Jan 222021
 
Share Button
Darius Slayton, New York Giants (September 14, 2020)

Darius Slayton – © USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps the single most disappointing unit on the New York Giants in 2020 was the wide receivers. Leading up to the season, there was much fan debate about just how good this group would be in 2020. The optimists pointed to Darius Slayton’s impressive 8-touchdown rookie season in which he averaged over 15 yards per catch. As long as he could stay healthy, Sterling Shepard had proven to be a reliable slot receiver who could move the chains. And despite missing four games due to a PED suspension and another due to a concussion, Golden Tate had gained 676 yards and six touchdowns in just 11 games in 2019. On the other hand, the naysayers claimed this group was way overrated. Most agreed that quality depth was non-existent.

The naysayers were right and the optimists were wrong. Slayton had a season to forget. He dropped six passes and saw his touchdown total fall to three (two of which came in the opener). Worse, Slayton all but disappeared from the offense for long stretches, catching only 12 passes for 167 yards and no touchdowns after the bye week. Shepard missed a quarter of the season with yet another injury, a turf toe that likely nagged him much of the year. While he led the team in receptions, Shepard only scored three touchdowns and averaged less than 10 yards per catch. Tate was most disappointing of all. He missed a quarter of the season (three to injuries and one for disciplinary reasons), and finished with just 388 yards receiving. No other wide receiver caught more than 11 passes. And as a unit, this group only scored an embarrassing nine touchdowns. NINE!

So what happened? It’s likely that the absence of Saquon Barkley from the line-up had a dramatic impact on the rest of the offense. Opposing defenses no longer had to worry about Barkley as a runner and receiver, someone who often received double-team and/or special attention. Teams could now spend more resources on defending Slayton, Shepard, or tight end Evan Engram. Golden Tate’s play fell off dramatically and he is clearly nearing the end of his career. Shepard (again) missed significant time due injury and Slayton was also dealing with a foot issue. Whatever the reasons, the top three receivers rarely created much separation from defensive backs. Every throw always seemed to be contested. And with no depth, the coaching staff had few replacement options. In the end, this group simply proved to be a bottom tier group, perhaps even the worst in the NFL.

THE STARTERS

In his fifth NFL season, Sterling Shepard caught a career-high and team-leading 66 passes, but 2020 represented yet another somewhat disappointing campaign. Shepard has now missed significant time due to injury in three seasons, spending four games on Injured Reserve in 2020 with a turf toe injury that he suffered in Week 2. He finished the year with just 656 yards (a career-low 9.9 yards per catch) and three touchdowns. Shepard was selected in the 2nd round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Giants. Shepard started all 16 games in 2016 and 2018, but missed five games in 2017 and six games in 2019, the latter with two serious concussions. He has never come close to cracking the 1,000-yard mark in a single season or duplicating his 8-touchdown season of his rookie campaign (he now has 20 career touchdowns). Shepard lacks ideal size and speed, but he is a fluid athlete with good quickness. Shepard runs good routes, is tough going over the middle, and adjusts well to the football. Shepard is not a consistent deep threat, but more of a move-the-chains underneath target who is ideally suited for the slot position. He needs to make more big plays. Good blocker.

After an impressive rookie season, Darius Slayton did not play as well in 2020. He played in all 16 games, starting 15, and finished the year with 50 catches for 751 yards and three touchdowns. While his reception and yardage numbers were similar to his rookie season, he played in two fewer games in 2019 while scoring eight touchdowns. Slayton also was second on the team in dropped passes with six in 2020. A nagging foot injury could have been an issue for him. The Giants drafted Slayton in the 5th round of the 2019 NFL Draft. He combines good size with very good overall athleticism and speed. Slayton can stretch the field and get deep. He runs good routes, adjusts well to the football, and is dangerous after the catch. To reach the next level, he must become a more physical receiver, including beating press coverage, and more consistent catching the football.

The play of Golden Tate really fell off a cliff in 2020. He missed three games to various leg injuries and was benched another game for disciplinary reasons. Yet despite playing in one more game than he did in 2019, Tate’s reception figures fell from 49 to 35, his yardage figures fell from 676 to 388, and his touchdown figures fell from six to two. The 5’10”, 197-pound Tate was originally drafted in the 2nd round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks. He has spent time with the Seahawks (2010-2013), Detroit Lions (2014-2018), and Philadelphia Eagles (2018). He made the Pro Bowl in 2014.  The Giants signed Tate as an unrestricted free agent from the Eagles in March 2019. In his first season with the Giants, Tate missed five games (four due to suspension and one due to a concussion). Tate is ideally suited for the slot position, but he appears to be slowing down. He is capable of making the tough catch in traffic and can be dangerous after the catch. Tate has a history of wearing out his welcome with teams in the NFL.

THE RESERVES

The Giants claimed C.J. Board off of waivers from the Jacksonville Jaguars in August 2020. He surprisingly played in 14 games, including four starts, but only finished with 11 catches for 101 yards and no touchdowns. The 6’1”, 181-pound Board was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Baltimore Ravens after the 2017 NFL Draft. He has spent time with the Ravens (2017), Tennessee Titans (2017), Cleveland Browns (2017-2018), and Jaguars (2018-2019). Before coming to the Giants, his only regular-season experience came in 2019 when his played in four games for the Jaguars and finished the year with just two catches for 31 yards.

The Giants signed Austin Mack as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2020 NFL Draft. He played in 11 games as a rookie with one start, finishing the year with just seven catches for 91 yards and no touchdowns. Mack is a muscular wideout with good size, but he lacks ideal speed and quickness. Strictly a possession-type receiver, Mack is capable of making the tough grab in traffic.

The Giants claimed Dante Pettis off of waivers from the San Francisco 49ers in early November 2020. He played in the final two games of the season for the Giants, catching four passes for 76 yards and one touchdown. The 6’1”, 195-pound Pettis was originally drafted in the 2nd round of the 2018 NFL Draft by the 49ers. He has played in 30 regular-season games, with 12 starts. Pettis has experience returning kickoffs and punts. He’s a good athlete who has struggled with some of the mental aspects of the game.

The Giants claimed Damion Ratley off of waivers from the Cleveland Browns in early September 2020 and cut him in October. He ended up playing in five games, catching four passes for 63 yards. The 6’2”, 200-pound Ratley was originally drafted in the 6th round of the 2018 NFL Draft by the Browns. In 2018-2019, Ratley played in 26 regular-season games with six starts, accruing 25 catches for 344 yards and one touchdown.

PRACTICE SQUAD

The 6’0”, 190-pound Alex Bachman was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Los Angeles Rams after the 2019 NFL Draft. The Rams cut him before the season started and the Giants signed him to their Practice Squad in November 2019. Bachman began the 2020 season on the Giants’ Practice Squad, was cut, and then re-sign to the Practice Squad again. Bachman is an average-sized receiver with good quickness.

The Giants signed Derrick Dillon to a future/reserve contract in January 2021. The 5’11”, 185-pound Dillon was signed by the Giants as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2020 NFL Draft. He spent much of the season on the team’s Practice Squad, but was cut in early December. Dillon is a smaller, speedy wide receiver with limited collegiate production.

The Giants signed Binjimen Victor as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2020 NFL Draft. He spent the entire season on the team’s Practice Squad but was signed by the Baltimore Ravens in January 2021.

The Giants signed Corey Coleman to the Practice Squad in late October 2020 and cut him a month late in late November. The 5’11”, 185-pound Coleman was originally drafted in the 1st round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns. The Giants signed Coleman to the Practice Squad and then the 53-man roster in October 2018. He ended up playing in eight games with one start, finishing with five catches for 71 yards. Coleman missed all of 2019 with a torn ACL knee injury. The Giants cut him in early September 2020. The NFL just announced Coleman will be suspended for six games in 2021 for a PED violation.

The Giants signed Johnny Holton in early September 2020. He spent a month on the Practice Squad before being cut in October. The 6’3”, 190-pound Holton was originally signed by the Oakland Raiders as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2016 NFL Draft.

INJURED RESERVE

Cody Core was placed on Injured Reserve in August 2020 after tearing his Achilles during a training camp practice. While Core only had three catches for 28 yards in 2019, he was arguably the team’s best special teams player, excelling on punt coverage. He was credited with eight tackles and was a big factor in downing punts inside the 20-yard line. The 6’3”, 205-pound Core was originally drafted in the 6th round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals. In three seasons with the Bengals, he played in 35 regular-season games with seven starts, accumulating 30 catches for 360 yards and one touchdown. The Giants claimed  Core off of waivers from the Bengals in September 2019.

David Sills was placed on Injured Reserve before the season started in early September with a broken right foot. The 6’3”, 211-pound Sills was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Buffalo Bills after the 2019 NFL Draft. The Giants signed Sills to the Practice Squad in September 2019 after he was cut by the Bills. The Giants then signed him to the 53-man roster in mid-December 2019. He did not play in a game however.

COVID-19 OPT-OUT

Da’Mari Scott opted out of the 2020 NFL season due to the COVID-19 issue. The Giants claimed Scott off of waivers from the Buffalo Bills in July 2019. They waived him in August but Scott spent time on both the team’s Practice Squad and 53-man roster during the season. In all, Scott played in five games with two starts. He finished the year with just two catches for 22 yards. He also returned four kickoffs (27.5 yards per return) and six punts (5.3 yards per return). The 6’0”, 205-pound Scott was originally signed by the Cleveland Browns as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2018 NFL Draft. The Browns waived him in December 2018 and he was then signed by the Bills.

Jan 202021
 
Share Button
Evan Engram, New York Giants (September 29, 2019)

Evan Engram – © USA TODAY Sports

As an offensive mind, former Dallas Cowboys head coach and current New York Giants offensive coordinator Jason Garrett had his advocates and detractors. But one of the areas that most agreed upon was that Garrett knew how to employ tight ends to maximum benefit in a pro offense. For years, Jason Witten and a host of other Cowboys’ tight ends have tormented the Giants and other teams. In addition, Freddie Kitchens may have been a failure as a head coach in Cleveland, but the new tight ends coach of the Giants had a strong reputation for coaching tight ends in Dallas (2006) and Arizona (2007-2012). The hope and expectation was that Garrett and Kitchens would finally be able to get 2017 1st-round draft pick Evan Engram to play up to his tremendous potential.

It didn’t happen.

In his fourth NFL season, Engram once again proved he is who he is: a very athletic tight end/receiver hybrid who flashes big-play ability but disappears for long stretches and can’t be counted on in the clutch. He’s the very definition of a “coach killer,” the guy you keep longer than you should because he is a perennial tease but who ends up losing you football games. There is no greater example of that than the Week 7 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. Leading 21-16 late in the 4th quarter, the Giants were well on their way to their second victory in a row as Wayne Gallman had run for 27 yards in an effort to run out the clock. On 3rd-and-7, Daniel Jones hit Engram in the hands down the field with just over 2 minutes left in the game. He dropped it. If Engram catches that pass, the Giants walk off the field victorious. If Engram catches that pass, the Giants probably win the NFC East. You can also legitimately blame the defense for not holding the lead, but it never should have come to that.

If all of this sounds a bit harsh, it is. But the Giants have turned down multiple trade offers for Engram because of his supposed upside. The truth is that once the Giants drafted Saquon Barkley with the #2 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, which committed the Giants to a more run-centric offense, Engram seemed miscast on this team. Because of his body type, he’ll never been more than a subpar blocker. But you accept that if he is a match-up nightmare for opposing defenses, a receiver who consistently catches 5-8 passes per game and approaches 8-10 touchdown receptions per season. Engram is not that guy. He had ONE touchdown in 2020. His Pro Bowl invite seems like a bad joke.

Obviously there were other tight ends on the roster. Kaden Smith (45 percent of all offensive snaps) and Levine Toilolo (27 percent of all offensive snaps) saw extensive playing time as Garrett often employed 2- and 3-tight end packages. But both served more as complementary blockers, as in total Smith and Toilolo had only 23 catches and no touchdowns. Eric Tomlinson spent some time on the 53-man roster and practice squad, but was waived for good in November. He only played in one game.

Let that sink in for one moment. As a group, New York Giants tight ends caught ONE touchdown pass in 2020. Pathetic doesn’t seem like strong enough of a word.

ON THE 53-MAN ROSTER

In his fourth NFL season, Evan Engram had yet another disappointing year in 2020 despite being voted to the Pro Bowl. He was second on the team with 63 catches for 654 yards (10.4 yards per catch) and just one touchdown. Engram also had a team-high eight dropped passes. He played 83 percent of all offensive snaps. The Giants drafted Engram in the 1st round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Engram had a solid rookie year, but missed five games in 2018 (knee and hamstring) and eight games in 2019 (knee and foot) with injuries. Engram is not built like a traditional tight end, but more like an H-Back/wide receiver ‘tweener. He is very athletic with excellent speed and quickness for the position, and flashes big play-making ability. However, he is not a reliable player. Engram tends to disappear for long stretches of games and the season. He drops too many passes cannot be counted on in the clutch. Due to his size, he is not a good blocker.

Kaden Smith served as the team’s top reserve tight end for the second year in a row. While his playing time increased, playing in 15 games with 12 starts, Smith’s pass-catching productivity fell from 31 catches, 268 yards, and three touchdowns in 2019 to 18 catches, 112 yards, and no touchdowns in 2020. He missed one game in late November due to COVID-19. He played 45 percent of all offensive snaps. Smith was originally drafted in the 6th round of the 2019 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers. The Giants claimed Smith off of waivers from the San Francisco 49ers in September 2019. While not a dynamic athlete, Smith has good size (6’5”, 249 pounds), runs good routes, and catches the ball well. He is decent blocker.

The team’s third tight end in 2020, Levine Toilolo played in all 16 games with two starts (27 percent of all offensive snaps). He finished with just five catches for 46 yards. The 6’8”, 268-pound Toilolo was originally drafted in the 4th round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons. He has spent time with the Falcons (2013-2017), Detroit Lions (2018), and San Francisco 49ers (2019). The Giants signed Toilolo as an unrestricted free agent from the 49ers in March 2020. In eight NFL seasons, Toilolo has played in 124 regular-season games with 69 starts. Toilolo is a huge tight end who is a better blocker than receiver.

Eric Tomlinson spent most of September and October on the 53-man roster, but was waived in November. He only played in one game with a couple of offensive snaps. The Ravens picked him up and he actually played in six games with two starts for Baltimore. The Giants signed Tomlinson as an unrestricted free agent from the Las Vegas Raiders in March 2020. This was Tomlinson’s second stint with the Giants as the team also signed him in September 2019 after he was cut by the New York Jets. Tomlinson was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Philadelphia Eagles after the 2015 NFL Draft.

ON THE PRACTICE SQUAD

The Giants signed Rysen John to the Practice Squad in late October 2020. The Giants originally signed John as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2020 NFL Draft. The Giants waived/injured John in early September 2020 with a hamstring injury. The 6’7”, 220-pound John was a receiver in college.

