In last week’s game review, I wrote “There is a big difference between the Giants losing this game 40-6 and 20-13. I can more easily accept the latter. But another one-sided drubbing by a divisional opponent is a really tough pill to swallow.”
At halftime, the Giants were trailing 20-3, exactly on pace for a 40-6 drubbing. But a handful of plays made a statistically one-sided game close, including a fumble on a kickoff return, a pick 6, and a 69-yard touchdown pass. Despite some bad officiating, the Giants seriously threatened to send the game into overtime. In terms of the big picture, one could argue this was a good outcome. It was a competitive game, but the Giants improved their draft position.
Yet the gnawing feeling remains that there is a serious talent gap between these two teams. The Giants kept it close because of three plays, but the Eagles still proved to be the better team when taking into account every single snap. We’ll get a better read in two weeks when both these teams face each other again, with Tyrod Taylor likely playing the full game as starter.
In between, the Giants face the red-hot Los Angeles Rams. The Rams’ overall record of 8-7 is misleading. The team has won five of their last six games, with the only defeat being in overtime to the Ravens in Baltimore. One can argue that the Rams have gotten fat playing against bad teams, but they have averaged over 32 points per game in their last five games. The Giants are averaging 14 points per game.
So unless something bizarre occurs, the Giants will fall to 5-11 against a surging team fighting for a playoff spot with a quarterback playing at an elite level. The Giants’ 2023 season was over by Halloween. It’s just taking forever to officially wrap this up before one of the most important offseasons in franchise history.
THE INJURY REPORT:
- RB Saquon Barkley (elbow – probable)
- WR Wan’Dale Robinson (quad – questionable)
- TE Darren Waller (knee – probable)
- TE Lawrence Cager (groin – doubtful)
- OC John Michael Schmitz (shoulder – probable)
- OG Ben Bredeson (quad – probable)
- OG Justin Pugh (elbow – probable)
- DL Dexter Lawrence (hamstring – probable)
- DL A’Shawn Robinson (back – probable)
- DL Rakeem Nunez-Roches (knee – probable)
- CB Deonte Banks (shoulder – questionable)
- CB Adoree’ Jackson (ankle – probable)
- P Jamie Gillan (groin/knee – probable)
GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
Overall, the defense of the Rams is not overly impressive. They are middle-of-the pack in yards allowed and scoring defense. However, they still have defensive tackle Aaron Donald and they like to stunt and blitz up front, the exact type of scheme that has given New York’s blockers fits. The ability of the Giants to move the ball and put points on the board will largely depend on the offensive line. That’s not encouraging.
Let’s turn to the big picture and the upcoming offseason. That’s the more interesting subject matter.
Two things appear to separate the consistently good offenses and the bad ones: quarterback and offensive line.
If you don’t have a quarterback, you’re not likely to seriously challenge for a division title, let alone a Super Bowl trophy. The Giants have invested five years and two big contracts into Daniel Jones with little to show for it. On top of that, he can’t stay healthy. Undrafted rookie Tommy DeVito’s 15-minutes may be up. He’s under contract for another year and certainly will get a chance to compete in the summer, but whether he has an NFL future in any capacity remains in question. The problem for him is he doesn’t have the longer leash provided to a draft pick. It may not be fair, but it’s the way the world works.
This brings us to Tyrod Taylor. In 2022, many felt his 2-year, $11 million contract was an indication that Taylor would be the bridge quarterback between Jones, who was on thin ice at the time, and the anticipated 1st-round quarterback taken by the team in April 2023. However, under the new coaching staff, Jones played better than expected and was rewarded with a 4-year, $160 million deal. That decision has blown up in the team’s face. The Giants now find themselves in the awkward position of perhaps having to sit a player with a $47 million cap value out of fear he may hurt himself again and lock the team into future cap trouble. Long story short, much depends on how Joe Schoen and Brian Daboll privately feel about Jones.
If Jones is on the outs, theoretically Taylor could once again become that bridge quarterback. But there are two problems. (1) Taylor’s contract is expiring and he may not even be open to returning to a team that already benched him for an undrafted rookie, and (2) Taylor simply has not been able to stay healthy in the NFL himself. It’s not impossible that the Giants and Taylor could agree to a new deal, but I would not bet on it. That all said, these last two games could change hearts and minds. Familiarity is also working in favor of a possible reunion. So these games may be more important to Taylor than anyone else on the team. He not only needs to play well, but he can’t afford to get dinged up again.
We’ve all had it with the state of the offensive line. Enough is enough. Fix the fucking line. You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to see that teams that can protect their quarterback and run the football are automatically good offenses. The reverse is also obvious. The Giants have had first hand experience with this brutal reality for 12 years. A good offensive line can make an average quarterback look good. Bad ones ruined the entire second half of Eli Manning’s career.
Evan Neal’s 2023 season was a disaster. Neal suffered a concussion in training camp that caused him to miss two valuable weeks of practice. A right ankle injury nagged him for all of October, causing him to also miss two games. When he returned in early November, he broke his left ankle, an injury which requires surgery. Neal only started seven games, missing 10, and again struggled with his balance and footwork in pass protection when he did play. Schoen says they still view him as a tackle and believe he can play. If so, they had better hire new offensive line coaches and have a legitimate fallback option.
