Before the 2023 NFL season began, many pundits predicted a regression to the mean for the New York Giants after their surprising run to the Divisional Round of the playoffs in 2022.
What we didn’t realize was that the mean they were talking about was the 2017-2018-2019 Giants, who were a collective 12-36 during those years and got two head coaches fired.
The Giants put on their second consecutive absolutely embarrassing performance at MetLife Stadium before a prime time audience, losing 24-3 to a less-than-fearsome Seattle Seahawks team. The most amazing thing about it was that the Seahawks played poorly themselves. They were begging to be beaten for most of the first half, but compared to the Giants they looked like worldbeaters.
What did we learn from this debacle?
If possible, the offensive line is even worse than we feared
Once again, the Giants trotted out a makeshift offensive line. This time, though, it was not Micah Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence, Joey Bosa, or Javon Hargrave lining up opposite them. Seattle has decent defensive line players in Jarran Reed, Mario Edwards, Dre’Mont Jones, and Boye Mafe, but they are not one of the NFL’s best. You wouldn’t have known it based on the incessant pressure they got on Daniel Jones.
Center John Michael Schmitz was injured on the first play of the game. With Ben Bredeson moving to center and Shane Lemieux replacing him at guard, joining Marcus McKethan, Joshua Ezeudu, and Evan Neal, Jones was pressured probably more than half the time. As in the Dallas and San Francisco games, the Giants abandoned any attempt to throw the ball downfield and Jones was content to just get the ball out of his hand. The pressure came on cornerback blitzes from the outside, stunts, linemen seemingly giving up on their blocks after a couple of seconds, you name it.
The defensive line is still mostly missing in action
Making things worse, Seattle started its own makeshift offensive line. The Giants did get some pressure on Seattle quarterback Geno Smith, but only had one sack to the Seahawks’ 11 of Jones. Kayvon Thibodeaux was active with two sacks and almost had an interception and possible pick-six that could have turned the game around for the Giants in the first half. Azeez Ojulari got some pressure from the other side in his first action of the year.
Still, Seattle was able to run its offense, something that can’t be said of the Giants. While the game was still up for grabs, Seattle was able to run the ball effectively up the middle against a defensive line that was supposed be the Giants’ strength.
The Daniel Jones conversation has officially begun
2023 was supposed to be the season in which the Giants could maximize Daniel Jones’ potential and justify the $160M contract they gave him. Thus far, the investment has not looked wise. To be sure, the offensive line problems are largely to blame. With the Giants afraid to try to throw even intermediate routes, much less take deep shots, defenses just crash down and prevent anything but 5-10 yard gains.
Still, we want to see heroic play from Jones, even under adverse circumstances. Jones has been heroic in the sense that he has continued to plug away, trying his best. Yet he has clearly been rattled by all the pressure, and as was the case early in his career, he seems not to have the internal clock to sense pressure approaching from behind and is susceptible to strip-sacks. Of more concern is that the accusations of his detractors that Jones is poor at reading defenses and anticipatory throws seem now to be on display.
Last week in San Francisco, it was his failure to take a deep shot to Jalin Hyatt because of pressure coming at him that was questioned (fairly or not). Tonight, he seemed to miss an open Wan’Dale Robinson on one play. Late in the third quarter, with the Giants in the red zone for the first time all night having one last chance to get back in the game, Jones was not on the same page as Parris Campbell and threw the ball right to Devon Witherspoon, who intercepted the pass and returned it 97 yards for the back-breaking touchdown. Darren Waller seemed to be open in the end zone behind Campbell and would have been the better choice. Brian Daboll’s disgust when Jones returned to the sideline was reminiscent of his reaction when Jones was intercepted in the end zone against Tennessee in Daboll’s first game as head coach in 2022. Late in the game, Jones hesitated on a pass over the middle and was intercepted again.
We have yet to see the 2023 Giants’ offense that was promised. Hyatt has basically no role in most games, and more surprisingly, even Darren Waller is invisible. Tonight was the night fans hoped that offense would show up, given Seattle’s mediocrity on defense. If we ever do, maybe we will see the $160M version of Jones. The fear, though, is that Jones is becoming shell-shocked and will be afraid to operate an attacking offense even if by some miracle the offensive line solidifies before the end of the season.
The Giants may go into year 2 of Jones’ big contract still not knowing what his ceiling is, and whether they should move on by year 3 or stick with him. The good news, if it can be called that, is that the way the Giants are playing, it’s not out of the question for them to wind up with a top three draft pick. They could even out-awful the Bears and Panthers. Would Caleb Williams go back to school for another year if he was faced with playing behind the Giants’ OL?
The Giants are an undisciplined team
It’s been coming on since the start of the season, exhibited mainly in the Giants’ poor tackling. Supposedly this is something they worked on during their 11-day mini-bye week. You wouldn’t know it by their play tonight. The most embarrassing example was late in the first half, when tight end Noah Fant took a short pass all the way down the sideline to the Giants’ 1-yard line, from which Seattle scored. Bobby Okereke, a big disappointment so far, and Adoree’ Jackson, playing some of the worst ball of his career in a contract year, both missed tackles.
Even more concerning was all the chippy play. The Giants lost their cool at a number of points in this game. They seemed more intent on getting into it with Seattle’s players (who were also chippy) than with trying to save their season, even at the cost of penalties that compromised their field position. Other than placekicker extraordinaire Graham Gano and improving punter Jamie Gillan, the Giants’ special teams are nothing short of a disaster.
The Eric Gray punt return experiment seems to be over
Gray was made the Giants’ punt returner at the start of the season even though he seemed unsure of himself throughout training camp. Gray muffed a punt in the first quarter. The Giants recovered it, but the next time Seattle punted Adoree’ Jackson was back to receive the punt instead (to the chagrin of fans who remember Jackson losing half of 2022 to an injury sustained on a punt return).
It seems unlikely that we will see Gray again this season on punt returns.
Is it time to start trading players for draft assets?
It’s hard to believe that we have reached this point, but it may be time for the Giants to consider divesting themselves of assets with some trade value. Maybe they’ll perform a miracle in Miami or Buffalo. More likely there will be a prop bet for Miami over/under 70 points scored for next week’s game, and someone betting the over will win.
The Giants only have six draft picks in 2024. Clearly they need an infusion of talent on the offensive line. Sometimes even late-round picks at guard and tackle can succeed. The question is whether the Giants have any tradeable assets. Jackson, Leonard Williams, and Xavier McKinney, all of them in the final years of their contracts, might be of some interest as short-term rentals to contending teams that suffer injuries at their positions. The Giants might have to take on some of the remaining contract value, and they’d probably bring nothing more than a sixth or seventh round pick.
If not, though, then it seems pretty certain that none of these players will be in Giants blue next season.