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New York Giants Rookie Review: Week 14

An Ailing Daniel Jones Takes Yet Another Sack (Photo Credit: USA Today, Robert Deutsch)

By: Michael Gagliardi

Well, I guess the Giants aren’t that good after all. This game was a perfect storm of injury, overconfidence, bad coaching, and sloppy play, all combined with playing against a better team. If there’s anything positive to say about the game Sunday, it is that the Giants defense did a great job bending but not breaking, as they held the Cardinals to 4 field goals when they had amazing field position all day. However, this couldn’t last forever, because no defense is going to be able to survive being on the field as much as the Giants D was on Sunday. I know hindsight is 20-20, but perhaps playing Daniel Jones while still recovering from a hamstring, off only one day of full practice, was not the coaching staff’s best idea. Jones was immobile all game, and it allowed the Cardinals to sell out on every obvious passing down (which was pretty much every play in the second half for the Giants), and sack the QB 8 times. The receivers were getting zero separation, which is awful because all the Cardinals were doing was man coverage due to their aggressive blitzing. The Giants ran the ball well, but when you can’t get anything going through the air, you tend to find yourself behind the eight ball quite quickly in today’s NFL.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals did a great job of separating DeAndre Hopkins from James Bradberry, with him counting for over half of the Cardinals’ 231 receiving yards. The Giants defense did an okay job stopping the Arizona running backs, but because of the Giants’ lack of interior pass rush, Kyler Murray seemed to be able to get first downs practically at-will using his legs. Of course, playing offense is a lot easier when your average starting field position is your own 47-yard line, as was the case for the Cardinals on Sunday. That makes the Giants’ defensive performance of only allowing 26 points all that much more impressive.

I can’t say that anyone on the Giants necessarily played well on Sunday, other than possibly Jabrill Peppers, but let’s see how the rookies performed on a day when the entire team couldn’t seem to get out of their way.

Inactive/Injured/DNP: Darnay Holmes (4th), TJ Brunson (7th):

Holmes was out this week with a knee injury, and seeing how DeAndre Hopkins burned the Giants’ zone coverage all day makes me think that Holmes might have helped limit his damage, even a little bit.

TJ Brunson was inactive again, but with how awful the special teams units have looked the past couple of weeks, maybe Joe Judge will want to make a personnel change and give Brunson another shot sooner rather than later.

LT Andrew Thomas (1st):

Okay, let’s get this one out of the way. Thomas had a bad game; his worst since the first Eagles game in week 7. However, am I worried about him? No. Yes, Thomas gave up two sacks (which would have been 3 if it wasn’t for Kevin Zeitler falling down and his man getting to Jones first), but he looks nowhere near as bad as he did from weeks 3 through 7. Plus, all of those bad plays and sacks came in the 4th quarter, so it’s not like he was getting beaten up and down the field for the whole game. His first sack wasn’t even that bad of a rep. Hasaan Reddick tried to go outside on him, which Thomas has been letting happen in past weeks because he has the athleticism to wash guys back. Thomas overset to the inside, so he was a step slow, but he did just that: washed Reddick back at about 8 yards deep into the pocket. On a normal play, a healthy Jones would have stepped up and nobody would have ever cared about this play again. However, that was not the case this time, as Kevin Zeitler was slow in picking up a stunt, which led to a pile-up right in front of Jones, preventing him (along with his sprained ankle and recovering hamstring) from stepping up away from Reddick.

Thomas’s other sack and other pressures looked far worse than this one though, but they all had a common theme. To me, it seems like Markus Golden took what he learned going up against AT in practice for the first half of the season and used it against him. Since Thomas is now being overprotective against the inside move, because he was getting destroyed on it in the first half of the season, Golden decided to do a lot of fake-inside, go outside counter moves. Thomas fell for them hook, line, and sinker and committed to the inside way too early, allowing Golden and Hassan Reddick a free path to the outside, getting his quarterback killed on more than one occasion. He looked silly at times, but this is not a bad problem to have because it is very fixable. Thomas just has to find a happy medium between protecting the inside and the outside, which O-line coach Dave DiGuglielmo will have no problem in teaching him. In the run game, Thomas continued to be an absolute force and was pancaking guys all over the place. If there’s one thing above all that makes me hopeful for Thomas’s future in this league, it is watching him run people over and make holes for the Wayne Train.

