Sep 302022
 
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Saquon Barkley, New York Giants (September 26, 2022)

Saquon Barkley – © USA TODAY Sports

THE STORYLINE:
On Tuesday, Brian Daboll said something that we all have to regularly remind ourselves of: “It’s never as good as you think, never as bad as you think.” This is why I got annoyed with fans, who just a few weeks ago were predicting a 4-13 record, quickly changed their tune in anticipation of a 4-0 start after the first two wins of the season. Yes, I’m being annoyingly preachy myself. But always keep in your mind who and what this team is at this particular moment in time. It’s a rebuilding ball club that will be replacing core elements of the roster in March and April. The Giants are still so hamstrung by their salary cap situation that they can’t cut certain players who they would probably prefer to part ways with.

A poster in The Corner Forum lamented this week that some fans are now more interested in offseason than the actual season. To be honest, I find myself in that spot right now. I see 2022 as a prelude to part two of the Schoen/Daboll housecleaning and roster overhaul. I find it difficult to become too invested in a quarterback, wide receivers, and possibly even running backs who won’t be on the roster in a few months. The defense is more settled, but one gets the sense that Wink Martindale is going to make some significant changes on that side of the ball too.

What I am looking at is the process. As I’ve asked previously, will the team be better in December than it was in September? That’s what fans should be looking at. Right now, this isn’t a good team. There are going to be ups and downs. With a softer schedule, the coaches may be able to eke out a respectable record near the .500 mark. That would be an improvement…something to build upon moving forward. There is no point for fans to lose their shit on a weekly basis over an ugly win or painful loss. If that’s you, you may be better off taking a break from the team. In other words, stop living in denial and accept the reality that the Giants are at the very beginning stages of a rebuilding process.

As for this particular game, just nine months ago, on January 2nd, the 6-11 Chicago Bears humiliated the Giants 29-3. Sy’56 wrote in his game review, “This turned into as close to an unwatchable game as it gets in today’s NFL. It almost seemed like we weren’t even watching professional football.” So what am I looking for in this game? A win would be great. But I’m evaluating how the Giants of 2022 perform vis a vis the Giants of 2021 against the same opponent.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • WR Kadarius Toney (hamstring – out)
  • WR Wan’Dale Robinson (knee – out)
  • DL Leonard Williams (knee – out)
  • OLB Jihad Ward (knee – probable)
  • CB Cor’Dale Flott (calf – out)
  • CB Aaron Robinson (appendix – probable)
  • CB Nick McCloud (hamstring – out)
  • CB Justin Layne (concussion – probable)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
We have no idea what Joe Schoen and Brian Daboll really think about Daniel Jones. We can speculate, but that’s all it is, speculation. The most important question facing this franchise is what to do at quarterback. His detractors will say he’s proven he sucks. His supporters will say despite being surrounded with a weak cast, he has done OK.

The reason why this is the #1 issue for the team is bigger than many think. If Jones is the guy moving forward, then keeping Saquon Barkley makes sense. If Jones is not the guy, and the team intends to replace him in the 2023 NFL Draft, then listening to trade offers for Barkley may be an appropriate course of action. The fate of Barkley is the #2 most important decision this team must make, and the fate of Jones and Barkley seem interconnected. If you thought drafting Barkley in 2018 was a luxury a rebuilding ball club could ill afford, then you should feel twice as strongly about it now, given that Barkley will be five years older with a major injury in his profile and costing a ton of cap space. Also keep in mind that the Giants likely won’t be picking in the top 10 in the 2023 NFL Draft and don’t have a lot of draft capital to move up in the first round for that franchise quarterback. Barkley is the team’s best offensive skill player. It’s not close. Without him, they are a much worse team. But the Giants need to listen to offers. If someone blows them away, they may have to pull the trigger.

Why am I bringing all of this up in a Week 4 game preview? Because the clock is ticking. Jones hasn’t moved the needle. It’s not completely his fault. His pass protection was a disaster on Monday and is trending in the wrong direction. He has the worst receiving corps in the NFL right now. To his credit, the team only had one turnover on Monday and that was due to a receiver falling down. So he didn’t lose the game. And the coaches continue to publicly praise him. Nevertheless, the questions remain: is Jones what Schoen and Daboll want at quarterback? Is he actually capable of dramatically elevating his game, and those around him, soon? Most fans suspect not. And the trade deadline is approaching. Teams will likely start inquiring about Barkley.

I’m rambling, so let’s cut to the chase. Every play and every game is now an evaluation of Jones. Every play and every game is an opportunity to market Barkley. The receiving situation is a joke. Take the Miami Dolphins. Tua Tagovailoa has two targets who he can throw short passes to and then watch them run 70 yards for touchdowns. Schoen and Daboll had visions of Wan’Dale Robinson and Kadarius Toney doing that for the Giants, but both can’t or won’t get on the field. The Giants passing game was going to be predicated on quick, short passes to elusive targets who would do damage after the catch. That’s gone right now. And the receivers who remain can’t separate from coverage so Daniel is left holding the ball. Sterling Shepard has likely played his last game as a Giant. Who the heck knows what happened to Kenny Golladay but if the Giants could afford to do it, he probably would have been cut by now. David Sills? Richie James? Darius Slayton? No one is afraid of these guys. Teams are going to load up against Barkley – both as a runner and receiver – and dare anyone else to beat them. 

Long story short, unless Robinson and Toney come back soon and start making an impact, the Giants simply don’t have the talent this season to run a fully functional NFL offense. Passing the 20-point margin is still a major issue for this team. And guess what? Robinson and Toney aren’t playing again. Sigh.

As for the offensive line, like last year, the injury to Shane Lemieux was a major wrench thrown into the machinery. That is not an indictment of Joshua Ezeudu. Odds are he will end up a starter this year or next. Losing Marcus McKethan also hurt as this could have been a good developmental season for him. The Giants have one stud at left tackle in Andrew Thomas. I am not yet worried about Evan Neal. I think he has the character and temperament to handle the inevitable growing pains. The Giants need better play out of Jon Feliciano (one-year rental) and Mark Glowinski (who has been too up and down). But the overall feeling is a starting player or two is missing from this group. Whether Nick Gates remains in the picture is a mystery. I doubt he is a factor this year.

What I want to see moving forward is the offensive line being physical like it was against the Tennessee Titans in Week 1. Be the tougher team. I don’t have much to look forward to on offense, but I can look forward to the offensive line mauling opponents again. This group can run block. Do it.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
I was very curious to hear Wink Martindale speak to the press this week about his unit’s performance against the Dallas Cowboys. At least publicly, Martindale was a lot more measured than I expected him to be. Privately, he’s got to be very upset about how his until got pushed around by the Cowboys’ running game. Leonard Williams is still a vastly underrated player and was missed, but the defensive deficiencies were greater than that. And snippets of Wink’s opinions did sneak through:

(Kayvon Thibodeaux) really hasn’t practiced that much since the injury. He’s done a lot of rehabbing and all that stuff, but he hasn’t done a lot of 11-on-11 work… I’m just expecting great things from him.”

There was a lot of runs Monday night where the guys were falling forward for four and five yards. We’ve got to get better knock back up front and play as a unit, all 11, and make sure we start moving piles backward that way.”

I mean, a 3rd-and-12 toss, that was one of those plays I was telling you about. Just having some football awareness with the backs in the home position, which he never is on 3rd-and-12. We’ve got to see that and recognize that as a defense.”

We’re still in the process of finding the right fits for who’s going to play inside (linebacker). I want guys who can run and hit and tackle. As a unit, as all 11, we need to tackle better. We had too many missed tackles. Like I said, going against this offense, it’s going to be a great test for us to see how much we’ve improved from Monday to Sunday.”

Overall, I think most of us understand the state of the defense. The defensive line is very thin. If something happens to Leonard Williams (like it did) or Dexter Lawerence, the Giants are in trouble up front. Darrian Beaver would be starting at ILB right now if he hadn’t torn his ACL. Wink is quickly learning that Tae Crowder is an issue. The two outside edge guys the team were counting on are way behind because of how much time they missed and are still on a pitch count. They have to play to get into game shape, but in doing so, the defense is weaker in the short term until they are fully ramped up. Meanwhile, the secondary is still a bit shaky due to the lack of depth at corner.

Wink is all about his defenses being physical. Being pushed around like his defense was on Monday has to be killing him. They have to get back to playing like they did in Week 1 against Derrick Henry. Be the more physical team… at all three levels of the defense. They are going to tested this week. The Bears have only thrown the football 45 times in three games. That’s an average of 15 attempts (not completions, attempts) per game! Part of that is their quarterback is not very good throwing the ball, but a lot of it is the Bears have a physical offensive line, a quarterback who can do damage with his feet, and two backs who can tote the rock (although David Montgomery is a bit banged up).

The key to beating the Titans was stopping the run. The Giants did that and won. The key to beating the Cowboys was stopping the run. The Giants failed to do that and lost. The key to beating the Bears is stopping the run. Tune in Sunday.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Giants special teams were up against the Panthers. Except for Graham Gano, they were down against the Cowboys. There was a long return and a blocked field goal. My guess is most of the Giants’ games this year will be close. In those type of contests, special teams can actually decide as many as four or five games (one season, the Eagles won almost half their games because of their special teams). Historically speaking, Thomas McGaughey’s coverage units have been very good. They haven’t so far this year. The injury to Nick McCloud is bigger than many of us realize.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Defensive Coordinator Don Martindale on the Chicago Bears:One of the reasons why they’re 2-1 is playing complementary football. They’re running the football, trying to control the clock and playing good defense. The biggest thing is, I don’t want to say you take away the runs, but you better limit the big runs, the explosive runs.

THE FINAL WORD:
One of the best comments I read in The Forum this past week was a poster stating that when every game you play is close, you’re going to win some of those and lose some of those. Those are just the odds. There is something to that, especially when your team has so many question marks still at so many positions. So from here on out, I think all we can expect are mostly tight football games that will either end on positive or negative note. Nevertheless, my guess is the team that is more physical on Sunday will prevail. The Giants had better strap on their chin straps and get to work.

Sep 282022
 
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Kayvon Thibodeaux, New York Giants (September 26, 2022)

Kayvon Thibodeaux – © USA TODAY Sports

QUICK RECAP

The Giants entered Week 3 undefeated for the first time since 2016. To provide context, that’s when they faced off against Kirk Cousins and the Redskins with leading rusher Matt Jones (retired 4 years ago) and top receivers DeSean Jackson (currently a FA) and Pierre Garçon (retired 3 years ago). Point is, this was a lifetime ago and the NYG faithful showed up to the stadium in team’s first ever “white out” amped and ready to rock as their team, in throwback all-whites, took on the 1-1 Dallas Cowboys in their road-blues that still, after all these years, just never look right.

Dallas came into the game with one of the most banged up offenses in football. They were without starting quarterback Dak Prescott, starting left tackle Tyron Smith, starting left guard Connor McGovern, starting receivers James Washington and Michael Gallup, and starting tight end Dalton Schultz. NYG came into this one relatively healthy, as outside linebackers Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari were on the field for the first time this season but without Leonard Williams. Advantage NYG.

Thanks to a holding penalty by third string left guard Matt Farniok, the DAL opening drive stalled near midfield. Once again, NYG was aided by a DAL penalty, this one defensive holding by linebacker Anthony Barr on third down which gave the NYG offense new life. A drive loaded with play-action and creative play design landed them in field goal range. Graham Gano came onto the field for a 47-yarder, but it was blocked by Dorance Armstrong who found a hole on the right side in the middle of the line, a theme of the night.

DAL put up the first three points of the game via a 26-yard field goal despite two more of their own penalties. NYG responded with three points as the game was now in the second quarter. Tony Pollard, the game’s leading rusher, broke off a 46-yard run on the next drive, landing them inside the NYG 20. The NYG defense held them to three points, however. That was where the score stayed for the rest of the first half. NYG did gain momentum on their two-minute drive at the end of the second quarter but another questionable offensive pass interference (this one called on Sterling Shepard) cancelled a play that would have landed NYG in field goal range. For the third straight week, NYG went into the half with under seven points.

The offensive line clearly did not come out of the locker room with a solution to getting absolutely man-handled by the DAL front. Had it not been for a questionable illegal contact penalty on corner Jourdan Lewis, NYG would have been three-and-out. Instead, the offensive line and offense overall got a second chance. The pass rush pressure remained constant, but Daniel Jones accrued 30 yards on two separate scrambles. Nevertheless, he was sacked twice and center Jon Feliciano was flagged for being illegally downfield on a 14-yard screen pass to Saquon Barkley. They settled on a 51-yard field goal attempt that Gano nailed through the uprights.

For the first time of the night, the Martindale defense forced a three-and-out against the DAL offense that was missing their starting quarterback, left tackle, left guard, two receivers, and tight end. More Jones scrambling and more creative play design landed NYG in DAL territory. Desperately in need of an explosive play, Barkley broke off an incredible 36-yard run that gave NYG their first and only touchdown of the night. It also gave NYG their first and only lead of the night.

It was time for Martindale and the NYG defense to contribute their side of winning football. They had played solidly to this point with minor hiccups here and there. Here we were in the back half of the third quarter and DAL had just 6 points and hadn’t scored a touchdown. DAL faced almost no resistance as they put together a nine-play drive, all of which gained yards. Ezekiel Elliott scored a one-yard touchdown (his 10th in 11 games vs NYG) to tie the game up at 13 as the fourth quarter began. NYG’s next drive stalled at midfield and DAL scored their second touchdown in as many drives via a one-handed catch by CeeDee Lamb. In a matter of nine minutes of game clock, the game went from 13-6 NYG to 20-13 DAL.

DAL padded their lead to ten via a 44-yard field goal with just over six minutes remaining. NYG was forced into pass-only situations as they needed chunk gains to have a shot at tying it up before the end of regulation. Jones faced more pressure than ever before in his career, and that is saying a lot. Somehow, they managed to get into field-goal range (with the help of a facemask penalty called on corner Kelvin Joseph) and Gano came through again on a 51-yarder.

Down seven, NYG was now in the phase of the game where they had to get a stop and call a timeout. Thankfully a bonehead play by the DAL offense, a failed third-down conversion that ended with tight end Jake Ferguson going out of bounds, stopped the clock at 1:52 as NYG was without a timeout. NYG had one more shot, albeit starting from their own 9-yard line. On the fourth play, after an Evan Neal false start, Jones was intercepted by 2021 All-Pro corner Trevon Diggs (who dropped an earlier INT) after David Sills fell out of his break. To add insult to injury, Sterling Shepard went down with a non-contact lower body injury and was carted off the field.

NYG loses, 23-16.

QUARTERBACK

-Daniel Jones: 20/37 – 196 yards / 0 TD – 1 INT / 57.9 RAT

Jones also added 79 yards on just 9 carries (8.8 per). He was under duress the entire night against a formidable DAL pass rush and behind a leaky offensive line, especially the right side. It can be very hard to accurately evaluate a performance like this one. Listen to any quarterback talk about Jones and they will tell you it is almost impossible to play a normal version of the position in that kind of environment. If anything, I actually put this game in the “positive pile” when thinking about where his status will reside in January. Jones made a few tough throws, he had receivers drop multiple balls, and the DAL secondary was on point. Jones’ scrambling was 90% of the Giants offensive success. His accuracy was there, the juice on the ball was there, and his decision-making was there. Unfortunately, he is throwing to JV receivers behind a freshman-team offensive line.

RUNNING BACK

-Saquon Barkley: 14 att – 81 yards – 1 TD / 4 rec – 45 yards

18 touches for the team’s best player by a country mile, in a tight game where NYG had a second-half lead and where the passing game simply was not working. More on that awful note down below. Barkley’s touchdown run was about as nice a play as you are going to see in this league. The vision, the quick adjustment, the jump cut, and the breakaway speed can be such a downright lethal combination. If NYG wants their best shot at winning games, his touches need to be north of 20 at a bare minimum week in, week out and probably closer to 30. There is no debating it. He is ready and he is the one guy who changes the feeling of the entire offense when he gets the ball.

-Matt Breida has one carry for 3 yards on a 3rd-and-1 conversion. He did not see a ton of action but did allow 2 pressures in the fourth quarter in a pass protection role. The coaching staff needs to keep that weakness in his game in mind moving forward when Barkley comes off the field.

