Sep 152021
 
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New York Giants Fans (September 12, 2021)

Losing Patience – © USA TODAY Sports

THE STORYLINE:
The honeymoon is over. Giants’ fans have begun to turn on Joe Judge. It was predictable development as the need to scapegoat eventually had to move past just Dave Gettleman, Jason Garrett, and Daniel Jones. In some ways, it is humorous to watch. Fans who only weeks ago said they loved his press conferences now call him a blowhard.

So what’s going on? The obvious answer is the team isn’t winning. If the team had won last Sunday, fans would keep their negative comments directed at Garrett and Jones. But if you don’t win, the grace period will last only so long. Social media has destroyed time horizons. Fans don’t see the brief Joe Judge era (2020-present) as distinct from the sad end of the Tom Coughlin era (2012-2015), Ben McAdoo era (2016-2017), and Pat Shurmur era (2018-2019). Notice a pattern here? See the risk? If many fans get their way, Judge and Jones will be gone soon. The team will have to start over, but these fans won’t really see it as starting over. They will expect immediate results because the team has been bad for a decade. Unfortunately for these fans living in a figurative drunken stupor, it doesn’t work that way. When you start over, you start over. It’s 2017 all over again. Screaming “fix it now” isn’t living in the real world.

Joe Judge may or may not be the right head coach for this team. Jason Garrett may or may not be the right offensive coordinator. Same with Patrick Graham. Same with Daniel Jones. Most fans have already made up their minds. But truth be told, none of us really know. Certain posters in The Corner Forum will scream from the rooftops that they know for sure, but they really don’t. How do I know this? Because I’ve seen it before. I’ve seen Giants’ fans try to get rid of Bill Parcells, Phil Simms, Tom Coughlin, Eli Manning, etc. Think of the tragedies if those fans were listened to at the time.

My educated guess on what is going to happen is this: the NFC East is going to suck again this year. Because of that, every team in the division will be mathematically alive for most, if not all, of the season. I think the Giants are going to look and play a lot more impressively in November and December than they will in September and October. Why? Because injuries and shortened camps/preseason kept many of the team’s new component parts from developing chemistry and cohesion. Once again, the offensive line is out of sorts. The Shane Lemieux injury was a big deal. Kenny Golladay and Daniel Jones are not in sync. Saquon Barkley is rusty as hell. Kadarius Toney is so far behind that it isn’t funny. He still has no idea how to run professional routes. “Blah, blah, blah…these are just more excuses!” Yup, but it’s also the truth.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • RB Saquon Barkley (knee – questionable)
  • TE Evan Engram (calf – out)
  • OG Shane Lemieux (knee – out)
  • LB Cam Brown (hamstring – out)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
Full disclosure. One of my all-time pet peeves is fans saying the reason an offense sucks is the coaching staff when it is obvious there are larger on-field talent issues. One of the few things I’ve learned over the years is that a competent offensive line “miraculously” makes it easier to call a game. It’s hard to play defense when the other team is generating five yards per carry and you are constantly in 2nd-and-5 situations. The internal alarm clock in your QB’s head isn’t going off prematurely because he’s afraid he won’t have time to throw. Your red-zone offense is a lot more difficult to stop when you push the pile on 3rd-and-goal.

My point is you will be amazed at how good an offensive coordinator becomes when his players execute. Look no further than how fan opinion of Kevin Gilbride changed from game-to-game, season-to-season from 2007 to 2013. Hell, I’ve seen the same posters who wanted the guy fired now lament that he is gone. Remember the 4th-and-1 deep shot to Amani Toomer against the Steelers in Pittsburgh in 2008? Objectively speaking, that was a stupid, high-risk play. But it worked. And fans thought the call was “brilliant.” Why did it work? The OL blocked. Eli threw perfect pass. Amani Toomer made a fantastic catch. Execution at all three levels.

How are the Giants going to get out of this funk and score more than 20 points on a consistent basis? Run the football. When the Giants were at their best last year, they were able to run the football. I saw posters claim in The Corner Forum that the problem with the offense against Denver was that it wasn’t “aggressive” enough. What does that mean? The team only handed off to running backs 14 times in that game. “You can be aggressive with the passing game!” Again, what does that mean? I think fans are conflating “aggressive” with what actually results in chunk yardage plays. If your quarterback is bird dogging receivers or inaccurate, if your receivers drop the ball, if your offensive line misses a block or gets called for a penalty, being “aggressive” doesn’t work.

The Giants are not going to get out of this funk until the offensive line gets its act together and creates some holes for Saquon Barkley. And Barkley has to get that rust off quickly and hit the freaking hole. If not, don’t re-sign him. “This offensive line can’t block!” If fans are right about that, the team is screwed. But I think it is far too early to tell. I’m afraid Shane Lemieux is going to have to end up on IR soon. He couldn’t even make it through the first game. Andrew Thomas had a strong game last week. I think those writing off Matt Peart are doing so way too prematurely. Again, Peart was raw coming out of college and he didn’t get a lot of snaps in full pads this offseason (NFLPA doesn’t allow it). He will continue to see his reps increased as the season progresses. (BTW, Nick Gates snapped the ball early on the play where everyone wants to knock Peart). I suspect we’ll see a lot of Ben Bredeson and Billy Price soon. There is a good chance Price will be the new center with Nick Gates shifting to guard. If Will Hernandez falters, Bredeson will take his job.

As for Daniel Jones, as Sy’56 pointed out in his game review of the Denver game, 1 down, 16 more games to go to determine his future here. The fumble last week was a game-altering turnover. If he can’t fix that, it’s time to move on. I will say this: Jones’ turnover issues briefly disappeared last year when the team ran the football. Funny how that works.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
Full disclosure. Because I am an old Giants fan, I will always hold the defense to a different standard than I do the offense. It sounds stupid to blame the defense for losing a game that the offense only scored 13 points (6 of which came in garbage time). However, it’s a different game if the Giants had held on any of those three fourth-down conversions last week. It’s a different game if the defense holds at the end of the first half and the beginning of the second half. If a defense wants to be great, it has to win games when the offense is not getting the job done. We saw that repeatedly under Bill Parcells/Bill Belichick from 1984-1990 and in spurts under Dan Reeves, Jim Fassel, and Tom Coughlin.

You’ve heard me say this repeatedly over the years. You will forever look at football differently when you realize there are only so many offensive possessions per game. Denver only had eight offensive possessions last week, four in the first half and four in the second half. That’s it. Three of those drives took 22 minutes off of the clock. So while we can lament New York’s offense only running 20 plays in the first half, some of that also had to do with the fact that the defense needs to get the ball back quicker for the offense. The Giants actually moved the ball in the second half of the Denver game. But the pressure to score touchdowns increased dramatically when what had been a 7-3 game quickly turned into a 20-7 game with the Giants offense only having ONE possession during that span. You can’t score when you don’t have the ball.

I talked last week about an early season trend last year by the Giants’ defense of allowing scoring drives at the end of halves. And that unfortunately reared its ugly head again in the opener. As much as the Daniel Jones’ fumble was game-altering, so was the defense’s inability to stop Denver at the end of the first half, including on 4th-and-2. Then at the start of the 3rd quarter, Denver scores on 4th-and-goal. (Also keep in mind that Denver’s first field goal drive occurred after converting on 4th-and-7). That’s 17 points. Denver was 3-of-3 on 4th down and 7-of-15 on 3rd down (it actually felt worse than that given when those conversions came in the game).

I can talk until I’m blue in the face about this match-up or that match-up, but we all know what the problem with this defense has been: they can’t get off of the field on 3rd down (and now sometimes 4th down). Yes, that is related to the pass rush. Against Denver, the Giants actually were buzzing around the QB more than fans realize and had six official quarterback hits. The Giants are spending a lot of money on that secondary. They have to make more plays on the football. And ideally, pick off some passes. Get the ball back for the offense on a short field. The defense must be the strength of the team this year or the Giants have no chance.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
C.J. Board gained 66 yards on two kickoff returns last week. That’s very good. Jabrill Peppers gained two yards on one punt return. Joe Judge and Thomas McGaughey may need to break into their bag of tricks soon if the offense continues to struggle.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Head Coach Joe Judge on Washington’s defense:They play off what the disruption of the front causes in front of them and they do a good job right there limiting big plays. You play against this team, you have to be prepared to go down the field tick by tick by tick. They’re a very good team situationally getting off the field on third down and red area. They’re a very good team of not allowing explosive plays.

THE FINAL WORD:
It won’t surprise me if the Giants fall to 0-2. It won’t surprise me if the Giants soundly beat Washington. This is not a good division. The quarterback change means nothing to me as a Giants fan. We’ve seen plenty of times where that bites us in the ass. But the Giants have won five in a row against Washington despite their very strong front seven on defense. For whatever reason, Washington doesn’t intimidate New York.

This is a big game for a number of reasons. The most important being that the division title will likely be determined by the division record.

(One last piece of advice to fans… stop overreacting to a small sample size. If a player plays a good game in the latest game, it doesn’t mean anything. He has to string a bunch of good games together. The reverse is also true, if a player has a bad game, it doesn’t mean anything unless he strings a bunch of bad games together. Look for trends not snapshots).

Sep 132021
 
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New York Giants Fans (September 12, 2021)

Dejection – © USA TODAY Sports

QUICK RECAP

Week 1 of the 2021 season began with a matchup against the Denver Broncos. Year-2 Head Coach Joe Judge took on year-3 Head Coach Vic Fangio, a defensive mastermind who hired a familiar face to run the team’s offense in 2020. Former Giants Head Coach, Pat Shurmur was back in town to call plays for the Denver offense that saw a change at quarterback this offseason. Teddy Bridgewater, owner of 35 career wins and a 66+% completion percentage, started a game under center for the fourth team in just his seven seasons. He was never a failed project at any point in his career. The former first rounder suffered a career-threatening injury prior to the 2016 season and threw just 25 passes over the next two seasons combined. After 15 starts for Carolina a year ago in which he completed just under 70% of his passes (5th in the NFL) and finished with 92.1 rating, he was now starting over Drew Lock for the defense-centered Broncos.

Much of the attention revolving around Denver heading into this game was the defense. It was a great litmus test for an offense that has a year-3 quarterback, new offensive weapons in Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney, and of course the star running back Saquon Barkley on the field after missing nearly all of 2020 with a knee injury. A 42-yard gain on a pass from Daniel Jones to Darius Slayton put NYG across midfield, but the next two plays netted -8 yards. The opening Bridgewater-led drive ended with an incomplete deep pass to Courtland Sutton covered by one of the newest cornerbacks in the very expensive secondary, Adoree’ Jackson. The next NYG drive went 3-and-out, being capped off by a sack allowed by Nate Solder. It was Solder’s first sack allowed since the 2019 season. He did not play in 2020.

DEN took used ball control, a theme of the day, on the next drive. 15 plays, 62 yards, and 8:42 of game clock led to a 23-yard field goal by kicker Brandon McManus. McManus was traded by the Giants to DEN in 2014. The early 3-point lead wouldn’t last long. NYG converted two straight 3rd downs, one at the hand of a Ronald Darby pass interference and one on an 8-yard pass to Sterling Shepard. Offensive Coordinator Jason Garrett called a 1st down pass for the third straight time and this one put points on the board. Sterling Shepard took a pass on a crossing route, broke a Patrick Surtain II tackle, and rumbled his way into the end zone. NYG was up 7-3.

DEN marched right down the field again with the help of a bonehead personal foul penalty on second-year corner Darnay Holmes. Logan Ryan then made one of the top plays of day, as he stripped the ball away from tight end Albert Okwuegbunam after a catch-and-run inside the NYG 4-yard line. Even though it was early in the game, it was game-changing at that moment. A defense that couldn’t stop the opposing offense needed a play like this, and Ryan produced it. The negative, however, was the NYG offense going 3-and-out without even looking halfway competitive from the poor starting field position.

As the 2-minute warning approached, Bridgewater found Sutton on a 14-yard gain on 4th-and-2 to cross midfield. Three plays and 35 yards later, he found wide receiver Tim Patrick for a short touchdown on misdirection. There were just 13 seconds remaining afterward, meaning DEN practically got the ball right back after scoring a touchdown (because NYG started the game on offense) and dominating the time of possession 18:59 to 11:01.

The NYG defense needs to be the backbone of this team. They’re supposed to be the side of the ball that steps up when things look bleak. They did come up with a big turnover in the first half, but they were allowing too many conversions and chunk plays. Starting off the second half with a stop was crucial, as DEN already had a 3-point lead. It did not pan out very well. DEN went on a marathon 16-play, 75-yard, 8:12 drive that included FOUR straight 3rd-down conversions. It was a drive that saw DEN receiver K.J. Hamler drop an easy touchdown and another receiver, Jerry Jeudy, go down with a serious ankle injury. Neither ended up being capitalized on, as DEN put another touchdown on the board on a 4th-and-1 pass to Okwuegbunam, where he broke a Blake Martinez tackle attempt and reached for the pylon. It was 17-7 well into the 3rd quarter and NYG had run just 20 offensive plays all game up until this point. It was time for them to step up.

