Tampa Bay Buccaneers 25 – New York Giants 23
Typical fall weather in Florida. The sun was out, bright and shining, during pre-game warm ups then at the snap of a finger, the first few drives were played in a torrential downpour of rain. The day’s weather replicated the emotions of the Giants week 4 match-up against the Bucs, sitting at 1-1 having played just 2 games as a result of their forced week 1 bye due to weather.
The Giants offensive line saw a two-part shuffle in the starting lineup, with 2017 free agent signing D.J. Fluker getting the start at right guard, shifting John Jerry over to left guard and Brett Jones into his normal backup role. It didn’t matter who was in there early, as Bucs DT Gerald McCoy was bursting through the line whenever and however he wanted, causing major disruption early in the game. He had three tackles for losses during the Giants’ first three drives. He made both Jerry and Fluker look like high school freshman getting beat by Division I recruits. Whether he was penetrating and altering the running game’s plan or getting into Manning’s face on simple three step drop backs, he was the star of the show early.
The Bucs jumped out to an early 13-0 lead in the first quarter, with 2 touchdowns both from Jameis Winston’s arm. The first, a simple fade-type pass to their own star receiver (who near-rivals Beckham’s career numbers) Mike Evans, beating Eli Apple who did not even locate the ball. The second was a major breakdown in coverage by the Giants linebackers. Rookie tight end O.J. Howard was left all alone on a play-action right, pass left design and ended the 58-yard score with not a single defender anywhere near him. The one positive here was a missed extra point by Nick Folk, an important and oft-repeated theme of the day. The Bucs had 13 points on 12 offensive plays at the end of quarter 1. The Giants…0 points on 19 plays.
On the Giants 6th possession of the game, they finally started to piece together a positive drive into Bucs territory. They made it to the Tampa 21-yard line, 1st and 10. After a near first-down catch-and-run by Brandon Marshall, they lined up for a 3rd-and-1 on the 12-ard line. A quick inside handoff to Shane Vereen was stuffed right away by former Giants DE Robert Ayers, who beat Ereck Flowers off the ball to his inside shoulder. The Giants settled for a 30-yard field goal by Aldrick Rosas, making it 13-3 with 7:21 left in the first half.
The Bucs went 3-and-out on their next drive thanks to creative play calling by Steve Spagnuolo, who put safety Landon Collins in position to disrupt the passing game via the blitz all afternoon. On 3rd-and-10, he forced Winston into a quick decision, throwing a ball right into the waiting hands of tackle Jay Bromley, who at least tried to drop in back in coverage. The ball literally went through his hands and we were all reminded that there is a reason why some guys play on the line. That could have been a major missed scoring opportunity for the Giants, but Manning and the offense responded.
Had it not been for an Odell Beckham drop (his second of the quarter), the 7-play drive would have been completely full of positive plays. Manning spread the ball around and ended it with a career long 14-yard touchdown run – the first (and currently only) Giants rushing touchdown of 2017.
Winston and the Bucs got the ball back with 3:17 and marched down the field, all the way to the Giants 1-yard line. A season that seemed to be hanging on by a thread got a major surge from the defense, holding the Bucs to a field goal and limiting the damage. The score going into halftime was Bucs 16 – Giants 10.
In the third quarter, the Bucs inched their way into field range, taking advantage of an over-aggressive Giants back seven and missed tackles. The Bucs backup running back, Jacquizz Rodgers, ran low to the ground and let the Giants defensive backs over-pursue, making it an easy task to run through arm tackles and gain extra yards. Nick Folk lined up for a 49-yard field and missed, supplying the Giants with solid field position as their quest for another comeback ensued.
The Giants marched down the field, never gaining more than 10 yards with the exception of a 13-yard run by rookie Wayne Gallman. After being a non-factor in the first three games, Gallman got his opportunity after the struggling Paul Perkins struggled to get up from a physical tackle by Kendell Beckwith. Gallman seized the opportunity, ending the drive with a 4-yard touchdown catch which put the Giants ahead for the first time, 17-16. The Giants then forced a 3-and-out capped by their lone sack of the day by the blitzing Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Momentum had fully shifted in Tampa.
The Giants entered the 4th quarter in Bucs territory. With Weston Richburg out with a concussion, Brett Jones stepped in and helped pave the way for yet another positive, piece-by-piece drive. They set Aldrick Rosas up for a 43-yard field goal attempt, but the rookie pushed it wide right, giving him is first miss of his career including regular and preseason.