The Giants re-signed Nakia Griffin-Stewart to a future/reserve contract in January 2021. The Giants signed Griffin-Stewart to the Practice Squad in November 2020 and cut him in December. The 6’5”, 260-pound Griffin-Stewart was originally signed as rookie free agent by the Minnesota Vikings after the 2020 NFL Draft. He also spent time on the Practice Squad of the Green Bay Packers that year before signing with the Giants.

The Giants re-signed Nate Wieting to a future/reserve contract in January 2021. The Giants originally signed Wieting to the Practice Squad in November 2020 and cut him in December. The 6’4”, 250-pound Wieting went undrafted in the 2020 NFL Draft. He spent some time with the Cleveland Browns and Miami Dolphins before signing with the Giants.

Jan 182021
 
Share Button
Shane Lemieux and Nick Gates, New York Giants (November 2, 2020)

Shane Lemieux and Nick Gates – © USA TODAY Sports

New Head Coach Joe Judge was hired by the New York Giants in early January 2020. After an atypically long vetting process, the team announced its complete staff a month later in early February. The extremely well-organized new head coach was all set to initiate his program to turn the franchise around. Then disaster struck. COVID-19 forced the league to shut down in the spring and much of the summer. The challenges for a new head coach trying to rebuild most of the roster seemed almost insurmountable.

Probably the position most affected by these developments was the offensive line. The Giants entered 2020 knowing they would have to have new starters at center and at least one of the tackle spots. That quickly became three starters when left tackle Nate Solder decided to sit out 2020 due to COVID-19 concerns. Right tackle Mike Remmers had already signed with the Kansas City Chiefs. The only free agent addition was journeyman swing tackle Cam Fleming. It was obvious that most of the help would have to come from the draft, where the Giants selected Andrew Thomas in the 1st round, Matt Peart in the 3rd round, and Shane Lemieux in the 5th round. Despite those additions, there was still a glaring hole at center, with no obvious candidate to start other than the disappointing Spencer Pulley and talk of possible conversion projects.

With the desperate need to sort all of this out, Joe Judge was being told he could have no mini-camps, no Organized Team Activity (OTA) practices, a dramatically scaled back training camp, and no preseason. Teams were told they could only hold 14 padded practices before the season. 14 practices to get rookie Andrew Thomas ready at left tackle. 14 practices to find and name a starting center. 14 practices to figure out who to start at right tackle. 14 practices to build cohesion and chemistry for a group largely unfamiliar with each other.

The early returns were predictable. The line struggled. Converted guard/tackle Nick Gates was moved to center, a position that he had never played, and he had a rough start. Andrew Thomas did not look like the 4th player taken in the draft and fans began to question the pick, arguing the team drafted the wrong lineman. There was no time for Matt Peart to seriously challenge Cam Fleming for the right tackle job, and Fleming continued to demonstrate he really wasn’t an ideal starter. All of this was made worse by the fact that the two guys who the team needed to rely on, guards Kevin Zeitler and Will Hernandez, were once again not playing as well as expected.

Saquon Barkley was lost in Week 2 and the Giants had no ground game early in the season outside of Daniel Jones running for his life. No Giant had more than 30 yards rushing in the first two games and no Giant had more than 50 yards rushing in the first four games. Jones was the team’s leading rusher in four of the first seven games of the season. Jones was also getting sacked early and often, something that never really totally abated as he was sacked 45 times and NYG quarterbacks sacked 50 times on the season (or over three per game).

Despite all of this negativity and an 0-5 start, something began to change in October. A hodgepodge group of backs and Jones began to hurt teams on the ground as the offensive line began playing better. In eight of their next nine games, the Giants ran for over 100 yards or more. In seven of these games, they ran for over 130 yards or more. The high point was a 190-yard rushing effort against the Seattle Seahawks on December 6th. The line appeared to be developing into a physical, smash-mouth unit almost overnight.

Why? First, Nick Gates made a miraculous transformation from an undrafted tackle to a big, feisty, physical presence at center. In just a few games, he clearly became the team’s best offensive lineman. Second, Andrew Thomas settled down and started playing much, much better. Third, the Giants replaced Will Hernandez with Shane Lemieux at left guard, and while that created some pass protection issues, Lemieux’s presence seemed to be an upgrade in the run-blocking department. Finally, Kevin Zeitler started to play better. Matt Peart did receive increased playing time, receiving significant snaps in half of the games, but right tackle remained a bit of a sore spot with Cam Fleming.

In mid-November, Joe Judge surprisingly fired Offensive Line Coach Marc Colombo, bringing onboard outsider Dave DeGuglielmo, who ironically had served under Tom Coughlin from 2004 to 2008. DeGuglielmo would later miss the last week of the season due to COVID-19.

The line struggled in three-game stretch in December before finishing strong in the season finale against Dallas. In those three games, New York never rushed for more than 80 yards and Giants’ quarterbacks were sacked 13 times. Nevertheless, the overall impression was despite all of COVID-19-related handicaps, the Giants actually finally made progress in rebuilding the offensive line in 2020. There appears to be a young, talented foundation to work with.

THE STARTERS

Despite having no prior experience at playing the position, and after a rough start, Nick Gates not only solidified the center position for the Giants but rapidly became the team’s best lineman. Gates started all 16 games at center. He was flagged with five penalties (two holding, one false start, one unnecessary roughness, and one illegal block). The Giants signed Gates as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2018 NFL Draft. He missed all of 2018 with a foot injury that caused him to be placed on Injured Reserve before the season started. In 2019, Gates was active for all 16 games with three starts (two starts at right tackle and one start at right guard). Gates is a versatile player, able to play tackle, guard, and center. He has good size and brings toughness and attitude to the offensive line. Gates is a solid pass and run blocker.

The Giants drafted Andrew Thomas in the 1st round of the 2020 NFL Draft. As a rookie, Thomas started 15 games at left tackle despite playing on a left ankle injury that required offseason surgery in January 2021. Thomas was benched for the start of one game for being late to a team meeting. In terms of his overall play, Thomas struggled early, but markedly improved as both a pass and run blocker as the year progressed. He was flagged with five penalties (three false start and two holding penalties) on the season. Thomas has a big frame (6’5”, 315lbs) and long arms. He is a strong, physical run blocker who can get movement at the point-of-attack. He is athletic enough to get to the second level and works to finish his blocks. Thomas is a good athlete and he flashes excellent pass protection skills, but he needs to improve his overall technique and consistency in that department.

The Giants signed Cam Fleming as an unrestricted free agent from the Dallas Cowboys in March 2020. He ended up starting all 16 games at right tackle, by far the most in his career in a single season. But Fleming was arguably the weak link up front, regularly missing blocks. Fleming was also credited with four false starts and two holding penalties. The 6’5”, 320-pound Fleming was originally drafted in the 4th round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the New England Patriots. After four years in New England, he played two seasons with the Cowboys. In seven NFL seasons, Fleming has played in 91 regular-season games with 42 starts. Fleming is versatile lineman who can play both tackle spots. He has good size. However, Fleming seems better suited to a reserve, swing-tackle type role than starter.

While the overall play of Kevin Zeitler improved in his second season with the Giants, he still did not meet expectations in 2020. Zeitler started all 16 games at right guard. He was flagged four times on the year (one holding, three false starts). Zeitler was originally drafted in the 1st round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals. He signed a 5-year, $60 million contract with the Browns in March 2017, which at the time made him the highest-paid guard in the NFL. The Giants acquired Zeitler by trade from the Cleveland Browns in March 2019 in exchange for linebacker Olivier Vernon. In eight seasons, Zeitler has started 134 of the 135 regular-season games he has played in. Zeitler has good size (6’4”, 315lbs). Once regarded as one of the best guards in the game as both a run and pass blocker, Zeitler’s play in recent years has been more inconsistent. Nevertheless, he is still a solid, steady, veteran presence up front.

The Giants drafted Shane Lemieux in the 5th round of the 2020 NFL Draft. He surprisingly ended up playing in 12 games with nine starts starts at left guard, stealing Will Hernandez’s position. He was only flagged once (false start) all year. The 6’4”, 310-pound Lemieux started an incredible 52 games in college, never missing a game. He is a tough, feisty, blue-collar lineman with some athletic limitations. Lemieux needs to get stronger, but he is a physical presence in the ground game with a feel for blocking angles. He struggled at times as a pass protector.

After starting every game in his first two years in the league in 2018 and 2019, Will Hernandez lost his starting left guard job to Shane Lemieux after the seventh game of the season. Hernandez missed two games in early November due to COVID-19. He was flagged only once (one holding penalty) all year. The Giants selected Hernandez in the 2nd round of the 2018 NFL Draft. He was named named to Pro Football Writers of America’s All-Rookie Team. Hernandez has good size, strength, and toughness for the guard position, but he appears to lack ideal lateral agility. This hampers his play as a run blocker on the move and as a pass blocker when isolated against quick defenders. He can move defenders with his strength and power.

THE RESERVES

The Giants selected Matt Peart in the 3rd round of the 2020 NFL Draft. As a rookie, Peart played in 11 games with one start at left tackle. He did play in 15 percent of all offensive snaps, receiving some quality playing time. He missed one game in late November due to COVID-19. The 6’7”, 318-pound Peart was a 4-year starter in college with experience at both tackle spots. Peart combines excellent size, long arms, and good overall athletic ability. He has the frame to get bigger and stronger. As expected, Peart was inconsistent as a rookie and needs more technique refinement.

Spencer Pulley spent all of 2020 as the team’s primary reserve center, but he did not play. Pulley was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the San Diego Chargers after the 2016 NFL Draft. Spencer started all 16 regular-season games for the Chargers in 2017 at center. The Giants claimed Pulley off of waivers from the Chargers in September 2018. That season, Pulley was inserted into the starting line-up in late October. He struggled in his nine starts at center and missed one game due to an injury. In 2019, Pulley played in four games with one start in which he again struggled. He also is able to play guard.

The Giants claimed Jackson Barton off of waivers from the Kansas City Chiefs in early September 2020. Despite remaining on the 53-man roster all season, Barton never played in 2020. The 6’7”, 302-pound Barton was originally drafted in the 7th round of the 2019 NFL Draft by the Indianapolis Colts. The Chiefs signed him off of the Colts’ Practice Squad in 2019. He has yet to play in a regular-season NFL game.

The Giants signed Kyle Murphy as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2020 NFL Draft. He was signed to the Practice Squad in early September and then signed to the 53-man roster in mid November. Murphy did not play in a regular-season game in 2020. Murphy was a 3-year starter in college with experience all along the offensive line.

The 6’5”, 315-pound Chad Slade was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Houston Texans after the 2015 NFL Draft. Slade spent his rookie season on Injured Reserve, and the 2016 and 2018 seasons on the Practice Squad of the Texans. In 2017, Slade played in five games with three starts (two at right guard and one at tight end) for the Texans. The Giants signed Slade to a reserve/futures contract in January 2019. While he surprisingly made the team, he wasn’t active for any game. Slade spent all of 2020 on New York’s Practice Squad.

The 6’6”, 315-pound Kenny Wiggins was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Baltimore Ravens after the 2011 NFL Draft. He has spent time with the Ravens (2011), San Francisco 49ers (2012-2013), San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers (2013-2017), and Lions (2018-2020). The Lions cut Wiggins in late October 2020. The Giants signed Wiggins to the 53-man roster in November, cut him 10 days later, and then signed him to the Practice Squad for the remainder of the season. Overall, Wiggins has played in 79 regular-season games with 38 starts.

COVID-19 OPT-OUT

Nate Solder opted out of the 2020 NFL season due to the COVID-19 issue. In March 2018, the Giants made Solder the highest-paid offensive lineman in the NFL when they signed him away from the New England Patriots as unrestricted free agent. However, despite 32 straight starts at left tackle for New York, Solder has not played well at all with the Giants. He really struggled during the first half of 2018 before settling down a bit during the second half of the season. In 2019, his inconsistent play throughout the year both as a pass protector and run blocker was a significant factor in the team’s struggles. The 6’8”, 325-pound Solder was drafted in the 1st round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Patriots. In nine seasons, Solder has started 127 of the 130 regular-season games he has played in. He is a long, lean tackle with good overall athleticism. However, off-the-field issues with a sick child could understandably be affecting his focus and play.

Jan 052021
 
Share Button
Dante Pettis, New York Giants (January 3, 2021)

Dante Pettis – © USA TODAY Sports

QUICK RECAP

There was an odd feel to the days and moments leading up to the week 17 battle with the Dallas Cowboys. After all, it was the first time in years that Big Blue was playing a meaningful game in January. However, it was largely a result of how bad the NFC East was as a whole, more than the Giants earning the right. If NYG could win this 1 PM game against DAL, all they would need would be an 8:20 PM Eagles win over the Washington Football Team. If those two things happened, they would be hosting a playoff game in under a week. NYG would be the first double-digit loss team in the postseason in league history. DAL was playing for the same exact thing in this do-or-die match-up. As they always say, all bets are off when you’re in the tournament, though.

NYG has been horrid in the first half since the start of December. In their previous 4 games combined, they scored a total of 6 points and did not get into the end zone once in the first 2 quarters. They began this week 17 match-up against league’s 26th-ranked (and last-ranked run) defense. Questions were looming over their second-year quarterback. Offensive Coordinator Jason Garrett has already been rumored by the media to be gone after this season. The opening drive on this game meant something and they responded. It took just 6 plays to drive 78 yards, ending with a Sterling Shepard reverse that saw him carry it 23 yards into the end zone.

Backup quarterback Andy Dalton, who took over the job the last time these two teams met on October 11 when Dak Prescott suffered a severe leg/ankle injury, had a really rough first half. He threw an interception on the opening DAL drive to rookie Xavier McKinney but it was cancelled due to a holding penalty on fellow rookie defensive back Darnay Holmes. DAL did end up punting a few plays later, however.

NYG was playing a really physical brand early on. There was a lot of emotion and some extra contact post-whistle on most plays. They were trying hard to establish the run with Wayne Gallman (who gained 18 yards on 2 carries on the opening drive) in contrast to them ignoring him in their previous 3 games, all losses. On the third play of the NYG second drive, there was a fumble on the Jones-Gallman exchange, which DAL recovered. Thus, the Cowboys began their own second drive on the NYG 27-yard line. They did breach the red zone but the NYG defense held them to 3 points.

The two offenses then traded 6 scoreless possessions. Both quarterbacks were struggling to make the needed throws that would extend drives and the game became more and more physical. The Jones-to-Shepard connection continued to blossom with New York’s sixth drive ending with a 10-yard touchdown in which Shepard trucked over DAL rookie corner Trevon Diggs into the end zone. Graham Gano made the PAT after missing the first one following the opening drive to make it 13-6.

