The New York Giants are 1-4, facing yet another season that has already gone sideways before we are even halfway through October. There are, unbelievably, 12 games left to watch this sink ship further or for the Giants to miraculously right things and find some calmer waters to navigate.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
The Giants went 6-10 last year, and a 5-3 second half of the season both nearly won them the NFC East and raised expectations/hopes for 2021.
Joe Judge was a young and promising head coach. He had a plan for digging the Giants out of the decade-long mess they have been in. Despite outside howling about some of his methods, Judge had the respect — admiration even — of his players. He had a quality coaching staff. He had the backing of ownership.
The Giants had an aggressive offseason that was widely praised. In free agency, they added Kenny Golladay, Kyle Rudolph, John Ross and Devontae Booker to the offense, and Adoree’ Jackson to the defense.
In the draft, they moved down from No. 11 to No. 20, turning one pick into four in 2021 and 2022, including adding a second 2022 first-round pick. They selected Kadarius Toney, an electric but raw playmaker. They landed Azeez Ojulari, thought by some to be the best edge defender in the draft, with the 50th overall pick.
The Giants appeared to be set up. Maybe not for a Super Bowl run, but at least to show signs that they were finally emerging from a decade mostly filled with despair. Co-owner John Mara said bluntly that it was time to start winning games. The Giants looked like they had enough talent to be competitive at least deep into the regular season. Eight or nine wins in the first-ever 17-game season would at least show that things were trending in the right direction.
Things have not gone according to plan for these Giants in any way, shape, or form. Injuries, under-performance and perhaps some mistakes in personnel evaluation along with questionable coaching decisions have put the Giants in a 1-4 hole they are probably not climbing out of. The confluence of events may also lead them to some difficult long-term decisions.
Let’s go position by position to see where the Giants are at the moment. Today, we will look at the offense. Later this week, we will do the same for the defense.
Daniel Jones has played the best football of his career thus far. His completion percentage, passer rating and yards passing per game are at high water marks for his career. He has thrown only one interception, and that on an end of half Hail Mary. His fumbling issues appear to be under control. He threw for a career-best 402 yards in Week 4.
Analysts far and wide have begun to acknowledge that Jones is playing like a franchise quarterback.
Unfortunately, Jones is now hurt. Again. The scary concussion Jones suffered Sunday vs. the Dallas Cowboys means he is almost certain to miss at least one game. If he misses time, that will mean games missed to injury in three straight seasons — every season of his career. As Emily Iannaconi said in our live stream on Monday, that’s a pattern.
Short-term that would leave Mike Glennon at quarterback and would mean the Giants will have to elevate Brian Lewerke as the backup. Long-term, can they build a successful team around a quarterback with a propensity to get hurt? Also, do they have to reduce or eliminate their reliance on Jones as a runner?
In no way am I going to be critical of Jason Garrett for taking advantage of Jones’ ability to run the ball. It is one of the things Jones does best, and it makes the Giants offense better. Jones is third in the league in quarterback rushing yards, third in yards per carry and fifth in quarterback rushing attempts.
Quarterbacks used as ball carriers is no longer uncommon in the modern game. The problem for Jones is that he is fast and powerful, but not elusive or slippery like Lamar Jackson or Kyler Murray. He is a straight line runner. He is willing to take a hit to make a play when he has to. He lowered his head to try and make a physical play Sunday, and the concussion was the result. You don’t slide there, you try to score. The injury is the risk.
If you remove Jones’ legs from the playbook, how much do you take away from both him and the Giants’ offense?
Here, the Giants face the same type of situation as they do with Jones. Saquon Barkley is hurt. Again. Like Jones, for the third season in a row.
The Giants are trying to build an offense, and a franchise, around Jones and Barkley. Is that realistic? Perhaps not when they can’t stay on the field.
We can go back and debate whether or not the Giants should have drafted Barkley in 2018. For this debate, that’s pointless. This is where the Giants are. Barkley is in his fourth year. The Giants haven’t been good in any of those seasons. Barkley hasn’t been healthy enough to be the player he showed in 2018 he can be. The Giants have picked up his fifth-year option for 2022. Beyond that, is it smart business to give him a rich, long-term second contract or do they need to admit it hasn’t worked and spend their money elsewhere?
Not an easy call.
As for now, the Giants will rely on Devontae Booker, Elijhaa Penny and sixth-round pick Gary Brightwell to carry the load. Booker is averaging just 2.8 yards per carry (23 caries, 64 yards). This is Booker’s opportunity to show that the Giants were right when they were in such a rush to sign him in free agency this offseason. To this point, he has done little to justify that decision — or the $2 million in guaranteed money.
Evan Engram has become a symbol of all that has gone wrong with the Giants. Picked in the first round in 2017, Engram has seen the Giants go 17-50 during his time, tying the New York Jets for the worst record in football.
