Oct 302021
 
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Daniel Jones, New York Giants (October 24, 2021)

Daniel Jones – © USA TODAY Sports

THE STORYLINE:
To put it mildly, this season has been incredibly frustrating for New York Giants fans. Expectations were raised by an unforeseen active free agency signing period combined with what originally appeared to be a solid draft, both of which seemed to address major weaknesses at the offensive skill positions and in the back seven on defense. Things went awry early with key draft picks Kadarius Toney (1st round), Aaron Robinson (3rd round), and Elerson Smith (4th round) missing all of training camp. Kenny Golladay and Adoree’ Jackson both got hurt, missed a lot of time, and have yet to make the impact expected of them. Most importantly, the Achilles’ heel of the team for the past decade – the offensive line – started to decompose as unexpected retirements combined with major, season-ending (Shane Lemieux, Nick Gates) and nagging, game-missing (Andrew Thomas, Ben Bredeson) injuries. It also hasn’t help that Matt Peart hasn’t progressed as quickly as hoped.

Despite all of this, it was expected that the supposedly up-and-coming defense would keep the Giants in games. It didn’t. Until last weekend, the defense horribly regressed, especially giving up dagger-to-the-heart drives at seemingly the worst moments. Injuries also became a factor with season enders to team leaders Blake Martinez and now Jabrill Peppers. The loss of youngster Rodarius Williams didn’t help matters either.

The net effect of all of this was the team began the season 0-3, including losing two very winnable games against Atlanta and Washington. When hope was all but extinguished, the Giants pulled fans back in with their dramatic and unexpected upset of the Saints in New Orleans. The positivity generated by that victory quickly disappeared by all-around ass-kickings by the clearly superior Cowboys (44-20) and Rams (38-11).

The one-sided victory over the Carolina Panthers in Week 7 was a pleasant surprise. The effort was led by a defense that finally played to the level that was expected of it entering the season.

Which brings us to Week 8, and a Monday night contest against the defending AFC Champion Kansas City Chiefs, a team only two years removed from an NFL Championship. Entering the season, this match-up was expected to be an automatic loss for the Giants. However, the 3-4 Chiefs have only won one more game than the 2-5 Giants. So there has been some talk among Giants fans that maybe, just maybe, New York has a chance in this game.

I’m not buying the Kool-Aid. Perhaps if the Giants were anywhere near full strength with Saquon Barkley, Kenny Golladay, Andrew Thomas, Nick Gates, Blake Martinez, and Jabrill Peppers playing, I would give them a shot. But this is a very proud and now desperate KC team that is still 3rd in the NFL in total offense. And it’s not Sam Darnold who the Giants will be facing but all-world Patrick Mahomes. The game is in Kansas City, one of the very toughest places to play in the NFL. The clincher? It’s a Monday night game. The Giants are horrific on Monday night, always have been.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • RB Saquon Barkley (ankle – out)
  • WR Kenny Golladay (knee – out)
  • WR Sterling Shepard (hamstring – questionable)
  • WR Kadarius Toney (ankle – questionable)
  • TE Evan Engram (calf – probable)
  • TE Kaden Smith (knee – questionable)
  • NT Danny Shelton (pectoral – probable)
  • LB Lorenzo Carter (ankle – out)
  • LB Carter Coughlin (ankle – out)
  • S Nate Ebner (ankle – out)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
I hate using injuries as an excuse. For one, it is a loser’s lament. Secondly, you know there those inside Mara Tech who think all would be peachy if the team was only healthy. This is not true as the team was sucking ass before the injury bug hit in full force.

That all said, this game would be far more interesting if Barkley and Golladay were playing, Kadarius Toney and Sterling Shepard were near full strength, and Nate Solder wasn’t starting. Why? Because the Chiefs are an embarrassing 28th in yards allowed and 27th in points allowed. And they are not making it up by generating turnovers (only seven takeaways all year, or one per game).

The Giants have not cracked the 30-point barrier this season. It’s hard to see them winning this game unless they near and probably surpass that threshold. The problem the Giants have is the offensive line is still a patchwork unit due to all of the injuries, and their two top veteran play-makers (Barkley and Golladay) are not playing. To make matters worse, Toney and Shepard are nursing nagging injuries that will affect their quickness, the strength of their respective games.

I want to briefly discuss three issues:

(1) Daniel Jones. If you accept the fact that the New York Giants are not going to the Super Bowl this season, then the most important issue to watch is the fate of the starting quarterback. We are now in a tiresome cycle where media and fans are making sweeping statements after each and every win or loss. Those with an agenda will cherry-pick every play or little stat to justify their point of view. In recent weeks, it’s become a comical roller coaster as Jones has gone from “Player of the Week” to a four-turnover game to carrying an undermanned team on his back. The Jones supporters were justifiably thumping their chests after last Sunday’s game. The other side will be out in force if the Giants lose as expected on Monday night. In my opinion, the truly smart fans are sitting back and waiting. Waiting for what? The completion of the 17-game regular-season schedule. Because only then can you truly look at the big picture and truly answer the question, “Did Daniel Jones become a much better quarterback in his third season?” We can’t the forest through the trees right now. Keep that in mind before making grand statements.

