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New York Giants bye week ABCs: Let’s talk about Azeez, Joe, Kadarius, and the rest

Dusting off a favorite 2020 post to assess the first nine games of the 2021 season

Las Vegas Raiders v New York Giants Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

The New York Giants’ bye week comes after their ninth game. Maybe that isn’t exactly the halfway point of the season. What is the halfway point of a 17-game season, anyway? Still, it gives us a chance to take a big picture look at the 3-6 Giants.

Here is an ABC look at the first nine games.

A is for ... Azeez: Through nine games, second-round pick Azeez Ojulari is tied with Leonard Williams for the team lead with 5.5 quarterback sacks. That total leads all rookies, a half-sack ahead of Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons. Ojulari’s 13 total pressures is third on the Giants behind Williams and Dexter Lawrence, who each have 20. Ojulari has 16 stops, fifth on the team. Ojulari’s 6.2 pass rush productivity rating is best among Giants’ edge rushers.

Getting Ojulari, a player who would have been an acceptable pick at No. 20 in Round 1, at No. 50 in Round 2, was a coup for the Giants. He likely isn’t going to turn into Von Miller or Khalil Mack, but he looks like he could become an impact player. Ojulari is also one of three rookie edge defenders, joining Quincy Roche and Elerson Smith, that the Giants should be excited about.

B is for ... Barkley: I am just going to say this. When it comes to Saquon Barkley, the farther away from the magic of 2018 we get it becomes harder to do two things:

  1. Justify selecting a running back with the first pick of the 2018 draft, choosing to start a rebuild with a player who does not play a premium position where longevity could be expected.
  2. Support the idea of signing Barkley, who will play next season on his fifth-year option, to a rich, long-term contract after the 2022 season.

Barkley has now played in just seven of the Giants’ last 25 games. He has missed time with leg injuries three seasons in a row. He hasn’t gained more than 57 yards rushing in a game since the end of the 2019 season.

I can’t imagine the Giants doing anything but letting Barkley’s contract play out before they make a decision. It would be stunning if they commit a long-term, big-money deal to him before the 2022 season.

C is for ... Captains: Being a team captain is an honor. It has also been somewhat of a curse for Giants players this season. Team captains Nick Gates, Jabrill Peppers and Blake Martinez are all on season-ending IR. Barkley, also a captain, has also been sidelined. Daniel Jones did not miss a game, but did suffer a concussion. Can Logan Ryan and Graham Gano escape unscathed?

D is for ... Daniel: The biggest thing the Giants had to find out this season is whether or not Daniel Jones is a quarterback the franchise could go forward with. Jones has not made a Josh Allen-esque leap to stardom in Year 3. Is he capable of that? I don’t know, but the circumstances around the Giants’ offense this season have made that type of leap impossible.

Jones has gotten better, even if the statistics show only incremental gains. I believe it’s almost a certainty that Jones will be the Giants’ quarterback in 2022. There is no sure-thing quarterback in the upcoming draft class, no one you can look at and be certain he would be better than Jones. There is no cap space to pursue a high-priced big-name quarterback.

Along with that, I’m reasonably certain the Giants will pick up Jones’ fifth-year option for 2023 rather than let him enter next season as a lame-duck quarterback.

Jones still makes mistakes occasionally, like he did with his stare-down interception against Kansas City in Week 8. He also shows a lot of good things — things that make you believe it could look pretty good if the Giants ever put a fully functional group around him.

E is for ... Engram: Evan Engram is always a lightning rod for fed-up Giants fans who have seen too many losses over the past several years. When things go wrong for the Giants, Engram seems to find his way into the middle of it somehow. He has had a productive six-game stretch for the Giants, with 24 catches since Week 4. I know Joe Judge and the Giants respect how hard he works. It is going to be interesting to see if the Giants make a real effort to bring him back in 2022.

F is for ... Fourth down: Anyone who reads BBV consistently knows I think Joe Judge needs to go for it more often on fourth down. The graphic below, from Ben Baldwin of The Athletic, shows that entering Week 9 Judge’s fourth-down decisions this season have been more costly in terms of Win Probability than those made by any other NFL coach. Ouch!

