The New York Giants got to the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs in 2022 while their MetLife co-tenant, the New York Jets, stumbled to 7-10. In training camp, though, most of the buzz was about the Jets. Fast forward to mid-season 2023, and the quadrennial rivals met with expectations doused on both sides due to injuries to their starting quarterbacks and desultory 1-3 starts. Recently, though, hopes had risen on both sides with improved play. Would the latest installment in the series be one for the ages or a boring slog in the rain? Let’s see what we learned from the Giants’ historically awful 13-10 loss to the Jets that basically ended any hopes for the 2023 season.
Curious personnel and coaching decisions have come back to bite the Giants
Ever since the end of training camp, the Giants’ front office has made some head-scratching personnel decisions. The first was cutting offensive tackle Tyre Phillips, who had played at least adequately in relief of Evan Neal when Neal was injured last year. That ultimately was the cause of Daniel Jones’ neck injury, since it was Joshua Ezeudu, playing out of position that gave Andrew Van Ginkel a free path to Jones in Miami.
Others have involved moves made, or not made, in-season, to make sure that there was adequate depth on game day. Take the Giants’ tight end situation. The Giants have had Lawrence Cager on the practice squad, waived, re-signed, active, inactive, you name it. Currently, he is on the practice and the Giants rolled Sunday with only two tight ends. When Darren Waller’s hamstring acted up early in the game, only Daniel Bellinger was left. That compromised an already dire situation for the Giants’ offense.
The Giants put developmental quarterback Tommy DeVito on the practice squad. DeVito is a fun story, a local boy making good. When Daniel Jones went down in Miami, though, DeVito found himself activated. In isolation, there’s nothing wrong with that. If you do that, though, you are saying that you have confidence in him to run the offense if the starter gets hurt. Today the starter, Tyrod Taylor, got hurt. Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka obviously did not have confidence in DeVito to run the offense, since the Giants ran the ball almost exclusively for more than half the game. If you know that, you sign an experienced quarterback to serve as the backup. If you don’t, you give DeVito some chances just to keep the opposing defense honest. The Giants’ offensive game plan today after Taylor’s injury was: un the ball and draw personal fouls.
Can anyone who was not at the game today verify whether the Giants even had wide receivers on the field today? (I know, Wan’Dale Robinson had a reception and Darius Slayton two, for a combined -1 yards. That was it.) Poor Jalin Hyatt’s parents traveled to attend the game today. Daboll and Kafka should pay their hotel bill and plane fare back home.
Finally, Graham Gano hurt his left knee a couple of weeks ago. It will reportedly need surgery in the offseason. Gano claimed that it has not affected his kicking. Yet he missed a field goal in the Washington game and two more today against the Jets. None of them were very long. That was the game. If the kicker on a team with a weak offense cannot be reliable, you sign another kicker and let Gano have his surgery. What you don’t do is let that kicker jeopardize a victory at the end of a game. At the very least, you give Saquon Barkley a chance to make the first down and run the clock out.
(There’s another personnel example worth mentioning, more on that at the end.)
Reality check for Deonte Banks
Deonte Banks has had a very good rookie season...until today. In this game, he seemed overmatched much of the time against Garrett Wilson. He fought - Wilson had 7 catches in 13 targets. But ultimately, Wilson had a 100-yard receiving day with Banks traveling with him much of the time.
On the first play after Gano’s excruciating 35-yard field goal miss with 0:28 left, Zach Wilson hit Garrett Wilson for 29 yards to put the Jets almost into field position for the tying field goal. In overtime, Wilson-to-Wilson happened again, this time for 11 yards on third-and-10, beginning the drive that eventually led to the Jets’ winning field goal.
There were other big fails in the secondary, most notably Adoree’ Jackson letting Malik Taylor, just activated from the practice squad, get deep on him, never taking a look back for the ball, and plowing into him for a 30-yard pass interference on third-and-5 from the Giants’ 45 that set up the game-winning field goal by Greg Zuerlein. Trade deadline, anyone?
Does Kayvon Thibodeaux listen to WFAN?
