EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — What now? Can it get any worse than this for the New York Giants? A 2-8 record and now six straight losses after an embarrassing, sloppy 34-27 loss to the New York Jets, who began the day worse than the Giants at 1-7?
The problem is, it probably can get worse for the Giants. They have seemingly winnable games on their schedule against the Miami Dolphins and Washington Redskins, but also face the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers and play the Philadelphia Eagles twice.
From the beginning, we have wanted to judge the 2019 season not based on victories or making the playoffs, but on progress. The roster might be better, but the results and the play on the field aren’t.
It’s virtually impossible to argue at this point that the Giants are making any tangible progress on the field 26 games into Pat Shurmur’s tenure as head coach.
“We’re disappointed we haven’t been able to win a game for six (weeks),” Shurmur said after Sunday. “We’re disappointed we didn’t win this game. That’s where it’s at.”
This game was a debacle for the Giants in so many ways. We’ll go through some, while we also wonder what changes can be made to do something about them.
The biggest debacle?
How about Eric Smith?
And maybe not in the way that you think.
Smith, a third-year player who had been with the Miami Dolphins and Jets previously, had never played an NFL snap before entering the game when Nate Solder left in the second quarter with a concussion. Smith, in fact, had never dressed for a game before Sunday.
Smith struggled mightily with stunts and twists and was responsible for at least two, if not more, of the six sacks Daniel Jones endured.
But ... before you rip Smith here is something to consider.
The Giants claimed Smith on waivers Sept. 1. The 24-year-old said after the game that “at no point” since becoming a Giant had he prepared to play left tackle, other than doing individual work on his own. Smith said that with Nick Gates starting at right tackle he had prepped all week to be replace Gates at jumbo tight end and hand’t taken any live reps at left tackle since preseason with the Jets.
Smith said he didn’t know the coaches were even talking to him to enter the game when Solder got hurt.
“I’ve been preparing to be the tight end ... I didn’t know Nate was out ... I didn’t think they were talking to me (to go in the game).”
How, when you know that Nick Gates has to start at right tackle and that Smith will be your swing tackle in the game, does he not get any preparation at the position during the week? Or any preparation at that position all season?
Yes, his play was a mess. How, though, could it have been expected to be otherwise when he had not been prepared to play the position he was asked to play. In his first-ever NFL action, no less.
That little tidbit tells you a whole lot perhaps about why the Giants are 2-8 and often look unprepared.
So, what happens now?
Veteran defensive back Michael Thomas said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if some type of changes get made during the bye week.
“It’s a production-based business,” Thomas said. “Trying to get it right, trying to get it right, when you keep not getting it right then either players get changed, coaches get changed, that’s the reality of our business.”
Asked about possible changes to the coaching staff during the bye week the Giants are now on, Shurmur bristled.
“Staff changes, no,” he said. Shurmur added that talk of changes was “not for now.”
The look on co-owner John Mara’s face outside the locker room after the game told you that something has to be done. A scowling Mara didn’t even look at or acknowledge the group of reporters trudging from Shurmur’s somber post-game press conference to a delated locker room.
It remains doubtful that Shurmur’s head is on the chopping block. It may have moved closer on Sunday — it almost certainly moved closer on Sunday — but I don’t believe the Giants are prepared to make their second in-season coaching change in three seasons.
“My concern is putting a team on the field that’s going to win a football game — that’s my concern,” said Shurmur, deflecting questions about his future as coach. “It’s always a one-week concern getting ready to play the next opponent and put a winning performance on the field. That’s my concern.”
Despite Shurmur’s post-game denial, changes to Shurmur’s coaching staff might be inevitable. If not now, certainly at season’s end.
Could offensive line coach Hal Hunter be on the firing line?
It’s hard not to think so after learning about the mess the Giants made with Smith. Also after watching the patched-together offensive line block so poorly that Saquon Barkley — arguably the league’s best back when completely healthy, carried 13 times for 1 yard. Yes, 13 times for 1 yard. That really happened.
The line, with several solid veterans and a 2018 second-round pick, has now given up 34 sacks. You can say that thru the first nine games it was better than last year’s group. Still, though, it has under-performed expectations?
Defensive coordinator James Bettcher?
The Jets came into Sunday’s game averaging 12.0 points, 31st in the league. They had 14 points and 125 yards of total offense just 13:25 into the game after scoring drives of 75 and 50 yards to open the game.
The defense surrendered 27 points. With the game in reach in the second half the Giants gave up drives of 46, 70 and 76 yards on consecutive possessions that gave the Jets 13 points, turning a 27-21 lead into a 34-27 defeat.
The Giants’ defense has been underwhelming all season, five times giving up more than 400 yards of offense. The Giants have invested massive amounts of draft capital on that side of the ball the past two seasons, as well as trading for Jabrill Peppers. Yet, there is no tangible progress to point to aside from some pass rush success.
If it’s not Bettcher, could defensive backs coach Everett Withers be scape-goated?
The Giants gave up yet another 40+ yard pass play, their 12th of the season on Sunday, when Demaryius Thomas beat DeAndre Baker for a 47-yard gain. Baker’s rookie struggles continued, as he was twice called for defensive pass interference. The second, a 33-yarder that was obvious, was in the end zone and led to the Jets’ final touchdown.
The Giants are heavily invested in Baker. If Withers can’t reach him, maybe they need to try and find someone who can.
There really aren’t many more that the Giants can make. Sam Beal played some on Sunday. Corey Ballentine is now the slot corner. The Giants start a rookie quarterback, and a rookie — Darius Slayton — is becoming his favorite receiver.
Julian Love might be an exception, but for the most part all the young kids are already playing. There really aren’t any other guys to turn to.
“We’re all going to get to see now, all of these young players, and we added a few more out there today, we’re going to get to see them develop as we go forward,” Shurmur said.
Yes. yes we are.
It’s stunning that the season has sunk to these depths for the Giants. After an 0-2 start, Daniel Jones’ insertion into the lineup brought, energy, hope and two victories.
A sea of misery has engulfed the Giants since.
Jones has been part of the problem. He fumbled three more times on Sunday, losing one that went for a Jamal Adams touchdown, and has now fumbled 13 times this season.
Awful defense has consistently been part of the problem.
Injuries have had something to do with it.
Coaching has something to do with it. The Smith example, falling behind 14-0 (like they fell behind 17-0 to the Arizona Cardinals), in-game decisions like burning all of the team’s timeouts while there were more than four minutes to play, and the consistent inability to find ways to get the ball to Barkley in space are examples.
Something — maybe a whole bunch of somethings — has to change for the Giants. What those will be is anybody’s guess.
The bye week, though, should certainly be interesting.