After a week of the coaches and players unofficially clamoring the NYG faithful to show up ready to rock for the 2022 home opener at MetLife Stadium, the juices were flowing. Once again, a “this feels different” kind of vibe poured into the seats as the fans watched their 1-0 New York Giants at home for the first time since September 18, 2016 when Eli Manning took on Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints. The Giants ended up winning that game 16-13 behind a 368-yard performance by Manning and his number one target, rookie Sterling Shepard, who caught all 8 of his targets for 117 yards.
Fast forward six years to the day, and the 2016 head coach for NYG, Ben McAdoo, was up in the booth employed by Carolina Panthers as their offensive coordinator. Whether it was a revenge game or not for him does not matter, but human nature must create a notion he wanted to stick it to the Giants. His offense was due to get the ball first but a fumble by second-year running back Chuba Hubbard that was recovered by NYG forced him to wait. NYG did put a quick three points on the board via a 36-yard field goal by Graham Gano.
McAdoo and the CAR offense did get their shot at a drive following the next kickoff. They failed to cross midfield (a penalty brought them back after crossing) and it ended with a 3rd-and-22 wide receiver screen (remember those?) that ended in another fumble, this one by receiver Robby Anderson, that was also recovered by NYG. For the second straight series, the offense began in CAR territory and for the second straight series, the offense settled for three points.
CAR added three points of their own via 31-yard field goal by Eddy Pineiro after a 13-play drive that ended with a Shi Smith drop that would have given them 1st-and-goal at around the 5-yard line. CAR was shooting themselves in the foot over and over, including a 4th-and-1 false start by rookie left tackle Ikem Ekwonu. NYG’s offense was being halted by penetration by the CAR front and quarterback Daniel Jones struggling to make quality decisions from the pocket. Pineiro hit a 32-yarder to tie it up and the score was 6-6 at the half.
NYG went three-and-out on their opening second-half drive and CAR came out hot like the way NYG did last week in Tennessee. Three plays (two passes and a 17-yard scramble by Baker Mayfield) put them in the end zone to score the game’s first touchdown and give NYG their first deficit via a 16-yard pass to D.J. Moore. Down 13-6, it did not take long for them to get right back to even. Jones made a couple of aggressive, big-time throws and the offense put together four straight 10-yard+ plays. The drive ended on a pitch, catch, and run from Jones to rookie Daniel Bellinger for the 16-yard score. Can’t ask for a much better first-career reception than what the fourth rounder from San Diego State produced.
NYG held CAR scoreless on the next drive but lost defensive tackle Leonard Williams to a knee injury. He would not return. The game remained tied up at 13 as they went into the fourth quarter. Gano gave them a three-point lead via a 51-yarder. A sneaky key contributor prior to the attempt was the 3rd-and-7 play where Jones had to tuck and run after dropping back. He clearly had no shot at a first down, but those five yards were essential to the attempt. Hidden yards appear once again. I wonder if McAdoo was paying attention.
CAR quickly tied the game back up with a 38-yard field goal. Once again, they were in a position to do damage but errant throws by Mayfield, drops by the pass catchers, and penalties stopped their momentum, and NYG had control of the game with over 10 minutes left. An 11-play drive that took 7:12 off the clock set Gano up for a 56-yard field goal attempt. He put it right down the middle for his career-long in a Giants uniform and longest of his personal career since 2018 when he was with Carolina (a 63-yarder that beat…NYG).
CAR did creep toward midfield but a 3rd-down sack by Julian Love created a 4th-and-15, forcing CAR to punt the ball back to NYG with just over two minutes left. With a three-point lead, this is where teams need learn how to win. In just four plays and with the help of an encroachment penalty by CAR, NYG secured two first downs and CAR were without timeouts as the clock dwindled to triple zero.
NYG wins, 19-16.
-Daniel Jones: 22/34 – 176 yards / 1 TD – 0 INT / 87.4 RAT
Jones also added 21 hard-earned yards on the ground. One of the more fascinating things to follow under the Jones umbrella will be his willingness to make aggressive throws. Watching from the birds eye, Jones simply did not see open targets or he was too hesitant to let it rip. I say that from the comfort of my chair, whereas he had multiple elite, enormous athletes bearing down on him trying to rip his head off behind a shaky offensive line. But at some point, and Brian Daboll has stated this as well, Jones will need to alter his mindset. There is too much hesitation in his game, and it almost cost the team. Sure, he is playing with a sub-par group of pass catchers, but he needs to be more aggressive. If it is a matter of him not seeing the action, that is a different discussion. But Jones CAN do it. He DID it in this game. Make tight throws in big moments that are considered “elite” throws. Will Daboll get this out of him? Keep an eye on it.
