Week 1 of the 2021 season began with a matchup against the Denver Broncos. Year-2 Head Coach Joe Judge took on year-3 Head Coach Vic Fangio, a defensive mastermind who hired a familiar face to run the team’s offense in 2020. Former Giants Head Coach, Pat Shurmur was back in town to call plays for the Denver offense that saw a change at quarterback this offseason. Teddy Bridgewater, owner of 35 career wins and a 66+% completion percentage, started a game under center for the fourth team in just his seven seasons. He was never a failed project at any point in his career. The former first rounder suffered a career-threatening injury prior to the 2016 season and threw just 25 passes over the next two seasons combined. After 15 starts for Carolina a year ago in which he completed just under 70% of his passes (5th in the NFL) and finished with 92.1 rating, he was now starting over Drew Lock for the defense-centered Broncos.
Much of the attention revolving around Denver heading into this game was the defense. It was a great litmus test for an offense that has a year-3 quarterback, new offensive weapons in Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney, and of course the star running back Saquon Barkley on the field after missing nearly all of 2020 with a knee injury. A 42-yard gain on a pass from Daniel Jones to Darius Slayton put NYG across midfield, but the next two plays netted -8 yards. The opening Bridgewater-led drive ended with an incomplete deep pass to Courtland Sutton covered by one of the newest cornerbacks in the very expensive secondary, Adoree’ Jackson. The next NYG drive went 3-and-out, being capped off by a sack allowed by Nate Solder. It was Solder’s first sack allowed since the 2019 season. He did not play in 2020.
DEN took used ball control, a theme of the day, on the next drive. 15 plays, 62 yards, and 8:42 of game clock led to a 23-yard field goal by kicker Brandon McManus. McManus was traded by the Giants to DEN in 2014. The early 3-point lead wouldn’t last long. NYG converted two straight 3rd downs, one at the hand of a Ronald Darby pass interference and one on an 8-yard pass to Sterling Shepard. Offensive Coordinator Jason Garrett called a 1st down pass for the third straight time and this one put points on the board. Sterling Shepard took a pass on a crossing route, broke a Patrick Surtain II tackle, and rumbled his way into the end zone. NYG was up 7-3.
DEN marched right down the field again with the help of a bonehead personal foul penalty on second-year corner Darnay Holmes. Logan Ryan then made one of the top plays of day, as he stripped the ball away from tight end Albert Okwuegbunam after a catch-and-run inside the NYG 4-yard line. Even though it was early in the game, it was game-changing at that moment. A defense that couldn’t stop the opposing offense needed a play like this, and Ryan produced it. The negative, however, was the NYG offense going 3-and-out without even looking halfway competitive from the poor starting field position.
As the 2-minute warning approached, Bridgewater found Sutton on a 14-yard gain on 4th-and-2 to cross midfield. Three plays and 35 yards later, he found wide receiver Tim Patrick for a short touchdown on misdirection. There were just 13 seconds remaining afterward, meaning DEN practically got the ball right back after scoring a touchdown (because NYG started the game on offense) and dominating the time of possession 18:59 to 11:01.
The NYG defense needs to be the backbone of this team. They’re supposed to be the side of the ball that steps up when things look bleak. They did come up with a big turnover in the first half, but they were allowing too many conversions and chunk plays. Starting off the second half with a stop was crucial, as DEN already had a 3-point lead. It did not pan out very well. DEN went on a marathon 16-play, 75-yard, 8:12 drive that included FOUR straight 3rd-down conversions. It was a drive that saw DEN receiver K.J. Hamler drop an easy touchdown and another receiver, Jerry Jeudy, go down with a serious ankle injury. Neither ended up being capitalized on, as DEN put another touchdown on the board on a 4th-and-1 pass to Okwuegbunam, where he broke a Blake Martinez tackle attempt and reached for the pylon. It was 17-7 well into the 3rd quarter and NYG had run just 20 offensive plays all game up until this point. It was time for them to step up.