G is for ... Gettleman: Are we entering the final weeks of Dave Gettleman’s tenure as Giants’ general manager? Probably.

If the Giants reach double-digit losses for the fourth straight time under Gettleman’s watch, whatever they believe the reason for this season’s failings, it is going to be virtually impossible to bring Gettleman back. How could they when no tangible progress, no on-field results, had been shown in four seasons? There have been some good moves during Gettleman’s tenure to go along with some bad ones. Bottom line is, though, the results have not substantially changed. The fact that the Giants have three wins over their first nine games for the first time since 2017 is not exactly worth bragging about.

If they happen to turn things around and win more than they lose over the final eight games, a possibility when you look at the schedule, there might be more of a case for Gettleman to stay. Especially if players he brought in like Saquon Barkley, Kenny Golladay, Andrew Thomas, Sterling Shepard and Kadarius Toney are healthy and the offense with Daniel Jones at the helm shows signs of what the Giants expected it to be all along.

Still, a strong second half might also be incentive for Gettleman to retire. He has talked about retiring to Cape Cod and watching from afar as Daniel Jones leads the Giants for years to come. A strong second half might allow him to do that with both he and the organization selling the idea that, as he has said he wants to, Gettleman is leaving the organization in a stronger place than he found it at the end of the 2017 season.

H is for ... Hope: That is really all Giants fans want at this point. It’s been a dark decade of football, and everyone just wants signs that it is ending. That is why the beginning of the season was so important, and ultimately so disappointing. The Giants started the season 0-3 in a portion of the schedule where they could have, no, should have, been 2-1. They have gone 3-3 since. The narrative, and the feeling, about this team would be vastly different if they had started the season the way they should have.

I is for ... Injuries: They are absolutely part of the deal when you play football. The Giants, though, have had more than their share and without any doubt those injuries have impacted the quality of the product the Giants have been able to put on the field this season.

The Giants have 17 players on injured reserve, per Spotrac, more than any team in the league.

That list includes C.J. Board, Carter Coughlin, Nick Gates, Shane Lemieux, Blake Martinez. Jabrill Peppers, Dante Pettis, Andrew Thomas, Levine Toilolo and Rodarius Williams, among others.

Barkley, Kenny Golladay, Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton, John Ross, Kadarius Toney, Evan Engram, Aaron Robinson and Elerson Smith have all missed time.

It is simply unfortunate that we have never gotten to see the time — or even a reasonable facsimile — of the team the Giants had hoped to field this season.

J is for ... Judge: Like I did above with Barkley, I’m just going to come out with this. I think it is almost certain that Joe Judge will return for a third season as Giants’ head coach. Only a catastrophic final two months of the season could change that, and I do not foresee that happening.

Now, anyone who ready Big Blue View on. regular basis knows I think that is the right path for the Giants to take. I also think that Judge, to become a long-term, successful head coach, needs to honestly evaluate his performance this season and accept his own culpability for the Giants’ performance so far this season.

The Giants were not ready to play Week 1. Judge ran a training camp where too many players practiced too little or played too little in the three preseason games.

My issues with Judge’s fourth-down conservatism are well-known, and I believe Judge’s game management was a big part of the reason for the losses to Washington and Atlanta. I thought he needed to be more aggressive Week 8 against the Kansas City Chiefs, as well.

Judge gets criticized in many circles for wasting timeouts. My issue isn’t calling those timeouts. My issue is that I think it is sideline dysfunction forcing the Giants into situations where those timeouts have to be called, and that is on the head coach.

So, too, is the lack of on-field discipline that leads to pre-snap and dead ball penalties.

“I think self-scout is a critical part of the bye week and look at what you’re doing well and what you’ve got to keep doing going forward. Then also looking at, alright, let’s go through the games that we played. What are some things that we’ve got to make sure that we get right or don’t repeat?,” Judge said on Monday.

