The taste of Sunday’s disappointing loss to the Denver Broncos may still be lingering, but it is almost game day once again for the New York Giants. The Giants travel to Landover, Md. for a Thursday Night Football matchup this week with the defending NFC East champion Washington Football Team.
Here are some of the story lines worth following.
Avoiding 0-2 again
We have talked about this a lot. A loss Thursday would make eight of nine seasons in which the Giants had started 0-2 or worse. On top of which, even with playoffs expanded to 14 teams, the odds of making the playoffs after starting 0-2 are long. From 1990 to 2019, only about 12 percent of teams beginning seasons 0-2 made the playoffs. Last season, 11 teams began 0-2. None made the playoffs.
Joe Judge says September games are “an extension of the preseason in a lot of ways.”
Except that the games count. The results matter. There’s no time for “It’s OK. We’ll get better later.” The Giants spent a lot of money in free agency. They went all-in to support a third-year quarterback with much to prove. Ownership expects results. Disgruntled fans need them.
The Giants retire Eli Manning’s jersey during the Week 3 home game vs. the Atlanta Falcons on Sept. 26. The last thing anyone wants is a restless, angry crowd at what should be a celebration of Manning’s career.
A victory on Thursday is sorely needed.
Dealing with Chase, Montez ... and the rest
The Giants’ offensive line, with the exception of a couple of obviously poor and easy to see reps from the right tackle tandem of Nate Solder and Matt Peart, did a good job giving Daniel Jones time to throw on Sunday vs. Denver.
Encouragingly, second-year left tackle Andrew Thomas was in the top third among tackles in ESPN’s pass block win rate statistic.
Pass block win rate ranks— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) September 13, 2021
Solder 47/61 https://t.co/ObMjrpYJdu
Nick Gates was also tied for best pass block win rate among centers.
Per @PFF_Giants, Jones had a clean pocket 74.4 percent of the time, second-highest of his career. PFF ranked the Giants eighth in overall pass blocking grade and 12th in pass blocking efficiency.
So, despite the Giants’ inability to score points vs. the Broncos, a hopeful start for the oft-criticized offensive line.
Now, here comes the Washington Football Team. That means Chase Young. It means Montez Sweat. It means Jonathan Allen, and the rest of an excellent defense.
“Chase Young’s a really good player. I mean, their whole front seven’s really good. They have really good pass rushers, and they get to the quarterback and disrupt the QB that way,” Gates said. “But yeah, you’ve always got to see where (Washington Defensive End Montez) Sweat and Chase Young are, and you’ve got to help those tackles out as much as we can.”
The Giants did not run the ball well against Denver with Saquon Barkley (10 carries, 26 yards) and Devontae Booker (4 carries, 7 yards) not having much success.
“We’ve got to run the ball better, which is the main point. You’re not going to win too many games if you can’t run the ball on the ground and be able to pound the rock,” Gates said. “I felt pass-pro was a lot better than it was this time last year and we’ve got to keep excelling on that and keep moving forward when it comes to that.”
We will see Thursday night if the Giants can build on Sunday’s performance.
One offensive line personnel situation worth watching is left guard. Shane Lemieux started but played only 17 snaps, while Ben Bredeson played 44 against Denver. Lemieux (partially torn patellar tendon) was listed as “Did Not Participate” on Monday’s estimated injury report. Lemieux played well in his limited snaps, but you have to wonder if his health will eventually lead to Bredeson taking this job.
There’s a new sheriff in D.C.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is out, at least for now due to a hip injury, and Taylor Heinicke is in as Washington quarterback.
A former undrafted free agent on his fifth team, Heinicke signed to Washington’s practice squad in early December of last season and ended up starting a playoff game against the eventual champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers when Alex Smith was injured.
The 28-year-old completed 11 of 15 for 122 yards and a touchdown in relief of Fitzpatrick on Sunday vs. the Los Angeles Chargers.
“It’s not the same guy [as Fitzpatrick], but there’s a lot of the same characteristics. I think you can get a little of a gunslinger in both these guys and I don’t say that in an insulting way,” Judge said. “I say that in a very complimentary way that he’s a guy that can go out there and can really function and operate and think outside the box, extend plays, be creative within the system and, obviously, he’s been very competitive in all the games he’s been in.”
Giants defensive end Leonard Williams also sees similarities.
“He’s capable of making plays in this league and he’s also athletic enough to make plays on his feet, just like Ryan,” Williams said. “I think it’s pretty much the same type of game plan that we have to prepare for.”
Heinicke has played well in his brief time in Washington. It is the Giants’ job on Thursday to make him look like the guy who couldn’t stick in Minnesota, New England Houston or Carolina rather than a guy who maybe should have been Washington’s starter to begin with.
Forget 30 points, let’s try 20
Wide receiver Sterling Shepard was asked Sunday evening if the Giants need a 30-point offensive game to prove to themselves they can, indeed, be a good offense.
“We’ve just got to do it. I feel like we have it in us and we’re capable of it,” Shepard said. “We’ve just got to practice every week and we’ve got to push and keep getting better. I know we’re capable of it, everybody knows we’re capable of it. We’ve just got to put it together and do it.”
Let’s not put the cart before the horse. How about forgetting 30 for now, and just getting to 20? After Sunday’s stinker in which the offense scored 13 points, six of which came on the Giants’ final play in a long-since lost game, the Giants have managed to score 20 points just once in their last seven games.
Obviously, offensive coordinator Jason Garrett is going to be under fire if that type of futility continues, especially with the investment the Giants made in improving their play makers.
“Obviously, we have to be creative and give the players a chance,” Judge said. “I’m more focused right now on the fundamentals and the execution to go with, making sure we’re emphasizing ball security, running, blocking, making sure we can break tackles and extend plays right there, protecting leverage on the routes. But in terms of just the overall system, our focus right now is really more on putting the players in position and get them going.”
Judge said the fact that the Giants got Saquon Barkley, Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney and Kyle Rudolph into game action was “moving in the right direction.”
Golladay tried to emphasize patience on Monday.
“Like I’ve been saying, this is Week 1 and guys are really just now starting to get back out there. I think we can be explosive, just pretty much what everybody else thinks,” Golladay said. “When you just look at it, you have a lot of guys that are on this offense that (have) made a lot of big plays, but at the same time we just have to put the work in. Yesterday was pretty much a day for us to continue to just grow. To be honest, the sky is the limit for us as long as we put the work in.”
Thing is, what the Giants might be a few weeks from now is irrelevant. They are 0-1. They face a division opponent with a tremendous defense on Thursday in a game they really need to win.
The games the Giants are playing now count. The Giants need to win enough of them to make those improvements they are hoping for down the line matter.
Judge made it clear Monday that he expects Barkley, coming back from his torn ACL, to be available for the Giants’ second game in five days.
“I would say unless the medical team tells us something else, our intention’s going to be to keep on progressing this guy throughout the season and playing with him, unless there’s some kind of setback,” Judge said. “Look, he came out last night, from all accounts, in a good position. Our plan to this point is to go ahead and include him in the game plan.”