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‘Valentine’s Views:’ Things I think about the New York Giants at midseason

It’s — sort of — midseason, so let’s assess the 1-6 Giants

NFL: New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Having played Thursday night, this is like a mini-bye week for the New York Giants. With seven of 16 games in the books, it is also not quite the season’s halfway point. It’s close enough, though, for us to take stock of the 1-6 Giants. So, let’s chat about some midseason things I think about the ‘Fightin’ Joe Judges.’

They aren’t good enough ... and they know it

There was much fire ... or disgust ... or anger ... or whatever you might want to call it after the Giants lost a game they should won last Thursday vs. the Philadelphia Eagles. I don’t know if what I heard and saw on videoconferences from coach Joe Judge and players was acceptance, resignation or what exactly.

I just know I didn’t really like it.

Here are a couple of Judge’s remarks from the post-game:

“There are things we have to eliminate and things we have to improve on down the second half of the season. These are things that held us back tonight. We’ve got to give credit where credit is due, and they made plays down the stretch.”

OK, credit the Eagles. Keep trying to get better.

Then this:

“The focus isn’t on frustration; the focus is on correcting mistakes and moving forward. That’s really where we have to steer it as a team. We’ve played enough ball at this point and we should know what we have as a team. We should understand how we have to play as a team. We know we have to be a team that’s got to grind out wins. We have to do things just a little bit tougher, and that’s alright. We’re okay with doing it that way.”

Maybe Judge is just trying to keep an even temperament and keep players feeling as positive as he can. He’s talked a ton this season about “weekly improvement” being more important than wins and losses.

He’s probably right. It was just kind of amazing to me that the coach seemed to have moved past the game 20 minutes after it was over.

Andrew Thomas alarm bells

There is no disputing that rookie left tackle Andrew Thomas has been bad through his first seven NFL games. How bad, though, has been stunning. Thomas had given up 37 pressures, with no other tackle even at 30, and his ridiculously low pass-blocking efficiency score of 91.4 (via Pro Football Focus) is worst in the league.

I have advocated, and will continue to advocate, patience with the 21-year-old. That, though, doesn’t mean I am not alarmed. On Thursday night, Thomas was both beaten by an inside spin move and failed to recognize a stunt that got Daniel Jones sacked. He also got pushed back into the pocket a number of times. These are things that have happened week after week, and the discouraging part is they haven’t shown signs of improving.

It was stunning to me to see future Hall of Fame left tackle Joe Thomas call Andrew Thomas the “most risky” of the Big 4 offensive tackles from the 2020 NFL Draft. The precise reason most of us thought the Giants went with Thomas over Mekhi Becton, Tristan Wirfs and Jedrick Wills was a perceived lack of risk.

I went back to see what was being said about Thomas before and after the Giants selected him. Our Nick Falato graded Thomas a “Year 1 quality starter” in a prospect profile that was pretty accurate in terms of strengths and weaknesses. When the pick was made, he wrote that it “makes sense for New York.” Chris wrote that “Thomas might not have the highest ceiling of the tackles in this year’s draft class, but he has a very high floor and is the “safest” pick.’ Draft analysts from around the Inter-Google gave the pick good marks.

Could all of these really smart talent evaluators have been that wrong? I have to believe that Thomas will get better, but it sure isn’t easy to watch right now.

The Matt Peart question

I keep getting asked if the Giants should a) get rookie tackle Matt Peart into the starting lineup and b) put Peart at left tackle and Thomas at right tackle.

My answers? Yes, and don’t care.

If Cam Fleming was playing decently and the Giants were winning I’d say leave well enough alone. They aren’t, and he isn’t. The only thing keeping many in the fan base and media from crushing Fleming, who 20 pressures allowed is sixth-most among tackles, is how poorly Thomas has played. Peart has shown enough at this point that I will be disappointed if he isn’t in the starting lineup Monday night against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Now, should that be left or right tackle? Again, don’t care. I’m not anywhere near giving up on the idea that Thomas can eventually handle left tackle. If Joe Judge, Jason Garrett and Marc Colombo want Peart on the left and Thomas on the right, fine. If it’s Thomas on the left and Peart on the right, fine. They have to block quality pass rushers either way. In my view, the only thing that’s not fine is Peart not playing.

Two-minute defense

The Giants have struggled to stop opposing at the end of halves and games all season.