WIDE RECEIVER

-I am going to start it off with Sterling Shepard. The 7th-year veteran led the team with 5 catches and 49 yards in what I expect to be his final game in a Giants uniform. He tore his ACL simply jogging up the field on the final offensive play of the game. Not sure if I have ever seen anything like that before. No cutting. No contact. No sudden burst. Just a light jog and he went down. I don’t want to kick the 29-year old while he’s down, but it was a poor night for a guy who is viewed as a leader on the ship that is being turned around. He had two drops and was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct that led to a 15-yard swing in field position in the second half of a tie game. Fortunately for him, Barkley worked his magic and scored the team’s lone touchdown a few plays later. It was a bonehead mistake by a player that knows better. I like what Shepard had brought to the field and locker room over the years and I loved him out of Oklahoma in 2016. But he never quite got over the hump we were hoping he would. Sad to see him go out that way.

-Richie James and David Sills, starting receivers on an NFL football team, combined for 6 receptions for 56 yards. James also gained 4 yards on a carry. I don’t have much to report here. They were man-handled in coverage. The DAL secondary is better than most people know and these two just had no business trying to separate from them.

-Earlier in the week, Kenny Golladay (the highest paid player on the team) said, “I should be playing regardless.” I thought to myself and tweeted out, “Regardless of what?” Regardless of not being able to get open? Regardless of running routes like he has cinderblocks tied to his ankles? Regardless of last being a factor in this league three years ago? He had two shots at coming up with a big play in this game. He got his hands on the ball both times and both times the ball hit the ground. The second time, a fourth-quarter blatant drop was about as bad as you are going to see at the worst possible time. Regardless of anything, Golladay should continue to be forced to prove he deserves playing time. Nothing is free, go earn it.

TIGHT END

-Daniel Bellinger caught 4 passes for 40 yards. He was a key focal point early in the game, going 3 rec / 34 yards in the first half. I was encouraged by his ball skills and quickness turning up the field. He has a sudden element to his game with the ball in his hands. Paired with his size and we are looking at someone who can turn into a focal point of the passing game soon. His blocking is still a work in progress. He gets in position, but the staying power isn’t there yet. Another thing he absolutely needs to improve is his chip blocking. He whiffed or made minimal impact several times and it hurt the pass protection in a big way.

-Chris Myarick allowed a sack and 2 pressures. He was brought into the game to help with pass protection, but did the opposite. Very poor showing for a guy who makes zero impact as a playmaker.

OFFENSIVE LINE

-Evan Neal had a rookie performance similar to what we saw out of Andrew Thomas on October 22, 2020 (Thomas’ rookie year). Neal ended this one with 3 sacks, 3 pressures, 1 false start, and a half-TFL. He was overmatched, plain and simple. The game looks a bit too fast for Neal right now. He was getting beat to his outside over and over, as that right foot just wasn’t getting off the ground and up the edge. He had a productive night in the running game and there were some solid recovery plays, but there is no disputing the fact he got crushed. These are called growing pains. And the thing I will be looking for will be his response in the coming weeks.

-Speaking of Thomas, he was near-perfect again. I noted just one pressure and that is hard to believe considering how much Jones was running away from blue jerseys all night. His run blocking was dominant as well. Just tremendous movement off the ball. The combination of twitch and power he plays with reminds me a lot of a young Tyron Smith.

-The interior was torched all night. Again, Jones just had no pocket to step up into, and because of that, he needed to evade laterally. When that happens, all hell breaks loose in pass protection. The lack of stability up front compounds the issue. Mark Glowinksi allowed 4 pressures. Ben Bredeson allowed 1 pressure and had a holding penalty cancelled by an intentional-grounding throw by Jones. He was also on the losing end of many battles in the running game. And Jon Feliciano allowed a TFL, a pressure, and was flagged for illegally blocking downfield on a 14-yard gain by Barkley. He also had a sack cancelled by a DAL penalty in the defensive backfield. Awful performance by this trio, just awful. Bredeson also was at fault for the blocked field goal in the first quarter.

EDGE

-The much anticipated return and debut of #5 overall pick Kayvon Thibodeaux was a bit scaled back as they restricted his playing time due to the knee. It was an underwhelming performance. He had 1 pass break up and a pressure (unblocked). He also lost the edge on two DAL runs to the outside. Thibodeaux looked hesitant. He didn’t have a power game on contact and the get off rivaled what we see out of Oshane Ximines.

-Azeez Ojulari made his 2022 debut a well. He was just as quiet, finishing with just 1 tackle and was shut out as a pass rusher in his 30 snaps. Ximines had 2 pressures (1 from the outside and 1 from the inside) while Jihad Ward had 6 tackles along with a pass break up.

DEFENSIVE LINE

-Leonard Williams missing a game due to injury for the first time in his career was deeply felt along the front. NYG allowed 178 yards on 28 carries to the Dallas dual-threat backfield and there was just one pressure by the group that included a lineman actually beating a blocker. That was by Dexter Lawrence, who also added 5 tackles and was a force inside. The likes of Nick Williams, Justin Ellis, and Henry Mondeaux lacked gap integrity for most of the night. They failed to come up big in key short yardage situations and the linebackers behind them just could not make up for it.

-D.J. Davidson played 12 snaps, one of which he jumped offsides on a 3rd-and-1.

LINEBACKER

-We saw a little more linebacker action against the run-heavy attack. Micah McFadden and Austin Calitro saw 30 and 13 snaps, respectively. The former, McFadden, had 3 tackles and 2 pressures, one of which he was untouched. He missed one tackle. McFadden has some all-or-nothing to his game. He is a bit of a risk taker and while I think that fits in well with this defense, I’m not sure his pure athleticism and recovery speed can handle that style play.

-Tae Crowder had 5 tackles and led the team with 4 missed tackles, a horrible number for a number one inside linebacker in a game where the defense was trounced in the running game. He showed poor effort on the Elliot touchdown where he didn’t even ponder trying to wrap up one of the best tackle-breakers in the league. He just ran into him and hoped it would work. Poor game by him.

CORNERBACK

-After an impressive first 2 weeks, we saw the ugly in Adoree’ Jackson. He was beat several times, including once for a touchdown that, in all honesty, he couldn’t do anything about as it was a brilliant throw and catch. But besides that, he was beat downfield by Lamb, allowed 7 catches total, and missed a tackle.

-Cor’Dale Flott did get the starting nod but I don’t think the staff trusts him yet, not for 60 minutes anyway. Fabian Moreau out-snapped him 39 to 19. Flott had a bad missed tackle and I saw more contact-based issues in coverage. He doesn’t look ready for the strength and power of the NFL game. His contact is light and easy to get by.

-Darnay Holmes had a quiet game. He wasn’t challenged much and had just one tackle. He was beat twice in the running game where he had outside responsibility. He also got away with two separate, blatant defensive-holding penalties as he continues to play too dependently on his hands.

SAFETY

-Xavier McKinney was the one star of the game defensively. He had impressive back-to-back plays where he recorded a TFL (the only one of the game for NYG) and then broke up a deep ball to CeeDee Lamb where he ran with him step for step and tracked the pass exceptionally well.

-Julian Love led the team with 14 tackles and added a pressure. The jack-of-all-trades didn’t miss one tackle and was often the last line of defense against an offense that could have easily had a few more explosive plays. Dane Belton saw just 11 snaps and looked overwhelmed in coverage a couple times. The game is moving a bit too fast for him right now.

SPECIAL TEAMS

-K Graham Gano 3/4 (Made 42, 51, 51, had one blocked)
-P Jamie Gillian: 3 punts / 45.0 avg – 35.7 net

3 STUDS

-S Xavier McKinney, OT Andrew Thomas, RB Saquon Barkley

3 DUDS

-OT Evan Neal, WR Sterling Shepard, LB Tae Crowder

3 THOUGHTS ON DAL

1. Say what you want about a division rival and the shortcomings of Mike McCarthy and the Super Bowl drought. This team deserves a ton of respect for how well they’ve played without their starting quarterback, multiple pieces along the OL after losing 2 starters to free agency, and three main targets in the passing game. This is a sign of a winning team. They find ways to win, even though they’re missing a chunk of strong personnel, rather than just making a ton of excuses and complaints.

2. How far can DAL go? Let’s assume they eventually get their OL back together later in the year when Smith is ready. Let’s assume they get the likes of Michael Gallup, James Washington, and Dalton Schultz back in the next month. And let’s assume they get full-strength Dak Prescott back before Halloween. We have every reason to believe they will contend not only for the division, but the conference. Their defense has the upside of being special and if that offense can elevate their game just one or two levels, they have the goods.

3. How did DAL get here? Did you see the graphic that ESPN put up? They lead the NFL in players on the current roster that they drafted. I noticed this when maintaining their depth chart for Ourlads. While the number can be fluid based on practice squad / IR spots – I have 37 out of 53 players taken in the draft by this team. You can add in a few undrafted free agents as well. For reference, 24 of the currents Giants 53 were drafted (8 of those were from this past year alone). Jerry Jones is on the wrong end of jokes sometimes (he got fleeced in the Amari Cooper trade) but there is no disputing the fact this team knows how to draft. I’ve felt this way since I started really tracking the draft deeply in 2004.

NYG THOUGHTS

1. I took this game as a reminder. A reminder that the team itself is not very good and they’re not ready for a long winning streak. They are competitive and I do think they’re heading in the right direction. I don’t say that with a moral victory kind of tone. I firmly believe it is the truth. The change can be felt and they’re on the move upward. But bad teams find ways to lose games. In the fourth quarter, NYG was down 20-13. On 2nd-and-8, Shepard drops a ball that would have been a deep completion. Then they get flagged for a delay-of-game penalty. Then Golladay drops a perfectly placed ball on 3rd-and-13 that had a shot at gaining the first down. That is the kind of drive at the most important point of game that losing teams put together. It’s not completely out of their system yet.

2. We can continue to harp on the shortcomings of the offense. That is fair. But I am more concerned with the defense. After keeping DAL down for most of the game with some help from the refs, Martindale’s defense allowed 17 points on just over 9 minutes of game clock on three straight drives when the team needed them most. 10 guys were on the field for the Elliott touchdown (inexcusable by both players and coaches). They didn’t record one sack. They barely even touched Rush against a beat-up OL. They were tossed around in the running game. They forced zero turnovers. And DAL gained more yards in this game than the previous two respectively. You may not see it by looking at points allowed, but this was a horrific defensive performance as a result of being outplayed and out-coached.

3. What can we hope to see from this team moving forward? They have a third-straight home game coming up and it is against the Bears, a team I projected to finish with one of the worst three records in football. Both of their wins were unimpressive and their loss in Green Bay Week 2 was about as ugly as you will see in today’s NFL. This is a bad football team and especially bad on offense. The offensive line, the quarterback, the pass catchers. I am looking forward to how this regime bounces back from a loss, something we haven’t seen yet. I hope this offensive coaching staff realizes that tight games need to center around Barkley. He is way too good, and the rest of the skill positions are way too bad for him not be fed the ball over and over. I also believe this OL can perform better with that approach as well.

Sep 242022
 
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Daniel Jones, New York Giants (September 18, 2022)

Daniel Jones – © USA TODAY Sports

THE STORYLINE:
There has never been a so consistently over-hyped NFL team as the Dallas Cowboys. Year after year, the Cowboys receive an inordinate amount of media attention. It’s really quite comical. In the last quarter century, the Cowboys have won only three playoff games. Even the times when the team has excelled in the regular season (2007 and 2016 for example), they were one-and-done in the playoffs. 2021 was likely another tease for their fan base. The Cowboys don’t have the feel of a legitimate contender and are heading towards their third decade of futility.

That’s what makes the New York Giants’ recent impotence against the Cowboys (and Eagles, but that’s for a later preview) so frustrating. The Cowboys undoubtedly were a better team in recent years, but the Giants have been getting bitch-slapped by an overrated team in what has been a mediocre division for years. Want to know why the Giants keep firing general managers and head coaches? It’s because they haven’t been competitive in their own division. I hate to keep bringing it up, but the Cowboys have won nine of the last 10 games against the Giants. That’s not a rivalry; it’s a joke.

Nothing will really change with this team until it starts beating the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • WR Wan’Dale Robinson (knee – out)
  • WR Kadarius Toney (hamstring – doubtful)
  • OC Jon Feliciano (shin – probable)
  • DL Leonard Williams (knee – doubtful)
  • OLB Kayvon Thibodeaux (knee – questionable)
  • OLB Azeez Ojulari (calf – questionable)
  • CB Aaron Robinson (appendix – out)
  • CB Nick McCloud (hamstring – out)
  • CB Justin Layne (concussion – out)
  • Dane Belton (clavicle – probable)
  • S Jason Pinnock (shoulder – probable)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
I hate to deal in hyperbole, but to date, this may be the most important game Daniel Jones will play in Giants’ uniform. For one, as we all know, this is THE make-or-break season for Jones. His contract is up after this year and the team may simply let him walk. But specific to this game, what if Dallas Cowboys’ back-up quarterback Cooper Rush out-plays Jones on a super-hyped Monday night game on the team’s home turf? See where I’m going with this? This game may very well come down to quarterback play and the quarterback who performs better. If the Giants (and Jones) get embarrassed by the Cowboys again, I’m not sure Jones will ever get the fan base back on his side.

Is this fair to Jones? Yes and no. Yes, because Jones clearly still has significant warts to his game. Aside from a couple of games early in his career, there has been no “wow” factor with him. More than ever, it’s a quarterback-driven league and it’s hard to see Jones ever carrying a team to the promised land. On the other hand, it’s not completely fair because Jones is on his third head coach and fourth offensive coordinator since being drafted. That’s absurd. Whether fans want to admit it or not, there is a dramatic learning curve every time you change offensive system. Sterling Shepard admitted this week that receivers are still making too many mistakes in their routes. That happens to every team that changes coaches. It’s why teams with established coaching staffs and systems have an inherent advantage over opponents who do not.

To state the obvious, the New York offense hasn’t lit the world on fire the first two weeks. The offensive line has been up and down. Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney have been still missing in action, and while Jones has been good enough to help pull out two close victories, he has also been fortunate that mistakes didn’t turn those games into painful losses. The Giants now will be facing their third tough defense in a row, a defense that presented problems for Tom Brady and Joe Burrow.

The Cowboys’ defense is the strength of their team and is coached by Dan Quinn, who the Giants interviewed as a head coaching candidate. They are led by all-world linebacker Micah Parsons, who is beating his opponent on pass rush opportunities more than 50 percent of the time. That’s rare territory folks. Quinn lines Parsons (who is listed as “questionable” with an illness) up all over the field and he can beat opponents with power, quickness, and technique. DeMarcus Lawrence is off to a slow start, but he has given the Giants issues in recent years. Both young offensive tackles will be challenged by Parsons and Lawrence on the edge, plus the struggling interior of the New York offensive line will have to deal with Parsons coming up the middle. Edge rusher Dorance Armstrong also has two sacks in two games. In obvious pass-rushing situations, the Cowboys will use multiple edge rushers in special pass-rush packages (similar to what Steve Spagnuolo used to do with his “Nascar” defense). 

The Dallas secondary is led by interception-magnet cornerback Trevon Diggs (2 interceptions against the Giants in 2021). His fellow corner is Anthony Brown (1 interception against the Giants returned for a touchdown in 2021). The 2021 Dallas defense thrived off of take-aways. They only have one so far this year, but obviously a key for Jones and the rest of the New York offense is not to turn the ball over against this group. Dallas prefers to have their opponents drive the field in small chunks rather than give up the big play. They count on their opponent to make the stupid mistake such as a turnover, sack, or penalty.

Until the New York offensive line settles down more in pass protection, the strategy is obvious. Run the ball with your best player. If the Giants want to keep Parsons and company off of Daniel Jones’ back, and prevent those killer mistakes such as turnovers and sacks, run the ball. This proved harder last week against the Panthers than it did in Week 1 against the Titans. But New York needs to keep plugging away. Be the more physical team. Wear down a more undersized defensive front. It won’t be conducive to scoring a lot of points, but it will keep mistakes to a minimum and pay greater dividends later in the contest.

I will also throw this out there. Brian Daboll embarrassed Kenny Golladay last week. If Golladay has any pride, plus any talent left in the tank, it should show up this week. I would not be surprised if we saw a big game from Kenny.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The beauty of Wink Martindale is the opponent never really knows what they are going to get. He changes things up each week, sometimes out of necessity (injuries), but mostly because that is who he is as a defensive coordinator. If you choose to listen, Martindale keeps telling you, “It’s a position-less defense… And you’ve already seen two different defenses… We got to reap the rewards on Sunday because we gave Carolina a different look than what they’ve seen.”

