It’s deja vu all over again as the New York Giants get off to a slow start and fall to the Denver Broncos 27-13 in the season opener.
The game got off to a good start as the Giants managed to keep the Broncos out of the end zone despite repeated trips to the red zone. However, the Giants could only get sporadic traction on offense and their defense just couldn’t get off the field. Wide receiver Kenny Golladay warned of a slow start to the season for the Giants, and well... He was right.
Neither the Giants, nor we, have much time to dwell on their season-opening loss, but we should take stock of some of what we learned.
The Giants need to tighten up their sloppy play
The New York Giants had some bright spots in this game. The play of Sterling Shepard out of the slot and Kenny Golladay out wide looked like the Giants answered their wide receiver questions from the last couple years. Likewise, the Giants’ run defense did what it was supposed to do (outside of Melvin Gordon’s 70-yard touchdown run).
However, there were breakdowns in multiple units that both lead to big plays (or potential big plays) for Denver on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Coverage breakdowns lead to receivers getting wide open in the Giants’ secondary, while issues with pass protection lead Daniel Jones taking some big hits. Likewise, the Giants had several costly penalties, including a late hit out of bounds and a late hit on Teddy Bridgewater to add hidden yardage to the Bronco’s offense.
Daniel Jones had a mixed bag of a day, with some good passes and runs, but also a fumble and a pair of shoulda-been interceptions. It didn’t help that Darius Slayton couldn’t hang onto the ball, catching just 3 of 7 targets, dropping four.
Even Joe Judge got into the act, costing himself a time out by challenging an unchallengeable scoring play.
The Giants have a quick turnaround before they host the Washington Football Team. There isn’t a lot of time, but they definitely have issues to work on.
We often talk about suffocating defenses, but it’s more rare that we talk about an offense suffocating the other team. But that’s just what the Denver Broncos’ offense did to the Giants’ offense.
By the start of the fourth quarter, the Broncos had held the ball for just under 30 minutes, an entire half of football. The Giants’ defense played hard, but they just couldn’t get off the field at any point in the game.
Credit to the Broncos’ offense, Pat Shurmur designed and called a good game, and Teddy Bridgewater played great. He consistently identified favorable match-ups and voids in the Giants’ coverage and found the open man.
But still, we saw some of the same issues as 2020, particularly when it came to the pass rush. The Giants struggled to quickly generate pressure with their natural pass rush, and instead had to rely on their secondary to keep the ball in Bridgewater’s hand or for extra blitzers. And with the Broncos able to find room in the Giants’ secondary for the receptions they needed to keep the offense moving, Denver was simply able to grind the Giants’ defense down until it finally broke.
The Giants’ offense looked sparse outside of Sterling Shepard, but it didn’t help that they got few opportunities before the game was out of reach.
No running room
The Giants want to win with their running game. They want their offense to flow through Saquon Barkley (and Devontae Booker) and for the passing game to supplement the run game.
There was the hope that the Giants would be able to get their running game going early against a defense that gave up 4.8 yards per carry a year ago. However, the Broncos’ front 7 is much healthier than a year ago, and the Giants’ offensive line didn’t give either of the team’s runners anywhere to go.
Saquon Barkley finished with 26 yards on 10 carries, and never really looked like himself. He lacked his customary explosiveness and didn’t seem willing to drop his hips and run as low to the ground as he had previously. Not only did that seem to limit his change of direction ability, but he also never really ran behind his pads. Perhaps because holes closed almost before they could open, but Barkley — and the running game — never seemed “right”.
The Giants’ offensive line wasn’t exactly the disaster we feared it might have been before the game. However, there was still too much penetration into the Giants’ backfield and blockers never created any space. Without the running game to keep the offense on schedule, the Giants were forced to rely on their passing attack, which just simplified things for the Denver defense.
If there’s one positive takeaway from this game it was the play of Sterling Shepard. Allowed to play his natural slot receiver position, Shepard was simply dynamic. He looked like himself again, and that guy is one of the very best slot receivers in the NFL. Shepard was quick, strong, dependable, and crafty — everything they need from their veteran receiver.
He was helped by some nifty route design by the Giants’ offense.
The Giants didn’t just trust Shepard to go out on an island in isolation route after isolation route and consistently win. They schemed a number of rub (and maybe a couple pick) routes, some deeper scissors concepts, and in general did what they could to create traffic for the Broncos’ secondary. That created opportunities for Shepard to do some of what he’s best at. When the Giants’ offense was moving, it was because Shepard was moving the ball, and when they had dynamic plays it was Shepard’s dynamism.
There wasn’t much for the Giants’ offense to hang its hat on, but Shepard looking the best he has in years might be something to build on.