There’s not much time for the Giants to bask in Sunday’s improbable 31-28 comeback win over the Cardinals since they face the 49ers on Thursday. But here’s a final review of the Giants’ biggest comeback since the Truman administration:
Where’s the pass rush?
The Giants have allowed the most points in the NFL through two weeks. That number is inflated by the touchdowns scored by the Cowboys’ defense and special teams in the opener, but the Giants’ defense is a concern.
The Cardinals scored 16 points in their Week 1 loss to the Commanders, and that included a defensive touchdown. So this wasn’t an offensive juggernaut that scored on five of its first six possessions as it built a 28-7 lead on Sunday.
The defense finally stepped up, forcing three punts and an incomplete Hail Mary to close the game, but it’s hard to come away from the game encouraged by Wink Martindale’s unit. The Giants don’t have a sack or a takeaway in the first two games.
The lack of takeaways isn’t a surprise — the Giants ranked 25th in takeaways last season — but they were 13th in sacks, and pressure is at the root of Martindale’s approach. The Giants ranked sixth in Pro Football Reference’s pressure rate last year (24.3 percent), but have plummeted to 18th this season (19.3 percent).
Martindale is still blitzing at nearly the same rate as last season, but the Giants aren’t getting to the quarterback.
Dammit Wink pic.twitter.com/skKUWl0O2i
— Justin Penik (@JustinPenik) September 18, 2023
It’s hard to explain the lack of impact from some of the Giants’ top pass rushers. The expectation was that outside linebacker Kayvon Thibodeaux would blossom into a more consistent pass-rushing presence in his second season. Instead, the No. 5 pick in the 2022 draft has just two pressures in two games, according to Pro Football Focus.
Thibodeaux played 94 percent of the snaps on Sunday, and the only evidence of his presence in the box score was a single quarterback hit. Thibodeaux dropped into coverage on nine of his 61 snaps, which is a questionable deployment of the team’s best edge rusher, especially with Azeez Ojulari sidelined by a hamstring injury.
Defensive tackle Leonard Williams was even more invisible, failing to do anything that would appear in the box score during his 38 snaps. Williams only played 58 percent of the snaps, which was a light workload for a player who topped 80 percent of the snaps in 10 of the 14 games he played in last season.
Porous run defense
Giants general manager Joe Schoen poured money into the run defense this offseason. There hasn’t been a strong initial return on that investment.
The Cardinals rushed for 151 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries, with running back James Conner punishing would-be tacklers throughout the game. Backups Rakeem Nunez-Roches and DJ Davidson were the only defensive linemen on the field for all three of Arizona’s touchdowns and a two-point conversion. The Giants need to find the balance between resting Williams and Dexter Lawrence and having their best players on the field in critical situations.
Not surprisingly, the inside linebacker spot next to Bobby Okereke has been a weakness. Second-year pro Micah McFadden missed four tackles and appeared lost in coverage at times. McFadden played 49 snaps, as the Giants used their base 3-4 more than usual. He also was on the field in the nickel package on early downs.
Isaiah Simmons played just 13 snaps, replacing McFadden only on clear passing downs. Perhaps the Giants will replace McFadden with the more athletic Simmons, but part of the reason Simmons was available in a trade for a seventh-round pick is that he wasn’t viewed as a viable every-down linebacker.
Here’s the link to this morning’s live room for anyone who missed it: https://t.co/lW4zX5FHVE https://t.co/d1qkE1TCCj
— Dan Duggan (@DDuggan21) September 18, 2023
Running back Saquon Barkley played 66 of the Giants’ first 67 snaps before suffering a sprained right ankle on their second-to-last play. The only play Barkley missed before the injury was a third-and-10 in the second quarter.
That workload demonstrates just how valuable Barkley is to the Giants. And as much as running backs have been devalued, Barkley made two plays on Sunday that few others could make.
Game changing play by both pic.twitter.com/L4gsp0MxLn
— Dan Orlovsky (@danorlovsky7) September 18, 2023
Barkley’s 9-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter was an athletic marvel, as he propelled to the end zone from outside the 3-yard line and fully extended to hit the pylon with the ball. A run on the game-winning drive appeared to be dead at the line of scrimmage, but Barkley spun before sprinting around the left end where he broke three tackles to gain 16 yards.
Barkley is considered “week-to-week,” according to The Athletic’s Dianna Russini. He’ll certainly miss Thursday’s game, so veteran Matt Breida will take over as the No. 1 back.
Giants’ Barkley out Thursday vs. 49ers with sprained ankle
Regardless of who was calling the Giants’ offensive plays — and that remains a mystery — the Giants made a clear change to their offensive approach in the second half. After running two plays out of 12 personnel in the first half — a 6-yard completion and a 2-yard run — they cranked up their usage of the two-tight end package in the second half. The results were staggering.
Asked Daniel Jones who called plays in the second half. He said, “I always get the plays from Kafka.”
— Dan Duggan (@DDuggan21) September 18, 2023
The Giants used 12 personnel on 11 snaps in the second half. Quarterback Daniel Jones completed 6-of-7 passes for 160 yards on those plays, while the Giants added 29 yards on four carries. The Giants were particularly effective on play-action passes out of 12 personnel, with completions of 25, 29, 31 and 58 yards in the second half.
The 12 personnel grouping makes selling the run on play action more convincing, while the extra tight end can help in pass protection. It was the perfect formula to create big plays on Sunday.
Time to unleash the rookie
Rookie wide receiver Jalin Hyatt produced 89 yards on 14 snaps. His usage needs to increase drastically.