“We’ll go through this week with not only talking as a staff and what we can do better schematically or personal-wise going forward but then also talking directly to players. I think it’s important this time of year to talk to each of your players about what are a few things that they can do better and what’s the planned course of action to improve on that? You’ve got to give the guys tangible marks that they can work towards in this part of the year and understand, okay, to be the best player I can be, what do I have to do?”

To be the best coach he can be, Judge also needs to look in the mirror both this week and this offseason about the areas in which he needs to be better.

Syndication: The Record
Kadarius Toney
Danielle Parhizkaran/ / USA TODAY NETWORK

K is for ... Kadarius: What a wild ride Kadarius Toney’s rookie season has been! From the very first time we saw him on the field at rookie mini-camp, when he ended up practicing with only one cleat on, Toney has easily been the Giants’ Most Interesting Man.

  • He skipped mandatory mini-camp, which rookies rarely do.
  • He started training camp on the Reserve/COVID-19 list and finished it with a hamstring injury that sidelined him for nearly all of the preseason.
  • He barely saw the field the first three weeks of the regular season, leading some to start wondering if the 20th overall pick in the draft was going to be a bust.
  • He had a breakout, 10-catch, 189-yard performance against the Dallas Cowboys that made many think “Oh, THAT’S why the Giants drafted him.” Then, he got hurt again.
  • Along the way, Toney has had a couple of social media missteps that show the 22-year-old does indeed still have some growing up to do, something pre-draft scouting reports had mentioned.

What will the remainder of the season bring for Toney? No clue. I just know it will be interesting.

L is for ... Lorenzo: I have been watching Azeez Ojulari and Quincy Roche make the plays this season that the Giants have hoped for years would come from Lorenzo Carter. It makes me wonder if Carter will be wearing a different uniform in 2022.

M is for ... Mistakes: The Giants continue to make way too many of them. Penalties at bad times, in-game decisions, disorganization that forces the team to use timeouts at inopportune times, failure to take advantage of chances to make game-changing plays.

The space between success and failure in the NFL is often very, very small. Any mistake or missed opportunity can be the difference between winning and losing.

N is for ... Nate: Joe Judge desperately wanted special teamer Nate Ebner on the roster. So far, Ebner has given the Giants one tackle and missed three games with injuries.

O is for ... Offense: There is no way around it — the 2021 Giants’ offense has not been close to what the Giants hoped it would be. Statistically, the Giants are a tad better. They average 19.9 points per game, up from 17.5 a year ago. During the Jason Garrett era, though, the Giants have yet to crack the 30-point barrier. They are 21st in yards after being 31st a season ago. Jones’ numbers are, as we saw earlier, slightly better than they were a season ago.

That incremental improvement isn’t what the Giants were looking for this season. League average in points per game is roughly 24.5, which is what the 16th-highest-scoring team in the league — the just-vanquished by the Giants Las Vegas Raiders average. The Giants had to hope the money spent in the offseason, and Jones’ continued growth, would at least get them to league average.

There are probably millions of Giants fans who think they are better play-callers than Garrett. There are times when Garrett leaves himself open to criticism. To be fair, though, Garrett has not worked with a full deck of offensive weapons at any time during his tenure with the Giants.

The 2021 offensive line was always a question mark. Now, the Giants are just trying to survive on a weekly basis. Nick Gates is sorely missed. Andrew Thomas, too. Shane Lemieux? Maybe. Still, you can’t attack vertically when you can’t protect your quarterback. Much of what the Giants do is to compensate for the offensive line’s issues.

Garrett has never had the best of Barkley. He has in fact, only been in the lineup for seven of 25 games over two seasons.

Tight end Evan Engram has missed two games. Kenny Golladay missed three. Sterling Shepard has missed four. Darius Slayton and John Ross have missed three. Kadarius Toney missed a game and has played through injuries in several others. C.J. Board and Dante Pettis are on IR. The Giants have never fielded a fully functional, fully healthy, group of receivers.

Garrett might walk the plank at the end of the season if things don’t get better. That is just the reality of the business of the NFL. Still, before that happens I would love to see what Garrett and the Giants could do with a full, or nearly full, complement of healthy players.

