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5 Giants’ losses, 10 plays that could have changed the outcomes

NFL games are decided by a handful of plays — here are some that could have changed the Giants’ fortunes in several games

NFL: OCT 22 Giants at Eagles Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The New York Giants stand, barely, at 1-6. As of right now, they would be selecting second overall in the 2021 NFL Draft. The 2020 season has been akin to the Giants’ recent standing among the hierarchy of the NFL; by mid October the season is already over. The current state of the NFC East provides hope for a substandard team to squeak into the postseason and claim playoff status, but it’s difficult to see the Giants asserting themselves in a meek division after two devastating losses to the Cowboys and Eagles.

This extended week has me reflecting on the seven games New York has played. They won against the Washington Football Team in Week 6, and they were blown out by the San Francisco 49ers in Week 3. The Giants lost the other five matchups in a competitive fashion. In each of those games, if execution was a bit better on a few plays, the outcome would have been completely different, and the narrative about this team would be more positive.

I’m not attempting to grasp at straws, nor am I putting lipstick on this pig we love, but I would like to provide some sort of context as to why the Giants keep losing close matchups. The youth of the team doesn’t help and that is compounded by a rookie head coach, but this isn’t all on Judge either.

New York played an undefeated Pittsburgh team relatively well before falling to the much superior opponent. They were in the red zone with a chance to win in the last minute against Chicago on the road. Against Los Angeles on the road, the Giants were in the red zone with a chance to tie with a minute left in the game. Then, in Weeks 5 and 7, the Giants led with 2:01 and 0:46 left in those games against the Cowboys and Eagles respectively; against the Eagles, they led by two scores with six minutes left in the game.

All these games were winnable to an extent, but the Giants have typically found themselves on the losing end. Bad teams find ways to lose football games, and the Giants happen to be a bad team sitting at 1-6. Let’s dive into the five close losses and see two plays in each that really precipitated the fates of those specific games.

Week 1: 26-16 loss to the Steelers

Play 1: Terrible Play Design

The Giants received the ball, after the Steelers punted to start the second half trailing 16-10, and they mounted a 19-play, 87-yard drive that took just under nine minutes off the clock. After Saquon Barkley picked up 7 yards on the ground to make it second and 3 on the 4-yard line, the offense came out with this poorly drawn up play design. This is a same side play action boot to Daniel Jones non-throwing side, with the unblocked defender being Bud Dupree. If the play action was run to the opposite side, the defense would have been flowing in the opposite direction and Dupree might have crashed down the line of scrimmage; instead, Dupree hustles, Jones has to square his body to throw, and the end result is an interception. The Giants got too cute here, if the version of cute they were aiming for was something resembling a blobfish. The Giants could have taken a 17-16 lead late in the third quarter, but a bad play call by Garrett, and a poor decision by Jones led to a 19-play drive resulting in zilch.

Play(s) 2: Not maximizing gifts

In the opening drive of the season, the Giants were able to get to a fourth and 1, but purposely took the delay of game and punted the football. Pittsburgh wide receiver Diontae Johnson muffed the punt, and the Giants were gift wrapped the ball at the 3-yard line. With some luck, and good execution, the Giants could have scored their first touchdown in 2020 with purpose, but that didn’t happen. Garrett designed two plays that could have been successful.

The clip above was a bubble/slant combination from Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton; the latter wins inside and Jones needs a split second longer to convert the touchdown, but T.J. Watt, Tyson Alualu, and Bud Dupree win and force an incompletion. Ideally, blocking an EDGE with a tight end is a terrible idea, but it has to be done sometimes due to the numbers in the box. The Giants have a seven-man protection set for a bang-bang type of play. If Evan Engram could have done just a bit more, this could have been six. Jones still would have gotten crushed by Dupree, but the ball may have been released; we didn’t know it at the time, but Andrew Thomas being beaten by an EDGE rusher would become all too familiar for the Giants’ offense. Luckily, this was a second down play, so they’d surely score on third down, right?

This is the third-down play; a well designed target for Engram, who fails to allude Watt. The pre-snap motion from Shepard removes the middle of the field safety, clearing the area of one defender, which leaves the MIKE in that position; Jones goes into the mesh point with Shepard post-snap and flows with Barkely who is darting to the flat, dragging the MIKE away from the middle of the field. Those two routes clear a space for a block and release route into space from Engram. Watt, being an excellent defender, reads the play, as Engram blocks down and separates; the tight end attempts to sit and not flow with Jones away from Watt, so the throw is just off target. Engram has a ton of space. If he doesn’t attempt to sit, and he flows away from Watt, then this would have been a touchdown. Instead, the Giants are forced to settle for three. I like the play design, but the execution isn’t there. New York cost themselves 11 points and game changing momentum with these three plays above.

