There was an odd feel to the days and moments leading up to the week 17 battle with the Dallas Cowboys. After all, it was the first time in years that Big Blue was playing a meaningful game in January. However, it was largely a result of how bad the NFC East was as a whole, more than the Giants earning the right. If NYG could win this 1 PM game against DAL, all they would need would be an 8:20 PM Eagles win over the Washington Football Team. If those two things happened, they would be hosting a playoff game in under a week. NYG would be the first double-digit loss team in the postseason in league history. DAL was playing for the same exact thing in this do-or-die match-up. As they always say, all bets are off when you’re in the tournament, though.
NYG has been horrid in the first half since the start of December. In their previous 4 games combined, they scored a total of 6 points and did not get into the end zone once in the first 2 quarters. They began this week 17 match-up against league’s 26th-ranked (and last-ranked run) defense. Questions were looming over their second-year quarterback. Offensive Coordinator Jason Garrett has already been rumored by the media to be gone after this season. The opening drive on this game meant something and they responded. It took just 6 plays to drive 78 yards, ending with a Sterling Shepard reverse that saw him carry it 23 yards into the end zone.
Backup quarterback Andy Dalton, who took over the job the last time these two teams met on October 11 when Dak Prescott suffered a severe leg/ankle injury, had a really rough first half. He threw an interception on the opening DAL drive to rookie Xavier McKinney but it was cancelled due to a holding penalty on fellow rookie defensive back Darnay Holmes. DAL did end up punting a few plays later, however.
NYG was playing a really physical brand early on. There was a lot of emotion and some extra contact post-whistle on most plays. They were trying hard to establish the run with Wayne Gallman (who gained 18 yards on 2 carries on the opening drive) in contrast to them ignoring him in their previous 3 games, all losses. On the third play of the NYG second drive, there was a fumble on the Jones-Gallman exchange, which DAL recovered. Thus, the Cowboys began their own second drive on the NYG 27-yard line. They did breach the red zone but the NYG defense held them to 3 points.
The two offenses then traded 6 scoreless possessions. Both quarterbacks were struggling to make the needed throws that would extend drives and the game became more and more physical. The Jones-to-Shepard connection continued to blossom with New York’s sixth drive ending with a 10-yard touchdown in which Shepard trucked over DAL rookie corner Trevon Diggs into the end zone. Graham Gano made the PAT after missing the first one following the opening drive to make it 13-6.
Dalton then started to click and the NYG defense started missing tackles left and right. Their drive was thwarted by a Dalvin Tomlinson sack, however. DAL settled on a field goal, this one from 46 yards. The NYG two-minute offense clicked on the next drive. This time, they needed just 4 plays to gain 75 yards, ending with a 33-yard touchdown to Dante Pettis. NYG had 20 points on the board for the first time since November 15. Those 20 points came in the first half. They scored 16 points in the first halves of the previous 5 games combined.
The NYG defense was not able to keep DAL from driving down the field again enough, however. They got past midfield with chunk gains in the passing game. Zuerlein then hit a 57-yard field goal to make it 20-9 going into the half.
After going 1-for-7 on 3rd down in the first half, DAL then went 3-and-out on the opening drive of the second half. The oh-so-important first drive of that second half for NYG then resulted in a turnover thanks to another drop by Evan Engram. The ball went right through his hands and into the arms of DAL safety Damien Wilson. DAL turned that into 7 points on a 1-yard touchdown by Ezekiel Elliott. All of the sudden, they were within 4 points with an offense that was starting to click.
The NYG offense continued to shoot themselves in the foot with an illegal crackback block by Shepard and another drop by Engram killing the drive. DAL had the ball back. Their 13-play drive ended with a 36-yard field goal to cut the lead down to 1 point as the 4th quarter began. The stalling NYG offense then went 3-and-out following a sack. Now DAL, who had at this point scored 13 unanswered points, had the ball back. Fortunately, the NYG defense forced a 3-and-out.
At this time, it is important for an offense to have an identity. They had stalled, the opponent was coming back and within 1, and the end of the game was near. In these moments, they need to have something or someone to lean on and that has been where this offense has been putrid in 2020. Nobody could be consistently relied on. However, Jones stepped up and it was interesting to see who he went after the most. On three of the next four plays, Jones threw to Shepard. All three connected and it gained a total of 43 yards. They were approaching field goal range, which was important because it would force DAL to have to pursue a touchdown rather than a field goal. Damien Wilson came up with another big play by sacking Jones for a 10-yard loss. On 3rd-and-16, Jones threw a pass slightly behind Pettis, who was forced to dive backward. He made the catch but the replay showed the ball bounced off of the ground before he demonstrated full control. DAL Head Coach Mike McCarthy did not challenge, Gano then hit a 50-yard field goal, and NYG had a 4-point lead with under 7 minutes left. A huge gaffe by the DAL Head Coach who had more than his fair share of big mistakes in 2020.
