After my post earlier in the week about how I'd feel about losing our second straight game, several of you replied post-game (correctly) that I got 3 out of the 4 things, or maybe 2 out of the 4 things, I wanted to see in order to be at peace with a loss. I thought I should revisit these issues in light of what we got on Thursday night. What we saw was a Giants loss to WFT, 30-29, after WFT had lost 20-16 to the LA Chargers, a similar team to the Giants, the week before.
1. Daniel Jones has no fumbles
Daniel Jones indeed had no fumbles Thursday night, even though he had multiple zone read runs in which he didn't go down until after contact. Not so happy about that, but it worked for him that night.
That was my only goal for Jones, but the fact is that he had a magnificent night. That may have been the best game of his Giants career, the only possible exception being the OT win at Fedex in 2019 in which he threw 5 TDs (and denied us the chance to pick Chase Young, but I don't hold that against him). That game came against a worse WFT defense than the one he faced this week. I thought that Jones consistently made big plays downfield, made few mistakes, and if we saw him play like this consistently, we'd be convinced that he is indeed our franchise QB.
Regarding franchise QBs, #1: The NFL schedule makers inadvertently provided us with one of the cleanest comparisons we'll ever get to make. Week 1, Fedex Field, Justin Herbert vs. WFT defense. Week 2, Fedex Field, Daniel Jones vs. the same WFT defense. How did their performances compare?
Herbert: 31-47 (66% completion %), 337 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, QB rating 85.2, Y/A 7.17, 1 yard rushing, 1 fumble lost, 0 rushing TDs, PFF grade 84.7
Jones: 22-32 (69% completion %), 249 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, QB rating 102.1, Y/A 7.78, 95 yards rushing (107 if not for questionable hold on C.J. Board), 0 fumbles, 1 rushing TD (2 if not for Board hold), PFF grade 91.3
Regarding franchise QBs, #2: At the very worst, Daniel Jones is the 3rd best running QB in the NFL. He is very different from the other two. Lamar Jackson had an entire offense and personnel grouping built around him specifically to exploit his speed and moves as a rusher. There is no one like him. Kyler Murray as far as I can see runs only when plays break down, and I do not believe he has many designed runs called for him even though he could probably do that. But Daniel Jones has this one play, the zone read, and he runs it beautifully, makes the right decision, and has the most terrifying straight line speed after he gets going of any QB in the league, Jackson included, even though Jones ran only a 3.81 40 at the combine. In The Athletic's QB rankings based on interviews with coaches and other personnel, several executives remarked about how much his threat as a runner worries them.
I'm not saying Jones is as good as or better than Herbert. I think Herbert will be a top 5 QB in this league. Bottom of top 10 is the ceiling for Jones in my opinion. And this is one game, not a season, not a career. Let's see him do it over and over again. But Thursday night he showed us that it is possible.
2. The OL is not a disaster
It wasn't a disaster Thursday night, other than the disastrous injury to Nick Gates. But it wasn't great either. Here are the PFF grades for the OL after 2 games:
Andrew Thomas 53.8
Ben Bredeson 57.9
Billy Price 28.1
Will Hernandez 53.1
Nate Solder 54.6
Nick Gates 60.9
Shane Lemieux 69.0
Matt Peart 63.3
By comparison, here are the grades for the LAC starting OL vs. WFT:
Rasahwn Slater 73.5
Matt Feiler 73.2
Corey Linsley 58.5
Oday Aboushi 64.3
Bryan Bulaga 55.8
Storm Norton 61.3
Bulaga injured his back in the 2nd half and went on IR this week, Norton replaced him.
So the Chargers left side of the OL seems better than the Giants, the right is about the same. But Herbert was under much less pressure from the WFT DL than Jones was, according to Pro Football Reference:
Herbert: 2 sacks, 15 blitzes, 2 hurries, 2 hits, 6 pressures, 12.2% pressure rate
Jones: 4 sacks, 17 blitzes, 11 hurries, 2 hits, 17 pressures, 44.7% pressure rate
There is controversy about Darius Slayton's dropped TD pass, with some blaming Slayton, others blaming Jones for overthrowing it. To me there is some merit in both statements. It was a difficult catch to make, I would have liked to see Slayton lay out a bit as I would have liked to see Engram do against Philly last year. But let me say this about Jones: That pass was overthrown by maybe 3 inches. It had 50 air yards from the point of release. That was a pretty accurate pass for 50 yards. And getting back to the OL, if you watch the film of that pass from the vantage point of the QB, here is what you will see:
If New York ends up losing this game, Darius Slayton is going to hear even more about this dropped touchdown.— Duane Rankin (@DuaneRankin) September 17, 2021
Washington now up one on Giants with 4:33 left in the game. pic.twitter.com/C8JiEYKb9c
Go to the 0:28 point in the tape. WFT DT James Smith-Williams (#96) has put a spin move on Will Hernandez, gotten past him, and is about to slam Jones just as he releases that ball. Under those circumstances that is a remarkable throw. Maybe with less pressure it could have been a bit better.
The more damning criticism of the OL is their failure for two games now to open holes in the run game. I'll have something specific to say about that under point 4 below.
3.The defense plays like the 2020 defense did so often and not like they did last week
I don't have much to say about this other than that it was the one thing I hoped for that absolutely did not happen. The Giants D seems not to be able to play man defense, despite what looks to me like very good personnel in the secondary. James Bradberry has been undressed two games in a row, and I don't think I ever saw that over a full game last year. Adoree' Jackson has made some plays but not enough (I don't blame him for the Ricky Seals-Jones catch in the corner of the end zone, that was great ball placement by Heinecke and a great catch by Seals). Xavier McKinney had one nice play where he came in and batted a ball away, but to me he has not shown signs of greatness yet. We know the LBs cannot cover (see Tae Crowder, MicKissic 56 yard pass play).