The issue for the Giants in this game is the injury situation. Yes, edge rushers Azeez Ojulari and Kayvon Thibodeaux will likely play. But both have missed most of the summer with injuries and will be rusty. The missed time has to affect the rookie Thibodeaux in particular. Starting corner Aaron Robinson is out, and that’s not ideal given that the Cowboys could be getting back wide receiver Michael Gallup this week (he’s listed as “questionable”). Worse, arguably the team’s best defensive player, Leonard Williams, is out. That will affect both the run defense and pass rush.

The Cowboys’ offensive line isn’t the team strength it used to be. Right guard Zack Martin is still one of the best in the business. The left tackle is rookie Tyler Smith and right tackle Terrence Steele is more of swingman that ideal starter. Expect both to be tested by the Giants’ edge players. The issue is inside. Dexter Lawrence is off to hot start. But with Williams out, the team will have to rely on reserves and possibly undersized Jihad Ward to stop a two-headed running game in Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard. You can’t rush the passer if you don’t stop the run, and Wink is going to have to scheme his best to control the Dallas ground game. It will be interesting to see what he comes up with, more linebackers like he played in Week 1 or more defensive backs like he did in Week 2. The former seems more obvious, but Wink isn’t always obvious.

Which brings us to back-up Cooper Rush, who is subbing for the injured Dak Prescott, and the passing game. Personally, I didn’t see a huge drop-off from Prescott to Rush. And we know the NYG history against back-up quarterbacks. The Giants had better not take Rush too lightly. As mentioned, Gallup may return this week from an ACL injury. The big dog right now is CeeDee Lamb, who can play outside or in the slot and present match-up issues. Noah Brown is a bigger receiver who is surprisingly leading Dallas in receptions as teams pay more attention to Lamb. Gallup could take pressure off of Lamb, however. Tight end Dalton Schultz is dealing with a knee injury and might not play (he’s listed as “questionable”). If he doesn’t, the Cowboys will have to rely on inexperienced back-ups. That said, Dallas tight ends have a history of tormenting the Giants.

The game plan is fairly obvious on this side of the ball as well. Even when Prescott is in the line-up, the Cowboys are more of a run-first team. This is especially true now with the back-up playing. Stop the run. Get the Cowboys in uncomfortable long yardage situations and test the tackles on the pass rush. Focus your coverage on Lamb and make Rush beat you.

I’ll finish on this note… the Giants are due for some picks.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
The Giants’ special teams are coming off a strong game. The team will need more of the same in what is likely to be a tight defensive game. The diminutive KaVontae Turpin is very dangerous on returns. He scored on a kickoff and punt return in the same preseason game. Thomas McGaughey admitted this week that while he loves Jamie Gillan’s leg strength, he is still working on his control. The Giants need to be careful here.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Defensive Coordinator Don Martindale on QB Cooper Rush:I see a guy that’s a starting quarterback in this league. Honestly, I do… He’s got two career starts, but he’s also 2-0 with those career starts. So, this guy’s a proven winner… He’s a smooth operator back there, and he doesn’t get rattled.

THE FINAL WORD:
Both teams play good defense. Both teams will want to run the ball. Usually in these types of contests, quarterback play, special teams, and which team makes the fewest mistakes will be the deciding factors. This is a really big moment for Jones. The entire country will be watching.

Sep 202022
 
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Oshane Ximines, New York Giants (September 18, 2022)

Oshane Ximines – © USA TODAY Sports

QUICK RECAP

After a week of the coaches and players unofficially clamoring the NYG faithful to show up ready to rock for the 2022 home opener at MetLife Stadium, the juices were flowing. Once again, a “this feels different” kind of vibe poured into the seats as the fans watched their 1-0 New York Giants at home for the first time since September 18, 2016 when Eli Manning took on Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints. The Giants ended up winning that game 16-13 behind a 368-yard performance by Manning and his number one target, rookie Sterling Shepard, who caught all 8 of his targets for 117 yards.

Fast forward six years to the day, and the 2016 head coach for NYG, Ben McAdoo, was up in the booth employed by Carolina Panthers as their offensive coordinator. Whether it was a revenge game or not for him does not matter, but human nature must create a notion he wanted to stick it to the Giants. His offense was due to get the ball first but a fumble by second-year running back Chuba Hubbard that was recovered by NYG forced him to wait. NYG did put a quick three points on the board via a 36-yard field goal by Graham Gano.

McAdoo and the CAR offense did get their shot at a drive following the next kickoff. They failed to cross midfield (a penalty brought them back after crossing) and it ended with a 3rd-and-22 wide receiver screen (remember those?) that ended in another fumble, this one by receiver Robby Anderson, that was also recovered by NYG. For the second straight series, the offense began in CAR territory and for the second straight series, the offense settled for three points.

CAR added three points of their own via 31-yard field goal by Eddy Pineiro after a 13-play drive that ended with a Shi Smith drop that would have given them 1st-and-goal at around the 5-yard line. CAR was shooting themselves in the foot over and over, including a 4th-and-1 false start by rookie left tackle Ikem Ekwonu. NYG’s offense was being halted by penetration by the CAR front and quarterback Daniel Jones struggling to make quality decisions from the pocket. Pineiro hit a 32-yarder to tie it up and the score was 6-6 at the half.

NYG went three-and-out on their opening second-half drive and CAR came out hot like the way NYG did last week in Tennessee. Three plays (two passes and a 17-yard scramble by Baker Mayfield) put them in the end zone to score the game’s first touchdown and give NYG their first deficit via a 16-yard pass to D.J. Moore. Down 13-6, it did not take long for them to get right back to even. Jones made a couple of aggressive, big-time throws and the offense put together four straight 10-yard+ plays. The drive ended on a pitch, catch, and run from Jones to rookie Daniel Bellinger for the 16-yard score. Can’t ask for a much better first-career reception than what the fourth rounder from San Diego State produced.

NYG held CAR scoreless on the next drive but lost defensive tackle Leonard Williams to a knee injury. He would not return. The game remained tied up at 13 as they went into the fourth quarter. Gano gave them a three-point lead via a 51-yarder. A sneaky key contributor prior to the attempt was the 3rd-and-7 play where Jones had to tuck and run after dropping back. He clearly had no shot at a first down, but those five yards were essential to the attempt. Hidden yards appear once again. I wonder if McAdoo was paying attention.

CAR quickly tied the game back up with a 38-yard field goal. Once again, they were in a position to do damage but errant throws by Mayfield, drops by the pass catchers, and penalties stopped their momentum, and NYG had control of the game with over 10 minutes left. An 11-play drive that took 7:12 off the clock set Gano up for a 56-yard field goal attempt. He put it right down the middle for his career-long in a Giants uniform and longest of his personal career since 2018 when he was with Carolina (a 63-yarder that beat…NYG).

CAR did creep toward midfield but a 3rd-down sack by Julian Love created a 4th-and-15, forcing CAR to punt the ball back to NYG with just over two minutes left. With a three-point lead, this is where teams need learn how to win. In just four plays and with the help of an encroachment penalty by CAR, NYG secured two first downs and CAR were without timeouts as the clock dwindled to triple zero.

NYG wins, 19-16.

QUARTERBACK

-Daniel Jones: 22/34 – 176 yards / 1 TD – 0 INT / 87.4 RAT

Jones also added 21 hard-earned yards on the ground. One of the more fascinating things to follow under the Jones umbrella will be his willingness to make aggressive throws. Watching from the birds eye, Jones simply did not see open targets or he was too hesitant to let it rip. I say that from the comfort of my chair, whereas he had multiple elite, enormous athletes bearing down on him trying to rip his head off behind a shaky offensive line. But at some point, and Brian Daboll has stated this as well, Jones will need to alter his mindset. There is too much hesitation in his game, and it almost cost the team. Sure, he is playing with a sub-par group of pass catchers, but he needs to be more aggressive. If it is a matter of him not seeing the action, that is a different discussion. But Jones CAN do it. He DID it in this game. Make tight throws in big moments that are considered “elite” throws. Will Daboll get this out of him? Keep an eye on it.

RUNNING BACK

-Saquon Barkley: 21 att – 72 yards / 3 rec – 16 yards

The Week 1 NFC Offensive Player of the Week took a step back in overall production and did not score. The CAR front gave the NYG offensive line all they could handle and more. That said, NYG scoring 13 points in the second half (after just 6 in the first) was largely a result of Barkley gaining 69 yards on the ground in the final two quarters. He came to life, broke multiple tackles, and ran physically. The one negative on his sheet was a poor pass block that created pressure and led to a sack.

-Gary Brightwell gained 14 yards on one carry that may have been the best play of the day by this offense. A 3rd-and-1 in the fourth quarter where he lined up as a fullback, Brightwell took it through the line in a hurry up field as if was shot out of a cannon. It was his only snap of the game, and nobody saw it coming.

WIDE RECEIVER

-Last week it was Kadarius Toney, this week it was Kenny Golladay, when it comes to a surprising number of snaps. The $18 million per year receiver saw a grand total of two. He was not seen in the locker room after the game but according to Daboll, this was pre-decided and discussed during the week. Speaking of Toney, the 2021 first rounder did see an uptick in playing time. He caught 2 passes that totaled 0 yards (yes, zero) and dropped a pass. His biggest gain of the day (36 yards) was nullified by a David Sills offensive pass interference.

-Sterling Shepard had 6 catches for just 34 yards and Richie James (the current leading receiver on team after 2 weeks) added 54 yards on 5 catches. Both bring similar, if not identical, traits to the passing game and once Wan’Dale Robinson comes back, the same could be said for him. The NYG passing game will feed off these guys especially on third down but make no mistake, they aren’t taking the top off a defense unless the secondary gets fooled. Shepard did almost get another deep ball in this one, though.

-David Sills was the beneficiary of the hit to Golladay’s playing time. Good for this kid and I personally enjoy seeing him get his shot. If you remember back, I wanted NYG to take him in the 4th round of the 2019 NFL Draft. He went undrafted and linked up with Buffalo (where Daboll was at the time) and here we are in 2022, Sills saw a career-high 67 snaps, which led all receivers. Separation and speed issues were his downfall as a prospect, and they are still limiting him now but I do think he can offer something as a number four guy this season. That said, his bonehead decision to run backwards after a catch on 3rd down at the end of the first half was a terrible play that brought out the boo birds as the team went to the locker room.

TIGHT END

-Daniel Bellinger was targeted one time (two less than backup Tanner Hudson) but he made the most of it. He caught the ball, quickly turned upfield, and showed a nice burst to the front corner of the end zone before outstretching his 6’5” frame to the pylon for the touchdown. Hudson grabbed 2 passes for 22 yards. Both were beat up at the point-of-attack by the physical CAR front, with Bellinger allowing a TFL. Chris Myarick saw time as the team did use an above average amount of 13 personnel and graded out in the green as a blocker.

OFFENSIVE LINE

-Very rough day for the group overall. The CAR front is a solid group, but they played above their pay grade thanks to poor blocking by the NYG line. The interior is where most of the losses were found. Center Jon Feliciano put out a second straight poor performance. In the fourth quarter with the game tied at 16, he allowed a TFL and then was flagged for holding, nearly knocking them out of field goal range. He also allowed 2 pressures and was flagged for a false start (where he did not snap the ball on time). Derek Brown had his way with him.

-Mark Glowinski is a blue-collar guy who won’t ever be a dominant presence, but I do feel good about him from a macro-perspective. Nevertheless, in this game, he allowed 3 pressures and a sack. He isn’t a stout guy at all. While he does produce enough power on the move as a run blocker, his anchor against an elite bull rusher gives him problems. Ben Bredeson and Joshua Ezeudu rotated at left guard again, but it was 77%-23% in favor or Bredeson when looking at snaps played. Rightfully so. Ezeudu was flagged twice (one was declined) and allowed a pressure. Bredeson graded out as the top OL on the team. I forecast the rotation continuing but if this difference in play keeps appearing, Bredeson will likely take a firm hold of the job until Shane Lemieux is back.

-The tackles were both beat up by Brian Burns multiple times. While they both ended up in the average tier of my grading system, they need to be better than what we saw in Week 2. Andrew Thomas allowed 2 pressures and a sack. His sack was a result of Jones running into his engagement due to pressure coming from Barkley, however. Thomas has set the bar high and many outside of New York are catching on. The catch with that? Your margin for error is much smaller. Evan Neal was the top graded run blocker. On a 17-yard run by Barkley, Neal blocked two different defenders within a second of each other that cleared the path. He did allow 1 TFL, 2 pressures, and 1 sack. More struggles but also more positives.

EDGE

-Hats off to Jihad Ward. One of the most overlooked NYG signings this past offseason stemmed from a previous relationship with Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale in Baltimore (2019-2020). A hybrid DT/DE has been placed into a pure outside linebacker role with the injuries to starters Azeez Ojulari and Kayvon Thibodeaux. He was one of the stars of the defense in this complete team effort. He had 4 tackles, 2.5 TFL, and a pressure. You won’t see a ton in the highlight reel from him (although that is an impressive stat line vs the run), but Ward’s impact on this defense was huge. A true edge setter and vocal leader on this unit that has more swag than any group in recent memory.

-Oshane Ximines also had the best game of his career. He had 2 tackles, a sack, a pass breakup, and 3 pressures (1 untouched). It has been a rocky tenure here in New York for Ximines. While I’m not going to all the sudden label him a star, his role on this defense can be huge, especially if he is a rotational backup-type once the starters come back. The biggest difference in him is mental. There is a lot less hesitation in his game.

-Tomon Fox had a quiet game in his 20 snaps.

DEFENSIVE LINE

-Leonard Williams going down is something to keep an eye on. At the time of this writing, I do not have any sort of update but I saw a clear difference at the point-of-attack after he left. Prior to him getting hurt, Christian McCaffrey carried the ball 11 times for 39 yards. After he left? 4 carries for 63 yards including a 49-yarder. The 4-man pass rush took a hit as well. Williams had 3 pressures, one of which created a sack for the defense.

-Dexter Lawrence had a dominant day. He is playing with some extra fire right now and his bull rush is as effective as you will find in the league. He had 4 pressures and a half-TFL. Arguably the most impressive play was a pursuit of Baker Mayfield to the sideline. It was 3rd-and-4 in the first quarter. Mayfield had a clear line to the first down marker, and he took off from midfield. Lawrence chased him from the middle of the line and essentially beat him to the marker. CAR did convert the 4th-down conversion the next play but I loved seeing Lawrence, a 345-pounder, go step for step with a 215-pound quarterback who ran a 4.8 at the Combine. You won’t find many guys who can do that.

-Nick Williams rotated with Justin Ellis with some D.J. Davidson sprinkled in. It was a small sample size (as it was in Week 1), but I trust Davidson more than the former two. He has a little more pop off the ball and is twice as stout as Williams, the biggest catalyst in NYG’s occasional run struggles.

LINEBACKER

-To combat Christian McCaffrey (arguably the league’s top dual threat back), Martindale played almost the entire game with one linebacker on the field. Tae Crowder played 48 snaps, and the combination of Micah McFadden and Austin Calitro combined for 15 snaps. More on that below. Crowder had just 2 tackles and missed one. He was non-existent against the inside run but was not challenged much in coverage, a questionable approach by McAdoo.

CORNERBACK

-Aaron Robinson was sidelined because of an appendectomy, giving the start to rookie Cor’Dale Flott. The third rounder missed a sizeable portion of camp and preseason with a groin injury, and I felt this was a vulnerable part of the defense. McAdoo did not try to exploit it until the second half. Flott was beat twice on the CAR touchdown drive, including the score. He was rotated out for most of the game afterward. He also missed 2 tackles.

-Adoree’ Jackson shut down Robbie Anderson (3 rec / 32 yards). He also recovered a fumble and broke up a pass. Anderson is on the field for one reason, and one reason only. Run deep, stretch the secondary, make explosive plays. He isn’t physical. He isn’t effective underneath. This is the ideal matchup for Jackson, and I believe that is why he was put on a shadow-role in this one. He covered Anderson in over 80% of drop backs. Great game by him despite the illegal-contact penalty.

-Darnay Holmes was flagged for pass interference again and he missed 2 tackles. But he had pressure (untouched) and forced a fumble that NYG recovered. Have to take the good with the bad with him, partially why I think he is a fit with Martindale.

-Fabian Moreau rotated in for Flott when they benched him. He had a quiet game from there.

SAFETY

-Julian Love is blossoming into the player many of us thought he could right before our eyes. He had 7 tackles, 1 sack (in a key moment), 2 TFL, and a pressure. He also made an impact on special teams. He was one of three defenders to play every single snap and he was all over the field. Not every scheme maximizes a player like this, but Martindale’s does.

