The 2021 New York Giants may be on life support, but they are not dead yet. If the playoffs were to start today, the 5-4 New Orleans Saints (who the Giants have already beaten) and the 5-5 Carolina Panthers (who the Giants have also already beaten) would make the tournament. The Giants stand at 3-6 with eight games left to play. For them to realistically make the playoffs, they will probably have to finish the season 5-3 or 6-2. On paper, the most difficult remaining two games for the Giants appear to be Monday’s game against the 6-3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the December 19th game against the Dallas Cowboys.
The problem for the Giants is that no game is a sure win. All of this speculation could amount to pissing into the wind if the team loses to the Eagles, Dolphins, Bears, etc. But right now, there is still hope. The team is getting healthier as it comes off its bye and the defense has been playing much better. The Giants are still playing hard for Coach Judge.
If New York can somehow manage to pull off an upset against an angry Tampa Bay team coming off an embarrassing loss to Washington, things could get interesting.
THE INJURY REPORT:
- RB Saquon Barkley (ankle – questionable)
- RB Devontae Booker (hip – questionable)
- FB Cullen Gillaspia (calf – questionable)
- WR Sterling Shepard (quad – out)
- TE Kaden Smith (knee – questionable)
- LB Lorenzo Carter (illness/ankle – out)
- S Logan Ryan (Reserve/COVID-19 – out)
- S Nate Ebner (knee – out)
NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
There was a long period of time during the 1990s when no New York Giants quarterback could reach the 300-yard passing mark in a game. In a league that had become increasingly reliant on the passing game, it was an embarrassing non-accomplishment that was finally broken when Kerry Collins became the starting quarterback. The new mark of futility for the Giants is the team’s inability to score 30 points in a game. The team is averaging less than 20 points per contest this year. I keep talking about it, but scoring points is kind of an important indicator of victory. (sarcasm off)
Everyone has their own reason. The coaching sucks. The quarterback sucks. The offensive line sucks. Injuries to the skill players. Many people want to point to one reason, but there is probably a degree of truth in all of these reasons. Regardless, the Giants are not going to consistently win unless they can increase their average point total, and do so quite dramatically. Scoring 19 points per game just isn’t going to cut it in 2021.
The good news is that the bye week came at a fortunate time for the team. Knock on wood, but it appears the Giants are going to get some important cogs back such as Saquon Barkley and possibly Andrew Thomas (still on IR, but may be activated). Others who have been nursing injuries such as Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney will be healthier. Unfortunately, the entire band won’t be back together with Sterling Shepard still out. Still, this is the strongest the offensive unit has been since they upset the Saints in New Orleans.
On paper, Tampa Bay’s defense is tough. It ranks 9th in yards allowed. It falls to 18th in points allowed, however. And in multiple key moments during last week’s loss to the unimpressive Washington offense, the Bucs failed to make a defensive stop. They also lost defensive tackle Vita Vea late in the game. Their confidence must be a bit rattled. Tampa has been far more difficult to run against (2nd in the NFL, allowing less than 80 yards per game) than pass on (22nd in the NFL). That would seem to suggest that the coaching staff should take a more pass-oriented approach against the Buccaneers, particularly earlier in the game. Keep in mind too that Saquon Barkley is still rusty as hell (he never really knocked off all of the rust from not practicing in camp or playing in the preseason before he got hurt again). I would tend to use Barkley more in the passing game at this point, and use the run more later in the game if the Giants are still within striking distance, or better yet, ahead in the contest.
The Bucs are a middle-of-the road team in the pass rush department, accruing 22 in nine games. Only one player, linebacker Shaquil Barrett, has more than three sacks this year (he has five). For comparison’s sake, the Giants have 19 sacks in nine games. So while Tampa Bay has players who can be disruptive, like former Giant Jason Pierre-Paul (who has been dealing with injuries), this isn’t a front that New York line should be scared of (and Washington certainly handled them pretty easily up front). It’s one of the main reasons why the Buccaneers blitz so much. They have issues generating pressure with only their defensive line.
If I’m Judge and Garrett, I have Daniel Jones target the play makers early and often: Barkley, Toney, and Golladay. You have a lot invested in these guys; it’s time for them to pay dividends. The Tampa defense tends to play more conservatively in the secondary, attempting to protect against the big play, so Jones will most likely have to be patient and find open targets underneath. In short yardage, hand the ball to Eli Penny to keep the chains moving. I would continue to go to these guys in the red zone, with the possible addition of the tight ends.
Lastly, what Jones and his offensive teammates need to do (besides score points) is protect the football. Tampa is tied for seventh in the NFL in takeaways, with 15.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
You guys know I like to look at the big picture stats first. On paper, the Tampa Bay offense is daunting, but there are some oddities that suggest the strengths and weaknesses of the unit. The Bucs are third in the NFL in yards gained per game (over 400). They are the #1 passing team in the NFL, averaging over 315 yards per game. They are only 27th in the NFL in rushing (90 yards per game). Most importantly, they are third in the NFL in scoring, averaging 31 points per game. (In other words, they AVERAGE more points than the Giants have been able to score in any one single game this year).