They were well on their way. NYG converted three straight 3rd downs, the Jones-Shepard connection was getting stronger and stronger, and Barkley (with the help of the OL) pushed a pile past the first down markers. The crowd was getting into it and NYG was heading into the red zone. On a 1st-and-10 scramble, Jones fumbled and lost the ball. DEN had it back and just like that, “Same Old Giants” came back into everyone’s mind. DEN turned that possession into 3 points after, you guessed it, another successful 3rd down conversion.

NYG was down by 13 as the fourth quarter was under way. Their 14-play drive brought the clock all the way down to the 6:30 mark. They had a fresh set of downs inside the DEN 10-yard line. This had a “very last chance” feel to it. Those four plays gained a total of 1 yard. Three incomplete passes and a 1-yard run. The final two passes had no shot and screamed a lack of innovation and creativity. DEN got the ball back, and on the fourth play of the drive, Melvin Gordon took a rushing attempt 70 yards for a touchdown. DEN was up 27-7 and the NYG faithful headed for the exits with 4 minutes left in the game, a weekly tradition when NYG plays at home unless fans of course sold their tickets to the Dallas faithful when the Cowboys are in town.

The final two drives put some lipstick on the pig of a performance NYG put out. We saw a few nice grabs by Kenny Golladay and eventual garbage-touchdown by Jones as the clock ran out to make the final score look even better than what we all watched for 3 hours.

NYG loses, 27-13.

QUARTERBACK

-Daniel Jones: 22/37 – 267 yards / 1 TD – 0 INT / 90.7 RAT / 6 att – 27 yards / 1 TD

Looking at the stat line, it would be natural to assume Jones played a decent game. I went in the other direction. He was way worse than the stat line, and considering the fumble at such an inopportune time, it was a well-below average game from Jones. This is THE year for the third-year quarterback from Duke and it was a poor way to start it off. He was inaccurate on several throws, he had two interceptions dropped, and the fumble was inexcusable. That was arguably the top turning point of the game, and you just can’t have that from the leader of the offense. Jones continues to be slow to react, he continues to struggle when his primary read isn’t there, and he isn’t putting a defense on its heels. 1 down, 16 to go for Jones who is in a season-long job interview for his future.

RUNNING BACK

-Saquon Barkley: 10 att / 26 yards – 1 rec / 1 yard.

Understandably so, Barkley looked very rusty. He was losing his balance and footwork, he dropped a pass, and he failed to see running lanes on two occasions. It is important he got in and out of the game while avoiding any physical issues. That is a big mental part of coming back from a serious injury for a player who is fully dependent on cuts and bursts. I expect to see him on a similar pitch count Thursday night.

-Hats off to Devontae Booker. He didn’t impact the game in an obvious, playmaking manner. He rushed for 7 yards on 4 carries and caught a pass for 6 yards. However, he was a factor in the passing game as a blocker. He made 3 big-time blocks, 2 of which that put DEN defenders on the ground.

WIDE RECEIVER

-Sterling Shepard: 7 rec – 113 yards / 1 TD.

One of the best games we have seen out of Shepard’s career. He was a menace for the DEN secondary on 3rd down and after the catch. The majority of his yards came with the ball in his hands. I noticed throughout preseason that he looks more physically developed this year. He is going to break a ton of tackles with how aggressive and quick he moves, in combination with his strength.

-Kenny Golladay made a catch early on in the 1st quarter but was very quiet until the game was pretty much over. He made a couple of really nice grabs with a defender all over him. He looked like a guy who will improve the odds of those 50/50 balls substantially. He finished with 64 yards on 4 catches in his NYG debut.

-Darius Slayton had 65 yards on 3 catches, 42 of those yards on the first drive of the game on a deep ball. His speed is there but he continues to play a soft game against contact with defenders.

-Rookie Kadarius Toney’s usage was odd. After not being a factor for nearly the entire training camp and preseason period, Garrett engineered two scripted plays for him. One resulted in a loss of 6 yards, the other resulted in a gain of 4 yard. Then, we essentially did not see him until the 4th quarter when the game was all but lost. After a bizarre spring and summer with him in relation to this team, that just didn’t sit well with me.

TIGHT END

-Really poor game by new tight end Kyle Rudolph. He allowed a TFL and a pressure as a blocker, and just didn’t impact the game in the trenches. Minimal push, minimal sustainment. He looked rusty and stiff. He added 2 catches for 8 yards. I was expecting more.

OFFENSIVE LINE

-One of the positives (yes, there are positives from this loss) was Andrew Thomas. Bradley Chubb missed the game with an ankle injury, thus backup Malik Reed was the predominant opponent lining up across from the second year tackle. Thomas was superb in pass protection, showing heavy and sticky hands, good balance, and outstanding pad level. Nice warm up battle for the tall task he will face Thursday night against Washington.

-Nate Solder returned from his year away from football. He started right where he left off, strengthening the notion he just isn’t a starting caliber player. He allowed a sack on a short drop back, 1 TFL, and 2 pressures. He can’t bend at all, and it shows. Will Hernandez, who plays right next to Solder as he shifted over to the right side, was equally awful in the passing game. He allowed 2 pressures and a TFL. A case can be made he was responsible for a sack as well. After a strong (but very short) preseason, the arrow appeared to be pointing up for him. Well, it didn’t remain that way in this one as his heavy feet and delayed reaction time was abused on several ugly plays. His poor play didn’t impact the situation often, but it was still very disappointing.

-Matt Peart and Ben Bredeson rotated in. Bredeson actually saw the majority of the snaps at left guard. He looked a little out of control, but he did maul his man a few times. Peart allowed a TFL and a sack, the latter being more communication based as Von Miller ran right by him and put Jones on the ground as Peart remained in his 2-point stance. If nothing else, it will be found on countless blooper videos I imagine.

DEFENSIVE LINE

-The big boys up front, in all honestly, played a solid game. You won’t see it in the box score, and I think they could have finished better in the pass rushing department, but it was a solid effort from multiple guys. Dexter Lawrence made DEN guard Graham Glasgow and center Lloyd Cushenberry look like high schoolers several times. Great push from him that netted 4 pressures. Leonard Williams added a TFL and 2 pressures, one of which led to a sack.

-Austin Johnson finished with 5 tackles and a pressure. He did get credit for a sack, but it came on a play where Bridgewater tripped over his own blocker and fell to the ground. Johnson was the first to touch him, thus getting credit for the sack. Logan Ryan and Williams were really the main contributors there. I thought Johnson was all over the box though, impressive game.

-Danny Shelton added a pressure but missed a TFL attempt that would have been a key play.

LINEBACKER

-Good to see an active Lorenzo Carter on the field. He didn’t finish the way I was hoping for, but he made DEN adjust to him and that is a good sign. He struggled at setting the edge as well, as did rookie Azeez Ojulari. It was a mixed bag for the second rounder, but I really liked how active he was. He finished with 3 tackles, 1 sack, and a pressure. He was flagged for head-contact on Bridgewater, a major no-no in this league. I expect both to improve from here, but I still question how consistently they can beat one-on-one blocking as pass rushers.

-Blake Martinez had an up-and-down game. He finished with 9 tackles, 1 TFL, and 2 pressures. However, his missed tackle on the Okwuegbunam touchdown (a 4th-down play) was inexcusable. He also struggled in coverage.

-Tae Crowder finished with 4 tackles and may be one of the most physical defenders on this team. He put a couple of DEN offensive linemen on their butt a few times. He is the best athlete they have at the position, and he appears to be much more powerful than a year ago. A very good sign. Reggie Ragland split snaps with him and had 7 tackles, most of which were against the run, between the tackles.

CORNERBACK

-James Bradberry and Adoree’ Jackson are the two most expensive starting cornerbacks NYG have had on the same field at the same time (not including hybrid DB Logan Ryan from a year ago). They did not earn their paychecks respectively. While they avoided the big-play touchdowns, they were often a step or two too late in coverage as the DEN offense torched them on 3rd and 4th downs. Grading corners can be tough because opportunities are so few, but at the end of the day, they were outplayed by the young DEN pass catchers.

-Darnay Holmes is such a roller coaster. He plays fast, he plays aggressive. Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham does several things with him but he, nearly every game, makes a bonehead mistake. He was flagged for a personal foul as he blatantly threw Jeudy out of bounds way after the play was dead. Judge promptly took him out and ripped him a new one on the sidelines.

SAFETY

-What I consider to be the strength of this defense and the biggest hope this unit has – the safeties – were torched by the DEN tight ends. Jabrill Peppers was beat on 3rd down three separate times, although he did have a TFL and pressure. Julian Love was late in coverage on a couple of occasions as well.

-Logan Ryan and Xavier McKinney were solid. Ryan led the team with 10 tackles, a TFL, and made one of the plays of the game on his forced + recovered fumble near the end zone. McKinney broke up 2 passes but got lucky on a couple of occasions where Bridgewater underthrew a target who blew by him. He also missed a tackle.

SPECIAL TEAMS

-K Graham Gano: 1/1 XP
-P Riley Dixon: 3 punts / 54.0 avg / 39.3 net

3 STUDS

-WR Sterling Shepard, OT Andrew Thomas, S Logan Ryan

3 DUDS

-OT Nate Solder, TE Kyle Rudolph, CB Adoree’ Jackson

3 THOUGHTS ON DEN

(1) Watching, re-watching, and then re-re watching the game, I came away with one thought. We really have to give credit to how well DEN quarterback Teddy Bridgewater played. He was incredibly accurate no matter where he threw the ball. He got the passes out in a hurry, and he created a lot on his own. Bridgewater isn’t a very good athlete, but he played an athletic game. On multiple instances he moved just enough to avoid sacks before making quality throws on the move. He really knows how to take what the defense gives him to a point where it can be woefully frustrating for the opposition. Maybe he took in a thing or two from playing under Drew Brees because that was a very Brees-like performance.

(2) Many don’t realize just how much Drew Lock held this team back last year. They actually could have been a solid offense but a horrid start and Lock being bottom 5 in most advanced metrics just killed their shot in the tough AFC West. I’ll be curious to see if he ends up getting a shot down the road, but I know Shurmur really liked him coming out of Missouri a few years ago. That said, he gave up on Lock in a hurry.

(3) DEN and NYG both have one of the most expensive secondaries in the NFL (top 6). The difference? DEN also puts enormous resources into their pass rush while NYG is left hoping their day 2 / day 3 picks that have not proven anything can rush the edge. DEN’s defense is going to keep them in a lot of games this year and it may be the most ideal spot for a quarterback like Bridgewater. I wouldn’t discount this team from a 9-10 win season especially because they have a very easy schedule lined up.

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

(1) I don’t want to write up, for the 1,000th time, how little Week 1 means in the grand scheme of things. A successful season in 2021 is 8-9 or 9-8. They are 0-1 with 16 games left and it was a frustrating game to watch, absolutely. Green Bay lost to the Jameis Winston-led Saints 38-3. Buffalo lost at home to the .500-at best Steelers by a touchdown. Tennessee lost 38-13, at home. I think the one credible fear and gripe NYG fans can yell from their balconies if they feel the need to do so revolves around the fact that it really seems like we are watching the same issues year after year. A vanilla offense, a shaky-at-best offensive line, minimal pass rush, and a defense that struggles in clutch scenarios.

(2) Joe Judge trying to throw a challenge flag on a scoring play was a borderline inexcusable mistake. I haven’t read about his post-game thoughts on the subject, but even my wife who is a casual bystander during football games said, “Aren’t you not allowed to do that?” NYG went on to lose a timeout because of it. That did not end up meaning anything, but it was a juvenile mistake.

(3) The offensive line rotations at RT and LG can be viewed one of two ways. One, it is messing with the most vital component of offensive line play: chemistry. Two, nobody is stepping up and proving snap-to-snap, week-to-week reliability. I’ve discussed the holes at OT and OG multiple times since the end of last year and we are still in the middle of it. I am not sure if the answer(s) are on the current roster, but multiple guys need to be given opportunities with the hope of, well yes, luck. NYG’s only hope here is someone far outplays the level they’ve already played at. Nearly out of the blue. “Fingers crossed” is usually a poor way to build a football team.

Sep 102021
 
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Daniel Jones, New York Giants (August 29, 2021)

Daniel Jones – © USA TODAY Sports

THE STORYLINE:
On paper, this is a match-up between two teams with very similar strengths and weaknesses. Both teams appear to have had very strong offseasons in acquiring new players to shore up obvious flaws.

The Broncos are loaded at the skill positions, but have a huge question mark at quarterback. They are more settled on the offensive line however.

Defensively, after a subpar season in 2020 (21st in yards allowed), the Broncos are expected to be one of the NFL’s top defenses, with strength at all three levels. Of note, they have a couple of dangerous pass rushers and are loaded in a revamped secondary.