The Bucs moved the ball over midfield but were forced with a tough 4th-and-2 decision on their own 36-yard line. Go for it? Or give Nick Folk another chance? This time from 53 yards. They chose the former and Landon Collins continued to do what he does best, disrupt. He broke up a pass intended for Cameron Brate, turnover on downs. The Giants suffered a 3-and-out, but the negative of that was overshadowed by punter Brad Wing’s second complete shank in as many weeks, with this punt traveling a mere 15 yards, keeping Tampa right near midfield.
It didn’t take long for Tampa to reach the red zone with the biggest culprit being a half-effort missed tackle by Rodgers-Cromartie that led to a 30-yard gain by receiver Adam Humphries. The Giants lack of quality tackling is a major issue that supplied the Bucs with way too many valuable yards late in the game. Cameron Brate caught a touchdown over the middle as Jonathan Casillas was simply over-matched dropping back into coverage. The Bucs took the lead back but missed the 2-point attempt. 22-17 with 7:44 left.
On the second play of the Giants ensuing drive, which started at the 25-yard line, Manning hit Beckham for a 42-yard downfield pass. We almost forget how good Manning is at this kind of throw in this kind of situation. With the offensive line altering the Giants approach to the passing game, it is almost upsetting to see what this duo could be if there were 5 capable guys up front. Beckham was off and on the field with his ankle injury continuing to flare up. Between that and a dislocated finger suffered earlier in the game, hats off to this hard-nosed, always-hustling superstar. Gallman helped inch the Giants up to the 2-yard line and on 3rd-and-goal, Manning found Rhett Ellison for the lead-changing touchdown. Beckham did catch a 2-point conversion attempt to give the Giants a safe 3 point lead, however he (barely) stepped out of bounds prior to catching the ball and ended up having to give the points back for illegal touching. The Bucs were getting the ball back, down 1, with 3:16 left.
This is where big-time defenses step up. Sacks, pressure, turnovers….something. The Giants, however, continued to underwhelm on that side of the ball by allowing the Bucs deep into field goal territory in just 5 plays, the back-breaker being a 26-yard pass to Brate, whom beat Collins fairly easily. That play gave the Bucs tight ends a total of 6 catches for 143 yards (and 2 TDs). Instead of making plays, tackles were being missed left and right and no pressure was being put on Winston. Because the Giants mismanaged their timeouts in the 2nd half via a foolish challenge and timeout on a 2-point conversion, they were left watching the clock dwindle as the Bucs perfectly set up Nick Folk for a game-winning field goal. The 34-yard attempt snuck through the uprights by less than a foot, no time remaining. Giants lose 25-23.
- Eli Manning: 30/49 – 288 yards – 2 TD/0 INT – 3 att – 21 yards – 1 TD. For the second week in a row, Manning led multiple touchdown-scoring, lead-changing drives in the second half. He had pressure in his face for the majority of his drop backs, but he wasn’t sacked once and appears to be adjusting very well to what the players around him can supply. His poise under pressure has always been a strength and he continues to give this team a fighting chance despite several factors around him heading in the wrong direction.
- Wayne Gallman: 11 att – 42 yards – 2 rec – 8 yards – 1 TD. We saw a different level of explosion and decision making with Gallman during training camp in comparison to the other NYG running backs. With Paul Perkins continuing to struggle in addition to getting nicked up, Gallman got his shot in the second half and was one of the main reasons this offense had balance from there on out. He was able to find small windows, dart through them, and make positive plays out of nothing. His touchdown catch in the 3rd quarter and positive blocking grade may very well get him the starting nod in the near future.
- Shane Vereen: 5 att – 14 yards – 1 rec – 11 yards. Continues to be underplayed, being on the field for just 28% of the plays in this one. Positive things happen with this guy on the field and he needs to get more action. I will keep saying this until it happens.
- Paul Perkins: 9 att – 13 yards – 1 rec 6 yards. The nightmare season continues for Perkins, who may now have a rib injury to deal with in addition. Perkins finished with 13 yards but had a 14-yard run. Yes, do the math. That means otherwise, he carried the ball 8 times for -1 yard. Perkins is now averaging 1.9 yards per carry on the young season and while it isn’t only on his shoulders, the success Gallman had when he came in might be a damning fact for the second-year back.