-Saquon Barkley: 21 att – 72 yards / 3 rec – 16 yards
The Week 1 NFC Offensive Player of the Week took a step back in overall production and did not score. The CAR front gave the NYG offensive line all they could handle and more. That said, NYG scoring 13 points in the second half (after just 6 in the first) was largely a result of Barkley gaining 69 yards on the ground in the final two quarters. He came to life, broke multiple tackles, and ran physically. The one negative on his sheet was a poor pass block that created pressure and led to a sack.
-Gary Brightwell gained 14 yards on one carry that may have been the best play of the day by this offense. A 3rd-and-1 in the fourth quarter where he lined up as a fullback, Brightwell took it through the line in a hurry up field as if was shot out of a cannon. It was his only snap of the game, and nobody saw it coming.
-Last week it was Kadarius Toney, this week it was Kenny Golladay, when it comes to a surprising number of snaps. The $18 million per year receiver saw a grand total of two. He was not seen in the locker room after the game but according to Daboll, this was pre-decided and discussed during the week. Speaking of Toney, the 2021 first rounder did see an uptick in playing time. He caught 2 passes that totaled 0 yards (yes, zero) and dropped a pass. His biggest gain of the day (36 yards) was nullified by a David Sills offensive pass interference.
-Sterling Shepard had 6 catches for just 34 yards and Richie James (the current leading receiver on team after 2 weeks) added 54 yards on 5 catches. Both bring similar, if not identical, traits to the passing game and once Wan’Dale Robinson comes back, the same could be said for him. The NYG passing game will feed off these guys especially on third down but make no mistake, they aren’t taking the top off a defense unless the secondary gets fooled. Shepard did almost get another deep ball in this one, though.
-David Sills was the beneficiary of the hit to Golladay’s playing time. Good for this kid and I personally enjoy seeing him get his shot. If you remember back, I wanted NYG to take him in the 4th round of the 2019 NFL Draft. He went undrafted and linked up with Buffalo (where Daboll was at the time) and here we are in 2022, Sills saw a career-high 67 snaps, which led all receivers. Separation and speed issues were his downfall as a prospect, and they are still limiting him now but I do think he can offer something as a number four guy this season. That said, his bonehead decision to run backwards after a catch on 3rd down at the end of the first half was a terrible play that brought out the boo birds as the team went to the locker room.
-Daniel Bellinger was targeted one time (two less than backup Tanner Hudson) but he made the most of it. He caught the ball, quickly turned upfield, and showed a nice burst to the front corner of the end zone before outstretching his 6’5” frame to the pylon for the touchdown. Hudson grabbed 2 passes for 22 yards. Both were beat up at the point-of-attack by the physical CAR front, with Bellinger allowing a TFL. Chris Myarick saw time as the team did use an above average amount of 13 personnel and graded out in the green as a blocker.
-Very rough day for the group overall. The CAR front is a solid group, but they played above their pay grade thanks to poor blocking by the NYG line. The interior is where most of the losses were found. Center Jon Feliciano put out a second straight poor performance. In the fourth quarter with the game tied at 16, he allowed a TFL and then was flagged for holding, nearly knocking them out of field goal range. He also allowed 2 pressures and was flagged for a false start (where he did not snap the ball on time). Derek Brown had his way with him.
-Mark Glowinski is a blue-collar guy who won’t ever be a dominant presence, but I do feel good about him from a macro-perspective. Nevertheless, in this game, he allowed 3 pressures and a sack. He isn’t a stout guy at all. While he does produce enough power on the move as a run blocker, his anchor against an elite bull rusher gives him problems. Ben Bredeson and Joshua Ezeudu rotated at left guard again, but it was 77%-23% in favor or Bredeson when looking at snaps played. Rightfully so. Ezeudu was flagged twice (one was declined) and allowed a pressure. Bredeson graded out as the top OL on the team. I forecast the rotation continuing but if this difference in play keeps appearing, Bredeson will likely take a firm hold of the job until Shane Lemieux is back.
-The tackles were both beat up by Brian Burns multiple times. While they both ended up in the average tier of my grading system, they need to be better than what we saw in Week 2. Andrew Thomas allowed 2 pressures and a sack. His sack was a result of Jones running into his engagement due to pressure coming from Barkley, however. Thomas has set the bar high and many outside of New York are catching on. The catch with that? Your margin for error is much smaller. Evan Neal was the top graded run blocker. On a 17-yard run by Barkley, Neal blocked two different defenders within a second of each other that cleared the path. He did allow 1 TFL, 2 pressures, and 1 sack. More struggles but also more positives.