Obviously, the centerpiece of the offense is arguably the greatest quarterback to ever play the game: 44-year old Tom Brady. You are not going to fool Brady. He’s seen it all. He reads defenses exceptionally well and gets rid of the ball quickly. One of the reasons why Tampa’s offense performs so well is that it doesn’t make a lot of negative plays. Negative plays are drive killers. Brady keeps the Bucs out of those situations.
I have not watched all of the Tampa Bay games this year. But in the games that I have watched, what sticks out to me is the dink-and-dunk nature of their passing attack. At one point last week in the Tampa Bay-Washington game, Brady went a long stretch without throwing the ball more than 10 yards down the field. But when you look at their team stats, the Buccaneers have over 40 passing plays that have gained more than 20 yards. From what I can tell, much of this comes from yards after the catch, combined with Brady lulling defenses into the belief that he won’t go deep. At one point late in the Washington game, the left corner let WR Mike Evans run right by him for an easy deep touchdown catch (the safety was late getting over too). So in other words, while Brady may not be heavily reliant on the deep (or even intermediate) passing game, he will still burn you if you fall asleep on it.
The other important element to consider is that Brady gets rid of the ball so quickly (combination of the short passing schemes and his ability to read defenses so well) that teams rarely get to him on the pass rush. Brady has only been sacked 12 times this year and is getting rid of the ball on average in 2.38 seconds. That’s an ominous sign for a Giants team that only has accrued 19 sacks this year.
How did Washington beat Tampa? They never seriously felt threatened by Tampa’s ground game even though they averaged over 4 yards per carry in that contest. Washington only allowed two completions down the field (the aforementioned 40-yarder to Evans and a 29-yarder in the first half). The only other play that gained more than 15 yards was a short pass where Evans gained yards after the catch and the defender yanked on his face mask. What Washington did differently is they tackled well on short completions in front of the sticks.
If I’m Patrick Graham, I use a similar game plan. Focus on the pass, not the run. The Bucs really use the short-passing game on 1st down as an extension of their ground game anyways. Don’t bother blitzing Brady all that much. You’re not going to get there. Rely on Leonard Williams, Dexter Lawrence, Austin Johnson, and one of the outside pass rushers to generate inconsistent pass pressure. Perhaps send someone up the A gap occasionally to get in his face immediately (he’s not mobile). But I would focus on coverage, especially underneath. Trust James Bradberry and Adoree’ Jackson to take the outside receivers with some help from the free safety. Bradberry has a lot of experience against Evans. The key here is to play tight, aggressive coverage on the underneath targets, and most importantly, gang tackle after the catch. The bad news for the Giants is that Brady’s long-time security blanket, Rob Gronkowski, is expected back for this game.
Brady’s top target is slot receiver Chris Godwin, who has 57 catches and four touchdowns. He does a lot of damage after the catch. Evans is the big play guy. He has nine of Brady’s League-leading 27 touchdown passes (19 more than Daniel Jones). Brady also throws a lot to running backs Leonard Fournette and Giovani Bernard (59 catches between the two of them). A key will be if wide receiver Antonio Brown, who has been dealing with ankle issues, plays.
On the surface, we appear to have a match-up between an offense that likes to dink-and-dunk its way down the field and a defense that bends but doesn’t like to break (at least in recent weeks). That would seem to suggest Brady moving the ball well and the Giants hoping they can stop him in the red zone. I don’t like that scenario. I think Graham has to take more chances, not so much with blitzing, but with playing more aggressive underneath coverage and taking chances deeper in the secondary. Get off of the field before the red zone. The fly in the ointment here is that the traffic controller in the secondary, Logan Ryan, will miss the game. Xavier McKinney and Julian Love will both really be on the spot.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
I assume Pharoh Cooper will be elevated to the game-day roster again this week. The Giants desperately need to break one in their return game.
FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Offensive Coordinator Jason Garrett on having more of his component parts last available against the Saints in Week 4: “Yeah, certainly that was a game where we were most healthy, and our guys played really well in a tough environment against a good team. So that’s something you certainly want to build on, but each game is unique.“
THE FINAL WORD:
The bye came at the right moment for the Giants. But this is not the best match-up for the Giants coming out of the bye, facing the NFL Champions on Monday night, coming off an embarrassing loss. Most expect the Giants to lose to the Bucs and fall to 3-7. If that happens, the Giants won’t be dead yet, but their margin for error gets uncomfortably small.
That all said, this Bucs team is not unbeatable. Washington proved that. The Giants are getting some important pieces back too. It comes down to how rusty the Giants will be coming off of the bye (and how rusty those keys players who missed time with injuries will be) combined with how angry the Bucs team they will be facing will be. Historically speaking, the Giants usually play well in Tampa.