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The ABCs of Giants vs. Bucs: Brady, Brown, Wirfs, more

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Chicago Bears
Tom Brady (12) and Tristan Wirfs (78)
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Let’s look at Monday’s New York Giants vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers matchup in what has become a weekly tradition here at Big Blue View, our ABCs breakdown of who and what you need to know.

A is for ... Antonio: The Bucs have signed controversial wide receiver Antonio Brown. It’s a move I understand with a 43-year-old quarterback and a talented team intent on a Super Bowl run, but that doesn’t mean I like it. I don’t. I would be perfectly happy with Brown never playing in the NFL again. Talent, though, almost always gets more opportunities no matter what transgressions are in a guy’s past. Brown is not eligible to play against the Giants.

B is for ... Brady: This is one for Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady. What did you expect? Brady may not be the No. 1 quarterback in the NFL any longer, but 43-year-olds are not supposed to play football the way Brady is playing football in Tampa Bay. Makes you wonder just how many titles the New England Patriots could have won if they had given him quality weapons to throw to the last few years.

Giants coach Joe Judge was in New England as an assistant coach with Brady for a number of years.

“This guy is clearly one of the best to ever play the game. He’s playing at a very high level. You watch Tom, obviously, I had a little bit different of a chance this weekend being home for a little bit, working from the house, of peaking at the TV and seeing Tom out there playing. That, along with the coaching tape I’ve watched, this guy hasn’t had much drop off. He’s playing at a very high level. He has the guys around him playing at a high level as well,” Judge said. “One thing about Tom is he’s a very intelligent player. He thinks ahead of the play, he’s always looking for answers, he’s very proactive in how he sees the game, he understands the personnel on the other side extremely well. He’s been in all of the situations, however you slice it up, as many times as you can possibly imagine, whether that’s through practice or games. This guy is fluent in football.”

C is for ... COVID-19: With the news of Will Hernandez’ positive COVID-19 test on Wednesday, the Giants have now come face-to-face with the pandemic for the first time.

D is for ... Devin and David: The Giants can only dream of having a pair of fantastic inside linebackers like Tampa Bay’s Devin White and Lavonte David.

E is for ... Engram: As much as I didn’t want this to be, it has to be about Giants tight end Evan Engram. Per Player Profiler, Engram leads all tight ends in drops (6) and drop percentage (13.6 percent) this season. Pro Football Focus lists Engram with 4 drops and a 13.3 percent drop rate, both of which are still league-worst at the position by PFF charting. Drops were a major issue for Engram as a rookie in 2017, when he again had league-worst numbers (11 drops. a 14.7 percent drop rate. He has, though, only dropped 6 total passes the past two seasons.

F is for ... Football: After the COVID-19 scare with Hernandez and a number of Giants’ offensive linemen, the team simply has to be thankful to be playing football Monday night.

G is for ... Gronk: After a slow start, tight end Rob Gronkowski has found his footing. Gronkowski has 20 of his 22 receptions over the past five weeks after catching just two passes in the first two games.

H is for ... Heroics: Week 3 vs. Tampa Bay last season was Daniel Jones’ debut as a starting NFL quarterback. It was also the high point of his career to date as he led a the Giants back from an 18-point halftime deficit in a 32-31 victory. The “it factor” Jones appeared to possess in that comeback victory has not really shown up for a while. To compete on Monday against a team that is clearly better than they are, the Giants are going to need some heroics.

I is for ... Improvement: Despite losses in six of seven games, Judge insists the Giants have continued to make steady improvement.

“I know we’re a better team today than we were 10 days ago. I know we’re a better team today than we were in Week 1. I know we’re a better team today than we were in training camp,” Judge said. “So is every other team, so we have to keep making progress and developing long term. When you look at the players we’re building with, I see a lot of progress and I see us moving in the right direction.”

J is for ... Jabaal: Edge defender Jabaal Sheard, signed before the Week 7 game vs. the Philadelphia Eagles, is eligible to play for the Giants for the first time on Monday, Sheard’s 51.5 career quarterback sacks are more than the rest of the Giants’ defensive line combined.

K is for ... Kickoff return: Corey Ballentine (9 returns, 21.2 yards per return) has not been nearly as dynamic returning kickoffs as he was last season (10 returns, 25.6 yards per return). I think that is one of the reasons the Giants brought Corey Coleman (26.0 yard average on 23 returns in 2018) back to the practice squad. It won’t surprise me at all if Coleman eventually reclaims that job.

L is for ... Loss: I will be shocked if the Giants don’t add their seventh of the season on Monday night.

M is for ... Matt: Will this be the week rookie offensive tackle Matt Peart is inserted into the Giants’ starting lineup as more than just a temporary fill-in?

N is for ... Nick: Offensive line coach Marc Colombo was effusive this week in his praise of Nick Gates, who is both starting at center and playing full time for the first time in his NFL career.