-Xavier McKinney was second on the team with 5 tackles and a pressure (untouched). He also batted two balls at the line (a staple in Mayfield’s game as a passer) and played excellent over-the-top pass defense. The combination of these two is a big-time contributor to the strong defense we have seen through two weeks.

-Dane Belton had a great start to his career after missing Week 1. He recovered a fumble on the opening kickoff and played just under 80% of the snaps, contributing 4 tackles and was inches away from an interception. Belton did miss two tackles though, one thing to keep an eye on as that was a red flag on his scouting report coming out of Iowa. The middle of this defense on the back third is something I will touch on below. Hint, this may change the defense as much as any group on the team.

SPECIAL TEAMS

-K Graham Gano: 4/4 (Made 36, 33, 51, 56)
-P Jamie Gillian: 5 punts / 50.6 avg – 43.2 net

3 STUDS

-EDGE Jihad Ward, S Julian Love, K Graham Gano

3 DUDS

-OC Jon Feliciano, DT Nick Williams, OG Mark Glowinski

3 THOUGHTS ON CAR

1. If you want to see a team that has completely mismanaged the quarterback position year after year, check out what CAR has done. In 2020, they could have made an aggressive trade up from #7 overall with one of multiple teams that already had a QB (WAS-Haskins, NYG-Jones, DET-Stafford). They did not pony up and watched Tua go #5 and Herbert go #6. They went forward with Teddy Bridgewater. In 2021, they tried to get Stafford but were outbid by the Rams. They chose not to draft Mac Jones or Justin Fields. They instead ate $17 million of dead cap and traded multiple picks for Sam Darnold. In 2022, they were outbid in trade attempts for both Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson. They ended up trading for Mayfield. Moral of the story? You are going to need to overpay in a quarterback situation and be OK with it.

2. Matt Rhule was minutes away from being the NYG Head Coach. Now? I wouldn’t be surprised to see him as the first one fired this season. They went 5-11 in his first year, 5-12 in his second year, and are currently 0-2 in the one season where the NFC South looks most vulnerable. They look like a team that is simply running in place. Not getting any worse, not getting any better. There was a huge blowback when NYG did not get Rhule by many fans. Remember, sometimes the best deals you make are the ones you do not. Rhule is showing to be a college-only type. I bet we see him down there again within 1-2 years at a marquee program (Oklahoma? Nebraska? Auburn?).

3. Where will CAR go this year? What is their long term outlook? While I don’t consider them a basement-caliber team (they have some serious pieces on defense), they’re exactly where you don’t want to be. Good enough to win 5-7 games, not good enough for .500. That is a spot that is hard to build from especially when you don’t have a QB. I think Mayfield is a backup somewhere else next year and Darnold as well. Matt Corral was drafted this past spring and unless this team makes an aggressive move this year (maybe Tepper has finally learned his lesson) the long-term outlook is bleak at best. My prediction? They go all in on the top QB in a draft trade or try to get Lamar Jackson.

3 THOUGHTS ON NYG

1. The Wink Martindale scheme is one of, if not the most, versatile schemes in the NFL. Many will talk about being “multiple” and in some context it is true. Some teams are so deep up front they can rotate bodies all game and change up their looks based on personnel. Over the course of a season, however, those trends can be forecasted. Martindale does a great job of completely altering his approach on all levels to surprise an offense. You think he’s sending the house? He will rush four via zone blitz. You think he’s rushing four? He’ll send seven. You think he is going to jam the box with extra linebackers? He brings another defensive back on the field. I compare Martindale to the Bruce Arians of defenses. No risk it, no biscuit. Scared money don’t make money. This may end up biting them at some point but when looking at it from a bird’s eye lens, I trust it will help more than hurt.

2. Sticking with that defensive theme, keep a close eye on this trio of safeties. McKinney and Love are ascending stars in this league who can do so much for a defense to help win games. Opposing offenses will never know where they are going to line up. Throw in Belton who, at the very least, can play fast and shows the ability to play up and down, and this group is going to hide the issues they have at linebacker and pass rush for the time being. 3 of their 4 leading tacklers were these guys and they added pass break ups, plays behind the line of scrimmage, and pressure on the quarterback. Finding good safeties can be very difficult and the Giants have two of them.

3. Through two games, how is the offense projecting moving forward? They are bottom third in yards per play. Bottom third in EPA. Bottom three in sack percentage. Third most sacks allowed. Bottom six in yards per pass attempt. The saving grace? They are sixth in yards per rush attempt and have turned it over just twice in 2 games (small sample size, but rank top half in that department in the good way). The concern still resides up front with the line. If these tackles don’t have a superb game, do we trust the interior to keep it together or do the wheels fall off? It is clearly impacting Jones as he cannot step up in the pocket and I think it is messing with his internal clock. Yes, part of that is on Jones, but the inside guys need to be better. There is no way around it. This team needs to score more and get more yards through the air if they are going to sustain success. I really think over 80% of that is on the shoulder of the guard-center-guard. Play better.

Sep 162022
 
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Saquon Barkley, New York Giants (September 11, 2022)

Saquon Barkley – © USA TODAY Sports

THE STORYLINE:
Last week, I finished my game preview by writing:

The Titans were the AFC’s #1 seed in 2021 and came close to making it to the AFC Championship Game. But I would not be shocked if the Giants keep this close or even pull off a big upset. They just have to do the obvious things: stop the run and don’t make killer mistakes on offense. Two or three big offensive plays could be all New York needs to make this interesting. On the flip side, it is not the end of the world if the Giants lose this game. This is one of Giants’ toughest opponents on their entire schedule. The pressure is on Titans and not the Giants in this one. I like those kind of games.

Despite the rough first half, the New York Giants’ defense did keep the team in the game before the break. And the offense got the two big plays it needed – the 68-yard run by Saquon Barkley and the 65-yard touchdown catch by Sterling Shepard. The Giants kept Derrick Henry mostly in check and shockingly out-rushed the Titans 238 to 93. The Giants did something they haven’t done in years: they were as physical or more physical than one of the NFL’s most physical teams. That’s how you win football games.

In some ways, this week’s match-up is going to be tougher for Brian Daboll and the Giants. The pressure is now on the Giants. They are at home against a team many expect them to beat. And one upset win doesn’t change the reality that this is still a rebuilding ball club whose quarterback, running back, and top wideouts may not even be on the team in a few months. The question mark at corner got worse in the short-term with Aaron Robinson having to undergo an appendectomy. There is also the always problematic psychological component that the team coming off a big, emotional win is ripe for a letdown the following week. This is especially true of teams with as many issues the Giants have.

Fans are already talking about going 3-1 or 4-0. Pray the players don’t have that same mindset right now. Every game is going to be a war and if the Giants are not mentally and physically prepared to play their best, they can just as easily find themselves being 1-1 en route to 1-3.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • WR Wan’Dale Robinson (knee – out)
  • WR Kadarius Toney (hamstring – questionable)
  • OC Jon Feliciano (lower leg – probable)
  • OL Devery Hamilton (illness – probable)
  • OLB Kayvon Thibodeaux (knee – doubtful)
  • OLB Azeez Ojulari (calf – doubtful)
  • CB Aaron Robinson (appendicitis – out)
  • CB Nick McCloud (hamstring – out)
  • S Jason Pinnock (shoulder – out)
  • S Dane Belton (clavicle – probable)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
One game does not make a trend so it’s unwise for me to jump to conclusions. However, it is extremely fascinating that Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka, two coaches coming from innovative, pass-happy offenses in Buffalo and Kansas City, chose a 32-to-26 run-to-pass ratio against the Titans, especially when you take into the account the Giants had to play from behind most of the game. Indeed, on the Giants’ game-winning drive, the Giants only threw the football three times in 12 plays (a 3-to-1 run-to-pass ratio).

What do we make of this? Lack of confidence in Daniel Jones and/or his receivers and/or his pass protection? After all, despite being 17-of-21, Jones threw a dumb interception in the red zone and fumbled the ball away. The diminutive Wan’Dale Robinson is already hurt. Kadarius Toney played seven snaps and wasn’t even used as a receiving target. Mr. $72 million Kenny Golladay had two catches for 22 yards and still doesn’t have a touchdown in a Giants’ uniform. And the revamped offensive line allowed five sacks in 26 drop backs (a sack every five passing plays). Or was it simply the coaches deciding to ride a hot hand in Saquon Barkley against a defense that was surprisingly easier to run against than expected? Much of this remains to be determined.

Nevertheless, right now, the strength of this offensive football team appears to be running the football. Having Evan Neal, Mark Glowinksi, Jon Feliciano, Joshua Ezeudu/Ben Bredeson, and Andrew Thomas run block more is probably better at this stage. While many media types and fans focused on Saquon Barkley’s speed last Sunday, it was his toughness that caught my eye. I’ve never seen Barkley run with such physicality, even during his stellar rookie season. Matt Breida was no slouch when coming into the game in relief either. Combine this with the fact that the Carolina Panthers allowed 217 rushing yards against the Cleveland Browns in Week 1.

Here is the dilemma. Carolina must come into this game defensively with one thing on their mind: stop Saquon Barkley. They are going to load up against the run. Do the Giants say screw it and play strength against strength? Or do they cross up the Panthers and come out throwing the football against a stacked front? Mike Kafka was asked this question. He responded, “I think you plan for it. I don’t know exactly what they are going to do. I think you plan for those things and you got to have answers within the scheme and within the game plan.”

I’d be tempted to cross them up, but I really do think the ground game is the strength of this team at the moment and I would see if the Panthers can handle the newly-discovered physicality of the Giants. Run the ball at them. Make them stop it. If they can, adjust and attack with the pass. But don’t concede anything. Nothing demoralizes a defense more than knowing the other team is going to run the ball, yet you still can’t stop it.

As for the Panthers’ defense, the team had issues defending the edges against the run. The interior defensive line is a little more stout with former 2020 #1 pick Derrick Brown and ex-49er Matt Ioannidis. Their headline pass rusher is Brian Burns, who will play both edge spots, and he could be a problem for Evan Neal. The Panthers lack the complementary second edge rusher however. Still, the Panthers have noticed the Giants pass protection issues at left guard, especially with Ezeudu, and Brown is coming off a game where he got good interior pass pressure. The Carolina linebackers are not very good and could be exposed both against the run and in coverage. When the Giants do pass the ball, I would expect Barkley and Breida to get touches as receivers.

The strength of the Panthers’ defense is probably their secondary. Donte Jackson, Jaycee Horn, and C.J. Henderson are a solid cornerback trio, although Horn is coming off a shaky performance. Jeremy Chinn is a tackling machine at safety. The Panthers use him in a variety of ways, including as a blitzer. I would not be shocked if Carolina has Chinn shadow Barkley for much of the game.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
I told you guys, Wink Martindale knows how to defend the run and while not perfect, the defense largely kept Derrick Henry in check in Week 1. With the Titans lacking a quality quarterback and talent at wide receiver, the New York secondary didn’t have many issues until late in the game against Tennessee either when slot corner Darnay Holmes had a mini-meltdown. The primary issue up until that point was linebacker coverage against running back Dontrell Hilliard. With Giants’ pass rush sitting injured on the sidelines, it ended up being a good match-up for New York.

This week is different. Baker Mayfield is more unpredictable. He can look terrible or he can look great (see his horrible first half against the Browns compared to his very good second half). The Panthers have serious downfield receiving threats in D.J. Moore and Robbie Anderson. Moore is the more consistently productive target (perennial 1,000-yard receiver), but Anderson can blow the top off a defense. The issue here for New York is Aaron Robinson, who would have faced his first real test after a rough preseason, isn’t even available for this game. The Giants will probably want Adoree’ Jackson to cover Moore, but who covers the deep threat Anderson? Wink may be forced to rely on journeyman – and current Practice Squader – Fabian Moreau.

Making matters worse is the presence of Christian McCaffrey. He’s Carolina’s version of Saquon. He is a major receiving threat and has to be licking his chops after seeing what Dontrell Hilliard did last Sunday. I would expect Wink to try to match up a third safety on McCaffrey as much as possible. Indeed, for much of the game, the Giants may only be employing one middle linebacker with Tony Jefferson and/or Dane Belton receiving more snaps.

If that weren’t enough problems, this is a game where the lack of pass rush could really show up. Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari are expected to miss their second game. Those two are the team’s best edge rushers and they will be missed.

So in a nutshell, defensively, this game scares me a lot more than last week’s game even though the Titans were clearly the better team. The match-ups don’t work in the Giants’ favor this week. If I’m Wink, I play extra defensive backs and put the onus on my defensive front to take care of the run (Carolina only ran the ball 19 times for 54 yards against the Browns). I’m not sure where the pass rush will come from unless Leonard Williams has a monster game. The Giants desperately need a relatively healthy Thibodeaux and Ojulari back on the field. Taking chances with a lot of blitzes might not be wise with the WR versus CB match-up issues, not to mention McCaffrey. Nevertheless, if Wink plays extra defensive backs, look for CB/S blitzes. (Interesting side note: Ben McAdoo is the Carolina offensive coordinator so you know he will bring a little extra juice to this one).

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
The Giants’ special teams remain a bit of an adventure. There was botched snap from the usually always reliable Casey Kreiter and a 46-yard punt return by the Titans. However, while not perfect, Jamie Gillan looked like he belonged; Nick McCloud really flashed as a gunner (he’s out this weekend however); and Richie James averaged over 12 yards per punt return. The Giants also recovered a muffed punt.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Offensive Coordinator Mike Kafka on why the Giants use so much motion:I think any time you can distort the box whether it’s creating a numbers count… getting guys in different spots, influencing second-level and third-level defenders – that helps whether it’s pass or run, it can help whatever the scheme you want to run. I think it helps also with the o-line getting certain angles on blocks. I think it can help in the pass game where you are creating certain types of leverages. There’s definitely a lot of benefits to it.

THE FINAL WORD:
I stand by what I said last week. They goal of this season is to evaluate the team and look like a better team in December than you do in September. What happens in between will likely be a roller coaster ride. There will be painful losses and hopefully exhilarating wins. But don’t lose sight of reality. The Giants are a rebuilding club with weaknesses. This is a week where the weaknesses at cornerback and injury issues at linebacker (Thibodeaux, Ojulari, Darrian Beavers) would really become more pronounced. The Giants also need Golladay and Toney to earn their paychecks.

Sep 132022
 
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Sterling Shepard, New York Giants (September 11, 2022)

Sterling Shepard – © USA TODAY Sports

QUICK RECAP

Week 1 in the NFL. Besides postseason play, this is the most anticipated week of the season, and soon after, the most over-reacted week of the season. The nature of the beast. What now seems to be an every-other-year tradition in New York, NYG was introducing a new era of football under a new regime. This one, in comparison to the previous three, feels different. A new General Manager AND a new Head Coach coming from a more modern era of football and no previous association with the franchise. Less personnel staff carry over. And an owner who vowed to let the new guys do their thing. The 2022 season kicked off in Tennessee against the defending #1 seed from the AFC.

The game started with a three-and-out by the Giants offense followed by a 46-yard punt return by rookie Kyle Philips. Starting in NYG territory, TEN needed just five plays before scoring a touchdown on a 7-yard pass from Ryan Tannehill to Dontrell Hilliard up the seam. NYG was without both of their starting edge defenders, Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari, and it showed both right away and for the rest of the game. NYG’s second drive never made it past midfield and included back-to-back plays that went sack / delay-of-game penalty. The two teams then traded three-and-outs before TEN put another three points on the board via a 46-yard field goal by Randy Bullock. TEN was up 10-0 as the second quarter was under way and it appeared to be more of the same for NYG.

The approach on offense changed. They went hurry-up mode and it led to two first downs and action inside TEN territory. Jones then fumbled on a sack by TEN star pass rusher Jeffery Simmons, giving TEN the ball back in NYG territory. The defense held TEN to a field goal, at least, putting the score at 13-0. That is where the score remained for the rest of the half. While there were subtle differences between this version of NYG and what we saw a year ago, the result was the same. A double-digit deficit on the road and 0 points.

This all changed right away in the third quarter. This is the period where, in my opinion, coaching shows brightest or darkest. A quick 15-minute period to communicate and adjust for the team. NYG knew they had to make a change from a macro-perspective on offense. After forcing a three-and-out on defense, NYG’s first play of the second half was a 68-yard run by Saquon Barkley. The #2 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft has been on a steady decline since his Rookie-of-the-Year season in Eli Manning’s second-to-last year in the league. That seems like a lifetime ago. NYG then kept their weight on the run-pedal for the next three plays and it ended with Barkley crossing the goal line for the first touchdown of the season. A bad snap kept the extra point off the board.