They were well on their way. NYG converted three straight 3rd downs, the Jones-Shepard connection was getting stronger and stronger, and Barkley (with the help of the OL) pushed a pile past the first down markers. The crowd was getting into it and NYG was heading into the red zone. On a 1st-and-10 scramble, Jones fumbled and lost the ball. DEN had it back and just like that, “Same Old Giants” came back into everyone’s mind. DEN turned that possession into 3 points after, you guessed it, another successful 3rd down conversion.
NYG was down by 13 as the fourth quarter was under way. Their 14-play drive brought the clock all the way down to the 6:30 mark. They had a fresh set of downs inside the DEN 10-yard line. This had a “very last chance” feel to it. Those four plays gained a total of 1 yard. Three incomplete passes and a 1-yard run. The final two passes had no shot and screamed a lack of innovation and creativity. DEN got the ball back, and on the fourth play of the drive, Melvin Gordon took a rushing attempt 70 yards for a touchdown. DEN was up 27-7 and the NYG faithful headed for the exits with 4 minutes left in the game, a weekly tradition when NYG plays at home unless fans of course sold their tickets to the Dallas faithful when the Cowboys are in town.
The final two drives put some lipstick on the pig of a performance NYG put out. We saw a few nice grabs by Kenny Golladay and eventual garbage-touchdown by Jones as the clock ran out to make the final score look even better than what we all watched for 3 hours.
NYG loses, 27-13.
-Daniel Jones: 22/37 – 267 yards / 1 TD – 0 INT / 90.7 RAT / 6 att – 27 yards / 1 TD
Looking at the stat line, it would be natural to assume Jones played a decent game. I went in the other direction. He was way worse than the stat line, and considering the fumble at such an inopportune time, it was a well-below average game from Jones. This is THE year for the third-year quarterback from Duke and it was a poor way to start it off. He was inaccurate on several throws, he had two interceptions dropped, and the fumble was inexcusable. That was arguably the top turning point of the game, and you just can’t have that from the leader of the offense. Jones continues to be slow to react, he continues to struggle when his primary read isn’t there, and he isn’t putting a defense on its heels. 1 down, 16 to go for Jones who is in a season-long job interview for his future.
-Saquon Barkley: 10 att / 26 yards – 1 rec / 1 yard.
Understandably so, Barkley looked very rusty. He was losing his balance and footwork, he dropped a pass, and he failed to see running lanes on two occasions. It is important he got in and out of the game while avoiding any physical issues. That is a big mental part of coming back from a serious injury for a player who is fully dependent on cuts and bursts. I expect to see him on a similar pitch count Thursday night.
-Hats off to Devontae Booker. He didn’t impact the game in an obvious, playmaking manner. He rushed for 7 yards on 4 carries and caught a pass for 6 yards. However, he was a factor in the passing game as a blocker. He made 3 big-time blocks, 2 of which that put DEN defenders on the ground.
-Sterling Shepard: 7 rec – 113 yards / 1 TD.
One of the best games we have seen out of Shepard’s career. He was a menace for the DEN secondary on 3rd down and after the catch. The majority of his yards came with the ball in his hands. I noticed throughout preseason that he looks more physically developed this year. He is going to break a ton of tackles with how aggressive and quick he moves, in combination with his strength.
-Kenny Golladay made a catch early on in the 1st quarter but was very quiet until the game was pretty much over. He made a couple of really nice grabs with a defender all over him. He looked like a guy who will improve the odds of those 50/50 balls substantially. He finished with 64 yards on 4 catches in his NYG debut.
-Darius Slayton had 65 yards on 3 catches, 42 of those yards on the first drive of the game on a deep ball. His speed is there but he continues to play a soft game against contact with defenders.
-Rookie Kadarius Toney’s usage was odd. After not being a factor for nearly the entire training camp and preseason period, Garrett engineered two scripted plays for him. One resulted in a loss of 6 yards, the other resulted in a gain of 4 yard. Then, we essentially did not see him until the 4th quarter when the game was all but lost. After a bizarre spring and summer with him in relation to this team, that just didn’t sit well with me.
