New York Giants 27 – San Francisco 49ers 23
A rough week in California with wildfires destroying homes at a record pace put this game in question, as the air quality reached “dangerous” levels and was creeping towards the league re-locating the Monday night match-up. The 1-7 Giants ended up taking on the 2-7 Niners as scheduled.
The Giants came out of the bye week with yet another starting right guard, this time the newly-signed Jamon Brown who was recently released by the Rams. The Niners, who underwent everyone’s worst nightmare early in the year, losing their starting QB to a season-ending injury, gave the start to 2017 undrafted free agent Nick Mullens who was impressive in his debut the week prior against OAK.
The Niners took an early 3-0 lead as the NYG offense continued to show ineptitude on their first two possessions stemming from poor blocking and a nervous Eli Manning. However the Big Blue defense came up big, taking advantage of the green Mullens as he misfired on a pass across the field which was tipped/broke up by Janoris Jenkins and right into the lap of BJ Goodson. The Giants began their third possession on the SF 12-yard line and on 3rd and 8, Manning stood strong in the pocket and found a wide open Odell Beckham in the end zone. The Niners had three defenders in the area and none of them tracked the Giants most explosive pass catcher. Giants led 7-3.
The Niners didn’t let the lead last long, as tight end George Kittle and running back Matt Breida torched the Giants back seven on the next drive, as they did for the entire night. They combined for 6 touches and 51 yards, the last one being a 3-yard touchdown run by Breida up the middle at the start of the 2nd quarter.
After trading possessions, NYG put together their longest drive of the night: 14 plays, including 2 penalties worth 25 yards charged against SF, landed NYG inside the 10-yard line with a fresh set of downs. Pat Shurmur, who has been stating there needs to be more devotion to the running game since September, gave Saquon Barkley three shots at the end zone. It left them 2 yards shy and NYG had to settle on a 20-yard field goal to tie the game at 10.
Mullens and the Niners offense then rattled off 11 plays in under 2 minutes to consistent chunk-gains via the middle of the field. They were able to respond with a field goal of their own which gave them a 3 point lead heading into halftime.
SF opened the half at their own 40-yard line thanks to a kickoff out of bounds by Aldrick Rosas. The Mullens-Breida connection continued to move the ball and successfully convert on 3rd downs, the third of which resulted in a touchdown pass at the mercy of Ogletree for what seemed to be the hundredth time. SF was up 20-10 on their home turf against an offense that has been struggling all year.
The newly-signed Corey Coleman then gave the Giants a solid boost with a team season-long, 51-yard kick return. Manning then found Beckham for a 30-yard gain and all of the sudden NYG was back in the red zone. The Manning-to-Beckham duo stayed hot, as they ran replica plays back-to-back, the latter ending in an easy 20-yard touchdown as Beckham outclassed second-year corner Ahkello Witherspoon.
The Giants were down by 3 and then forced SF in to a 3-and-out, giving them the ball back with all of the momentum. Rosas nailed his third field goal of the night, this one for 31 yards, which tied it up at 20. Nick Mullens trotted onto the field and started to look flustered as the NYG pass rush was, at least, breaking through what seemed to be a red wall also known as the SF offensive line.
Mullens misfired on a pass intended for Marquis Goodwin and it, once again, bounced right in to Goodson’s hands for his second interception of the night. The Giants had the Niners by the throat. However a quick 3-and-out forced by the SF defense gave the Niners the ball back. The two offenses struggled to take control back but eventually the Niners put together a time-consuming, 11-play drive the resulted in Robbie Gould’s third field goal of the night. NYG had just 2:46 left to get this game tied up or in their favor.
There was a different feel to this one. There was confidence that the NYG offense was going to get this done. For the most part, the offensive line was having a good night collectively and Manning was hitting most of his targets. The SF defense, in addition, was nothing to be overly scared about. Manning hit Evan Engram, who previously had 1 target in the game, for a 31-yard gain, the longest play of the night for NYG. He then came down with another 6-yard catch the play after.