The expectation is that both teams will play it close to the vest in this one, relying on their running games and defenses to keep pressure off of their respective quarterbacks. In such contests, mistakes and special teams plays usually prove decisive. Don’t expect a lot of scoring.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • RB Saquon Barkley (knee – questionable)
  • WR Kenny Golladay (hamstring – probable)
  • WR Kadarius Toney (hamstring – probable)
  • TE Evan Engram (calf – out)
  • TE Kyle Rudolph (foot – probable)
  • TE Kaden Smith (knee – probable)
  • LT Andrew Thomas (ankle – probable)
  • NT Danny Shelton (neck – probable)
  • LB Justin Hilliard (foot – probable)
  • CB Adoree’ Jackson (ankle – questionable)
  • CB Josh Jackson (calf – probable)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
I’ll be frank. There are so many unknown variables at this point that it is extremely difficult to anticipate what to expect. How much will Saquon Barkley play and how rusty will he be? Same story will Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney, and Kyle Rudolph? These guys missed so much time, one has to assume they are still at the beginning stages of developing chemistry with one another. Will the offensive line continue to be a train wreck or unexpectedly begin to show improvement against the likes of edge rushers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb? What the heck do the Giants have in Daniel Jones?

Due to injuries and talent issues in the secondary, Denver’s defense was not good last year. But Von Miller missed all of the season and is back. And the Broncos completely transformed their secondary with the additions of Kyle Fuller, Ronald Darby, Mike Ford, and Patrick Surtain. In addition, slot corner Bryce Callahan is one of the better players at his position. Miller is 32, but he still has 106 career sacks. Chubb has 20.5 sacks in three seasons, despite missing most of 2019 with an injury. They can get after the passer and will put tremendous pressure on both Andrew Thomas and Nate Solder. Daniel Jones won’t have much time to throw against a secondary that is expected to be a top-5 unit.

So what’s the obvious strategy? Run the football. Minimize killer plays such as holding penalties, sacks, and turnovers. Don’t be stupid with the football and rely on your defense to force the other team to make mistakes. The one question mark Denver’s defense has is their ability to stop the run. Test it. This will have the added advantage of putting less stress on the still-developing, mostly youthful offensive line and allow them to play to their strength (run blocking).

The great unknown here is the status of Barkley. There is a major drop-off from Barkley to Devontae Booker. In addition, when Barkley first came back from injury in 2019, he appeared a bit gun-shy and that was with a far lesser injury. Barkley has virtually no significant contact since being hurt. How will he respond? How many touches will he get as a runner and receiver? How rusty will he be?

When the Giants do throw the football, Daniel Jones should mostly use the short passing game and rely on his weapons to do damage after the catch. One would think Barkley (unless he is on a stringent pitch count), Sterling Shepard, and Kyle Rudolph would see a lot of touches.

Which leads us to the quarterbacks. Daniel Jones (the 6th player taken in the 2019 Draft) versus journeyman Teddy Bridgewater (5th NFL team in eight seasons). Yes, Bridgewater has the stronger offensive line and that can make a world of difference (see the Giants up-and-down play last year). But Jones needs to be the better player on Sunday. He is supposed to be the better player. Jones is not going to light it up against this Denver defense, but don’t lose the game. And put ENOUGH points on the board to win it.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The Giants were 12th in yards allowed and 9th in points allowed defensively in 2020. This was despite a revolving door of barely adequate players at corner opposite of James Bradberry and edge rusher when the Giants lost both of their starters early in the season. New York’s strong offseason was sabotaged a bit due to injuries to CB Aaron Robinson (still on the PUP) and LB Elerson Smith (on short-term IR). But the defense is still expected to be stronger in year two of Patrick Graham’s system. Adoree’ Jackson (who is still nursing a ankle injury and may be a bit rusty in this one) is a major upgrade at corner. Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines are better pass rushers than what the team rolled out last year when they went down. And Azeez Ojulari was added in the draft. The Giants have a nice combination of experience, youth, talent, and versatility at safety, enabling Graham to run a variety of packages. And despite the loss of Davin Tomlinson in free agency, New York still appears stout up front, led by Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence.

Which brings us to a Denver Broncos team that appears loaded everywhere except quarterback. They have the running backs (Melvin Gordon, Javonte Williams), tight ends (Noah Fant, Eric Saubert), and wide receivers (Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, K.J. Hamler, Tim Patrick). The offensive line is anchored by left tackle Garett Bolles, whose play has improved dramatically. The rest of the line is steady enough to do the job.

So in a nutshell, all Bridgewater needs to do is “manage” the game and not screw up. Denver’s coaches won’t want to put the game in his hands so, like with the Giants, expect a more run-centric game plan on Sunday and probably an emphasis on the short passing game with run-after-the-catch gains. Bridgewater does get the ball out quickly. Denver is loaded at wide receiver, but the Giants’ strength is their secondary. That said, the secondary can’t sleep on deep throws. Denver has wideouts who can run right by you.

Run defense will be key. And Patrick Graham is a bit worried that his run defense is not where it should be right now. “We’re so behind on the run game just in general in terms of the football – off-season, training camp, because in the off-season we don’t really do it,” said Graham on Thursday. “I know this, where we’re going to be on Sunday, hopefully, a few Sundays from now and 10 Sundays from now we’re going to be a lot better. I have confidence in the players that are here because they understand how we want to play the run… We’ve got to set an edge and build a wall… I don’t know how Sunday is going to go, but if we work it and we’ve just got to make sure that we keep striving to get better.”

Last year, Graham’s defense would have issues starting and finishing halves. In a game where points will be at a premium, New York’s defense needs to start and finish strong. If they bend, don’t break in the red zone. And turnovers probably will decide the game. See ball, get ball.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
The great unknown here still is who will return kick and punt returns for the Giants. C.J. Board is on the Practice Squad but could be brought up. Will Judge really have Jabrill Peppers return punts? Will Kadarius Toney be thrown in there at either return spot?

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Offensive Coordinator Jason Garrett on the Bronco’s defense:They have a system they believe in. (Broncos Head Coach) Vic Fangio’s been a great, great defensive coordinator in the National Football League for a long time. He and (Broncos Defensive Coordinator) Ed Donatell work really well together. They have a system that they used in a lot of different places. So, I think it starts with that, but then the most important stuff is who’s implementing that system. They’ve done a really good job building that defense. They’re really good on the front. They’re really good at the linebacker level. They’re really good on the back end. So, we have challenges all over the place on Sunday.

THE FINAL WORD:
I can’t overemphasize enough how precious points will be on Sunday. Settling for a field goal instead of a touchdown in the red zone could very well be the difference in the game. Likewise, a turnover in the red zone could prove devastating. This works both ways. New York’s offense needs to put up touchdowns and New York’s defense needs to force field goals. And I’m pretty darn sure that the team that turns the football over more is going to lose.

This is a winnable game for the Giants, but they have to start off strong, not make too many mistakes, and finish strong. The Giants also need (and should expect) Daniel Jones to out-play Teddy Bridgewater.

Aug 312021
 
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Kaden Smith, New York Giants (August 29, 2021)

Kaden Smith – © USA TODAY Sports

QUICK RECAP

The preseason finale (yes, 2 weeks prior to the start of the season rather than 1) was a home matchup against the New England Patriots. Throughout my short lifetime of being a Giants fan relative to many of you, the exhibition game against the Pats has always meant we are right around the corner from week one. After 2 losses, NYG was looking to come out on the winning end of this one, as their starters on both sides of the ball were planning to play at least through the first half.

Daniel Jones, entering the vital-third year, was forced off the field after a third down that saw him sacked by NE edge rusher Josh Uche. The sack was allowed by Andrew Thomas, who had trouble sealing the edge all night. Cam Newton and the NE offense started near midfield after a poor punt before gaining 31 yards on 4 plays, three of which were on the ground. Consecutive incomplete passes brought kicker Nick Folk onto the field for a 41-yard field goal, which he made.

NYG had a bit more flow on their second drive with a solid 1st-down, play-action pass pick up of 13 yards and a 3rd-and-1 conversion by running back Devontae Booker. They crossed midfield before converting a 4th-and-1 by sending power back Elijhaa Penny up the middle. They shot themselves in the foot again, however, allowing a dual-outside sack by the tackles and a drop by Darius Slayton on a 3rd-and-13. NYG had to punt again.

After a solid punt that pinned NE inside their own 5-yard line, Newton was intercepted by linebacker and defensive leader Blake Martinez. It was a slight underthrow to Jakobi Meyers but he managed to get both hands on the ball. It was a brilliant, impressive play by the linebacker that resulted from him sticking with the receiver down the field. Good linebackers know that you just need to be near the action and good things will eventually bounce your way. NYG now had 1st-and-10 near the NE 40-yard line for the second time in as many drives. It took them 9 plays, including two 3rd-down conversions, to reach the 1-yard line. A failed run up the middle and then a horrific interception by Jones left 0 points on the board. 0 points came from two 1st-and-10s near the NE 40-yard line.

NE rookie quarterback Mac Jones came in and led a drive into field goal range, largely helped by a defensive holding penalty by cornerback James Bradberry. Quinn Nordin nailed a 48-yarder to make the score 6-0. How would the anemic starting offense respond? They failed to reach midfield after starting at their own 31-yard line. An Andrew Thomas holding penalty and a near-interception by Jones really brought the vibe down. The NE offense went 3-and-out on the next drive, however, as the backup offensive line was now protecting the rookie Jones.

Once again, NYG began with good field position, just 8 yards shy of midfield. They went into a 2-minute offense and Jones completed 6 straight attempts for an average gain of 5+ yards per. With just 30 seconds left, he threw his best ball of the night, a 23-yard touchdown that was put in the best possible spot for Kaden Smith to haul in despite minimal separation from the defender. NYG carried a 7-6 lead into halftime.

Backups filled the field for the second half, although there was plenty to still watch. NE first- and second-year skill players took care of business right away, marching down the field for a touchdown that ended with a throw from Jones to receiver Isaiah Zuber. They went for two to lengthen their lead to 7, but it failed. NE led 12-7. NYG, led by backup Mike Glennon, went 3-and-out just to watch the NE offense put another score on the board to make it 19-7.

Glennon’s second drive of the night had much more rhythm and success to it. He hit Alex Bachman for a 21-yard pickup but three straight incompletions forced NYG to go for a field goal. Graham Gano, who missed just one attempt in 2020, went wide right from 41 yards to keep the score at 19-7. Mac Jones then ended his night with a poor drive, holding onto the ball for too long, resulting in 2 sacks before punting back to NYG.

The Giants’ running game started to heat up at this point. Corey Clement and Penny combined for 46 yards in addition to a 15-yard face mask penalty by NE defensive lineman Montravius Adams. Glennon then hit Bachman for a 12-yard touchdown on 3rd-and-6 with Gano following it up with an extra point to make it 19-14 with 13:00 left. Brian Hoyer, one of the best backups in the league from a play + presence perspective, dinked and dunked his way down the field on a time consuming 12-play drive that put another 3 points on the board for NE.

The NE pass rush was all over Glennon on the next drive and they were forced to punt the ball back with under 4 minutes left, down by 8. NE gained a couple first downs and in typical preseason fashion, opted to start taking a knee just a tad early. Joe Judge wasn’t having it. He used his timeouts to get the ball back with under 30 seconds left following a missed 54-yard field goal attempt, setting them up near midfield again.

Glennon chucked a borderline-desperation pass into the end zone from midfield and a receiver that keeps making splash plays, Damion Willis (a former starter in this league), came down with the touchdown catch. NYG was within 2 with mere seconds left on the clock. Even though there is no overtime in preseason, it was still intriguing to watch this offense go for two. Glennon slightly rushed his 50/50 ball to Dante Pettis, preventing his target from being able to high point the ball, and the pass fell incomplete.

NYG loses, 22-20.

QUARTERBACK

-Daniel Jones: 17/22 – 135 yards / 1 TD / 1 INT and 1 att / 4 yards

This was the first time we saw Jones in live game action. He will go into the third year, the T in the road of his career, having played 40 snaps before Week 1 against a very good defense. I still disagree with the approach but won’t touch on it anymore. Jones was forced into making a lot of throws underneath. The pressure was at his feet in a hurry and the NE defense dropped a lot of defenders into zone. He did a nice job of checking down and threw an accurate ball. The black eye of the night was a rookie-type interception on 3rd-and-goal from the 1, running to the outside while throwing back inside. His touchdown to Smith, however, was a great downfield throw with elite touch and placement. Jones can excel when throwing vertical, I am confident there. The question is, will he program himself and will the play-calling allow for more shots.

RUNNING BACK

-Elijhaa Penny continued his surge this preseason. The no-nonsense, north-south runner gained 35 yards on just 4 carries. He ends the 3-game run with 53 yards on 7 carries. We can’t get excited about such a small sample size, especially from preseason, but he proved he deserves a shot to be the short yardage guy or at least get a few looks in those situations.

-Roster hopeful Corey Clement gained 24 yards and Devontae Booker, potentially the Week 1 starter, combined for 38 yards on 11 carries. The one standout here was rookie Gary Brightwell. The former wide receiver had 20 yards on 3 catches and added 10 more yards on the ground. He was on the field with the ones, in front of Clement. I thought that was interesting and it is another reason why I think Clement may have a hard time making the 53 (I am writing this early Tuesday morning).

