The third straight home game for Big Blue brought in another classic NFL franchise, the Chicago Bears. Speaking of classic, the Giants wore their what is now considered “retro” uniforms. The old school “Giants” written on a navy-blue helmet with the royal blue uniforms, white numbers, and red trim. One of my personal oldest memories of watching NYG football dates back to January 13, 1991. The opening round of the playoffs, NYG (in these uniforms) faced off against Mike Ditka’s Bears, quarterbacked by Mike Tomczak, as starter Jim Harbaugh (current Michigan Head Coach) injured his shoulder late in the regular season. Fast forward to 2022 and the two historic franchises came into their Week 4 matchup at 2-1 each. Both teams in the rebuild mode and not in credible form of contention, the Giants or Bears would walk out of this one at 3-1 (unless they tied).
Chicago, the least-frequent passing team in the league by a wide margin, threw the ball two times on ten plays on their opening drive after forcing a three-and-out of the NYG offense. Justin Fields, who the Bears traded up for in the 2021 Draft via NYG, gained 20 yards on separate scramble attempts and had another 15 yards tacked on because of an Unnecessary Roughness penalty on linebacker Micah McFadden. The defense held up though, keeping CHI to a field goal attempt which kicker Michael Badgley, signed just days prior, nailed through the uprights.
NYG responded with a balanced drive, showing quality movement off the ball by the line and a lot of bootleg action with the athletic Daniel Jones. It took them just six plays to move 75 yards with the smallest gain being six yards. Jones scampered into the end zone at the tail end of a 21-yard run thanks to play design, speed, and downfield blocking. CHI was able to put another three points on the board via another short field goal. Two drives, two trips inside the NYG-15 yard line, two field goals.
As the second quarter got under way, NYG was forced to punt for the second time and CHI reached NYG territory again with a one-point deficit. The Bears had not yet ended a drive without points. They breached the 30-yard line and on 1st-and-10, the NYG created a game-changing play. A sack-fumble by Azeez Ojulari was recovered by rookie and fellow outside linebacker Kayvon Thibodeaux. This team played the first two games without these two and both looked rusty in Week 3. Now, under a week later, they combined for a much-needed big play. The offense turned that fumble into another 7 points, this one also on the legs of Jones via a similar play design where the downfield blocking was on point following a bootleg.
The defense kept their foot on the throat of the CHI offense but a fumble by Richie James on the punt gave them the ball back at the NYG 35-yard line. This turned into three points, the third field goal by Badgley, and that is where the game went into the half, NYG up 14-9.
Badgley, a New Jersey native, continued to earn his paycheck as he started the second half with a 35-yarder to put the NYG lead at two. Fields, the least-used and productive starting quarterback in football through three weeks, was at 158 yards, just 16 yards shy of a season high. Fortunately, the offensive scheme and play calling by Bears Offensive Coordinator Luke Getsy (a first time playcaller in the NFL) lacked innovation and creativity.
The score stayed locked in at 14-12 for a couple back-and-forth drives. They were anything but uneventful, however. Three plays before Graham Gano nailed a 44-yarder to lengthen the lead to five, Jones was sacked and had his ankle badly twisted. He limped off the field and because of how much this game’s offense was dependent on quarterback mobility, the decision to bring in backup Tyrod Taylor was made. To make matters worse, right tackle Evan Neal was out of the game with a neck injury. The fourth quarter was under way and NYG was playing with a depleted receiver group, a backup quarterback, and without their starting right tackle.
Taylor did convert a 3rd-and-2 via a 13-yard run. But his first pass was a deep ball to Darius Slayton, and it was intercepted by CHI safety Eddie Jackson on an incredible play by the sixth year safety, his NFC-leading third of the year. Fortunately, the NYG defense forced a three-and-out and the NYG offense gained momentum right away. Taylor converted another third down via his legs but this one ended with a direct hit to the head, a fumble (that did not result in turnover), and a concussion. Just like that, in a matter of 13 minutes of game clock, the starting and backup quarterbacks were both injured.
Jones came on the field with a heavily taped ankle, but NYG kept him split out wide as Saquon Barkley, who was putting together another masterful performance, handled the wildcat snaps. The next four plays may not make the highlight reel, but they were as impressive as any other string of plays in the game. Everyone in the building knew NYG was in a run-only situation. They proceeded to gain 18 yards on four carries to bring them into field goal position. Gano sealed the drive with a 43-yarder to give them the vital 8-point lead.