Dalton then started to click and the NYG defense started missing tackles left and right. Their drive was thwarted by a Dalvin Tomlinson sack, however. DAL settled on a field goal, this one from 46 yards. The NYG two-minute offense clicked on the next drive. This time, they needed just 4 plays to gain 75 yards, ending with a 33-yard touchdown to Dante Pettis. NYG had 20 points on the board for the first time since November 15. Those 20 points came in the first half. They scored 16 points in the first halves of the previous 5 games combined.

The NYG defense was not able to keep DAL from driving down the field again enough, however. They got past midfield with chunk gains in the passing game. Zuerlein then hit a 57-yard field goal to make it 20-9 going into the half.

After going 1-for-7 on 3rd down in the first half, DAL then went 3-and-out on the opening drive of the second half. The oh-so-important first drive of that second half for NYG then resulted in a turnover thanks to another drop by Evan Engram. The ball went right through his hands and into the arms of DAL safety Damien Wilson. DAL turned that into 7 points on a 1-yard touchdown by Ezekiel Elliott. All of the sudden, they were within 4 points with an offense that was starting to click.

The NYG offense continued to shoot themselves in the foot with an illegal crackback block by Shepard and another drop by Engram killing the drive. DAL had the ball back. Their 13-play drive ended with a 36-yard field goal to cut the lead down to 1 point as the 4th quarter began. The stalling NYG offense then went 3-and-out following a sack. Now DAL, who had at this point scored 13 unanswered points, had the ball back. Fortunately, the NYG defense forced a 3-and-out.

At this time, it is important for an offense to have an identity. They had stalled, the opponent was coming back and within 1, and the end of the game was near. In these moments, they need to have something or someone to lean on and that has been where this offense has been putrid in 2020. Nobody could be consistently relied on. However, Jones stepped up and it was interesting to see who he went after the most. On three of the next four plays, Jones threw to Shepard. All three connected and it gained a total of 43 yards. They were approaching field goal range, which was important because it would force DAL to have to pursue a touchdown rather than a field goal. Damien Wilson came up with another big play by sacking Jones for a 10-yard loss. On 3rd-and-16, Jones threw a pass slightly behind Pettis, who was forced to dive backward. He made the catch but the replay showed the ball bounced off of the ground before he demonstrated full control. DAL Head Coach Mike McCarthy did not challenge, Gano then hit a 50-yard field goal, and NYG had a 4-point lead with under 7 minutes left. A huge gaffe by the DAL Head Coach who had more than his fair share of big mistakes in 2020.

DAL kept their offense rolling, putting together a marathon 17-play drive. They did indeed reach field goal range but the 4-point lead now loomed large. What an awful mistake by McCarthy! DAL converted three 3rd downs and a 4th down on this drive. They made it all the way to the NYG 7-yard line. After a crucial sack by Leonard Williams, Dalton desperately heaved a pass into the end zone which was intercepted by McKinney. This time the interception stood. NYG just had to get a first down on offense and it would all be over.

Wayne Gallman, on 2nd-and-5, broke through the line and crossed the first down marker. Without a DAL defender within 5 yards of him any direction, all he had to do was fall onto the ground. Instead, he dropped the ball. An enormous pile of blue and white jerseys then trounced on top of one another. The refs initially signaled DAL football in one of the most 2020-moments of the year. It was almost unbelievable. After conferring with each other, the refs changed it to NYG possession because Gallman clearly had the ball at the bottom of the pile. After a lengthy booth review, NYG still had the ball and game number 16 ended in the victory formation.

NYG wins, 23-19.

QUARTERBACK

-Daniel Jones: 17-25 / 229 yards / 2 TD – 1 INT / 106.9 RAT

Jones did seem a little hesitant with his legs, but he did run the ball 9 times for 17 yards, including a couple of designed runs. The interception was a complete gaffe by Engram. Jones played a solid game and threw a few really nice intermediate balls. He did show a lack of arm talent on two throws that NFL quarterbacks need to make. One was on a deep pass to Slayton where he had a few steps on corner Trevon Diggs. The other was on an out throw to Shepard on 3rd down from the opposite hash. His poor accuracy was bailed out on a few throws by his receivers. Overall, it was a solid game, he simply just missed on a few throws. By the way, the interception that was on Engram marked the first time Jones had thrown one in a current league-high 178 straight attempts. He was charged with the lost fumble on the exchange with Gallman, but I think it was more on the running back.

RUNNING BACK

-Wayne Gallman: 11 att / 65 yards

Gallman had a bunch of quality inside runs. After all, they were up against the last-ranked rushing defense in the league and the NYG offensive line was getting a great push early. When you have a back averaging 6 yards per carry and a passing game that struggles across the board, I just don’t see why you steer away from that running game. Gallman should have gotten the ball more, once again.

-Alfred Morris added 12 yards on 5 carries and Dion Lewis had 1 carry for 7 yards. All three of these backs are unrestricted free agents this offseason. This could be a very different looking running back room with Barkley coming back in 2021.

WIDE RECEIVER

-Sterling Shepard: 8 rec / 112 yards / 1 TD and 2 att / 24 yards / 1 TD

Shepard put out his best performance we have seen in a long time, possibly the best game of his career. It was a strong finish to the year for a guy who just hasn’t made a ton of big plays for this offense that has been starving for a pass catcher to step up. Shepard played a really physical game, trucking over DAL defenders and making an impact as a blocker. He was flagged for a crackback block, however. One thing I love about this kid, he rarely drops the ball. Really sure-handed receiver.

-Dante Pettis definitely earned the right to be a part of the wide receiver mix next year. He had 2 catches for 43 yards and a touchdown. Both grabs were high-skill (even if the second one did indeed hit the ground). They were both big plays and on a team that is absolutely starving for WR talent, he needs to be at least considered.

-Austin Mack had a catch for 9 yards and allowed a TFL while Darius Slayton added 2 catches for 22 yards. Slayton made a really nice grab on a poorly thrown pass and was also mistargeted by Jones on a deep route. It wasn’t a great year for Slayton but there is no denying the upside if the offense around him improves.

TIGHT END

-Evan Engram dropped two more passes. Both went right through his hands and one of them resulted in an interception that DAL turned into a touchdown. The debate really doesn’t exist anymore. Engram is super-talented and blessed with rare movement tools for the position, but he can’t be a focal point here. NYG has him here for one more year on a fair price, but I think his days here should be over. More on that below.

-Kaden Smith and Levine Toilolo each had a catch on their lone respective targets. Smith allowed a sack but also threw a key block on the Shepard rushing touchdown.

OFFENSIVE LINE

-The top two grades went to the top 2 offensive linemen on the year, Nick Gates and Andrew Thomas. They were both flawless in pass protection and both got tremendous push in the running game. Thomas had a roller coaster season but his second half was better than his first half. He has some positive momentum going into his first offseason. Gates started off poorly but evolved into the top OL on this team. He really did play at a top-10 level in the league at the center position. The physical brand of football is coming back and I think this kid is at the forefront.

-Kevin Zeitler allowed a sack, TFL, and a pressure. He did throw some weight around in the running game but he and Cameron Fleming, who also allowed a pressure, may be the focal point of this offense that needs to be fixed first. That right side has been poor all year and even though Matt Peart did show some signs of potential, NYG can’t go into 2021 with these holes. If it means big money to someone, so be it. If it means another high draft pick, so be it. They need to get dominant up front or else this offense will continue to stink.

-Shane Lemieux played every snap at left guard and allowed 1 pressure. He, too, was solid in the running game. I think he showed enough to deserve a starting spot in 2021 or at the very least be in competition for a starting spot. He simply needs strength and power development. There was a lot he did right this year and NYG should be pleased with him considering where they got him in the draft.

EDGE

-Kyler Fackrell was back after missing 4 games with a calf injury. It was interesting to see NYG try and fill his hybrid ILB/OLB “BUCK” role in this scheme. Nobody realty could. It is a really unique position. He had 3 tackles and a sack. Fackrell is a free agent this year and I think NYG should prioritize bringing him back. He isn’t special, but he is unique.

-Jabaal Sheard had 1 tackle and a 1 pressure. He was a solid player for a one-year rental, but I doubt he is in the picture next year.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

-The career-year by Leonard Williams ended with a bang. He finished with 7 tackles, 3 sacks, a pass break-up, and 2 pressures. No need to bring up whether or not the trade was worth it anymore, as previously stated. The question is now is what should NYG offer him to stick around for the long term? The 26-year old is one of the more unique defensive linemen in the game and you could make the argument he is the most versatile defensive lineman in the game. He is not as good as J.J. Watt, but they are the two guys who can credibly play both the inside and outside gaps in whatever scheme a coach draws up. For a defense that truly wants to change their face weekly, that is invaluable. But hey, everyone has a limit.

-Dalvin Tomlinson had 2 tackles and a sack while Dexter Lawrence added 2 tackles, 1 TFL, and 1 pressure. Even though NYG still has a ways to go, these three guys up front along with quality backups B.J. Hill and Austin Johnson were a consistent bright spot all year. This group made this defense more consistent than it has been in a very long time. They made this defense have a standout trait and even though there are other pieces needed, I do hope they find a way to keep these guys together another few years. That could be something special.

LINEBACKER

-Tae Crowder and Blake Martinez both had 11 tackles. Crowder added 2 TFL and Martinez added a sack. This was fun to watch. We have gotten used to how reliable Martinez has been, notably against the run between the tackles. We also saw flashes of Crowder and his play-making ability that stems from plus twitch and speed. They were both on their game in this one and matched with a very solid defensive line, they could be major forces combined as a pair in 2021. Crowder did miss 2 tackles and that is a red flag we have seen a few times.

-David Mayo had 4 tackles, 2 of which were on special teams, and Devante Downs added 1 tackle. These are two guys I wouldn’t mind seeing replaced in 2021. They just don’t seem to have enough speed to be relied on. It has shown up several times this year, as it did in this match-up.

CORNERBACK

-Pro Bowler James Bradberry had 4 tackles and a pass break up. He dropped an interception that he should have brought in. Opposing defenses really didn’t throw at him that much this season. NYG got a good one. Now they need to find another.

-Logan Ryan played more corner in this one than the previous few weeks. He nearly had an interception as well while adding 3 tackles. He had another missed tackle. He led the team in that department this season.

-Darnay Holmes was back after missing time with an injury. He was on the field for under a third of the snaps. On multiple occasions, he has shown the knack for being flagged at very inopportune times. This game was no different. He was flagged for a hold on Xavier McKinney’s interception in the first half. He was beat on a couple 3rd-down conversions as well.

SAFETY

-Speaking of McKinney, we saw a real glimpse of just how good this kid can be down the road. He was all over the field and this scheme has him wearing a lot of hats. He finished with 8 tackles, 1 TFL, and an interception. He also has a second interception that was cancelled by a penalty on Darnay Holmes. McKinney quickly sniffed out a screen pass on two occasions and also sniffed out a reverse that led to a no gain. He really seemed to get more and more comfortable these past 3 weeks. I think NYG should be excited about what he brings to the table. They have been starving for talent at safety for a long time and they now have 2-3 guys who can really get it done.

-Jabrill Peppers was roasted by the DAL passing game in this one. They attacked him over and over and he just always seemed to be a step slow. He did a nice job of making tackles in space and minimizing damage, but he did miss a tackle and was flagged for a holding penalty.

SPECIAL TEAMS

-K Graham Gano: 1/1 (Made 50). Gano hit his 29 consecutive field goal, a franchise record. He missed an extra point.

-P Riley Dixon 5 Punts / 45.2 avg / 37.6 net

3 STUDS

-WR Sterling Shepard, DT Leonard Williams, S Xavier McKInney

3 DUDS

-OG Kevin Zeitler, TE Evan Engram, S Jabrill Peppers

3 THOUGHTS ON DAL

6-10 in a season where they lost their starting quarterback in Week 5. DAL had games started by quarterbacks Ben DiNucci and Garrett Gilbert. They lost both of their starting defensive tackles. They lost both starting offensive tackles and had health issues at center and one of the guard spots. I actually give this team credit for finishing where they did.

What does DAL need the most? Their defense is atrocious on multiple levels. They lack discipline, they lack consistency, and they couldn’t stop the run all year. DAL is going to need to invest money and early picks on their defense, the DTs and safeties in particular. This is where the issues arise when you opt to put so much money into the Prescott/Elliott/Cooper trio and then spend a 1st rounder on a WR. I’ve been vocal about DAL not spreading their funds and picks out well enough and now they are in a very tricky spot with a QB who is going to fight an uphill battle to return from a serious injury. This offseason is going to be huge for them, huge.

DAL got by with a dominant offensive line for a few years. It was one of a few examples in the league that showed just how good a team can be overall when the OL is dominant. However, left tackler Tyron Smith hasn’t played a full year since 2015 and missed 14 games this season. Right Tackle La’el Collins missed the entire year and there are some whispers from people I trust that some in the organization want him at guard. Yes, DAL missing Prescott was the catalyst in their offense going backwards but that OL taking a few steps back was a close second.

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

NYG finishes 6-10. It was the most wins they’ve had since 2016. While nobody is actually giving them credit for playing “meaningful games in December,” it was refreshing to walk away from week 17 thinking the arrow was finally pointing up. This was the first time since 2016 that NYG finished with a defense ranked top-half in the NFL and just the 3rd time since 2010. They finished even in the turnover battle a year after they tied for a league-worst -17. They were flagged the 6th-least amount of times just 2 years after getting flagged the 9th-most. They are clearly playing with more grit, hustle, and intelligence. Their coaching decisions are showing more innovation and creativity. There are still things to be done here, but this is the first time in a long time where I feel this team is on the right track.

The most polarizing personnel decision this offseason, in my opinion, is not at quarterback or wide receiver or outside linebacker or defensive tackle. It revolves around Evan Engram. He is locked into another year before his free agency hits in 2022. I’ll go on record now; I think they need to try and trade him if they can get a day 2 pick from someone. I do think he can thrive in a certain role in a certain offense and there is no denying his talent. However, this passing game just doesn’t have the margin of error to deal with his drop issues. We may be singing a different tune about this season if he didn’t drop the ball so much. I think NYG needs to get the “old school” tight end whether it be in the draft or in free agency. This offense will be built on the running game and short/intermediate passes. Engram doesn’t fit and his drops just kill the flow and upside. He isn’t worth the risk.

Where does NYG go this offseason? I will put together a more detailed approach in the coming weeks. But to be short and to the point, they need players on offense who scare the defense. With Barkley out, nobody scares the defense. Look at the top offenses, they all have multiple guys who scare you. You can use the #11 pick on getting the #1- or #2-graded receiver or you can go after one of the top free agents at the position. I lean toward the former. I also think the building of this offensive line isn’t close to being over. They need a new right side and they need to build more depth at tackle. They likely need another starter at outside corner or at least a guy who can rotate in. Lastly, they need a pure pass rusher on the edge who can help them break through the line while rushing just 4 guys while keeping 7 in coverage. Considering they need to figure out allocation of funds to Leonard Williams and Dalvin Tomlinson, all of this is a really tall order. If I had to, right now in this moment, rank where I think they need to apply resources, I am saying: OL, WR, EDGE, TE, CB. Those are the top 5 needs.

Thanks for discussing NYG football with me this year, everybody. Just think… about 5 months ago, we didn’t know if football would happen. And within the past 5 months, we had several chirping about the idea that the league should be put on hold. Football is more important to the well being of this country than most want to admit. We were fortunate that the league pulled off a full 256-game schedule. God Bless everyone. I will be around here and there, but during the next 3-4 months, I will be hunkered down writing my reports for the draft. Position previews will be out in April.

Jan 012021
 
Share Button
Daniel Jones, New York Giants (September 22, 2019)

Daniel Jones – © USA TODAY Sports

THE STORYLINE

The New York Giants are in a very strange position. A 10-loss team, the Giants face scenarios in the NFL’s final regular-season weekend where they could make the playoffs by winning the atrocious NFC East or secure a top 10 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

For the Giants to make the playoffs, they have to beat the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday afternoon and pray the Philadelphia Eagles beat the Washington Football team on Sunday night. Neither is impossible and there is a good chance the Giants can pull this off. If they do, the Giants will likely lose in the first round of the playoffs to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Los Angeles Rams. And Giants fans will be left with the opportunity to purchase the tragically comical “6-10 New York Giants 2020 NFC East Champions” t-shirt.

So should we REALLY be rooting for New York to win this game? Wouldn’t it be best for the long-term interests of this team to secure a much higher draft pick? There is merit to that argument. But there is also merit to the argument that if the Giants are ever to become a truly competitive team again, they need to re-develop a winning mindset and culture. Joe Judge also needs to know which of the players on his current roster will perform well in the crucible of playoff-type football. Over a decade ago, Tom Coughlin learned that players such as Eli Manning, Brandon Jacobs, Plaxico Burress, Michael Strahan, Antonio Pierce, and Corey Webster could be counted on in pressure-packed situations with an entire season on the line. In 2016, Ben McAdoo discovered Odell Beckham could not.

This game, and the potential playoff game, are hugely important tests for Daniel Jones, Wayne Gallman, Darius Slayton, Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram, the offensive and defensive line, the three rookie linebackers, and many of the players in the secondary. Do they elevate their game? Remain inconsistent? Fold under the pressure? Joe Judge will be watching.

THE INJURY REPORT

  • QB Daniel Jones (hamstring – probable)
  • FB Eli Penny (illness – out)
  • WR Golden Tate (calf – doubtful)
  • WR Sterling Shepard (ribs – probable)
  • TE Evan Engram (calf – probable)
  • LB Cam Brown (illness – questionable)
  • S Jabrill Peppers (ankle – probable)
  • CB Darnay Holmes (knee – probable)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE

The Dallas Cowboys are 26th in yards allowed and 30th in points allowed. The Giants are 31st in both yards gained and points scored. Something has to give. The Giants offense never hit any sort of stride in 2020. The most points the team scored in a single game was against Dallas on October 11th in a 37-34 loss (seven NYG points were from a defensive score). Since beating the Philadelphia Eagles 27-17 on November 15th right before the bye week, the Giants haven’t scored more than 20 points in a game. During the last five games after the bye, the team has embarrassingly only averaged 12.4 points. It’s a minor miracle the Giants won two of those five games.

I’ve pointed out ad nauseam how the personnel limitations on offense have hampered this team all year. It is what it is. The offensive line is a work in progress. It got dramatically better during a 4-game winning streak and got dramatically worse during the current 3-game losing streak. There is a direct correlation between how this offensive line plays and the overall competency of the offense, leading to more or less rushing yards and more or fewer negative plays in the passing game. Throw in the ill-timed injuries to Daniel Jones and the utter lack of fear-inducing targets to throw to and it’s pretty easy to see why the team has struggled to score points.

As always, rightfully or wrongly, the lightening rods/scapegoats are the coaches and quarterback. Many fans say if we just get rid of Jason Garrett (they are not prepared to go after Joe Judge – yet) and the quarterback, all will be right in the world. This is just a lazy and stupid reaction. It’s much more complicated than that. And New York fans should know better, especially since we literally just went through this three other coaching staffs and Eli Manning. The talent (or lack thereof) on the offensive line, at running back, at tight end, at wide receiver matters. Hell, the play of the defense has an impact the offense (turnovers, field position, keeping the score within reach, time of possession, number of drives, etc.).

Fans may forget, but Eli’s rookie season was largely a disaster. He actually finished one game against the Baltimore Ravens with a 0.0 quarterback rating, only completing four passes for 27 yards. Meanwhile, Ben Roethlisberger was tearing it up on the 15-1 Pittsburgh Steelers. Most Giants fans were absolutely convinced the Giants had drafted the wrong quarterback. Eli lost his first six starts. All was doom-and-gloom until he beat the 6-9 Dallas Cowboys in the season-finale, throwing three touchdowns and leading the team from behind in a dramatic last-second victory. Even with playoff appearances in 2005 and 2006, as late as December 2007, many if not most fans were convinced Eli would never take them to the promised land.

Minus the surrounding offensive and defensive talent that Eli Manning had, Daniel Jones had a far, far superior rookie season in 2019. Indeed, had it not been for the ridiculous number of fumbles, fans would have been raving about him all offseason. And he had two watershed games that year with dramatic come-from-behind wins against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Washington Redskins, throwing five touchdowns in the latter during a season where he threw 24 touchdowns in 12 starts.

Where am I going with this? Daniel Jones can do it. We’ve seen it. He can throw a lot of touchdown passes. He can run for touchdowns. He can lead his team from behind. I remain firmly convinced that if you surround him with legitimate NFL talent, he can perform. That all said, this game against the Dallas Cowboys is a huge, huge test for him. Yes, he is not completely healthy. Yes, his offensive line remains inconsistent. Yes, his pass targets suck. But this is a playoff game. Jones needs to elevate his play and carry his team as much as he can without doing something really stupid. In short, score points. Is he a winner?

One way or the other, this is likely to be the game that everyone remembers from Jones heading into the offseason.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE

The good news for the Giants’ defense is they are not facing the Cardinals, Browns, or Ravens this week. But Dallas isn’t chopped liver. They lost Dak Prescott for the season against the Giants in October, but Andy Dalton is a legit NFL starter with a 2-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio. Dallas is 12th in offense (7th in passing yards and 17th in rushing yards).

To be blunt, the New York defense hit its high point against the Seattle Seahawks on December 6th and has been playing like shit during the current 3-game losing streak. The 73 points given up in the last three games has not been indicative of the poor play. They haven’t been good against the run or the pass. This has to change on Sunday or the Giants have no chance. And Andy Dalton has already led the Cowboys to a come-from-behind victory against the Giants and Patrick Graham this year. That was a game the Giants should not have let slip away.

Despite the fact that he is having a down season, the focal point must remain Ezekiel Elliott, who has rushed for “just” 937 yards and five touchdowns this year. Much of that is a reflection of a diminished offensive line that simply is missing parts and not playing as well. Nevertheless, Elliott is still quite capable of wearing down a defense and taking over a game. The Ravens ran all of the Giants last week to the tune of 250 yards. The Cowboys are going to test them.

That all said, the absolute strength of the current Dallas offensive team are their passing game targets, headlined by wide receivers Amari Cooper (86 catches, 1,073 yards, 5 touchdowns), CeeDee Lamb (69 catches, 892 yards, 5 touchdowns), and Michael Gallup (55 catches, 794 yards, 5 touchdowns). Throw in tight end Dalton Schultz (56 catches, 545 yards, 4 touchdowns) and Elliott (49 catches, 319 yards, 2 touchdowns). If Daniel Jones had targets like these, he would be lighting it up. (As a team, the Giants only have 10 touchdown receptions this year).

The problem for Patrick Graham is this: he doesn’t have the cornerbacks to match up with Dallas. James Bradberry can cover one of these studs, but Isaac Yiadom will have to take another and rookie Darnay Holmes (still dealing with a knee issue) will have take yet another. The linebackers and safeties can’t help out too much without leaving Schultz or Elliott all alone. This is what I mean when I say the surrounding talent matters. These guys make Andy Dalton look good.

Graham can only do so much game-planning here. Dalton is a veteran. The Giants can’t focus too much on the run or the pass because Dallas is balanced. This game will come down to individual match-ups… who is better and who wants it more. To win, the Giants will most likely have to win the turn over battle.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS

The Cowboys always seem to have very good special teams. As noted, the Giants special teams played well most of this year but have faded down the stretch. They definitely have been a factor in the 3-game losing streak as well. The offense could use some help with a big return in the return game to set up quality field position.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH

Head Coach Joe Judge on whether the 2020 season can be considered a success for his team, regardless of the outcome of Sunday’s game: “Yeah, I think there are a lot of things in terms of what we set out to accomplish this year that no one game is going to go ahead and define the season. I’m proud of the culture and the foundation we’ve laid and the work ethic and urgency we’ve instilled in these players going forward. That being said, there are a lot of things we need to do better as an organization across the board going forward. We have to keep building this thing in the right direction. But I know there’s a vision going forward and there are a lot of people pointing in the right direction right now. So yeah, absolutely. But that being said, look, our job is to go out and win on Sunday. We’re doing everything we can right now to go out there and win a football game.”

THE FINAL WORD

The Giants went on a 4-game winning streak that included three wins against the terrible NFC East. They upset the Seahawks but showed their true colors against real play caliber teams (Arizona, Cleveland, Baltimore). The Cowboys are a bad team in a bad division. The Giants can win this game.

I love the Giants and hate the Cowboys. So you know my rooting interests. That said, there is a weird dynamic with this game in that it could mean the difference in sliding as possibly as many 15 spots in the draft order. What do I want more than anything? To be left with a really positive impression of Daniel Jones heading into the offseason.

Dec 292020
 
Share Button
Daniel Jones, New York Giants (December 27, 2020)

Daniel Jones – © USA TODAY Sports

QUICK RECAP

The NFL season is full of streaks both hot and cold, for every respective team in the league. The ones that trek through the peaks and valleys the best while minimizing the down times and maximizing the good times are the teams standing tall at the end. The best can still turn those low points into wins while the bottom feeders just can’t seem to hide their issues well enough. The Baltimore Ravens entered the week 16 matchup winners of 3 straight averaging a league high 40 points per game over that span behind the surging Lamar Jackson, who caught fire over that period (10 touchdowns). The Giants entered the game going in the complete opposite direction. They had lost two straight and scored a combined 30 points over the previous 3 weeks, 10 less than what BAL was averaging per game. In the putrid NFC East, however, they were still alive.

The BAL offense continued their impressive, machine-type offensive work early on. They scored touchdowns on both of their first two drives while chewing up the majority of the first quarter-clock. They held onto the ball for 13:17 while NYG possessed it for 1:43 and got flagged for two false starts while accruing 18 total yards. BAL added 3 more points on a 20-yard field goal by All-Pro kicker Justin Tucker, following another long drive, this one 13 plays. With 5 minutes left in the first half, BAL had run 36 plays and NYG just 10.

NYG’s offense did start moving the ball on their final possession of the half, as they had to start eating away at the 17-point deficit. They found themselves in the red zone with 1:25 left and this is where I felt they mismanaged the clock. Following a 4 yard completion to Sterling Shepard on a 1st and 10, BAL called a timeout. They knew there would be enough time to potentially get the ball back. NYG then proceeded to call two high-difficulty pass plays to undrafted rookie Austin Mack. Both fell incomplete and BAL did indeed get the ball back with 2 timeouts and over 1 minute on the clock following Graham Gano’s 31-yard field goal.

BAL then ran another 10 plays that brought them all the way to the NYG 10-yard line, but they were finally stopped by a quality pass rush which made them settle on another field goal, this one from 28 yards, that Tucker nailed through the uprights to give BAL a commanding 20-3 lead at the half. BAL out-gained NYG 282-95 yards and won the time of possession battle 22:38 to 7:22 in the first two quarters. Complete domination.

NYG began the second half with a three-and-out, but the defense did stop BAL for the first time soon after. The NYG offense then started to wake up with chunk gains from Wayne Gallman, Dante Pettis, and C.J. Board. They got into the red zone with a 1st-and-10, but the first two plays from there were a 5-yard loss on a screen to Sterling Shepard and then a 7-yard loss on a sack. They had to settle on a field goal which Gano nailed from 42 yards. This was his 29th straight successful attempt, tying an all-time NYG record.

BAL ended the 3rd quarter with another touchdown-scoring drive spurred by a 25-yard run by rookie running back J.K. Dobbins. Jackson ended the drive by finding a wide open Dez Bryant in the end zone. Yes, the same Dez Bryant who was playing in his 5th game since the start of the 2018 season and formerly of the division-rival Dallas Cowboys. The 32-year old was surrounded by open turf as the NYG secondary had a miscommunication in coverage.

NYG then began the 4th quarter with their own marathon, clock-eating drive that was 15 plays long. This was very much aided by BAL mistakes, however. After a set of plays that saw Jones sacked on three-straight drop backs, BAL running back Justice Hill was flagged for a roughing-the-punter penalty which gave NYG a fresh start from their own 37. BAL was flagged 3 more times on that drive and even though the NYG offense still seemed lethargic and sloppy, they were able to score a touchdown on a 3-yard pass from Jones to Shepard. NYG had narrowed the gap to 14 points with just under 9 minutes remaining. A three-and-out by the BAL offense gave NYG the ball back but NYG was never able to breach midfield. After a 12-yard completion to Shepard, NYG went incomplete-incomplete-sack-incomplete on the following four passing plays. Yet another pathetic display of offense.

BAL drove the ball all the way down to the NYG 1-yard line after starting at the 35. A fumble on the exchange between Jackson and running back Gus Edwards was recovered by the newly-extended Logan Ryan for the lone ball-turnover of the game. NYG had under 2 minutes left and no timeouts. One of the worst two offenses in football could not even reach midfield, yet again, despite BAL playing a soft defense and aiding them with a 10-yard pass interference. The game ended with the final four NYG offensive plays netting 3 total yards on a scramble by Jones before turning it over on downs and back to BAL for the victory formation kneel-down.

NYG loses 27-13.

QUARTERBACK

-Daniel Jones: 24-41 / 252 yards / 1 TD – 0 INT / 84.6 RAT

The stat line actually made Jones’ performance look better than he played. It wasn’t a good game for the sophomore, as he missed on multiple throws that, simply put, he needs to make. He was short on a couple deep balls to Slayton, he was high on a couple of open slants where he had pressure coming right at him, and he did not process information quickly enough when BAL sent the house in their blitz packages. While the offensive line didn’t do him any favors and we just don’t see these receivers ever running with space around them, his performance did not help this team. Was he rusty after a few weeks of being in and out of practice and games? Was he overwhelmed by the aggressive BAL defense? Did he not respond well to not really being able to use his legs? Or is he just not that good? I’ll discuss further in the closing comments.