NYG forced their second straight three-and-out. It then took just two plays before Jones hit Sterling Shepard, who last scored in the team’s Week 1 game of 2021, for a 65-yard touchdown. In under 7 minutes and after just 6 offensive plays for NYG, they were tied 13-13 and more than doubled their total yards for the game.

TEN responded with a touchdown-scoring drive despite three offensive penalties. The NYG defense could not capitalize on the momentum and they were up against one of the best close-game teams in the NFL on the road. The pass rush was non-existent, and the linebackers were being roasted in coverage, as Hilliard caught his second touchdown of the game. The two offenses traded three-and-outs as the fourth quarter began with TEN winning 20-13.

NYG’s drive halted near midfield. They caught a huge break as Philips muffed a punt and turned it over. They were 1st-and-10 from the TEN 11. Two runs resulted in three yards, forcing Jones into a must-throw situation. He forced a ball to Barkley in the end zone, who was not even close to being open, resulting in an interception by safety Amani Hooker. Tennessee had the football with a 7-point lead, Derrick Henry, and 8:50 left in the game as a team that was 13-4 in one score games since the start of 2021, second best in the NFL.

On 3rd-and-1, the TEN brain trust looked past a traditional run by Derrick Henry for the second time in this game, opting for a reverse to rookie fourth rounder Chigoziem Okonkwo that resulted in a 4-yard loss. It was the second time of the day the rookie touched the ball after a college career that saw him carry the ball three times back in 2018. Questionable decision to say the least.

The door was open for Jones and the offense to redeem him and themselves. A 12-play drive that consisted of 9 runs and 3 passes brought NYG into the end zone via a 1-yard pass to tight end / fullback Chris Myarick, his second career touchdown. NYG was an extra point away from tying it up, but the special teams group never came on the field. Daboll had already decided they would go for two, and the lead, had they scored. A shovel pass to Barkley, a brilliant broken tackle, and some help from the refs (false start by Evan Neal) put 2 points on the board for NYG. 21-20 was the score with just over a minute left.

TEN did get the ball into field goal range. Two defensive holding penalties on third down and 21-yard pass from Tannehill to Philips set up Bullock for a 47 yard try. Bullock, who has hit just 76% of his field goals over his career from 40-49 yards and went 8-for-13 from there last year (62%), went wide left as time expired.

NYG wins 21-20. The first Week 1 win since 2016 and the first time they’ve been above .500 since that year as well.

QUARTERBACK

Daniel Jones: 17/21 – 188 yards / 2 TD – 1 INT / 115.9 RAT

Jones also added 25 yards on 6 rushing attempts. The 21 attempts were second fewest he’s ever thrown in a game that he both started and finished. There could be multiple reasons for that, but I will touch on that below. Only Justin Fields (who played in horrific conditions) threw less times than Jones in Week 1. But he made the most of those attempts, averaging a third-best in the league 9 yards per attempt. Numbers aside, Jones played an average game. He made quick decisions and was under fire often in the first half. The big-time touchdown pass to Shepard was nullified (from an evaluation standpoint) by the bonehead interception thrown in the end zone. His ability to run came up big on a couple of occasions including the 4th-and-1 conversion on their final drive. Solid first game in the new system. And no, the fumble cannot be pegged on him.

RUNNING BACK

-Saquon Barkley: 18 att – 164 yards – 1 TD / 6 rec – 30 yards

Barkley did fumble once but it fortunately rolled out of bounds. This was the best one-game version of Barkley we have seen since he became a Giant. I went through old performances and my old notes to make sure I am not overreacting. We’ve seen more output, we’ve seen more yards per touch, we’ve seen more touchdowns. But when combining the burst, agility, long speed, and most importantly, toughness, we haven’t seen this yet. Barkley came up huge in this game. There is no way they win this one without him. This is a different player in a different system with a different OL in front of him. Get ready.

-Matt Breida was the backup who spelled Barkley here and there. He produced well, gaining 24 yards on 5 carries.

WIDE RECEIVER

-One of the bigger stories of the game. Kadarius Toney was the sixth receiver on the depth chart. Sixth. He did not see a single target. He received 2 carries (one of which was intended for him to throw). Very interesting story to follow here and I will touch more on it below. Those 2 carries, by the way, gained 23 yards and he displayed the elite ability with the ball in his hands we have seen several times.

-Richie James led the team with 5 catches, totaling 59 yards. He dropped a ball on 3rd down but also gained 62 yards as a punt returner. This is a kid who last played in a regular-season game for SF in 2020. Talk about a comeback and something tells me he will be the Cole Beasley in this version of the Daboll offense.

-Sterling Shepard caught 2 balls, 1 of which was the 65-yard score that helped NYG tie the game up. His biggest impact beyond that play was in the running game. No, not as a rusher. Shepard made multiple key blocks both in and out of the box. They’re using him like the Rams use Cooper Kupp as a blocker. Motion to create momentum and move the eyes of the defenders, then as a trap-type blocker for Barkley to work off of once he gets through the traffic. Excellent dirty work by him.

-Kenny Golladay caught both of his targets for 22 yards but rookie Wan’Dale Robinson left the game early with a knee injury we still do not have clarity on at the time of this writing. He caught his lone target for 5 yards.

TIGHT END

-Another unsung hero of the running game success was rookie Daniel Bellinger. He was not involved in the passing game at all, but he had a couple of big-time blocks at the second level on big gains.

-Chris Myarick caught a touchdown that set NYG up for the lead. He moved around a bit as a blocker and got the job done there as well but had a holding penalty declined and missed a tackle on special teams. Tanner Hudson was the number three and didn’t see any action.

OFFENSIVE LINE

-Andrew Thomas played a clean game. The steady performance we talked about all summer and preseason carries on. He and Mark Glowinski both finished with positive grades. Glowinski did allow a pressure and was flagged for a hold, but was very steady besides that. He also made a key block on one of Barkley’s big runs.

-Rookie Evan Neal struggled in his debut. He allowed 2 TFL and 1 sack. The sack and one of those TFLs were not fully graded against him, however. Jones ran into Neal’s man because of back side pressure. The issue I saw with Neal centers around lateral speed. He was beat badly on two plays where he had to get across Simmons’ face, and he failed to do so. In addition, he was luckily not called for a false start on the NYG successful 2-point conversion attempt. Who knows what would have happened had the refs called it. Neal had a lot of impressive snaps and there is no denying the talent. Great movement as a straight-ahead run blocker, fared well in pass protection for the most part, and he never looked mentally fooled. He just needs to continue to hammer away at the footwork which will create more lateral upside and balance.

-The left guard/center combination was very up-and-down and often the source of pressure on Jones. Center Jon Feliciano allowed 2 sacks and a pressure. He seemed out of control at times, but it did look like he was limping around a bit. I did recently hear about his family situation and while I do separate personal news from football evaluation, anything with kids hits different. I took him off the Dud list because of that.

-Ben Bredeson and Joshua Ezeudu split snaps nearly down the middle at left guard. I am fine with the approach, as neither has taken the bull by the horns yet. Who played better? I have the edge to Bredeson. He was flagged for a false start and did not have the peak plays that the rookie Ezeudu did, but he was much more consistent. Ezeudu did have a couple of monster, highlight-reel plays but also allowed the sack on the play Jones fumbled and allowed a pressure that led to another sack. It is important for the rookie to play, make mistakes, and see how he responds. I do like, however, how the keys were not just handed over to him.

EDGE

-With Thibodeaux and Ojulari out, Jihad Ward and Oshane Ximines were the starters. The pass rush was non-existent from these two. Ximines did get one pressure and deflected a pass but was completely shut down otherwise. Ward’s impact was felt in the running game, setting the edge and finished with 6 tackles, second most on team. He is one of the main emotional and physical tone-setters on the team.

-Tomon Fox was the next guy up ahead of Quincy Roche. Both played, but Fox saw much more time. The undrafted rookie actually had the lone sack on the day, but it resulted in a 0-yard loss as he went untouched on the naked bootleg play by TEN.

DEFENSIVE LINE

-Containing the TEN run game was largely a result of Ward setting the edge but also the ability of Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence to maintain depth at the point-of-attack on both inside and outside runs. Williams had 1 pressure and Lawrence had 2. They both made tackles outside of the numbers in lateral pursuit as well. Quietly, a very solid game from these two.

-Nick Williams, Justin Ellis, and rookie D.J. Davidson rotated at the other DL spot with the veterans seeing more time. Ellis was effective over the center but was a little late to the outside on a couple of occasions and Williams was pushed around a bit.

LINEBACKERS

-The low point of the defense. I know Tae Crowder made a couple of highlight-reel hits (he’s done that multiple times over his career). But he was roasted against the pass, and it wasn’t receivers who beat him. He had a hard time covering TEN running back Hilliard, allowing a touchdown, and giving up another big gain to him on a crossing route. He is late to recognize route concepts and takes poor angles, showing very little space-awareness. He did lead the team with 7 tackles and added a 0.5 TFL.

-Austin Calitro allowed the first touchdown in coverage but did add 1.5 TFL. If he is playing next to a very good ILB, his play is good enough. But next to Crowder, this exposes a major issue in the middle of the defense.

CORNERBACK

-The two outside corners played a very solid game against a less-than-inspiring group of outside receivers. Adoree’ Jackson fared well against his former team besides one pass interference penalty. It was Aaron Robinson who played the standout game, however. He finished with 4 tackles and a pass break up on 3rd down, a near interception, and played excellent on special teams to boot. Robinson was a major factor as a run defender as well.

-Darnay Holmes was nearly the main culprit in the late-game defensive meltdown. He was flagged for 2 defensive holds (an ongoing problem for him) and allowed a 21-yard reception that set up TEN for the game-winning field goal attempt.

SAFETY

-Xavier McKinney and Julian Love played every snap and both were all over the field. From the All-22 tape, I was impressed with how quickly they were able to get over the top of TEN’s deep routes. They were well prepared. They combined for 9 tackles, and both filled multiple roles in coverage against the run and as pass rushers.

-Veteran Tony Jefferson played a lot in the final quarter. Interesting to see Martindale use him at that point of the game, and he blitzed as often as he did not. He did accrue a pressure. Jason Pinnock, another post-camp signing, recovered the muffed punt.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K Graham Gano: 2/2 XP
P Jamie Gillian: 6 punts – 51.5 avg / 41.2 net

*LS Casey Kreiter botched a snap on the first extra point attempt – forcing a missed point

3 STUDS

-RB Saquon Barkley, OT Andrew Thomas, CB Aaron Robinson

3 DUDS

-CB Darnay Holmes, LB Tae Crowder, LS Casey Kreiter

3 THOUGHTS ON TEN

1. TEN has out-kicked their coverage almost every year of the Vrabel era. What I mean by that is their end-of-season record exceeds what many believe is within their reach when considering their roster. As I mentioned earlier, they are one of the best, if not the best, in the league when it comes to winning close games. They’ve had a top-10 offense just once in four years. They’ve never had a top-10 defense. They’ve had a double-digit sack defender just once over that span (and he just tore his ACL before the season). There is a template here to follow for NYG as they build the roster, and even though they want to eventually be better than this, there is a lot to be said for playing quality fundamental football with minimal mistakes.

2. Ryan Tannehill is the quarterback I compared Daniel Jones to when he came out of Duke in 2019. While they have different styles and backgrounds (remember Tannehill started at WR in college), I can see the trajectory of Jones’ career heading in a similar direction. The ceiling being a guy who absolutely needs the team around him to be top notch. This is a tough kind of player to plan around when it comes to long term finances. Tannehill has the biggest cap number in the NFL ($38.6 million). And the team just drafted Malik Willis in round 3. They will be looking at a tough decision next offseason. Pay him the 5th-most among all QBs or take the $18 million cap hit to release him. In terms of dollars spent and production he creates, the value is poor. But the flip side could be much, much worse. NYG could be heading toward a similar situation.

3. I projected TEN to win 9 games, finishing 2nd in the weak AFC South, and missing out on the playoffs. Their roster situation was brittle and the loss of A.J. Brown in addition to the preseason injury to Harold Landry is going to expose the lack of versatility on this roster. While I do put DT Jeffery Simmons into the elite tier of defensive linemen, and this young secondary has the upside of being a top-5 group, I don’t see enough options offensively to rely on in big moments. They will be on the outside looking in.

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

1. There are several takeaways from the first game when projecting how this season will go and where NYG is headed long term. The biggest one is simple. This team finally has a pulse. It is amazing how big the contrast is between this coaching staff and what NYG has employed in recent years. The design of the offense. The construction of the personnel (while being handicapped by the cap). The innovation and adjustments. While it is just one week and there is still a long, steep hill to climb, the aura is different.

2. The offensive approach seemed advanced. Not just better than what we have seen, but fully mapped out and ready for adjustment. Watching several games around the league and keeping the past decade of NYG football in the memory bank, this was a different level of preparation and planning. Some of the hidden components to quality offensive football are what they did on 3rd-and-long in the first quarter. On the second and third offensive drives, respectively, NYG faced 3rd-and-long deep in their own territory. How many times have we seen a low-success running plays in those situations? Gain 2-4 yards, then punt. Or a wide receiver screen. Or a dump-off pass that did not reach the line of scrimmage. NYG gained 14 and 16 yards on those plays. Sure, the result was still a punt, but those hidden yards change games. Whether it is field position or information gathering for future 3rd-down situations. As simple and as unimportant as that sounds, those are signs this coaching staff is looking to get ahead at all times. Never throw up the white flag. Never a “get ‘em next time” mantra. And then you have the obvious analytic + momentum decision of going for 2 at the end. This is such a different era of NYG football and we’re here for it.

3. Where does this passing game go from here? NYG could end up being one of the more run-dominant teams in the league, but this run-pass ratio will not continue. 32 runs and 21 passes (+5 sacks). PHI was the most run-heavy team in the NFL last year and they still threw more than they ran. This one-game sample size is way too small (wait 4 weeks, then take a look), but fully expect to see this ratio get closer to 55-pass / 45-run. NYG’s wide receiver situation and usage needs to be ironed out. This was a wakeup call for Toney, I hope. He is clearly one of the most three talented players on this offense and with more passing on the way, the looks will be there. But he needs to earn it. He needs to change his ways behind closed doors. Nobody believes the likes of Richie James and David Sills bring more to the table. But this game (and this offense) requires much more than talent and status that stems from a previous regime using a 1st rounder on you.

Sep 092022
 
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Brian Daboll, New York Giants (August 21, 2022)

Brian Daboll – © USA TODAY Sports

THE STORYLINE:
It’s going to be hard for many New York Giants fans to accept the reality that this team is starting over from scratch again. What transpired for the past 10 years means nothing. The franchise receives no credit points for those previous rebuilding seasons. The Giants have decided to go back to the starting line and will have to begin the race all over again. So screaming, “How long is going to take to rebuild this team?!?” completely misses the point. It’s the wrong way to think about the Giants’ current situation. The response to that question is, “What are you talking about? They just started.”

The 2022 NFL season for the New York Giants really isn’t about contending for a Super Bowl title. It’s about getting their own house in order, evaluating the team in order to make wise long-term decisions, and simply showing competency and progress. Those are not very exciting goals, but they are necessary steps on a long road back to respectability.

We have no idea how this team will perform. It could be as bad as many expect and vie for another top-10 draft pick. It could exceed expectations and remain mathematically alive for a playoff spot into December. Beating the Tennessee Titans would be nice, but what’s more important is that this team IMPROVES as the year progresses. We want the team to look stronger and better in December than it does in September. For 10 years, the Giants have been a team spinning its wheels with an occasional tease each season, only to humiliate itself once again. So my advice is not to overreact to one game or a fast or slow start, but understand the ultimate goal is to begin building a legitimate, stable foundation.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • WR Sterling Shepard (Achilles – probable)
  • OLB Kayvon Thibodeaux (knee – doubtful)
  • OLB Azeez Ojulari (calf – doubtful)
  • S Dane Belton (clavicle – questionable)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
Let’s take a step back for a moment and look at the big picture. Where are the New York Giants as an offensive team?

Of the five offensive players who count the most (almost $52 million) against the 2022 salary cap, there is a good chance that four of them will not be on the team in 2023: WR Kenny Golladay ($21 million), QB Daniel Jones ($8 million), RB Saquon Barkley ($7 million), and WR Sterling Shepard ($6 million). Jones and Barkley are currently the faces of the offense and yet both are on the final year of their rookie contracts. As of this moment, re-signing either to big contracts makes little sense. Golladay may be the worst free agent signing in Giants’ history, which is saying something for a team that made Nate Solder the highest-paid offensive lineman in the NFL. Shepard simply can’t stay healthy and his numbers have been pedestrian at best.