Engram has, of course, often been part of the problem. Fed up Giants fans finally showed the full level of their disgust in Week 3. After an Engram fumble, they booed whenever Engram came into the game, and cheered when he left it.
I think it's clear by now that Engram was the wrong pick at the time. It would be stunning if he is a Giant beyond this season. The plan, under three head coaches, has always been to use Engram’s speed and athleticism to create mismatches in the secondary. Injuries and Engram’s penchant for dropping easy passes and making crucial mistakes have annually foiled that plan, with this year being no exception.
Perhaps it is past time for the Giants to be honest with themselves. They probably should have done it before now, but if there is a suitor out there willing to drop a fourth- or fifth-round pick (and maybe that’s unrealistic) the Giants should probably take it.
Kyle Rudolph, signed to be a red zone threat security blanket for Jones, has only seven catches and hasn’t been a major factor. Kaden Smith has three receptions.
The Giants went all in to upgrade a unit that wasn’t good enough in 2020. They discarded Golden Tate. They spent big on Kenny Golladay, and took a flier on John Ross. They drafted Kadarius Toney. They added those three to Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton.
On paper, it is a diverse, dynamic group that should be among the deepest and most talented wide receiving corps in the league. All of the players named above have shown flashes of what they can do through the first five games.
The problem? You can’t be productive from the trainer’s table, and you can’t be as good as you should be if you can’t practice consistently.
This group was always a gamble for the Giants. A necessary one, but a gamble nonetheless. Golladay, Ross, Slayton, Toney and Shepard all have well-documented injury histories. All have dealt with injuries already.
Golladay is currently out with a knee injury. He has dealt with hamstring, hip and groin injuries, as well. Ross missed much of camp and started the season on IR. Toney had COVID-19, a hamstring injury and is now dealing with an ankle injury. Slayton is missing games for the second time in three seasons. Shepard has played two full seasons in six years.
The Giants could be reduced to a receiving group of C.J. Board, Collin Johnson, Ross and perhaps David Sills if Toney can’t play this Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams.
The revolving door of who can practice each day and who is or isn’t available to play each week is no way to develop a good offense.
Say what you want about the @Giants but so far this season— Dan Orlovsky (@danorlovsky7) October 11, 2021
Have played 17 snaps together. 17.
The Giants’ plan, Dave Gettleman’s plan if you want to call it that, was to go with a young, largely unproven group of offensive linemen the Giants drafted and developed.
Would it have worked? Honestly, we will never know. Shane Lemieux didn’t make it out of the first week of training camp without a knee injury that eventually landed him on IR. Starting center/guard Nick Gates didn’t make it out of Week 2 before suffering a gruesome leg fracture that will cost him the season.
Matt Peart, counted on to be the right tackle, lost that job to Nate Solder.
The Giants have gone through six left guards, two centers, two left and two right tackles. They have had a different starting lineup every week. Through all of that, the Giants have pass-protected well enough. The run blocking, which requires repetition and timing, has been predictably inconsistent.
Still, this wasn’t the way it was supposed to be.
You can be critical of the Giants for letting Kevin Zeitler go in a salary cap move. If they keep Zeitler, though, they probably aren’t able to afford Golladay. Or maybe cornerback Adoree’ Jackson. Zeitler is 31, coming off the worst season of his career and — if you believe Pro Football Focus — playing even worse this season for the Baltimore Ravens. My $.02 is the Giants moved on at the right time.
Still, it is valid to be critical of the Giants for not at least using a mid-round pick to bolster the line. There was no way to predict the retirements of Joe Looney and Zach Fulton. The Giants have done about as well as they could have under the circumstances in adding Billy Price, Ben Bredeson, Matt Skura and Wes Martin.
There is little the Giants can do now to change the personnel. Maybe Isaiah Wright works his way into shape and gets a look later in the season.
In my view, the one thing that needs to happen is that Peart needs to play. Starting on Sunday against Dallas, he allowed one pass pressure while Solder — at left tackle for Andrew Thomas — allowed eight.
I asked Judge about Peart this week. Here is what he said:
“I thought Matt did a good job. A large part of Matt getting going into this year was he obviously came into training camp dealing with some things that started him out on PUP. There was a level of managing this guy early in training camp that he’s had to build in throughout the way with conditioning and experience. I thought Matt did a decent job. Plan would be to play all three guys if all three are healthy and keep moving these guys on through the rotation.”
There is simply no point in Solder, a 33-year-old who is not part of the future, playing. Peart, a second-year player who could be part of the long-term solution, needs to be in the lineup. He showed on Sunday he can handle full-time duty, and it’s time the Giants gave it to him.
Like I have said, nothing has gone according to plan. Was the plan flawed? Maybe. There is always a certain amount of risk no matter what decisions are made. Sadly, to this point just about everything that could have gone wrong has gone wrong. I’m not sure there is any way to predict, prepare for, or overcome that.
Later in the week, I will go position by position through the disappointing defense.