The NYG defense held CHI in check, rookie returner Velus Jones muffed a punt which NYG recovered, and NYG continued to move the ball enough in their run-only attack and keep the clock moving. CHI did get the ball back after a missed 37-yarder by Gano, but they had just a few seconds left and no timeouts. After an attempt at throwing the ball back and forth between a handful of players as time expired, rookie Dane Belton recovered the loose ball.
NYG wins, 20-12.
-Daniel Jones: 8/13 – 71 yards / 0 TD – 0 INT / 76.1 RAT
Jones’ biggest impact was felt on the ground. He gained 68 yards on 6 carries and scored two touchdowns, the only two for NYG on the day. He also did not play real-quarterback after being injured halfway through the third quarter. Yes, he was on the field and took a few shotgun snaps, but we cannot include those snaps into his evaluation. The innovative game plan and play-calling set Jones up well for success in this one. While we did not see him air it out, he made some tight throws and had his one deep ball dropped by Darius Slayton. He made a solid-tasting meal with expired ingredients. The value of how athletic he is truly could have been the deciding factor in this game. I won’t go as far as saying it was THE reason, but the ability to turn on the jets in addition to Barkley’s status as NFL-leading rusher were why NYG scored points, plain and simple. If Slayton catches the ball, less would freak out about the passing line.
-Saquon Barkley: 31 att – 146 yards / 2 rec – 16 yards
The strong season is getting stronger. Like a tidal wave, Barkley’s impact on this offense and team is just compounding week to week. A week after I said this guy simply needs the ball 20+ times at minimum and probably closer to 30 on average, he gets 33 touches in a tight game. The number was a tad inflated because of the quarterback situation in the second half, but this is where Barkley’s sweet spot is. He is electric and there is no other word that best describes him. The defense knew he was getting the ball and the forward lean, foot-in-ground burst, and vision combination of traits is the best we have seen. The injury risk will always be there with backs but if NYG wants to win, this is who needs the ball 30 times.
-Matthew Breida gained 18 yards on just 3 carries and Gary Brightwell impacted the game as a lead blocker on a couple of occasions in addition to the fumble recovery on the CHI muffed punt in the fourth quarter.
-Another low point to the day. The group totaled 8 targets. Before the Monday night game, 17 individual players around the league had more than 8 targets in their respective Week 4 games. Again, perhaps the number is skewed by the quarterback situation in the fourth quarter but make no mistake here, the Giants are currently playing football in the most pass-happy era of football history without a credible group of wide receivers. Darius Slayton had a catch for 11 yards and a drop. David Sills had a catch for 5 yards and a drop. Richie James had 1 catch for 9 yards. Kenny Golladay went catch-less for the third straight game. If Kadarius Toney and Wan’Dale Robinson remain out, it is time this team brings in new blood at the position. Hopefully whoever they bring in has a passport.
-Rookie Daniel Bellinger led the team with 23 yards and 3 catches. Considering the team threw the ball 13 times and he was targeted on just three of them, it was another solid performance by the fourth rounder. He had a key block on Jones’ first touchdown, but his overall blocking grade fell just below average. He allowed a TFL and got beat up at the point-of-attack when he faced off against linemen.
-Tanner Hudson is firmly entrenched as the number two passing game threat at the position. He caught a pass for 18 yards and dropped his other target. One thing I see from the All-22 is separation as a route runner. He can get open in all directions and I project him to be a bigger part of the passing game next week. His downfield blocking was key to NYG’s success on the ground as well.
-After a horrid Week 3 performance against DAL (one of the top defenses in the league), the offensive line came back strong. This is exactly what we wanted to see, and while the CHI front isn’t keeping anyone up at night, they are a respectable group. NYG won in the trenches from start to finish.
-Evan Neal missed the final 23 snaps of the game with an injured neck. At the time of this writing, I do not have an update. As for his game, I saw a noticeable improvement over his Week 3 debacle. Again, a rookie struggling in the NFL should be assumed more than expected. That is not worthy of criticism or negative thoughts. How they respond is what should be tracked. Neal responded with his best game of the year (albeit minimal passing and limited snaps). Tremendous run blocking and he kept the feet more active in pass protection on the edge.
-Andrew Thomas threw a shut out in the passing game and graded out above average in the running game. He did get beat to his inside shoulder a couple times, but it ended up not hurting the play.