The talent situation at the skill positions does not appear good. Golladay had another very quiet summer and that doesn’t bode well for the $72 million receiver looking to score his first touchdown. First-rounder Kadarius Toney spent most of the summer on the sidelines again. Shepard is coming back from an Achilles’ tendon injury and that’s always a dicey affair. Wan’Dale Robinson has yet to prove he was worthy of a high pick. Darius Slayton has been a big disappointment since his promising rookie year. The guy who Jones seems to have the best chemistry with, David Sills, can’t separate consistently from starting NFL defensive backs. The tight end situation is worse. Daniel Bellinger is a rookie with a lot to learn. Chris Myarick and Tanner Hudson are castoffs. 

So is the situation as dreary as it appears on paper? I would argue no. The Giants appear to be flipping the script. You can make the case right now that the offensive line is the strength of the team. No, it’s not perfect. The injuries to Shane Lemieux and Joshua Ezeudu make left guard unstable. Jon Feliciano, and probably his primary back-up at center, Ben Bredeson, missed a lot of time with injuries. Right tackle Evan Neal will go through rookie growing pains. But the foundation is there. Not just to be competent, but to be a very good offensive line. If a team can block on offense, it will cover a lot of sins in other places. The Giants may finally become a more physical football team. That’s obviously a good thing.

The other positive is the Giants have two offensive minds who are well-respected around the league in Head Coach Brian Daboll and Offensive Coordinator Mike Kafka. Both are going to bring the New York Giants’ offensive system into the modern contemporary era. Finally we will get to see some innovation on offense. Based on what we saw from the preseason, it appears Daboll and Kafka are going to use the quick, short passing game to keep negative plays to a minimum and stay ahead of the sticks. My guess is the focus will be on yards after the catch by getting the ball out quickly to players such as Barkley, Breida, Robinson, Toney, and Shepard. Combine that with a no-nonsense running game that actually moved the ball past the line of scrimmage, rather than getting tackled for no or negative yardage, in the preseason.

Tennessee is not an ideal opponent to start the season. They play old-school football and are a winning team because they physically beat up on their opponents. They have a very strong front seven and rapidly improving secondary full of talented youngsters. Last year, they had the #2 run defense in the entire NFL. Jeffery Simmons can be dominant at defensive tackle both against the run and the pass. He and Denico Autry combined for a super-impressive 17.5 sacks. Teair Tart is solid at nose tackle.

The Titans did get horrible news at the beginning of the month when Pro Bowl OLB Harold Landry (12 sacks in 2021) tore his ACL in practice. There will be more pressure on ex-Steeler Bud Dupree to live up to his contract. OLB Ola Adeniyi impressed as back-up in 2021 and now takes over for Landry. He was limited this week in practice with a neck injury however. Zach Cunningham are David Long Jr. are steady, sure tacklers inside.

All-Pro Kevin Byard is an elite player at free safety. Amani Hooker is solid at strong safety. Kristian Fulton has quickly become one of the league’s better corners. 2021 first-rounder Caleb Farley mans the other corner spot. He’s coming off an ACL. Roger McCreary was drafted in the second round. Elijah Molden, who may miss this game with a groin injury, is the nickel corner. Don’t be shocked if this group becomes the best secondary in the NFL.

I don’t see the Giants making a living against the Titans running the ball. And holding the ball against that pass rush is not ideal either. Expect a large dose of the short passing game. My guess is Daboll and Kafka hid a lot of schematic stuff in the preseason, with the hope of catching this strong defense by surprise. Two or three big plays with big YAC could mean all the difference. Watch for Barkley and Robinson in particular. I’d like to include Toney in that group, but who knows what the team will get from him on a weekly basis?

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
Again, let’s start off with the big picture first. Full disclosure – I’m a big fan of Wink Martindale’s philosophical approach to football. He is fond of saying pressure breaks pipes. His intent is to dictate to the offense rather than have the offense dictate to him. Is it risky? You bet. We may see far more big play touchdowns scored against the Giants this year. The league has moved more towards bend-but-don’t-break as offensive rules have become more liberalized each year. Other defensive coordinators believe it is safer to not give up the big play and force the opposing offense to not make a mistake during 8-12 play possession. Personally, I can’t stand that style of football. It’s too passive for me. Wink – for better or worse – is bucking the trend and going old school.

Historically speaking, Wink’s defenses were top tier in Baltimore until injuries riddled the Ravens’ defense in 2021. Yet even in that season, they were #1 in run defense. Martindale knows how to defend the run. He’s proven it. The question is does he have the horses in New York to be equally successful? They will be tested right out of the gate one of the NFL’s very best rushing attacks. Indeed, the obvious key to stopping the Titans is to stop Derrick Henry and company from running the ball down your throat. Keep in mind that Henry is not just a battering ram; he’s a threat to break the big run on every play. Martindale won’t just have his troops line-up in predictable spots. He is going to change things up and make it difficult for the Tennessee blockers to figure out who to block on each given play. The chess match will be fascinating to watch.

If you look at the Giants on paper, they have some very good chess pieces. Leonard Williams is one of the better defensive linemen in the game. Dexter Lawrence had a strong camp and looks primed for a big season from his more natural nose tackle position. Xavier McKinney has the ability to become an impact player at safety. Adoree’ Jackson – if he can stay healthy – also seems ready possibly have his best season as the team’s clearcut #1 corner. Julian Love has turned into a team leader and seems like the kind of versatile player who Martindale will move all over the place. The wild cards right now are Kayvon Thibodeaxu and Azeez Ojulari. If these two can reach their potential, this defense could end up being one of the league’s best. First, they have to get on the field. Both have suffered injuries that could nag them for a while. If they miss this game, the uphill fight to pull off the upset becomes even tougher. Guys like Jihad Ward and Oshane Ximines will really be on the spot. Ximines, in particular, has never been a stout run defender. Look for the Titans to target him.

The strategy is obvious. Stop the run. Make Ryan Tannehill and a mediocre group of wide receivers and tight ends beat you. The best receiving weapon they have is ex-Ram Robert Woods. If the Giants can do that, they have a fighting chance in this game. When Tannehill does put the ball up, expect him to repeatedly target Aaron Robinson, who struggled in preseason games. The entire defense not overreacting to play-action will be decisive. The pressure is on Tannehill. Some fans are already pining for Malik Willis to play.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
The Giants are going to go into the season with the Scottish Hammer at punter. Many thought he would have been replaced by a veteran cut late August. We’ll have to see how that plays out. The coverage teams struggled in the preseason and hopefully will rebound with the bullets counting for real. The return game remains a question mark for New York as well. It appears Gary Brightwell will be the kick returner and Richie James the punt returner.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Defensive Coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale on Derrick Henry:He’s a physical guy; and it could be one cut and go. And it can be whatever he wants it to be at certain times. And he’s just a very talented back. I always get caught in comparing people and everything else, but he’s like our modern-day Jim Brown, I think. He’s just that much different when he has the ball in his hands, so it’s a challenge every time he touches it.

THE FINAL WORD:
The Titans are an extremely well-coach, fundamentally-sound, physical football team. In a lot of ways, they are reminiscent of the style of play of the 1990 New York Giants. Just beat up on the other team and wear them down. Run the ball, play good defense, keep mistakes to a minimum, and pressure the other team to make the game-deciding mistakes. It’s a conservative approach, but it works. The down side for the Titans is often allows inferior teams to keep the score close.

The Titans were the AFC’s #1 seed in 2021 and came close to making it to the AFC Championship Game. But I would not be shocked if the Giants keep this close or even pull off a big upset. They just have to do the obvious things: stop the run and don’t make killer mistakes on offense. Two or three big offensive plays could be all New York needs to make this interesting. On the flip side, it is not the end of the world if the Giants lose this game. This is one of Giants’ toughest opponents on their entire schedule. The pressure is on Titans and not the Giants in this one. I like those kind of games.

Aug 292022
 
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Austin Calitro, New York Giants (August 28, 2022)

Austin Calitro – © USA TODAY Sports

QUICK RECAP

The NFL’s decision to knock the four-game preseason schedule down to three a year ago is easily one of the best they’ve made under Roger Goodell. The next time we watch NYG football, we will be in the regular season. The fact they get the extra week of preparation and recovery time is another feather in the cap. Before NYG moved onto TEN, they first had to face off against the cross-town rival New York Jets just three days following their joint practice together. Most of the NYG starters did not step on the field after the team warm-up period and Jets Coach Robert Saleh opted to give his ones some snaps in the first half. To each their own.

The Jets, led by their likely Week 1 starter, 37-year-old Joe Flacco, put together a solid drive to start off the game. On a 3rd-and-10 short pass to running back Michael Carter, the second-year back made it to the sticks, but rookie linebacker Micah McFadden knocked the ball loose, which was recovered by fellow linebacker Austin Calitro. NYG responded with a 3-and-out, but at least it allowed the field position battle to go back into NYG’s favor somewhat. The two offenses traded scoreless possessions before Greg Zuerlein nailed a 49-yard field goal through the uprights to make it 3-0.

Ryan Santoso, signed as Graham Gano recovers from a concussion, hit a 36-yard field goal on the ensuing drive as the second quarter got under way. Calitro then took part in his second takeaway of the game, this time an interception from Flacco, and turned it into six points as he made his way into the end zone. Talk about an ascent from camp body / special teamer to a guy that who proven he should be a part of the ILB rotation.

Backup QB Mike White came in for NYJ and engineered a touchdown-scoring drive that ended on a pass to Braxton Berrios, a big part of the NYJ offense and special teams. After two scoreless drives by NYG, White led the offense on a 2-minute drill with just 1:06 remaining from their own 35-yard line. It took just under :40 of game clock to get another touchdown on the board, this time a pass to Calvin Jackson on a 19-yard play. NYJ went into the half with a 17-10 lead after scoring 14 straight points.

Up until the start of the second half, NYG felt a little overmatched in terms of who they were putting on the field vs. what NYJ’s approach was. Once the third quarter began, however, the teams were playing on an even playing field. 2nd, 3rd, 4th stringers hoping for a spot on the roster, practice squad, and/or another team. Davis Webb, who came in the game earlier than expected because of a Tyrod Taylor injury, led the team on a beautiful drive to start it off. 12 plays, 75 yards, two third-down conversions, and one on fourth down eventually led to a 1-yard touchdown run by Jashaun Corbin.

Then on the opening play of the fourth quarter, Webb found rookie tight end Austin Allen for an 18-yard score and NYG was back on top by seven. The two teams traded 3-and-outs before Chris Streveler, who has been the catalyst to some highlight-reel late game plays for the Jets in the preseason, threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Denzel Mims. Mims, a 2020 second-round pick who has recently requested a trade, went off in what may have been his final action in a Jets uniform.

With the game tied up at 24, Santoso came back on the field and hit a 49-yard field goal just over 2:00 remaining. Streveler engineered yet another fourth-quarter drive that resulted in a touchdown, this one on a pass Calvin Jackson again (his second of the day). NYG was down four with under :30 left. Webb did have a shot at the end zone on a late Hail Mary pass, but it fell to the ground. Preseason over.

NYG loses, 31-27.

QUARTERBACK

-Tyrod Taylor was injured on the 9th play of the game. He took a brutal hit from rookie freight train Michael Clemons. He was on the sideline afterward. My guess, without seeing an update at the time of this writing, was a back injury that will not be serious.

-Davis Webb: 30/38 – 202 yards / 1 TD – 0 INT / 97.6 RAT

Webb essentially played the entire game with Taylor coming out early on. He capped off an incredible preseason. Tell you what, if this was a rookie that had been putting him these kinds of numbers, the excitement generated would have broken the NYG internet. Even though most of his action has been against backups and players who will be cut, he did what he was supposed to do. Webb got the ball out fast, he knew where to go with the ball, and he set up his receivers well for after-catch yardage. The funny thing? I think he should be cut and signed to the practice squad. How come? I don’t want to use a 53-man roster spot on him, and I don’t think an opposing team will scoop him up for their own active roster. I am impressed with Webb this time around, much more so than his first time with the Giants. His arm angles are changing, he is throwing better balls, and he appears to be comfortable with the speed and urgency one needs at QB.

RUNNING BACK

-Jashaun Corbin was the most used back. He carried the ball 6 times for 23 yards and a touchdown in addition to catching all 5 targets for 33 yards, most of which came after the catch. Corbin showed enough for a practice squad spot. His best trait stems from balance, body control, and lower body strength which created several missed tackles.

-Gary Brightwell, Antonio Williams, Matt Breida, and Sandro Platzgummer split the remaining snaps. Williams fumbled but it was recovered by NYG. Platzgummer had a 15-yard catch. This position group will not carry a fullback as of right now, so it could enable the team to keep five running backs. This will be interesting to watch. I lean toward keeping four on the 53-man roster with both Corbin and Platzgummer on the PS. If they need an extra PS spot, the latter gets the boot.

WIDE RECEIVER

-It was interesting to me that David Sills, Darius Slayton, and Richie James all played under 15 snaps. From the outside, it looks like this position group is very much up in the air and this game could have been the final piece of information needed for the tough decisions. Slayton is likely to be traded, thus it made sense to keep him off of the field. But seeing Sills and James stay on the sideline tells me those two are definites for the 53.

-Alex Bachman, an easy guy to root for but may not have a spot open for the roles he fills on an offense, led the team with 6 catches for just 27 yards.

-Wan’Dale Robinson had a catch for 4 yards and a carry on a reverse that gained 11 yards. Three preseason games and we finally got to see a successful gadget play for the rookie who I do think will be a big part of the offense. Jaylon Moore had a drop and will likely join Keelan Doss and Travis Toivonen on the cut-list by the time this is published. Impressive one-handed catch by Toivonen, but he was only brought in to take up snaps, not compete for a job.

TIGHT END

-Rookies Daniel Bellinger and Austin Allen both caught all of their targets for a combined 77 yards (7 rec). Allen had his best game the preseason, hauling in a 18-yard touchdown, showing excellent ball skills near the sideline. The height really is something, there aren’t many who measure in like him and he does have accurate hands + timing.

-I still believe this will be the position group that adds someone who shakes free over the next 24-48 hours. There are plenty of teams with over-crowded tight end rooms. BAL, BUF, DEN to name a few that I have been keeping my eye on. Bellinger is the only one who I feel has a very secure hold on a roster spot.

OFFENSIVE LINE

-Daboll smartly held most of the starters out of this one despite NYJ marching out their starting group of talented defensive linemen. It did produce some muddy action early on, but it was good to see who could hold their own. Devery Hamilton did allow a TFL but otherwise played a very solid game. His lack of a power game got him walked back a bit but he stays connected to the defender and he can move his feet in a hurry. He is going to be an important 6th-7th lineman this season.

-The two worst grades of the day were Will Holden and Eric Smith. Both were added after training camp began and I had positive remarks about both from separate practices. They were roasted in this game. Smith allowed 3 pressures and was abused by Bryce Huff (an EDGE who I like a lot). Holden was flagged for a false start and allowed 2 pressures. Both get good initial contact, but the reaction time and sustainability were poor. I suspect both will be gone.

-Jamil Douglas and Max Garcia are veterans with starting experience. There is some value in that, but don’t overreact to it. I think there is a shot Daboll keeps both for the 53-man roster if Lemieux is out for extended time. If I had to choose between the two, I would go with Douglas. He did allow a sack and a pressure in this one but graded out much higher than Garcia in the running game.

-Josh Rivas allowed 2 pressures but was effective in the running game. He is not ready for pro ball but he is worth a PS spot.

EDGE

-Jihad Ward is an interesting guy. Just about 10% of his 1-year deal is guaranteed. The team could save $1 million by cutting him loose. Not that they are going to be in need of the money, I struggle to see the role for him here. The multi-front scheme and Martindale’s experience with him should land him a spot, but I do think this defense will not need him at edge. I also think keeping Ryder Anderson is essential. Looking at the numbers along this DL, Ward would be my choice to cut loose. He played 16 snaps and besides setting the edge, he does not offer much.

-Oshane Ximines will likely keep his spot unless Kayvon Thibodeaux, Elerson Smith, and Azeez Ojulari all come back healthy and ready for Week 1. Will be interesting to watch. We have seen him play a lot of football here and his performance against NYJ was more of the same. Some physical play against the inside run, but inconsistent setting the edge, feeling blocks, and rushing the passer despite seeing 39 snaps.