FS Xavier McKinney (2nd):

Darnay Holmes was out Sunday, which led to Logan Ryan taking more corner snaps, so this was McKinney’s first extended action from scrimmage. He did not just play FS, though; he played all over the field. He lined up extensively at slot corner, linebacker, and safety all game, which is probably a preview of how the Giants will use him going forward. He is a faster, smaller Jabrill Peppers, which allows him to use his range to play free safety and corner, while at the same time being a good enough tackler to play in the box and rush the passer. He covered check-downs very well and looked as calm as a veteran when making open-field tackles. McKinney showed the same thing he showed in college: the fact that he’s a very instinctive player, and his ability to fly around the field and get to the ballcarrier. He looked good in man coverage all day as well and was in perfect coverage on a deep ball against Matt Arnold, and it took a picture-perfect back-shoulder throw by Murray to get the ball to a catchable position for Arnold. The review showed that the ball hit the ground, so it will not go in the history books as a catch. I liked how the Giants used McKinney on Sunday, but they stopped playing him (for the most part) in the second half, in favor of Julian Love and the great Montre Hartage. I don’t think I’m reaching when I say that he could have helped stymie the Cardinals’ opening drive of the second half (their best of the day) if he played more than one snap on it. I liked what I saw from McKinney Sunday, and this week he is going to have to take on an extended role in the defensive backfield with James Bradberry being held out for COVID.

OT Matt Peart (3rd):

This was Matt Peart’s first bad game that I’ve seen him play. Even then, it was only bad in the pass game because I have still yet to see him get beat on a run play, at least to my memory. Peart let up a sack and 2 pressures on only 7 pass-blocking snaps, which to say the least, is less than ideal. From these 3 plays, it appears that his habit of catching his man instead of punching with his long arms has finally come back to bite him. Previously, this habit hasn’t affected him because his arms are too long for most rushers to capitalize on his lack of a punch. Unfortunately for Peart, Hasaan Reddick is a very fast, aggressive rusher, and he seems to be the first NFL guy to get to Peart consistently. The one good thing about Peart’s Sunday is that his lack of punch is the only problem he still has, as he has been consistent in not opening up his hips too early. Either way, his lack of punch is on film now, so he better be ready for rushers to try very hard to exploit it in the coming weeks.

G Shane Lemieux (5th):

This game was more of the same for Lemieux. Overall good run blocking, but subpar pass blocking. Lemieux gave up 1 sack, 1 hit, and 2 pressures on the day, and looked about the same as he has in the past few games. He is getting easily beaten by finesse moves because he has fallen into the habit of putting his head down when making the collision in his pass set. He was embarrassed with a hand swipe move on the sack he gave up, and Jones ended up on the ground in just over 2 seconds. I am by no means worried about Lemieux, and I think he will progress nicely next year, but when the O-line is having a bad game anyway, plays like these just dig the hole deeper. His run game is as solid as can be for a rookie, and he never fails to get a couple of nice pancakes every game. There really isn’t too much to say about his game Sunday, and quite frankly I’m tired of describing sacks, so let’s move on.

EDGE Cam Brown (6th):

Brown only totaled 9 defensive snaps, as the Giants continued to play Lalos and Coughlin ahead of him. That being said, they clearly trust him enough as a pass rusher to put him, in big situations. That included the 3rd down where Kyler Murray threw up a prayer for a touchdown. Brown came unblocked on this play and got a hit on Murray, but the secondary was nowhere to be found in the back of the end zone, letting up an easy touchdown catch. Brown also is clearly getting better against the run and is starting to set edges very well. My one criticism of Brown, however, is that he needs to realize that, even though he is a ridiculous athlete, there are plenty of better ones at this level. This was exemplified on one play where he had great contain on Kyler Murray in the pocket, who tried to get outside his edge. If Brown had waited one more second before committing to going after Murray, he would have had him for an easy clutch sack. However, he went after Murray too early, and Kyler got outside his edge. Patience is a virtue, Cam.

