There ain’t no easy cures! However, as a survivor of the 1970s the one thing I can suggest to people is get off the roller-coaster. Three weeks after the Giants dropped to 0-3 with a second-straight last play loss, all one heard was a cacophony of ‘we’re awful; we suck! Fire the G.M.! Fire the owner! Fire the coach! Fire the co-ordinators! Etc etc.’ Then the Giants eke out a win in New Orleans and it’s all ‘I think we’ve turned a corner!’ Then lose again in Dallas and we’re back to ‘We’re awful! We suck! Fire everyone!”
Fact is the game in Dallas was always going to be a tough one. The Cowboys are a good team with a particularly dynamic offense that was piling up the points on a weekly basis. And, it wasn’t going to get any easier when the Giants had to play without their #2 and 3 receivers, as well as their emerging LT; they were also on their 5th LG of the young season by the middle of the second quarter. (Indeed, anyone wondering who #63 was you aren’t alone; he’s Wes Martin, a street-free agent the Giants signed two weeks who was replacing Matt Skura who had replaced Nick Gates, who had replaced Ben Bredeson who had replaced Shane Lemieux, the original starter.)
And, of course, it didn’t get any better for the Giants after they also lost QB Daniel Jones, RB Saquon Barkley and WR Kenny Golladay, their #1 receiver, by half time. If there is any consolation none of those injuries appear to be season ending, although it is likely that the Giants are going to be seriously short-handed when they host the high-flying Rams on Sunday in New York.
There were certainly some positives in the loss in Dallas. WR Kadarius Toney had a terrific game catching ten passes for 189 yards. Mike Glennon handled himself well enough, although the two picks were blacks marks. And the makeshift offensive line held together darn well; there wasn’t much push in the run game, but there were no sacks and very little pressure allowed. Matt Peart, who was back at RT with Nate Solder replacing Andrew Thomas on the left side, in particular, had an outstanding game. In fact, the Giants offense wasn’t bad at all. Despite a slow start, they finished with almost 370 yards of total offense and had a chance to cut the lead to just 7 in the 4th quarter, but came up just short when a 4th down gamble at the Cowboys’ 2-yard line failed.
There were also some positives for the defense. Indeed, for the first time this year an opposing QB DID NOT complete 75% of their pass attempts as the Giants ‘held’ Dak Prescott to just 69%. Unfortunately, that was the highlight as the Cowboys piled up over 500 yards, including over 200 on the ground. And I don’t think I would be that far off suggesting that DT Austen Johnson, who is hardly one of the unit’s core players, was about the only guy on D who played with any kind of energy.
So where to from here? Several correspondents over the past couple of days have lamented the fact that what is likely to happen is that the Giants come out of the current tough stretch on the schedule at something like 2-8, but then win 3-4 ‘meaningless’ games down the stretch to fool everyone going forward. To which we answer somewhat sarcastically ‘congrats! At least you can read a schedule.’ Fact is that is very likely what is going to happen.
Fact is that IF the Giants were going to have any chance of being competitive this season, they absolutely had to win at least two, if not all three of their first three games. Certainly, they absolutely had to beat Denver and Atlanta at home and then hope to maybe upset Washington in the middle game of that stretch. And they absolutely had to win those games because the next two months had a brutal schedule that included road games at New Orleans, Dallas, KC and Tampa Bay, along with a hone date with the LA Rams.
Going 0-3 in those first three games was an absolute disaster given the schedule and I put a ton of responsibility on the coaching staff, starting with Joe Judge. There just wasn’t any urgency or intensity as the Giants plodded through much of those first three games with game plans that were all about playing not to lose when you absolutely had to go out and win!
There were a couple of items from Sunday’s game that in many ways look like microcosms for the season. One involved a totally inconsequential play early in the game. Golladay was running a little crossing route barely 3-yards upfield that Trevon Diggs was able break up. However, Diggs was only able to break the play up because Golladay had to slow down and change direction ever so slightly otherwise he was going to get picked off by a teammate running a crossing route the other way. Here’s the key: YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO PICK OFF THE OTHER GUY. Either somebody ran a poor route or it was just another badly designed pattern!
The other comment I have relates to what I am calling ‘wasted’ players. Against Dallas, TEs Kyle Rudolph and Kaden Smith had a combined 74 snaps and were targeted a grand total of once! Now I can understand with the uncertainty along the offensive line you might want to keep in an extra blocker to help out. Fair enough! What is frustrating is watching other teams around the league sending receivers downfield and then leaking a TE out into the vacated underneath zones for easy catches. Indeed, Dallas did it 4-5 times in crucial situations against the Giants with their TE Dalton Shultz who had 6 catches for 79 yards, almost all of them uncontested. Instead we seem to have to work so hard for everything we complete. Its almost as if the Giants have an aversion to having a receiver out in the pattern if the defense isn’t even going to bother to cover them.
There was a similar observation from the other side of the ball. We’ve made no bones about the fact the Giants are 1-4 today, which is what it is, largely because the defense just hasn’t been very good. In fact, one could make a pretty good case that given any kind of pass rush at all so far this season the Giants could well be 3-2 if not 4-1. And as we have noted in the past we expect that the Giants 2022 draft will be all about the defense in general and the pass rush in particular. To the point, the Giants are playing what amounts to a base 4-2 defense, a defense that is heavily dependent on the DEs providing both much of the pass rush and setting the edge against the run, without any DEs on the roster. As a result, they’ve been forced to either use 300-plus pound DTs who can’t run, or undersized 250-pound OLBs as their DEs.
The other thing characteristic of the Giants 4-2 D is that they have their two MLBs lining up 5-6 yards off the line of scrimmage and are asking them to run to the ball. Maybe that works with a hyper-instinctive guy like Blake Martinez, but right now the Giants MLBs are Tae Crowder and Reggie Ragland, neither of whom is very fast or instinctive. Asking them to play sideline-to-sideline defense is simply asking them to do something they aren’t equipped to do. And yet that’s what we do play after play. And it gets worse on passing downs. Each has some modicum of pass-rush ability, but neither Crowder nor Ragland can cover at all. But that’s pretty much all they do on passing downs which is to drop into coverage.
For the Giants, passing downs, on which they are already at a disadvantage because of the lack of a pass rush, is like playing 9 on 11 because they’re two MLBs simply lack the talent to do much of anything. What’s especially infuriating is that they play just about every down. Indeed, Crowder played all 78 defensive snaps on Sunday in Dallas while Ragland was on for 60. (And it got really infuriating the past couple of weeks when the Giants did give Carter Coughlin some third-down snaps as Coughlin, a former stand-out pass rushing ER in college who flashed some pass-rush ability last year as a reserve OLB, but had him drop into coverage on roughly two out of three plays he was on! Wasted players!