In Saturday’s BBV Mailbag, I was asked if I thought the New York Giants were better or worse than the 5-8 record they had entering play this weekend. My answer was basically that the record was a pretty good reflection of what this version of the Giants actually is.
I said, among other things, that the Giants were “a mediocre team right now on a hot streak” and that they were “a middle of the road team putting some building blocks in place for the future.”
Sunday, the Giants reminded us that that future isn’t now. And that if we were really expecting it to be, really expecting the Giants to win, out, get to 8-8 and have all the necessary dominoes needed to make them a playoff team fall into place that we were kidding ourselves.
The Giants — or maybe it was actually the Tennessee Titans — reminded us on Sunday that there is a long, long way to go before the Giants are a completely functional, playoff-caliber team.
Titans manhandled Giants’ offense
Offensively, the Giants were without Odell Beckham Jr. for a second straight week. Tennessee, playing for its own playoff life, did what the demoralized Washington Redskins couldn’t do a week ago when the Giants won in a 40-16 romp.
The Titans controlled the offensive line, giving the ever-elusive Barkley no place to run. When Barkley went out on a pass route, he was often bracketed by a trio of Tennessee defenders.
“They had plenty of guys up there (at the line of scrimmage),” said offensive tackle Nate Solder. “Stemming the front, moving the front after the snap and then linebackers were playing all over the place.”
This game was a reminder of how much Beckham means to the Giants. How much balance his game-breaking ability brings to the offense when it is functioning smoothly, as it often has in recent weeks.
Evan Engram had a nice game with 8 receptions for 75 yards, and missed a chance for big play when Eli Manning was off target on a well set up screen. But, no other receiver can do for the Giants what Beckham does — or draw the attention Beckham does.
This game was a reminder of how much the Giants need to run the ball successfully. Barkley had run for more than 100 yards in each of his last four games, and the Giants scored 30 or more points in three of those games.
After last week’s rout of the Redskins, Eli Manning had admitted how much the running game means to the Giants.
“When we run the ball well, it just sets up everything else, sets up the play action, sets up so much,” he said.
This week the Giants didn’t have that. The Titans, without Beckham on the outside to really worry them, just took it away.
This game was a reminder that the offensive line, which had played better in recent weeks, is still not a finished product. The Giants could not create holes in the running game. Even on Barkley’s best run of the day, a 17-yarder, four Tennessee defenders broken cleanly into the backfield. Barkley was simply fortunate to find a crease and get through the jailbreak headed his way.
Manning was sacked three times, making that 46 times he has been sacked this season. He was hit eight other times, and had one of those games when it was obvious that he wasn’t comfortable in the pocket.
This game was also a reminder of Manning’s limitations.
This season, Manning has shown us both sides of what he can and cannot do at this point in his career. He can, when there is a functional running game taking pressure off of him and an offensive line making him feel protected when asked to throw, make quality throws and play a winning brand of football.
When there is no running game, when receivers miss chances to make plays for him, when the offensive line makes him uncomfortable, when the Giants fall behind and Manning is asked to throw 44 times (as he was on Sunday) bad things are often going to be the end result.
Manning had two costly turnovers Sunday, an interception and a fumble. He missed some throws, especially a screen to Engram that could have been a big play. He didn’t play well. He knew it.
“It was just tough to get things going,” Manning said. “Give credit to the Tennessee defense. They played well. They did a good job stopping the run on some early downs. The few times we actually got some things going, we had negative plays, we had penalties where we just could not sustain the drives and keep things going. They played well and we didn’t. We didn’t execute well enough or make the plays we need to make. They just outplayed us.”
This game doesn’t mean the Giants can’t go forward with Manning as their quarterback in 2019. In the same vein, a couple of good games doesn’t mean they absolutely should. It just means that as long as he is their quarterback — and the guess here is that there is a good chance that will be the case next season — there will be days like this when things break down around him and it gets ugly. There can also be good days, as we have also seen recently.
The Giants have made progress on offense in recent weeks. Sunday’s shutout was obviously a step in the wrong direction. A reality check. A reminder that the work to surround him with talent isn’t done, and that the need to evaluate potential long-term successors is real.
Defense gets dominated
Sunday also reminded us of just how much work the Giants have to do in order to field a winning defense.
The Titans dominated the line of scrimmage. Tennessee ran for 215 yards on 45 carries, with Derrick Henry running over, around and through the Giants for 170 yards on 33 carries (5.2 yards per carry). Tennessee possessed the ball for 35:21 to 24:39 for the Giants.
“Defense is an 11-man job,” said defensive end Josh Mauro, who had a key third-quarter penalty that turned a third-down stop into a first-and-goal at the 1-yard that Tennessee converted into a touchdown. “We’re going to have to go back and look at it, but I don’t think we tackled well. We weren’t physical enough, and the results were what they were.”
No, they didn’t tackle well. They weren’t physical enough. Alec Ogletree didn’t come up with any miracle interceptions. The Titans’ line opened holes all day, Henry found them and spent much of his time running over Giants defenders.
“We just didn’t tackle well,” Ogletree said. “I mean, they were going to try to run the ball and they ran the ball and we just didn’t come up to make enough tackles and swarm the ball like we needed to.”
Landon Collins is on IR. Damon Harrison is in Detroit. The Giants have a trio of rookie undrafted free agents — Sean Chandler, Tae Davis and Grant Haley — playing significant snaps. The pass rush disappeared again, and that simply has to be addressed during the offseason.
“From the first half of the season to the second half of the season we definitely got better, but a situation like this, playoffs on the line, playoff implications on the line you obviously want to play better,” Michael Thomas said. “We’ve gotta keep learning how to win in different situations.”
Poor offensive line play. A rough outing from the quarterback. Defensive deficiencies exposed by the Titans. In the end, not measuring up to a quality opponent in a meaningful game.
Coach Pat Shurmur insisted during the week that the recent surge by the Giants, four wins in five games, wasn’t a mirage. That it was a sign of improvement, and that the Giants had earned those victories.
“You can’t fake football. There’s no ‘fool’s gold’ in my mind. You put a ball down in front of all those people and you’re on the field with 10 other guys, and you’ve got a job to do – you can’t fake that,” Shurmur said at the time. “There’s no fooling, there’s no golding, there’s nothing. You cannot fake football.”
He’s right. The Giants have shown some improvement. No matter how the final two games turn out, and the Giants won’t be favored in either, the second half of the season has been better than the first.
Still, there is no faking, or fooling, or golding what we saw on Sunday.
The Giants still have a lot of work to do in order to truly be a good football team.