RUNNING BACKS

-I really don’t get why NYG hasn’t been using Wayne Gallman more in the first half these past few weeks. He carried the ball 6 times for 27 yards and caught 2 passes for 26 yards. In the first half, he touched the ball 3 times. Granted, BAL dominated time of possession and NYG only ran 18 play,s but I still think Gallman has been productive enough to warrant more consistent touches in the first half where a team can dictate play calls more than the game situation. The same can’t be said in the second half.

-Dion Lewis had 15 yards on his lone carry and Alfred Morris had a 9 yard catch and gained 4 yards on 3 carries, including a key 3rd-and-1 conversion.

WIDE RECEIVER

-Sterling Shepard had a season high 9 catches and 77 yards with a touchdown, just his second of the year. It’s been over two months since he last scored. Shepard played a really tough, competitive game from the slot and outside positions. He came up with a big 3rd-down conversion on the lone NYG touchdown scoring drive.

-Darius Slayton caught 2 passes for 26 yards and dropped another one, although it was a tough grab due to an off-throw by Jones. He still needs to start showing the ability to make these tough catches and be more physical against contact. If he wants to be a guy who can run in a straight line and catch passes with nobody on him, fine. But if he is going to be more than the occasional deep threat, he needs to more consistently make the tough plays.

-C.J. Board caught a pass for 16 yards and Dante Pettis caught 2 passes for 33 yards in his first game-action with the team. Remember, San Francisco was very excited about this kid not so long ago. Talent is there, but he has had durability and mental-capacity issues.

-Austin Mack saw more playing time than he has seen in a while. He was targeted three times and didn’t come away with anything. He had a really bad drop on a 3rd-and-4 would-be conversion. He was also flagged for a holding penalty on a kick return.

TIGHT END

-Evan Engram had 7 catches for 63 yards. The “big play threat” is now averaging a career-low 10.4 yards per catch. Three of the four Giants leading pass catchers are averaging 11 yards per catch or less. Engram does provide spark and twitch but he just doesn’t create enough big plays for a guy who everyone says is dripping with talent. He graded out average as a blocker.

-Kaden Smith and Levine Toilolo were quiet in their respective backup roles. Smith did provide a couple of quality run blocks.

OFFENSIVE LINE

-It was a horrid day for this group, especially in the second half. They just did not come to play across the board. Center Nick Gates was the only one who graded at the average point; everyone else was below the desired mark.

-Rookie Matt Peart allowed 2.5 sacks despite being on the field for just 17 plays. He looked confused and it made him move awkwardly with very little power presence. Cameron Fleming outplayed him by a long shot, allowing just 1 pressure but was also flagged for a false start on a 3rd down. Killer.

-Shane Lemieux continues to struggle when it comes to maintain quality presence and contact as a pass blocker. He allowed 2 pressures and a sack. This coaching staff really seems to favor him over Will Hernandez, who played just 10 snaps, but I think it may be time to let the latter back in this upcoming week. Lemieux just can’t get it done as a pass blocker on an island and opponents now know this. They will keep isolating him.

-Kevin Zeitler was flagged for a false start and allowed 1 pressure and a half-sack. Rookie Andrew Thomas was also flagged for a false start and he allowed 2 pressures. Both got good push in the running game, however. It didn’t help much though.

EDGE

-On a day where the NYG defense could neither rush the passer nor stop the outside run, one can only shake their head. That is exactly what happened. Jabaal Sheard had 2 tackles and Cam Brown finished with three. They both missed a tackle and neither got a pressure. They were facing the backup tackle tandem on an offense that has been mightily struggling with pass blocking. Brown did make an impressive play where he ran down wide receiver Devin Duvernay, possibly one of the 20 fastest players in football. He is interesting, but that is all I will say about him for now. Still a long ways to go.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

-This was supposed to be a huge game for these guys. The BAL rushing offense came into this game ranked number one in the NFL. There is no secret to stopping this offense. You have to stuff the run and make Jackson throw. NYG failed, miserably. I have been vocal about the NYG defensive tackles being a key cog to the defensive improvements we have seen this season. With that said, they were outmatched for the majority of the game.

-Dexter Lawrence was the one guy who could have passed as a good player at times in this game. He finished with 5 tackles and a pressure. He remained active throughout the game and made a few plays away from the ball.

-Leonard Williams finished with 1 tackle and 1 pressure in his worst game of the year. Dalvin Tomlinson added 4 tackles and a pressure, but was over-matched in the first half when BAL jumped out to that early lead.

-B.J. Hill added 3 tackles and a pressure.

LINEBACKER

-Blake Martinez was hot and cold. I still don’t think he is 100% based on how he is moving in pursuit. He did play with some decent power and strength, finishing with 12 tackles. He had a big-time fill and stuff on a 3rd-and-2 failed attempt in the second half when NYG still had some life.

-Tae Crowder struggled. The best athlete in this group did show some speed and twitch as usual, but he missed a team high 3 tackles and was flagged for a block in the back on a kick return. He finished with 8 tackles, but it was his worst game of the year and it was against the stiffest competition he has been up against.

-David Mayo was on the field for 44 plays and somehow did not record a single tackle. He missed 2 of them. He was outclassed when it came to speed and agility.

CORNERBACK

-James Bradberry was back on the field after missing a game. BAL barely even looked his way. He did finish with 3 tackles.

-Part of the reason why Bradberry didn’t get tested was Isaac Yiadom. It was his worst game of the year. He missed 2 tackles, lost outside contain on a 3rd-down conversion, and allowed a touchdown to Marquise Brown.

-Logan Ryan saw a lot of time at nickel. He did finish with 8 tackles and a fumble recovery, but missed 2 tackles. Both of his misses were big and it appears he allowed a touchdown on a misread in zone coverage. Ryan does give NYG a lot of hot and cold. By no means was the extension a bad decision, but there are reasons why nobody in the league wanted him at a significant contract price this past offseason. He needs to clean the mistakes up, especially the ones that revolve around tackling.

SAFETY

-Julian Love saw less playing time. It looks like Xavier McKinney has passed him on the depth chart and it didn’t go well in BAL. McKinney was beat by tight end Mark Andrews multiple times. He also missed 2 tackles. The one thing I will say that I did like was his playing speed. He gets from point A to point B faster than anyone else on the defense.

-Jabrill Peppers had 6 tackles and a TFL. Nothing stood out, good or bad.

SPECIAL TEAMS

-K Graham Gano: 2/2 (Made 31, 42).
-P Riley Dixon: 3 Punts / 47.0 avg / 35.0 net

3 STUDS

-WR Sterling Shepard, LB Blake Martinez, OC Nick Gates

3 DUDS

-DT Leonard Williams, CB Isaac Yiadom, EDGE Jabaal Sheard

3 THOUGHTS ON BAL

This is one team I just wouldn’t want to play in the postseason. Sure, they haven’t done much there since Jackson has been in the fold. Sure, their passing game isn’t dangerous. Sure, their offensive line isn’t quite what it was a year ago. However, when this team is hot, they show dominance that is as high as anyone. You know what they’re doing, and you just can’t stop it.

Want to know the sign of as really good coaching staff? One that can adjust. One that is not stubborn and set in their ways. Look no further than BAL. They took in Jackson (after trading up for him with the last pick of the 2018 Draft) and morphed their scheme and surrounding cast in a blink of the eye when they put him into the starting role. They stocked up on tight ends. They stocked up on physical downhill running backs. They stocked up on big offensive linemen. BAL has, by far, been the top rushing team in the NFL since the start of 2019. Next up, they have to get it done in the playoffs.

Talk about a homegrown defense and just a team overall that drafts well. Over 75% of their starters / heavy rotation guys were drafted by BAL over the past 8-10 years. Dating all the way back to 2013 (!)…BAL has drafted one current big-time contributor to their defense OR had a big-time defensive player sign elsewhere because of cap economics.

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

Some of you need to read this. I try to avoid talking like this within the reviews but not this time. It is OK if you believe Jones is not the answer. It is OK if you think Jones is the answer. Nobody can objectively determine that right now. One thing we all can and should agree on: you don’t know. I don’t know. He doesn’t know. She doesn’t know. The kid has played TWENTY-FIVE games behind a bottom-5 offensive line, the worst set of receivers in football, a tight end who is among league leaders in drops, and a star running back who has missed 14 of 25 games in which Jones started. He needs to be better and I have been vocal about that. You can even argue NYG should start over at QB in the upcoming draft. But to say Jones and NYG should be better because he was the #6 pick (means almost nothing, do some research), or that Jones is a definitive bust, you just sound foolish. This kid has shown more in 25 games than SO MANY quality quarterbacks. That is a fact.

The most disappointing part of this NYG loss was the defensive line. I had high hopes that they would rise to the occasion and put this team back on track. They failed miserably. This is the issue with building a defense on big-and-physical but slow-and- limited athletes who do most of their work between the tackles. Football is a game of space and speed, and NYG just doesn’t have enough up front. They aren’t dynamic enough within the pass rush unless it is schemed.

Here we are entering Week 17 with what I consider a realistic shot at making the playoffs. Not because NYG has played well, but because this division is historically bad. No matter the case, I think rooting for a loss so they can pick higher in the draft is just wrong. If WAS loses to a motivated PHI (which I think will happen), the Giants will have an opportunity to play in a playoff game. Playoff experience is huge for so many young ball clubs. This is the biggest game NYG has had late in the year in a very long time and if they come out firing on all cylinders after such a poor 3-week stretch, it is a great sign for the future. Whether they make the playoffs or not, that is a fact. If they come out and lay an egg and continue their bottom-level offensive football against a horrid defense like DAL, then it is a huge negative sign for the future in my eyes. From that perspective, I think it is pretty easy to decide what you are rooting for. I hope you understand that.

Dec 252020
 
Share Button
Joe Judge, New York Giants (January 9, 2020)

Joe Judge – © USA TODAY Sports

THE STORYLINE

2020 has been a very strange year and that strangeness has extended to the NFL and the New York Giants. In a shocking move, the Giants hired a relatively unknown, 38-year old special teams coordinator as the franchise’s new head coach  in January. Although he had no head coaching experience at any level, Joe Judge immediately began to win over skeptical fans during his fiery, introductory press conference. More so than any Giants head coach in memory, Judge took his own sweet time in methodically putting together what appeared to a strong coaching staff. Fans were largely unimpressed with the slew of players added in free agency, headlined by high-priced acquisitions James Bradberry and Blake Martinez. Most of the anticipation and focus centered on the 2020 NFL Draft, with the Giants holding the fourth overall selection.

Then COVID-19 hit.

“15 days to stop the spread” morphed into something far darker. One of the minor casualties appeared to be the 2020 NFL season. From a purely parochial, pro sports viewpoint, it appeared that Joe Judge’s inaugural season was irrevocably sabotaged. Teams were not able to meet with players before the draft. No rookie mini-camp, no OTAs, no veteran mini-camp, zoom calls instead of face-to-face interaction, abbreviated and restricted training camp, no preseason. Would a full season even be possible?

All of this for a team that had won just 12 total games in 2017, 2018, and 2019 and was now on its fourth head coach and second general manager since 2015. There was a sense that the Giants were in perpetual rebuilding mode, merely spinning their wheels. The last thing the franchise and Joe Judge needed was the COVID albatross.

Among fans, the doom-and-gloomers initially ended up being right. The young team with a new coach missed a preseason that it desperately needed. The early schedule was a bitch. And disaster struck when the Giants lost their best player, Saquon Barkley, early in Week 2. The Giants quickly found themselves 0-5. Yet another season appeared over by October. The Giants got embarrassed by a 49er JV team and let two leads against the Cowboys disappear. Fans turned on turnover-machine Daniel Jones and there was talk that the Giants may own the first pick in the 2021 Draft and select Trevor Lawrence.

Then something unexpected happened. The Giants started playing better. The Giants won their annual “feel good” game against Washington. New York lost two heart-breakers against the Eagles and Buccaneers, games in which the Giants held 4th-quarter leads. The Giants then went on a 4-game winning streaking, beating Washington, the Eagles (finally!), the Bengals, and the Seahawks (holy crap!). Unbelievably, the Giants were tied for first place in December. And had they made a play here or there against the Cowboys and Bucs, they could have been in the midst of a 7-game winning streak and a commanding NFC East lead.

What happened? Daniel Jones stopped turning the ball over. And the entire defense and offensive line were coming on. The former under Patrick Graham, who had only just become a defensive coordinator in 2019 in Miami. The latter despite offensive line coach Marc Colombo unexpectedly being fired during the surge.

Giants fans who had become accustomed to losing football were now giddy in December! That all changed when the Cardinals bitch-slapped the Giants 26-7 in mid-December. An offense that had struggled to score all season and already missing Barkley could not also deal with an obviously hobbled Daniel Jones. Worse, the schedule was clearly getting tougher again. The Giants (not unexpectedly) fell to 5-9, one game behind Washington with two games left to play. That’s where we are right now.

Why the recap? Because I think many Giants fans have lost their freaking minds.

Giants fans before the Browns game: “We have no chance! We’re going to get killed!”

Giants fans after the Browns game: “We suck! How could we lose to the Browns?!”

Many (not all, but many) Giants fans are still living in denial. They don’t seem to REALLY understand that this team has won just 17 games in four years. The fact that the Giants are one game out of first place in arguably the worst division in NFL history doesn’t change that fact. The Giants STILL have significant talent issues on offense and defense. The Cardinals and Browns beat the Giants because they are the better teams. The Giants are improving but they have a long way to go.

Now to the good stuff. The Giants can still make the playoffs. The Baltimore Ravens should win this game, but the Giants are certainly capable of pulling off the upset if a few things break their way. Despite all of the shit that has happened this year, the Giants are still only one game out with two games left to play. Not ideal. But if you painted this picture in September, many Giants fans would have been thrilled to be in this position.

THE INJURY REPORT

  • QB Daniel Jones (hamstring/ankle – questionable)
  • WR Golden Tate (calf – out)
  • TE Evan Engram (calf – probable)
  • OT Matt Peart (ankle – probable)
  • LB Blake Martinez (ankle – questionable)
  • CB Darnay Holmes (knee – questionable)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE

I love you guys, but you are driving me crazy. Since September, I’ve pointed out the personnel limitations on this side of the ball. I told you all how catastrophic the loss of Saquon Barkley would be to this talent-deprived unit. Where I was wrong is I didn’t fully realize how inept our receiving targets were going to be this year. I foolishly expected more out of Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton, Golden Tate, and Evan Engram. These “big four” have just SEVEN touchdown receptions in 14 games. As a team, the Giants only have nine touchdown passes. That’s beyond dreadful.

Jason Garrett has a long history of coaching top-10 offenses in this league. That’s just a fact. “But look at his talent in Dallas!” That’s my point. The New York backfield last week included Colt McCoy (8-22 starting QB) and Alfred Morris (32-year old RB who had one carry in 2019). Shit, that was the Redskins backfield in 2014 (a team that finished 4-12). “Garrett should be able to do the same with McCoy, Morris, and Tate as Cleveland does with Mayfield, Chubb, and Landry!” (See how stupid this sounds?)