Then came the ugliest portion of the game and a clear sign that the two teams on the field had a combined 3 wins in week 10 of the 2018 season. Four penalties, two on NYG and two on SF, were committed and called in the next 20 seconds of game clock. The final one was an 18-yard pass interference on Witherspoon, when the Giants were in the middle of a 2nd and 20 situation from midfield, way out of field goal range. The next big play came from Barkley, a 23-yard catch-and-run that landed NYG at the 12-yard line. A couple plays later, Manning hit Sterling Shepard, who also was very quiet in the game until this drive, for a 3-yard touchdown. NYG did leave about a minute left on the clock for Mullens and company.
The Niners got the ball near midfield quickly but they had to burn their final timeout because of a false start by rookie tackle Mike McGlinchey. It can rightfully be questioned if that was a right decision by Niners coach Kyle Shanahan because they could have lost 10 seconds of game clock but held on to a timeout. Mullens was able to get the ball to the 21-yard line and spiked the ball with 1 second remaining.
Instead of sitting back, the NYG defense came with a full force blitz that made Mullens rush his throw. He sailed it past the end zone and the game was over.
NYG wins, 27-23.
-Eli Manning: 19/31 – 188 yards – 3 TD / 0 INT. Manning shook off a rusty start and played an overall solid game. His performance late was something we saw for years but not so much lately. He appeared more aggressive and braver in the pocket. He was certainly aided by the offensive line keeping it together for the most part and whether anyone thinks he should be here or not, Manning proved he can still get it done on multiple levels. He did have 2 poor under throws on plays where Beckham and Barkley beat their man deep, respectively. That power just isn’t there downfield anymore. In addition, Manning missed the fact that Beckham was left uncovered near the end zone on Barkley’s third straight rushing attempt near the end zone, which resulted in no touchdown. It was a rare mental miss by Manning.
-Saquon Barkley: 20 att / 67 yards – 4 rec / 33 yards. Overall a quiet night for Barkley on a play-to-play basis. He had issues with his footing early on, leading to an in-game footwear alteration. Barkley just didn’t have nay room inside to run and the tight ends were horrific on the edge. His 23-yard gain on the final touchdown drive was one of the bigger plays of the game. I often hear that he is too prone to bounce runs to the outside and I can see the argument, but some of his biggest plays this season were a result of that approach. Is there room for improvement as a decision maker? Sure. I wrote that in my scouting report of him last spring. But you have take the good with the bad with the understanding that the rewards of him running like that will usually outweigh the risks.
-Odell Beckham: 4 rec / 73 yards / 2 TD. The night didn’t start well, as Beckham let the first pass of the game slip right between his hands, for his first of 2 drops on the night. However he and the Giants offense turned things around. His volume of catches wasn’t high, but he came down with 2 touchdowns and “could have” had 2 more if Manning hit his mark. Most important here is that Beckham continues to play as hard as any WR in the league. His production and thus his attitude is so much-based on the offensive line giving Manning time. Hopefully they can keep this up.
-Sterling Shepard: 2 rec / 9 yards / 1 TD – 1 att / 27 yards. Shepard was quiet for the majority of the night. He was thrown to just 3 times but the final target of the night resulted in a 3-yard touchdown. He has always had a knack for those short-yardage, get-open-at-any-cost type situations and he stood up when the team needed him.
-Corey Colman deserves a mention. He came down with his lone target of the night, which was an essential 3rd down conversion. He also provided a spark to the kick return game. A couple of nice returns were called back via holding penalties, but his 51-yard gain set up NYG for their third touchdown of the night. This is a kid with all of the talent in the world and nobody has ever denied that. His issues have stemmed from inconsistency and complacency. Could NYG be the pace that gets turned around? It’s worth a shot.
-Evan Engram: 4 rec / 46 yards. With 2:43 left in the 4th quarter, Engram had 1 target, 1 catch, 1 yard. Fair to say he had little-to-no impact on this game until the end. He, along with Shepard, are dangerous weapons who can break off a big play at any moment. I think he is still getting his groove back after coming back from injury and if he starts making plays like he did on the final drive, this offense will break out. His blocking grade was slightly below the average mark again.