WIDE RECEIVER

-Sterling Shepard, who has averaged 10 yards per catch over the past 2 years (22 games played + 10 games missed), led the team with 5 receptions. They only accrued 42 yards (8.4 per). I bring the numbers up because he is likely going to be the most targeted player on this offense in the passing game. He is making $9 million this year, $10.5 in 2022, $11.5 in 2023. For an offense that needs to make bigger plays in the passing game, it is hard to see that kind of money going to a guy who won’t make big plays. I love the player, I love the route running and aggression after the catch, both of which showed up in this game. However, I question what he can do outside of the short window and then I ask myself if a player like that is worth top 5-7 money on this team. Something to look at this year.

-Darius Slayton had 1 catch for 6 yards and dropped a 3rd-down pass. He was also flagged for offensive pass interference. Dante Pettis was the one who came on the field once Slayton tweaked a foot injury (again). He had 1 catch for 8 yards and I charged him with a drop as well, although it was a tough one to bring in. It was interesting to me that he seemed ahead of David Sills on the depth chart. Sills had 1 catch for 14 yards where a defender was all over him. Once again, solid ball skills but he struggled to get open.

-Alex Bachman had 2 catches for 33 yards and a score. He also dropped one, his second of the preseason. Damion Willis made 2 big-time plays in the 4th quarter as NYG mounted their comeback. He finished with 70 yards on 3 catches and keeps making plays when the opportunities are put in front of him. I think he deserves a shot.

TIGHT END

-The story of the night will be Evan Engram. Judging by the look of how the injury went down, I would expect him to miss a few weeks. By the time this review gets posted, we should know more. Anyway, the writing will be on the wall for Engram if he misses more time. Hard time catching the ball, hard time staying on the field, below average blocker in an offense that needs to focus on running the ball. This makes the position group look mighty thin if he ends up being out.

-Kaden Smith, who went scoreless in 2020, brought in a touchdown catch for 23 yards. It was a high-level catch. He blocked well but did allow a TFL on a bizarre play call. He struggles to really hold the point against defensive linemen.

-If NYG loses Engram for some time, the waiver wire could be the route they take but Nakia Griffin-Stewart looks interesting to me. Perhaps as a PS guy at first, though. He had 3 catches for 30 yards and plays a physical brand. He showed angry, violent hands as a blocker. He plays like he wants it.

OFFENSIVE LINE

-Really poor night by the two young tackles, especially Andrew Thomas. He played 40 snaps (just over half of what you would see on a normal Sunday), and allowed 1 sack, 1 pressure, and was flagged for a hold. He looked like he lacked confidence in his outside foot, as he wouldn’t reach and plant with any sort of anchor. His outside shoulder looked soft. Carl Banks (who I respect a ton), noted he looked afraid of losing inside. I disagree. He looked like he didn’t have the confidence in his footwork and overall lower body strength to anchor himself into the ground. Matt Peart allowed a pressure and was flagged for a false start. Both were solid in the run game, however. Really good movement off the ball.

-Will Hernandez is one of the winners of the preseason. This was the best I’ve seen him (albeit just one half of football). He looks much more fluid and active with both his feet and hands. If NYG can have that RG spot locked in, it is a huge benefit when considering the questions marks up front. Nick Gates played well in the running game but did allow a pressure. He was late to see a twist. This was a solid NE front they were up against, and both played well.

-Ted Larsen got the start at left guard and he struggled. He allowed a TFL and a sack before injuring his left leg when he got rolled up on. Kenny Wiggins came in and continued to struggle, allowing a pressure and TFL. The team traded for Billy Price and I will touch on that below.

-Nate Solder looks very lean and a little quicker. He started at RT, and I think that is what we will see early on but with a few rotations per game. Solder gets off the ball well, but he isn’t sustaining good contact. There are balance issues, and he just doesn’t stay square to his man. He isn’t powerful enough on the move and it will cause issues weekly. He allowed a sack.

-Jackson Barton looked much better at left tackle than what I have seen the previous 2 weeks. I also liked Chad Slade at right guard next to Peart. I think he is better inside where he can think more about power and violence.

EDGE

-Nice to see Lorenzo Carter on the field. After watching the group of edge rushers on this team over the first 2 weeks, it is easy to see how advanced Carter is in comparison. More twitch, more pop on contact, faster decision making. He finished with 2 tackles and a sack.

-Azeez Ojulari and Oshane Ximines are likely going to split snaps opposite of Carter. They should lean more toward Ojulari in my opinion, as he looks better against the run, and he simply plays faster. Both finished with a pressure.

-Trent Harris finished with a sack and 3 tackles while Ryan Anderson, who will start the season suspended because of PEDs, nearly came up with a sack as well. At the time of this writing, I think both will end up on the 53-man roster. They won’t ever be reliable every down guys but they offer a niche respectively. Harris has pop and explosion in addition to an aggressive style. Anderson is powerful and stout. There are roles for both.

DEFENSIVE LINE

-B.J. Hill didn’t play, as he was a part of a trade to CIN that I will discuss below. Dexter Lawrence, Leonard Johnson, and Austin Johnson were the starters, all of whom played under half of the team’s snaps. Lawrence bull-rushed his way into a sack but was also flagged for a defensive hold on a screen.

-The trade of Hill will open a door for both Raymond Johnson III and possibly Willie Henry. Both had yet another active game, with the latter finishing with a pressure, a sack, and a pass break up, and the former added another pressure. I’m not sure what their roster status will be as of this writing, but I bet we see them on the field at some point. Let’s see if they can do it against starters.

-David Moa truly has done everything he could to make this team and maybe even carve out a weekly role. He is active and has shown surprising pass rush capability. There was an ugly 3rd-down run where he got pushed back 5+ yards, however.

LINEBACKER

-Play of the night by Blake Martinez on an interception in the first half. Man, it feels good to have a true general who can make an impact all three downs in the middle. Best linebacker they’ve had since Antonio Pierce and I mean that. He also had a pressure.

-Tae Crowder and Reggie Ragland will likely split snaps next to Martinez. I hope they lean hard toward the former. Crowder had a TFL and just shows week-to-week how much more speed he has on the field. Ragland is a thumper and may see snaps here and there, but he is best suited for specific roles and situations.

-Devante Downs has a trade market? News to me. I haven’t heard anything there at all. He finished with 6 tackles in this one, including one on special teams. He excels at straight-ahead, physical play, but he misses too many tackles and can’t cover.

CORNERBACK

-James Bradberry was flagged for a hold on a third down. Otherwise, I liked what I saw of the true, credible number one corner. He easily turns and runs down the field with speed and shows good control out of his breaks.

-Adoree’ Jackson was out with an ankle injury, thus we saw Darnay Holmes start. He shifted inside on nickel and rookie Rodarius Williams came on the field. The 6th rounder led the team in snaps this preseason and I think we should be ready to see a lot of him early in the season. You know he will be tested often. He was up and down this preseason, but he has a really nice blend of tools. Can he think and react fast? Can he get used to not grabbing? We will see.

-Sam Beal played a solid game. He played physically against the run after a poor effort against the Browns in preseason game #2. He had a TFL on a 2-point conversion and was solid in catch-up coverage. I just see too many losses at the point-of-attack for my liking.

-Madre Harper was picked on for the third week in a row. He just doesn’t have it mentally. There is some impressive size and speed there, but he isn’t a pro corner. He just isn’t.

SAFETY

-We got to see the full gambit of how this team will use the abundance of talent they have at safety. This is one thing I feel really good about. Logan Ryan, Jabrill Peppers, Julian Love, and Xavier McKinney all got on the field in a rotational manner. I love what they offer when it comes to versatility and hustle. Love has had a nice preseason, capping it off with a nice 3rd-down PD.

-Jordyn Peters had an awful game. He was beat on a touchdown pass where he was late to the seam route and then was barreled over on a touchdown run later. I can’t see any situation where he makes this team, but he is new to the position and could be worth a PS spot.

SPECIAL TEAMS

-Graham Gano: 0/1 (missed 41) – 2/2 XP
-P Riley Dixon: 5 punts / 43.0 avg / 33.4 net

3 STUDS

-OG Will Hernandez, WR Damion Willis, LB Blake Martinez

3 DUDS

-CB Madre Harper, OG Ted Larsen, S Jordyn Peters

3 THOUGHTS ON NE

Man, I could write a book on my admiration for how NE builds their roster year in, year out. I won’t because I know nobody wants to read that. But just in short, they excel at finding players to help their plan in every possible facet. The 2021 offseason was the most aggressive I have ever seen them in free agency by a wide, wide margin. They did it because their other strategies weren’t working. They didn’t fold, they didn’t double down. They quickly altered their approach and added talent to a team that had the second-most injured roster in 2020 (including Covid opt outs). They are so good at this stuff.

As I write this, Cam Newton being released just came across the ticker. I promise, I’m not even a little surprised. I said it last year: He simply looks done. Will he get scooped up? Perhaps, but keep in mind you really have to change the offense around him for that. Maybe BAL takes a look in a backup role? I don’t see the upside with him. We may have seen the last of the 2015 league MVP.

How far will NE go? After years and years of automatic bids into the postseason, they are in the tier of a dozen (if not more) teams. If things break right, they can win 10-11 games. If things break wrong, they’ll win 6-7. They have a really tough schedule from a rest perspective, and they have a lot of really good offenses they’ll have to defend. Mac Jones can play; I think we saw enough in college and preseason to confirm that. But “play” and trying to score 22+ points per week don’t always coincide. I think they will be in the playoff hunt, but they may be too easy to defend without a deep threat. Maybe someone emerges there or maybe running back J.J. Taylor breaks out into a big-time playmaker (yes, that is very possible). But the likes of Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, and Nelson Agholor won’t scare anybody. I’m calling for 8-9 or 9-8.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I want to offer a few thoughts on the B.J. Hill vs Billy Price trade. Again, I will try to keep it short. Hill is a quality defensive lineman who could make almost every roster in the league. I can only think of maybe 3 or 4 where he would be cut. He can offer something against both the run and pass. He is limited though, and he didn’t play a ton last year. This defense isn’t the ideal fit for him. I think some had an inflated outlook on him because in 5.5 sacks in 2018. He has had 2 since. He has had 2 TFL in the running game since. In 32 games. That isn’t good. Billy Price on the other hand, hasn’t been good either. He has been a horrific pass blocker, but a very solid run blocker. That doesn’t solve the issue with the NYG offensive line fully, but I do view him as an upgrade over what NYG has tried along the interior this year. Wiggins, Larsen, Fulton, Looney, Harrison….etc. They aren’t going to get it done. Price has seen his fair share of injuries (pec and foot), he has been moved back and forth between OG and OC, and the CIN offensive line coaches they’ve had are not highly regarded to say the least. NYG isn’t going anywhere without a better starting group than what they’ve had along the OL or more adequate depth. Is Price better than the names I mentioned above? Yes. He played well end of 2020 and this preseason. Could he crack the starting lineup by mid-year? Yes. All in all, this was a move that may or may not help this offensive line, the black hole of this franchise. It will not hurt the DL one bit, in my opinion. Worth the gamble.

Roster cuts from around the league will start pouring in as, and after, I send this review in. Don’t make any final judgements on the 53-man roster until the weekend is my suggestion. A lot will happen between now and then. The one group I would like to see NYG add to is tight end. Rudolph and Smith are fine, but if Engram goes down, I want another guy here who can be trusted to block. This passing game may need an extra body in there to help on the outside. Another place I would look is linebacker. If a guy with speed gets cut loose, I may want to start a Downs-type experiment over. Meaning, hope to get lucky off another team’s trash. Downs doesn’t have it.

As we enter the 2021 season in decent shape health wise, it is time to really turn on what we think will happen this year. I may get another post out there next week, but I think this team is actually similar to what we will see out of NE. If things break right (Jones + the OL turn it up a couple levels), we could see 10 wins. It would be on the heels of this defense though. They have a shot at being a top 10, maybe even top-7 unit. The pass rush is what concerns me, but I trust Graham to manufacture pressure when needed if the outside guys can’t get it done. Can the offense be “good enough?” They won’t get away with scoring 15-19 points per. They won’t get away with low red zone scoring percentages. Even if the NYG defense ends up doing well, they need to score 22+ per game to have a shot at 10 wins. If it gets ugly, you’re looking at 6-7 wins and a new quarterback in 2022.

Aug 282021
 
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Trent Harris, New York Giants (August 22, 2021)

Trent Harris – © USA TODAY Sports

THE STORYLINE:
Preseason is much different now. Aside the obvious of it being reduced to three games, it is becoming clear that many coaches see joint practices as more important. For the Giants, another major difference is the last preseason game, and not the third preseason game in the old 4-game format, is now the primary dress rehearsal. For those who have not been paying attention, this is the FIRST and ONLY time that most of the starters will play in the preseason. The only first-string unit to receive playing time up to now was the offensive line, which only got in a couple of series against the Jets in the first game. That’s crazy. The game has changed.