I still haven’t given up on Daniel Jones. I may be dead wrong, but I feel he has been sabotaged with poor surrounding talent. He played much better as a rookie, but Barkley only missed three games last year. When a defense focuses all of their attention on Barkley, it opens everything up everyone else. This year, when his protection got better, Jones stopped turning the ball over. The hamstring and ankle injuries obviously affected his play against the Cardinals. It remains to be seen how much they will hinder him against the Ravens and Cowboys. Keep this in mind: Daniel Jones started 12 games in 2019 and 12 games thus far in 2020. He threw 24 touchdown passes last year. He has eight this year. You can draw your own conclusions as you best see fit.

Big picture, here is where the Giants are at: This year, the Giants can be respectable on offense when the offensive line is having one of its “good games” and Daniel Jones is relatively healthy. This is NOT a team that can count on its wide receivers and tight ends to make plays in the passing game. There is no depth at these positions either; none of the young players pushing the non-productive starters (Austin Mack is not going to save the day). Even Wayne Gallman has seen his carries decline from 24 to 16 to 12 to 9 in the past four games. As a group, many if not most of the wide receivers, tight ends, and running backs currently on the roster will not be on this team in 2021 (and a few won’t be in the NFL). The Giants are a bad offensive football team because they have bad offensive personnel at the skill positions. Read that last sentence again.

What about the future? The building blocks on the offensive line appear to be in place. They just have to continue to grow together and gain cohesion and chemistry. Sy’56 strongly argues to add additional pieces to the line in order to turn this into a real strength. He argues a very good offensive line can cover up a multitude of sins. Assuming the Giants move ahead with Daniel Jones, the offensive offseason priorities have to be centered around upgrading the wide receivers and tight ends. No one here scares other teams. Also pray that Saquon Barkley can return near full strength. Long story short, in many ways, this team doesn’t even have major component parts on the roster yet. The rebuild continues.

As for the game against the Ravens, for the Giants to have a chance, they have to play like they did against Seattle. Run, run, run behind a big and physical offensive line that will hopefully be “on”… because if they aren’t, the Giants are toast. Unfortunately, Baltimore has the NFL’s 9th-ranked defense (10th against the run, 14th against the pass, 4th in scoring defense).

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE

Like the injuries to Daniel Jones, the loss of James Bradberry due to a COVID precaution came at a bad time. His absence, along with nickel corner Darnay Holmes (a de facto starter), was keenly felt against the Browns. The loss of these two players had a trickle-down effect throughout the entire pass defense. It also demonstrated just how thin the Giants are at the corner position thanks to botching the Deandre Baker and Sam Beal picks.

Assuming Holmes plays, the Giants will be near full-strength on defense (late note: LB Blake Martinez was a late addition to the injury report). For the third week in a row, the Giants will be playing a top-four rushing attack. The Cardinals are #4 and the Browns are #3. This weekend, the Giants play the #1 rushing team in the NFL as the Ravens average almost 173 yards per game, or one yard less in what they average throwing the football (31st in the NFL). Usually, run-centric teams can have issues scoring, but that isn’t true for the Cardinals, Browns, and Ravens. Baltimore is 6th in the NFL in scoring, averaging 29 points per game (the Giants have dropped to an embarrassing 17 points per game).

Even more so than the Cardinals, the focal point of the Ravens’ rushing attack is their quarterback, Lamar Jackson (828 yards rushing, 6.1 yards per rush, 7 touchdowns). Running backs Gus Edwards (578 yards, 4.9 yards per rush, 6 touchdowns) and J.K. Dobbins (568 yards, 5.2 yards per carry, 6 touchdowns) contribute another 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns. As a team, the Ravens have 21 rushing touchdowns.

Lamar Jackson has thrown for one yard less than Daniel Jones this year. But while Jones has eight touchdown passes and nine interceptions, Jackson has thrown for 21 touchdowns and eight interceptions on 50 fewer attempts. The efficiency of his game is why he has a QBR 20 points higher than Jones. Only three Ravens have more than 17 receptions on the season: WR Marquise Brown (49 catches, 703 yards, 5 touchdowns), TE Mark Andrews (48 catches, 598 yards, 7 touchdowns), and WR Willie Snead (31 catches, 408 yards, 3 touchdowns).

When Jackson is “on,” he’s truly a difference maker who can dominate a game with his arm and feet. But when he is “off,” the Ravens suffer and can be beaten. The Giants clearly need to focus on defending the run, especially the more “gimmicky” designed QB runs. Kyler Murray was good practice for the Giants. But also keep in mind the Cardinals soundly crushed the Giants 26-7 just two weeks ago.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS

The game within a game this week is two former special teams coordinators turned head coaches matching off against each other. New York’s late-season downward spiral on special teams continued last weekend with the odd fake field goal attempt against Cleveland. The Ravens have returned one kickoff for a touchdown this season and their punt returner is averaging a respectable 8.6 yards per punt return. They also have superb kickers.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH

Head Coach Joe Judge on the 2020 Baltimore Ravens: “You talk about them as a team, they obviously went through that three-week stretch where they played on kind of not normal weeks. Short schedules, long schedules, guys being pulled out for COVID, whatever the reason is. Obviously, they’re getting guys back now healthy. They’re really hitting their stride. This is a very good team. It’s going to take everything we have to prepare for them. We have to have our best on Sunday.”

THE FINAL WORD

The Baltimore Ravens are arguably the best team the Giants have faced this year. They have top units on offense, defense, and special teams. As Judge pointed out, they had to deal with unbelievable COVID issues, but are now hitting their stride. On paper, this is one of the worst teams for the Giants to be facing in a must-win situation. But it is what it is. The Giants put themselves in this position by losing earlier games to the Cowboys and Eagles. For all intents and purposes, this is a playoff game.

My head says “no way” but my heart says “Go Giants!”

Dec 222020
 
Share Button
Sterling Shepard, New York Giants (December 20, 2020)

Sterling Shepard – © USA TODAY Sports

QUICK RECAP

While the modern-day rivalry between the Cleveland Browns and New York Giants isn’t very historical or dramatic, as they only play once every four years and don’t have any championship games against one another, there was some extra spice to this late-season match-up. First, the 2019 CLE Head Coach Freddie Kitchens took over play calling duties for NYG for Jason Garrett, who missed the game because of Covid-19. Second, former CLE starting QB Colt McCoy was starting for the injured Daniel Jones. And third, these two teams traded players and picks with each other two offseasons ago, creating a “revenge” feel for many. Beyond that, the national TV, flexed game was a big one for NYG. Because of a WAS loss earlier in the day, NYG would be back in 1st place if they were able to pull off the upset against CLE, winner of 4 of their last 5.

Following a 48-yard return on the opening kick to midfield by Dion Lewis, NYG was set up nicely to start the game. Thanks to a 22-yard pass from McCoy to Sterling Shepard, NYG quickly had the ball in the red zone. After a failed touchdown pass attempt to Evan Engram, the NYG field goal unit came on for a 25-yard field goal attempt. The trickster in Joe Judge has been getting more and more aggressive, but this next decision took the cake. NYG rushed into an odd formation with everyone split out besides three down linemen. Center Nick Gates, an eligible receiver, snapped the ball then ran into the end zone. Punter Riley Dixon took the snap, dropped back like a quarterback similar to that time he did it in recess a couple decades ago, and lofted a pass to Gates who was surrounded by 3 CLE defenders. The ball fell incomplete, turnover on downs.

CLE then turned the ball over on downs near midfield, giving NYG another strong starting field position. This time, they turned it into 3 points. McCoy hit Darius Slayton for 35 yards on this drive and even though everyone knew points would be tough to come by, it was a good sign this team got into the red zone on both of their first two possessions. They were only up 3-0, however. Baker Mayfield, the #1 pick from the 2018 Draft, looked smooth, confident, and decisive. CLE used that to go up by a score of 7-3 via a 2-yard pass to tight end Austin Hooper.

Once again, NYG drove the ball down the field and breached the red zone. They were faced with a 4th-and-2 from the 6-yard line, enabling Judge to stay aggressive. A rush attempt failed to convert the first down and instead of points, it was a turnover on downs for the second time. NYG has an All-Pro contender at kicker, they have a hard time scoring points, and they now were down 7-3 instead of up 9-7. The seemingly automatic Mayfield continued to complete pass after pass on the next drive. They near-seamlessly put another touchdown on the board on a 2-yard pass to Jarvis Landry. Landry was flagged for taunting, however, pushing the CLE extra point attempt back 15 yards. Kicker Cody Parkey ended up hitting the upright on the PAT attempt, keeping the score at 13-3 as halftime approached. NYG has scored a combined 3 first half points over the previous 3 games.

CLE had the momentum and started the second half with the ball. If NYG wanted any shot at a comeback win, these opening second-half possessions were vital. Dexter Lawrence sacked Mayfield for an 11-yard loss on a 2nd-and-11. This was the play that was supposed to change the flow of the game. However, on the ensuing NYG drive, and after two first downs that brought NYG to midfield, Wayne Gallman was tackled for a 3-yard loss due to a failed attempted block by Engram, a wide receiver who sometimes lines up where a tight end is supposed to. This created a 3rd-and-12, which NYG did not convert.

CLE then went on a 14-play, 8+ minute drive that ended in a 1-yard touchdown by Nick Chubb. It was 20-3 and the NYG offense just couldn’t get anything going from sources like Colt McCoy, Alfred Morris, and a group pass catchers who are among the least-intimidating in football. NYG was able to put 3 more points on the board a couple possessions later to make it 20-6 (rather than 20-12) with 4 minutes left. CLE was done scoring but they did force NYG to burn their timeouts before getting the ball back with a minute left. A few pointless and meaningless gains later, the clock read 0:00 and NYG remained in 2nd place as they lost their second straight.

NYG loses, 20-6.

QUARTERBACK

-Colt McCoy: 19-31 / 221 yards / 0 TD – 0 INT / 82.9 RAT

For the second time in 3 weeks, McCoy got the start for an injured Daniel Jones. Expectations for a 34-yard old career backup are never high and whatever they may be, McCoy met them. He made a couple of really nice throws in the first quarter that led NYG to the red zone, but he couldn’t seal the deal on a couple of opportunities in the end zone. McCoy just didn’t put the ball where he needed to on a few occasions and that is often the difference between good and mediocre at this level. NYG went over 15 years without having to deal with a backup starting the game. We’ve now seen it twice in three weeks. It really is such a limiting factor.

RUNNING BACK

-Alfred Morris led the way with 39 yards on 7 carries while Wayne Gallman added 29 yards on 7 carries. Dion Lewis caught 2 passes for 14 yards and had a 48 yard kick return to start off the game but fumbled later in the game as a returner for the second week in a row. It wasn’t a bad day for the NYG backs, but it lacked impact and Gallman getting stuffed on a 4th-and-2 where he just didn’t have the sheer power to push the pile forward was a killer.

WIDE RECEIVER

-Darius Slayton led the way with 74 yards on 4 catches. He had an awful drop that would have converted a 3rd-and-10 (even if he did, there was a penalty on the offensive line that cancelled the play altogether). Still a really ugly look for Slayton. Those 74 yards were 29 yards more than what he accrued in the previous 3 games combined. However, 2 of those catches and 18 of those yards came in the final minute of the game where pretty much nobody cared.

-Sterling Shepard added 51 yards on 4 catches and Golden Tate caught 2 passes for 13 yards. That is a combined 6 catches for 64 yards. Just over 10 yards per catch, yet again from these two. The more games I see this offense play, the stronger the notion is that this team is starving for playmakers on the outside that scare a defense.

TIGHT END

-Evan Engram had a bad game. He did catch 4 passes for 46 yards but he added another drop to the list and his blocking was poor. He just isn’t a guy that can handle the rigors of blocking in-line. He allowed a TFL and caused both Morris and Gallman alike to alter the running lane on one occasion each. There was a near-touchdown that can’t be called a drop, however both of his hands were on the ball first and it was jarred out by CLE safety Karl Joseph.

-Kaden Smith and Levine Toilolo both deserve a positive write up. Smith was a key blocker on a couple of NYG’s longer runs. They used him as a trap blocker a couple times and he did some serious damage on contact. Toilolo added a catch for 14 yards and recovered the Dion Lewis fumble.

OFFENSIVE TACKLE

-After a horrific match-up against Haason Reddick a week ago, Andrew Thomas bounced back against Myles Garrett. Garrett didn’t look like his old self at points, but I like how Thomas played him. He was really aggressive with his hands and he kept his balance post-contact. He did allow a half-sack late in the game but besides that, he didn’t give anything. 0 Pressures, 0 TFL, 0 penalties.

-Cameron Fleming and Shane Lemieux were poor. Fleming just doesn’t have it snap to snap; he is pretty much always going to get beat eventually within a sustained drive. He allowed 2 pressures, got flagged for a hold, and allowed a half sack. Lemieux allowed 2 pressures and was flagged for a hands-to-the-face penalty which ended up being declined. His issues have more to do with the fact he just isn’t powerful enough yet. I think that will come with time. His twitch, balance, and technique look good.

-Kevin Zeitler allowed a TFL and Nick Gates was pretty quiet. He didn’t get left alone much but still produced quality run blocking with his ability to move guys laterally.

EDGE

-It was a quiet day overall for the group, but Carter Coughlin was the stand out. He had 4 tackles and a pressure. He did get beat badly in coverage by Austin Hooper twice, one of which was for a first down. He isn’t natural in that role because remember, he was purely an edge guy in college. I can remember writing in his scouting report that he had the skill set and intelligence to play a role inside down the road. With the BUCK role being an edge role that can fill in next to the MIKE inside at times in this defense, Coughlin is making a strong case to be considered for that role next year. He just needs to figure out coverage more than anything.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

-NYG held the CLE rushing attack (top 5 in the NFL) to a quiet day on the ground. The 106 yards were the lowest since November 1. The two catalysts? Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams. They were excellent off the line and showed range. They both had 6 tackles and a TFL, Lawrence also had a sack and pass deflection on 3rd down. Williams added 2 pressures and made rookie left tackle Jedrick Wills look like a child in the running game.

-B.J. Hill, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Austin Johnson all continued to rotate and provide solid run defense. None offered much against the pass. Johnson had a TFL.

LINEBACKER

-Blake Martinez looked, moved, and hit better than he did last week when he seemed to be recovering from his back injury. He was back to the level we had gotten so used to all year and it was a great combination with what NYG was working with up front. He had 10 tackles and 2 TFL. Not many guys can stone Kareem Hunt, but Martinez did. He played smart, instinctive, and physical. He is one of the best LBs in the league when it comes to noticing and reacting to the screen.

-Tae Crowder added 6 tackles and a TFL. Devante Downs and David Mayo rotated in but it is as clear as anything that Crowder is the guy there. Downs and Mayo both badly missed tackles in space. Those two need to play less and Crowder needs to be the only inside guy on the field next to Martinez.