Neal has become the bogeyman for fans, but the guard situation is just as dire. Justin Pugh is clearly not answer and should not be retained. Ben Bredeson is not an NFL starter, and is best suited for a back-up role. The lack of development of 2022 3rd-round pick Josh Ezeudu, who was forced to start five games at left tackle before missing the remaining 12 games with an injury, has been an issue as well. The regime also gambled an lost on Shane Lemieux (again) and Marcus McKethan did not develop. The situation with Mark Glowinski is just weird and he is likely done here. On top of all of this, the blocking schemes don’t appear to play to John Michael Schmitz’s strengths.
Moving forward, the Giants will have Andrew Thomas and hopefully Schmitz becomes what they hoped for when they drafted him. They can’t count on Neal, Bredeson, Ezeudu, and McKethan to be starters. They must part ways with Glowinski, Pugh, Lemieux, and Matt Peart. They cut Tyre Phillips once so it will be interesting to see if they even attempt to re-sign him. In other words, the Giants haven’t improved their OL situation at all in two seasons. Once again, they have to go back to the drawing board. It’s beyond ridiculous. Fix it.
GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
Full disclosure, I was a hugely supportive of the Giants hiring Wink Martindale. I was a big fan of what his defenses did in Baltimore and I like his aggressive approach in an era of bend-but-don’t break schemes. I also was impressed with the smoke-and-mirrors job he did in 2022 with an undermanned and injury-riddled unit. Opponents continue to say how difficult his system is to prepare for. That all said, I am left underwhelmed this year. The Giants’ defense allowed 144 rushing yards per game in 2022. They are giving up 134 yards per game this year, which is 29th in the NFL. Perhaps I’m too locked into the past, but I was brought up in an era where if you can’t stop the run, you can’t play quality defense, and therefore you can’t win. What’s Wink’s excuse? They traded away Leonard Williams? That doesn’t explain the problems before he was traded and it’s not sufficient enough an excuse for just how bad the run defense has been.
You want to beat the Cowboys and Eagles? You have to stop the run. Period.
I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the reports, but according to my sources, Wink is indeed on the way out. I’m not sure how I feel about this. Wink did have a down year in 2023, but so did this entire coaching staff. We’ll have to pray this all works out.
What type of defense needs this team will have largely depends on who defensive coordinator will be. Will the Giants stick with a 3-4 hybrid? Will they be more of a pure 3-4? Will they consider shifting back to a 4-3? Does doing the latter even make sense with Kayvon Thibodeaux being more of a pure 3-4 outside linebacker? Whatever scheme they employ, one thing is clear, the Giants need more pass rushers. It’s the glaring talent weakness on this defense.
As for the Rams, this one could get ugly. Fans keep asking where has Thibodeaux been, but as I’ve warned for weeks now, he’s a marked man. The team has gotten one decent game from Azeez Ojulari and that’s it. Now Dexter Lawrence has been limited to half the defensive snaps due to a hamstring situation. Meanwhile, as mentioned above, the Rams are averaging 32 points per game in their past five contests. Los Angeles has the 7th-best offense in the NFL, higher than the Eagles and Chiefs. They can throw the ball and they can run it. Matthew Stafford is playing as well as anyone at quarterback and he has two studs to throw to, including Cooper Kupp and surprising rookie Puka Nacua. Deonte Banks being questionable with a shoulder injury does not help.
GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
I’ve never seen a season where the Giants have had three kickers and a punter get hurt, but here we are. Jamie Gillan is playing hurt and that would be more of a concern if the team was still alive for a playoff spot. Meanwhile, two poor punts + big returns led directly to 14 points last week. That proved decisive in a one-score game. Thomas McGaughey should be on thin ice.
FROM THE COACHES:
Wink Martindale on the Rams’ offense: “I think that Stafford is playing at a Hall of Fame-type level and they have gelled offensively. He’s making throws that you just sit there and go, ‘wow.’ From all different kind of arm angles, no looks, all those things you’ve heard about, you’re seeing him do it and they’re playing at a very high level. I think that the thing that (Head Coach) Sean (McVay) has done is that they’ve made a commitment to the run game and changing their offensive line this year. Now, it’s a two-headed monster that you have to deal with. So, they put you in a bind of what you want to try to do and how you’re going try to do it, but Stafford is playing unreal. I mean, he’s a great football player, but I think that he and (Ravens quarterback) Lamar (Jackson) should be up for the MVP candidate. That’s the kind of year he’s having, and they’ve scored over 30 points a game.”
THE FINAL WORD:
In a decade plus of forgettable games and forgettable players, we find ourselves in the final stages of another season that was over by Halloween and which took forever to end. That’s a terrible place to be, but it is what it is. At this point, stealing a win would hurt the team more than it helps. If that makes me a bad fan, so be it. I hope they keep it close, but I don’t want to fall down the draft board. No one will ever remember if they upset the Rams.