You just don’t know how much you appreciate someone until they’re gone. It’s been just over one season since Eli Manning retired. The 16-year quarterback who won two Super Bowls and made the playoffs six times had his day in the sun at MetLife Stadium during a halftime ceremony. He officially had his number retired and nameplate hung on the Ring of Honor within the stadium. Eli Manning, a career .500 quarterback who had his fair share of ups and downs, cheers and boos, successes, and failures. While the demise of NYG began toward the back nine of his career, it was never, ever this bad. NYG, the biggest losers in the NFL since the start of 2017, were set to face the 0-2 Atlanta Falcons, experiencing a similar decline as their long-time franchise signal caller is nearing the end of his career. They were 18-32 over their last 50 games with an offense that has gone backwards each season since 2018 and very little long-term hope on the roster. Barring a tie, one of these teams would be leaving 0-3.
For the first time this season, all of the starting NYG offensive weapons were on the field. Evan Engram was back after missing time with a calf injury and Kenny Golladay got the nod after being questionable all week with a hip injury. They were up against defense that allowed the most points in the NFL, the most passing touchdowns in the NFL, and the 6th-most yards per carry in the NFL. They were home on one of the nicest days of the year with zero weather negatives. It was time to make a statement.
After stopping ATL on their first drive, we saw a 14-yard gain on short pass to Barkley in open space, a 38-yard gain on absolute dime to C.J. Board from Daniel Jones, and a 3rd-and-1 conversion on a running play designed for Jones, the NYG leading rusher on the season. They had 1st-and-goal from inside the ATL 10-yard line but an 11-yard sack on 2nd-and-goal pushed them too far back. They settled on a 25-yard field goal by Graham Gano to make it 3-0. The NYG defense stopped ATL again on the ensuing drive, giving NYG the ball back. A first down play-action pass to start the drive resulted in another double-digit gain, this one 19 yards to Golladay. NYG have had a lot of success with that approach. On the next play (a first down), NYG took a 3-yard loss on a running play. They punted 3 snaps later.
Following yet another stop by the NYG defense, this one a three-and-out, NYG put together a 15-play drive. They reached the red zone, setting up a 1st-and-10 from the ATL 17-yard line. Jones missed a shotgun snap and it resulted in an 11-yard loss (their second 11-yard loss of the half). Two plays later, running back Elijhaa Penny was flagged for a false start. It was now 3rd-and-22 from the ATL 29-yard line. NYG settled for another field goal attempt, this one from 31 yards. Gano nailed it again and NYG had a 6-0 lead. ATL did breach NYG territory for the first time on the next drive, but a solid defensive play by Logan Ryan forced yet another punt.
NYG started the next drive inside their own 5. They converted a 3rd-and-6 on a pass to Board, but he was flagged for pushing off. Another shot to their own foot. They punted the ball back to ATL with just over 2 minutes left before halftime. ATL started the possession inside NYG territory and had gains of 3, 12, and 14 yards in addition to an unnecessary roughness penalty on safety Xavier McKinney, giving them 8 more yards and putting them inside the 10. Ryan then hit Olamide Zaccheaus for a 4-yard touchdown. ATL needed just 36 seconds of game clock in a hurry up situation to take the lead, 7-6. There was, however, enough time left on the clock for NYG to pursue more points.
Jones hit Evan Engram for a 13-yard gain on the second play of the drive. The super-athlete but sub-par football player who many NYG fans are still hoping turns the corner fumbled. ATL recovered and took control of the ball on the NYG 36-yard line. It was an ugly scene for Engram, who is visibly in the doghouse among the NYG faithful. He heard the loudest booing directed at one player I have heard in a long time inside the stadium. Fortunately, he was saved by an Azeez Ojulari sack-fumble, which was recovered by Lorenzo Carter on a 3rd-and-9. NYG then took a knee and went into halftime down by 1.
The two offenses traded scoreless possessions to start off the second half. On the first play of the NYG’s second possession, Barkley took a 20-yard gain on a short pass that again, got him the ball in space. It was called back because guard Will Hernandez illegally moved downfield before the ball was thrown. Instead of 1st-and-10 from the ATL 36, it was 1st-and-15 from the NYG 39. 25-yard swings like that are so vital to an offense that is already bottom tier. NYG did make it back on to the ATL side of the field eventually. On 4th-and-4 from the ATL 39, Judge opted to punt. There was no trust in this offense’s ability, on a day where Jones had been performing well and Barkley-space plays were working, to get that tough first down.
NYG inched their way down the field on their next possession. Consecutive gains of 11, 4, 12, 3, 7, 4, 1, 5, and 16 yards brought them inside the ATL 10-yard line. A pass interference called on ATL corner Fabian Moreau got the ball to the 1-yard line and from there, Barkley scored his first touchdown since December 29, 2019. That is about two and a half months before the Covid-19 pandemic started to put that date into perspective. NYG put another 2 points on the board via a Jones-run where he barreled over ATL star defensive tackle Grady Jarrett. NYG had a 14-7 lead in the fourth quarter.