-Quincy Roche and Tomon Fox both had quiet games even though they saw a lot of time. The pass rush was very poor in this one with neither of these guys stepping up. Fox is destined for the PS and Roche is the one I would keep around over the two names mentioned above. Martindale may not see enough size, however.

DEFENSIVE LINE

-David Moa and rookie D.J. Davidson both played a solid game, finishing with 4 tackles and stuffing inside running lanes. This regime just brought in Davidson; they did not bring in Moa. Those are the two strong reasons why I think the former will stick around with Justin Ellis and Dexter Lawrence inside. Ellis played some in the first half, making 2 tackles including one on a screen that brought him all the way outside the numbers. Impressive short area burst.

-Ryder Anderson made a tackle at the line of scrimmage and missed a TFL by inches. His tool set, combined with nifty hand work to get off blocks, is impressive. He needs to finish on the 53-man roster if you’re asking me. I would keep him over Jalyn Holmes, Jihad Ward, and Nick Williams without hesitation if it were up to me.

LINEBACKER

-Blake Martinez and Tae Crowder saw some action early. They are the unquestioned leaders for starting positions in this defense.

-Micah McFadden and Austin Calitro saw most of the snaps otherwise. They were all over the field and combined for 8 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 FF, 1 FR, and 1 INT. If you don’t have the time to watch other teams trust me on this: Martindale creates production from linebackers as well as any defensive coordinator in the league. 1st rounders, UDFAs, veterans who have been cut. They all do well under him, and he knows how to find the right fit. Calitro and McFadden do tend to get burned to the sideline and may not impact the opposing passing game, but these two are tacklers. They excelled between the tackles, and they blitz well. This is a solid quartet of inside linebackers.

-With that said, I think Carter Coughlin’s spot is in jeopardy as Cam Brown will be kept around for special teams. Coughlin did add a pressure in this game, but the past regime drafted him, he was hurt for most of camp, and there isn’t much he does better than any of the others to put it simply.

CORNERBACK

-Maybe the most hectic position on the team in terms of who is sticking around and where they fall on the depth chart. Again, this is a VERY important position in the Martindale scheme. Zyon Gilbert and Olaijah Griffin missed tackles and were beat in coverage multiple times. Khalil Dorsey was flagged for a pass interference that led to a NYJ touchdown late in the game and Harrison Hand allowed a touchdown. It was a rough day for the roster hopefuls.

-Adoree’ Jackson, Darnay Holmes, and Aaron Robinson are the top three, no question. The former two did not play and Robinson finished with 3 tackles and a PD to go along with a missed tackle. Cor’Dale Flott was just drafted, and Rodarius Williams is a second-year player who fits the scheme well. I believe it will be Darren Evans who sticks while the others are cut loose or put on the PS. Remember, Julian Love can play the nickel if needed.

SAFETY

-Nate Meadors was the only defender to play every snap. He led the team with 12 tackles and had an interception negated by a Griffin pass interference. He may have played his way into a PS spot, but I don’t see room for him on the 53-man roster even with rookie Dane Belton recovering from a collar bone injury. Trenton Thompson, however, continued to flash against the run. He pursues well and tackles well in space. He had 4 tackles total and will be a key special teamer.

-Yusuf Corker was cut while I started writing this. He will end up on the PS unless another team wants to bring him onto their 53, which is possible. He was very sought after following the NFL Draft. He finished with 5 tackles, but missed 2 others. That was a problem for him in college.

SPECIAL TEAMS

-K Ryan Santoso: 2/2 (made 36, 49)
-P Jamie Gillian: 5 punts / 55.6 avg – 44.8 net

3 STUDS

-LB Austin Calitro, QB Davis Webb, RB Jashaun Corbin

3 DUDS

-OT Will Holden, OT Eric Smith, CB Olajiah Griffin

3 THOUGHTS ON NYJ

1. I admire General Manager Joe Douglas from afar as much as any GM in the league. While his regime may fully rest on the shoulders of Zach Wilson, his approach to building a roster from the trenches is a breath of fresh air. I think this team will be competitive this season, right around .500, and playing meaningful football in December. The biggest reason is what they have along the OL and DL. Free agent signings, draft picks, waiver adds, and financial commitments have been spot on here. I think they are going to get multiple trade offers for their DL.

2. Rookie Michael Clemons (the one that hurt Taylor) is a guy you can’t help but stare at both in person and on film. He is massive, he plays angry and powerful, and he has first round-caliber plays here and there. There are some character issues here but if this coaching staff keeps him dialed in, he will be an impact player on this team. He wins with hustle and power more than quickness and burst, but this scheme can use that better than others.

3. Is there a template NYG can take from NYJ when it comes to roster building? The one thing I take is very macro-level. And it is the fact that the GM and Head Coach speak the same language, they have the same vision, and they want to build the roster a specific way. Time will tell if Daboll and Schoen are on the same page, but many signs point toward that being the case. That alone is a major positive this franchise has seemed to miss out on since the Coughlin-era.

3 THOUGHTS ON NYG

1. The more we see this offense operate under Kafka/Daboll, the more I am confident they will get the ball out faster than we have seen possibly ever. While the best offenses can do both, this will help cancel many of the negative plays. Even the urgency Daboll wants from his running backs will add to this positive difference. Step one to fixing that side of the ball is getting rid of plays where the chains go backward. I am very confident we will see that in 2022.

2. Speaking of the offense and Kafka/Daboll, I am curious who they will choose to call plays. Daboll was the play-caller in BUF and he does not need to manage much (if anything) defensively. I would feel better about him calling the plays this season. Allow Kafka to take in more from a game-planning and observation role to pick up any differences / similarities to what he saw in KC with Andy Reid, the best offensive mind in football.

3. NYG was put through the wringer with injuries throughout the first half of camp and preseason. It does seem they are in a good enough spot for the start of the season though. The OL injuries appear very minor, Thibodeaux should be ready by Week 3 at the absolute latest, the best defensive players are a full-go, and the receivers + Barkley are ready to rock. All in all, things appear just fine on the injury front.

EXTRA

Below is my 53-man roster projection with a TE waiver claim. This is SO fluid with cuts from other teams and the injury situations (couple of these guys could be put in IR and come back in October), but based on my time watching the game films and multiple practices, here it is:

QB(2)

Daniel Jones, Tyrod Taylor

RB(4)

Saquon Barkley, Matt Breida, Antonio Williams, Gary Brightwell

WR(6)

Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney, Sterling Shepard, Wan’Dale Robinson, David Sills V, Richie James

TE(3)

Daniel Bellinger, Chris Myarick, Waiver Pick-Up*

OL(10)

Andrew Thomas, Shane Lemieux, Jon Feliciano, Mark Glowinski, Evan Neal, Devery Hamilton, Joshua Ezeudu, Ben Bredeson, Jamil Douglas, Max Garcia

EDGE (5)

Jihad Ward, Azeez Ojulari, Kayvon Thibodeaux, Elerson Smith, Quincy Roche

DL (5)

Leonard Williams, Dexter Lawrence, Justin Ellis, Ryder Anderson, DJ Davidson

ILB (5)

Blake Martinez, Tae Crowder, Micah McFadden, Austin Calitro, Cam Brown

CB (6)

Adoree’ Jackson, Darnay Holmes, Aaron Robinson, Cor’Dale Flott, Rodarius Williams, Darren Evans

S (4)

Xavier McKinney, Julian Love, Trenton Thompson, Dane Belton

SPT (3)

-Graham Gano, Jamie Gillian, Casey Kreiter

Aug 272022
 
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Tomon Fox, New York Giants (August 21, 2022)

Tomon Fox – © USA TODAY Sports

THE STORYLINE:
Outside of the injury situation, the New York Giants have made a lot of progress this summer in Year #1 of the team’s latest rebuilding plan. Make no mistake about it, this team has a ton of warts and it will probably take another 1-2 years of new player acquisition to get this roster into playoff-contention shape. And if you are in the camp that this team needs a new quarterback, that timeframe could shift to 2-3 years. But the VERY early returns are that the offense at least looks functional and the defense has potential to be one of the league’s better units. Combine that with a pretty weak schedule, and the Giants may win more games than expected by most. At the very least, they will be far more competitive. This coaching staff is professional grade, something that has been lacking since the team “fired” Tom Coughlin.

The fly in the ointment right now is the team’s never-ending injury nightmare. A slew of injuries can wreck even the best team’s in the NFL (see the 2021 Baltimore Ravens). So when injuries hit a very thin, rebuilding club, the outcome can be devastating. Yes, injuries are part of the game. No team is immune. Yadda, yadda, yadda. But every freaking year, the Giants are one of the hardest hit teams in the NFL. Coaches and players have come in gone in waves, but nothing changes. We’re not even out of August, and injuries have curtailed the season or development of more than half the 11-player draft class. It has caused significant issues at left guard, center, wide receiver, and outside linebacker. Psychologically, it just wears you out. Players are now getting hurt running sprints after practice. It’s too late to do anything about it this year, but the franchise had better figure this out. You can’t compete if you have a 1/5 of your roster on the sideline and are signing guys off of the street to replace them.

THE INJURY REPORT:
WR Sterling Shepard (Achilles’), WR C.J. Board (ribs), LG Shane Lemieux (foot), OG/OT Joshua Ezeudu (unknown), OC/OG Ben Bredeson (elbow), OL Garrett McGhin (unknown), OLB Kayvon Thibodeaux (knee), OLB Azeez Ojulari (calf), OLB Elerson Smith (ankle/foot), CB Rodarius Williams (unknown), S Dane Belton (broken left collarbone), and PK Graham Gano (concussion) will not play.

WR Kadarius Toney (hamstring?), WR Darius Slayton (unknown), and OLB Jihad Ward (unknown) are questionable for the game.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
Shhhh. Daniel Jones has looked pretty good the first two preseason games. This despite this being his third head coach and fourth offensive coordinator entering his fourth season. No, this doesn’t mean Jones has proven anything. And the odds are still stacked against him. But the early returns have been promising, especially after all of the doom-and-gloom coming out of training camp reports.

The Giants seem to be developing an interesting offense. Yes, the team has finally updated their offense philosophy to the current NFL standard. But teams that tend to be more pass-centric (and I think the Brian Daboll/Mike Kafka offense fits into that category) don’t usually run the ball very well. That said, this team IS running the football better than the Giants have done in years. Most running plays are gaining yardage. Backs are not being met in the backfield or at the line of scrimmage on almost every play. What’s weird about this is the Giants are doing this despite a plethora of injuries on the offensive line that have taken out starters and primary back-ups. Talent? Coaching? Too small a sample size? We shall see. Just keep in mind that the New York Jets have a really good defensive front. Things may not look as sharp this week, especially with four offensive linemen already ruled out, and the Giants may not wanting to risk Andrew Thomas and Jon Feliciano in a somewhat meaningless game.

So what to look for?

  • If he plays, can Daniel Jones put together another positive outing?
  • Can Tyrod Taylor rebound from a disappointing game?
  • Was Davis Webb’s fantastic performance against the Bengals a mirage?
  • We haven’t seen Matt Breida yet in the preseason, but the belief is he is the #2 back on this team. Meanwhile the other backs have all had their moments. Who sticks?
  • Can Daniel Bellinger build off his somewhat stronger performance last week? Did the Giants find at least one tight end off of the waiver wire in Tanner Hudson?
  • I am under the strong impression that the Giants are hiding Wan’Dale Robinson. This was confirmed to be by Daboll saying he was a healthy scratch from the joint practice. We won’t really know what we have there until the games count. Aside from him, how many wide receivers and which ones make this team? The uninspiring Kenny Golladay and injury-prone Kadarius Toney (questionable for game) and Sterling Shepard (not playing) are expected to make it. Collin Johnson is done for the season. Meanwhile, journeymen David Sills and Alex Bachman have fans excited. What about Darius Slayton (questionable) and Richie James? Are the Giants really going to use a roster spot on C.J. Board (not playing)?
  • Finally, but perhaps most importantly, can the offensive line continue to look functional despite all of the injuries? We learned this week that Shane Lemieux won’t be returning anytime soon. Unfortunately, his primary back-up, Joshua Ezeudu, is out this game and has missed too much valuable practice time. Ben Bredeson, who was a leading contender for back-up center and guard, will not play. The guy to watch here is Devery Hamilton, who has come out of nowhere and may now be the team’s opening day starter at left guard. Meanwhile, the depth situation, which for once had appeared better, is now shaky again due to injuries. The fear here is someone who should be sitting in the last preseason game is going to get hurt simply because they don’t have the bodies right now.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The Giants entered training camp with outside linebacker looking like a team strength. But injuries have dramatically depleted this group in just a few weeks. The problem is not only the quantity of injuries, but who has suffered them, and the nagging type of injuries that could affect player performance in the regular-season. Starter Kayvon Thibodeaux has a sprained MCL. Starter Azeez Ojulari has a sprained calf. Quasi-starter Jihad Ward has been out for a while now with an unidentified injury. Elerson Smith, who had been flashing, has been in a walking boot for a couple of weeks. The only healthy players at outside linebacker are Quincy Roche, Oshane Ximines, and Tomon Fox (all three have flashed this preseason). Daboll admitted that the team may be forced to play Carter Coughlin and Cam Brown outside until reinforcements arrive.

Meanwhile, Darrian Beavers is done for the season. It appeared he was on the verge of stealing a starting spot inside. Another bad break for a thin team. The guy to watch now Micah McFadden. Can he steal time with the #1s?

Two rookies flying underneath the radar right now are defensive linemen D.J. Davidson and Ryder Anderson. Both have a legitimate shot to make the final 53-man roster. To be honest, I was not expecting Davidson to flash as much as he has. The Giants may have a steal there. I really would not play Leonard Williams or Dexter Lawrence much in this game. They are both ready for a big season. The final questions here surround which vets stick, with the candidates being Justin Ellis, Jalyn Holmes, and Nick Williams.

Not counting the injury situation at outside linebacker, the team’s biggest potential hole on defense is cornerback. Adoree’ Jackson looks primed for his best season. But Aaron Robinson has yet to prove he can survive on an island in Wink Martindale’s system. And depth at outside corner is a major question mark. I’m pretty certain that Achilles’ heel of this defense this year is going to be corner. That won’t likely be fixed until next offseason.

The big news this week at safety was the release of Andrew Adams. No, Adams wasn’t some stud. But he was a steady, reliable veteran who was playing with the first-team defense in three-safety packages. His release suggests that Dane Belton may be back soon, plus growing confidence in fellow rookies Yusuf Corker and Trenton Thompson. Just keep in mind, when you go with youth, there will be growing pains. Especially in blitz-heavy defenses.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
One of the things that has bugged me this week is a lot of Giants fans seem to have forgotten how good Thomas McGaughey has been as a special teams coach. There is a reason why he was on the staffs of Tom Coughlin, Pat Shurmur, Joe Judge, and now Brian Daboll. His specials have annually been strong in punt and kickoff coverage. So I’m not overly worried right now. A bunch of rookies are being used to determine who can play on teams.

Graham Gano is out. Ryan Santoso will be the kicker this week.

The two big questions on special remain: (1) do the Giants want the Scottish Hammer to be their punter?, and (2) who will be the primary punt and kickoff returners once the games count? What’s frustrating is the Giants haven’t had that one guy who excels in the return game for years. You’d probably have to go back to Dwayne Harris. I’m not really sure why the Giants haven’t signed or drafted a return specialist since 2017.

THE FINAL WORD:
The Giants have won their first two preseason games in dramatic fashion. It has been fun to watch. But at this point, I’m more concerned about just getting out of the preseason finale without another major injury to a key contributor. My gut tells me that the Giants got enough quality work in on Thursday in the practice against the Jets. I would use this game to make final roster decisions on the bottom half of the roster.

The Giants need to get to the 53-man roster by 4PM on Tuesday. Given the fact that the team has already picked up seven players off of waivers or immediately after they have been cut, I expect next week to be nuts. Don’t be shocked to see half a dozen new faces on the team.

Aug 222022
 
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Alex Bachman, New York Giants (August 21, 2022)

Alex Bachman – © USA TODAY Sports

QUICK RECAP

Week 2 of the preseason brought the defending AFC champions to MetLife Stadium. The Cincinnati Bengals opted to sit their starters and majority of top contributors on both sides of the ball. For the second week in a row, NYG had a quasi-starting line up (what is left of them) against the opponent’s backups. With that said, NYG has been bit hard by the injury bug throughout training camp. Nearly half of their offensive line was out and key playmakers at receiver also haven’t been practicing. NYG also opted to keep out some of their most important players like Saquon Barkley and Leonard Williams. The blurry line between prepping for the regular season and keeping this team healthy has been tough to manage for this new regime.