DAL kept their offense rolling, putting together a marathon 17-play drive. They did indeed reach field goal range but the 4-point lead now loomed large. What an awful mistake by McCarthy! DAL converted three 3rd downs and a 4th down on this drive. They made it all the way to the NYG 7-yard line. After a crucial sack by Leonard Williams, Dalton desperately heaved a pass into the end zone which was intercepted by McKinney. This time the interception stood. NYG just had to get a first down on offense and it would all be over.
Wayne Gallman, on 2nd-and-5, broke through the line and crossed the first down marker. Without a DAL defender within 5 yards of him any direction, all he had to do was fall onto the ground. Instead, he dropped the ball. An enormous pile of blue and white jerseys then trounced on top of one another. The refs initially signaled DAL football in one of the most 2020-moments of the year. It was almost unbelievable. After conferring with each other, the refs changed it to NYG possession because Gallman clearly had the ball at the bottom of the pile. After a lengthy booth review, NYG still had the ball and game number 16 ended in the victory formation.
NYG wins, 23-19.
-Daniel Jones: 17-25 / 229 yards / 2 TD – 1 INT / 106.9 RAT
Jones did seem a little hesitant with his legs, but he did run the ball 9 times for 17 yards, including a couple of designed runs. The interception was a complete gaffe by Engram. Jones played a solid game and threw a few really nice intermediate balls. He did show a lack of arm talent on two throws that NFL quarterbacks need to make. One was on a deep pass to Slayton where he had a few steps on corner Trevon Diggs. The other was on an out throw to Shepard on 3rd down from the opposite hash. His poor accuracy was bailed out on a few throws by his receivers. Overall, it was a solid game, he simply just missed on a few throws. By the way, the interception that was on Engram marked the first time Jones had thrown one in a current league-high 178 straight attempts. He was charged with the lost fumble on the exchange with Gallman, but I think it was more on the running back.
-Wayne Gallman: 11 att / 65 yards
Gallman had a bunch of quality inside runs. After all, they were up against the last-ranked rushing defense in the league and the NYG offensive line was getting a great push early. When you have a back averaging 6 yards per carry and a passing game that struggles across the board, I just don’t see why you steer away from that running game. Gallman should have gotten the ball more, once again.
-Alfred Morris added 12 yards on 5 carries and Dion Lewis had 1 carry for 7 yards. All three of these backs are unrestricted free agents this offseason. This could be a very different looking running back room with Barkley coming back in 2021.
-Sterling Shepard: 8 rec / 112 yards / 1 TD and 2 att / 24 yards / 1 TD
Shepard put out his best performance we have seen in a long time, possibly the best game of his career. It was a strong finish to the year for a guy who just hasn’t made a ton of big plays for this offense that has been starving for a pass catcher to step up. Shepard played a really physical game, trucking over DAL defenders and making an impact as a blocker. He was flagged for a crackback block, however. One thing I love about this kid, he rarely drops the ball. Really sure-handed receiver.
-Dante Pettis definitely earned the right to be a part of the wide receiver mix next year. He had 2 catches for 43 yards and a touchdown. Both grabs were high-skill (even if the second one did indeed hit the ground). They were both big plays and on a team that is absolutely starving for WR talent, he needs to be at least considered.
-Austin Mack had a catch for 9 yards and allowed a TFL while Darius Slayton added 2 catches for 22 yards. Slayton made a really nice grab on a poorly thrown pass and was also mistargeted by Jones on a deep route. It wasn’t a great year for Slayton but there is no denying the upside if the offense around him improves.
-Evan Engram dropped two more passes. Both went right through his hands and one of them resulted in an interception that DAL turned into a touchdown. The debate really doesn’t exist anymore. Engram is super-talented and blessed with rare movement tools for the position, but he can’t be a focal point here. NYG has him here for one more year on a fair price, but I think his days here should be over. More on that below.
-Kaden Smith and Levine Toilolo each had a catch on their lone respective targets. Smith allowed a sack but also threw a key block on the Shepard rushing touchdown.