Thibodeaux has gotten considerable criticism in his second year from all sides for not being the impact player that a No. 5 pick is expected to be, especially in comparison to No. 2 pick Aidan Hutchinson. There is some truth in that view, as Thibodeaux’s first few games were quiet. As is often stated though by Wink Martindale, Thibodeaux’s role in the Giants’ defense is more varied than is true for many other edge defenders. Sometimes he is dropped into coverage, sometimes his job is to occupy blockers on plays where Wink is springing someone else as a free rusher.
In any case, Thibodeaux has come on the last few weeks, and he entered this week’s games ninth in the NFL with six sacks. That wasn’t enough for a couple of WFAN hosts, who shouted down and then hung up on Giants’ great Carl Banks this week when he tried to explain the nuances of Thibodeaux’s play.
Today, Thibodeaux was an absolute beast. He had 3 sacks, 6 solo tackles, 3 assisted tackles, for a combined 41 yards lost by the Jet’s offense, and I don’t know how many other pressures (I’ll know tomorrow). Thibodeaux was all over the field, stopping runs, chasing Zach Wilson down from the opposite side of the field, and generally wreaking havoc with the Jets offense. He wasn’t the only one - Dexter Lawrence had another sack and provided pressure up the middle all day, and Bobby Okereke had another 7 solo and 2 assisted tackles. Thibodeaux was the star of the show, though. This highlights the Giants’ weakness on the other side, though - Thibodeaux is playing a lot of snaps the last few weeks, presumably because the other side of the line is contributing little.
Can we stop the talk about Saquon Barkley’s future as a Giant?
Few great players in Giants’ history have gotten as much disrespect as Saquon Barkley. Ridiculed because he had the temerity to be drafted No. 2. Criticized because he is perceived not to be as good as Christian McCaffrey and Nick Chubb. Dismissed as part of the Giants’ future because running backs are not valuable in today’s pass-driven NFL.
Well guess what - Saquon Barkley IS still the Giants’ offense. He performed heroically today: 36 carries for 128 yards. That may not sound great - it’s only 3.6 yards per carry. If you watched the game, though, you knew that Barkley was going to get the ball on almost every play against a stout Jets’ run defense. He plowed, juked, whirled through and around Jets defenders all game. Yes, he’s not as explosive as he was as a rookie. That 34-yard gain he had might have been a touchdown in 2018. He IS the Giants’ offense, though, until further notice. He is also the spiritual leader of the team. Joe Schoen needs to resurrect the offer he made to Barkley’s agent during the 2022 bye week and see if they can’t work something out to keep Barkley a Giant for another couple of years. He deserves it, and the Giants are not ready to compete without him.
The Giants may have a punt returner
The other head-scratching personnel decision the Giants made this season was not to have an experienced punt returner on the roster. Having had one injury to Eric Gray and one muff by Sterling Shepard, and having been reduced to using Darius Slayton to (hopefully) fair catch punts, Joe Schoen finally signed Gunner Olszewski to the practice squad this week, and he was quickly elevated for today’s game.
During the game I couldn’t help but tweet:
I didn't realize it was possible to catch punts and advance them for positive yardage.— TTJ_nyg (@TTJ_nyg) October 29, 2023
Olszewski looked confident and competent catching and returning punts. He didn’t break any long ones, but if there is any such thing as a “return over yards expected” metric out there in analytics-land, I have to think Olszewski scored pretty well. He did have one fumble when he got hit by Jets’ safety Ashtyn Davis, and that is his reputation. Overall, though, he looked more capable than any punt returner the Giants have had in years.
In general I like how Joe Schoen has built the Giants roster. Many of his draft picks and at least some of his free agent signings have become vital contributors for the Giants. It’s now clear, though, that he has been too cute at some positions, not guaranteeing sufficient depth. I realize that the cap situation he inherited in 2022, which still echoes in 2023, is partly to blame, though. Today’s debacle was the chickens coming home to roost on several of those decisions. Rookie GMs have a learning curve, too. Perhaps the 2024 Giants will be constructed in a way that they do not have to enter games with so many single-point failures.