-Really poor game by new tight end Kyle Rudolph. He allowed a TFL and a pressure as a blocker, and just didn’t impact the game in the trenches. Minimal push, minimal sustainment. He looked rusty and stiff. He added 2 catches for 8 yards. I was expecting more.
-One of the positives (yes, there are positives from this loss) was Andrew Thomas. Bradley Chubb missed the game with an ankle injury, thus backup Malik Reed was the predominant opponent lining up across from the second year tackle. Thomas was superb in pass protection, showing heavy and sticky hands, good balance, and outstanding pad level. Nice warm up battle for the tall task he will face Thursday night against Washington.
-Nate Solder returned from his year away from football. He started right where he left off, strengthening the notion he just isn’t a starting caliber player. He allowed a sack on a short drop back, 1 TFL, and 2 pressures. He can’t bend at all, and it shows. Will Hernandez, who plays right next to Solder as he shifted over to the right side, was equally awful in the passing game. He allowed 2 pressures and a TFL. A case can be made he was responsible for a sack as well. After a strong (but very short) preseason, the arrow appeared to be pointing up for him. Well, it didn’t remain that way in this one as his heavy feet and delayed reaction time was abused on several ugly plays. His poor play didn’t impact the situation often, but it was still very disappointing.
-Matt Peart and Ben Bredeson rotated in. Bredeson actually saw the majority of the snaps at left guard. He looked a little out of control, but he did maul his man a few times. Peart allowed a TFL and a sack, the latter being more communication based as Von Miller ran right by him and put Jones on the ground as Peart remained in his 2-point stance. If nothing else, it will be found on countless blooper videos I imagine.
-The big boys up front, in all honestly, played a solid game. You won’t see it in the box score, and I think they could have finished better in the pass rushing department, but it was a solid effort from multiple guys. Dexter Lawrence made DEN guard Graham Glasgow and center Lloyd Cushenberry look like high schoolers several times. Great push from him that netted 4 pressures. Leonard Williams added a TFL and 2 pressures, one of which led to a sack.
-Austin Johnson finished with 5 tackles and a pressure. He did get credit for a sack, but it came on a play where Bridgewater tripped over his own blocker and fell to the ground. Johnson was the first to touch him, thus getting credit for the sack. Logan Ryan and Williams were really the main contributors there. I thought Johnson was all over the box though, impressive game.
-Danny Shelton added a pressure but missed a TFL attempt that would have been a key play.
-Good to see an active Lorenzo Carter on the field. He didn’t finish the way I was hoping for, but he made DEN adjust to him and that is a good sign. He struggled at setting the edge as well, as did rookie Azeez Ojulari. It was a mixed bag for the second rounder, but I really liked how active he was. He finished with 3 tackles, 1 sack, and a pressure. He was flagged for head-contact on Bridgewater, a major no-no in this league. I expect both to improve from here, but I still question how consistently they can beat one-on-one blocking as pass rushers.
-Blake Martinez had an up-and-down game. He finished with 9 tackles, 1 TFL, and 2 pressures. However, his missed tackle on the Okwuegbunam touchdown (a 4th-down play) was inexcusable. He also struggled in coverage.
-Tae Crowder finished with 4 tackles and may be one of the most physical defenders on this team. He put a couple of DEN offensive linemen on their butt a few times. He is the best athlete they have at the position, and he appears to be much more powerful than a year ago. A very good sign. Reggie Ragland split snaps with him and had 7 tackles, most of which were against the run, between the tackles.
-James Bradberry and Adoree’ Jackson are the two most expensive starting cornerbacks NYG have had on the same field at the same time (not including hybrid DB Logan Ryan from a year ago). They did not earn their paychecks respectively. While they avoided the big-play touchdowns, they were often a step or two too late in coverage as the DEN offense torched them on 3rd and 4th downs. Grading corners can be tough because opportunities are so few, but at the end of the day, they were outplayed by the young DEN pass catchers.