THE INJURY REPORT:
Since Coach Judge usually does not provide much information on injuries, we don’t really know the true status of most of the people listed below. Some may play. Judge has said Barkley, Golladay, and Rudolph will not. Robinson is still on the PUP. It’s not likely we will see Toney, Ross, Mack, Lemieux, and Adoree’ Jackson.

  • RB Saquon Barkley (knee)
  • WR Kenny Golladay (hamstring)
  • WR Kadarius Toney (unknown)
  • WR John Ross (hamstring?)
  • WR Austin Mack (hamstring?)
  • TE Kyle Rudolph (foot)
  • OG Shane Lemieux (knee)
  • OT Nate Solder (shoulder?)
  • NT Danny Shelton (unknown)
  • LB Tae Crowder (unknown)
  • LB Elerson Smith (hamstring)
  • CB Adoree’ Jackson (ankle)
  • CB Aaron Robinson (core muscle)
  • CB Josh Jackson (unknown)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
On paper, the Giants had a strong offseason. Coming off a dreadful offensive performance in 2020, the team added WR Kenny Golladay, WR Kadarius Toney, TE Kyle Rudolph, WR John Ross, RB Devontae Booker, and RB Corey Clement to upgrade that side of the ball. They also tweaked the offensive line by signing Zach Fulton and Joe Looney.

But those plans have unravelled. Fulton and Looney retired and the Giants were forced to scramble and sign 34-year old Ted Larsen late in camp. Golladay and Ross have been out all month with hamstring pulls, receiving very little practice time. Toney has been a train wreck, for all intents and purposes not practicing since the team drafted him due to COVID and unknown issues. Rudolph has been brought along slowly as expected, but it is still unknown when he will be able to be a significant contributor. On top of all of this, the team’s most dangerous play-maker, Saquon Barkley, has yet to allowed to practice with contact. When he first plays, Barkley will likely be on a low pitch count.

What this all means is that, as of late August, the Giants’ offense remains eerily similar to the unit that finished 31st last year. Golden Tate is gone, but Darius Slayton, Sterling Shepard, and Evan Engram are the main targets for 3rd-year quarterback Daniel Jones. Oddly, Judge decided not to give the embattled Jones any playing time this preseason until this game. Until Barkley is fully back, Booker, Clement, and possibly fullback Eli Penny will receive the bulk of the carries. They won’t scare many teams.

Then comes the offensive line. Not only were the depth losses of Fulton and Looney unexpected, but the Giants lost starting left guard Shane Lemieux for all of camp and the preseason with a knee injury that he still has not completely recovered from. Lemieux needed that practice time. We don’t even know if he will be ready for the opener. On top of that, the starting unit has only played in a couple of series up until this point. Matt Peart has been up-and-down. Lemieux’s replacement, the 33-year old Kenny Wiggins, has struggled.

It’s not a rosy picture. Things can rapidly change when and if Barkley is nearing full strength and Golladay, Toney, and Rudolph return. But they will be rusty and not completely in sync with Jones. Helmuth von Moltke once famously said, “No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.” Well, the Giants plans didn’t even survive camp. Coach Judge and his coaching staff will have to adjust. There are some very tough defenses coming up to start the season.

So with some understanding, fans are going to overreact to what they see on Sunday against the Patriots. After all, this will be only time we’ll see the first-string offense before the real bullets fly. If the Giants struggle to move the ball and score in the first half, The Corner Forum is going to be pretty ugly.

The second half of this game will be last hurrah for many. On Tuesday, the Giants must remove 27 players from the roster. The most interesting decisions will probably be at wide receiver.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The Giants fielded a surprisingly strong defense under apparent Miami Dolphin castoff Patrick Graham last season. On paper, the Giants look like they have upgraded that unit too with the additions of CB Adoree’ Jackson, NT Danny Shelton, LB Reggie Ragland, LB Ifeadi Odenigbo, LB Azeez Ojulari, CB Aaron Robinson, and LB Elerson Smith. Unfortunately, Robinson and Smith have missed all of camp and the preseason and are way, way behind. On the positive side, 6th-round CB Rodarius Williams has been a pleasant surprise to the coaches, even though he has been up-and-down.

Still, the defense appears to be the strength of this team, with a strong defensive line and secondary. The Giants have a very good inside linebacker in Blake Martinez. Tae Crowder and Reggie Ragland will likely battle for playing time at the other spot. Crowder has been nagged by an unknown injury and we don’t know if he will play on Sunday.

The most interesting decisions will come at outside linebacker. Is rookie Azeez Ojulari an opening day starter along with Lorenzo Carter? Oshane Ximines has flashed as a pass rusher, but appears to still have issues setting the edge in run defense. Trent Harris is making a strong push to remain on the team. How does the team handle Elerson Smith, who has missed way too much time? Then there is Ifeadi Odenigbo, Cam Brown, Carter Coughlin, and Niko Lalos. Since Brown and Coughlin have received time inside, that could create room for others.

One of the pleasant surprises of camp has been the performance of two guys who were regarded as camp fodder on the defense line: Raymond Johnson and David Moa. Is there room for both on the roster?

Fans will not get a true good look at their secondary on Sunday since Adoree’ Jackson will likely be out. Also, keep in mind the team felt Aaron Robinson was a 1st-round talent, and he is still on the PUP. The biggest concern right now is the slot corner spot. Darnay Holmes has been a bit shaky. He could be pressed by Julian Love if necessary, but this where the team also misses Robinson. The coaches seem to really like Rodarius Williams, but he’s been up and down. He is still learning. What do the Giants have in recently-acquired (by trade) Keion Crossen and Josh Jackson? Jackson’s been hurt. If he gets cut, the team may have been better of keeping Isaac Yiadom in the short term.

Nevertheless, with the Giants being able to field James Bradberry, Adoree’ Jackson, Jabrill Peppers, Logan Ryan, Xavier McKinney, this unit should excel. The team just needs to settle down the slot corner spot.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
As expected, Ryan Santoso was traded. Another pick was added to the 2022 NFL Draft (now up to 11 picks). The kickers and long snapper are the same from last year. What we still don’t know is who will be actually returning punts and kickoffs on opening day when the games count. The unofficial depth chart says Jabrill Peppers and John Ross. Will the Giants want to risk Peppers in that role? Ross may not even make the team.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Head Coach Joe Judge on the final preseason game:We’re going to handle this as truly the dress rehearsal for the season. We expect to play the majority of our players for a minimum of one half. We’re going to make sure there’s some key positions where we have to see some guys with a little bit of an extended exposure and make the right decision on the roster. There’s still some jobs that are very competitive for the final 53. We’ll make sure we have enough film and evidence and exposure to make the right decision.

THE FINAL WORD:
The only time fans get to see the first team in a true dress rehearsal is the final game of the preseason. Different times. I hope Coach Judge has this team ready in two weeks. There are a lot of parts missing.

Aug 252021
 
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Raymond Johnson, New York Giants (August 22, 2021)

Raymond Johnson – © USA TODAY Sports

QUICK RECAP

Week 2 of the 3-week preseason brought NYG to Cleveland, a spot they spent all week practicing against a 2020 playoff team, the Cleveland Browns. These intra-squad practices have become the norm for most teams around the league. Because of the increased intensity during the week, the vast majority of starters on both sides of the ball did not play a single snap. Head Coach Joe Judge did state that next week’s preseason matchup against New England, the final one, will feature the starters for a good chunk of time. This game, however, was one of the final pieces to the puzzle for the back-end-of-roster building as there are still several question marks at a few spots when diagnosing who will be on that final 53-man roster.

The Giants’ running game got off to a solid start, but their opening drive stalled at midfield with 2 straight incompletions by Mike Glennon. CLE then took their opening drive down the field with little resistance from the NYG defense. Their opening 6 plays netted respective gains of 7, 8, 14, 12, 13, and 18 yards, putting them inside the NYG 10-yard line. After a 2nd down drop in the end zone by receiver Rashard Higgins and a sack by Oshane Ximines, CLE opted to go for it on 4th and Goal from the 7. Case Keenum hit KhaDarel Hodge for the score.

NYG responded with a time-consuming drive of their own, showing everything you want to see out of an offense. Balanced play-calling with efficient gains on early downs, a 3rd-down conversion, and quality blocking. Their 11-play drive ended with a Devontae Booker 1-yard touchdown where he dove over the pile right down the middle. The score was tied up at 7 and it would remain that way for the rest of the first half.

CLE did make their way inside the NYG 10-yard line again, aided by a questionable 3rd down pass interference penalty called on Carter Coughlin. On the ensuing 3rd down, this one from the NYG 9, Keenum had his time in the pocket, but the coverage was on point. He tried to fit a ball into tight end Jordan Franks, but it was picked off by Quincy Wilson, one of the team’s standout performers all summer.

The two offenses traded uneventful drives; CLE being led by former Giants backup signal caller Kyle Lauletta. He peppered the defense with several short air-yard passing attempts and rarely looked downfield. They did reach midfield but ran out of time and timeouts as the NYG pass rush was consistently causing disruption.

The second half was highlighted by the newest NYG quarterback, Brian Lewerke. Signed just a week prior to this game, he marched out onto the field with the backups. His first two drives were uneventful 3-and-outs while the NYG defense got roasted on the second- and third-level by the Lauletta-led CLE offense. They scored their second touchdown of the day on a 5-yard run by second-year back John Kelly.

On the Giants’ first possession of the 4th quarter, still down 14-7, Lewerke threw a couple of nice passes on the move outside of the numbers. On this drive, he really turned some heads. He started it off going 3-for-3 before picking up 20 yards on a designed quarterback keeper. Thanks to 20 yards of CLE penalties and 8 yards picked up by rookie running back Gary Brightwell on two runs, Lewerke found himself 3rd-and-4 from the CLE 8-yard line. He threw a strike to David Sills IV, who made a nice play on the ball, before failing the two-point conversion pass. NYG was down 14-13 with just over 7:00 left.

The ugly tackling, a notable trend we have now seen for two straight weeks, reached the low point on the ensuing CLE drive. Multiple missed tackles by the back seven heavily aided Kelly as he picked up 43 yards on 4 touches via both the run and pass. It put them on the NYG 31, which netted them an additional 3 points with just over 2 minutes left. CLE had a solid 4-point lead.

The Lewerke-led offense did put together another impressive drive in what you would call a “pressure” situation in preseason terms. He converted a 3rd-and- 19 to tight end Rysen John, a 4th-and-6th to running back Gary Brightwell, and a 4th-and-8 to Damion Willis. Really impressive performance from the 2020 undrafted free agent. The game, however, did end on a desperation throw that was intercepted by rookie safety Richard LeCounte in the end zone.

CLE wins, 17-13.

QUARTERBACK

-Mike Glennon and Brian Lewerke both looked sharp in this one, all things considered. They got the ball out quickly and accurately and seemed to have their timing down well. They went a combined 21/32 for 194 yards 1 TD / 1 INT and another 27 yards on the ground. The pass protection was solid enough for the coaches to get a proper feel for these two. Lewerke was good once he got a few drives under his belt, notably on 3rd and 4th down. Is there a subtle QB competition going on for that backup spot? Probably not. Glennon is making a half-million guaranteed. However, Lewerke could earn a spot on the practice squad. Something worth keeping an eye on.

RUNNING BACK

-Devontae Booker got the start and was only in there for a quarter of the plays. He appeared less-rusty and more decisive with the ball. He picked up 27 yards on 6 carries along with a touchdown and caught 2 passes for 13 yards.

-The spot behind Booker is interesting to me. Corey Clement had a solid 13-yard run but gained just 17 yards on his other 8 carries. Considering his fumble history, including last week, and the lack of variety to his game, one can wonder of Elijhaa Penny should have that number three role. The fullback has been discussed for 2 years now as a guy who can get the ball more in short yardage. He went on to gain 16 yards on 2 carries and picked up 7 more yards on a catch. In the 53-man roster chess match where finding guys who can do multiple things is key, I do see a scenario where Penny gets the nod and Clement gets the boot.

-Gary Brightwell saw about a third of the snaps and caught 3 passes. He looks physical and powerful with a no-nonsense approach. I need to see more out of him as a blocker to really diagnose the odds of him making this roster. We already know he can impact special teams.

WIDE RECEIVER

-David Sills and Dante Pettis led the group in both snaps and receptions, with the former bringing in a touchdown on a play where he played the ball beautifully. His ability to maneuver around defenders and put himself in optimal positioning to hand-catch the ball was the top trait that had me give him a 3rd round grade coming out of West Virginia (he went undrafted). I may have a small bias here, but I believe this kid deserves a shot in real-game action. He never has been a blazer, nor will he ever be one. But he knows how to catch the ball and his route running/release ability has improved notably. If I had to choose between him and Pettis? I’m going with Sills. Pettis offers more athletically though; I will say that.

-Alex Bachman and Damion Willis are on the outside looking in. The former had a drop and also didn’t run a 3rd-down route deep enough on a play where he was the primary read. Little things like that are deciding factors in games because of how much 3rd down success correlates to winning. Willis made 2 catches, one going for 15 yards. Still would love to see him on the practice squad.