  • Week 1 vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers they gave up a touchdown with 14 seconds left in the half on an 8-play, 78-yard drive.
  • In Week 2, the Chicago Bears used more than five minutes before scoring a touchdown with 24 seconds left in the half.
  • Week 3, the San Francisco 49ers scored 10 points (aided by an interception thats et up a field goal) in the final 1:13 of the first half.
  • Week 5, the Dallas Cowboys went 75 yards in 35 seconds to score a touchdown in the final seconds of the first half. In the final minute of the game, Dallas covered 72 yards in four plays to set up a game-winning field goal.
  • In Week 6, the Washington Football Team scored touchdowns at the end of the half and the fourth quarter. Only a two-point conversion stop saved the Giants at the end of that game.
  • In Week 7, the Eagles scored two touchdowns in the final 6:17 to overcome an 11-point deficit.

What gives?

Players and coaches talk vaguely about execution, about cleaning up mistakes, about all of those things that teams talk about when they don’t get the job done.

I have a different theory. I think defensive coordinator Patrick Graham is doing a marvelous job teaching his defense and getting the best play he can out of the players he has.

I think the problem is he doesn’t yet have enough players. I think that Graham can make deficiencies and match personnel with sub-packages during much of the game. I don’t think he can do that in end of half and end of game situations.

My feeling is that’s when teams are most aggressive, that’s when they will look hard at what an opponent’s weaknesses are and attack those without mercy. We can argue about schemes or defensive calls, but I think these situations are where the Giants talent gap and the fact they don’t have any dominant play-makers on defense shows up.

Trade deadline

I think that sending Markus Golden to the Arizona Cardinals for a sixth-round pick (a pretty decent price for a player the Giants never really expected to have this season) can’t be the only move the Giants make between now and the trade deadline.

The Giants don’t have to sell everything — it doesn’t have to be a liquidation sale where they take bargain basement prices for whatever anyone else will take. The two players I am most keenly interested in are Evan Engram and Kevin Zeitler.

I think I agree with Peter King that the Giants can’t sign Engram to a second contract. There are enough teams out there looking for a young-ish playmaker that I have to believe you might be able to get a Day 2 pick for Engram. I might even take a fourth-round pick, especially if a second asset came with it. I know there are reports the Giants are not shopping Engram, but if someone offers them the right price moving him is something I think they have to do. Engram is on his third coaching staff, and at some point you have to start looking at the player’s deficiencies rather than how the coaching staff is or is not using him.

As for Zeitler, I have said over and over that his play this season hasn’t been up to his career standards. I would move on from Zeitler, save the $5.6 million or so this season and the $12 million next season, and let Shane Lemieux play.

My guess is the Giants can get more for Zeitler than they got for Golden, who was only playing part time.

Daniel Jones — where is the progress?

I have said many times that the biggest thing about the rest of the season for the Giants is assessing the progress of Daniel Jones in trying to figure out whether or not the Giants should be back in the quarterback market in the 2021 NFL Draft. It still is.

Now, I don’t believe the Giants are going to end up in the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes. The New York Jets may not win a game, and I still believe the Giants are going to stumble on at least a couple more victories along the way.

Still, can Jones show the Giants enough that they decide to build around him rather than restarts with Justin Fields or Trey Lance?

The more Jones plays without showing progress in pocket awareness and decision making, and getting through some games without turning the ball over, the more I wonder.

The Buffalo Bills drafted Josh Allen No. 7 in 2018. Allen has seen his completion percentage (52.8-58.8-67.6) and passer rating (67.9-85.3-105.0) take significant jumps and his interception percentage (3.8-2.0-1.5) go down during his three seasons.

Jones has not yet shown signs of a Year 2 leap. His completion percentage is identical to last season at 61.9 percent. His interception rate has gone up of 2.6 to 3.0 percent. His passer rating (87.7-73.7) has gone down. Jones has turned the ball over in 19 of 20 NFL starts, and had a fumble the Giants recovered in the 20th game.

What is really bothersome, a little bit like Thomas, is that we continue to see the same mistakes. Lack of decisiveness. Not properly protecting the ball. Locking on to receivers.

I have often said I wonder if some of the flaws we see with Jones are correctable, or if what we see with him is what we’re going to get. Ideally, Jones would succeed and the Giants can build around him. If those flaws in his game don’t show signs of improving, though, it will leave the Giants with a difficult decision entering the draft.