-Hats off to Jihad Ward. One of the most overlooked NYG signings this past offseason stemmed from a previous relationship with Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale in Baltimore (2019-2020). A hybrid DT/DE has been placed into a pure outside linebacker role with the injuries to starters Azeez Ojulari and Kayvon Thibodeaux. He was one of the stars of the defense in this complete team effort. He had 4 tackles, 2.5 TFL, and a pressure. You won’t see a ton in the highlight reel from him (although that is an impressive stat line vs the run), but Ward’s impact on this defense was huge. A true edge setter and vocal leader on this unit that has more swag than any group in recent memory.
-Oshane Ximines also had the best game of his career. He had 2 tackles, a sack, a pass breakup, and 3 pressures (1 untouched). It has been a rocky tenure here in New York for Ximines. While I’m not going to all the sudden label him a star, his role on this defense can be huge, especially if he is a rotational backup-type once the starters come back. The biggest difference in him is mental. There is a lot less hesitation in his game.
-Tomon Fox had a quiet game in his 20 snaps.
-Leonard Williams going down is something to keep an eye on. At the time of this writing, I do not have any sort of update but I saw a clear difference at the point-of-attack after he left. Prior to him getting hurt, Christian McCaffrey carried the ball 11 times for 39 yards. After he left? 4 carries for 63 yards including a 49-yarder. The 4-man pass rush took a hit as well. Williams had 3 pressures, one of which created a sack for the defense.
-Dexter Lawrence had a dominant day. He is playing with some extra fire right now and his bull rush is as effective as you will find in the league. He had 4 pressures and a half-TFL. Arguably the most impressive play was a pursuit of Baker Mayfield to the sideline. It was 3rd-and-4 in the first quarter. Mayfield had a clear line to the first down marker, and he took off from midfield. Lawrence chased him from the middle of the line and essentially beat him to the marker. CAR did convert the 4th-down conversion the next play but I loved seeing Lawrence, a 345-pounder, go step for step with a 215-pound quarterback who ran a 4.8 at the Combine. You won’t find many guys who can do that.
-Nick Williams rotated with Justin Ellis with some D.J. Davidson sprinkled in. It was a small sample size (as it was in Week 1), but I trust Davidson more than the former two. He has a little more pop off the ball and is twice as stout as Williams, the biggest catalyst in NYG’s occasional run struggles.
-To combat Christian McCaffrey (arguably the league’s top dual threat back), Martindale played almost the entire game with one linebacker on the field. Tae Crowder played 48 snaps, and the combination of Micah McFadden and Austin Calitro combined for 15 snaps. More on that below. Crowder had just 2 tackles and missed one. He was non-existent against the inside run but was not challenged much in coverage, a questionable approach by McAdoo.
-Aaron Robinson was sidelined because of an appendectomy, giving the start to rookie Cor’Dale Flott. The third rounder missed a sizeable portion of camp and preseason with a groin injury, and I felt this was a vulnerable part of the defense. McAdoo did not try to exploit it until the second half. Flott was beat twice on the CAR touchdown drive, including the score. He was rotated out for most of the game afterward. He also missed 2 tackles.
-Adoree’ Jackson shut down Robbie Anderson (3 rec / 32 yards). He also recovered a fumble and broke up a pass. Anderson is on the field for one reason, and one reason only. Run deep, stretch the secondary, make explosive plays. He isn’t physical. He isn’t effective underneath. This is the ideal matchup for Jackson, and I believe that is why he was put on a shadow-role in this one. He covered Anderson in over 80% of drop backs. Great game by him despite the illegal-contact penalty.
-Darnay Holmes was flagged for pass interference again and he missed 2 tackles. But he had pressure (untouched) and forced a fumble that NYG recovered. Have to take the good with the bad with him, partially why I think he is a fit with Martindale.
-Fabian Moreau rotated in for Flott when they benched him. He had a quiet game from there.
-Julian Love is blossoming into the player many of us thought he could right before our eyes. He had 7 tackles, 1 sack (in a key moment), 2 TFL, and a pressure. He also made an impact on special teams. He was one of three defenders to play every single snap and he was all over the field. Not every scheme maximizes a player like this, but Martindale’s does.
-Xavier McKinney was second on the team with 5 tackles and a pressure (untouched). He also batted two balls at the line (a staple in Mayfield’s game as a passer) and played excellent over-the-top pass defense. The combination of these two is a big-time contributor to the strong defense we have seen through two weeks.