NYG’s first two possessions resulted in turnovers. The first one was a 4th-and-1 stop at midfield and the second was an interception on a pass from Daniel Jones that went through the hands of rookie tight end Daniel Bellinger. That second turnover resulted in three points for CIN on a 50-yard field goal by Evan McPherson. The next possession would be NYG’s best of the night with starters on the field.

Jones threw the ball on the first nine snaps, connecting on eight of them and using five different receivers. That brought them to the 6-yard line where consecutive runs brought them across the goal, with rookie Jashaun Corbin getting the score. CIN responded with another three points on a 44-yard field goal after a long kickoff return and quickly got the ball back via a fumble by C.J. Board on the ensuing kickoff. The defense held up again, keeping CIN to another field goal. Their first four possessions started at the CIN 48, NYG 49, NYG 24, NYG 15. All things considered, the fact CIN only had 9 points on the board at this point was a big win for Wink Martindale’s defense.

The NYG backups made their way onto the field and the score remained locked in at 9-7 (CIN up) for the rest of the half. #5 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, Kayvon Thibodeaux, was taken off the field in the second quarter on what initially appeared to be a bad knee injury. While it looks like they avoided a serious one, it was a quick reminder how sensitive this roster is at the moment. They can’t afford more bodies dropping before a meaningful snap is played.

The second half opened with a touchdown-scoring drive by CIN. A one-yard score by running back Trayveon Williams was put on the board as Davis Webb marched onto the field for the rest of the night. Will Holden was put in at center, a position he had never played, and his poor snaps threw off the timing and fluidity of the offense on Webb’s first drive. They punted after an ugly series of plays.

On their next possession, punter Jamie Gillan was forced to come on the field for a field goal attempt as Graham Gano was ruled out with a concussion. With safety Julian Love playing the role as holder, Gillan put it through the uprights for three points. They shortened CIN’s lead to 16-10. After another stop by the defense, NYG’s first possession of the fourth quarter resulted in a touchdown by Davis Webb. It was a short pass to Alex Bachman, a roster hopeful, that he turned into a 22-yard touchdown. A successful 2-point conversion resulted in a 18-16 lead for NYG.

CIN then put together a successful drive of their own, 83 yards on 12 plays, that resulted in a touchdown. Jacques Patrick crossed the goal line on a 3-yard run and CIN was up 22-18 with just 3:05 left.

Webb marched back onto the field and went a perfect 6/6 in hurry-up fashion, using four different targets to move the ball. Bachman took over once again. A 15-yard touchdown put NYG up 25-22 with Gillan hitting an extra point to cap it off. CIN was left with just :35 and while they did cross midfield with a big-time kicker waiting on the sideline, Tomon Fox delivered the hit of the night and it forced a fumble. Newly-signed Olaijah Griffin hopped on the loose ball and the game was over.

NYG wins, 25-22.

QUARTERBACK

Daniel Jones: 14/16 – 116 yards / 0 TD – 1 INT / 1 att – 5 yards

A very encouraging performance for Jones. Of the practices I have been to and the two preseason games we have under our belt, this was the best I have seen of him. Take the stats out of it and do not consider the fact he has only played against backups (he does not control that, and he wasn’t exactly playing with a first-string offense to say the least), Jones played the position great. He was on time, he played with great tempo, and he was accurate to all levels of the route tree with good touch.

Davis Webb: 22/27 – 204 yards / 2 TD – 0 INT / 2 att – 1 yard

Lost in the positive Jones performance was the fact that Webb completely took this game over in the second half. After a shaky start because of poor snaps from a center who has never played center, Webb created a lot of plays on his own when needed but also stayed within the system very well. I will expand more on this below in my final NYG thoughts, but both quarterbacks played efficient football and took what the defense gave. It is one of the simpler common grounds to the best offensive systems in the NFL.

RUNNING BACK

-Antonio Williams played throughout the game. He started and also played with the third string as Saquon Barkley, Matt Breida, and Gary Brightwell did not play. He totaled 26 yards on 5 carries in addition to catching all 7 of his targets for 46 yards. He has had a very productive start to preseason action.

-Jashaun Corbin led the team with 9 carries, totaling 27 yards and scored a touchdown. He also caught all his targets (4) for another 15 yards. While I think he will be the odd man out when rosters get cut down, he has cemented a spot on the practice squad.

WIDE RECEIVER

-Alex Bachman: 11 rec / 122 yards / 2 TD

I can’t remember the last time we saw a stat line out of a receiver in a preseason game from a guy who played under 50% of the snaps. How this team handles cuts at receiver will be one of the more interesting spots to watch and Bachman, who I had not projected to make the 53, did what he could to at least make the decision makers take another look at the third-year pro from Wake Forest. He is a hungry guy who plays hard and fast at all times. While he won’t make a difference with speed and explosion, there is something to be said for guys who play as hard as he does. He also made a big hit on special teams, another feather in his cap that coaches do care about.

-David Sills: 5 rec / 56 yards

If it weren’t for Bachman’s performance, Sills would have been the standout of the group. He played with the ones and produced well on just 37% of the game’s snaps. He made multiple tough catches where he had to adjust to the ball with a defender right on him. The latter part of that will be the one thing potentially between him and a roster spot. He rarely separates on his own, but he does well in these contested situations. It will be an uphill fight to end up on the 53, but his ball skills and rapport with Jones certainly helps.

-Collin Johnson hauled in a 23-yard gain from Jones, NYG’s biggest gain of the day. The deep crossing route has been a staple of the offense every time I’ve seen them in person and Johnson is clearly the one who has had the most success running it.

-Wan’Dale Robinson had 3 catches for a total of -3 yards. One resulted in a 1-yard gain; the others were both losses. He hasn’t hit the ground running yet as what I perceive to be the gimmick part of the offense. Again, not an insult to him at all. The size will limit his impact in some areas, but the movement traits and versatile background will give this offense options. But we haven’t seen it quite yet in game-action. Still seems a little unnatural to this point, which is understandable.

TIGHT END

-Daniel Bellinger caught 2-of-3 targets for 10 yards. The one he did not come down with, however, was a ball that went through his hands and ended up as an interception for CIN first rounder Dax Hill. These are the passes he will need to catch and there is nothing more to say about it. Bellinger has the incredible opportunity to start Week 1 as a 4th rounder at tight end (by default, really) and these are the kind of plays that will land him on the bench if they are repeated a few more times.

-Chris Myarick and Austin Allen both caught 1 pass for 4 yards. Myarick made an impact as a blocker on two big plays. One a touchdown and the other a short 3rd-down conversion.

OFFENSIVE LINE

-The starting group was without their LG and OC. The three guys who did play, Andrew Thomas, Mark Glowinski, and Evan Neal continued the trend they’ve been on since the start of camp. Thomas looks nearly unbeatable, stemming from quick and powerful initial steps/contact, in addition to his fast adjustments. Glowinski never completely looks the part, but he constantly gets the job done. Neal had some ugly plays, some dominant plays. His set up and trust in himself looked better in traditional one-on-one matchups. He needs to play to his strengths, and that is size, power, stability. He is adjusting, sometimes when not necessary, and continues to lose his balance. The footwork and ability to stay square/upright need work. I think we are going to see him get beat to his inside shoulder often this season. As a run blocker, he has the goods already.

-Devery Hamilton played left guard and left tackle, both at a high level with above average success rate. He seems to be one of the biggest winners of preseason/camp. He played his way into the 6th-lineman role, maybe 7th if everyone comes back healthy. He has credible ability at both spots. He simply does not lose often.

-Max Garcia played over half the snaps (OG and OC). He allowed 2 pressures and looked stiff in the running game. He lacks knee bend, and it labors his movement when he needs to adjust laterally. He has been very unimpressive. But his experience at OC and the fact NYG has multiple injuries there right now, he probably makes the team. Nevertheless, I’m not confident he will be here all season.

-Will Holden, one of my camp favorites among backups, had a rough game. He played second string LG and third string OC. He allowed 2 pressures. In his defense, this was the first time he ever played OC in a game. His shotgun snaps early on were horrible and it threw off the timing of their quick passing game. He did get it together in the fourth quarter, though. If you’re asking me, I take him over Garcia even though experience does mean something with this coaching staff.

-One of the low-key top performances came from Roy Mbaeteka. He has come a long way in a short time. The post-snap bend and set up have improved a lot and he appeared to use his elite-length as a true weapon. Interesting project to keep an eye on.

EDGE

-Kayvon Thibodeaux had his night end early after a rough looking cut block at his knee which was firmly planted into the ground. I’ll touch on this below, but it was not a dirty hit. Before the play, he finished with 1 pressure and got locked up by the backup CIN tackles elsewhere. He has not shown much in the limited action we have seen in two games.

-Good to see Azeez Ojulari on the field, albeit only for 7 plays. Oshane Ximines, a sneaky candidate for a surprise cut when they go down to 53, had a pressure but lost on the edge in run defense multiple times. This has been an issue for him his entire career and this is a major no-no in the Martindale scheme.

-On the flip side, Quincy Roche was the star of the night defensively. While he lacks the ideal size Martindale wants there, the flexibility of the scheme and Roche’s play strength appear to be a good fit. He finished with 2 tackles, 1 TFL, and 2 pressures. He also looks to be a leader of the front, making calls and getting teammates in position.

-Don’t sleep on Tomon Fox, either. He plays a very powerful game and got some extra playing time last night. He finished with a tackle, forced fumble, and 2 pressures. His hit at the end of the game was an energy stick for what Martindale wants out of his front.

DEFENSIVE LINE

-Leonard Williams stayed off the field in this one, but we did see some Dexter Lawrence. He played next to Nick Williams and Justin Ellis, quite the load. Jalyn Holmes got playing time with the ones as well. This should give us a decent idea who is being viewed as the contributing portion of this group. Not much to report here, but there is a chance one of Williams/Ellis will not stick long term if rookie D.J. Davidson is healthy.

-Speaking of Davidson, he limped off the field in the fourth quarter. He is one guy I hope can get on the field early, as I think he can be an important piece moving forward. Playing time now will make this defense better next year and beyond. The run stuffer ended with 2 pressures. He is more than just a big body who can eat up double teams.

-Ryder Anderson saw a lot of time. He finished with 2 tackles and a TFL along with 1 pressure. There is still some work to be done on his ability to stay home against the run without getting turned around. But there is such a unique skill set here. I still think he makes this team, but it may have to be at the expense of someone else. I don’t see him making it through waivers if they try to stash him on the PS.

LINEBACKER

-Micah McFadden led the team with 5 tackles. He continued to get from his starting position to the ball carrier efficiently and finishing upon arrival. He has been a low-key stud among backups, and I expect to see him move up a spot as Darian Beavers appears to have injured his knee. Unfortunate for the rookie as he has been impressive in camp so far and has the skill set to thrive in this scheme.

-Tae Crowder put his speed on full display throughout his time on the field. He added 4 tackles and 1 TFL. His range against passes to the flat was on display over and over and he sealed the deal in open field. He has his warts, but he adds an element of speed and physicality to the front seven. While I think the long-term future of this position will not include him, Crowder does bring positives to the attacking nature of this defense.

CORNERBACK

-Veteran Adoree’ Jackson is a solid cover man, but one difference I see right now compared to his time in Tennessee and his college tape at USC is the willingness to come downhill on ball carriers. He has been aggressive on all fronts and, combined with his easy speed and acceleration, he appears to be in line for the best season of his career. Sometimes all it takes is a new scheme.

-We may be watching a competition between Zyon Gilbert and Darren Evans for the final cornerback spot unless one of the injured guys in front of them starts off on IR. Evans was thrown at a ton with mixed results. He had 4 tackles and a pass break up and was flagged for a roughing the passer penalty. Gilbert showed better in coverage, albeit wasn’t thrown at nearly as much. Evans’ tools are attractive, and I think coaches will lean toward him if they had to choose. He is getting slightly better at locating the football, but still has a little ways to go there.

-Aaron Robinson got away with a pass interference in the end zone. I like the movement he is showing but I am concerned by how grabby he is getting. Coaches have often told me that these young corners need to learn how to cover with their feet and body positioning, not their hands. Robinson is still behind there, and I do think when his back gets turned to the quarterback he loses some of his body control. Something to keep an eye on.

-Khalil Dorsey finished with a sack as he continues to make his case for the backup nickel job. I’m not sure I see the spot unless they go with just 3 safeties, but he has done everything right performance wise.

SAFETY

-Xavier McKinney and Julian Love were on the field for just a couple series. The depth behind them is still scary-thin until Dane Belton can come back and even then, it is limited group early on.

-Andrew Adams, Yusuf Corker, and Trenton Thompson saw plenty of time and were active against the run. It is a trio of aggressive players who tackle well in space. My unknown with them, Thomson and Corker especially, is the impact they can make in deep coverage. Thompson shows better movement, Corker shows a quicker mind. I still think there is a strong possibility that only Adams makes it to the 53.

SPECIAL TEAMS

-K Graham Gano: left game with concussion
-P Jamie Gillan: 3 punts / 36.0 avg / 36.0 net & filled in at kicker, hitting a 31-yard FG and one extra point

3 STUDS

-WR Alex Bachman, QB Daniel Jones, OL Devery Hamilton

3 DUDS

-TE Daniel Bellinger, OG Max Garcia, WR C.J. Board

3 THOUGHTS ON CIN

1. The defending AFC champions caught the league by surprise and had an Eli Manning-led, Giants-type run to the Super Bowl. Maybe not the best team all year, but the team that got hot at the right time and a clutch quarterback who brought his entire team to another level. The additions they made on the offensive line (FA and draft) and one of the most underrated defenses in the league will steady this ship and keep them very much in the picture. I am projecting CIN to make the Super Bowl again (a rarity for Super Bowl losers the next season) because of how much I believe in the presence of Burrow and arguably the most balanced roster in the league.

2. Kicker Even McPherson is a name you should remember. If you don’t know much about him yet, I believe he is the next Justin Tucker-caliber point scorer in the league. He missed a field goal Week 13 against SF in a 3-point loss. From there? A perfect 21/21 through the Super Bowl, including 3 game winners (2 in postseason). Another reason I’m on CIN this year.

3. CIN has the most ideal salary cap situation in the league when looking at the next 2-3 years. A star quarterback and maybe even a bigger star at WR both on rookie deals taking up a tiny part of the cap for at least another two seasons, most likely three and could even be four. This is a franchise that will need to be a little more aggressive than what they’ve been in recent contention years. Where could they upgrade the most? An interior pass rusher and a true number one corner would be on my scope. They might need to hit up the trade market and then pay up after (think what LAR did to get Jalen Ramsey).

3 NOTES ON NYG

1. I have seen a lot of football practices over the years. The block that CIN tight end Moss put on Thibodeaux that ended up spraining his MCL is practiced in nearly every single one of them. Football is a violent game filled with the most powerful athletes in the world. While I hate to see things like this happen in preseason action, it is a part of the game. Moss did nothing wrong and if you watch enough film with attention to these blocks, you will see them in almost every game.

2. When it comes to getting the ball out in a hurry, both Jones and Webb excelled in this game compared to what I have seen at camp. This is reason #150 why strong reactions to camp should be ignored, plain and simple. Games like this give us a better idea where the players are at when it comes to the comfort within the system that is being implemented. These short, fast throws are a proven way to produce consistent positive gains to keep the offense moving upfield. Once that becomes clock work, everything else opens up. The foundation is being set by Brian Daboll and I am happy to report the initial feel on TV was strengthened upon further review of the All-22.

3. I will be at the joint practice Thursday with the Jets. I plan to watch this defensive backfield closely. There are a lot of bodies who I grade in a very similar tier, but the numbers game is going to pick off a few of them. Even the newly-signed Olaijah Griffin flashed in limited time from a tool set perspective. I have to think what Martindale wants (physical guys who can survive on an island downfield) will win out, but we will know in a couple weeks for sure.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Personally, I love the move from 4 preseason games to 3. Whether you’re a team that sits starters or plays them, with the injury rate what it is in today’s NFL, 3 is enough. I could even see them moving to 2 at some point in the near future. I hate to see players injured, notably anyone from the nucleus of a team, but there is a ton of value to get some live action under their belts before Week 1. Now, NYG has one more game and a joint practice before they move onto TEN with some extra time in between. The injuries have piled up but it appears most will be back between now and then.