The New York Giants sit atop the NFC East at 4-7 after defeating the Cincinnati Bengals 19-17 on the road. It’s always great to earn a road win and lead the division, but this win came at a cost. Secod-year quarterback Daniel Jones hurt his hamstring early in the third quarter and could not return, despite a valiant effort to play through the injury. Jones is scheduled for an MRI on Monday morning.
Colt McCoy filled in for the injured Jones and helped cap off a drive that led to one of Graham Gano’s four field goals, and a 13-10 lead. New York established a running game against a Bengals defense that allows the third most rushing yards per game. Wayne Gallman had 24 rushing attempts for 94 yards and a touchdown. The Giants possessed the football for 37 minutes and 26 seconds to the Bengals 22 minutes and 34 seconds. Bengals QB Brandon Allen couldn’t do much against Patrick Graham’s defensive unit.
Although the score was a bit too close for comfort, I never really felt the Giants were being outplayed. There were some mistakes the Giants made that must be corrected, especially on special teams, and Evan Engram had a poor fumble. Some penalties that assisted the Bengals were very questionable as well *cough* Darnay Holmes’ defensive pass interference *cough*, but the young Giants team still found a way to prevail against an inferior opponent on the road, despite losing their starting quarterback. Let’s dive into five plays that really help paint the picture of this football game.
Play(s) 1: Vertical Engram
We’ve been seeing glimpses of it the past few weeks. No, it’s not a Sasquatch or a white whale, but Evan Engram being used vertically. Giants fans have been clamoring to see the uber-athletic Engram be utilized in the intermediate to deep portions of the field, and the Giants made it an essential part of their game plan against the Bengals.
I love seeing the confidence that Jones shows on a third-and-2 here; he gets the look he wants - man coverage, Engram on safety Von Bell (24). The formation is tight, providing Engram with a ton of space to the outside passed the numbers. Engram wins at the line of scrimmage with an excellent release. He then easily stacks Bell and creates separation into space with his superior athletic ability. Jones puts a beautiful pass out in front of Engram for a huge gain.
Engram wins vertically again on this third-and-6 and Jones’ ball placement is perfect. Jones puts the ball over the outside shoulder of Engram, who makes a nice contested catch for another huge gain. This went for 44 yards and helped set up a Graham Gano field goal.
Play 2: Too close for comfort
As I alluded to before, this game was much closer than it should have been. Jabaal Sheard comes up with a huge sack on a first-and-10 to force a Brandon Allen fumble. Luckily, Leonard Williams was there to secure the loose ball and the Giants victory. Sheard does a good job getting through the tight end chip and winning the edge against the tackle, but Carter Coughlin’s impact on the play shouldn’t go overlooked. He attacks Bobby Hart’s (68) outside shoulder and does a good job opening the tackle’s hips up the arc. Once Coughlin realizes he isn’t winning the edge to corner, he works back inside and eliminates the pocket, or the space to flow right, for Allen. Coughlin forces Allen to work back outside and that’s when Sheard locates him. A very important play, in a game that was just a bit too close for comfort.
Play 3: Ryan’s impact
The Bengals were down by six with some momentum after picking up 14 yards on a first-and-17 to set up this second-and-3. Allen finds tight end Drew Sample (89) on this quick curl route for a would-be first down, but Logan Ryan had other things in mind. Niko Lalos (57) does a phenomenal job getting his hands into the catch point to force a struggle from Sample; as Sample tries to break outside, he doesn’t have a great grip because of Lalos, and that’s when Ryan comes in and punches the ball out of Sample’s grasp. Ryan has been such a valuable piece to this defense all season.
Play 4: First impressions
Wise people tend to say that first impressions matter — Lalos must have some sage friends, because he made a great impression in his first NFL game. Coach Joe Judge said Lalos has impressed and improved every day since camp, and he made the most of 9 defensive snaps against the Bengals. Much like the previous play, this is a great example of team defense. Darnay Holmes (30) does a great job breaking up the pass and forcing the ball into the air for Lalos to intercept. He sits on the receiver’s break and plays through the catch point. Then Lalos, an undrafted rookie defensive lineman from Dartmouth, has the awareness to see the ball in the air and secure it for an interception that led to a very valuable field goal for New York. Lalos was key in two of the Giants three turnovers on Sunday, and he deserves acknowledgement.
Play 5: Not so special teams
I’m excusing Gano and the field goal unit from this critique. Judge stated after the game that these special teams mishaps were “not good” and the coaches, and players must do a better job. The Giants have Judge, a former Super Bowl champion special teams coordinator, and Thomas McGaughey, one of the more respected special teams coordinators in the NFL, yet the Giants weren’t effective on that side of the football against Cincinnati. The Giants started the game with a 9-play, 76-yard drive that was capped off by a Wayne Gallman touchdown on fourth-and-goal. The next play was a 103-yard kick return by Brandon Wilson. Kickoff returns aren’t as common in the NFL today; long gone are the days of Devin Hester, Dante Hall, and Brian Mitchell, but the Bengals, a team that couldn’t move the football on offense, received an excellent start by putting points on the board via their special teams. The second video is the fake punt conversion on fourth-and-5. It’s warranted for Giants fans to be upset when this team loses the special teams battle. This isn’t a trend, nor is it a place for major concern at the moment.
It would be ideal for the Giants to stomp on a Joe Burrow-less Bengals squad, but that wasn’t necessarily the case. Brandon Allen had an opportunity at the end of the game to set up a Randy Bullock field goal for a potential win, but the defense imposed their power on an inferior opponent. Daniel Jones looked impressive in the pocket, had some beautiful throws, and continued his hot streak, but this injury is very concerning. We will all eagerly await test results to see the severity of Jones’ hamstring injury; until then, let’s get Colt McCoy all the first team reps he can handle as the Giants ride in the unsecure driver’s seat of this NFC East race.