Week 2: 17-13 loss to the Bears

Play 1: Getting Trubisky’ed

New York started the game against the Bears flat. They gave up a 12-play, 82-yard drive for the touchdown above to start the game against Mitchell Trubisky. The man coverage that was exploited in the 2nd half against Pittsburgh was once again taken to task on this 28-yard touchdown reception to David Montgomery. Trubisky uses his legs to sell the run and dumps the ball over the top of the defense in the flat to Montgomery, who alludes defenders for six. The Giants offense was sloopy in the first half; Engram slipped on a banana peel leading to Jones’ interception on third and 8, and Robert Quinn destroyed Andrew Thomas around the edge to force a Daniel Jones fumble. New York went into the halftime locker room with a big ole zero on the scoreboard, and they gave up the play below with about 5 minutes left in the first half, which put the Bears up by 17.

Play 2: More man coverage struggles

Patrick Graham was experimenting a bit with a small lineup that had Lorenzo Carter, Oshane Ximines, Blake Martinez, and Nate Ebner rushing the passer, with man coverage on the backend. Trubisky had a bunch of time to throw and Darnell Mooney ended up catching his first career NFL touchdown. In the second half, James Bradberry picked off a pass and forced another interception; the Bears offense struggled to move the football, the Giants defense was opportunistic, and the Giants offense was able to put 13 points on the board, but couldn’t finish for a touchdown while on Chicago’s 10-yard line with the clock hitting zero. Tate was called for offensive pass interference and the game ended. It was a strong effort in the second half against the Bears, but it wasn’t enough.

Week 4: 17-9 loss to the Rams

After the Week 3 36-9 debacle against Nick Mullins and the 49ers, the Giants came out with a much different defensive game plan. The Rams led a 12-play, 65-yard drive on their opening possession and it seemed like the game could have been a shootout, but the Giants defense clamped down. Patrick Graham employed much more zone-match coverage, 3-high, type of looks against Sean McVay’s offense, and the Rams struggled to find space against New York. Austin Johnson also forced a fumble on tight end Gerald Everrett which gave the Giants defense even more confidence. McVay made a key adjustment in the fourth quarter; he had his team go uptempo, which led to communication issues in the secondary.

Play 1: Forgot about Kupp

Logan Ryan came out and said there was a miscommunication on this play; Kupp gets behind the linebackers and Julian Love went to cover the flat, and no one accounted for Kupp’s quick post. Uptempo forced an error and turned a one point lead into an eight point lead for the Rams. Like most of these games, the Giants still had a chance to tie and go to overtime. On the next three possessions, the Giants turned the ball over on downs, the defense forced the Rams to go three and out, and then the play below happened, after a 7-play, 62-yard drive in the two-minute drill.

Play 2: Run the ball Jones

This is a tough throw to make; it’s a second and 5, and the Giants have a timeout left with 52 seconds left in the game. New York runs a two-man high-low out concept to the sideline against man coverage and Jones throws the ball too far inside to Damion Ratley. The ball is intercepted and the game is essentially over. If Jones runs the ball in this situation, he would have easily picked up the first down, but he thought he saw advantageous leverage. I understand not running it with the clock winding down, but the throw was still poorly placed, and a bit late. A better decision by Jones may have led to the Giants going to overtime, if the team converted the 2-point try.

Week 5: 37-34 loss to the Cowboys

New York started this game with authority. They held Dallas’ high powered offense to a field goal on the opening drive, and then drove down the field to score a touchdown on an Evan Engram end around to go up 7-3. Similar to the Steelers game, they were then gifted with a mistake; Dak Prescott threw a poor pass to Ezekiel Elliot and Kyler Fackrell picked it off and took it to the house. This gave the Giants an almost immediate 14-3 lead. After a three and out, the Giants were able to add another three points before surrendering a 14-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to bring the score to 17-10. Sadly, this was the next possession for New Yor

Play 1: More rookie mishaps

On first and 10, the Giants try a play action pass, but rookie left tackle Andrew Thomas is beaten around the edge. By the time Jones sets his feet, he’s being hit. Dallas brought a corner blitz to take Wayne Gallman out of the play, which isolated Thomas against Demarcus Lawrence. There’s really no excuse for Thomas to get beat this cleanly on a play where he knows it’s a deeper drop. After the strong start, the Giants are right back against the proverbial wall. Like we’ve seen too often this year, Dallas is able to drive down the field and close a half with points.