TIGHT END

-Another week, another game where Rysen John is growing on me. He led the team with 58 yards on 3 catches. He gets up the seam in a hurry and that is an area I think this offense will be attacking more in the passing game now that Barkley will be back on the field. He did get flagged for a hold and he did bang up his ankle a bit, but I think he needs to be on the practice squad on the very least. He still is very early in the progression stage when it comes to learning how to play tight end.

OFFENSIVE LINE

-The first string sat this one out, so it was a nice long look at some of the backup-battles. Overall, the line looked better this week than what we saw in preseason Week 1.

-I was unimpressed by the left tackle Jackson Barton, who was claimed last September from KC. He allowed 1 sack and 1 pressure, but his weaknesses show up in the running game. Too often off balance, rarely got movement off the ball, and whiffed a couple times when forced to adjust laterally.

-This was our first look at the Ted Larsen-Jonotthan Harrison combo inside. Both veterans looked like a presence in the running game. They were on point across several combo blocks. These are the two guys I want sitting behind the starters. Limited upside but you know what you’re getting here, two smart guys with some nastiness in their game.

-Chad Slade and Jake Burton were better than what we saw last week, notably in pass protection even though Burton did allow a sack. Slade is going to make this roster I believe. When he has his feet under him, he really is a swift and powerful blocker.

-This staff may have a thing for Kenny Wiggins and I can’t say I know what goes on behind closed doors and at practice, but I have been very underwhelmed with him so far. I don’t see any consistency with any part of his technique. Simply put, he gets beat a lot.

DEFENSIVE LINE

-I don’t see how David Moa makes this roster when I do the math, but he certainly is making a case for it. He finished with a very active 6 tackles, while adding a pressure and pass deflection. He was roaming up and down the tackle box, getting free from blocks and finishing. Really impressive hustle from the 310 pounder who led all DL in snaps.

-Raymond Johnson III was the defensive star of the game in my eyes. NYG has something here. He finished with 3 tackles, a half-sack, and 2 pressures. His play-style, body type, and skill set are exactly what NYG needs to backup their linemen and I would be shocked to see him anywhere other than the final 53-man roster. Sure, we need to see him against some better competition, but he has shown a lot in 2 games.

-B.J. Hill had one tackle and a pressure, as he was right there on the Carter Coughlin sack. He didn’t play much, however.

-Elijah Qualls flashed with some penetration and Willie Henry had another active game. Good to see these backups respond well to the scheme should injuries start to arise at some point.

EDGE

-Oshane Ximines had a standout performance as a pass rusher. His shortcomings in the running game have been there from the beginning of his career and it is safe to say he won’t ever be a weapon there. But his main job is to impact the opposing passing game and that he did. He had 3 pressures and a sack, seeming to live in the backfield on deep drop backs by the CLE quarterbacks.

-Trent Harris had a pressure and a TFL. He is a guy who consistently will flash when the snaps are there. Just a really quick and strong finisher.

-Ryan Anderson finished with a half-sack and Ifeadi Odenigbo added a pressure. Both were charged with missed tackles and didn’t seem to have a consistent flow in the pass rush game.

LINEBACKER

-Carter Coughlin still appears to be the best of the backups at this group. He had a pressure, a sack, and 4 tackles. He got flagged for a questionable pass interference and there were a couple other plays where he got beat in coverage, but he never seems too far from the action, run or pass.

-Reggie Ragland and Devante Downs can’t say the same. They are going to be an issue in coverage if they are on the field and Downs missed 2 tackles. Both were bad, ugly misses. He did share the team lead with 7 tackles, however. Not a terrible game for him, but he needs to cut out the whiffs.

-Cam Brown got some action late in the game. He was fooled on misdirection twice, but I was really impressed by the speed and burst he showed in recovery. He is so wide and long-strided. If he can figure things out mentally, there will be a role for him. He also added 2 special team tackles.

CORNERBACK

-Rodarius Williams and Sam Beal practically played the entire game, just under 90% of the snaps. Williams continued his up-and-down performance that we have seen and read about all summer. He broke up a 3rd down pass where he showed excellent lower body technique and accurate hands. Beal struggled and I think we are at the point where one needs to ask: what does anyone hope he can bring to the table? He is a terrible tackler (2 misses), he has issues staying healthy, and there isn’t a natural feel in coverage. You can only hope on speed and height for so long.

-Madre Harper is another one I find myself scratching my head about. He allowed a touchdown early in the game for the same reason I see over and over with him: a lack of discipline on reads and long-legged movement that makes it even tougher for him to adjust into a good position.

-Darnay Holmes played just 7 snaps early in the game.

SAFETY

-Julian Love and Xavier McKinney didn’t play a ton, but I was encouraged but what I saw from both on the re-watch. They both made a really physical downhill tackles, and both were moving swiftly in coverage. When healthy (knock on wood), this defensive back group is loaded with potential and a lot of it comes down to the versatility these safeties have.

-Quincy Wilson, arguably the top defensive surprise of camp and preseason, finished with a tackle and key interception in the end zone. The former Florida cornerback is yet another defensive back who can be moved in and out of positions based on matchups.

-Chris Johnson, one that I think had no shot of making this roster anyway, was terrible. He missed 2 tackles, failed to set the edge multiple times, and was responsible for a touchdown run where he didn’t fill his assignment.

SPECIAL TEAMS

-K Ryan Santoso: 1/1 XP
-P Riley Dixon: 6 punts / 45.5 avg / 40.2 net

3 STUDS

-DL David Moa, WR David Sills IV, DL Raymond Johnson III

3 DUDS

-OT Jackson Barton, S Chris Johnson, CB Sam Beal

3 THOUGHTS ON CLE

1) We all know that analytics have taken over the majority of NFL teams, some more than others. It isn’t a debate I enjoy getting into because the term “analytics” is simply too broad. I think information and data is key. It is vital to building rosters, making personnel decisions, and strategizing. I have taken a deep dive into information when it comes to salary cap allocation, personnel groupings on offense and defense, and situational play calling. One team stands out the most in terms of blending this all together to create wins, and it is CLE. It worked well last year, and I think the sky is the limit for them in 2021.

2) The CLE running game is absolutely stacked. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are the top 1-2 punch in the league for my money, but the rest of the depth chart needs respect too. D’Ernest Johnson and rookie Demetric Felton are almost sure-things to make this roster. Could that free up John Kelly? Should NYG be interested if so? He broke tackles with the best of them in college, in the SEC, and that is the top trait I look for in backs.

3) A lesson in how to make a solid offense one of the best? BUILD THE OFFENSIVE LINE and DO NOT MISS. They’ve done it all to build a top 5 OL in this league. First round pick on their left tackle, a big contract to a young and proven right tackle who his former team simply could not afford, a trade for a guard who was being used incorrectly on his previous team, a day-2 guard who played tackle in college, and no hesitation in spending top-10 money (respective to position) at center for a smart, leader-type. It was a perfect plan, and it was executed even better.

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

1) Two games, zero snaps for Daniel Jones and several other starters. Head Coach Joe Judge did state Jones would start (and I am assuming others will too) Sunday against the Patriots, 2 weeks before their first game. Was this a good idea? For a 3rd year quarterback who has shown issues making reads? Playing with a new number one receiver and an offensive line that has barely played with each other? Are we going to give a pass Week 1 against DEN when we hear “shaking off the rust” lines from coaches and players alike? I understand the fear of injury, but this is a game of chemistry and execution. Not fear.

2) I stated that if Kadarius Toney wasn’t playing at full speed by September, I would start to worry. Remember, this is an offense that was in desperate need for more talent at the skill positions. Sure, Barkley is back and Golladay was signed, but Toney is a big part of this offense needing to take a big jump. And I’ll tell you what, there may not be an offense that has a tougher schedule of defenses all things considered this season in the league. There are a few things that have bothered me about this entire situation, but I won’t go too deep into it yet. This kid needs to get on the field though.

3) Are we looking at the deepest defensive NYG has put on the field in a long time? I think so. The secondary is absolutely loaded with good players who can play multiple roles at a credibly high level. The defensive line hosts one of the top tackle-ends in the game in Leonard Williams along with a handful (or more) of very solid, high-upside run stuffers who could offer enough in the pass rush game. Depth is there for a great defense. Are they top heavy enough at EDGE? That is where they lack star power, and every good defense needs to be great at rushing the passer. Most of the pieces are there. Is THE piece there?

Aug 212021
 
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Daniel Jones, New York Giants (August 20, 2021)

Daniel Jones – © USA TODAY Sports

THE STORYLINE:
New York Giants Head Coach Joe Judge and Cleveland Browns Head Coach Kevin Stefanski are most likely thrilled with the amount of work their respective teams got done during the two days of training camp practices on Thursday and Friday. When two teams practice against each other in camp, they can get double the amount of work done since one team’s offense can practice against the other team’s defense at the same time when on another field the other defense is battling the other offense. Since there are more safeguards in place, players are also less likely to get injured and it appears there were no major injuries during the two-day affair.

Indeed, joint practices make the preseason game less important. Coach Stefanski has already announced that most of his starters will not play against the Giants on Sunday. Coach Judge will likely do the same or only play his starters a couple of series. Regardless, we won’t learn much from Sunday’s preseason game. Its importance has already been minimalized. The most important work was done on Thursday and Friday. And what did we learn from those practices? The Giants could compete at the same level as the playoff-calibre Browns. On Friday, it appears the Giants were the better team on offense and defense. One or two days of practice should not be overvalued, but the results were encouraging. My gut tells me one of the reasons why the practice was so testy is the Browns didn’t expect the Giants to be so competitive.

If the trend of holding joint practices continues in future years, the actual preseason games simply won’t matter as much. It will be interesting to see if Coach Judge arranges two joint practices again in 2022.

THE INJURY REPORT:
As I mentioned in last week’s preview, Coach Judge and his training staff are very cautious, perhaps excessively so, in protecting players who are not near 100 percent. Based on who did not practice or fully practice on Thursday and/or Friday, it’s probably a safe bet to assume the following players will not play:

  • RB Saquon Barkley (knee)
  • WR Kenny Golladay (hamstring)
  • WR Kadarius Toney (unknown)
  • WR John Ross (hamstring?)
  • WR Austin Mack (hamstring?)
  • TE Kyle Rudolph (foot)
  • TE Cole Hikutini (unknown)
  • OT Nate Solder (shoulder?)
  • LB Tae Crowder (unknown)
  • LB Elerson Smith (hamstring)
  • CB Aaron Robinson (core muscle)
  • CB Josh Jackson (unknown)
  • S Montre Hartage (unknown)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
Folks are going to start complaining that I’m being “Mr. Doom” again, but there is somewhat serious concern brewing: much of the firepower that the Giants imported during the offseason has not been on the field practicing. Indeed, right now, the Giants healthy starting offense looks a lot like the unit that finished near dead-last in 2020.

Reporters were stating that Kenny Golladay and Daniel Jones didn’t appear to be in sync before Golladay pulled his hamstring more than two weeks ago. Saquon Barkley has yet to practice in team drills and AT BEST, may be ready for only a few touches on opening day. Kyle Rudolph is still on the PUP and we have no clue when he will even be able to practice. John Ross isn’t practicing. And oddest of all, Kadarius Toney hasn’t really practiced during the spring or summer at all. We don’t even know what is wrong with him. But Toney has no work in with Daniel Jones and the starting offense. It’s hard to imagine he will be much of a factor for possibly even the first half of the season.

Much of the optimism for an improved offense centered around the additions of these guys. For now, the Giants may be in the hands of Devontae Booker, Corey Clement, Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton, Evan Engram, and virtually the same offensive line as last year.

What to look for offensively in this game? I assume the starting offensive line will get at least a couple of series, just like they did against the Jets. Shane Lemieux (knee) missed that game. Matt Peart gave up a sack against the Jets. Fans will be looking at how the starting five performs. Without Nate Solder playing, the reserve line will be undermanned, but this should be our first look at Jon Harrison and Ted Larsen. Kenny Wiggins struggled last week and gets a chance to redeem himself.

The battle at running back between Booker and Clement continues, as does the battle for the final roster spots at wide receiver between David Sills, C.J. Board, Dante Pettis, Alex Bachman, Matt Cole, and Damion Willis. Special teams play will be ever important there. Cole Hikutini was making a move at tight end before he got hurt. Now the door is open for Rysen John and Nakia Griffin-Stewart.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The early indications are that the Giants are going to be pretty good on defense, stronger than last year. The defensive line has been performing well. The secondary is deeper and more talented. And while there are no superstar edge rushers, the Giants appear to have strength in numbers. Fans may have written off Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines too soon. Both have flashed in Ohio. So did Trent Harris. And rookie Azeez Ojulari is coming along nicely. Inside we, we may have a battle brewing between Reggie Ragland and Tae Crowder for playing time. Cam Brown and Carter Coughlin are showing inside-outside, jack-of-all-trades versatility. Then you still have Ifeadi Odenigbo, Ryan Anderson, Niko Lalos, and Elerson Smith (who has yet to get on the field).