(2) Everyone seems to be too focused on the passing game right now. This is odd for two reasons: (1) all – not some – of the team’s top receivers (Golladay, Shepard, Toney,  Slayton, Engram, and Barkley) have been hurt for a number of games now, and (2) the leading rusher on this team is the quarterback. The most disappointing element of this offensive football team is its lack of a ground game. How bad is it? Barkley is still second on the team in rushing (with just 195 yards) despite the fact that he has only played in three full games. Opposing defenses simply can ignore the run against the Giants, and that is putting tremendous pressure on an injury-plagued passing game. If it weren’t for Jones, the Giants would be dead last in the NFL in running the football. If you don’t think this is also a major factor in the red zone issues, then you’re fooling yourself.

(3) Evan Engram. The next game is on Monday. The trading deadline is on Tuesday. Engram is in the last year of his contract and will make over $6 million this year (highest base salary on the entire team and 7th highest cap hit on the team). He has 20 catches for 171 yards (8.5 yards per catch) and no touchdowns. Last year, he caught only one touchdown. These are embarrassingly bad numbers for a “receiving” tight end who doesn’t block very well. The unspoken truth is he is getting worse, not better. Engram may end up being a decent player in the NFL, but I doubt it will be here. It’s time to move him before he simply walks in free agency. I will say this – he can help himself and the Giants with a big game against the Chiefs. The Giants need him to play one of his best games for them to win, and a strong performance will increase his trade market on Tuesday.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
Why did the defense perform so well last Sunday? Sam Darnold isn’t very good. Christian McCaffrey didn’t play. Carolina has their own offensive line issues. Adoree’ Jackson finally had a good game. Xavier McKinney played better. James Bradberry made a big play to stop what would have been the 7th straight TD drive right before halftime. Leonard Williams and Azeez Ojulari gave Carolina’s OL fits. We also saw two newcomers at linebacker flash: Quincy Roche and Benardrick McKinney. It all added up to an impressive performance where Carolina was held to less than 200 yards of offense and just a field goal.

But Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs are another different animal altogether. In order to have a chance in this game, the defense will have to play at or probably surpass the level they did in Week 7. If they play like this did in Weeks 1-6, the Giants are going to get smoked. Everyone knows the problems with defending Mahomes. He’s a magician with the football in his hands, a guy who can elevate the play of everyone around him. Just when you think you have Mahomes dead to rights, he somehow keeps the play alive and throws a dart deep down field to break your back. The KC passing game is averaging over 300 yards per game alone. (That’s not total offense, just passing). They average another 118 on the ground, although like the Giants, much of this comes from the quarterback running the ball.

Mahomes’ main targets are very familiar to even the casual football watcher: explosive WR Tyreek Hill (52 catches for 641 yards and 5 touchdowns) and the dangerous TE Travis Kelce (45 catches for 533 yards and four touchdowns). Even those these are the two “big guys” to watch, Mahomes will spread the ball around to a plethora of other wide receivers, running backs, and tight ends. KC backs have caught 41 passes this year. (For the sake of comparison, the leading target on the Giants is Shepard, who has only 28 catches for 299 yards and one touchdown). The leading rusher is running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who averages 4.7 yards per carry. Mahomes is second, averaging 6.8 yards.

The key to stop the Chiefs is getting heat on Mahomes and playing tight coverage on his targets. That’s easier said than done as Mahomes can still kill you when a play breaks down. That said, teams have gotten in his face this year and because of that, he has looked more human. Leonard Williams, Dexter Lawrence, Danny Shelton, and Azeez Ojulari need to get after him. I would prefer to see Quincy Roche play more as a pass rusher this week as well. Against this opponent, the Giants are probably better off with Xavier McKinney playing over Jabrill Peppers, who is done for the season. Stating the obvious, both James Bradberry and Adoree’ Jackson need to play at the top of their game.

The real potential headache here is Kelce against a Giants’ linebacking corps that continues to have issues in coverage. Passes to the running backs could also be a problem. That’s where I expect Andy Reid to go with the ball early and often.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Injuries are forcing changes to the return game. I think the desire is there to get Kadarius Toney to return both punts and kicks, but his tender ankle puts him at risk. The Giants will be without two of their top special teams players in this game as well: Carter Coughlin, who leads the team in special teams tackles, and Nate Ebner.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham on the Kansas City Chiefs’ offense:I can’t even begin to go down the list of all the different weapons they have. It’s numerous, plus they have the best player in the league at the quarterback spot. It’s hard, it’s going to be hard, and the best offensive minds between (Chiefs Head) Coach (Andy) Reid and (Offensive Coordinator) Coach (Eric) Bieniemy. It’s going to be a challenge. This is the most explosive offense, I think. I don’t know statistically, but if you just go off of SportsCenter in the last four years, they’re the most explosive offense, so it’s going to be a challenge. They’ve got good blockers, they’ve got good receivers. It’s going to be tough.”

THE FINAL WORD:
The defending AFC Champions are desperate, playing on their home field, on national television. Patrick Mahomes is still Patrick Mahomes. The Giants have been one of the NFL’s worst teams for years. Barring a miracle, the Chiefs will win.

But if the Giants somehow manage to pull off what would be the team’s biggest win in years, things could get interesting in the second half of the season. I’m not allowing myself to go there because this team hasn’t earned my trust.

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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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