Giants Survival Guide

By | October 7, 2020

Hello. My name is Grumpy. I am a Giants’ fan and I survived the seventies!

With the Giants struggling out of the gate once again, I have received a ton of emails from fans literally pleading with me to tell them this ain’t the 1970s all over again. Sorry, but it is what it is! The NFL is a cyclical league in which you hope that your peaks produce a championship or two and that your valleys don’t qualify as ’18 years of lousy football!’ So far, it looks like we’re one for two! People ask how long should it take to rebuild? The simple answer is it takes as a long as it takes! In fact, ask fans of teams like Detroit, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Atlanta, Arizona, Miami, Jacksonville, Houston, and the Chargers and Jets how long does it take to build a championship quality franchise and they’ll probably tell you if feels like forever.

All that said, we’ve actually been moderately encouraged by the way the Giants have played through the first month of the schedule. One thing we always try to and avoid when making these kind of evaluations is to just analyze to the scoreboard. And while there is no denying the reality that the Giants are 0-4, when one actually goes a little beyond the record, it’s not hard to make the case that they actually played well enough to win 2-3 of those games. Indeed, they were a 10-yard pass completion away from winning in Chicago, while they were 2-3 plays away from forcing overtime against a very good Rams’ team on the road. Even in the Pittsburgh game they were in a position to take the lead heading into the 4th quarter before the Steelers snuffed out a 19-play, 90-plus yard drive with an interception at the goalline off a tipped pass late in the 3rd Q. In the end, of course, the Giants weren’t able to make the key plays at the key moments and left too many points on the field in those games, but these were close games and you aren’t going to win until you get close to winning.

One also gets the sense, that very slowly, the Giants are starting to put together a critical mass of decent young players, although at the same time, we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. The Giants are still a long way from being close to a championship quality team. They have very few legit impact players as well as several major liabilities across the lineup. In particular, the Giants have very little speed at the skill positions, especially at wide receiver; they have almost no outside rush; and the critical corner position is a virtual wasteland outside of James Bradberry. And, of course, that’s without mentioning the offensive line which is still very much a work in progress just in case nobody has noticed!

In fact, there’s a part of me that’s not going to shed a whole lot of tears if the Giants ultimately end up with another very early pick at the 2021 draft. Of course, there is still a lot of sorting out to do before the picks start coming off the board at this coming April’s draft, but the early indications are that there is some special talent at the top of the 2021 class with 6-7 really good prospects including Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence, Oregon OT Penei Sewell, LSU WR Ja’Marr Chase, Penn State OLB Micah Parsons and Miami ER Greg Rousseau, any of whom would look great in blue and hopefully would give the Giants another impact player to build around.

In the meantime, there is still a dozen games to be played this season and we’ll be there every week – or at least as many as they end up playing – sweating and swearing as we do every week whether the Giants are 4-10 or 10-4. It’s what football people do! And the fact remains, despite all their troubles, the Giants are still only a game and a half back in woeful NFC East!

Not surprisingly, though, we’ve done our share of swearing so far this fall. Indeed, we’d be lying if we said we weren’t more than a little disappointed in what we’ve seen to date from new head coach Joe Judge and his staff. The one thing that really sets Bill Belichek apart from many of his contemporaries is the ability to assess the strengths and weaknesses on his roster every year and then build a game plan around those, rather than forcing some system. And to us, the only reason to bring somebody in from the Patriots is if they’ve picked up some semblance of that that skill. However, so far we haven’t seen it yet. Indeed, we’re hard pressed to identify much of anything that the Giants are doing differently under the new staff than they did under the last regime.

Needless to say I wouldn’t be doing much more than preaching to the choir to say that Jason Garrett and his 31st ranked offense, which is averaging more than a TD less per game than every other team in the league outside New York, has been particularly disappointing. In fact, Garrett may have lost me when he was quoted a couple of weeks ago suggesting that he thought Evan Engram had the makings of a good two-way TE. I mean WTF!,

To be fair, Garrett has had to work with a limited deck, especially after the loss of Saquon Barkley, but his game plans have had all the look of someone throwing a bunch of Football 101 stuff at a wall and hoping something sticks. With their o-line and set of backs, the Giants just aren’t going to be able run much. They also don’t have the outside speed to mount much of a vertical passing game. What the Giants do appear to have, though, is the makings of halfway decent possession passing attack. All three of their remaining backs are very good receivers out of the backfield; they have two TEs, both of whom are good receivers; and they have a couple of very good veteran possession receivers in Sterling Shephard and Golden Tate. At least it’s something to build on.