EDGE Carter Coughlin (7th):

Coughlin’s dismal 30.4 PFF grade is not an indicator of how he played on Sunday. They’re likely docking him for his one pressure on 23 pass-rush snaps, but their system must not take into account the fact that when you’re playing a scrambling QB like Kyler Murray, you don’t necessarily want your edge rushers to be too aggressive going after him. Containment should be their number one priority. Overall, Coughlin did a very good job of this, other than one Murray run, where he seemed to freeze up a little. He had his best game against the run, though, as he had a huge tackle for loss, which stalled the Cardinals’ second drive of the game. He has very good instincts, and although he has to work on being more consistent at it, he sheds blocks in the run game very well. In coverage, the Giants are continuing to use him as sort of an inside linebacker, having him play the hook/curl zone a lot, along with his normal flat responsibilities. I don’t think this will last, though, as he looked a little lost in the hook/curl zone at times, leading to a couple of chunk plays.

ILB Tae Crowder (7th):

Crowder is looking more and more promising by the week. He is improving every game and could be the best Mr. Irrelevant I have ever seen. He’s not a world-beater by any means, but even from his college tape, it confused me why 254 guys were taken ahead of him. His pursuit and block shedding has been consistently improving, and he has cemented himself as the #2 ILB on the roster. Crowder played well overall on Sunday, but his handful of bad plays can be broken down into two issues: slow play recognition in the run, and lack of depth in his pass drops. The former will improve with time as Crowder continues to get used to playing LB (he came into UGA as a running back), and the latter is not hard to fix; you just need to make it a habit. His lack of depth was extremely costly to the Giants on Sunday, however, as DeAndre Hopkins burned him for 43 yards on 2 catches where he got behind Crowder and sat in the hole that his lack of depth created. Again, this will come with more experience at the position. Bad habits aside, I don’t think you can be upset with a 7th round pick recording 4 tackles, 1 TFL, and 1 QB hit on Sunday.

EDGE Niko Lalos (UDFA):

I figured that I’d just make Lalos a fixture of this report every week instead of giving him honorable mention slots. Anyway, Lalos got 17 defensive snaps on Sunday, and it’s clear that the Giants are intrigued by him. Maybe he’ll be the next Kerry Wynn? Lalos came away with one tackle on the day, along with one pressure on 8 pass-rushing snaps. It must’ve been weird for Lalos to finally play an NFL game without a takeaway.

What to Expect in Week 12:

This week, the Giants may again be without Daniel Jones, who has a sprained ankle, as well as his recovering hamstring to worry about. As far as I see it, if a healthy Jones is playing, the Giants have a real chance to win. If Jones doesn’t play, they have a very low chance of winning. If Jones plays hurt, however, they have ZERO chance of winning, as we saw last week.

Jason Garrett has COVID, so it looks like Freddie Kitchens will be calling plays, trying to get his revenge on the Browns for firing him last year. The Browns are a good team, but they are not without their cracks. Their defense has been suspect all year, and they too have a rookie left tackle (Jedrick Wills) who has struggled at times; last week being no exception. The Giants defense has to step up big time this week if they even want a chance at this one. Bradberry, one of the best corners in the league, is out, but Yiadom seems to be coming into his own a little bit, so I’m not as concerned as I would have thought I’d be about him. However, Darnay Holmes is doubtful, so it’s going to take some serious scheme gymnastics for Patrick Graham to piece it together this secondary. If there’s any week that the Giants need a pass rush, this is it.

All-in-all, Andrew Thomas needs to bounce back from his tough day on Sunday, and take Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon out of the game as he did to JPP and Chase Young earlier this year, and outplay Jedrick Wills to get the critics off his back. Peart needs to work on his punch in practice this week, but Fleming will likely take the majority of the snaps again. As I say every week, Lemieux needs to improve his pass blocking, but that’s likely to be an offseason thing for him. I feel like I say the same thing for Carter Coughlin, Niko Lalos, and Cam Brown every week as well, but they have to keep making the most of their opportunities and get pressure to take the load off the secondary. That being said, for the third week in a row, they are playing a mobile QB, and they have to keep him in the pocket, hopefully with more help from interior pressure this week. McKinney needs to step up big time and get turnovers. In college, he was a takeaway machine, and with the Giants thin secondary this week, we need to see some of that big playability. Crowder needs to keep progressing and doing what he’s doing, as Browns RB Nick Chubb is having a great season.

I just don’t see the Giants winning this one, especially if/when Jones doesn’t play. I’m going to predict that the crippled Giants offense will take advantage of the not-so-good Browns defense and put up 17, but the Browns’ offensive hot streak will be too much for the Giants, without Bradberry, to take. 28-17, Browns win, but the Giants will still be in the playoff hunt somehow.



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