Pain in the neck
Daniel Jones’ neck injury, which will sideline him Sunday — and perhaps longer than that — is the latest blow to a staggering offense that has never had a chance to be what the Giants envisioned.
The offensive line has been a train wreck since the first week of training camp. Matt Peart began camp on the PUP list and eventually lost the right tackle job. Shane Lemieux got hurt when camp was still in its infancy, played 17 snaps and landed on IR. Two veteran backups retired. Starting center and captain Nick Gates didn’t last two games. Andrew Thomas, easily the line’s best player, has missed four games.
Running back Saquon Barkley and wide receivers Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney barely practiced before the season started. Tight end Kyle Rudolph and wide receiver John Ross also missed considerable time.
Once the regular season, the playmakers’ procession to the training table has continued.
Barkley missed four games with an ankle injury and still does not look fully healthy. Sterling Shepard has missed six games. Golladay, Ross and Darius Slayton have missed three. Evan Engram, Kaden Smith and Toney have missed two. Rudolph has missed one. For good measure, you can throw in season-ending injuries to backups C.J. Board and Dante Pettis.
Toney, the Giants’ leading receiver, has 35 receptions. That is 75th in the NFL among receivers. Not exactly what the Giants were hoping for.
Shepard, Toney, Rudolph and Smith missed Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Smith was placed on IR this week. Shepard and Toney are doubtful Sunday, while Rudolph is questionable.
Yes, Jason Garrett needed to be ousted as offensive coordinator. Still, with an offensive line manned mostly by backups and an incredible amount of missed games and, just as importantly, practice time, developing a consistent, cohesive, explosive offense has been virtually impossible.
Now, the quarterbackis down.
Jones was apparently injured on the second play of Sunday’s game against Philadelphia, a zone-read keeper on which he slid but still took some contact. Jones suffered a concussion earlier this season, a hamstring injury last season and a high ankle sprain as a rookie.
The common thread in those injuries? Jones being used as a runner.
That is a conundrum for the Giants. They need to use Jones’ legs as part of their offense. The weakness of the offensive line and the revolving door of playmakers has made that obvious. Pat Shurmur believed it. While he still had a job, Garrett said many times QB runs had to be part of the offense. The number of times he used Jones as a runner Sunday against the Eagles showed that Freddie Kitchens believes that, too.
The safest place for a quarterback remains in the pocket, where the rules offer him a ridiculous amount of protection. The most dangerous place? Out of the pocket running with the football, especially for a straight-line runner like Jones who isn’t afraid to be physical when the situation calls for it.
Jones’ injury complicates many things for the Giants, especially if it last multiple weeks. How do the Giants make a long-term decision about Jones if he isn’t playing? How do they evolve the offense and score more points without the player they are supposedly building it around? How do they properly evaluate whether Kitchens should get the full-time gig as offensive coordinator next season?
As for this week, it looks like Kitchens is going to have to figure out how to make the offense work with an immobile quarterback in Mike Glennon against a blitz-happy Miami defense that has allowed just 46 points (11.5 per game) the past four weeks.
Good luck, Freddie!
Let’s look at a few more storylines for Sunday. The first two are really extensions of the Jones discussion.
On the surface, not much changed for the Giants on Sunday with Freddie Kitchens calling offense plays for the first time in place of the deposed Jason Garrett. The Giants scored just 13 points, failing to reach 20 points for the sixth time in 11 games. They had just 264 yards of total offense, a third straight game below the 300-yard barrier.
There were a few differences. A season-high seven targets for wide receiver Kenny Golladay, including several in the red zone or at key times. Seventeen touches for Barkley. A couple of well-timed screen passes.
“I think as we go through the remainder of the season, there’s going to be a little bit of evolution just with the usage of our players and the personalities of some of the coaches within the play calling and the development of the game plan will probably come on out,” head coach Joe Judge said this week. “I’m not going to sit here and tell you that it’s going to be flipped on its head immediately, but over the course of time that will naturally take place.”
Who’s in, who’s out?
For the Giants, this is a weekly game we have to play. The news of Jones’ neck injury just adds a layer to it.
The game always involves the team’s play-makers on offense. Wide receivers Kadarius Toney and Sterling Shepard missed last week’s game with quad injuries. Shepard has not played since Week 8 and has appeared in only five games this season. Tight ends Kyle Rudolph (ankle) and Kaden Smith (knee) missed last week, allowing Chris Myarick to be a hero. Smith, battling a knee injury all season, is now on IR.
The game includes the secondary this week. Slot cornerback Darnay Holmes is out, having been placed on IR this week after suffering a rib injury against the Philadelphia Eagles. Logan Ryan is back, having been activated from the Reserve/COVID-19 list. Starting outside cornerback Adoree’ Jackson (quad) did not play in the second half vs. Philadelphia. He will not play Sunday.
Joe and Brian
Judge and Miami coach Brian Flores know each other well. They were together as assistant coaches on the New England Patriots staff from 2012-2018, before Flores took the Dolphins’ head-coaching job in 2019.
Judge, 39, and Flores, 40, are young, first-time head coaches who both got those jobs well before many thought they were ready for them. Both are struggling to break out of the mold of Bill Belichick assistant coaches who have failed when given chances to run their own teams.
“I think some of the tightest relationships you have in this business are the relationships you have when you’re broke, grinding with somebody. Brian came into this league the same as I did in kind of a bottom of the totem pole type of position. We were given the opportunity to work and had the opportunity to work our way up. He certainly did that and I had the opportunity as well to do that,” Judge said. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for Flo, I really, really do. He’s very, very intelligent, he’s got great command, he’s a great leader, his players play the right way, they respond the right way, he pushes through adversity. I think he does all the right things.”
Will one, or both, of these young coaches ultimately be successful? Sunday won’t definitively answer that question, but it is a fun head-to-head matchup of former Belichick disciples.
Defense isn’t resting
The Giants did not play defense the way they were expected to over the first six games of the season. With the exception of a Week 11 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, that changed during the last five games.
2021 Defensive Splits
|First 6 Games
|Last 5 Games
|First 6 Games
|Last 5 Games
|29.5 per game
|15.2 per game
|401.3 per game
|335.6 per game
|137.2 per game
|116.4 per game
|264.2 per game
|219.2 per game
|26.3 per game
|22.2 per game
|73.9 (153 of 207)
|58.5 (124 of 212)
The Dolphins are also an improving defense, having given up just 11.5 points per game during the team’s current four-game winning streak.
We might be in for another defensive slugfest, similar to the one the Giants had with the Eagles last Sunday.
Don’t look now, but second-year man Tua Tagovailoa might be turning into a quality quarterback for the Dolphins.
Tagovailoa has completed more than 80 percent of his passes in each of his last two games, going 54 of 64 (84.4 percent) in that time with three touchdowns and one interception. Tagovailoa is completing 70.5 percent of his passes and has posted a 94.7 passer rating.
Even with Logan Ryan returning, the Giants enter this game with a patchwork secondary. How the Giants handle Tagovailoa and the Miami passing attack bears watching.
Both teams enter this matchup on the periphery of the playoff race in their respective conferences. The 5-7 Dolphins, winners of four straight after a 1-7 start, are the 13th seed in the AFC. The seventh and final wild card spot is held by the 6-5 Los Angeles Chargers. At 4-7, the Giants are the 13th seed in the NFC. Despite that, they are just one game behind the seventh-seeded Washington Football Team (5-6).
Sunday’s game could determine which of these teams plays meaningful games down the stretch.