-The top two grades went to the top 2 offensive linemen on the year, Nick Gates and Andrew Thomas. They were both flawless in pass protection and both got tremendous push in the running game. Thomas had a roller coaster season but his second half was better than his first half. He has some positive momentum going into his first offseason. Gates started off poorly but evolved into the top OL on this team. He really did play at a top-10 level in the league at the center position. The physical brand of football is coming back and I think this kid is at the forefront.
-Kevin Zeitler allowed a sack, TFL, and a pressure. He did throw some weight around in the running game but he and Cameron Fleming, who also allowed a pressure, may be the focal point of this offense that needs to be fixed first. That right side has been poor all year and even though Matt Peart did show some signs of potential, NYG can’t go into 2021 with these holes. If it means big money to someone, so be it. If it means another high draft pick, so be it. They need to get dominant up front or else this offense will continue to stink.
-Shane Lemieux played every snap at left guard and allowed 1 pressure. He, too, was solid in the running game. I think he showed enough to deserve a starting spot in 2021 or at the very least be in competition for a starting spot. He simply needs strength and power development. There was a lot he did right this year and NYG should be pleased with him considering where they got him in the draft.
-Kyler Fackrell was back after missing 4 games with a calf injury. It was interesting to see NYG try and fill his hybrid ILB/OLB “BUCK” role in this scheme. Nobody realty could. It is a really unique position. He had 3 tackles and a sack. Fackrell is a free agent this year and I think NYG should prioritize bringing him back. He isn’t special, but he is unique.
-Jabaal Sheard had 1 tackle and a 1 pressure. He was a solid player for a one-year rental, but I doubt he is in the picture next year.
-The career-year by Leonard Williams ended with a bang. He finished with 7 tackles, 3 sacks, a pass break-up, and 2 pressures. No need to bring up whether or not the trade was worth it anymore, as previously stated. The question is now is what should NYG offer him to stick around for the long term? The 26-year old is one of the more unique defensive linemen in the game and you could make the argument he is the most versatile defensive lineman in the game. He is not as good as J.J. Watt, but they are the two guys who can credibly play both the inside and outside gaps in whatever scheme a coach draws up. For a defense that truly wants to change their face weekly, that is invaluable. But hey, everyone has a limit.
-Dalvin Tomlinson had 2 tackles and a sack while Dexter Lawrence added 2 tackles, 1 TFL, and 1 pressure. Even though NYG still has a ways to go, these three guys up front along with quality backups B.J. Hill and Austin Johnson were a consistent bright spot all year. This group made this defense more consistent than it has been in a very long time. They made this defense have a standout trait and even though there are other pieces needed, I do hope they find a way to keep these guys together another few years. That could be something special.
-Tae Crowder and Blake Martinez both had 11 tackles. Crowder added 2 TFL and Martinez added a sack. This was fun to watch. We have gotten used to how reliable Martinez has been, notably against the run between the tackles. We also saw flashes of Crowder and his play-making ability that stems from plus twitch and speed. They were both on their game in this one and matched with a very solid defensive line, they could be major forces combined as a pair in 2021. Crowder did miss 2 tackles and that is a red flag we have seen a few times.
-David Mayo had 4 tackles, 2 of which were on special teams, and Devante Downs added 1 tackle. These are two guys I wouldn’t mind seeing replaced in 2021. They just don’t seem to have enough speed to be relied on. It has shown up several times this year, as it did in this match-up.
-Pro Bowler James Bradberry had 4 tackles and a pass break up. He dropped an interception that he should have brought in. Opposing defenses really didn’t throw at him that much this season. NYG got a good one. Now they need to find another.
-Logan Ryan played more corner in this one than the previous few weeks. He nearly had an interception as well while adding 3 tackles. He had another missed tackle. He led the team in that department this season.
-Darnay Holmes was back after missing time with an injury. He was on the field for under a third of the snaps. On multiple occasions, he has shown the knack for being flagged at very inopportune times. This game was no different. He was flagged for a hold on Xavier McKinney’s interception in the first half. He was beat on a couple 3rd-down conversions as well.
-Speaking of McKinney, we saw a real glimpse of just how good this kid can be down the road. He was all over the field and this scheme has him wearing a lot of hats. He finished with 8 tackles, 1 TFL, and an interception. He also has a second interception that was cancelled by a penalty on Darnay Holmes. McKinney quickly sniffed out a screen pass on two occasions and also sniffed out a reverse that led to a no gain. He really seemed to get more and more comfortable these past 3 weeks. I think NYG should be excited about what he brings to the table. They have been starving for talent at safety for a long time and they now have 2-3 guys who can really get it done.
