What did we learn about the New York Giants on Sunday? We learned that the thing that seemed most worrisome heading into the season, the offensive line, is still a major problem for the Giants.
In a 20-15 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, GM Dave Gettleman’s rebuilt hog mollies were the Giants’ Achilles Heel.
Jacksonville has a great defense with a number of dynamic players in its front seven. The Giants were never going to dominate this group, but what we saw Sunday is just not going to cut it.
“We battled,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “You’re looking at a top 10 defense and we battled ‘em. I thought they fought throughout the game. We could probably point to individual bad plays by everyone, me included.
“I feel like they battled. We’ve just gotta go back and correct the mistakes.”
Ereck Flowers is still Ereck Flowers
A switch from left tackle to right tackle can’t hide the simple reality that Ereck Flowers is the weakest of the weak links on the Giants’ offensive line. Flowers was penalized for tripping on the Giants’ first offensive play, negating a 5-yard completion. He was then penalized for holding, negating a 34-yard pass to Evan Engram and putting the Giants in a second-and-20 mess at their own 4-yard line.
Flowers got the Giants off to an atrocious start, and he made the MetLife Stadium crowd restless right from the beginning.
It didn’t get better. Flowers gave up one of the two sacks of Eli Manning, helplessly watching Lerentee McCray beat him to the inside. On the game-altering pick 6 by Myles Jack it was pressure allowed by Flowers that forced Manning to step up and into a path where Jacksonville defensive tackle Abry Jones could tip the pass.
Eli is in serious danger
Manning was sacked twice. The official NFL stats have him being hit six times. He was under pressure constantly. The Giants went from taking a number of deep shots early in the game to throwing more short, quick routes as the game wore on.
Take out the spectacular 68-yard run by Saquon Barkley, most of which he did on his own by breaking three tackles, the Giants rushed for 46 yards on their other 22 attempts, 2.09 yards per attempt. There were 6 runs for no gain or negative yardage.
Without watching film it is difficult, other than Flowers, to point fingers at specific players. Left tackle Nate Solder had a holding penalty. Rookie left guard Will Hernandez surrendered a sack. Right guard Patrick Omameh was the blocker when Abry Jones got his hands up to deflect the pass that turned into a tipped Pick 6.
“It was a tough battle,” Solder said. “If we would’ve kept it in manageable down and distances, we prevented ourselves from a lot of plays because we were getting the penalties and stupid things that we control — like I had that holding. That was totally in my control and I need to clean that up.”
In the post-game, Manning tried to take some of the heat off his linemen.
“This might be the most talented defense and front four we go against all season. They’re good,” Manning said. “Those guys coming out the first game, I thought things settled down in the second half and they did a good job. Picked up some of the blitzes and hit some nice plays, big plays. I am proud of the way those guys competed and played. We had a chance to win the game.
Let’s look now at some of the other things we learned on Sunday.
Saquon is pretty good
Sunday is probably how it’s going to be with Saquon Barkley. He didn’t do much for a loooong time. At halftime he had 6 carries for 12 yards, 1.5 yards per rush, and hadn’t caught a pass. In the third, quarter, runs of 8 and 5 yards, but nothing extraordinary.
Then, in the fourth quarter, this:
Saquon Barkley 68 yards to the HOUSE. pic.twitter.com/NuY3s7MJ0H— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) September 9, 2018
Barkley electrified the MetLife Stadium crowd by breaking two tackles at the line of scrimmage, somehow staying in bounds while avoiding a third, and going 68 yards for a score to give the Giants a chance.
The young man is special. No doubt about that.
Pass rush problems
To their credit, the Giants kept Jacksonville’s offense off the scoreboard in the second half. As expected, though, with Olivier Vernon sidelined the Giants had difficulty putting any pressure on Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles.
The Giants ended up with a sack and four hits on the Jacksonville quarterback. While he didn’t throw down the field often, when he did he generally had plenty of time to do so.
Return issue hasn’t been solved
The Giants churned through Kalif Raymond and Hunter Sharp in the preseason, finding both wanting as kickoff and punt returners. They were awarded Kaelin Clay off waivers. At least Sunday that didn’t work out very well.
Clay had 3 punt returns for just 4 yards. He also gave away the Giants’ final chance to win the game, muffing a punt that was recovered by Jacksonville at the Giants’ 21-yard line with just :45 seconds left.
Cody Latimer returned one kickoff for just 15 yards.
Odell is “pretty healthy”
That is how Shurmur assessed him after watching Odell Beckham Jr. in his first game since fracturing his ankle in Week 5 of last season.
Beckham caught 11 passes for 111 yards, along the way smashing Anquan Boldin’s record for receptions in the first 50 games of an NFL career. Boldin had 314. In 48 games, Beckham now has 324.
For the most part Jacksonville kept Beckham in front of them, not allowing him much yardage after catches.
The one time Beckham did get behind the Jacksonville defense Manning overshot him on a play that had the potential to be a 33-yard touchdown.
“I feel like every day at practice Eli and I have been getting open and finding ways to separate. Now it’s about putting all the pieces together, he needs a little bit more time, we need to find a way to make those catches on third down. We need to find ways to keep drives alive, we went into the first game and unfortunately the ball didn’t roll our way. Like we said, it is a good starting point,” Beckham said.
“It’s close, it’s football, though. We had those, if he can sit back in there just a little bit longer, just set his feet and get rid of it. It’s a collective thing, I can run faster, the O-line can block better, it’s just something we all have to get on the same page with. First game, I’m proud of this team, I’m happy to be back. I’m happy to be a part of this team, I’m looking forward to the season.”
Something to build on?
Beckham still seemed upbeat despite the loss. Reality is, the Giants were underdogs in this game for a reason. The Jaguars are good. They have a dominant defense and an efficient offense that avoids mistakes. It was no accident they reached the AFC Championship Game a year ago. The Giants are a team trying to find itself after a 3-13 season that led to massive changes in the front office, coaching staff and roster.
There are no moral victories in the NFL. You either win or you don’t, and each opportunity that slips aways makes climbing the mountain to the playoffs more difficult. Still, Beckham wasn’t the only Giant who thought there were good things the team could take from Sunday.
“I told the players that the important part of this game that we can work with is they hung together, they played hard from the first snap to the last, we just didn’t make enough plays in the end to win this game, especially a one-score game throughout. We’ll get that fixed and again, this is a new team, we’ve got new systems,” Shurmur said. “I’m certainly hugely disappointed that we lost for our fans, and our ownership, and for those players in the locker room. I’m disappointed we lost, but there’s a lot of good in that locker room and they’re going to hang together, I really believe they will and will come out … against Dallas.
Manning was also positive.
“I’m encouraged just because I have seen the way we work and the men we have in this locker room. The talent that we have and guys taking care of each other,” Manning said. “Just encouraged by the whole situation. We can get things going and we can play at a high level. We will make it work.”