CORNERBACK

-With both James Bradberry and Darnay Holmes out, NYG had to get a little creative at cornerback with Julian Love and Logan Ryan, both collegiate corners. Both of them played well in their roles, respectively. Ryan had 9 tackles and Love finished with 6. They both were beat by Jarvis Landry on separate 3rd down conversions and both missed a tackle.

-Isaac Yiadom was expected to step up in this one, and he did not. CLE clearly wanted to go after him and they ended up having a lot of success there. He allowed a touchdown to Landry and allowed two downfield completions to Rashard Higgins. He didn’t have a lot of help in this one and he just did not come through.

SAFETY

-In his first game back against the team that made him a 1st round pick in 2017, Jabrill Peppers was as quiet as we have seen this year. He had 3 tackles and just didn’t seem to make a physical presence known against the strong CLE rushing attack. He got caught over-pursuing two outside runs that I did not count as missed tackles, but it did create more yards for them.

-Rookie Xavier McKinney saw a slight uptick in playing time because of the vacancies at corner. He made 4 tackles and was often playing a preventative deep role in coverage. He didn’t really have an opportunity to display much against the pass.

SPECIAL TEAMS

-K Graham Gano: 2/2 (Made 39 and 37)
-P Riley Dixon: 2 Punts / 34.5 avg / 31.5 net

3 STUDS

-DT Dexter Lawrence, DT Leonard Williams, OT Andrew Thomas

3 DUDS

-OT Cameron Fleming, CB Isaac Yiadom, TE Evan Engram

3 THOUGHTS ON CLE

CLE went a combined 1-31 in 2016/2017. Their last winning season was 2007 (the first Eli Manning Super Bowl). They are now 10-4 and heading toward the playoffs with a big arrow pointing upward. How did they turn it around? Three things. One, they’ve crushed the early draft picks. DE Myles Garrett in 2017, Baker Mayfield and Denzel Ward in 2018, Jedrick Wills in 2020. Two, their Head Coach Kevin Stefanski has created a system on offense that fits his personnel perfectly and he sticks to it. Three, they have created one of the best offensive lines in football.

More on that offensive line because it deserves its own write up. Baker Mayfield has been sacked just 18 times this year. In 2019, he was sacked 41 times. Kudos to this Front Office for double-dipping at the OT spots by signing Jack Conklin in free agency and then using their 1st-round pick on Jedrick Wills. Those two, in combination with what I consider to be the top trio of interior offensive linemen in the league has instilled so much confidence in Mayfield in addition to paving the way for a top-5 rushing attack.

The CLE offense is better without Odell Beckham. I mean that 100% and I say it without hesitation. This is not a knock on Beckham at all. This has more to do with my thoughts on NYG and whether or not they should pursue a top WR in free agency. They need an uptick in talent there, but you need to tread carefully. An offense works best, in most cases, when the ball is being spread around. Mayfield was forcing the ball to Beckham and it was making him a less effective quarterback, plain and simple.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

There may not be a less effective offense in the NFL than what NYG is working with. Granted, they are working with a backup QB and they are missing the focal point of their offense in Barkley. But 30 points over 3 games (including 13 over the last 2) against three defenses that do not include any top 10 units is just embarrassing. The silver lining here is I would rather go into the offseason trying to fix a bad offense than a bad defense.

How does the 31st ranked offense get fixed? This offensive line needs to become dominant. Not good, they need to be dominant. I think NYG can go into next year with Thomas and Peart at tackle but both of those guys aren’t dominant players. Nick Gates is a keeper at center. The question and opportunity for upgrade will be at the guard spots. Whether it is a high priced free agent (Joe Thuney/NE?) or a 2nd round pick (there are a few), or both, NYG needs to go in that direction. It isn’t sexy, but I feel it is the most efficient and reliable way to go about it.

Two games left and yes, NYG still has a shot at this division crown. The biggest issue? They are matched up against a hot BAL team that, when all things are clicking, can be as hard to stop as anyone. While I am confident in NYG’s ability to stuff a traditional rushing attack like CLE, BAL is simply a different animal. Think about the way ARI was able to pick up chunk gains with Kyler Murray. This will be on the NYG defensive line, yes. But we really need to see that second level (LBs and safeties) step up.

Dec 182020
 
Share Button

THE STORYLINE

The New York Giants have been out of serious contention for so long that many of us forgot how quickly things can change during the roller coaster that is an NFL season. Left for dead, the Giants had scrapped and clawed their way to the top of the NFC East, winning four games in a row, including an impressive beat-down of the then 8-3 Seattle Seahawks. It was assumed that the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers would easily defeat the Washington Football Team on Monday night and the Giants would effectively have a 2-game advantage (owning the tie-breaker) with four to play.

Events began to turn against the Giants on December 7th. Washington came from behind to defeat the Steelers. Then in Week 14, disaster struck. Encumbered by a still clearly gimpy Daniel Jones, the Giants were destroyed by the Arizona Cardinals at home. Making matters much worse, every other team in the NFC East won. With three games left in the season, the Giants now find themselves one game behind Washington and having the much more difficult schedule.

If that wasn’t enough of a kick to the nuts, arguably the Giants best player, James Bradberry, will miss Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns because he came into close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. Offensive Coordinator Jason Garrett also tested positive and the team had to skip practice on Thursday because of it. The Giants also revealed that Daniel Jones suffered an ankle injury against the Cardinals. The Giants now find themselves in a must-win game against a 9-4 Cleveland Browns teams that scored 42 points last Monday in a loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Yikes.

One week ago, Giants fans were dreaming of a division title and a playoff game. Now, once again, they are thinking about the 2021 NFL Draft. What a pisser!

THE INJURY REPORT

  • QB Daniel Jones (hamstring/ankle – questionable)
  • TE Evan Engram (calf – questionable)
  • TE Kaden Smith (knee – questionable)
  • OG Kevin Zeitler (shoulder – probable)
  • CB Darnay Holmes (knee – out)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE

Many fans will say I am excuse-making, but the injuries to Daniel Jones could not have come at a worse time. Before the Seattle game, the Giants had won three games in a row. Jones had not turned the ball over in any of those wins and he was finding his stride and playing better despite the team’s liabilities in the receiving department. Without Jones, a Colt McCoy-led offense did just enough in the second half to pull out a win, relying mostly on the team’s defense. Jones returned in Week 14 against the Cardinals, but it became clear pretty early that the team rushed him back too soon. As I wrote in last week’s game preview, “The big question is will Daniel Jones play? And if he does, how effective will he be and will he not re-aggravate his hamstring injury? It’s not just a matter of the injury limiting his rushing ability, but ability to throw the football forcefully with accuracy and velocity.”

On New York’s first drive, the Giants picked up two first downs, reached mid-field, and then Jones got clobbered by an unblocked Markus Golden. He fumbled the ball in his throwing motion. The tone was set for the day and Jones was ineffective the rest of the contest, being sacked six times and fumbling two more times. Adding injury to insult, Jones now has a bum ankle to go along with his hamstring injury. Just terrible timing for quarterback who was finally coming around in his sophomore season with his team entering the stretch run.

I keep reading comments from Giants’ fans complaining about the offensive coordinator and play-calling. While an argument can be made that the team is not running the ball enough early, for the most part, the Giants’ poor offensive performance (31st in the NFL) is a product of their personnel limitations. I have been yelling this from the roof tops since Saquon Barkley got hurt, but it is still being ignored by those who don’t want to accept reality.

Teams with solid running games and few dynamic threats in the passing game don’t score a lot of points. The Giants were beginning to play much better on offense during their 4-game winning streak, but they were still only averaging 21.5 points per game during those four wins. It was the improved play of the offensive line that was largely responsible for the increased effectiveness of the running game and reduction in turnovers. With the offensive line unfortunately coming up with one of their worst performances of the year against the Cardinals, the result was predictable. The ground game was inconsistent. The quarterbacks got sacked eight times, fumbling four times. And the team scored seven points.

The offensive line is a work in progress. While it has improved dramatically and at times looked like a top unit, it is still peppered with inexperienced players who are learning to play together as a unit. They took a major step backwards last week. Jones can’t move around and as I feared, the bad wheels are also affecting his ability to set up and throw. But most disappointing of all are the receiving targets. It’s pretty clear now that Evan Engram is who he is… an occasional highlight reel player who comes up small in big moments and often disappears for long stretches of games and the season. He’s not a reliable player. And the Giants should have traded him when there was a decent market for his services. He’s a coach killer. And he and Kaden Smith are “questionable” for the game. Wonderful.

But let’s not let the wideouts off of the hook. Darius Slayton is averaging only three catches and 48 yards per game. Worse, his productivity has worsened as the season has progressed. In the last three games, Slayton has four catches and 45 yards. Once again, Sterling Shepard missed a huge chunk of the season with an injury and only has 416 yards receiving and one touchdown on the year. Golden Tate only has 375 yards. In other words, the team’s top three wideouts have a total of 1,420 yards and six touchdowns. That’s terrible. Let’s cut through the BS. Slayton is having a bad sophomore season, Shepard has never been more than JAG, and Tate is done. They will occasionally make a highlight reel catch, but none are consistently reliable. No one scares the defense.

Why am I painting this same sad picture AGAIN?!? I’m trying to reach you guys. This is an intervention. The New York Giants don’t have the offensive personnel to compete with the big boys right now. You can blame the coaches and the quarterback all you want, but it’s a unit-wide issue. When the offensive line is playing its A-game, the Giants have a chance to pound the rock. But they don’t have the skill players to score enough points. And now with the quarterback situation the way it is, the offense is likely to be really ugly the rest of the way. It is what it is.

As for Cleveland’s defense, there is a bit of an ex-Giant angle here. Linebacker B.J. Goodson is leading the team with 84 tackles and two interceptions. Edge rusher Olivier Vernon is second on the team with seven sacks. The Browns can get after the quarterback too with Myles Garrett (10.5 sacks) and Sheldon Richardson (4.5 sacks).

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE

You want more gloom? I’ve got it for you. One of the team’s best players and one of the major reasons the defense has turned itself around, James Bradberry, is out due to the COVID protocol. (It’s not even clear he has COVID). Just terrible timing again in a must-win situation facing a team that just scored 42 points. Worse, nickel corner Darnay Holmes will miss his second game in a row. Another crucial player, inside linebacker Blake Martinez, is not on the injury report but he did look like himself last week playing with a back injury.

Enter the Cleveland Browns, the NFL’s 12th-ranked offense in terms of yards and 13th-ranked in terms of points scored (27 points per game). The strength of this team is its running game, third in the NFL, averaging 156 yards per game. The Browns have a two-headed monster at running back: Nick Chubb (881 yards, 5.9 yards per carry, 9 touchdowns) and Kareem Hunt (772 yards, 4.4 yards per carry, 5 touchdowns). That’s elite-level productivity. This is a team with a big and effective offensive line and power running game. They will wear you down, old-school style.

Baker Mayfield has his critics. But he’s still has a 23-to-8 TD-to-INT ratio, good enough for a 96.6 QB rating. His favorite target by far is WR Jarvis Landry, with 60 catches but only two touchdowns. Mayfield spreads the ball around with eight players having at least two touchdowns on the roster. Bradberry will be missed in that the Giants could have isolated him on Landry. Now with him and Holmes out, the Giants will have to rely on Isaac Yiadom, Logan Ryan, and Jarren Williams at corner. The Giants may even have to bring up Quincy Wilson. Who? Oh boy.

The Browns run the ball more than they throw it. Stating the obvious, for the Giants to have any chance to win this game, Patrick Graham and his players will have to do what few teams have been able to do this year and that is stop Cleveland from consistently running the football. That’s not just on the defensive line and linebackers, but all 11 players. The defense will have to load up the box and hope the depleted secondary can hold its own.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS

I’m simply going to repeat what I wrote last week: “I’m not sure what is going on with the Giants special teams all of the sudden, but a Giants team that is encumbered with an offense that struggles to score 20 points simply cannot afford to have repeated major breakdowns on special teams.”

The Giants have played three subpar special teams games in a row. They have to turn this around NOW. The problem is that Cleveland has excellent, well-coached special teams.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH

Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham on the Browns’ Offense: “Their offensive line, these guys are big, they’re physical. I’m not trying to diminish the merits of the teams we’ve seen before, but arguably one of the best O-lines we’ve seen all year. It’s going to be a challenge. The tight ends are willing to block. The thing that stands out to me with Chad O’Shea the wide receivers coach and pass game coordinator. These receivers are going to block too… From there, you get the quarterback getting them in the right checks. You can see him really maturing as a signal caller back there… Last but not least, are the backs. You’re talking about guys that don’t go down on first contact. Guys that play tough. (Nick) Chubb…I love his demeanor, I love the way he carries himself… (Kareem) Hunt’s a dynamic player in the run and pass game.”

THE FINAL WORD

A week after tremendous optimism, it is easy to be down on the Giants now given everything that has gone wrong the past seven days. One has to guard against that pessimism and realize that things could bounce in the other direction just as quickly. In other words, don’t fall into the same trap that “expert” prognosticators always fall victim to: only paying attention to the last game and not overall trends.

That said, the injuries to Daniel Jones and one-game loss of James Bradberry come at a terrible time. In hindsight, the two wins against the Washington Football Team look more impressive now. The Giants beat-down of the Seahawks was real. But so was the Cardinals beat-down of the Giants. Which version of New York will we see on Sunday night?

The irony of ironies is that Freddie Kitchens will be calling the offensive plays against his own team. Could he have a few surprises up his sleeve? He doesn’t have much to work with.

Dec 162020
 
Share Button
Andrew Thomas and Daniel Jones, New York Giants (December 13, 2020)

Andrew Thomas and Daniel Jones – © USA TODAY Sports

QUICK RECAP

Two teams going in two completely different directions. ARI came into this week 14 match-up losers of three straight, and four of their last five. Their lone win over that stretch came at home against BUF at the hands of a last second Hail Mary. On the other hand, NYG was coming off 4 straight wins, including one over SEA the previous week. Starting quarterback Daniel Jones was back in the lineup, Blake Martinez was active after missing some practice time because of a back injury, and the overall health of the NYG squad ranked near the top of the league in a sport where attrition means everything.

The last time Jones turned the ball over was November 2 (week 8) against Tampa Bay. He then went three straight games without giving the ball to the other team (plus he missed last week’s match-up because of a hamstring injury). That is simply mentioned because the one glaring black eye to the start of Jones’ career has revolved around turning the ball over, namely fumbles. It has been getting cleaned up, NYG has been winning, and the arrow for both Jones and the franchise was pointing up. That isn’t how things began, however.

Jones was sacked by former Giant Markus Golden, who was traded by the club in October, on an untouched rush. Jones was starting his release and the timing of the hit was perfect for a forced fumble. Golden scooped up the loose ball himself and returned it to the NYG 9-yard line. The NYG defense stepped up though. They came up with 3rd and 4th down stops from the 1-yard line, keeping the score at 0-0. The NYG offense responded with a 3-and-out before punting the ball back to ARI, where Christian Kirk had a 24-yard return. ARI started their second possession from the NYG 38. This time, ARI was able to put points on the board via a 34-yard field goal by Mike Nugent.

