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Giants-49ers ‘Kudos & Wet Willies’: Is the Giants’ defense off the field yet?

Who played well for the Giants on Thursday, and who did not?

New York Giants v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

The New York Giants hung with the San Francisco 49ers for a while on Thursday night. In the end, though, the 49ers were too much for the undermanned Giants, winning, 30-12. Let’s review in our traditional ‘Kudos & Wet Willies’ style.

Kudos to ...

Micah McFadden — For the last few days Giants fans have been calling for McFadden’s head. Well, at least calling for his benching after he missed four tackles on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals. Thursday night, McFadden was the best defender on the field for the Giants.

McFadden was buzzing around the field. He finished with 10 tackles, four for loss. This was easily his best game as a pro.

Jamie Gillan — The Scottish Hammer can drive fans, and probably Giants coaches, crazy with his inconsistency. Thursday, though, Gillan had one of those nights that showed why the Giants keep working with him.

Everything the left-footed Gillan hit Thursday night was a missile. Not only long, but seemingly miles high. Gillan’s best punt of the night was a ridiculous 60-yarder right to the sideline that resulted in a fair catch. It’s absurd for a punt of that distance to end up being fair caught. On the night, Gillan averaged 52.7 yards (49.0 net) on six punts.

Graham Gano — The veteran placekicker just continues to make kicks, even from crazy distances. He went 2-for-2 Thursday, making field goals from 57 and 44 yards.

Darnay Holmes — When Tae Banks went out with an arm injury, Holmes got a chance and made the most of it. He moved into the slot, and Adoree’ Jackson went to his natural spot on the outside. Holmes did commit a holding penalty, but he was excellent otherwise in a small sample size of 15 snaps. He had a tackle for loss and a pass breakup. Here is the tackle for loss:

Wan’Dale Robinson — The second-year wide receiver did not put up huge numbers in his return from a 2022 torn ACL, with four receptions for 21 yards. He looked crisp and comfortable, though, and he can add a play-making dimension out of the slot that Parris Campbell has thus far not been able to produce.

D.J. Davidson — There have been lots of questions asked about why Davidson, a 2022 fifth-round pick, has been active the past two weeks instead of rookie defensive tackle Jordan Riley, a 2023 seventh-round pick. Well, before he left Thursday with an elbow injury, Davidson was doing his best to make that look like the right decision. Davidson had a half-sack, a quarterback hit and a pass batted down on Thursday.

Wet Willies to ...

Third-down play — The Giants gave up first down on 9 of 16 third downs (56.3%). The 49ers were 7 of 10 on third down in the first half.

The Giants gave up on third-and-15, third-and-13 and a touchdown on third-and-5 from the 9-yard line in the same drive. They gave up first downs on a third-and-12 (via roughing the passer on Leonard Williams), two third-and-8 situations (one via penalty — illegal contact on Kayvon Thibodeaux). That is a lot of missed opportunities to get off the field.

On offense, the Giants were just 3 of 12 (25%) on third-down conversions. Much of that was due, of course, to pressure from the San Francisco pass rush. The 49ers possessed the ball for a ridiculous 39:10 to 20:50 for New York.

“I think they were seven of nine [actually 7 of 10] in the first half. And a few of them were screens where they just caught and run,” said head coach Brian Daboll. “We’ve got to rally the ball out and make tackles. Third down was huge tonight in this game. It was a contributing factor to doubling the time of possession on both sides. When you’re not converting third downs and you’re giving up some third downs, there’s time of possession. Your defense gets tired and we’re not out on the field offensively enough. It’s a collective thing.”

Tre Hawkins III — Whiffed on a tackle at the line of scrimmage that turned into an 18-yard Elijah Mitchell run. Committed a defensive holding penalty.

Hawkins, a sixth-round pick out of Old Dominion, was a great training camp story. He rose from a player considered a developmental prospect to a starter, with the Giants deciding to push Jackson, their No. 1 cornerback, into the slot. Training camp and the preseason are not, though, the same as regular-season games against some of the NFL’s best teams.

Per Pro Football Reference, Hawkins has a passer rating against of 145.1 through three games. Jackson is competing, but not natural in the slot. As well as Holmes played in his limited snaps on Thursday, it is fair to wonder if the Giants might consider replacing Hawkins with Holmes. That would allow Jackson to go back to the outside.

Darren Waller — Not a great night for the player who is supposed to the player whom the Giants’ passing attack is built around. Waller had just three catches for 20 yards. He had a drop on a pass that would have been a first down, and had the potential to be a bigger play. He couldn’t haul in a high throw from Daniel Jones — which coach Brian Daboll said was a misfire by Jones rather than a play Waller should make. Thing is, all summer I watched Waller make catches like that. Most egregiously, he did not seem to make an aggressive enough effort to snatch the ball on a pass that ricocheted off his hands and turned into an interception. The Giants need more from him.

Running game — Without Saquon Barkley, the Giants barely tried to establish any type of running game. They finished with 11 rushes for 29 yards, a few of those scrambles by Daniel Jones and Tyrod Taylor. Matt Breida led the Giants with 17 yards on four carries. He did have an 8-yard touchdown run, but the Giants’ ground game was mostly non-existent.