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Daniel Jones, New York Giants (September 22, 2019)

Daniel Jones – © USA TODAY Sports

THE STORYLINE

The New York Giants are in a very strange position. A 10-loss team, the Giants face scenarios in the NFL’s final regular-season weekend where they could make the playoffs by winning the atrocious NFC East or secure a top 10 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

For the Giants to make the playoffs, they have to beat the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday afternoon and pray the Philadelphia Eagles beat the Washington Football team on Sunday night. Neither is impossible and there is a good chance the Giants can pull this off. If they do, the Giants will likely lose in the first round of the playoffs to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Los Angeles Rams. And Giants fans will be left with the opportunity to purchase the tragically comical “6-10 New York Giants 2020 NFC East Champions” t-shirt.

So should we REALLY be rooting for New York to win this game? Wouldn’t it be best for the long-term interests of this team to secure a much higher draft pick? There is merit to that argument. But there is also merit to the argument that if the Giants are ever to become a truly competitive team again, they need to re-develop a winning mindset and culture. Joe Judge also needs to know which of the players on his current roster will perform well in the crucible of playoff-type football. Over a decade ago, Tom Coughlin learned that players such as Eli Manning, Brandon Jacobs, Plaxico Burress, Michael Strahan, Antonio Pierce, and Corey Webster could be counted on in pressure-packed situations with an entire season on the line. In 2016, Ben McAdoo discovered Odell Beckham could not.

This game, and the potential playoff game, are hugely important tests for Daniel Jones, Wayne Gallman, Darius Slayton, Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram, the offensive and defensive line, the three rookie linebackers, and many of the players in the secondary. Do they elevate their game? Remain inconsistent? Fold under the pressure? Joe Judge will be watching.

THE INJURY REPORT

  • QB Daniel Jones (hamstring – probable)
  • FB Eli Penny (illness – out)
  • WR Golden Tate (calf – doubtful)
  • WR Sterling Shepard (ribs – probable)
  • TE Evan Engram (calf – probable)
  • LB Cam Brown (illness – questionable)
  • S Jabrill Peppers (ankle – probable)
  • CB Darnay Holmes (knee – probable)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE

The Dallas Cowboys are 26th in yards allowed and 30th in points allowed. The Giants are 31st in both yards gained and points scored. Something has to give. The Giants offense never hit any sort of stride in 2020. The most points the team scored in a single game was against Dallas on October 11th in a 37-34 loss (seven NYG points were from a defensive score). Since beating the Philadelphia Eagles 27-17 on November 15th right before the bye week, the Giants haven’t scored more than 20 points in a game. During the last five games after the bye, the team has embarrassingly only averaged 12.4 points. It’s a minor miracle the Giants won two of those five games.

I’ve pointed out ad nauseam how the personnel limitations on offense have hampered this team all year. It is what it is. The offensive line is a work in progress. It got dramatically better during a 4-game winning streak and got dramatically worse during the current 3-game losing streak. There is a direct correlation between how this offensive line plays and the overall competency of the offense, leading to more or less rushing yards and more or fewer negative plays in the passing game. Throw in the ill-timed injuries to Daniel Jones and the utter lack of fear-inducing targets to throw to and it’s pretty easy to see why the team has struggled to score points.

As always, rightfully or wrongly, the lightening rods/scapegoats are the coaches and quarterback. Many fans say if we just get rid of Jason Garrett (they are not prepared to go after Joe Judge – yet) and the quarterback, all will be right in the world. This is just a lazy and stupid reaction. It’s much more complicated than that. And New York fans should know better, especially since we literally just went through this three other coaching staffs and Eli Manning. The talent (or lack thereof) on the offensive line, at running back, at tight end, at wide receiver matters. Hell, the play of the defense has an impact the offense (turnovers, field position, keeping the score within reach, time of possession, number of drives, etc.).

Fans may forget, but Eli’s rookie season was largely a disaster. He actually finished one game against the Baltimore Ravens with a 0.0 quarterback rating, only completing four passes for 27 yards. Meanwhile, Ben Roethlisberger was tearing it up on the 15-1 Pittsburgh Steelers. Most Giants fans were absolutely convinced the Giants had drafted the wrong quarterback. Eli lost his first six starts. All was doom-and-gloom until he beat the 6-9 Dallas Cowboys in the season-finale, throwing three touchdowns and leading the team from behind in a dramatic last-second victory. Even with playoff appearances in 2005 and 2006, as late as December 2007, many if not most fans were convinced Eli would never take them to the promised land.

Minus the surrounding offensive and defensive talent that Eli Manning had, Daniel Jones had a far, far superior rookie season in 2019. Indeed, had it not been for the ridiculous number of fumbles, fans would have been raving about him all offseason. And he had two watershed games that year with dramatic come-from-behind wins against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Washington Redskins, throwing five touchdowns in the latter during a season where he threw 24 touchdowns in 12 starts.

