While the final score came down to a pair of touchdowns, it never really felt particularly close following the Browns’ second touchdown at the end of the first half. But this game was always going to be an uphill battle for the Giants. The Browns’ offense has been red-hot lately and their defense has been getting healthier.
With that in mind, what can we take away from the Giants’ latest loss?
The offensive line bounces back
The Giants didn’t get the rushing production they probably would have liked (needed) this game. The Browns were aggressive coming downhill and looked to take away the Giants’ running game without the threat of a mobile quarterback.
And while the Browns got close to Colt McCoy all night, the Giants’ linemen only allowed one sack in the waning seconds of the game. For 59 minutes they were able to re-anchor or ride rushers around the pocket and generally give McCoy enough time in a clean-enough pocket. McCoy and Freddie Kitchens helped out the line with plenty of quick passes — McCoy got the ball out in a crisp 2.6 seconds — but credit to the Giants’ linemen for holding up. Particularly to Andrew Thomas who spent much of the game on an island with Myles Garrett. COVID or no COVID, that’s a tough matchup for any rookie lineman, and Thomas held his own for most of the game.
Giants get aggressive
The Giants weren’t under any misconceptions with regards to what they needed to do this game: They needed to score points - as many as they could, as quickly as they could. That lead to the Giants being unusually aggressive in their decision making. The two fourth down attempts in the first half are the ones people will remember, but the Giants also looked down-field much more often than they had in previous games. It was a definite gamble considering the caliber of defensive line they were facing, but the Giants also knew they needed chunk plays to keep up with the Browns’ prolific offense. Fifteen of McCoy’s 31 passes were more than 10 yards downfield, compared to eight such passes against the Arizona Cardinals and nine against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Unfortunately, that aggression didn’t pay off.
Their fourth-down tries were both stymied — though it might not be THAT shocking that a pass from a punter to a center failed. But considering the Giants have fielded one of the worst offenses in the NFL this year, it’s at least encouraging that they were willing to attack rather than go into a shell and try to play keep-away from the Browns’ offense.
Too much Baker
There is talk around Giants Twitter that the Giants got out-coached. And there is an argument that had the Giants taken the points each time they were in the red zone they could have kept the game close and relied more on their running game.
But against an offense which put up more than 100 points in the previous three games, the Giants HAD to be aggressive. They had to score touchdowns when they had the opportunity to keep pressure on the Browns’ offense and give their defense the chance to play with a close game (or even a lead).
And in fact the Giants did a good job of limiting the Browns’ running game, which had been averaging more than 156 yards per game. But it didn’t really matter, because Baker Mayfield made like he was back at Oklahoma.
Despite having a mediocre receiving corps, Baker completed 27 of 31 passes (87 percent), for 297 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Giants couldn’t consistently generate pressure on Baker and he was absolutely fearless in attacking the Giants coverages. The Giants continued to play the zone schemes which had been so successful over the course of their winning streak, but Baker picked them apart — though at times he needed to make some truly impressive throws into tight windows.
The Giants’ defense didn’t play a bad game, it’s just very tough to win when the other quarterback is playing as well as Baker Mayfield did.
The Giants miss James Bradberry
The two player swing at the cornerback position might have been the difference in this game. The Browns getting Denzel Ward back from injury allowed them flexibility on defense that they had lacked in recent weeks. On the other side, the Giants’ loss of James Bradberry took away their ability to shut down a receiver with a single corner and execute their coverage rotations.