The greatest sign of a good defense is coming up with the big stops when it matters most. NYG’s defense had put forth an admirable effort to this point, but they needed one more quarter of quality football. On the very next drive, ATL tied it up through a 15-play drive. They converted four straight 3rd downs while the NYG defensive backfield took turns getting beat. Logan Ryan was flagged for a pass interference in the end zone. Rodarius Williams was beat by Tajae Sharpe, who is holding on by a thread in this league. Adoree Jackson dropped an interception and was also beat on an earlier 3rd down. Matt Ryan hit blocking tight end Lee Smith on a 1-yard pass for the touchdown following Logan Ryan’s penalty, tying it up at 14 with just over 4 minutes left.
NYG got the ball to midfield with just over 2 minutes left. This was the most important part of the game where Offensive Coordinator Jason Garrett needed to find a way to gain another 15 yards for the automatic Graham Gano. The two most reliable plays this season (knowing Sterling Shepard was out with a hamstring injury) have been designed runs for Jones and quick passes to Barkley in space. Garrett opted for a pass to Engram (incomplete), a deep drop back (9-yard sack), and then a quick pass to Barkley in space (10-yard gain). It was a 4th-and-9 from the 50. An 0-2 team that has had issues stopping offenses in 2-minute situations playing against a defense that had allowed 30 4th quarter points over the first two weeks. It was time for Judge to make his “Harbaugh Go-For-It” decision. He opted to punt and hope for overtime. Riley Dixon sailed one into the end zone and ATL had the ball, with all of their timeouts, just 40 yards away from field goal range.
It took just 3 plays for ATL to gain 55 yards. They bled the clock out (NYG used 2 timeouts earlier on avoiding a delay-of-game penalty and defensive confusion pre-snap). Kicker Younghoe Koo, who grew up about 20 minutes from MetLife, hit a 40-yard field goal with :00 left on the clock.
NYG loses, 17-14.
-Daniel Jones: 24/35 – 266 yards – 0 TD – 0 INT / 90.9 RAT
Jones also added 39 yards on 8 carries and scored a 2-point conversion via the ground. He fumbled twice, both of which he recovered himself. Another solid performance by the third-year quarterback. He had one of the top throws of the day across the entire league in the first quarter on a 3rd-and-4 go route to C.J. Board. He lost Darius Slayton and Sterling Shepard early on to injury but made most of the situation. I wish Garrett had put more on his shoulders on that final drive in the 4th quarter. Those are the situations NYG needs clarity on regarding his future with the club. Jones has thrown just 1 interception over his last 9 games and remains one of the top rushing threats in the league at the position.
-Saquon Barkley: 16 att – 51 yards – 1 TD / 6 rec – 43 yards
The arrow continues to point up for Barkley, although he still isn’t playing at the level this team needs if they have any thought of getting out of the basement among NFL offenses. Too much dancing, not seeing the cutback lanes, and the lack of quality decision making are bothersome. He also tripped over his own feet three more times. He is so explosive in a straight line, but he keeps on violently slamming his front foot into the ground looking to shake a pursuing defender. He is constantly looking for the highlight reel rather than making the sure yards and it is impacting this offense in a negative way. At 0-3, I expect Garrett to start getting him the ball 25+ times per game now. There is a right and wrong way to do that. More on this below.
-Kenny Golladay: 4 rec – 64 yards
After missing the week of practice with a hip injury, Golladay was an unknown until just a couple hours before kickoff. He was on a limited snap count, as he was on the field for just 70% of the offensive plays. He made a couple of aggressive plays on the ball and after the catch, showing notable grit and toughness. He also forced two pass interference penalties. One positive of having a big receiver like this is exactly that. Corners, especially in big situations, tend to get too handsy on and grabby with them because of the size disadvantage.
-Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton both went down early with separate injuries. I would expect them to be out for at least a couple weeks, opening the door for the forgotten John Ross III potentially. This created an opportunity for the sizable Collin Johnson, recently picked up off of waivers from Jacksonville. He led the receivers with 5 catches, totaling 51 yards. He was the main target for Jones on 3rd downs and it worked out well.
-Rookie Kadarius Toney saw the field often in the first half. He had 2 catches on 2 consecutive plays. He gained solid yards after the catch both times and it was a solid way to get him involved. I was hoping to see him get another touch or two in the second half, but it didn’t pan out that way.
-Evan Engram returned after missing 2 games with a calf injury sustained in preseason. It was an ugly afternoon despite seeing just over half the snaps. He caught 2 passes on 6 targets and lost a fumble in the 2nd quarter. For the rest of the afternoon, Engram was booed every time the ball was thrown his way and cheered every time he came off the field.
