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‘Valentine’s Views:’ On Pat Shurmur, Saquon Barkley, Eli Manning, more

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Let’s talk about what we have seen and heard the last couple of days

NFL: New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys
The Giants didn’t do enough of this on Sunday.
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s put a bow on the New York Giants’ season-opening loss to the Dallas Cowboys with some things I think after watching the game a second time and reflecting on what I saw, and heard.

I’m not buying that bridge

I like Pat Shurmur. I really do. All in all, despite a 5-12 record as Giants head coach I think he’s done some good things. I think that if you believe he is on any sort of “hot seat” in 2019 you’re mistaken.

Shurmur has made a career out of working successfully with all different types of quarterbacks, and that is one of the reasons the Giants hired him. His Giants’ legacy, like Dave Gettleman’s, is tied to Daniel Jones. In my view, Shurmur isn’t going anywhere until he gets a full opportunity to show whether or not he can develop Jones into a quality NFL quarterback.

That said, I’m not buying what the Giants’ coach is selling when it comes to the use/lack of use of Saquon Barkley on Sunday.

We’ve been over the numbers — 11 carries and four really inconsequential catches. Shurmur didn’t second guess Barkley’s usage, especially not giving him the ball on either third-and-2 or fourth-and-1 in the third quarter, after the game. Nor would he do so on Monday during a conference call.

“We only had four possessions in the first half, and one was a two-minute drive, so it really was three possessions and I think in our first 17 plays he touched the ball six times. Obviously, we want more plays, more possessions,” Shurmur said. “You don’t go into it thinking he isn’t going to touch the ball, that’s just how that first half played out.”

Sorry, Pat. Not good enough. I took Shurmur to task over this in the latest ‘Valentine’s Views’ podcast. I guess I’m not done.

The Giants’ best drive was their first one, when they scored a touchdown with Barkley touching the ball on three of seven plays — including a 59-yard run.

I’m also not buying Shurmur’s statement that “one of those [possessions] was a two-minute drive.”

Barkley’s your best, most explosive player and a record-setting pass receiver as a running back. Shouldn’t he be a central part of your plan in a two-minute offense? Instead, in eight plays that netted the Giants nothing he never touched the ball.

Here at Big Blue View we spent a lot of time during the offseason dissecting ways the Giants could use Barkley better. You can find examples here and here.

The Giants didn’t use their best player well on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys. That’s just the plain and simple truth. Shurmur needs to look in the mirror and realize that he needs to do a better job giving Barkley a chance to help the Giants win games.

About all those short throws

I get the concern about Eli Manning and the Giants dinking and dunking and not getting the ball down the field often enough. Chris, using a chart from Next Gen Stats, rightly pointed out that 33 of Manning’s 44 throws were within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. Yes, a few of those were checkdowns. The issue that I have isn’t necessarily with Manning’s decisions. It’s that too often this seems to be the way the Giants’ passing attack is designed. To simply “accept” what defenses want the Giants to accept, rather than attack and create opportunities.

I don’t know about you, but I tire of hearing “well, the defense did this so we couldn’t do that.” We’ve been hearing it for years, and I’m just not buying.

I can’t help but look at the New Orleans Saints for a comparison. Drew Brees is a great quarterback, better than Manning. Brees, though, has a noodle arm. He can’t get the ball down the field with any authority. By comparison, Manning has a cannon.

Yet, the Saints consistently find ways to complete passes in the intermediate areas of the field. Even when defenses don’t want them to. Brees’ averaged 7.5 Intended Air Yards Monday to Manning’s 6.6, and his passes were -0.8 yards behind the first-down marker, nearly a full two yards closer than Manning’s.

My $.02 is because I think the Saints do a better job attacking defenses and taking what they want, or need.

In New Orleans’ game-winning drive Monday night, they managed to complete passes of 11, 11 and 9 yards in less than 37 seconds. In a first half two-minute drive that ended in a missed field goal the Saints managed to complete passes of 12, 15 and 16 yards. Obviously, in both cases the Houston Texans were playing pass and trying not to give New Orleans big chunks of yardage.

In the Giants’ two-minute drive on Sunday, Manning completed five passes, all between 5 and 9 yards.

The Saints are showing that it can be done. The Giants just aren’t doing it, and haven’t been doing it. I don’t know why.

A little more about Eli

I really didn’t have a problem with the way Manning played on Sunday. He was fine. Not great. Not bad. Fine. It’s pretty much what the Giants are going to get from Manning.

There were two bad plays from the veteran quarterback, the intentional grounding and the fourth-and-1 fumble.

To be honest, I hate — no make that HATE — picking on play calls. Back in the days when Kevin Gilbride was the Giants’ offensive coordinator and commenters used to spend extraordinary amounts of time complaining about his calls I always took the stance that a good play call is one that works and a bad one is one that doesn’t. Period.

Still, when I think about those two plays from Manning I think about the play designs and I question them. The common denominator on both plays is that Manning was asked to roll out of the pocket and make decisions on where to go with the ball or whether to run with it while on the move.

That, quite obviously to anyone who has watched Manning for the last 16 years, is not what he does best. So, why, on two of the most critical plays you are asking him to make are you putting your 38-year-old quarterback in a situation that does not play to his strengths?

That, in my view, is not putting him in the best position to succeed.

One final thing about Manning. Sunday was not his fault. Just like a lot of losses the Giants have suffered over the years have not been his fault. That doesn’t mean he couldn’t have done some things better, just that there were other reasons — like Swiss-cheese defense — that meant the Giants were never winning that game.

The problem Manning faces is that even if he continues to play the way he played Sunday, which as I’ve said I thought was fine, it’s not going to be good enough to keep him in the lineup if the Giants are bad.

If they come to the realization at some point that they simply aren’t going to compete for a playoff berth, there’s no point in Manning being on the field. Daniel Jones will have to play.

DeAndre Baker and the life of a rookie cornerback

Let’s not panic over DeAndre Baker’s rough NFL debut on Sunday. The 30th overall pick in the draft certainly isn’t the first rookie cornerback to get picked on. Nor is he the first one to struggle. Baker likely will improve and have a nice NFL career.

Still, there were a couple of troubling things on Sunday as Baker gave up a trio of long completions.

Baker came out of Georgia with the reputation of being a “pesky press corner” who “excels at lining up on top of receivers and disrupting in the contact window.” Yet, he never tried to disrupt Cooper, backing off so quickly that Cooper wondered “what are you scared of?”

Baker will simply have to learn to play to his strengths and be physical in that “contact window.” Because the other thing that showed, which draft analysts also pointed out, was that with 4.52 40-yard dash speed (37th percentile) there are going to be guys he just can’t run with if he doesn’t anticipate correctly or disrupt them in some way. In my view, that showed up on the 62-yard catch and run by Michael Gallup. The Dallas receiver got inside position on Baker, and the young Giants’ corner simply couldn’t close the gap.