P is for ... Penalties: The Giants are 13th in the NFL having committed 58 penalties. That in itself isn’t awful. It is middle of the pack. It is when and how the Giants have committed penalties. An offside call on Dexter Lawrence directly cost them a game in Week 2, and one on Oshane Ximines probably cost them a game in Week 8.

The Giants committed 11 penalties against Washington, 10 against Kansas City and eight against Atlanta — all games they lost. They have the seventh-most pre-snap penalties in the league (14) and the most special teams penalties (12). Those have contributed to short-circuiting drives and changing field position.

As they have proven again and again, the Giants are not talented enough to survive their own unforced errors.

Q is for ... Quincy: Rookie edge defender Quincy Roche has been a revelation for the Giants. A Pittsburgh Steelers reject awarded to the Giants via waivers, Roche won the Giants a game on Sunday with a game-saving strip-sack of Las Vegas quarterback Derek Carr. Roche has played 50 snaps in back-to-back games and certainly looks like a keeper at this point.

R is for ... Rookies: We will be taking a complete look at the rookie class later in the week, but for now let’s just say that Azeez Ojulari, Kadarius Toney and Quincy Roche all look like impact players going forward. If Aaron Robinson and Elerson Smith can show promise during the remainder of the season, that ends up looking like a pretty impressive rookie group.

S is for ... Sale: The Giants’ offensive line isn’t great. Despite all of the injuries and retirements that have led to a revolving door of personnel on a weekly basis, it has not however been an abject disaster. Rob Sale, the rookie offensive line coach, gets ‘Kudos’ for that.

T is for ... Thomas: Before his sophomore season in the NFL, the question about Andrew Thomas was whether or not he could be a competent NFL left tackle after a disastrous rookie season. Now, the question is how soon can the injured 22-year-old get back in the lineup? Thomas was terrific in five games before going on IR with foot and ankle injuries. He had not given up a sack, had surrendered only seven pressures, and looked on his way to justifying the Giants’ decision to make him the first offensive tackle taken in the 2020 NFL Draft. The sooner he gets healthy the sooner the Giants might have a chance to start stretching the field in the passing game again.

U is for ... Upset: The Giants could really use a signature victory over a team they aren’t supposed to beat to show they might actually be making real progress. They got blown out by the Rams and Cowboys, and missed an opportunity against the Chiefs. Could they get that signature win against Tampa Bay in Week 11? Or, maybe a little bit later against Dallas?

V is for ... Vitriol: I am still annoyed by all of the whining and complaining in the comments and on the @BigBlueView Twitter timeline after Sunday’s victory. The Giants did what the had to do to win a game on Sunday. It wasn’t pretty, but they did win. Save for complaining for a time when it’s warranted. There have been — and will be plenty of those. Listen to the first 10 minutes of this to know how I reacted to all of the whining on Monday.

W is for ... Williams: Leonard Williams has thus far shown that his career season in 2020 wasn’t just a contract year push for a big paycheck. After a slow start, Williams is tied for the team lead in sacks (5.5), has the highest Pro Football Focus defensive grade (78.3), has a team-high 32 pressures and leads the team with 22 stops, defined as plays that result in failed offensive plays. He has played 81 percent of the defensive snaps, his highest percentage since 2016. He is earning his money.

X is for ... Ximines: After Oshane Ximines was a healthy scratch Sunday against the Las Vegas Raiders, watching Quincy Roche not only start but make a game-saving play, the guess here is that the 2019 third-round pick is fading out of the Giants’ future plans. That’s not a surprise, since Ximines has not really given the Giants anything this season.

Y is for ... YouTube: Promo alert! Yes, I’m cheating. If you are not consuming the fantastic content on the Big Blue View YouTube channel, shame on you. Post-game live threads from Joe DeLeone and Chris Pflum, film studies, yours truly and Emily Iannaconi reacting to games each week, occasional news updates.

Z is for ... Zzzzzs: Emily Iannaconi told me a story a few weeks back about watching people sleeping in the stands during a Giants’ loss. Will the Giants put you to sleep over the final eight games? Have they already done that? Are you not going to wake up until free agency? Or, will they play well over the final eight games and excite you?

We shall see.