This week’s game in Las Vegas was the start of a new era. For the Las Vegas Raiders, yes, as former Giant Antonio Pierce took over for deposed head coach Josh McDaniels. For the New York Giants too, though. The Giants handed a game they had all but won to the Jets with mistakes on the field and on the sideline. Then Leonard Williams was traded to Seattle for draft picks. Suddenly, the 2023 season was for all intents and purposes over, even though the Giants had not been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. It is strange to enter a game with that vibe when your starting quarterback and left tackle are finally returning from injuries, but strange is an apt descriptor for everything that has happened to this team in the 2023 season.
Yet, things managed to get even stranger, as Daniel Jones went down with a non-contact injury after an ineffective first quarter and the Raiders ran up the score. With an eye turned toward the future, what did we learn from the Giants’ loss to the Raiders?
Is this the final chapter of the Daniel Jones story?
I am writing this before we know the extent of the Jones injury. If it is just a sprain, he might be back in a few weeks and try to play out the 2023 season. If it is something like an ACL tear, then we know that he will be out the rest of the year and possibly the start of the 2024 season.
Not that Jones was impressive before his injury. He put too much air under a long pass to Jalin Hyatt that could not be caught in-bounds. He overthrew Hyatt on another long pass. He looked indecisive otherwise.
Still, the sheer extent of his injury history as a Giant almost surely dictates that the Giants use their 2024 first round draft pick on a quarterback. The way they are playing, it is not even inconceivable that they could be sitting in Caleb Williams - Drake Maye territory without having to move up. If not, then the question is whether they like someone like J.J. McCarthy enough. Regardless of what you think of Jones, the Giants have to enter 2024 with a blue chip draft choice on the roster to at least compete with him for the starting job, if not win it outright or take over in 2025 when the Giants can get out of Jones’ contract for $22M in dead money. If Jones wins the starting job in 2024 and goes on to complete his four-year contract, even better. That would mean they became the contender we hoped they would begin to become this season.
It would be nice if the Giants did not have to use their second-round pick, or the other second round pick they got in the Leonard Williams trade, to move up for a quarterback, because it’s become obvious that the Giants still have many needs, which leads to the other things we learned...
The defense is not as good as we thought (hoped) it was becoming
We knew that the Raiders would come out for this game all pumped up because ding dong, the wicked Josh McDaniels was gone, and that Antonio Pierce would motivate a team that is not without talent. It was up to the Giants to do what they did for most of the game last week against the Jets - rush rookie quarterback Aidan O’Connell into oblivion, and pile up sacks, hits, and hurries to give him happy feet and force him into bad throws.
Instead, O’Connell had plenty of time to run the offense. Early on, the Raiders mostly ran Josh Jacobs, and Jacobs mostly gashed the Giants’ soft run defense. Was it the absence of Leonard Williams? Maybe, although Williams played most of Seattle’s 37-3 loss to Baltimore today and did very little. Perhaps Jordon Riley or D.J. Davidson will emerge over the rest of this lost season. Or maybe the Giants will need to look for an interior defensive lineman in the offseason to replace Williams.
Eventually, though, the Raiders started having O’Connell pass. When he did, he could have had a cup of coffee back there for all the pressure the Giants brought. Dexter Lawrence and Kayvon Thibodeaux seemed much less disruptive than they had been lately, and the Giants got their usual nothing from their other edge defenders. The Giants did not have a single sack. By the second half O’Connell was slicing up the Giants’ pass defense. Admittedly, Las Vegas has a much better offensive line than the Jets and the Commanders do. But this game showed that the Giants’ pass rush is more fragile than you’d expect of a Wink Martindale defense. An edge defender is on the menu for the 2024 draft.
The amazing thing was that the Raiders rang up 24 points in the first half without even throwing the ball to Davante Adams. The Raiders have other good receivers, most notably Jakobi Meyers and Hunter Renfrow. The Giants’ defensive backs did little to stop them, though. In particular, the Giants have to be worried about the declining play of Tae Banks. Banks was exposed a bit against Terry McLaurin two weeks ago and Garrett Wilson last week. Those are great receivers. Today, though, Banks was giving up completions again but to receivers like Tre Tucker (who got behind him for a long completion). Tucker had four receptions for the year entering the game. He was the player the Raiders drafted with the draft pick Joe Schoen sent them for Darren Waller.
Most likely Adoree’ Jackson and Xavier McKinney will not be Giants in 2024. That puts cornerback and safety on the draft menu as well.
The offensive line is still not effective
In fairness, the offensive blocked well for the run early in the game, and Saquon Barkley took full advantage of the holes he was given to pile up good yardage in the first half. Barkley continues to be the Giants’ most valuable offensive player.
In the passing game, things were not as good. Andrew Thomas was finally back in the lineup, but he looked rusty and/or not completely healed. Evan Neal was back at right tackle and while he seemed not as bad as he had been in his worst games, he wasn’t good either. Maxx Crosby was his usual disruptive self no matter which side he lined up on. Jones’ injury came on a play in which Crosby got pressure inside past Neal and was closing in on Jones from behind when Jones took the step that injured his knee. It was a surprise that Mark Glowinski did not start at right guard after playing well the past two weeks.
At this point it’s hard not to believe that the Giants try to replace Neal at right tackle. That’s the problem with having to use your first pick on a quarterback, you can’t do that until Round 2. Surely they will be looking to acquire a guard too, though that’s a position the Giants might be able to fill in free agency without emptying their cap space.
Between the lack of a healthy quarterback and a bad offensive line, the rest of this season promises to conjure memories of the awful end of the 2021 season.
Leave the tush push to the Eagles
This is a minor point, but I am sick of seeing the Giants use the “tush push,” “brotherly shove,” whatever you want to call it. It works for the Eagles because they have great offensive linemen. The Giants don’t have great offensive linemen. They tried it once earlier this season and got two starters injured. The last two times they have tried it, it didn’t work.
And do you really want to try that play with your quarterback who is just coming back from a three week absence due to a neck injury?