-Dane Belton had a great start to his career after missing Week 1. He recovered a fumble on the opening kickoff and played just under 80% of the snaps, contributing 4 tackles and was inches away from an interception. Belton did miss two tackles though, one thing to keep an eye on as that was a red flag on his scouting report coming out of Iowa. The middle of this defense on the back third is something I will touch on below. Hint, this may change the defense as much as any group on the team.
-K Graham Gano: 4/4 (Made 36, 33, 51, 56)
-P Jamie Gillian: 5 punts / 50.6 avg – 43.2 net
-EDGE Jihad Ward, S Julian Love, K Graham Gano
-OC Jon Feliciano, DT Nick Williams, OG Mark Glowinski
3 THOUGHTS ON CAR
1. If you want to see a team that has completely mismanaged the quarterback position year after year, check out what CAR has done. In 2020, they could have made an aggressive trade up from #7 overall with one of multiple teams that already had a QB (WAS-Haskins, NYG-Jones, DET-Stafford). They did not pony up and watched Tua go #5 and Herbert go #6. They went forward with Teddy Bridgewater. In 2021, they tried to get Stafford but were outbid by the Rams. They chose not to draft Mac Jones or Justin Fields. They instead ate $17 million of dead cap and traded multiple picks for Sam Darnold. In 2022, they were outbid in trade attempts for both Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson. They ended up trading for Mayfield. Moral of the story? You are going to need to overpay in a quarterback situation and be OK with it.
2. Matt Rhule was minutes away from being the NYG Head Coach. Now? I wouldn’t be surprised to see him as the first one fired this season. They went 5-11 in his first year, 5-12 in his second year, and are currently 0-2 in the one season where the NFC South looks most vulnerable. They look like a team that is simply running in place. Not getting any worse, not getting any better. There was a huge blowback when NYG did not get Rhule by many fans. Remember, sometimes the best deals you make are the ones you do not. Rhule is showing to be a college-only type. I bet we see him down there again within 1-2 years at a marquee program (Oklahoma? Nebraska? Auburn?).
3. Where will CAR go this year? What is their long term outlook? While I don’t consider them a basement-caliber team (they have some serious pieces on defense), they’re exactly where you don’t want to be. Good enough to win 5-7 games, not good enough for .500. That is a spot that is hard to build from especially when you don’t have a QB. I think Mayfield is a backup somewhere else next year and Darnold as well. Matt Corral was drafted this past spring and unless this team makes an aggressive move this year (maybe Tepper has finally learned his lesson) the long-term outlook is bleak at best. My prediction? They go all in on the top QB in a draft trade or try to get Lamar Jackson.
3 THOUGHTS ON NYG
1. The Wink Martindale scheme is one of, if not the most, versatile schemes in the NFL. Many will talk about being “multiple” and in some context it is true. Some teams are so deep up front they can rotate bodies all game and change up their looks based on personnel. Over the course of a season, however, those trends can be forecasted. Martindale does a great job of completely altering his approach on all levels to surprise an offense. You think he’s sending the house? He will rush four via zone blitz. You think he’s rushing four? He’ll send seven. You think he is going to jam the box with extra linebackers? He brings another defensive back on the field. I compare Martindale to the Bruce Arians of defenses. No risk it, no biscuit. Scared money don’t make money. This may end up biting them at some point but when looking at it from a bird’s eye lens, I trust it will help more than hurt.
2. Sticking with that defensive theme, keep a close eye on this trio of safeties. McKinney and Love are ascending stars in this league who can do so much for a defense to help win games. Opposing offenses will never know where they are going to line up. Throw in Belton who, at the very least, can play fast and shows the ability to play up and down, and this group is going to hide the issues they have at linebacker and pass rush for the time being. 3 of their 4 leading tacklers were these guys and they added pass break ups, plays behind the line of scrimmage, and pressure on the quarterback. Finding good safeties can be very difficult and the Giants have two of them.
3. Through two games, how is the offense projecting moving forward? They are bottom third in yards per play. Bottom third in EPA. Bottom three in sack percentage. Third most sacks allowed. Bottom six in yards per pass attempt. The saving grace? They are sixth in yards per rush attempt and have turned it over just twice in 2 games (small sample size, but rank top half in that department in the good way). The concern still resides up front with the line. If these tackles don’t have a superb game, do we trust the interior to keep it together or do the wheels fall off? It is clearly impacting Jones as he cannot step up in the pocket and I think it is messing with his internal clock. Yes, part of that is on Jones, but the inside guys need to be better. There is no way around it. This team needs to score more and get more yards through the air if they are going to sustain success. I really think over 80% of that is on the shoulder of the guard-center-guard. Play better.