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4 things we learned from the Giants’ 49-17 loss to the Cowboys

The draft can’t get here soon enough

NFL: New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Drake Maye looked pretty good against Duke while Caleb. ... oh wait, this is supposed to be about the 2023 New York Giants, not the 2024 Giants. There were still eight games left to play on the schedule as of Sunday. While the Giants’ playoff hopes were all but mathematically eliminated last week or the week before, we can at least use the remaining games to see how the players and coaches react to the disappointment of a lost season and how young players develop over the remaining games.

What did we learn about these things from the Giants’ 49-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys?

Has Brian Daboll lost the locker room?

It happens so often with losing teams. Cracks begin to show and the team spirals downward. It happened with Ben McAdoo and the Eli Manning-Geno Smith starting QB situation. It happened with Pat Shurmur when Odell Beckham’s antics forced the Giants to trade him (which is why Dexter Lawrence is a Giant - talk about making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear). It happened with Joe Judge in very similar circumstances to what Brian Daboll now potentially faces - losing your starting quarterback and being non-competitive the rest of the season.

It didn’t happen last season to Daboll when the Giants went 1-4-1 after a surprising 6-1 start, punctuated by a 48-22 drubbing by Philadelphia. The Giants pulled themselves out of that hole and went on to make the playoffs. 2023 has been different, a disaster right from the start. Last week in Las Vegas cracks began to show, with the defense seeming to mail it in against a rookie quarterback and safety Xavier McKinney voicing his displeasure to the media. The Raiders were on an emotional high after having dispatched the Wicked Coach of the West. Still, it wasn’t the greatest time to face the team that began it all with a 40-0 embarrassment.

Sure enough, after Cor’Dale Flott’s second quarter interception put the Giants in business at the Dallas 12, the Giants got to the Dallas 4 with fourth-and-2. Rather than take a shot at the end zone, the call was Saquon Barkley up the middle. It failed, and Barkley was visibly upset on the sideline. In the second half, Darius Slayton could be seen in animated discussions with Daboll and Sterling Shepard.

Everything about this season has been off-kilter. Perhaps most surprising has been the lack of creativity on offense. Whoever is calling the plays is sending the message that he doesn’t believe in the players remaining after so many injuries. The Giants’ offense started out the game backed up almost to their goal line after after a great fourth down stop by just-returned Azeez Ojulari. On a normal team, you’d run on first down to get a couple of yards. Not with the Giants’ offensive line, though. They faced stacked lines because of the state of their passing game, but they got little movement regardless throughout the first half when the game was lost. On the rare occasions that DeVito was allowed to pass, he was usually pressured. It wasn’t until the second half, when Dallas called off the dogs a bit, that they let DeVito try to throw downfield.

Daboll and his staff have a challenge in front of them the rest of the season to get the players to play hard.

Can Tommy DeVito be a viable QB3 for the Giants next season?

Life can be good when you don’t have to make your bed and you know that Mom’s veal parmigiana will be waiting for you when you get home. It’s not clear how much that helps you against the Cowboys, however. DeVito had a baptism by fire last week in Las Vegas, entering a game he never thought he’d have to play in and actually being asked to throw the ball, unlike the previous week against the Jets.

This time, with a week to prepare and a game plan presumably designed for him...things weren’t really any better. DeVito was hounded throughout the first half whenever he tried to pass. In the second half, when the Cowboys let up a bit, DeVito was able to complete some passes and even led a nice scoring drive, getting his second touchdown pass of the season, to Lawrence Cager. He added another at the end of the game on a nice over-the-shoulder throw to Sterling Shepard. The 17 points he put up were the most the Giants have scored since the Arizona game. DeVito also demonstrated, though, that he doesn’t have sufficient arm strength, getting intercepted by DaRon Bland when he threw deep into double coverage.

DeVito still has seven games to show some development, and it would be nice if he could have even one week in which he gets decent pass protection when the game is still competitive. Next week he’ll face the Commanders, who jettisoned their two top pass rushers at the trade deadline. The Patriots and Rams, with two of the worst defenses in the NFL, are still on the Giants’ schedule.

Something has happened to the defense

Even though the offense has struggled all season, the defense had given a good account of itself in some recent games as the losses mounted. It held the potent Buffalo offense scoreless for three quarters. It hounded Washington quarterback Sam Howell all day, surrendering only seven points. It for all intents and purposes won the Jets game before collapsing in the final half minute. The pass rush was getting home, Bobby Okereke was justifying his free agent contract, Micah McFadden was emerging as a terrific player, and rookie cornerback Tae Banks was holding his own against some premier receivers.

The cracks began to show during the Washington game, as Terry McLaurin made some catches on Banks. Garrett Wilson gave Banks a tough time the next week. The Raiders, with a rookie quarterback, moved the ball at will against the Giants defense. Sunday, the Cowboys had 472 passing yards and 168 rushing yards. CeeDee Lamb and Brandin Cooks had 24 receptions between them.

A lot of it seemed to trace to Wink Martindale’s continued use of man coverage and heavy blitzing. Many of Dallas’ big plays came when the Giants were in man, and at the moment, the Giants’ cornerbacks just don’t seem to be able to survive on an island. Dak Prescott handles the blitz well. Xavier McKinney caused a stir last week with his remarks about the leaders not being heard. What that was really about (probably more than just one coverage play in the Las Vegas game) is not known. We do know, though, that McKinney played better in Patrick Graham’s zone defense than he has in Wink’s man-heavy scheme. The Giants’ first of two interceptions today came when they were in zone. Right now, the defense appears to be lost when they don’t get pressure on the quarterback, and the last two weeks they haven’t gotten much.

Dreaming of Caleb or Drake

There really isn’t much more to learn from this pitiful game itself. Getting back to the draft, Tankathon now lists the Giants as being in the No. 2 draft position. They are tied with Arizona and New England in the win-loss column, but at the moment the Giants’ strength of schedule, the first tiebreaker, is the easiest:

Courtesy of Tankathon

With Kyler Murray back, Arizona has a decent chance to win a couple more games. New England plays the Giants in two weeks, a perversely high-stakes game if there ever was one. The Patriots also have a game left at home against the Jets, whom they always defeat. It’s hard to believe that the Giants may be in position to select one of the two best quarterback prospects, or if they slide to No. 3, to get amazing wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr..