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4 downs: Instant reaction as Giants stun Titans

Takeaways from the Giants season-opening win

Syndication: The Tennessean Andrew Nelles / / USA TODAY NETWORK

The New York Giants managed a stunning come-from-behind 21-20 victory on Sunday over the Tennessee Titans to start the 2022 season.

For much of the game it looked like this was going to be the same kind of game we’ve seen from the Giants in recent years.

Ultimately, the Giants were able to hang around, punch the ball in the end zone when they needed to, and the game came down to a veteran kicker missing a routine field goal from well inside his range.

But for the first time in years, the Giants have a 1-0 record.

There will be time to break down the details of the game, and how the Giants managed to pull off the upset victory. For now, let’s just talk about the top line takeaways in the immediate aftermath of the game.

First down - Barkley’s big game

I’m not going to spend much time talking about Saquon Barkley. There’s going to be plenty of ink and pixels spilled about his performance. It was, possibly, his best game as a professional. Yes, he’s had more yards in other game, and I thought he still doesn’t quite have the extreme lower-body fluidity and flexibility he had at the beginning of his career.

However, Barkley finally showed a patience in reading his blocks, giving them time to develop, and understanding his leverages. He played like a veteran, and not just a rookie trying to out-athlete everyone on the field. There were several plays where the Titans had him dead to rights in the backfield, and he probably would’ve been brought down for a loss earlier in his career. Now, however, he used their aggression against them, forced missed tackles, and took advantage.

But even more than Saquon’s play, we also need to appreciate the blocking from players like Josh Ezeudu (particularly on the big run) and Sterling Shepard to open up rushing lanes. We also need to appreciate the play calling from Mike Kafka to manipulate the Titans’ defense. He used the kind of misdirection and play sequencing to create opportunities that I’ve been wanting to see from the Giants for years now. He also used a wide-enough variety of running concepts to keep the Titans’ defense from keying on any one.

Second down - The offensive line is a work in progress

While the Giants’ offensive line did a good job overall when it came to run blocking, it’s also pretty clear that this offensive line is still a work in progress. Particularly when it came to pass protection.

The Titans sacked Daniel Jones 5 times, including a nearly disastrous strip sack by Jeffery Simmons. The Giants were rotating Ben Bredeson and Ezeudu at left guard, and pressure leaked through both the A and B gaps. Jon Feliciano was also bulled back into the backfield repeatedly and at times looked like he was just barely hanging on. Rookie Evan Neal had some of his issues with waist bending and lunging creep back in from preseason.

The Giants were able to compensate some with quick passes and rollouts, as well as leaning on the running game. However, when it was an obvious passing situation, the Titans were able to get pressure, and it impacted the offense.

The Giants will face more good defensive fronts throughout the season, and this is a problem they’re going to have to solve.

Third down - Kafka kept Jones’ load light

We kinda have to talk about Jones. After all, his play this year could determine the next few years of the Giants’ franchise.

Daniel Jones completed 17 of 21 (81 percent) for 2 touchdowns, an interception, and a fumble. But really, the Giants didn’t ask him to do much.

Most of Jones’ passes were on quick one-man reads or RPO concepts and only traveled a few yards downfield. The Giants’ offense also did everything it could to simplify the defense for Jones and create separation for the receivers. Heavy use of play-action on passing plays, frequent motion from receivers, screens, rub routes, and rollouts to shield the ball from the defense.

Even with Sterling Shepard’s 65-yard touchdown catch on a badly busted coverage by Kristin Fulton, Jones still had fewer than 200 yards passing.

That style of offense is fine when Saquon Barkley has a career day and the defense was taking advantage of the opponent’s mistakes.

While Tom Coughlin would certainly be proud of the Giants winning with the running game and defense, the Giants will need Jones to do more than be a game manager.

Fourth down - All out aggression

If there’s one overarching takeaway from this game, it’s that this coaching staff is aggressive.

Brian Daboll is suddenly a hero for going for two at the end of the game, but he was never NOT going to go for the 2-point conversion. As soon as the Giants got the stop to get the ball back down 7 by the end of the game, the decision was made. There was no reason not to go for two. Daboll is playing with house money right now. There’s no pressure on him, and taking a shot at the win — as opposed to a tie — can’t hurt him.

Wink Martindale is Wink Martindale. He was aggressive all game long, calling a super high rate of man coverage and sending blitzes with almost reckless abandon. That almost lost the Giants the game when Ryan Tannehill found Kyle Philips down the field for a 21 yard reception against man coverage. However, it also allowed the Giants to take advantage of the Titans’ mistakes to keep the game within the offense’s reach.

Tannehill’s receivers dropped passes in key moments — perhaps because of Wink’s blitz schemes. The Titans’ own attempts at trick plays, such as using Derrick Henry in the Wildcat, or Chigoziem Okonkwo on a sweep from the tight end position, failed miserably because of how aggressively the Giants shot into the backfield.

Other teams won’t make the same mistakes, and the Giants will likely get burned by their aggression. There’s tape on the Giants’ offense and defense now, and other teams can scheme to exploit their aggression.

More often than not, however, that mentality will put you in position to do something positive. And at the very least, we’ve seen enough of the Giants taking the safer bet and hope the other team will beat themselves.