-Rhett Ellison played a poor, poor game. Especially upon my review/re-watch, his blocking grade was the worst we have seen out of him since he signed with NYG. DE Arik Armstead overpowered him with ease on multiple occasions. He allowed 2 TFL and a pressure in addition to be driven backwards off the snap multiple times despite playing just about half the snaps. If NYG is going to be a run-first team in the coming years, they need more presence at TE from a blocking standpoint.
-Nate Solder and Chad Wheeler both had their best games of the season, respectively. Solder looked very nimble and light, keeping his assignment in front of him with great footwork. SF doesn’t exactly bring the heat off the edge with superior talent, but after what we have seen this year from Solder, it was a step in the right direction. Wheeler was quiet in a good way. He never looks pretty for the most part, but I saw an improvement with his footwork, consistency, balance in this one. His performance over these next 7 weeks will say a lot in terms of how NYG approaches the offseason in relation to the OL. I still think there is a shot he can be the guy at RT for the future.
-All eyes were on the newly acquired Jamon Brown at right guard. That position has been a revolving door and a major source of weakness within this offense for years. Brown, the new flavor of the month, didn’t grade out well. I do think he showed more that Patrick Omameh when it comes to picking up stunts and twists, something opposing defenses have been torching this OL with. However, at the end of the night Brown was the lowest graded OL with 1 TFL allowed, 1 pressure allowed, 1 sack allowed, and a holding penalty. Ouch.
-Spencer Pulley was the next-worst grade along the OL. His lack of performance didn’t pop up on the stat sheet as much, as he allowed 1 sack and that’s about it. However Pulley was the main culprit for no inside running game. He simply just couldn’t hold his ground, too much time spent being drilled back. Pulley is a guy that is almost always in recovery mode.
-Will Hernandez continues to put in solid, positive game grades at LG. He excelled at sticking to his man, hands on and inside, with good balance and presence. He had an ill-timed false start late in the game that could have really shot this offense in the foot, but his teammates picked him up. One thing I see about him that I just don’t like is the lack of ability in space to make a difference. On screens or even outside runs, Hernandez too often whiffs, doesn’t even touch a defender. He is a better athlete than that, but his adjustments just haven’t caught up to the speed of the NFL yet.
-Olivier Vernon and Lorenzo Carter were the 2 main edge rushers in this game. Neither recorded a sack and overall, both of them were outplayed by the SF tackles. They each finished with 2 pressures but Carter actually finished with a team-leading 3 TFL. This was arguably his best game as a pro and he played about half of the snaps. His talent stands out and he looks like he is thinking less, reacting more.
-Kerry Wynn and Kareem Martin were basically non-existent on the field. Wynn was out there for about 50% of the snaps whereas Martin saw his playing time take a nosedive. I expect to see more of that with Carter being the main beneficiary.
-The Niners ground game was a steady force all night long. Part of that can be rightfully blamed on the linebackers and Landon Collins, but BJ Hill and Dalvin Tomlinson were struggling to maintain ground against double teams, Hill more so. Tomlinson had a couple solid, rangy plays in addition to a TFL. Hard to expect either one of these guys to play on the same level as the traded Damon Harrison.
-Backups Josh Mauro and Mario Edwards both played well in their roles. Mauro had the most active game of his season, finishing with 5 tackles and 1 TFL.
-The middle of the field was torched by the Niners passing game and Matt Breida averaged just under 6 yards per carry. Alec Ogletree was a culprit in both, as he just doesn’t have the quickness in his hips to hang with pass catching tight ends or backs that go out into a route.
-BJ Goodson ended up with 2 interceptions off of tipped balls. The first one led to the first NYG score of the night. While both of those plays were mostly right-place, right time results, Goodson played a very solid game. He was the most physical NYG defender on the field and he made several good reads post-snap that put him in the right position to make a play. He finished with 6 tackles and a TFL.
-Nate Stupar gets a few snaps here and there in addition to his special teams presence. He was flagged for a face mask penalty and a hold. Lately he has been on the wrong side of these evaluations.
-Quietly, a very effective game for both Janoris Jenkins and BW Webb. They both kept the SF wide receivers in check, in particular the speedster Marquis Goodwin, whom they sent deep numerous times. They weren’t challenged much but they were still active. Jenkins broke up a pass that ended up being tipped into the hands of linebacker BJ Goodson for his first of 2 interceptions.
-Grant Haley saw the bulk of nickel snaps and even though he was beat on 3rd down a couple times, I thought he played well. The undrafted rookie made a key 3rd down tackle on the Niners second-to-last drive to force the try for a field goal rather than bleed the clock out. Haley is a more physical version of Donte Deayon, who just couldn’t hack it with the size and strength of the NFL. Haley has a nice opportunity to show what he’s got these next 7 weeks.
-Even though Landon Collins led the team with 9 tackles, it was an off night for the up-and-down safety. He was torched in the intermediate passing game over the middle where his lack of agility and reaction showed. His game is very all-or-nothing and when he doesn’t seem on, he can really hurt this defense. There is a lot to like about Collins, but one of the hardest decisions of the offseason will revolve around his contract offer. It is a hard sell to pay him like a top 5 safety in the league.
-Curtis Riley missed 2 more tackles on the night, one resulted in a touchdown and the other was a long run by Breida. There isn’t anyone behind him that can play at a higher level, but man this guy is hard to watch.
-K Aldrick Rosas – 2/2 (Made 20, 21). Rosas wasn’t challenged with any long kicks, but he continues to be perfect on the road this year in one of the worst-kicking seasons the NFL has ever seen. He did knock a kickoff out of bounds for the second time this year, however.
-P Riley Dixon – 5 Punts / 47.6 avg / 42.8 net. Other than the first punt where Richie James had a 21-yard return, Dixon pinned SF well. He is on a nice streak right now. For the record, he is 4th in the NFL in net average.
-LB BJ Goodson, WR Odell Beckham, OT Nate Solder
-LB Alec Ogletree, S Landon Collins, RG Jamon Brown
3 THOUGHTS ON SF
-Watching every snap of Nick Mullens in his 2 starts gives some confidence to the notion that the next franchise QB may be easier to find than some are thinking. He isn’t overly talented. He wasn’t a stud in college. But he is quick to see, quick to react, and confident in his throws. The NFL is changing more each year and perhaps the process of finding the next QB won’t be as difficult as some think? We have never had a league with this kind of young-QB success and I don’t think it is their talent.
-Jimmie Ward is the SF starting safety that has seen starts at FS, SS, nickel CB, and outside CB. He will be a free agent in 2019 and I’ve talked to some who are confident SF is going to let him walk, as they just spent a ton of money at QB and RB this past offseason and DeForest Buckner has a payday looming. If Landon Collins prices himself out of NYG, Ward is a guy I would take a hard look at. He has been nicked up a few times, but I think his skill set fits in well with today’s NFL more than Collins. Just a thought.
-The next few years in the NFC West will be all about LAR and SF. The most common denominator in my opinion? The two head coaches. Young, fresh, innovative, energetic. Again I think Pat Shurmur deserves his shot here to see if he can turn things around, but at some point NYG needs to bring in a new-look-type coach.
3 CLOSING THOUGHTS
-The best part of this game was simple. NYG played really, really hard. Offensively and defensively, they hustled and played like they were still in it. I am old school in that I think winning culture is as vital to sustained success as the personnel. Sure, everyone wants a top 5 pick in the draft but winning games provides value as well, value that can translate to success in 2019. This whole “8 game season” they are talking about is important.
-It is amazing how one overlooked-play could have very well changed the entire tone of the game. A play I don’t see anyone talking about. On the Giants second possession of the game with SF up 3-0, Manning threw a quick, inaccurate pass that deflected off of Saquon Barkley. The ball was floating in the air, about to be intercepted by SF K’Wuan Williams. But center Spencer Pulley comes out of nowhere and makes a catch that some of our tight end wouldn’t even have come down with. They both had control of the ball and in situations like that, the offense wins. If that ended up being an interception, I can almost guarantee this would have been a loss.
-The Giants are now looking at a pretty bad TB team before a division matchup with PHI. The win created a sense of euphoria with these guys and I am as confident as I have been all year that NYG is going to win this game. TB is in trouble next Sunday, watch.