Where am I going with this? Daniel Jones can do it. We’ve seen it. He can throw a lot of touchdown passes. He can run for touchdowns. He can lead his team from behind. I remain firmly convinced that if you surround him with legitimate NFL talent, he can perform. That all said, this game against the Dallas Cowboys is a huge, huge test for him. Yes, he is not completely healthy. Yes, his offensive line remains inconsistent. Yes, his pass targets suck. But this is a playoff game. Jones needs to elevate his play and carry his team as much as he can without doing something really stupid. In short, score points. Is he a winner?

One way or the other, this is likely to be the game that everyone remembers from Jones heading into the offseason.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE

The good news for the Giants’ defense is they are not facing the Cardinals, Browns, or Ravens this week. But Dallas isn’t chopped liver. They lost Dak Prescott for the season against the Giants in October, but Andy Dalton is a legit NFL starter with a 2-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio. Dallas is 12th in offense (7th in passing yards and 17th in rushing yards).

To be blunt, the New York defense hit its high point against the Seattle Seahawks on December 6th and has been playing like shit during the current 3-game losing streak. The 73 points given up in the last three games has not been indicative of the poor play. They haven’t been good against the run or the pass. This has to change on Sunday or the Giants have no chance. And Andy Dalton has already led the Cowboys to a come-from-behind victory against the Giants and Patrick Graham this year. That was a game the Giants should not have let slip away.

Despite the fact that he is having a down season, the focal point must remain Ezekiel Elliott, who has rushed for “just” 937 yards and five touchdowns this year. Much of that is a reflection of a diminished offensive line that simply is missing parts and not playing as well. Nevertheless, Elliott is still quite capable of wearing down a defense and taking over a game. The Ravens ran all of the Giants last week to the tune of 250 yards. The Cowboys are going to test them.

That all said, the absolute strength of the current Dallas offensive team are their passing game targets, headlined by wide receivers Amari Cooper (86 catches, 1,073 yards, 5 touchdowns), CeeDee Lamb (69 catches, 892 yards, 5 touchdowns), and Michael Gallup (55 catches, 794 yards, 5 touchdowns). Throw in tight end Dalton Schultz (56 catches, 545 yards, 4 touchdowns) and Elliott (49 catches, 319 yards, 2 touchdowns). If Daniel Jones had targets like these, he would be lighting it up. (As a team, the Giants only have 10 touchdown receptions this year).

The problem for Patrick Graham is this: he doesn’t have the cornerbacks to match up with Dallas. James Bradberry can cover one of these studs, but Isaac Yiadom will have to take another and rookie Darnay Holmes (still dealing with a knee issue) will have take yet another. The linebackers and safeties can’t help out too much without leaving Schultz or Elliott all alone. This is what I mean when I say the surrounding talent matters. These guys make Andy Dalton look good.

Graham can only do so much game-planning here. Dalton is a veteran. The Giants can’t focus too much on the run or the pass because Dallas is balanced. This game will come down to individual match-ups… who is better and who wants it more. To win, the Giants will most likely have to win the turn over battle.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS

The Cowboys always seem to have very good special teams. As noted, the Giants special teams played well most of this year but have faded down the stretch. They definitely have been a factor in the 3-game losing streak as well. The offense could use some help with a big return in the return game to set up quality field position.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH

Head Coach Joe Judge on whether the 2020 season can be considered a success for his team, regardless of the outcome of Sunday’s game: “Yeah, I think there are a lot of things in terms of what we set out to accomplish this year that no one game is going to go ahead and define the season. I’m proud of the culture and the foundation we’ve laid and the work ethic and urgency we’ve instilled in these players going forward. That being said, there are a lot of things we need to do better as an organization across the board going forward. We have to keep building this thing in the right direction. But I know there’s a vision going forward and there are a lot of people pointing in the right direction right now. So yeah, absolutely. But that being said, look, our job is to go out and win on Sunday. We’re doing everything we can right now to go out there and win a football game.”

THE FINAL WORD

The Giants went on a 4-game winning streak that included three wins against the terrible NFC East. They upset the Seahawks but showed their true colors against real play caliber teams (Arizona, Cleveland, Baltimore). The Cowboys are a bad team in a bad division. The Giants can win this game.

I love the Giants and hate the Cowboys. So you know my rooting interests. That said, there is a weird dynamic with this game in that it could mean the difference in sliding as possibly as many 15 spots in the draft order. What do I want more than anything? To be left with a really positive impression of Daniel Jones heading into the offseason.

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Eric Kennedy

Eric Kennedy is Editor-in-Chief of BigBlueInteractive.com, a publication of Big Blue Interactive, LLC. Follow @BigBlueInteract on Twitter.

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