-Jabrill Peppers was roasted by the DAL passing game in this one. They attacked him over and over and he just always seemed to be a step slow. He did a nice job of making tackles in space and minimizing damage, but he did miss a tackle and was flagged for a holding penalty.
-K Graham Gano: 1/1 (Made 50). Gano hit his 29 consecutive field goal, a franchise record. He missed an extra point.
-P Riley Dixon 5 Punts / 45.2 avg / 37.6 net
-WR Sterling Shepard, DT Leonard Williams, S Xavier McKInney
-OG Kevin Zeitler, TE Evan Engram, S Jabrill Peppers
3 THOUGHTS ON DAL
6-10 in a season where they lost their starting quarterback in Week 5. DAL had games started by quarterbacks Ben DiNucci and Garrett Gilbert. They lost both of their starting defensive tackles. They lost both starting offensive tackles and had health issues at center and one of the guard spots. I actually give this team credit for finishing where they did.
What does DAL need the most? Their defense is atrocious on multiple levels. They lack discipline, they lack consistency, and they couldn’t stop the run all year. DAL is going to need to invest money and early picks on their defense, the DTs and safeties in particular. This is where the issues arise when you opt to put so much money into the Prescott/Elliott/Cooper trio and then spend a 1st rounder on a WR. I’ve been vocal about DAL not spreading their funds and picks out well enough and now they are in a very tricky spot with a QB who is going to fight an uphill battle to return from a serious injury. This offseason is going to be huge for them, huge.
DAL got by with a dominant offensive line for a few years. It was one of a few examples in the league that showed just how good a team can be overall when the OL is dominant. However, left tackler Tyron Smith hasn’t played a full year since 2015 and missed 14 games this season. Right Tackle La’el Collins missed the entire year and there are some whispers from people I trust that some in the organization want him at guard. Yes, DAL missing Prescott was the catalyst in their offense going backwards but that OL taking a few steps back was a close second.
3 CLOSING THOUGHTS
NYG finishes 6-10. It was the most wins they’ve had since 2016. While nobody is actually giving them credit for playing “meaningful games in December,” it was refreshing to walk away from week 17 thinking the arrow was finally pointing up. This was the first time since 2016 that NYG finished with a defense ranked top-half in the NFL and just the 3rd time since 2010. They finished even in the turnover battle a year after they tied for a league-worst -17. They were flagged the 6th-least amount of times just 2 years after getting flagged the 9th-most. They are clearly playing with more grit, hustle, and intelligence. Their coaching decisions are showing more innovation and creativity. There are still things to be done here, but this is the first time in a long time where I feel this team is on the right track.
The most polarizing personnel decision this offseason, in my opinion, is not at quarterback or wide receiver or outside linebacker or defensive tackle. It revolves around Evan Engram. He is locked into another year before his free agency hits in 2022. I’ll go on record now; I think they need to try and trade him if they can get a day 2 pick from someone. I do think he can thrive in a certain role in a certain offense and there is no denying his talent. However, this passing game just doesn’t have the margin of error to deal with his drop issues. We may be singing a different tune about this season if he didn’t drop the ball so much. I think NYG needs to get the “old school” tight end whether it be in the draft or in free agency. This offense will be built on the running game and short/intermediate passes. Engram doesn’t fit and his drops just kill the flow and upside. He isn’t worth the risk.
Where does NYG go this offseason? I will put together a more detailed approach in the coming weeks. But to be short and to the point, they need players on offense who scare the defense. With Barkley out, nobody scares the defense. Look at the top offenses, they all have multiple guys who scare you. You can use the #11 pick on getting the #1- or #2-graded receiver or you can go after one of the top free agents at the position. I lean toward the former. I also think the building of this offensive line isn’t close to being over. They need a new right side and they need to build more depth at tackle. They likely need another starter at outside corner or at least a guy who can rotate in. Lastly, they need a pure pass rusher on the edge who can help them break through the line while rushing just 4 guys while keeping 7 in coverage. Considering they need to figure out allocation of funds to Leonard Williams and Dalvin Tomlinson, all of this is a really tall order. If I had to, right now in this moment, rank where I think they need to apply resources, I am saying: OL, WR, EDGE, TE, CB. Those are the top 5 needs.
Thanks for discussing NYG football with me this year, everybody. Just think… about 5 months ago, we didn’t know if football would happen. And within the past 5 months, we had several chirping about the idea that the league should be put on hold. Football is more important to the well being of this country than most want to admit. We were fortunate that the league pulled off a full 256-game schedule. God Bless everyone. I will be around here and there, but during the next 3-4 months, I will be hunkered down writing my reports for the draft. Position previews will be out in April.