I received several emails over the past couple of days in response to this weekend’s post about having a little perspective following the Giants heart-breaking last-play loss in Washington on Thursday asking, in essence, was I implying with the piece that the team might actually be ‘closer’ than most people are giving them credit for. And my answer is a pretty straightforward YES.
One of the things I always try and do is convince people in this business is not to analyze to the score. My favorite scenario in that regards is a team that has a potential game-winning 50-yard FG attempt on the final play of the game. If they make it, the fans will be dancing in the streets and wondering where they can get playoff tickets. If they miss you’ll get a litany of at least 50 reasons why they lost the game. And if someone says that gee that sounds a little bit like Thursday; well if the shoe fits!
I also told a couple of friends who asked during the pre-season how I thought the Giants would do this season that I really had no idea. Ask me again after the first two games. Certainly, it sucks to be 0-2 again, especially when you feel it should be at worse 1-1. But my sense is that you are in fact starting to see more and more pieces fall into place.
That’s said, that as in life, there are no guarantees in football. That just when you think you have plugged a major gap, two more leaks spring up and sink the boat. However, as I said in the article what I think you are starting to see emerging is the framework for a potentially dynamic vertical, big-play passing attack. The offensive line appears to be at least functional and the Giants have three solid receivers who can get downfield in Golladay, Shepard and Slayton and while none is necessarily a true, elite #1 guy, the fact that you have three means one of them is always going to draw an opponents’ #3 corner. And if the Giants can ever get their gadget guys – Saquon, Toney and Engram – up to speed, I really believe the unit has the potential to put 30 points a game on the board most nights.
I also thought I saw some really interesting things from Daniel Jones in the first two weeks. One would really like to see him be a little more accurate and refine his route anticipation. But he can certainly sling the ball and whatever he lacks in accuracy these days he makes up for in athleticism. I mean NFL QBs not named Lamar Jackson just aren’t supposed to run for 50-yard scores. In fact, as we go forward I can really see Jones being an increasingly difficult QB for opponents’ to game plan against.
And just a word on Saquon. He’s clearly not 100%, but he can still be a major factor. Just having him line up in the backfield forces opponents to account for him. And that should open the door for the Giants to run play action after play action and get the ball down the field even if Saquon never actually carries the ball. I also come at the issue of Toney as a glass half full kind of guy. If he does eventually come around – and let’s be honest here the kid is a rookie, was banged up most of camp and had covid – you get another weapon. If he doesn’t – and the odds are around 50-50 whether a player selected 20th overall makes it or is a bust – you move on thinking that your offense is still pretty good without him.
The Giants also appear to have most of the pieces in place on the other side of the ball with one major caveat. They just can’t rush the passer, at least with a standard 4-man front. Indeed, one can make the case that with any kind of pass rush at all the Giants would at least be 1-1 and might actually be 2-0. Of course, it hasn’t helped that, for whatever reason after investing heavily in press corners in the secondary they are still playing it very soft back there, but in the two games to date, two essentially journeyman passers, have pretty much allowed to sit back in the pocket and play catch with their receivers, completing 76% of their pass attempts for what would be, prorated over the year, almost 5,000 yards and 32 TDs.
The existential problem for the Giants is that while they are nominally a 3-4 D, in reality they play a 4-2-5 on most snaps. However, because they have no true DEs, they’ve been forced to have to move their 250-pound OLBs up to the line of scrimmage and play with their hand on the ground. But that’s awfully small to hold the point of attack against a 320-pound NFL OT in the run game. You could actually live with that if those guys were flashing rushing the pocket, but so far Carter, Ximenes and Ojulari have barely gotten off the line of scrimmage. Indeed, one could make the case that Carter and Ximenes have been so unproductive to date that they should have been asked to buy tickets.
And with a couple of extra days off, we are perhaps going to find out what Joe Judge and Patrick Graham are made of as they have to find an answer. In the short term, they just have to consider playing their corners much more aggressively. If it were me, I’d be putting out their best 5 cover guys in man and everybody else goes after the QB. Yeah, you’re going to give up a few big plays along the way, but almost anything has to be better than getting sliced and diced every week.
Then in the longer term, the 2022 draft just has to be about the pass rush in a year that is loaded with quality DEs and ERs.