In that sense, one guy who really seems to be being wasted is Smith. He gets a ton of snaps, but all he’s doing is blocking (something he’s not all that accomplished at to begin with but that’s another story!) He’s not being accounted for by opposing defenses and should be open pretty much all time, especially when he chips and leaks out. In fact, one would think that he’d be targeted 5-6 games, hopefully for some easy gains. Instead he’s only had 6 passes thrown his way all year long.

In fact, it’s particularly frustrating watching other teams piling up the passing stats week after week simply by having their QB move around the pocket for awhile (see below), let their WRs clear out the underneath zones and then dump the ball off to a RB, FB or TE 4-5 yards downfield, but with the space to run for another 5-10 yards before the defense gets there. And one starts to say to oneself, that’s not talent, that’s scheme. But we don’t seem to do it.

At the same time, the Giants just have to start taking some shots downfield. So far this year, opposing defenses have pretty much always had 9-10 or even 11 players up within 10-yards of the line of scrimmage. The fact is that Slayton can run; so can Board and Ratley and of course so can Engram. If other teams are going to continue to crash the LOS you have to make them pay, or at least back off.

The other thing I have really started to notice watching other teams is that most of the top QBs in the league including Wilson, Mahomes, Rodgers, Brees and Brady take really deep drops of 10-12 yards. This gives them a really good look downfield, as well as a good view of the early pass rush. They’ve also got plenty of space to move around and avoid the rush, reset the pocket and prolong the play. And of course for guys like Wilson and Mahomes it also gives them lots of space to simply take off and make plays with their legs. In contrast, with the Giants, Daniel Jones is only dropping back 7-8 yards. As a result, he’s much more limited in the time and space he’s got to step into his throws. He’s also being very limited in the potential escape routes he has when the pocket breaks down, which needless to say happens a lot.

While the offense has been an unmitigated disaster to date, the defense, which couldn’t get out of its own way last year, the defense has been a pleasant surprise. Indeed, the unit is 5th overall in total defense as they have had 11 guys swarming to the ball pretty much all season. However, that ranking also masks some major contradictions. In particular, the Giants rank 32nd – and dead last – in the NFL in third down stops as opposing QBs have completed almost 70% of their pass attempts. And you just can’t win in the league if you can’t get off the field on 3rd downs.

Of course, none of that’s a great surprise because, as noted above, the Giants don’t have much in the way of an outside pass rush, while their corners outside of James Bradberry aren’t much more than street-free agent types. As a result, the Giants have been very conservative on 3rd downs, almost exclusively rushing four (or sometimes just three) and dropping the secondary into a fairly soft zone. No surprise then that just about any NFL QB worth a salt is just going to play catch with his receivers in that scenario. Indeed, the signature play for the Giants D this fall may have come against Chicago. The Bears had a 3rd and two around midfield. Trubisky rolled out to his right and had a FB open 3-4 yards downfield. And there was CB Ike Yiadom frantically backpeddling 10-12 yards downfield with no other Bears’ receiver in the same zip code.

In a previous life, I actually did some coaching and one of the things I learned was that if you don’t have the same talent as the other team you just can’t play the game straight-up, otherwise you’ll get outplayed just about every time. What you have to do in that situation is find ways to maximize the talent that you do have often in somewhat unorthodox ways. You aren’t going to win every time, but at least you may give yourself a chance. So here’s my suggestion for Patrick Graham. Put your best 5 cover guys out on the field; anchor the middle of the defensive front with Williams, Lawrence and or Tomlinson and then put all 4 edge rushers (Carter, Fackrell, Golden and Ximines) on the LOS and point them to the QB. Make no mistake about it, you’re going to give up some big plays, but you may give your defense a chance to make some big plays going the other way. At least you may give opposing QBs something to think about and not let them just sit back in the pocket and shred you.