By: Michael Gagliardi
Another year, another 0-1 start for the New York Football Giants. This makes it the 4th year in a row that they’ve opened their season with a loss, and the fans are beyond sick of it. This game, although frustrating, wasn’t all bad, as some players showed a lot of promise, and the play-calling looked more inventive than it has in a long time. Blake Martinez, Dexter Lawrence, Leonard Williams, and Lorenzo Carter all showed flashes on defense, while Daniel Jones (other than his costly pick on the goal line) picked up where he left off last year, connecting with Darius Slayton 6 times for 102 yards and 2 TDs. Jones also exhibited good ball security in the face of arguably the best pass rush (and defense) in the league. All that being said, the run blocking looked God-awful, the secondary looked shaky, and Saquon had a dismal 6 yards rushing on 15 carries. Evan Engram looked very bad, dropping 2 passes right in his hand, and getting called on a crucial (albeit sketchy) offensive PI call to take back a 20-yard gainer. We’re not here to talk about the veterans though, so let’s get into the rookies.
Inactive/Injured/DNP: Xavier McKinney (2nd), Matt Peart (3rd) Shane Lemieux (5th), Cam Brown (6th), TJ Brunson (7th), Tae Crowder (7th), Chris Williamson (7th--Practice Squad)
Boy, do the Giants need McKinney in the lineup as soon as possible. Corey Ballentine should not be anywhere near the starting CB spot, and McKinney starting at FS would free up Logan Ryan to play CB full time and be a solid tandem with James Bradberry
Peart was active Monday but did not see the field. This will likely be a common theme this year, barring injury to Cam Fleming or Andrew Thomas. He’s a project guy, and unless he’s much farther ahead in his progress as a player than they thought he’d be, then don’t expect him to see the field much this season.
Shane Lemieux was inactive Monday, but if anyone on the interior O-line gets injured, expect to see him step up big time. He is going to be a good player: mark my words.
It’s not a good sign for the ultra-athletic Cam Brown that he couldn’t get a starting special teams spot on opening day, as special teams should be his ticket onto the field with how athletic and rangy he is. Hopefully, for his own sake, he can get on the field soon and prove himself.
TJ Brunson was a healthy scratch Monday, but it appears that Tae Crowder would have been active if his hamstring wasn’t bothering him. I’m actually very excited to see Crowder play this year, and if you’ve watched his college tape, you’d see why. He’s quick to the ball and a solid tackler, so hopefully Mr. Irrelevant this year can be relevant for the Giants defense and special teams.
Chris Williamson got a comfortable chair to watch the game from because he is on the Practice Squad for the season. If someone gets hurt in the secondary though, look for him to be brought up to the active roster.
LT Andrew Thomas (1st)
Well, this was as much of a trial by fire as you can get for a rookie left tackle in his first career game. Thomas was matched up on Bud Dupree for most snaps, and although Dupree was a force in the game, most of his impact plays did not come while Thomas was blocking him. Yes, Thomas got beat multiple times (giving up 4 pressures on 52 pass attempts), but that can happen to any tackle against one of, if not the best, pass rush units in the league. Overall, Thomas “The Tank Engine” held his own in pass protection, and did not give up a sack, but Dupree was able to significantly affect a couple of Jones’s throws when Thomas was assigned to him.
Nobody on the Giants O-line played well against the run in this game, though. Honestly, Thomas probably played the best out of all of them, but even he seemed shaky at times. That being said, he sealed the gap with a beautiful pancake block on Saquon’s best run of the day. Everyone will want to completely blame the O-line for Saquon’s poor performance, but I will wager to say that the tight ends were every bit as much of a problem. Yes, there were multiple plays where linemen were standing at the line of scrimmage looking back at 4 guys they were supposed to block, body-slamming Saquon, but if you watch the film, you’ll see that this was not usually the case on negative runs. The Steelers did a fantastic job of stringing out the Giants’ off-tackle runs, but it was the blocks by the TEs that got the most penetration to tackle Saquon for a loss. Evan Engram embarrassed himself against the run throughout the game, and Levine Toilolo, who is supposed to be a great run blocker, didn't do so hot either. Kaden Smith performed best in the run game, but he got blown up on 2 plays (by my count) as well. It should also be noted that the Steelers were consistently lining up 8 or 9 guys in the box when the Giants were in run-first situations, so Jones could have called some audibles, as well.