-Kaden Smith caught 1 pass for 9 yards and allowed a pressure while Kyle Rudolph did not see any action in the passing game and allowed a TFL. The combination of Rudolph and Smith at least gives NYG a real and dependable expectation from the position. Engram is so volatile, and the negative plays may turn him into a part time, gimmick-only type asset to the offense. Usable and worthy of a gamble here and there, but simply not an every down player.
-A solid game overall for the group albeit against a weak ATL defensive front. Andrew Thomas was the star of the day, throwing a shutout and completely locking down anyone who lined up across from him. Right tackle Nate Solder allowed 3 pressures and a sack. That sack was at a vital time of the game on the final NYG drive. He was also flagged for a hold that ATL declined on the play.
-The interior had a poor game overall. It was a step up in relation to what we are used to seeing here, but it was still a poor overall performance. Will Hernandez allowed 2 TFL and was flagged for an illegal-man-downfield penalty on a 20-yard pickup. Ben Bredeson allowed a sack, TFL, and pressure. It wasn’t a pretty stat line but he actually performed notably well the rest of the way. He needs to be better, but he showed he can hang at left guard. Billy Price allowed a TFL and continues to look sloppy. On the sack that Bredeson allowed, Price was supposed to be in on the double team there. However, he tripped and fell, leaving a lane open for the ATL defender (Jarrett). He and Hernandez are too often ending up on the ground because of balance issues, a major no-no. Good defensive fronts are going to see that and play games with them.
-The two headliners of the group, Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence both had above average grades on my scale. Williams produced the trifecta, recording a sack, TFL, and pressure in addition to 5 tackles. He was just a few inches away on multiple occasions from making additional plays in the backfield as well. He was getting off the ball well and caused a lot of disruption. Lawrence added 3 pressures and 3 tackles. He got a lot of push up the middle and forced Ryan into quick decisions throughout the afternoon.
-Impressive game from Austin Johnson. He had 5 tackles, 1 sack, and a pressure. He and Danny Shelton are two solid options inside who control multiple gaps against the inside run.
-Rookie Azeez Ojulari recorded his 3rd sack in as many games. On paper, it is woefully impressive and encouraging. However, as we have seen since the first preseason game, there isn’t enough impact elsewhere. He played in just half the snaps and didn’t make a lot of noise other than that play. However, a sack that produced a turnover via fumble is the kind of play this defense is starving for more of. He is off to a good start and isn’t even in the discussion when talking about the issues on this defense. I feel good about his future.
-Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines each finished with 1 tackle apiece. Carter’s was for a loss and he recovered the fumble that was forced by Ojulari. It was a disappointing game from these two, and the outside pass rush continues to be low-level and overall detriment to this defense as a whole.
-Inside, Blake Martinez was lost in the first quarter with a non-contact ACL injury. His 2021 season is over. While in the grand scheme of things it won’t matter because this team doesn’t appear to be going anywhere, this defense will miss his presence. Tae Crowder took over the green dot-duty, the play-caller of the defense. His on-field IQ won’t be near the level of Martinez, as seen in the frustration from Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham on a 3rd down where the team was forced to take a timeout because of alignment issues. He did end up with 11 tackles and does bring a different level of speed to the defense.
-Reggie Ragland finished with 4 tackles and may see an uptick in playing time, although I am curious to see who this front office brings in off the market to fill the Martinez roster spot.
-The ATL receivers are not a good matchup for James Bradberry. I said earlier in the week that it may suit NYG well to have the Giants top defensive back shadow rookie “tight end” Kyle Pitts all afternoon rather than stick to the crossing route-heavy ATL receivers. He allowed a touchdown and two first downs. He did have an impressive pass break up in the first quarter. He didn’t have a poor game, but certain types of receivers (quick-footed, change of direction guys) give him major issues.
-Adoree’ Jackson had another poor game and continues to warrant the “overpaid” label. He missed a tackle, dropped an interception, and showed low effort on a couple plays to his side. Jackson, like Jabrill Peppers, seems to lack situational awareness. Corner is a very difficult position to play (second hardest in the game in my opinion), but Jackson just isn’t big enough to play with such poor recognition and reaction time.
-Rodarius Williams replaced Darnay Holmes as the team’s nickel back. He was flagged for a pass interference on a 3rd-down stop and missed 2 tackles. From the All-22 angle, he did seem to stick to the ATL crossing routes better than the two guys mentioned above. That is a good sign for a corner that has solid size and ball skills.
-Logan Ryan had a poor game and it was mostly about the plays he did not make. He missed 2 tackles, dropped an interception, and was flagged for a 3rd-down pass interference in the end zone that led to an ATL touchdown. This is the leader of the defense and now, with the injury to Martinez. He received a notable payday this past offseason and plays a position that needs to make plays that alter a game. Plain and simple, Ryan needs to elevate his game even though I know he isn’t a weak point of the defense.