OKAY HYATT 🔥
📺: FOX pic.twitter.com/4Qf4WEO3jG
— New York Giants (@Giants) September 17, 2023
It became evident early in training camp that Hyatt’s speed is game-changing. He gave the Giants a spark by cruising past an Arizona cornerback for a 58-yard gain on the first play of the second half. Later, he created separation on a corner route but had to leap to make a contested catch for a 31-yard gain to move the ball into the red zone.
For an offense that had struggled so much in the first six quarters of the season, it’s impossible to keep that type of big-play ability on the bench. There will likely be some growing pains for the third-round pick, who dropped his only target in Week 1. But Hyatt needs to be on the field more so his speed can be used to create big plays for himself and to open things up for teammates.
WR Jalin Hyatt said the long 58-yarder was a topic in #Giants locker room at halftime and he knew momentum needed to get going:
“I told DJ right before we broke out after the huddle, I said, ‘Throw it,’ I said, ‘Just throw it.’ And he trusted me, he threw it”
— Charlotte Carroll (@charlottecrrll) September 18, 2023
Can we borrow that?
From the “If you can’t beat them, join them” department, the Giants twice borrowed the quarterback sneak the Eagles have used to great success over the past two seasons. Jones converted first downs on a third-and-1 and a fourth-and-1 on the fourth-quarter touchdown drive that pulled the Giants within seven points.
The Giants positioned Barkley and tight ends Darren Waller and Daniel Bellinger behind Jones, and the trio provided a boost as the quarterback surged forward. The Giants are 3-for-3 this season on the power sneaks in short-yardage situations. It would be negligent for the Giants not to copy a play that has been so successful for their rivals.
True to his word
Daboll’s message throughout his tenure has been that the best players will play regardless of salary or draft status. He followed through on that promise last season by benching players like Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney.
But it’s a lot easier to bench underachieving players that were inherited. The stakes are different when a player this regime signed or drafted is under-performing. So it showed strong leadership that Daboll didn’t hesitate to bench veteran guard Mark Glowinski after an abysmal showing in the opener.
A case can be made that Glowinski was so bad in that game that Daboll had no choice. But there are plenty of instances of coaches being resistant to making a change, especially with a veteran after just one game. But Daboll didn’t hesitate to sit Glowinski, who signed a three-year, $18.3 million contract last offseason.
Glowinski was replaced by 2022 fifth-round pick Marcus McKethan, who had never played a snap on offense in his brief career. Glowinski wasn’t buried for long, as he stepped in at left guard in the third quarter after Ben Bredeson suffered a concussion. It will be nearly impossible for Bredeson to clear the concussion protocol by Thursday, so Glowinski could be back in the starting lineup.
NFL Power Rankings: Dolphins, Eagles on the rise; offense is back!
The Giants have been far too sloppy in the first two games. They were flagged for having 12 men on defense to gift the Cardinals five yards on their first touchdown drive. That came after they needed to call a timeout to avoid a 12 men penalty in the opener.
Left tackle Josh Ezeudu committed a false start on the first snap of the game, and wide receiver Parris Campbell was flagged for a false start as the Giants lined up for a two-point conversion attempt midway through the fourth quarter.
The Giants’ 15 penalties are tied for the eighth-most in the league. They had the sixth-most penalties in the league last season.
Daboll challenged a 14-yard sideline catch by Arizona’s Rondale Moore on third-and-6 on the last play of the first quarter. Daboll had a long time to deliberate since the quarter ended after the play, and he finally decided to drop the challenge flag. The call was upheld, marking the first challenge Daboll has lost. He won all three of his challenges last season.
Daboll passed a basic analytics test after the Giants scored to pull within 28-20 with 8:51 remaining. The Giants lined up to go for a two-point conversion, but Campbell’s false start cost them five yards. That forced the Giants to instead kick the point-after to pull within seven points.
Once thought as unconventional, it’s now accepted that going for two after scoring when down 14 is the right approach. Much smarter people have explained the math, but in basic terms, going for two gives a team better odds of winning than kicking an extra point in that situation.
If the Giants had converted the first two-point attempt to pull within 28-22, their next touchdown would have given them the lead with a successful PAT. Instead, they merely tied the game with the PAT and had to get a stop and another drive to set up the game-winning field goal.
Had the Giants failed on the first two-point attempt, they would have to go for two after their next possession to tie the score. The odds would be in favor of the Giants, who converted 60 percent of their two-point attempts last season, converting one of their two-point attempts.
A weekly feature in this space will be updating Jones’ progress toward achieving the performance incentives in his contract. The incentives are based on Jones’ standing in four categories: Touchdown passes, passing yards, total touchdowns and total yards. (Jones can also earn the incentives based on his raw numbers in each category, but those won’t be worth tracking until later in the season).
All of us watching: pic.twitter.com/hsG4ql4QbO
— New York Giants (@Giants) September 18, 2023
Jones can earn up to $1 million in each category for a total of $4 million. He’ll earn $250,000 for ranking in the top 15 in a category, another $375,000 for ranking in the top 10 in a category and another $375,000 for ranking in the top five of a category.
Jones has two touchdown passes, which is tied for 14th, so he’s on pace for $250,000. Jones has 425 passing yards, which ranks 20th, so he’s outside the top 15. Jones has three total touchdowns, which is tied for 14th, so he’s on pace for $250,000. Jones has 527 total yards, which ranks 12th, so he’s on pace to earn $250,000. Jones is currently on pace to earn $750,000 of the $4 million available in incentives.
(Top photo: Jim McIsaac / Getty Images)
“The Football 100,” the definitive ranking of the NFL’s best 100 players of all time, goes on sale this fall. Preorder it here.