The Giants pass rush against the Browns at practice was pretty darn good. Some of these guys probably won’t play or play much against Cleveland. Still, I’d like to see some of Carter and Ximines before they give way to the others. I wouldn’t play Martinez much, if at all. Same with corners James Bradberry and Adoree’ Jackson and safeties Jabrill Peppers and Logan Ryan. Peppers, in particular, was giving the Browns fits on blitzes. We know what he can do.

The biggest issue the Giants had in the practices was covering WR Jarvis Landry out of the slot. He won’t play so Darnay Holmes and Julian Love won’t be tested as much. It’s not known if we will see newly-acquired corners Josh Jackson (he didn’t practice on Friday) and Keion Crossen. Expect a heavy dose of Rodarius Williams, Madre Harper, and perhaps even Sam Beal.

We know who the base guys up front are. Leonard Williams is having a really strong camp. Dexter Lawrence is one of the most important players on the team. Austin Johnson and Danny Shelton look like they can do the job. B.J. Hill is a valuable reserve. But there are some guys who we didn’t expect to make much noise who perhaps have a chance to make the team. One guy is Raymond Johnson. Keep an eye on him.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
I get the sense that Joe Judge is still not thrilled with his gunners, hence the additions of Keion Crossen and Josh Jackson. That said, Matt Cole made a heck of a play last week downing a punt inside the 10. C.J. Board handled the kickoff and punt returns last week. Is that an indication that he has a leg up on the others? As I suspected, Special Teams Coordinator Thomas McGaughey indicated that Ryan Santoso will see the bulk (if not all) of the preseason action.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Head Coach Joe Judge on the second preseason game:I haven’t decided, yet (who will play). We’re going to see how we come out (on Friday) and I’m going to talk with Kevin (Stefanski) in terms of his plans. We’ve talked earlier in the week about what they’re intending to do and we’re going to see how that’s going to measure up and we’ll evaluate our team after (Friday’s practice). I don’t see playing as a punishment specific to anything in terms of what a performance would dictate to us. I just want to make sure we keep our overall players’ loads in consideration going into it because it’ll also be a quick turnaround going from Cleveland, getting back home, training up to Boston and going against New England for a couple of days before playing the preseason game, through which we’re going to truly treat as more of that regular season dress rehearsal.

THE FINAL WORD:
This was a good week for the Giants. My biggest disappointment is the apparent lack of immediate impact from the 2021 Draft Class:

  • 1st Round: WR Kadarius Toney
  • 2nd Round: LB Azeez Ojulari
  • 3rd Round: CB Aaron Robinson
  • 4th Round: LB Elerson Smith
  • 6th Round: RB Gary Brightwell
  • 6th Round: CB Rodarius Williams

It seems like it will be a long time before we see Toney, Robinson, and Smith receive any meaningful playing time. It also sucks that Kenny Golladay and Kyle Rudolph are not getting in sync with Daniel Jones.

Aug 172021
 
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Sandro Platzgummer, New York Giants (August 14, 2021)

Sandro Platzgummer – © USA TODAY Sports

QUICK RECAP

For the first time since August of 2019, the Giants played a preseason game to remind everybody just how ugly football is when the lower-level players get involved. If anyone doesn’t understand the gap between NFL players that make a 53-man roster and those that just miss out, tell them to watch preseason Week 1. Games this time of year are not very entertaining, nor do they need to be watched very closely by the public. Nothing about them means very much and the reactions to them are often misguided and, to be honest, just flat out asinine. With that said, there are things to look for and note for future reference and that is exactly what this review will be mostly about.

The Giants sat the majority of their starters on both sides of the ball. The offensive line, however, marched out their top group to start the game off protecting backup quarterback Mike Glennon and paving paths for backup running back (and potential week 1 starter) Devontae Booker. They were outclassed to start off the game as the offense went three-and-out, the third play being a sack allowed by second-year tackle Matt Peart.

The Jets marched out their shiny new toy, quarterback Zack Wilson. He, along with a productive running game, marched down the field with some aid from missed tackles by the Giants’ defense. Wilson looked sharp and confident with their timed-based throws against the vanilla Giants defense that didn’t show much complexity. Cornerback Isaac Yiadom came up with a 3rd-and-3 stop on a pass attempt to the newly-signed Corey Davis. The Jets settled for a 30-yard field goal by rookie kicker Chris Naggar. That 3-0 lead would stick until the last 3 minutes of the 3rd quarter.

The Giants’ offense did wake up a bit on the next two drives in the first half, as they crossed midfield on both possessions. Andrew Thomas and Will Hernandez made key blocks on big Corey Clement rushing attempts that gained solid yards multiple times. Clement, however, fumbled on a 1st-and-goal from inside the 5-yard line. It was a major blow that, had this been a regular season game, would have been a major black-eye for the offense.

On the positive side, the Giants’ defense did perform consistently following the first drive. A 4th-and-1 stop by Danny Shelton, a 3rd-and-1 stop by Reggie Ragland, and another 3rd-and-1 stop by Austin Johnson were high points early on. If the Giants are going to be a credible contender in the still-weak NFC East, it will ride on the back of the defense. And with the way injuries mount up in the NFL these days, the defense will at least somewhat ride on the back of the ability of second/third stringers filling in when their respective numbers are called. Shelton and Ragland were very good.

Speaking of backups, the second-, third-, and fourth-stringers were on tap from the midway point of the second quarter-on. Roster hopefuls were hoping to get their opportunities on both sides of the ball. David Sills came down with a 37-yard catch inside the 2-minute warning, sparking some hope that the Giants would get rid of the zero on the scoreboard. The following three plays were incomplete pass, sack, incomplete pass. The second half yielded similar results early on.

The Giants offense went three-and-out on their first two possessions of the second half while the Jets added their first touchdown via a four-yard run by La’Mical Perine. That was three plays after a 3rd-and-18 conversion in which second-year receiver Denzel Mims broke three tackles on his way to the first down that put them inside the 10-yard line. It was an ugly display of tackling, a theme that this defensive staff must be sure to end before Week 1.

The fourth quarter began with the Giants starting an offensive possession near midfield. Thanks to a pass interference by former Big Blue corner Corey Ballentine, they were 1st-and-10 in Jets territory. Thorson missed an open Damion Willis downfield that could have been an easy score before two more incomplete passes that weren’t even close.

The Giants’ defense held on and even created a scoring opportunity themselves, as rookie cornerback Rodarius Williams picked up a fumble and returned it 29 yards to the NYJ 17-yard line. Three plays later, Thorson hit a wide-open Willis this time, beating Ballentine, on a broken down play. The sore was 10-7, Jets up, with 7 minutes remaining.

The Jets bled the clock down a to under 2 minutes, but they pinned Thorson and the Giants offense down inside the 10-yard line for the second time of the half. On the first play, Thorson was rocked by a hard hit in the end zone, resulting in a safety that put the Jets up 12-7. The Jets then took a knee when they got the ball back and the game was over.

Giants lose, 12-7.

QUARTERBACK

-It is crystal clear that Mike Glennon is going to be the backup to Daniel Jones this year. He played 38% of the snaps, while Thorson picked up the remaining. Glennon is an extremely lethargic mover, as there may not be a signal caller in the league with feet as heavy as him. That always makes me nervous when it comes to a backup quarterback. A guy who can’t move without a superior arm doesn’t inspire confidence should the team ever have to turn to him.

-Thorson was really poor. We can’t make a huge deal about a third-string quarterback, but there is no denying his poor performance. He went 5/16 for 72 yards. The touchdown to Willis on a broken down play makes the stat line look much better than it really is. He did make a great throw to David Sills in the first half, though. He was inaccurate on all levels and the timing throws were too late. Late in the game, Thorson was rocked on a sack and needed to be helped off the field.

RUNNING BACK

-Giants fans need to prepare for Saquon Barkley being on the sideline for the first couple weeks potentially. Even if he is back for live action, he will probably have a pitch count he needs to stay under. It will likely come down to newly-signed veterans Devontae Booker and Corey Clement to pick up the slack early on. They combined for 44 yards on 8 carries. Clement was more impressive, as he is known for a no-nonsense style between the tackles. That is the kind of back who will work best to complement a fully-healthy Barkley down the road. The issue with him? It popped up in the 2nd quarter when he fumbled inside the NYJ 5-yard line. The one black eye on his game centers around that, as he has fumbled 6 times in under 100 carries since the start of 2018.

-Sandro Platzgummer rattled off the biggest play of the night for the NYG offense, a 48-yard run up the sideline from the NYG 1-yard line.

-The best blocker of the bunch appears to be Booker and I would include Barkley in that discussion based on what we have seen the past two years. Booker is stout but more importantly, his footwork and sustainability look natural and easy. That is going to be a plus-factor this year.

WIDE RECEIVER

-David Sills has been having a strong camp and it appears the coaching staff wanted to give him as many snaps as possible to make his case for the final WR spot on the roster. He led the group in snaps, catches (3), and yards (49). Those 49 yards were more than the rest of the pass catchers combined. Sills has excellent ball skills, he always has. The issue with him is a lack of top-gear speed. His release looked really good, however. If he wants any shot at making the roster, he needs to prove he can get open on all levels of the route tree. If he can, he can make it happen.

-C.J. Board got the ball a lot. He had a carry on a jet sweep that resulted in a 12-yard gain and 4 returns (2 punt / 2 kick). He dropped a pass, however. Board’s route to making this team will revolve around special teams but if the receiving skill set isn’t there, he will have a hard time fighting off some of the other options.

-Damion Willis is an interesting name. He started a couple games in 2019 with CIN and they were excited about him. He has good size (6’3/209) and a wide catch radius with a bendy frame. He came down with a touchdown and could have had another one if Thorson had thrown the ball inbounds.

-Dante Pettis, another roster-bubble name, had three targets but didn’t come away with any catches. He still looks like the best combination of skills + talent among these back-end guys.

TIGHT END

-Kaden Smith got the start with Kyle Rudolph out. More of the same from him with quality blocking in the trenches and limited separation as a route runner. He will be the unquestioned number 2 guy here until Kyle Rudolph is ready.

-Cole Hikutini had a solid game as a run blocker. He sustained an injury in the 3rd quarter to his hip, so we didn’t get to see a lot of him. They are already thin at the position, as Levine Toilolo is out for the year with an Achilles injury.

-Rysen John added 3 catches. He is someone worth keeping an eye on from a Practice Squad-perspective. He is obviously lacking in traditional body-type and overall power when it comes to the traditional Y-Tight End the Giants use, but there is something about the way he goes after the ball with loose and athletic limbs that could be useable down the road if NYG needs more options in the passing game. He has twitch that the other guys at this spot don’t.

OFFENSIVE LINE

-The starting offensive line (minus guard Shane Lemieux) was on the field for three drives. Andrew Thomas and Will Hernandez both played well in the limited time. If those two take a big step up, this entire offense is going to benefit in a big way. Hernandez looks slimmer and more comfortable moving as a lateral run blocker. He wasn’t tested as much in pass protection from an adjustment perspective, the other glaring hole we have seen over the past three years. Thomas did a nice job against NYJ ‘s newest pass rusher Carl Lawson, who has been tearing it up at camp.

-Matt Peart, the third component to this offensive line that is needed for this offense to operate smoothly, didn’t play well. Nothing about this needs to be analyzed too deeply yet, as this was the first real live action for him and others in a long time. He allowed a sack and a pressure in 18 snaps.

-Kenny Wiggins got the start at left guard and came back in the game following the injury to third-stringer Kyle Murphy. He had a poor game. He allowed 2 pressures, 1 TFL, and 1 sack as he played a team-high 41 offensive snaps.

-The backup group as a whole had an up and down night, very inconsistent. They did sustain pass protection for above-average time on multiple occasions, but they were leaky at times and didn’t get a push in the running game. Center Brett Heggie look overmatched athletically and Chad Slade continues to play with poor balance. The only one who I would have had a positive grade on would have been Jake Burton. I liked his hand violence and footwork.

DEFENSIVE LINE

-Nose tackle Danny Shelton is going to be a factor here. He had several dominant snaps where he took on multiple blockers and still impacted the play. He had a TFL on a 4th-and-1 and factored on another 3rd-down stop. Depth along the defensive line is key, and Shelton will be a big part of that. B.J. Hill and Austin Johnson were solid as well.

-Look out for Willie Henry as a potential roster surprise. He is really active and quick in pursuit and may have played with the most violence of all the linemen. He finished with 4 tackles, 1 TFL, and 1 pressure while playing just over a third of the snaps.

-Rookie Raymond Johnson III is another guy I think will be a factor in 2021. Maybe not right away but when injuries pop up, his versatility and explosive first step are traits that transition well in the NFL. He finished with 2 pressures.

LINEBACKER

-Watch out for Carter Coughlin. As stated above, I am very careful to not overreact in either direction early in preseason. That said, Coughlin had a few eye-opening moments in 2020 and he has picked right up where he left off. He was the “defensive player of the game” in my eyes, finishing with 5 tackles and a sack. The college-edge defender is the ultra-hybrid front-seven Swiss army knife who look both comfortable and capable in multiple roles.

