It’s the scoring, stupid.
You can love, hate or feel ambivalent about Joe Judge all but saying, “Field goals? We don’t need your stinkin’ field goals’’ (check out “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” and thank us later). You can look at the fake field goal abomination on the first series of the Giants’ Week 15 loss to the Browns and think, “Hmm, maybe the guys who get paid to throw the football should, you know, actually throw the football.” There is much to discuss and pore over with the Giants, but there is one loud-and-clear, shouting-at-the-top-of-your-lungs reason why this team is likely not going to touch down in first place again this season in the eminently winnable NFC East.
It is almost a weekly failure. Sometimes they can control the football environment enough to at least possess the ball for minutes and allow their improved defense to limit the damage. If the Giants need to outscore anyone, it is Mission: Impossible, without the screaming Tom Cruise tirades. They got seven measly points last week with hobbled Daniel Jones in at quarterback and six measly points Sunday night with backup Colt McCoy directing the offensive traffic. Think standstill when considering what sort of traffic the Giants are ensnared in here.
In the last four games, the Giants have cobbled together 19, 17, seven and six points, respectively, and that is not NFL-caliber production. Not even close. That they won two of those games is lipstick on a pig. Managing the game and keeping things low-scoring and tight works, but only for a short time. It is not sustainable for a half-season, much less an entire season. There has to be a major evaluation of whom the Giants have and what they are doing on offense because what they have now and what they are doing now is mainly responsible for the 5-9 record.
Three times this season, the Giants could not score a touchdown in a game. The 13 combined points in home games played in consecutive weeks is the fewest from the Giants in more than 44 years. The 1976 Giants were shut out in back-to-back October home games. They were 3-11 that season. These Giants are not much better, record-wise.
Everything must be on the table. Jones, even when healthy, does not get his team in the end zone often enough. His eight touchdown passes this season should be a misprint. The bar for him cannot be “avoid making mistakes.”
The entire package installed by offensive coordinator Jason Garrett must be studied to see if it is up to par with the more trendy systems around the league. The offensive line still needs some shaping. Saquon Barkley will be back and he should be a difference-maker, but will he be better than ever? Everyone who gets his hands on the ball must be put under the microscope. There is a glaring need for more speed and a bigger, more physical wide receiver who can run.
The metrics say the targets do not get open often enough. Sterling Shepard caught four passes for 51 yards in the 20-6 loss, and afterward said what he thinks of those who lean on the metrics.
“I don’t know where people are getting that from, to be honest,” Shepard said. “Is that what you’re saying? That we’re getting, what, two yards of separation? In the NFL, that’s open. I don’t know what the analytics say, but you can go off that if you want to. I know what I see on film, and for those of them who think that way, go look at the film.”
Nothing on the film can distract from what shows up on the scoreboard. Not enough points means not enough winning.
More that came out of the Giants’ flop on Sunday Night Football:
— Patrick Graham might be running out of smoke and mirrors when devising ways to mount a pass rush. The Giants’ depleted depth at outside linebacker was glaring in this game. Carter Coughlin played 28 of the 64 defensive snaps — he had to leave for a while to get a dislocated finger put back in place — and could not put any pressure on the pocket. David Mayo, normally an inside linebacker, played 25 snaps, often lining up at an outside linebacker spot. This is not going to cut it. The loss to injury of Lorenzo Carter, Kyler Fackrell and Oshane Ximines and the trading away of Markus Golden is too much for this group to overcome. The Giants had one sack of Baker Mayfield — by defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence — and that sack was the only time the Giants put a hit on Mayfield.
— Sometimes you simply have to distribute credit. Clearly, the Giants defense went in focusing heavily on stopping the punishing rushing attack of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, and they were successful, limiting Chubb to 3.3 yards per attempt and Hunt to 3.0 yards per attempt. The strategy was to force Mayfield to make decisions on the run in the pocket as the Giants can confuse quarterbacks by disguising their coverage. This backfired in a big way. Without James Bradberry (unavailable as a COVID-19 high-risk close contact), the zone on the back end was played too softly, and Mayfield picked the defense apart. It was interesting to hear veteran safety Logan Ryan admit that Mayfield was better than anticipated. “If we didn’t have respect for him before, we definitely have it now,” Ryan said.
— Ever since Week 2, rookie Matt Peart has been a fixture on the offensive line, rotated in at right tackle for two or three series per games in place of veteran Cam Fleming. Something changed Sunday night. Fleming played all 54 offensive snaps. Peart never got on the field. Were the Giants concerned Peart could not handle Olivier Vernon? Peart has gone against several top-notch pass rushers, so this probably was not a situational maneuver.
— With Bradberry unavailable, rookie Xavier McKinney played a season-high 41 of the 64 snaps on defense. McKinney was used as the slot corner with Julian Love moving from free safety to fill Bradberry’s outside cornerback spot. McKinney was the highest-graded Giants player on defense, according to Pro Football Focus.
— Rookie left tackle Andrew Thomas played all 54 snaps on offense – this has become the norm, no more rotating for him – and did a fine job on Myles Garrett, limiting the star Browns defensive end to half a sack. The sack came on Thomas’ 53rd snap. It was an important measuring stick for Thomas as he closes out his first NFL season: Dealing with someone as powerful and skilled as Garrett is and not getting dominated is a step forward for Thomas, even if Garrett is not feeling 100 percent. This was Garrett’s third game back after missing two games following a positive COVID-19 test. He spoke after the game about how he continues to deal with the effects of the coronavirus, and his words should be a warning to those who downplay the toll of this infection on young, vibrant athletes.
“It’s bound to affect your lungs,” Garrett said. “It is hard to make a move or do something that you know is going to expend a lot of energy, knowing that you have to do it again the next play and the next play. It kind of throws off what I am doing.”
Garrett was out of breath after the game when he went on a Zoom interview.
“I am just getting over a coughing fit from the locker room earlier,” he said. “I am trying to get some water into my system and be able to breathe. Taking those deep big breaths are tough right now with the shortness of breath and that turning into a cough or getting choked up. You just have to find a way. It is about desire. It does not matter how I feel. I have to do something on the field. When I get off of the field, I can catch my breath and maybe go see someone and try to work with someone. Hopefully, if we make it to the playoffs, I can try to get myself to as close to 100 percent as possible.”