain is very slow healing. Maybe youth will be on his side, but Jones needs his legs to be effective and the chance of re-aggravation is high with those. This goes to show how volatile it is to constantly run your QB on designed plays. By no means am I looking down on that, but it is the truth. Running Jones as much as they do widens the odds of him getting hurt. NYG must now trot out Colt McCoy while in 1st place against the toughest grouping of games on the schedule. And with that…NYG needs to TAKE OUT designed quarterback runs for McCoy. Seeing him run around on designed runs and take hits without another QB on the roster blew my mind.