James Bradberry’s absence vs. Browns proved his Giants worth


Save the highlight clips of interceptions, forced fumbles and blanket pass coverage.

The game film that should get Giants cornerback James Bradberry selected to his first Pro Bowl took place Sunday when he presumably was quarantined in a hotel room watching his teammates get picked apart in a 20-6 loss to the Browns at MetLife Stadium.

With all due respect to dynamic running back Saquon Barkley (sidelined since Week 2 with a torn ACL) and quarterback Daniel Jones (missing his second game with leg injuries), Bradberry is the Giants’ most irreplaceable player in 2020.

Bradberry’s inability to play against the Browns was because he was deemed a high-risk close contact to someone with COVID-19 and was forced into a five-day isolation. That essentially ruined any chance at a much-needed upset and altered the way the Giants offense played and how coach Joe Judge called the game.

The Giants replaced Bradberry by moving No. 4 safety Julian Love to outside cornerback opposite Isaac Yiadom and settling into a zone that simply did not work. Of course, it wasn’t helped by a pass rush that generated just one quarterback hit.

Love played on the perimeter at Notre Dame and was moved to safety as a rookie last season because of speed concerns. Yiadom was acquired via trade with the Broncos for a seventh-round pick in September and benched for three games earlier this season.

Not exactly Bradberry’s NFL-leading 17 passes defended or team-high three interceptions, with a résumé that includes stifling DK Metcalf, Amari Cooper, Mike Evans and other top receivers in his first season since signing a three-year, $43.5 million free-agent contract. Actually, it was more of a painful reminder of recent failed cornerback draft picks Deandre Baker, Sam Beal and Corey Ballentine.

The Giants also played without rookie slot cornerback Darnay Holmes, who missed his second straight game with a knee injury. Safeties Xavier McKinney, Logan Ryan and Jabrill Peppers rotated through the slot, the box and deep center field.

It was a smart move by coordinator Patrick Graham to not just stick one of the safeties in Holmes’ spot, but to have McKinney there on the first defensive series and Peppers on the second.

But Baker Mayfield wasn’t rattled. At all.

Mayfield completed 27 of 32 passes, including nine of his first 10, for 290 yards and two touchdowns. The third 80-plus percent completion rate of his career was a result of recognizing soft spots in the zone — especially one in front of Love — and feeding Jarvis Landry for seven catches, 61 yards and a touchdown.

Perhaps Bradberry would’ve shadowed Landry into the slot — or taken away Rashard Higgins (four catches, 76 yards) to allow double teams elsewhere. But Bradberry’s decision to visit a chiropractor he mistakenly assumed was following the NFL daily COVID-19 testing protocol — the chiropractor later tested positive — made those chess matches impossible.

On the surface, holding the Browns to 20 points is a good enough job to win. But it’s a little bit of fool’s gold because the Browns did not need to risk mistakes or push the tempo, understanding the Giants’ difficulties scoring with offensive backups all over the field.

Graham has been a master of disguised coverages and adjustments this season. So, why didn’t he break from the zone for man-to-man coverage?

Simply, the Giants didn’t have the horses without Bradberry.

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