-Inside, I still see some to be desired. Ben Bredeson allowed a pressure and a TFL and was having a hard time staying on his feet. One of the biggest things I look for in offensive linemen when scouting (and this is from multiple pro OL coaches) is the ability to simply end the play on their feet. It is a red flag when guys are on the ground often and I saw that with Bredeson multiple times. Mark Glowinski missed 8 snaps with an ankle and appeared less stable than usual. He allowed a pressure and was flagged for illegally being downfield. Center Jon Feliciano has some of his twitch back, which helped a lot on their zone running looks. He reached the second level in a hurry and stayed on his man there. He still struggled with some of the gap looks where he could not create movement off the ball by himself.
-It was week two of the Ojulari + Thibodeaux duo, as both missed the first two games. While their impact was not as consistent as it needs to be, they were much better than what we saw Monday night against Dallas. They teamed up for a turnover as Ojulari recorded the sack-forced fumble and Thibodeaux recovered it. Ojulari added a pressure and 2 tackles and Thibodeaux had 3 pressures along with 3 tackles.
-Jihard Ward continues to be the Swiss army knife of the entire front. He finished with 4 tackles, 1 sack, and a pressure. He is such a solid scheme-based fit and an energy stick for everyone around him.
-Tomon Fox and Oshane Ximines were the clear backups with the latter adding one pressure to his season total and the former adding 2 tackles and stout edge setting against the run. With Ojulari re-aggravating his calf injury they kept him out weeks 1 and 2, Ximines should see an uptick in playing time again.
-Dexter Lawrence was the team MVP of the game and I don’t think anyone was even close, especially on defense. He was a one man-wrecking crew who totaled 5 tackles, 2 sacks, and 4 pressures. If I am a defensive line coach, I am using this tape to teach players technique and versatility. He two-gapped against the inside run, put pass blockers on ice skates via the bull rush, and finished when he was within striking distance. Fields never got comfortable in the pocket and Lawrence was the reason. In the first quarter of the NFL season, Lawrence is playing at an All-Pro level.
-No Leonard Williams had me a bit nervous in this game, but Justin Ellis and Nick Williams stepped up. Ellis played a sturdy inside game which mightily helped the linebackers. Williams was active, finishing with 5 tackled and a pass deflection at the line. D.J. Davidson had a tackle on just 9 snaps and Henry Mondeaux played 8 snaps, accruing a pressure, before injuring his knee and being taken off on a cart.
-We saw some extra juice out of Tae Crowder in this one. He led the team with 11 tackles and added a sack and a pressure. Against a vanilla offense that clearly lacked creativity, Crowder went off. He did not have to think a lot, he did not have to cover much in space. He had blinders on and chose violence when he woke up. That, with the combination of the defensive line playing at a high level, gave Crowder the opportunity to shine. He did exactly that. The one negative I have is a missed tackle in the fourth quarter that, for the second time this year, looked like a business decision against a downhill ball carrier.
-Jaylon Smith, just promoted to the 53-man roster, essentially split the other linebacker snaps with rookie Micah McFadden. Smith was active and rangy, finishing with 7 tackles (second most) and 1 TFL. He missed a tackle and was beat in coverage twice. McFadden added 4 tackles and 1 pressure but was flagged for an Unnecessary Roughness penalty when he hit Fields after he slid. He still appears limited against blockers. He is a downhill force but when moving left to right, he looks a step behind, and he can’t get off the blocks yet.
-Adoree’ Jackson is playing at a high level. He got off to a rough start, 2 big plays in the first 2 drives, but was outstanding in man coverage from there on out. He added 3 tackles and a TFL as well. This is the most physical I have seen Jackson play so far in his career.
-Aaron Robinson went down with an injury after being bent backward in the wrong direction, but Fabian Moreau stepped up. He had 2 pass break ups and 2 tackles. Both break ups were downfield and could have easily changed the trajectory of the one-score game. His catch-up speed is solid but the issue is he is slow out of his breaks. Assuming he will see more playing time now with Robinson being out, that will be something opposing offenses easily see on tape.
-Darnay Holmes was not tested much but finished with 2 tackles and provided two plays where he set a physical edge against the run, forcing the ball carrier into traffic inside. Excellent job by him and I give credit to how willing he takes on tight ends and linemen.
-Xavier McKinney and Dane Belton both finished with 4 tackles and graded out well in coverage. There were two instances from the All-22 that I saw where Fields had a shot downfield but he either did not see it or did not want to air mail it. McKinney is more of a risk taker who appears to be jumping routes and Belton appears a step slow in recognition. But when it comes to pursuit and downhill run defense, both are doing a nice job.
-Julian Love was injured early, and if this ends up being significant time missed, NYG has a problem on defense. He has been a vital piece to their initial defensive success, and it is a hard role to fill. Holmes is the one I would want to see shift into his role.