-Reggie Ragland played under half the snaps and there is some tightness in his hips as a pass defender, but I liked what he brought to the table. He had a big hit that jarred a ball loose on a 3rd-and-1 conversion attempt. He will be the top ILB backup, something I think we should be happy about because it is a substantial upgrade over what NYG has had in that role lately.

-Tae Crowder missed 2 tackles and Devante Downs had 1. They both pressured the quarterback once each. That spot next to Blake Martinez is going to be very interesting to watch in the coming weeks.

-I liked what I saw out of the edge defenders. Lorenzo Carter didn’t play, but 2nd round rookie Azeez Ojulari did, and he flashed. His pass rush repertoire lacked variety, but the juice out of his stance is noteworthy. That is going to be a factor this year. His run stuff where he got off the big/bad/overrated (and overrated) Mekhi Becton proved this guy is going to be more than a pass rusher as much as that can be proven Week 1 of preseason.

-Niko Lalos and Ifeadi Odenigbo had standout efforts. Lalos was disruptive and active, a true hustler. Odenigbo is a hidden gem, I think. Not a starter, but the ever-important rotational pass rusher who makes his name know later in the year. His footwork and twitch looked very good. Remember, he had 7.5 sacks in 2019.

CORNERBACK

-With James Bradberry and Adoree Jackson out, it was a good opportunity to get looks at Isaac Yiadom and rookie Rodarius Williams. Yiadom showed good coverage on Corey Davis. We know what we have in him, a solid but limited veteran who can get the job done for the most part. If he is the team’s number three or four corner, they’re in a good spot. Williams got beat multiple times early on, giving up two 3rd down conversions on the first 2 drives. He played nickel, something I don’t see being an ideal fit for him, but it is possible they just wanted to see him in live action. He bounced back well after a rough start. I liked what I saw out of him.

-Madre Harper led the defense in snaps. He missed 3 tackles on the night and appears to be a few steps behind mentally. I didn’t see it with him last year and still don’t. He was flagged for a pass interference and was roasted in coverage throughout the second half.

SAFETY

-The top three safeties didn’t play (Ryan, McKinney, Peppers). Julian Love and Quincy Wilson are both hybrid defensive backs who saw time in this one. The latter finished with 7 tackles and a couple big hits.

SPECIAL TEAMS

-K Ryan Santoso: 1/1 XP.

-P Riley Dixon: 6 punts / 43.3 avg / 41.0 net

3 STUDS

-OG Will Hernandez, WR David Sills, LB Carter Coughlin

3 DUDS

-QB Clayton Thorson, OG Kenny Wiggins, DB Madre Harper

3 THOUGHTS ON NYJ

1) I liked what I saw out of Zach Wilson under center. Look, anything you watch in Week 2 preseason needs to be taken with a grain of salt, but there are still things that can show you the arrow is pointing up. Wilson showed a really nice release, he was quick to get the ball out, and he was accurate. That is a good place to start.

2) The Jets have a similar edge-rusher anxiety to NYG. The best player on either team, at that position, may be a 2020 undrafted free agent. Bryce Huff flashed last year in limited time and there have been whispers growing louder and louder from people I respect from that organization that this kid is going to break out. He looked excellent at multiple levels. He finished with 3 tackles / 2 sacks / 1 pressure.

3) I really do like the direction NYJ is heading in. It is mostly about the leadership and support staff they have in place, both on the coaching staff and in the front office. They have extra picks, they’re emphasizing the right things when it comes to personnel, and they have plenty of available money. They are gonna have a solid 4-5 year window coming up. I think they finish at or near .500 this season.

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

1) I’ve hinted at this a few times, but wanted to get it out here as well. If there is ONE game that fans need to remain seated with their mouth shut afterward, it is Week 1 of preseason. That is both for positive and negative reviews. The game plans are vanilla, the players are rusty, and the goals this coaching staff have within these games is too deep for many to understand. Don’t get worked up about anything you saw in this one.

2) Should Daniel Jones be playing? My opinion is yes. Year 3 is THE year for a young quarterback. Sure, the fear of injury is alive and well in preseason but it is important he continues to gain experience with the scheme and timing in live action. I think he should be playing at least 4 drives in each of the next 2 games.

3) I have a really good feeling about the NYG defense. Not because of what I saw in this game, but because of what I saw last year and who was added to the unit. Also add in continuity and the fact I think they will be much deeper than a year ago, I think we are finally going to see a top 7-8 defense in the league.

Aug 132021
 
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THE STORYLINE:
Perhaps I’m reading too much into the few clips I saw of the “Fan Fest” at the Meadowlands on Wednesday, but from the players to Head Coach Joe Judge, there seemed to be genuine joy at finally being able to play football in front of a live crowd again. Players danced around like little kids and Coach Judge couldn’t hide his huge grin. Remember, Judge and the players (many of them new Giants added to the team in the last 18 months) were cheated out of a regular, normal season last year. We fans were subjected to the NFL’s version of the “laugh track” as fake fan noise was pumped over TV broadcasts to hide the fact that 22 players were eerily smashing into each without anyone watching in person. The NFL and networks tried to make it seem normal, but we all knew it wasn’t.

Fast forward to August 2021. There are still oddities such as the Giants not allowing fans to attend training camp in person, but then permitting 30,000 fans to intimately congregate in the lower deck of MetLife. But we’ll take what we can get. After all, the NFL knows there are $$$ at stake. It’s why the League decided to add a 17th regular-season game. In order to appease the corrupt NFLPA, they threw the players a bone an eliminated one preseason game. Player development takes yet another hit. And so much the concern for “player safety.” Again, $$$.

But enough with the negative waves. Football is back. In front of actual fans. The Giants are perceived by many as an up-and-coming team in a division filled with question marks. Many fans feel Joe Judge is the right man to bring the team out of its longest dark age period since the 1970s. It’s a time for optimism.

THE INJURY REPORT:
Filling out this section without an actual official injury report is an exercise in futility. Right or wrong, Coach Judge and his medical staff appear excessively cautious in playing anyone with a boo boo. Fans have had to be accustomed to new injury list terminology such as “workload maintenance.” Athletes are now electronically tracked and decisions are made to sit players when the data tells them to do so. Welcome to 2021.

I will mention a few injuries that are at least a bit disheartening. Something seems to be going on with Kadarius Toney that the team is not telling us. Despite being the first player to be activated off of the COVID List, Toney is the one guy who still seems to be very limited in camp. Could COVID be affecting him differently than the other COVID players who have since come off the list? Sure. But Toney was oddly limited throughout the OTA period too. Something reeks of another underlying injury issue. Pure speculation on my part.

Also, TE Kyle Rudolph is still on the PUP and doesn’t appear close to returning. OLB Elerson Smith has missed almost all of camp with a hamstring injury. CB Aaron Robinson (core muscle) hasn’t practiced and is far behind because of offseason surgery. WRs Kenny Golloday (hamstring) and John Ross (hamstring) are both hurt (again) and that’s got to be at least somewhat worrisome to management. WR Austin Mack’s hamstring injury has probably knocked him out of contention for a roster spot.  After a promising early return by OLB Lorenzo Carter (Achilles), he has missed a lot of time with a calf injury. While he is back now, LG Shane Lemieux lost valuable practice time with a knee injury. RB Gary Brightwell has also missed time with an unknown ailment.

That all said, the team is pretty darn healthy at this point. The only serious injury of note was losing 3rd-string TE Levine Toilolo for the season.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
Joe Judge made the odd decision to not play Daniel Jones. He said he is going to treat this first preseason game as teams used to play the final preseason game. If true, that means a lot of starters won’t play. However, Judge also later indicated that expected most players to play. So who the heck knows who will play and for how long? Without the starting quarterback, RB Saquon Barkley, WR Kenny Golladay, and TE Kyle Rudolph playing, combined with the fact that the first preseason games are almost always ugly, don’t expect to come out of the first game feeling good about the offense.

So what to watch? Obviously the offensive line. All eyes will be on Andrew Thomas, Shane Lemieux, Nick Gates, Will Hernandez, and Matt Peart. If they play. The Giants could still sit Lemieux and the others may not play much. The Giants are still where they planned to be at tackle. Thomas and Peart starting with Nate Solder backing up both (and Solder has had a good camp according to Judge). But inside depth took a huge hit with the retirements of Zach Fulton (the Giants were counting on him for insurance for Hernandez) and Joe Looney (quality depth behind Gates). If Lemieux and/or Hernandez struggle, the Giants don’t have a lot of fallback options on the roster. Kenny Wiggins has been playing with the first team with Lemieux out, so keep your eye on him. The rest of the second-team OL has really struggled in camp. There really isn’t a decent #4 tackle or guard on the team right now. Expect the Jets to run around these guys with ease. Another reason why Saturday night may be ugly.

What else to watch? The battle behind Saquon Barkley for the #2 running back spot. Devontae Booker has received most of the reps, but Corey Clement has been pressing him. At receiver, the Giants will likely go with Golladay, Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton, and Kadarius Toney, but a whole slew of players are vying for the #5 and #6 spots, including John Ross, David Sills, C.J. Board, and Dante Pettis. This is a very big game for these guys. TE Cole Hikutini has a chance to make the team now with Toilolo done for the year. Lastly, the performance of Mike Glennon is more important than many realize. Daniel Jones has yet to complete a full season without getting hurt.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
Most of the defense seems settled except for the all-important outside linebacker spots. Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence will lead the defensive line up front. The big question here is can Austin Johnson and Danny Shelton adequately replace Dalvin Tomlinson at nose tackle? Depth is provided by B.J. Hill but Raymond Johnson and David Moa have been making some noise at camp. Keep an eye on them.

At inside linebacker, I would expect Blake Martinez and Tae Crowder to start with Reggie Ragland and Carter Coughlin (who can also play outside) providing depth. Outside is more of a mess because of the injury question marks with Lorenzo Carter, Oshane Ximines, and Elerson Smith. Is Smith now at risk for being redshirted this year? The good news is that Azeez Ojulari has received a ton of first-team reps and seems primed to take a starting spot sooner than later. But with so many other guys missing, Ifeadi Odenigbo has become more important than expected and some guys who we assumed were not long for the team (Niko Lalos and Trent Harris) remain in the picture. The one guy who I am very curious to watch is Cam Brown. It seems like he is making a play in every practice. There are a lot of bodies here and not many roster spots.

The secondary appears deep and talented. I love the situation at safety with Jabrill Peppers (admittedly an up-and-down player), Logan Ryan, Xavier McKinney, and Julian Love. The studs at cornerback are James Bradberry and Adoree’ Jackson. An underreported absence has been CB Aaron Robinson. Perceived by many as a 1st-round talent, his loss has been ameliorated by the play of CB Rodarius Williams. Still, this team will be much better when Robinson is available and forces Isaac Yiadom and Madre Harper further down on the depth chart. (Though I am curious to see what the Giants have in Harper). CB Darnay Holmes appeared to have a rough start to camp but has been making a lot of plays lately. He’s in a battle with Love for playing time at nickel corner.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Kickers are set even though Ryan Santoso has impressed to the point where the Giants may want to showcase him in the preseason for a possible late-round draft pick. The questions remain in the return game. The Giants unofficial depth chart has John Ross and Jabrill Peppers as the primary kickoff returners and Peppers and Adoree’ Jackson as the primary punt returners. Kadarius Toney is listed #3 in both spots. I wouldn’t want to see the Giants use Peppers or Jackson in the preseason.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Head Coach Joe Judge on the first preseason game: “So right now we haven’t talked to players about who will be in the game, won’t be in the game and the amount of plays, so I’m not going to go into specifics on each player. We expect the majority of our players to play. There are a couple guys we’ve decided for one reason or another, all different reasons, they won’t play in this game, but we’ll talk to the players later today and make sure they know.

THE FINAL WORD:
I say this every year, but don’t make too much out of the first preseason game. Also, the Jets always take this game much more seriously than the Giants. It’s a weird pride thing for them.

I will say this, the depth situation on the interior of the offensive line is a cause for concern. If Fulton and Looney were there, it would be better. But they aren’t. Guys who will be receiving major playing time up front include Brett Heggie, Chad Slade, Kyle Murphy, Jake Burton, and Jackson Barton. Who? What? Oh boy.

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

Dante Pettis – © USA TODAY Sports

QUICK RECAP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NYG wins, 23-19.

QUARTERBACK

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

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

RUNNING BACK

-Wayne Gallman: 11 att / 65 yards

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

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

WIDE RECEIVER

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

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

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

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

TIGHT END

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

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

OFFENSIVE LINE

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

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

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

EDGE

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

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

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

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

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

LINEBACKER

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

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

CORNERBACK

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

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

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

SAFETY

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

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

SPECIAL TEAMS

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

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

3 STUDS

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

3 DUDS

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

3 THOUGHTS ON DAL

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

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

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

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

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

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

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

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