Your final ‘Kudos & Wet Willies’ game review of the New York Giants’ 2022-23 season is a touch later than usual. Here it is, though, so let’s get to our review of the Giants’ 38-7 Divisional Round loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Kudos to ...
There are no individual ‘Kudos’ today as it relates to Saturday night’s performance. There are none deserved. Coach Brian Daboll calling the loss a “crash landing” was appropriate. The Giants weren’t competitive and no one played well enough or had enough positive impact to earn an individual ‘Kudos.’
What the Giants as a whole do get ‘Kudos’ for is being there in the first place. For the surprising, entertaining season they had. For making it enjoyable to watch — and cover — Giants football again. For bringing energy back into MetLife Stadium. For bringing hope back to a franchise that had become a laughingstock.
The ending was a crash landing. The trip itself? A surprisingly enjoyable ride.
Wet Willies to ...
Run defense — This area of the Giants’ defense has been problematic all season. The Giants surrendered 5.3 yards per rushing attempt during the season, second-last in the NFL. Saturday, the Eagles did whatever they wanted on the ground, rushing for 268 yards on 44 carries (6.1 yards per attempt).
There was some hope that Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams would be able to earn at least a stalemate with Eagles center Jason Kelce and the rest of the Eagles’ interior offensive line. Didn’t happen.
The Giants’ inside linebackers weren’t good enough to offer real play-making support. Another thing that has been an issue all season and that the Giants figure to address in the offseason. At times this season, the Giants’ outside linebackers have set the edge well. Not Saturday.
Offensive line — We saw this against the Eagles in Week 14, and again somewhat in Week 18. Aside from the All-Pro worthy brilliance of left tackle Andrew Thomas, the Giants’ offense line is no match for the waves of talented players the Eagles line up opposite them.
Haason Reddick had 1.5 sacks, three quarterback hits and a tackle for loss. He didn’t do all of that damage against rookie right tackle Evan Neal, but he did have his way with Neal for the third time this season. The Giants’ No. 7 overall pick still appears to have a bright future, but he has a lot of work to do this offseason. He needs to be better in 2023.
Quarterback Daniel Jones was sacked five times and hit on eight other occasions. In my view, the Giants have some capable players on the interior of the offensive line. They need at least one top-tier guy in the middle.
Wide receivers — The Giants got excellent play from Isaiah Hodgins, Darius Slayton and Richie James this season. That trio did far more than expected. If you thought, though, that the Giants were set at wide receiver the Eagles exposed that idea as a fallacy on Saturday night.
Hodgins had one catch for 3 yards. Slayton had one catch for 4 yards and FOX broadcaster Daryl Johnston was critical of his route on the pass James Bradberry intercepted. Richie James had seven receptions, but dropped what should have been an easy 77-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
The Eagles’ talented secondary, led by the former Giant Bradberry and Darius Slay, blanketed Giants’ wide receivers.
Look at the wide receiver separation chart from Next Gen Stats:
Giants offensive coordinator Mike Kafka has often been able to scheme his receivers open. He couldn’t do that against Philadelphia. James’ separation numbers are skewed by the one fourth-quarter coverage bust by the Eagles that he couldn’t take advantage of.
The Giants will benefit if Wan’Dale Robinson is healthy next season. Saturday night made it apparent, though, that they need a WR1.
Fourth-down decisions — In all honesty, this is not really a ‘Wet Willie’. I just felt I needed to find a place to address the two controversial fourth-down decisions Daboll and the Giants’ analytics gurus made Saturday night.
Going for the first down on fourth-and-8 from the Eagles’ 40-yard line on the Giants’ first drive was absolutely the proper decision. The Giants were already behind 7-0, and Philadelphia had already established that it was going to be able to do what it wanted offensively. The Giants, as they did so often this season, had a chance to answer quickly. They were the underdog, the lesser-talented team. If they were going to win the game, they needed to try and take it. They needed to be willing to take risks to make that happen.
There were two problems. First, Jones inexplicably turned third-and-3 into fourth-and-8 by taking a sack. Moving outside the pocket, the quarterback held the ball ... and held the ball ... and held the ball. It was obvious no one was open. At some point, though, the ball had to be thrown out of bounds. The 5-yard loss, pushing the ball from the Eagles’ 35-yard line to the 40, took field goal off the table and forced Daboll’s hand.
The second problem, of course, was that forced into a longer-developing play by the yardage needed the Giants could not handle the Eagles’ pass rush.
The second decision, punting on fourth-and-6 from the Giants’ 42-yard line while trailing 28-7 with 13:21 left in the game, was absolutely the wrong decision. It is one of the few times I have disagreed with Daboll this season on a game management decision.
If you enter the game thinking you need to take risk and be aggressive in the first quarter, how can you punt the ball back to the Eagles down three scores in the fourth quarter? There was no way the Giants were going to get the ball back enough times to even have a chance to make it a competitive game after punting there.
“They hadn’t scored yet in that half. I’m counting on the defense maybe just from so backed up to maybe get a three-and-out,” Daboll said. “Then they had a long drive. We probably could’ve went for it, but we weren’t executing well enough to be there so that’s what we did.”
Executing well or not, punting felt like raising the white flag.