Overall, Thomas looked like the best Giants O-lineman in both the run and pass games, and most negative plays, by my eye, from the O-line came from either Gates, in his first-ever game at center, or Fleming, a journeyman who was assigned to block TJ Watt, a potential defensive player of the year. Thomas, although he struggled at times, looked like a pro in his first career contest against what could very well be the best defensive front in the game. There’s a lot to look forward to this season from Thomas, but he has no time to rest, as he faces Kahlil Mack next week.
CB Darnay Holmes (4th)
Let’s start with the positives first. The Giants ran 2 corner blitzes against the pass with Holmes, by my count, and he got pressure on both of them. Also, he seemed to be a willing tackler in the run game, often getting good penetration and hitting the ball carrier at or before the line of scrimmage. In the early going, Holmes seemed to be locking down Juju Smith-Schuster in coverage, but all that changed on the last drive of the 1st half when the Steelers started running pick plays.
These rub routes and picks preyed on the rookie’s lack of experience, and it certainly didn’t help that he was matched up against the best slot receiver in the league in Juju. Long story short, Holmes got burned and I counted 4 out of Juju’s 6 catches were on him, but neither of his 2 TDs were. This is a similar situation to Andrew Thomas’s performance, as they were both lined up against the premier competition in the league this week, but Holmes definitely took more of the brunt of it than Thomas did. Hopefully, the coaching staff can get him accustomed to defending pick plays better, but I’d be lying if I said I’m not a little concerned about Holmes. However, in his defense, Corey Ballentine didn’t look like he belonged anywhere near an NFL starting lineup, so it’s possible that the coverage was pushed more to help Ballentine after a while, leaving Holmes on more of an island with Juju.
Overall, on Monday night Holmes let up a total of 5 receptions for 56 yards and missed 2 tackles in the run game, one of which would have been for a loss. Plenty to grow on for Holmes, and plenty for fans to yell at him about. Though the true measure of a rookie, especially a rookie CB, is how he deals with adversity and grows throughout the season. Let’s put it this way: he is already playing better than DeAndre Baker.
EDGE Carter Coughlin (7th)
Coughlin, unsurprisingly, did not play from scrimmage Monday, but he was in on kickoff coverage, punt return, and kickoff return. He did not record any stats, but on Peppers’s biggest punt return of the night, Coughlin made 2 very nice blocks: one where he knocked his man down at the line of scrimmage, and another which was a nice peel-back block, giving Peppers an extra couple of yards or so. Otherwise, nothing to report from Coughlin, so I’d say it was a net positive game for him.
In conclusion: There was a lot to work on for the 3 rookies who played opening day this year, but there was a lot to build on as well, especially in the case of Andrew Thomas. I’m not terribly concerned about this loss for the Giants, as the Steelers are a playoff team (and a trendy pick for a Super Bowl contender), and will do this to a lot of teams this season. The true test of how this Giants season will go comes next week against a middle-of-the-road Bears team, with Mitch “the meme” Trubisky as their QB. If the Giants have any chance of being good this year, they will need to win this game. I predict that Thomas will give up a sack to Khalil Mack, but otherwise be solid, especially in the run game. Holmes will have a much better game as well because he won’t be guarding the best competition he can get. If Coughlin gets a tackle next week I’ll be very happy, but all we can hope for from him is no penalties and nothing negative. Overall, I firmly believe that the Giants’ rookies (and everyone else) will improve across the board against a lesser team next week, and the Giants will be 1-1 for the first time in seemingly forever.