The New York Giants lost their season-opening game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. It was an outcome that many expected as the Giants field a revamped roster in brand new offensive and defensive schemes against one of the best teams in the NFL.
But while the final result was a predictable let-down, there were still individual performances that should be recognized — both winners and losers.
There’s little doubt about who will be leading off our list of winners.
Saquon Barkley shows why the Giants drafted him
The Giants’ running game was largely bottled up by the Jaguars’ athletic, explosive defense. On 17 carries, Barkley had 38 carries, Jonathan Stewart had 8 yards on 2 carries, and Wayne Gallman lost a yard on 1 carry. Throughout the first half, the Giants running backs averaged contact a half-yard behind the line of scrimmage.
Then Barkley went and showed why he was the second overall pick and turned a dead-in-the-water carry on second-and-3 into a 68-yard touchdown run — one of the longest by a Giants’ running back since David Wilson was backflipping in the end zone.
WELCOME TO THE NFL, @SAQUON!— NFL (@NFL) September 9, 2018
1st TD of his career!
: FOX #GiantsPride #Kickoff2018 pic.twitter.com/Pl5gOvEhAB
It seemed only a matter of time until Barkley would break loose for a big gain, but nobody was expecting him to do to Jacksonville what he did to so many college defenses.
Odell Beckham Jr. is definitely back
Would Odell Beckham be healthy for the start of the regular season? Would he still be the same player after breaking his ankle? Could he produce covered by Jalen Ramsey and the rest of the Jag’s talented secondary.
The answer to all of those questions was an emphatic “Yes.” Not only did Beckham consistently separate against both man and zone coverage, to the tune of 11 catches for 111 yards, but he also drew a pair of pass interference penalties to generate hidden yardage for his offense.
Beckham is definitely back, and it’s a game-changer for the Giants’ offense.
Eli Apple comes up big
The Giants’ secondary was one of its biggest question marks heading in to the regular season. The depth is a question, but even at the top of the depth chart there were questions about whether or not third-year corner Eli Apple could rebound from a horrific 2017 campaign.
It is still early, but he had an excellent game against the Jaguars’ receivers. Blake Bortles consistently looked elsewhere, often targeting Janoris Jenkins early in the game. He did target Apple twice on would-be big plays, but Apple showed tight coverage and much improved ball skills to blanket receivers without drawing a penalty.
The Giants’ defensive scheme needs solid one-on-one coverage to succeed, and if Apple can build on this performance, it will be an excellent development for the Giants.
The offensive line
We have to start here. Ereck Flowers will be remembered as the goat and the villain of this game, but the offensive line as a whole had a horrific day. They were simply overmatched by the Jaguars’ front and were out-classed across the board. Flowers might have had the most spectacular failures, but every single lineman has a lot of work to do if the Giants want to keep to their promise of delivering improved offensive line play.
If the line can’t improve, then the Giants’ offensive production will be because of the coaching staff’s schemes and individual efforts from players like Beckham, Barkley, Sterling Shepard, and Evan Engram.
With the Giants’ offensive line leaking pressure and precluding a run game, the Giants’ couldn’t afford to beat themselves. But all too often that is exactly what they did. Penalties from across the offense kept negating too many of the offense’s gains, knocking them far off schedule. The Giants consistently faced third and long situations and against a defense like the Jaguars’ that is an untenable situation. They did well to convert as many third downs as they did, but their sloppy play worked to the advantage of a defense which had too many to begin with.
I hate to pile on to a young player who just joined the team.
But having the game sealed by a turnover on a special teams play — a muffed punt by a returner who is on the team for his return skills — just leaves a sour taste in the mouth.
Not only does it put a damper on a fourth-quarter rally which showed the potential of the offense and defense. The Giants finally started to find an offensive rhythm in the third quarter, and Barkley’s electric play ignited the team and the fans. The defense shut the Jaguars’ offense down in the second half, holding them to 13 offensive points for the game and forcing every possession to end in a punt.
But also, returning kicks is Clay’s ticket on the Giants’ roster, and having a play like that end any chance of last-second heroics and end the game on such a deflating note could put his job in jeopardy.