Play 2: Dallas Special

A 6-play, 75-yard drive is capped off by this rendition of the Philly Special. After a boneheaded unnecessary roughness penalty from Adrian Colbert, the Cowboys were in position to take a 24-20 lead heading into halftime - they took the lead. The Giants bite on the misdirection, and Fackrell doesn’t account for Dak Prescott who rolled to the flat and caught a touchdown from Cedric Wilson. It’s unfortunate that this half ending drive wouldn’t be the only occasion in this game where Dallas would put themselves into a key spot to have success…

Play(s) 3: Bent and broke

After the Giants scored a touchdown and converted a 2-point try with a pass to Andrew Thomas, Dallas was given the ball down 34-31. The Cowboys mounted an 11-play drive that covered 53 yards and was helped out by a Markus Golden face mask penalty. The Giants were able to force a field goal, but the offense was stymied by the Cowboys’ defense, so they punted the ball to Andy Dalton with about a minute left, and these two plays occurred:

There was an egregious missed holding call on the first play against B.J. Hill that would have probably forced overtime, but the team still gave up two big chunk plays to put Greg Zuerlein into a position to win the game. Dalton made two clutch passes and channeled his 2013 self. It was a great catch and throw by Gallup and Dalton on the Lewis play, and the rest is history. It was a sequence of plays to forget about.

Week 7: 22-21 loss to the Eagles

The Giants were able to adjust, establish themselves, and take a two touchdown lead with about six minutes left in the game at Lincoln Financial Field. Daniel Jones made Jim Schwartz pay when he brought blitzes and played man coverage, and the Giants defense was able to put pressure on Carson Wentz, despite having Devonte Downs and Leonard Williams play EDGE for them in certain packages. New York’s defense forced three 3 and outs to start the second half, and the Eagles’ fourth possession was a turnover on downs. That was with the score at 14-10 New York; after the turnover on downs, the Giants scored on a 15-play, 97-yard drive that took just under eight minutes off the clock. The drive was capped off by an excellent play design against Schwartz’s defense, and a great route by Sterling Shepard. On the ensuing Eagles drive, B.J. Hill sacked Carson Wentz on a 2nd & 10 which would have put the Eagles at a 3rd & 15, but the sack was nullified by a Ryan Lewis holding penalty - this was the beginning of the end. The Giants committed six more penalties after that Lewis hold. But even with the 72 defensive snaps, and the sloppy play, the Giants offense had everything in line to seal a win on a third and 7 pass against man coverage...

Play 1: Engram comes up small again

If this play is converted, it basically seals a Giants’ victory; it may have even been a touchdown with the speed of Engram, but we’ll never know because of the drop. Jones diagnoses the defense pre-snap, it is confirmed post-snap, and he puts the ball into the outstretched arms of the athletic tight end who just can’t secure the catch. Engram wins outside, has a ton of space, but just fails to bring it in for the win. This failed third-down conversion forces a punt to the 12-yard line, but a Corey Ballentine lowering the head penalty gives the Eagles an extra 15 yards. At this point, the Giants lead 21-16. The Eagles drive down the field and they’re forced into a third and goal; the Giants hold, but Ryan Lewis is called for defensive holding. Luckily for New York, the Eagles are then called with a facemask which pushes Philadelphia back to the 18 with 40 seconds left in the game. The next play can be seen below…

Play 2: Baaaaawwwsten, everyone knows your nameeeeee!

Boston Scott did well against the Giants in two games last year, and he came up with the game winning catch, on an absolutely beautiful pass by Wentz. The Giants run man coverage and have two safeties near the hashes. Scott releases on a delayed wheel to the flat and Peppers is in good coverage, but he fails to get his head around and the ball finds its way into Scott’s grasp to put the Eagles ahead 22-21. The Giants have experienced their share of disappointing losses, and this one jumps up to the upper echelon in a primetime game against the Eagles.

Final thoughts

The Giants are a losing team for a reason — they’re not good — but the levels of mediocrity aren’t all linear. In these five losses, the Giants are being outscored 119-93, so a 26-point differential. They’ve been competitive, but they’re inexperience forces either dumb penalties or missed assignments in key situations that are detrimental to success. We’re almost halfway through the 2020 NFL season, and it seems like the Giants are destined to pick in the top five once again. Both sides of the football must learn to finish games; some of that responsibility must be assigned to coaching, some must also be player execution. The Giants are in a comically bad division this year, but their inability to avoid these costly mistakes will not allow this team to seize the opportunity of winning the NFC East.