Who deserves praise and who deserves criticism after Sunday’s 28-27 last-minute loss to the Indianapolis Colts by the New York Giants? Let’s get to a Christmas Eve edition of “Kudos & Wet Willies” and find out.
Kudos to ...
Sterling Shepard — A week after a three-drop game against the Tennessee Titans, Shepard was outstanding. He had six catches in seven targets for 113 yards, including a 55-yarder. Sunday was Shepard’s second 100-yard receiving game this season.
Evan Engram — Caught all six of the passes thrown his way for 87 yards, the long being a 32-yarder. He also ran two reverses, gaining 26 yards. If you still think after that performance that Engram should be traded this offseason I don’t know what else he can do to prove his value.
Pass blocking — Aided by a strategy that saw the Giants use play action and move Manning out of the pocket a number of times, Sunday was the first time this season the veteran quarterback was not sacked. He was hit on only three of his 33 drop backs.
Eli Manning — Yes, I’m going here. And yes, I fully expect that those who are convinced everything wrong with the Giants is Manning’s fault will crucify me. Manning did not lose this game for the Giants, whatever you think of his final throw. The Giants were in a desperate situation with few good options at that point and it didn’t work out. That happens.
The fact that they were in that situation at all had nothing to do with Manning. Protected well, he threw the ball crisply all day, hit some big throws, was on-target throwing on the move and had the Giants in position to win. Manning completed 25-of-33 passes for 309 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He couldn’t have done much more.
Coach Pat Shurmur said Manning “did a heckuva job” on Sunday. Neither Shurmur nor Manning had regrets about the interception on the Giants’ final play, with Manning saying “you’ve got to take a shot. You’ve got to take a chance and get a chunk play.”
So, go ahead. Kill me for it if you have to, but I’m siding with the coach here. I thought Manning played an excellent game.
The offensive game plan — Sunday’s game plan may have been Shurmur’s best of the season — and admittedly I don’t have every offensive play of every game committed to memory. A pair of reverses to Evan Engram netted 26 yards. There was a jet sweep to Corey Coleman. Solid efforts keeping Engram and Sterling Shepard at the forefront of the passing attack. Excellent use of play action and the bootleg to get Manning out of the pocket and create some easy throws. The only trouble was that when the Giants needed the run from Saquon Barkley there wasn’t enough blocking to make it work.
Wet Willies to ...
Penalties — The Giants committed only six for a relatively paltry 24 yards. It was, however, when they committed those penalties that was truly costly. Five of them were in the second half, four in the last 6:34 with the Giants trying in vain to protect a six-point lead. As Engram said, the Giants “were just just shooting ourselves in the foot” in the final minutes. They couldn’t overcome the self-inflicted wounds. Penalties on Scott Simonson and John Greco late in the fourth quarter hurt the offense. Defensive penalties on Janoris Jenkins (negating a fumble recovery), Tae Davis and B.W. Webb hurt the defense.
Run blocking — Pat Shurmur’s imagination is the only reason the Giants were able to run at all. A pair of reverses to Evan Engram netted 14 and 12 yards. A jet sweep to Corey Coleman got five. Saquon Barkley? He got just 43 yards on 21 carries (2.0 yards per attempt) with a long run of 6 yards. Barkley really had no place to go all day.
Giants’ defense as a whole — There were a few good moments for the pass rush, especially in the first half. There was an improvement in the run defense (16 carries, 49 yards, 3.1 yards per carry). When it mattered in the second half, though, the defense again showed it simply isn’t good enough. This defense needs more dynamic players at every level.
Indianapolis, desperate for a win to stay in the AFC playoff race, had four second-half possessions. They scored touchdowns on three of them with drives of 85, 74 and 53 yards. The Giants couldn’t cover well enough at the corner or linebacker level, couldn’t rush the passer consistently enough and couldn’t avoid committing foolish and costly penalties.
The offseason simply has to be largely devoted to increasing the talent on that side of the ball.
Janoris Jenkins and Olivier Vernon — Not enough impact of the positive kind from either of these highly-paid players. Vernon did cause a strip sack that could have been a turning point without a penalty on Jenkins, but that was about it. The performances of both of these players has to give the Giants pause about bringing them back next season as neither is really playing up to his paycheck.