NYG gained a combined 15 yards on their next two drives. ARI started their fourth possession of the game in NYG territory, the third time they started near midfield or better. The NYG defense remained tough though, keeping them to another 3 points. ARI was up 6-0. It was time for the sleepy offense to step up, as they didn’t want a repeat first half performance from last week where they didn’t score at all. That attempt would have to wait. Dion Lewis fumbled the ensuing kick return, giving ARI the ball at the NYG 21-yard line. For the fourth time in five possessions, ARI was starting near midfield or better and it was the third time they were inside the NYG 40. The NYG defense gave up a 15-yard run to ARI running back Kenyan Drake but got it to 3rd and Goal from the 7. Kyler Murray was pressured by multiple rushers and heaved a fade away pass toward the back of the end zone. There was one ARI tight end and three NYG defensive backs in the area but it was Dan Arnold who brought it in for the touchdown. ARI went up 13-0.

The NYG offense approached midfield for the first time but they were stopped on a 3rd-and-7 attempt where Jones did not throw to the open receiver (Lewis) for the second time in as many possessions. They were forced to punt back to ARI and Kirk once again returned it to near midfield. They had under 20 seconds left and no timeouts, but a few chunk gains got them within field goal striking distance. Nugent missed a 55-yard attempt, but it was nullified by a late false start whistle, thus creating a shot for ARI to go for a last second touchdown. With Murray and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins on the field, this was not something to overlook. Murray ended up being pressured and scrambled his way down the field for 12 yards and was taken down. It was 13-0 at halftime and NYG was out-gained in yards 199-58.

To make matters worse, ARI began the second half with the ball. They manufactured an 11-play drive that consisted of 8 runs and 3 passes. The final run was a 1-yard touchdown by Drake. It was 20-0 and NYG was entering a do-or-die situation to keep this game reachable. Similar to last week’s game in Seattle, Wayne Gallman was featured at the start of the second half after having a quiet first two quarters. He touched the ball on the first 5 plays, gaining 35 yards. Golden Tate then came up with the big play, making a catch in traffic for a 39-yard gain that brought NYG to the 1-yard line. Dion Lewis then snuck his way into the end zone on the next play and just like that, NYG was on the board but still down 20-7.

The NYG defense forced a punt on the ensuing ARI drive, giving Jones and the offense an opportunity to take the full momentum of this game back. The response? 3-and-out. NYG had a 3rd-and-1 and the play call plus decision by Jones created a deep pass to Sterling Shepard. It fell incomplete.

Kenyan Drake fumbled two straight plays on the next drive but NYG couldn’t grab either one of them. ARI ended up putting 3 more points on the board via a 34-yard field goal by Nugent as the fourth quarter was under way. The next NYG drive netted -1 yard over three plays and they punted yet again. Punter Riley Dixon barely wore his sideline jacket in this one. The NYG defense, despite showing 23 points allowed, continued to play solid football. They forced another ARI punt after two straight plays that saw takedowns behind the line of scrimmage. The NYG offense continued to falter, however. Their next drive consisted of Jones being sacked twice and two false starts by the offensive line. NYG was forced to punt.

With about 5 minutes left, NYG started using their timeouts but ARI was able to push the ball down the field with a balanced attack. This drive netted another 3 points, this time via a 30-yard field goal by Nugent who was perfect on the day. It was 26-7 with just over 2 minutes left. Colt McCoy trotted out with the offense, as Jones was visibly limping during and after the previous drive. The final offensive play was McCoy being sacked by Haason Reddick, his career high fifth of the day, which forced a fumble that was recovered by ARI.

NYG loses 26-7.

QUARTERBACK

-Daniel Jones: 11-21 / 127 yards / 0 TD – 0 INT / 70.9 RAT

Jones did not have any rushing attempts on the day. After missing a game with his hamstring injury and unsure of his status until late in the week, Jones did not look like himself in this one. I can’t imagine missing one game can make a player “rusty.” What I think happened here was simple. Jones knew he was not going to be playing with his normal arsenal of personal weaponry. Designed runs weren’t a part of the game plan and scrambling was something he had to avoid as much as possible. That, combined with a sneaky-good ARI pass defense filled with quality defensive backs and a NYG offense line that started to break down in the second half, he just seemed to have no shot. Can this be pegged on him? Not completely. However, he missed Dion Lewis on two straight 3rd-down plays that easily could have altered the trajectory of the game. He fumbled three times and even though one of them was completely not his fault, the other two showed weak ball handling. Jones looked lost in this one.

RUNNING BACK

-Wayne Gallman: 12 att / 57 yards and 3 rec / 16 yards

Gallman had a really quiet first half. He did touch the ball 8 times but only gained 25 yards (3.1 yards per). We saw a different level of production in the second half for the second week in a row. He touched the ball 6 times and gained 48 yards (8 yards per). I think we are at the point now where Gallman needs to be the feature player on this offense. We need to see more early down running with him, we need to see him getting the ball on 3rd-and-short, and we need to get him the ball in the screen game. This is no longer a back who had a couple of decent games in a row. Especially if Jones is going to be limited, Gallman needs to start getting the ball 20+ times per game at the minimum.

WIDE RECEIVER

-Darius Slayton was targeted 8 times and caught 3 passes for 31 yards. It has been a disappointing, dry run for Slayton over the past 2 months. He hasn’t scored a touchdown since October 18, he has 10 catches over the past 5 games, and he hasn’t eclipsed 100 yards since October 11. He was man-handled by the physicality of Patrick Peterson on a few occasions, both as the ball came at him and off the line. This continues to be a major issue for him.

-Sterling Shepard had 3 catches for 35 yards and Golden Tate had 1 catch for 39 yards. There aren’t many teams that have gotten less production from their wide receivers this season. More on that below.

TIGHT END

-Evan Engram had 2 catches for 18 yards. Both of them came on the last drive of the game when Colt McCoy was under center and the game was basically all but over. He was nowhere to be found in this one.

-Kaden Smith had a catch and Levine Toilolo’s main contribution came on special teams with a couple of physical hits. Neither had a strong impact, good or bad, on the game.

OFFENSIVE LINE

-A week after Andrew Thomas put out the top performance of his rookie season, he took a significant step back. He allowed 2 sacks and 2 pressures in addition to be flagged for a false start. Before the game I was speaking with a former scout and we agreed that Reddick was a worst-case matchup for Thomas. Short, shifty, powerful, and bendy. Thomas just couldn’t seem to square Reddick up and his hands + feet were never in sync. Myles Garrett is on tap.

-The right side of Kevin Zeitler and Cameron Fleming did a nice job in the running game but both allowed a sack and a pressure each in pass protection. Rookie Matt Peart rotated in for a bit (11 snaps total) and allowed a sack. Shane Lemieux had a rough day for the second straight week. He allowed 2 pressures and a sack and Will Hernandez also allowed a sack when he rotated in. Center Nick Gates was the only offensive lineman who didn’t allow a sack on the day but he, too, did not grade out above average. Overall, this was one of the worst OL performances we have seen all year.

EDGE

-Carter Coughlin led the way in this group, as his role appears to be increasing more and more. He has clearly made an impression on the coaching staff, as he has played 39%, 63%, and 81% of the defensive snaps over the past 3 games, respectively. He set a career-high 7 tackles, added a TFL, and pressured the QB two times. They are moving him all over the place and he is thriving.

-Jabaal Sheard had 2 tackles, 1 TFL, and a pressure that led to a sack. For a veteran signed in-season of the street, Sheard has played well. Cam Brown added a pressure but still hasn’t seen a consistent volume of snaps. I think this pass rush could benefit from seeing him on the field more and remember, he is not just a pass rusher. I would argue he can impact the game more as a run stuffer based on what I’ve seen this year.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

-Dalvin Tomlinson had the best game of the trio that has been playing well all year. He had 3 tackles, a sack, a TFL, and 2 pressures. He was a factor all afternoon, constantly breaking through the line and forcing the offense to react to him. Really solid performance here.

-A week after Leonard Williams had his best game as a Giant, he failed to pressure the quarterback one time, a first this season. He did add 4 tackles and he maneuvered his way off blocks well against the run. When Williams struggles to impact the passing game, there just isn’t much on this defense that can fill the void.

-B.J. Hill, Austin Johnson, and Dexter Lawrence all added a pressure, respectively. Hill also added a TFL and Lawrence added 3 tackles, including a key 3rd-and-goal stop at the 1-yard line. Overall, the NYG run defense wasn’t good in this one, but these guys all did their job up front.

LINEBACKER

-We were unsure all week the status of Blake Martinez after suffering a back injury last week. He ended up playing but it was clear he was laboring out there. While he had 7 tackles, it was evident he didn’t have the same pop on contact and he looked a little slow to fill.

-Tae Crowder is evolving into a quality blitzing linebacker. He had 2 pressures and 4 tackles. David Mayo and Devante Downs didn’t play much, but when they did, they struggled. They weren’t beating blockers to the spots and it created extra room for the ARI running backs. They played less than half the snaps Crowder did.

CORNERBACK

-James Bradberry had a really solid game. He had 7 tackles and a high-difficulty pass break up in the end zone that could have easily been a touchdown. He wasn’t matched up against DeAndre Hopkins for the entire game but when he was, I thought he was the winner. Isaac Yiadom added 3 tackles and played a physical brand. He got beat in zone coverage a couple times where it didn’t look like he quite knew what was going on around him. Again, he plays way too scared of getting beat deep and it allows for a lot of action underneath to transpire.

-Rookie nickel Darnay Holmes was out with an injury, thus Logan Ryan filled that role for the majority of the game. He had 5 tackles and a near-interception pass break-up that was knocked away by Hopkins; savvy move by the veteran receiver. Ryan missed 3 tackles on the day. One of the more important players on this defense, Ryan is often a hit-or-miss player and today he missed too many times.

SAFETY

-With Ryan playing more nickel corner in this one, we saw rookie Xavier McKinney on the field for 38 snaps, just under 50%. He made 4 tackles and showed his superior athleticism and burst. Him flying around with Jabrill Peppers (more on him below) was fun to watch and could be a big thing in the future if the veteran stays here long term. From the All-22 tape, McKinney looked more reactionary than instinctual, which is common for a young safety in the league.

-Julian Love had 9 tackles (second most of his career) on just 57% of the snaps. I noted him a lot in this one, just playing extra fast and aggressive. He had a really nice fill on a goal-line stand and looked rangy on a couple of lateral Kenyan Drake rushing attempts. The one issue, from my perspective which doesn’t mean much I know, was the zone coverage. I won’t pretend to know how to play defensive back in the NFL, but Love was beat a few times on passes up the middle. He doesn’t seem to attach himself to receivers entering his zone, but rather stays back and just “floats” if that makes sense. The college corner is a quality athlete who doesn’t seem to have a ton of confidence in zone coverage and that is an issue for me.

-Jabrill Peppers continues his red-hot level of play. He led the team with 13 tackles, 2 TFL, and forced a fumble. He was all over the field and looks like he can be labeled as both the best linebacker and best safety on this team. He played both roles. This defense has turned a sharp corner and he may be the leading catalyst.

SPECIAL TEAMS

-K Graham Gano: No FG attempts
-Riley Dixon: 8 punts / 48.8 avg / 36.6 net

3 STUDS

-S Jabrill Peppers, EDGE Carter Coughlin, CB James Bradberry

3 DUDS

-QB Daniel Jones, OT Andrew Thomas, WR Darius Slayton

3 THOUGHTS ON ARI

Haason Reddick. After watching the new NYG defense run over the first 4-6 weeks of the season, he was the name I circled when it came to 2021 NFL Free Agents to try and sign. The Kyler Fackrell role (BUCK linebacker) in this scheme needs to be effective on the outside but also transform into an extra inside linebacker in specific looks. Reddick has a lot of experience playing inside, which is where ARI predominantly played him for the first three years of his career. His 5 sacks in this game were a little overblown when it comes to how good he is, but the point remains. Fackrell is a one-year rental and Reddick can be the long-term solution for NYG. He is “multiple” in that he can credibly wear different hats for a defense, but the specialty is on the outside despite lacking traditional outside tools.

I don’t believe in ARI in its current state and I don’t believe in Kyler Murray. I’ll go on record with that and will be the first to eat my words if I end up being wrong. ARI is a gimmick offense that does have a lot of talent, absolutely. When everything clicks, they can score on anybody, yes. Murray can take over a game, yes. That, to me, is not what makes a team get in and stay in the elite tier, however. They are reliant on the uniqueness of their offense and Murray’s arsenal. Unique can work like a gem at times (remember Miami’s wildcat offense?) but NFL defenses catch on. Very few offenses and quarterbacks can stay at the top week-to-week and year-to-year. Murray just doesn’t throw the ball from the pocket like those guys and there are things in his game that I just don’t see lasting.

The one area of their team that is stand-out strong and does not get enough attention in the secondary. They’ve really hit on their draft picks over the years and even though Patrick Peterson is not what he once was, there is still plenty in the tank left. Byron Murphy, Budda Baker, Jalen Thompson, and Deionte Johnson were all drafted within the past 3 years. If NYG can build the secondary like this in the next year or two, watch out.

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

While the offensive shortcomings can at least be somewhat attributed to Jones, one needs to really look at what this team has at WR. Over his last 19 games, Sterling Shepard is averaging 9.7 yards per catch and has 3 touchdowns. Golden Tate has been good for 2 catches per game over his last 7 and can rarely get open by himself. Darius Slayton has not taken the step up from his impressive rookie year. Evan Engram is among the league leaders in drops since he has been in the league. This team is starving for a true outside threat and if you look at David Gettleman’s history in pro personnel both with NYG and CAR, they are going to go after someone in free agency. The following are projected to be free agents this offseason: Kenny Golladay / DET, JuJu Smith-Schuster / PIT, Allen Robinson / CHI, Corey Davis / TEN, Sammy Watkins / KC. There are a handful of lesser-tier free agents as well but I think they will go big at this spot this offseason.

We should not be surprised to see NYG lay such an egg after such a strong win in SEA last week. This is life in the NFL for a team that is “middle tier.” One week, you create hope of playoff caliber football and the ability to beat anybody. The next week, you look like a team that can’t do anything right. Big picture, everybody. This is part of growing and evolving into a team that can win games in the postseason. They are still on the right path.

Up next are the Cleveland Browns in front of a national audience. I would love to say CLE is overrated (which was my thought early in the year) but this is a legit playoff caliber team playing really good football on both sides of the ball. The greatest test will come defensively on the ground, where Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are the best 1-2 backfield duo in the game. In addition, they are running behind one of the top 3 offensive lines in the league this year. The NYG defense has been outstanding this year, but this will be a different kind of test.