-Darnay Holmes is such a roller coaster. He plays fast, he plays aggressive. Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham does several things with him but he, nearly every game, makes a bonehead mistake. He was flagged for a personal foul as he blatantly threw Jeudy out of bounds way after the play was dead. Judge promptly took him out and ripped him a new one on the sidelines.
-What I consider to be the strength of this defense and the biggest hope this unit has – the safeties – were torched by the DEN tight ends. Jabrill Peppers was beat on 3rd down three separate times, although he did have a TFL and pressure. Julian Love was late in coverage on a couple of occasions as well.
-Logan Ryan and Xavier McKinney were solid. Ryan led the team with 10 tackles, a TFL, and made one of the plays of the game on his forced + recovered fumble near the end zone. McKinney broke up 2 passes but got lucky on a couple of occasions where Bridgewater underthrew a target who blew by him. He also missed a tackle.
-K Graham Gano: 1/1 XP
-P Riley Dixon: 3 punts / 54.0 avg / 39.3 net
-WR Sterling Shepard, OT Andrew Thomas, S Logan Ryan
-OT Nate Solder, TE Kyle Rudolph, CB Adoree’ Jackson
3 THOUGHTS ON DEN
(1) Watching, re-watching, and then re-re watching the game, I came away with one thought. We really have to give credit to how well DEN quarterback Teddy Bridgewater played. He was incredibly accurate no matter where he threw the ball. He got the passes out in a hurry, and he created a lot on his own. Bridgewater isn’t a very good athlete, but he played an athletic game. On multiple instances he moved just enough to avoid sacks before making quality throws on the move. He really knows how to take what the defense gives him to a point where it can be woefully frustrating for the opposition. Maybe he took in a thing or two from playing under Drew Brees because that was a very Brees-like performance.
(2) Many don’t realize just how much Drew Lock held this team back last year. They actually could have been a solid offense but a horrid start and Lock being bottom 5 in most advanced metrics just killed their shot in the tough AFC West. I’ll be curious to see if he ends up getting a shot down the road, but I know Shurmur really liked him coming out of Missouri a few years ago. That said, he gave up on Lock in a hurry.
(3) DEN and NYG both have one of the most expensive secondaries in the NFL (top 6). The difference? DEN also puts enormous resources into their pass rush while NYG is left hoping their day 2 / day 3 picks that have not proven anything can rush the edge. DEN’s defense is going to keep them in a lot of games this year and it may be the most ideal spot for a quarterback like Bridgewater. I wouldn’t discount this team from a 9-10 win season especially because they have a very easy schedule lined up.
3 CLOSING THOUGHTS
(1) I don’t want to write up, for the 1,000th time, how little Week 1 means in the grand scheme of things. A successful season in 2021 is 8-9 or 9-8. They are 0-1 with 16 games left and it was a frustrating game to watch, absolutely. Green Bay lost to the Jameis Winston-led Saints 38-3. Buffalo lost at home to the .500-at best Steelers by a touchdown. Tennessee lost 38-13, at home. I think the one credible fear and gripe NYG fans can yell from their balconies if they feel the need to do so revolves around the fact that it really seems like we are watching the same issues year after year. A vanilla offense, a shaky-at-best offensive line, minimal pass rush, and a defense that struggles in clutch scenarios.
(2) Joe Judge trying to throw a challenge flag on a scoring play was a borderline inexcusable mistake. I haven’t read about his post-game thoughts on the subject, but even my wife who is a casual bystander during football games said, “Aren’t you not allowed to do that?” NYG went on to lose a timeout because of it. That did not end up meaning anything, but it was a juvenile mistake.
(3) The offensive line rotations at RT and LG can be viewed one of two ways. One, it is messing with the most vital component of offensive line play: chemistry. Two, nobody is stepping up and proving snap-to-snap, week-to-week reliability. I’ve discussed the holes at OT and OG multiple times since the end of last year and we are still in the middle of it. I am not sure if the answer(s) are on the current roster, but multiple guys need to be given opportunities with the hope of, well yes, luck. NYG’s only hope here is someone far outplays the level they’ve already played at. Nearly out of the blue. “Fingers crossed” is usually a poor way to build a football team.