“He’s playing at a high level right now,” Colombo said. “I think the confidence in the calls, the confidence there at center after getting a lot of snaps, he’s getting experience, he’s got the right personality for the position, he brings confidence and energy to the group and it’s starting to really show. ...

“I really like the direction he’s going in and we’re going to keep pushing him … kinda like the future of this guy at the position.”

O is for ... O’Connor: Pat O’Connor is a defensive tackle for the Bucs. He doesn’t play much, but at least now you know who he is. Hey, some of these letters are hard to fill.

P is for ... Pierre-Paul: When the Giants traded Jason Pierre-Paul and a fourth-round pick (No. 102) to Tampa Bay in 2018 for a third-round pick (No. 69) and fourth-round pick (No. 108) I fully supported the move. Pierre-Paul was too expensive, was a 4-3 defensive end who didn’t seem to fit in a 3-4 scheme, seemed to have a habit of piling up sack numbers at the end of seasons when they no longer made a difference, and with injuries that includes his mangled hand along with back and shoulder woes was a player who seemed beyond his truly productive years.

Yet, here we are. JPP compiled 12.5 sacks in 2018 for the Bucs. He suffered a broken neck before the 2019 season, but still played 10 games and had 8.5 sacks. He already has 5.5 this season. He is playing, at age 31. at a level I just don’t think anyone who watched his last couple of seasons in New York could truthfully have believed possible.

Q is for ... Shaq: Hey, “q” is a hard letter to come up with a match for every week and there is a ‘q’ in Shaquil Barrett’s name! Barrett has 4 sacks vs. a helpless Nate Solder last season en route to a breakout 19.5-sack season — his previous best was 5.5 in 2015. Barrett has 3 sacks this season, but it still can’t be comforting when you remember last season and then realize he will be lining up across from struggling rookie Andrew Thomas on Monday.

R is for ... Ross: As in cornerback Ross Cockrell. The Giants tried and failed to sign cornerback Ross Cockrell during training camp. The journeyman cornerback ended up in Tampa Bay, where he has been active for just three games, played 43 special teams snaps and has not yet appeared on defense. Yes, he is part of a better team than the Giants. Career-wise, though, you have to wonder if Cockrell made the best decision.

S is for ... Sterling: The Giants are thrilled to have wide receiver Sterling Shepard, who Daniel Jones calls “a special player,” back in the lineup.

“Sterling’s a ballplayer,” wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert said. “He does bring that juice to the offense. He brought that juice to the whole offense and the whole team, not just the wide receiver group. We miss his leadership skills out there. We saw that his leadership skills helped us an offense during the game and his play-making skills helped us during the game. Very glad to have him back.”

T is for ... Throwbacks: The Giants are wearing their all-white uniforms combined with the old-fashioned helmets with “GIANTS” written on the side. I love that uniform and wish they would wear it all the time, particularly the helmet. I mean, c’mon, they use a wimpy-looking lowercase ‘ny’ and they play in New Jersey. Put “GIANTS’ on the helmet and be done with it.

U is for ... Unthinkable: Would it be completely unthinkable for the Giants to add something, like maybe a wide receiver, at the trade deadline? Jordan Ranaan of ESPN reported that the Giants had cursory conversations with the Detroit Lions about Kenny Golladay, although that apparently went nowhere. Also, Cincinnati Bengals speedster John Ross is not being shy about wanting to find a new team. Would it be awful to see if Cincinnati would take the Giants’ 2022 seventh-round pick, since the Giants don’t have a 2021 seventh-rounder?

V is for ... Vote: I don’t want to get all political, but if you didn’t vote early get to your polling place on Tuesday and make your opinion on what is going on in America count for something.

W is for ... Wirfs: Many draft analysts and Giants fans thought the team should have drafted offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs instead of Andrew Thomas at No. 4. Instead, Wirfs ended up as the fourth offensive tackle taken, falling to Tampa Bay at No. 13.

Wirfs has been solid at right tackle for the Bucs. Among 76 qualifying tackles, his Pro Football Focus grade of 72.0 in 491 snaps is 33rd. He has given up one sack and 13 pressures. Pro Football Network says Wirfs has been the league’s best rookie thus far.

That isn’t going to make Giants fans feel any better about Thomas, who is 63rd with a grade of 58.3 and has given up a league-worst 37 pressures.

This tweet from Kim Jones isn’t going to help much, either:

X is for ... Xavier: Giants’ rookie safety Xavier McKinney remains on IR with a fractured left foot suffered during training camp. Judge said Giants’ trainers are “pleased with the progress he’s making” and that the Giants are “very optimistic and eager to get him back on the grass.” There is no time table for that to happen.

Y is for ... Why is this game on Monday night? Well, I know why. It’s because Tom Brady is playing in it. Wouldn’t you think ESPN would love something like Patriots-Bills or even Rams-Dolphins with Tua Tagovailoa debuting as the starter for Miami?

Z is for ... Zeitler: If Shane Lemieux plays well on Monday night in his debut, will Kevin Zeitler still be a Giant when Tuesday’s trade deadline passes?