The latter part of the 2023 season was always supposed to be the time when the New York Giants made their playoff push against less-than-stellar opponents after having to run the gauntlet of some of the NFL’s best teams in their first six games. Dispiriting losses in weeks 7 and 8 to the Jets and Raiders, each of them taking down one of the Giants’ quarterbacks, put the kibosh on those hopes. Then a funny thing happened on the way to a top 2 draft pick (and you have to admit the Tommy DeVito phenomenon has been equal parts excitement, puzzlement, and laughs). Suddenly the Giants were a game away from an NFC Wild Card berth (as were half the teams in the NFC, admittedly).
Next up was another beatable, but also dangerous, opponent in the New Orleans Saints. The nearly impossible dream would either live for another week, or else the Giants would be in that number of wait-‘til-next-year teams when the Saints went marching in. Unfortunately, it was the latter. Gentlemen, start your mock drafts. What did we learn from the Giants’ 24-6 loss to the Saints?
The offensive line problems are back
The Saints don’t have one of the best pass-rushing groups in the league, but today they looked like one. The DL consistently got pressure up the middle, often against Justin Pugh, who was just out-muscled several times while inexplicably being beaten on stunts as well. John Michael Schmitz had a bad day at the office as well in an otherwise promising rookie year. Saints’ edge defender Tanoh Kpassagnon had a field day, with 3 sacks and 4 QB hits. DeVito was affected by the pressure, and he took a beating (part of the job description for a Giants QB).
Meanwhile, the Giants’ running game was almost non-existent. Saquon Barkley had only 14 yards rushing and Matt Brieda only 10. Most of the Giants’ rushing yardage came on DeVito zone-read runs. This was a key to the game because the Saints’ defensive line had been vulnerable to the run. Run the ball effectively, draw the defense closer to the line of scrimmage, and opportunities open up in the passing game. Not today.
Without that, though, the Saints’ excellent defensive backs and linebackers could blanket the Giants’ receivers. Combine a relentless pass rush with receivers not getting open, and DeVito looked a lot like early-season Daniel Jones - right down to some troubles reading the defense and his leaving the game and going to the medical tent after sliding too late on a zone read run. DeVito only completed 58.8% of his passes with 7 sacks and no touchdowns - the Giants didn’t even sniff the end zone today. Was DeVito confused by the looks the Saints gave him, or did he just not have a chance? Probably some of both.
On the positive side, this was good practice for DeVito, who will face Haason Reddick and the Eagles’ pass rush next week. Yikes. Merry Christmas.
Without a pass rush, the Giants defense is vulnerable
The Saints have a mediocre offensive line. With their best pass blocker, Ryan Ramczyk, out today, it figured that the Giants’ pass rush would make life miserable for Derek Carr and force hurried passes and mistakes that might lead to turnovers.
Carr is widely known to be a quarterback who looks great when he has a clean pocket and wilts when he gets pressure. You’ll have to take my word for that last part, because today, he had time to survey the field and hit open receivers almost at will. No Chris Olave? No Michael Thomas? No problem. The Giants had only one sack on the day...by safety Jason Pinnock on a blitz.
Did you notice Dexter Lawrence (1 tackle, 1 assist) on the field today, other than the occasional time the cameras would zoom in to show him sucking air? I did see Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari occasionally getting late pressure. I saw A’Shawn Robinson stuffing the run a few times (7 tackles, and 1 assist today). I also saw Alvin Kamara knifing through a soft middle for big gains too often, though.
Pump the brakes on the Giants’ secondary
There has been a lot of excitement about the development of the Giants’ secondary as the season has progressed. Tae Banks looked really good from the start, Jason Pinnock has come on to be an effective strong safety, Xavier McKinney has shown out the last few weeks, and Cor’Dale Flott has had his moments. Fans have been making a lot of noise about Banks and Pinnock especially.
Today put a damper on the excitement. Good quarterbacks who have time to throw can exploit these defensive backs. Carr went 23 for 28 and had a 134.8 passer rating as he methodically picked apart the defense. It seemed to me that Adoree’ Jackson, who may be playing himself out of a free agent offer, was the biggest offender, but Banks gave up a few completions and Pinnock made mistakes too, adding to the list of Giants’ defensive backs who don’t look back for underthrown balls and wind up running into the receiver. The Giants’ secondary created no turnovers and had no passes defensed today against a less-than-stellar group of pass-catchers. They got no help from the defensive line today, but they are not yet close to elite. The Giants probably need to draft a potential starting cornerback or sign one in free agency next spring.
If you wanted to see an elite secondary, you should have looked at the guys in black and gold. Ex-Giant Isaac Yiadom had 3 passes defensed today, and Paulson Adebo added one. Giants wide receivers had only 88 yards today, and only two (Darius Slayton and Wan’Dale Robinson) caught any passes at all.
Jamie Gillan is a pretty valuable player
We had to learn something positive from this game, right? The offense and defense were both a mess. So let’s turn to special teams. Jamie Gillan is far from being the best punter in the NFL, but overall he has improved since the first half of the 2022 season, getting the Giants out of some big holes with some booming punts and doing much better at angling the ball toward the sideline to prevent long returns.
Today, though, we saw another side of his talent. After Randy Bullock kicked a field goal to briefly put the Giants up, 3-0, he injured a hamstring (what’s new?) on the ensuing kickoff. When the Giants drove deep into New Orleans territory (yes, they did that once), I thought they might just have a go for it on fourth down. Instead, Gillan came out and hammered a 40-yard field goal right through the uprights. I won’t say it was picture-perfect, but it would have been good from longer, and he looks perfectly capable of being the kicker if Bullock is out for an extended period. The Giants will probably elevate Cade York this week to take over, but it’s nice to know that Gillan is an acceptable emergency kicking option.