- Odell Beckham: 7 rec – 90 yards. Beckham is clearly still fighting the ankle injury he sustained during preseason, although he is still fully capable of making plays up and down the field. He came down with a 42-yard reception late in the game with his blazing speed and also came up with a 15-yard gain where he broke 3 tackles with a combination of strength, toughness, and quickness. Beckham, however, dropped 2 more passes and wasn’t aware of the out-of-bounds along the back of the end zone on their crucial 2-point conversion.
- Brandon Marshall: 6 rec – 46 yards. Halfway through the game I had the thought that Marshall was just so much bigger and stronger than the Tampa corners, the Giants might as well just keep feeding him the ball underneath until the defense stopped it. For the most part, Marshall handled them in those situations but he too is still dropping too many passes. Off the top of my head he already has 5 on the young season.
- Sterling Shepard: 5 rec – 54 yards. He was thrown the ball 5 times and he came down with all of them. Shepard is showing the necessary toughness and grit over the middle. He is a great option for this offense to have when primary reads aren’t there.
- Evan Engram: 6 rec – 62 yards. As the weeks go by, it seems to be the case more and more that Engram is entrenched as the team’s number two receiving option. He is moving exceptionally well and making high-difficulty catches each game. Four of his 6 catches went for a first down and I think moving forward, he needs to be targeted on 3rd down. That only happened twice against the Bucs. He also had a positive blocking grade for the third straight week.
- Rhett Ellison: 2 rec – 11 yards – 1 TD. Ellison played a season-high 39% of the plays, but I still don’t think it is enough. He saw a couple plays at fullback but with the amount of “11” personnel the Giants use and the emergence of Engram, he is stuck on the sidelines. He has been thrown the ball 5 time this year, and he has 5 catches. The yards he can gain after contact and the reliability as a blocker is part of what the Giants are missing. Two birds, one stone.
- Tackles: Both Ereck Flowers and Justin Pugh recorded their best grades of the season in this game. Manning wasn’t sacked once and even though the Bucs DEs leave a lot to be desired, these guys deserve at least some credit. Flowers did however allow two tackles for losses and Pugh struggled to maintain his anchor ability after he tweaked his back. But these guys fought hard and played better than any of their previous games. Pugh graded out at a “3”, which is right where I consider the best performances week in, week out around the league. Let’s not forget he is out of position. Makes me really think about him as a left tackle for the long-term future.
- Interior: Weston Richburg put together another solid game until he left with a concussion. Brett Jones stepped in and didn’t really factor in either direction. D.J. Fluker and John Jerry got off to horrific starts, as Gerald McCoy had his way with both of them for pretty much the entire first quarter. They cleaned it up well and both played at a very high level in the second half. They both snuck past the bare minimum grade of what I would consider acceptable, but still have plenty of room to improve. Fluker deserves a shot to stay at RG for the near future.
- Ends: Jason Pierre Paul recorded 4 tackles, a half sack, and a QB hit. But he continues to underwhelm and is being neutralized by a lone blocker too many times. They are trying to move him around exploit match-ups, but he simply isn’t beating anyone right now. My expectations were so high for him this year, and he is far from meeting them. Olivier Vernon only made it 22 plays before re-injuring his bum ankle. Kerry Wynn and Romeo Okwara both got the opportunity to step up, and neither could produce any pressure. Both had a hard time holding up against the run, as well. Poor game for those two that certainly contributed to the Bucs 5+ yards per carry.
- Tackles: Two of the bright spots were the consistent high level of play from both Damon Harrison and Dalvin Tomlinson. Harrison missed a short stretch with a minor knee tweak, but he demanded so much attention and started to disrupt the passing game via the bull rush with more and more frequency. Tomlinson is playing better each week, showing more confidence and pop off the snap. He is going to make things happen for this defense down throughout the season. Jay Bromley’s missed interception may be one of the NFL’s bloopers of the year and his stoutness against the run hasn’t improved. He is a liability to the defense.
- B.J. Goodson returned from a 2-week injury-caused hiatus. His presence makes a huge difference for this defense. He is the one defender on this team who I completely trust when it comes to actually bringing down the ball carrier when he has the opportunity to do so. He finished with 6 tackles on the day. His coverage was sub-par, something we saw up close and in person at camp.
- Jonathan Casillas and Keenan Robinson are getting simply out-matched in coverage and in space. These two need to stop missing tackles and stick to their cover assignments or else tight ends will continue to torch this defense for, how many years in a row now?
- There are far bigger issues on this defense than Devon Kennard and his versatility in terms of assignment and alignment is respectable. However his weakness in space, most notably coverage, is a huge liability to the defense that will continue to have a big negative impact.
- Not a bad day for the two starters, Janoris Jenkins and Eli Apple, but far from great as well. Apple was beat badly for yet another touchdown in the first quarter when his lack of skill set showed up again. He doesn’t get it yet. Jenkins continues to play bigger than his size and continues to break up passes (2). However he had two very bad missed tackles that did end up impacting the game.
- Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was the only other CB to play, as he was on the field for the majority of the defensive snaps. I respect what he has turned his game into now, as he no longer has that top-level speed and athleticism. He is very good at anticipating and playing smart. Rarely is he caught out of position or surprised. However his missed tackle on Humphries that I noted above was just downright awful and lazy. And the sad part, it has become the norm with him at least once per game.
- A top defensive grade for Landon Collins is slightly overshadowed by his bad coverage on the final drive of the game when Cameron Brate beat him downfield. The timing of that beat couldn’t have been worse. Other than that, Collins led the team with 7 tackles, 2 pass break ups, and 3 QB pressures. The coaching staff is using him in so many ways and he is at such a high, difference-making level.
- Darian Thompson and Andrew Adams pretty much split duties next to Collins, with Thompson still getting the edge in volume. This shouldn’t last much longer, as his two missed tackles this week were a big deal. His range couldn’t keep up with DeSean Jackson deep and he isn’t making quick enough decisions. Adams needs to be given the majority snaps now.
- Aldrick Rosas: 1 for 2 (Made 30, Missed 43). Rosas was put in another pressure situation this week and failed. Those 3 points that were left on the board were huge. Looking forward to seeing how he responds.
- P Brad Wing: Same story as last week. Overall a solid day until the pressure was really on and he responded with a 15-yard shank. When it gets in your head, it’s over. The Giants can’t let this happen week after week; he needs to put together a few good weeks now.
- Dwayne Harris: Non factor again.
- QB Eli Manning, RT Justin Pugh, RB Wayne Gallman
- WR Brandon Marshall, DE Kerry Wynn, S Darian Thompson
3 THOUGHTS ON TAMPA BAY
- Watching Gerald McCoy wreck havoc on the Giants offense for the entire first quarter all by himself from different angles was eye opening. Yes, it was against the Giants offensive line. However when you have a 300+ pound presence that can get off the ball fast AND powerful like that, he can make a lot of other players look good.
- I continue to not be sold on Jameis Winston. This guy does play well late in games, but there are so many mental mistakes he continues to make week after week. His arm is erratic and he looks lost out there often, especially when you watch the All-22 tape.
- CB Brent Grimes won me over this season. I always knew he was solid, but I admit the public perception of him and his wife being out of control via social media and a few rough games in Miami has kept him down my personal CB ranks for awhile. This dude is a legit blanket-cover guy who can hang with speed and quickness in any situation. He will continue to be among the league’s leaders in pass breakups.
3 CLOSING THOUGHTS
- As long as the NFC East teams continue to lose games, the Giants will have a fighting shot. Who knows? Maybe this division will be the the one where an 8-8 team wins the title and a home playoff game. Wishful thinking, I know. There is stretch of schedule coming up that they can take advantage of, starting with the 0-4 Chargers. The Giants have the toughest strength of schedule in the NFL this year and they finally get a break here at home against an absolutely miserable franchise.
- Even if Paul Perkins comes back healthy, Wayne Gallman and Shane Vereen should be splitting the RB duties for now. Gallman brought new energy and play-making ability and Vereen continues to make things happen for this offense. Time for Perkins to take a step back. Not a goodbye, just a sit tight and watch what happens with these other guys.
- This Giants defense has major problems, the two worst being downright awful against the run and an inability to create pressure on the passer via four rushers. You can’t have that. Spags is being forced into blitzing a lot, leaving the overly vulnerable linebackers into serious coverage roles which they simply do not have the personnel for. Time to step up JPP. That’s on you and that hefty contract of yours.
This season still isn’t over.