-K Graham Gano: 2/3 (Made 44, 43, Missed 37)
-P Jamie Gillian: 5 punts / 54.6 avg – 42.8 net
-DT Dexter Lawrence, RB Saquon Barkley, QB Daniel Jones
-OG Ben Bredeson, WR Darius Slayton, LB Micah McFadden
3 THOUGHTS ON CHI
1. Multiple instances throughout this game, I could not help but be reminded of the Jason Garrett-version of NYG offense. Some of the play calls in specific third-down situations were eerily similar to what we saw under him. The contrast between the offensive system we are watching right now led by Daboll and Mike Kafka and what the Bears are running is crystal clear.
2. To build on the offensive talk with Chicago, there are some whispers that the relationship between Justin Fields and the new regime is not a good one. I can recall some people who have better connections than I do telling me there were several teams that did not view Fields as a first rounder in the 2021 Draft. The former Bears GM, Ryan Pace, obviously liked him. They made an aggressive offer to move up in the draft with NYG including multiple firsts for him. Fast forward less than a year and we are looking at an entirely new group of decision makers. I won’t pretend to know what is being said within those walls, but his tape these first four weeks has been poor. Like Daniel Jones, the supporting cast is awful. But Fields doesn’t do much besides make the occasional play with his legs that makes anyone think he has it. Don’t be surprised to see him moved if CHI ends up picking in the top 5 next April, when they could be in position to draft their own guy and start their rebuild (this year was about clearing the cap) with a fresh rookie QB contract.
3. I understand CHI had limited resources this year and we all saw this coming two years ago. It was smart to rip off the band-aid in 2022 and start from scratch in 2023. Are there any pieces in place to get excited about? I have a hard time believing Roquan Smith will be there beyond this season (a big trade candidate too) considering the in-house drama they’ve had over the past few months. Robert Quinn is a stud edge rusher but is 32-years old and another guy teams may want to trade for. Eddie Jackson will be 30 next season. They lost a ton of their defensive firepower this past offseason and the offensive cupboard is bare. There are some rough times ahead for this franchise unless Fields takes a massive step up. I projected them to finish 3-14. And while they already have 2 wins, I don’t see that projection finishing far off.
3 THOUGHTS ON NYG
1. NYG sits 3-1 heading into a tough matchup in London against the Packers. That team would be hard to beat as is, but if they are marching out with a third-string quarterback and multiple key starters on defense missing, it has the potential to be ugly. GB is a different team than what most of you may be assuming based on recent history. This is a defensive-dependent squad. They are 5th in yards allowed, but 22nd in yards per carry allowed. Their wins are against CHI, a ravaged TB offense, and a NE team that played with backup quarterbacks. If we use 2021 as an indicator, this defense is legit. NYG does match up well with them on the ground but the key will be keeping Rodgers and his raw set of pass catchers out of the end zone so NYG can control the tempo and use Barkley to full capacity. Time for the pass rushers to step up.
2. We are a quarter into the season. This is the first time I take a look at the league and evaluate teams. Any timeframe shorter than that is premature. I use a four-tier system. Tier 1: Super Bowl + home field advantage contenders. Tier 2: Likely playoff teams. Tier 3: Bubble playoff teams. Tier 4: Start thinking draft. NYG is in that tier three right now and it is a refreshing feeling. They do not have a strong roster. They have not played convincing football week to week. However, they are 3-1 and clearly a notch above what I currently consider that fourth tier. To me, this is 95% on the shoulders of the coaching staff. If the front office can make educated, correct personnel decisions, there are plenty of reasons to believe this gut feeling I have on NYG is real when looking at the future.
3. If NYG does end up entering the mid-way point of the season with a winning record, at what point do they make a roster move to improve their current chances at a playoff run? I know fans may want more losses for the sake of the draft position, but I can assure you when coaches and players smell blood in the water, they want their shot. It may never come again for them. The biggest roadblock on this roster resides at receiver. They cannot have anything close to a credible passing attack with what they are currently marching out at the position. Do they pursue a free agent like Odell Beckham, TY Hilton, Will Fuller, Isaiah Ford, or Mohamed Sanu? Or do they tap into a practice squad player who lacks experience but who makes more sense economically? Cornell Powell from KC is a guy I personally liked, and Kafka has experience with. Tanner Gentry was off and on the Buffalo roster in 2021 so I would assume there is at least some interest and knowledge and appreciation for him coming from both Daboll and Schoen. They are both possession receivers who play a power game. Something to keep an eye on.