-Xavier McKinney seems to be having issues with the mental side of the game. He is fooled by misdirection way too much. The contrast between him and Julian Love there is obvious. It is hard to play safety if you get fooled that easily, just ask Jabrill Peppers. Peppers had 7 tackles and 2 pressures in addition to a couple solid punt returns. The All-22 shows how blatantly obvious it is that he just can’t forecast or anticipate. He is a top shelf athlete who can react well enough in most situations, but the lack of instincts shuts the door on his play-making potential. He is an easy target when a team needs a first down.
-K Graham Gano: 2/2 XP.
-P Riley Dixon: 5 Punts – 45.8 avg / 37.0 net. His biggest punt of the day, one from the 50 in the 4th quarter, was a complete failure that resulted in a touchback. Field position was crucial there.
-OT Andrew Thomas, DT Leonard Williams, WR Kenny Golladay
-LB Lorenzo Carter, S Logan Ryan, OG Will Hernandez
3 THOUGHTS ON ATL
(1) Cordarrelle Patterson is one of the most unique players in the league, if not the most. He spent 5 years in the league as a wide receiver after being drafted 29th overall by MIN. He then went to NE primarily for special teams, but they started to put him in the backfield because of injuries. From that point, he never saw more targets than he did carries. He also remained one of the top kick returners in the game (a trait he has had since his rookie season) and an above average gunner. Patterson is now 30 (old for the NFL) and producing some of his best results across multiple roles. I think he is the best running back on the ATL roster and could end up being the leading rusher by year’s end. I can’t think of another first-round receiver who made a position change this late into his career, played on 5 teams in 9 years, and continued to improve his status into his 30’s. Ever.
(2) The Falcons organization as a whole is in a very tough spot. They owe Matt Ryan a TON of money over the next few years and it is not a contract they can get out of. The cap penalties are enormous and would set records for dead money. They don’t have a young QB in the wings and they may not lose enough games to head into the draft in position to grab one. This is a similar situation to where NYG was with Eli Manning in the 2017-2019 time period. Perhaps he is good enough if the talent around him very good, but it simply isn’t. The ATL defense has very little potential, and the offensive line is average at best. I think they are in for a rough few years coming up unless they hit a few home runs, not even doubles, in the draft.
(3) The one hope they have, besides staying healthy which they have so far, is the fact they do win the turnover battle often and they are in a lot of games. They had leads in 13 of 16 games last year and they led at halftime in 9 of 16 games (80% win rate). Head Coach Arthur Smith was the catalyst in Ryan Tannehill’s resurgence in Tennessee, too. I think .500 is a reach for them, but a few bounces their way could lead to a 9-10 win season.
3 CLOSING THOUGHTS
(1) I have been on the critical side of Jason Garrett for a few reasons, one of which is right below. However, I am going to say this and it may surprise some of you. The offense did not perform poorly. As a matter of fact, they played well when looking at some of the more important metrics. They had a successful play rate of over 50%, they were solid on 3rd down, their pass protection graded above average, and they spread the ball out well. Why only 14 points? Big mistakes at inopportune times by the offensive line and questionable play selection in the red zone.
(2) On to my critique of Garrett when it comes to Barkley. I did some extra work on his involvement and came away with this:
- Barkley had 9 touches in space. They totaled 62 yards (6.9 yards per)*
- Barkley had 12 touches into traffic. They totaled 32 yards (2.7 per).
*Does not include the 20-yard gain (into space) on the Hernandez penalty.
Obviously, these plays can’t all be directly compared because of situational football. And yes, you need to take into account specific situations. However, it does paint a picture, at least somewhat, where this offense should go in key situations late in games. On that final offensive drive, they didn’t get the ball to him in space, they did not run play-action (Jones’ top passing numbers when it comes to splits), and they did not opt for any designed runs for Jones (another high-success marker). That, to me, does not make sense.
(3) 0-3. Two losses by a combined 4 points. Several missed opportunities in the red zone and a defense that can’t stop the opposition over the final 2 minutes of a half. Is NYG getting blown out? No. The difference between them and teams like the Jets and Jaguars is apparent. These close, emotional losses tend to bring out unfair doomsday thoughts in fans. I don’t think this team is going anywhere this season, but I am not mailing it in just yet. They are in games and are a few bonehead plays away from 2 wins. I’m not a moral victory guy, so please don’t take it that way. But an offsides last week and maybe one less shot to the foot this week (dropped INTs, penalties…etc)…just one less, and NYG could be 2-1 right now. Margins are that close and that is why I don’t think you can label NYG a bottom tier team in 2021 just yet. Time is running out though and I am curious to see how they respond in a tough situation on the road against a solid defense. I’ll be watching.