The IDL has gotten little pressure. Leonard Williams at least has 6 tackles, 3 assists, 0 sacks in 2 games, but Dexter Lawrence, win-killing offsides aside, has done nothing (0 tackles, 1 assist, 0 sacks). At EDGE, Lorenzo Carter has at least gotten 5 tackles and 2 assists, though no sacks yet, while Oshane Ximines has been invisible (1 tackle, 1 assist, and at least 1 giving up the edge on a run that I noticed). Azeez Ojulari has at least had 2 sacks; he's also had 3 QB hurries, while Carter has had 1 hurry and 1 knockdown and Ximines just 1 hurry.
I have no idea what Patrick Graham has/has not been doing to get such poor results. But if you were planning on us getting 2 round 3 comp picks in the next 2 drafts after he gets hired away to be a head coach somewhere, don't count on them. Dan Duggan in today's The Athletic offers a disturbing possibility: Last year was an anomaly. this year we are seeing regression to the mean. Personally I don't buy that, since the Giants D has some very talented personnel. But it can't be ruled out.
The Chargers have two players on their defense who are (Joey Bosa) or may be (Derwin James) better than anyone on the Giants' defense. They have a few other nice players on D as well: Linval Joseph, rookie Asante Samuel Jr. But they were the 23rd rated defense in the NFL last year, while the Giants were 9th, so there is no reason think LAC's D is better. Yet LAC gave up 16 points, 15 first downs, 133 yards passing, and 126 yards rushing to WFT (only part of that when Heinecke was in the game), while the Giants gave up 29 points, 25 first downs, 320 passing yards, 87 rushing yards to WFT. That is why LAC beat WFT and we lost to them.
4. Most importantly, if the offensive game plan gives us a chance to win. Joe Judge said this week at a presser that the Giants will continue to be conservative because the WFT DL is so fearsome. But it doesn't have to be that way.
This to me is the single biggest issue with the Giants. I, like many of you, have blamed Jason Garrett quite a bit for our unimaginative offense. But to some extent it is hard to actually tell, because we don't know who is responsible for a given play. It seemed to me that Garrett opened things up some on Thursday night. More zone reads, more RPOs, more shots downfield. But I saw somewhere that Jones said that his beautiful 33-yard TD pass to Slayton was a play on which he audibled because he didn't like what he saw when he came up to the line. So what had Garrett called on that play? We'll never know. On the positive side, good for Jones for recognizing the defense and taking a shot.
What really bothers me, as is true for many of you, is the conservative play calling after the Bradberry INT. In today's NFL, late game play calling that gives the opponent the chance to drive down for a game winning score as time runs out is a risk not worth taking. Run, run, pass short of the sticks just to ensure a FG that puts you up by 2 with more than 2 minutes remaining is losing football. The problem is where to put the blame.
At that stage of a 2-point game, surely the decision to play it conservatively came from Joe Judge, even if the specific plays were called by Garrett. And again, he said as much in his presser earlier in the week. Admittedly, it is not a clean comparison, between the Giants, down 1 with the ball late in the game, and LAC, up 4 with the ball late in the game. But look at what LAC did to RUN OUT THE CLOCK with 6:43 remaining in the game.
LAC got the ball at their 18 with 6:43 left, up 4. Here are the plays they ran:
Rush, 4 yards
10 yard penalty
17-yard pass completion on 3rd-and-16, first down, LAC 29, 5:29 left
7-yard pass completion
19-yard pass completion, 1st down at WAS 45, 3:35 left
Rush, 1 yard
Rush, 2 yards
20-yard pass completion, 1st down at WAS 22, 2:00 left
Rush, 9 yards, WAS TO
Rush, 3 yard loss, WAS TO
9-yard pass completion, 1st down at WAS 7, WAS TO, 1:44
Rush, 1 yard loss
Rush, 1 yard loss
Rush, 1 yard loss, end of game
So LAC rushed quite a bit even though as a team they hadn't gotten significantly more yards rushing than the Giants did against WFT. And sometimes they were unsuccessful. But when they needed a first down to maintain possession, they passed, and they always passed far enough to get the first down. That was the Giants' big mistake. The Giants passed short of the sticks, as they so often have under Judge and Garrett, and had to kick the FG. Moreover, I believe they were using a 3-TE set that series of downs, which is telegraphing that they are going to run the ball. (Not that you have to, teams I'm sure assume the Giants are going to run in those situations.)
Worse yet, Graham Gano kicked 5 FGs:
23 yards on 4th-and-2 at WAS 5
47 yards on 4th-and-6 at WAS 29
52 yards on 4th-and-3 at WAS 34
55 yards on 4th-and-4 at WAS 37
35 yards on 4th-and-7 at WAS 17
There have been several analytics studies of when coaches should go for it on 4th down, when they should attempt a FG, and when they should punt. They all come up with a chart that looks something like this:
Using that chart to evaluate Gano's 5 FGs, we see that the 1st, maybe the 2nd, the 3rd, and the 4th FGs were all poor decisions by the Giants. The 5th was a poor decision too, but down 1 with little time left it's understandable. But basically, the Giants cost themselves points by always making the conservative decision. Judge says he did what he did because he trusted his OL, but his OL was stoned in the run game most of the time by WFT's DL and so it is hard to find a basis for his confidence. Since the OL wasn't opening holes, why count on them to do so with the game on the line? LAC's run game didn't shine during that final drive either, but they passed aggressively when they had to...and won.
To quote a former NYC athlete - the ship be sinking. Time for Joe Judge to adopt modern football in-game strategy.
And by the way, throw a few passes to your first round draft choice. He's more than a gadget player. Start using him!